Saturday, 14 May 2011

Brian Catling speaks to Andy Spragg

Brian Catling was born in London in 1948. He is a poet, sculptor and performance artist. He is professor of fine art at The Ruskin School of Drawing & Fine Art, University of Oxford.

Eight books of Catling’s poetry have been published and his work has been included in many anthologies, including . Etruscan Press produced a compilation of his  poetry; A Court Of Miracles, published in 2009. Catling is currently in the process of writing his epic, surrealist prose work The Vorrh.

When did you start writing? Was there a point where you were aware that you wanted to write?

When I was at comprehensive school – I was in the gutter stream for most of it – and it was the people in the English department that saved me. I suddenly realised I was going towards the door rather rapidly at the end of the fourth year and I wanted to do something else. I was reading strange stuff. I was reading stuff that wasn't on the syllabus, stuff that people like me weren't supposed to read. If you were in the gutter stream you were supposed to be doing metal-work or wood-work and go straight out, and they {the English department} sort of recognised that and threw me a life-belt and I grabbed it. Even though the visual world, I knew, was what I wanted to go into, but I always had this other thing of getting very excited by words, poetry and writing, so I just read a lot. I never thought I would start writing. When I went to art school and there were things that couldn't be done by making signs, images or actions, I had to sit down with words. I started to write poetry then. It was all terrible stuff then of course, but it never stopped. When I was art school it was kind of uncool to write and read. We were being taught by abstract expressionists who believed in the artist as the dumb animal who just goes to the studio and does his art, and critical questions are thrown out. Totally different to now. Now it's driven by critical theory and critical response. This was the other way round, so it was easy to keep my writing quiet. I just did it and no-one ever asked.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Sam Riviere speaks to Andy Spragg

Sam Riviere  co-edits the anthology series Stop Sharpening Your Knives, and was a recipient of a 2009 Eric Gregory Award. His first poetry pamphlet was published by Faber in 2010 under the Faber New Poets scheme. 

When did you start writing? Were you conscious of a point where you started writing poetry in particular?

I went to New Zealand then Australia for a couple of years in my teens/early twenties and spent a lot of time keeping a sort of journal/scrapbook thing that remorselessly documented my experiences. I'm not really sure why. When I stopped moving around so much over there I kept writing, but the it became...weirder, more speculative or something, and less about me. I went to art school when I came back to the UK and started writing and reading poems, mainly because of the people I met there. I think the brevity of the form appealed to me.

You're someone who has followed the academic line in terms of writing -- and engaging with writing -- right through to your PhD; what do you feel these experiences have given you in particular? 

I find it quite difficult to imagine doing anything else. I tried for a while to follow other kinds of work, but I didn't really get along there. I think 'academia' might be misunderstood by some of people (perhaps wilfully), in a literature context it more or less means having the opportunity of doing what you want to do. I don't understand why you would want to turn it down. Obviously your work has to be justified, somehow put in context, but 'academia' isn't really going to force you to compromise your position. If anything it helps you create a position, which you may not have realised was something you didn't consciously have. But isn't that part of why you do it (write) anyway? Any arts institution should welcome challenges to the definition of what it does, and in practice you are dealing with individuals who are interested and involved in that whole process anyway. It has given me time I guess, and let me hope that doing stuff like this is worth it, viable even. Plus the option not to get to work a crappy job all week. (for now)