My Inspiration: David Spittle | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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David Spittle is a poet, filmmaker, librettist, and essayist. Spittle has published five collections of poetry, B O X (HVTN, 2018), All Particles and Waves (Black Herald Press, 2020), Rubbles (Broken Sleep Books, 2022), Decomposing Robert (Black Herald Press, 2023), and How Eyes Rest (HVTN, forthcoming). He runs an ongoing series of interviews with filmmakers talking-about-poetry and poets talking-about-film, the first volume Light Glyphs (Broken Sleep Books, 2021) includes interviews with John Ashbery, Guy Maddin, Andrew Kötting, Iain Sinclair, So Mayer, Lisa Samuels and many others. 

Spittle will be doing a Poetry and Story Workshop at Clayport Library as part of Durham Book Festival on Sunday 15th October. Here, he tells us about what inspired his poetry collections…

B O X (HVTN, 2018)
This sequence of poems, which stands somewhere between a pamphlet and a short collection, was my first publication. As all influences, arriving through circumstance, chance, and the good ol’ mutability of this ‘n that; the book was a result of bundled enthusiasms and obsessions – filtered through an interest in memory, specifically the sensation of occluding the present with the anticipation of an imagined future in which that present becomes a past – the nagging detachment of how will this be remembered? what does this mean, and, unconsciously, how does this contribute to, or detract from, a personal mythology. All the while excluding myself from actually experiencing what is going on in disastrous favour of considering its hypothetical significance. 

This was supplemented/shaped by an interest in the ‘shadow box’ art of the eccentric American scavenger of hushed symbolism – midnight magpie of bric-a-brac – Joseph Cornell (1903 – 1972). What can be contained, exhibited and preserved in a box? This was circumnavigated through parts of the PhD I was doing, and its emphasis on Surrealism and the poetry of John Ashbery.

All Particles and Waves (Black Herald Press, 2020)
My first full collection of poetry was inspired by the osmosis of the PhD, my meandering dealings with depression (to put it mildly), the atmospheres of Polish writer Bruno Schulz, the films of Guy Maddin and Andrew Kötting, and the syncretic sense of connectivity that contains within itself a reversal…an unresolved duality…the particle and wave of light; quantum states of being that dovetail conveniently into an appreciation for ambiguity. 

Over and through all of this was the guiding influence of John Ashbery’s poetry and the desire to write out from all that it gave to me, whilst not being hitched to versions of imitation. The conundrum of influence (or Harold Bloom’s ‘anxiety of influence’)…the formative psychology of its impact as the inspiration you are then driven to escape.

Light Glyphs (Broken Sleep Books, 2021)
This is a book of interviews in which I spoke to filmmakers about poetry and to poets about film, it’s part of an ongoing series (Volume 2 is in the works) that I hope to chip away at indefinitely. The influences behind this book were, fundamentally, discovering experimental film and its interconnected relationship with experimental poetry through social histories, methodologies and philosophies . Discovering that many of the filmmakers I loved were also poets, or were avid readers of poetry, and that, beyond that, their work demonstrated a visual parallel to the poetry I valued. A conversation between the two mediums that stretches back to the origins of film, from mind-blowing silent adaptations of Dante and Shakespeare to the avant-garde explosion of Dadaist and Surrealist experimentation in the 1920s. 

A huge influence for me at this point, and a point of departure for the book, was the correspondence I had with Guy Maddin and John Ashbery (both of whom are in the book). The first time I watched Maddin’s My Winnipeg (2007), I became an unabashed convert to the Maddin world: its snowy séance, melancholy reverie, amnesias, nostalgias, and the breathing melodrama of a secret city within the city; a  cartography of ghosts fumbling for the keys to lost addresses and humorously deprecating into the strange dream of time. From there, I heartily inhaled all of his films: the Buñuelian ballet of Dracula, pages from a Virgin’s Diary; the lighthouse delirium of Brand upon the Brain; the marvel of Isabella Rosselini and her glass legs (filled with the sparkling amber of beer) in The Saddest Music in the World (from 2003: one of Ashbery’s very favourite films); the historical drift and sleepless romance of Archangel (1990); the frenetic genius of tumbling family, Freudian tangents and the legends of waxwork masculinity that populate Canada’s reimagined pantheon of hockey in Cowards Bend the Knee (2003); and his absolute opus of soaring wonder, The Forbidden Room (2015)… I could just excitably list all the films…so I won’t do that here! But even writing them down, I get whipped into a feverish longing…I find myself borrowing his rhetoric and obsessions, travelling back to their foggy territories…there is no end to my love for his work. As I was reading and Ashbery and watching Maddin, I made the connection intuitively…only to discover that of course they were fans of each other’s work and, not only that, but they had become collaborators…with exhibitions of collage and a mutually inspiring messaging that found its way into influencing their respective practices.

The other filmmaker in the book who has been an important influence is Andrew Kötting, I’ve written essays on him elsewhere and don’t wanna warble on too much…but, I think – with all the usual caveats of being reductive – the way I see it is: if Maddin evokes the curtains-drawn dream-space of memory and desire, and the sadness and humour of each haunting the other, Kötting flings the curtains open and bounds outside. His films, as with his character and creative spirit are bounding, striding and swimming with the energy of the outside; even when the films delve into the convolutions of the psyche (as they increasingly do) it is through the weight and viscera of physicality.

Anywho, Kötting & Maddin, as coordinates were joined by the excitement I found around figures from the American avant-garde like Stan Brakhage (in relation to the poets Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley) Cornell’s Rose Hobart, the mystic impulse of Harry Smith, the fearless bohemia of Jack Smith, the Kuchar brothers, Nathaniel Dorsky, Maya Deren, all sorts…a tradition that was less vocally present it seemed in the UK…a narrative that was mainly domineered by Structuralist film and the London filmmaker’s co-op (which did have some amazing stuff…but could often seem too theoretical)…but then I found Jeff Keen, Jane Arden, Margaret Tait…and the writing of Iain Sinclair, who also appears in the book, in the momentum of his incredible poetry from the 70s (Lud Heat, Suicide Bridge) which crackles with the occult tendrils that clasp poetry, film, conspiracy, city, and the chaotic heat of it all.

Rubbles (Broken Sleep Books, 2022)
This was a book that came out of a kind of itching exasperation that seemed part ludic and part despairing…a sort of rattling chromatic blender of word skittles, some of which turned out to be fragments of skull. The influences came from the bathos and pains of British politics, especially the sense of possible change the gathered and then collapsed around Jeremy Corbyn which seemed, so briefly, to offer generational momentum (which is not to say it wasn’t also riddled with problems, but change of a kind felt possible)  – and then, the continual sliding into economic free-fall, generously lubed by a revolving door government of self-interested liars. This and the horror of Grenfell, not unrelated. 

In terms of artistic influences…it was the debris of too much and too little. The oversaturation of online cultures, reiterations, fleeting communities and the ironising metafictions…there was a sense, creatively, of the famous Coleridge line ‘water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink’…a surfeit of choice that had itself been commodified, along with ethics and morality, into this seething backwash of emptied culture-as-content…a dizzying and illusory spin of ever receding fulfilment. I was interested in pairing this with a sort of bedraggled rerun of Language poetry (a 70s poetry movement spearheaded in America by poets like Charles Bernstein and Lyn Hejinian) as marooned and beached in the tidal Brexit sewage…looking, with admiration, to the sharp comic ingenuity and linguistic contortions of Peter Manson and Clark Coolidge…as well as the inspiration of Rachel Blau DuPlesis’ epic Drafts.

Decomposing Robert (Black Herald Press, 2023)
This book-length poem sought to explore decomposition as a generative process… a circular condition of living …the energy and entropy of movement, of carrying on, stumbling, drop, exhume, exhale, and catching a fly in the inhale, bumbling forward. It is a book driven to embody, and in bodily failure succeed, to reach and relay decay. Decay as imagined in (and of) the poetry of the Robert Browning, the return of Twin Peaks, Bela Tarr’s film Satantango, and the remake of Blade Runner…all scooped into a misguided meditation on the end of a long-term relationship. I’ve written on these influences here. I also was also really interested to explore the decay of meaning in language, how communication is reliant on decay and, beyond that the decay of language itself…serving up the post-mortem of a poem as a loving autopsy of living; living in death as dying in life, and much of the mess that sits less neatly. I was also listening to a lot of William Basinski, Tim Hecker and Philip Jeck.

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