An interview with Ken Edwards
upon the publication of
No Public Language
[Shearsman 2006]



Rupert Loydell: Your book is called No Public Language. Is this a denial of
the possibility of us all sharing a language, or a declaration that your book
is private?


Ken Edwards: Not at all! The title comes from a poem in
Intensive Care (one of the constituent books of the collection): 'No public language that is / fit for such a time'. It was a heartfelt response to events, as I recall. I worry that the title comes across as overly negative, but my desperate hope has always been to find a public language to share. It's just that it's not as easy as you'd think. I certainly don't believe in private languages anyway.


There's a clear critique of capitalism and media in your work, which we also find in the work of, for example, Tony Lopez and Robert Sheppard, both writers you have been associated with. Is this a generation thing? Were you the first generation that were influenced  by poststructuralism and media/critical theory?

If you find such a critique it's probably there. But it isn't what drives my writing. I don't set out to critique late capitalism, or whatever; but I certainly find much of the public realm inimical to the work of the imagination, and such frustrations are doubtless made clear. I can't speak for Tony or Robert, but my writing is most definitely not driven by poststructuralism or media/critical theory. In fact, I often feel hostile to it, and I don't think I'm well read in it. I try to read philosophy, but Ihaven't even made much inroad into Derrida, for example.


How does the notion of the political square with experimental writing? Aren't you dealing with a small audience who probably share your views?

I'm far less likely than I once was to equate radical form with radical (left-wing) politics. If you were to put together those who are into formally radical poetry and those into radical left-wing politics, the overlapping group would certainly be tiny.


Music is clearly important to your work. Is it an inspiraction or a resource? If it's the case, can you talk about the relationship between the idea of dub (or the remix) and textual collage?

Music of all kinds has always been an inspiration. I think what you're referring to is some of the writing I was doing in the 1980s, around the era of my book
Drumming & Poems, which deliberately used the metaphor of dub/remix to challenge the notion of a fixed composition.


I didn't know you were a composer. Is your music processual or procedural? At all related to your writing? Do you write librettos or songs?

I wouldn't make too many claims for myself as a composer. I started composing about 12 years ago, out of frustration that I wasn't a good enough musician to play the kind of music I wanted. Although I did write and perform songs a bit in my 20s. As I write, a piece of mine is about to be performed at the new Brighton library by COMA, a group comprising amateur and professional musicians. It takes the musical material of a song I wrote a few years ago, fragments it and distributes it among four ensembles who play simultaneously while situated at different points in the performance space. I've also recently written incidental music for a poem by Fanny Howe, which has been published/recorded by Artery Editons. And I've written the text for a piece composed by John Tilbury, of AMM fame, so that's a case of the writing and music coming together. I hope that will be out on CD one day. Recently, I've been taking up the guitar again, and Elaine persuaded me the other evening to play and sing in an open session at one of our local pubs in Hastings Old Town. I was terrified!


Much of your work has dealt with the city, and you state that moving away from London has instigated a move toward prose writing. Could you talk about that?

I lived in London for 35 years, and the city has certainly left its mark on my writing. Moving away from London to Hastings, where I now live, did not 'instigate a move towards prose writing' but did coincide with a move
back to prose, which is where I started. In the 1970s I was mostly writing short stories that sometimes experimented with form and language; I had some publishing success, but was unable to progress in the direction I wanted to, through inexperience and lack of peer support, I suppose. I thought what the poets were doing was so much more interesting! Also poetry enabled me to break up and complicate my texts and procedures, and to break easy habits, which is what I wanted to do. I've always thought of myself as a 'writer' rather than a 'poet'. As for the inspiration of the city, the main prose piece I've written in the past two years, 'Nostalgia for Unknown Cities',very much bears upon that, and the longest section is an immense collage of sentences generated in and by the experience of London. Anyway, it could be seen as poetry by other means. As is my novel Futures by the way.


Where do you place your writing? Who are your peers and predecessors? What is your literary lineage?

Goodness, what a question! Predecessors: the prose rhythms of Beckett, the imagery of Kafka and much science-fiction, the fizz of the New York school of poets, and hey, what about the films of Hitchcock, Bunuel, Michael Powell, the music of Bartok, Stravinsky, John Coltrane, Capt Beefheart, the Beatles... As for peers, there are far too many to mention, and it would be invidious to mention only some.

Was the decision to exclude
Good Science from the book simply because it remins in print? I have to confess I think it's a major absence from the Selected Poems!

Yes. Anyone who wants it can still buy that book. Given that there was only a limited number of pages available for the Selected Poem
s, it seemed therefore a waste to include it at the expense of stuff that's out of print.


      Ken Edwards & Rupert Loydell 2006


See also: 'Poetic Revolution: Robert Sheppard's
The Education of Desire & Ken Edward's Good Science'