August 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Andrea Brady by Elena Juan Ruiz
Staff Page – Queen Mary, University of London.
1. What is poetry for you?
Poetry is a vast repertoire of historical and immediate practices, of freedom attributed to constraint, the limitless bounty of language enacted and retracted through the choices of practitioners driven by accident, sensuality, intellect, ethics and sound to constant repetition of the urge to create the one necessary and unrepeatable thing.
2. When and why did you start writing poetry? Which other poets inspire and/or influence your writing?
I started writing as soon as I started singing and rhyming, so from the beginning. My first poem, according to family history, was a set of heroic couplets on the Lebanese hostage crisis (I was six). The political orientation has been inescapable. I had an ancient uncle, an Augustinian priest, who smoked cigars and celebrated the mass at my grandmother’s dining table, who was a poet — he wrote several self-published books of wistful lyricism, in which beautiful women and Madonnas got mixed up. I wanted to be a poet but not like him. I wrote to escape the embittering limits of my social and material life, and to try to fix on paper the feeling of transcendence I could get by looking at a plane emerge from a roiling cloud, or a ballroom of ice dripping inside a box hedge, outside my squalid house.
he poets who have most influenced me come from either side of a gross and unnecessary historic divide. In school we stopped with modernism; Eliot was the climax of literary seriousness, and there’s a shook geranium in at least one of my juvenile poems. Dickinson was desirably strange. None of the teachers at my repressive all-girls Catholic school read or understood Dylan Thomas, so he was a fierce alternative priest. The metaphysical poets, which later I actually came to understand. In New York, studying at Columbia, Kenneth Koch gave me the newly published Collected of Frank O’Hara. Since then, the work of my luminous contemporaries.
3. Which advices would you give to people who write and love poetry? Do you think someone can live from writing poetry?
I would advise them to read writing of all kinds with fanatical attention and hunger. Not to assume that they can be a writer simply because their own experiences and passions have been interesting to them. That feeling is much less important to poetry than language and form. And to get a day job. No one I know of who lives from writing poetry writes good poetry. It may have been possible, once, before we all floated so grossly high on the bubble of economic fantasy, when squats were easy to come by and hold and ground rents were cheap, but not now.
4. How did you get your work published or heard? Did you confront any difficulties?
I began by self-publishing. Keston Sutherland and I set up the press Barque. Jeremy Prynne did the photocopying for us in the Gonville and Caius library late at night (we brought pistachios). We borrowed a long-arm stapler from the Robinson College library. We published our own work, the work of our friends and people we admired. We attended everyone else’s readings, and listened hard. We contributed to a thriving economy of small-press and little-magazine of tremendous historic significance and never doubted that there were ways of being a public writer which did not require commercial success.
5. Your poems have been translated to Finnish, Spanish and French. Did you get in touch with those translators? What do you think about poetry being translated?
The process is exciting to me, and forces me to reveal some of the duplicities and buried meanings of the work to the translator, though generally I respect their ability and desire to work autonomously and to create a new poem through collaboration with my absent self, in the text.
6. Which method do you use for writing poetry? Do you start from a prose version or from a rough poem? At what point do you decide that a given poem is finished?
I would never start with a prose poem because form, prosody, lineation and line breaks are among the most powerful instruments in the development of the poem’s thinking: they condition and shift the meaning as it’s being made. I usually spend time collecting langauge in notebooks and on my phone, thinking about possibilities in small fragments, and begin the poem when these have reached saturation point. I also do a great deal of scholarly research, in an effort to escape the self-valuing laziness which feels (to me) entailed on the occasional poem. I revise and revise and revise over long periods of time, usually opening the poem up, aerating it and making it more determinedly legible. It can be difficult to know when that process is finished, to stop before the poem has been made so porous it collapses or floats away,
7. How has your work changed or developed since you started writing?
This movement toward research and away from the instantaneous celebration of narcissistic poetic sensuality. With two small children, a full time job and limited childcare, I am lucky if I write at all — and can only make sure I do by seizing any moment, even with people in the room banging small electronic toolbenches. I can’t be precious about mood.
8. Which of your works would you recommend to someone as the first reading?
Wildfire: A Verse Essay on Obscurity and Illumination is a long poem, based on scholarly research and with a passionate political investment in using poetry as an agent of change (changed thinking, changed attachments, changed relations to the objects of our desires). On the publisher’s website, links are provided to all the source texts. A new reader of my work could therefore see for herself how I work with sources, transform and select them. There is also a note on the text which elaborates on its conception. A new book due out this year, Mutability, combines very easily legible prose notes with poems (the poems arise from the occasions described in the prose). It’s a series of ‘scripts for infancy’, and feels to me dangerously lucid.
9. You were born in the US, but you live since a long time in the UK. Does this fact affect your poetry? Do you see your home country from a different point of view?
My national orientation is fundamentally political and not poetic.
10. In your poems ‘Damaged Good’ and ‘Dream Vacation’ there is no rhyme. Do you think rhyme still has an important role in English contemporaneous poetry?
Yes, it can, and there has been a kind of resurgence of rhyme among some of my contemporaries recently. The goal of that work seems to be to make use of all the resources of language, and to commit to a kind of prosodic subjection rather than to revel in the potentially corruptive liberties of free verse: where prosodic freedom is taken as a corollary for the freedom of the (Western, white, male) consumer to revel in his privileges to have everything. In my view this tendency (toward rhyme) should be considered alongside two other recent poetic movements: flarf and conceptualism. Rhyme is however not what I’m currently doing.