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I started writing poetry in my early teens – some fairly dreadful bedroom angst – inspired by Hopkins, Yeats, Blake, and Dylan Thomas, amongst others. There was a visionary fire in their words, flaring softly in my mind like lit magnesium. I loved that light, that bright white incandescent light. I’ve been writing by it ever since.
I’ve been writing for nearly thirty years now, mostly poetry, mostly in rhyme and metre (although latterly I’ve moved away from this to freer verse). I’ve always tried to write in simple, clear, modern English, within a tight but topic-appropriate framework of form.
I feel sometimes as though I’ve always written. As far back as I can remember, it was a secret, almost sacred, place to go. A space apart where I could, by dint of practice or accident, make my own words shine.
Poetry is not some sort of hobby or pastime to me, it’s not extra-curricular, it’s not stamp-collecting – it’s what I do and who I am, as much a vocation as the Church or Medicine. I know how precious, pretentious even, this sounds, but I mean it. Try to live by it. Put my words where my mouth is every morning I sit down to write.
Contact Simon by email: email@example.com
An Interview with Simon Harrison
by Dee Sunshine (August 2005)
Dee - Not so long ago, I watched a documentary, ‘Detox Or Die’ by David Scott, about his endeavours to overcome heroin addiction, by using Ibogaine, a synthesised extract of Iboga. Scott had been on the Methadone programme for several years, and was frustrated by his dependence on this drug, and, specifically, by how it made him feel only half human. So he took the unusual and risky step of taking Ibogaine: a little-known hallucinogenic drug with a reputation for being able to cure addiction. He knew beforehand that this was not going to be a pleasant ‘trip’ and, indeed, that he might even meet his death (as others had done before him); yet he was willing to risk all to overcome his addiction. As it turned out, his treatment was a success, and he has been totally clean for over two years now.
I was fascinated by the programme, and particularly by Scott’s background. He was a nice, creative, middle-class boy from the Scottish Highlands. His descent into addiction started off almost as an artistic statement. As a young, nihilistic, death-obsessed film-maker, he and his girlfriend got into heroin in a strangely life-affirming way. For a while their flame burned bright, but then they both got sucked into the drudgery of addiction. He was an addict for about twenty years.
Most people, when they think of junkies, they think of kids on the peripheral estates of run down cities, with no hope, no aspirations and no dreams. It’s a clichéd image perhaps, but generally true nowadays. However, it’s not always been so. Heroin used to be a lot more glamorous than it is now. It was the drug of choice for many artists, writers and musicians.
You’ve been writing poetry for thirty years now, and take yourself seriously as a poet. You say, ‘it’s what I do and who I am’. You’re also an addict, and have been struggling with your addiction for many years. What I’d like to know is, what was it that attracted you to using heroin in the first place? Was it the mythology of it being a drug for creative types? And if so, did you find heroin in any way helpful creatively? Or was it a self-destructive impulse? Can you tell me about your journey, from your first hit all the way to today, as you finally come off Methadone onto Subutex?
Simon - We watched the same documentary, Dee, and I was absolutely mesmerised. I couldn't help but empathise deeply with David, we had more than addiction in common - we both came from stable, caring, middle class homes. This is the fallacy, though, that addiction is inherently a criminal thing, a moral transgression, rather than a miserable difficult mental disorder. It cuts across class, race, culture, gender - all barriers - because it's a human thing and it happens inside humans.
I was, unhappily, fascinated by drugs, long before I took them. I thought that they embodied rebellion, transgression, danger - a certain crooked hipness - but in truth they simply embody habit (in its most stringent and rigid form). I thought that drugs would be some kind of permanent muse for my poetry, fuel to fire my inspiration. What a load of utter bollocks.
I would like to put to sleep forever the notion that drugs - of necessity - give inspiration. Inspiration is a human not a chemical thing. Consider Coleridge, the archetypal poet addict, who - we are told - wrote Kubla Khan because he was on Laudanum (opium in alcohol). No, he fucking didn't:-he wrote Kubla Khan because he was Coleridge - i.e. a gifted and practised poet susceptible to inspiration - on opium. This fundamental misunderstanding permeates art and artists to this day. It’s an invitation to addiction, leading not to a body of work but to a body of drugs. If your mind's set to it, you can draw inspiration from anything - from the Mona Lisa, to a touching movie, all the way down to a picture of, say, old couples playing online poker.
I won't give a blow by blow account of all the drugs I took - it's tedious, even to me (suffice to say it was opiates and amphetamines, respectively, that I became addicted to; this cycle deepening and repeating as I got older) but I became an addict for one reason and one reason only: because I am an addict.
I'm going to repeat that: I became an addict because I am an addict. Once you've grasped that, i.e. that addiction happens in the person not the drug, that it is present before, during (and after) the taking of the drugs, you’ve got a key understanding. (Shit, this sounds patronising! I don’t mean it that way. It’s just vital that drug information is simple, clear, and unequivocal).
I see no inherent connection (except in my own former conception of them) between drugs and poetry. I am a poet. I am an addict. Poetry is an art. Addiction is a recognisable (and treatable) mental disorder. Full stop.
Dee - Of course there is no inherent connection between drugs and poetry, otherwise the sink estates of Britain would be resonating with the rich verse of gangs of street corner poets. That ain’t quite what I meant. As you mentioned above, Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan because he was Coleridge. But the question still remains, would he have written it had he not used Laudanum? Equally, one might ask if William Burroughs would have made the sort of creative breakthroughs he made had he not been a junky.
And, getting away from addictive drugs, what about the likes of LSD? The roll-call of artists, writers and musicians who attribute creative breakthroughs to this drug is enormous. Just think, if those cuddly mop tops hadn’t meddled with their brain chemistry back in the mid-sixties The Beatles would just be another long-forgotten band like Gerry And The Pacemakers or Billy J Kramer And The Dakotas. Ecstasy has also proved to be a creative catalyst. One of my friends, Janet Hay, is a very good friend of Irvine Welsh, and she told me that he made a significant breakthrough with his writing on E.
I’d like to know what your take is on ‘non-addictive’ psychedelic drugs like LSD and empathogens like MDMA and MDEA? And what d’you make of the psychotropic drugs used by shamans and witchdoctors? Are all these substances entirely without worth?
Simon - Sorry, Dee, think I got on my hobby horse a bit there. You’re right, of course, inevitably the drugs have an influence on the art, I just didn’t want to give the idea that they were some kind of necessary prerequisite.
I think – and I’m sure you’ll agree – that writers are writers first and foremost, how they source their inspiration is particular and peculiar to each individual. There is, however, as we both know, a long and distinguished roll call of artists who used drugs/drink to ‘enable’ their art, but I would suggest again (awkward contrary bastard that I am) that creative breakthroughs occur in the context of a life-time of applied art. What the drugs do – or appear to do, initially – is to give a stable state of mind to write from. This is my experience, anyway.
When it comes to hallucinogenics I would agree that there is something different happening here, something really quite extraordinary. I had – with one notable exception – more heavenly than hellish trips. There is a visionary quality here, an intense and lucid beauty that spoke to the poet in me, but much of the time, to be honest, I was just cracking up with laughter, falling around the place and trying to shag whoever. . .
I got into clubbing when I was living in London so – inevitably – I got into speed and E. I did far too much, far too often (the addict in me), and nearly burnt my mind out. I thought my life was describing some kind of shiny glittering arc across Clubland (the reality, I’m sure, a lot more prosaic!) but, predictably, it landed, and smashed. I imagine, from your book, that you know this scene all too well.
I think that the respect that shamans have shown to these drugs (or, more commonly, the mushrooms, cacti, vines, seeds, toads even etc. that are laced with them) is due. They are powerful, and potentially dangerous – giving them a sacred status ensures that they are only taken in the right place at the right time with the right people. They’re not stupid, these ‘primitive’ tribes, are they? We would do well to learn from them.
I didn’t mean to imply that drugs or drug experiences are worthless (De Quincey writes the kind of elevated – exaggerated almost – but still flowing – prose that is clearly influenced by his use of Laudanum): they are what we, in our own minds, make of them.
Dee - Reading through your poem, ‘Reasons For Writing’, which you wrote in 1981 (when you were around 19 years old), I see a raw, rather remarkable talent, which could have heralded a rather glittering career as a big name poet. You’d probably agree that your problems with addiction hindered your progress. Obviously you have regrets about becoming an addict, but do you regret not having ‘made it’ as a poet? How important is success to you? Or, really, how important is success in the eyes of others to you? Most poets, writers and artists spin the line that they are not interested in acclaim, as if seeking acknowledgement were somehow the antithesis of true creative sensibility. Their answers always strike me as disingenuous. Continuing in the same vein, I’d like to ask you if you think you have what it takes to ‘make it’? Do you think you’re talented enough? Will there one day be a Faber & Faber (or equivalent) Collected Poems of Simon Harrison? And if not, why not?
Simon - I didn’t have a clue, Dee, not a clue. Totally witless. I just thought it would happen, that I would be discovered (another more rational part of myself knowing that poetry would never be a living)! I didn’t see myself as Laureate or Bard, I just thought that I had a voice and something to say. Because of my addiction I always felt beyond the pale, not really part of the literary community (or of any community!).
I had faith in myself as a poet, but very little confidence in putting poems out to editors( I didn’t send work off till I was in my mid-thirties). In fact you – in your Acid Angel incarnation – must have been amongst the first recipients of my work. You were very encouraging, and took the time to actually read and criticize my poems. I really appreciated that.
For several years I sent work off, being widely published in the small/poetry presses and wining one or two minor prizes – but I couldn’t afford to subscribe to all the mags. In the end, I just resented the time spent writing letters, replying to letters etc. – time which I could have better spent writing. So that’s what I do now: I just write, enter the odd competition maybe, and ponder over and over how I can make that Byronic jump to fame and fortune!
No, I’m kidding, mate. Fame looks to me like an utter nightmare – what would the tabloids have made of my life! Doesn’t bear thinking about. As to acclaim, it is important to me in the sense that it confirms, re-affirms my identity (and gives me a sense of achievement), but I would probably write anyway. I do love it, though, when people like my work, it’s a hit – a healthy hit, if you will!
I don’t think I have the talent (or the contacts!) for Faber & Faber. I see myself as a very minor poet, a mere thread – but a strange glittering thread – in the immense tapestry of poetry. I’m not being modest – life’s too short – I think I’m a bloody good poet. I work hard at it and deserve (but don’t anticipate!) recognition.
Dee - Sadly, it seems that there are only two ways to make it in the poetry world. Either you have lots of Oxbridge friends in positions of power in the literary world or you have to slog your guts out promoting yourself, doing readings and sending work out to mags etc etc. Only Lord Byron could make Byronic jumps, and it probably did help that he was a lord. That said, you’ve done not bad, scooping a couple of prizes and getting published in some of the more prestigious UK poetry magazines. Maybe it’s time you thought of putting a poetry collection together? Have you got enough work you’re happy with for a collection? And, how many poems have you written altogether?
Simon - It’s questionable (and troubling) this idea of ‘making it’, Dee, isn’t it? This notion of external hoops and bars as some kind of an inevitable progression rather than, perhaps, an imprisonment. I don’t know. We’re all swayed by a certain artistic vanity in that we put pen to paper but, having said that, ‘making it’ should simply mean making the art, doing the work (I have such good intentions!) regardless.
I keep thinking of poets like Francis Thompson (a fellow addict), who persisted in his writing, even throughout periods of homelessness and poverty (as did I), and achieved a certain fine visionary distinction in the end. I feel that you can still win the war – even after losing every battle – if you are able to make meaningful and touching art out of your own human difficulty (I strongly suspect that we as artists – consciously or sub-consciously – make our own bloody difficulties, anyway!).
The self-torturing poet is a dreadful cliché but – like most clichés – it’s based on recognisable truth (why do we do these things to ourselves? c.f. ‘Stealing Heaven’!). I don’t think, though, that the capacity for self-torture is confined to poets – this looks, again, like a human thing to me.
I must admit, Dee, that I’m really crap at promoting myself. I had a web-site once (a friend built it for me) but it was a right fucking wasteofspace.com – I didn’t know what to do with it, how to attract people to the poems I put on it (I did, however, attract the attention of a certain Frederick Forsyth – yes, he of The Day of the Jackal fame – who liked my work. I mailed him my mercenary credentials – my dad was in the army and I’ve seen The Dogs of War – but he wasn’t up for a coup. Watch your back, Motion.)
I’ve got about 150 poems on disk (and a few short stories – I’m not as practised or confident writing prose, but it begins to interest me more and more). I’ve probably actually written about 200 but I’ve ditched (or lost!) quite a number over the years.
I don’t feel that I’m ready yet for a collection (or for Melvyn Bragg’s offensive coiffure, come to that, should it succeed). I want first to get myself published in Acumen, or somewhere like that, or perhaps pick up some kind of national prize (small chance, I know, but you gotta try!).
Dee - Let me tell you one thing about getting published in Acumen, I grossed about 10 rejection slips before I got anything accepted by them. The same goes with all the heavyweight magazines I’ve been published in. And for every Acumen or Orbis, there are plenty of Outposts and Envois and Agendas who won’t give my work a second look. It’s all a case of trial and error, finding the publications that are going to dig your work, and even then, working out which of your poems these magazines will like. It takes a lot of time and costs a lot of stamps, but it is worth it in the end. Just yesterday, one of my small ambitions was realised; to get published in Chapman (Scotland’s top literary magazine). It took perseverance, but I persevered... and I’m glad I did! I say this only because I strongly believe in your work; and I believe it’s strong enough to be published in the more established heavyweight lit journals. Maybe you haven’t yet developed a sufficient ‘rejection tolerance’ immune system? That too takes time and perseverance... and here endeth the lesson.
I apologise for my little lecture, but I feel passionately about it. Some of the world’s best poets have never been published, I’m sure, because they haven’t got a thick enough skin to deal with the inevitable rejection that comes as part of the territory. Some of the most fragile souls produce some of the finest writing and art going, but they remain hidden away in dusty folders and yellowing sketchbooks. So, even at the risk of sounding patronising, I’d urge you to persevere with the ‘marketing’.
But back to the ‘interview’... I’d like to ask you, who were the poets who initially turned you on to poetry? And would you consider that any of them have influenced your writing and the direction it took? I’d also like to ask you one of those Desert Island Books questions. You’re going to be marooned on a desert island for the rest of your life and you can take five poetry books with you. Which ones do you choose? And why? And, while we’re at it, just for good measure, you can take a CD walkman, a lifetime supply of batteries and five CDs... so what would be your island sound track?
Simon - I much appreciate – and recognise the truth of – what you say re Acumen, Dee, and I would agree it’s about time and patience (and the intelligent placing of your work) but – to be honest – I’d still rather spend the time writing.
I know that this is the wrong attitude, and that I’m going to have to think again at some point (perhaps it is time for another onslaught of SAE’s, another crack at it. I don’t know. You’re certainly right about persevering.), but for the moment I’ll just keep on writing.
Back to the interview, I can remember quite clearly the poems that first turned me onto poetry (I was already into song lyrics – you remember how they used to come on the inner sleeve in the days of vinyl? Those ‘concept’ albums. Fuck, man, whose idea was that?!! I’m being a bit unfair, I know, i.e. I liked Quadrophenia – but Tommy?!! ). I must have been about fourteen, I suppose, leafing idly through a poetry text book in a spare Geography lesson, when certain poems connected.
The first was God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins. That line ‘It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;’, I could see it: I could see it in the myriad different reflections of light on water, of sun on glass, steel, tarmac, stone, ice, snow, ceaseless never-resting ever-changing light, one thing, one vast eternal flame. Astonishing. His words, strange, visionary, effete even (as I then thought) at times, spoke to a sense of the sacred in me: not exactly God – not then – but more that essential beauty in things (and people) that Hopkins recognised and translated into language.
The second was – appropriately! – The Second Coming by W.B.Yeats. This poem still disturbs me (I like poems that ‘disturb’ me, that provoke me into work. There is a theory that everything we – as writers – write is a ‘correction’ of what we – as readers – read. It ain’t that simple, of course, but I think there’s some truth there.), its sense of lucid disconnection, things falling apart with a dreadful inevitability. I love the sheer stature, the awesome – visionary – scope of this poem.
The third was The force that through the green fuse drives the flower by Dylan Thomas. I found his use of language intoxicating, inspiring, freeing. I don’t, perhaps, rate Thomas now as highly as I did, but I still like Under Milkwood. I listen to the radio a lot (I’ve got a digital now – love it!) and I make a point of listening to the afternoon plays on R4. It’s a field that really interests me – radio drama – I would love to write that kind of thing, but I don’t have any experience (as yet) of play-writing.
My favourite poem – my favourite short poem, anyway – is the weird and truly wonderful Voyelles by Arthur Rimbaud. My French isn’t brilliant but even I can read and understand the extraordinairy synaesthesia that takes place here: sounds taking on a colour, becoming an image, a smell; senses systematically deranged into one universal sense, i.e. vision (like acid – but intuitive rather than chemical). Again it’s that visionary quality that haunts me, echoes strangely, beautifully, in my own head.
If I were stuck on a desert island, Dee, the first thing I would do would be to impose strict border controls on Tory politicians, journalists, and their ‘fellow travellers’. I would prohibit their employment, refuse them benefits, then stigmatise them as ‘bogus’ beggars. I would also insist on wholly unnecessary but painfully intrusive – anally intrusive! –searches on those politicians who’ve made a career out of being ‘hard’ on drugs. It’s the only language these people understand.
The five poetry books I would take would all be quite challenging – books that would repay study with an expansion of knowledge, comprehension, vision (something to keep my mind and soul fed!).
First and foremost, I would choose the Bible, the King James version. I’ve never read this from cover to cover (though I am reading the Gospels now, slowly, carefully, for five or ten minutes each morning). It has a certain austere beauty, a poetry even, that is all its own. It’s also fundamental to an understanding of some of the other books I would take.
Second would have to be Dante’s Divine Comedy. I’ve read this before but have never yet finished Paradise (I worry that this might be symbolic!). This is a real journey of a book and I would take the time – on my desert island, I mean – to draw out a large pictorial representation of heaven, purgatory, and hell, placing Dante and his characters in their respective places, tracing his steps as I read, against the time frame given.
Third would be Milton’s Paradise Lost. This is such a great story and, again, it’s got that visionary quality that I like, that estrangement of language. I find it difficult sometimes, Milton’s latinate English, but – like Dante – he does read well when you’re stoned (you can see Satan’s flaming fall!).
Fourth would be Arthur Waley’s 170 Chinese poems (translations). This is a classic of its kind and a real eye-opener. Chinese poetry is so different, so other, but also compelling and beautiful (like the art – my study, where I’m now writing, is decorated with Chinese art, silk-picked scenes of mountains, temples, bridges, which my parents brought back from the East – I love good oriental art).
Last – but not least – would be a Robert Lowell collection. I don’t know his work very well (why I chose it!) but the bits I’ve come across have a beautiful precision, a wonderful way of articulating the difficult – even atrocity (see My Lai) – in an effortless everyday vernacular. I feel that I could really learn something from Lowell, I want to write about the difficult and I want to write about it in easily comprehensible way.
I’ve been over and over this list – including and excluding – and I don’t feel it’s definitive even now (I’ve left Shakespeare out, for one, much as I love his work), but life is just too short and I think I’ve picked a fair representation of what I would take.
As to choosing five CDs, I’ve found it really difficult to narrow it down but my sound track would be something like this(and I’m going to cheat a bit, i.e by compilation):
(1) A Lou Reed compilation, including not only the obvious Velvets’ songs but also the better solo stuff from Coney Island Baby (the title track with Reed at his narrative best, burnt out, bitter, but still vulnerable to – still wanting to be vulnerable to – love, is one of my all-time favourites), Berlin, Rock’n’Roll Heart, Transformer etc. etc.
(2) Hallowed Ground by The Violent Femmes. The vocals on Southern Death Song – that edge of religious psychosis – are chilling, genuinely spine-tingling. This slightly odd hillbilly punk band (that doesn’t do them justice) really blew me away when I first heard them. I would love to listen to this again.
(3) Good Morning Spider by Sparklehorse. Brilliant mix of tape manipulation, rock, country, jazz , layer on layer, beautifully spliced into one distinctive sound – Painbirds is so mellow but shot through with a stabbing pain. Great music.
(4) dubnobasswithmyheadman by Underworld. Dance my ass off to this! ‘Nuff said.
(5) A reggae compilation (I would stretch this to include ‘white’ reggae also, i.e. Police and Thieves etc. by The Clash), mostly Marley and the Wailers, but also Tosh, Desmond Dekker, Steel Pulse, Aswad etc.etc. right through to the hip hop of the Fugees and Lauryn Hill.
My favourite single has got to be Another Girl, Another Planet by The Only Ones. Hits the spot every time.
I’ve left so much out, not least the jazz of Billie Holiday and Miles Davis, the gravelly poetry of Tom Waits, the beautiful dirges of Leonard Cohen, the pure pop of Prefab Sprout, the first chords of Anarchy in the UK . . . I could go on (and on ), but won’t.
Dee - Let’s indulge in a bit of mindful trivia now. A wee game I’ve devised called ‘Who would you push off a cliff?’ Let me know which of the two deserve a watery grave, and why? Of course, you can elect not to push either off, or you can push both off, if it comes to it. So, Tony Blair or Michael Howard?
Simon - I would like to see both Blair and Howard, caught in intertwining lies, trip on their own slippery rhetoric and tumble blindly over the edge (their words becoming suddenly – for once – simple, urgent, true!).
Dee - Christ or Buddha?
Simon - I think an encounter between Christ and the Buddha would be a marvellous thing to behold (hence I wouldn’t push either off), truly a meeting of immense minds and simple loving lives. My grasp of Buddhism isn’t good but I think I’m right in saying that there is no deity, no supernatural being for Buddhists – I would like to see these two try and reconcile that!
Dee - Stalin or Hitler?
Simon - Hitler is often seen – with good cause – as the very embodiment of evil, while Stalin (our war-time ally: good old ‘Uncle Joe’), who pursued the same totalitarian ends with an equal vigour – killing, torturing, incarcerating – ultimately destroyed more lives. Over the edge for both these twisted bastards, right into a sea of all the blood they spilt.
Dee - Sindy or Barbie?
Simon - Over the edge with both these moulded plastic body shapes (do they come with implants now?) – what kind of a body image is that to give young girls?!!
Dee - Oprah or Jerry Springer?
Simon - Oprah gave a fine performance in the film, The Colour Purple, and I used to quite fancy her aeons ago, so it’s Mr Springer over the edge (with all the people he’s humiliated in the past applauding on cue, of course).
Dee - Sylvia Plath or Ted Hughes?
Simon - I would have to save both Hughes and Plath. I think Hughes was very unfairly demonised over her death (her mental illness was manifest before they even met); it must have been hard enough coping with her suicide without being blamed for it. Plath was such a painfully sensitive poet: I think that she strove to make art despite her condition, not because of it ( I hate the romanticization of mental illness). I couldn’t push her off – maybe her Dad though, he sounds like a right Nazi.
Dee - Johnny Rotten or Sid Vicious?
Simon - Vicious was falling over the edge all his adult life (and longer, I suspect). I ought to be sympathetic, I know, but he seemed a complete fucking idiot to me – not acerbic, creative, or iconoclastic, not dangerous like Rotten, but just moronic, adopting the sneer, fumbling the bass. I can’t bear to watch his version of My Way – it’s just smack Karaoke. He’s over the edge without my stir. Rotten’s another matter altogether. I saw, by chance, some weeks back, an early performance he and the other Pistols (including Matlock on bass) gave on one of the old regional programmes. I thought I’d seen all the Pistols’ footage but this was new to me, and it was shocking, truly wonderfully mind-fuckingly shocking (and I don’t mean by that their behaviour – no one was spitting or swearing – on the contrary the band were very tight, focused, absolute in their attack). They did Anarchy and it was glorious – it’s easy to forget now just how threatening Rotten’s demented amphetamine malevolence was – three minutes of utter unadulterated contempt, feedback echoing into a stunned studio silence. I couldn’t possibly push the spiky old sod off.
Dee - Picasso or Van Gogh?
Simon - My knowledge of art is not broad or deep, but I feed on it sometimes, really feed (I know that feed is an odd word to use but art really sustains me when I’m struggling), allowing it to nourish me; mind, body, and soul. I love Van Gogh’s work (how could anyone not?) but I don’t understand Picasso very well (not from Cubism onward, anyway) – I can see the fineness of his line but sometimes I can’t see what he’s trying to do, or why. This is probably ignorance in me so I’ll keep him from the edge and have him explain to both of us (have to save Vincent!) what’s going on in his paintings.
Dee - Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp?
Simon - Don’t give a monkey’s.
Dee - Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie
Simon - Ditto.
Dee - The Queen or Prince Philip
Simon - Despite reservations about the very notion of Royalty, I just couldn’t push the dear old Queen off (‘. . . and what do you do?’ ‘ Me, your Majesty? I push Royalty off cliffs . . . ) nor the crusty old git she married. I don’t feel that they are the enemy, though. It seems to me that what they have is not really a privilege at all – protocol and etiquette determine every detail of their public lives like a rigid straitjacket. I couldn’t stand it – not at any price.
Dee - Simon Armitage or Carol Ann Duffy?
Simon - I’m ashamed (but not very) to say I haven’t really read either Armitage or Duffy – though as a Radio 4 listener I haven’t been able to avoid them entirely – so I’m not, perhaps, the best judge. What I’ve heard of them is okay, but just okay, and that’s not enough (i.e. over the edge for both): I want poems to connect, or, even better, to make new connections. I want poetry that really ‘happens’ in our lives when we read or hear it; that makes a difference to our heads that day (and after); that returns to us – in our apprehension of it – the beauty that is rightly ours.
Dee - Thanks for indulging me in a bit of trivia. It’s good to occasionally lower the tone of an interview... lest we sail off into the orbit of pomposity. Time to round off now with a final question, but before I do, I’d like to thank you for this interview, it’s been fascinating, enjoyable and at times enlightening. So, Simon, where do you imagine you will ‘be’ ten years down the line and how much does that differs from where you would like to be?
Simon - How do I see myself in a decade? Well, Dee, that’s an easy one for me. I don’t. What I mean by that is that I strive to live within the frame of each day, doing the things I need to do to remain well and happy (writing, of course, being primary: I’m only fully functioning when I’m able to write – I get depressed and frustrated when I can’t).
I’ve never really wanted to see my own future, though I would be absolutely fascinated to see mankind’s (I fear that it’s grim but I’m going to be stubbornly optimistic – where there is hatred and despair there is also faith, love, hope, courage, kindness, strength, because these too are all human things.).
I do have great hopes and ambitions with regard to my work but I’m learning a certain patience now, and I feel that as long as I’m working on something each morning, I’m happy.
Read 9 of Simon Harrison's poems here.
Contact Simon by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
© Dee Sunshine & Simon Harrison, 2005.
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