Everyone has a story to tell; each one of us a writer of poetry – some, without even realising. That stream of consciousness that runs in our veins? It’s poetry waiting to be written. We believe in the power of words, and that power is what urged us set up PoetsIN.
It’s because of those inner streams, that we bring you this regular interview feature, Writer Profiles. An interview with a writer. Some you’ll know, some you won’t.
This week it’s someone else who has become a chum of the charity, after donating his time to our July fundraiser in London. He’s another smashing chap. He is Cardinal Cox.
Sit back with some fish and chips and read this week’s writer profile.
Who are you and what do you do?
And why are you in my front room? (laughs) I’m Cardinal Cox and I write, poetry mostly, sometimes reviews, have had some short stories published plus a couple of theatrical things.
How would you label your spoken word poetry if forced to?
Diverse? Though generally if I’m doing a reading there’ll be some cohesion to the set. What I write about falls into a number of subjects. There’s stuff about music, there’s burlesque, political stuff (though historical political, I’m so behind the times), Steampunk stuff, verse inspired by the writer H. P. Lovecraft and other horror writers… And other stuff when I’m inspired.
What is your relationship with words and how has that evolved over time?
We’re kind-of nodding acquaintances, sometimes words might buy me a drink… I used to read loads but between a full-time job and trying to write I don’t get to read anything like as much as I’d like to.
How long have you been writing and performing?
Ages and ages. Got my first poem in a fanzine (Falling and Laughing from Scotland) somewhere around 1984. Though I’d won a Blue Peter Badge for a letter I wrote the show about ten years before that. I was the fifth Poet Laureate of Peterborough back in 2003 but before that I didn’t perform much. I just didn’t enjoy it. Then one night I was supporting Attila the Stockbroker and he said to me “You’ve got to get out there. Just do it” so I do.
After being the city’s Laureate I was Poet-in-Residence for a Victorian Cemetery, 2005 – 2008 (the audience wasn’t great, but they never walked out on me). In 2009 I won the John Clare Trust poetry prize. 2012 I was appointed (for a year) to be Poet-in-Residence for a medieval church in the city. 2013 I was invited to submit verse to the H.G. Wells Society. Then in 2015 I became the Poet-in-Residence for The Dracula Society (that was for two years).
Out of that the poet Mark Grist approached me with the idea for him to produce a one-man show I was to write and perform. Another poet, Ross Sutherland, was brought in to direct it. I toured High Stakes a bit and even performed it in Helsinki at a literature, arts and science festival. At the end of the show an American came up with a book I’d had a short story published in twenty years before to get me to sign it.
Is Mental Health something you feel strongly about?
Well, I’ve not got great mental health. Obsession is my problem, I get fixated on things. And I hoard. Find it difficult to get rid of stuff. It’s like a protective wall for me I guess. I live alone so I don’t have to make other people endure it. So I try and manage it.
But there’s someone close to me who has ended up on secure wards at times. I’d visit them a lot, so I’ve seen and met people at their lowest ebb.
But the services are so under funded. Perhaps there needs to be the equivalent of TV shows like Casualty/Holby City focusing not just on treatments but also the admin.
Please describe your poetry writing process.
I wish I could. I’ve been asked a couple of times to run workshops but I find it difficult to explain how I write so how can I tell others how to? Sometimes I just try and combine two incongruous ideas. Or I’ll want to write a reply to something, especially if it is a song I dislike. J. Giles Band ‘Angel is a Centrefold’ is one on the list to do. So she’s in a porn-mag, what might the pressures have been that lead to her being there? And poems don’t always go the way you plan. Sometimes if you’re rhyming the words will lead you astray.
Some of us write our best stuff when in a rage, heartbroken or fighting depression. Are you affected in similar ways and do you use writing as a venting mechanism?
Sometimes. Those I put to one side to re-work later. Sometimes a story in the news will inspire something (Johnson and his asinine comments about burkas recently) and sometimes the news will be too big for me to get a handle on (Grenfell Tower). I rarely do stuff about myself so when my show included a big percentage about my relationship with my Dad (always a fertile subject for poets) and then his illness it was a surprise for folks.
Choose one poem or song to be remembered by, what is it and why?
I bet I’ll be remembered for my poem ‘Moby Dick From the Whale’s Point of View’ which is so unlike everything else I write. What I’d like to be remembered for? My next poem because hopefully that will be so brilliant. Or maybe the one after that.
If you could collaborate with anyone out there (alive or dead) who would it be and why?
Carol Vorderman? How about Lady Gaga? She strikes me as the embodiment of Dadaist philosophy. Meat Dress. Ready-mades with Tony Bennet. That for my surrealist work. For my burlesque work there’s my pitch for a Pussy Cat Dolls movie. For some of my themes I’d like to work with bands; Black Metal, Punk, Space Rock (yes Hawkwind or one of their spin-offs).
But I’d rather be picked by someone to work with them, like I have a couple of times by artists. There was an exhibition by four artists relating to the 150 anniversary of John Clare’s death. That proved to be quiet creative for me.
Who are you writing influences, heroes and villains, poetically, musically and/or lyrically?
Bob Calvert (Hawkwind again), Edwin Morgan, Lavinia Greenlaw, John Cooper Clarke, loads more. I’ll go through phases of reading a lot of someone and then I have to make the effort to not sound like them. Back when I was in bands (early 80s to early 90s) it was Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, until we started to find our own voice.
What quote inspires you the most and why?
“The deadline is next week” followed by “we can pay you with cake”. Seriously, I’ve worked for cake…there was a WI thing we read at. Got a ridiculously large donut for something at the local University Centre, and a panatone for working with an artist.
Writer’s block, is it real or a myth?
Yes and no. There’s stuff I get so far with and no further (in one case just the two-word theme) but I force myself to write. If I find I’m having problems starting to write I’ll write a letter or a shopping list or anything (even a nursery rhyme from memory) just to try and kick start the whole process. You wouldn’t want to ring a plumber and they say “sorry, can’t fix your toilet, I’ve got plumbers’ block”. But Good Writing Block certainly exists…
Finish this sentence: Words are the epitome of…
Alphabetti spaghetti on an obsessive compulsive’s plate.
What’s next for you?
I’ve a rough idea of what I want to do for the next eighteen months but that includes spaces for stuff that might come along. Waiting to hear about a couple of projects that might not come off so no point talking about them. I don’t mean to sound mysterious but most of it is more of the same old stuff and trying to catch the attention of publishers.
Where can we find out more?
Atlantean Publications in Southend-on-Sea will have some of my Lovecraftian things available. Check them out at atlanteanpublishing.blogspot.com to see what they’ve got, and what they are looking to publish as well. I think most of the stuff that has been released by small-press publishers is out-of-print. Every so often I’ll put together a pamphlet of some poems to give away at gigs so if people want to email me at email@example.com I’ll put a couple of those into an envelope (2nd class) and send them (it’ll help me clear some space in my bedroom).
I’ve written a column, Pub Scrawl, about the local (Peterborough, Stamford, Oundle) literature and spoken word scene for eight years, you can find old copies on line by clicking the link here: issuu.com/rhythmandbooze
Thanks again to Cardinal Cox for donating his time to our Fundraiser, but also to answering our questions here as well. You can find him on facebook here as Pete Cardinal Cox (or click this link)
If you, too, are a writer and like what we do at PoetsIN, then get in touch to talk to us about being interviewed yourself. Drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org