Interview _ Andrew Button
His poems have been published in magazines that include Orbis, Staple, The Interpreter’s House, Iota and Ink, Sweat and Tears.
His pamphlet, Dry Days in Wet Towns, was published in 2016 and a first full collection, Melted Cheese on the Cosmic Pizza in 2017 by erbacce press.
In this interview, Andrew Button talks about his latest collection of poems Music for Empty Car Parks and poetry in the time of Covid-19.
How would you describe Music for Empty Car Parks?
Music for Empty Car Parks is an eclectic mix of poems that wryly observe life with all its quirks and obsessions. Eccentricity and human preoccupations particularly fascinate me. You could say that is my poetical obsession!
How long did it take you to put the book together?
I have a large back catalogue of poems written over the years and it was a matter of selecting the best ones, old and new. I really enjoy the process and quite often it involves some revisions and even virtual re-writes.
The book itself came out in January 2020 and was published by Erbacce Press in Liverpool.
How did you chose a publisher for the book?
Erbacce published my previous book, Melted Cheese on the Cosmic Pizza at the end of 2017 which was my first full collection (and still available to buy from the publisher’s website and on Amazon). I respect erbacce and their publishing philosophy which is all about supporting the poet’s development. It was not a difficult choice to ask them to publish my second book. I have a positive and well established relationship with them and, of course, it helps that they actually like my poetry!!
Who is your target audience?
I have always maintained that my audience are adults still amazed or willing to be amazed by the wonders of human nature. As my favourite author, Ray Bradbury said, the most rounded adults are those that still retain an element of that childlike sense of wonder.
My aim as a poet is to make people laugh and ponder at the same time.
What influences does Music for Empty Car Parks draw on?
Poetically, I am largely influenced by the likes of Simon Armitage, Ian McMillan, Philip Larkin, Roger McGough and Adrian Henri to mention but a few.
In an unorthodox way, I am also heavily influenced by the science fiction and fantasy stories of the American author, Ray Bradbury. His fiction was very poetic. I read every single word of his voraciously from the age of 13.
Music and lyrics have also inspired me, too, and I would like to think that although I am not a rhyming poet per se, that my poems have an intrinsic rhythm. I am certainly an alliteration junkie!
Why does poetry matter?
Ah, the £64,000 question - or more like £64 in the case of a poet!
Even in the difficult days, in an unassuming way, poetry matters. People are popping up on programmes like BBC Breakfast with their poems about life in lockdown, their hopes and fears laid out in verse.
I think poetry is the undercurrent of our lives and poets are the ones who bring it to the surface for public consumption.
Increasingly, poets are finding a variety of imaginative ways to spread the words; online, outside, indoors, on beer mats… Social media and the internet has played a very important part.
You say why poetry matters is the £64,000 or £64 question. What do you mean by this? Why £64,000? And why £64?
What I mean is that it is the big question for poets and the poetry world. The example of £64 instead of £64,000 is a jocular reference to the fact that most poets don’t make much more but are grateful for what they earn.
Yes. I do have my go-to themes. All writers and artists have their fixations. Some can focus on just one and write a whole book of poetry about it.
I have discovered that most humour comes from humour behaviour. I love watching people, eavesdropping, reading about their antics.
In the new book I have written a trilogy of poems about a man who is the world authority on roundabouts. His quirky singlemindedness is absorbing to me as a poet and of course there is a lot of comedy in his story. He’s been married three times for example. So, obviously, his all-consuming passion for roundabouts has affected his ability to maintain an intimate personal relationship (at least three times).
I have a quirky sense of humour myself which comes through in my book. Hopefully, my poet’s world view is unique.
I strive to find the unusual in everyday situations whether it’s marvelling at the variety of different toilet rolls or the removal of expiry dates on cucumbers in supermarkets.
Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?
If I’m honest, I don’t write many poems about myself and if I do it is often in the third person. There are occasional exceptions. For example, in the poem “Life lessons” in Music from Empty Car Parks, I write about a history teacher who inspired me at school. It isn’t because I can’t, but more about my natural writing style as an observer and commentator. Humour helps me to express myself and I like to explore subjects that interest me as well.
Having said all that, there are poems in my new book like “Six Month Man” where it is obvious, despite being written in the third person, that it is autobiographical albeit unashamedly comical. It is true to say, though, that I can see the funny side to most situations and experiences (including my own).
Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?
I enjoy the whole process of creating a poem from the conception of the idea, the research, compilation of ideas, forming of the poem and refinement in the writing to the finished product (some argue that a poem or story is never finished but that is another discussion to be had at another time). It is such an immense thrill when you get the seed of an idea and it grows. Sometimes, it feels as if you are given the idea from the poetic ether. That as poets we retrieve these vague ideas and shape them into poems.
I see the latest book more as another instalment in my writing career. It’s a philosophy of ‘welcome to the wacky world of Andrew Button’. I am always writing about new subjects and themes that interest me and striving to do so in entertaining ways. So, that will be evident over the two books I have written, I hope. The style is the same but the content is different.
In what way is it similar to the others?
It is similar in that there is a recognisable style. The same observational slant by and large. The mantra of chronicling human absurdity continues. It’s what I get off on as a writer!
Can you say more about the title poem?
The title poem started out as a poem in its own right before I decided to use it as the title of my collection. The inspiration for that poem came literally from an empty car park blaring out music. I thought to myself, How pointless. This then inspired me to write a poem about pointless situations. I had a lot of fun with that poem which really lends itself to live performance!
How has Music for Empty Car Parks been affected by the state we are in with the coronavirus and Covid-19?
The book was conceived and collated before Coronavirus. So, in that sense there is no obvious connection. I hope, though, that my book might act as an antidote against the dark thoughts and despair prevalent in these dystopian times.
Smiles and laughter have not been outlawed.
“The Bottom Line” is a poem that chronicles and celebrates the history of toilet paper manufacture in the UK encompassing the ghastly and the great!
My initial point of reference was my hideous childhood experiences with a severe medicated toilet paper that was a common feature of my school life in the 70s and 80s. With friends of the same age I was reminiscing about the notoriety of this product and even found an online forum where people were sharing their adverse experiences!
One of the ways people have responded to the coronavirus is by stockpiling toilet rolls? How would you explain this?
I think the whole toilet roll stockpiling syndrome is a symptom of the panic that broke out when people thought they would be holed up at home for weeks (which they are now, ha, ha). Basically, a siege mentality. I saw someone reacting to this online and it made me chuckle, because they quite rightly pointed out that if people contracted the virus, it wouldn't be coming out of that end!!!
What do you think a post-Covid 19 world could look like? Are there things the world is learning that it should retain? Are there things the world should let go of?
Hopefully, a post-Covid 19 world will mean there is a greater sense of community around the world and especially in the UK. Also, I would like to think that we will value the work of NHS and care workers more (increased Government funding will contribute to this significantly). More kindness and consideration to the more vulnerable members of our society must ensue. Overall, appreciating our families and life itself would be a desirable outcome.
And what will be the role of the poet in that world?
I see poets as imaginative observers and commentators. Most of us hold a light up to the world as it is and as it could be. We can be poetic healers with our metaphors and similes, insights and humour.
What will your next book be about?
It may be another smorgasbord of themes that tantalise me, or untypically for me, carry one thread through it. I don’t really know at the moment. It could even be a poetic view of the Coronavirus crisis we are living with. I have been keeping a daily diary of my poetic thoughts and observations of life in lockdown. So, watch this space!
What else are you working on?
I am currently involved in putting together a poetry performance for the Leamington Poetry Festival in July (if it still goes ahead). It features myself and three other fellow poets from the Midlands.
The show will be called Meta4.
We are all quirky, observational poets with a unique view of the world we inhabit.
Hopefully, it will happen and if it does come along and see it at the Temperance Art Café in Leamington Spa on Saturday 4th July at 3.30pm. Four local poets sparking off each other in an engaging melee of metaphors, similes, rhythms and rhymes.
● Details of Andrew Button’s books can be found on the erbacce press website.
● See also: Interview: Andrew Button, Conversations with Writers, 12 June 2019