Simon Traver’s is the Weekly Indie Word Slinger for the first week of February 2014. The author of Anatomy, a collection of poems and essays, published by Stackhouse Jones an independent publisher that Simon established himself. He’s a busy guy. Enough of me introducing him… I’ll let him tell you about himself.
Indie Word Slinger: Simon Travers
My name is Simon Travers from rainy Plymouth in the UK. In May 2012, I started the process of setting up my own independent publishers called Stackhouse Jones. The Stackhouse part comes from a reference to an episode of the West Wing, the Jones part comes from a reference to my favourite knitted jumper, who is called Jones.
I have written poems and songs on and off all my life, never getting out of the bedroom. But this time, I decided I was going to go public. So I spent a year working on a collection of poems and essays called ‘Anatomy’ which I published in November 2013. The poems tell a story of a husband and wife living in suburban Britain. Each poem forms part of a conversation between themselves as they talk about their lives, their love life and marriage, their identity as a couple and individual gender identities. The inspiration point for ‘Anatomy’ is the Song of Solomon from the Bible. My writing looks to explore the experience of what it is like to have faith.
When I’m not writing or researching for my next project, my first novel, I love to spend time with my family and listen obscure music that nobody else I know has heard of.
This Word Slinger’s Thoughts:
Anatomy is a conversation, subtext between a husband and wife, celebrated in beautiful verse as they move from the dawn of their relationship into the twilight of it. Your view is the everyman and everywoman qualities of the relationship rather than what one might see as the highlight moments and this allows the reader to see the growing foundation as well as the numbing that comes when all things begin to become relative. Your view at the beginning of the book focuses on the importance of vulnerability in a relationship, is vulnerability–in your opinion, what builds that foundation or the glue that holds it together?
Yes. Vulnerability is both foundation and glue. I think that vulnerability is foundational to humanity, even though we hate being reminded of that. It gets treated as a personal quality that some people are good at, but actually vulnerability is a state. We are vulnerable. We are flesh and blood. So build on that foundation.
And vulnerability is glue as well that holds relationships together. One of the things I am trying to explore in the book is the idea that personal identity is relational. We are who we are in relation to others. Vulnerability works like glue because it invites us to embrace that we cannot be ourselves just by ourselves.
What differentiates vulnerability from submission? Or are the words interchangeable?
The words are not interchangeable. I’m trying to present in vulnerability an honest humility and openness to a reality based on relationship. Marriage is vulnerable because it requires faith, a commitment to share an identity, and the risk of life falling apart.
Submission is a difficult word because our experience of it in sexual and relational terms because people are capable of exploiting and abusing. It implies an accusation of passivity, it confers a lack of worth. In a best case scenario, ‘submission’ could refer to an active choice that one might vulnerably trust another, prioritising relationship over personal agenda for a common good. Perhaps that is not the experience of a lot of people though.
Many would say that the combining faith in paralleling your collection from the The Song of Solomon, the sanctity of marriage and human condition is in many ways speaking to the desire all men and women long for to find truth and lasting love from a partner. Would you say that you were inspired to write this collection of poetry from a place of romance, spirituality or human psyche?
I wanted to respond to the Song of Solomon spiritually. I wanted to follow the example of the writer. The book was sparked from the first chapter of the book. The best research on Song of Solomon suggests it was probably written by a male. But here he is speaking with a female voice about how her lover is like a bag of perfume between her breasts. I felt the vulnerability of the writer, I felt the vulnerability of the characters and I wanted to step into it.
In the introduction you are explaining that the reader is getting to be a voyeur in the life of this couple; we see into their private lives, their inner dialogue and some of the conversations. It is wonderfully handled through the differing voice of male and female character. I couldn’t help but wonder if the possibility didn’t exist that in the perception of the two personas a story of two entirely different loves was being told? Do you feel that men and women feel love differently or that love comes from a different place from one or the other? I don’t want you to make references to the sitings in your book but rather your own considerations on the thought.
One of the books that helped inform Anatomy was ‘The Gendered Society’ by Michael Kimmel. One of his ideas is that the differences between men and women is smaller than the differences between men and men or women and women. At a basic level, that means I am much more like my mum or my wife than I am the average man on the street.
That’s not to say that there are no differences between men and women, and probably some of those differences get expressed in the communication of love. However, I think that the way that people feel love or express love is relational. How love is shown is going to depend on the people in the relationship.
There is one poem in particular from the wife’s perspective when she was at a club and she is approached by a man but it does not end well for her. I wasn’t sure if you were paralleling it to “The Wickedness of Judah” or “The Unfaithful City” or combining the two to get the entire feel of the club and the situation. The issue I felt was that the verse and the wife’s actions felt entirely out of place and almost as if it must be a dream sequence. It didn’t fit her character. Did you insert it to maintain the faithfulness to the Song of Solomon and how did you feel it worked in Anatomy?
It was a dream sequence. It absolutely is out of character for the wife. It is there partly to explore the dream sequence in Song of Solomon which ends similarly.
It’s also there as a reflection on the theme of fantasy and reality. I want to challenge the notion that fantasy is naturally good. I think our dreams often betray us. With the ending, I wanted to show another aspect of vulnerability in that although the relationship is strong, the wife still fears it could disintegrate.
In your essay “The to A” you speak about gender identities a great deal and about gender hierarchies or masculine hierarchies. You repeatedly speak only of the black & white, traditional concepts of masculine and feminine gender, but make the statement that a male who rejects “anti-feminine” norms often appears more feminine. Why is it that one must embrace such narrow gender stereotyping? Why isn’t it acceptable in an ever evolving social gender forward culture that is becoming more and more free to forego such traditional restraints and embrace a unisexual view? So long as the psychological make-up isn’t based in a dominant or nondominant predisposition why should a couple find an equal nonbias as well as non archaic value system to measure their own worth?
I’m not embracing the stereotyping by highlighting it, as I hope the poems would demonstrate.
My argument would be that many men and women are not prepared to embrace more of what you are articulating because we are trained to see gender identity as a construct of things, (icons, objects, characteristics, mannerisms, etc.) For men especially, this construct of things, is generally and stereotypically rigidly defined in opposition to things which are deemed ‘feminine’ because society is institutionally sexist.
For me, it’s not about creating a new iconography or construct of unisex identity, it is about exploring and appreciating identity within a world of complex relationships. I cannot define myself by what I wear, my job, my interests or my car. I am defined by who I am in relationship to my wife, my son, my wider family, my neighbours, even strangers.
The end part of Anatomy discusses fantasy and reality and how it applies to a relationship; the movement from initial perception to the intimacy that the couple gains through work and surrender over time. Anatomy does a beautiful job of expressing the emotions related to the birth and wonder of a new partnership with all of it’s passion and possibilities, into the comfortable stage when it begins to come together, and then on to the days when it has been tested and found it is true but well worn, all the hardships visible. Did you feel that you had to speak about it outright at the end? Did you worry that readers would not pick up the concept in the poem?
I chose the format of the book to make sure it was accessible to the casual reader. Personally, I am not convinced most poetry works hard enough to compete for the attention of a casual reader.
I was aware I was using obscure source materials and presenting some views on relationship that work away from the mainstream. I wanted to throw people in at the deep end, but I wanted to leave a life ring, just in case.
If you were to review your own book what would you have to say about it? Tell me what you feel are the strong part and the weak parts about your novel and in hindsight is there anything that you might have changed.
I am just really proud of the book. It’s still very hard for me to give an objective opinion about it. Sorry. Obviously, I have my favourite poems, and the variation in quality between poems reflects the 8-9 month period the poems were written in.
In terms of would I change anything. I have started working on another book, and I am trying to be much more systematic about the process. In some ways, the characters of the husband and wife only really came together late on in the process, by trial and error. This time, I want to know the characters inside out before I start writing.
As a self-publishing author how do you feel about book pirating? Do you think that indie authors are more strongly impacted by illegal book downloading than publishing companies? Would you be willing to make your books free and request donations if you found that was a better earning model as a self-publisher?
I haven’t really had any experience as yet of book pirating. I’m probably not the person to ask about these questions.
What does being an indie author mean to you? What would you wish to change about it?
Self-publishing has been another expression of vulnerability as a writer. I’ve got no reputation, no CV to speak of, no brand behind me, no creative writing qualifications and nothing to lose. It’s just me and my book and that’s ok.
Obviously, I hope it doesn’t stay that way in the long term. I’d like to see my publishing name, Stackhouse Jones, develop into something that is about more than just me. I hope it can become something that looks a lot more like community.
Are there an opportunities that you would like to find out about or network with that you don’t have available to you currently that would help you become a more accomplished writer, increase your fanbase or help establish your work publicly that you would be interested in having someone contact you about? (Writing workshops, online writing jobs, printing press companies, beta readers, reviewers, editors, illustrators, photographers, web designers, etc.)
At the moment, sharing the work publicly is very important to me. If anyone is interested in reading Anatomy to write a review, that would be amazing. I can be contacted through my email address: Simon Travers.
This Word Slinger’s Books: Anatomy
‘The curtain rises. A fig leaf falls. Sex is a theatre of vulnerability.’
Anatomy marries the biblical passion of the Song of Solomon with the domestic rhythms of the suburbs. In this debut collection of poems and essays, Simon Travers presents a vibrant portrait of a 21st Century marriage. Intensely candid and intimate, Anatomy celebrates the strange vulnerability of a shared identity and the grace that loves us as we are, where we are.
Containing scenes of a sexual nature which are handled with tenderness and wit, Anatomy is a thought provoking read.
This Word Slinger’s Reviews:
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