From a town little heard of, but from which many a famous name has hailed. Jane Austen was schooled there and Oscar Wilde was imprisoned; he even wrote one of his most famous poems in its intimidating, red-brick prison. Kate Winslet, Ricky Gervais and most famously Princess Catherine Middleton were born within its municipal boundaries. Indeed had I been born 1 year earlier I would have shared my birthing ward at the Royal Berkshire Hospital with the future Queen of England! Reading (pronounced like Otis, the King of soul), on the banks of the River Thames, is the biggest town in Europe; for despite its size, the Queen never deigned to designate city status to the commercial capital of her Royal County. The county in which her castle of Windsor found its place.
Throughout my adult life, I have wandered nomadically through many a South East English town and city. And having sojourned for a time in the foreign climes of both Aix-en-Provence and Jerusalem, I now rest my head in my wife’s home city of Zaragoza in the North-East of Spain. During the Spanish Civil War, George Orwell sat on the lookout on the nearby arid plains of Aragon and it is from this same region that I am always on the lookout for creative inspiration.
What is the greatest thing about the place you call home?
Quite the philosophical question. For what is home? Your birthplace? Where you settle? Your ancestral homeland? Or where you feel free and can cast aside the bitter taste of strangerhood? It has been a life quest to explore this question and it remains unanswered. It cannot be said that Zaragoza feels like home, but I do not regret moving here. For to be stranger in a strange land is natural. It is the way of many an immigrant before me. Yet to be stranger in your own land – be that your land of citizenship or your land of ancestry – is a tragedy. For all its wonderful history and culture, the United Kingdom was a land of estrangement for me. Ultimately, I have a beautiful wife and daughter and in their company, I am in the only home worthy of the name.
I do however want to comment on what makes my birth town great: Peace. In Reading, in its full diversity and staggeringly cosmopolitan mix of people, you can glimpse what a world at peace would look like. There everyone can be proud of their own religion and background, yet still fit seamlessly together in one intricate tapestry – For in that community, there are no ghettos. The Pakistanis aren’t in one area and the Afro-Caribbeans in another. Instead the citizenry mix and befriend one another as a matter of course. In no other city I’ve passed through since have I seen that which has been achieved there. Be that in somewhat segregated London or the erroneously named Jerusalem (the “city of peace”). It is this “Reading vision” that I would like to see realised the world over.
What turns you on creatively?
What doesn’t?! History. Geopolitics. The Middle East. Religious texts. Science fiction. Peace-making. The power of love. There is no limit to what can inspire me. But creativity comes when your brain mystically links such topics together to form a magical potion and seasons them with passion. When the still, small voice pushes me to write, I write.
However your enquiry deserves to be analysed on a deeper level. For ultimately, the question I ask myself is not how be more creative. Or how to be more original. With maturity, I’ve learnt that what matters above all is communication. Having something to say. And using the correct medium to deliver that message. Sometimes the correct approach is academic analysis. Sometimes it’s poetry. Sometimes it’s rhetoric. It could be best delivered in writing or through oratory. On occasion, just one line will do. But if you communicate nothing – or at least nothing clearly – you have achieved precisely that: nothing! The reader may interpret differently to your intention, having mixed it with their own personal experience, and that’s fine. But you need to say in your heart: today I said something.
In choosing the correct medium, the key is energy. For only energy can engage the reader. In my experience, the greatest bringer of energy is to use poetic devices – short phrases and clever punctuation – to enliven prose and sharpen rhetoric. Poetry, as traditionally understood, can often be impenetrable and elitist. But it need not be. The poetic phrase can be used to engage and energise. It is not a form or a set of rules. It is freedom. The freedom to express oneself. I choose to express myself by mixing poetry, prose and rhetoric together and fearlessly crossing those forbidding boundaries.
What is your favorite word, and can you use it in a poetic sentence?
Serendipity, a word I first learnt as a child while watching the 1970s classic ‘Doctor Who’ episode “The Green Death”.
To be interviewed by Spillwords is an privilege. To be recognised as a writer is an honour. But for it to happen now, at the appointed time, at the prescribed hour, as the chronometer passes 40; that is serendipity. And for this serendipitous honour of great privilege, I am most grateful.
What is your pet peeve?
Division. And the immense, quasi-impossible task of repairing the breach.
Be that the cast-iron division between left and right, liberalism and authoritarianism.
Be that the petty nationalisms which seek to wedge open long-sealed partnerships into barely-concealed xenophobia;
and ignoring the wrong of your “own side”.
The need to be totally right
and to define your opponents as irredeemably wrong.
To avoid listening
and to lecture others on why they think as they do.
To collectively stereotype the non-conformists
and to forget what it means to be a minority or a stranger in any given group.
We are all mostly wrong.
We are all a little bit right.
If we are humble,
constantly listening and learning,
we will become slightly more right,
until one day the divisions that plague us are finally healed.
You will note I said quasi-impossible to repair the breach. Not impossible. There is always hope. But a division made in one month may take a millennium to put right. And the prophets of peace will be hounded throughout those years, thrown in ditches and have their names dragged through the dirt. So yes …division is more than a pet peeve. It is the enemy of all mankind.
What defines Daniel Ashley Clarke-Serret?
What defines Daniel is Clarke-Serret, a double-barrelled name with a deeper significance. Upon marriage Sara and I eschewed two contradictory traditions. The British way: for the wife to take her husband’s name. And the Spanish way: for the wife to maintain her double-barrelled maiden name (all Spaniards have a double-barrelled surname). Instead we fused our surnames to create that which is most important to us in the world: unity.
In the Persian mystical tradition, the world is conceived of as a smashed mirror with each of us as dislocated shards. We are all charged with a mission: to repair that mirror piece by piece until ultimately it reflects the divine image of God.
Our marriage symbolically and mystically joined our two shards together. It also started a moral journey. For in my life read as a mission statement, I seek to do all that I can to create unity. To help people escape from the echo chamber and hear the alternative perspective. To understand that one shape can have many faces. To internalise, in the immortal Hebrew words of the Torah, that “Adonai Ehad“, the Lord is Unity defined. And to conclude that the world is one 8 billion long, multi-barrelled family and thereby to bring about a peaceful world.
Daniel Clarke-Serret is an international educator, school leader, qualified barrister, poet, online satirist and writer on international, political, historical and spiritual affairs. He is currently living in Zaragoza, Spain.
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