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Wearing a hoodie for comfort: An interview with P.A. Levy of Clueless Collective.

December 5, 2011 \am\31 9:00 am

Who are you? And what is Clueless Collective? How long’s it been going, why’s it been going, what do you (we, us) get out of all this nonsense?! Who is your crew and where do you guys hang out?

Questions, questions, questions.  I like questions, they’re like giddy tickles in the cranium.  So let’s steam into the first tickle and tell you who I am.  My name is Paul Levy (P.A. Levy) – that’s all you really need to know on a need-to-know basis but that’s hardly going to satisfy any greedy urges to gorge on information and/or tittle-tattle, so for you tattle hungry poetry tit munchkins I shall provide a little savoury filling.

I was born and brought (or dragged) up in London’s East End during the monochrome days when everyone, including all the cats and dogs, wore hats, smoked cigarettes form the corner of their mouths and ate jellied eels.  My destiny was to be the new Messiah, but after just a few months of life I contracted polio and realising that a crippled Messiah wasn’t going to make it in the cutthroat Messiah industry I decided to be a very naughty boy instead.  Education was certainly an entertaining experience for a dyslexic cripple, occasionally I attended a local grammar school mostly to be a total pain the arse and amuse myself with mischief, which I successfully achieved until I was expelled.  Missing out on all the long and rather boring story bits, when my disability finally forced me to give up work we (my very patient and slightly mental wife, or should that be slightly patient and very mental wife) moved to a rural idyll deep in the heart of the English countryside where I took to writing (about 5 or 6 years ago now) as a way of saving myself from daytime and late-night telly.

There may be some things you might want to pick up on from that, but for now let’s move on to the who what why where whatever of everything you ever wanted to know about the Clueless Collective but couldn’t be bothered to ask.

We started in 2008 when myself and Charlotte De’Ath [one of the site’s contributors] were discussing that it seemed a bit sad after a poem gets published, had its brief spell in the light, it’s then lost in unread archives of back issues or defunct magazines.  I thought it might be an idea to put out a showcase site but in a magazine format, invited Charlotte and from then on the momentum just grew.  Sitting around playing with ideas, the daughter of a close mate casually said ‘I write little verses,’ Charlotte and I looked at each other and told her to bring some along or email them to us.  As soon as we read it: fresh, idiosyncratic, funny, different, we knew instantly we wanted Drew [aka iDrew, another of the site’s regular contributors] to be a part of this, and with her came Terry [Wrist] who said he had these cartoon characters but couldn’t draw for shit.  Perfect.  We had our resident artist.  This was our starting line up but as we all enjoyed a little drink and toke I thought that motivation could become a problem at times so got Cath involved to bully, harass and organise us all.  Ben came along a little later along with Mankie the Cat who has become rather silent since they banned meow meow.

We’re not really clever enough to have philosophies as such, however we had noticed that in general poets are miserable little fuckers, so if there was to be a serious manifesto it would be to try and have some fun and just to do our little thing, regardless.  Balance our attempts of poetry with piss-taking and silliness.  The basic concept of a magazine- style showcase was to try and mash together the old punk do-it-yerself attitude with a poetry comic style vibe, which is why with the first couple of issues we gave away free gifts just like the old-fashioned comics used to do, and although I don’t feel we’ve succeeded yet, I do feel we’re still moving in the right direction.

It’s no accident that we tend to isolate ourselves quite a bit in that we don’t take a lot of notice of what others are doing (heads down mindless boogie), it’s not through any disrespect of other peoples work, more to do with trying to be as original as we can be, to avoid any subconscious influences as much as possible and not be afraid to do things differently.  Some things work, some things don’t, I would just hate to pump out variations of the same thing over and over again.

Especially interesting to me is that a group with ‘collective’ in the name would say they try to keep outside influences at bay. Do you ever influence each other, or work collaboratively at a level other than publishing via the same site? Do you think that non-contemporary reading is a better or more desirable influence? I mean you must read classics and other things? So is it like, it’s more a matter of standing out or apart from whatever might be a current ‘scene’ than generally being influenced by things?

Ha! We do sometimes swap work and send it out for devilment. Does that count as collaboration? Not just devilment though, we were trying to say, or at least exploring the concept, that the work matters more than the writer. We’ve also published under pseudonyms that will remain secret. And yeah, we do influence each other. That’s the thing with influences; impossible to prevent. What I think it boils down to is the protection of the Self in self-expression, that’s the germ of originality and that’s the main reason for stepping aside from the Zeitgeist. Forsake the bandwagons build yer own Heath-Robinson rocket and set off on your own adventure.

I’m glad you’ve brought up the classics, although let me counter that by asking how contemporary is contemporary? In poetry left-align still doggedly rules, with the vast white space to the right remaining a sacred tundra and anything other than proper English still being frowned upon, yet the way we communicate has altered dramatically over the past, say, 10 years and language, perpetually changing as language does, has changed, or grown, at a pace roughly constant with this. Poetry, on the other hand would be very cosy and content to remain in the 19th century in front of a log fire sipping tea and munching on crumpets. Perhaps it’s time to brush everything aside and just start afresh although that’s not to say all that’s gone before is worthless; far far from it, there just seems little point in replicating it, making it modern by exchanging a horse drawn carriage for a Ford Focus. Far too many magazines consider themselves as ‘experimental’ just ‘cos they use the word ‘fuck’ whereas using everyday language should be a given, it’s how we communicate, otherwise it raises the question: just how relevant is it really?

It’s probably obvious to state that punk has remained an influence for me, but given many of the subjects I seem to write about and the language I use it might be a little surprising to reveal that Christina Rossetti has always been my biggest influence. Maybe a little less surprisingly, d.a.levy, a largely forgotten beat poet and 60s punk visionary, with possibly Anna Akhmatova making my top three poets. By some strange coincidence I tend to read more female writers than male: Angela Carter, Kathy Acker, Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, A.S.Byatt, I’ve never stopped to analyse why, just accepted it as the way it is.  Good writing is good writing, end of.

Which thoughts segue nicely into something else I’ve wondered: we’ve established that you’ve been around since 2008, but you mentioned that this is your first interview, and it’s true that I never see you around on blogs, or being touted on Twitter or something. Is staying ‘out of the limelight’ a conscious effort as well, or is it just a matter of not enough exposure / time or other outside factors or something? Like how many hits does your site get for example? Do you think there is interest in this type of – can I call it ‘anti-establishment’ without sounding like a twat* – poetry in Britain or elsewhere?

*I think when I say ‘anti-establishment’ I mean a specific type of ‘anti’ to a specific type of ‘establishment’ – what leads me to this is the imagery of ‘terrorism’ and ‘revolutionary,’ ‘antisocial’ type tone of the site, which, let me be clear, is very in the humorous and like, parody sense of these words, and then the establishment being the academic literature and poetry crews I guess.

We’re not big in the number lark probably achieving around a 2-3,000 visits per issue, which is fine and to be honest way exceeds our expectations and you’re right, we’re total pants at promotion for all the above reasons. We may be naive but we’d like to trust that word of mouth will eventually, however slowly, get around and hopefully create a stronger rather than casual following. It’s of little consequence as we’d still do it if we only had 10 readers simply ‘cos we have fun and it’s our little orange box to stand on and be kings of our own castle. Also we’re all terminally shy creatures and very protective of our privacy. There’s a worrying dark side creeping into the social media network, it’s becoming the CCTV of the internet.

Do I think there’s interest in our kind of thing? I don’t know. All our feedback has been really good and yet I can well imagine someone stumbling into us by chance thinking, who are these wankers? I’m certain some editors have rejected work after checking the site but who gives a fuck. It’s that attitude which is the spine of us. We seriously couldn’t give less of a fuck if we were Lost Fuck from Feck Lane, Fucklesshire and would actually glory in bad reviews, post them on the site with pride after all we’re under no illusions that we’re good poets, whatever that may be. We’re just us. What’s surprised me has been that in the US we seem more readily accepted. It’s a little sad ‘cos the UK has such a creative culture, and even though there’s a mini-revival in the interest in poetry, coinciding with Grime not only finding its own voice but also the mainstream, coupled with an active Slam scene, and these two sit quite comfortably together feeding off each other, there is no alternative to this alternative. And then there’s the poetry world ‘that matters.’ I mean is there a valid reason why this poetry world should be so mind numbingly serious about itself and so beard boring dull?

We all despise the elitism that still exists in poetry. The notion that you can’t write poetry unless you’ve been to uni and got degrees coming out of every orifice is bollocks. It’s still very much a class thing. For us, working class, adequately educated us, it’s very much that old punk and three chords thing – well here’s a piece of paper and a pen now write a poem. I feel the internet was all set to become the great liberator, but unless we really start exploring the potential instead of being lazy and transfer printing the old onto the new, it will just become the enforcer.

Personally I would have wanted us to be more political, and possibly if we published more than twice a year, so as to stay more current, I might have got my way on that one, but hey; can’t win ’em all so the Hoodie was born as a symbol of where we’re coming from. I hope he is instantly recognisable as a voice against globalisation, capitalism, racism, fascism, pollution, homophobia, you know the stuff, without us having to punch rhetoric in yer face, after all, his only real weapon is a cartoon bomb. And to be totally honest that little bomb motif came about by accident, another example of our artist Terry’s inability to draw. In our hearts we’re anarchists but anarchy is about creation not destruction and it’s about living in peace and harmony with respect. In our being we’re just yer average tosser wearing a hoodie for comfort.

Do you guys have any other projects on, now or in the future?

Dick and Tom’s ‘Blog From The Bog’, which if you try and find some reason for its existence it would be yet another kick at academia’s cubicle door to expose them with their trousers around their ankles, but the reality is far less noble, just two dumb toons promoting anything poo related.

Our other new project, Spudgun, the magazine that Cath is taking control of and that we (the Collective members) have been banned from submitting to. It came about from followers sending us work for review. Our initial intention was to put out a usual magazine style format but take that back to the Oz or I.T. copy with the words overlaying psychedelic imagery. Trials showed it wasn’t an easy read and we felt this wasn’t fair on the writers so we’re going to take it in totally the opposite direction and keep it as simple as possible. The first edition is planned for a January release. However the concept has since evolved and after the this issue has materialised future issues will be of a very different animal.  We hope to enable both the reader and writers to get involved by providing a single A4 (both sides) download which, with two folds, creates a poetry pamphlet for anyone to distribute anywhere at minimal cost. Submission are open for both.

I find everyone on the site kind of mysterious and therefore sexually attractive (probably especially Terry and Drew, are they single? Of age? Just kidding. Sort of.) Please tell us one thing about each of them (personal or work-related, but hopefully really personal) that we would not find on their About pages:

Well our little Drew reckons she’s found her Mr Right (yawn – we’ve heard it all before!) so you’re probably a bit late there and as for Terry.  Terry has a heart of gold but was designed to be single ‘cos he’s an obnoxious little twat with an untold amount of annoying habits.

Terry Wrist

Lately Terry has a fascination with scrappy bits of cardboard and various lengths of string.  He currently owns a piece of cardboard with the word ‘dog’ attached to a longish length of string and another piece with the word ‘homeless’ scrawled on it which he wears around his neck by, yes you’ve guessed it, a loop (shame it’s not a noose) of string.  He calls this his day job.  His hobby is shouting obscenities at strangers.  Just before they slap him he uses his prized possession, a piece of cardboard with ‘tourette’s ‘scrawled on it by a black stolen felt tip pen.  Apparently for the sake of authenticity the pen must be black and must be stolen.  We’ve got through 26 black felt tip pens this year alone.  Despite this he is the go-to geezer if we need anything.  If we wanted a crane he would know a bloke who would know a bloke who could get us a crane – no questions asked.

iDrew

Drew more than any of us demonstrates the ethos of the site. She’s never studied poetry to any degree, hardly ever uses any poetic devices, and writes as she speaks, yet receives more rave reviews from both editors and readers than all the rest of us combined.  Some personal dirt on Drew, let me see … well she may look adorable but we’ve all seen her pick her nose and eat it.

Charlotte De’Ath

Charlotte, on the other hand, is an awkward cow. Most of her work is too long for magazines, her format often creates too many problems for ezines, as a result she rarely gets the exposure she deserves. We have promoted this before but she has a piece, Wedlocked, not only available as a PDF download but also as a MP3 download from http://www.newfairytales.co.uk/ issue 3, and from the audio collection link.  Charlotte once embarked on a mission to confuse her neighbours with rich tea biscuits; posting them through letter boxes, leaving them on doorsteps and leaving them on cars as well as making rich tea trails through their front gardens.

[Ed note: Download Charlotte and iDrew chapbooks here.]

Dick and Tom

We tried to get rid of these two once.  Cath told them that Shredderland was like Disneyland.  Bless, their little faces were all excited until they realised that Shredderland was an industrial shredding depot.  Somehow they escaped and as our address was the only address they knew, posted themselves back to us.  The latest from these two is that Dick’s developed a crush on Ani Smith and Tom’s considering branching out into novelty socks.

Ben Nitt

Ben is still trying to remain aloof.  He believes it will give him an air of sophistication.  He’s Northern for fuck’s sake – that just ain’t gonna happen.  I can reveal that he is trying to teach Tom to cook but is reluctant to accept that Toons have a very weird pallet.  Last week’s Swiss roll with spinach and blueberry custard wasn’t great.

Mankie the Cat

Our latest theory is that Mankie isn’t really a cat at all but one of Terry’s friends in a cat costume.  We make him shit outside to be on the safe side.

Cath Attar – Editor-in-Chief

The one secret I can reveal about Cath is that she’s really nice.  Our agony aunt, headmistress, cheerleader all rolled into one.  A sort of substitute Nan (‘cos she smells of wee a bit, not ‘cos she’s that old.)

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2 Comments
  1. December 5, 2011 \am\31 9:28 am 9:28 am

    I love the Clueless Collective.
    And the irony is that they’re obviously not at all clueless*
    * = This is not ironic, really. It’s just a bad comment. But I really do love the Clueless Collective. Thank you for shining a light on their bushel. As it were.

    • December 5, 2011 \pm\31 4:07 pm 4:07 pm

      trueness

      after this iinterview i feel greatly interested in hangin out and getting high with mankie

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