Monday, 11 April 2011

Interview with Richard Britton #2

Richard Britton interviewed by Frank Burton, discussing his second Philistine Press release, Words from the Sky, an audio poetry collection featuring a diverse selection of verse from Wordsworth to Goldfrapp.

The live poetry circuit is very much focussed on poets performing their own work. Do you think this is something that ought to change?

Yes. If we look at the live music scene we find that artists and bands perform covers of existing songs amongst their repertoire and that is very inspiring. I find cover versions very interesting as they are in essence re-reading the song. As a fan of the semiologist Roland Barthes I believe that the author is not the only authority over their work. T S Eliot once said that he had no idea what some of his poems were about and that he was open to interpretations! I think he means that he could write a poem and then in ten years time forget what he meant or remember what he meant erroneously, but someone else could read it and interpret it in the sense in which he had written it ten years ago. In that situation, which interpretation is more authoritative – the author’s erroneous recounting of the original meaning or the reader’s interpretation which is closer to the original meaning as it was written?

As such, it is vital that existing poetry is read live. Back at the dawn of humanity, poetry was part of religio-shamanic oral ritual and that oral nature should never be lost. We should not relegate the work of the established poets to tedious text-books – it should be read out regularly. The problem with today’s live poetry circuit is that many are interested in their own egotistical pursuit of “being a poet” rather than sharing the enjoyment of poetry, much in the same way as many contemporary actors and sports people are more concerned with their own celebrity than being great at what they do. We need to show respect to the many wonderful poets who have inspired and helped us develop. To anyone who disagrees with this I would say: imagine if you turned up to a wedding and the band decided to treat the guests to their own thrash-metal songs?

How did you go about selecting which poems to include in the collection?

I think I just felt around and put them together in the way an interior designer might match the colours of wallpaper and carpets! It is hard to explain, but I kind of “felt” whether they were right or not. A few poems didn’t make it in because they did not resonate with the others. It is very much a case of feeling the rhythm and ensuring that the end of one poem tapers into the beginning of the next – a bit like DJing. I did have a theme to begin with – the sky – although the semantics of that were wide.

How has your own work been influenced by these poems?

Each of these poems has been influential on me at both a personal and a poetic level. Wordsworth’s “Prelude” is an antidote to depression in a strange homeopathic way and “Pilots” stimulates the image of the very architecture of the heavens. The lyrics of “Cry Little Sister” are reminiscent of the unbearable insatiable desires of adolescence. As it is part of the soundtrack of the amazing movie “Lost Boys”, it fills me with an awesome sense of wonder over the possibility that someone could be immortally locked into adolescence forever – an agony and an ecstasy.

Do you enjoy performing?

I have appeared at some brilliant live poetry events and some really dreadful ones. I am now retired from the poetry reading scene because I found it quite bitchy and cliquey in places. Also, I have recently been ordained a priest in the Society for Independent Christian Ministry (an offshoot of the liberal catholic church) and so I will soon be performing poetry in another form, taking it back to its origins! I think I have come round to the view that poetry performance is more effective in formats other than performance poetry events.

The poems in the collection seem to fit together despite being from different periods in history. Would you describe them as "timeless"?

Absolutely. I think that all good poetry is timeless, but these are particularly timeless. Poetry should never be anchored in sticky politics of the time – it should be able to transcend it. Poetry should be political without being political, in a similar sense to Tony Benn leaving parliament in order to devote his time to politics. “Pilots” is a brilliant poem-within-a-song, because all the words used that denote modern technology can also be archaic. For instance, the word “pilot” can refer to ancient boatmen as well as aeroplane operators. If you dropped that lyric into the eighteenth century no one would raise an eyelid. Yeats also transcends his era, as well as Keats and Wordsworth.

Is it your aim to introduce the poems in this collection to people who may not be familiar with them?

To a certain extent, yes. I think Anne Bronte is highly underrated writer. Wordsworth is often a victim of a brand created by twentieth century tourism in which “Daffodils” and a few others overshadow a lot of his other amazing work; “The Prelude” is a victim of this condition. Although, I think it would be interesting to see age-old favourites read against the grain of convention.

More information at

Download the album, Words from the Sky from Mediafire here.

Listen to the album via soundcloud below...

Words From The Sky: A collection of poems read by Richard Britton by philistinepoetry

Richard Britton's epic poem, The Birth of Taliesin the Bard can be read online or downloaded for free here.

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