explores the agonies of identity, in a firm yet emotional kaleidoscope of
diverse poems, utterly unique in foregrounding the poet as makar of a distinct world. Her collection A
Coalition of Vegetables
both confronts yet - paradoxically - comforts.'
Unique is a devalued term, especially in poetry. We're drowning in unique
voices, doing identical things.
Paul Stubbs is the only English poet I think the term applies to. His work
shows no interest in anything, except the poetic imagination.
How it exists, and coexists, with his inner religious landscape. And what
future his imagination can create.
Not exactly the staple of a million stupid 'poetry workshops'.
In fact, his work is so far removed from any contemporary context, an
interview seems the only way to approach it.
Your poetry is superbly ambitious, exploring fundamental
(timeless) ontological and theological questions.
For an English poet now, it is almost unique in featuring
nothing social, familial or contemporary. However difficult, could you
quickly summarise the central concerns you explore?
You talk of my work being 'superbly
for me 'ambition' in a poetical
sense is irrelevant, defunct, for if I have ever been ambitious it was only
to succeed through language in purifying man of man. This comes from the
sense that when writing I always feel as if I am a million years before
mankind or after it, belonging just as well to its beginnings as to its end.
And this kind of weakness for imaginative chaos I find quickly kills ambition
of any kind. Thus I have no 'poetical' ambitions, only
anthropological and cosmological ones.
With regard to your notion of my exploring 'fundamental
(timeless) ontological and theological questions', well, for me,
it is either this or detach myself from myself and celebrate only the stupor
of non-history, condemning authorhood in the process to a mere chronological
ordering of sentences. The 'divisions' of mankind do
not, in any social or political sense, concern me. As for the 'social, familial
or contemporary', to
be interested in such 'divisions', I might well
also have had to be interested in those poets who have continued to write
about them, and I have never been.
You could suggest that the poets still interested today in writing
about such topics were at some stage (in all probability) drawn to the poetry
of Larkin for instance; yet when I was foolish enough to first read Larkin, I
felt only a deep inner revulsion, a great nothingness, a terrible nullity, as
if instead of hearing his voice, I heard only the dripping of my own pulse
into the well of a neutral abyss. I read Hšlderlin, Kierkegaard, Rimbaud,
Pilinszky, Gascoyne, Simone Weil, W.S. Graham, Gregory Corso, etc., and their
sufficiently universal enough to interest me.
My central concerns? Only in each poem to place myself outside of
historical, cosmological and linear time, for I seek always to abandon myself
to a secondary Earth, a humanless terminus, so that
nothing inside of my imagination can be reconciled, not one race with
another. In poetry my biggest concern has always been to arrive at a place in
no-time (beyond the imagination?) or to a point in man's consciousness
where we have all begun 'to
final evolutionary increase in brain-size' ('Afterworldsmen').
To achieve this I realized early that I would need to replace all of
the generic icons of the world, if only for the duration of my own words,
with new ones capable of out-staring God. A big task, but one I have always
pursued. I have always had a huge respect for Yeats, and especially his 'Rough Beast', which I trail
throughout the new book; which for me has become an ongoing symbol of man's intellectual
failings to unite what, in God, theology has always lacked, i.e. a completion to
What form of poetry do you think best suits this?
The only 'form' of poetry that 'suits' me is one not
obscured by the totality of a one-planet imagination, and by that I mean a
poetry written outside of literature's age-old monadology of producing only earth-bound
perceptions of existence in language.
You have been compared to Hill, but it is noticeable he uses a much more
sometimes a hectoring of an imagined audience. Has this ever appealed to you?
Any comparisons with Hill are often born of laziness on the part of the
critic, for essentially his concerns are not mine. He is a poet of the
intellect and who, amid the gnarled complexity of his mind, takes his readers
up the steep gradient slopes of not just any language, but his
language; while I am merely a bewildered human working at the core of
I have no 'literary' approach as
such, seeing what I do as having more in common with the historical
discrepancy between myth and religion than with the 'Art' of poetry.
I have no audience inside of my head, only an unclassifiable race of
the future that, before I have even had a chance to see them, appears always
to have already removed the mask of my own face. I believe that the further a
poet gets from an 'imagined
further he can progress into the imaginary terrains of his own mind. So no,
to hector an audience is not an issue for me, for as I have already said, I
have never ever thought about one.
How do you balance your intellectual concerns with the need to
produce something which is aesthetically pleasing, as poetry?
Firstly, the idea of an 'aesthetically
poetry is to me repulsive. Kierkegaard, in summing up a lifetime of writing
was to be done? Well, obviously the poetical had to be evacuated, anything
else was impossible for me'. And
that feels close to me also, for I had no intellectual concerns when writing
this book, I was concerned only with the pious.
When writing the poems, for the most part, I felt always theologically
posthumous, even at the expense of my own intellect; like
someone already abandoned to each syntactical hinterland of the imagination
before even picking up the pen. Poetry should never be pleasing. It should,
if anything, be 'authentic', which as E.M.
Cioran quite rightly said usually has nothing itself to do with 'poetry'. The poet
should think only 'of
what has been as what is to come...' (Heidegger).
The only real task is to subjugate the intellect for the primal, i.e. to be
modern, which, in poetry (how in a metaphorical sense I see it), consists
only in replacing the pea inside the whistle of man's most
distressed and inhuman cry.
A fascinating point, raised by your work, is the impossibility
of language capturing the imagination. Can you say more on this?
This 'impossibility' is born of the
fact that the poetical imagination is one thing, and the biblical imagination
something else; for side by side, they have always struggled to co-exist.
This premise, for poets, is born also of the all-too obvious truth that the
god of the church and its language is not necessarily the god and the 'language' of the
A poet like Rimbaud sought only the fleshlessness of the synecdoche,
the half-empty vessel of the rŽcit, that and any
displacement in language in which his allegiance to the imagination prevented
him from completing a final thought. I myself realized all too frequently
that I could never overcome the biblical imagination (i.e. God's) by
attempting, through poetry, to re-open the inhuman healing-points at the core
death; thus my own poems have been forced to function always amid the
artificiality of the geography inhabited by any one figure (most of the
figures found in this new book) both in view of and apart from the
So maybe the question should be not whether language can 'capture' the
imagination, but whether or not language can be completed by it. Yet when we
consider the imagination, we ask usually what it is, not
necessarily what it is not. So then the only question for a
poet like myself has been to ask is: 'which one came first, God or the imagination?'
The dilemma being of course that even to imagine
beyond the imagination is still to be using it. To disbelieve in anything
beyond the imagination is not only to refuse to believe in God, but is also
to not believe in the imagination. I have written, from
various angles, about the resurrection, but only the 'resurrection' that was interrupted by the biblical imagination (when of course it was written about)
just as Christ, in his emancipation from God's imagination,
Yet the poetical imagination is without talent in
such moments, citing biology as a prelude to such truths, not as it should,
by renouncing poetical freedom as unsubstantiated freedom. So, if God existed
before the imagination, as seems most likely, then the death of God, at any
one time in history, would automatically then herald the death of the final
forms of the poetical imagination.
Thus, in the very act of my failure to find a language capable of
completing the imagination, my every idea has become nothing but a nail
contributing to the boarding-up of the churches of the poetical imagination
in which only superfluous gods have been prayed to, those gods not invented by
the biblical imagination. And maybe there is no better proof that the
biblical imagination existed before God's idea of Christ
than in the fact that not one excavation of hell by a
theologian has managed to produce yet even one bone of Christ's that preceded
memory on Earth.
Thus there can be no completion and no 'capturing' of anything but what, in theology,
appears to man as being either a psychological or metaphysical error. All
that language has given me then is an ability to hide the 'I' which, like
Rimbaud, I have always kept concealed like a dagger in the sheath of my mind,
and which, in poems, I have used often to cut down Christ from the cross, if
only to prevent the Bible from ever having been completed.
So I would say that only the poetical imagination has allowed me to
believe in God, while the biblical imagination has led me nowhere but back
and back always to myself, like Cain or Job to walk the denuded terrains of
my own always incomplete Earth.
And if this is true, does it not allow you to
prejudge your poetry a 'failure'Ñparadoxically,
allowing you to avoid any real critique?
The 'failure' of all writing
is that which is caused by our possession of a one-planet imagination; thus
the imagination on Earth, for as long as we stay here, will remain
ontologically redundant and secure for the upcoming generations
only the continuation of a vegetal wisdom.
All poetry I would say is a 'failure' in an anthropological sense. Literature will only
succeed when the curiosity of the scientist and the philosopher ends. All art
is a failure because no poem has ever yet managed to describe a lung that has
allowed man to breathe forever, likewise no artist, via an installation
consisting of say a gramophone, a paper-cup and a piece of string, has ever
yet managed to successfully feign the cry of
Christ upon the cross. The real critic can only act as an intermediary
between the opening and closing of his own mouth.
After all, authentic poetry confirms and disclaims nothing, is only
understood by those perceptive enough in history to speak between the
minutes, days, years, etc. Any poetry that seeks to last will succeed in
doing so only by rendering itself obscure, unsacred to the masses, oblivious
of the 'critical' veils draped
across that seek always to hide it. Unpopular times call for unpopular poems,
so yes, 'paradoxically' poems must be
their own 'critique', their own
Your use of Bacon's paintings is wonderfully free of the tedium
associated with 'poems
inspired by paintings'. But some admirers of
Bacon's work claim they are not primarily religious in
the obviously surface (and so frequently
misinterpreted) imagery. Would this matter, for this book?
Well, these poems are not in anyway 'about' the paintings. The vision in these poems I had for
several years already been propounding. I have used these paintings
as a mere starting-point, each an anti-ontological terminus in which each 'figure' fleetingly meets
and departs. If each of Bacon's paintings is
but a series of never to be united opposites, then the poems themselves
present only the conflict of belonging to a truth yet to be reconciled by the
two incompatible worlds of imagination and language.
The 'figures' introduced in
the poems differ very markedly from the ones in the paintings, for they are
not in any way part of our human activity: rather they appear transfixed by a
compass which no longer directs them towards the unthinkable will of God. The
poems contemplate only the world in which Bacon himself was a diversion.
Either inhabiting a new spiritual reality, or imbued with a sense of
horrifying rationality, each figure holds no identical emotion, nothing
parallel to the world in which they live.
poems' sole concerns are the
evocation of an undreamed-of holiness, the ineffable purity of 'placing' a body outside
of historical, cosmological and linear time. None of the central figures in
the poems appear unified, or reconciled to the fact that they have been
abandoned to a new alien plain, for between the primitive co-existence of
innocence and terror, flesh and bone, being and non-being, all of them watch
on in vain at the 'final
theological / drift of the peoples of / the faiths'. Unnaturally human, these figures celebrate a
secondary Earth, a new imagined abyss, a lexiconical universe in which each
world is limited only by the boundaries of the human imagination.
there are some traditional 'religious' figures in the poems, such as a priest, a pope
etc., but these, like in the paintings of Bacon, are too contorted, and seem
unable even to exist inside of the folds of the infinite flesh of the
imagination, shapes forced ontologically free to exist now inside of the
realm of a new churchless and religionless Christianity, one in which a
prehensile and more biological Christ has begun to awaken upon the cross. So
to answer your question, neither Bacon's life, his
religious views or his opinions on art have any relevance whatsoever in these
Obviously, you function completely outside the
intellectually barren 'British Mainstream' poetry
world. Are you in anyway angered by this? Or are you happy to locate yourself
amongst those poets who address such difficult and fundamental (existential)
questions that this is inevitable?
If I do function 'completely
the mainstream as you put it, then I am certainly not in anyway 'angered by it', for this is
the inevitable outcome (as you propose) of pursuing a terrible singularity,
and in any case I am utterly indifferent. I feel alone, but happily so, and
to be 'excluded' from the
British poetry world is hardly a deathblow worth recovering from. All that
matters is the work. I remain as I once described the philosopher E.M. Cioran
in an essay, as someone who is 'solely who he is, a bone-stratum feigning a
Again, I don't
feel happy or discontent to be among those poets who 'address such
difficult and fundamental questions' as you put it, for to me such concerns are normal,
everyday preoccupations; so perhaps the question should be why are
writers who deal with the 'difficult' screened off as
you suggest from the mainstream, and if this is indeed the case, then what
exactly does that make the mainstream?
And if such an exclusion is 'inevitable' then I can only echo the words of Cioran who, when
writing about the work of Joseph Maistre said 'what is an argument for the defence that
neither torments nor troublesÑwhat
is an eulogy that fails to kill?' maybe, just maybe, that is
What processes do you use when writingÑhow instinctive is it?
My 'processes' as you put it
are, in truth, a shadowless intuition, an instant when my imagination feels
fully imagined by someone else as, into the depths of
my mind, all of the unageing, celestial and still unresurrected torsos that
resemble me are lowered into my view.
Thus I pick up the pen only to extol, make public within my own soul,
wherever there are crumbling nations, superstitions that doubt, and
absolute holy fictions, or wherever man, suddenly external to the universe,
attempts in vain to overcome the calamity of his own human consciousness. I
never have been and never will be interested in 'keeping my hand
in', for if I never
write again after this book, then that will be fine.
Who would be your ideal reader?
God, or Hölderlin, or Rimbaud, or all three preferably.
How did you start in the 'poetry world' and how do
you see yourself in it now?
have always felt distinctly dissimilar to the 'poetry world', though I never
did believe (and still don't) that it
actually existed. I have never felt part of it, and for those who do feel
part of some giant poetical 'family' I can only think of them as being false believers
in a contradiction, in an anthropocentric anomaly between flesh and words.
do not see myself in anything now, yesterday or tomorrow. And perhaps I would
first have to think about what a 'poetry world' actually entails before deciding if I were part of
it, so what is it? Readings? Poetry classrooms? Teaching? All of which, to my
mind, sound like nothing but tolerable forms of negation, religions of
backbiting and, if each poet is fortunate enough, a continuous monologue
about pride and vanity; none of which of course have anything to do with the
© Paul Sutton &
Paul Stubbs 2015