Hello Paula, for the second time this year. For the benefit of our Theatre readers, where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
I am from a lot of places, but mainly Washington D.C. and London. I am based in east london and have lived here for most of my life (despite never losing my american accent)
So you’re back over Hadrian’s Wall – how are you finding your visits to Scotland?
I love coming to Scotland. I would like to see even more of it. I have literally never had a bad time here. But fringe is something else. I love it but its so different from Edinburgh outside of the festival (which I enjoy even more) . It amazes me how kind and friendly people are in letting their city literally be taken over by comedy and theatre. It can get really overwhelming when you are part of it, but I can’t imagine how frustratating getting through all those extra people can be when you are just trying to get to work!
This time you’ll be performing at the Fringe, can you tell us about the show?
Show Me The Money is a show that explores what its like to make a living as an artist in the U.K. today. It is based on my own experiences and interviews with 44 artists I interviewed in 11 cities (including Edinburgh)
This is quite a noble topic you are handling? What were the impulses behind turning artists-in-austerity into, well, art?
I came to a point in my career that many I know are negotiating, that of the early career or mid-career artist. There is so much attention on emerging artists then suddenly after age of 25 there is a massive gap until you are meant to magically become “established” . I started to wonder how sustainable this lifestyle I had chosen was, only I didn’t feel like I had a plan b anymore. I wanted to explore it by talking to other artists, to see if I coudl find hope for myself and others by sharing and connecting experiences. I decided to make a show because I wanted it to be in a really engaging and entertaining form. I wanted to use art to make audiences understand better the human cost of the art they consume.
After Stanza Poetry Festival you took ‘Show Me the Money’ on tour, what was that like?
It was amazing and exhausting. It was a mini tour of 8 dates. It was incredible to watch and feel interest build in the show from date to date. Its such a joy to share it with different audiences in different parts of the country. It felt like such a natural progression to take the show back to the cities that had informed it. and I became super streamlined in packing and setting up by the last date 🙂
What emotive responses did you find from your audiences, & did these differ across the country?
the show affects people very differently depending on their relationship to the arts, what stage they are in their career, an where they live in the U.K. But I think many were suprised by how high energy and entertaining it is despite some heavy subject matter. The overall feeling it will leave you with is hope.
Can you describe to us a typical day at the Fringe that you can imagine is coming up this August?
Its such a marathon! I don’t even know if I will have a “typical” day. But I guess on average I will wake up and do some stretching and vocal warms ups, flyer for an hour or two, then the show at 3:30 at Bedlam, hopefully some kind of break , and then I have another daily slot with spoken word artist Dan Simpson at the banshee labrynth at 8:30 hosting various fun showcase format with other artists. Then there will be 1 or 2 guest spots most likely and of course more flyering!
What will Paula Varjack be up to after the Fringe?
On holiday in Berlin (where I used to live).
Aug 2-4, 7-13 : Bedlam Theatre (15.30)
Hello David, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
Born in Berlin, grew up in Carbon County Utah, Pasco Washington and Seattle. I came over here in 1983 to join in the demonstrations against the installation of Pershing and Cruise missiles in Europe. The rest of the group came with return tickets. I came with a sleeping bag, a guitar and a saxophone and a one way ticket. I’ve stayed here as a street musician ever since. I started out living in the Kukuuk, a squat in Berlin, travelled all over Europe and ended up based in London for the last 30 years.
When did you realise you were, well, talented?
i still have bouts of doubting if i am talented. Our dad was an actor and i’ve always considered performing as a natural thing that everybody can do. I loved drawing and painting and did tons of it from the time i was a toddler. When i was 14, i went off to the seminary to study to be a Catholic priest. I wasn’t allowed to paint there, so all that creative energy got talented into writing poetry and stories.
You are something of a modern day troubadour. What is it about travelling & performing that makes you tick?
My ambitions have always been as a writer, not a performer. I enjoy performing, but i do it mainly because it’s the only way i’ve been able to get the stuff i’ve written out to an audience. I would love it if other people did my shit.
As an extremely successful slam-poet, who are your poetical influences?
Biggest influence by far: Woody Gurthie. Next three: Gil Scott Heron, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Sharon Olds.
How do you know you have just written a good poem?
I’m never really sure until awhile after i’ve written it – in the heat of creation, everything seems wonderful. Then the cracks begin to appear. Sometimes i don’t realise how good (or bad) it is until i’ve performed it a number of times.
What does David Lee Morgan like to do when he’s not being creative?
Eat ice cream and watch crap videos. I should also mention a life-long obsession with philosophy, from the ancient Greeks, to Marx, Lenin, Mao to contemporaries like Alain Badiou and Bob Avakian.
Last year you brought Media Dream to the Fringe, what was it like orchestrating a piece rather than performing?
Performing a poem in front of an audience (when it works) is like having really good sex.
Seeing a play you’ve written come to life on the stage is like falling in love.
Medea Dream is just one of your many plays & novels, etc. Where do you get the energy from to be so prolific?
My productivity comes and goes. I’ve spent years working 8-10 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week. But i’ve also gone for months, just travelling around the world, singing and playing saxophone – or watching tv and eating ice cream. I guess energy comes from motivation. I’ve always wanted to create, to draw, paint, write… and do philosophy.
Can you tell us about this year’s contribution to the Edinburgh Fringe?
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FLOOD is a solo spoken word musical for six voices. This is the description in the program:
“A computer wakes up in the year 2035, on the eve of the world socialist revolution… Fighting has broken out all over the globe. For the first time, the US military has used tactical nuclear weapons on its own population. Suddenly, all communication stops. A new player arrives on the scene – a singularity, a computer exploding up into consciousness and fighting for sanity through a barrage of conflicting images and downloaded personalities.” THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FLOOD is the third in a trilogy of shows that will be published by Stairwell Books in the Autumn. The first, SCIENCE, LOVE AND REVOLUTION, was about… Science, Love and Revolution, and was developed through many performances, mostly in the London spoken word scene, which is so diverse and international. The second BUILDING GOD, was a history and defence of three revolutions: the Paris Commune, The Russian Revolution and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. I wrote it with the attitude – this is what i think, if you don’t like it, fuck off. But to my surprise, many people coming from many different places politically really liked it. They responded to the poetry and to the complexity of the thinking. I didn’t win them to my point of view – that wasn’t the purpose – but they said the show inspired them to think that there was a lot of history that they needed to investigate in order to get beyond the propaganda and lies. However, they went on to say, “but it could never happen again.”
So that became my challenge for this third play: not to write a blueprint or a detailed prediction of the future, but to use imagination to enable people to see that revolution was possible. As I wrote, it became clear that if the play worked, it would be about feeling, rather than just thinking that it was possible. I had a second goal as well. It’s clear that if a real world revolution is possible in any way, it must include many hundreds of millions of people who are committed to their religion. My own experience as a revolutionary communist working in the anti-vietnam war movement, was that priests, nuns and just regular Catholics involved in the Liberation Theology Movement were totally committed and totally fearless – and coming off their missionary work, had a very good understanding of imperialism and its evils. I wanted to embody this in the play. I wanted to embody an alliance between revolutionary communists (atheist) and revolutionaries inspired by their religion to fight for true justice. Because i have fairly close ties (through music and poetry) with the Bengali community, I chose to centre the play around two people: Amparo, a revolutionary communists and a leader of the Los Angeles Commune, and Hamida, a leader of the Party of Islamic Socialism of Bangladesh.
What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for David Lee Morgan?
I have been doing Free Fringe shows at the Banshee for 5 years now (plus a few earlier, going back to 1997). They have been concept shows, where i have spent a year (or more) researching, thinking and writing on the theme. After this Fringe, I am going to take a break from concept shows, and just write individual poems on whatever personal or political things hit me. I have felt constrained this year – when so many momentous things have been happening – because i have had to focus on this show, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FLOOD. I don’t regret it. It was what i had to write about. But now i want to get back into the real world.
Aug 5-25 : Banshee Labyrinth (17.10)
A poem is never finished, only abandoned
I am currently sat at a table amidst the sunswingingly sensuous delights of Star Beach on the northern shores of Crete. My family & I arrived late last night, hiring a car & eventually tracking down our residence for the next three nights, Petra Village, a mini-resort with pool, bar & a trillion crickets piping a cacophony. Although the Mumble rolls on inexorably to its inevitable annual climax at the Edinburgh Festivals, it is always nice to work on a spot of poetry, & so as a wee antidote to all that fringeyness, I would like to offer an account of the mesmerizing energy of Homer’s mind-music, that poetical weaver of disparate strands of ancient subject matter into the world’s two most earliest & most majestic epics. That an individual author composed these poems, however, is simply not the case. This ‘Homeric Question’ has tested academic minds for many an age, with Frederick Nietzsche declaring ‘the primary form of this widespread and honeycombed mountain known as the Homeric question can be most clearly observed by looking down at it from a far-off height.’ The ‘far-off’ height mentioned by Neitzsche is the tall mountain upon which the chispologist builds a weather-station & shouts into the gusting breezes that Homer was a quasi-mythological deity, to whom only the highest examples of streaming elysium would be associated – less an individual genius & more the poetic soul of an entire people.
But for now, & for ease of dictate, we shall call Homer by his antique identity, as the singular author of the Iliad & Odyssey. His subject was the Trojan War & its aftermath, an event of deep history whose war-drums still beat resoundingly today. The Iliad centers on a small series of events that took place toward the end of the ten-year war, while the Odyssey sings of the return from Troy of the Grecian hero Odysseus. The poems are, in a word, magnificent, full of comprehension & understanding for the ways of men, while possessing some of the greatest phraseology ever to be uttered by a human tongue. The most astonishing thing about the epics is their sheer antiquity, through which mists of deep time the creation of the poems, & indeed their creator, have been readily obscured.
It was as early as the Classical period that the first doubts appertaining to the origins of the epics was raised. The oldest complete copy of the Iliad – the 10th century BC manuscript ‘Venetus Marcianus Graecus 454’ – has marginal notes, first published by De Villoison in 1788, which preserve substantial remnants of ancient scholarship on the poems from the intense erudition of Didymus, Aristonicis, Herodian, Nicanor & Antoninian. A century later, a similar note-smitten codex was created which ended up in the library at of the Townleys of Townley Hall, in my hometown of Burnley. Of these scholia, we encounter the thoughts of two obscure figures known as Xenon & Hellanicus, two antique scholars who first speculated that the Iliad & Odyssey had been composed by separate authors. This actually makes sound sense, for where the Iliad contains four times as many similes as the Odyssey, the language of the Odyssey is less archaic than that of the Iliad, to which surmise we may add that words for many common items are different in each poem. Aristotle further highlights the differences between the epics when he muses, ‘the composition of the Iliad is simple & full of pathos, that of the Odyssey complex, as there are recognitions throughout & full of character.’
So far so different, & as the Aegean sea blows a refreshingly wild wind into my beachside boudoir, we may acknowledge that long before the days of word-files & photocopying, the preservation of Homer’s poetry, spread over many centuries, suggests a great number of scribes have handled the text. Along the way, each would add something of their own making, maybe respelling a word, or perhaps re-writing whole passages in order to please a changing audience. As the poems evolved, two vast chains of transcreation would slowly fossilize themselves into the epics we whimsically attribute to a single Homer. One cannot understand why this happened, for the dating of the ‘original’ Homer was offered quite differently by a great many ancient scholars. The early Christian churchman, Tatian, in his Address to the Greeks, identifies this scattered strata of Homeric composition;
Now the poetry of Homer, his parentage, and the time in which he flourished have been investigated by the most ancient writers,—by Theagenes of Rhegium, who lived in the time of Cambyses, Stesimbrotus of Thasos and Antimachus of Colophon, Herodotus of Halicarnassus, and Dionysius the Olynthian; after them, by Ephorus of Cumæ, and Philochorus the Athenian, Megaclides and Chamæleon the Peripatetics; afterwards by the grammarians, Zenodotus, Aristophanes, Callimachus, Crates, Eratosthenes, Aristarchus, and Apollodorus. Of these, Crates says that he flourished before the return of the Heraclidæ, and within 80 years after the Trojan war; Eratosthenes says that it was after the 100th year from the taking of Ilium; Aristarchus, that it was about the time of the Ionian migration, which was 140 years after that event; but, according to Philochorus, after the Ionian migration, in the archonship of Archippus at Athens, 180 years after the Trojan war; Apollodorus says it was 100 years after the Ionian migration, which would be 240 years after the Trojan war. Some say that he lived 90 years before the Olympiads, which would be 317 years after the taking of Troy. Others carry it down to a later date, and say that Homer was a contemporary of Archilochus; but Archilochus flourished about the 23d Olympiad, in the time of Gyges the Lydian, 500 years after Troy.
It is through these ‘Homers’ that the story of the Trojan War & its aftermath would pass, until the Iliad as we know it began to take shape in the 9th century BC – as I believe – under the auspices of the Spartan King, Lycurgus. Not a poet himself, the task was given to a certain verse-maker called Thales, whom he met on Crete, an island which I am yet to explore but have made my first landing as if I was one of the German gliders crash-landing in advance of the German Fallschirmjäger in 1941. It is through the vita of Lycurgas, as given by Plutarch, that we gain a heady hint of just how powerful a poet-thinker was Thales. We join the vita with Lycurgas on some kind of state visit to Crete;
One of the men regarded there as wise statesmen was Thales, whom Lycurgus persuaded, out of favour and friendship, to go on a mission to Sparta. Now Thales passed as a lyric poet, and screened himself behind this art, but in reality he did the work of one of the mightiest lawgivers. For his odes were so many exhortations to obedience and harmony, and their measured rhythms were permeated with ordered tranquillity, so that those who listened to them were insensibly softened in their dispositions, insomuch that they renounced the mutual hatreds which were so rife at that time, and dwelt together in a common pursuit of what was high and noble.
This description of Thales tells us he was the perfect poet, a teacher who used the soft & easy words of the lyric, but resonant with meaning in order to teach the people of Crete just how to be, how to live a good life. I have only been here a few hours, but so far all the Cretans we have met have been decent & open; from the young couple on a moped who led us to the beach road in the dark last night, to our cool & friendly waiter here at Star Beach, the appropriately named ‘Adonis.’ ‘Don’t worry be happy’ is the mantra & if these easy vibes emanated from the ancient wisdom of Thales, then to be in his actual company would have been a tremendous sensation for Lycurgas, & it is no wonder, I suppose, that he was invited to join the royal Spartan party. Agreeing to terms, perhaps, Thales left his gorgeous rock at the edge of Europa & joined Lycurgas on a visit Asia Minor, where Plutarch tells us the Spartan king;
Made his first acquaintance with the poems of Homer, which were preserved among the posterity of Creophylus; and when he saw that the political and disciplinary lessons contained in them were worthy of no less serious attention than the incentives to pleasure and license which they supplied, he eagerly copied and compiled them in order to take them home with him. For these epics already had a certain faint reputation among the Greeks, and a few were in possession of certain portions of them, as the poems were carried here and there by chance; but Lycurgus was the very first to make them really known.
At this point in time we have a certain Spartan king in possession of the two foundation stones of what would become the Iliad, these being those fragments of the early Homeric materials, & a poet who could do something with them, to turn them into something cohesive & infinitely beautiful. Such a moment provided the perfect conditions for what can only be called a regurgitation of Homer, a moment remembered by Demeterius of Magnesia, who placed the author of the Iliad in the same ‘very ancient times’ of Lycurgus. With all the pieces in position, all that was need was a catalyst to spark off the creative furnace that would produce the Iliad, & it came in the form of the first Olympic Truce. We begin with Plutarch, who writes of Lycurgas; ‘Some say that he flourished at the same time with Iphitus, and in concert with him established the Olympic truce. Among these is Aristotle the philosopher, and he alleges as proof the discus at Olympia on which an inscription preserves the name of Lycurgus.’ The truce forged by Lycurgas, Iphitus of Elis & Cleosthenes of Pisa was designed to bring peace to the Peloponnese; all three sides were bogged down in endless rounds of bloodshed, and it was decided that they would try to soothe their differences by staging a peaceful games at Olympia. A tribute to the unity of the Greek nation was needed, & a tribute to the pan-Grecian unity as it fought the Trojan War was a perfect theme, & subject worthy of Thales’ pensmanship. The following passage by the 5th Century BC Athenian historian, Thucydides, backs up the sentiment;
The weakness of the olden times is further proved to me chiefly by this circumstance, that before the Trojan war, Hellas, as it appears, engaged in no enterprise in common.
The squabbling Greeks of the Olympic Truce would need to be reminded of a time when they stood shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity. If anything could convince them to settle their differences, the Homeric poems of Troy recreated by a noble-minded Thales would definitely do the job. That Thales handled the Iliad is unconsciously supported by Pausanius, who describes the Greece of Lycurgas’ time as being grievously worn by internal strife and plague, while the Iliad actually begins with a plague. Indeed, Pausanius tells us that Thales, ‘stayed the plague at Sparta,’ during which time, I conject, he was likely to have been composing the Iliad. The dates also fit, for where Herodotus tells us, ‘Hesiod and Homer I suppose were four hundred years before my time and not more,’ i.e. 850 BC, the Olympics of Lycurgas can be approximately dated to the same period. The Greeks counted their Olympiads from 776 BC, but the Olympic Games of Lycurgas were said to be much earlier. Sources vary as to when these actually took place; both Polybius (quoting Aristodemus of Elis) & Eratosthenes tell us that the 776BC victors were recorded 27 Olympiads from that of Iphitops & Lycurgas, whereas Callimachus differs by saying 13 Olympiads had passed. If we average that out & say 20 Olympiads, a timespan of 80 years, we gain a date of 856 BC for the Lycurgan Olympics.
Delving further into the ordinance of what I shall now call the Thalian Iliad, it’s form appears to have been based upon the ritualistic & quite theatrical mystery plays of Greece & Egypt, played out over several days like the Ring Cycle of Wagner. Plutarch even places Lycurgas in Egypt at one point, where he would have encountered an Egyptian Drama full of soliloquies by narrator-style priests, actor dialogue & dramaturgical expressions of stage-craft still used in our modern theatre. Egyptian drama of the Lycurgan period was sophisticated; consisting of a prologue, three acts subdivided into scenes & a concluding epilogue. Two have come down to us whole, the ‘Ramesseum Coronation’ & the ‘Myth of Horus at Edfu.’ In the latter, both mortals & immortals play out the action, a motif also present in the Iliad.
Over the centuries, academics have subconsciously suspected that the Iliad was in its origins a dramatic performance. The Roman writer Quintilian praises the second book of the Iliad in particular for the greatness of its speeches, while the 17th century English poet, Alexander Pope, stated, ‘for a farther preservation of this air of simplicity, a particular care should be taken to express with all plainness those moral sentences & proverbial speeches which are so numerous in this poet. They have something venerable, & as I may so oracular, in that unadorned gravity & shortness with which they are delivered.’ In recent years we have Jenny Strauss Clay’s description of the Iliad’s ‘extraordinarily high percentage of direct speech – much more than any other epic;’ Bernard Fenik’s, ‘direct discourse comprises 67 percent of the Iliad;’ & Laura M Slatkin’s, ‘extraordinary refinement & complexity of oral performance,’ from which erudite opinions we should acknowledge that the Iliad was in fact played out through a series of scenes in which actors & actresses were given lengthy speeches. Interspersed are the battle scenes, which may have been played out in the manner of the Egyptian dramas, reminiscent of gladiators in a Roman arena – beautifully choreographised physical theatre but without the actual bloodshed.
The creation of the Thalian Iliad would have called for a written script to be shared around the actors. It is interesting that before 850 BC, there is no record of the Greek alphabet anyway, but within a few decades of the Lycurgan Olympics, its first relics were preserved for posterity. The earliest recognizable Greek alphabet was based upon that of the Phoenicians, & we know that they were active in Crete circa 900 BC – when Thales would have been a boy – for they left objects at Knossos, Kommos & the Idaean cave. There is also the famous bowl found at Tekke, near Knossos, dated to the first portiona of the ninth century BC which contain a Phoenician inscription. One can only imagine for a moment how the young, studious Thales would have learnt Phoenician & its script, realising how wonderful an entity was the recorded word, & understanding how vital such a recording would be when promulgating the script of the Iliad among the actors. In doing so consolidated all the dialects of Greece into a single, slightly artifical literary lingua franca, & thus just as Dante codified the Itlalian language, & Shakespeare that of my own, so did the the Thalian create that of the ancient Greeks. Indeed, only a few decades on from Thales, at Lefkandi in Greece, the first scraps of Grecian letters were left to posterity, while at Gabii in Italy, remants of the same alphabet can be dated to 770BC.
The original theatrical purpose of the Iliad would be slowly eroded by time, when the mega-money spectacular of Lycurgas would gradually give way to performances by individual singers called Rhapsodes, such as the Homeridae, the ‘Children of Homer.’ Perhaps it was their memories which preserved the Thalian Iliad, which were later transcribed by the librarians of Alexandria, or perhaps one of the scripts survived enough centuries to be copied down on fresh papyrus, but either way all evidence points to a mid-ninth century BC origin for the Iliad, when one poet & one benefactor shine out through the darkness of their times – Lycurgas the Spartan King, & Thales, the Cretan poet. Meanwhile, in 2017, some chilli olives & soft Cretan red wine await me at the Petra Village.
Damian Beeson Bullen
SPECULATIVE BOOKS is Glasgow’s newest independent publishing house. The High Flight fanzine and The Speculative Bookshop, a literary fanzine and pop-up book shop respectively, have joined forces in order to bring about a shared vision: getting voices heard, particularly new talents who may get overlooked by larger and more traditional publishers.
Speaking to The Mumble about how the company got started, Speculative Books co-founder Dale McMullen explained: “The Speculative Bookshop started when my pal Jen had a drunken idea to run a second-hand bookstall, which sort of petered out. Instead, we decided to start our own book fair – inviting along guest speakers, poets and artists to the pub to share their work. We were actually surprised when people turned up – and enjoyed themselves too! Since then the events and team have grown, we legitimately have the most talented writers in Scotland along at our nights.”
“We met the guys from the High Flight quite early on and had a mutual love of making things. So we’ve teamed up to form Speculative Books – a brand new independent publisher here in Glasgow. So far we have released Sam Small’s debut collection “Pure Toilet” and are planning on releasing a novel in the near future.” When asked about what else the future had in store for Speculative Books, Dale added: “We’re going to keep making books. For as long as we can. We’ll keep a keen eye on keeping it fresh, interesting, exciting, and above all – a good read!”
The first for Speculative Books also marks another first, with Pure Toilet being the first time popular Glasgow poet Sam Small has had the bulk of his poetry collected in one volume. Pure Toilet is a warped collection of poems; in some places wickedly funny and in others poignant and reflective. Small has a talent for making us feel sympathy with strange and maligned figures, and his unshakeable voice in getting his opinions across in spoken word format transfers just as well onto the page. This collection is the perfect introduction to Sam Small’s work, and looks to be the first of many.
Telling us about the book in his own words, Sam said: “It’s everything,” he went on, “from stuff I wrote three years ago to poems I basically just finished yesterday. I never had anything to sell at gigs, so printing a collection seemed obvious. Having a book out is kind of like the next level. If enough people buy it, you’ll start getting on at gigs in other cities more, and then just take it from there. I want to help other people be able to do that, too. There’s a lot of shit hot writers in Glasgow without anything in print.”
Keep your eye on Speculative Books’ Facebook and Twitter pages for updates on what’s coming in the near future. It’s also worth noting for any budding writers out there that they should be opening their doors for submissions in the later half of 2018. You can buy Pure Toilet from the online store at: http://speculativebooks.bigcartel.com/
Reviewer : Mick Clocherty
Hello Juana, when did you first realise you were a poet?
When, both in reading and writing, I realised I cared more about the language than I did about the plot, and that I couldn’t stand endings. I don’t know if I have yet fully come to terms with the idea that I’m a poet, though. I always thought of myself as a writer, ie, someone who occupies themselves with the task of writing; who needs to write in order to figure themselves out. There’s nothing mystical about it, it’s just what I spend most of my time doing because I enjoy it so much. And by dint of this I’ve ended up with no other skills. I still don’t fully understand the distinction between writers and poets. Why is the genre in which we write so important? ‘Writer’ seems, in my mind at least, to be more connected to the act of writing. ‘Poet’ seems to have, at least in the minds of lots of people, all these sacred or pretentious (or cheesy!) connotations: someone who has some sort of God-given gift, who composes beautiful verses to help us through big official moments in life surrounding love, grief and patriotism… I say in my biog that I’m a poet mostly because I don’t want to annoy people by saying that I’m a writer who’s written nothing but a slim volume of poetry.
Who were your earliest influences?
Gabriel García Márquez and Robert Louis Stevenson.
THIS BODY OF A WOMAN I INHABIT
This body of a woman I inhabit, desde where I’ve lifted a hand to touch the hair on the head of Moses, [suddenly moved
to inside out tears from an entire childhood
of lips stiffened to sustain the world protect
the softness of our angles our wisdom of curtains, desde where I’ve half lowered
eyelashes to seduce three, four hombres desde where I’ve traced the sinuous “S” of desire
which Cratylus called “serpent” and Adam called “perception of flux,” desde where I’ve grown tired of nursing
like Teresa or Diana
like the fear they did not feel when touching lepers
with their immaculate hands, the lips
with which they kissed
their blessed sores, desde where I’ve washed out workshop grease
soaked fibers in a universal river of saliva desde where I’ve bled drops
miscarried fertilised wheat ivy desde where I’ve been a plot all bounty where goats graze
From Manca (Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro, 2014)
Who inspires you today?
Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong, César Vallejo, Yuri Herrera, Silvia Federici, Zygmunt Bauman, Jhumpa Lahiri, Susan Sontag. My friends, among whom I count writers, translators, activists, musicians, artists and extraordinaires of all kinds. And the authors I translate: they are my biggest teachers, and I like being in constant conversation with them, even if most of it goes on in my head.
What motivates you to write?
My need to understand.
As a translator, what are the most difficult aspects of transcreating poetry into another language?
Translating humour and translating dialect. But the good thing about translation is that the more difficult it is, the more fun you have with it too.
Can you tell us about your first book, Manca?
I wrote Manca in Scotland, while most of my attention was directed to the violence that had quite suddenly taken hold of Mexico, my home country, during the chaos of the war on drugs, which was declared in 2006. I was reading the news obsessively and was being exposed to a lot of violent images. There only way I could deal with all that was by writing. It was a small attempt to understand that reality and transform it, if only on the page. But there is no way really to understand the horrors that the country was – and still is – experiencing. Why is Mexico currently the worst country in the world for sexual abuse, physical violence and homicide committed against children under the age of 14? What does the drug war have to do with that? And yet it is thoroughly connected: human life has no value and the rule of law does not exist. Poetry is a good tool for dealing with what doesn’t make sense and therefore cannot be spoken of in logical terms, or cannot be put into a narrative with a neat and tidy ending. But it’s not all doom and despair. Some of the poems Manca have a humorous streak. Humour is sometimes what we need when nothing makes sense. I think jokes and poems sometimes pluck at the same strings within us.
Last Thursday I got up and decided to cut off my hand. I saw it all very clearly and when I see something very clearly I don’t dither even one second. The ultimate work of art or something like that, though I think I thought it would grow back, like hair. I started with the left ring finger. Cut just below the knuckle, flexing the finger to see better where to cut. Like cutting up a chicken. Blood didn’t spurt out. The knife was serrated and didn’t have much of an edge, but it didn’t really need one. Then the middle finger. Then the pinky. A bit of bone was left sticking out of the flesh. Half the job done I changed my mind: I remembered that fingers do not grow back, so I left on the thumb and index finger, in order to retain some of the hand’s functionality. A bandage to hide the wound. How long will it take to scar over? Interview with my father: now how are you going to work, to write? I almost always write in the notebook, or I can use voice recognition software. It occurs to me that if I learned to play the piano I’d be a lot better. With my feet. I could design some pedals…
Every day since then the knuckles left over drive me out of my wits. My bony hands. Meanwhile I work serving coffee in a café that has three storeys. I have to learn to organize myself properly according to my abilities, and remember things, and bring up the trays in the right order to avoid too much coming and going
From Manca (Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro, 2014)
What does Juana Adcock like to do when shes not being, well, poetic?
I listen to music, and sometimes play it too, though I have no talent. Dancing, conversations with friends, and walking are also hugely important to me.
In 2016 you were awarded a Scottish Artists Fellowship to complete a writing residency at Banff Centre, can you tell us about the experience?
One of the best experiences of my life. Artists are taken really good care of there, and I would encourage anyone with a writing or translation project to apply to the amazing literary programmes they hold there throughout the year. You have everything you need to create: time, space, a fantastic library, plenty of solitude and plenty of social activities, even an indoor climbing wall and gym facilities. I loved the dinner table conversations with other creatives who were doing all sorts of interesting things: I made friends with the musicians, the writers and the indigenous visual artists. Chatting to them when I was stuck always made things unstuck, and they kept organising all sorts of recitals and talks that inevitably fed into what I was doing. A perfect balance between silence and stimulation and exchange. It was the first time in my life I felt like an artist, because I saw that my processes were not that different than what people in other creative disciplines go through (plus we were given Artist IDs! And we could buy things with them, and get discounts!). It was also the first time in my life I felt Scottish, because I was there with a contingent of 3 other Scottish artists, with whom I felt a real sense of camaraderie. And they were reliably up for a wee drink! (Bizarrely, other people seem to view alcohol as unhealthy and decadent?) And above all I loved having all these amazing mountains right on my doorstep, where I could go for long walks after writing all day. I was disappointed I didn’t meet any bears, though.
What to you makes a good poem?
There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but in general I would say surprise can be highly affecting and effective. Being faced with the unexpected does good things to the brain. Truth and authenticity are important too. And of course the music of the words.
What is the poetical future of Juana Adcock?
Hopefully completing a second collection, and some musical collaborations
PENNIES, OR HOW I SINGLE-HANDEDLY GOT US OUT OF THE CRISIS
When I arrived to the so-called united
kingdom reigned by automatons and charlatans my money
soon ran out. I found in the pantry
of the humble hostal that housed me a big jarfull
of brown penny conserve, organic and handmade in a farm in the north of France.
From that vital jelly I started stealing, a bit at a time,
to buy a pint of milk, any bread.
I rummaged too
through bins for dispersed spaghetti strands,
for peppers almost rotting.
Often in my last moments of hope
I found in a puddle a heavy pound coin
then I invested it all at once
an offering from the god of money to the god of cacao.
I stole the apples fallen to the pavement
I stole plastic rings from pound shops
I rose at dawn to slave at the till,
the coins that fell as I cashed up
stapling through my temples with their high-pitched
smell of gunshots in lands of other men stolen by other men.
It’s not mine, it’s not mine, it’s not mine, it’s not mine, it’s not yours, it’s not theirs, it’s not ours.
How many times did I walk for hours for lacking
the last missing penny for my bus fare.
But one day I cracked it: I remembered the jar of conserve, always full, no matter how much I stole.
What we needed was to plant pennies on the pavement
to gift ourselves a feeling of abundance—a penny a day
keeps your bad luck away. The sole
speculation magical intention
that transforms self-referencing money
into self-referencing money. The god of money is circular:
may it not stagnate, may it—meagre as milk—never run out
just like cows when they pour themselves out
or that clear
whisky first currency of Scotland
usige beatha first water of life
pissed out of a cow
From Manca (Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro, 2014)
Hello Steve, so where ya from & where ya at, Geographically speaking?
I’m a Londoner. My Dad was a blacksmith in the East End and my Mum worked in an eel and pie shop. I’ve lived in Warwickshire for over 20 years now but I also have a place in Spain where I go to work – no Internet, no TV, no landline. A study and laptop. Mountains. Sea. Wine. Brilliant.
You are an internationally renowned writer, but when did you first realise you could do it?
I always wanted to be a writer. It was an imperative. I would have done it even if I’d had no success. Getting my first things published and broadcast made me realise I could entertain an audience, whether one reader or a bunch of people watching a play or film or TV. In the late 1980’s and early 1990s I suddenly hit a rich vein in terms of getting work.
When did you first find yourself getting into the dramatic arts?
I think when I started lying to get out of trouble. The power of imaginatively reawakening the world. Also as a kid when I realised that if I could entertain people by making them laugh or gain their interest and curiosity, then they would be less likely to beat me up. I think life is theatre anyway, it’s just when you try to do something for the stage you must heighten and distort and cut out the boring bits. I think most people do that in their heads anyway – we’re all the central character in our little dramas.
Theatre is not the only string to your bow, you are quite the polymath: what else interests you in the artistic spheres?
Everything connects really. For example, if you write reasonable poetry it makes you a better writer of dialogue. I worked as a performance poet and still write the odd poem. I’ve written a lot of film scripts and been lucky in that some of them have been made. I’ve had about 100 TV scripts broadcast. I play guitar and have written a couple of musical plays. And I love the solitude of writing books – had 20 published so far. Good writing can be an eclectic animal and go on diverse journeys.
What does Steve Attridge like to do away from writing & performing?
Passionate about playing tennis. I used to love football too but got my nose, my leg and my arm broken and realised it was time to stop as I was running out of bits of me to break. I like gardening, music, walking. Watching animals and birds.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Not boring the audience. Keep it moving. Keep it lively. Throw in a few surprises. Make it jump. So many plays are too long and pleased with themselves.
You will be bringing Dick in Space to Edinburgh this August, can you tell us about the play?
It’s a seriously bonkers piece of comic theatre about an intergalactic film noir detective hunting a murderer through space. Dick Spacey, the main character, has multiple selves and cannot always distinguish between himself and others and has bizarre and powerful relationships with inanimate objects and invisible presences. It’s psychologically a bit surreal and bizarrely physical in terms of language and action. Someone said the character is like Tom Waits on amphetamines. A lot of jokes and one liners but also connecting plot lines. It’s an unusual piece.
There seems to be quite a mish-mash of contents & styles – what holds it all together?
A strong central character, running jokes, a sense of a personality and world falling apart in surprising and entertaining ways. The play creates a little world of its own. There are lots of elements in the pot but it’s all one stew.
In one sentence can you describe the experience of performing in Edinburgh in August
O brave new world, that has such people in ‘t!
What will you be doing after the Fringe?
Sleep. And then I go to Spain to work on a new novel.
What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Steve Attridge
Just getting up and working. My new novel calls and I have a backlog of work to get out there. I may also learn to become invisible.
Steve Attridge will be performing his ‘Dick in Space’
@ the Cuckoos Nest (venue 106)
3rd-27th August (20.00)
The Workers Theatre Weekender kicks off at the Glad Café on Glasgow’s Southside this weekend. It’s the culmination of 18 months of work on the back of a hugely-successful Kickstarter campaign, a lot of elbow grease, and very little budget.
9th -11th of June – Glad Café – Tickets from £3!
This is the first ever weekend festival from the Workers Theatre, Scotland’s new arts co-operative, featuring the most exciting new theatre, spoken word, music and strangeness from Scotland and further afield. With children’s events and evening entertainment, social breakfasts and community workshops, games and plays, the weekender has something for everyone and welcomes all.
5pm: Fat Kid Running by Katherine McMahon, spoken word theatre about radical body love. Buy tickets!
7pm: Workers Theatre Cabaret, featuring Jenny Lindsay, Juana Adcock, Lewis Sherlock, Declan Welsh and more.
11am: Eaten by Mamoru Iriguchi. A family show about talking to our food. (Venue TBC)
1-4pm: Forum Theatre Workshop, Active Enquiry. A participatory session looking at transformative political theatre. (Venue: Govanhill Baths.)
5pm: The Fair-Ground, Forum Theatre Performance, Active Enquiry
7pm: MEGAPHONE: Two works in progress from the Kickstarter-funded artists-in-residence
9pm: Workers Theatre Cabaret, featuring Beth Frieden, Calum Rodger, Chrissy Barnacle and more.
11am: Brunch Social in a secret location near the Glad Café, all weekender ticket-holders, artists and Megaphone supporters welcome.
3pm: Panel discussion on the politics of Scottish theatre, details TBC.
5pm: Bambiland, directed by Peter Lorenz.
7pm: MEGAPHONE: Two works in progress from the Kickstarter-funded artists-in-residence
9pm: Farewell toast from the Workers Theatre team