POET JOHN GARTH RAUBENHEIMER
I'd like to take a moment thank John Garth Raubenheimer for taking time to talk with us about his writing.
Q Can you tell us a little about yourself?
A I'm a South African poet a long way from home – I live in Settle, Yorkshire... I've just self- published this book, The Voyage From Me To You: A Life In Poetry.
Q That's a beautiful shell on the cover. I've never seen anything quite like it.
A It's an Argonaut shell, also known as as a Paper Nautilus, very very rare. An octopus lays her eggs in it. I suffer from schizophrenia and this shell was at the start, the centre, of what turned out to be a fantastic delusion of grandeur.
Q Can you tell us about that?
A It might be best if you read my poem, The Beauty And Comedy Of Madness. It's in the book.
Q I know you've struggled with mental illness. You've made no secret about it and some people will know you give readings on behalf of a charity, SANE. Do you want to say something about what might be close to your heart.
A Perhaps let's keep it till later.
Q You've said that you're a poet by default. That you wanted to write novels.
A Yes, I did. And I did try to write one. I showed the great bog it turned into to a writer friend. He said I was trying to do something even an experienced creative author would balk at. Far too ambitious.
Q Who's your favourite author?
A Patrick O'Brian. I picked up the whole set of his Master And Commander series, set in the Napoleonic era, when the British Navy ruled the seas Wonderful, wonderful stories, full of wisdom – particularly about the relations between men and women - and humour and the need for courage, physical and moral.
Q What else inspires you?
A Small town life. I work Saturday mornings in a charity shop. Everyone and everything passes through here.
Q Do you write every day?
A I hardly write at all. When I do write It's usually because something has upset me. I write to regain my balance. But that's only if prayer isn't enough. There's enough poetry in the world.
Q You're joking, right?
A I'm not a regular writer. Jesus Christ fills me with joy and self-forgetfulness and purpose.
Q And yet, here's this book.
A Sadly yes.
Q I have to record, John Garth Raubenheimer is smiling... John... do you have any advice for other writers or poets, particularly for young writers, just starting off.
A The hardest thing we have to deal with - as potentially devastatingly good writers - is our own perception of how far we are from what we would like to be writing. And there's just no antidote to that perpetual disappointment. No one can hurt our feelings more than we do ourselves.
The only way forward is to write. To write. To write. And to read. To read. To READ what others have written. In the hope that we'll eventually start speaking with our own spare, natural tongue.
Q Writer's block?
A Years have gone by, when I couldn't write. When I just had to suffer the silence, the frustration. But I felt like a writer. No matter what else I was doing. Only a writer can have writer's block.
Q We're getting near the end of this interview and I feel we've hardly touched the mainspring of what motivates you.
A LIFE motivates me. I was there when my son was born. I took him in my arms and said, “Little John”. That shocked me. Something primal had invaded me. I saw black people being carted off in police vans in South Africa, only their fingers visible twined round iron bars. I never forgot that. It got into a poem. I went mad and suffered all the consequences. I lived and wrote myself out of that deep dark well. I did it for myself and for others. I started off life as an unbeliever, an atheist. I became a willing Christian. It's all a big mystery to me. I know less and less. A little bit of self-understanding. That's what I've achieved. And I have this smart little book of poems.
Q If you could ask one question of any writer, who would it be and what would you ask?
A I'd ask Joyce Cary to sign my copy of The Horse's Mouth, his wonderful novel about incorrigible artist Gulley Jimson.
Q Now that we've got the easy stuff out of the way, let's talk about your book.
A Yes, thanks. It contains all the poems from the last forty-odd years that I want to share. I've arranged them in life event order. So they tell the story of a boy born, a breech birth, just after the Bomb was dropped, who grew up under apartheid, a privileged white person, travelled, spent time down and out in Europe, married, divorced, participated in our country becoming a democracy, married again. Came to live in England with his British wife. Alone now, but among friends since she passed away.
The central theme, though very little is said, is my experience of schizophrenia. Mental illness has dominated my life and my work for SANE, reading to others from this book in aid of mental health, is what I count most special in the life I am trying to live for God's glory.
Your readers can look my SANE website up and make donations to SANE via this link http://www.justgiving.com/John-Raubenheimer They can order my book from me at firstname.lastname@example.org I'm hoping to set up a website for The Voyage From Me To You: A Life In Poetry... Might sell it through eBay too soon
Q Thank you John. It's been a pleasure talking to you.
A Thank you, so much.frt8ud