In tandem with the release of the collection Clinical, Brutal… An Anthology of Writing with Guts Christopher Nosnibor will be interviewing some of the contributors to the book about their contributions, their writing methods and their outlooks more broadly.
Antony Hitchin has made a truly remarkable impact on the contemporary poetry scene, and has made a substantial contribution to the revitalisation of Burroughs’ seminal cut-up method in the digital age. Clinical, Brutal… features three powerful pieces by Hitchin, ni the form of a poem – ‘Abandoned Warehouse’ – a prose poem – ‘Soho’ and a prose piece – ‘Web-Cam Girl.’ Ever enigmatic, insightful and thought-provoking, I wanted to put some questions to him. The outcome was even more than I’d hoped, perhaps his most open and revealing interview to date.
CN: You’ve been insanely prolific over the past couple of years, and I had a real struggle selecting pieces from the wealth of both poetry and prose works you volunteered for the anthology. How do you manage to produce such a vast output, while not only maintaining the quality, but also keeping it fresh and exciting?
ADH: Anything static is dead. A corpse in rigor-mortis. For me, this applies creatively and mentally. A creative death would be a physical death.
Writing is very much an organic process. It is something I give very little conscious consideration to. The unconscious is of course submerged. I am interested in contacting and dredging that, no matter what I find there.
I tire easily. If my work begins to bore me I ruthlessly tear it up and I will not write again until I have a fresh perspective. Now I accept these ebbs and flows as a natural cycle of decay and rebirth.
If I am not challenging myself I see no purpose. My work, particularly my poetry, is not meant to ‘entertain’ people’. That said, I enjoy entertainment myself if it is well-written and conceived. But I do not believe entertainment should subsume authentic creativity.
Ten years ago I nearly died of Meningitis. During a critical period I had ample time to consider my life to that point. I was not satisfied with what I saw. I was terrified of dying because I had left no befitting legacy. So now, when I write this informs me, almost brutally. It gives everything I do a very raw, energised focus.
I’m not restricted by any one style. I allow the content to dictate the style rather than the style dictate the content.
CN: Although you’re predominantly known as a poet, you’ve been writing prose, too, lately. How different is your approach to the two forms? What are the benefits / disadvantages of each, for you?
ADH: The disadvantage is that readers tend to want to classify you either a Poet or Author. I have suffered through using a range of eclectic, disparate approaches and this has applied to prose .
Prose is slightly more conceived, but without being cliché, tends to write itself once begun. Poetry is a shorter more condensed burst with little rational consideration. Sometimes if I feel a poem is more suited to prose I will adapt and elaborate. I consider both forms equally relevant and balanced.
CN: ‘Web-Cam Girl’ is a piece I found particularly affecting. This is perhaps an odd response, given that it left me feeling both empty and slightly violated at the same time. It’s a very keen commentary on the way the Internet has affected human interactions. What inspired it? Do you feel that the Internet has helped promote objectification, and a more clinical, distant approach to relations, and, in particular, sex?
ADH: If anything interests me I probe it, knowing by nature, it may inform creative work. I actually began by visiting web-cam sites. Commonly, with such arrangements you can ‘converse’ with the subject without charge. This quite clearly being ‘bait’ for a priced ‘private’ session. The language males were using toward the female was abuse, subhuman; so I found that when I addressed them respectfully they tended to acknowledge, then exchanges began. What deeply affected me, was the look in one of the girls eyes when I asked her how she felt about her work. The eyes belied her response. This has remained with me ever since.
I have no issues with pornography in general, but I spoke by email to both models and women in the ‘Adult Entertainment Industry’ and one of the first things they almost always wrote was that I didn’t proposition or make an explicit request. Males seem to think they own these women. They were no longer viewed as human-beings but as a commodities, objectified to such an extent that abuse was ‘deserved’ or came with the territory.
Funds from pornography literally allowed the internet to come into being, so it is no surprise that it proliferates online. Pornography like death, will always make money. The internet conceals; adds privacy. It removes the necessity of physically entering a sex-shop or other such venue.
Generally men have tended towards objectification of women because they are more visual creatures. Also social and cultural conditioning has exacted huge authority.
I was also greatly influenced by ‘Fantomas’; a murdering, subversive anti-hero who featured in a series of notorious pulp thrillers, particularly valued by surrealists. I had read ‘Fantomas: The Corpse Who Kills’ (1911, Solar Books) by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain. Fantomas kills in a wild variety of ingenious ways; poison flowers, acid in perfume bottles, gloves of human skin … I wanted to re-introduce Fantomas in a contemporary setting however, I was unsure if I could use the ‘Fantomas’ name due to copyright considerations.
Finally, I was interested in the way social ‘values’ informed the priorities of police approach and media response, to murder. Like those males abusing their source of sexual satisfaction, those of certain lifestyles seem to be considered of less importance virtue of their circumstances.
CN: One thing I’ve been asking many of the contributing authors I’ve interviewed is – perhaps not surprisingly – about the way they’ve interpreted ‘clinical brutality.’ Obviously, when I conceived it, I had something particular in mind, but came to realise that many authors were writing in ways that similarly represented this aesthetic, in one way or another. The anthology gathers a fairly disparate array of authors, all with quite different and highly individual styles under the umbrella of ‘clinical brutality.’ This was pretty much as I’d expected, and hoped – i.e. to show different interpretations of the theme. What does the concept of clinical brutality mean to you?
ADH: I favour precision. Sniper-shots. A machine gun for example is just as ‘brutal’ but is messy, ejaculatory. A sniper offers a clean shot, with little wastage.
A skilled mortician will make deliberate incisions. As will a surgeon. All are brutal acts. The differences are the methods and approach. The attitude of the writer, poet, mercenary, surgeon, mortician, whatever. All desire results, but the most skilled are focused.
Western society is clinical and brutal, so perhaps we should anticipate more writing reflecting that. We are arguably more separate than ever; disconnected, living in a technology-lead environment filled with fear and strangers. Saturated with media that has its own agenda. I find the concept that all art is ‘pure’ and arrives ‘unfiltered’, uninfluenced by society and conditions laughable. It is as dreadful as when you hear statements that writers were not influenced by any sources when writing. That their work is completely original. Unless they have lived all their life in a hermetically sealed bubble this is simply impossible. Others seem to believe that their work needs no editing. That editing is reductive and a sacrilege. Commonly, this presents fatty, bloated writing. Imagery repeating. Nothing concentrated. I’d rather have a two line poem than is effective, than an obese, stuffed ‘masterpiece’ wasting paper space.
CN: Since I last interviewed you, your work seems to have evolved significantly, and in quite a number of different directions. Have your perspectives and working methods changed significantly, or have other factors driven these developments? To what extent do you still use the cut-up technique?
ADH: I’d be extremely concerned if my creative work had not evolved during the last twelve months; that I had not challenged myself and was merely coasting. Not only would that represent tedium but it would be unfair to my readers.
I still use cut-up, but like Burroughs later work this tends to be incorporated with more conventional elements. The unusual non-linear imagery, symbolism and development remains. On occasions I cut-up then write over the text. I value the cut-up method and believe it will figure greatly in the future. It destroys conditioned neural nets. It opens creativity; is a creative conductor.
CN: There’s a clear thematic unity that runs through your work – notably sex, death and religion. Although there is a sense of homogeneity in terms of the way these major themes are tackled, I get a sense that you intentionally avoid making any explicit pronouncements or authorial statements, preferring instead to present different angles for the readers to draw their own conclusions. Would you say that this is a fair summary? Are there any specific reactions or conclusions you aim to provoke, or is your objective more about making people think, and think critically, rather than receive a set of statements and images that direct them to think in a certain way?
ADH: I feel there are only three things I owe readers; authenticity, high standards and always acknowledging their intelligence. Never treat readers like idiots. Respect their right to their own interpretations (within certain bounds, there are some statements about a piece that may simply be blatantly incorrect). Respect the fact that they take the time to read your work. I do not believe readers are infants but people of feeling and intelligence. What I write about is common to all; I aim to be inclusive, not exclusive. Conversely, I do not waste time concerning myself with those who don’t appreciate my work or are disparaging. They are entitled to their choices. I am not engaging in ‘competition’. I’ve reached the point where nobody can compete because I’m absent from the race.
I try not to be didactic, to spell out meanings, but to allow people to draw their own conclusions and/or examine their reactions. So, yes, this is provocation but it is also me examining these situations myself. I’m not being dogmatic. I consider this a co-operative process. If a reader is passive and does not wish to enter this kind of active, creative relationship, I am probably not the writer for them.
Even when I write in a first-person narrative, with the narrator appearing quite opinionated it is most often to reveal a situation or circumstances; male insecurity, sexual desires etc. It is not a definitive statement on the subject.
I do not accept that we are finished products. That even our gender and sexualities are concrete facts. Reality is malleable. It is capable of bending to our will; to respond to our desire to change. To be creators rather that consumers. To escape the confines of social conditioning and control. Everyday we are bombarded with ‘information’ that aims to disinherit our power and influence. But we do have power, ultimate power and the greatest of influence. We are the many, they are the few. And if it takes genuine creativity to help us all acknowledge that, so be it. What other purpose is there?