An Interview with André Mangeot


Resonant, complex, rich in heft and texture, these are mature poems that grapple with serious themes. Beautifully crafted, and partly inspired by the poet’s love of the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia, they address the natural world, its endangerment and other pressing global issues from multiple perspectives, and with great lyrical power.

‘A thought-provoking book for turbulent times.’
– Matthew Caley

André Mangeot’s new collection Blood Rain confronts the degradation of the planet and individual lives and choices with a steely lyrical grace. In this interview, he discusses the relationship between nature and poetry and our own connection to the natural world.

Blood Rain features poems set in a variety of geographic and historic locations with several of them focusing on Welsh landscapes. What is the importance of these poems within the collection and what is your connection to them?

It’s often said that landscape is a character in itself and it’s true that location is often my starting-point. This is probably most evident in my books of short stories, True North and A Little Javanese, where almost all are set in different countries and an evocative urban or rural landscape is as vital in bringing the story to life as authentic protagonists. In Blood Rain, with one of its key themes being challenges to the planet, including the natural world, there are a number of poems set in locations that I know and value (North Wales, the Lake District, North Devon) – and habitats which are threatened in one way or another.  But ‘setting’ is equally important for poems set further afield or in other times (the trenches in WW1, occupied Europe in WWII, Romania under Ceaușescu) that touch on another form of ever-present threat – our propensity for violence and conflict.

Nature is a theme that runs deeply through the collection. What is the connection between nature and your poetry and what does poetry bring to your experience of nature?

I’ve always felt more comfortable at a distance from cities and the urban environment – though for much of the time they’re unavoidable, of course. And for now I do live in a city, so the contrast between noise/pollution/crowds and most rural settings makes time in the latter all the more special and vivid. Nature clearly works on the senses, on the unconscious, before any poem begins to emerge and evolve.  Thereafter, crafting a poem forces one to focus ever more closely on detail – both what’s being examined and for word-choices, imagery, form etc.

The poems in Blood Rain are often concerned with ideas of balance, particularly a sense of ‘counterpoise’- giving and taking between humans and nature. What role do exchange, and economy of nature and things play in the poems?

Ideally, any natural exchange between man and nature would be reciprocal and unthreatening. But we as a species have so clearly overstepped the mark – due to a frightening combination of arrogance, ignorance and greed, aided by globalisation – that almost everything is now scarily out of kilter. Levels of comparative wealth and poverty across the globe; degree and frequency of extreme/destructive weather patterns; competition for fertile and habitable land. It’s almost as if, because man has ridden roughshod over natural laws for so long, nature is now fighting back, reasserting itself, proving who has ultimate control.

What do the shifts between nature, war, and family mean to you? Does the quoted ‘warlikeness’ carry throughout the poems, even those not concerned with war itself?

Everything we know is connected, part of a larger, possibly infinite eco-system: each individual to their immediate family and community, the nation, wider world, the cosmos etc.  The natural world is no different: amoebas, plankton, myriads of insects are just the base of a survival chain essential for millions of species – including mankind.  In the natural world we’re used to considering the fight for survival as commonplace; now, perhaps for the first time, reality is dawning that we as a species are in the fight too, and that no law precludes our own extinction.  As far as ‘warlikeness’ goes as a human characteristic, I don’t want to overstate it, but I can see the same kind of mirroring of relationship conflicts within families (three or four poems in the book address mine with my late father, for example) with how resentments and misunderstandings on a national or global scale can escalate into something far more serious.

The title poem refers to the natural phenomena of ‘blood rain’ as ‘an augury of rust’. How would you describe the relationship between poetry and omens or symbols in the natural world?

Our response to poetry, literature – indeed, many things we encounter daily – is largely determined by past experience and the particular memories and sensations these things conjure up, positive or negative.  So this inbuilt, often unconscious association will determine different responses to the same word, phrase or image from one person to the next.  To me this is what’s so exciting about sending a new piece of work out into the world: not simply the act of connecting with others but the certainty that no two people will respond to a poem or sequence the same; each will bring their own experience, tastes and prejudices to it.  Some will find symbols or omens, but almost for sure in different places and forms.  But to return specifically to nature – full of wonder and terror in equal measure – all I’d say is that I’ve tried to keep this ambivalence constantly in mind.

What message do you hope readers will take away from reading the collection? Do you feel this message has become even more poignant amidst the situation we currently find ourselves in?

I didn’t set out to deliver any particular message, and would be hesitant about any collection that did. Blood Rain is just one person’s response to/meditation on current times that are clearly troubling and uncertain for many.  Covid-19 arrived after this sequence was written and published, but has simply underlined the global connection between us, and is a stark reminder of our vulnerability, no different to any other species.

 

Blood Rain is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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