Administrative Things and Poetry Review.

Apologies to everyone who had problems accessing Private Secret Diary this week.

This was due to a number of things, the main one being that I really haven’t got a fucking clue what I’m doing. Thank you if you tried to contact me or left a message on the Facebook group. All should be sorted now, although I have no idea how this ‘sorted’ happened, which only creates more disquiet in my mind. Anyway, the entire back-end disappeared for two days, so if anybody had a back-end landing on them in the middle of the week then I’m very sorry.

Now there is a new version of WordPress out, and it wants me to upgrade. My life is hell.

In the meantime, I did something a bit different, and interviewed Katy Evans-Bush. Katy’s been a reader here since about the year dot, and has a new collection of poetry out (‘Me and the Dead’), which is bloody exciting, as I don’t usually move in such circles. Private Secret Diary’s literary influences are fairly self-evident to the educated reader, and in a bid to widen the intellectual tone of things here, I asked her some searching and intense questions about her creative ouevre…

JonnyB: You’re a successful poet – and yet you mentioned that you had a boyfriend. How does that work, then?

Katy: My boyfriend is not only not a poet – he is also not a twat. (Thus, blogging him would be of little use, which is also probably a Good Thing.) These two personal qualities of his probably stand me in very good stead every single day. And he doesn’t mind me going to the pub without him. Since poets spend half their lives in pubs either giving readings or going to readings, this is a definite plus. On the downside, he does write plays, and they may well be better than my poems. But even that is nowhere near as bad is if he were a poet.

Does your poetry seep into your personal life, however? I mean, I would imagine you do things like leave little notes on the fridge like ‘mutter mutter mutter mutter; you appear to have used all the butter? (so please replace it)’


Although if it did I might write something like, “You lousy kids, you know I’m the mutter, you have to tell me when you use up all the butter!” Or, “You know when you ring me in the checkout queue/ it’s too late to tell me what you want me to get.” I can see all kinds of potential applications for this kind of thing though. Applications being one of them. “Dear Sirs, you know I need five thousand pounds/ for I am going to try and raise greyhounds/ and the RSPCA/ will take them all away/ if I don’t build proper kennels in my grounds. (Thank you. I will pay it back/ when they have pups or win on the track.)”

What’s your poetry about?

I suppose it’s like that thing my mother once said she’d be too scared to spend much time in: the inside of my head. But it’s heavily influenced by things that are outside my head, like people and events. Essentially, I guess I’m – as the title might suggest – very interested in the idea of time and space – that although people from the past are dead, they were once “alive as you and me” – in TS Eliot’s phrase – that their petty concerns, of no import at all now, were just as important as our daily concerns are now. History, I like history. And art: different ways of observing and describing the world. And although I don’t often go for broad comedy – with the exception perhaps of my cockney parable (sadly the closest I may ever get to writing an EastEnders script) East Ten – I do hope my poems make people laugh, however wryly, in the midst of it all.

I guess the towering figures of twentieth century verse were Betjeman and Milne. Which would you compare yourself most to?

All I can offer in response to that question is the sad, harrowing fact that I can still recite by heart not one but two poems by Milne – and that’s without counting the obvious ones like “Vespers” and “Christopher Robin goes hoppity hoppity hoppity hoppity hop.”

W.G. Du P.
Took great
C/o his m*****
though he was only 3…

I think what happens in the rest of that poem is only too clear from that premonitory beginning. Betjeman’s very good too, of course; he was on telly the other night, on a programme about trains.

Interesting point about trains. It must be difficult to get ‘noticed’ as a poet in the modern age – as you say, Betjeman sneaked himself on the telly in the guise of a train enthusiast. The war gave Owen and Sassoon a huge publicity leg up; Cohen moved into music. How do you reach a modern audience?

Well, I’ve got this blog…

In comedy, you can take any line or description, and add the phrase ‘and that was just the women!’ to make an instant joke. Are there any such tricks in poetry?

If you want a really killer end for a poem, there are a couple of tricks. One is to try to end on a really strong image that’ll linger tellingly in the reader’s mind. One is to try to have a last line that, if you somehow cut out everything in between and it had to follow the first line, might follow it evocatively. One thing I hate that people often do is to cut off the final line and have it hover by itself off the bottom of the poem in a really portentous way – like, “this is reeeally meeeaningful….” I say NO! It isn’t. It’s usually crap.

But if you’re not just talking about the end line, reversal is always a good trick. Things that work well might include the poet interrupting the poem to say, “but what I really mean…” (Sonnets work a bit this way, anyway – they’re essentially a conversation with yourself type of thing: “It’s this, no, it’s more like that, oh I know, it’s one of these!”.) Or saying things that patently aren’t true, so the poem builds up ironic effect. Or framing the poem as a string of negative statements – this would be the irony thing again. There are list poems, that work as the list builds up and becomes – seemingly all by itself – “about” something.

Rhyme is actually a trick like that, because it makes the words sphere into something they’d never have been if you were relying just on meaning or on more subtle tricks. This is why John Milton (whose 400th birthday was on Tuesday) wrote Paradise Lost in blank verse – he thought rhyme was a fancy effect and wanted to write Good Plain English Poetry. But then, he had Satan and the fallen angels for his effect. And that was just the women!

Thank you to Katy for agreeing to be interviewed. I think I have a bit of a future as a critic/arts journalist, and I quite enjoyed the experiment. Normal washing-machine related posts will resume next week, and I am going to spend the weekend tinkering with this to see if I can make it less breakable.

Enjoy your weekends,



  1. Jonny, you must be a poet. The image of Jenny from the Flock with the protrusion on her rear is “a really strong image that lingered tellingly in my mind”. I think you should try poetry.

    And don’t tinker with the washing machine, it never, ever does any good.

  2. Thank you Diana.

    I have thought about it, but I worry that if you are known for one particular creative area, people don’t take you seriously if you try another (see Paul McCartney, painting; Sting, acting)

  3. Ho ho – great fun. But surely the towering figure of 20th C poetry has to be Pam Ayres? Her stuff was certainly more palatable than the interminable poems about otters we were served up with at school.

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  5. Jonny’s a poet
    and he didn’t know it…

    I’m not surprised you’re reduced to interviewing poets. Jonny. They’re a notoriously crusty crowd, and so are probably amongst the few groups willing to tolerate your pants-related pong. I dare say young Katy, for example, has gussets like suitcase handles.

    But if it’s any consolation, we’re all rooting for the washing machine part this weekend, so you can go back to being that whole being-crap-at-everything gig instead of groping after significance with intellectuals. It’s not really you, is it? No, it’s not…

  6. Jonny it’s great! You are a hero.

    And Ivan, I know it’s a terrible thing, but I really can’t imagine how your awful image works. Do you mean the old-fashioned kind or the kind that collapse into the suitcase? I buy my knickers at M&S like everybody else.

    Er, anyway, here in the Poetry Palace of Baroque we are devoted to the cause of clean laundry and fully-functional washing machines. A rotating drum is like a sonnet with a perfect turn, to me. And the swish of the water as it washes is as the wash of the waves on the shore… to which end, I am doubly grateful to Jonny for his attentions at such a delicate time.

    You’ll find us intellectuals are as hungry for the simple life as anyone else, though. That is why I love Jonny’s diary. (That and it’s funny.)

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  8. 1. Ben was served otters at school? And poetry was written? I should think there are rules about that. At least about the poetry.

    2. Not only can I recite James James Morrison Morrison I can do “The king asked the queen and the queen asked the dairy maid…” and several others.

    3. Also “I know two things about the horse and one of them is rather course.” Although I’m not quite sure this is Milne.

    4. Also an impressive set of limericks.

    5. Betjeman is still alive?

    6. I work quite a lot with poets and Katy sounds like way more fun that the lot I’ve been stuck with. Am willing to ship them over as a set at a really excellent exchange rate (note, not all poets suitable for pets. Poets should be kept in a cool, dark room for the first several days with limited exposure to local flora and fauna. Failure to follow these instructions could result in rambling, interminable, self-indulgent travel memoir black verse)

  9. DAMN! Coarse. Coarse.

    It’s early here. And I’m not drunk. That’s excuse enough.

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  11. If you upgrade your WordPress be sure you back up everything. You wouldn’t want to lose any of this upstanding material. Poetry! What’s next? Shakespeare?

  12. Well done Jonny – I read it to the end. I have to say that with your ‘mutter mutter mutter’ piece I don’t think perhaps poetry is your oeuvre. Honestly now, do you?

    ‘Betjeman’s very good too, of course; he was on telly the other night, on a programme about trains.’

    Sadly dear John is beneath the sod in Cornwall.

  13. It pains me to say this, Pat, but I believe you to be a Philistine.

  14. Me? Uncultured? with interests material and commonplace? How very dare you!

  15. Can’t imagine how my awful image works, Katy? What kind of poet are you, woman? Can’t be a very good one if you have a working washing machine. Unheated garrets and syphilis – that’s the ticket for sublime verse. I give you John Hegley, exempli gratis. Makes Shelley look like a Methodist spinster, that man.

    Aaaaaanyway, I was thinking of the stiff boiled-leather ones on old-fashioned suitcases (the ones with brass locks that would flip open when you pressed the buttons. You’re sorry you asked now, aren’t you? I know I am…

  16. I didn’t notice anything amiss during the week, until just now when I suddenly and unexpectedly discovered you to be a Swear Queen.

    You are also a fine and provocative interviewer, but that is less surprising.

  17. It is moving to read something of intellectual quality on the blogosphere.

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  19. Ivan, thanks – you’ve really clarified that for me. And you know, my washing machine does work, but the handle came off the dryer door. Very funny what you say about John Hegley, I shall enjoy imagining Shelley as a Methodist spinster.

    Megan, thanks for your kind words! What do you do? And I saw john Betjeman on a TV documentary about the history of trains in film and culture – it was fascinating and funny – but of course it was on the BBC. Presented by the writer Andrew Martin, if you want to look it up.

    And I’ve just had a look at your blog and bookmarked it.

    Dave, it’s great isn’t it? Jonny’s questions were ace. I think he’s brought out my good side.

  20. Village loif I here’s you mutter

    Don’t forgets to clean the gutter

    When autumn leaves have stopped their flutter

    Toss them over Short Tony’s side

    Where they can lay for him to slide.

  21. Bum. HEAR’S HEAR’S I SAY!

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