Thursday 12 January 2012

Bobby Parker speaks to AS

You are someone who has engaged with a range of different forms of writing and art, did these elements develop separate from one other or have they always been complimentary?

My dad studied to be a cartoonist, so as a boy I emulated him and discovered I also had a basic talent for drawing. He used to throw newspapers across the room in disgust when he saw the satirical cartoons, convinced he could do better. He gave up. Now he works in a factory.

However, I was obsessed with horror books and horror movies, so I filled sketchbooks with the kind of stuff that frightened my teachers. They made my parents take me to a psychiatrist.

Reading and writing was something that came naturally to me as well, but I started writing seriously just before I left school. I filled notebooks and read as much as I could and made my first submission to a magazine about five years later. Charles Johnson, poet and editor of Obsessed with Pipework, published my first poems. He used to mark my work. He’d write things like ‘This is bullshit and you know it!’ in the margin of a particularly bad poem. Without his feedback and generosity it would’ve taken me a lot longer to get published. 

Everything else just followed naturally, the experiments with painting, music, photography, film etc – I am an intensely creative person, and would be happy expressing myself with any medium. But I am better at writing than anything else, so that is what I focus most of my energy on for now.   

You have a very prominent autobiographical tone in your writing, which particular writers have had an influence with regards to this?

The Beat Generation, Jim Carroll and Charles Bukowski to begin with, but Harvey Pekar and Richard Brautigan, along with my research into Outsider Art, changed everything for me. Something about turning myself into art seemed to make sense, even if my life isn’t particularly interesting, the challenge, as we all know, is to find deeper meaning in even the most mundane situations, or to inject imagination into an otherwise ordinary experience, like doing the washing up or walking to the shop – even though writers and artists will always feel the need to explore the same themes over and over again, we each have our own reality, and the world as we know it must pass through the filters of our own experience. To be honest, the truth interests me. Everybody has their own version of it.

How conscious are you of the confessional or transgressive nature in your poems? Do you see any limitations in the linking of the transgressive with the personal, in the sense that it may prove problematic for others to read or for you to live up to? I am thinking here of a number of interviews with Hunter S Thompson, in his post Fear & Loathingdays, where he speaks of the frustration of being expected to write exclusively in that Fear & Loathing mode, and to behave in that manner too.

Hunter S Thompson made a caricature of himself. I hope I never do that. I try to transmit what happens in my head onto the page. From the beginning, I have slowly been pushing my honesty to a point where it is uncomfortable to people. People, in my experience, are more receptive when they have been affected by something, even in a bad way. It leaves a mark. Ghost Town Music has been my most popular book so far because I didn’t hold back in any way. If I upset people, myself or my family included, I didn’t stop to think about that. I can’t, it would undermine what I am trying to achieve.

My chapbook Building Murder with a Smile (the red ceilings press) has been my first attempt to capture a mood without telling on myself or using autobiography. Although it was written using the main ingredients of my psyche: Fear and Anxiety – I hope that is what comes across when people read it. A friend of mine called it a dark, nightmarish soap opera, which I think is pretty accurate.

My next book, Comberton (the knives forks and spoons press), has pushed autobiography as far as I’m willing to go at the moment without getting myself locked up or ostracized. If I had to explain why I do it, why I reveal my deep, dark and dirty secrets, why I publish the things that people save for therapy or the closet, I’d say it’s because I wish people would be more open. They shouldn’t be made to feel so alone all the time.

Do you feel that the domestic takes quite a big role in your writing? There seems to be an overt tension between an exterior space and an interior one, particularly in poems like 'Do you feel an idiot when you dance at parties?'

Yes, or at least it has. I’m not sure if it will continue to do so. Maybe there’s no escaping it. We are all locked into domestic routines whether we like it or not. But rather than let them suffocate me, I prefer to tell you that when I’m stuck in a room worrying about the bills or why my wife is pissed off at me, I am also somewhere else. I suppose it’s that ‘somewhere else’ that I’m trying to articulate. 

What projects are you currently working on?

At the moment I am plotting and researching my first novel, which is about a post-op transsexual going through a psychotic breakdown.  

I am also putting together a book of ghostly images and words called Phantomland and slowly piecing together Freak Exorcism (the final part of the trilogy that started with Ghost Town Music and Comberton). Both of these will be published by the knives forks and spoons press

Thursday 8 December 2011

Tiplady on Clarkson

Jonty Tiplady has started a new blog, and it tells you more about the condition of the world than asking him about his favourite soup ever would. Highly recommended.

Get his excellent book too.

Friday 23 September 2011

Sean Bonney - The Commons

To mark the release of Sean Bonney's The Commons (Openned, 2011), Miso thought it would link to this excellent interview with SB himself. Highlights include the response given to the question of perceived 'difficulties' in poetry:

To answer your question, I don’t think of poetry, ‘difficult’ or otherwise, as elitist at all. Poetry is a very marginal artform, it’s true, and for all sorts of reasons – a lot of people don’t like it, and I’m certainly not one of those people who goes on about increasing its readership, and so on. But elitism – I’m not sure whether it’s something that’s restricted to the anglophone world, but in Britain at least there’s historically an anti-intellectualism that calls anything that’s complex, or a little difficult to understand on first hearing, elitism. In the Blair era, ‘elitism’ basically became a synonym for ‘criticising the government’. It’s so obviously repressive, that way of thinking, and ultimately very right wing. I read an article in a performance poetry magazine a few years back, where somebody or other was going on about how the simplistic crap they were writing was stuff that the ‘working class could understand’. That’s the same logic as The Sun newspaper, all the consumerist media really – clever, educated people talking down to people – they think proles are thick, basically, and they want to keep it that way. It’s stupid – especially when you think about how so many of the really important avant-garde artists Britain has produced, Tom Raworth and Derek Bailey, for example, have been from the working class.

Share & Enjoy.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Mark Burnhope speaks to Andy Spragg

Mark Burnhope was born in 1982, and currently lives and writes in Bournemouth, Dorset. He studied at London School of Theology before completing an MA in Creative Writing at Brunel University. His poems and reviews have appeared in print and online publications including Magma, Nth Position, Horizon Review, Stride and The Best British Poetry 2011. His debut pamphlet, The Snowboy, is available from Salt Publishing.

When did you start writing? Was it poetry in particular? 

I remember being about fourteen, discovering Wordsworth and Blake, and writing little Romantic poems which I once put together with illustrations in a handmade book, because Blake did, sort of. I have a vague memory of reading ‘Daffodils’, noticing that Wordsworth described this field of daffodils as a ‘host’. I wrote a poem about a field of angels, thinking I was cleverly working with that idea. I wasn’t. I was actually undoing, sucking the life out of, a brilliant metaphor. I laugh about that now. But I started writing poems seriously during GCSE English. I wrote a poem for an assignment. My teacher, Mr. Matthews, had a contagious passion and excitement for poetry, and his enjoyment of Dylan Thomas, William Blake, Sylvia Plath and others rubbed off on me. That assignment was to write a Gothic Horror story. I told my teacher that I didn’t feel very confident in fiction, and asked if I could write a horrific poem instead. I also didn’t want to do horror, but the crucifixion was kind of bad, wasn’t it, so can I write about that? He let me off, and then gave me an A. I didn’t need much encouragement to get serious. That reluctance with fiction though has never really gone away, and although I’ve attempted a novel, it’s been stashed away in a drawer, two thirds finished, for years now. So yes, I’ve had a voracious, almost exclusive appetite for poetry all these years.

Which particular writers would you say have been an influence?

Lots, I read all over the place. I’m not a massive reader of prose, but C.S. Lewis, for his children’s stuff as well as for his satire, like The Screwtape Letters. Bunyan: I’m interested in allegory and symbol, probably over and above metaphor. Indra Sinha, D.B.C Pierre, Ali Smith. In terms of poetry, the Metaphysicals, particularly John Donne and Andrew Marvell. The metaphysicals have fallen in and out of favour in contemporary poetry for obvious reasons; we live in a society where, gladly, no belief is given more airtime than another. Readers can be put off by the mere mention of religious belief, and for good reason; but it can be to their detriment if they miss the linguistic leaps these writers were taking. I’ve tried to absorb and utilise elements from Wallace Stevens, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Yeats, Hopkins, R.S. Thomas. These writers created a religious tradition which is multi-faceted, innovative, and far from embarrassing. I’m interested in the pastoral, nature/landscape, Romantic traditions: from Blake, John Clare, Robert Frost, to Norman MacCaig, Seamus Heany, Dylan Thomas and Ted Hughes. Lastly, I’m interested in satirical, anti-poetic treatment of difficult social and political subject-matter. Zibniew Herbert has been a big one there. Current poets like Andrew Philip, Tony Williams, Michael Symmons Roberts, Andy Brown, John Burnside, Sian Hughes, Angela Topping, A.B. Jackson, Tim Atkins, Ira Lightman, Bobby Parker and Steven Nelson have added something or other to my thinking about the part I might play. Oh, and Luke Kennard, who reminds me with linguistic skill and a good sprig of anarchy, never to take things too seriously, even when they are serious. Seriously; life is too short to read too many poems which don’t make you laugh.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Amy De'Ath - Who am I a Poem?

A fantastic mini-essay by Amy De'Ath has just appeared online. I shan't attempt to summarise it, as you can read the thing yourself here.

"If it’s possible that the other is a poem, and a poem-other that issues from me (that is, ‘my-self’, who is also born of you and any number of signifiers in the minds of others), what happens between me and a poem? "

Be good to one an' other.

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)