Monday, December 6, 2010

An interview with cricket poet Nick Whittock

Nick Whittock is a Melbourne poet and cricketer. He plays for the Reds Cricket Club in Melbourne which has a colourful history to tell. See their web page at
I first came across Nick's work in 2008 through a mutual friend Paul Hardacre, an Australian poet and publisher with papertigermedia. Paul said he knew a guy who wrote lots of cricket poems and had done a book of them. I said, cool, tell me how to get in touch with him. I contacted Nick and got him to exchange cricket poetry books. I sent him my book Slips and he posted me his book covers (2004).
covers quickly became one of my favourite cricket books. I bought extra copies and sent them out to friends. It’s an unusual design, visually attractive, lots of photos of cricketers in fielding positions or lazing round on the field at various moments during a game, and the poems are mysterious and repay further reading. Written in contemporary style and idiom, they cover a wide ground: Australian opener Michael Slater’s thoughts when batting right through to a concrete poem on Jason Gillespie (see below) and an extended longer poem on Muralitharan’s unusual bowling action.
Later I contacted him again to use two of his poems for A Tingling Catch.
In the 2008/09 and 2009/10 seasons Nick toured the North and South Islands of New Zealand with the Reds Cricket Club. On each tour he played about 9 games against local club teams.
Last month I told Nick I was doing a blog and he sent me some of his new cricket poems and I asked to do an interview with him as well. Here’s the interview followed by a new series of Nick’s cricket poems.

Mark: When did you first start writing cricket poetry?

Nick: I moved to Melbourne in 2000. That was when it started. Yeah definitely. I'd written a fragment – something kinda sci-fi with astronauts n radars. It was rad but tiny and had no future. Until some cricket words replaced a number of key terms and everything fell into place and the fragment was suddenly 'about' something (it prophesied – accurately - Brian Lara's return to form in that summer's test series).

Mark: How do you compose your poems? Do you take a notebook to matches and Tests and compose during the match or do you mainly do your writing at home after the match has finished?

Nick: Yeah definitely. Variously. Sometimes I'll transcribe lines from the commentary or the ads during the coverage. If I'm watching a game live I barely write anything down – my involvement is far to concentrated. But I certainly gather concepts, visions and ideas. Form is very important in the construction of a poem. If I write cricket poetry it's less to do with subject matter than form. The forms of cricket and the syntax that organises them often underlies my poems. The most obvious example of this is a lot of scorecard poetry I've been building where the words / lines align on a scorecard and are distributed according to the scorecards' frames and the very particular flows of reading involved in reading a scorecard.

Mark: In 2004 you published a cricket poetry book called "covers". What kind of reception did you get from the poetry community and cricket fraternity? I gave a few copies of it to cricket poets in New Zealand and it went down well with them. Tell us about the book and how it came together, i.e. the interesting use of cricket images mixed in with the poems?

Nick: Yeah definitely. Covers was published through an imprint that the great online journal cordite had going for a little while – the imprint was called COD (Cordite on Demand). Davey Prater (cordite's editor) asked me if I'd like to do a book with them. Obviously I jumped at it. Davey was very active in encouraging me to construct something that wasn't just a book of poetry but an artefact of some beauty. I love those old cricket books full of old grainy black and white photographs of beings (cricketers) in weird distorted stances. I sifted through some books I had at hand and extracted images of cricketers on the ground, looking as though they were asleep or in various states of recent awakening. It's an obvious thing but I love how soporific cricket is – I think it’s often criticised for being boring. It’s possible these critics don't get just how intensely interestingly boring it is – the sleepiness, the way time passes, the dreaming that goes on. The pictures were some sort of reflection on this. And they allowed the creation of a different sort of flow (series of resonance) than just page and text would have. People I know who have read or seen covers tell me they like the way it looks n largely profess to being mystified by the content. Beyond that I don't really think it was ever 'received' – yet?

Mark: You play cricket yourself. Do you think being a cricketer is essential to writing cricket poetry and understanding the finer points of the game or can anyone write cricket poetry?

Nick: Yeah anyone can. I guess they just would be less likely too. Someone who doesn't play cricket would have a completely different understanding of the game – the finer points would be differently fine. I wonder if they would understand the constant failure a cricketer has to deal with.
This is important as it leads to the special emotional value that success at cricket holds – how momentous cricket’s events are and what it means to a cricketer when they manage to get things going their way. The profundity of cricket’s events might be lost on a non-cricketer, but they could always garner profundity from different sources and through observing other aspects of the rigmarole.

Mark: You run a blog "Ashes/Urn", has this encouraged interest in your cricket poetry. Or is it mainly a way for you to blog on cricket matches and events?

Nick: Yeah definitely. It gets me writing and the ideas that come up there and a lot of the lines too can end up in or informing poems. Posts about Michael Clarke get a lot of hits. I wonder what they make of it though. Yeah definitely it's handy to have the presence to refer people to when they express an interest. As much as blogging on matches it’s a way to invent or distort concepts and philosophies. I find it very free and experimental. It’s rigorously anti-rigour, but without being stupid or stupidly light.

Mark: Tell me about your new Clara poems and how they came about?

Nick: Michael Farrell [an Australian poet] suggested the scope of my project (poetry solely about cricket) was too broad and that I should try only writing poetry about Michael Clarke. So I did. At that time Clarke came with Lara Bingle, a combo that immediately adds a third element - Brian Lara. So when I was writing about Clarke I was also writing about Lara, and Lara was either Lara or Lara or, actually, Lara was always both Lara and Lara. Given the resonance across all these names I began to feel that the distinction between Clarke and Lara was a bit arbitrary so I took Clar and Lara and made Clara. Brian Lara's middle name is Charles so you see his name written like this B. C. Lara. So Clara became this monstrous amalgamation of forms and started sweeping up the entire cricketing world. It became some kind of motivating force – a figure of pure desire or something. When Clarke and Lara split I took that view that it was a split as in the way a cell multiplies by dividing. Clara proliferated.



Clara Poems

mj clarke
lb bingle
bc lara

i should be licking you i mean
you walk real quick
our paths wouldnt mind intersecting wing attacks
positioned according to a rules no trouble
executing the pass scale models tins tin n tans le tan
tinting queens park savannah

coconuts yr arms straight balls long
dlf post goalsre nailed teamsre buried cherries
in my beer teamsre buried cherries in my beard

sigh to in i remember the code look good late
if ya could share m licks a throw supremo i could lap on til it dissolves ve
been seein chins
like all reflexs explained in chins wing attacks a
cute chin motivates a possession upshots a goal the
let let me lick yr chin chin sigh to in n umpires result

she gets home smashed n sticks the cane end of a cricket bat in her beak
its as though the tubes made to take it applying code she remembers
the array of dandelions in the outfield n schemes

during the subsequent 20 overs hondas
blush chins intercept beer chins intercept beards
in the morning riding her small bike
through albert park she feels used by middle park
in the library she meets someone from the library they
pass comment on her coat n beak n works worthwhile 

claras beak places a weed on the civilian jaw
deep mid wkt she toots
shes polished
the yellow bands on her tigers
theyre catchin rodins eyes theyre scratchin
at 1st slip he thinks of chins lines of cunts every

blades n eye the fields ponds the take itself
cannot be recalled yet its glory adds as
reconstructions add

careful to avoid the witchety grubs
for fear of coppin
flu clara
s foot long beak tootles n sucks the outfield
suckin down th
e occasional weed clar

as hairs unconscious the air fills with
grains she slides to her left collects the pill
n reverses its trajectory but still flatter


claras hot
claras god
claras bergson
dadas is comeback
rocks monroe
claras choosing
claras the planets n the stars
claras chooses chance
claras neat little bundle of desire
claras decent indecent
claras replicants
the prohibitions get to me
claras speyside
claras islay
claras never gonna trick an old goon like me
claras a husband out by repetition
claras hadlee
claras lillee
claras brett lee
claras moonee valley
claras leeward
claras islands
claras country
claras trails coke odour
claras peas
claras stout
claras a husband out bye repetition
ah tried to be prince o m own land but lacked a people so claras
claras dairymaid
claras proust
claras lvd by proust
claras beer
claras drinking
claras prince
claras people
claras don bradman
claras trails coke odour
claras heart
claras the heart of the country
claras dog
claras cat
claras bear
claras fish                     ing
claras oppen
claras opening
claras spreading
claras field
ah tried to be prince o m own land but lacked a people so claras
claras clara
claras clara
claras clara
claras clara
claras hot
claras difference itself
claras dairymaid
claras prince
claras rain
rains wind
sandwichs sandcastle
claras uncles
claras grandpa
claras daughter claras daughter nucleire identical
claras dissolved
claras real milk
claras real cow
claras ray
claras rising ground
claras beak
claras name is prince
claras hot scotch
claras mulga bill
claras engaged in war against winter
claras changes
claras climate
b b b b b b claras
takes 2 batters to make a single
claras valley
claras mighty
claras soft
claras begas
claras waggas
claras clara clara
claras suns
claras the heart of the country
claras heart
claras matter
claras michael douglas
claras Kathleen turner
claras beard
claras drinking
claras beard
claras fishing
claras 23 lamby clarkeys
claras drome
claras hemulen
claras golden drome
claras grey drome
claras slazenger
claras gray nicolls
claras le mans
claras official pasta
fixie gangsre the aviators
claras the aviators
claras clara riding
wouldntve thought buddhad be one to give anyone out
claras critical
claras dork
claras fewer greys
claras dark
claras lady
claras n all

Poems © Nick Whittock

Covers by Nick Whittock (COD: Melbourne, 2004)

Nick Whittock's poem 'Dizzy Gillespie' about former
Australian bowler Jason Gillespie, who once scored a Test double century
at No. 9 against Bangladesh batting as the night watchman.

Thanks Nick

Covers can be ordered from Nick. His email is

See also my blog post "Mark Pirie's Slips - cricket poetry"

Interview © Mark Pirie 2010

1 comment:

  1. Interesting work, says this non-cricket person. As a visual person, I particularly like 'sea gull love'. The interview really adds to the work. Thanks Nick, thanks Mark.