Saturday, 1 March 2014

Azimuth and Digression: Gavin Selerie interview part 5 

7 January 2013

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part 1 of this interview is here

GS: I thought ‘Bone Metallic’ might be an interesting poem to look at because it’s one of my concrete poems and because it’s an evocation of someone’s life and work in 1, 2, 3... roughly 16 lines or something. Pretty condensed. Although I think Tony did a pretty good job of setting it, because of the typeface he used he couldn’t quite reproduce my original design. I could show you my original setting in Palatino which is closer to how I’d imagined it. The shape is essentially intended to evoke a skull and simultaneously with that a grenade. It concerns Henry Moore’s life and work. When I was a boy, a teenager, my art master took me to visit Moore’s studio at Much Hadham in Hertfordshire, and I got to meet Moore and some of his assistants. And saw some of the work, the little maquettes, the slightly larger models and then the full scale one. And some full-scale bronzes. And then most impressive of all the plaster casts he’d shed. There was a big sloping field at the back, full of them, he’d arranged those. They looked like they’d gone back to some Stone Age context. My art master was a friend of Moore’s, this was how this came to be. I suppose this was 1964. I was still pretty young. Let’s say 64 or 65. Among the sculptures I saw was one called ‘Atom Piece’ and that’s what it looked like (exhibit), it’s not a very good photograph. As you can see it’s a bit like a skull. By a complete coincidence (although I remained very interested in Moore’s work) when I was in America in 1968 I went to the University of Chicago. I went there in 1968. Not as a student but just to visit. And outside one of the science blocks there was a sculpture, which I’m pretty sure was then entitled ‘The Atom’, which was a version of this, blown up. There was a whole back history to this. The University of Chicago wanted a piece to commemorate the first atomic fission, which happened there in ...

AD: Fermilab.

GS: Fermilab.

AD: The first chain reaction.

GS: At the University of Chicago in 1942, made the first controlled nuclear fission, in a temporary building actually. And they asked Moore for a sculpture, and he said I’ve got something which I’ve done completely independently which could form the basis for something to commemorate atomic energy, and he said it’s called ‘Atom Piece’. But the university authorities didn’t like the connotations of ‘piece’ because it could summon up ‘peace’ and they were worried about controversy around that and protests from anti-nuclear people, and they asked if it could be renamed to ‘Nuclear Energy’, so it acquired that more neutral title. But I’m pretty sure that when I saw it in 1968 there was a plaque in front of it said ‘The Atom’, so I think there was an intermediate title. What I wanted to do with this poem was to convey Moore’s concerns and his working method and his background, he came from Castleford in Yorkshire, which was, is mining territory. And he fought in World War One, it seems inevitable really that this must have influenced his way of seeing the world. Hence the grenade dimension to the concrete shape. So this is an evocation of his life and work but with that ‘Atom Piece’ particularly in mind. Moore himself said about this, a fortnight previously... I think there are some dates here. 1964 to 1965. It was probably 1965 then that I saw this. And Moore himself said “I’d been working in my little maquette studio and the story reminded me of a sculpture I’d already done, about 6 inches high, which was just a maquette for an idea, and I said to them, I think I’ve done the idea as far as I would be able to, and I’m going to make this sculpture into a working model. I showed it to them when I’d done the idea, and they liked it because the top of it is like some large mushroom or a kinky mushroom cloud, and it also has a head shape like the top of a skull, but down below it is more like an architectural cathedral, and one might think of it as more a protective form and constructed for human beings, and the top being more the destructive side of the atom.” I wanted to evoke both those aspects. But also I wanted to work into the poem his Mother figures, his figures of women with holes, that are I imagine very influenced by primitive sculptures of the mother goddess and of fertility goddesses. So what I’ve done is to create a skull grenade shape as I went along with a hole in the middle, with a kind of passage coming down to the larger hole, which could be for a wick if it was a grenade. And that also suggests mining territory, going down deep into rock. It’s also got a slightly phallic suggestion. So I start the poem “What story holds here”, investigating the image. I say ‘pebble-human half polished.’ Those seem to be apt terms for his sculptures. ‘A little piece every contour learnt/ to gross up’ as in to make a big version from a little model. ‘And win at point of chisel’ in terms of defining in shape. ‘a curve of hill mossy crag with mine-shaft/ or stark fault.’ I’m emphasizing there the territory he was familiar with as a boy. ‘this is home a childhood / for bluff recall’. ‘other lamplight lode’, geological but also carrying association of load, a weight carried. So I’m already moving onto his mother-figures there. Maybe a miner’s lamplight or just a lamp at home. ‘bearing on throne’, a lot of his sculptures seem to be, well, they’re placed on a base. But throne is more apt perhaps for something involving a mother-goddess figure. Thinking of those, this is Roger Berthoud (exhibit) Well, there’s one on a base. I should have said as well as just visiting him as a schoolboy, partly because of my mother’s interest in his work I went to exhibitions of his work as a boy. The main habits of his sculpture were familiar to me. Getting back to the detail of the poem where I stopped. ‘as long neck/ reaches from shoulder’ then there’s a kind of pause. ‘a castle tower over ward’, that must be partly a reference to Castleford in Yorkshire. ‘never to admit what strain’, this is exactly halfway through. ‘has some trench to scoop’. This involves a shift to his First World War experience. So many WWI soldiers repressed their experience didn’t they, weren’t able to talk about it, and it went into other elements, went sideways, leaked out somehow. 'Strain' there effort, but also the sound. ‘so comes a pierced skull/ better absent belief.’ I suppose the stoic would feel that. ‘all in mustard haze’, mustard gas. ‘Sings quiet by day’, the intervals between the fighting. ‘the bolder legend/ not after a medal’, fight not for the glory but for the practical purpose. So he doesn’t want a medal but it feeds into his work as an artist. I suppose what I’m doing here is conflating his First World War experience with the unleashing of atomic energy in the Second World War. ‘when shorn limbs speak on plinth’. Shorn limbs obviously suggests wounds of war. ‘a dale myth there t’remember’, recalling his Yorkshire experience. ‘The force drives on afresh’. A typical I suppose Forties image, in Dylan Thomas’ poem, as in Graham Sutherland’s work, Keith Vaughan. ‘where tube sleepers/ go abstract in green.’ Well that does push things to the Second World War, with Moore’s underground shelter drawings. In common with a lot of my poems, it involves a caesura, a split, between the two parts of the line. I seem to be habitually inclined to pair-type structures, double structures. Although of course it does unify towards the end at the base. I hope that this although it’s arranged in a specific shape does have a lyrical flow as a poem. I’ll just read a little bit of it. Although these (lines) are arranged to fit a pattern, the intention is to have a flow to it and not be concrete in some inflexible, stationary mode. Can you hear that more lyrical music when I start reading it? Or is it subdued to the dyer’s hand of its visual project?

AD: Lyric is such an overused word. I’ve just been reviewing this book called Beyond the Lyric. I don’t think lyric is the adjective to apply to this poem. Maybe there’s a whole suite of adjectives missing for different emotional qualities of poetry. I don’t think you could get people to vote, saying This is a lyric poem.

GS: There is another word I’m searching for then to suggest something that isn’t just still. Maybe fluent is too strong a word. In one sense it is still as a sculpture is.

AD: The visual design imposes that, because the visual design is over the entire poem, all points are present in one moment. There is a flow of meaning in the words as opposed to the visual. And yes it is emotional, profound emotions are being broached here. They’re not really first person.

GS: Except insofar as I’m imagining my way back to those war experiences. And obliquely drawing on my perception of this as a young boy, as a teenage boy. Of that particular sculpture. [dropout]... probably was as well as wanting to emphasize the readability of it, I was wanting to register the fact that, deep emotion here. I agree. No doubt it also taps into memories of my father’s war experience as witnessed by me in the wounds I could still see and his stories.

AD: Is the realization of the sculpture in Chicago in metal?

GS: In bronze, yes. The little maquette I saw would have been plaster. It’s so long ago... No, it is bronze actually. ‘120 cm’. It would have been more striking in bronze. This is an example totally different from the two we’ve looked at so far.

AD: Yes. I expect that’s why you chose it.

GS: Do you feel in this case or more generally that the concrete form is too limiting?

AD: I think you’re writing two different grades of the poem. I mean this is much easier to animate because it’s about one specific object, contained within the object. You walk around it and it holds still. It’s quite easy for the reader to figure out what holds it together. With ‘Stromboli’ that’s true to a slightly lesser extent. The narrative object of the poem is more complicated. With ‘Roxy 46’ the whole situation is far more complicated and I would think the whole poem is far more ambitious. And it has much more momentum because its own assumptions are changing in the poem. I’d say that’s the difference between ‘Bone Metallic’ and ‘Roxy 46’ or similar poems.

GS: The subject of nuclear energy is a major concern in the other poem that you wanted to look at, isn’t it? ‘Faust Variations’?

AD: (looks up poem) Oh yes, Freeman Dyson. I’ve just been reading a book by his son, actually.

GS: What page is it in Music’s Duel? the main advantage of the Days of ‘49 setting (of ‘Faust Variations’) is a slightly broader left and right column. So this is an example of you could call it a prose poem or just a text which juxtaposes imaginary in the left hand column with documentary in the right and column. The context for Days of ‘49, the book that I and Alan Halsey wrote about 1949 - this text being mine and not his, incidentally - the launching point for this is the fact that 1949 was the year of the Goethe Bicentenary celebration. And also it was the publication date of the English version of Mann’s Doktor Faustus which I draw on at times in the left hand column. The right hand column involves a lot of things that were going on in that year and you could say are germane either to the Faust story in its various version or to atomic energy, that being a scientific equivalent of the dilemma that Faustus is faced with. In terms of possibility for a better world or more power and the limitation of that power. It starts with a very, ‘terrible is the way you pronounce good’. That could be either ‘the way you pronounce ‘good’ is terrible, or terrible is the way you pronounce good. A syntactic ambiguity. I’m sure that is both to do with the Faust situation and with the Frankenstein scientist forging new possibilities for human power, new techniques, because we have here ‘a little cut in the hand will release in a jar what fuels the stars’. This is very like ‘Roxy 46’, isn’t it, it’s a bit like my image of the statues coming to life.

AD: The proving ground is Los Alamos? It’s a nuclear test?

GS: The cut in the hand is the blood he has to give making the bargain.

AD: Physicists like Oppenheimer are making a Faustian pact with, well, ultimate evil, mass death in order to achieve something, and that’s like signing a soul away? Jar. Is that a test jar or a jar as in vibrations?

GS: It could be either a test jar or the jar that Mephistopheles places beneath him when he signs the bargain. In one of those versions, maybe Murnau’s film, Mephistopheles places a jar beneath him and the blood flows into the jar. Or am I thinking of Dreyer’s film Vampyr, which I used in Le Fanu’s Ghost. It’s a conflation of Carmilla and The Room in the Dragon Volant, two stories by Le Fanu.

AD: Carl Dreyer. So the devil captures either his blood in a jar or his soul in a jar?

GS: Literally...

AD: The devil has lots of souls on a shelf? Like preserves?

GS: I wish I had my notebook here for this period because a lot of these things would be clearer. I’m struggling to recall some of the generation of particular phrases. Maybe it’s good because I won’t get too bogged down. Let’s move to the right hand column. As you can see even though that’s slightly longer they do relate to each other like paragraphs. We have EM Butler again.

AD: We do. Hi Elsie.

GS: Whose book The Fortunes of Faustus, it languishes. Oh no it’s a third volume. It’s languishing in the basement of the Cambridge University Press offices, as books can do. HD - Hilda Doolittle - ‘sees Silver Wings as a theft from life when all is coincidence‘. Can you wait for me to drag out, it would only take two or three minutes, that notebook?

[Dialogue about clipping mike on.]
We are discussing ‘Faust Variations’, at pp. 41-3 of Days of '49. Elsie Butler wrote a 1949 book about The Myth of the Magus, which discusses the original Faust, a late-mediaeval magician.]

AD: It’s rolling.

GS: I’ve now rummaged around in one of my cupboards and found the notebooks that I was using at the time. The trouble with any particular text is that I am drawing on notebooks that I'm using concurrently, so they tend to be strewn around the place. The references that I might need, but I’ve just found in one of them a reference to Silver Wings. In 1949 HD was visited by EM Butler - they’d been introduced via Bryher. Her book Fortunes of Faust, published in 1952, and the novel Silver Wings, finally, were major influences on Helen of Egypt. Silver Wings must be by EM Butler, I’m sure I got it out of London University Library. When the two women first met in 1949 neither book had been published. But Butler must have discussed with HD Goethe’s use of the legend of Helen having fled to Egypt and her double appearing on the walls of Troy. So the 1949 context fits there doesn’t it. So HD sees Silver Wings as “a theft from life when all is coincidence”. But that’s a common experience of writing, isn't it, when you think things are actually based on something. If someone writes about you they might think that everything's based on literal instances and it turns out that actually half of it’s imagined and that the person couldn’t have known X Y and Z.

AD: We think that there is something in HD which is also in Silver Wings, but HD saw it as a theft from life. In life if there are coincidences everywhere then the same thing in two books really means nothing.

GS: I must check. I could go and check. I’ve got various books on HD. What I omitted to say is that the opening of that column, EM Butler was a friend of Aleister Crowley. Friend may be the wrong term, acquaintance would be more fitting.

AD: Old Crow is Crowley?

GS: Yeah. And that must be a quotation from Crowley, ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. I am the Magician, and the Exorcist.’ The exorcist reference comes in the next paragraph.

AD: This is the story that William Friedkin’s film, and William Peter Blatty’s novel, The Exorcist, were drawing on.

GS: Yes. That was in 1949. August 49.

AD: And in Washington State, whereas in the film it’s somewhere in the north-east, I can't remember where.

GS: I actually have a quotation from The Fortunes of Faust. Part of a documentary type discourse. Lining up a series of events that happened in 1949. Faust staged in the open air in Regents Park, with the final scenes from Part II. That is juxtaposed with the more imaginative type of language, in the left hand column. ‘What does dead mean when flora grows so rankly.’ I don’t know whether I’m literally referring to the processes of fission, probably more the paradox of decay and as in dry rot, when you get that kind of abundant growth that is actually a kind of deadness too.

AD: The fungus is more alive than the house.

GS: I don't know if that’s a factor too. I’m missing a crucial notebook here. (Dan Brown style drama of enigmatic clues while the notebook is retrieved.)

GS: I'll probably find now that the quote about the flora is from Mann’s Doktor Faustus. I don’t know how much it’s going to help me having these notebooks in front of me. There’s so much detail there that I can't necessarily pick out the right things. But it may occasionally stimulate my memory to be more exact. ‘Lying in the dark with irksome mygrym, retching and spewing’. Yes. I imagine this is the Faust figure being tempted. ‘To the sofa corner comes my visitor in a white collar and a bow tie.’ The phrasing is more modern here. I’m actually conflating Mann’s Doktor Faustus and Shakespeare’s Love’s Labours Lost. I’m trying to think what connects them. I think part of the book does involve reference to is it Biron from Love’s Labours Lost. Whatever the source of this stuff, the essential situation is clear enough, of being tempted towards some further knowledge and pleasure. ‘Are you afraid of yourself? Plesure is yet yonge.’
We’re still with the soul bargain. 'Let us say XXIV years.' In the right hand column adjacent to that we have as you rightly said the Exorcist story from 1949. Mainly I think drawing in the newspaper, the original newspaper account, Washington Post, but I’m sure I’m working in a bit of Friedkin’s film. Ah yes, look. Page 162 in the 1949 edition of [Mann’s] Faustus: ‘Don Armado a consummate figure of opera. The despair of the witty Biron. Then the judgment on Biron.‘ So definitely Love’s Labours Lost is a work referenced in Doktor Faustus. And Rosaline. There’s a lot more about her later on.
So Rosaline is a kind of Helen figure. Or the dark lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets. I mean that would be typically modernist, wouldn't it. To interleave that with a text such as Love’s Labours Lost. The Faust book would be early Renaissance, wouldn't it.

AD: In a different, Northern European context. Fifteenth century perhaps? (The Faust-Volksbuch was printed in 1587.)

GS: As I say I think I can pick out the main context here. The third left hand column is still to do with the enticement and exotic charm. 'Her touch burns on my cheek.' Rosaline being Biron’s beloved in Love’s Labour’s Lost. It's interesting how having glanced over Roxy section 46 I'm seeing all kinds of connections with this. ‘With theatre in the blood one bespeaks another, like Moon-gold. Out of number magic you jump the chord obsolete.’ That almost sounds like memory theatre to me. There is number magic in Faustus I suppose. The main tradition of magic certainly involves number, doesn’t it. But also in atomic power, it’s all numbers.

AD: The difference between uranium 235 and uranium 238.

GS: “In American-occupied Frankfort on Main, all parties, inclusive of Communists, pay homage to the memory of Germany's greatest son." But the author of Emil and the Detectives isn't impressed.
Sweet Black angel, that's obviously the blues phrase. Tampa Red, I would think, 1949. It might be Robert Nighthawk.

AD: Was Tampa Red Hudson Whittaker?

GS: I don't think so. There’s a limit to how I drag things in completely without relevance so there must be a 1949 blues context. ‘Like the way she spreads her wings.’ That’s either direct quotation or expanding somewhat from a blues context. Again a lot of this reminds me of that Roxy material of the idealised feminine. In the right hand corner is a kind of Frankenstein dream of moulding a creature to fit your dreams. The right-hand column here refers to the explosion of the first atomic bomb. And what was going on in China - the proclamation of the people’s republic. J Robert Oppenheimer’s statement that it would be ethically wrong to develop the H-bomb and his advice being overruled. Still in the right hand column, controversy surrounding Thomas Mann and his place in German culture. Since the war he was thought by various powerful figures to have behaved with a ‘lack of piety towards his fatherland’. Said in Germany to be ‘blatantly devoid of true inner culture (Herzensbildung)’.

AD: During the war he said bombing Germany was a good idea to win the war. Actually Brecht wrote a poem criticising him. And then he wouldn’t return to Germany. Lack of piety. Well, given that before the war they burnt his books.

GS: And they didn't want them in the 40s either.

AD: It was before repentance. There was a big transition and Thomas Mann became canonised. It became very difficult to express patriotic feelings about the Second World War. In 1949 that hadn't happened.

GS: In the left hand column, the imaginative column. We have nightclub matter here. The Cococello Club and the Great Nike Room. It’s possible here that I’m drawing on 1930s German expressionist films. I don’t know. But certainly it was sparked partly by reading of Thomas Mann.

AD: (reading) ‘Riddle me in a Zip-pan like the debauch of exchange.’
(end of tape)

AD: While the tape was being changed the author explained what ‘Riddle me with a Zip Pan’ actually means.

GS: I’m pulling out all the stops to be zany here. Melodramatic, isn’t it. ‘Avernus lit by the dance of the roaring flames. Nuff, he cries!’ And then in the right hand column, continuing with the documentary, I couldn't resist getting this in. ‘Freeman Dyson enrols as one of Hans Bethe’s post-graduate students. Four years later Thomas Pynchon studies Engineering Physics.’

AD: Along with, well he was a friend of, Richard Farina, isn't it?

GS: We have an anticipation of Gravity’s Rainbow here. “The bunch of weaponeers includes many Los Alamos physicists. "I’ll be damned if I'll let any Washington or any politician dictate what work not to do" says Norris Bradbury, director of Los Alamos.”

AD: He got the job when Oppenheimer was pushed out?

GS: Meanwhile EM Butler delivers a lecture on Byron and Goethe, ‘seeking and never finding each other and yet (half obsessed the one)’ etc. ‘aware of a strange affinity’. She actually wrote a book on Byron and Goethe. Now in the left hand column still working with magic. ‘A piece of gold can make you see different.’ ‘The sentence is scraps stolen from a feast’, I think what I’m talking about three is the juggling power of language. I think that is to do with Love’s Labours Lost, is it Holofernes, his exaggerated language? One of the other characters says ‘your words are scraps stolen from a feasts’. I can explain another reference - Zolo Go is I think Lightnin' Hopkins. It was a mis-hearing of zydeco, zydeco being like cajun

AD: ...only Black.

GS: So on the label it said ‘Zolo Go’. This is mine, I did this one (collage).

AD: Subject produces an exhibit here: on the Gold Star record label. ‘Zolo Go by Lightnin' Hopkins, king of the hillbillies’, who is no-one’s idea of a hillbilly. Houston, Texas. And it says on it 666. Can you explain that, Gavin? Who owns this label exactly?

GS: Is that a superimposition by me? I don't think it is.

AD: Maybe he sold his contract to the devil along with his soul!

GS: In the right hand column, concurrent with that, ‘what if MacNeice were propelled to write a Goethean line or two’. He did a radio version in that year.

AD: Of Goethe’s Faust?

GS: In six parts. And there’s a picture of him, or at least I imagine it’s him, ‘Gripping a Guinness at the bend of the bar’. Refusing to look at Shelley. “Slipshod and not much of a poet." That must have been the BBC pub, the George.

AD: If it was MacNeice, it was one of many pubs.

GS: I think he sat there with his dog. And then the last documentary column referred to René Clair’s ‘La beauté du diable’, which is being filmed in Rome. “at that time he referred to Heine’s comment, ‘Every man should write a Faust.’ I’ve got the screenplay of that film which I made notes from at the time. Oh, ‘zip-pan. Momentary blur wiping clear the image’. But maybe that’s not from the film. (reads aloud) In notebook 37, “see also small blue notebook with Clair’s own comments’”. So zip-pan is presumably a technique used in ‘La beauté du diable’. There you are, everything can be explained.

AD: So there was a reason for it.

GS: There always is. There’s a reason for everything. But you can't hold it in mind forever.

AD: The great zip-pan of time.

GS: But it is a great phrase. Oh, it’s pan in the film sense-

AD: Panorama.

GS: Panorama in the film sense. Not a pan as in something you would cook with.

AD: Don’t think so, no.

GS: It makes perfect sense. That finishes with the figure of Mephisto in ‘La beauté du diable’: ‘Vanquished by his own devices, he vanishes in a column of smoke’. The column of smoke obviously recalling an atomic plume. ‘Magic is music’. I think I am probably ... The marginal note there must be self-referential in the sense that the whole right-hand column could be marginalia. ‘A marginal note is not so marginal.’ ‘The flying messenger seeks guidance. 'And here everything leaves off.' As it does. That’s the end of the text. ‘The flying interviewer wants guidance’.

AD (laughter)

GS: I suspect part of what I was doing here was revelling in a language feast and getting into some Dylan Thomassy-type heady view of sound. The main context is plain enough, that it’s Faust juxtaposed with the scientists developing atomic energy and indeed moving towards the H-bomb. From one bomb to another. I’ve got notes here from EM Butler’s book Byron and Goethe. (pause of 2 minutes while subject locates a notebook from the time) I'm drawing on Barbara Guest’s excellent book Herself Defined: the poet HD and her World: ‘Butler’s influence on HD extended into her novel Silver Wings. [...] One person relates the events and gives his explanation. Then we proceed through several interpretations of what may or may not be the real story. Finally an explanation of what has really occurred is given by someone who we have every reason to believe. This presumably is the final truth, but is it? Are we not finally returned to a realm which would be seized upon by HD where the dead dream their dreams, and who can read them?”
And I suppose explaining why I’m using this Helen being such a significant element in the Faust legend is whether she’s a spirit or not is very relevant to the whole idea of what you can get after you’ve sold your soul. Is it real or not? Or are you just being deluded by this phantom?
There’s one more thing I wanted to say about that text and that is that I performed it at Café Otto with some jazz musician friends of mine. It does lend itself to performance although it is a complex and multi-layered text. Tim Fletcher promised me a copy of the recording we made.

(GS recovers info on Silver Wings and confirms that it influenced HD)

(Penda’s Fen is the original form of the place-name Pinvin and was a TV play in 1973. A couple of hours after the interview was over Kevin Nolan turned up and after a while began talking about ‘Penda’s Fen’.)

GS: Often the most useful things are not great works of literature but they spark you into doing things. They could be pulp materials, they offer ways in or resonant phrases. I think this is a case in point. The reason I’m using this is that we were talking about ways of using information and different sources, and the four poems that we’ve looked so far (today), all four, offer different approaches, although there are continuities. In Le Fanu’s Ghost which is I suppose an encyclopaedic type work in one sense, I wrote each text in a different way. Each of the individual texts that make up the book.

AD: There must be a hundred.

GS: Actually what I’m doing with Harriott Double is almost the opposite of that now, as a reaction against that. One of the texts in Le Fanu’s Ghost is called ‘Amarantha Takes’ and this was inspirited by an erotic version of Carmilla, Le Fanu’s vampire story. The Amarantha of the title refers to the pseudonym of the author, she calls herself ‘Amarantha Knight’. I discovered that her real name is Nancy Kilpatrick, and she’s an academic, I think an English professor. And she’s done a whole series of erotic takes on classics. The way I acquired this, I had a long conversation with a person to go to a particular shop in Southend, it was like brown paper bags on the counter, he had a whole warehouse of bizarre materials. Anyway I did eventually acquire it. It was very hard to get hold of. I thought it would be interesting to use phrases from this erotic version and produce a poem. So I’m somewhat mischievously stealing phrases from the book to conjure up the events and the aura for this vampire story. It has takes on a female voice, the female Laura. It has things like ‘Rub through the fabric to chestnut curling my cunny-hole.’ ‘leave your bloomers off, you see what comes of strangling people with him.’ ‘Assumed? To assume is to make an ass out of U and me.’ This was to create amusement and variation upon a more serious strand of the book. It’s just written as loose phrases in a long column. It starts ‘lace ruffs spell a story about the cuffs and neck.’ I don’t think it’s all found texts. ‘You are the girl from my dream.’ Because there is a possibly Lesbian subtext in Carmilla. ‘May I enter the library? Squeeze and the panel opens.’ In Harriott Double I am reacting against that mode. It’s effectively a narrative poem but it juxtaposes two narratives which are almost coincidental, about two people called Harriott, except they had a lot in common. The first section deals with Joe Harriott the jazz Jamaican saxophonist who settled in London. It goes from his birth to his death. Then you get a section called ‘Into Mean’, which is the present. The third section is the life of Thomas Harriott, the Renaissance scientist and astronomer and jack of all intellectual trades. And that goes from his death to his birth, so the book performs a cycle. Although I set out to make it narrative, inevitably it’s become more complex and the level of interference and there’s looping back and there are interruptions and gaps. One of the parallel features is that they both died of tobacco-related cancer. And in fact Thomas Harriott was the first person known to be recorded in the Western world, he got cancer of the nose, which was really grim. He went to the New World with Raleigh and brought tobacco back and it killed him. And Joe Harriott was also a heavy smoker and died in agony in hospital. So that’s one of the grimmer features of the book. I’m always alert to layers of history, particularly London history, and in one of the sections in this book, it’s called ’Spectrum’, you might think it’s a bit formulaic actually. I told Frances about it, I suspect she thinks it’s a bit formulaic. (exhibit) So that’s New Orleans trad type jazz, it’s an evocation of New Orleans, that’s bebop. And that is free jazz. And they’re kind of laid in apposition.

AD: So that’s where Joe Harriott was acoustically?

GS: He draws on all those things at the same time. Here I refer to ‘Tunisia in New Compton Street’.

AD: Like ‘A Night in Tunisia’?

GS: And I do mean New Compton Street not Old Compton Street. Jazz is mainly associated with Old Compton Street, western Soho. It’s a stretch of the imagination to call New Compton Street Soho. That club, I don’t think Harriott played there, at least in that incarnation. It was the first club to feature bebop in Britain. Don Rendell reminisces about this. It was called the Fullado. That became ‘The Metropolitan Bopera House’. It had another jazz incarnating as well. Just yesterday I was trawling the Web to make sure that it was in New Compton Street, and I did some more research, and that very building, it was 6 New Compton Street, and before it was a jazz club it was a theatre, the Players’ Theatre Club, and that’s where Peggy Ashcroft made her debut in 1927. It’s interesting that a jazz club should have that as part of its history. I suppose the space would lend itself.

AD: I suppose you have a certain kind of room, the architecture and so forth. I guess it wasn’t very big.

GS: I discovered that there’s a picture of 6 New Compton Street on the web, from something like 1908, and it was called Dollman and Son. What it says is ‘picture framers’. So I’m now considering doing something with that knowledge to create an extra layer in the book. I don’t know quite what I'll do. I think it was probably demolished in the 1960s. One other, I could just mention this text.

AD: (exhibit) ‘Calypso Gloriana’.

GS: I had been wondering how am I going to get from the 1960s, early 1970s, which is Joe Harriott, to the Renaissance. Because the first section ends with Joe Harriott‘s death. And then I was in, I mentioned my friend Dennis Harrison who runs the Albion Beatnik shop in Oxford, in Jericho. He said to me, I was talking about my fascination with Jamaican jazz musicians who use calypso, Joe Harriott did draw on calypso, so did Harold McNair, and so does Harry Beckett. Dennis suddenly said Oh, why don’t you do a ‘Calypso Gloriana’. I said, Gloriana, you mean Britten’s opera? It was like a challenge to me. So I waited about six months and then suddenly I thought of a way of doing this. And I thought, well, the courtly dances from Gloriana, I had a recording of them by Julian Bream. So I listened to them again. March, Coranto, Pavane... So I thought maybe I can create a calypso version of those dances. But I was also conscious of the fact that Thomas Harriott was one of only two people who read Chapman’s Homer in manuscript. Harriott may have known Chapman at Oxford, Chapman was slightly older but they might have overlapped a bit. I haven’t yet written a text involving Chapman’s Homer. But you know, Calypso, major episode in the Odyssey, so maybe I can work that into it. So I’ve got the myth of Calypso here.

GS: So you’ve got the Siren type figure, if one can call her that, trying to persuade, actually she saves him initially, but she wants him to stay and doesn’t want him to go back to Penelope. So you’ve got that aspect juxtaposed with Elizabeth and Essex. William Plomer did the libretto for Benjamin Britten. (discussion of failure of opera at its premiere at Covent Garden in 1953) I think it’s probably more interesting as a piece of music. It was based on Lytton Strachey’s Elizabeth and Essex so I had a look at that. It’s not as bad as you might think.

AD: It’s not suitable as the synopsis for an opera. Surely it’s a work of camp blasphemy before anything else.

GS: Surely you’re saying it’s not suitable for an opera at the Coronation! (anti-royalist laughter) It might be suitable for a different kind of opera. It went down like a lead balloon at its premiere. But critics since have given it a much more distinctive place in Britten’s oeuvre. And then I thought well how am I going to get calypso rhythm into English. So I thought of calypso, kyzo is the West Indian word. Brathwaite says that calypso rhythm is essentially dactylic. I find dactylic rhythm hard to read, but I thought I would at least approximate it. So we’ve got bumbaba bumbaba. And lots of percussive effects. So we have the Calypso figure, the woman, appearing, and her cave. And then, 'Is all my fellows lost?', Odysseus. Reflecting. And then we have the courtly dances but given a calypso interpretation. Dem slow hesitation steps. We’ve got the reference to the La Volta dance. ‘Both a dem you can’t coin proud diva. Take way yerself oh take and scud as a roller. To glassy fields must go home.’ ‘glassy fields’ is a Homeric expression for the Mediterranean.

AD: I should know what the phrase is but... Hyaline is the English literary equivalent. I’m sure the Greek phrase for glassy in that phrase is something very like that.

GS: I was talking about hearing about that pornographic version of Carmilla. I love it when you get a suggestion like that, when you come across some article in maybe a tabloid newspaper on the Tube late at night, you look at it in glazed fashion and suddenly you think Bloody hell! That’s interesting! All these things can spark the way a poem goes on.

AD: Britten missed a trick by not writing a calypso piece in Gloriana.

GS: ‘Party Talk’, this is in the Joe Harriott section, this is based on actual background talk at a party that Joe Harriott went to, which was recorded. I wasn’t transcribing it literally so there’s a lot of imagined stuff. This is on the tape though: “We haven’t got any petticoats on. I haven’t got one on at all. Don’t tell anybody though!” It’s a bit like some of the stuff I do in Southam Street. I’ve got another shape poem here, it’s called ‘Space Monkey’. It’s got a Rosicrucian poem, because one of the things about Joe Harriott was, he was a Rosicrucian.

AD: Oh good heavens. So that takes you back to the seventeenth century?

GS: Well, sixteenth and seventeenth, but particularly seventeenth as Frances Yates describes. A big motif in the book is the moon, because Thomas Harriott was an astronomer who actually did drawings of the moon before Galileo. I’ve got this text called “Mariner’s Mirror”, which is all about him observing the moon from Sion House. He had this little observatory at the top of his house. And then that links with various moon poems that I’ve written about Joe Harriott. Joe did that song ‘Polkadots and Moonbeams’, is it an Irving Berlin song? Maybe it’s van Heusen and, I get mixed up. So that provides opportunities. I’ve got a poem that describes Joe Harriott living off the Edgware Road. [omission about another pub] I imagine him on Edgware Road looking at the moon. Then I’ve got some found stuff. ‘Thomas Harriott etymological alphabet.’ He constructed an etymological alphabet, dictionary really, for Algonquian speech. He was a real pioneer doing this. Then I’ve got this mini dictionary of Algonquian terms which is quite a good text for reading aloud. Oh, this is ‘Subterrene calendar’ is, I’m imagining Thomas as a student at Oxford. ‘the pancake bell of St Mary’s’. He was at St Mary’s College, which was adjacent to Oriel.

AD: It sounds too Catholic a concept for politics in early modern Britain. I don’t think you’d get many Anglicans going to a college named after Mary. ("Bells of St Mary's" is not about this St Mary's.)

GS: So I’m playing with arrangements there and student games. They had these ceremonies. They had to ‘pluck off band and gown to plead on table form’, on top of a table. ‘Not fulminate or tonitruate but kiss the shoe to get a cup of caudle, or if dull get nothing but salted beer with tuck to boot.’ It is more straightforward, the structure I’m using, than in the other long works I’ve done. But I’ve got to keep feeling energized by variation. As well as pieces that are there by virtue of linking up I want to have these standalone pieces that I can read to audiences. The very last section of the book I’ve already written, involves imagining where Thomas Harriott was born and grew up. He was born somewhere in Oxfordshire. I’ve called that ‘Peep into Nowhere’. So I’m imagining without much evidence the world he was born into. I reckon I’m about halfway through writing it now. I’ve been working on it since the summer of 2009. (lists other literary tasks, omitted)

GS: As you just said Andrew we’re both getting a bit tired but as this is likely to be the last session I thought I’d just comment briefly on how important film has been to my writing. I think art forms which involve performance obviously relate to performance in behaviour throughout life.(repeats statement about theatre) I’ve used a variety of films over the years which has influenced and affected me as source material. Partly for the subject matter, as in Stromboli (as before) but also I think the structures of cinema, which obviously derive from novel practice. I don’t think that’s recognised enough, actually. Anticipated in the novel. The possibility for sign different kinds of language within the text, and for using different devices in the text. I’ve used what you might call art film, continental film, quite a bit. I’ve also used American film noir. Recently a more prominent influence on my work is British film, mainly B films but also some A films. I think what attracts me to them is the combination of slightly stagey edge which comes from the theatre or it comes from a way of speaking, an art tradition of speaking, maybe a class tradition. The combination of that with a documentary realism, partly stylized and partly reflecting a documentary interest in small detail of life. You get that sense of the fantastic and that more elaborate staginess along with, often in the same film, a grainier realism. No doubt you could get the same combination in some American films, but that may be a characteristic element of British film. I was very interested to come upon the English version of They Drive by Night, directed by Arthur Wood, which precedes the American one, and in this one the lead male part is played by Emlyn Williams. But it’s an astonishingly powerful work and it’s about someone who’s been accused of something on the run. It involves a lot of travelling. That’s got just that combination I’m talking about, that graininess and that slight stylization. I was put onto that by one of Julian Maclaren-Ross’s film articles. Did you know he wrote quite a lot of film criticism?

AD: He actually scripted several B-movies.

GS: Also something I found in the past few years, which I’d been searching for and which I finally tracked down at a film fair, No Orchids for Miss Blandish.

AD: The English one?

GS: Directed by St John Clowes, and that is the predecessor of the American The Grissom Gang. But at the time No Orchids was released it was completely demolished by the critics, they hated it. I’ve also been very impressed by the Lance Comfort films that I’ve seen over the last few years, such as a melodrama, Hatter’s Castle. Have you seen that?

AD: It’s an AJ Cronin novel. Is it one of his Scottish ones?

GS: No, it’s set in England. I think, is it meant to be Yorkshire? Again, that’s extremely stylized but it has a grim dimension to it. It has a social realism, almost, within the melodrama, which is weird. Other directors I find particularly interesting, are John Gilling, who did The Voice Of Merrill, and Shadow of the Cat, a Hammer horror which wasn’t released by them but which was done by the Hammer crew. Gilling was incredibly prolific and he also wrote the screenplays for a lot of film directed by other people. Lawrence Huntington I also find interesting, Mr Perrin and Mr Traill and The Upturned Glass, with James Mason in. Going back to Lance Comfort, Bang You’re Dead, about the little boy who thinks he’s shot someone. He does actually have his father’s loaded revolver which he’s kept since the Second World War, and he shoots the gun off and thinks that he’s killed this chap. He goes on the run virtually. It‘s one of the few film in which Jack Warner really shines, as the father. We talked (off microphone) about Maurice Elvey, I particularly like The Late Edwina Black, have you seen that? It’s a drama. Roy Ward Baker, The October Man, I’d like to see that again. At the BFI recently I saw Thorold Dickinson’s Next of Kin, about loose talk. I thought it was beautifully acted, beautifully photographed. It was a perfect film but rather overlooked. A lot of the British ones for the 50s and early 60s have these beautiful jazz scores, so I’ve been imbibing that for my Joe Harriott. A lot of the small Bs feature people like Tony Kinsey and Tubby Hayes and people who aren’t credited at all, and in a lot of films you’ll get a sequence in a nightclub, so well evoked. What appeals to me is the juxtaposition between the deprivation and the privilege and comfort. The code of manners on the one hand and the undercutting of that on the other. These B films are permeating my way of writing at present.

(Post-session talk about British B-movies and illicit copies of unobtainable films being exchanged at shadowy collectors’ fairs.)

Tampa Red (January 8, 1904 – March 19, 1981), born Hudson Woodbridge but known from childhood as Hudson Whittaker, was an American Chicago blues musician.
Azimuth and Digression: Gavin Selerie interview part 4
January 7 2013 (1)

The interview was captured to a laptop as sound files of about 20 minutes each. There was a break of about 20 seconds as the operator saved one file and created the next one. These gaps have been filled from Gavin Selerie’s recording, in some cases, or reconstructed.

starting with : section 46 of Roxy
‘Are these words to act, printed in the mind/ as a building' - the theatre of memory. The Globe was a theatre recalled to memory, by memory. The use of a building and its parts as a figure in which to store memories was written about by Giordano Bruno.

AD: ‘Roxy 46’. ‘are these words to act printed in the mind/ as a building’?

GS: It’s an interesting choice to select because as you’ve just said it’s one of the more complex sections of Roxy and involves a lot of layered detail, which I would argue is essential to the progress of the poem. It’s one of the very last sections I wrote. I think this and 47 were the last, and actually after an interval. So it was coming back to the book, and again we indicated it’s densely allusive and probably telescoped but my attention is always to have a sound texture that’s readable and accessible, so I hope it attains that. The background to this is that I’d been revising a section of Strip Signals for Music’s Duel [the selected poems which came out in 2009]. The intention with Music’s Duel was originally that it would be published in the 1990s, so I was actually doing quite a bit of work on it. Revising. Quite a while ago. And I’d been reading Giordano Bruno and various books by Frances Yates, and that pitched me into doing a memory section of Roxy - the memory theatre being very relevant to the whole coverage of performance in Roxy. Investigation of performance.

AD: So ‘read it at a glance, a single glyph/ that calls down worlds’, does that relate to the theatre of memory?

GS: Absolutely. The memory theatre is relevant to the performance dimension of the book, it’s also relevant if you like to the structure of the book. In the sense that from that point of time, I suppose it would have been 1995, I’d been writing the book for ten years, and I was literally having to recover and develop motifs which had come into the poem a looking time before. So it’s got a thematic relevance to the book but it’s also literally structural in terms of surveying what one has done. As well as Bruno I’d recently been reading Charles Nicholls, The Creature in the Map, his book about Raleigh and El Dorado. Actually, I’d been reading Thomas Harriott again and Marlowe, this is the background, before I plunge into the text in some detail. For instance, I’d been reading Muriel Rukeyser's The Traces of Thomas Harriott again, actually for the second time. I'd acquired it long before that. Maybe that’s interesting, that what I’m now doing links up. No doubt most writers experience such patterns of repetition and variation. You ask about the opening. It’s an interrogative opening suggesting the procedure of feeling one’s way back, and these parts of the building are examples of features used in memory theatre, which of course goes back to Quintilian and Cicero, and in Renaissance England is diffused through Thomas Wilson and Sidney and other writers. I experienced that through the classical writers and through the Renaissance ones. At the risk of stating the obvious, the whole idea of memory theatre is that in order to recall things you have concrete physical properties which stand for the things you want to recall. A particular room like a bathroom would stand for some inner private thing that you want to remember. I should mention one other main feature that’s going to be persistently relevant. In earlier sections of the book I’m much engaged with the Rose Theatre, which was a big issue in the early 1990s. I would probably need to look up the exact date for when the Rose site was exposed, but the Rose theatre, not very far away from the Globe, was equally important and should have been preserved in a form that would enable performance to take place. But as so often happens the company that bought the land and obtained development permission could only countenance a commercial space with some retention of the original features in the basement. And there are these horrific pictures of piles - well, I went down to the site, actually, they had a staged reading of, probably, Dr Faustus, there. And so the reason that so much of Dr Faustus comes into this is that there was that controversy during the time that I was writing the poem. Over quite a long period there was debate over how that site could be developed. Memory theatre by virtue of its, the word theatre implies an area for performance. So performance is a kind of review of what happened before. These questions and I suppose dramatic statements, ‘demand of a statue what is pitched to the stars’ relate to ideas that I found in Frances Yates that link memory theatre to ancient Egyptian (Hermetic?) ritual, so that a statue is somehow capable of soaking in an aura from the heavens and features of a building or a monument can touch off strong forces. It’s like a science fiction film or some cult English horror film, isn't it? I remember last year I saw ‘Penda’s Fen’, having missed it the first time round.

AD: David Rudkin?

GS: That’s also relevant, that whole strain of English romantic mysticism is also relevant to what I’m doing here. Or towards my poetic enterprise in general.

AD: ‘rouse the demon from black diamond doors’?

GS: That’s the same thing. This is the demon as a threatening thing, but it depends on how you see it. It might be capable of good. It may be a more Manichaean perspective. Egyptian statues animated by celestial influences. Frances Yates links that to the statue scene in The Winter’s Tale, where Hermione comes to life again. Actually that’s relevant to Roxy, there’s a heroine figure re-appearing. ‘When we’re afraid we forget’, that’s an example of me incorporating a quotation. It’s from Alain Resnais’ film Muriel, otherwise called ’le temps du retour’.

AD: It’s the one about the Algerian War. Muriel was a suspect they tortured.

GS: This is all leading up to Doctor Faustus. More tragic and darker forces I’ve summoned or dealt with elsewhere in the poem. I’m talking about this in a rational way. I can’t say in an absolute way what is intended. I can remember what I might have intended, and I can remember some definite things, like the fact that’s a quotation. But the language has a momentum that is above or below the logical. I think that whole first stanza is to do with summoning forces, but in order to work out what is happening...

AD: ‘let the stiffs unroll’?

GS: Dead bodies maybe come alive again like a mummy being exposed?

AD: Because we have an Egyptian scene with statue-based magic.

GS: And also there’s a lot of Egyptian stuff in Roxy. Antony and Cleopatra is the big influence, and John Fletcher’s play about Cleopatra, the name of which escapes me. The film with Burton and Taylor and the one which...

AD: The Shaw play? Merle Oberon?

GS: We can look that up later.

AD: Caesar and Cleopatra.

GS: We come to Doctor Faustus and it’s relevant here not just because of the Rose theatre controversy at that time but also because I had seen a very interesting production of Faustus in a kind of Grotowski black box setting at the Lyric, Hammersmith. That was relatively fresh in my mind. Faustus is I suppose quintessentially a play about, it’s a quest, a quest for power, and maybe a way of reading the play could go beyond the conventional division of good and evil with Mephistopheles simply being a tempter figure leading you into a false idea of power. There might be a way in which Faustus’ nemesis is brought about by a failure of nerve. So I’m keeping this theologically open. So that the Faustus story is partly to do with belief and definition of the world that surrounds you. And with capacities for invention. And also much to do with the temptation involving this other figure who has this other power. Can you see how that’s relevant to memory theatre?

AD: ‘When you gravel the scoffing /is there ever a blue skies option’?

GS: We need to go back a fraction because the second stanza I haven’t said that is actually to do with the books that Faust has as stage properties, in the first scene of Marlowe. Faustus opening various books in order to sound their depths. This part, sleeves, just before the one you mentioned, that is to do with the speech which Bruno gave at Oxford, in which he was described by a hostile witness as having stripped off his sleeves like a juggler, and that’s meant to mean that Bruno’s ideas are suspect. Coming on to when ‘gravel the scoffing is there ever a blue skies option’, I suppose this is literally to do with what’s going to happen to The Rose (theatre), but also with those who disapprove of a kind of risky adventure in philosophy and defining the world. The scoffing would be scoffing at ambition, so it’s relevant to Faustus. ‘Blue skies’ could also record the image of flight in the previous stanza. Marlowe often uses images of flight to indicate aspiration.

AD: “the blue skies option”. Is that Total Recall, the film?

GS: I can’t say. Often when I’m using references that seem to be antiquarian they have a modern equivalent that I may be aware of - or half aware of. That’s relevant to my current project Harriot Double. The next stanza, ‘Uncover, measure out the chalk’, this is to do with the site of the Rose theatre. It was very close to the river’s edge. As you probably know the reconstructed Globe isn’t actually where the original Globe was. If you can imagine Southwark Bridge, the reconstructed Globe is on the south-west side of it. But the original Globe was just beyond the bridge. Obviously still on the South Bank. So the Rose wasn’t that far from where the reconstructed Globe is and one of the background features of this whole text, as well as the property company being against it as a performance base, it is very likely that the people behind the Globe reconstruction didn’t want a rival theatre very close!

AD: You have to eliminate one. The arts scene in England isn’t going to benefit from having two early 17th century theatres in a short space. One is probably the right number.

GS: I felt very strongly there should be two at the time but maybe I’m capable of being more realistic now! The bare bones of the geometry, the little base of the wall that you can see, it’s a polygon that can pass itself off as a circle. That’s obviously literal. ‘Flower bounded by/ a ditch and sewer’. ‘Flower bounded by/ a ditch and sewer’ is definitely relevant to the whole poem because of the idea of the fertile and innocent also being inevitably linked to the dirty and the... I can’t remember the exact quotation but it is... What I’m doing now in commenting is in a way what I’m talking about in this poem, the difficulty of recalling and finding one’s way back to some context. ‘Love is pitched in the mansion of excrement’, that’s the Yeats quotation. In terms of layout much of Roxy is fairly conventional in having a regular left hand margin and not too much scattering of words on the page. Although there’s obviously variation within that basic pattern. But what strikes me in looking at this now is it does have some resemblance to theatrical speech, not that it’s a dialogue as such or even a monologue, but ... We’re mainly looking at meaning aren’t we, at the moment. I would say in passing that the line breaks are important. I’m just looking up at the next page as it’s laid out in Music’s Duel. The way I’ve broken the lines, ‘moves/ invisible’, on the opposite page. But maybe I’m going too fast. We’ve got “Money behind money scoops in mud/ for a renegotiated view, lines where/ ‘they’ won’t tread” That is all about the company and its need to protect its investment. But maybe it’s also to do with plotting worlds as a thinker, when I say “lines where/ ‘they’ won’t tread”, it’s not just wanting to keep people out, in the 1980’s and Nineties, particularly protesters wanting to retain this theatrical possibility, but it’s also relevant to Marlowe’s Dr Faustus in terms of lines of demarcation and thinking. Could I say in passing that theatre for me is crucial not just as an art form that I find useful and interesting but beyond that it’s a dimension of performance which is everywhere around, beyond the theatre. It’s I suppose a kind of paradigm or emblem of private behaviour. Although I might seem at times buried in particular information and reference to do with this art form it’s coming out of a broader concern with how people relate to each other. Do you by any chance know Arthur Marwick’s history of the 1960s?

AD: Yes, I think that’s a tremendous book. I thought his book on culture wasn’t nearly so impressive.

GS: It's much better than Dominic Sandbrook’s which I think has a very conservative agenda with a small c. One of the things Marwick says is that in the Sixties the arts lab, with its activities particularly theatrical activities in the arts lab, had an influence on British society that permeated far beyond the little network of people who actually performed in those events. I think that’s a very fair point. Instances which seem quite particular and maybe are witnessed by a minority develop a momentum and there are ripples that move out way beyond. So what I’m saying about the Rose theatre here is to do with aspects of behaviour generally and also to do with the commercial agenda of the Thatcher era generally. The company riding roughshod over other people’s needs. And of course we can’t forget the glory of the garden, as William Rees-Mogg termed his document on the future of the Arts Council. The Arts Council took a decidedly narrower view during the Thatcher era, did it not.

AD: So that was a policy document on what the Arts Council should be doing? and the government went in a different direction?

GS: I think Rees-Mogg was more enlightened to a degree, but not actually that far. I think he had already suffered, becoming more conservative than he later became.
The ‘flying crane’ that’s a kind of William Empson type image that has symbolic and literal dimensions. They are flying cranes over the building site, But also they’re flying cranes that are birds, as in Faustus... “Don’t say the joke isn’t part of the scheme.” This is to do with Faustus and whether the farcical bits are primarily later additions or whether they’re essential to Marlowe’s vision, and I would argue that the comedy is essential and it is necessary to the working out of essentially a tragic process. These things - “mean and grovelling a meal vanishes -/ chickens and pudding with ‘This is mine’.” - that’s that bit in Faustus which I think many people regard as a later addition. Where the pope, it’s in Rome, isn’t it, the dishes are pulled away, it’s a bit of possibly Protestant satire on Roman Catholic excess. For me it’s an essential part of the exploration of possibility.

AD: It’s a magic trick that Faust pulls, and this one’s comic? That must be some of the oldest material in the chapbook Faust as published.

GS: I should have said I’m drawing on the chapbook as well. The ‘Damnable Life’, it’s actually in ‘The Damnable Life’ that Faust says ‘this is mine’ before snatching away the pope’s dish of meat.
I’m reading from my notebook here. “In Orson Welles’ 1937 production, two chickens and a pudding flew up from their dishes and disappeared into the back velvet drape.”

AD: That’s good acting!

GS: ‘paid for a slice’ also works on more than one level, because it’s to do with writers of Renaissance plays being paid for their slice in a collaborative effort. For example, “In November 1602 William Byrd and Samuel Rowley were paid four pounds for their additions in ‘Doctor Fostus’”. These presumably included the banquet scene. So these things are agglomerative, but I believe there is a logic to the way an acting text develops out of things that are written in a private study. I mean there are whole traditions of acting, aren’t there, particularly with a thing like Hamlet, where there are things that are done that are still done today and which go back to very early productions. I talk about this in Le Fanu’s Ghost. Actual mannerisms that have been passed down though the centuries.

(In the film Total Recall, one character says ‘Do you want the blue skies option?’. ‘Total recall’ is what the theatre of memory promised.)

AD: ‘the demon came out of a black diamond door;’ now.

GS: We’ve come as far as ‘a phrase out of the charred leaves/ says make the moon your plot’, haven’t we.

AD: What was ’all the perfumed verge’?

GS: I think this is to do with the whole strand in Roxy of the erotic possibility and the beautiful always, or so frequently one step away. It’s there in Faustus, his urge to have Helen - Helen of Troy being a kind of Roxy figure. And in the next section, 47, I do actually move into talking about possessing the new world, maybe drawing on some of Stephen Greenblatt’s argument about the ravaging of native territory - actually foreign territory. Obviously there’s a sexual connotation to that. I think some of the background to this, one of the layers here, is, as well as Marlowe’s play in its various manifestations, the English Faust book, Murnau’s film Faust (1926), in which Faust starts to burn his holy books and then his eyes fall on the phrase, ‘get ye to the crossroads beneath the moon and invoke Him thrice', and you get a depiction of the charred book leaves. So that comes out of the film, actually.

AD: So what is ’the perfumed verge’?

GS: This other territory that seduces or which one wants power over.

AD: It’s perfumed because it’s full of natural vegetation that hasn’t been damaged or razed yet?
GS: Exotic. But also it’s sexual in terms of the desired other. The searching eye is always looking beyond - ‘an eye runs on the ridges, stretches across/ lead-in-white’ and it becomes particularly sexual, ‘brimming her quiet thin thickness’. I think ‘thin thickness’ is a phrase from Du Bartas, actually. I’ve got a feeling it is.

AD: The Protestant 17th century French writer?

GS: It’s Silvester’s. I obviously mean Silvester’s version. It’s I think to do with layers of the heavens as they perceived it, within a Ptolemaic framework. Not a net - a sphere I suppose. Because Faustus is always looking at the heavens, wanting to step beyond. And it’s in Tamberlaine as well, the urge to step beyond, always questing. 'To click an icon and go over’, well that’s to do with present technological context. On one level is perhaps to do with memory theatre but also to do with computing I suppose. On an Apple Mac you can use a series of icons to summon aspect of text. So this is the electronic world and the promise of other worlds through technology. The back box in the next section could on one level be that performance space I was talking about. ‘dread the spotlight in a black box’. You dread it but ‘it sleeks the scene to a fine devise’. I can’t really analyse that logically I’m afraid. It still has a resonance for me whatever. ‘Seen and allowed’ is to do with the censor.

AD: So the black box is another production of Faustus?

GS: Yes, at the Lyric Theatre. It may have been some years before I was writing. But it stayed in my mind. The sweep of events being as it were played out in the head, in the skull almost. An example of that would be many of Beckett’s plays. Maybe particularly Krapp’s Last Tape. Within a contained space. Sensing, having access to, a panorama. Much of Faustus could almost be played out inside the man’s head. Even though he’s dealing with other figures. A fight between forces in the man’s head, if you like. A conflict between forces. So what’s ‘seen and allowed’, that’s the phrase that the censors used at the time, for checking the text. Giving permission. That’s relevant to Faustus because certain things were transgressive in terms of the prevailing moral and religious ethic. And the middle here must be partly to do with middle spirits, the intermediate spirits that seem to be an aspect of Marlowe’s play, at least in William Empson’s reading of the play. I think I’d recently read Empson’s book Faustus and the Censor, which offers a very interesting perspective on the play. Middle voice is also coming into play here. Witnessing the possibility of its own voicing. It’s important to stress that throughout Roxy there’s this self-reflexive quality, so not just talking about film and theatre and fashion magazines in subject terms, but I’m also building commentary on how you perceive, and a kind of aesthetic assumption into the text itself that it’s self-reflexive, and it may be that these middle spirits and middle voice are relevant to this question of perception and assumptions that feature throughout the poem - particularly gender politics I suppose. In terms of the female star and is that empowerment for women or merely a way of containing female power. Empson argues that Helen of Troy in one tradition is a middle spirit, that she’s a kind of illusion. Which may relate to the play, it’s a Euripides play -

AD: Helen in Egypt?

GS: - which HD draws on for her poem Helen in Egypt, which I think is her most interesting work, actually. Can we move over the page? Now all this, I’d recently been to that big de Kooning exhibition at the Tate Gallery. I remember JH Prynne gave a talk at it -

AD: Rosy-fingered dawn at Louse Point.

GS: Yes. Anyway, it was the series of paintings called Woman that interested me. ‘wet emulsions and stand oil’. And stand oil is a highly viscous medium that De Kooning liked for its slow-drying properties. A very evocative phrase, actually. Stand Oil. It’s a contradiction actually because oil suggests something fluid.

AD: If it doesn’t flow it might be fat. Like olive oil when it freezes.

GS: That’s why you shouldn’t keep it in the fridge I suppose. I’m shifting from the Renaissance play to thinking of - shifting from Marlowe’s portrayal of Helen - which even though Helen only appears briefly in Faustus she’s still a far-reaching presence there- so I’m shifting from that to modern contexts of seeing. Particularly men seeing women, here. De Kooning’s representation of female genitals and mouth such as the one called ‘Lipstick’ from the early Fifties. Elaine de Kooning said ‘Bill asked me to put on lipstick and kiss this drawing, carefully picking the exact spots where I should press my lips, each one fainter, ending finally with the mid section, going counter-clockwise.' What is going on here? Is it a mark of affection? Apparently Elaine de Kooning would often sign notes to de Kooning with lipstick kisses. But he’s grudging the pattern. You could say the collage mouth emphasizes the fluctuating nature of identity. The images are built up in layers and that’s very relevant to memory theatre. Shoes, lipstick, eyes, being privileged female features in these paintings. And also I suppose popular culture of that time. The genitalia at times look like wounds in these paintings - “a wound-like wine/ on crusted shelves”.

AD: The westering is going from the right hand of the painting towards the left hand?

GS: Exactly. But also there I’m referencing Renaissance exploration of North America.

AD: Really? So that’s what de Kooning did, he went West.

(break) AD: Rolling on One.

GS: I’d just like to say a bit more about my interpretation of Helen of Troy here, if you like, Helen as a Roxy figure. I’d been reading a book called The Fortunes of Faust by Elsie Butler, who was a friend of HD. A very gifted academic at London University.

AD: EM Butler.

GS: But very interested in Magic. In talking about the second part of Goethe’s Faust she says of Helen, “Feeling and thinking as a real woman, she is but a shade and one perhaps who has never had a real existence except in the minds of men. A strange beautiful mythological being.” So that is part of the context, when I was speaking of whether Helen has substance or not, whether she is fully physically there or just an image or spirit. Just going back to ‘westering’ again, I probably had in mind Spengler’s idea of vaulting relentless aspiration.

AD: Which he also called ‘Faustian’.

GS: Faust is left holding Helen’s empty robe after she embraces him and vanishes in Goethe’s Faust Part II. And that’s the last time he touches her. So “she smiles/ a range of selves, proffers/ the isolate clasp or scarf/ that set off blood-rushes’. I think this is all to do with that offer of possibility but the danger of it disappearing, of that promise vanishing. I think all of this must be to do with that. ‘Suppose she comes back to cloud./ Beasted, he holds an empty robe.’

AD: Beasted?

GS: That may be a play on ‘bested’ actually, in the sense of overcome, but also beasted because he is brought down to a level of degradation, with his darker nature exposed.

AD: “petals of a name that pleases.”

GS: Well, yeah. I can’t offer any commentary on that at the moment I’m afraid. Other than the fact that petal might be the petals of a rose. ‘raising a city’ again seems to take us back to the beginning of this section with the memory theatre. But raising obviously can mean demolishing as well as summoning.

AD: This could be the atomic bomb. Not Thomas Mann’s Dr Faustus by any chance?

GS: Which I used in Days of '49. Going to the last part of this section, the “subplot” relates to what I was dealing with earlier, in terms of jest material. I suppose the subplot equalises things. Reducing the grand possibility of the main plot but also actually making it grounded. The comic would ground that more highbrow material. ‘There are still wings rising/ in alabaster.’ Maybe wings of the theatre.

AD: The theatre must have been bombed?

GS: I would think so. or maybe burnt down as so many theatres did. The “hell’s teeth and a tapering tongue/ the beer and bread”. This is imagining how performances occurred at The Rose and the audience reception of the material. I have a note here - “Thomas Middleton in the Black Book 1604 refers to a performance of Doctor Faustus when the old theatre cracked and frighted the audience by some kind of devilish disturbance in the fabric.” It would have been quite frail, but it would have been one of those rather wonderful moments where something happens literally with the elements and adds to the artistic material being dealt with. It’s all being levelled. Beer and bread being consumed while “the poet pleads for Indian silk”. And they have found things like “old clay pipes and orange pips”. I think I would be sufficiently literal to be talking here about what was found on the site of the Rose Theatre. And the section ends ‘watching a lyric face/ one class sweats into the armpits of another’. You’ve got this high art being presented but you’ve got the groundlings sweating into the armpits of those more privileged, or maybe into the armpits of the actors. Certainly a kind of levelling again. The groundlings and the lords absorbed in the same process of taking in the fight for a questing man’s soul.

AD: What is a middle spirit?

GS: It’s an under-spirit who doesn’t have the authority of a main spirit but is not a completely insignificant spirit. I think middle spirits had the ability to impersonate. Empson comments “Faustus must have a scheme to escape Hell. He hopes that Mephistopheles is himself a middle spirit merely pretending to be a devil.” That’s the point of it. Mephistopheles may not actually be a devil. Uncertainty of status.

AD: So he is an actor in the role of a devil?

GS: Which of course literally he is! I’ll just say that this is section 46 out of 52 sections so we’re moving towards the end of the book here. And this links up with section 47 which is much to do with discovery of exotic territory, but also to do with memory.

(‘Stromboli’, a poem from Days of 49) There are continuities there as well. The English tendency would be to stress on that second syllable but Italians tend to voice it ‘Stromboli’. Would you like me just to start talking about it? Why did you pick this piece?

AD: (searching the theatre of memory for an icon which isn’t there) Why did I pick it? Oh, you picked it.

GS: In this text I was juxtaposing film reality and life reality. The personal lives of the actress Ingrid Bergman and the director Rossellini, on the one hand, and the matter in the film itself. Stromboli is one of Rossellini’s neo-realist dramas, which means it wasn’t scripted in advance very much, and a lot of it was allowed to just happen. Ingrid Bergman had been a conventional Hollywood actress in a number of film before that and had become very disillusioned with that stale way of working, and she had the inclination to act in a more natural way, and therefore took this role. It was filmed on the volcanic island of Stromboli, in the Mediterranean. She got involved with Rossellini romantically and eventually had children with him and this caused extreme scandals back in the States, partly because she was still married to the Swedish, was he a brain surgeon?, I can’t remember but anyway she was a married woman having an affair in the public eye. Structurally this text uses lines from the film and descriptive elements, as well as juxtaposing the life with the film, and also using different kinds of language here. At times there’s a kind of telegrammese type framing of language. The words in small capitals are her own words, the phrases in brackets in lower case are descriptive, so I’m setting up a dramatic tension there.

CANT HEAR the water churning
CANT UNDERSTAND (the boarded door)
CANT SPEAK (the smoking cone)
ARRIVE ROME SUNDAY NIGHT (fiesta)

She is the first lady of the screen in the film world at that time, and had played a nun, I forget which film now. Anyway she goes off with this love pirate. Which film was it? It wasn’t The Nun’s Story? I think that’s another one with Deborah Kerr.

AD: It probably wasn’t a very good film. (It was "Bells of St Mary's").

GS: I’m setting that out that she goes off with this love pirate, with a daring Italian director given to flexible working methods. ’Sends fire and ashes to the Legion of Decency.’ I think the Legion of Decency was one of these moral majority type things. So I’m recalling or imagining the circumstances of making the film, mixing in actual things from the film with the basic circumstances of making the film, like “start of film blank, try to start. Fault.” ‘Vene this is bad room’. The room, that’s when she ... Have you seen this film? You remember that she is a sophisticated middle-class Italian from I think Northern Italy who comes down to the tip of Italy. And she becomes involved with this basically peasant, and he’s a fisherman. And she becomes his wife. I’m condensing the film into a few lines. I’m picking out key images like “she is a rabbit seized by a ferret, she is a tunny fish speared in the heaving sea” - That’s the most famous sequence in the film, isn’t it, the tunny-fish expedition. I’m imagining that she is being speared as it were. It’s so different from the poem we were just looking at, isn’t it?

AD: It’s a lot simpler.

GS: You can’t make everything complex. There’s a layer of complexity here in the juxtaposition. But I certainly wanted this to be accessible in what it says about the period and maybe the scandal of the time and the contradictions. I think I’m trying to write this in a film-like way though. So it’s a bit like a filmstrip but it’s a dramatized filmstrip which involves description as well as speech. And as I said life as well as film. “Reality is a matter of intent.”

AD: Making a film where you start with no script, because it is less premeditated, is controlled by fewer people, it’s more real.

GS: And actually generates or occurs in parallel with Bergman’s own release, personality wise or romantically. It turned out to be quite a difficult relationship, but I think she did get a lot of things from it. Certainly the films she made during that middle period are among her best work.



AD: “NO ALIEN GUILTY CAN SET FOOT ON AMERICAN SOIL”? She wasn’t guilty of anything? Is this a paper clipping?

GS: I think that must be a newspaper headline that I’m either adapting or quoting, yes. She can’t go back because she’s had this affair and become an adulteress! She certainly can’t go back to Hollywood and work there with the same respect.

AD: Because of the Legion of Decency and the newspapers. They would ban her films.

GS: I suppose Howard Hughes must have had some part in the funding of this film or maybe in the distribution, in the American distribution. He writes to defend the heart. Reality is a matter of intent.” Got aesthetic resonance, doesn’t it, in the way you make a film.

AD: A script being a form of domination exercise of one individual over the others.

GS: Absolutely. At times I’m trying to get the Italian intonation in, “you ave-a no modesty”. To register that context. I think why I suggested this was as a contrast to parts of Roxy. Although it has a continuity in focusing on female glamour, a female star and heroine, but this is more actively dramatised.

Azimuth and Digression, part 3: Gavin Selerie interview 28 January 2012

AD: Tell us about the Riverside interviews.

GS: As I recall this came out of going to poetry events at the Riverside Studios. There was a woman there whose name I forget, the literary director? manager? What would the term be? Anyway she was in charge of putting on the poetry readings and she was extremely helpful not only in terms of my getting access but also stocked the books after I’d published and indeed the few other Binnacle publications I did. Initially it was just hearing the poets but then I would follow that up and it became a rolling program. It [title] was not just the studios but had for me a blues connotation. There was I think a blues label. Blues/jazz label. I forget the exact sequence but I think initially I did the Beat poets. I did Lawrence Ferlinghetti who complimented me by saying it was the best interview with him that had ever been done. A slight exaggeration I think. I did interviews with Ginsberg, massive lengthy session with Ginsberg. I think quite a bit of that recorded in Miles’ house near the Post Office Tower. We did various follow-up sessions. I did Gregory Corso. Now that was done at Jay Landesman’s house in Islington, lovely terrace near the canal. I went across one evening and Corso was there listening to Lully, some piece of wonderful baroque, on a ghetto blaster at full blast and then we got on to doing the interview. Then either he or I suggested going to the pub called The Bluecoat Boy. He after a few drinks got increasingly aggressive and quarrelsome and pulled the tape recorder from my bag and tried to confiscate it. We came to blows but I eventually got the tape back from him. And then I had to deal with the people at New Directions. A lovely woman called Griselda O something. She acted as an intermediary in getting the text sorted out further. When he finally received the book he claimed not to have had final say over the contents. But it was well received. I also interviewed Ed Dorn. It was potentially the most successful of them but it never came out. He wanted to revise it and continue it by post. I don’t know. There were various delays. I got very busy and after another couple of Riverside volumes I ran out of money and space and the series collapsed. But it finally is going to come out in a book I’ve edited with Justin Katko, from shearsman. I did a lengthy introduction explaining where I think the interview would have gone, basing that not just on my memories but what Dorn said to me. And checking various things with Jenny Dunbar Dorn, his widow. Of all the people I interviewed the person I had most kinship with was Dorn. One of the biggest regrets I have that it never turned into a book of the length of the Ginsberg one, or the Tom McGrath book. The Dorn book and my introduction to it are germane to what we were talking about, the Cambridge empathy with that American poetry and development of those procedures. I have quite a bit to say there about Donald Davie. With luck that will all come out in the next year. Did you see I gave you a copy of my Olson paper? I became friendly with George Butterick in I suppose 1980 and he was very supportive of my project. He certainly helped me gain access to the archive in Connecticut where they were already gathering material. (They held material on?) Tom Raworth. Obviously a huge amount of Olson stuff. University of Connecticut at Storrs. They’ve got a mass of Black Mountain material there. They’ve got all Prynne’s letters to Olson. Butterick lived in Willimantic. He and his wife Colette were very supportive of what I was doing. The bookshop in Willimantic, Ziesing Brothers, were very helpful. The Ziesing brothers actually published my first book, which some of the poems in Azimuth come from. Playground for the Working Line.
I did a very long interview with Ted Ensslin whose work I was very interested in then although I confess I can only appreciate the shorter lyrics these days. I still admire the ambition of Ranger and Synthesis and so on. I went up to where he was living, up in Maine nearly on the Canadian border. We did the interview in bizarre circumstances because there was a power cut and we had to use oil lamps. He was very much a back to the land person. The battery on my tape recorder was getting slower and slower. I did capture a huge amount though. That has never come out and I don’t have the time to deal with that now. A part of the tapes has been transcribed. I do want to get those onto some digital medium and likewise I did a fairly long interview with Cid Corman and I think that is quite important as the record of what went down, particularly in terms of Corman’s relationship with Olson. I must say that Corman is one of the most unpleasant people I’ve ever met. Despite being a very interesting poet.

AD: I’ve got mixed feelings about delving into that.

GS: I must say he did come up with the goods in term of discussing his work. He was very self-centred in his perspective but nevertheless was willing to talk at length about his literary contacts. Obviously I was very interested in the magazine Origin and he talked at some length about editing Origin. He also talked about his own poetry and living in Japan and so on. His wife was running this Japanese restaurant in Boston. It’s like those stories about Wyndham Lewis and Froanna only appearing at the hatch to serve meals. I think Froanna was by no mean as downtrodden as those apocryphal stories suggest. The last Riverside book which came out and which broke my project was the Tom McGrath book. Tom I had known for quite a while through Michael Horovitz’s circle and through Barry Miles, Tom having been editor of IT and at the centre of so much that was going on in London even though he was a Glaswegian. He was an interesting poet himself as well as a playwright. His play 'The Hard Man' had been a big success. I interviewed him over a two-year period, first in London at the ICA and elsewhere, then in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Some phone conversations also fed into the final text. This became a book of 300 pages, including a critical introduction and illustrations. I’d consulted Tom about many points of detail, trying to get everything right. We were committed to a ‘deep soak’ approach. Then he freaked out when he saw the book, which seemed to him too revealing. I laid it all out. Even though I thought I’d made it plain for him that I wanted all the detail. He had a kind of breakdown at the time. I don’t know how much it had to do with my book. It probably wasn’t primarily to do with the book. But he pulled out of a launch in Edinburgh. I’d printed a thousand copies or something partly because of the restaging of ‘Animal’ at the National Theatre and of course it was quite hard to sell the book and I had masses stored and it was quite depressing actually. I had a grant from the Arts Council that was meant to cover the printing costs. But the book came out bigger than envisaged so it didn’t even cover the printing costs. I was quite pleased with the book because of its circuitous progress through various aspects of the arts, theatre film dance poetry. And Tom talked quite a bit about Scottish poetry. And Scottish literature in general. That was a nightmare for me, that book. I overreached myself completely. I was also trying to finish Azimuth which I think came out the year after that.
I’d forgotten Jerome Rothenberg. It was Eric Mottram who introduced me to Jerry. I intersected with Jerry in various contexts. Through Eric, who was enthusiastic about ethnopoetics and that whole project that Rothenberg had, but also through various performances that Rothenberg did, probably at the instigation of Bob Cobbing, at places like the London Musicians’ Collective. What happened with the Rothenberg interview was that, again it was a case of misfortune for me. Initially. I turned up at Kings College for the interview and I’d been teaching through the day and I had the most terrible migraine so I didn’t feel able to contribute very much. But actually everything worked out because Jerry and I agreed to do a further separate interview and we later continued the interview, possibly by post, I can’t remember. So there are two parts to the book. And I have nothing but praise for Jerry in supporting me, he was the complete reverse of some of the others I’ve mentioned. He was a consummate professional in editing and revising and insisting that certain things be done. I should acknowledge that Ginsberg was as well. Actually, a little bit as I was saying about Michael Horovitz, against what people might assume Ginsberg was extremely precise in his editorial methods, and indeed eloquent about poetry, going way back. I should acknowledge that Ginsberg and Rothenberg were supportive to the nth degree. And I interviewed Joseph Chaykin at Riverside Studios, where we spoke for an hour or maybe more and there was something wrong either with my head or with the equipment and neither side had recorded. And he very generously agreed to do it again. I don’t think it was as comprehensive second time around. But the same day he continued and I did capture that. That is on tape but again I haven’t got it out. I must get this stuff transferred digitally. I don’t have the resources to publish that kind of thing now. After my experience doing the Dorn book last year, I don’t have the time or the inclination, it’s shameful, but it was extremely time-consuming and it took me away from my own writing, the creative writing.

AD: It strikes me that you were chronicling American poets of the 1950s. When I first heard about the series I thought it would be English poets of the 1970s because that was what I most wanted. There is a great lack of source interviews for those people. I think it’s right to get people a certain way into their career, you capture much more that way.

GS: You’ve put your finger on another major regret, that I didn’t do an equivalent number of interviews with British poets in whom I was at least equally interested. I did ask Tom Raworth whether he would do a book-length interview but he very kindly declined, saying that he’d said everything necessary in the interview with Barry Alpert in Vort, but this was further down the line, he would have had other things to say. I can remember him doing things at SubVoicive which enthused me. This was a long way after the Vort interview which admittedly does cover the Olson and Dorn connection quite well. I found in talking to Dorn that things would come out that weren’t in equivalent interviews. Justin Katko has confirmed that he believes there is stuff in there not covered anywhere else.

AD: Pretty irritating to do someone densely interviewed, they’ve already done it for someone else.

GS: I tried to persuade Basil Bunting to do a book-length interview, and Tom Pickard was a helpful link person there. But that never happened. Tom Pickard himself I wanted to do. Lee Harwood I wanted to do. I don’t know that I was even in touch with Lee other than seeing him at the odd reading. Who else... of course Barry MacSweeney I would have loved to have done.

AD: My bet is that it would never have seen the light of day, whatever you did. Barry wanted to control how he seemed to the outside world, but every time he spoke at length he said things he couldn’t control.

GS: Have you ever heard that reading followed by discussion with comments by Barry which was recorded at...a college in South London. I can dig it out for you a bit later and tell you what’s on it. What struck me about it was the precision of Barry’s comments about the poetic art.

AD: He must have been sober. It had to be the right time of day. I spent three days interviewing Barry once and he nixed the whole thing.

GS: It is a risky business doing interviews. It’s regrettable for instance that Sidney Graham wasn’t interviewed at length. But you can imagine what might have happened.

AD: If you have someone so finicky about words then the need for control isn’t going to just switch off when they turn to prose. The likelihood is that they either want to rewrite it and that gets very complex, it turns into poems and you never get it back, effectively. Or they realise that they really want to write poetry and talking prose is just not how they want to be seen and listened to.

GS: I did one with Robert Creeley in the company of Peter Middleton and Tom Pickard.

AD: You had a mike that would pick up four voices?

GS: We were sitting on a rug in a garden somewhere in north-east London, Dalston or somewhere. I think it came out perfectly clearly. Most of the interviewing was done by me or Peter. Who is a good friend of mine. He was still living in London at that point.

AD: I just get more excited about the English end.

GS: Roy Fisher is someone else I would have loved to have done. There are some very useful interviews with Roy. So I don’t think that was quite as crucial as Barry or Tom Raworth. Roy Fisher reading ‘paraphrases’. To remind us for later on.

AD: I think we’re going to talk quite a lot about the London School.

GS: Before we get to that, could I just add a PS on the Riverside interviews? I wouldn’t want the reader to think that there isn’t quite extensive coverage of the English scene at certain moments in the series, where it dovetails with the American scene, and the Tom McGrath interview definitely has quite a lot within the sphere of what you were defining just now.
I was quite keen on combining live interview with written revision/addition. Which could well have parallels with my method of composition in Azimuth. I was quite keen on a composite method that had the spark of live conversation but also had deeper quiet rumination, so that you had a balance between spontaneity of expression and precision of thought. I was keen on doing that with Ed Dorn but through the vagaries of communication and so on it never came about.

AD: There is quite a casualty rate, isn’t there? It’s quite ambitious. OK. Die Londoner Schule. (reads from a paper)
I wanted to acquire more info on the London School. I am sure that if we look at the scene in 1968 1978 1988 1998 and 2008 we see totally different cultural objects, but the lack of documentation makes this very difficult. Writers Forum supposedly began in 1963, and is still going, but most of that history is very hard to recover. The London scene is like a bus station, open on all sides. People blow in and out the whole time. So several hundred people could claim to be members of it. I found that most people offering wares there pretty much had a cardboard sign round their necks saying SCHMUCK. So identifying with all of them was unthinkable. Being there is quite different from identifying. I realised recently that whenever I was taking part in events there there was at least one person who invisibly had decided that four or five people were The London School and everyone else, notably me, wasn't registering and, in their memories, wouldn't appear. It was hard to avoid concluding that really the whole scene did not belong to them, and to plan memories in which they didn't appear except disguised as waste paper baskets or pillars. So, even if you define the London School as a tacitly shared sensibility, it seems more like a set of four or five sensibilities which linked different knots of people and excluded others. So I wondered what you felt about the silently shared ideals.
To get concrete, I wondered if we could locate followers of Olson, mainly via Mottram, and followers of Cobbing, and find that they have nothing in common. Perhaps the tensions in the public moments were due to a kind of gang warfare.

GS: I think gang warfare is putting it too extremely unless you want to go back to the Poetry Society wars. Certainly there were different coteries. But my abiding memory is of the intersection of scenes rather than of demarcation in the hostile sense. There were different groupings, and veiled and open tension or hostilities, but I really found that it was like a continual series of doors that opened, a bit like that cardboard thing where...

AD: Advent calendars?

GS: No... no. I don’t know what I’m thinking of

AD: I think you’ve just invented something!

GS: lt was like a series of windows or doors. The way in which one meeting would lead on to another.
I think you’re right that there were a group of people who were predominantly into Olson rather than into Continental European sound poetry at the other end. Those were two poles. On the other hand, Eric Mottram, who I suppose for most people would typify a consciousness that displays the influence of Pound and Olson but is remoulding that in a British context, he represents that, but Cobbing equally drew on American models. Allen was saying to me after the paper I gave at that conference in the University of Kent ...

AD: The Olson conference?

GS: Yeah in November 2010.
I just wonder maybe I could say a couple of things about Strip Signals. We got onto that somewhere.

AD: What is the title Strip Signals?

GS: It refers primarily to a German term, I think it's Wellensalat. Wave salad. It’s a technical term, a radio term referring to the crossing of stations. As you twist the dial on the radio so you’ve got intermediate stations. I love that term ‘wave salad’. Strip signals has so many association, it obviously conjures up fragmentary experience, but also suggests a sinister technology whereby through chips or whatever your life is being monitored and controlled. Actually I have on the cover of the book a bar code symbol to indicate the recording of a transaction or of the existence of an artefact. Also it’s reflective of the juxtaposition of different kinds of writing in that text, which is a loose personal experience on the one hand, not necessarily my experience, and analytical technical language on the other. A lot of that is about finance initiatives and at that time, I wrote it in 1985, a lot of that was still fantasy, like accounts of going to the Moon before the moon landing. A lot of that has actually come true. We don’t yet have barcodes on our wrists but it won’t be long. They are talking about doing away with plastic card technology and doing it through your skin or fingerprints or something.

AD: Or your retina.

GS: So Strip Signals, the first performance just had a couple of other participants beside myself. The more elaborate performance was the year afterwards, 1986. We had just done one rehearsal before and one or maybe two of the people there hadn’t been at that rehearsal. So it was pretty improvised and not pre-planned. I selected texts for that performance. This performance has now come out on a 2-CD set. There were two master tapes from different parts of the audience and the engineer had to marry those two tapes.

GS: (explains how he came to London in 1978) I worked for the extra-mural department of Birkbeck for all those years and they were very unsupportive of poetry. John Muckle was another key figure, he was the main force behind the Paladin poetry series, he should get the credit for that much more than Iain Sinclair.

AD: Let’s just pause on that. John was working for Paladin, to do with editing horror novels I think. He told them, do some contemporary poetry. It was completely his idea, they failed to say no, I think that was about the size of it. John set up the Paladin new british poetry thing and devised the four categories of what the mainstream didn’t like. But then he moved on from the job and that is why Iain was managing it when it actually came out.

GS: I didn’t mean to be critical of Iain. His input later was important. I had a little bit of input into that anthology. John was unhappy in a couple of cases about material that had been selected and I acted, to suggest some other material, and managed to get that accepted by Eric.

AD: That was a milestone of a book.

GS: It’s a curious anthology. The women’s poetry section which was edited by my friend Gillian Allnutt is a lot more conservative formally but I’m glad it’s there nonetheless. It could have been different, it could have been better perhaps. That’s probably the way those things had to be presented then.

AD: I think it was a trailblazer, I don’t think there was a model. It’s sad it wasn’t followed up more. You could point to it and say, here it is, here’s what we are talking about. Whereas quite a few influential people were denying that that kind of poetry actually existed. They were saying, yes, there’s a theory that you could do this kind of poetry but no-one’s actually ever done it. When you have a book with 88 poets in it it saves that kind of argument.

GS: I suppose the (Paladin) series of three poets is a kind of successor to the tnbp anthology, and if that series had continued many other people from that anthology and indeed other poets would have received further exposure. The great thing about those books, at a time when most of the publication for the poets we’re talking about was A4 stapled booklets they were being presented in a way which meant they could potentially have been received in a more serious way with more serious attention. Although that didn’t really happen even with the smarter format.

AD: OK, it’s like a radical government that’s in power for six weeks. I think it did move things on. It’s surprising how many people picked up those books before they were pulped.

GS: There were several individual volumes, weren’t there. Lee Harwood.

AD: Across the Frozen River?

GS: There was a John Ashbery.

AD: I am still wondering about the people who go to poetry events at the Royal Festival Hall. How to explain to them why they would want to go to SubVoicive or whatever.

GS: It has to do with integrity of space. I don’t mean clinging to territory. A poet feeling they can read experimental work and be tolerated. And an audience which is receptive to that. I think on the whole the less formal the nature of the venue the more powerful the performance will be. Poetry readings in the Queen Elizabeth Hall will always seem staged.

AD: I’ve never bothered to go along to them.

GS: Pound used to mix with half the people he was castigating. I don’t think it would happen now. I think that’s one of the things that’s changed. I can’t imagine me meeting with Andrew Motion. Not that I ever have. I couldn’t imagine having a drink with... I suppose I could imagine having a drink with Andrew Motion. I could do. But what would I say?

AD: Possibly that’s why the literary divides are so wide.

GS: I could have a decent conversation with Andrew Motion, I’m sure. Comforting in a way.

AD: It’s hard to think about overturning it. It’s easy if you avoid the areas of shared interest. If you’re going to change the map you’re going to have to have an event which explores the differences and tries to reach some kind of agreement.

GS: And the danger of course of mixing with people you find alien, or at least their literary allegiances unsympathetic, is that you just sit in the territory that you do have in common. By talking about areas of shared enthusiasm - with Andrew Motion we could just end up talking about Bob Dylan. I know he’s another fan.

AD: It’s quite easy to have civilised chat about recent films or Wordsworth or something. What I’m talking about is a project, which certainly wasn’t invented by me, for truth and reconciliation. Part of that would be developing some kind of agreement about the shared past. That might involve Andrew Motion reading JH Prynne.

GS: Seriously. With patience.

AD: And JH Prynne reading Peter Levi. And not coming out with simple condemnation - communist subversion or whatever.

GS: Who do they wheel on in these breakfast time Radio 4 debates? They had Iain Sinclair defending Prynne and someone else against him. Was it John Sutherland.

AD: It was indeed John Sutherland. He didn’t know what was going on.

GS: He doesn’t know anything about contemporary poetry, as far as I know.

AD: I actually heard that exchange on the radio. It’s not a very serious hour of the day, you’re buried in toast and marmalade. You want something quite digestible. It wasn’t going to produce anything at all, it wasn’t designed in that way.

GS: It would have to be Night Waves or something to generate any serious discussion.

AD: I feel tantalised about this project. OK I feel guilty about various aspects of the division, that makes me want to contribute to relieve the guilt, but it would be quite hard to set it up so that it succeeded. It would be quite easy to have an event like that where the two sides simply denounced each other and became more polarised by Sunday evening than they were on Friday night.

GS: Frances (Presley) went to an event in Oxford recently to shape a project about John Clare. She was talking with Paul Farley. Found it very difficult to converse with him because their views of poetry were so different.

AD: I read one of his books. It wasn’t altogether bad but I wasn’t very enthused by it. I did read it to the end. Do you want to get into a particular poem?

GS: I’ve thought of something that would be relevant to our discussion of poetry scenes. It’s a long poem that I wrote between 2007 and 2008 and in Music’s Duel it starts on page 300.

AD: ‘Proxy Features’?

GS: This is a verse letter to Alan Halsey. It started with just some jottings I made in the Tube on after going to one of the London venues in December, and thinking of the very line of venues and scenes which we’ve been discussing today, and on the way it turned into a poem about poets and poetry. There are some specific references poets here, and a lot of general musing on what’s involved in a poetry world. And it involves other aspects of cultural and artistic endeavour. What I had in mind as a model once I really got going on it was poems which deal with the subject of poetry and the poetry scene such as Drayton’s “Epistle to Henry Reynolds” and Suckling’s 'A Session of the Poets". There’s also Jonson’s “At the Mermaid Tavern” and a poem by Herrick, possibly two poems by Herrick, that deal with the world of poets, or maybe in that case it would be a coterie. So rather like a Sydney Graham verse letter it starts dear Alan, and I’m saying that all the poets are wearing t-shirts and trainers and this in December. That’s partly about global warming isn’t it, but it’s also to do with choice of dress and there is a certain connection between dress and voice which I think I addressed in Roxy, and the whole debate about style. Does it matter if you wear a jacket or a cardigan to a poetry event, especially if you’re reading?

AD: Did you get dragged up? No we just wore casuals.

GS: This is just internal debate. I haven’t prejudged any situation. But I do think there has been a loss of style in masculine dress over the past decade, maybe 15 years. There is a fashion for rather ugly casual wear including sports wear, which I find rather alienating.

AD: Men are getting less vain possibly.

GS: At what cost! I’m not saying that if you’re giving a reading you should necessarily dress formally.

AD: It's like folk singers dressing differently to rock singers.

GS: As well as global warming I am addressing the way people present themselves for an evening at a poetry reading. It strikes me that particularly in the North people still dress up to go out on a Saturday evening. They don’t do that so much down here.

AD: In Nottingham on Saturday night you get vast numbers of people all wearing the same fancy dress. It’s quite intimidating actually.

GS: I can see that this is quite provocative on my part to even raise the question of dress.

AD: The scene is completely unselfcritical so you have to be critical in some way. What are proxy features?

GS: I’m not sure I can remember!

AD: (aware of his rights as an interviewer) You selected this poem!

GS: It could be things that stand in for other things. I think it might be a pun on Roxy. Also you see faces reproduced which are just a cartoon version of a face or a mesh of dots. So maybe I was thinking of features which are interestingly different from what you normally see. I shall have to think about this title more. Maybe even go back to my notebook. There are aspects of the grumpy old man about this. I go on to talk about Rob Cowan who is my current bete noire. He is that dreadful presenter who has too jolly a voice for that time of day and who chooses very middlebrow music to play, often too up-tempo. He’s a bit like John Carey, who always has to consult the ordinary man to determine the correct position. So from Rob Cowan I reference Radio 3 30 years before with Francis Wilford-Smith’s Aspects of the Blues, which was a tremendous analysis of blues music in about 8 episodes. Francis Wilford Smith ran Magpie Records, a great blues label based on the South Coast. Cormac Rigby was a presenter. He became a Catholic priest eventually. I don’t know if you remember him?

AD: I think he might appear in a poem by Nigel Wheale.

GS: He had a wonderful voice. Quite theatrical, not really camp but old-style BBC. He had a very discriminating sense of what is interesting and worthy in music. He presented the programme “Byrd at Ingatestone”, a concert of consort music at Ingatestone Hall. So I talk about them speaking ‘in the crevice’ or back time. I then combine blues imagery with consideration of William Byrd. Byrd I think did a setting of Southwell’s ‘Burning Babe’, so I’m combining Ingatestone Hall and the song there.

AD: Booker is?

GS: Bukka White.

AD: It’s not normally spelt that way.

GS: These are external references which I want to make central. They are as it were detachable references but I want to make them part of the argument. Or dialectic because I see these as emblematic of a BBC which still retains something of the Reith ethos. A time for the BBC which maybe was too autocratic and organising but which was also more highbrow. By highbrow that is including blues music. Now you have Late Junction which is fine but...

AD: That’s a late night, non-classical music programme on Radio 3.

GS: You might get blues music on that but you would never get a serious analysis of blues music on Radio 3 now. Not a documentary. Thinking about ways in which the poetry world has become more casual leads me to think about other cultural references there. That leads me back to what must be a particular moment in the reading I’d just been to. 'Someone checks his mobile, another pings away to get a picture.' ‘The buttons I see /get smaller’. I’m quite fond of that play on words there because it could either be as you get a bit older your eyesight deteriorates, but also the Japanese do seem to make smaller machines. Take this recorder compared with my previous recorder, they promise so much in terms of extra capacity and extra operations but actually they are far more awkward to handle and fraught with danger. When my recorder cut out twice during the last session, I didn’t notice it had cut out. It didn’t give me any alarm. Quiet. I was talking a lot about poetic craft before and the linebreak here is an example of this.

AD: The ‘see’ functions in two different ways?

GS: It throws the emphasis onto ‘see’ doesn’t it. I could just make a general point about the form of this poem. It’s quite carefully crafted and possibly is a bit stiff as a result of that. On the other hand I felt like doing that at the time so I think that’s justification enough. I’ve written in much looser modes at other moments. I’m very aware that people tend to imitate others sometimes in a very slavish way. So I think there’s satire of that in what follows. People who feel they need to do something because it seems the way to go.

AD: Which lines are we looking at?

GS: ‘There’s only one speedo on the scene holds his heart and why be him’. That’s specifically Tom Raworth.

AD: Because he reads very fast?

GS: I don’t in any way wish to denigrate what he does. I think it’s extraordinary. He’s one of the five or ten major major poets in our time.

AD: ... (inaudible) reads very rapidly and indifferently presumably because he wants to be Tom but actually sounds like he was bored by his own work.

GS: Obviously I’m not just talking about people imitating a single individual. Probably ‘the heart’ would be a clue that I had Raworth in mind.

AD: So ‘the purple heather’... is that a folk tune? Mimi Farina recorded it?

GS: The wild mountain thyme is sometimes known as the purple heather. They are interchangeable, actually. That probably is something that drifted up from the bar downstairs during the reading.

AD: I see. At an upstairs room in a pub.

GS: Then I start talking about memory and the ways memory is preserved, such as readings and music on tape. The ‘little cases’ are cassettes but I didn’t want that word, it’s too literal, I wanted cases to suggest other things as well as cassettes. so I said ’little cases’. All that stuff is quite technical, ‘the oxide print’ on recorded tape.

AD: It’s on metal oxide. Chrome or ferric.

GS: The chinagraph is that instrument that was used to cut or splice tape. There are kind of generalisations about literature or poetry in this poem that might be doctrinaire but I didn’t mean them to be absolute. When I say ‘you remember and expect’ and ‘the one over your shoulder is somewhere ahead’ I didn’t want it to come over too absolute. And then the ‘Martin’ is Martin Corless-Smith who I‘d recently talked to, and heard again this past December. We were talking about Auden and Auden does tend to represent a closed mode that we don’t find useful and which stands in the way of other things. On the other hand he is still a force to be reckoned with and I don’t think he should be left out of any university course. Martin told me he does still teach Auden, when I say a snatch of Auden, maybe one poem of Auden. In this stanza I’m putting forward the possibility that what modernism threw out can now be reclaimed partially. In the slipstream of modernism with less danger of getting stuck, or less danger of oppression. The ‘childword depends’ probably a play on Francis James Childe and also child language.

AD: As if child’s play was the ballads collected by Childe.

GS: It’s very difficult to explain a poem logically, isn’t it. I’m finding it quite difficult. I can give you a general sense but getting down to specific commentary is quite difficult even for me as the writer. It’s probably that I want to let it go. When you’ve finished writing something you want to let it go.

AD: (encourages more commentary) GS: as long as there’s that rider that A, I may not be able to remember what I intended, B I don’t want to close off meanings. In section 2, which starts on p.301, remember this is a verse letter to Alan Halsey and we were both born in 1949, in this part of section 2 talks about a generation of poets born in the 40s, or maybe early 50s as well. You could say between 48 and 54, I don’t know. I’m talking about what it feels like to have come ‘out of war or the next heroic, We bear a dual stamp, doomed to kick against the harsh stead/ that gives us a measure of ease, and driven despite to build a glassy frame which all can climb/ green in lingering dirt.” I think I’m musing there about the way in which if you were born in that period, most of us were brought up very strictly, so we were rebellious, doomed to kick against that, but that we were driven despite that desire for ease to build alternative radical structures, counter-cultural equivalents if you like. The dream of a freer society.

AD: So that’s the glassy frame?

GS: I wonder if that might be a reference to the exhibition of 1951, you know, on the South Bank?

AD: The Festival of Britain?

GS: Or primarily I might be talking about something in the 1960s.

AD: Somehow modern buildings have much more glass and concrete.

GS: Then I’m talking about the process of writing and the conversion to books. ‘our history is walking on the page’, print culture. The wire lines- I think are literally a term to do with paper aren’t they, the semi-invisible criss-cross lines, McKerrow talks about it in his book on printing. Laid paper, where you get them...

AD: It’s the frame you press the pulp into so the frame isn’t part of the page but there would be a trace of it.

GS: Some of this reminds me of Roxy, actually. The timbre of statement where I’m providing epigrammatic statements about culture which in an 18th century poem might be absolute but I hope in a post-modern poem or whatever, I hate the term post-modern, I was going to say modernist but, a poem of our era has to be treated to a degree as open-ended. They’re maybe in inverted commas, the epigrammatic generalisations. ‘Any marvel drawn up on wire lines has a force to survive.’ That might be equivalent to what I was saying about tape. There’s wear and decay but aspects of survival. Then the next stanza returns to the ecological theme - “can’t get careless in a lane smothered by plastic/ or a thorium-steeped stream’.

AD: The thorium would be radioactive spill from a nuclear waste container or a power station maybe?

GS: I think here I’m suggesting that if you’re writing you must have a moral sense at some level. It’s all very well to dismiss absolutes and pursue a kind of path of adventure. Actually I’m juxtaposing possibilities here, considering shades of endeavour. ‘Don’t like to fix/ what is right for health”, don’t like to lay the line down, but there are things that we have to care about. There’s another generalisation here, there’s a way to behave which allows adventure, and doesn’t tie the lurching spirit - ‘a feel for the scapeless things’. Birds. Scape in the sense of landscape but also scope, seeing, measuring. This is all to do with being of a certain generation, feeling the contradictions, largely between form as an arranged or precise thing and form as discovery. You can say the whole poem is about that, actually. This is a lot about nature isn’t it, a lot about landscape. Was I thinking... No, this would have been before the Olympics site was developed, but maybe such equivalent things happening, the exploitation of land for supposedly grand civic purposes but actually destructive of a certain wilderness. An allowed wilderness.

AD: Do we have a year for this?

GS: I’ve put 2007 to 2008. I actually wrote this in about 3 phases over a year. It was actually begun in December 2007.

GS: Section Three. I’m again talking about form and the nature of words and sounds. And actually I refer to two poets in detail here. Maggie O’Sullivan and Geraldine Monk, both reading in the same room. On separate occasions. I’ve tried to imitate Maggie’s sense of language, but when I say imitate, it’s not at all imitative of her,. I’ve tried in my own way to create a kind of equivalent to describe her use of language. No, it doesn’t look like a Maggie O’Sullivan poem at all, and anyway I’m sticking to a sort of regular, left hand margin throughout this. So the words are not dispersed and behaving like creatures the way she makes them do. And similarly with Geraldine, in my description of Geraldine’s work. This might need explanation. I talked about nursery rhymes last time. The Maggie stanza here draws on nursery rhyme. I thought this might need comment. Geraldine in the same room. Pendle, her text ‘Interregnum’ is based around the Lancashire witch trials which were held in Pendle in Lancashire, so I’m turning that into a verb. Playing on Thelonius Monk, ‘mysterious so’ as in ’Misterioso’, and ‘ivories and vibes jangling talk’. Because the poem is for Alan, I think he had already in a poem made a play on Thelonius and Geraldine.

AD: The two Monks, eh?

GS: So it’s a kind of hommage to Alan as well as Geraldine there. In section Four I get critical again. Can’t tell you who on earth I was thinking of, I literally can’t remember. ‘Now a happy proser pulls the drape, his movie might be adverts’.

AD: So he’s pulling the curtain back before he appears to perform?

GS: Actually performing in a drab uninteresting way. ‘The April scroll’ is Kerouac’s scroll for On the Road. “Wouldn’t wish to smear the April scroll”- wouldn’t want to smear the spontaneous way of writing. ‘To sound like yourself is a strange meander. And yet that’s just/ how the blacktop score evolves’. Er...

AD: The black top would be ‘on the road’? Asphalt...

GS: You see, I need you to prompt me there.

AD: Look, I’m supposed to ask the questions around here!

GS: Now I come back to music because I say, “it’s a good for nothing ear/ that’ll not hear how a dance is done/ before any instrument. Bare instinct/ prods the nerve and bone into play. Later grunts /will tally.” Trusting instinct there. So that actually goes back to Byrd and blues. Renaissance airs and blues music. The poems come slower these days as "a body of years tiered deep/ settles into focus’. Actually that comes out of a conversation I had with Maggie O’Sullivan about the fact that we both seem to write slower than in the past. ‘Inside the Noughties’ this is all about what was going on then, “wars are buried while feel on demand / piles goods into the arena’, the excess of consumer access including print on demand books, there are so many that it disperses one’s attention. It’s great as possibilities but you don’t get time to read it all even if you can afford to buy it. What I’m doing there with that alternate line sequence, the of short and long lines. I must have done it for a couple of lines and then thought, that’s interesting, I’ll continue that, to create some structure. I suppose actually it’s in... Really taking a middle path here suggesting that you need the looseness but also the layers of experience to ... Ah! You know what I forgot to tell you. I started writing this on an envelope and the next day I got an invitation from Rupert Loydell to write something for his manifesto book. [Rupert Loydell edited Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh] By the time I’d finished he’d given up on me and said, I’ll use a section of Roxy instead. As well as it being a verse letter for Alan, I call it an anti-manifesto because it’s a meditation as well, it’s a meditation which implies an agenda.

AD: I’ve read that book.

GS: Well, this should have been in it. We were told we could only submit two pages.

AD: It’s hard for an editor to turn something down that they really like. He invited a very large number of people and if they’d all done ten pages it would have been a millstone.

GS: So it was partly written for an anthology titled ‘Manifestos’. But it’s a manifesto that debates. I call it an anti-manifesto. Rather as in Roxy, when I make an absolute statement it’s then undercut by something else. Section 5 has a lot of detail about pub readings. ‘A beer-ring on the table shows how writers relate.’ I’m talking about people playing billiards or pool here. ‘Good company’s a baize surface where balls shoot into the net.” I’m talking about comradeship here but also competition. That persists inevitably in the poetry world, going back to those 17th C times.
I may be referencing something there. I think it may also be adapted from an image that Byron uses in Don Juan. I can’t remember what that is. Because Don Juan has a great deal about the poetry world, doesn’t it. And Don Juan is a text I taught at Birkbeck. So I know it quite well, not well enough to quote you the exact line, but I think that might be adapted from. Maybe at some moments Byron would be a guide for my mode of writing. But equally those Renaissance figures I was talking about are not primarily satirical. Not Drayton. But they’re more affectionate examinations of the social world of poetry. I come back to winter here, ‘So much is staked’. It was an incredibly mild winter. A poet might become fraught with anxiety, they might not want to relate anything to the world, like a brave peeking bud that gets a nip. ‘Worlds on a pinhead’. To mix metaphors, that kind of tightrope walk to get things right. Butchers Row, there’s a reference there, John Florio. I think it might be the French Ambassador’s residence. “There’s a fleur de lys on Butcher’s Row. Every banjaxed ink-slinger will hug an impish figure.”

AD: Every writer who’s been hit by something will hug the devil?

GS: Or even the person who’s criticised them at some stage.

AD: So the banjaxing is someone criticising your immortal work? When you’ve drunk enough you embrace them?

GS: I say in a more positive and gracious way, ‘What lyric feasts have gone down’.

AD: Goster?

GS: It’s gabble. Kind of crowded talk. This is relevant to what we were saying before about SubVoicive... "So often we’ve ventured the newest fare,/ breathed, warmed, ignited. Given or bartered etc."

AD: So it hasn’t been printed yet?

GS: I was definitely thinking of reading unpublished material there, passing things round. The last section, as it says ‘It’s time to sign off.’ Obviously there’s a play on fit ‘stanza’ and fit ‘things that fit’. And then I start talking about ways in which craft and associations are passed on almost without one realising it through personal contact. ‘beaming through generations.’ Graves, that’s Robert Graves who met Swinburne. He must have met Swinburne on Wimbledon Common when he was very young.

AD: Johnson. Was he alive when Queen Anne was on the throne?
GS: Johnson Landor Swinburne Graves. Then I refer to ACS, Swinburne again, meeting Wordsworth at Rydal Mount, and Wordsworth grudgingly admitting that he had written some decent stuff.
Most of the rest of this last section refers to Alan Halsey’s Lives of the Poets, having heard parts of it, before it was published. It seemed likely it would be published by Five Seasons Press, that’s why it’s ‘crave a fifth season of store’. But remember the poem begins in winter.
‘I’ll clear the stockpile now and just say/ Spirits coming up the stairs like bees’. I know that’s from a book by Aubrey, not Brief Lives, one of his miscellaneous pieces.

AD: There’s a book called ‘Miscellanies’. It’s about X-files, really, inexplicable events. So there would be spirits in it.

GS: And I almost end by saying “no truck with any -ite or -doxy”.

AD: Like ortho-doxy?

GS: Talking to Alan, who’s such an old friend, and I think he believes this as well, that one shouldn’t align with any group, or indeed absolute perspective on poetry. And then the last stanza returns to the question of costume.

AD: "Staves the range" is like “don’t fence me in”?

GS: The language here is quite Metaphysical. Like those 17th century poets. And indeed Martin Corless-Smith, who writes in a quite similar mode I think to the 17th century. So right at the end of this poem I come back to the aspect of manifesto. But it’s tentative rather than absolute with the image of a poetic agent whispering in the glass of red, wine obviously. 'Over and out.' Maybe this is a ‘proxy’ manifesto, not a real manifesto, standing in. but I don’t think it can be, because I’m putting my heart into it, in layers of experience and shared...

AD: I got the general drift of the poem when I read it but I didn’t get the title at all. I think it’s about 250 lines long. Quite complex.

GS: Do you think it could have fitted into Rupert’s anthology?.

AD Oh, sure. It would have... The book didn’t come off all that well. The people who wanted to contribute didn’t... they were a bunch of people I hadn’t heard of, to be quite honest. I don’t think he tried hard enough, if you want to produce a good book you have to fight with people who are reluctant to commit themselves. If you get a bunch of people who are under-publicised that’s a symptom of something, unfortunately. So this would have been quite an asset for that book.

GS: I think it’s fairly unusual in the world we inhabit for someone to produce a formal discussion of poetry in that way.

AD: What people tend to do is wheel on theory instead, pulled down from canonical texts. Deeply evasive.