Paul Sutherland is a Canadian-British poet/writer, who has lived in the UK since 1973, has fourteen collections, editing seven others. He’s founding editor of Dream Catcher journal now in its 38th issue. He runs creative writing workshops and widely performs his poetry. Leads seminars; mentors, runs Writers Retreats and collaborates with other artists. He appears in anthologies and journals. He reverted/converted to a Sufi Muslim 2004. Poems on the Life of the Prophet Muhammad (saws) 2014, A Sufi Novice in Shaykh Efendi’s Realm have followed. Turning freelance 2004 he’s won awards and grants for a range of projects. Much of his writing is collected in New and Selected Poems, (Valley Press 2017) a ‘unique …an unflinching and forensic exploration of a life through language.’ The University of Lincoln archives his work. Amoretti, (Dempsey & Windle, 2018) is newly published and Red Streamers is planned for 2019. He attends West Wold Writers, Pimento Poets and Nunsthorpe Poetry Workshop.
Well-known and much published poet Paul Sutherland is our judge for the new Chapbook Contest and Blue Nib editor Shirley Bell interviewed him on 12th February and features some of his fine poetry below.
As our fifth judge, Paul says that he is looking for the unusual and things that will jump out at him. He is asking entrants to put down their most strange, wonderful, passionate thoughts and then of course, to edit them. He is also looking for structure and form but he feels you should trust your own vision.
Paul was born in 1947 and brought up in Hamilton, Canada, and was nominally a Christian although there was little overt religion at home. He remembers at age 17 realising that he should be writing poetry, containing his ideals and visions in words, not outside playing street football.
He spent a year at McMaster University before dropping out and becoming an orderly in an intensive care unit. He was influenced by heavy electric music of Cream, The Velvet Underground, Jim Morrison and Steve Miller Blues Band amongst others. He read widely influenced by the modernists, like T. S. Eliot, Pound, Virginia Woolf, along with Nietzsche, and feeling an affinity with the poetry and mystical-earthly thinking of the Japanese and Chinese.
Falling for an older woman, his next door neighbour’s wife: this unrequited love partly caused him to leave his homeland. He was encouraged to go to Great Britain as he had legal residency to stay in the country through his grandparents. He arrived in London in 1973 aged 25. He wanted to hike to the north of Scotland but ended up caring for the disabled in several residential settings in the west and east of the UK.
He was always searching for the spiritual, firstly through the filter of Christianity when he wrote his Holy Week Sequence started in 1986 and published in 2004.
In 1994 in his late 40s he went to York St John University to read English and History. There he set up Dreamcatcher magazine in 1996. Having often felt an outsider, his university studies transformed this attitude, giving him a wider perspective. He became interested in post-colonial studies, Canada’s identity as a colony, and wrote the poem ‘Canada America’ which appeared in his collection Journeying.
His influences at this time were the classics, especially epic poetry and plays: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Milton, the Faerie Queen along with the Romantics and Modernism. He was also inspired by modern art, particularly the work of Ben Nicholson which inspired his series, Ben Nicholson Miniatures.
He has written prolifically, and feels his Seven Earth Odes are important works from Canada. He spent 15 years trying to return to what inspired them. This proved impossible. Instead he wrote in black ink in journals recording his thoughts and exploring new ideas he encountered in the UK.
In 2000 he moved to Lincolnshire working as a Literature Development Officer. In 2004 he met his second wife whose own conversion to Islam in 1980 encouraged his spiritual growth. The same year he converted to a Sufi Muslim, a mystical branch of Islam. He feels this change was a major step for him to learn to value and appreciate and see the creative potential of “the other”.
This short article cannot give a full picture of this fascinating man with his eventful and peripatetic life of travelling, searching for the spiritual through his poetry, and using his complex responses to “otherness” to inform his body of work.
Snow Around the Lake of Bays
Lifting toward the Haliburton Hills, too serene
bare arching limbs weigh densely lined in white.
Tall spruce, pine and cedar carry the fallen mass
wear epaulettes without a sign of war or triumph.
Bendy roads, ploughed a ways, lead to dark ruts
along clover leaf bays, between smoothed banks
to window-bright-cottages decorated for a brief age.
Between converging slopes, into an unseen cleft
the day-light fades, looks to descend. Streamers –
in paling purples, cerised-reds and quiet ambers –
waver from in-shore waters out to the lake’s heart
as if all the known landscape is being pulled back
lured far out of reach, until nothing can rescue it
Violet Louise Cunningham (1893-1978)
Butterflies on and around buddleia blooms
recall my maternal grandma’s flighty hair –
to disappear into it, surrounded by her hug
as tender as the brush of peacock’s wing-tips.
Life turned upside down when her beloved
father remarried; she had to escape her home.
So old in the final framed photo on the bureau
– silky white threads combed to reveal her grief.
A century ago she’d floated a brunette through
English meadows among wind-stroked flowers
while fritillaries and skippers drank nectar as if
from her secret loving cup – a taste like chocolate.
Some migrate; but none as far as her. Unmarried
she fluttered to the new world with a near stranger.
Turning seven your sprightly fingers
swiped one stem of pink phlox from
the surrounds of a gentleman’s garden.
My wife and I placed your gift in a table’s
centre-piece vase; after you had left for
weeks and weeks it perfumed our cottage.
Gradually it turned to a petticoat’s white.
Those petals surrendered both their colour
and scent to tumble, speckling the water
in a back window ledge’s pint size glass.
But don’t imagine we disremembered you –
in our cold home – no matter how old you grew.
The season shifted far on to black winter
and the gentleman never noticed your theft.
In your Spring absence
This time it’s your art’s paintbrushes
on the window sill leaning towards
an imaginary sun; the daisies have
become white daubs across the lawn.
Those brushes each with their shaped
black hairs, filbert, fanned or tapered,
used, and not used enough to quote you
and paintings that might have been if…
I have to write about those ferrule beams
rising from your yolk yellow plastic cup,
imagine what they might’ve created if
you hadn’t leaned your love towards me.
Younger from a much older tradition, you
‘just do’, take your place simpler than me.
The teenage mum hands over to you, her
new born, doesn’t prevaricate as sometimes.
She swings it out from her cradling sleeves
into your arms, a baby crochet shawl tucked in.
Your fingers stroke glowing cheeks; you kiss
an infant forehead, squeeze a sugar-drop chin.
he lets you rub natal scent off on your skin.
I wait my turn; she guesses some uneasiness
though I feel none. I’m pleased to sway-away
never wake the sleeping; intone naff phrases
into pinkish curvatures and petit earlobes.
The pretty neck-and-head-scarved mother
resists, though I’m invited into her company
was in the birthing room, like you, though
I’m bijan, your older brother, she shuns me
when you’ve your children and I have none.