INTERVIEW: ANDREW BUTTON AT FIRE & DUST
MUSIC FOR EMPTY CAR PARKS BY ANDREW BUTTON
“His love for them is more
than he could give to three wives.
In all shapes and sizes
across the concreted globe,
like amorous liaisons,
he’s courted them,
or somebody somewhere
has sent him photographs
to post on his website.
This passion has filled up
the spaces in his life
with a compelling desire
to seek out and cherish
these bitumen babes.
power the pistons of his ardour.
He waxes lyrical about their virtues
and aesthetic beauty
on national television and Radio Norway,
how you can put anything on them –
a working windmill producing flour,
a duck pond with real ducks,
planes, trains and cricket grounds.
——————————–From ‘i. Lord of the Rings’ (Music for Empty Car Parks, p.84)
Originally from Nottingham, poet and librarian Andrew Button currently lives in Market Bosworth, Leicestershire. His new collection is Music for Empty Car Parks (erbacce-press, January 2020). In 2016, Andrew published pamphlet Dry Days in Wet Towns and his first collection The Melted Cheese on the Cosmic Pizza came out in 2017. He has also had various poems feature in magazines.
Andrew’s poetry has been described as observational, anecdotal and ironic, often with a focus on eccentric and obsessive behaviour. His sources of inspiration range from other writers and quirky news stories, such as the woman who took her horse into a McDonald’s, to popular culture and his own experiences of life and love.
On 5th March (a much simpler time for us all, when it was socially acceptable for a crowd of people to sit together for an evening in a bookshop…), Andrew headlined at our live poetry night, Fire & Dust. It is not his first time as our special guest, and he now frequently attends and reads on the mic for us, so we were excited to hear work from his new book.
HCE caught up with Andrew after the gig, to ask him some questions…
We like the title of your new collection – ‘Music for Empty Car Parks’ has a welcoming and all-encompassing vibe. Have you ever performed in a car-park, empty or otherwise? And what’s the strangest place you’ve shared your poetry with an audience?
The inspiration for the title and in fact the poem of the same name, came from an amusing experience. One evening I happened to be walking past an NCP car park and noticed that although it was completely empty of cars, the lights were on and music was blaring loudly from within. This struck me as particularly pointless and I started musing on all the other aspects of our everyday lives that could be seen as pointless! I must admit, it was an excuse to let my quirky imagination and sense of humour run amok.
I have to confess that I haven’t performed my poems in a car park yet or anywhere particularly outlandish yet, but am open to offers. I do believe that poets should be prepared to go where there is an audience, whatever the size! I did read a poem from my wardrobe for National Poetry Day one year (can’t remember which year, though).
When did you first know you were a poet, and was this a happy discovery?
My poetic epiphany struck when I was fourteen but in rather morbid circumstances. It was when my grandfather died and I was moved to ponder philosophically on the tenure of life. I did move on from there positively, though.
The poetry in your book covers a broad range of topics, but would you say there are cohesive themes lurking subtly under the surface?
Ah. Yes. There certainly are some cohesive themes that come to the surface in the book! As you highlighted in your introduction, I am especially fascinated with obsessive and eccentric behaviour and these themes are very evident in many of the poems in this collection. From, the Island Cycle poems about the roundabout aficionado, to the man who builds a full size Viking Long Ship in his front room from wooden ice lolly sticks!! Music also features in a lot of my poems which is another passion of mine.
Who is your work aimed at – do you have an ideal audience in mind when you’re putting a poem together?
I have always maintained that my audience are adults still amazed or willing to be amazed by the wonders of human nature. As my favourite author, Ray Bradbury, said, the most rounded adults are those that still retain an element of that childlike sense of wonder. My aim as a poet is to make people laugh and ponder at the same time. So, you could say that, poetically speaking, I am a juggler! I do like to please myself as a poet but am also always conscious of the need to entertain. To entertain is my driving force as a poet.
Let’s get down to the essentials. Toilet-roll is pretty scarce at the moment. We heard there’s some in your book – are the rumours true?
Most definitely. I forgot to mention that there is also a lavatorial sense of humour present in two or three of the poems in this collection. In fact. One of them, Dan Brown by the Crapper, was inspired by an exhibit at the Big Comfy Bookshop. I have been attending Fire & Dust over the last three years and noticed that a pile of Dan Brown paperbacks had been languishing by the toilet untouched since then. However, it was another Open Mic poet who remarked when seeing them, that it was great to see Dan Brown by the crapper. Needless to say, I was like a greyhound out of the poetic trap after hearing that.
The other poem to utilise this theme prominently is called The Bottom Line. I like many other people of my generation, grew up through my school years having use ghastly medicated brand of toilet roll called Izal. If you ask anyone of a similar age (at school in the 70s and 80s) about it, they will probably recoil at the memory of it. Anyway, the poem partly draws upon that childhood trauma but also goes on to chart the history and development of toilet roll manufacture in this country and shows how we have gone from one extreme to the other. That’s not to say that it is deadly serious poem, because anyone who knows me, will be the wiser!
Your poem Chandler strikes HCE as deliberately mirroring Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled narrators and his gift for surprising figurative language. Was it fun crafting a poem in the style of a crime fiction story?
Yes. I’d read a couple of Raymond Chandler novels recently but always loved the figurative language and narrative style. I then had a poetic light bulb moment, you know the ones where you have to stop what you are doing (whatever it is) and get your idea down on paper. Well, in this case, I formulated the idea of a poem written in the first person from Chandler’s point of view as a struggling young crime writer growing up in the Midlands instead of America. It was also an excuse to use various locations in the Midlands that I was familiar with as a native. A complete flight of fancy laced with humorous, cod Chandler similes and metaphors. A sheer joy to write and, as it transpired, my longest poem to date!
By now, with three books out, you must be getting quite accomplished at assembling a collection of poetry! What are the best and worst parts of this process for you? Has it been fun working with ebacce-press again?
Oh, I don’t know about accomplished. Every book has been like a new adventure even though I am working with the same publisher. I certainly enjoy sifting out poems from my files. The thrill of a collection coming together, viewing the mock-ups, etc. is always incredible and never recedes. The only real challenge is where you might not agree with the publisher over something like the layout on the page. Checking through the copy can be very time consuming and draining but the whole process is sweetened by the end product (and has been so far). I am very grateful that I have found a publisher who believes in me as a poet and enough to publish more than one of my books in what is a one-book contract in the poetry world!
Spoken word seems to be experiencing a revival. In your work as a librarian, have you noticed any sort of reading trends in poetry lately – are people showing more/less of an interest in it?
Interestingly, libraries themselves are hosting more live poetry events and local poetry groups. Speaking with my librarian’s hat on, libraries need to try harder to entice the public into their buildings for poetry events. From my experience of attending and performing at live poetry events in libraries and other locations, people are attracted to pub venues more than libraries. The Big Comfy Bookshop can usually attract at least thirty people for the monthly Fire & Dust Poetry Open Mic. Libraries need to emulate this. I suspect it is the more formal ambience and lack of alcoholic beverages that dissuades people from attending events in libraries!!
There is a very healthy audience for live poetry out there.
Do you still engage with a lot of poetry yourself? What sort of influence do your favourite writers have on your own work?
When I attend Open Mics and especially as a regular at Fire & Dust now, I make a point of buying new titles by headlining poets. It is very important for me to be aware of what other poets are writing, not just listening to them!
I may have said this before in a previous interview, but as a poet I am largely influenced by the likes of Simon Armitage, Ian McMillan, Philip Larkin, Roger McGough and Adrian Henri to mention but a few. In an unorthodox way, I am also heavily influenced by the science fiction and fantasy stories of the American author, Ray Bradbury. His fiction was very poetic. I read every single word of his voraciously from the age of 13.
Music and lyrics have also inspired me, too, and I would like to think that although I am not a rhyming poet per se, that my poems have an intrinsic rhythm. I am certainly an alliteration junkie!
Any tips for poets who are new to the open mic scene and a bit nervous about reading/performing?
My advice is probably obvious, but basically, if you are writing poetry and want to get noticed, you need to get down to your nearest regular poetry open mic night. Apart from building up your confidence as a performer, entering this arena affords you access to the advice and support of many other poets – and they’ve all been in your shoes! In today’s literary world, poets have to perform to stand out in a sea of people trying to write and publish their poetry. I believe it is far more competitive than writing fiction. Ironically, there are so many more people pumping out poetry for a smaller slice of success than novelists, who have fewer outlets but only need one book to strike gold!
What are your upcoming gigs/future projects?
Hopefully, and despite the currently international virus crisis, I am due to be performing as part of a brand poetry show at this year’s Leamington Poetry Festival in July. It features myself and three other fellow poets from the Midlands sparking off each other in an engaging melee of metaphors, similes, rhythms and rhymes. The show will be called Meta4. We are all quirky, observational poets with a unique view of the world we inhabit. Hopefully, it will happen and if it does come along and see it at the Temperance Art Café in Leamington Spa on Saturday 4th July at 3.30pm…
If people want to get in touch about gig bookings, etc., where can they find you? Time to plug some social media/website links!
The obvious ways to contact me for gigs are:
My email address: email@example.comFacebook/Messenger Twitter
Or under this Authors section
Any other thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?
I hope that my book might act as an anecdote against the dark thoughts and despair prevalent in these dystopian times. Smiles and laughter have not been outlawed.