James Sutherland-Smith


Shearsman Titles

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About the author

I am a poet and the best thing I do is to write poems. My life has been shaped by this continuous act of self-knowledge or self-delusion. Decisions about earning my living, where I live and, when I was younger, whom I took to bed have always the fatal sentence, "I am a poet" murmuring in the background; an angelic chiming, a serpent's hiss, a madman's mutter, a statement of destiny or Sam's stubborn refusal to pick up his musket. I would prefer it to be the last of these. For one thing I detest authority when it lays claim to power, truth and obedience by virtue of being merely authority. This does not mean that I have set my face against canons of poems and poets, but I feel that contemporary poetry lacks critical principles and that there is frequent recourse to argumentum ad verecundiam in terms of temporary reputation and the venerability of certain academic literary critics, who have ceased to read poems with proper attention. 
At Leeds University I was encouraged to write poetry although I read Political Studies. I refused the suggestion that I might pursue an academic career and worked firstly with homeless people in London and then, after falling in love, I spent a disastrous year as an articled clerk with a firm of accountants and lost my first love. This confirmed in me the desire to place poetry first and so therafter earning a living has been secondary to this ambition. I qualified as a teacher and then moved into language teaching.
In 1980 I left Britain, because I wished to travel. I worked in Libya, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In 1988 sensing the gradual professionalisation of my particular genre of teaching I took a Master's degree in TEFL and in the autumn of 1989 took a lector's job through the British Council in the then Czechoslovakia. I count myself lucky. In the Arab world I had made strenuous efforts to engage with Islamic culture, but failed. I arrived in the Slovak part of Czechoslovakia six weeks before the Velvet Revolution and found myself playing a small part in the centre of events. Until that time I had never lived anywhere for longer than six years. I am still resident in Slovakia and have gained a strong measure of personal stability from my Slovak wife, Viera, and daughter, Kate. Since 2002 I have worked in Serbia and advise the both the Serbian Armed Forces and Montenegrin Armed Forces on teaching and learning English. The work has been surprisingly satisfying.
(Abstracted from the author's website.)