August 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Ross Sutherland by Roshan Matharu
1. Why is poetry your preferred form of self expression?
I gravitated towards poetry when I was pretty young, although generally speaking I wasn’t very articulate as a kid. I liked poetry because it played as a gap between knowing what to say and actually saying it. I also love the fact that when you start writing a poem, you rarely know what the end result will be. I prefer poetry as a form of self expression more than novels, mostly because I’m uninterested in creating fictional worlds.
2. Which poets and writers inspire and/ or influence your writing?
Kenneth Koch is one of my major influences. Kenneth was a prominent poet of the New York poets – a group that rejected introspective poetry in favour of poetry that experimented with a more exuberant style. There’s also a French writing group whose name is normally abbreviated to OULIPO. OULIPO is a loose gathering of mainly French speaking writers, as well as mathematicians, which seeks to create works using constrained writing techniques. OULIPO inspired me to create my own rules based writing style. Also, Philip K Dick was known to write his way into books without knowing how they would end. I think that this is a style of writing that I always apply when I write poetry.
3. Do you prefer to write or perform your poetry the most?
I really like all sides of poetry, whether it be reading, writing or performing it. It’s worth mentioning that I’ve developed a sort of hyper-sensitivity to audiences, because of my experiences of performing poetry. I find that I always write poetry with the audience in mind.
4. When did you first become interested in poetry?
I was born in Edinburgh and moved to England when I was 6. I wrote to my Grandmother a lot, and remember sending her nonsense poems. I got into the process of writing home in this fashion. When I was 15, I went to see a punk poet called John Cooper Clarke doing a gig in Edinburgh. His gig was a real surprise for me, because his books and poems were all quite crafted and timely. His live performance, though, had this immediacy to it that I really enjoyed.
5. When you write a poem, what value do you place on your own sense of achievement when writing it compared to how you think other people might receive it?
As I’ve said, I’ve gained a sort of hyper-sensitivity to audiences since I started performing my poetry. I always place a lot of value on how my audience receive my poetry. I find that the success of humour directed performances, like mine, are measurable by the amount of laughter that you get from the audience. If they’re not laughing, chances are that it’s not going so well. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that my own sense of achievement when writing or performing poetry derives from what my audiences get out of it.
6. Do you approve of the fact that poetry is subject to professional criticism?
I shamefully admit to using press quotes to encourage people to come to my live performances, especially in the past [laughs]. I’ve tried to stop using snippets of critical acclaim to promote my shows recently, though – it looks a little forced, as if I’m begging them to come. This is not to say that I don’t place some value on what critics say – a lot of these critics are actually poets themselves.
7. Before making your documentary ‘Every Rendition on a Broken Machine,’ did you predict that you’d be able to find a computer program that could write poetry better than you can?
I already had a piece of technology in mind before starting the documentary – Babel Fish. I think that Babel Fish is pretty sophisticated in its own right. I think the answer is… maybe.
8. What is poetry for you, personally?
It reminds me of my early years of writing home. It reminds me of the process of jumping from city to city, reflecting on the experiences and depositing bits of who I am down onto paper… I suppose that’s what poetry is for me, ultimately – sticking ideas down on paper.
9. What advice would you give to young writers to encourage them to write poetry?
I think that performing poetry will appeal to young writers a lot. The process of ganging up with other young writers, and setting up your own night gig reinforces the social aspect of poetry. This is something that many young aspiring writers will enjoy
10. Do you believe that poetry is a dying art form?
Not really [laughs]. I think that poetry has survived as long as it has because of its ability to adapt and change over the process of time.