Thu 9 April 2020
Project Leaders
You are here: Home > Young Writers' Hub > Community > Interviews > Writers > “Don't ever give up until you're five years dead”: in conversation with Mike Di Placido

“Don't ever give up until you're five years dead”: in conversation with Mike Di Placido
Interview Date: Thu 1 May 2014

Mike Di Placido is Yorkshire-based poet and ex-professional footballer. His debut poetry collection, A Sixty-Watt Las Vegas (Valley Press, 2013), is a celebration of his hometown Scarborough. His first pamphlet of poetry, Theatre of Dreams (Smith/Doorstop, 2009) was based on his trial with Manchester United in the early seventies. He now lives in Seamer, near Scarborough, with his wife and two daughters.

Jonathan Aldridge is a 24 year old writer from London. His debut novel, Banes Of Boys And Girls, is now available on Kindle, and his short fiction and poetry has been published in .Cent, Liars’ League, Cadaverine, Frogmore Papers and many more. 

Your Questions Answered:

In your first full collection, A Sixty-Watt Las Vegas, you seem to play a lot of roles: literary muser, romantic, social commentator, stand-up comic, to name a few. When you write poems, are you in a particular mood?
Question By: Jonny Aldridge

Well, I suppose the first thing to say, on writing poems, is that not many poems arrive fully-formed, although I always know exactly which ideas I want to pursue, otherwise I wouldn't have jotted down the initial word or lines at all. I joke about my wallet being my filing cabinet, what with ideas, words and subject matter jotted down as they arrive on bits of paper! After that, the poem, which can be about absolutely anyone or anything, simply dictates the process. There is no set mood, other than a determination to be true to the subject matter and the tone of voice which it dictates, and which can be, and I hope often is, various. 

I have spent years in writing classes, too. Here, the process is the same, just concentrated and more intense because of time limits, and I try not to think too much but just go for it. I usually find that even if I don't produce the beginnings of a poem, many ideas are generated to work on later. One could muse on the existence of The Muse, but I like to keep things simple! I suppose being open to whatever is there is as good a definition as anything. The tone is dictated by that, as well as the characters and situations that one inhabits, so to speak, which brings me on to plays.

So you're also interested in writing plays, autobiography and performance poetry? That's very diverse.
Question By: Jonny Aldridge

Yes, I definitely want to have a go at writing a play and a verse drama for radio. The performance poetry idea is about Scarborough, where I’ll be doing filmed readings at various sites in the town.

While we're on Scarborough, in 'Scarborough Castle' you write about mythology ("the world-serpent/and whale-road"), history ("the bark of Norman masters") and security (which "comes with ocean/and cliffs wrapped around you") in a really striking way; and then in 'About this time last Friday' you depict a modern and fairly mundane view of the town. Can you explain a bit about your relationship with Scarborough, and why you wanted to produce this "celebration" of it?
Question By: Jonny Aldridge

Well, as a Scarborough lad, born and bred in The Old Town (despite the surname!) I've always loved the place. I think it could be linked to a fantastic childhood and early teen years, playing soccer non-stop on the beach. I love being near the sea, too. No wonder, really, I was born overlooking it almost. It is bitter-sweet, too, in a sense, because my early breakthroughs in soccer—during my Manchester United trials and England Youth caps—stemmed from those years and seem inextricably linked to the shattering years after the breakdown of my soccer career aged 19 and my subsequent twenty-year sabbatical in The Dog & Gun! (See ‘Free’, ‘The Vic’, and ‘Recovery’.) I suppose my recovery from that time was here, too, plus my eventual re-entry into education and pursuit of poetry. However, I've always wanted to celebrate the town for as long as I can remember. It is probably some indicator of latent megalomania, but it feels to me that it's my town, somehow, that the call of gulls are my soundtrack to life, and that I have a duty to record it memorably. There you go. Barking mad!

In ‘Scarborough Castle’, I wanted to present the sweep of history and the different periods of occupation, from Bronze Age and Roman to present day. The precinct poem hopefully celebrates the ‘now’ of life in a normal everyday situation that could be anywhere. Without getting too heavy, I suppose my path in life to the present moment has simply made me grateful for each moment.

In those three poems you articulate the 'sabbatical years' with real clarity and force, so I'm assuming that writing poetry has been an important part of your recovery. But how much was the reading of poetry part of this too, especially that of Ted Hughes, Simon Armitage and T.S. Eliot?
Question By: Jonny Aldridge

Yes, reading poetry is, of course, absolutely vital. I started doing that, in earnest, when I took my first degree at Hull Uni's Scarborough Campus. But my real poetic education came when I studied under Peter Sansom at Huddersfield University for my MA. Peter, in his quietly authoritative way, instilled in us the necessity of wide reading. Of course, this is almost a truism to all art and endeavour, really; you have to absorb other voices and influences to find your own. Where would the Beatles have been without Little Richard et al? Or Bob Dylan without Woodie Guthrie? I rest my case. And yes, Eliot, Hughes and Armitage have all been studied avidly. Ted Hughes, especially. He was one of the first big influences, along with Shakespeare and Dylan Thomas. Of course, Hughes was a Shakespeare and Eliot man through and through, and Simon Armitage's hero was Ted Hughes, so there's a sort of lineage there, in a way. I'm actually planning do a book on Hughes—a tribute in prose and verse—when I get my act together! But yes, wide reading is vital. Absolutely.

And these idols actually appear as characters in the collection, with a poem dedicated to each. It seems to me that this is quite brave of you, not only because you could easily misrepresent them in another person's eyes (seeing as they are shared idols), but also we are often led to think that the poems are more important than the poet (and maybe that the latter should be 'invisible'). What was your thinking behind characterising these men and looking at them as people? 
Question By: Jonny Aldridge

I've never really thought of myself as brave. It's as I said earlier about being faithful to your original vision, if you like, and getting down exactly what you want, or at least think you want, to say. This may be right, wrong, controversial or whatever. But whether it's a person or not, if I've homed in on it then it's valid as a poem, or at least the subject matter for a poem. What other people may think in that particular sense is irrelevant. The only questions for me are: have I nailed it? Is this the best I can do? Of course, after that, I'm like any other writer, I would think, in wanting my work to be valued and then being necessarily grateful when it is because, at the end of the day, what else is there? 

Interesting, though: idols. My earlier pamphlet, Theatre of Dreams, features a sequence on sporting idols—George Best, Law, Charlton—and as in the Armitage poem these are essentially snapshots of real events in time and space; the challenge being to capture those fleeting, ephemeral moments in time forever. So the words Simon utters in the poem (“Time to melt into/the Huddersfield air”) were his actual words. I learned afterwards from Peter and Ann Sansom that those type of casual, lyrical utterances are entirely normal for him.

The other thing I'd say—and this not only really interests me but may in part answer your question as to why this theme is in my work—is that writing about characters is akin to plays and inhabiting personas, and that's what I'd like to have a go at. Writing plays, that is. (Okay, I'd best start with one play, first, hadn't I?) Why particular figures? I don't really know. I've got poems about Shakespeare in Scarborough; meeting Genghis Khan at the railway station; imagining Harold Hardrada's mind-set in Scarborough bay in 1066, which was an actual event by the way. At a guess, I would say that it is a device of examining subjects and subject matter. But I don't really know; and in a much unenlightened way, I don't really want to know. Bob Dylan said once that when things work for him he sort of keeps schtum about it. I can understand that. I'm just happy to do my best with whatever comes to mind. 

Time for the quick-fire round. Ready?
Question By: Jonny Aldridge

Your favourite poet: Let's make Ted Hughes my North Star. 

Your favourite poem: Simon Armitage's ‘Lives of the Poets’ from The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right (Smith/Doorstop, 2009).

Your advice to aspiring writers: Aim to be the best you can be by mixing with the best, through writing classes and suchlike. Read widely and consistently. Be true to your own voice, but flexible enough to both listen to and learn from criticism from those you respect. And lastly, don't ever give up until you're five years dead. 

Where we can read more of your work: You can take a look at Theatre of Dreams (Smith/Doorstop, 2009) or A Sixty-Watt Las Vegas (Valley Press, 2013) for my print works, or search online for “Mike Di Placido reading” to listen to my readings of ‘Scarborough Castle’ and ‘Hare’.