Monday, July 15, 2019

Interview _ Katherine Cleave

Katherine Cleave is a Fine Artist living in Barnes. Since graduating from Goldsmiths College, her artwork has been displayed at several London galleries and events. Her work presents an ironic play of words, phrases and images juxtaposed to create a lively stage on which to probe reality. Recent work includes a small collection of poems.

In this interview, Katherine talks about her writing:

When did you start writing?

I started writing during my Thesis in the final year of my BA in Fine Art and Theoretical Criticism. I had based my work on a comparison between the playwright, Luigi Pirandello and the Fine Artist, Jannis Kounellis. The work required a leap of faith but I wanted to show that, in essence, it is not the medium that is important, but the message. I consider myself an artist: sometimes I paint, sometimes I write – with varying degrees of success!

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

I write poetry. The abstract nature appeals to me and I love the collaged effect of words and sounds seeking to convey a moment/emotion/concern. I enjoy playing with a tale, told from a humorous angle with dark undercurrents… the bitter aftertaste is what attracted me to writing.

This year, I decided to put a couple of poems in for some competitions and anthologies purely to access a new audience and I was curious to get some feedback. I googled ‘Poetry Competition 2019’ and then selected a couple of entries based on subjects that interested me. One competition was entitled ‘About Time’ for the Roger McGough Poetry Prize and the other was a call for poems and short fiction on the theme, ‘Bollocks to Brexit’, edited by Ambrose Musiyiwa.

Who is your target audience?

In all honesty, I’m not sure I have written enough to be able to answer this question. As with most art, I suspect it is more a case of certain works appealing to different people depending on their individual experience or interests.

In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

For a while, Haruki Murakami’s work entitled Killing Commendatore, felt as though it was written for me alone to the point that I intend to recreate the painting as described if only to recreate that feeling.

I often listen to audible books during dog walks since I find it frees my mind to paint the characters and their world to such a degree it feels as though I am there – away from the words on the page.

I also love the juxtaposition of time in David Mitchells’ books and I was also influenced by the conversational tone of Diana Evans recent work, Ordinary People.

Recent membership of The Poetry Society has also proved inspiring and I always look forward receiving my quarterly Poetry Reviews.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I recently retold a story from my past, which made me laugh out loud although revisiting the past as an adult, inevitably involved confronting the serious consequences of my past actions. I found the experience both refreshing and rather disconcerting.

I also discovered that when I get too precious with part of a painting, unable to go forward or back, a ‘painters block’ as I call it, re-channeling those thoughts into writing has proved to be a successful compromise to an artistic stalemate.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I am fascinated by several themes such as the creation and appraisal of art; the individual within society; concepts surrounding time; fragility of health; death and masquerade.

I invariably approach a sensitive topic employing humour and farce. Both the creation and analysis are much more enjoyable plus it offers a casual stage from which to deal a hefty blow when the audience is relaxed.

My biggest challenges are, if I am honest, developing a strict regime to write regularly and, more importantly, to actually DO something with it. (I am exceedingly good at creating things for no other reason than the satisfaction of doing it.)

Do you write everyday?

I do not write every day but I do find myself sitting at my computer several times a week when the mood takes me. I tend to have left it to within a couple of hours of collecting the kids, and then dare myself to rush my thoughts out in the premise that I will ‘tidy up’ the poem later. Sometimes the rewrites are radical sometimes minimal. Some are canned before they see the light of day.

My poem, ‘Timeline’, was published this year in About Time, an anthology of shortlisted entries from the Roger McGough Poetry Prize published by Arts Richmond. Another poem entitled ‘Exit, Stage Right’ was published in Bollocks to Brexit: an Anthology of Poems and Short Fiction, edited by Ambrose Musiyiwa and published in 2019 by CivicLeicester.

What are you working on at present?

My current project is a collection of around 30 of my poems with accompanying artwork entitled Thought Threads.

Although the majority of the poems were created or revised in the past 6 months, it has taken me approximately 1 year to put the collection together.

I intend to publish Thought Threads this summer through self-publishing with KDP on Amazon.

I like the idea of the immediacy of self-publishing despite the fact that it lacks the marketing angle or the support of an editor. Maybe that will become more relevant in time when I have a greater body of work but for now I am more interested in having a physical volume with which I can gain feedback.

Your poem, ‘Exit, Stage Right’ is featured in Bollocks to Brexit: an Anthology of Poems and Short Fiction. What would you say the poem is about?

I wrote 'Exit, Stage Right' as a satirical take on Brexit. I wanted to capitalise on the them-and-us in society; the polarised black and white extremes from what is invariably a position of ignorance. I am particularly frustrated with the ‘I support this side and I’m sticking to it regardless’ pack mentality in politics. The endless repeating of meaningless empty catchphrases such as ‘Brexit means Brexit’, ‘Leave means Leave’ etc. has become an increasingly desperate mantra. I picture my poem read by a beery, aggressive, Shane Meadows character crossed with Johnny Rotten as he drunkenly slurs the words to ‘Road Runner’ having ‘forgotten the words’. Sadly the anthem ceases to be amusing when it could signify the financial ruin of many people and the unfortunate rise of racism in our country; hence the rather sad, deflated repetition at the end, ‘Here we go, here we go, here we go’.

How have the poems been received?

I live in London so it’s hardly surprising that most of the poems in the anthology went down very well (although doubtful if the same could be said for our MP Zac Goldsmith, who I am told, has also received a copy!) On a more serious note, despite Brexit being a tentative subject for many families, I was heartened to see we could still all laugh and enjoy the poems, which has since broken the ice and served to heal a few unspoken rifts in the process.

Why is it important for poets to speak up on social, political and related matters?

In order to both understand why we feel a certain way and in order to comprehend a different perspective, it is essential to have discussion. Various art forms provide a useful stage to have that communication in a non-threatening environment. The abstract nature of poetry allows observations to be subtly hinted or bluntly stated or even just offer an alternative version of reality to that expressed on various media platforms.

Politics can divide but there is no reason why it should. It is important to listen objectively in order to fully understand why someone has voted the way they have or feels the way they do. It is invariably the polarisation in society that has led people to lash out in anger – often in a ballot box with dire consequences.

In your view, what do anthologies like Bollocks to Brexit add to poetry and public discourse?

The anthology acts as a sponge, soaking up the thoughts and feelings felt by many but voiced by few. It felt cathartic to be involved in the process and hopefully the combined musings of several writers can channel some of that dissent to make people question our current political crisis and it also highlights the ‘them and us’ which is both mirrored in public discourse and on the streets. ‘We can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them’, as someone wise once said.

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