In Conversation With Keston Sutherland- #PandemicTales

As part of our Tales From The Pandemic campaign this month, Daastan interviewed the poet and lecturer, Keston Sutherland. We discussed his thoughts on lockdown and his new book “Scherzos Benjyosos”

Keston Sutherland On His Work

Keston talked us through his experience of lockdown. He said that at the beginning of the pandemic, when the British lockdown was announced. He couldn’t quite believe it and was slightly incredulous. Initially, he overreacted to the news on both an emotional and physical level. He said that in his head, in a hyperbolic way, he felt akin to the miners who experienced the disaster in Chile in 2010 and this feeling of being stuck. Keston remembers a psychologist suggesting that the initial reaction to such a trauma was important and would determine an individual’s ability to adjust. He was worried that the classroom atmosphere would be stunted on zoom, but was surprised at how well his students adapted. He said that teaching, especially seminars, brings him great joy and so to have to talk to a screen was a big adjustment.

“There was a great collective spirit of solidarity”

Creativity During The Pandemic

Keston said that his creativity took a big hit during the pandemic. As a literary critic and a scholar, he has found that working on the University of Sussex’s campus, undisturbed has been beneficial. However, his work as a poet has been very difficult. Contradictorily, Keston usually seeks solitude in the atmosphere of a busy pub or bar to write. He was unable to do this because of COVID restrictions. He says on the other hand, this time has been a good opportunity to rejuvenate. Being a poet Keston says, is like emptying out and filling up again.

“That book emptied me out, I had nothing left and i’ve been slowly filling up and recharging during this period”

Authors That Inspired Keston in Lockdown

At the beginning of the pandemic, Keston read lots of novels to give him a sense of purpose. He says he is not normally a great reader of novels so this was something unfamiliar to him. He was writing a book about a 19th Century poet called John Clare, during lockdown. Keston drew parallels between Clare’s experience and that of lockdown, as Clare was incarcerated for 30 years. He was also reading a lot of poetry by his friends, but he really missed the experience of attending poetry readings.

“That experience of hearing poetry live was really nutritious for my imagination as a poet”

Poetry And The Pandemic

We asked Keston Sutherland if there were any burgeoning poetry movements to emerge from the pandemic, to his knowledge. He said that he wasn’t aware of any, but a surge in creativity would be a great outcome of the pandemic. He said that he took a poetry class over zoom last year and found the passion and the enthusiasm of these students was unmatched. The chance to share their work, had been for these students, “a sort of life jacket” and a way to preserve their sanity during this time. This poetry class became a way to maintain intimate connections, according to Keston.

“A lot of people now, have felt like writing has been a way of hanging on to parts of themselves which might feel threatened”

“Scherzos Benjyosos” and Links to Lockdown

Keston discussed his new book, and specifically the fourth Scherzo, which chronicles a specific moment in lockdown. Keston drove up to the top of a hill with his 3 year old son, who had a lot of pent up energy from being stuck inside. His son seemed to fall in love with grass, and rejoiced in the vastness of the outdoors. Keston said that he was moved by this and lived vicariously through his son in this moment. We live in a time where we are always worried about taking up space, Keston says. But there are boundless possibilities just around the corner. Keston says that during lockdown, nature has been a life saver for both him and his son.

“watching him was this very emotional, overwhelming experience to me, seeing him explode out into this unconfined space”

We would like to thank Keston for taking part in this campaign. It was great to talk to a poet about their experiences during the COVID 19 pandemic. If you haven’t entered our poetry competition yet, you have until the 27th of July, you can enter here. If you would like to watch the full discussion, you can find it on our Instagram @mydaastan. 

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