Lydia Towsey interviewed by Trevor Wright for Burning House Press
We first met at the launch of the Refugee anthology, Over Land, Over Sea. Poems for those Seeking Refuge (Five Leaves Press 2015). What was that project like for you?
It’s been very positive – a great idea. As an ordinary citizen, especially, or even in our current political climate, it’s easy to feel powerless. Ambrose (Musiyiwa) whose poem The Man Who Ran Through the Tunnel stimulated the anthology) thought this would be a way to mobilise lots of voices, not just from Leicester but from across the country and the world.
I have two of my poems in the anthology. One called, ‘Quotas’ and the other, ‘Come In’. In ‘Come In’ I was imagining the refugee crisis on a more domestic scale. People often behave in a way, globally and nationally – when others are at a distance and removed – that they wouldn’t if they were close, if they lived next door, or if there might be any kind of personal exchange or consequence. In the poem, I reimagine our government as a landlord, the refugees currently arriving as previously wronged hosts, and the speaker – the ‘we’ rushing to make welcome with many apologies. In reducing the scale of the situation to try and look at the broader, very real, current situation in a different way, and of course in the context of colonialism.
I’ve been interested to see the second life of the book (Journeys in Translation), where poems are being translated into multiple languages by lots of different people. That’s beautiful to see.
For me, the most exciting thing about the project is how it’s getting people to engage with poetry and ideas, who might otherwise not. Poetry chalked on the streets, passers-by reading things; they might be of a completely different political persuasion, or have a completely different view on the refugee crisis – but the power and gift of art is that it can change hearts and minds or at least provoke thought. That’s a really positive thing to happen. for poetry to be working to effect change – and at the same time, introducing itself to a new audience.
Why through poetry in particular?
I started out as a visual artist and had success in that at young age. At sixth form college, I was given an award by the national AEB Exam Board for getting the highest A Level Art mark in the country – which I’m embarrassed about, and embarrassingly proud of, in equal measure! I went on to do a Foundation course and was torn between art degree choices – Illustration, because my work often included words or drew upon them… or conceptual, because I was interested in exploring ideas in quite a theoretical way. I was drawn to a conceptual Art Degree, enjoying the way in which you could do something visual – but explain and/generate your work through a process of research and writing. I was always straining at the edges of visual stuff, towards the linguistic.
I know lots of incredible painters and sculptors, but in my own work I’ve always been frustrated by the boundaries of the visual, that you could say a lot – and be sublime – but you couldn’t be specific. Or maybe you can – but the specific I’m reaching for, the story I have to tell, is linguistic.
For my final Foundation piece, I found myself carving letters out of plaster-of-paris that I set in ice cube trays and used to spell out a poem, The Final Piece. I was young and Goth (to use that term both literally and euphemistically, with that time in my life being fraught with all sorts of other stuff) so it was a poem about death. I arranged the letters in the formation of a skeleton and cast my body in bread (freshly baked, risen and varnished) to form the rest of the body. So I’ve always been interested in using words in different ways.
I was never practising as a ‘writer’ but I carried on with it during a pivotal experience around that time, developing an eating disorder, anorexia. Eventually I found myself in hospital, on a section, this was almost 20 years ago. I didn’t really want to touch the visual arts stuff anymore because it brought a lot of pressure, in my case, a kind of perfectionism that had contributed to the development of the disorder. The place – on Brighton University’s CFAP (Critical Fine Art Practice) course – was kept open for me and it was hard to walk away from. Its previous alumni included Rachel Whitbread, who of course went on to win a Turner Prize – not to say in any way of course that I would have gone on to anything similar – or done anything other than languish with an unused Art Degree in some other career…but then paths not taken are very attractive for being so brilliant in all their imagined glory. It was hard to walk away from, but I didn’t want to return. I started writing instead. I met a psychiatric nurse on the ward who was a poet, and who encouraged me to continue. When I left hospital, they continued to see me and look at my work, and it became something I carried on doing. The potential shortness of poetry appealed to me, I liked its immediacy.
How would you describe the process when you’re writing?
It varies. In general, it’s quite intuitive, so a line for something will come to me, and ideally I will run with that and see where it takes me. And I like the way that, in poetry, you don’t have to necessarily have to know what the spark of an idea is about; where a line will lead, what it will ultimately end up being.
At the same time, doing my Masters is Creative writing, approaching 10 years ago, I found myself writing more formally. I got into sonnets and villanelles and sestinas and all sorts of other forms and this practical education has stayed with me and informed my craft and awareness of form.
My work has changed thematically over the course of my writing life. I began using words to work stuff out, in a way that was personal and therapeutic. I would be talking about my body, or relationships and everything was very internal and to use my earlier word but in a different way – specific. I wouldn’t want to use the word self-indulgent but all art is, in that you have to please yourself to please other people; you have to interest yourself and be excited by what you’re writing. However my writing process – or at least focus – changed, when I met Jean Binta Breeze who became a mentor as well as a great friend.
How did you meet her?
She came to Leicester in 2005/6 as part of her NESTA Fellowship. She would come to the open mic nights and various literature gatherings in Leicester, and we met at those, mostly at WORD! and got to know each other in that context. We started meeting up and she was interested in my work having heard me read and talk about it. She was very generous but also critical, and I’ll always be grateful for that.
She observed what I’m talking about, you know, that focus on the personal, the ‘I’ and how internal it could be, and the repeated themes around the same subject. Jean would never criticise intimacy in writing, but she invited me to combine it with a more public voice. She said, there’s a big wide world out there, there so much happening, and you’re just talking about this narrow part of it.
We spent hours in her kitchen, reciting and discussing poems. I’d share something I was working on and she’d tell me what she thought. Once, she edited a piece for me, this long poem about my partner who I’d then only recently met. I was very pleased with it, it was very long, it was very passionate, and it contained all these wonderful things about him – and she just took a pen and drew a circle around four lines and said, ‘That’s the poem. That’s the poem right there.’
On one hand, you feel, but what about all of this? Isn’t this brilliant? Aren’t I amazing? And, on the other hand, how generous and helpful is it when someone you greatly admire and respect lends you an outside eye, and shows you things you might not see yourself.
She rocked the rhythms in her chair
Brushed a hand across her hair
Miles of travel in her stare
De simple tings of life
Simple Tings by Jean Binta Breeze
From: Third World Girl (Bloodaxe Books) 2011
What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?
Trying to bring your experience and ideas into the world with any degree of accuracy, matching thoughts with words. Language sometimes seems … insufficient. I’ve heard it said that all art aspires to music because music comes closer to conveying emotional experience, thought and feeling, because it’s better at expressing the inexpressible. We have a variety of tools at our disposal – music, art, words, movement and then Movements with many tropes and modes and voices. Whatever you choose, I think it’s the same struggle.
I’m currently working on my second book, and in it, for the first time talking about my previous experience of an eating disorder. Such writing is loaded and potentially tricky. There are many arising questions – how do you balance honesty with self-indulgence – or its avoidance? How do you decide what is of public interest and what is of a more personal nature? How do you manage your inner censor, listen to your gut and best serve the work.
Do you think there is a role for poetry or writing in general in improving health and wellbeing?
Yes, certainly. I’ve heard it said (and observed) that writers often start with themselves – in terms of exploring childhood, culture, family and the self-defining, personal. This is a kingdom that you can potentially have most knowledge and understanding of – and I think writing to explore identity and then ones everyday experiences can be both grounding, healing and healthy – doing so, we build up a ‘picture’ of where we’ve been, what we’ve done and who we are.
Whether we write about ourselves or things beyond ourselves, or both – writing can help us gain clarity, reach out to others – and be of use to others too – and all of that is healthy.
So my personal experience tells me yes, it can and my professional life tells me the same. For the last ten years I’ve been working as part time basis as the Arts in Health Co-coordinator, for Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, specialising in Adult Mental Health. I see, again, and again, the transformative power of creative writing. All art can do this, but I think creative writing’s good because it allows you to be specific about your story – and to record it your own words – rather than having it deduced, defined and explained by someone else, a friend, carer, or health professional, however well meaning. Words are powerful, and they can be empowering.
More so than painting or drawing?
It depends where someone’s skills and interests lie. From my perspective, literature has the advantage of being detailed in ways that another art form can’t be. If you have words, you can describe exactly what happened, say (or try to say) exactly what you think – we think and live in language, if we do in sound and image also.
You could draw it, or play it on the saxophone – and strongly connect to a feeling – and it could be very representative, but words give the potential for another order of detail. Of course, with literature, the impact and meaning of the work depends upon the reader/speaker sharing the chosen language – which again makes me think of ‘Over Land, Over Sea’ – and its wonderful translation project – but this is another interesting thing about literature, that the same work can – and must – exist in multiple ways – as it relies on and moves across languages.
Writing is also particularly democratic and accessible. You don’t need special tools or equipment; you just need a pen and paper. You could say – oh but you need to be literate – but not necessarily. At our NHS led creative writing sessions, we can transcribe to help someone produce their verbatim piece, or support them to type up a draft.
If someone is desperate to tell a story and is engaged and inspired by the form, that can be a way in to helping them improve their literacy, and then ability to participate in broader public life and the world. If someone has produced something, mastered a skill, engaged with themselves and/or with issues outside of themselves, it’s obviously really positive and of benefit in terms of increased self-esteem, confidence and transferable skills. That’s valuable for everyone else as well because how can we really tell what society looks like if we’re only looking at a portion of it? If voices are excluded, because of culture, class, health, gender, sexuality – on any grounds, communities are left voiceless, perspectives not catered for, the whole, not whole.
Having started out in visual art, when you have an idea for a poem, do you have a picture of what you want to describe?
The visual crosses over into my process so much. I don’t consciously see an image but I do tend to write in quite a visual way. I like to be able to ‘see’ what I’m writing about, because I want the reader, or the listener, to see it as well – in terms of it being concrete – but yes, often in my case, also in a literally visual way. But then my partner is a visual artist which is hysterical for me. If someone had told me twenty years ago, when I was struggling to decide whether or not to drop out of art school, that, you know, whatever I chose, I wasn’t going to be escaping it – that twenty years from now, I would be shacked up (laughter) with a proper bona fide painter (Scott Bridgwood).
We collaborate so much. He specialises in figurative painting, especially people and the nude figure, which is an interesting parallel or continuation of my own story in that my issue was so much about the physical appearance and the body. Now here I am with someone who paints bodies, paint naked bodies, and paints my body quite a lot of the time. So I’ve gone from being visual artist to an artist’s ‘muse’ – but our relationship is more collaborative, and any muse element, mutual.
You collaborated with Scott for the February production of the Venus Papers at the Attenborough Art Centre where you had both your spoken word show and Scott’s images.
Yes, we staged an exhibition and preview of Scott’s work alongside the show, and his work also features as part of the show’s stage set. His paintings were inspired by the poems – but worked as visual responses rather than illustrations. The paintings took Venus Papers poem titles, and the exhibition much more of a narrative approach than Scott would commonly – with the book (Venus Papers: Burning Eye 2015) having a very specific order, working as a story if read from beginning to end. In the case of Scott’s exhibition, his selection of poems to interpret or respond to was of course an edit of the complete manuscript and the abridged selection arranged alternatively – for their best visually narrative sense – or sight-sense – so the exhibition was both a reflection of the text and a new narrative or world in itself.
In the case of the book; the first half (the earliest pieces in it having been written between 2001 and 2006) comprises of a group of poems, moving from innocence to experience – and in this, mirroring Botticelli’s inspiring artwork (The Birth of Venus) and later in the book, The Venus Papers title sequence. The pieces in the first half of the book are more directly autobiographical in nature or otherwise exist outside of Venus’ narrative. They have a logical order – but in the show, as in the exhibition, the staging has thrown up a completely different sequence. I find that kind of fragmentation interesting – you change the way you arrange things, and change your version of events. For me this kind of shifting around recalls memory (excusing the pun) and the way it operates creatively, and is unreliably, reliable.
The second half, the Venus Papers sequence, originated around the time of my MA, eight or nine years ago. The process of working with Rachel Mars and Nick Field as directors for the stage show and thinking more deeply about what I was trying to say with the work, led me to write new material. I was then immediately in touch with Burning Eye, asking if I could add some additional pieces. Two or three more Venus Papers poems were included in the second reprint. I could have added more, but I’ve left some for my next collection and because you have to draw the line somewhere. To quote someone, a book is never finished, but abandoned.
What, if anything, has poetry taught you?
‘The importance of being earnest’ – or honest. As Carol Ann Duffy has said, you’re stuck working on a poem until you tell the truth. I’ve wasted months or weeks on one piece or another before acknowledging that fact, and people will spot if you’re lying or being disingenuous. It’s taught me the ways in which writing can touch another person and touch you in your communication of it; the importance of being part of a community and taking in other ideas….the power to transform. You can really grapple with an issue, public, personal or both – and come out the other side. ‘If it makes my whole body so cold not fire can ever warm me, I know its poetry’ (Emily Dickinson.)
You know when you’ve really experienced the real deal and it’s an amazing thing. The first bit of ‘Morning Song’ – the first poem in Sylvia Plath’s, ‘Ariel’ –
‘Love set you going like a fat gold watch / The midwife slapped your foot soles, and your bald cry / Took its place among the elements…’
Those lines have been going round my head for so many years, I’ve always loved them. I had my first child just over a year and a half ago, and came to understand why it had resonated. Sometimes a poem knows you before you do, expresses the inexpressible.
What would be one thing that you’d want to pass on to somebody starting or who’s recently started to write poetry?
Be as honest and as patient as you can. Patient with yourself because it is very difficult to marry up the intensity of feeling and the complexity of ideas that you have to impart, with the universal tools at your disposal. You will get better and develop more techniques as time goes on, and so be better able to close that gap and be more accurate and faithful to what you feel and want to say. But it takes time. In my case, it’s taken a very, very long time, from beginning to write, to getting my first book published.
If I had published sooner, it would have been a much weaker book. Five years ago, I had the first draft, I had the manuscript, I had the Venus title sequence pretty much in place, but my main focus with the story had been on Venus as a symbol for ‘Everywoman’, and I was exploring body image and contemporary standards of beauty, and in the 21st century, how even Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty would fall short. The focus was on contemporary western feminist themes – but then the refugee crisis occurred, and how could I not look at it again?
Here is this outsider, ‘otherwoman’ turning up on a shell, landing on a beach and she’s the ultimate immigrant, fleeing from all sorts of horrors. In a world of Greek Gods, born of a castration, a bloody start – and there is an obvious parallel with migration and asylum. I didn’t understand enough about the story I wanted to tell when I first started to tell it, but then how can you? Something else comes along that could have featured in the story. There’s a point where you have to decide that it’s told with as much information as you have. Over the years I’ve developed more tools, more skill, I’m more able to see and tell the stories I want to convey, but of course, it’s an ongoing process.
Who are your favourite poets?
Jean Binta Breeze has obviously had a profound effect. I love writers like – Jean, Adrian Mitchell, Carol Ann Duffy, Roger McGough, Warsan Shire and more – who combine the personal with the political to write in clear, accessible ways whilst experimenting with language, form and ideas. T S Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop…I love the Beat Poets, for their energy, politics and musicality – particularly Allen Ginsburg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (coming across him more recently, as part of a commission) and Michael Horovitz – and the latter’s recent collaborations with artist/singer/songwriter, Vanessa Vie – her/them of the ‘Ha Ha Ha, He He He’ song. I love Selima Hill’s stuff – my favourite collections of hers being ‘Bunny’, ‘Portrait of my Lover as Horse’ and ‘Little Book of Meat’ – the absurd sense, surreal nature and use of language is just gorgeous. I love Toon Telegen – a Dutch writer I was introduced to via Shoestring Press – for his symbolism, imagery, beauty and depth – ‘About Love and Nothing Else’ was one of my most returned to books (before I lent it to someone and forgot who!) – and ‘A Man and An Angel’ – I used to rock my daughter to sleep whilst reading it out loud, the words deep as a dream and mesmerising.
In terms of other/poets practising within performance – I greatly admire singer/songwriter/poet, Mellow Baku (multi-talented, sublime, prolific and lyrical), Salena Godden (the genius of ‘My Tits are More Feminist than Your Tits’ and more), John Hegley, for the humour, humanity and sensitivity, Joolz Denby (for her range, political insight and presence), Vanessa Kisuule – particularly loving her ‘Take up Space’ (https://youtu.be/B72_O9D4jNg) poem and film….Michael Brome, Aoife Mannix, Andrew Graves, George Szirtes, Mark Pajak (brilliant, incredible writers, commentators and performers – for too many reasons to go into – and too many others, besides these to list.
What was the last poem or piece of art that had an impact, that you think’s had a lasting impression on you?
Mmmm. I was looking at some of Seamus Heaney’s work recently, reading Two Lorries, his sestina (Spirit Level. Faber and Faber. 1996). Sestinas are interesting, you have such a master to avoid sounding repetitive, or contrived and lost – to allow the form to develop the narrative, and the idea to travel across the repeated words. I love the way Two Lorries starts very personally, talking about a recalled memory, of a coal-man visiting his (Heaney’s) mother and flirting with her slightly, and then, fast forwards fifty years or so, to the troubles in the Northern Ireland.
As far as art goes – I live with it all the time because my partner is a painter and between his studio and our home there are literally hundreds of canvases, some of them very large indeed. The other week he painted my back – a painting of it, you understand! The treatment is almost abstract, there’s an atomisation of brush strokes, using both cool and warm flesh tones, and a play of light – I think it’s like a map and suggestive of so many other things – valleys, ridges, planes. Admittedly I don’t see my back very often, but it is as if I’m seeing it for the first time. With my back to the viewer, the pose seems semi-dismissive and that seems to add even more weight to the image. It can be viewed in many ways, but that, I think, is the beauty of it, that it isn’t locked down.
Do you have any obsessions that are evident or recurrent in your work?
I’m very interested in cultural origins and how we define them. I suppose I’ve been even more encouraged to think about that in the light of the refugee crisis. Who has a right to be in a certain place? Who doesn’t? It becomes more and more ludicrous to me, that and the idea of nationalism.
I start with my own experience, which feels very mixed. My mother’s family is from Wales, but she was brought up in London because like many Welsh people, they migrated there and set up dairy, my mum’s father was a milkman and they owned their own village dairy on Portobello Road. My mum – though Welsh (the daughter of two Welsh people) and speaking Welsh at home – was raised in an English environment outside of the home; how does a situation like that effect national identity? Or perhaps to use a better phrase, cultural identity.
You’ve written from the Celtic angle in the poem, Not One of Those People…
…pretending to be Welsh’ which is slightly tongue in cheek because I talk about being Welsh, and get my party piece in, my Welsh nursery rhyme about the horse that fell into the river (Gee, geffyl bach, yn cario ni’n dau.) I was exploring my cultural identity and thinking about other lost tongues and narratives.
‘She speaks yr Cymraeg – slips into it as easy as umbrellas turned over in winter. When she finds a Welsh bus driver, a new Welsh person working in her local English corner shop, English vowels are scrambled, tongue clicks into new shapes and the Welsh she has no use for is shaken out like a rolled up bedspread – or a map – rising up in cast off clouds and settling silent as soft shoes’
Not One of Those People from the Venus Papers, Burning Eye, 2015
My father’s family is Jewish Hungarian, on his mother’s side; English (Catholic) Mexican and American on his father’s side. As a child my father moved with his parents to live in Rhodesia, SIngapore, Swaziland and Iraq – with his father working as an economist in what was then the Colonial British Empire. My father’s mother had a number of personal problems – and the broader context and situation easier to talk about in a poem.
I’m exploring such themes in my next book, ‘The English Disease’, drawing on a post-colonial narrative and thinking about a variety of English obsessions, including class. My father went to boarding school and had a pretty difficult experience to put it mildly, but throughout his adult life he worked as a bus driver, and later security guard on minimum wage. He has a degree in history, speaks Pali and Sanskrit and lives in a small bungalow, with my mum, a former nurse. How do we define class?
Perhaps, in part, because of my own background, I’ve also been interested in our social, cultural, and political histories, and how they impact upon the present – but I’ve also always lived in Leicester, so my influences have always been very multicultural.
What about music as an influence?
Yes, and another type of poetry – it’s been said, the type all art aspires to. Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Kate Tempest was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize – these things cross over. I love strong lyrics, lyrics that experiment with language and ideas – Bjork, PJ Harvey, Crass, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash. There are loads of poets who work with music, Jools Denby, Mark Gwynne Jones’ Psychicbread. The other day I was listening to John Hegley’s early album, ‘Saint and Blurry’ and smiling or wincing for all the right reasons. I particularly liked ‘Song about cleaning your glasses’ and the one against contact lenses (having recently taken up again with reading glasses) – and ‘Death of a Dog’, which still sticks in my ribs. I got into blues bars (dens of dancing and dominoes) with Jean, and via that and her, dub and reggae, and love poets like, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Jean (Binta Breeze) for their work in that genre.
In The Venus Papers, there are poems inspired by a chorus verse structure – Eton Boys, and Tawanda. But Jean, has experimented with a wide range of musical genres, reggae but also electronica – I remember an EP she cut in Italy, of Rhythm Ravings, that rendered the poem sonic and very different from her reggae inspired renditions of it – but just as glorious. It was a kind of Trip-Hop, some kind of Parnassas Portishead. But then I’ve seen her live with a rock band, improvising a new poem that I’ve long tried to find but can only recall the first part of ‘The rum is in my blood, the drum is in my head, a coffee and a smoke, gets me out of bed, where did the sun go today? I think it never came…’ – I’ll never forget the show I’m thinking of, I loved both the lyric and mood of it, the raw, honest, dark if bright. I like Bukowski and Levine and Ginsburg – beat poetry of one kind or another, and another kind of music.
I also like cut-ups and other experimental ways of writing. There’s a poem in the new book about David Bowie, and others written with ukulele chords. Looking at the visual scan of a poem, I love the way that work appears on the page, the way that the ukulele chords sort of drop down and change it into something that is somewhere between algebra and art, writing itself independently like some sort of hidden code.
I Saw A Raft
(with ukulele chords)
I saw a raft, where?
G G C D
There on the shore, where on the shore?
G G G G C C G G
Just there – a little raft with kids on, well I declare,
D D G fdsa G
does anyone know why they’re there?
I’ve come to the ukulele quite recently. I’ve been astounded to see how I might have any musical ability at all. Like poetry, you can have it drummed out of you at school. I played the recorder at primary school, and then attempted to play the flute but was terrible at it, and I didn’t really get on with my secondary school music teacher. The ukulele is a very accessible instrument, a good way of bringing people to music, and something I learned in the context of that. And you can play a song with a finger, you know, which sounds really obscene, but you can, and it’s a beautiful thing.
When will The English Disease be published?
In 2018, out with Burning Eye Books – who I continue to build shrines for. The book is divided into chapters. At the moment, the first section is on babies, cats and cake, all solid English obsessions, then the second entitled, Nursery Rhymes and Referendums. So, it’s tracking the events from 2015 to now. I was pregnant when the general election happened, and I found it very depressing, then Brexit and the campaigning around that. My daughter was born in the August of that year. It was an interesting experience, to go through motherhood for the first time alongside seismic changes, nationally and globally.
I’ve rewritten various nursery rhymes, drawing on the experience of singing to my child and making up silly stories. So I’ve got rewrites like, Baa-Baa Neutral sheep, on class injustice – and Ba-Ba Black Sheep, on the subject of stop and search. ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep have you any grass? No, officer, no officer, why do you ask?…’ And then, Three Blind Mice – and the Hokey Cokey, looking at the Referendum. I Saw a Raft, Old MacDonald Had An Agricultural Facility… and so on.
The chapters move on to look at the refugee crisis, referendums, and then zombies, looking at Englishness, eating disorders, war (don’t mention it/do…) etc. Zombies are another sort of minor obsession of mine; I’m interested in the metaphorical and symbolic aspect of the undead, the zombie. Repetitive behaviour, the way a zombie can stand for other things – like governments, a Zombie Government being a government with the appearance of democracy but none of its reality, something I think is unfortunately quite prescient at the moment. I’m also keen to look at how they relate to eating disorders, with both conditions being sort of automatic and ‘mindless’ – but with that word to be elaborated on. Can zombies have eating disorders, is one question for me (laughs).
Is there a gender question there too – eating disorders, horror movies?
Yes, I think so, to take the genre, it’s one of the few contexts within which women are allowed to be ugly, you can be an ugly woman if you’re a monster and beyond the pale. In cinematic terms, a woman can be killed by a man if she’s a monster, better still if she’s undead, so not a proper woman. It’s a rich area to explore. There’s also something about the automatic, mindless behaviour of the zombie – a kind of running on autopilot that I think is comparable to experience of an eating disorder.
There’s the same pathology of repetition, control, loss of control and dehumanisation – from the things one might be willing and capable of doing, to the wearing away of body, mind and spirit and accompanying destructive consequences. Unlike anorexia, there are of course some positive things about being zombie. In un-death – true equality across gender, class and culture – and zombies don’t tend to kill each other, so swings and roundabouts.
In the meantime, are you going to finish the Venus Papers Tour?
Yes! We’ve got dates (see below) for the Venus Papers in place. I’m so proud of the show that we’ve created, it feels exciting and like a real accomplishment. It’s been a joy to work with Rachel and Nick – and all of the project’s other collaborators – they really are all utterly astounding and marvellous and clever, and know what they’re doing – and now we just want as many people to see it as possible.
I should definitely say thanks to the gods and goddesses of Arts Council England – without whom it just wouldn’t have been possible to tour. On stage at any time, there are two musicians (Ola Szmidt and David Dhonau) plus me. Then there’s the transportation of the set, the lighting and the tech-ing, the production around it to make sure that everything runs smoothly, let alone the marketing and all of that. So, even if you take away the development time of each of the components, it’s a very expensive show to put on. Very happily it seems to have been very well received so far, we’ve had some wonderful reviews and audience feedback, and as an artist, it’s continuing to feel like an incredibly enriching experience.
Before Venus goes, we’ve both got daughters so any messages for them?
It sounds clichéd, but to be true to who you are, to own and celebrate it – and to cut yourself some slack. I want to try and protect my daughter as much as possible from all the negative influences that I think women in particular are in receipt of today. Pressures to look a certain way, act a certain way, to be marginalised on gender grounds, on top of potentially facing all sorts of other struggles, of class, economics, sexuality, ethnicity – and it starts so early. In my daughter’s case – she’s just over a year and a half old, but I try in as many ways as I can to keep her options as open as possible. I think that’s what women, young women – and women of all ages want – respect, equality, education and opportunities. One ludicrous irony is that, in the interest of such intention, I try to avoid dressing my daughter in pink (which in itself is a long discussion)….but I have pink hair. It’s like the Terminator, who has to kill himself at the end because he’s the one bit of information that they mustn’t leave behind – the key part of the picture, with the biggest terrible consequence. It’s the hair equivalent, but with my pink hair persevering.
‘As the rain falls down on the seafront
Moon falls down from the sky
She dreams about going back there
But this time being Venus;
This time, not having to lie.’
Venus Leaves from the Venus Papers, Burning Eye, 2015
Would Venus also have a message for sons?
Be a feminist because no one prospers from inequality. If women have to be a certain way, then men have to be a certain way too. If a woman has to be the submissive princess to be saved, then the man has all this pressure on him to go out in the world and do everything and have all the answers. It’s as limiting, and pressurising and frustrating, and we seem to teach children the sexist fundamentals from the beginning. Even when I’m consciously trying not to, it’s hard not to fall into the patterns, or for media and peer influence not to exert itself, and in that there’s also a recognition of the world in which we live. If asked, I’d say, as people we must try to have empathy for each other, and raise our children of whatever gender, to do the same. That way we’ll have healthy, equal people and healthy, equal societies.
If your house was burning down, the family and pets were safe, and you had a minute to dash back in and pick up one piece of art, what would that be?
Our place is stuffed with art because though, Scott, my partner has work in a number of galleries, he paints, stores and displays a lot of his work at home. Given that, I’m exposed to, and grow attached to a lot of paintings, somehow ill-advisedly, as pieces can get sold and leave. There are three or four paintings however, that we’d never sell, and one of these – of me drinking from a mug of tea is – if I could have only one – the one I’d run back in for. I bought the mug nearly two decades ago, when I moved into my first flat, and the painting, done around ten years later, was one of the first Scott ever did of me. Many of the things I’ve referenced seem to have happened 10 or 20 years ago, needless to say, everything else – and quite a bit! – has happened since. Here’s to now and the future.
Lydia Towsey’s blogs:
Lydia will be appearing at:
Off the Shelf Festival, Sheffield, October 13th.
Alma Tavern Theatre, Bristol Poetry Festival, October 18th
Attenborough Arts, Leicester, October 23rd
The Maypole, Derby Word Wise, October 27th.
On the Buses, Literary Leicester, November 15th (various buses, see Literary Leicester)
Attenborough Arts, Leicester, November 23rd
Bloomsbury Theatre, London, November 29th.
Slam Dunk, Hastings, November 30th
SCOTT BRIDGWOOD is a figurative painter, based in Leicester. He graduated from Chelsea Art College in Fine Art Painting (1991), sharing a studio with Chris Offilli, and working under the personal tutorage of Guardian art critic, Adrian Searle. After exhibiting around London, at venues including ICA & Westminster Gallery, he moved to Rome (Italy) painting & teaching at the BCI (British Cultural Institute) for eight years.
Over the last ten years Scott has exhibited & sold widely across the Midlands winning prizes, including first place in: Windsor and Newton, Patchings; ‘Art in Lyddington’; Sock Gallery, Loughborough; Leicester Society of Artists, Annual; Leicester Sketch Club, Annual and WindowsOn, Leicester. He was recently the subject of a two page spread in national ‘Artist’ magazine, with a step-by-step portraiture demonstration. in 2013 he was shortlisted for major Threadneedle Street Prize.
An experienced workshop facilitator, Scott is regularly invited to deliver workshops and critiques around Leicestershire, for clients including: Loughborough Grammar School, Beauchamp College, Longslade College and many art societies across the county. He currently teaches weekly life drawing and portraiture at: Attenborough Arts Centre, University of Leicester; Ten 2 Gallery, Hinckley; Open Door Gallery, Market Harborough and Gallery 3, Oadby.
His work appears in private collections, including those of Mr Ova, who at time of purchasing was the Director of Lazio Football Club (Italy) and the University of Leicester – who have both purchased existing material and commissioned new work. Scott was the Chair of Leicester Society of Artists (2010 – 2011). His work is on permanent display at: The Lost Gallery, Aberdeen; Westend Gallery, Leicester and The Cank Street Gallery, Leicester, the Open Door Gallery, Market Harborough and The Ten2 Gallery, Hinckley.
Over Land Over Sea by Five Leaves Press http://fiveleavesbookshop.co.uk/over-land-over-sea/ is now on its second reprint and is available for £9.99 with all proceeds going to midlands refugee charities.
Journeys in Translation http://www.writingeastmidlands.co.uk/opportunities/journeys-in-translation/ is a project to translate 13 of the Over Land poems into other languages, including BSL and contemporary music versions.
Trevor Wright is the co-director of the Derby Poetry Festival which will take place Nov 23rd-26th, 2017. His poetry collection, Outsider Heart, is available from Five Leaves Bookshop Nottingham or via PayPal for £6.75 inc p&p (uk) firstname.lastname@example.org.