Lorette: Alan, you've had so many jobs doing all kinds of things. Did you find poetry in these labours?
Alan: Indeed I do. I've written a series of fragments about the more unusual jobs I've worked at; whaling for example, which sickened me to the stomach, the stench and noise and sheer mindlessness of it all. I hope some beauty grows out of it though, in the fragments of poetry. Whaling apart I used to enjoy manual work; bricklaying on a Spring day can be exhilarating, it used to be Churchill’s hobby didn’t it? His way of relieving his depression. You get into a rhythm laying bricks or stone, like knitting I suppose, clickety click, clickety click… then you straighten your back and look at the arch or the wall you have created and it feels good. Manual labour can in itself be poetry.
Lorette: Tell me about the quarter century you spent in the communist party. Why do communists have such a bad rep? Do you still believe in them?
Alan: Those were the years when I gained my education. Do you remember that the tainted Mrs Thatcher told us there was ‘no such thing as community’? I don't think many people believe that. The word Communist stems from the word community; and of course I believe in community. Not sure who you mean by ‘them’ but if you are asking do I still believe in people who want equality and an end to the exploitative system we call Capitalism then yes, I believe in them. I explain Communism to people thus; imagine two large houses with perhaps a hundred people in each. They each have the same joint income; say £10,000.00 a week. In one house they scheme to deprive one another of the ‘income’, they compete so that in the end one or two people end up very wealthy, many are comfortably off but many are very poor and even go hungry. This house is called Capitalism. In the other house they discuss each week how to spend the income for the good of all, they plan for the future and no one goes hungry but then no one becomes immensely rich either. This house is called Communism. Which house would you like your children to grow up in? OK so people say that Communism is all very well in theory but wouldn’t work in practice because people are naturally greedy. Well my experience is not like that; the friends I have are willing to share and do not strive to accumulate wealth at the expense of others. Am I lucky to have such friends? Perhaps, but I think that, given the options, most people are generous, most people do not want to exploit humanity.
Lorette: What does anarchy mean to you? Is anarchy a viable possibility when most people aren't bright enough to care for themselves?
Alan: As a child I went to too many B movies; consequently I grew up with an image of an anarchist as someone filled with hate who threw bombs at people. I read Conrad's The Secret Agent when a child too; the 'perfect anarchist' therein had a glass vial strapped to his chest filled with nitro. He used to warn the police-chief that if they ever tried to arrest him he'd detonate it and they'd depart the world together. Later however; when wisdom and experience overtook the childish desire to be thrilled; I actually met anarchists, they were more likely to be toting flowers than guns. Anarchy is not however, at least not to me, a political belief; it is an inevitability. I think that Marx said that after Communism comes ‘the wilting of the State’, I imagine this as a form of anarchy. Part of the natural progress of the beautiful accident. The paradox now is that democracy is entrenched (I was going to say '...unfortunately democracy is entrenched' but decided not to provoke you too much) thus we would need to destroy all that exists before anarchy could be given a chance. I think I have difficulty shedding my childhood images entirely; maybe I'd be happy with a flower in one hand and a bomb in the other. I've certainly thrown a few verbal bombs in my life. I kind of bristle at the suggestion that ‘most people aren’t bright enough to care for themselves’. Who decides that? Who judges their fellow human-beings in that way? I know of no one except a few people with severe mental-health problems who are not bright enough to take care of themselves.
Lorette: Tell me your experience about getting sacked from the school.
Alan: Mmmmm; I was caught throwing verbal bombs :-).
Lorette: What are your views on crime and punishment?
Alan: The novel? One of my favourite reads. As reality... I have experience of committing 'crime' and of being 'punished'. For me; punishment seldom seemed justifiable, at least not the degree of punishment that was measured out to me. But then I was born into poverty in a very violent country; the Isle of Man. As a teen I was involved with gangs and with gang-fights and was frequently 'punished'; I've had every conceivable form of punishment including being birched. Punishment always made me more likely to re-offend because I believed then, that to gang-fight with other people who also wanted to gang-fight, was not a crime. When four burly police held me down whilst another judicially birched me I was filled with loathing for their cowardice and with contempt for their callous lack of comprehension. And then of course there's the issue of going back into gang-land bearing the scars. You become a sort of hero. You become labelled 'hard'. When you're 'hard' someone always wants to take a pop at you. The cycle continues. There has to be an alternative to Crime and Punishment; maybe Model Citizenship and Rewards? I much prefer Rewards to Punishments.
Lorette: What are some ways in which we could handle the problems of crime and chaos in this world?
Alan: Blow it all up and start again I guess. But if that's too radical then let’s begin with definitions. Brecht asked who was the greater criminal; the man who founded a bank or the man who robbed it. I believe it is the man who founded it. Look at the Rockefeller billions made from banking; they went into arms-trading and alleged 'investment' in the third world (what an insulting phrase that is; 'third world'), which effectively meant paying black people starvation wages to keep the rest of us, in what is presumably the 'first world', fat, relatively idle and healthy. A bank-robber is at least honest in that s/he probably won’t say that what they are doing is for the good of mankind or is the best thing to do in this the best of all possible worlds. As for ‘chaos’; ALL is chaos, but it’s a beautiful chaos! Vive la chaos! Vive la beautiful accident!
Lorette: You use that phrase again; what do you mean when you say that life is a ‘beautiful accident’?
Alan: As I said earlier; I was born into poverty, life was unbelievably tough. Literally no shoes… little food… thieving to eat… that kind of thing. I found myself and my sisters attending many different Churches and Sunday Schools (learnt later in life that this was because they sometimes gave us free food). I couldn’t make head nor tail of this God-business and later it dawned on me that it was just that; a business. Believing in God is a business which employs thousands of idlers to tend to the needs of the weak or those who wear religion like some perverted fashion-statement. Anyway; if there was a benevolent God watching over our estimated 6000 different religions I believe s/he’d have given up on us now. We’ve had thousands of years of Christianity-crap, Muslim-mumbo-jumbo and the like but we still invade countries to grab their oil with apparently not a hint of shame. If dear Mr Bush and dear Mr Blair are Christians then there just can’t be a God. So what’s the alternative? A beautiful accident I guess. And it is very beautiful at times; falling in love and doing what you believe is right in the world is ‘good’, and by ‘good’ I mean that it is somehow satisfying. If I’m wrong however, and there is a God, and s/he is like they say, then I’ll end up in Hell with people like Lenin, Shaw, Marx and Che Guevara… but that sounds like heaven to me...
Lorette: I enjoyed reading my own thoughts in your words when it comes to dogs and their owners. Tell me about some of your favourite pets.
Alan: I’ve always had a cat when I’ve been in the UK or the Isle of Man. On the Isle of Man I also had dogs too but strictly working dogs, not pets. Cats seem to adopt me. My present wee creature turned up on the back step just about two months after my previous cat was killed, run-over by a car. (Cats have no traffic sense) The newcomer went to the vets with me to be cleaned up and vaccinated and I was told she was only about 4/5 months old. I knocked on every door in our neighbourhood and she apparently belonged to no one; so as I said; she adopted me. Boswell is her name (after Johnson’s biographer) and I love her because she’s beautiful, athletic and because essentially she’s an anarchist; you’ll never see her run for sticks or do tricks or fawn like a dog… and I often have the thought that if I collapse one day and die (I live alone), she’ll probably either eat me or just depart and find someone else to ‘adopt’. I find that thought strangely satisfying. Total independence reigns with Boswell and with all cats. I almost envy her.
Lorette: Am I to assume from your poetry that you suffer from bipolar disorder? Is madness a birthright of the poet, or is it a curse?
Alan: BP has been with me for as long as I can remember. And I don’t object in the least to it being labelled ‘madness’ because it is just that. It has cost me dearly in my life but if it is true that my poetry and my strong sense of justice stems from it then I wouldn’t want to lose it. Within the past year however I’ve began a new approach to it; constructively combating it, it’s complicated but seems to be working. I’ve also accepted that only BP sufferers really understand BP so I’ve given up a life-long crusade to educate people. It can’t be done. Actually I’d rather talk about something else…
Lorette: OK: Why did you choose to use a pen name for some of your books?
Alan: In case, when I grow older, I want to deny I ever wrote them.
Lorette: What kind of feedback did you get on your A to Z book?
Alan: Lots of emails. I had the complete book online until my publisher advised I remove it and I’d get emails regularly then; less often now. Mainly from young people. The book is vicious satire in parts, plain fun in others, but is also highly informative. School students today are beginning to demand respect from people in authority which I find stimulating. When I taught, most teachers used to whinge about how the kids had ‘no respect’ and I used to wonder why kids should respect them in the first place. 90% of the teachers I worked with in inner-city comps didn’t give a damn for the pupils. If the A to Z makes people aware that teachers are effectively employed by pupils and so should act accordingly then I’ll have made some small progress.
Lorette: When did you start writing poetry?
Alan: My mother did something wonderful when I was about 7 or 8 years of age. We had moved into a house that actually had electricity and an inside toilet; council property. She went to a sale soon afterwards and whatever possessed her I can’t imagine but she bought me a battered old type-writer. It wasn’t real, a sort of toy but it worked, printed dark blue letters onto paper, and I proudly announced then and there that I was going to be a poet. I even still have some stuff I wrote as a child… might release it some day, under a pen-name of course.
Lorette: What need can poetry fill?
Alan: ‘need’? I don’t ‘need’ to write poetry. I’m not one of these angst-ridden intellectuals who ‘feel the need to write poetry’. I write when I’m angry. I write when I’m in love and mostly I write when love-departs. Roger McGough said the latter produces the best poetry and I have a feeling he might be right. I used to believe writing was therapeutic but lately I’ve abandoned that concept; it is however a way of seeing things more clearly. When I write about the alleged ‘war’ in Iraq (not a war in fact, a calculated slaughter) I see more clearly the terrible injustice of Operation Oilgrab and it makes me more determined to protest loudly. Hopefully some of this will rub off on the reader too. Maybe part of the function of poetry is to educate and inform.
Lorette: Is it true that only poets read poetry?
Alan: It’s frequently stated that more people write poetry than read it and I’m not sure how I react to that; maybe it’s no bad thing. Certainly a large proportion of the population apparently write poetry at some stage of their life. I leave poems lying round at the CAB where I work part-time and nearly everyone who picks them up to read makes a comment on them (sometimes favourable) and then invariably add something to the effect; ‘I write poetry you know…’ I also believe that people have a more wholesome attitude to poetry these days; it’s there to be enjoyed and is not necessarily the abode of the intellectuals as it used to be in the 50’s and 60’s. In Liverpool, where I live at present, there are literally hundreds of poetry events staged each month and they’re enthusiastically attended. So maybe the audience don’t read poetry… maybe they do… but they certainly listen to poetry. I said before that I didn’t ‘need’ to write poetry, but I do need to read it and to hear it being read. My favourite poems are those of Milton and Yevtushenko but I have to admit that Eliot, even though I find the man offensive as an individual, sometimes makes me catch my breath with phrases like: ‘Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky, Like a patient etherised upon a table.’ And ‘A crowd flowed over London bridge, so many, I had not thought that death had undone so many.’ Simple phrases, but perfectly sculptured, Eliot is a craftsman and an artist with words.
Lorette: Finally Alan, what is your hope, or ambition, as regards your own work?
Alan: No doubt about that; I want to see, at some time in the future, my major work; ‘Glimpses of Notes’ produced as an exhibition. ‘Glimpses’ covers around 50 years in time, roughly from my birth to the end of the Twentieth Century, and is approximately 25,000 words of what I call ‘fragmented poetry’. I believe such poetry can be a beautiful visual experience. I want to linger in the background and eavesdrop as people wander around a huge gallery being confronted with fragments from ‘Glimpses of Notes’ rendered on granite, canvass, wood and glass, to have people step on traps which will project hologrammatic words into the air or trip tape-recordings of the poem being read by various voices. I want it hung in Braille with sensual representations available to feel and most of all I want the scents of poetry to trip across the gallery rooms. I want there to be a revolution in poetry which sees it presented to all our senses; not just the ear and the eye. I want people to come out of my exhibition exhilarated by something completely new and beautiful and... Hey I’m getting carried away, time to wind this up I think but just one final thing; if anyone out there has a few thousand quid to spare for an exhibition… get in touch.