‘The writer who is original is always scandalous…’ – An Inteview with Adele Stripe

Cigarettes in Bed sees the slight return of the exceptionally talented and lovely Adelle Stripe. She is a founding member of The Brutalist movement (alongside Tony O’ Neill and Ben Myers) and has published one other collection of poems called Some Things are Better Left Unsaid with Blackheath Books. She is currently working on a poetry project about The Yorkshire Ripper called The Beast I Am, has contributed journalism, fiction and poetry to various anthologies like Dwang, Mineshaft, 3:AM and Brand. She also works as fiction editor for Flux magazine.

Alan Kelly (AK): With Cigarettes in Bed the location of your poetry has shifted (From Some Things are Better Left Unsaid), more or less, from the urban to the rural. What kind of writing environment do you prefer – the city or the sticks?

Adelle Stripe (AS): It’s hard to say which environment works better for inspiration. When I lived in London I was drawing from the Chinese Wilderness Poets and spent a few years immersed in Romanticism. Coleridge’s writing really hit a nerve with me. I managed to escape the drudgery of South London by throwing myself into Coleridge’s world. I was longing for open landscapes, nature, fresh air – the habitat I grew up in. When I finally moved to Calderdale the poems seemed to click into place. The silence and space works wonders, although I wouldn’t say that I’m a prolific poet as such. I can only write when the feeling hits. Living in the wilds of Bronte country has allowed me to write haikus – something that I could never do in London. The city has a mass of energy and life, but I think 10 years of it is long enough.

AK: Do you write while smoking in bed? I needed to ask because I read your chapbook while smoking in bed…

AS: I used to smoke in bed all of the time back in my decadent past. The first fag of the morning was always my favourite. I’d roll out of bed stinking of vodka, onto the leopard print carpet and light a fag before I pulled my clothes on. I haven’t smoked for a while now though. I had a relapse about 3 years ago but I have managed to replace cigarettes with cake. I’m paying for it in the form of crumbling teeth and a Victoria Sponge belly. I tend to create my poems in cafes or on trains. I like to stare out of windows with no technological distractions. My poems can take up to six months to get right so they are in a constant state of deconstruction.

AK: You started the Brutalist poetry movement w/ Tony O’ Neil and Ben Myers – have you anymore collaborations planned with these writers?

AS: Ben and Tony have done really well since we launched The Brutalist movement. Tony has signed to Harper Perennial in the US and has written a new novel, Sick City, based on the Sharon Tate murders coming out next year. Ben has been signed by Picador and his first novel Richard will be out in September 2010. It’s about Richey Manic and the last two weeks of his life. We collaborated with Mineshaft Magazine this year on Cheap Thrills and had some of our new poems running alongside work by Robert Crumb which was a real honour. Lisa Cradduck has done some brilliant illustrations. We’ve done a chapbook, a comic, so maybe the next thing will be totally different. I’m really proud of our Brutalist output, I can see us still working together when we’re shuffling round on zimmerframes…

AK: You’re working on a major poetry project about The Yorkshire Ripper called The Beast I Am – I have to confess I’m very intrigued by this, apart from the obvious, (the echoes of his crimes) why choose a serial killer as your subject and what can you tell me about it?

AS: My theory is that all great writing on The Ripper so far has come from men. It’s men writing about a man. So my project will be based on the female victims. Told from their point of view. It’s a huge research project that will hopefully be written in cantos though I have no idea how it will eventually turn out. The plan is to write a long poem, either in fragments or cantos that will investigate the female voices of The Ripper case. I believe that the victims of the Yorkshire Ripper were ignored or overlooked in the media because they were street workers. The poem would be an opportunity to ‘reclaim’ their voices from the sensationalised, tabloid-style reporting of the Peter Sutcliffe case. Growing up in Yorkshire, I have a particular personal interest in this case as my father was interviewed three times over this case during the 1970s. He worked as a delivery driver around the Bradford areas and bore more than a passing resemblance to Peter Sutcliffe. I am aware that there are many texts relating to The Ripper case that have already been published – Blake Morrison’s The Ballad of The Yorkshire Ripper, Gordon Burns’ Somebody’s Father Somebody’s Son, The Red Riding Quartet of David Peace, alongside countless other investigative books. The point that struck me about these texts was that all the writers are male, writing about the crimes of a man. I want my poem to be from a female perspective and will attempt to describe the lives that his victims lead within the poem. I’m going to visit every site of the attacks as part of my research. It became apparent to me that female poetry can be way too precious and afraid of engaging with dark subject matter. I wanted to challenge myself, lay down the gauntlet. Attempt to write something with real substance, depth and horror. I am guilty of only writing personal poems, so this is the next step for me. I want to at least try and create something on a large scale. Simone de Beauvoir said that women are afraid of appearing confrontational in their writing, I think this something many female poets are guilty of. This idea that you are confined within the well worn themes of childbirth, flowers and love. I thought about what she said in The Second Sex, that “woman’s great concern is to please; and as a woman she is already afraid of displeasing just because she writes . . . The writer who is original . . . is always scandalous; what is new disturbs and antagonises; [but] women are still astonished and flattered to be accepted in the world of thinking and art, a masculine world. The woman watches her manners; she does not dare to irritate, explore, explode.” This quote is really a starting point for me with The Beast I Am. I just hope that I can pull it off.

AK: Do you think good poetry is all in the construction – I ask because I love ‘Sacred Heart’ – I’d go as far as saying its perfect – the sort of poem that will be remembered in a hundred years

AS: I’m really flattered that you like ‘Sacred Heart’. It’s the one poem I’m really pleased with. It took a serious amount of work. It was re-written and kicked about for ages. I just couldn’t get it right. I love writing in form. I’m a masochist so I enjoy the discipline. Blank verse bores me. So many writers in both the underground and mainstream poetry scenes write in free or blank verse form that I feel it has become totally stagnant. ‘Sacred Heart’ was my attempt to create a lyrical poem. Although there isn’t rhyming scheme it feels like it’s written in form, except it’s my own version. Tony Harrison’s ‘V’ was a copy of Grey’s ‘Elegy’ written in heroic quatrains – yet Harrison’s use of modern language and dialect invigorated the form. This was really the inspiration behind this idea, of taking old and archaic verse forms and reinventing them.

AK: What are your thoughts on ‘giving yourself distance’ as a writer – do you think all writers should bring themselves to their work? (I think you are a part of and apart from, your work – am I being gibberish)

AS: It’s a tricky question. I think you always have to retain a level of the personal in your writing. Otherwise it becomes clinical and distant. There are so many modern poets that write abstract, complicated, cold poetry. I hate modern poetry, The majority of it is just utter crap. Poems written by poets for other poets. It’s a self perpetuating scene, where academia and poetry support each other. I always wanted it to be more democratic. Where anyone could read your poems and understand it. That was the whole point of the Brutalist movement. I found myself writing a poem last year that used a couple of references to Greek mythology and that’s when the warning bells rang. Any mentions of Classics in your poems is just a sign that you’re taking yourself way too seriously. So I binned it. You can still craft beautiful poems but there’s no need to try and make yourself appear intelligent. That’s just snobbery and the very reason that nobody gives a shit about poetry anymore.

AK: You have a BA in creative writing – what do you think of the relationship between education and creativity? – What I’m asking is how much has pursuing an education changed you as a writer.

AS: It’s given me the chance to explore new ideas and philosophies – of which I’d have never understood if I hadn’t had such great teachers. I’m not remotely academic. I cocked up my exams, got thrown out of sixth form and worked as a shop assistant for years. I was a bum. I lived my life through music and lived hand to mouth. Things changed for me in my mid twenties, I joined libraries in the East End and started to educate myself. University was a completely alien concept to me to begin with, it was really hard. I couldn’t understand what the lecturers were talking about. I had to learn ‘academic language’, which basically converts simple ideas and theories into complicated ones by using big words. I had a working class chip on my shoulder, but luckily I studied at Greenwich – where many of the students were in the same boat as me. The other students really inspired me – the creative ideas were nurtured rather than stifled. Studying has become such a focus for me that now I’m taking a year out I feel really lost without it. I’d eventually like to study for a PhD and become a teacher. So I can explain simple ideas in simple language to other people like me who maybe didn’t have such a good start in life.

AK: Will we be getting a novel or a short story collection from you anytime soon?

AS: Not that I know of. I don’t think I’m a great fiction writer really. I can write autobiographically but anything outside of that is too much like hard work. I’m not ruling out completely but I don’t think my writing is good enough to be published. That aside, it hurts too much. I found writing stories and fiction to be a stressful experience and not much fun at all. For that reason I’m sticking to poetry.

AK: Niven Govinden once described you as ‘A bestial Isabella Blow…’ How would you describe yourself in the third person?

AS: A poet of no major talent other than a flair for publicity.

AK: Do you ever think hope is sometimes a dirty word?

AS: Hope and faith are really similar. They help you get out of the bad patches. Problems arise when hope is attached to the idea of holy beings. We are all essentially the product of our own ambitions. Hope and faith can deflect reality, making you believe that the grass is always greener. And gives you an inflated sense of your own self-importance. But without it we’d all be like Charlie Brooker. Cynical beasts glued to cheap pornography and computer games.

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