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Archiving Your Self Yourself: an interview with James Davies

James Davies is interviewed by James Davies – his uncannily named next-door neighbour – about his upcoming course for Poetry School, Archiving Your Self Yourself: Quantified Self Studio

James Davies:  Hi there James. How are things this morning?

James Davies:  Really really great James. Right now I’m dandy. I’m usually dandy. I see the birds. I see the sky is blue. Even when it’s raining there’s plenty to do. I’m dandy.

JD:  I hear you’re teaching a course for the Poetry School in the summer. I’m thinking about enrolling, Can you tell me a bit about it?

JD:  Yes, of course. It’s a 3 week Studio course. I want to look at ways in which you can use your ‘self’ as stimulus, as a vehicle, for making poetry that records events ranging from the everyday, to the strange, to the world picture.

JD:  Whaddya mean everyday?

JD:  So we have a huge amount of content at our disposal to write all the time. You’ve just got to make the choices. The individual is an interesting aspect of humanity, and how the individual fits into local and larger groups is also interesting. I wake up in the morning and I do things. I have the potential to really notice them, to make them stand out as experiences, and to explore how these experiences might be marvellous if I turn them into poetry.

JD:  You said something about the strange, do you mean zombies and vampires?

JD:  Nope. I mean the doing the unfamiliar. This might be as simple as changing a habit – for example eating breakfast at night and dinner in the morning so that you are archiving ‘a new you’ (which is probably a copyrighted statement). It might be doing something absurd like the previous example but something you’ve never done before – something simple like deliberately tearing up paper into lots of little pieces or something complex like a psychogeographical walk.

JD:  A psycho what?

JD:  A walk which is based on a system, say walking around all the KFCs in your town or area – and thus discovering new places and having other new experiences.

JD:  That sounds like quite a lot of walking.

JD:  You can do a multitude of equivalents in other places, like your house, which will work just as well.

JD:  What do you mean by the world picture?

JD:  Well all that stuff before was obviously in the world but maybe the focus was on yourself or ‘you’ as a certain type of demographic entity. We can pay attention to things we already do, or look at, and behave differently, for a short or long time, so that we can ‘put ourselves in someone else’s shoes’ – I know that one is borrowed from To Kill a Mocking Bird (later Depeche Mode). Or we can judge our behaviour as having a wider impact so that maybe this biro I’m holding in my hand is a tool for the shopping list I’ve just written or maybe it’s a symbol for the wider fabric of capitalism – it’s both of course but I need to choose how I’m going to archive it.

JD:  Why do all this stuff?

JD:  It’s a lot of fun to really focus or to do something different. There’s no pressure for anyone to know what you’re archiving or doing in order to generate your archive. Paying deep attention to your ‘self’ doesn’t have to involve including others either if you don’t want it to. Also when rubbish things happen, like when the rain starts falling over Manchester from the Pennines then I can say ‘hey it’s raining – let’s think about that!’ or when I see this morning’s litter dropped all over the streets I can say ‘hey there are some objects, let me write about that’. Another way it makes me feel good and bright is that by looking closely, and dwelling, I’m able to counter the humdrum as well as the rap-rap-rapido travellator one sometimes finds oneself walking.

JD:  Some of that sounds a bit boring. Who would be interested in reading about rain and litter?

JD:  Well like anything else it depends on how I write about it. It also depends on my self-critical mentality. Can I see which poems are worth pursuing?

JD:  Cool. Sounds good. When we’ve been chatting on the doorstep all these years I’ve heard you banging on about ‘form’. Can you run through that again?

JD:  Ah yes that’s the question to always ask. I’m not in any camps which say one form is better than another, or a believer that ‘the sonnet is dead’ (Dr Williams), but a poem must have form. It makes the writer and reader know the poem has finished. And form also gives you a neat platform to work from, a constraint from which to generate. If form needs to be broken after you’ve put the words in the initial jelly mould then it’s all good. James, you might remember the Korean ‘Onggi’ master potter, Lee Kang-hyo, I told you about before, who (as apprentice) after perfecting how to make the perfect pot was told (by the grand master) that it might look just a little bit better if he squished it? If you don’t remember the conversation see the flick here – The bit I’m talking about is around seven minutes in.

JD: We’re going to be making pots?

JD: You can definitely make pots if you want, I’m not stopping you, but no not on this course, our form is the written word. One thing we’ll definitely think about using is diaries. There are all sorts of ways to vary this as a form. And the beauty of a diary, as a creative tool, is that you’re writing all the time. But don’t worry there doesn’t need to be any pressure to write every single day or to write gargantuan tomes either – you can set yourself rules like having minimal word counts or days on or off writing.

JD:  But even though there’s gonna be no pressure to write all the time I’m still gonna have a biggish bunch of writing in just three weeks?

JD:  That’s right. Lots of your writing will be excellent but by having lots of it you’ll also have room to reject some stuff and to save some things for later.

JD:  James, we’ve been talking for ages. I’ve lost track of time.

JD:  It’s 8.45 in the AM.

JD:  Ah jeepers! I’ve got a bus to catch. Great talking as ever.

JD:  Ok. No problem. And don’t forget to make a note of today’s experiences when you can!


Archive, document and catalogue carefully selected moments of your life past, present and future on James’ new Studio course, Archiving Your Self Yourself. Book online or ring us on 0207 582 1679.

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Image Credits:

michel banabila