Friday, 28 October 2011

Interview - Andy Hopkins

Andy Hopkins interviewed by Frank Burton.

Andy's second poetry ebook for Philistine Press, It Will Always Be. Like This:, can be read online or downloaded for free here.

His first collection, Dark Horse Pictures is here.

Is everything in 'It Will Always Be...' written from direct personal experience?

The short answer is yes. The scan of the ticket that starts The Rothko Room is the real ticket used on the day the poem was first created. The 'drift' across London is genuine, too. It was written about the very real experience of seeing The Seagram Murals for the first time. So, that's direct experience. I tried to impress upon the poem more of a linear narrative, and even 'characters', but these didn't work. I had to stick close to the original, written the day that the ticket was purchased. In Protect and Survive, the 'Antithesis' establishes the character of the teacher/educator, first introduced in part ii - to create contrast with the actions of the language-of-power of the 'Thesis', introduced in part i; although this is an invented persona, it is from direct experience. With At the EDF Rally, the whole poem is lifted directly from experience; that all happened. The poem hatched out of the experiences across the day, but the genesis moment (after which I walked up the high street and bought a pen and paper) was watching the two demonstrations collide - a moment that touched the sublime (in the heart of the ridiculous), in a more traditional sense.

How does this collection differ from Dark Horse Pictures?

I don't know where to start. The Philistine Friendly blog points (almost to the day) to when I started writing again. In between Dark Horse Pictures and this second collection goes several years of life and a 'going back to the drawing board' in writing. If a poet ever can be said to work hard, I worked hard at starting again - using iambs and trochees much, much more and using structures more. That said, The Rothko Room predates Dark Horse Pictures, in its first form. In many ways, The Rothko Room represents many of the faults, themes and sparks of Dark Horse Pictures; Protect and Survive is a showcase of what happened stylistically in the year after the first publication of Dark Horse Pictures, by Selkirk Lapwing Press (in 2007). So, those two poems represent a before/after. At the EDF Rally and Protect and Survive deal directly with our political landscape; they are studies of the application of domestic, foreign and economical policy upon our bodies and the bodies of others. That is something that Dark Horse Pictures did not do, explicitly. Although poems like 'Levee' and 'Ending Chairs' used metaphor to say things about the world we live in, the collection did not make a coherent statement. It Will Always Be. Like This does that; it functions as a statement, all held together with the epigraph.

What is the significance of the painting, The Destruction of Soddom and Gomorrah by John Martin?

John Martin did one thing very well - and that was that he painted apocalypses outstandingly. The poem is the lynchpin of the first poem of the collection (At the EDF Rally). Every single other section (or sub-poem) of At the EDF Rally relates to that picture - tied together with Tacitus, the story of Lot (obviously, he's in the painting!), and the epigraph to the collection. These intertexts underline the poem’s language, form and structure, I hope, and reinforce the central drives - the narrative, the auto-ethnography, and the 'ideology', for want of a better word.

You've said this book is partly a response to the work of fellow-Philistine Mr If. How does your work relate to his?

I would go further. It is a response to both Mr. If collections and Annette Greenaway’s most recent collection. Essentially, you could read Dark Horse Pictures and come away with no idea about many of the poems; it is – in some ways – too experimental, too Modernist. You could also look at it and have no idea about when or where it was written; some of it e.g. ‘evil’, ‘When it is winter in the soul place’ is timeless and that is a credit to it, rather than a fault. Also, whatever you might say about Mr If’s chapbooks, they respond to the world: they comment on it solidly and draw a line in the sand. This is arguably more the case with the second If collection. Similarly to Greenway’s second collection, the message is clear. I wanted to respond twice: (a) firstly to the clarity of their messages and (b) secondly to the messages themselves. Mr If’s collection set a position on our government’s military policy; In Dark Horse Pictures, ‘Levee’ did, too – but in a cowardly way; the collection is more of a move to wear the influences of our age for all to see, rather than as inflections. Greenway states very clearly where her persona stands on atheism and love; the didactic quality of those poems is also responded to by It Will Always Be. Like This:.

If you care about the world, you should be stirred by our age – and you should feel motivated to ‘answer’ the questions posed explicitly or implicitly by the chapbooks of others. In short, and to answer the previous question, I feel that It Will Always Be. Like This: asks its own questions, and answers those of others.

Is it a poet's job to ask questions or provide answers? (Or neither of these things?)

I used to sneer at poets who responded to national disasters and events, as little more than amateur Laureate-lite. However, the poet is part of the world and is writing for it. You can be honest about its influence, or not. The poet’s job is to be an auto-ethnographer. You can seek to engage the world, or not. The answers have to come from the individual – but it is art’s job (and it is all art’s job) to get people to question themselves, to question others and to call into question the things that we all know are false. Art can show someone the Emperor, but only the reader/audience can say ‘he’s got no clothes on’. ‘Art’ is important; we should defend it – as much from its practitioners and financiers, as from its detractors.

Arguably 'It Will Always Be...' is written from the point of view of a poet operating outside of the world of art and politics, looking in. Would you agree?

I’m not sure Wittgenstein would agree, if he surfs the net. Ludwig aside, there is no ‘world of politics’, or ‘world of art’. These things are down to individuals and the decisions they make about engagement. Each life is political; every decision we have made today (or in the last five minutes) has political ramifications, which then act directly upon the physical experiences of others. We have to make ourselves engaged with these concepts, so that they stop being concepts. To ‘drift’ is to discover these forces and how they act upon us.

Are you optimistic about the future?

I have to split the question. In our world, in our time, money is like the thermodynamic laws of energy; it cannot be created or destroyed (Quantitative Easing, notwithstanding). The reason that there is poverty is because there is extreme wealth, in a society that only believes in short term gain. The reason there is urban tension in our world is a direct result of economic (and therefore political, although really you cannot distinguish the two) decisions made, remade, reinforced and protected by those who can profit from it. There can be nothing but pessimism for macro political forces, and the paranoiac political and financier class (‘the centre of money and privilege still intact’ – Justin Sullivan) that profits by them.

However, I am nothing but optimistic about the power of individuals. We are going to go through a major fall in living standards; we have already begun our Empire society’s decline and fall. Now it is up to the people (a people made up out of individuals, who all have to learn to think for themselves) to change the world by reversing, adapting and changing the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.

And I believe in the soil. I am optimistic about the soil.

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