A bit of talk – with Anthony Joseph

I’ve always thought of the reader, I want the reader to hear or read the poem the way I want it to be read, I’ve manipulated the text to get that effect, I try not to write in a way that they need my voice. – Anthony Joseph

On the run up to launching my first record Talk in a bit’ I am sharing some bits of talking with poets I’ve been doing over the last few years for a new archive at the British Library ‘Black British Poets in Performance’.

In this interview the Trinidadian poet, musician and novelist Anthony Joseph, described as ‘the leader of the Black Avant-garde in Britain’ discusses the influence of the Black avant-garde and surrealism on his writing. Our interview is punctuated by readings from his books: Desafinado (1994), Teragaton (1997), African Origins of UFOs (2006), Bird Head Son (2009) and Rubber Orchestras (2011).

Anthony Joseph discusses the parallels between automatic writing and jazz improvisation: ‘you record, a take a version of something’.

He says poetry even on the page ‘has to swing it has to have a musical quality to it’, and this is what makes the poems good to perform. 

On jazz improvisation and stream of consciousness in his novel The African Origin of UFOS:

 – it’s about following the train of thought, about following it like a river. If you listen to a Charlie Parker solo you find that it takes you on a zig zig journey, you can lose your mind…

It’s about time, a concept of time in that if a jazz soloist is playing a solo, the solo has to continue even if you make a mistake, you keep going ahead you don’t stop and edit. Even if syntax is strange, you follow it through.

On the influence of calypso rhythms on his writing:

When I write in dialect, in creole, that calypso melody comes out a lot more. Double entendre for instance I use a lot, a calypso motif, but I think it’s about the humour in it, that’s how it differs from jazz.

Calypso can be very humorous, very incisive politically. The melodious way that Trinidadians speak is really important as well. That’s my original template for understanding language.

What inspired me to write was listening to people like the Mighty Sparrow who would use language is such a profound way.

Joseph says ‘language has a magic to it’ and describes poets as:

Great manipulators – they manipulate language and manipulate human emotion

He vocalises his poetry as he writes:

There’s an essay by Sartre in which he says that people think that language is inside of us, that we have language in our brain, we possess languages and bring it out. But Sartre says language is all around us, above us, in the air, and we pluck it out of the air, or space, and formulate it.

That idea of language being outside is what I’m trying to get to, in reading the poem you access a bigger pool of language, a collective language and then words suggest themselves to you.

Writing on the page is a very insular process… but speaking it, reading it, somehow connects you to other musical ideas. It’s like an instrumentalist. If you play on your own you can solo all day, if you play in a band you’re forced to change.

Talk in a bit tour dates