Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Interview with Ian Seed

I thought as a change from me blathering about a book I've read recently, I'd talk to its author and get them to do the talking ... so the first in an irregular series. Me in the big leather chair (laptop open, at a slight angle before me) and in the spotlight: Ian Seed.

SARAH: Anonymous Intruder is split into three sections, which is how I'd like to approach this conversation. Section One, Rearrangements, seems to me to be a poetic equivalent of Edward Burra, a destabilising, slightly intimidating shift of perspective. Lifting off from the line The heart doesn't have any nerves of its own, which I see as the heart of the poem 'Check Out Girls', the nerves of many of these poems seem to come from all directions. How do you approach a narrative in a sequence of poems that, to me, unfolds on a looser, less sequential reading?

IAN: I would perhaps use the word ‘unsettling’ rather than ‘intimidating’. Certainly I don’t mean to intimidate in the sense of making a reader feel stupid. However, I do want to make readers feel unsure of where the poem is going to go next. I see the imagery and layouts of the poem as an invitation to join me on an unknown journey rather than a way of being exclusive. But certainly if you are looking for a straightforward story with a beginning, middle and end, or a poem with a meaning that can be translated into prose, then you are going to be disappointed. I think we need to go a little easier on ourselves with poetry. You can fall in love with a line or an image and spend the next twenty years trying to understand it. Which is fine - we should allow ourselves to live with this uncertainty and open-endedness.

SARAH: How much is the journey 'unknown' for you?

IAN: Certainly when I start writing, I don’t know where I’m going. In other words, I rarely start with any kind of subject matter in mind. It is only when I am drafting and shaping that I start to get an idea of where the poem or piece of writing wants to go. Or it may be that certain words and their sounds and associated images simply appeal to my sensibilities. Rather than being ‘about’ something, the poems or pieces become composed around a theme - and perhaps it would be more accurate to speak of interweaving strands than themes. However, even here I may not be able to understand what these strands are until sometime afterwards.

SARAH: In Voices, you write a precise tragedy of relationships. Now afraid to negotiate beyond the sound of our breathing in the dark sums up the theme of this section. How far do you think it possible for these relationships to be viewed positively?

IAN: I’m not sure I want to think in terms of ‘positivity’ or ‘negativity’, which I find a little restrictive. Having said that, I believe that the positive aspect of ‘Voices’ comes from its sense of movement. The whole section can be seen as a kind of dialogue both with a lover and with those parts of my own self which, in these poems, I am trying to come to terms with. The fact that there is a dialogue going on is positive in itself. There is too - if I may resort to an archetypal image - a sense of death and rebirth, e.g. ‘the old ritual dried at source, malleable for the first time in defeat […] Only a few miles from home.’ (From ‘I That Was Near Your Heart’).

SARAH: I like the idea of there being a dialogue in this section. Where do you imagine the reader/listener stands/sits in this dialogue?

IAN: I would imagine the reader or listener swapping chairs. Or better still, sitting alone in an empty waiting room and hearing voices from different places, and not being sure who is speaking and who is being spoken to. The listener would at first feel a little frightened and disorientated, but then begin to be interested in what the voices were saying and seduced by their tone and language.

SARAH: Some of the pieces in Shadows were published in the first Flax anthology as short fictions, which still feels almost honest (!) They certainly contain the most 'plot', yet also still hold the poetic beauty/pain that is so resonant of your work. a prayer whispered in your bones is a favourite line of mine. Who would you choose to direct these if they were turned into short films, and why?

IAN: That's not easy. I’m not sure these pieces would work as a film, unless they were used as starting points. I am pleased that some of the imagery has a cinematic quality, but readers then need to create their own story around it. Perhaps in atmosphere I would like to think there is a slight affiliation with the Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, with his studies of breakdowns and mendings in relationships. But of course there’s also a lot more going on in his films around the society of his time.

SARAH: How much would you say your work reflects what's happening in our society now?

IAN: A question which is enough to give most poets a bad conscience, I imagine! And perhaps rightly so. In any case, I think I had better avoid the issue of the meaning of a ‘committed literature’, which your question could lead to and which is simply too huge to deal with here. I can say, however, that my work is in some sense also a commentary on the sometimes transitory, fragmentary, and even exploitative nature of relationships (though I feel at risk of sounding a little pompous here). As American poet Leonard Gontarek puts it: “Ian Seed is not kidding. Anonymous Intruder he names it, this paean to human contact in the twenty-first century. In-your-face and tender.”

FX Thunderous applause. I turn to face camera and close: You can read more about Anonymous Intruder at Litter, Rupert Mallin's blogspot, Stride and Intercapillary Space.

1 comment:

Ian Seed said...

Thank you, Sarah. Great job. I'm still not sure about my answer to the third question - which indirectly raises the issue of the whole purpose of art and poetry. This question used to bother me a lot - and still does, as it has bothered many others - but now I try not to let it get in the way. The purpose - if there is one - is perhaps embodied in the work itself, which certainly should not have to be justified in terms of its effect or usefulness.