SCOTT HASTIE: MAIN FEATURE INTERVIEW – fully revised and updated…

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SCOTT HASTIE

Scott Hastie is a successful British born poet and writer, who has been has been commercially published in the UK for over twenty years now. He currently has eight titles in print, including a novel and four collections of poetry.

In recent years, the spiritual tone in his maturing poetic voice is starting to draw increasing acclaim and attention from an worldwide audience, especially in the U.S. India & the Middle East. 

Scott’s current poetry is very much a positive and sparkling affirmation of human potential, with a growing emphasis on spiritual awareness.

Given the impact of his recent pieces, published in titles like the soulful and beautifully designed anthology Meditations and their fast growing cross-cultural popularity around the world, a much more definitive and comprehensive collection of all his latest work, entitled Angel Voices was brought forward for publication by CENTURIA in September 2014.

Then, two years later and , somewhat miraculously, along came threads… This with doubt being the definitive collection of Scott Hastie’s poetry to date… Already widely translated and published to worldwide acclaim, covering as it does the full extent of this stunning poet’s sublime creative journey. 

Fortunately, it is already very easy to dip into Scott’s poetry at his highly visual and popular new web site, which freely displays samples of both his already published and latest unpublished work.

As a writer, Scott is very open and likes to encourage maximum participation and feedback from his readers. His web site offers the chance to post comments, both on individual pieces or more generally… The site encourages more general dialogue about writing and Scott offers mentoring services to other creative writers/students around the world.

Scott is also passionate about visiting and learning from other cultures and his web site offers the bonus of featuring many fascinating photos from his extensive travels around the world.

Official website: www.scotthastie.com

Official twitter account: @scotthastiepoet

Public Facebook pagewww.facebook.com/scotthastiespiritpoet

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Hastie

The very business of poetry itself: one poet’s view from the UK

“I am fortunate to have a smallish study all to myself, up in the loft at the top of my house, which looks out over open fields and a tree-lined skyline. Here I have quiet, cocooned space overlooking the English countryside (almost in the clouds…) and absolutely everything I need. Far, far away from anything else – phones, computers, tablets and door bells, especially…

For me, as a full time writer, a fairly rigorous, almost monastic daily routine is very important and underpins all my efforts. Not just in creating an exterior environment that is conducive to a concentrated and undisturbed focus on my craft – but one that also allows important preparatory time of an almost religious nature – given the spiritual themes that run through my work.

On a normal day, this would involve around two hours of advance preparation: morning exercise (normally running in the countryside and/or rowing) followed by breathing exercises, body stretches and meditation, sometimes some music also – before even beginning to think about any writing…

Having also eaten simply, I then would normally write in silence for between two to four hours – losing any sense of time, till my body tells me it is time to refuel. Immediately after lunch, I would then have a shorter 1-2 hour session (often the most exciting time of the day when earlier writing can begin to coalesce) Evenings are then usually important down-time from what is a quite an intense and tiring process. However I would still normally have a couple of short sessions early, right after my evening meal and also last thing before bed – which are more about reviewing existing work and quick, little polishing sessions – looking afresh and anew at whatever has emerged that day.

For me, it’s very important that every day (whether a writing day or not) begins and ends with me quietly reading through my last half a dozen pieces – in order hopefully to stay ‘in the flow’ and ‘in the voice’, clinging on tightly to that ‘silken thread’ that, once it slips from your grasp, can often be so hard to regain! Unless I’m away travelling or have specific social commitments, then EVERY day is a writing day.

I also have three identical and rather wonderful little digital voice recorders that literally go everywhere with me (one stays by the bed) so that, whatever I’m up to, I have some chance of capturing all those amazing little thoughts and insights that come to you, just out the blue – And as if by magic! These I call my ‘fragments’ and they usually come when you are in the throws of just doing something else, entirely – or just surfacing from sleep, for example. Rather than just sitting down somewhat deliberately: ‘to write some poetry! ’Previously so, so many of these fragments would have just got lost in the ether forever, before I started to adopt this method and built it into my daily resources and routine.

Beyond the general details of my day to day creative practice, I am often asked to describe exactly how I go about creating an individual poem. Firstly I have to say, in my view, you should never ever sit down to compose on a blank piece of paper – that, I think, is a big mistake many make. Furthermore, which really surprises many of my readers, neither do I ever start with a preconceived theme to write about.

Instead, I simply begin with some of these fragments, as described above, stored on a page; importantly with the most recent at the top… (as I calculate these should be the best reflection of your most current sub-conscious interests) and then see what begins to happen. Which stir you? Which begin to link together? (as per William Burroughs celebrated ‘cut out’ technique) and which prompt you to write on some more?

And then usually, for me at least (given the immediately preceding minutes I have already invested in meditating and  ‘getting in the voice’) then something soon starts to take shape and I simply go with the flow and follow its lead… And of course, once the guts of something is out and has been safely captured on the page – then it is always possible, and often wise, to have a break – knowing its detail and narrative is safe and can always be polished later. So this is truly how the nuts and bolts of the creative process works for me anyway.

All my life (and for reasons I can’t quite be sure of) I have always been a seeker in the spiritual sense and always very ambitious to live life to the full. Whenever I am blessed with special moments or insights in my life, then my first instinct is to share the light and energy that comes from this experience with others. I am particularly keen to reach younger readers and students, still at a formative time in their lives and am always especially gratified when this group of readers in particular is touched by my work.

I suppose, at the core of my creative effort, is an attempt to try and present and illuminate a runway ahead, if you like… Fed directly by my own being and experience – in the hope that it resonates. My personal mode of doing this is, of course, as an artist and as a poet in particular.

Beyond this, I have always been inspired by books and other writers. What greater gift and truer pleasure can there be that the opportunity to read and absorb, to have an internal dialogue with some of the greatest minds and souls that have ever lived? Especially in antiquity, just think how exciting it is to be able to get to know the ancient, elemental voices in Beowulf, the colours of Ovid, the technical wizardry of Flaubert, the vision of Blake, the wisdom and majesty of Gibran or Rilke, for example.

My passion for poetry was ignited, as an impressionable adolescent, by schoolboy studies of the great English Romantic poets in particular – Wordsworth, Keats and, for me, Coleridge in particular. The work of William Blake and some of the truly great French writers like Rimbaud and Baudelaire were also a great influence. Shakespeare was of course the most glowing and effortless example of someone who had truly found their own voice and, in all likelihood could write as fast as he could speak… As a student, I was both inspired and awestruck by that – to the extent it seemed like my lifetime’s challenge then became to find my very own voice.

I soon began writing my own poetry in earnest at college, where I was studying to be a librarian and where I was also then editor of the student magazine for Brighton Polytechnic and Sussex University. Quite quickly I became one of many quite active, but relatively obscure young small press poets – though my work always seemed to sell well and was, at the time, unusual for always being published profitably. Thereby becoming a useful second income supporting the family life of a chartered librarian – in the auspicious tradition of a Larkin! Though in my case, the career was in public, rather than academic libraries.

More significant published collections of my poetry didn’t really appear till I had a family of my own and was already in my thirties. This was largely on the back of commercial success in other genres – when I was fortunate to author a series of quite lavish and lucrative illustrated local history books. Around this time, I also wrote Reunion, a fast-paced romantic thriller, which remains my only novel to date.

Nowadays I write full time, focusing as squarely as possible on poetry once more. A new transitional collection of my work Meditations was published in 2013, focusing more on the philosophic and spiritual themes, with another similar but more substantial and comprehensive collection: Angel Voices soon following in the Autumn of 2014. Along with these and my novel, two other earlier collections of my poetry remain in print today: Selected Poetry, a hardback edition and New Poetry, a later title published in paperback only.

Social media is a pretty new departure for me and was, to be honest, something I was initially rather reluctant about – but was very much encouraged to get involved with by the people at RAYGUN who designed and launched www.scotthastie.com here in the UK. In addition, I had also always been so conscious of all the other potential pitfalls there are out there for anyone seeking to write anything significant – be it the lure of fame or fortune, or the seduction of style over substance, for example. And, as always stressed by David Lidgate, my spiritual mentor here in the UK, particularly the importance of not wasting valuable energies on promotion and ‘staying in the bubble’ – if truly serious about maximising the potential you have as a writer.

Having said this, I am glad I did listen to RAYGUN and we have since developed approaches that make this work for me, without literally taking more than a few minutes of my time every day… Even from my limited experience to date – Like it or not, there can be no doubt that options like Twitter & Facebook (for general public) and LinkedIn & Skill Pages  (for peer group connections) are immensely powerful engines of efficient sharing and global communication.

The web site scotthastie.com which has a built in blog – for both general comment and also on individual poems, has also exceeded all expectations since it was launched. In its first year of operation we were soon trading at the level of around 250,000 hits and a 1,000 posted reader comments a year and building fast – And all this from a standing start and with no marketing spend to speak of!

There is no doubt that the use of social media and also involvement with writing groups has played its part here. Although my books have long since found their way to most countries – for me, as a writer, the key transformative effect here has been, for the first time, getting my work out much more effectively to a worldwide audience. And, of course, the surprises that come from this. For example, the scale of enthusiastic positive interest, now evident from the US in particular and also from India and some Arab states initially caught us off guard, to be honest. But is obviously very welcome, nevertheless.

So in summary, I am now a definite convert! Just twenty years ago, it simply would have not been possible at all for me to even dream of reaching the audience I do now, without huge investment from a major corporate publishing house. So it does literally transform everything. What I now say to those that ask is that: in this new world, I have two principal endeavours: Firstly – to write as well as I can, then Secondly – to be as serious and cooperative as I can be about getting my work to be read by as many people as possible. Hence, for example, my investment of time in contributing to blogs, as well as online art & literary print journals, both as a way of conveying an understanding of what I am aiming to do AND equally importantly sharing with and encouraging others – which I also find to be very satisfying and rewarding.

Though, much as the Internet does such a brilliant job for us, as writers and creative artists generally (in terms of being able to reach out and find a worldwide audience so cost effectively and without being totally reliant on the big and often greedy corporates) we all still know the delicious feeling of having that intimate ‘one to one’ dialogue with the mind of another, by holding a finished, beautifully printed book in your hand, just cannot be bettered or ever replaced. As validated by the simple fact that today there are more books being written and commercially published than ever before. End of any possible argument about all that – there, methinks!

For me, the most exciting development in my writing (in addition to the more cogent and mature voice I seem to have been blessed with, past two years or so…) is the way my poetry now seems to be reaching out and touching people across all cultural boundaries. Much more than all the money in the world! I honestly just couldn’t want for more than that.

In that sense I’m now living the Dream… And it therefore has become very important to me that I pay back all the blessings I’ve been given, by writing as well as I possibly can  – That, in truth, is what the rest of my creative life is about, really.

On the technical front, I have always been ardent in my belief that, as far as possible, a poem should speak entirely for itself. Perhaps more so than any other art form, surely this has to be truest for poetry? Whose principal aim is to distil an experience or insight down to the absolute essence. To my mind the voice of the piece should therefore always be much stronger and clearer than any artist’s commentary or critic’s voice could ever provide.

I regard the over-arching theme of my work to be a personal investigation into the positive potential of the human spirit. This I think is clearly evident, running through most of my poems. Not that I believe my work can ever be said to be some sweet pastoral panacea, because it never shies away from pain or suffering – and is prepared to also explore the darkness, as well as the light and, crucially, the fundamental significance of their inter reaction. This being, to me, the absolute axis (the truly dynamic and crucial interdependence of the light and dark, of joy and sorrow, of love and loss, in the grand romantic tradition) and that key notion of duality which I hope still lies solidly at the heart of my work and my approach.

I remain determined always to be challenging enough to try and reach deep into the core of the meaning of the human experience – although I do also readily accept that, as my work has developed, then my voice has become more reflective and spiritual in its emphasis.

It has also always been terribly important, at any time in my career, to be as simply expressed and as readily accessible as possible – For me, this is a vital component of all my work to date. And it is here that you can also hopefully see how simple often short line length structures also play their part – though still carefully shaped for emphasis, controlled rhythm and musicality that lifts key passages, enhances meaning and always looks to carefully and lyrically draw the reader towards the concluding climax of any piece. The success of which for me is always a critical consideration and the key litmus test of success of any particular poem.

Many people from different cultures often talk to me around notions of: ‘What is poetry?’ And indeed the significance or otherwise of traditionally rhyming schemes and syllabic metrical structures. For me, it is very stark – ‘a poem’ is ‘a poem’ if it calls itself one – similarly ‘a poet’ is ‘a poet’ if he/she deems to call themselves one. No more complicated than that, I’m afraid. This doesn’t mean, of course, that any self declared poet is necessarily a good one – Hey! Ho!

Similar to the old days and all the discussion about what was then ‘art’ and not ‘art’ – painters and sculptors (musicians even) I think have been much more successful than poets in throwing off the shackles of the past, in my view. Both, in terms of the general public’s and even (sad to say!) most of the established ‘literary world’ and academia’s on-going perception on this issue.

That is not to say poetry that rhymes, or strictly follows a consistent metrical rule throughout is not of value – Obviously not! Just as clearly as say Jackson Pollock or Rothko’s work does not trump Michelangelo’s. Without a doubt, some of the most inspiring and effective poetry ever written falls firmly into this more traditional category.

So there you go! I am a poet, unabashed, pure and simple! And  if pressed (often tediously on the subject) I will concede – Yes, I indeed  write mainly what is often described as ‘free’ or ‘blank’ verse. Writing that’s not (being a child of the glorious Sixties and Seventies!) also without some ‘concrete’ influences, as I mention later.

However lyrical flow and emphasis are always essential to my work, as discussed earlier and I am not averse (excuse the pun!) to using rhyme or slipping into conventional structures, whenever they feel right. Sometimes, I even find myself writing haikus, mid poem, without even being conscious I’m doing it! No surprise there really – as some of the deepest, most ancient of structures are precisely that: felt, rather than abstractly and mathematically constructed – stretching back to an oral story telling tradition – when such effects were first discovered instinctively for enhancing dramatic effects and aiding memory, given that nothing was then written down – but simply retold, from generation to generation.

That being said, I always have one regular tactic up my sleeve to settle any argument, if necessary – regarding my credentials as a ‘poet’. I ask the person concerned to read any poem of mine they wish and then promptly present them with a full prose essay conveying the very same message as the poem – Trust me, that is guaranteed to shut up even the sternest of sceptics, who all of sudden have no option but to concede there is clearly much  ‘poetry’ there after all!

And, of course, overriding all this – Of one thing I have always been sure –  Poetry is the purest of all art forms. Now, within that, we know all too well how the term ‘blank verse’ can be used in a pejorative way – where as ‘free verse’ self-evidently cannot. So a poet writing free verse is what I proudly lay claim to be. And writing free verse that will joyfully adopt whatever technique, structure pattern or lyrical tone (in and out, however traditional, however not…) as I see fit. And as I determine the mood, the nuance, the meaning of the piece demands.

And how truly blessed I feel given that, so clearly, poetry is the purest, highest of all art forms and stands up there, entirely on its own level. And furthermore, doubly blessed! For, to be honest, during much of my earlier life, I could so easily can have been seduced away. For example, there have been so many times in my life when, if the devil himself had offered me the chance to be a say a singer, lyricist or wonderfully visually expressive painter, then I would have literally pulled his arm off, there and then!

Because these are of course the more immediately attractive and fashionable art forms that, in our current culture especially, can so much more easily grab the world’s attention and establish some kind of soulful relevance. However, inevitably within them, the message has at least to be in part compromised, diluted by the medium – where as, for the poet, the message can come through strong and pure and can be delivered in full – Direct and Undiluted. So, although they often have a harder road to travel for sure, blessed indeed are the poets!

Going back to my youth, my first key influence, as a writer was an idealistic young teacher called Robert Peel, who was my A level (higher grade) tutor of French Literature at Secondary (High) School. He was the first to open my eyes as to what might be possible and, pretty uniquely and significantly at that time (when I was at my most rebellious and errant) believed in me. Consequently, I am forever in his debt… Beyond that, I have worked hard most of my life to deliberately avoid being schooled by academic influences and laboured, mainly alone – albeit with the bright lanterns of what, for me, are the key voices like Gibran, Blake and Rilke to guide me on my way.

As we have already touched on briefly above – in terms of how technically I approach the structuring of my work – then the Haiku tradition, with emphasis on focusing down and distilling the essence of what you want to say has an ongoing (if often not always expressly) technically obvious influence on my work. Personally, I will also always be permanently indebted for the technical breakthroughs achieved the pioneering Scottish Concrete poets, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Edwin Morgan – which really helped me see a clear way forward for myself, in terms of beginning to develop a style I feel is my own.

Whatever anyone’s influences – in my opinion, the most significant challenge faced by any writer is to truly find their own voice and I get very weary of what sometimes seems like the endless procession of often technically, as well as intellectually talented young writers – on both sides of the Pond, simply schooled to echo the styles and mores of whatever is judged to then be fashionable by a self-serving established literary elite. To some extent, this is inevitable, I suppose and it is perhaps unreasonable for me to imagine otherwise. But again, I believe the power of the Internet has played a very valuable role here in loosening this stifling stranglehold.

Apart from (as discussed earlier, by artistic and spiritual necessity – my tendency to be a bit of a lone wolf) I do have a few other idiosyncrasies as a poet: One is that, unless dedicated to a particular individual or location, I have never believed in giving titles to my poems. In the spirit of the haiku and my earlier answers about technique, what I say to those that this often surprises or annoys, is: ‘if you can truly conjure a meaningful title for a poem, then, my friend, perhaps that should be the poem itself!!’ And, for me, the first few words of a poem and page number will always serve as a sufficient identifier – so who needs titles!

My other significant idiosyncrasy is that, despite the fact that I have the utmost respect for the practice of being a ‘performance poet’ – this is not something I EVER do – despite what it costs me in terms of the loss of promotional opportunities. In common with my practice of not using titles for my work, this also surprises some. But what I say to this is: I myself have always written to be ‘read in the head’ rather than declaimed. All I can say is personally, for me as a poet, this is much more important and multi-dimensional opportunity and moreover, a preciously unique and timely dialogue between you and any individual reader, all of whom are different characters, with different histories.

For example, would I trust anyone (myself included!) to do justice to one of my poems in oral recital – frankly not! Also would I really want to interfere at all with the very special music any one person could make (in their very own way and with the singular benefit of their unique experiences and resonances) with one of my pieces in their own head – Again, not really! Indeed quite a few of my readers do tell me that they read my poetry aloud to themselves quite often.  And that, of course, is just great!

In terms of current reading right at this moment, I would recommend the stunning and very contemporary work of NY poet Sharon Olds, one time winner of the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize and also the poignant work of Irish poet Dennis O’Driscoll. I am also currently re-reading Marcus Aurelius and Rumi – timeless wisdom that never fails to prompt and inspire. Additionally I am pretty addicted to rather a lot of exotic travelling round the world – which also never fails to nourish my soul – As does spending truly precious time with my very young grandchildren who do so much to rejuvenate my spirits, by showing me the world, as it is – fresh and new again.”

INTERVIEW ENDS

7 Comments

  1. Dear Scott Hastie,
    Your love of the classics is evident in all of your work, and the philosophical nature of your writing reflects your love of many cultures. Your life is a fascinating study, Scott, and I wish you all the best and continued success in all of your creative endeavors!

  2. Laura Bailey

    Dear Scott,
    Thank you for sharing your history , influences and information about your writing environment. You are in a wonderful place and your writing reflects this beautiful vision of life. Cheers to you from across the sea !

  3. Thank you,dear Scott,for sharing such excellent interview with us!I enjoyed reading it very much.Good Luck!

  4. Aria Ligi

    Scott,
    Thank you for your lovely words and sharing how you work, what inspires you and your vision as a poet. There is much to ponder here and much to take in. Well said, and thank you for all you do!

    Aria

  5. Bonnie Gail Carter

    Your poetry is amazing. Best wishes for you to have continued success in life and your writing,

  6. Scott, this interview is wonderfully representative of your passion for poetry, a passion we both share. Your champion of and for this literary journey, on your own terms, is most admirable and inspiring.

    Your gift is a treasure Scott, for yourself and equally for your readers as well. There is nothing quite as deeply personal, profound and gratifying as the visceral response of a reader touched by our words.

    Godspeed in your journey as it continues to unfold Scott. Your voice resonates deeply through your heart, mind and soul. Your wordcraft takes us on an undeniably rich, soulful and inspired journey of our own. No other medium has that strength, that resilience, that connection with its reader.

    Embrace your gift for all your days…as we, your reading audience, embrace, through your words, that you do indeed speak to our souls.

  7. Scott,

    Thanks for sharing this interview. Wonderful insights and inspiration!
    Cheers, V

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