Kirsten Irving is a poet, editor, copywriter, and voice actor. Her poems have appeared widely in various online and print magazines.
She has published three pamphlets – No, Robot, No! with Jon Stone (Forest Publications 2010), What To Do (Happenstance Press 2011), Riotous with Jon Stone (Sidekick Books 2013) – and a debut full-length collection Never Never Never Come Back (Salt 2012).
She is also one of the founding editors of experimental poetry press Sidekick Books.
Hi Kirsten. Thanks for taking the time to chat. As well as being a poet in your own right, you are heavily involved in publishing through your endeavours with Sidekick Books. Last year you edited the Lives Beyond Us anthology which sounds like a curious theme for a book. What was the genesis of the idea and are there plans to follow it up with any sort of sequel?
Thanks for inviting me! Lives Beyond Us was originally pitched to us by film scholar and friend Seb Manley. He has a long-term interest in animal rights and representation, so a book on animals in cinema was absolutely perfect.
We decided to intersperse poetry on the subject with essays, with me taking charge of the former and Seb the latter. It was a very Sidekick experiment: slip poetry in where it’s not expected and see how it’s received. We really did get some fantastic material, though, and it was wonderful working with Seb.
No plans for a sequel at the moment, but given the success of Coin Opera II, the follow-up to our micro-anthology of video games poetry, never say never.
You also edited Fuselit magazine alongside Jon for a number of years. The magazine was very unique with its multi-format and hand-bound editions. I get the impression a lot of care and attention went into each issue. Do you forsee the magazine returning again at some point in the future?
We still have one issue left that we’d like to get out into the wild, when life lets us! FOSSIL has some absolutely glorious work in it, and it’ll be the last hard copy issue of Fuselit for the foreseeable future. It’s horrendously overdue but by thunder, it’s going to be pretty when it emerges.
The main difficulty with Fuselit was the time it took. It was so satisfying to hand-bind the pages and post them out, but doing it was exhausting after a day’s work. I also dislike sending generic replies, so keeping up with the inbox was a constant challenge. The poetry that we accepted was so good it was worth the work, but time has also been at a premium for us.
We’re mulling over some ideas inspired by Chilean poetry collective Casagrande, regarding ways to present ‘issues’ of a magazine in other forms. For example, Casagrande once published their magazine across the inside of an underground tunnel, and another issue was fired into space in a rocket. So we’ll see!
I understand you also participated in the Croatian Enemies project last year as well. That sounds like it was an interesting collaboration. Can you tell us a bit more about your involvement with it and how you found the experience?
It’s always a brilliant experience taking part in one of SJ Fowler’s massive collaborative events. I’d worked with Harry Man a number of times before and the material we end up with is always us, but not us – it forms an entirely new compound.
For this one, we wanted to link to Croatia through themes of translation, so we created a Rough Guide to Earth after the apocalypse, written for the last surviving human. You can see on the video that I buggered up a little bit of it, but I think it came off. So much fun reading and writing with Harry.
You also trained and indeed work as a voiceover artist. I imagine this sort of background must be beneficial to you when performing poetry in public. How much do you think the vocal delivery of a poem affects how it is received, enjoyed and understood by a listener?
Absolutely. Training and recording and just listening carefully to the way my voice comes across has allowed me to spot bad habits that impede clarity, and to play with accents, effects and direction. It’s also helped me to relax more and more into reading aloud in a confident (and sometimes plain daft) way, so I no longer feel the terror I did just before my first London gig.
I can’t speak for other audience members, but I really care about whether a poet puts effort into delivering a poem well. This doesn’t have to involving overacting, or acting at all – it’s really about building a connection with the audience through eye contact, talking to them, not at them, making sure they can hear you, varying tone and pace where appropriate to allow them to concentrate and not drift off.
Voice work has been surprisingly good for fostering that connection. You’re usually in a booth talking to yourself when recording, but you’re still talking to someone. Even if you’re recording a narration, not playing a character, you have to imagine someone listening and talk to them. The difference is incredible. I was once advised to take in a picture and put it on the script stand to chat to. Everyone needs their own way of not droning into the void.
What does the rest of the year hold for you? Are there any dates in the diary you are looking forward to or are there any specific poetry goals you have set yourself?
Aside from the freelance day job, I’m looking forward to working on alternative forms of translation in a series of workshops with Club Inegales and Modern Poetry in Translation. I’m also taking part in another of SJ Fowler’s mega-events, as part of English PEN’s Modern Literature Festival.
We’ve just had a late launch for Sidekick’s Birdbook III and we’ll soon be commissioning work for the final volume. Add two team-up pamphlets between artists and writers and a new series we’re plotting and it’s shaping up to be a busy 2016.
In terms of poetry goals, I’d like to get a second collection ready to roll by the end of the year. I’d also like to get going on taking my scratch show RUN on a full tour. Oh, and of course, there’s NaPoWriMo in April!
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
‘The old food taster and the stegosaurus’ is a very weird one. It came from two ornaments Jon used to keep on his windowsill – a pottery Chinese man and a rubber dinosaur. The way they stood together was so touching and tender that a story immediately formed. A soft rhyme scheme helped to carry it along in its strange little bubble. It’s one of those poems that says “Just go with it”, and the success of the piece depends on whether the reader takes your hand or not.
The old food taster and the stegosaurus
He knuckles its inch-thick cap of wrinkled skin
so tenderly. Prickly Hill, he murmurs in Mandarin,
and the creature gobbles a little with pleasure,
opens its beak and squints beneath those fingers.
Soon I will be as baggy as you, smiles the man.
All greyish and hooped, and he tickles a red spine
on the dinosaur’s neck until it whickers and purrs.
Unless there is hemlock in the emperor’s supper.
My tongue is his tongue. He holds out thieved pak choi,
which it chews, as if in thought. Who would feed you, boy,
if I took my lord’s dose? Could happen tomorrow.
Still we sleep. You’re a strange sort of dragon, you know.