We are ridiculously excited to have Adelle Stripe confirmed to perform at next year’s Not the Oxford Literary Festival.
I’ll be reviewing the collection shorly for Sabotage Reviews. Suffice to say – buy it, it’s a work of art as a thing, but the poetry is so much more – haunting, evocative, cruel and joyousall in one. It is a pleasure to be have the chance to talk to Adelle about this wonderful book and her remarkable career to date.
- I know you’ve been working on Dark Corners for a long time, but the recent coverage of the badger cull on the news and on social media makes this feel like the perfect moment for its release. Would you care to reflect on the way the media sees the country and the truths you are trying to tell about it?
I think there’s a perception in the media (which is very urban-centric) that the countryside is full of rich farmers or uncultured heathens. The only time farming gets mentioned is when it relates to something like the badger cull, foot and mouth or foxhunting. All of those things bring about an idea of the countryside being either incredibly cruel, or completely pastoral. I don’t know about the truth I’m trying to tell, but I suppose the poems are my version of country life which kinds of hits the middle ground. It’s violent, cruel and beautiful at the same time.
- If I may go back to Brutalism, one of the things that’s so interesting about it is the way it is described as an internet-spawned literary movement and yet it is so clearly rooted in geography. Did you feel that at the time as a tension or a natural coupling?
Even though Brutalism was rooted in northern locations, all of us were writing about those places from a distance. Tony was in New York, Ben was in Peckham, I lived on the edges of Bow. We were writing about a time in history as much as place. The experiences that came out of the poems could be felt by anyone, and people related to them from an international perspective. The internet was just the quickest and most democratic way for us to get the word out. The perfect tool for causing trouble.
- It seems to me that the real cultural significance of the internet is not the growth of the global but the local, and that one of the positive impacts of the wave of low-value digital culture is the resurgence of artisanship in return. Thinking about that brought me back to the rural life as we see it in your poetry and my first question, and I wondered if you feel any of these polarities at all in your writing? Are you aware of pushing against anything, or are you taken out of those dualities altogether by the intensity of your poetic world?
I’m very much of the Walter Benjamin school where the artist has more power as the producer. It gives you a sense of freedom. Being able to write a piece of work, create the layouts, print or e-publish it yourself, and create another book from the profit is some of the best things that have come out of the digital age. That sense of restriction has gone, although I do think there are many benefits to having rigorous editorial processes. The craft or artisanship aspect of DIY culture is something that is part of my personal history as I used to run a venue, write fanzines, manage bands and promote club nights. It’s second nature to me. I don’t feel any conscious push or polarity in my work, it may exist on some subliminal level but it’s not something that I pay much attention to.
- You write about the country, but you also write beautifully about cities (Sacred Heart is one of my favourite poems). You also write in a wide variety of forms and rhythms. This gives me the feeling of a deep restlessness, and I’m not sure how that fits with the sense I also get that your life is almost hewn from the land.
I think that’s quite a good observation, but that comes from my approach to writing poems. For me, poetry is a slow process. I write when I feel inspired to write, and that can sometimes make me prolific and more often than not, create poems at tortoise pace. I have spent the past six years studying poetry which has meant that I’ve ingested thousands of poems. I’m still at a stage where I’m spewing them back out in random order. I have no discipline and only write when a thought gets stuck in my head. Writing allows me to sort my head out, put things in order and understand the world around me. It keeps me sane. When I don’t write my head clutters up and clouds over with mashed potato.
Although I grew up in a rural environment, I also spent twelve years living in London and the arse end of Leeds. The areas I’ve lived in have been pretty tough – Hackney, Bethnal Green, Murder Mile, Peckham, Hoxton etc. I moved back up to the countryside a few years back. It’s nice not to be watching your back all the time, though there are elements of the big city that I miss.
During my degree I was experimenting with Ghazals, Sestinas, Pantoums, Sonnets, Haiku – and I tried to shoehorn my city experiences into those forms. Since I’ve moved back to Yorkshire I’m writing pretty much in blank verse, although certain rhythms keep popping out when I least expect it. Who knows, maybe what surrounds you does have an effect on the lines you create? Poetry remains a delightful mystery.
- How many times do you get asked if the land is a metaphor in your work, and have you ever given the same answer twice?
I get asked quite a bit about the rural/urban aspects to my work, but I always try to think of a new way to reply, I guess it helps me work through the writing in a different way.
- Bad Blood is a remarkable poem in so many ways, and an incredibly brave one structurally with its clear evocations of Howl. I begins “Over the water” and in the place of the “best minds” of Ginsberg you give us plastic bags, urban detritus strangling your idyll. I’m reminded of the last survivors in On the Beach resignedly waiting for the airborne peril to come and finally snuff them out. I guess my questions, or comments, are about the extent to which this feels like your attempt to grapple with something wider, to situate yourself culturally and comment upon your poetic neighbours. And it feels as though in a way you are terrified by what you see there, and run straightaway back into the river and the perch of murmur…
Originally, Bad Blood was just an experiment with family myths and secrets. I wrote down as many things as I could remember and drew them on a page. It reminded me of a family tree. I wanted to play around with long lines and was inspired by John Ashbery’s Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror. That night I walked home along the Calder, and saw all of these rotten plastic bags hanging from the branches. I thought about cloutie trees, and the significance of making prayers with pieces of rag. The plastic bags were like abandoned prayers. I was also reading Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, in particular his chapter on how the druids formed the very first alphabet from naming types of trees. All of these ideas were thrown together, though I referred to Whitman in order to make some sense out of it all. It took over 15 months to get Bad Blood right. I had to persist with it, but I feel that it is the most original poem I’ve written. People have commented that it reminds them of Howl, but the rhythms are quite different. I have no plan to read it naked. Well, unless you pay me a million pounds.
- What have we lost as a society?
I’m not sure I’m the right person to answer that. Maybe that’s one for the religious orders to grapple with.
- These poems surround us with death and sadness, but its omnipresence feels very comforting (rather in the way that cosmology is comforting, reminding us of our smallness, of the normality of nothingness. Would it be fair to say that what we have lost is the everyday presence of death?
In the Western world death is kept away from us. At one time people would have been laid out in the front room for a few days, though most bodies are hidden away in our modern culture. The Taoist way of thinking about death is that your energy goes back into the life cycle. I’ve had to think about death a lot over the past few years, and I always return to this idea of just accepting, not fighting your destiny. A close friend of mine took his own life last year, and the experience has been one of the most horrific things I’ve ever encountered. Like a nuclear bomb going off. The only way I could get through it was to watch crap TV, meditate and read poems by Chinese wilderness poets. I couldn’t write for six months after it happened, but poetry helped me find a way out of it. I hope that Dark Corners isn’t too dark and has some light flickering out of the mineshaft.