Charlie Baylis is a poet. He is an author of short stories. He is a blogger and a tweeter. He is a poetry reviewer. He is a translator. He is a fan of Dylan Thomas and Prince and Nottingham Forest and typos. This week we dig a little deeper into the mind of the man whose poem, 'Along the Westway', is an enchanting, lyrical marvel of pacing and language. (If you haven't read it yet, check out the Fall 2014 issue of Agave Magazine for Charlie's Pushcart Prize-nominated work.)
AGAVE MAGAZINE: Why do you write?
CHARLIE BAYLIS: When I was 16 I was listening to Sea Change by Beck. I think one of the songs had a strong effect on me. Possibly the one about his mother passing, anyway, that happened and I picked up a pencil. I couldn't really help it. I got hooked.
I wrote more seriously from the age of 17. I was truly awful. Terrible attempts to be like my hero George Byron. Who lives near me (well he's buried near me but he's still alive). I wrote an irreproachable bad poem at 18 that placed in a competition (called 'Vodka Kicks and Teardrops'). It was praised for playing with being Artless. The judges did not know that I was, at least at that age, genuinely Artless). After that I just picked up the pencil and ran. I couldn't stop even if you held a gun to my head. It's in my veins. It's in my blood. As my Twitter follower (parody account victory!) Miley Cyrus sang, "And we can't stop/And we won't stop".
What poem are you proudest of?
I think the first poem that came out. The first good one anyway, not the one above. It was in SAW Magazine. I wrote it at 22 fresh from graduating. It's a sonnet called 'Lilia by the Fountain'. It about the stillness of winter being untied by love's strings.
Publication was a beautiful feeling--I'd had so many no, no, no's, even a you're so bad it hurts rejection slip. Then Colin S. wrote and said he was putting it in his magazine. I think I cried. I'm a little emotional, at times, at least for an Englishman.
There's a story in Litro that I used to be proud of. 'The Infinite Dollhouse'. That was about taking care of my unborn daughters (Chelsea, Lily and Arianna). But I got fired from editing for Litro. So fuck it. They ruined it for me.
What effect do you hope to have on the reader with your Pushcart-nominated (congratulations!) 'Along the Westway'?
I wrote 'Along the Westway' when I was really down. I'd been fired from a job, I'd been dumped by my girlfriend, I'd sent myself back home to live at my mum's house and it was unbearably sad. I was broken, I'd been living in essentially paradise (I was in the south of Italy teaching English). I needed to recover. So, anyway to answer the question, the poem was not written with a reader in mind. It is a failed attempt to escape the pain, chaos and sorrow around me.
When I was in Italy I slit my wrist. I had another go in another country. Then I came home. I'm proud to say I've recovered completely. I am healthy and happy again. I've no gratitude for the people who made me feel that way. They should know who they are. I do have a lot of gratitude for the people who published the poem (others have said no to it!).
Finally the Pushcart Prize nomination was a super feeling. I didn't win, but to be nominated meant the world to me. After the hell I went through. I didn't cry. But it was close! I'm really grateful to Agave. I love you guys. It's been true love from the start.
You seem to pull no punches in your reviews. Do you find it difficult to write a negative critique, or do you agree with Jay Rayner that it's more fun to read and write a negative review?
I just have very strong opinions and I can't lie. I've written positive reviews in my head that other people have thought were negative. Like my Toby Martinez review, which is free to read on Stride. As is my interview with him on my blog/e-journal. In my head I'd given him a lot of praise. He didn't see it that way. But Toby is a great poet and will be a greater poet in ten years time.
I have a different writing style and different influences to most of the unfortunate souls I review. I sometimes feel my time is being wasted. I am not a kind critic but I do aim to be fair. After I reviewed the Faber young poets, Faber (the biggest poetry label in England) blocked my e-mail. I'd like to quote Morissey (one of my heroes) and his classic hit The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get. Anyway, if anyone is reading (Hannah? Martha?) at Faber: You know we still are a match made in heaven. T.S. Eliot has always been a hero. Please get back in touch F+F, I still care 4 you. (Or I want my new poet 13 pamphlet.) Dear reader: you decide.
P.S. I'd agree with Jay (love his writing!): being insulting comes more naturally to me in a review. I am a man of expensive epicurean tastes, I'm wearing an $845 Versace jumper, what do you mortals expect? If you met me in person after suffering one of my vitriolic reviews you'd be shocked. I'd be more likely to buy you an ice cream and talk pleasantly about the weather. I'm a nice guy at heart (Jay is too). It just doesn’t come across in reviews!
What is bound to impress or irritate you about a poem?
Idiocy (and it can go both ways!).