Deflated Ego 7: David Briggs on David Briggs

Id: The Method Men was published in May 2010. How's that working out for you?

Briggs: Okay, I guess. The launch readings have gone well. I've sold a goodly number of copies at readings. And it's been shortlisted for the London Fringe New Poetry Award. Reviewers, thus far, have been kind, and (generally) perceptive. Best of all, I'm still enjoying reading the poems to audiences, even though I've been living with these method men quite a few years now.

Superego: As you say, it's been a few years. Some of these poems were first published in magazines six or seven years ago. One or two were in your Eric Gregory Award submission eight years back. Don't you think you ought to be concentrating on new work, rather than dissecting the guts of The Method Men
in this spurious interview?

Briggs: Er, perhaps, but I think the book benefited from taking its time. There's a coherence there I'm really pleased with. All the characters in the poems seem restricted, in the sense that they're trying to navigate an ineffable world by means of tried-and-tested, yet Id:iosyncratic, mental tricks and routines; styles of thought that began, perhaps, as habit and have hardened into something like character.

Id: Illustrate!

Briggs: Well, those in the title poem, for example, reliant as they are on styles of divination (some genuine, some fictitious) present the most obvious examples, but the same limitation, the same reliance on method, can be found everywhere in the book if you go looking for it. The protagonists of 'AccId:ent' and 'Exemplum' seem to have come to the limit of their capacities, to be in the process, almost, of acknowledging that events have shoved them into realms of experience for which they have no mental compass: their methods are stretched to breaking-point. Others, the speakers of 'Pulse' and 'Bloomsday' seem to have found a way through to a new paradigm; or, at least, to have realised the need to discard the old one. Hence the flicked cigarette at the end of 'Bloomsday' and the oblivion at the end of 'Pulse' are not so much endings as the possibility of new beginnings. I think the context suggests that anyway. Those method men capable of love seem to fare better, as in 'Woodland, with Two Figures'. Somehow, they acquire greater mental elasticity. Those of more rigId: thought-habit, like those in 'Closed Systems' and 'Clowns', end their respective poems in a more hapless state.

Superego: Julia Bird describes the character in 'Closed Systems' as having “all the personality of a weather front”. Would you care to comment on that?

Briggs: Well, she's about right. The poem started with one of those walk-and-text pieces that the artist Richard Long produced about ten to twenty years ago – the Id:ea of transplanting water stream to river to estuary from the east to the west coast of England. But we see that this character has been conducting experiments like this since he was a boy, and that the water-transplant of the poem's continuous present simply leads him back into memory – his father, his childhood – rather than into any new observations. So all that water seems less a symbol of fertility, more a kind of drowning. It's circular, like the water-cycle; a closed system in which he's stuck, despite his carefully-calibrated attempts to measure it.

Id: There's a lot of digging about in the depths of memory and childhood in the book. I like that. But how much of it's autobiographical?

Briggs: Yes, there is a lot of that. Especially in the mId:dle of the book. The 'High Summer …' poems, and, to an extent, the album sonnets engage in that kind of thing. A lot of the details are loosely autobiographical: the Johnny Thunders poem, Rod Stewart, Nick Cave, DavId: Sylvian, etc. all have a basis in my own history. I think that sequence is where I'm most naked. But they all branch out from personal navel-gazing, I hope. I'm more interested in poetry as the telling of fabulous lies, Borgesian fictions, or of how things might be, than in recording the banality of my own trials and tribulations.

Superego: In terms of form, it's clear that you're interested in traditional lyric forms, but also, here and there, in something freer, more experimental. Do you think those two sit uneasily together?

Briggs: No. I'm happy with the range of styles and forms. The sonnet sequence is about as traditional as you can get, but even there I've gone for a longer, looser line than the traditional pentameter. The more constructivist pieces, 'My Year of Culture' and 'Cultural Static' were written to rules I'd set myself involving the repetition of patterns, but even there I've broken the rules in the interest of the poem. 'Cultural Static' began as a hebdomad (a form developed by Roddy Lumsden), but I've truncated mine as I think it works better that way. Even 'Bloomsday', the closest I come to stream-of-consciousness in the book, had a guId:ing principle. I'd read Derek Walcott talking about how he finds the rhythm or metre of a poem in the first line-and-a-half, then rId:es that beat for the rest of the process of composition. I certainly worked that way in 'Bloomsday', and elsewhere. Although I've discovered that what seems a very clear rhythmic signature to my ear may sound completely different to someone else. Mostly, it's simply a case of chiselling away at what you've got until the form emerges.

Id: You seem to have ordered the poems in a very deliberate way. Don't you think it might have worked better had it been more chaotic, more of a rag-bag?

Briggs: No. I like the sequence. It creates echoes and counterpoint as you move recto/verso from one poem to the next. Sometimes you'll get a little sequence, say of graveyard poems that end 'On the Banks of Acheron'. Other times you'll get a poem that sets what came before in a different light, as when 'Closed Systems' is followed by 'Drought', or 'Winter Music' by 'Snow'.

Superego: I suggest it's your turn to cook this evening. Shall we conclude there?

Id: What're we having?

Briggs: Risotto.

      © David Briggs 2010