Hi Hannah. Thanks for taking the time to chat. I understand you staged a couple more performances of Schlock! earlier this year. It would be fair to say the show challenges conventional definitions of poetry and poetry performance. For the uninitiated, can you tell us a bit more about the genesis of the idea and what it was that attracted you to take on a project like this?
I was attempting to read Fifty Shades of Grey, and was finding it a bit excruciating. I was hearing teenage girls chatting about it on the train and buying into the supposed love story. I started copying out the lines that shocked me, such as: “Please don’t hit me… I don’t want you to spank me, not here, not now. Please don’t”.
And then played with changing words and splicing it together with material from a novel by Kathy Acker called In Memoriam to Identity. In the end the Fifty Shades language became a way to write about Kathy Acker’s life, death and writing – she wrote her novels by splicing together ‘high literature’ with ‘schlock’.
I’ve loved Acker’s novels since I discovered them in the stacks of the library at Dartington College of Arts.
As a poet who is often associated with the strong performative and oral aspects of your poetry, I’m curious if you enjoy the process of putting poems on to the page and trying to find a form for them that matches the energy of how they are performed live?
It’s tricky, I know a lot of poets say a good poem will work equally on the page as it does in performance, and in many cases that’s true. But my performance pieces often work with vocal sounds that simply can’t have a life on the page. My approach tends to be to write differently for page and performance. I love both.
You have also been applauded as a poet who tackles political subjects head-on. I’m curious what you feel makes poetry an effective medium to interrogate and engage with the political sphere?
I’m not sure if ‘head-on’ is accurate, although I think that’s from a review somewhere. I tend to try to avoid being ‘head-on’. I often explore political subjects through the language of politics, by pulling apart rhetoric, or repeating words until they lose meaning and gain new meanings – like in ‘Gaddafi’.
I’m not interested in writing about things I already know about, or in getting across a single point of view. I made the show Opposition because I wanted to explore why I was so un-engaged with contemporary politics and what it is about today’s rhetoric that prevents communication.
I understand you attended the Bucharest Poetry Festival last month. Can you tell us a bit more about it and how did it go?
I had a fantastic time at the festival. I was on a line up of sound poets to celebrate 100 years since Dada. I recommend looking up Tomomi Adachi and Jaap Blonk – in my opinion the two best sound poets in the world today. They did an improvisation together that was electrifying.
What does the rest of the year hold for you in the world of poetry? Are there any dates in the diary you are especially looking forward to or goals you have set yourself?
I’ve been writing poetry differently recently, so I’m going to keep going with that and see if anyone wants to publish it. I’ve written a play I’m quite excited about and hope that a theatre somewhere might like it too. It’s called The Chat.
Other goals are to try to stop worrying about money, have the occasional lie-in, and finish my PhD. (I’m not sure if these goals are compatible.)
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
We might think having full arms is a good thing. I wrote this poem out of a desire to have empty arms – who knows what they will be filled with.
If my arms were empty passers-by would insert
their babies into the open space.
If my arms were empty dogs would leap
up into them, start to lick my face.
If my arms were empty a small child would duck
under and pop up grinning.
A woman on a bicycle would say: “Here you go!”
And deposit all her childhood diaries in the gap.
If my arms were empty men on trains would ask:
“Is there anyone sitting there?”
Birds would build their nests and wonder
why it doesn’t smell like a tree.
If my arms were empty, no belly to cradle
baby to heartbeat, breasts to swell, she’s gone.