Andy Hopkins in conversation with Frank Burton
Andy Hopkins' poetry collection, Dark Horse Pictures, and the Ash Pony You Climb EP can be downloaded for free from www.philistinepress.com.
Music and poetry - which did you get into first?
It was music first, but I was always more interested in words; I always thought that bad lyrics are pretty unforgiveable, which makes it so funny that so many supposedly iconic songs have risible words. I'd been in a band for a few years when I discovered Flying Saucer Attack, dada art and T.S. Eliot; I can still remember the baffled looks on my bandmates teenage faces as I tried to combine these influences in rock. I've been lucky to work with some patient and dynamic people since then, but from then on, it was mainly poetry that held my interest.
"Dark Horse Pictures" - can you explain the title?
Actually, it was a 'found' phrase; I used to do a lot of things by cutting up existing texts, or mixing and matching lines of my work with non-fiction texts. It created quite a number of allegories and metaphors that I used later. The phrase never left me, even though the original piece it was written for waslong since binned. The phrase/metaphor gathered together and unlocked a cluster of ideas that I've often been obsessed by: identity, control and manipulation of the past at a micro and macro level, erasure, surface/reality. The image on the cover of the collection was a picture of my mother's father - a man who I never really knew; that sense of isolation from others, or from the past, or from your own memories has always been interesting to me. Also, the idea of being dragged into a picture or mirror is something of a recurring fear that I had as a child (and one that was brought back by seeing a Stubbs horse picture in London some years ago); the idea of being forgotten or erased is something that haunts many people - whether that's romantically or politically.
What kind of response did you get from Dark Horse Pictures when it was first published?
On launch night it sold out! I had to give my copies back to the publisher to sell! After that, I'm not sure. It was Selkirk Lapwing's biggest selling title. However, I actually stopped writing after it came out, and have only just started again; I lost touch with the whole process. It is so difficult to judge 'work'; you feel it to be good (or you wouldn't do it, right?), you get a good reception when you air it live, and yet you never believe the good things people say or write about it. You're somehow waiting for a celestial moderator to come and give it the seal of canonical approval. That knock on the door doesn't come. There are a hundred, maybe a thousand, writers out there in a limbo where they are desperate for meaningful criticism and feedback for their fledgling publication career.
Do you think there'll be a different reaction to the collection now that it's being published online?
It feels completely different. The e-publishing definitely allows for immediate feedback from a huge variety of geographical locations. I suppose, as a writer, you cherish 'reaction' of any kind. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, you want your poetry to be communicated, so that it can 'communicate before it is understood'. E-publishing does that reaching out. We control the means of production; which is a good thing, with murky edges. The ultimate question is that with so much 'production', are enough people 'consuming'? I'd like to weigh up the answer to that. It is an honour to have the collection reissued by Philistine Press.
Is your poetry influenced by music?
The short answer is yes; however, I think to a less extent now than it was three years ago. Things like the trochees of 'Ending Chairs' and the phrasing of the poem 'Dark Horse Pictures' started life as parts of songs, but I learned to keep the two processes separate. Looking back I think I've incoporated far more poetic ideas into music, than the other way around. Having said that, all good writers steal ideas from music and art. I wouldn't write like I do without purloining stylistic bits from Bach (repetition and counterpoint), New Model Army (morality and post-Marxism), Charles Mingus (the way it's cool to be complex), David Bowie (dadaist ideas) and some folk singers from the sixties and seventies.
Do you consider yourself to me an experimental writer?
I would like to say so; I think it's often up to a reader how innovative they think you are. There's nothing more pretentious than a person claiming to be a ground-breaker, when they are purely retreading familiar paths in cliched ways. There's always a balance between what is accessible and what is thrillingly original. I would like not to be thought of as 'difficult'! But I would like to push the reader with form, structure and language. Poetry should be more like a cryptic crossword than the junior jumble wordsearch.