Last year, Philip was artist in residence at the International School, in the Hague. They worked on a concrete poetry piece called The Grin Variations, using some of the techniques we experiment with in our new blog Boys Can Write. Here Philip is interviewed by one of the students.
Hi there Christiane
Thank you for your interest in what I'm up to. I'm rushing a little and cooking/eating my evening meal as I do this so I hope it's coherent.
1. What is your connection to the ISH? Why did you choose to come to our school?
I met your art teacher Mr Jalland at an exhibition that we were both showing in and the connection grew from there. So I suppose you could say that it was a mixture of coincidence and planning. I wanted to start doing more things outside of the UK and the link with Mark Jalland and your school came along at the right time. I believe that if you point yourself towards something then it often happens, in one way or another.
Having started a link with ISH I would very much like to continue it. I'm working in the UK right now on a project about the holocaust and we'd like to expand it, so who knows...?
2. What is it you are trying to do here? (You told my class in one of your workshops you wanted to use the students' art work for a certain project...)
I was working on two projects during my time at ISH and both of them draw in other people's work and ideas. The poem for the screens is called The Grin Variations and has involved many of the students from ISH (as well as students from Parenthorn High School in the UK). The other piece is called A Shared Loneliness: during my travels I ask people about ways that they might describe emotional distance and closeness between one another. I will continue this investigation when I go to China at the end of 2009. I'm particularly interested in using mathematics as a metaphor to describe this distance.
3. How would you describe what you do for a living?
Poetry is the short answer. A careers advisor might say that I write and I help other people to do so. In some ways I feel that I've managed to dodge the gruesome business of WORK in the puritanical 9-5 sense, for which I'm grateful. Although I am busy most of the time and often find myself making pieces for long hours, it doesn't feel like a job. When it becomes a drudge it is generally going awry. I'm amazed and happy that I live this way - and very aware of my good luck, which is probably the thing I do work hard at.
In any case, what we all really do for a living is breathe, eat, sleep. The rest are niceties.
4. Your art-work has a lot to do with writing and poetry. Would you describe yourself as a poet or an artist?
The poetry tradition that I come from winds back and forth between art and literature and music, so those distinctions aren't very real for me. I think that creativity often occupies the space between categories, which is where the confusion and energy is. By the time something has been neatly categorised it's dead and in a museum.
Having said that, I grew up surrounded by voices, stories and poetry, so my starting line is a literary one. I learned how to write sonnets and villanelles rather than attending life drawing classes. I find that placing poems in the world, outside of books, is a good arrangement for me. I like the thrill of a little illegal billposting, being chased by policemen. And the pieces look beautiful when they fall apart in the rain.
5. What do you hope to see from the students here at ISH.
The students at ISH have already exceeded my expectations. They've made hundreds of visual poems, with energy and wit and a certain tolerance of my eccentricities. They've welcomed me, asked me interesting questions and stolen some good ideas from me. What more could I possibly wish for?
6. Do you have any dates that I can use for my article? (For example; any displays of your artwork or workshops you are performing.)
I will be performing some material from my new book about everything in Manchester on 1st April. That will be followed by a reading at Bury Text Festival. The Festival will mark the official launch of The Grin Variations at Bury Art Gallery, Parenthorn School and ISH. My website www.applepie-editions.co.uk will be up and running by that time. Then there will be some poems published in if p then q magazine. I'll finish the year in China for two months Nov-Dec doing another residency. There are probably some other things going on too but I can't remember em.
7. Who do you admire/look up to in the world of art?
As I've said, art is something that can equally be an artwork, a poem, music, dance - it's of the same stuff. Text artists often catch my eye because they intensify the word or the world, just as poets do, but using a different set of strategies - Lawrence Weiner for example. The people I talked about alot during my residency were Bob Cobbing and William Burroughs. Cobbing is someone I'll always hold dear because he allowed me in - opened a door in that brick wall we face sometimes and invited me to join the game. He published my first book and also invited me around to spend the day with him - an extraordinary day that changed my polarity somehow. Burroughs is very much better known than Cobbing, even a cliche, but the process of the cutup has plenty of fuel in it for me, so I stay interested in him. A few months ago the poet Bob Grenier stayed over in my flat and trailed clouds of gold in with him. Yesterday I picked up a book by Jackson Maclow and felt very close to what he was doing. Tomorrow I'll happen into someone else.
I'm blessed with some friends who are doing extraordinary things right now and so the people in my circle are also people I admire. My great friend Tony Trehy is a remarkable poet.
8. Where are you originally from?
I was born in what was Kent, but my town has been sucked into the spread of London. My childhood was spent in Ireland, near Belfast and then my teens in the North of England, where I now live. But when I go to visit in London, those accents of childhood call me in and it feels home.