This Island is Sinking

Interview 

 

Shuddhashar: What is it that you strive to explore and convey through your poetry?

David Spittle: I think that poetry can facilitate a retreat from, or resistance to, striving. I hope for types of poetry that can exist in an environmental and durational texture of meaning, not lashed to the quantifiable ‘what is meant’ of a captured moment but generatively part of the ongoing mulch of meaning – a chance to revisit (thru reading) the present in its happening.

It is this ongoing and unresolved happening of language (and its inter-related relationship with, and as, experience ) that new ways to mean can be discovered.

Ideally, I would like to make poetry less concerned with what it is exploring than enabling a further exploration – where the reading becomes an experience of exploration / exploration of experience. I don’t think I have begun to come to near to making that happen – but it’s a helpful objective to keep in mind.

On a more direct level, I think there is a lot to be learned from insects. Or maybe that should just be invertebrates more widely – I have a lot of time for molluscs.

In terms of ‘conveying’, I’m pretty open to what gets conveyed…sometimes I think that there is a real strength in poetry as an entirely selfish act. Rather than needing to justify it in terms of socio-political, economic, moral or palliative terms, there is a virtue in sanctifying its non-functional properties as a sanctuary of play. This could be seen as a political refusal to base worth on a utilitarian function, product or service…but, equally, as an existentialist correlative to life: rather than trying to justify or understand existence through purpose, poetry can offer a model of fulfilling confusion. I don’t think, like some people say, this is because ‘it doesn’t mean anything’ (life or poetry) but that the condition of consciousness will bring meaning to/through/as almost any encounter…it’s just that poetry, like exalting in the absurdities of being or feeling mixed about the whole ordeal, presents a chance to mean in new and unfamiliar ways.

I would also like to explore cinema in / as poetry. To consider, and respond to, the possibility of a language of light in film, and a light of language in poetry.

I adore any poetry that can convey or embody the worlds within a world; the formless and unseen forms we might intuit or guess at as hidden and impossible illumination – a way tuned to the pluralised and always changing iterations of ‘occult’.

To conclude: to suspend ‘striving’; to cultivate an experiential present that prioritises the ongoing against the ‘captured’; to celebrate the hoverfly, the stonefly, the mayfly, the caddis fly, and dream with the snug prophecy of a woodlouse, to value the overlooked and remember the arrogance of our species; defend the right to PLAY, to not say, to not know, to be without purpose and remain in, or return to, a place of useless freedom; in forms of language to include and challenge / converse and interrupt the forms of cinema; in observation to deeply respect what escapes our attention (which is often attention itself) and follow the ragged, flawed and infinite mumblings of wilfully strange research.

I also disagree strongly with concluding. It’s also helpful , for me, to recognize that poetry can be as hypocritical, pathetic and unreliable as our experiences of life – and that this is not something to be feared. It’s a mess, pretending otherwise usually doesn’t work out too well.

 

Shuddhashar: How do you interpret the present world, and how have current events spurred you to write?

David Spittle: I think the ‘current events’ that can be so distressing, painful, and overwhelming are also partly constituted by a means of communication that has equally become distressing, painful and overwhelming. With social media it seems our ‘voices’ are so often swinging between vapid platitudes of self-help, reimagined as  a religiosity of narcissism sponsored by new New Age entrepreneurs of self-betterment as capitalist imperative and, on the other hand, an anxious and reactionary neurosis that characterises every subject as an opportunity for paranoia, fear and hatred. As a result the ‘discourse’ (shudder) around much of ‘the present world’ is inextricable from this damaging pendulum refrain of plastic contentment and all-encompassing doom. These rapid and unrelenting ways in which people continually engage with ‘information’, ‘news’, ‘events’ and our ‘selves’ not only converts the present into a divisive anxiety of billboarding but then also demands, at every turn, that we react to such versions of the present…in turn validating a lot of crazy shit until it is the corrosive foundation of some new and hideous reality. And so, whilst there are always very real forms of suffering and injustice to protest, there is also a whole swathe of ‘interaction’ and ‘information’ that presents itself as a means to protest that, sadly, serves to further benefit the targets of such protest. Power and its exploitation are now frequently inseparable from the online voices that contest such power. Hyper-capitalism is a practiced hydra in harvesting and manipulating its own critique to merrily secure further expansion

But then, it would equally be dumb to rail against online information in its entirety  as it is also the source of so much mobilising good intention, shared knowledge and genuine connection. As ever, it’s both. It has just seemed, recently, to be tilted in favour of the more frightening ends of distortion and damage.

I think one reality that unites all the tangled pains of what feels current –  capitalism and its destructive constructs of division – is our relationship with the planet. This is spoken about with more eloquence and intelligence by other poets and, of course, scientists, than anything shoddy I might elaborate on now. But, to go back to my early veneration of the ‘useless’, we have been (in industrialist, post-industrialist, modernizing, etc. etc. hellscape ) too submerged in the poisonous normalising of a relationship based on ‘use’ and, in our forms escalation, exploitation. Rather than being part of this planet, in a connected appreciation of what is – we have guillotined ourselves ‘apart from’ this planet, looking on it for our ‘use’. But of course, this is all really obvious stuff – I just think that a sense of apocalyptic species shame seems to have been gurgling around the plughole of my pondering for a while – and this spurs me to write…although that sounds too full of energy and conviction, as it is also accompanied by a lot of doubt, sadness and easily distracted irreverence.

 

Shuddhashar: What literary pieces – poetry, fiction or non-fiction – and writers have informed and inspired your own writing? How have they done so?

David Spittle: So many…this could be an exhausting question if I tried to be sincere and comprehensive or a quick question, if I was ridiculously off-hand…which might have to do, as I’ve already been boringly verbose…I’ll try and find somewhere in the middle of ‘tedious index’ and ‘unhelpful shrug’….I guess poets that have been hugely important to me have been: Lao Tzu, William Blake, Robert & Elizabeth Browning, Lautréamont, Gertrude Stein, Robert Duncan, John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Lee Harwood, Clark Coolidge, Michael Palmer, Anna Mendelssohn, Peter Manson, Nathaniel Mackey, Rachel Blau DuPlesis, Abigail Child, Douglas Kearney, Fanny Howe, Lisa Samuels, Iain Sinclair, Oli Hazzard, SJ Fowler, and Julia Rose Lewis. When I have the time, I like to turn to philosophy as a kind of autodidactic, coffee-slurping pursuit – Henri Bergson, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Maurice Blanchot, and Walter Benjamin are the main ones that come to mind. Focusing more on prose: Chuang Tzu, Herman Melville, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Fernando Pessoa, Georges Bataille, Giorgio De Chrico’s Hebdomeros, Virginia Woolf, Italo Calvino, Clarice Lispector, Bruno Schulz, Lampedusa, Elizabeth Strout, László Krasznahorkai, John Barth…and probably many, many more. And, a huge inspiration for me, has always been cinema – from Abel Gance, Germain Dulac, Dovhenko, Jean Vigo and Josef Von Sternberg, to Stan Brackhage, Guy Maddin, Andrew Kötting; or, recently, getting more into Japanese directors like Akio Jissôji, Seijun Suzuki,  and Teruo Ishi…a very haphazard listing, apologies. There should also be mention of Jean Painlevé, the Quay brothers, Nuri Celan, Lucretia Martel, Jeff Keen…and always… so many more…

 

Shuddhashar: In what way do your personal identity and experiences shape your poetry?

David Spittle: I was fortunate to have a really wonderful childhood, living near a river and constantly in excitable interaction with all kinds of strange and beautiful invertebrates. An interest in microscopes and fossils was also a huge component of my trying to fashion a kind of Gerald Durrel-like existence. These early memories and enthusiasms were formatively part of what constitutes the variable improvisation of my ‘personal identity’. An early reading of Greek Myths and Blake, kindled by a supportive family…all lucky and shining recollections.

Much later, having had the privilege of researching John Ashbery and, a few years before he died, getting to meet him had a huge and positive impact on my outlook in poetry. Running my interview series, ‘Light Glyphs’, with filmmakers on poetry and poets on film…this has really helped me: through research, friendship, and correspondence. Another, less helpful, life experience has been depression…which I’ve now had, in varying degrees of severity, for the last 15 years or so. There have been moments of horrendous and debilitating crisis and I’ve been so grateful for the support of friends and family in those moments…but whilst it’s true that there are punishing lessons and hard-earnt insights from such experiences of mental illness – I would always rather do without it, putting it mildly.

I also drafted, redrafted and deleted a longer response that tried to situate my answer in regards to the (the primarily online) discourse around identity that,  if I were to bureaucratically profile, would be filed under: middle-class, white, cis-gender, heteronormative, male. Understanding my identity in relation to histories of patriarchal racism, sexism and class privilege is clearly necessary as a form of researched engagement with contemporary conversations and a wider trans-historical awareness…however, to indulge (and it is indulgence) in the guilt or shame that such thinking can impart, can lead to forms of paralysis (creatively, socially and politically) which wrongly mistakes an informed and compassionate intelligence with personal attack. My concern is that, in this country, aspects of online liberalism that righteously endorse a hypocritical intolerance of fallibility end up excluding large swathes of the population which are then preyed upon, and manipulated by, the Right. Consequently, my sense of ‘identity’ as it is publicly constructed at present, online and in the media, has sometimes been negotiated through an apologetic sense of privilege (which can often prevent real and nuanced discussion, ironically and unconsciously using the artifice of awareness to negate and prevent a deeper understanding) or a frustrated concern at how some contingents of liberalism in the UK are playing directly into the hands of the Right…directing white masculinity as the key demographic for ideologies contingent on fear and hatred: recreating paranoid fantasies of a mythic entitlement to protect, or, even worse, hark back to a delusional arcadia where any power was contingent on the existence of vast oppression…but ‘we’ can sweep all that under memorials for a war that ended 76 years ago, pints of beer raised for photo opportunities, and re-runs of Downtown Abbey. The current prime minister of this country is a cartoon and murderous case in point.

The problem with these approaches – unquestioningly spouting one’s privilege or fearing for how the Right is exploiting and distorting the situation – is that it repeats reductive binaries…in this case, the unhelpful gear change between an ironically self-absorbed guilt presented as self-awareness and an anxiety that the rising Right is exalting in the failures of conversation around white masculinity to come to terms with itself. So much in these observations feels now to be outdated or, maybe, overly familiar in the frightening and cyclical historicity of return.

I think it is really important that Claudia Rankine founded ‘The Racial Imaginary Institute’ in order to open discussions on Whiteness. A kind of mission statement on their website, succinctly articulates some of the issues I have felt but been unable to summarise as eloquently:

Whiteness as a source of unquestioned power, and as a “bloc,” feels itself to be endangered even as it retains its hold on power. Given that the concept of racial hierarchy is a strategy employed to support white dominance, whiteness is an important aspect of any conversation about race. We begin here in order to make visible that which has been intentionally presented as inevitable so that we can move forward into more revelatory conversations about race.

I also feel that Fred Moten has spoken incredibly on the dangers around using the term ‘normative’ as itself a damaging and illusory deviation from reality, one that perpetuates the binaries of divisive power dynamics. I think going forward, it should also be more widely acknowledged that race was invented as an enabling construct of/for capitalism. The defining capitalist imperative of infinite growth requires injustice to sustain itself, and the exploitation of ‘race’ was integral to its expansion. Listening to Emma Dabari’s clarity on this topic, really helped me.

 

Shuddhashar: How do you use structure, language and grammar to accentuate the message of your poetry? Do you subscribe to conventions or break them?

David Spittle: I would never want my poetry to have a message. I think having a ‘message’ become a priority in poetry (in its writing or in its reception) limits the often unknowable, and changing, ways in which a poem can exist for the reader. The only exception would be for a poet writing under extreme censorship, in which a case a message wold have very different connotations. In terms of ‘structure, language and grammar’, these are the rudiments of any writing practice and should be followed, lost, abandoned, embraced, torn apart and celebrated in condemnation of the strange beastlings that poetry might bring forth.

 

Shuddhashar: What is your opinion about the conflicts and solidarities between political poetry and the literary and artistic values of poetry?

David Spittle: I struggle with political poetry that feels like a grandstanding and explicit act of preaching to the converted. For these reasons, I have reservations about the poems I have submitted in this issue but also felt that, in their overt critique, they were the closest I’ve allowed myself to get to a tradition I’m not comfortable with. I don’t mean necessarily a tradition of ‘preaching to the converted’ (though this could be levelled as a fair accusation) but a tradition of poetry in the space of a rallying cry…and due to my discomfort, I figured there might be something interesting at play…as such discomfort usually relates to a sense of risk (however minor, relatively speaking) which can be a generative creative context. I’m happy to be found disastrously wrong on all accounts. Generally speaking I feel much more enthusiastic about poetry that embodies the creation of a new world or new experience, rather than a critique – I also think this is the harder political stance to adopt, to provide a constructive alternative as opposed to relying only on the attack…the attack (though pertinent and essential in some circumstances) will always be the shadow of how things are, as opposed to the more autonomous poetic possibility of finding a world within  a world; how things can be, what we have lost sight of, or have failed to see.

 

Shuddhashar: Does your poetry transcend national boundaries? Does it appeal to different nationalities or linguistic groups?

David Spittle: I have had my poetry translated into French, collaborated with Norwegian and Hungarian poets, been in correspondence with American poets and learnt about and written on the inspiring Bangladeshi writer and editor behind this magazine.

However, if I was being realistic, my poetry rarely transcends the boundaries of a few friends, let alone national boundaries. I think the audience for poetry that remains committed to ideas of experimentation, confusion and the strange, remains quite small…there are some virtues in that though.

____________________________________

 

Poems

 

the water is rising but this island is actually sinking

 

no we don’t sell straws

but we do sell the fact that we don’t sell straws as a way of sidestepping ethical commodities in favour of commodifying ethics. generous emptiness. doncaster. taylor swift. erstwhile. if. shaman. turnstile. if. of course. the homeless. choke. bespoke hemp tote-bag. if of course the homeless choke on no change the government. duck house. will choose cremation. great again. the curriculum. i have. dress. knelt. the apocalypse. before. in fairy lights. your packaging in packaging and. and. and. your value meaning just the same. history in tributaries. so i thought i should make contact. my trilobite. this is how i feel i feel like i should let go. shipwreck. this time a radio. we could have. scrubland. hissing. darlington. between each apprehended is a. seismic. actually. scrap that. caddis fly. piracy. holy holy customer service. blonde. hives. derivative. lanyard valentine. rash. kawasaki. the rush of it. call centre. dark atlantic pills. swig. mills. those feet. procrustes. stuffed crust a rash decision.

 

rationing the rationing and these hands are red and these mountains elope and a toucan is many and needs more substantial roles in contemporary culture but would then be caged and monetised and made to paint its face in the emergency aisle of a hijacked plane as the passengers  fight with blunt quips to best capture their captured descent and the clouds are indifferent but begin more and more to muscle with type as below the sea keeps boiling and the plane keeps to schedule in its plummet and the captain announces his allergies and death is another bag of peanuts in an overpriced catalogue of distractions and without warning excluding all of the unheeded warnings that some of us had secretly lived with for centuries like an uncomfortably deferred evacuation of the lower gut that has been rumbling for so long that its noise became the furniture we so shamefully stretched out in and so and so without warning the toucan came home to roost with a severed beak and the plane crash is now a video clicked in boredom as the ocean howls through every window and somehow you still believe that words are all we have as water fills the mouth and in that moment between the urgency for a voice before its sound and of a struggle before it’s over is the readying of a way.

 

and. and. and. and anyway were you picking up the pieces or sitting in the pile. were you crying landfill or loot as the event took choice from any script. anaphylactic. donkey kong. shock. barrels. and hand it over. the shrimp knew better. the krill. the coral. the algae. the moss. the mosquitos beatific. the tapeworm. the crane fly. the duck.

 

prow of ship nosing through. a stillborn flock of. this. each polythene gulp the amniotic answerphone. the waiting for. the once had. the trailing. american beauty. the would-be

russian elegy for expecting the unexpected item in the bagging area.

 

this is old. too old. this is white and old. this is how. learning to shift the. lame. karma. oik. what the white I sees as the silt of it all must not take itself to reinscribe clam chowder. the race to slowly see itself balks fragility. waste. lilied brow of hot bothering strains in claims of. to reinforce itself. to clasp at pearls and flags and genes and to reach for a before all this or a back then a when it was a killing dream of chalk. any normative the deviation. say change was talk

 

resting on the plunder. the museum. the heritage. a vast and milky never was. the upstairs downstairs little island. renovate a fictional past to sell a backwards future. to make great.

 

to rule the waves. to white a beached whale. flag in the wheezing blowhole. the bbc montage. coldplay’s ‘fix you’. cetacean asphyxiation sold as triumph. bleach. fireworks. richard curtis.

 

michelin men grub hosing brick and boot of white oil. spill so white those gasps of delicate. to finally learn instead the opening from a taking up of.

 

eton circus quaffs media mess. let them eat. fake. eat on. tea. fake. promise how. tan. the remain will. fake. of the. leave. fake the will of the. fake. this country. take. this common. fake. blazing.

matchstick men in three-piece suits with tipp-exed roots now selling tailored erasure of their power as it grows and grinning entrepreneur or knowing the. fake the. common man. the bald honk if you’re threatened. the turning to. the overspill of anger and fear. white-tac poster boy web intellect posturing. induct. initiate. lost feta blockheads crumbling. online far from any raft. to tell them they are right. of white oil. right to feel anger and fear and to make themselves again in that image because it is right. right if right means hurting for the rich and holding rage you never chose with a vulnerability imposed by those who promise they speak on your behalf and spell out exactly how to hate. but what was left was not. smothering so close to. was not without blame. smothering with oil. what squabbling left had left them as a ‘them’ to the wringing hands of pyramid-schemes-for-the-soul and youtube recruitment. the skin can’t breathe and the eyes are all and only white and the ears are closing to all but spill. flayed beluga

 

kite a cross a blimp to lift olympic lions wreathed in colours lying and the crown a lord a crime excused by wealth and where victoriana frathouse finds bullingdon cuffs to link dead swine to fuck and undead squealing megaphones wire-up to where the larynx was and now the strung-up carcass shouts to fill a shape of who to hate and raise a pint and promise change while casting eyes from cladding flame the clamp of ears to cries that still without an answer rise unheard in now and blatant real each voice a bird in smoke that keeps its call alive and calling still and calling now and calling from a burning tower and calling from a burning tower.

 

 

the last rendition

rubbles us and all that is gone. new ruins virtual. outmoded social platforms. vacated profiles. floating undisturbed. the placings of a no-place that aspires to amber. suspensions of what passed. for communication. abandoned. shopping precincts. still creaking swings in forgotten playgrounds. re-encountered. touch now touch error of walking in on the oblivious present that, without matter, has been denied a past but is the trace of its own refusal to be beyond being’s trace. what is left is. without artefact. the receipt for how we volunteered ourselves to be seen and remade. now. mausoleums to marketised connection. and where. no place. does that leave us. or time. now. but those conditions of being were never really as we knew them. unknowing. now. arcades of knowing split from understanding and. the continuity we. temp. late. the sense

of when i was young and when i will die as if the continuity of myself sustains a narrative

 

ageing in a line across time as if time were space to move across and as if i was something other than the continual death and rebirth of the always becoming i stamped I to constitute fabrications of mini-me a max cohesion. sold. my discontinuous I misunderstood by me as my continuity. I the intervention in a continuity of time as infinite simultaneity or the cosmic moss of geese or shrubs or maritime pine the above-surface green a shine of whirligig beetle carrying a handgun below the duckweed nudging always some bbq of unquiet multitude, those membranous confusions on the grill and through. and here we are with timelines, placing ourselves into a career of living. clocking on and off. signing on and off. but it continues. even

when the world is burning with more fiercely imminent finality than our current crisis

 

there will be mutable makings and unmakings that will not concern us. maybe. and maybe when. and maybe when your device broadcasts the position of your device as the location of your being, sitting down to an over-documented pizza at an over-priced restaurant, underprepared for those cold homely spores becoming the outline of your passage through time, so much so that, on dying, the fixity of advertised memories betray any breath or essence with ‘that moment when’ you disconnected and joined the anonymous storage without depth of our species as it disappears into its own surveillance. smart. rubbles us and all that is gone. archives not of what was but of what it was we were taught to want. archives that archive themselves with the insistence on what can be caught. behavioural data as prediction. you identify with economic imperatives. the measurement of. net. the presentation of. work.

 

length and distance as the qualification of movement. listen to the numbers as they listen to you. codes choose war before conversation as you choose from the already chosen how best to reaffirm your absent choice. can any of this be left behind if what inhabited its purpose and perpetuated its use was first vacated by the terms of that use. you were left behind from being left behind. malignant frisbee and the cyst of. it gets mixed up. accelerating posed versions of a future past until nobody is present. this a past that never was. they combed us. it was us. we agreed with it. greedy for neighbourly contagion. we the ground pearls. stylet bundle and anus. became our own erasure until we had no memory of what was lost. we were but only in their memory. we couldn’t tell ourselves apart from them and that was what we had. programmed. at the start. to eradicate from infested fields the fields. we didn’t know how much we knew.

 

although there were old phrases, always are, that said and say ‘with one leg in the past and one in the future, you’re pissing on the present’ and yet, there is also the inability to conceive of a present without reference to a past through which, between memory and perception, action is realised for survival, and why would we strive to survive if not for the future. but some of us. some of us learnt to watch the movement. opal bodies necklace. kept dry in the laboratory. learnt to stop searching for our own rubble. our rubble had been owned, but not by us and not as rubble. it was us. it was hard to tell. in. lifted from us without us but recorded from. cyst. seen. measured. enhanced. diminished. rubbles us and all that is gone. with water on my toes, cold. to be but washed up from. water now. as with is. the light. just now. you are a child. you see the sky playing in the water. i that am. it changes you. you see it change.

 

 

not as other but another

you. i am. it changes. skin feels how each hair lifts to meet the chill. how moving wills moving through. am. and you reach. changing. the sky. seeing am. from the ruins of searching for ruins freed. am now seeing. notice the way the water sounds when tilting the head, when the eyes close and open. moving out into it. how temperature imperceptibly changes. joy in the cold. breathing that moves into. all rush of break spreads apart together in seen and unseen depth returning as turning the droplets up through air and down for rolling skin of height’s blood quenching drawn of a moon as under a sun and above fires of earth that fall and rise carving volumes around endless bodying without body. tide happening to be. duration at once. noticing, beneath water as the light is changing. a stone.

 

 

 

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