Dave Lordan’s awards for his critically acclaimed poetry collections include the Patrick Kavanagh, The Strong/Shine, & The Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary. He is known also as a a leading innovator in the the field of creativity-in-education, receiving a nomination for the DCU President’s Award for such in 2013, as well as designing & leading Ireland’s first ever national on-air creative writing program New Planet Cabaret, (in partnership with RTÉ Arena). He is the founder & co-director of Dublin Young Authors school for talented literary teens at The Big Smoke Writing Factory – Ireland’s only such school – & he is the lead mentor on The Stinging Fly’s emerging writer mentorship scheme. Many have encountered Dave’s work at one one of his electrifying performances – he’s been on the road since the early 90s & has performed to acclaim in venues all over Ireland & Europe, as well as in New York & Newfoundland. Despite all this, he is perhaps best known these days as a literary podcaster & videographer, where he is is as usual breaking new ground & supporting many in the innovative writing community.
If you’re a book person, try free e-books The Four Honesties & First Book of Frags. If you like it live & dangerous, try Discover Ireland, a 2017 tour anthology. If you want to learn about being a 21st century writer, or you are a teacher at any level looking for some super free creativity-in-Education resources, subscribe to Dave Lordan Creativity on youtube & like the Dave Lordan Creativity Page on Facebook. If you like top quality literary podcasting, head on over to iTunes & take a listen to The Spoken Word Show. Take Dave’s renowned online Creative Writing Now course for beginners & refreshers for only 49 euro.
Q: Pier Pasolini once said: “I don’t believe we shall ever again have any form of society in which men will be free. One should not hope for it. One should not hope for anything. Hope is invented by politicians to keep the electorate happy.” Do you agree? And whether you do or not – what does this have to do with art and literature, if anything?
A: With the caveat that the above is in no way a statement that could define Pasolini’s entire oeuvre, & is indeed rather uncharacteristic of him, I will try & answer. Pasolini’s mistake here is typical enough of revolutionary intellectuals in periods of political defeat &/or disorientation. Nearly the whole post-war period in Italy, notwithstanding the exceptional movements & class victories which occasionally occur, could be characterised as such a period, provocative of a deep intellectual despair. The mistake the despairing intellectual makes is projection – Pasolini frames his own political despair as a fundamental historical law – because, in this moment at least, he has given up. He is implying that because he has lost hope, there is nowhere any hope; that because he is confused, nothing but confusion exists in the world. The intellectual looks at his own scowl in the mirror & sees it as a map of the whole cosmos. In a way, of course, this universalising narcissism we find among artists of all kinds is the principle on which all individualised artistic expression is based – Goya could hardly have painted his dark paintings without seeing the world as exclusively a dark place; Plath, to take another well-known genius, is a depressive hovering on the edge of suicide, & so sees death, brutality, decay in everything. And so, when socialist Russia turned out to be not so socialist after all, to be anything but socialist in fact, & when the great waves of strikes & mass demos post-68 fell away into the very messy political situation of the mid 70s, postmodernism was born out of a generation of left intellectuals crying into their beaujolais about the loss of hope in the world – when it was really just them who had lost hope. Pasolini’s isolation from both the communist party, & the anti-Stalinist student movement – breaking up as it was at time into a terrorist movement – made him at this last stage of life more vulnerable than ever before to such defeatism. But when I listen back to those late interviews, & consider Salo, & the late poems too, what I find is not despair but in fact a refusal to despair, even though, as he saw it, Italy & everywhere else had entered an age – we now call it the neo-liberal era, or globalisation – of a reactionary transvaluation of values, away from solidarity & towards the divisionism of a society dominated from top to bottom & in very nook & cranny by the profit motive & the dynamic of commodification. When we look at the art, rather than a remark he might have made somewhat contemptuously to a journalist after a night on the tiles with Foucault, we find we are being warned to prepare for battle, not encouraged to slit our own throats.
And I don’t agree that hope is invented by politicians, though the hopes & desires of the populace are obviously manipulated by the ruling class in all kinds of ways – De Sade, the primary influence on Pasolini’s late period, wrote the parabolic novel Justine in 1791, allegorising just this in-built dynamic of manipulation in bourgeois society with an accuracy & insight that has rarely been equalled since. Hope, as De Sade mockingly realised, is irremovable from the human species; we are in fact condemned to hope, & condemned by hope to act in hopeful ways, as a fundament of our biological existence –one needs to read Freud, over Marx, to understand what hope is. Even if every left wing brainiac in the world jumped off the cliffs of Moher next Saturday, there would still be 500 million infants crying out in great hope for mothers-milk all over the planet, & there would still be millions & millions of people on every continent taking hopeful action in all sorts of ways & under all sorts of duresses to change the world. And what it has do with art in literature, or rather what Pasolini’s colossal legacy overall might have to do with art & literature today, is that, well, to be an artist with any kind of audience is a position of privilege, &, if one is a humanist of any sort, also of responsibility. And I would see this responsibility in much the same way as Pasolini did, as an apocalyptic responsibility – we must do our best to depict, to warn about, to help people prepare for, the total collapse of civilisation which is coming, which is in fact well under way, & which can be survived & overcome, but only through facing things head on – meaning revolution, which is to say solidarity & sacrifice on a huge scale.
Q: Reading that comment by Pasolini, I couldn’t help but think of your own poem, ‘Hope’, which begins: “Hope, ya ould mutt, I hear yer in bits. / I heard somebody stomped on yer throat an all ya can do now is grunt. / I heard six drunk jocks set ya on fire while ya were goofin.” The poem seems to stem from a hyper-realistic view of the world (the streets) around you, but also hums with a passion for existence on a grand scale: “But tis senses that matter, tis vision an touch. / I cudden do either if I cudden with you. / I cudden love nothin if I cudden love you”. Can you comment on this blend of elements in the poem, and in your work in general – the urge to call things as they really are, but at a pitch and rhythm that splits the cracks, lets the universe in? I’m also thinking of pieces like “Invisible Horses”, which sides with those on “the losing side / in an immortal war”, or even your anti-bullying poem, “Because I’m Human”.
A: This is simply the method of the apocalyptic writer – you tell things as they are, as you have borne witness to them, & they are usually pretty bad, but people can already see that things are bad & it’s simply boring to just say so, & so it’s necessary, as well as entertaining, to employ baroque & grotesque forms & tropes, as I often do (gorgons & dragons, & all that) to defamiliarize the work, as they say in the colleges, & so have greater impact on the passions of one’s audience.
Like Pasolini, I wish to speak foremost to the passions & not merely to the intellect, since as the apocalyptic writer William Blake puts it, the tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.
After frankness, & exaggeration-for-effect, the third element of apocalyptic writing is the new earth prophecy, or you could deem it the call-to-battle, which is meant to lift people’s hearts so they can go on living & fighting for a better situation, despite how low we have swung. I think Diane Di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters are a great example of this third kind. I am, by the way, speaking this way about my work in hindsight; one doesn’t create out of such a formula, but any writer who has been at it long enough knows that deep-seated patterns repeat themselves in all sorts of ways in one’s work, & one might as well be conscious of it as not.
Q: You recently launched your Spoken Word Show on youtube and itunes, featuring talents as diverse and exhilarating as Rafeef Ziadah, Damien Dempsey, and Sorcha Fox. Can you tell us a little about what motivated you to start this project? I’m also interested to know how – at a practical level – you go about compiling each episode (or mixtape, if you like!), what you’re looking for and how you select what gets included?
A: I love spoken word when it’s good, & there is plenty of good spoken word around at the moment, a real confluence of talent & technology & a new social & political environment occuring. I do a show a month & collect stuff throughout the month, trying to eventually stitch it together into a loose but coherent whole for the show. So yes, a mixtape, that I take my sweet time with. I want to emphasise live spoken word, & spoken word with soundtrack or music, as these are the areas where I see the art really moving forward at the moment. I also want to support the edgier, more challenging work, & I want to help broaden what the concept of spoken word might mean as an artform, beyond the lyric-out-loud to all kinds of poetry, storytelling, comedy, opinion….etc etc. It’s a show for spoken word artists, which means artists who, like me, primarily write for vocal performance, & I’m happy to listen, without commitment, to work by anyone who fits that bill & who has a pro-grade recording set up. Send work as wav files to davelordancreativity[at]gmail.com
Q: To many poetry-fans, your work helped to inaugurate a new kind of verse tradition on this island – one that is politically radical and formally expansive, with poems that set out to challenge received narratives of history and literature, church and state, as well as the various forms of violence, silence, complicity, collusion, that these have traditionally imposed on people. Your piece,“Cathechism: This is a Catholic Country”, comes to mind as a recent example of this kind of poem. Has there been any backlash, so to speak, from the state and its affiliated arts organisations? And has it been difficult for you to live (in a material sense) as a poet with such an outward-looking political approach, or because of the structures of power that you very often expose in your poems?
A: Well I’m not really middle-Ireland’s cup of tea, & the institutions that administer literature in Ireland, are thoroughly institutions of middle Ireland (i.e. depend very much on pleasing middle Ireland for their own ongoing funding & so on). People operating in arts admin, publishing, literary journalism, even sometimes those at a very senior level, are in precarious positions, & the lower level grades are Mcjobs, very poorly paid & conditioned, & obviously these people’s ultimate bosses are the likes of Josepha Madigan & Denis O' Brien, so you can see why work that won’t embarrass Fine Gael or Greencore gets pushed to the fore. But many of the literary institutions don’t have very much to do with literature as I see it or participate in it, so I never worry very much about that side of things, but just get on with making work & getting it out there to the audience I’m interested in relating to – not middle ireland – & that is working out very well. I’m 30 years making work this year – in all that time I have gratefully received one small grant, way back in 2004 – & yet I have never been busier in terms of people encountering & making use of my work as I am now, never had as many invitations to perform or to collaborate as I am getting now, never felt more positive & productive as an artist as I do now. Oh, & yes, I make a living, as a poet, in Ireland, in 2018, & it is not in the least bit difficult for me to live – I am living a life beyond the wildest dreams of my boyhood, frankly.
Q: Continuing the themes above, I’m curious to know whether you think of poetry as being a kind of direct action – if, in your view, poems are able to launch a discursive fight-back against class or state oppression, for example, in the way that marches or speeches are generally thought to do? And finally, given your work in the form (as some of the links above suggest), what’s the appeal of video- and multimedia poetries for you? How do these relate, if they do, to your political activism?
A: I’m sceptical that there is such a thing as a discursive fight back. I know the right words in the right place at the right time can inspire & electrify, & it is my job to come up with those right words whenever I can. The appeal of video is surely obvious by now, although of course it will never be the older literary generations cup of tea, which is a pity for them really – a lot of really good older writers in non-commercial forms in Ireland have survived because of the Cnuas &/or academic jobs, which puts them under no pressure to innovate in or explore new mediums. Yet for every ten people that will buy a poetry book, ten thousand will watch a poetry video. The poetry book audience is verging on statistical non-existence, while the video audience is expanding exponentially. If you are a well-provided-for poet, then of course you can afford to ignore the century you are living in. But working-class poets like me don’t have that option. So we have to make our own path with our own tools – & the old ways of being a poet, or participating in poetry, become less & less relevant as you go along doing your own thing in the new times. The poetry journal, the poetry collection, the poetry prize, the poetry festival... venerable as all these by now often creaking institutions might be, & excellent & vital as a few of them are, they have very little relevance at this point to me in my life as a poet & in relation to how I speak to my audience – which of course is a small one, although a growing one, & not nearly so small as it would be if I spent my time submitting to journals few read, entering competitions few hear about, filling out grant applications I have a 1000/1 chance of succeeding in – instead of spending it figuring out how to use Adobe Premiere Pro & becoming a more skilled & capable artist in the process.
Besides this, the multimedia era we are just at the very beginning of is tremendously exciting for artists like me who just like to play with new toys & tools & see what they can do. Multimedia tools enable me, over & over, to create beautiful things that people, in some way, enjoy; & that is really a great place for me to be as an artist at this hour of my life.
I think I’d get a laugh from my comrades in the local branch of People Before Profit if I claimed that my poeting was political activism – it is to an extent, as it is always informed by who I am & what I believe – but political activism consists in the main of things like leafleting for demos & linking arms with workers on picket lines. If you ain’t doing that kind of thing you ain’t a political activist in any meaningful sense.