Poetry like all media reflects the times. I watched ‘Every Rendition on a Broken Machine’ one internet obsessed evening and decided at once that I had to find out out more about this new evolutionary strain of the digital muse.
Meet Ross Sutherland. His poetry is very contemporary, very of the now. When I talked to him,I learnt that you are the one who creates standards- poetry is your clay to mould, your game to play. You can integrate the video game with text, rewire myth with cyber, match the 2D cartoon of your past with your identity.
Ross Sutherland was born in Edinburgh in 1979. A former lecturer in Electronic Literature at Liverpool John Moores University, he now works as a poet and poetry tutor. He has four collections with London press Penned in the Margins, including the 2011 ebook Hyakuretsu Kyaku and 2012’s Emergency Window. He has a co-writing credit on twelve live literature productions, including the Time Out award-winning The Three Stigmata of Pacman. His 2011 documentary, Every Rendition On A Broken Machine can be watched online at every-rendition.tumblr.com/.
What is the contemporary poetry scenario like in the UK?
Pretty diverse. Poetry seems to always be spilling over into other parts of the arts. In the UK right now, there’s a lot of poets who are producing storytelling shows in theatres, there are poets appearing on bills with stand-up comedians, there are poets working with performance artists in art galleries. Publishing wise, there remains a strong small-press scene, with close ties to the live scene.
What kind of role do you see for blogs in creating a better avenue for visibility of poetry?
Well, it’s all about sharing individual poems. People can share blogged poems on their own FB/twitter page. Being short, they work well on this type of platform.
Also, the web is the home of SO MANY emerging poetry forms: Glitch Poetry, Internet Poetry, Flarf. These things are native to the internet. They’ve evolved at speed because they don’t need to be filtered through a publishing press. More people read blogs than actual poetry books anyway.
I just made that last fact up. But it sounds true, doesn’t it?
How do you integrate digital technology with your literary output–do you think poets have to be more tech savvy these days to be taken seriously?
I work a lot with Youtube because I’ve always enjoyed making films. When you add a visual element to a poem, that’s a whole new layer of information being laid over the text. When it goes wrong, it can be like two people shouting at you at once! But I enjoy the challenge. It opens up a lot of new areas of experimentation. I end up thinking more about the interface between poet and reader.
New technology creates new formal challenges for poets. And I’ve always been a big fan of form. I’ve tried making poems that can be played on iTunes Shuffle. I’ve made poems that iteratively rewrite themselves using Babelfish. I’ve had a lot of fun writing Flarf recently.
For me, the structure/interface has to come first…then I work backwards towards something personal.
So yes I think I’ve gone quite far down that road of ‘digital integration’, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
You’ve got to do whatever feels natural to you.
Tell us a bit about the creative writing workshops you conduct. What is the most important thing an aspiring writer needs to get noticed?
My answer to this kinda feeds into something from the previous question. Being ‘noticed’ or ‘taken seriously’ are hard things for me to talk about. Possibly because it suggests that there is an establishment which decides who is in and who is out. Almost all of my projects, all of my gigs, are things which I just went out and made myself, rather than waiting for someone to pay me to make it.
My advice would be: if you have an idea for a live show, or a book, or a film, just do it yourself. Don’t wait for an established theatre or publisher to approach you. Don’t spend 10 years drafting your first collection. Publish and be damned! Putting stuff out there in front of audiences is the best way to get feedback, it’s the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t. Almost every time you do that, you’ll meet someone who will help you out the next time round.
So, I’d say that all my best creative writing students tend to be the ones who set up their own poetry nights, the ones who run blogs, or make their own pamphlets to distribute to classmates. They tend to be the same students that write compulsively. They’ve gone out and created their own community, rather than waiting for the phone to ring.
Fantastic! Thank you so much Ross for introducing contemporary poetry and its online future! One creative sojourn, this.