August 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Kit Fryatt by Masa Mlakar
Author Page – Shearsman
1. How did it make you feel when you saw your work being published and shared with the whole world? Was there any fear present about how people might accept your writing?
I often feel quite alienated from published work, as though it had been written by someone else. Everyone dreads an attack or a bad review, I suppose, but I don’t think that’s quite what you mean. I’m not sure if I seek acceptance through writing. Maybe a bit more through performance, and yes, when I go into a new performance space I feel a great need to be liked, and also that I’m on enemy territory.
2. Could you tell us what you believe makes a great poet?
A certain sort of stupidity, I think. Intelligence needs to be leavened by stubborn confidence in order to produce a new noise, which for me is what innovation in poetry is, a new noise.
3. Have you encountered any difficulties being a writer and if yes, how did you overcome them?
Mainly my own inertia. Coffee and fear of deadlines usually gets me over that.
4. How has your work changed or developed since you began writing?
I’m not sure: I go back to some of the stuff I wrote at 17 and think, actually, that’s not half bad. It’s the stuff I wrote in my 20s that really makes
me cringe: not poetry at all, just attempts at cleverness. Luckily, little of it survives in print. I think performing my work has given me confidence
in simplicity: it doesn’t have to be a dense mesh of reference and patterning. It has to sound good.
5. I have read some of your poems and the one I find really interesting is ‘Nanna Slut’s Long Close Summer’. Could you retrace your thought process while writing and editing the poem?
I’m glad you like that one; I’m not sure it’s a success. But it does have a story. When I was a kid I read Arthur Ransome’s Old Peter’s Russian Tales,
and I was very taken with the figure of Baba Yaga. In 2009 I used to meet with a group for a kind of anti-workshop: we’d have a few
drinks and enthuse about stuff and definitely not, not, submit any work to rational workshop-type “I think you should break the line here not here”
critique. For Christmas we had a poetry gift challenge: everyone brought a prompt (object or word) in a brown envelope, we swapped them, and each
person had to write a poem based on the prompt as a gift for the prompter. Mine was a coat hanger and an Indian takeaway menu. I had no idea what
to do with the coat hanger, so I hung a coat on it. The menu had a dish on it called Lamb Ra Ra. I thought that sounded like a dance, one that old
women do shamelessly in their mutton-dressed-as-lamb outfits, and it provided the refrain — also a little Boney M, “Ra Ra Rasputin”. Then I wrote a couple of literal-minded rhyming stanzas about Baba Yaga, and I thought this is rubbish, and gave up. I happened to dig those drafts out again last
summer, during the riots in English cities. I kept the first of the original rhyming stanzas, but turned the rhymes into vowel-rhymes and rhymes on the
off-stress. The finished poem still has those off-stress rhymes: ‘mound/POUNDing’, ‘bliss/DIStrict’ ‘DYing/stupeFIEs’. Then I added two more stanzas, trying to find realistic equivalents for Baba Yaga’s mortar and pestle, her chicken-legged house and so on, so there are metaphors of grinding and pounding and a mobile home. Then I ditched the first stanza because it seemed too literal and over-explanatory for the rest. A few words were from an interview with one of the rioters “like, a freedom act / like, do whatever you want”. The title came last. Nanna Slut I suppose roughly translates Baba Yaga — originally, slut in the sense of a slovenly or untidy woman rather than a sexually promiscuous one, but in English you can’t have the first sense without the other. I wanted to voice this speaker’s sense that old women might be able to exploit the inchoate, violent energy of the disaffected young. In some ways their anger is similar: the rioters are “straw men”, she is a “hag” — in Irish the word “cailleach”, “hag”, can also mean the last bale of hay to be taken in from the fields — but she also wants to control their macho energies to her own ends, actually to undo patriarchy, “the estate we lost thirty grand years ago” — the 2011 riots look back to 1981, but Baba Yaga wants to return to a pre-civilisational, pre-patriarchal time 30,000 years ago…: that’s maybe a sort of sentimental or naive idea, certainly ahistorical. I do not endorse this message!
6. In the end, what advice would you give the young and aspiring writers
to keep writing poetry in a society that listens to poetry less each day?
I’m not sure it does listen less. There’s a powerful appetite for verse out there: often expressed at times of stress, joy or grief. I’m baffled
when people ask me for recommendations for poems to read at funerals and weddings (happens a lot): perhaps because poetry is part of my daily life
I don’t understand why you’d want it for special occasions and not the rest of the time. If you don’t have a favourite poem, why read one at your wedding? If your gran never read poems, why do you need one at her funeral? But the appetite is there, and it’s not for me to dictate to it. Maybe poets should listen a bit harder to society before they whinge that it doesn’t listen to them. That shouldn’t be a manifesto for populism or crowd-pleasing, though.
I think too much performance and public work is formally and verbally inert because poets have low expectations of a public they don’t truly respect.
People know when they’re being patronised. Aim high: pitch it high — your readers are at least as bright and knowledgeable as you are.