Friday, 1 February 2013
The Zoo Father, my second collection, was published in 2001 and was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize. It was also Boyd Tonkin's poetry highlight of the year in the Independent and Les Murray's book of the year in the TLS. It was selected for the Poetry Book Society Next Generation promotion, was a PBS Recommendation and won two Arts Council awards while in progress. It charts a remarkable event in my life, when my estranged father contacted me and I met him in Paris while he was dying of emphysema. I hadn't seen him for 35 years. Those visits to his cramped flat in the Latin Quarter were difficult as he had abused and abandoned his family. He told me he moved from place to place during his life, including the Kabylie Mountains in Algeria and Marseille, as well as hotels where he had lived for years just opposite Notre Dame. The only way I could write about him then was through imagery of the Amazon jungle, which I'd recently journeyed to. The poems are a series of Amazonian animal masks of us both and use rituals from the tribes I met while there, or read about later.
Twelve years after his death I started writing new poems about him, during many stays in Paris, the city of my birth. When I stay there the poems come daily. It is an extraordinary experience falling in love with the city that I hated and feared as a child but I am quite obsessed with it, and every time I go I discover something new to love – museums, parks, squares, that radiate from Notre Dame, the core of the quartier latin, his quartier, which he knew during the jazz age. When he was young he lived in a pension a few doors down from the Hotel Cristal and knew Django Reinhardt and his nightclubs. Later, when he was disappeared, he lived just opposite the cathedral, and I imagine him overlooked by the gargoyles and chimeras on the towers.
The resulting poems of this second collection about my father will be published by Seren in 2014. The working title is My Father's City. I'm very grateful to have a grant from the Arts Council again, to support me while I finish the book and to enable me to spend a month in Paris in spring.