Interviews

‘I Always Was a Poet and Ever Shall Be’

Author Mike Douse says he has never had a choice other than to be a poet. In an exclusive interaction with The Literary Juggernaut, the octogenarian, who resides in Mid-Wales, the United Kingdom, pronounces, ‘Writing books about education arose out of the work I did, but I always was a poet and ever shall be.’

With a doctorate in education and various other academic qualifications, Mike, who can also speak a bit of French, thanks to his working in Paris, tells us he is up for undertaking a master’s degree by research into Caribbean writing. ‘It would be my third!’ he exclaims. Maintaining that he is as full-fledged a writer as he ever can be, Mike lets on that his tryst with writing is destined to continue. ‘More poems will inevitably get written’, he avers over the course of the interaction, adding that he hopes to attend literary festivals in the future.

Mike Douse

TLJ SPECIAL

Stavyah: It is indeed a great pleasure to be chatting with you, Mr. Mike. Thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview. To begin with, when did you start writing?
Mike: I still have Douse’s Daily Diary, which I wrote as a school holiday project in 1947. No doubt I wrote many bits and pieces before then; but, alas, they are not preserved.

Stavyah: That was a long, long time ago, was it not? Be that as it may, could you tell us about your published works? How did they happen? What’s your latest book about?
Mike: Most of my publications relate to my work as an international educational advisor for developing countries and with organizations such as UNESCO, UNICEF, and the EU, and they bear such titles as ‘5-year Education Sector Plan for Country X’ or ‘Technical and Vocational Education in Country Y’. Googling ‘education’ and ‘Mike Douse’ will readily locate many such reports, journal articles, and conference presentations. Let me highlight two recent books by Professor Philip Uys and myself: The Global School, published in 2017, and One World One School: Education’s Forthcoming Fundamental Transformation, published in 2020. Their titles indicate their central message, as does that of An Enjoyment of Education, my own 2009 collection of essays that proclaim that learning should be fun and self-fulfilling rather than workforce preparation. And then there are my three collections of poems: Old Ground (2011), Gone to Ground (2017), and Grounded (2021). Mostly I shared them with my friends, sent a few to reviewers, and all receipts from those that I did sell were passed on to an animal charity. Old Bakehouse publishers sold some directly, and I see that each is available on Amazon. The intention was never to make money but for people to read and enjoy them. Incidentally, our two education books have each sold several thousand copies, but we aimed at breaking even rather than getting rich!

ALSO READ | ‘Writing is Art, a Calling’

Parodies and All That Jazz

Stavyah: Very interesting! Before you start with a book, do you in your mind have the plot and the characters you are going to incorporate, or do you not know how the story is going to unfold unless you get done with it?
Mike: For the education books, we began with a clear idea of where we were going, agreed on a chapter-by-chapter plan, set and kept to a schedule, shared drafts with colleagues and responded to their comments, and went ahead and published. Readers’ and critics’ comments on the first book were attended to in the second. As for my poems, who knows where they come from, how they grow, and just how they will finish up?

Stavyah: Do you have any favorite authors?
Mike: In One World One School we acknowledge several hundred earlier authors, thinkers, and practitioners. We are particularly indebted to Sam Bowles and Herbert Gintis, Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, Paulo Freire, and C P Snow. As far as poetry is concerned, obvious favorites include Robert Burns, William Butler Yeats, Rabindranath Tagore, Hugh MacDiarmid, Dylan Thomas, and Derek Walcott, who inspire not just me but pretty well everyone else. I enjoy parodying…

Covid-19: after W B Yeats

This is no virus for old men. The young,
As if immune, relax in one another’s
Arms. It is the elderly for whom it lies
In wait – us dying generations – us paltry
Things in tattered coats: jam-packed in
Vast spectator-crowded stands, crammed
Into trains and cars and planes, breathing
Each other’s dwindling gasps, too obsolete,
Too stuck in unhygienic ways, to isolate.
I wash my hands of all of it for I have come
Unto the very epicentre of bacterium.

Covid-19: after Dylan Thomas

I see you wraiths of autumn in your care home.
Befuddled and unvisited, staring at faded
Yesterdays, demented in your chairs.
We are the sons your futures were,
Guilty as charged, the negligent deniers:
O hear the carers coughing as they tend.

Stavyah: Wow! Adorable poetry, I must say. How and when do you come up with such great poetry, Mr. Mike? Do you follow a schedule, or do you write when you have an urge to pen down your thoughts?
Mike: May I respond to this with a recent poem? As with those parodies, this is from Grounded:

The Best Time to Write Poetry

I do not mean the time of day. Or night.
Whenever one is up to it is right.
I am referring, rather, to the stage
Of life, and I say it is in old age,
When thoughts half disappear and cannot be
Recalled to mind in their entirety,
Or when a word that one has used for years,
Like early morning ‘dew’, just disappears,
And when the point that one intends to make
Flees from the mind in mischievous mistake
And when one seems confused when one is not
As one’s preoccupied with – who knows what?
And, hearing only those who do not shout,
Whose forms one’s failing eyes cannot make out,
And when one’s much too frail to hurry past
A lace of gossamer too chaste to last,
And when, to sit at one’s familiar desk,
Is painful, awkward, in a way grotesque;
When intermittent sleep prolongs the night,
Then is the time to find one’s pen and write,
Unzipped from all the certainties of youth,
Trip into furniture, old friends, and truth.
When one’s no more than feebleness and fear
False metaphors of worthlessness fall near,
So scribble through the old familiar pain:
Flesh crumples, joints wear out, but words remain.

ALSO READ | ‘I Cringe a Lot When I Read My Old Stories’

Stavyah: Very admirable, Mr. Mike. And yes, it does answer my question.
Mike: Thank you. I had no choice other than to be a poet. Writing books about education arose out of the work, but I always was a poet and ever shall be.

‘Write What Satisfies You’

Stavyah: How do you juggle writing and other tasks? What are your hobbies and interests besides writing?
Mike: The poems get written without any juggling, and the educational articles and books arise, as I say, out of the work. I am involved in local politics – currently working with colleagues for our area’s post-pandemic recovery – and I enjoy debating and fostering it and public speaking in schools.

Stavyah: Is there anything you would like to tell budding authors that lose motivation if a few of their works don’t do well?
Mike: Write stories and poems and articles and plays and reviews and whatever that satisfies you – that’s the first step. Don’t depend upon conventional publishers – consider self-publishing. But share your drafts with your friends and take note of their comments. If you really are a writer, you will not lose motivation! If you lose motivation, you never were a writer.

Stavyah: How very true indeed! Last but not the least, if there is one thing that you would like to change in this world, what would that be?
Mike: I would like to bring an end to rampant inequality and economic exploitation. Almost eight thousand migrant workers died in constructing stadia and other buildings for next year’s World Cup in Qatar – that is so self-evidently evil, and the system that allows that needs to be changed.

DO READ | ‘Let Nothing Stop You’

PS: In one of his recent poems, Mike linked the underlying causes of climate change and the coronavirus pandemic. Here is an extract:

Zoonotic spillover
Occurs when previously unencountered microbes leap across
Into human hosts from other creatures in a hostile takeover.

Accelerating deforestation
And industrialised agriculture intensify too close a contact between
People and an ever more stressed animal population.

The problem is not
So much the wet markets of Wuhan, or the high-end trade
In exotic animals, but the globalised capital circuit.

It is the system
That summons up fresh plagues, that sucks up all of nature,
Heating the atmosphere, poisoning the air and the ocean.

That killer virus
Is vituperative capitalism, whose only mandate is to reproduce itself,
Eternally seeking growth: unmitigated, unceasing, undesirous.

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