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Poetry Competitions UK
15 Jun 2011

A F Harrold

A F Harrold is a multiple slam winner, top UK performance poet, regularly appearing at poetry clubs around the UK and on various radio shows. He's also a respected published poet with several collections to his name.

How old were you when you started writing poetry?

I took the conscious decision to make it a thing to be doing somewhere in the midst of being a teenager. I'm sure I would have written things before that, but nothing that has survived.

When and where was your first poem published?

I don't remember, but I know at my VIth Form college I was one of the editors of the English department's creative writing magazine (even though I never studied English there or later) and almost certainly slipped some terrible poems in amongst the terrible articles I also wrote. I spent that period, right up through university, collecting poems together in little self-made photocopied pamphlets and handing them out to uninterested parties. I was always a bit gung-ho about just getting on with it. Only later did I learn about sending poems out to magazines and getting them published there.

Your poetry collections have some eye-catching titles and your poetry is unique in its style - where do you find your inspiration?

The inspiration comes from the same place as everybody else's inspiration: from being alive, living in a world filled with other people and by having a brain that works. There's no secret.

Which of your poems is your favourite and why?

That's an impossible question to answer. None of them are quite what I'd hope for. Some disappoint less than others. But which ones I like most is an unimportant question; the interesting question would be, which ones do you (the reader) like?

What has been your greatest (poetry) success to date?

I don't think I've had any poetry successes, not in the sense I think the question means. In my youth I won some fairly large poetry slams, which were useful indicators that maybe I should stick with this job, and finding someone else willing to take a punt on publishing some of my work was a similarly encouraging sign. A poetry success is any poem that I write that seems to end up close to what I imagined it might be when I began it - but that's purely private. The only real and important success I can think of is the fact that I do this for a living, that I can write and read poems and perform auxiliary acts (run workshops, compere events and so on) and make a living out of it. It's a very modest living, but it shows what one can do by just getting on with things.

Do you have a special place you write?

On my laptop, at my desk.

Who is your favourite poet and why?

Poets I like a lot include - taking a random dozen off the top of my head - Norman MacCaig, Brian Patten, Billy Collins, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Donne, Philip Larkin, Alan Buckley, Douglas Dunn, Elizabeth Jennings, Catherine Smith, James Fenton and Jane Williams.

Tell us more about the Poets' Cafe and Bohemian Night...

Poets' Cafe is a monthly night I run and host at South Street Arts Centre in Reading. We have a guest poet and an open mic each month. It's been running for more than a dozen years and is a warm and welcoming place to come and try out a poem or simply sit back listen to some off the best poets around share theirs with you. Bohemian Night is an open mic music night I compere each week in Bar Deja Vu, also in Reading. That's been going for over a decade too.

A review of one of your performances refers to you as 'an eccentric Englishman' - do you agree?!

The hat fits.

Do you have any poetry ambitions left to fulfil?

No ambitions. I'll just keep on getting on with things. I'll do it as long as I enjoy it, and take each job as it turns up. The great thing about this job is I never quite know where I'm going to be next - last year it took me to Australia, this year it took me to Peterborough... Who needs ambitions when you have surprises?

What is the greatest accolade you have received for your poetry?

The fact that sometimes people pay money to hear it or to read it. That says a lot - either people like it, or they're very kind, and either way I'm happy with that.

Do you have any projects in the pipeline you'd like to tell us about?

My next book is due out in the summer, which is a novel called The Education of Epitome Quirkstandard. Technically it's probably a comic novel, though I dislike that label (especially since I keep cutting jokes out), but it spreads outside its genre (as most books do) into tragedy and history too. It has a picture of a dog on the front cover. I don't like dogs but there's one in the book, and I think my designer has done me proud because it's going to look beautiful. So, I'm keeping an eye on that as it heads towards the presses. Other than that there are various bits of writing in various stages of incompletion, slow work on another collection of poetry for kids, more novels and so on. But really it's the same as ever - just getting on with stuff.

Drop me a line at info@afharrold.co.uk saying 'count me in' to be added to my newsletter list or join my group at Facebook and you'll be kept up to date with gigs and books and the like. Or visit www.afharrold.co.uk to see what's what. Or www.myspace.com/afharrold to hear some poems and songs and that sort of thing.

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