Sign In using your Campus Account

How I Did It: ‘the Interrupters’

the Interrupters

no two can meet the way we have met
WS Graham

a foyet like the day of the dead
for it is full with missing children
this is how violence starts, first
the perception of a slight of an insult
within the context of a culture that
has taught the imperative that you must
never back down. Second, the decision
that the affront can only be answered
in a physical reprisal. So death ensues


This poem is about the synthesis of experience. Literally, it is about direct experiences which were unrelated aside from the fact that:

  • They happened at the same time. Around January 2013.
  • They each offered up a distinct language to represent them.
  • That language became apparent to me when writing, after close study of WS Graham’s poems. Ie. in the same timeframe, writing as I read.
  • That somehow I made the judgement that each of these experiences represented concepts which were represented in specific language which seemed concisely insightful towards a pre-existing concern of mine.
  • I have a pre-existing, and long standing, concern with the concept of the ‘insult’ being a human linguistic construction of immense power, which acts as a way for humans (men, really) to facilitate violence that feels overpoweringly attractive to them, in defence of their egos. Which is a bad thing, but also a near constant thing (relating to human cultures and history etc.)

These experiences were:

  • Working at the British Museum, for too long, in a menial role, surrounded by 20,000 visitors a day, on average.
  • Working specifically for the British Museum’s October 31st 2012 Day of the Dead parade in the Great Court where crowds were so massive and unruly as to be dangerous and cultural ironies and general incongruities were seemingly ignored by the crowd. These include:
    • people being encouraged to buy and drink quantities of Mexican beer in a museum, which I, perhaps unfairly (but perhaps not) associated with the spark of many violent acts
    • the preponderance of children present, brought by their parents for a late night Friday event. And the regular occurrence of those children being separated from their parents.
    • the event happening in a place that housed Aztec, Mayan and other Mexican-associated historical artefacts, some of which had been bought from the Papacy after Cortes plundered them.
  • A commissioned performance for the Day of the Dead in Mexico City was upcoming that year, 10 months ahead of me, but already in my mind.
  • A documentary, called ‘The Interrupters’, about incredible human beings trying to prevent violence in urban communities in America.
  • My own association with the notion of cultural gloss, or selective representation, in this case for Mexico, but really reflecting England, always editing out the masculine culture (I don’t mean this in a good way, necessarily) of those nations, its removal to a hidden class (though a larger part of the population of most countries than the middle class bourgeois ((like myself)) who make up this kind of event and think of in these terms) and how fundamental pride, reputation and violence as a means of identity is to that nation’s culture. To all, or most, human cultures.

So this really is what the poem is about. That poetry is best suited to expressing the indirect, the non-discursive in language, and that which cannot be said directly, as I have clumsily said above. If I could explain the real effect I had hoped the juxtaposition of these words and concepts and experiences would represent (for myself, not for a reader, because how would I know their infinite pre-occupations and experiences?) then I would’ve written an article about these issues, or a piece of prose. Instead to represent the structure of violence that I feel all around me, and am concerned with, I decided to write a poem. One that by its very nature must maintain an ambiguity of meaning, a certain complexity and reflexivity, lest the ideas appear, as they probably do above, as moaning or circuitous, or misanthropic.

This poem is part of my {Enthusiasm} collection, recently published by Test Centre press in June 2015. This was one of the last poems that made up the book, all of which were written while closely reading a few poets, over perhaps a five or six month period of writing for hours a day (mainly due to my employment giving me time to do so ((not literally)) and having crumpled photocopies of poems in my back pocket to read as I wrote). Way over a hundred poems were written, then in late January 2013 I culled most and left the rest for a year to percolate. Then I made an edit (all in a word doc). Six months later, 18 months after their writing I edited them again over two weeks in the Shetlands Isles, before sending that version of the poems to Test Centre. The poem has stayed pretty much as I wrote it initially, and I tend to do my edits while typing up what is written in my notebook. In this case, with this poem being unusually clear, neat and well formed, this didn’t seem necessary.


The Interrupters


I suppose each collection I have published has been an attempt to relate a style, or form, or concept, to a subject. Not the other way round. No collecting has been done after the fact, the fact has been established and then the collecting. My process is one toward a changing ideal. I don’t denigrate those who are consistent, or whose evolution is subtle, but I personally find the notion of radical growth, or variance, to be something I aspire to. It comforts me that my work is different book to book, that I produce things that bear not a singular stamp of my authorial ‘voice’, for I find that idea unrepresentative of my experience of being. It is not a metaphor to say we contain a multiplicity. I am a different person depending on my mood, my company, my job… As such I am a different poet, I have a different voice when writing about boxing than I do when writing about prisons, or when I’m using collage technique as opposed to visual poetry. And most especially when I’m writing mostly at night, as opposed to the morning, or when I’m reading mostly one poet as opposed to another.

The point I am trying to make is that this poem is, and this whole book, now represents to me perhaps the most enjoyable result of a period of writing that was also a period of my life. One past, but when I read this poem, that has the briefest fragment of trace remaining, literally now marked onto a page.

Add your Reply

Image Credits:

Image: Part of the Day of the Dead exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art

Image credit: Josh Koonce