An Interview with with Peter Johnson, editor of The Scriberazone - the UK’s leading poetry website.


1. Can you tell us a little about the people behind The Scriberazone and The Scriberazone itself?

The Scriberazone was created in 1999. I had previously created another site in the early days of the WWW, “Brighton Clubland”, which detailed the nightlife in that famously hedonistic town. However, I always knew that one day I would create a site about my first love, literature, and in 1999 The Scriberazone was born. Essentially it reflects the view that poetry should not be made too esoteric or academic; I believe that it is as beautiful an artform as music – and should have the potential to be equally as popular. We have music that is high art (e.g. John Cage) and music that is popular (e.g. Fatboy Slim) – the same should apply to poetry.

The other Editor on the Scriberazone is Sarah Annetts whom I met via the British-Poets mailing list. She posted a note bemoaning the lack of poetry happenings in her part of the world, I got in touch and we collaborated from that point on. Sarah has a different poetic world view to me. She has occasionally pointed out things that I miss. For example David McCulloch’s excellent collection ‘Monkeys With No Eyes’ was one that she championed. We both have other careers – I work in the city and Sarah works in medicine. There’s a bit of the Robin Hood in me (I’m always inspired by Stephen Berkoff who took well-paid parts in trashy Hollywood movies to finance his arthouse productions) I finance the Scriberazone from my earnings in the corporate world.

2. The Scriberazone has picked up quite a reputation since its inception in 1999, what do you think the secret of your success is?

I guess only our readers could give the true answer to that – but I think it’s because there is a focus on two things – quality and soulfulness. There are sites that have work of dubious poetic value on their pages; I like to think that we’re not one of those. Also, the subject matter is generally soulful – by that we mean honest, deep, and/or stuff that touches the spirit. Somehow material devoid of those elements rarely make it onto our pages. The tagline for our Words & Beats evenings is: “Come with us to an oasis of nice vibes”, which I reckon sums it up.

3. The Scriberazone offers a mix of contemporary poetry and music at Words & Beats, are there any events planned for the future?

Not immediately although I would like to organise one soon. Some of the things that were being considered included, an alfresco Words & Beats (in a London park on a sunny Sunday/on the South Bank), a spot at a summer festival (I have been in touch with the people at WOMAD for example). However what has been occupying our time recently has been producing a CD which captures the Words & Beats spirit. It contains a mix of excellent downtempo music and some of the poets from The Scriberazone reading their work. I think it is really amazing. We have a completed demo and I have been taking it around to various companies to try to get backing for it. Watch this space!

4. I receive many emails from poets bemoaning the lack of recognition that poetry receives in this country. What do you think the general status of poetry is like in the UK at the moment?

I definitely think it’s on the up but the impetus isn’t coming from the establishment. People are looking for something that’s real and which is coming from real people. That’s why I loved the punk rock revolution of the 1970s – it gave pop music back to the people. Contemporary poetry may do the same for literature. I have had many conversations with fairly trendy types who see poetry/music collaborations as being very hip indeed. Whereas a few years back that definitely was *not* the case. There are little scenes going on all over the place. The Words & Beats thing, ABC Tales have regular events, Slam! nights – there are all sorts of contemporary poetry evenings (with DJs etc) happening countrywide. Visit The Poetry Kit (www.poetrykit.org) to find out what is happening in your area.

5. Poets also ask me why it is so hard to get a publisher interested in their work. Why do you think this is?

The establishment are aware that poetry doesn’t sell in great numbers. Jessica York (manager of the Poetry Society’s Poetry Cafe) told me that a very small number of poets in the UK earn their living soley from writing poetry (I think it was a figure less than ten). However, there are many internet poetry sites like ours who will publish work on the premise of “art for arts sake” not for a bottom line of profit. These sites are useful for promoting new talent and helping build an underground scene which in time may become of interest to the corporate publishers.

I’m of the opinion that all of us who write or who are interested in poetry have to keep on building this “underground scene”, which in time may make publishers sit up and take note.

6. Do you think the internet has provided a new platform for poets, or has it just increased the number of scams that poets are likely to fall for?

Both. The platform that the internet has provided is essential as it doesn’t rely on the capital-profit model and therefore “sales” do not matter. This means that websites can be experimental and daring. I’m hoping that in twenty years time, the poets that are best known will have started out on the net! As for scams, like the poor they’ll always be with us I guess!

7. I notice that The Scriberazone had been ‘mothballed’ for a period of time, but has recently reopened submissions. Does this mean you are now fully operational and if so what is in the pipeline?

We are fully operational! We’ve got some excellent new collections & new poets about to come online. I’m just waiting for photographs, etc. They should be up on the site in the next week or two. Our astounding crop of new poets are:

Judith Brown (fabulous, sharp, magical poetess)
Durlabh Singh (lush, sweeping, epic poetry)
Martin Togher (patient engaging storytelling poet from E. London)

I am very excited about presenting these new talents to our readers. I think that they are very special indeed.

We will also be presenting new collections from Jenny Freeman and Nessy.

Hopefully, the CD I mentioned before will be making an appearance shortly. If anyone wants to find out more about this project or participate in market research please email peterjohnson@scriberazone.co.uk.

8. Can you offer any advice to poets who are just starting out, the do’s and don’ts, any tips of the trade?

Firstly, just keep writing. A friend and (great) poet (Liana Hemmett) sent me the following quote recently “a poet who doesn’t write is lying”! Secondly, don’t take rejections personally – keep send your work out. Thirdly, get involved in scenes be they on the internet or in real life – meeting other poets will open up new opportunities. Finally, understand that there’s not much money in poetry, so it’s very unlikely that you can earn your living from it but if we poets keep on creating scenes and supporting each other… who knows!

9. And finally, are there any poets that have particularly inspired you and why?

Ooh loads. But I’m not going to name drop literary heroes here, just things which are currently inspiring poetic thoughts:

The chap on the Guiness Advert reading “He Waits…” (a template for pop-poetry if ever I’ve seen one!)
Jim Jarmusch’s cinematography in the first scene in “Night On Earth” (A poet of the movie camera!)
DeLa Soul’s “Eye Know” (get beyond the exotic hip-hop phraseolgy and this is a love poem of extraordinary depth)
The Bhagavad Gita (for quality and soulfulness, it’s #1)
Radiohead’s “Karma Police” (People call Thom Yorke a lyricist, but we know he is a poet)

 

If you would like an interview please email: beth@author-network.com

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