Monday, 2 October 2017

Sarah Cave and Rupert Loydell in Conversation (1/4)

Sarah Cave and Rupert Loydell recently collaborated on a series of annunciations (sort of), published as Impossible Songs (Analogue Flashback 2017). They talk about ekphrasis, religion, philosophy, nests and pick'n'mix. Also poetry.


"It would be rude not to leave a few feathers of my own in my unfolding of the work"


Your poems often adopt disguises, appear to be about one thing but are actually about another. I'm thinking about Moomin poems that aren't actually about the trolls, and annunciation poems that are not really, or just, about angels and virgins.


I blame my Brown Owl.

The first art work I remember making – that didn’t consist of my parents standing next to a strange abstract expression of a house – was a pasta Jesus smiling serenely from a cardboard canvas. I suppose, even then, that was more about lunch.

The sense of the absurd is important in the poems you mention but this absurdism is also underpinned with a serious reflection usually existential. I think poetry has displaced my sense of character and Moomins, rubber ducks, angels and virgins are all fragmented apparitions of my understanding/misunderstanding of philosophy, theology or life. I studied philosophy for a time and wrote more interesting marginalia about Heideggerian shadow-puppets than I did essays about the sublime. I use masks and puppets as ways to express a sense of displacement, either my own or someone else’s.

Writing a straight description of a painting or an event has its place but it isn’t the kind of poetry that I’ve ever wanted to write. This approach loses some of the extra-imaginative content of life. If I went to a gallery, for example, I wouldn’t want to respond to the art work in this way because I would be missing something important in the exchange between me and the artwork. It would be rude not to leave a few feathers of my own in my unfolding of the work. Moominmamma wouldn’t approve of such behaviour. The Moomins throw up their own problems. As somebody else’s literary invention, there’s the risk of writing too closely to the original. Something new has to come from the interaction to justify it.

If you want to read stories about the Moomins then there’s this writer called Tove Jansson who does a great job. For the Annunciation, I recommend The Gospel of Luke. That’s my favourite.

The point of ekphrasis is to respond to something. Not just repeat the same thing.
The point of ekphrasis is to respond to something. Not just repeat the same thing.


Yes, of course, although ekphrasis is also to do with mimesis and the translation of image into language. But like you I want to bring some different ideas and ways of thinking to my subject matter.

In your Slava poems it is almost as though you invented a character, a state of mind, and a place for him to live, and then wrote what happened. Most of my work gets fixated on an event or idea, in the Dear Mary poems the annunciation, and work from there. I loved thinking about seeing the annunciation through a surveillance camera, or re-imagining it as an alien encounter (which I guess in many ways it was!), and looking at some of the different paintings that artists have done.

There's part of me always thinks it would be better to somehow just get my readers to look at the Fra Angelico annunciations in San Marco, Florence or San Giovanni though... I'm not trying to be modest, but there is a sense that words don't do them justice. But I hope the different ways of thinking about them, and about the whole concept of another world intervening in the human one, is a different experience. It's that intervention that I am fascinated by at the moment.

I always work in series of paintings too.

© Sarah Cave & Rupert Loydell 2017

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