Burning Eye is very proud to introduce Strange Keys, the second collection from Ash Dickinson – the original Burning Eye poet. We invited Ash to write a guest blog on his journey between collections – from Slinky to Strange…
I didn’t desperately want to be published. Strange to say, for a writer, but I was very much a performance poet- my work was spoken word, meant for the stage. Ears not eyes. I turned two publishers down- I wasn’t sure my material was so effective on the page. It lacked the cadence and rhythms and intonation I brought to it live. And the timing- so much of it was comedic. I’d rather watch a comic than read their scripts. By the time Clive Birnie pitched the fledgling idea of Burning Eye Books I was four years a full-time professional, reliant solely on poetry for covering bills and general decadence. And with my growing workload more and more people were asking about a book. I’m not saying there was a clamour, this is poetry after all, but there was sustained interest. And not just from punters and poets, librarians and educators- but, by then, from me. I’m a collector of music and books, a diarist, a collator of life’s ephemera- I wanted my record, my collection. 2012, Clive Birnie, Burning Eye Books and ‘Slinky Espadrilles’ was synergy, serendipity. Right time, right place. I was ready.
Having a collection meant I could headline a show which paid peanuts and perhaps sell enough books to cover my hotel and travel. It meant schools and colleges could employ me to run workshops on my own poems, or take it upon themselves to study my work (something I doubt I will ever not find staggering, humbling). Having a collection meant people could finally ingest all the words I’d fired out a mile a minute and go home and stand before a mirror with my book and pretend to be me! It meant people could write replies to these poems or make videos in their tribute or post or email how certain poems changed their views or reinforced them or that a line made them laugh or think. It opened my world up as a writer. Having a collection meant if I wrote something that seemed too dense or intricate to be a performance poem, something accessible and appreciable in just one hearing, I didn’t need to flatten its curves. It could still find an audience, that its nuances and depths could be kept and expanded upon and reveal themselves at leisure on the page.
All of which brings me to my latest collection, ‘Strange Keys’, 2016’s follow-up to ‘Slinky Espadrilles’. I was the first writer to be published by Burning Eye Books. Book number one for them and me. I’m now the latest writer to be published by Burning Eye, the top and tail of their outstanding, expanding output. Four years have intervened, real life has intervened. Tough times have nudged in amongst the comedy and surrealism (writing is a journey, after all, and should reflect one’s experiences).
The main difference, though, between the books is ‘Slinky’ was the collected fruit of material road-hardened and tested; ‘Strange Keys’ is an album written on the road, brought into the studio to then tour. It includes things that already feel like classics, and others in-waiting. There are perceived deep cuts that could become set regulars. It is also as varied a collection- in styles, in themes, in tone- as you will find anywhere. I feel my greatest strengths as a writer are my imagination- included, for instance, are tributes to my shower gel, the life of a method poet that sees me living in a drawer as a post-it note to create ‘the four finest lines ever written about stationary’ and how interrupting the “greatest anecdote of all time” requires the protagonist having to wear a dead octopus as a hat- but also the breadth of my ideas. There is something for all in here, even people who claim not to like poetry (saying you don’t like poetry is, anyway, like saying you don’t like music- you just haven’t encountered the right poem or poet yet). Lust and love, political rumination, takes on music’s cult, send-ups of life as a poet, Star Wars summed up in three minutes… If a poem is alike the one that follows it in the collection it’s that they’re printed on the same paper. Another book in my hand, counting down the days to its official launches, fifty new poems to showcase, I can’t believe I resisted publication for so long.
Ash Dickinson launches ‘Strange Keys’ at the following-
Bristol – Tues 12th April, The Lansdown, 7pm
Edinburgh – Sat 16th April, The Bongo Club, 8pm
Nottingham – Tues 19th April, Rough Trade, 7pm
Keep up with Ash here: