Andrew Oldham is an award winning writer and poet. His work has featured in The Sunday Times, Ambit, The London Magazine, Interpreter’s House, North American Review and Poetry Salzburg. His poetry has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Poetry Please. He lectures on Creative Writing for Edge Hill University and the Open University. He lives in Saddleworth where he curses rain and climbs trees to face North winds.
“What’s exciting about Andrew Oldham’s poetry is its breadth. His restless curiosity addresses everything from childhood memories of candy cigarettes to the current state of America; from the girl in Costa Coffee to the horrors of Auschwitz. This is very ambitious work, full of experimentation and energy.”
– Clare Pollard
“Andrew Oldham is one of our finest younger poets. Coming from a generation that has, by and large, abandoned the possibilities afforded by poetry for addressing important issues, Oldham succeeds remarkably in investing the best of his work with a relevance and urgency which makes it at once challenging and accessible. This first collection amply demonstrates his qualities as a poet: always readable, never obscure, taking the reader with him in his tentative explorations of the extraordinary that lies under the surface tensions of our lives. Here are poems that are witty, moving and entertaining; poems with hidden depths and flashes of insight. It is a first collection full of promise from a poet already writing with skill and originality.”
– Ian Parks
“Ghosts of Low Moon captures a mixture of lyricism and damage which is a key note of the collection. I was struck by the different kinds of emotional hauntings in the book: childhood, lost loves, places and landscapes are all capable of returning to disturb the narrators of the poems… There’s a kind of damaged romanticsm which underpins the vision of the book.”
– Esther Morgan
Andrew, when did you start writing? What was your introduction to poetry?
I have written for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, my sister and I would make up stories, then create images and books to go with them. We were the first print-on-demand publishers! Then when I was at primary school I was asked to write a short story for an exam. That day I wrote about going on a rocket to Mars. I was a child, fascinated with the cosmos, and I was lost to fantasy and writing fiction from that day on.
When I went to secondary school I became a fan of rock and prog rock. Back then I particularly liked Rush (I am still not ashamed of this and discovered in the last few years a hardcore group of poets who love them). I used to sing along on my walkman to ‘Xanadu’ from A Farewell to Kings. This was taken from the Coleridge poem, ‘Kubla Khan’, and not from the Olivia Newton-John song – I once walked on stage to this after some confusion from a festival promoter who thought it was a good idea for me to come on stage to the music that influenced me. That is one of my most embarrassing moments. As a child, I was a loner, socially awkward, a typical teenager. An English teacher, Ms Wilson, stopped me in the school corridor one day mid verse to ‘Xanadu’ and asked if I loved Coleridge. I had no idea what she was going on about. She lent me a first edition copy of the Lyrical Ballads. That showed real faith in me. After reading Coleridge, I wanted in; I wanted to have that language, that imagery at my touch. I never thanked Ms Wilson but without her I never would have never thought of poetry. I was a working class boy in a rundown town. Poetry was not something you read or admitted to reading.
Which writers have inspired and influenced you?
Ray Bradbury is a must; I love his writing, his philosophy on writing. He came from a small town like me and something in his writing reminds me of home. I admire and read the work of J.G. Ballard, Will Self, Adam Marek, Donald Barthelme, John Cheever and many more. I am presently reading two great books, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Monty Don’s My Roots. I am also reading a lot of Derek Walcott, Paul Muldoon, Esther Morgan and Eva Salzman. I love to read. My poetic influences are wide. They start with Coleridge and fan out through the centuries via Pope, Milton and Byron into the twentieth century and Eliot. Eliot is a big influence on me. It is no longer fashionable to say that but he is. Ciaran Carson is wonderful to read. I do have direct contemporaries who have shaped my writing through either letters or email. These are Milner Place, Esther Morgan and Ian Parks (they all had a critical hand in Ghosts of a Low Moon). Every well written poem that comes across my desk influences me; every person I hear, each turn of phrase, each off the cuff remark.
How do ideas for poems come to you?
Much of my poetry is derived from observation or comments overheard. I think this stems from my childhood town. This was the dog-end days of mills and rail industry. Coal was no longer king, foundries were slowly cooling to slag, railways were rusting and mill machinery was being smashed up for scrap. I grew up against a backdrop of boarded up buildings and struggling families. This was the real 80s. All that was free were voices and what we could record off the Top 40 countdown on a Sunday night. I learnt more playing under my Mum’s backroom table listening to adults gossiping then can ever be explored in my lifetime. I still listen. It is important to be observant in every way.
Where is your favourite place to write?
It used to be at the top of the stairs in my old house, wedged into a corner step with my laptop on the next step up. The sun was so clear there at the end of the day, it took your breath away. In my new house, it is the garden. I have no office yet but I am writing this in my garden shed, in between the flower pots and tools. Something about that keeps me grounded.
Would you describe your collection, Ghosts of a Low Moon (Lapwing, 2010)?
Ghosts of a Low Moon captures the lyrical voices of everyday people. These voices and stories range from an ice cream driver to a cowboy in Arizona. Sometimes I step into the poem, adding a new voice, sometimes I let those voices speak for themselves as they head west or east looking for something that is always out of touch. Sometimes these people are long gone, as in some of the historic poems; sometimes they are still alive but they can no longer connect with the world. Ghosts of a Low Moon is their stories not mine.
Tell me about the section ‘American Vignettes: Travels in my Wigwam’.
This was written while travelling across the States in 2006. I had more content than appeared in the collection. The idea was to try and connect with people as I travelled through the changing landscape. Initially, I just filled notebooks with conversations, people I met people on the road, talks with my wife (who was patient with me when I showed up again with someone I met at a gas station) and then sit-down chats with people who had never left their home towns. It was almost like a series of interviews or in some cases overheard talks and observations, not always my own. My wife often sees things I don’t and she was incredibly helpful when I edited the sequence. When we arrived home it became something different, more documentary, more vocal. The poems for me discover how the world changes between states and how this resonates even in England. What is important to the North isn’t to the South. What is important to a man in Paso Robles means squat all to a gambler in Las Vegas. I knew that I had to capture voices ranging from San Francisco Goths to Allen Ginsberg.
Ghosts of a Low Moon
strippers in mid-noon bars
whisper love into five dollar bills
their jasmine nipples tassel-tight
around the neck of Jack Daniels
tipping dime and dollars to bus boys
and the chalk outline of forgotten lovers
that stick with sweet-sour perfume
to the edges of their tongue
and four blocks west, there are songs,
and fields of tulips with trains cutting through to nowhere.
as the drunks in downtown tanks
slash their i’s dot their t’s
across the back of an empty cheque, they sing
to the low moon; the bottle that has left them.
and on fourth and main, there are angels
throwing empty buds at their wives,
as they leave with their wings and suitcases,
stapled to their sides.
and one block east, there are songs and
dreams and greyhounds going nowhere.
Costa Coffee Girl
She wipes down the tables, stifles yawns and tears,
a damp cloth skims away the coffee cup rings,
the tense fingerprints, the ghost whorls of
business meetings, lovers’ tentative touches and
breakups, ladies who lunch, lone men
who pretend to read books but watch her
move, licking their lips, the bitter
acrid taste of mocha latte, cappuccino and frescato,
over the gums and down the gullet, the grain
of their teeth beneath their tongue, they flash
a stained smile and without a pause she wipes it away.
The streets lined with acacias and olive trees,
Exotic sounding names, flitting, tripping from the local tongue
Are hauled in from the ocean, flapping in their nets,
Sweet saffron fish, sugared, perfumed, edible
Caught in the jasmine seller’s breath,
As he staggers down the alleyway from the petrol station
Tossing paper and petals from his tattered pockets,
Searching for faces without faces on his horizon
And at night, he waits by the bay port lighthouse
Guiding the ghosts back, singing, drinking, swearing at
The U-boats without submariners, laughing at
The soldiers without jackboots and graves
Because they raped his land, left scars along her coastline,
Exotic sounding names, which stumbled, tripped from their mouths
Dredging the words from the bay port, leaving them to flap
in the midday sun,
Taking away her children, sweet souls, dead.
from Ghosts of a Low Moon (Lapwing, 2011).