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RUPERT M LOYDELL
Poet, Artist and Managing Director of Stride Publications
Photo by Geoff Sutton
Rupert Loydell is the Managing Editor of Stride Publications, Editor of Stride Magazine, Reviews Editor of Orbis, Associate Editor of Avocado magazine and a regular contributor of articles and reviews to Tangents magazine. During 2003-2004 he was a Royal Literary Fund Project Fellow, working in Exeter schools, following a RLF Fellowship at Bath University. In 2004-2005 he is a RLF Fellow at Warwick University and Poet in Residence at Sherborne School. He lives in Exeter, Devon with his wife and two daughters. He has worked in hundreds of schools and colleges, and run workshops for the Arvon Foundation.
Recent publications include A Conference of Voices, The Museum of Light and Endlessly Divisible, and four collaborative works: Snowshoes Across the Clouds, with Bob Garlitz; A Hawk Into Everywhere, with Roselle Angwin; The Temperature of Recall, with Sheila E. Murphy; and Eight Excursions, with David Kennedy.
An Interview with Rupert M Loydell
by Dee Sunshine (January 2005)
Dee - I first encountered the name Rupert Loydell in the early eighties, as editor of what was then a scruffy photocopied magazine, Stride. I think it was the third issue. I would never have foreseen that from such humble beginnings Stride would become a giant fish in the small press pond, and that it would spawn one of the biggest small press publishing empires going. It's quite some achievement. What's more remarkable is that you are an artist, have published numerous volumes of poetry, and you're a father too!!! So what do you do in your spare time? But seriously, how do you manage? Are you not exhausted? If not, what's your secret? Ginseng? Guarana? Cocaine? Do you foresee a time when you have to ease of the gas? And if so, what will your priorities be?
Rupert - Please, it was duplicated, not photocopied - it wasn’t that good! I'm a bit of a sticker at things, so I have let Stride snowball. Some people think we're a big fish, others have never heard of us - you know how it is with poetry. What's spare time? I sleep. How do I manage? Well, I get on with it. I have a studio I go and visit several times a week and work; I believe writers write - not think about writing. I'm a great believer in processes and projects, and not in "inspiration" or "the muse". I have "eased off the gas". I stopped making music 10 or more years ago, and although I probably paint as much as I did, I’m slack at getting exhibitions and sales... I also don't manage to read as much as I want to; and Stride publishes a lot less these days (6-10 titles a year) than it did at one time (I think we did 22 titles one year!). But as long as there's paper and pen, or my laptop, around i can write... revision can be done later. I tend to work in bursts then slob around for a while. Beer and real coffee are my fuels of choice (not together), but seriously I just think I'm pigheaded and a perseverer. I'm also quite good at "networking", to use a horrid phrase, and have lots of painting and poet friends around the world thanks to the internet.
Dee- If I remember rightly, some time in the late eighties/ early nineties Stride Magazine expanded to become more of an arts magazine than a poetry magazine. The emphasis seemed to be on music, and generally on more obscure and avant-garde music. It’s a bit too far in the past for me to remember the specific artists featured (perhaps you could remind me), but some of them I hadn’t heard discussed since I was 18, when I was working in Recommended Records in Stockwell, London, where Aksak Maboul, The Residents, Faust, Henry Cow and This Heat were all the rage. I’m curious to know something of the range of your musical tastes. Perhaps you could indulge me with a ‘Desert Island’ style top ten? I’d also like to know what sort of music you were making before you gave it up... and why you gave it up and not the writing or the publishing.
Rupert - I grew up in the mid 70s on progrock, then through the arty end of new wave (PIL, Raincoats, Magazine, early Simple Minds, XTC). I also got taken to a lot of improvised jazz gigs by a friend I worked with before college. I think this taught me how to listen - it also introduced me to all those Recommended bands you mention, along with Sun Ra and Antony Braxton. I'm a bit of a music junkie, I'm afraid, always have been. As for the range of music I’m into, I guess it stretches from progrock to improvised jazz via singer songwriter, rock, folk and country music, with some contemporary classical and electronica thrown in along the way. I'm not very good at reggae, disco or rap stuff.
I did four A4 paperback issues of Stride (click here for here for more info) as an arts magazine. I just got fed up with small press poems, truth be told, and although I'd always sneaked some music into Stride , and run a Stride cassette label early on, it seemed a good opportunity to embrace that. Chris Mitchell in Glasgow edited one, and I managed three more before it seemed ripe to 1. stop and 2. use the web. The internet seems the way forward to me for reaching readers, though I still rather like books and records as objects.
Regarding my music making, I gave up as it had really worked best whilst my friend Russell Kirk had been around to work with (in our "band" Face in the Crowd); and I wasn't very good. Face in the Crowd had worked as a non-musician (me) working against a very good one (Russell). Away from that it didn't. It also seemed the least important part of my creative output and something had to go so I could salvage some time. I have, actually, made a little music in the last decade with Strange Bedfellows.
As for a Desert Island discs, I think I'm going to chicken out of being specific and just give you a top ten bands: Sun Ra, Bruce Cockburn, Antony Braxton, Van der Graaf Generator, Yes, Television, Eno, Jon Hassel, Miles Davis, Can, and a lot of others. Nothing very outrageous there.
Of course, the moment I left the computer, I thought of more music names I must mention: Main, King Crimson, Robert Fripp solo, Peter Hammill solo work, Joni Mitchell, Nurse With Wound.
Dee - Given the sort of music you like, I think I now have some understanding as to why you are an abstract artist rather than a figurative one. Way back in the eighties, you sent me some photographs of your work, round about the time I published your poem, ‘In Confusion’ (in Dada Dance #3, 1989). Frankly, I was very surprised. Given the lyrical and often spiritual nature of the poems you were writing then I would have expected something more along the lines of Gaugin, Chagall or Spencer. Many abstract and abstract expressionists painters stared off painting figuratively and the abstraction of their work developed as they became more interested in colour, pattern and texture than subject matter. Was this your experience? Or did you immerse yourself right from the start? Who are your favourite artists? And which artists would you say were your biggest influences?
Rupert - Although I did an Art Foundation Course, I only started painting and making art seriously when I was at college - and I really went there to do writing. The art kind of caught up with me! I've never painted figuratively, it just doesn't interest me. I think that's what cameras are for. I like work by Spencer and Chagall (though I prefer Fra Angelico and Cecil Collins for explicitly spiritual work), but currently my favourite artists are Ian McKeever, Agnes Martin, Andrew Bick, Brice Marden and Ben Nicholson. Big influences previously, and whose work I still like, are Peter Lanyon, John Hoyland, Dubuffet, Joan Mitchell, Ivon Hitchens, Patrick Heron and Anthony Frost.
I remember the sense of freedom when I was shown work by Dubuffet and the American Abstract Expressionists by a tutor at college. That I didn't have to learn to draw traditionally. I did three days a week of life drawing at Art Foundation Course - it put me off that forever. Since then, of course, I've discovered I can draw, well enough to suit my purposes anyway. I also used to think that I painted abstractions because they dealt with things I couldn't write about. Since changing the way I write, to become more experimental, I don't find that the case at all - I think we can write about anything and everything if we choose to, and have discovered words are as fluid and flexible as paint! For the last decade I've pretty much painted small quiet abstracts, which need people to look and consider them for a while. They only "reveal" their layers and colours after some time, they aren't big splashy paintings which grab the attention. In fact I more and more regard the big abstracts I used to like as rather "macho" and sometimes only impressive due to their size and presence. Colour, of course, can be as lyrical as any language!
Dee - About your writing, now that you are working more experimentally do you worry at all about your writing’s accessibility and (dare I say) marketability? I know from personal experience, that my more accessible poetry can be (relatively) easily placed in magazines, but finding a home for my more ‘difficult’ work is, well.... difficult. Perhaps this isn’t the case for you? Recently you mentioned that you managed to place a poem with The Poetry Review (which is the most prestigious poetry magazine in the UK, and notoriously difficult to get published in). How did that make you feel? Did you get a warm fuzzy glow out of it, or did you (pardon the pun) take it in your stride?
Rupert - Yeah, I got a warm fuzzy glow. It's only taken me 22 years since I first submitted to get in The Poetry Review! (Now for the TLS...) Since I don't write to be "marketable" I don't really worry about it. Although I write in a more experimental vein than I used to, I still tend to use everyday language - the words themselves, the vocabulary - and certainly at readings I have had no problem with people "understanding" what's going on. I think if you dumb down to an audience you're in trouble. That's why people are disinterested in poetry; they're fed up with whining self-pity confessional and shaggy-dog narrative poems. The poetry that continues to intrigue readers decades on is the more difficult stuff (Eliot, Pound, Olson, Berryman). Language excites me - you can do so much with it. I want to pass that excitement on. And, come on, there isn't a market for poetry anyway, apart from a few people who have really managed to make a career out of it. But most poets sell less than a 1000 of each book, probably half of that most of the time. One of the interesting things about the web is the huge potential readership - which of course is different from potential sales. Poets must decide if they want to be read or financially successful. Personally I'll go for the readers. Finding a home for work is a matter of perseverance, networking and having a tough skin. I don't actually find it difficult these days to find a home for what I write. If you read widely, and scour the web, there are so many opportunities and possibilities for publication. (And of course, that's the root of the problem - most poets simply write and don't read poetry.)
Dee- I admire your stamina, re: The Poetry Review. I tried once; many years ago, and then figured I’d save my stamps for ‘lesser’ journals. Your success has inspired me, and I might even have another pop at them. Good luck with the TLS! I’m going to wait till I’m 50 before I send them anything. You mentioned that most poets sell less than 1,000 copies of each book. This is a stark fact that might deter many novice poets. When you first started writing did you have unrealistic expectations, or were you clued up to the fact that there are significantly more poets than poetry readers? And, retrospectively, do you think you had unrealistic hopes for Stride Publications?
Rupert – Don't get me wrong, only recently, after a gap of several years, did I try submitting to The Poetry Review again.
Unrealistic expectations? O yes, like every novice poet I thought I would be famous within weeks of writing my first poem. But actually, discovering the alternative - the small press world - was quite a revelation and encouragement. I've chased distribution, reviews & reviewers, and repping agencies with Stride , sometimes as the result of getting grants with conditions attached. All have worked for periods of time, all in the end come and go. The book trade is a nightmare at the moment - more conservative than it has ever been. But with the net we have a new system for distributing and reading work. Much as I still love books, I know that future generations may not want their houses cluttered with bits of paper bound together. What remains, of course, is the writing, and the idea of distributing it for reading. If you focus on that it doesn't matter quite so much about the market, or the bookshop trade, or what is and isn't reviewed.
Dee - At school I didn’t have much interest in English Literature, and certainly not in poetry. In fact, I didn’t actually voluntarily read a book until I was fifteen, and that was solely to impress a bookworm-ish girlfriend. But, through this girlfriend, and because of the enthusiasm of a particularly gifted English teacher I became hooked big time. Even 27 years on, I remember the first time I ‘got’ poetry. It was thanks to my English teacher’s enthusiasm about ‘In The Snack Bar’ by Edwin Morgan. From there I discovered the likes of Liz Lochhead, Stevie Smith, Sylvia Plath, Roger McGough, and shortly after, I had my head ripped open by T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ and James Joyce’s ‘Finniegan’s Wake’ (don’t care what you say, that guy was a poet!). Retrospectively, I’d have to say my formative influences were also my biggest influences. Would you say that was the case for you? Who were the first poets who turned you on? I’d also like to know who turns you on now? Also, on the theme of lists (if you don’t mind nailing your colours to the mast ), please bear with me here... just supposing Penguin publications offered to take on three collections from the entire Stride back catalogue and promote them like blue buggery, which three would you choose? And why?
Rupert - My Dad, who didn't read a lot of poetry, liked T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ . I liked its incantory tones, too - though I didn't understand it. I did it for A Level and don't think that really helped "understand" it either! Otherwise, Brian Patten and Adrian Mitchell showed me poetry could be accessible and contemporary. I bought an anthology in a remainder shop called Contemporary, which was good, and then later, that Worlds anthology with Hughes and people in. I loved Crow, and saw Hughes read it in a church in Hammersmith. I got into Robert Creeley, Gavin Selerie's Azimuth, and some others - I wrote an essay about these early influences recently for The North. Ken Smith and Edwin Morgan were fairly early on for me, too. And RS Thomas. As for today? Allen Fisher, David Miller, Sheila Murphy, Alan Halsey, Tony Lopez, Rachel Blau Du Plessis, Robert Lax, Ted Berrigan, John Berryman, Barret Watten, Peter Redgrove, Charels Olson, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, John Taggart. Lots of prose poems, too. Charles Wright, Charles Simic and Mark Strand.
Not sure whether you're asking for three particular authors or specific titles here! And whether they should be my favourites or ones that I think Penguin could sell (because I don't think Penguin automatically can sell anything, however much they spend). Anyway, I'll go with Charles Wright's Zone Journals, Sheila Murphy's first book for us, With House Silence, and Alan Halsey,'s selected, Wittgenstein's Devil; and Brian Louis Pearce's novel The Goldhawk Variations, too, if I can cheat? But what an evil question! I would probably ask that Penguin allow us three selections from the authors. And it's difficult to decide if books that are available in the USA mean that the UK editions might not work. And I didn't choose Peter Redgrove because he has lots of mainstream titles out anyway. And if I was going to choose to push any book of Alan Halsey's I'd probably pick his Robin Hood book (which we didn't publish) and try and make that a cult title! But there's very few titles that we've published that I wouldn't still stand behind. (And no, I'm not going to tell you what they are if you ask me!).
Dee - Don’t worry, I won’t ask you that. I might ask the odd evil question, but I would never be that evil! However, I am base enough to ask you to stick your neck out and list the poets that you consider to be overrated. I’d also like to ask you if there are any poets you consider to be significantly underrated, but who you think (or hope) will be re-evaluated in the fullness of time. Also, regardless of current status, who do you think will be considered, fifty years hence, the Audens and Eliots of the late 20th Century.
Rupert - I think Carol Ann Duffy, John Burnside and Michael Symmons Roberts are about the only people I would salvage from the big publisher's lists at the moment. Roger McGough I think deserves his reputation - he's a good performer and writer. But, looking at Faber, Bloodaxe, Picador and Cape, the rest are pretty over-rated. I'm not picking a fight, maybe other people enjoy what's put out, but I am sick and tired of boring narrative poems with a little "epiphany" or "message" at the end. Poets who wan't to "share" an experience or event with me; their ridiculous "slim volumes". Well, personally, I'd like to read more work that concentrates on exploring language, not narrative.
Underrated? Allen Fisher, John James, Drew Milne, Peter Dent, John Wilkinson... oh, most of the Salt, Stride and Shearsman lists for starters. Some of Carcanet. I want less people declared "genius" and more engagement by readers and writers with all sorts of poetry. Claims that someone is "the future of poetry" or that "poetry is the new rock & roll" are clearly fraudulent and ridiculous.
Audens and Eliots? Tricky. I don't know if you mean will they be popular or academically renowned and considered!? John Burnside's work is going to last, and I think Carol Ann Duffy's will continue to be read, too. Maybe Ken Smith's? Ted Hughes is going to keep his reputation - hopefully with the mid-period stuff like Crow and not the later royalist nonsense. I would have thought John Ashbery and the New York crowd are going to last in some form or the other. In America, Jorie Graham - who I rate very highly, along with Charles Wright, Charles Simic and Mark Strand. WS Graham seems to have been quite rightly reinstated. I think academics will look at the work of JH Prynne, Allen Fisher and Tom Raworth and their influence on experimental writing. Some of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E school, too. I'd like to think Robert Sheppard's 20th Century Blues will be recognised as a major achievement. Geoffrey Hill, Christopher Middleton, Basil Bunting and Peter Redgrove will retain their reputations, too. And thankfully a lot of stuff currently in vogue will simply disappear from view.
I imagine one thing will happen is that world literature is going to be more and more considered and written into our canon. East European poetry seems to be on the agenda at the moment... there's always been some good French poetry around, and they have a different engagement with literature than we do.
My real answer is that we don't need or want more 'Audens and Eliots'. We want a wider, better read poetry available to readers; a poetry engaged with by readers and writers. We can bandy names around till the cows come home, a lot of that is taste. I think we've seen a real shake-up of the poetry canon recently anyway, with big selecteds and collecteds by many neglected authors put out by the likes of Shearsman and Salt. This is hopefully the shape of things to come - major groups of work available in print-on-demand editions.
Dee- Given that you are an artist, writer, editor and publisher, most lay people would imagine that you would be earning a handsome living, but presumably that’s not the case, as you’re currently also holding down a ‘day job’ as a Poet-In-Residence. If I remember rightly, were you not also once a Literature Development Officer? Have you always managed to find ‘day jobs’ that are in related fields, or have you ever done stints in biscuit factories and the like? Considering that there are more poets than poetry readers out there, I sometimes wonder if these arts council funded jobs don’t actually exacerbate the problem, encouraging more people to write poetry, but failing to engage them sufficiently to make them want to read the stuff? My reasoning is simply this, Britain is crawling with Poets-In-Residence and Literature Development Officers, there’s probably more of them than there ever was; and yet poetry book sales are ever declining. Go to a poetry slam, and the audience is mostly made up of people who are going to read their poetry. Organise a poetry reading and you’re lucky if you get more than fifty people in the door. As someone so highly involved in the poetry world this must concern you? Can you see any way forward? I understand you poo-pooing the notion of poetry as ‘the new rock n roll’, but back in the days of Byron and Shelley it was the old rock n roll. Up here in Scotland, just about everyone and their granny could quote you a few lines of Rabbie Burns, but few could name you a poem by Edwin Morgan (even though just about every person under forty had to ‘do’ one of his poems for o’grade English). It’s a poor state of affairs, and sometimes, as a poet, I feel like I’m ‘not waving, but drowning’. What about you? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of poetry? And, in general, would you say you are an optimistic or pessimistic person? Is your bottle half-full or half-empty?
Rupert - No, I don't earn very much at all most of the time. I have a very supportive partner with a teaching post who is the main wage owner for our household. I try to avoid day jobs unless they appeal or we need the dosh. I have worked in a bookshop, as an Arts Development Office and have had a couple of teaching jobs in my time, and Royal Literary Fund Fellowships. I think Arts Council funded jobs only go to those writing seriously, not the sort of poets you or I might want to dissuade.
I think you're confusing marketing and "success" with poetry. Poetry has never been read by the masses, I think that's a myth - one that's then used to get people to write accessible poetry, which is at worst rhyming doggerel, at best lightweight narrative poems.
As someone who generally hates attending poetry readings, I don't give a monkeys about small audiences. I can think of nothing more boring than listening to dull poetry being read badly for too long out loud. But let people do what they want. Let people read what they want - but as a publisher I know that the majority of people who write poetry don't read it. That is the sad part. People are ignorant, not widely read, have no understanding of the last century of poetry in all its variations, shapes and forms, yet somehow think they can write, and - the moment they have a pamphlet out - run workshops.
Poetry book sales aren't declining; they are declining via the book trade. Print on demand publishing, the internet and direct sales mean the market has changed. It doesn't cost much to produce books, and it's easier than ever to market them. Amazon sell them for you, other people will take them on, you can set up credit card payment systems. You just have to make sure people know the books are out there and get them interested in them.
I'm fairly optimistic about 'the future of poetry' and publishing, but I don't expect to be publishing bestsellers. I've chased the market too long with Stride , nowadays I just accept it's a minority interest and do the best I can to get Stride books reviewed and noticed. But the authors need to be involved too.
Actually, I don't think the future of poetry is to do with books. It's to do with poems being written and read. And they are - all around us. So I surprise my normal cynical and pessimistic self with optimism in this department.
Dee - Like you, I also have a supportive and understanding partner. But you don’t get nowt for nowt nowadays, and the payback for her being main bread-winner is that I take on the roll of house-husband and am as much a mum as I am a dad. Whilst this is probably good for my daughter, Rosie, it’s been pretty damn difficult for me. The first two years were particularly tough. Now she’s out of nappies, off the bottles and able to make her wants and needs known to me it’s proving to be a lot easier (and a lot more enjoyable too!). Right now, for example, she’s happily watching a DVD of ‘Fantasia’ on her mothers’ laptop while I compose this question. I couldn’t have imagined that scenario a year ago, that’s for sure. Even though Rosie’s now three, and a lot more independent and self-sufficient, it’s still hard to find the time to get on with my ‘work’. I’m always skiting along by the seat of my pants, with an overflowing intray. How in fuck’s name do you manage? I mean, you work twice as hard as me, and you’ve got twice as many children. I don’t get it. Are you sure you don’t have some secret power like replication? Is there a Rupert Loydell doppelganger looking after the kids and washing the dishes whilst another Rupert Loydell is in his studio painting and another is knocking out his umpteenth poetry collection and another is being Poet-In-Residence and another is writing articles for Tangents and another is updating the online Stride Magazine and another is organising the publication of the next Stride book... Seriously, do you ever sleep??? People are always telling me they think I’m a prodigious worker with all my various, ongoing projects, but I’m telling you, compared with you, I’m a rank amateur. You know, when I first decided I’d try my hand at interviewing writers and artists you were the first one I thought of. But then I thought to myself, no, Rupert will be too busy, he’s bound to knock me back. Then I figured, what the fuck, and asked you anyway. And it turns out, not only are you willing to do an interview, but you are, out of all my current interviewees, the promptest to respond to my questions. Tell me, how do you balance family commitments and work? I also want to ask you something about your philosophical/ spiritual / religious beliefs.
Rupert - Yeah, I have a cloning device in the garage. And a clone of myself to run it. I was the main carer for our first daughter, too, so I share your concerns. It took two years out of my life. Our second has had more time with her mother, but I (obviously) am still very involved. Yes, I fly by the seat of my pants, all the time.
Replying to the interview is easy. I have broadband, and I don't mind speaking my mind. I may, of course, regret this in due course! I grab moments when I can, often evenings after the kids are in bed. I do collaborative and other projects because they give me a way to keep writing. I don't actually think I write a lot, but because I often shape books as I go along (or projects are books) they are ready to get published. As I said, writers write. That's what I do. Grab the time, grab the moment. I'm not that into TV, so I'd rather listen to music and write. I have strategies and techniques for writing which work, for me, within the constraints of time. I edit the work in progress most days when I can - a quick mark up in red pen, then alter the computer file, print it out and date it. Repeat until it's finished. Really finished.
I don't get to the studio as much as I used to, but I'm glad it's there to go to. I've never been a 9-5 painter, because I need time to look at work and to let the oil paint dry, so it's not a problem.
It's more of a problem to keep engaged with the work in the way I do with writing. The other thing I find difficult is reading, I mean time for reading. By the way, my partner would probably say I don't manage to balance family commitments and work!
Philosophical/spiritual/religious beliefs? Blimey. I was brought up in a Christian family, and I still pretty much adhere to traditional Christian beliefs. But I couple that with an openness towards most things, and want nothing to do with the religious right, neo-conservatives or censorious piety. I've only recently begun to even skirmish with the notion of church again... I would say I am a post-modern Christian - I'm very interested in theology by the likes of Don Cupitt, Richard Holloway and Mark C Taylor which often is as much media theory or deconstruction as what is usually regarded as "theology". I don't believe in imposing my beliefs on others, rather undertaking dialogue if appropriate. I aspire to be a pacifist and - to some extent - politically remain an anarchist; that is I believe we should take responsibility for ourselves, then the local environment/community, then the larger community etc - and that power shouldn't simply be given over to politicians. People who want power should never be given it. I have to face the fact that I own a house and drive a car and have a nuclear family though - the days of dyed hair and endless marches and protests are long gone. I am fairly pessimistic these days about politics and our ability to change it. Kids make you very protective, too, don't they - you start feeling a bit conservative (small c) round the edges.
Dee- I’ve always been interested in religion/ theology/ philosophy, from an alchemical point of view. I’d love to turn my lead into gold, but I’m probably more interested in the actual properties of lead and gold, and have been investigating them all my life, as a writer, an artist, and mostly, as a person. I don’t adhere to any particular religion, but see grains of truth in each, and links between them all. I’m particularly interested in these common denominators, but, as yet, have come to no conclusions. Until just a few hours ago however, I was certain of one thing, that ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ were allegorical constructs. Now, I’m not so sure. You know how a good number of people have reported seeing a tunnel of light above them, whilst having a near death experience, well, I was watching a programme about cocaine dealers in the slums of Rio, Brazil; and this guy who worked 16 hours a day as a petrol pump attendant and a security guard, earning just £140 a month was explaining why he had abandoned a £200+ a day job in a drug gang. He was quite candid about what his previous employment entailed. Not just dealing out the white stuff, but killing anyone who fucked with his gang. He wasn’t specific about numbers, but you got the vibe he’d done in quite a few folk in his time. Well, he was involved in a shoot out with the police at a bus station and was near-fatally wounded. However, he didn’t see a tunnel of light above him, but a black hole beneath him, sucking him downwards. At that instant, he prayed to God for forgiveness, and promised that if he lived he would abandon his old ways... and as luck, or fate, or God would have it, he managed to grab onto the under-carriage of a bus and escape the situation. What d’you make of that? I mention this in passing, as it came up just after I received your last response. So, I guess I want to ask you, how Christian is your post-modern Christianity? Do you accept the premise of heaven and hell? Was Mary a virgin when Jesus was born? Did Noah escape a cataclysmic flood on an ark with two of every species? How much of the gospels is gospel truth, and how much is allegory? What are your thoughts on this?
Rupert - I think I believe in myth and allegory more than factual truth. There seems little point in trying to argue that things did or didn’t happen, at the end of the day there is always a leap of faith (or doubt) into the unknown.
There seems to me a fair amount of historical evidence for someone called Jesus, for a huge flood in Asia, and for various other events. But in the end if faith depends on whether or not something happened, then I think you're in trouble. It seems to me the underlying truths are what counts, not religious or social constructs based on them or versions of them. A rainbow is still a wonderful event/ thing whether it's a sign of God's promise or light diffracted through rain - or perhaps both. It's not any less wonderful for us knowing the physics of it.
It seems to me that we understand the world through language, indeed create the world with language. This links to the idea of 'In the beginning was the Word' (Logos). But I find so much fantastical stuff around me in the world it seems just as likely there has been even more fantastical stuff happening here and there. I mean the kind of thing you describe above, the everyday miracles (and disasters) that happen, even what science discovers. I was taught at school that science is provisional - it is accepted as it appears to work. But it mutates, grows and sometimes totally disagrees with itself. Entropy or evolution (do things decay over time or change for the better)? Waveform or particle? Sub-atomic theory and chaos theory are wonderful discoveries. Postmodernism has made us understand there are always different versions of the same story - something of course writers have known for a long time, and anyone who read the four Christian gospels!
Postmodernism suggests our meta-narratives have changed, that we have lost the underpinning myths and stories that used to give people something in common with each other. I think it's a shame kids don't know about Noah's Ark, Adam & Eve, the Christmas story - because they are great stories with all sorts of truths concealed in them. I don't think X-men, Fimbles or Pokamon have the same kind of substance to them!
Heaven and hell? I'd like to believe in an afterlife, but maybe that's a common human desire to cope with fear of death? I was taught hell was simply being cut off from God, a state most of us live in now. It's probably nothing to do with the medieval version with fire and torture. If heaven is drippy angels singing crap songs then count me out please. If it does exist it will be far more wonderful than that; maybe our imaginations have failed us on these themes?
This is all a bit confused, isn't it? I wish I believed more than I do. I try to believe... as it says in my poem 'The Architecture of Despair': 'I am the man / who longs to hold / faith in his head and his heart' Most of my poetry is actually about the push-pull of faith and doubt, belief and disbelief.
Dee - Simultaneous to this I am also interviewing (god, ‘interviewing’ sounds so pompous, it’d be more accurate to say ‘having a conversation with’) Jay Ramsay. I don’t know how to accurately describe Jay’s faith. I’ve heard his detractors call him ‘a new age priest’, but I have reservations about the label ‘new age’, especially as it is an amorphous movement, incorporating many different and sometimes conflicting beliefs, and it is also a home for quite a number of charlatans (like that ‘breatharian’ woman, Jasmuheen) and the self-deluded (like Andrew Cohen ). Regardless of this movement’s rotten appendages, until a few years ago, I might have described myself as having a ‘new age’ philosophy. Even now, I’d say I share certain fundamental beliefs with Jay. My own spiritual journey commenced with a Damascus Road experience in the early nineties, when I discovered my abilities as a ‘spiritual healer’ and more-or-less terminated in September 2001, when I suffered a massive brain haemorrhage and very nearly died. Looking back, I see a parallel between my journey on the microcosmic level and the world’s on the macrocosmic level. After the fall of communism, there was a decade of relative optimism. Sure, there was shit happening all over the world, but nothing that felt like it would threaten an all out nuclear war, like the capitalist/ communist stand off. Then, bang, the 11th September 2001, two planes hit the twin towers. I was actually in hospital when this happened. After that you’ve got the illegal invasion of Afghanistan, followed by the illegal invasion of Iraq. There’s one super-power (the USA), growing in confidence and might, doing whatever the fuck it wants to do... pissing a fuck of a lot of people off, big style, most of them Moslems. Fundamentalist Moslems believe they’ll go straight to heaven if they die in the services of Allah (apparently this definition includes hijacking planes and flying them into buildings full of people). The good old U.S.A (under the leadership of a ‘Christian’ cowboy with learning disabilities) now has Iran in its sights. Iran, one of the most fundamentalist Islamic nations going. I mean, I’m not even remotely into Islam, but I’m severely pissed off at the USA, so how do the Moslems feel? Even the moderates must feel they’re being picked upon... and picked off. The USA and its allies (including the good old UK) ever on the moral high-ground, with their flags of democracy, have behaved almost satanically, particularly in their treatment of prisoners of war and so-called ‘suspected terrorists’. What we have seen (and imagine what we have NOT seen) of Abu Graibh and Guantanamo Bay completely undermines any conceit that the invasions of the sovereign nations of Afghanistan and Iraq were in any way ‘moral’. Not really good PR, is it? I don’t imagine too many Iraqi’s feel ‘liberated’, do you? Remember Bloody Sunday in Derry/ Londonderry, Northern Ireland? About a dozen people killed there and the IRA’s ranks were swelled threefold as a result. How many Moslems do you think will join militant groups as a result of our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq? How many more, if the USA actually invades Iran? Telling you Rupert, I think the world has got to be a very scary place of late. I’m not that scared for myself, but for my family. My daughter, Rosie, was born ten days after the planes went into the twin towers. I can’t help but be anxious about the sort of world she’s been born into. The faith that I had - the bright, warm bubble of hope I lived in for a decade - was severely rocked when my brain went bang. What was left of it after that disintegrated the day those two planes went into those two buildings. To get circuitously to the point, in my interview with Jay, I asked him how his faith is standing up, after the events of the last three years. I also want to ask you this question, but also, as a ‘post-modern Christian’, do you pay much heed to The Book Of Revelation? Between crazy governments and crazy weather, do you fear we are living in ‘endtimes’? Or is it a case of the darkest night before dawn? Optimists might point in the direction of the Tsunami appeal, ‘Feed The World (part 2)’ and the UK government’s attempts to ease problems in Africa as a sign that the world is developing a conscience and that we are indeed turning a corner.... or is it too little, too late? What’s your take on the situation in the world today?
Rupert - An essay indeed. Like you (and at the risk of being sexist, it does seem to be a male trait, or at least a trait of fatherhood). I despair for my children. But I suspect humankind, people, are actually tougher than we think, and that the human race will live.
You and I know that Western Capitalism isn't a good answer to anything, so we're not actually living in or have lived through, any sort of golden age. We've simply lived in a period of time where we were lucky to be warm, dry and fed. Meanwhile, wars, torture, famine, flood and ecological disaster (etc etc) continued out of view, unless we chose to engage with it. Capitalism does not have a conscience, it's a system that tries to make as much money as possible and pay out as little as possible - why are its adherents surprised when this leads to major problems? Socialism is still a form of capitalism, and the natural end of capitalism is exploitation; capitalism is explicitly and implicitly greedy. People need to realise that. One of the reasons America is at war is that capitalism works well in a society at war - there's more need for machinery, people are goaded into working harder for their country, patriotism is whipped up and people buy their own nation's goods. WW2 was fantastic for the American economy. And of course they want oil secured before it runs out or they are denied access.
So, yes, I think the world is scary, but it always has been. 9/11 was a gesture, a media event, not anything new, not, actually, even anything that tragic in terms of the death toll. I thought it was a very, very clever piece of terrorism designed to make the world sit up and take notice (and, no, I don't support it at all; don't get me wrong). And we did. Fundamentalism is scary because it is conservative, defensive and as a result offensive: it censors, attacks, and doesn’t have enough conviction to allow others to differ. Bush simply doesn't understand the whole world doesn't want his standard of living, his big cars, his superlane highways, MacDonalds and Starbucks! But he's not bright enough to grasp that. And of course, he - like Thatcher in her time; Blair in ours - is only a figurehead for corporate power mongers who really run the place.
If you believe something then why do other people have to agree? Why run scared of the other? I mean, yes, have debate if you want (Jay and I have had many debates and arguments over the years!) but don't go to war on the back of it.
I suspect Revelation is storytelling on a giant scale. Visionary writing by a man losing his mind in exile. Doesn't mean that it isn't true, or contain mythic or allegoric truth, but I wouldn't take it very literally - otherwise I'd be like Bush. I think society is a difficult concept, and what I would get depressed about. Bunches of people together, any people, don't seem to work - we haven't got the social skills or family ties to make it work anymore. I'm a loner more and more, simply take small pleasures that I can from the world and family around me. I'm certainly disillusioned and pessimistic when I look outwards too much.
Dee - Despite your pessimism, you work like a carthorse, so I suspect, deep inside you there lies an optimist too. Otherwise, why not just ditch the poetry, the art and the publishing, kick back, chill out, get into the spliffs and idle your days away in a more relaxed sort of apathy? Deep in the heart of every workaholic lies an optimist, surely? Otherwise, why work so hard? I know myself, despite all my fears and anxieties about the state of the world, I still hope that humanity is evolving. At times I even get ridiculously excited about stuff like the truly democratising and information-sharing powers of the internet (even if 75% of that information is pornography). Knowledge is power. We might be at the gate of a new dawn where self-empowerment is at least possible. For all the flaws inherent in the democratic system at least I have the right to speak my mind and the potential to broadcast it to others. Such freedoms, which I regard as rights, haven’t even been in place in this country for a century even. Only a hundred years ago women weren’t even allowed to vote: feminists might grumble about glass ceilings these days (and rightly so), but they should also celebrate the fact that so much progress has been made in such little time. For all its wars, genocides and everything else, the 20th Century was also an era of fantastic progress too. I think it is worth tempering pessimism with a little optimism, don’t you? I’d also like to end this interview on a high. So, Rupert, tell me what you’re optimistic about. Tell me what makes you smile. Tell me what makes you happy. Tell me what makes you leap out of bed in the morning to embrace a new day. Before I sign off, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. It’s been interesting. It’s been a pleasure.
Rupert - And there was I thinking I'd rounded off your interview nicely! Yes you're right, although I don't see the connection between pessimism and apathy. And I did state my optimism about the web and cheap printing earlier. I'd point out though that the web doesn't necessarily increase knowledge, it simply makes information available. Knowledge means learning and understanding that information.
Optimistic? Well, as I said earlier, I think people are tougher than we think, and that humankind will survive and continue. I'm optimistic about the networks of friends I have around the world, about dialogue and exchange of news, views and information.
What makes me smile, or happy? My kids, my partner, my friends, Italian food and wine (especially when on holiday there), a good pint of beer, good wine, abstract art, rugby (union) played well, great poetry, good novels, and lots of music, both live and recorded. But also quiet and being alone with time to think and read. Or the buzz and hum, the energy of great cities like New York, Glasgow and London.
© Dee Sunshine & Rupert Loydell, 2005
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Rupert Loydell's most recent web exhibition (Jan 2005)
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