Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Selena Gomez / Good For You

Selena Gomez

Good For You

Monday, December 11, 2017

Portrait of the artist / Lemn Sissay / 'An artist doesn't need to suffer to create'

Portrait of the artist

Lemn Sissay


'An artist doesn't need to suffer to create. But if he doesn't create, he will suffer'

Interview by Natalie Hanman
Tuesday 27 February 2007 09.58 GMT

What got you started?
TS Eliot's Macavity: The Mystery Cat.
What was your big breakthrough?
"Big breakthrough" in poetry is an oxymoron. But, at a push, I would say it was a book called Tender Fingers in a Clenched Fist, published in 1988.
Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?
If I was born an artist, as we all are, where is the sacrifice? The question could be, "What art has been sacrificed for us?"
Is your work fashionable?
Depends who you ask. I ask no one, not even myself. Fashion comes and goes; the work stands alone, as it should.
If someone read one of your poems in 1,000 years' time, what would it tell them about the year 2006?
That art is the most futuristic expression of all.
What's your favourite film and why?
The City of Lost Children, because it's unexplainable. I grew up in institutional homes for children and saw things I could never explain - it was this city of lost children.
Does an artist need to suffer to create?
No. But if he doesn't create, he will suffer.

 'My work is closer to me than family' ... Lemn Sissay.
Photograph by David Sillitoe for the Guardian

What's your favourite museum and why?
Robben Island in South Africa. It is known as a "living museum" - the power of the exhibits causes tears.
What cultural form leaves you cold or confused?
More often than not, television.
What cultural tip would you give to a tourist about Britain's arts scene?
Contact Theatre in Manchester.
What's the greatest threat to art today?
Advertising. It's also, possibly, art's greatest gift.
Would you rather be in the audience or on the stage?
I once saw this graffiti: "If all the world's a stage, where does the audience sit?" The answer is simple: the audience is part of the set.
What advice would you give a young writer just starting out?
Do not think that you cannot be a lawyer and a poet, a doctor and a poet, a builder and a poet. Stay at school, finish university; go out and experience life to the fullest, and write poems to the fullest.
Who would you most like to work with?
The Wailers, Nitin Sawhney or Sal Ferreras. A composer talented enough to allow instinct and anarchy, and embrace form.
Do you enjoy working alone?
I never work alone. My work is closer to me than family.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?

A Polish television producer at the Workers Film Association in Manchester once said as a goodbye: "Take it easy, but take it all." It sounds like two simple requests.

In short
Born: Wigan, 1967.
Career: Sissay is the author of four poetry collections, including Rebel Without Applause and The Emperor's Watchmaker. He is writer-in-residence for 2007 at the South Bank in London, and is currently a judge for the John Llewellyn Rhys prize.
High point: "I'm not even there. The journey is all, and I love it."
Low point: "A jazz series I did on TV. I was invincible until then."

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Portrait of the artist / Alice Oswald / 'As a child, I wrote in a little notebook I hid in a bush'

Two-thirds of the way through a poem, I enter a moment of absolute despair' ...
Alice Oswald. Photograph: Pako Mera

Portrait of the artist

Alice Oswald


'As a child, I wrote in a little notebook I hid in a bush. It was 20 years before I went public'

What got you started?
At eight, I made a commitment to poetry. Until then, I thought I'd be a policeman. But I went a whole night without sleeping and the next day the world had changed. It needed a different language.
How do you write?

What does it mean to be a poet today?
To be a poet is as serious, long-term and natural as the effort to be the best human you can be. To express something well is not a question of having a top-class education and understanding poetic forms: rather, it's a question of paying attention.
Which artists do you most admire?
At the moment, I am fixed on Milton, but I always think Beckett is interesting. He's a pinhole writer: he created a darkroom of language through which, despite himself, light passes. And there's Samuel Johnson. I am slowly reading his dictionary.
Does poetry have a place in the modern world?
I don't think you should compromise what you need to say to scoop an audience. But I do work on projects to bring poetry into people's lives. I'm working on a 12-hour reading of Paradise Lost with the communities near where I live in Devon. We will perform all 12 books in Totnes next summer.
Where does a poem start?
The rhythm is always first.
How do you deal with distractions?
It's impossible to combine work and motherhood – I have three children, aged 9, 13 and 16 – but poetry starts from impossibility rather than possibility. I set up a bookstand next to the cooker so I can read as I cook. My cooking has always been terrible: it's worse now.
What music is important to you?
I work a lot with musicians, and I'm interested in how music sets up expectations and either meets or doesn't meet them. Poetry is a slightly different kind of music, beautifully limited.
Are there any songwriters who have influenced you?
I like Patti Smith's lyrics, and sometimes think I could be influenced by them. But she has a kind of cool that's beyond me.
What is your greatest ambition?
It's only ever to complete the next poem. When you start working you get drawn into the big human questions: how to live.

In short

Born: Reading, 1966.
Has written six collections of poetry. Her most recent, Memorial, reworks Homer's Iliad. Her first collection, The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile (1996), won the Forward poetry prize for best first collection. In 2002, she won the TS Eliot for Dart, about the river in Devon.
High point:
"The period of excitement before writing a poem, when you sense something whole is in your head."
Low point:
"There are always technical low points: two-thirds of the way through a poem, I enter a moment of absolute despair."

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Portrait of the artist / John Cooper Clarke / At heart, I'm just a frustrated playboy

Portrait of the artist

John Cooper Clarke


'Johnny Depp owes me – he pinched my whole look in Edward Scissorhands'

Interview by Laura Barnett
Tuesday 21 May 2013 17.12 BST

How did you get into writing poetry?
At primary school. I had a great enthusiasm for it, as did everybody in my class. We were taught poetry Michael Gove-style – we learned it off by heart. Never did me any harm.
What was your big breakthrough?
Punk rock, I guess: playing those venues [he toured with bands such as the Sex Pistols and the Clash]. Before that, I had a residency at a cabaret club in Manchester called Mr Smiths. I already looked like a punk – short hair, suits with narrow lapels – at a time when even your uncle had shoulder-length hair and flares. So I fit right in.
How has the performance-poetry scene changed since you started out?
The fact there's a scene at all is a pretty big change. There wasn't when I started out – not in Manchester, anyway. I'd just do a couple of area-specific poems, a couple of gags, then introduce the main act.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
"Find a poet whose style you like, emulate that style, then deal with things that you know about – don't waste your time looking for your own style." I wish I could remember who told me that, because I'd like to congraulate him. I've emulated all the old guys – TennysonAlexander Pope.
Complete this sentence: At heart, I'm just a frustrated …
Do you suffer for your art?
No. Although getting it right is a kind of suffering. Every masterpiece is on top of a pile of crap.

What one song would work as the soundtrack to your life?
That's Heaven to Me by Sam Cooke. It's almost secular, but it has the deep feeling of the finest sacred music. All the best musicians started out in church; Jesus invented rock'n'roll.
What's the greatest threat to the arts today?
The greatest threat to any artist is surrounding themselves with people who love everything they do. You need somebody to say, "I wouldn't do that one if I were you, Johnny."
Is there an art form you don't relate to?
I could say opera, ballet and classical music, but really I only ever come across them by accident. Whenever I hear someone from the pop world choose a classical record on Desert Island Discs, I always think: "You lying bastard."
Who would play you in the film of your life?
Johnny Depp. He owes me one after Edward Scissorhands: he pinched my whole look. I looked exactly like that when the film came out – apart from the hands, of course.
Is there anything about your career you regret?
Loads. Anybody my age who doesn't regret anything has had a crap life.
If you could send a message back to your critics, what would it be?
What's not to like?

In short

Born: Salford, 1949.
Career: Came to fame during the punk rock era of the 1970s, when he earned the nickname "the bard of Salford". Has released four albums, and his 1983 poetry collection Ten Years In an Open Necked Shirt was recently reissued by Vintage. Performs at Field Day in Victoria Park, London, on Sunday, then tours; see
High point: "Now. My stuff's never been better, and it's never been better received."
Low point: "The 80s were a lost decade."

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Portrait of the artist / Liz Lochhead / "Do better next time"

Portrait of the artist

Liz Lochhead


'The Birmingham Post said they'd rather go to the dentist than sit through my first play again. I actually agreed with them'

Interview by Laura Barnett
Wednesday 21 August 2013 07.00 BST

When did you start writing poetry?
At art school in the late 1960s. When I was at school, and was supposed to be studying for my highers, I was always drawing. And then when I got to art school, and was supposed to be drawing, I started writing.
What was your big breakthrough?
A poetry event at Edinburgh University in 1972, called Poem 72: I was on as a support act to Norman MacCaig (1) and, as everybody was there to listen to him, they all heard me, too. One of them was Gordon Wright, who became my first publisher: a few months later, he got a small grant to put out my first collection, which sold 5,000 copies.
Did you always set out to perform your poems?
Yes – for me, writing poetry has always been about putting sounds down in black and white. I refuse to make a distinction between "page poetry" and "spoken-word poetry". If it's good spoken-word poetry, I want to read it on the page as well. And if it's a proper poem, it should be performable.

What does being the Scots Makar actually involve?
All kinds of things: writing poems for official occasions; doing a lot of readings. "Makar" just means "maker", and I like the title: it reflects the fact that just as you can make a good pot of soup, you can make a poem.
Do you see yourself as heir to a particularly Scottish oral tradition?
Not really. I grew up being taught Burns and the border ballads – but then John Keats grew up on those ballads as well (2). My sensibilities are fairly Scottish, but I'm also very keen on American poetry, and on the Liverpool poets Adrian Henri, Brian Patten and Roger McGough.

What drew you to playwriting?
Going along to the Citizens theatre (3)as a student in Glasgow. It was a very international, unparochial, European theatre – with very cheap tickets. I went a lot with my late husband (4).
Would independence be a good thing for the arts in Scotland?
We'll find out. A lot of artists I know are going to vote yes. I'm not so sure the union has benefited Scotland culturally: Irish playwriting, for instance, is taken more seriously than Scottish playwriting, because Ireland is an independent country. When my play Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off was a hit in London (5), my agent sent it to the National Theatre. They said: "We love this piece, but it's far too Scottish for us."
What's the worst thing anyone ever said about you?
The Birmingham Post wrote of my first play, Blood and Ice, that they would rather go to the dentist than sit through it again (6). I actually agreed, but it made me think: "Do better next time."
Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?
Gosh, nothing: I've been very lucky. I've had a lot of attention I probably don't deserve.

In short

Born: Motherwell, 1947.
Career: Began performing poetry in the 1970s; was appointed the Scots Makar, or poet laureate, in 2011. Plays include Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off, and Scots adaptations of Molière's Tartuffe and The Misanthrope. She performs her show Apple Says Aaah at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, until 25 August (
High point: "The opening nights of Mary Queen of Scots, Perfect Days and Medea. They were all stormers."
Low point: "Working on the play Jock Tamson's Bairns. I found I didn't like improvised theatre."


(1) The late, Edinburgh-based poet and former primary school teacher.

(2) The ballads of Thomas Rhymer and Tam Lin are said to have been sources for Keats's poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
(3) Based in the Gorbals, the theatre has been a vital part of the UK theatre scenesince the 19th century, and once hosted a riot after an elephant panicked on stage.
(5) Ran at the Donmar for a week in 1987.