“Welcome to the Museum of Cattle” is the title of your latest poetry collection. Have you ever been to such a museum?
No. I’ve visited the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City and driven past the Devil’s Rope Museum of barbed wire in Texas. There’s a very welcoming town called Cowes on the Isle of Wight (off the south coast of England).
As a child I loved this amazing stuffed animal museum. It was called Potter’s Museum, and it was full of Victorian costumed bunnies, squirrels, kittens, and finches in various tableaux such as school rooms, parties, weddings, graveyards, and a thieves den of rats. Walter Potter was a self-taught taxidermist and I guess I am a self-taught poet. Moving to America meant everything became bigger and so my museum upsized the creatures.
Is the book related to “Welcome to the Monkey House” and “Slaughterhouse Five”?
No. I didn’t even think of this until you mentioned it. Nice connection though! And nothing to do with Guns N’ Roses and “Welcome to the Jungle.” And I like cats, so certainly no cat hell.
There are very few bovine references in your poetry. I do however see a hell of a lot of horses.
Rabbits, tricky girls, paintings, alcohol, directions, nights, deaths. The poem “Analyze This” lists my changing obsessions. And another thought…a welcome is a “hello” or a ‘hi.” Cows low.
And saying that, I get a picture of Eastbourne, the seaside resort town where I grew up. It’s overlooked by Beachy Head, a beautiful green headland with the highest chalk cliff in Britain. A cliff which has one of the highest suicide rate in the world. People fall, lemmings fall, buffalo fall, failure falls. Cattle grazing while bones pile up.
I thought you disliked explaining too much about your work.
I like poetry because of the spaces. Background is at the back. Space is for contemplation, or is a trigger to new ideas/words/images. I am not so hot on narrative – who cares if F follows E? Conversational speech? Just a recreational vehicle moving from one place to another.
You don’t have a middle name. Does poetry compensate for this void?
A middle is containment. And space need not be empty. In my writing, space is often defined by walls, doors, drapes. Space observed through windows. A lot of my work has cinematic influences, especially Alfred Hitchcock. “The Second Rebecca” poem in the book is a good example. I was a painter before becoming a writer. I deal with composition. Buildings frame while bodies decompose to bone and structure.
Very cheery. Any thoughts on the future?
Alvin says buy nuts.
Your poems contain a lot of questions. Care to explain?
Do I have to?
Not if you don’t want to.
Rumor has it that you were once groped by Iggy Pop. Was that an important influence on your work?
Most people would highlight Iggy in their lifetime experiences, rather than a visit to some stuffed animal collection.
Really? Well, this was back in the late eighties in London. I was squashed in at the front at the Town & Country Club in Kentish Town. Iggy held my left breast and sang “Sixteen.” Next tour, a few years later, and he ignored me. I was too old, I guess. So nothing lasts. But a stuffed animal will always be a stuffed animal…
Except Potter’s Museum was closed and the collection split up and sold. And I just googled Walter Potter and one of his favorite tableaux (though it made no impression on me as a child) was “The House That Jack Built.” There’s a cow in that scene – obviously not one of his stuffed creatures but a small model built of cowhide on a wooden frame. And then with taxidermy we get back to Hitchcock and Norman Bates. Crows in the motel and mothers in the house.
In “The Second Rebecca,” there is the repeated phrase “and I’m not fluffy and I am fluffy.” Are you fluffy?
On occasion, but don’t tell anyone.
Anything else I shouldn’t tell?
There’s two of you and only one of me.