Cigarettes & Alcohol: An Interview with Adelle Stripe & Darran Anderson
Darran Anderson: To get the ball rolling Adelle, I like the title Cigarettes In Bed a lot, it’s a really vivid image with the slight hint of decadence and intimacy. A friend of mine told me once he’d wake up in the middle of the night and be so desperate for a smoke, he’d spark up without even turning the light on and his girlfriend would wake up and look over and see this little red circle glowing in the dark. I remember looking at him, thinking there’s something incredibly depraved about that act but at the same time it says a lot about the human condition. Not entirely sure what precisely but it seems to say something. I was wondering where the title came from and why you used it?
Adelle Stripe: You know I really miss smoking. I miss waking up in the morning, rolling out of bed and rolling myself a fag. I miss the coffee, the sensation of the filthy yellow smoke knitting between by fingertips and most of all I miss the companionship of smokers, the camaraderie. I stopped smoking when the ban came in. I loved watching gigs, smoking a fag and drinking a beer. A week after the ban came in I went to a gig in New Cross and all I could smell was sweaty blokes and bad farts. Smoking had a use. Oh yeah. So now you can’t smoke anywhere without feeling like a leper so I gave up. My favourite cigarettes are Vogue Super Slim Menthols . I would pretend to be Marlene Dietrich staggering down Camberwell High Street in a bear skin stole and laddered seam stockings. Vogues are the ultimate style accessory. So stylish that they converted non-smokers into smokers through sheer design alone. Now that’s what I call a good cigarette.
There isn’t a day goes by where I don’t think about a nice juicy fag. Smoking on buses. Smoking at the cinema. Even smoking on airplanes. Britain seems so sanitised these days. So I guess that title was supposed to infer some sort of rebellion. A nostalgia. A lust for life that you have in your early twenties. Plus it’s a filthy habit that you know you have to give up eventually, but I suppose I wanted the image to reflect youthful stupidity. It could also be post-coital if you want to read it that way…
AS: I sense from your poems that you are a drinker, a smoker, and a storyteller. There’s definite sense of pentameter and lyricism in your verse. I can feel the ship swinging in each line of Old Crow. Was it a conscious decision to try and write a shanty – or do you owe more to the poetry of Yeats than the drunken late night ballads of old? Your poems make me want to drink bourbon in a snug with a mandolin and an open fire for company. I know you have played in bands over the years – are you a musician at all, and if so does this infect your structure with its sense of innate musicality?
DA: I always had that image in my head as well about smoking Adelle, the kind of misguided romance of it. It’s like those old photos of Albert Camus, you’d always see him with this long coat, standing in a doorway with his collar up, smoking Gitanes, looking incredibly French and thus impossibly cool to someone from the back arse of nowhere. I considered taking up smoking but I was a pale Victorian ghost-child who rarely left the house so I never had the lungs for it. I have noticed though in the last four or five years a slip into this horrible tabloid-fuelled puritanism, all that whinging Broken-Britain bollocks (what’s that quote about puritans being motivated by the terrible fear that someone somewhere might be having fun?), so any form of dissent, however small, is good by me. Plus it’s always more interesting standing with the smokers outside pubs. It always seems to be where the life is (and the cancer).
Drink is important though, I think it’s different for every person but I like that phrase of Samuel Johnson‘s that “Wine gives a man nothing… it only puts in motion what had been locked up in frost” which sums up the effect about as good as anyone could; it dispels the social-oddball tendencies and makes you feel anything is possible, however temporary that might be. One of my favourite poems is the Baudelaire one Get Drunk which nails it, “So as not to feel Time’s horrible burden one, which breaks your shoulders and bows you down, you must get drunk without cease.” Probably not the soundest advice but he had a point.
Saying that, there’s always the danger of romanticising it. It brings out the demons and it’s killed a hell of a lot of good people (my grandfather for one, which is what the poem 22nd November 1963 is about – he fell into the river Foyle drunk on the day Kennedy was shot). I don’t know if Tadcaster’s the same (I suspect it is) but in Derry, every bar is coming down with drunkard storytellers (or shite-talkers as they’re more commonly referred to) to the extent it’s nearly suffocating. So the novelty of being one or trying to be one soon wears off and you start thinking, “Fuck, I don’t want to be like these old bastards in the same bar in fifty years time telling the same stories.” You have to escape from the horrors of work and the everyday but you have to try and avoid falling into the trap of the tiresome drink-sodden prick. It’s kind of important if you’re trying to capture the undoubted joys of drinking, to also include the payback that inevitably comes afterwards, lying shivering on the floor of a supermarket in the early hours for example.
In terms of music, I know it’s an important influence on your writing too Adelle; your poem about Robert Wyatt Solar Flares Burn For You springs to mind. It’s strange that people separate poems from songs to begin with, back in the days of Blake or Brecht or Yeats as you mentioned (James Joyce sang Yeats’ wonderful Who Goes with Fergus? to his dying little brother and Christy Moore does a great cover of Yeats’ The Song of Wandering Aengus) they were pretty much one and the same. Now they’re like Siamese twins that have been detached and one has grown big and fat and the other has kind of shrivelled. I think it’s the same for yourself but I’m not sure there’s a poet alive who writes better lyrics than say Leonard Cohen, Jarvis Cocker, Rennie Sparks or Shane MacGowan and that’s only a handful for that matter. Tom Waits is the big one for me, I listened over and over to Rain Dogs and The Pogues’ Rum, Sodomy and the Lash and thought if these guys can make albums this fucked up and beautiful, just head for the scrapheap and try out everything they find there, why don’t people try the same with poetry? Why not write a sea shanty? Or a lullaby? Or a carnival tune? All these possibilities open up.
As it goes, there’s four or five poems in the book which were written with music (Jonah and Old Crow off the top of my head). After a band I was trying to get together fell apart, I tried to write a cabaret called Dead Crow Wood about a guy lost in the forests on the Maginot line just before the Nazis came, with the vague plan of having some dutch courage and pitching it to a certain female punk-cabaret heroine who shall remain nameless but I never quite had the nerve or got my shit together. I suspect it would have been a horrendous insult to the eyes and ears of anyone unfortunate enough to witness it, so it’s probably for the best but the wreckage of it is scattered through the book.
On the same topic, what really drew me to your poetry Adelle, was the fact you seem really open to influences all around you, the writing’s really modern but you’re not afraid to use all these structures and forms from the past and overseas; pantoums about the debaucheries and vagaries of teenage life, the Mytholmroyd Haikus in your latest collection, ghazals and sestinas and terza rima all resurrected to capture the modern world. I think since Bukoswki, there’s been a tendency for young poets to throw 3000 years of experiments and innovations overboard and just write in free verse, which is fair enough but that’s now become the new conservatism and they’re just restricting the arsenal they have. It seems to me, the most radical thing a poet could do is master these forms and make them new and relevant? Would that be an outlook you share? And do you make a conscious decision to challenge yourself by writing in these ways?
AS: I definitely think you have a point there about Bukowski. He was the first writer who I read and thought ‘that’s what I want to do’. He makes it seem so simple that there’s no wonder people think they can write like him. I still have a huge affection for that Hitler-loving arsehole. The thing is Bukowski was a magnificent poet because he had studied the greats. Bukowski was a real authority on poetry. He studied Ezra Pound, The Russians, The Ancient Chinese and Japanese writers – he really knew his shit. Many writers around today don’t have that knowledge. Regardless of the fact that he didn’t write like them and rejected most of the greats at least he had read them and formed an opinion. It took years for Bukowski to develop his distinctive voice and poetic form but now, in 2009, poets are still trying to ape him. Writing like Bukowski has now become the norm – especially in the underground. It’s so fucking predictable. Poetry by numbers. I think there’s as much inspiration in the Gagakus of Steve Richmond or in William Wantling’s poems as there is in Bukowski’s work. So, move on. People just need to expand their reading habits.
My point is that as a poet you should always try and develop your own form, your own way of thinking, read as much as you can and reject it. Then spew out something new in its place. Many writers are trapped in the Bukowski style and I don’t think that produces original writing. It’s just not challenging enough. I used to go to The Poetry Library at the RFH and sift through all of the old chapbooks and journals they have in there, reading poems from New York’s Barrio in the 70s, or street poetry from Brazil, Eastern European poetry from the 50s, or French symbolist poetry that I’d never find anywhere else. You can’t always trust translations but I found real pleasure in reading David Hinton’s translations of the Chinese wilderness poets. His work on Cold Mountain’s poems are spectacularly good. I suppose some of those forms were quite influential in terms of this new collection – as were the Persian forms of Ghazals, or Malaysian Pantoums. I really love the discipline of writing in form, I enjoy the challenge of the restrictions and I think it brings out the best in my writing. It’s like a complex code but you can use whatever words you want – freedom within rules. One of things I like about your poems is that they also experiment with form. There is a lyricism there that I find hugely engaging – it takes me into another place. Rhyme and meter transport you into another head space, internal rhymes and trickling forms can transform a story into an epic.
It’s not everybody’s cup of tea but by using simple modern language and imagery within long forgotten forms of poetry makes for quite an interesting experiment. It’s like re-writing a fairy story or a Greek myth. We know these forms in our literary DNA – it’s just that sometimes we have to bring them back and give them a fresh perspective in order to make them work again.
DA: The other thing I’d like to ask, though there’s a continuation of themes from Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid to Cigarettes in Bed, I have noticed a shift from the largely urban in the former (the city of London itself is nearly like a character in your work) to touching on the rural in the latter. Has the move from London to Hebden Bridge and the landscapes/ghosts there had an effect on your writing and outlook?
AS: It’s hard to say right now what kind of effect moving out of the city has had on my writing as I’ve only been here a few months. In the city you are trapped and pissed off by the people, the aggression, the transport, the arrogance. But in the countryside there is silence. Nobody around. Just bats and badgers and your own company. Ted Hughes was born in Aspinall Street which is just down the road from where we live. You can definitely feel his spirit around here. I read The Remains of Elmet last year and had no idea I would actually end up living here. I have to ban myself from reading his poems as his source material is the same as mine. Yesterday I walked up to The Bridestones in Todmorden. A spectacular place. The sky was deep pink and the clouds were covering our bodies like damp feather duvets. I thought ‘when I get back home I’m going to write about this place, it’s magical’. Then looked it up online and found out Ted had already beaten me to it. His version is much better than anything I could knock out. Sylvia is buried up in Heptonstall – when I step out the house the churchyard looks down at me from the brow of the hill. It’s like she’s always omnipresent.
AS: I love the lines ‘drunk on rooftops beneath the same mad stars / where fortified with firewater / we played at revolutionaries / in the clothes of our fathers / fenian musketeers with bottles and stones.’ Although your writing doesn’t have an immediate political undertone there is a definite sense of place to many of your poems, how important was the political climate of 1980s Derry to your work? I remember you telling me a story about how your family was politically active during that period, especially relating to your father. How deeply did this affect you growing up in a Republican family in Northern Ireland? Do you think this has impacted on your poetry?
DA: The thing about the Troubles is it feels like there’s a scale of who’s entitled to talk about it. You think, what right do I have to say anything when infinitely worse things happened to people I know? And when Iraq and Palestine are getting fucked right now. But things happened and if you don`t speak they didn’t happen. Like that old analogy that if a tree falls in the wood and no-one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound? Moving to Scotland, I was genuinely amazed and depressed at how much is unknown about what happened in the North, there are so many misconceptions that you have to say something even if you don’t want to (plus you have the ongoing grim charade of the Old Firm that muddies the waters further).
My own experiences of the Troubles are oblique, indirect ones, which I’ve tried to show in the poems, but every person in the North has some stories to tell and that need told. It’s the small things that stay with you more than being in riots or marches, the strange things that are abnormal but become normal. When we first started drinking in pubs in Derry, I remember being told not to sit near the door of the pub but to sit way at the back. This wasn’t long after the Rising Sun massacre and it was common knowledge that if Loyalists burst into the bar and sprayed the place, the people most likely to survive were those at the far end or the ones who dived into the toilets. Another thing that stays in my mind is working in bookshops back home and every evening you’d have search under the shelves for incendiary devices. Or shoppers on a Saturday walking around a large pool of blood in Shipquay Street where a cop had been shot in the head. It’s things like that stick in people’s minds and you find yourself thinking about.
There were things that were constant. On the news every night someone would be killed and they’d read out their religion as if it were some debased version of the football results. And to this day, the Orange Order (made up largely of the kind of joyless bigots who think rock n’roll is the devil’s music with a smattering of neo-nazi scumbags) march in support of a long-dead bisexual Dutchman by the name of King Billy, directly past my folk’s house every year. It’d be laughable if it wasn’t for the fact these nutcases have actual power and influence. In the most simple terms, if you have a whole society that was set-up in apartheid in all but name, and where civil rights marches end with the British army going on killing sprees in your hometown then the Troubles is just the inevitable feedback. But then ask someone else from the North and they’ll probably tell you a whole different story. And talk of politics is wisely avoided most of the time.
The reference in the poem you mentioned is about my mates and I being typical teenagers drinking on street corners and on the tops of building sites, taking pills and listening to Screamadelica or whatever like kids in the South or in Scotland or England but with this extra dimension of having to keep your wits about you, not to wander into the wrong area or get the fuck knocked out of you by the cops or stick around too long in riots on Waterloo Street. But I tried to show in the poem that our experiences paled into insignificance next to our parent’s experiences – my father grew up with 7 brothers and sisters squatting in an abandoned American military camp because the council refused to give Catholics houses or jobs and after Bloody Sunday, he ended up doing time in Long Kesh, this was before the hunger-strikes. So my own experience, thank Christ, was massively diluted. There were a few episodes but thankfully only a few. I did have my head kicked in in Belfast once, which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, by two thugs from the Donegal Road area who I suspect knew what religion/political persuasion I was from the street and direction I was walking (though they could as likely have just been offended by my face). It’s a strange consequence of a city that’s split up into zones; psycho-geography with the emphasis on psycho.
At the risk of sounding cynical though, it’s useful growing up then for a wannabe writer, cause you were close enough to witness it but far away enough to avoid being burned. Plus children see things differently, naively but with a weird kind of clarity. In the poem Tower of Babel I mention one incident; if you’re standing in the rain with your sister and mother whilst your father is being searched and insulted by soldiers for having the audacity to say he was from Derry and have the name Seamus which marked him out as a fenian (Seamus Heaney has a poem about the exact same experience years earlier), that says more to you than any socio-political explanation. There were many incidents like that, I don’t know if they teach you anything but they give you a deep well of hatred to tap into which is a gift sometimes.
I think though if you take away the politics though, the similarities are overwhelming with what life was like for us and what you’ve written about (and your fellow Brutalists) in terms of your upbringing (maybe without even excluding out the politics as Thatcher and co fucked the north of England too). When I read Brutalism One, your recent appearance in Mineshaft Magazine and your books Adelle, it’s extraordinary how much I recognise the places, the behaviours, the things you did to escape and the characters that haunted the neighbourhood (we had our own – Mad Eileen, Wabbits, Paddy Melon, the Karate Woman). Only the accents differ.
DA: When I read your poems in Cigarettes in Bed, I’m immediately conscious of the personal, autobiographical side (After Dusk for example “I stared at my reflection / in a cracked pub window… lost on the Holloway Road” or Wharfedale “they talk about Nana, old Doug, the north east / as clouds from the sewage works hang on the plains”) but in all of your writing there then come these visions and allusions that dazzle, that seem mysterious and near-magical; the “sea of Goya Masks” of After Dusk, the “den of thieves in a black flag bastille” of Sacred Heart, the “moths burned by / a nitrate moon” of the wonderful Quietism. I think it’s a real achievement to have poems so carefully crafted in terms of internal rhythms and rhymes and vocabulary but without being formal at all, keeping a real sense of energy and genuine surprise, these phrases that stop you dead with their beauty and originality. Without taking the creative process to pieces, I was wondering how and where you go about writing? Are you continually taking mental photographs or do you see things solely in retrospect? Do you ever start with language itself (a word or saying you come across) or does it always originate with a real-life event? And do you have a method for putting together your poetry?
AS:: It’s interesting that you mention the imagery – I have a similar feeling about your own work. I have been reading your poems and novel thinking how it’s like being trapped in a smoke-filled bar with a thousand year old storyteller. The whiskey is flowing and you are Des Esseintes. Your poems are filled with such dense imagery, with so much detail that I can’t help but think of A Rebours.
I’m not sure how I manage to collect the imagery I work with – but my poetry lecturer once said that she wasn’t at all surprised that I used to be a window dresser. I have a photographic memory, which can be a real pain in the arse. I can remember small insignificant details, ornaments, clothes, music, even wallpaper patterns from when I was a child. It’s like a tapestry of images in my head that’s infinite. Sometimes poems can be triggered by reading another poet. I wrote After Dusk after reading Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters. Mytholmroyd Haikus came from Buson’s ‘temple bell’ haiku which blows my mind every time I think about it. Billy Collins wrote a wonderful poem called Japan from the same poem, he said ‘It feels like eating / the same small, perfect grape / again and again.’ It wasn’t until I moved back to Yorkshire that I could even write haiku at all. I think you have to be within nature to capture its true essence. And study a healthy dose of Taoism – something that really helps if you’re trying to understand the root of the Chinese Wilderness Poets.
I’ve always been obsessed by art though, it was the only way to cope with teenage trauma. You mentioned earlier that you were influenced by the biblical stories – I think it also had a big impact on my childhood. My Grandma was a Jehovah’s Witness. I spent my summers at children’s bible study classes, knocking on doors and being told off for being a rebel. I think they always had their suspicions about me. My Grandma gave me these weird Watchtower books with all the bible stories in them, re-written with a fundamentalist JW bent. The paintings in the books are really intricate – in the JW world if you are artistic you get sent to Bethel College where they teach you how to draw like that. The JW artists create pictures of heaven, hell, paradise, sin, damnation – perfect families living perfect lives and a world free of disease. I know for a fact that some of the artists started subverting the medium and pictures appeared in Awake where in the foreground a lion would be lying down with a lamb and in the background – if you squinted – you could see a man jacking off in the bushes. It’s such a repressed religion. They really are completely nuts. It’s a glorified Apocalypse Cult. I knew from a really early age that it was all a load of codswallop, but I was totally enchanted by the art. There was one picture in particular of ‘Babylon’ that I loved. She was the harlot riding an eight headed beast, wearing a Turkish belly dancing outfit, and a gold ankle chain. She drank from a goblet and looked like she was having a brilliant time. There was also a picture of a tarot card reading gypsy with a crystal ball. She was burning incense and was wearing a head scarf. Those pictures pretty much sold the idea of sin to me. Sin looked like a right laugh. Paradise looked fucking depressing. My favourite book was called Growing Up. In it you were told how to behave around boys, the importance of a chaperone, and how if you ever had a sexual feeling you had to ‘throw yourself under a cold shower’ to get rid of it. The illustrations were priceless.
As far as a method goes I don’t have one, other than constantly re-writing until I’m happy with the finished writing. I throw away 90% of everything I write. Most of it is utter rubbish. I would rather put out a collection of ten poems I like then twenty I am only 50% sure about. Larkin said that you should be economical in terms of what you publish as it will serve you well in the long run. The down side is that it takes ages to write a poem, and at least a year or two for a collection. It’s like writing a novel. There too many poets who don’t think carefully enough about the craft – I was guilty of that to begin with, but you soon learn your lesson when you see some half assed crud you’ve written lurking about on the internet…
There is definitely a sense of rejection that seems to well up in your writing, and by that I mean religious rejection. Catholicism is very much a part of your work, although I wouldn’t say it’s the first thing that springs to mind when reading your poetry. It’s distinctively Irish (in terms of the motifs, tones, lyrical style and imagery) but there is a sense of spirituality in your poetry – Buddha, Voodoo, Cargo Cults, Catholicism, Islam, and even Rock & Roll all seem to feature in a redemptive way. Do you think of yourself as religious, and how does that influence your writing? Do you think good poetry comes from an atheistic angle or do those who believe in something intangible (such as the concept of God) write the best lines? I’m thinking along the lines of the Romantics, Blake, Coleridge – who although were devout in their belief shunned conventional religion and the institutions that surrounded them…
DA: That’s an interesting question Adelle. I think doubt is the key, all my favourite writers have it. I mean to have doubt you have to be trying to believe in something but failing, you have to be searching. It’s like that thing about a nihilist just being a disappointed romantic. Belief is probably the worst thing that can happen to a writer. TS Eliot found God and lost it as a writer, just dried up, whereas Graham Greene wanted to be Catholic but struggled with faith and you can feel the doubt fuelling his best work. I think you’re right though, there’s definitely a spiritual dimension to the best writing and art but it’s not necessarily God as such.
I hesitate to use the word God because it has so many awful connotations; namely organised religion. Behan called himself a daylight atheist which I can relate to. I’ve been cowardly enough (during bad flights or once being chased down a country road at night by a crazed dog) quite a few times to pray to Jesus/Allah/Buddha/L Ron Howard/whoever was listening. But in terms of religion, someone once said be scared of those who’ve found the answer which is so true. If you think of the Christian Right or Islamists or teetotal-itarianists, you just feel the life being drained from you in any dealings you have with them. Whereas the best writers and artists are the ones who keep asking the questions, who are never certain of anything. I mean the guys you’ve mentioned were seeking out something beyond, some higher truth and at their best they seem to connect with it (Kubla Khan for example). It’s like de Quincey smoking opium or Burroughs off in the rainforests searching for Yage, they’re searching for something mysterious beyond themselves but what they end up discovering is the hidden parts of their own minds. Blake was probably the greatest of them all (I know you’re a fan from your blog Dark Satanic Mills) and he was incredibly spiritual in this sense, seeing angels wrestling in the trees of Peckham or the ghost of a flea coming down the stairs towards him in Lambeth. The man was a visionary, a true seer in the best sense of the word. Yet it was all coming from his half-mad mind. And in terms of religion, he’d have been denounced as a heretic by the Church for his beliefs. Jesus probably would be too if he came around now (there’s a Woody Guthrie song to that effect I seem to recall).
At school we got to see it first-hand, the place was run by priests and I remember thinking from the earliest age that what they were teaching (treating women and gays with sneering condescension, exalting the rich etc) not only could be found nowhere in the Bible but was the exact opposite of what the Bible was saying. It helped that my folks were atheists, so i’d been inoculated at home (I think my father’s thinking was, what’s the point trying to get rid of one Empire just to take orders from another only one run by a bunch of sexless freaks). No matter what though, they fill your head full of madness and it’s like that saying, you’re only ever a recovering Catholic so it keeps coming up when I write. Like vomit. But again it gives you something to rail against. Some elements of it are fascinating (the books of Job, Amos, the Song of Solomon, Revelations, artists like El Greco, Durer, Grunewald) if you see it as it is; a great work of fiction written by visionaries and madmen, people not unlike Mr Blake. So I always thought the art and stories of Christianity were too good to be the sole property of the bible bashers and i’ve tried stealing them and reconstructing them in the book, taking out all the god-bothering; rewriting Jonah, The Ark or the Passover as a scene from fifties pulp or a cabaret song or whatever. Plus I’m pessimistic to the point the apocalypse, which I keep coming back to, would probably come as a relief. Wishful thinking.
DA: Just after the Recession Session reading in London, you recommended I take a wander around Spitalfields and Brick Lane and I’ve been there a few times since and have fallen in love with the place. Aside from the market and the culture and the bustle of the place (all of which you capture in your poem Asalam Walai Kum), one of the things that really intrigued me was the eeriness of the place, knowing from reading Peter Ackroyd‘s London and Alan Moore‘s From Hell the terrible events that had happened there down the years, not least the Jack the Ripper murders with Hawksmoor‘s Christchurch steeple overlooking it all. You just get a feeling in the side-streets, away from the life of Brick Lane, that places can be haunted by deeds that once happened there.
AS: Brick Lane has had a massive impact on my writing, my family originate from East London (we have a street named after us in Spitalfields called ‘Strype Street’, the family were silk merchants back in the day) so I have always had a strong pull to that area. I read Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor when I worked at the Truman Brewery. On lunchtimes I would wander through the side streets, to places like Denis Severs’ house on Folgate Street, or sit on the roof of the Brewery eating warm sesame biegels – watching the sun reflect off Bishopsgate’s glass buildings. I started to write about the area, the people I would meet, and the history definitely had an effect on the kind of poems I created. There’s a real sense of lawlessness in the East End that I love. The dark heart of that area is Whitechapel. I spent quite a bit of time at the Rhythm Factory and The George Tavern. I was friends with Mark Blanco and was seriously disturbed by his death. It was like something out of a Penny Dreadful. People like Paul Roundhill, Pete Doherty, Johnny Headlock – they could only ever have existed in the shadows of Commercial Street. I suppose what happened to Mark was the icing on the cake – I left East London after that.
Finally, can I ask you an anal poetry-geek question? Can you give me Darran Anderson’s Top 5 Poems of All Time, in no particular order.
DA: Fuck, that’s a difficult one. I think the best ones are the ones that stay mysterious and you never really totally get your head around. You only get the slightest glimpse. And you come back to them as the years pass and they change. I don’t know how it happens but it does. Like you said there’s a magic involved somehow. Arthur Rimbaud’s The Drunken Boat. Jakob van Hoddis’ End of the World which has haunted me for years. Ted Hughes’ Pike which we’ve talked about before and I know you’re a big fan of. Bertolt Brecht‘s Of Poor B.B. Tom Leonard’s A Priest Came on at Merkland Street. Etheridge Knight’s incredible Hard Rock Returns To Prison From The Hospital For The Criminally Insane. St James Infirmary. Shane MacGowan‘s The Old Main Drag. As you can tell, I was never good at maths.
The question’s who do you leave out? (I know that isn’t the question but we’ll turn a blind eye). Georg Trakl, Wilfred Owen, Miroslav Holub, Sylvia Plath, Patrick Kavanagh, Yeats. Tony O’Neill’s Hey Randall blew me away. As did Billy Childish‘s The Bitter Cup. Sometimes poetry books though are the last place to look. It’s like you were saying, it’s everywhere if you look hard enough; gravestones (your poem Veronica springs to mind), photographs, graffiti, albums from Leadbelly to The Fall to Arcade Fire. The river scene in Night of the Hunter. The films of Werner Herzog, Terence Malick, Andrei Tarkovsky. Twin Peaks. And if there exists anything more poetic, heartbreaking, life-affirming than Johnny Thunders singing “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory”, I want nothing to do with it.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Adelle Stripe is a poet from Tadcaster who lives in Mytholmroyd, Yorkshire. She is a founding member of The Brutalists (alongside Tony O’Neill and Ben Myers) and has published two solo collections Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid and the recently-released Cigarettes In Bed, both of which are published by Blackheath Books. She writes about noisy bands for The Stool Pigeon, is the fiction editor of the Manchester arts magazine Flux and is currently working on a major poetry project based on The Yorkshire Ripper called The Beast I Am.
Darran Anderson is an Irish writer from Derry, currently residing in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is poetry editor of 3:AM Magazine, having previously worked on Dogmatika and Laika Poetry Review. He has recently finished a novel entitled The Ship is Sinking and his poetry chapbook Tesla’s Ghost is now available from Blackheath Books.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, December 16th, 2009.