H. K. G. Lowery: Author Interview
Updated: May 13
How has your background in music influenced your writing?
Although I have noodled with guitar and piano for many years now, I was never a competent songwriter, much less a singer, despite having a basic understanding of melody; in fact, I would compare my singing to a wailing husky, a hungry and lonely wailing husky. I would say, though, that there is room for melody, a subtle kind of melody, in poetry (and writing generally). Although I have come to appreciate the possibility for and patterns of melody which emerge in the spoken word, I think these sounds are more natural, stemming predominantly, perhaps, from emotion (at least in my own depressed Geordie vernacular). In other words, it is not melody that I have inherited and manipulated from Debussy or Schubert, or even Kurt Cobain or Juice WRLD, or Tina Turner - it is emotion, feeling and catharsis. Rhythm, on the other hand, is - completely and emphatically - different. We speak in rhythms. We write in rhythms. There are rhythms everywhere: in your car engine, on your front door, or in the pesky cat who runs across your garden. I began playing the drums at the age of six; so, a lifetime of notation - crotchets, quavers, semiquavers &c. - and a lifetime of technical exercises and rudiments - paradiddles, pataflaflas and ratamacues &c. - has shaped me to think rhythmically and, therefore, to write with great attention to rhythm. I have written creatively in various meters before - from iambic pentameter to the Ruba'i, for instance - during my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing, but I found them, as I still do, very restricting and claustrophobic. After years of working on my own personal craft, I have come to the opinion that, for me and for my writing, words should not be confined to traditional schemes of rhyme and meter; instead, outpourings of emotion are driven by natural, spontaneous rhythms and should be as free as your imagination.
Which literary figures do you particularly admire?
When I began reading (for pleasure) and writing (creatively) at eighteen years old, the Romantics caught my eye, namely: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. Before discovering their work, I had already subscribed to their manifesto. I felt a particular kinship with the importance they attributed to Art and Nature. If you were to read my earliest work, you would certainly see the Romantic undertones running through my naivety. However, it was during the series of lockdowns throughout the Covid-19 pandemic that I realised we can only look backwards for so long, and this applies to so many walks of life in which we want to move forwards. I became omnivorous and voracious in my consumption of literature, especially, of course, with those who were writing about my immediate reality. The names that come to mind - who I still turn to for mentorship now - are: Ocean Vuong, Danez Smith, Max Porter, Stephen Sexton, Eoghan Walls, Fiona Benson, Mary-Jane Holmes, Claudia Rankine and Hannah Sullivan. For years, I have wrestled with the comparison of contemporary poets to the Romantics or the Modernists - any movement from before our lifetimes - and although I still believe that a lot of contemporary poetry is - insert your own profanity - in the face of Federico Garcia Lorca or John Keats, I have accepted that contemporary poetry is gorgeous and determined and stubborn because it grapples with the strange and desperate world we live in today. Instead of tackling the implications of grief or jealousy in plays and sonnets, today we often write about suitcases or instant mash potato.
You mentioned a period during which you studied creative writing under Paul Muldoon, Paul Farley and Terry Eagleton. Would you say that this was a transformative experience?
I was incredibly fortunate to work with such eminent and accomplished poets and academics. The workshops and tutorials I participated in and received just made sense to me. They presented informed opinions that I respected and trusted. Eagleton, in particular, completely opened my mind up to the necessity of precision (in both creative and discursive work) when collaborating for my Master's dissertation. Question everything. Interrogate your writing. Look at words from every angle. I have undying respect and gratitude and praise for The Department of English Literature and Creative Writing at Lancaster University for the opportunities I was afforded and for the experience of working with such esteemed thinkers and creatives. The editorial diligence of Muldoon, the drafting processes of Farley, and the precision of Eagleton were all transformative lessons for me and my writing.
What led you to the formal study of creative writing?
I wanted to be better. I wanted to belong.
'Moonflowers' (Aurum Journal, 2023) was your first published short story. What inspired you to branch out from poetry, your choice form?
Firstly, I must thank Aurum Journal again, sincerely and profusely, for accepting my first short story for publication. Their interest in my work, their kind appraisal and their amazing efforts promoting the publication have been absolutely brilliant and I cannot thank the Editorial Board enough for becoming the best home possible for Moonflowers. To answer the question, however, it's like Mini Eggs' chocolate: the new bars they released for Easter were delicious and, perhaps, better than the original little eggs in which they specialised. I think all the arts, in the same way, have a certain synergy with one another in the context of form. For example, Shakespeare wrote as many fine plays as he did sonnets; Bombay Bicycle Club have written indie music, acoustic music and rock music - all albums brilliant in each craft and genre - proving the versatility and dexterity of the band; and, as far as my ignorance allows me, Henri Matisse went from representational paintings to abstract. Like these playwrights, musicians and painters, I see very little value in confining myself to just the original Mini Eggs. From the five years of embarrassing juvenilia rejected by every literary journal to the distinction and prize-winning work at Master's level, Poetry and I have exchanged small nods and I think we will see one another again, perhaps, in the future once I have tried other forms in the name of constantly reinventing myself and my work.
The structure of 'Moonflowers' is deeply experimental, combining diary entries, letters, prose, transcripts and digital logs. What drew you towards this kaleidoscopic, modernist format?
David Mitchell's breathtaking Cloud Atlas is still, probably, my favourite novel of all time. For Dr Zoe Lambert's short story module, part of my Master's degree, I wanted to see if Cloud Atlas could be condensed into ten minutes. For Art, nothing is more important than experimentation. I think the wide range of prose forms makes for an interesting and thought-provoking read, challenging the autonomy and interconnectivity of the short story. Placing different forms - and, consequently, eras - side by side in conversation with one another also raises (for me, at least) many interesting questions about form: which forms can and cannot convey certain information, characters, perspectives, narratives and genres?; what is the relationship between any one era and the limitations and possibilities of its forms?; and when, exactly, does a story begin and end? Frankly, I just have strange ideas and I mess about with them until something cool happens. As I mentioned previously, experimentation and reinvention are essential.
'Moonflowers' betrays a fascination with how disparate lives overlap. Is this an important idea in your wider oeuvre?
I think existence is just a chain of disparate lives overlapping, transcending, influencing. In the same way, one of Shelley's poems - and how it made all the events in his own life manifest - sparked just enough something in me to encourage me to write my first poem. I thought about how all the pains and heartbreaks and anxieties and ecstasies and joys and revelations in my own life and work (caused by all the pains and heartbreaks and anxieties and ecstasies and joys and revelations of other people's lives) may, if I am lucky enough, call someone who is not even alive yet to write their first poem or to think about a certain idea or to keep trying just another day for all the pains and heartbreaks and anxieties and ecstasies and joys and revelations of their life to occur. Every act in everybody's life is meaningful. A song could save someone's life. A novel could turn an Atheist religious. All the events and experiences of our lives that go into a piece of Art, or even just a smile, come from what has come before us to shape what will come after us. And - as I always come to realise at the end of everything I write - kindness, understanding and gratitude are, without a doubt, the imperatives of human existence. So, just keep being awesome and look after each other.
Your short story begins with a quotation from Adam Ewing's 'Cloud Atlas': 'Yet what is an ocean but a multitude of drops?' What is the significance of this quote for you?
This quote has meant many things to me at many different stages in my life. I guess my previous answer unpacks Mitchell's rhetorical metaphor: life is just a multitude of lives. We may be little lives in a big universe, but our big universe is still just the sum of each of our little lives. Right now, the significance of this quote for me is to keep going, whether this is to write a poem that only four people might read, or smile at a stranger who is fighting invisible demons, or listen to and learn from the world... because I want to be a better man and partner, to be the best that I can be so that my future children can live the best lives they can. So, even though you are only a single droplet in the overwhelming, bustling ocean that is life, just keep going, because the world would not be the same without you, dude.
Do you consider yourself a solitary writer, or do you share your work with a literary circle?
Although my Master's cohort was comprised of really great, kind and supportive peers and although I've always dreamt of belonging to a literary circle of eccentrics and collaborating creatively (like the Shelleys and Byron at Villa Diodati or the Beats in San Francisco), I am very much a solitary writer. My writing process begins when I am incredibly happy or incredibly depressed; I am never between and rarely the former. I lock myself away in my bedroom, eating grapes and playing Minecraft, or something to that effect, and then a line sparks a poem or a paragraph or I force out the idea; and then, before I know it, a long time has passed and I have three thousand words about a suicidal Italian composer whose final concerto inspires a poem which inspires a murder which inspires a nun which inspires the cure for cancer at the end of the world - or maybe I have a quatrain on my dead dog, or how I thought I almost died in a plane crash, or quiche. So, I'm not sure how my writing would change if I were in a literary circle; it would probably make it good. I guess I've always been quite lonely and felt as though I don't belong to anyone or to anywhere. Maybe my literary circle is made of all the poets who have been before me, and I share my work with them and learn from them still. Maybe my literary circle is just myself, my soft toy Pikachu and an espresso. Maybe everyone is at once alone and together.
Thank you, again, to Natalie and everybody at Aurum Journal for their efforts with my work and for their brilliant, thoughtful and interesting questions. I am so touched by their interest and support, and they are one beautiful reason why a droplet like me continues to write in the ocean.
About H. K. G. Lowery:
H. K. G. Lowery is a writer and musician from Gateshead. He gained a Distinction in his Masters degree in Creative Writing from Graduate College, Lancaster University, where he worked with Paul Muldoon, Paul Farley and Terry Eagleton. The Department of English Literature & Creative Writing awarded him with the 2021/2022 Portfolio Prize for his work which received the highest mark in the faculty. Lowery has been shortlisted for The Bedford International Award and The Terry Kelly Poetry Prize, and his publications include: An Enquiry into the Delight of Existence and the Sublime (AMP, 2020), Being and Becoming (KDP, 2021), Death, And Other Angels (Errant, 2022) & 9:45 Drama (KDP, 2022). To date, Lowery has been published in: Poetry Salzburg, Amsterdam Quarterly, Pennine Platform, Obsessed With Pipework, Publishers Weekly, Hyacinth Review, The Ofi Press, Dreich Magazine, Train River Publishing, Sylvia Magazine, Lancaster Flash, Errant, Disabled Tales and Inky Lab Press.