Clive Birnie, along with being editor and boss at Burning Eye, a Star Wars fan and owner of an impressive record collection, is also a poet and novelist of left-of-centre literature. Last year he released his surreal fiction Time Travel Hotel and before that Cutting Up the Economist, a collection of collaged, found poetry. Now Clive is back with his new collection HashTag Poetry# and is here to tell you all about it:
So Clive, Hashtag Poetry# is the second collection of experimental poetry (the first being Cutting Up the Economist) both of which are surreal and visually engaging. Can you tell us a bit about how you found yourself producing poetry like this?
It has been a long running thing. I have always been interested in Dada, montage and cut-up had employed a word-collecting montage method of writing which involved noting down random overheard words and business jargon then assembling them into poems as long ago as 1994. It was during the final stages of making Cutting Up the Economist that I became interested in using smartphone apps as both a creative medium and as a constraint. The first few smudged, erased, redacted and filtered black and white pieces came this way and ended up in Cutting Up the Economist. Then when the book was finished I put it all aside and forgot about it for a while. The dots and paint came as part of something else and much later.
What kind of process did you go through to make up the collection?
When I picked the smartphone concept back up in 2015 I had decided to make a sequence made only from redactions of Twitter screen shots. I was on Twitter from the start and love the jabbering stream of consciousness montage that it is. It is a ever moving cut-up and I wanted to process that down and capture it in some way. Exploring a process is something that works for me. I am interested in process and sequence. The first Hashtag Poems as they were eventually called were made in early 2015 and involved XXXXing out and painting dots over screen grabs of Twitter. The next phase was half analogue, I would print the screen shots onto A6 photo-paper and redact with a Sharpie and decorate with dot stickers. That was better but I wanted to get back within the constraint. Only the words on a single Twitter app screen grab. Only manipulated within the constraint of the screen of my iPhone 5S using readily available apps. By the end of October 2015 I has a process working and although there are few of the first and second stage poems in there the bulk of the book was made between Nov 2015 and the end of Feb 2016. You could call in instant-poetry. Disposable poetry. Poetry you can glance at – get – and forget. 21st Century attention deficit poetry.
Do you have plans to continue producing work like this?
At the moment yes I am still going and had posted a new piece on Instagram everyday for 46 days… until yesterday when I missed a day. I have probably made more new pieces since I put the book to bed at the end of Feb than are included in the book. The more recent post sending the book to print is different, a new chapter. The book sums up the year of exploring the process that lead to its creation.
You recently did a residency at StAnza Poetry Festival – what was that like?
Amazing. Bewildering. Inspirational, and like this:
Instapoetry – you obviously make it but do you think it is/can be a good resource for poetry?
Yes but Instapoetry is like Slam Poetry. It isn’t one thing and is not a genre. Instagram is a medium of self-publication nothing more. Therefore the breadth of work out there is diverse and like all self-published catalogues is of variable quality. There is interesting work there if you hunt it down and yes I think it is a great resource. Another place where the virtual hordes meet and as poets we should go where the people meet and be among them.
Finally, any advice for poets on the fringe?
Find your voice and strive to sound like no one else. Avoid the identikit. If everyone else cuts their hair, grow yours long. If everyone has a beard: shave.