Andy Spragg is p’haps destined to be a foot-note on the path of others’ greatness. Some say he flew too close to the sun, others suspect he just never really tried, and others are fix’d ‘pon the idea that he was indeed too beautiful for the simple pleasure of accolades and awards. Certainly he presents as a humble man, more commit’d in truth by the prospect of making Red Cabbage soup than discussing his writing. Indeed, he is quick to have the ipod on, and quick to change the music according to mood or measure. It seems that we are off to an awkward start – however he gradually warms to me.
Q: How did you get started?
A: You mean with making soup?
Q: No, writing.
A: I was fortunate to have an excellent primary school teacher called David Purcell, he really encouraged me to write and encouraged my parents in helping me write. Since then, I’ve writing a broad spread of different things. Poetry was something I started writing as I got older – first in my teens, that sort of agonising, traumatic stuff that you hide your face from in later years. I came back to poetry largely through the efforts of Daniel Kane in my final year of university. He made poetry sound like something enigmatic and fun, which could contain the power to change…well, anything it set its mind to.
Q: In what sense?
A: There’s a wonderful notion about the word – and its ability to change and shape our understanding. After all, we use language as a package of associations primarily, a sort of short-hand for what we perceive and have perceived - For example, when I say “Chair” or “Sex” a series of concepts pop into your head. You define so much of your everyday experience around these concepts and language acts as that intermediary. It’s the bridge between how things are, and how we perceive them to be. Without wishing to sound too much like some hippy self-help guru, it’s so easy to adjust experience by using language. A thing becomes something else entirely once it’s put into words, it becomes malleable and multi-form. You have right there a grand transformative act. It’s no accident that the first words of the bible are “In the beginning was the word…”
Q: Ah, you talk there about the bible. Do you have a particularly religious outlook?
A: Not so much in practice, more in the way I’ve been raised. My mother is Catholic and I went to a very liberal and open church school. I would say it’s been a very positive influence in my life. It’s funny, because people rush to decry religion and faith. Given the choice between an uncertain but largely joyful sense of enigma, and Richard Dawkins’ peculiarly dogmatic atheism, I have to say I’d side with God every time.
Q: You’re a creationist?
A: No. Don’t be so hysterical.
Q: But surely…
A: I’m bored of this line of enquiry. All I mean to say is that there is nothing wrong principally with faith. Religion, even if you view it as a human construct, has had such an impressive scope and impact on everything we have as a species. We have told our stories by it, we’ve comforted each other with it, and we’ve massacred one another in the name of it. We have managed to contain so many experiences and narratives collectively, as communities and civilisations, and even now the world remains largely unknowable and mysterious. I feel fundamentally that Thomas Pynchon sums it up best when he says in Gravity’s Rainbow – “There was no difference between the behaviour of a god and the operations of pure chance.”
Q: You need to stir the onions a little.
A: Are you sure?
Q: I think so. Tell me, how would you describe your writing?
A: In development mainly. I like the process of writing a lot. It makes the most interesting structures I think. I’ve just read The Autobiography of Alice B Tolkas by Gertrude Stein and there’s a bit in there where Alice B (or Stein writing as Alice B) describes Stein walking around just thinking about sentences. It seems so delicately contained, like she’s playing a game with herself.
Q: You seem to suggest it’s largely an act of onanism?
A: Don’t be so stupid. This is Gertrude Stein we’re talking about.
Q: But surely writing to some degree is always an act of indulgence.
A: Well, you would know.
Q: Shall we try again? What are your influences?
A: In terms of poetry, the
– Ashberry, O’Hara. I like Ginsberg when he’s fluent enough, and Whitman all the time. Egg Box has produced some remarkable poetry books in recent years, especially Agnes Lehoczky – who I have the pleasure of knowing, and Daniel Kane - who we’ve already covered. I feel like I’m still finding my way with reading poetry – some of it I adore straight away, some I have to think about. I tend to lean towards the things that uplift the everyday, or alternatively turn the sacred into something we can all grasp. I dunno, really. New York School
Q: You’re not a confident poetry reader?
A: I’m an enthusiastic reader. I suffer from a secondary school education that paid little heed to poetry outside World War I and Carol Ann Duffy. Consequently I feel I am playing catch-up a lot at the moment. I like Blake and Brian Catling too. I forgot them.
Q: Any other influences?
A: Gosh, yes.
Q: You perform a bit don’t you?
A: Not so much at the moment. I’m on a private retainer from Issac Brindley, but I can’t discuss that really. I used to perform a lot.
Q: You consider performance an important part of writing.
A: I consider it of importance, but not always necessary. I write mostly for the page, but I love performance as an act in itself. I find the pieces where something is built more to performance than just being “reading at an open mic” tend to be the ones that stick and engage people. Something like ‘Echo &The Rush’ which was a piece I developed with a dear friend, Julie
, has had a lasting and memorable effect on those involved. The last open mic I did has not. I see performance as part of process – not necessarily the result or conclusion of it. ‘Shoebox’ which has just been staged by the Effort is an example of this – something where an adaptation of work serves to impact later work. This is not something that begins and ends in performance. Groves
Q: You seem set to a very internal logic where these things are concerned.
A: I am a massive fan of the kind of auteur you see in people like Sun Ra or Moondog – where they function within their own logic. You suspect that the outside world only really touches them when it adheres to their own private understanding. Quixotic, I suppose. I like that sense of, “Well, why have you done this?” and the only reasonable answer being, “well, why ever not?” Of course, all these people died penniless, so maybe there’s a lesson there.
Q: You like the sense of enigma in other words.
A: Adore it.
Q: How would you perceive the change in your writing as you’ve developed?
A: Interesting that. I have this conflict at the moment, between work that I consider as referencing ‘high modernism’ or pertaining to a degree of craft, and stuff that I find to be more throw-away – like those recent pieces I did for the Etcetera blog.
Q: You consider them throw-away?
A: I did, at the time. It’s funny because I recently completed a poem that I thought would be this great exploration of the bog-people – those men and women that have been perfectly preserved in swamps and recovered years later. I saw it as some form of metaphor for the position any young writer with a grasp on literary theory finds themselves in. That sense of static terror brought about by the sense that a landscape exists, and works to overwhelm and envelop you. Ironic really, because I was speaking to Nathan Hamilton about it, and he pointed out that Seamus Heaney had already ‘done’ the bog-people. I didn’t know whether to feel vindicated or cheated.
Q: Sorry, how does this relate to the Etcetera poems?
A: Oh, in the sense that these grand eloquent plans you make tend to have been covered. As reaction you turn towards the seemingly banal and everyday, hoping that it may offer some sort of revelation.
Q: Back on the biblical again I see.
A: Is this water meant to be blue? I’m not sure it’s meant to be blue.
Q: Red cabbage does that to water. Stick with it.
A: Jesus, it’s not very appetising is it?
Q: Stick with it. Tell me more about the everyday.
A: Well, I think to some extent it’s about unlearning what you’ve been taught. We become conditioned to find meaning by our education. In actuality there is little meaning there other than what we make for ourselves.
Q: Back to this internal logic again.
A: Very much. I mean I perceive myself as successful in the sense that I get up each day and work hard at the things I love. Nothing more need be said. Poetry tends to be very one-sided, but it opens itself up to countless readings and interpretations. That’s a real interesting thing about writing as a whole.
Q: We’re reaching the blending stage of the soup and nearing some sort of conclusion. Have you any advice to other writers?
A: Something Phil Langeskov said to me recently – it’s my current favourite bit of advice – We were having one of those conversations people should have, about art and the whole shebang, and what it meant to be a writer at this point of time. He looked at me very frankly and said, “I just write.” I think that’s the best solution to any enquiry that may cause a writer to hesitate. When you’re there thinking, “am I sufficient? Am I good enough?” it’s best to remember – “I just write.” Of course, if you are Phil you write well enough to make the rest of us feel quite shamed. But that’s something he has to live with.
Q: That’s you advice? “Write”? Seriously?
A: Well, you know. It makes me feel tender.