Butler’s crusade

Ivor Cutler, the Scottish poet synonymous with adjectives like surreal, eccentric and couthy, talks to Craig McLean about his latest surreal, eccentric and couthy


The title poem of Ivor Cutlcr's latest book. A Siuggy Pren, goes like this: ‘A pren. a stuggy pren. leezin and bloozin and soggilin at a fleepy klodge. My slerky chits a beezy woop and snoped a zoop.‘ The accompanying photograph features two lvors. One is dressed as a retired farmer wearing a fez and carrying an imaginary . . . anything. The other has knee-length socks. stripey pants. a fisherman’s cap at jaunty i angle. a sharp expression. and a short plank. You i think: Monty Python meets Edmund Lear. You say: I ‘Cutler. can you tell us how your latest book involved a collaboration with a photographer?‘ You I l

hear: ‘Yes. I can tell you.‘

Ivor Cutler is ‘not a sandwich man.‘ He uses the exclamation ‘crumbsl'. knows three words of Japanese (‘sun’. ‘bn'ght‘ and a third he can’t remember). and is most widely known for the I numerous sessions he has recorded for John Peel I since I969. He has flown from London to Edinburgh for the day. for the opening of an exhibition of the photographs featured in A Struggy Pren. He has to I sign copies ofthe book. graffiti the gallery walls with doing noise poetry. Just rubbish. so to speak. that snatches from the book. be filmed by the BBC, be interviewed. give a reading. chunter with punters and ! eat sandwiches. It‘s a tough job. being a 71-year-old i

i poetry.

photo of Ivor Cutler by Katriona lithgo

i humourist on a ‘crusade‘ to take the intellect out of

‘It took me six years to learn how to write poetry decently. Most of that time was spent doing noise poetry. Just rubbish, so to speak, that made a nice noise.’

I ‘It took me six years to learn how to write poetry

3 decently.‘ he says as he toys with ‘posh lettuce‘ in the creaking leather fustiness of the Scandic Crown | library. Cutler has already disturbed the reverent ambience with a bout of face-pulling. tongue- waggling. groan-making and caterwauling (voice

, exercises. you see). ‘Most ofthat time was spent

made a nice noise. And gradually certain sounds and

COHCCIions 0f Sounds began to appear 35 [0 my ‘33th A Siuggy I’ren by ll'Ul' Cur/er is published by Arc and one gradually put more and more English in until { Pub/[((mmzs a; [6.99,

absolutely .

it was all English. But the English then was making a good noise.‘

The collaboration with young photographer Katriona Lithgow. he eventually says. came about when he went to a gallery in London. ‘There was an exhibition of nudes there. women in their twenties and thirties. And they were so totally lacking in prurience. l was knocked out. because I’ve done a bit of life drawing in my time. and l thought this was a quality I'd been looking for all the time and I‘d never come across it like that before.‘ Cutler, who has a habit ofscnding fan letters to people whose work he admires. contacted Lithgow. wondering if they could work together somehow. The upshot of which is a candid camera profile of Cutler in various poses. locations and bats round his flat in Kentish Town. ‘And she took about a million times more photographs than I‘d anticipated. and I wish to God that I hadn't gone near her because it left me . . knackered.‘

Suitable adjectives to drop in about now are: surreal. eccentric. quirky. couthy and quaint. Appropriate biographical details revolve around his career as a teacher. with stints in Paisley. at A8. Neill's Summerhill (‘thc only man that was utterly saintly.‘ glows Cutler. ‘hc just let you be. warts 'n' all). and in London. Neill's ‘spontaneous acting' credo was pivotal. In London. Cutler taught drama and movement to teachers and pupils. ‘I used it therapeutically. Because all the normal childhood traumas like sibling hatred and hating the baby and lavatories and bad smells and mother/child things and death and so on. being a humourist l was able to imbue these situations with laughter. All the kids would look around and see one another laughing. and it was okay to enjoy terrible smells. for instance. and they stopped feeling guilty. That was the theory.’

Hence the quirky wit of Cutler's poetry. teasing laughter and melancholy from the minutiae of life. Everyone's life. ‘They say.‘ he says. ‘that after two years halfthe weight of your pillow is mite shit. l know l‘ve got one pillow that I‘ve had for twenty- | odd years and it weighs a ton.‘

_ Madame Scissorhands

Despite the success of Mrs Doubtfire and the extra copies the film has gratifyineg put into bookshops across the country, Anne Fine feels little pressure to produce another bestseller. Twenty years ago she concedes she may have been less sanguine about the whole thing, but the years, the experience and the undoubted security that a Hollywood adaptation bestows, means that all she wants for her latest novel, In Cold Domain is, she says, “Without wanting to sound too wet - I hope It gives the public a good read.’

It had always been her Intention she continues, ‘to write a trilogy of novels

dealing with firstly Passion, then Marriage, and now finally Family’. As in the earlier works the treatment of the subject matter is fierce and

remorseless but encircled with wit. Although feeling freer to write about the family, now all hers have left home, she accepts that In Cold Domain is a fairly strong indictment on the institution itself. Certainly the fictional Colletts are as dysfunctional a set as any she has written about, and the mother llllith wouldn’t cut it in a Bisto ad. As her frustrations and resentments about her family grow she systematically undertakes the destruction of the Eden-like garden paradise of their childhood. The more the darlings fret the more deadly the secateurs become.

Though Fine is adamant that this is not an autobiographical novel or a psychological portrait she would challenge anyone who has had children not to feel such resentments and frustrations in varying degrees of Intensity. She has often stated that this Is exactly what made her start to write in the first place. ‘It was either

that or throwing the window boxes from my Dundas Street flat,’ she reckons. For some women these feelings will be alien, just as there are some people who lay claim to blissfully happy childhoods with endlessly sensitive parents. ‘My novel reflects the more normal state of affairs,’ she says parrottlng one of her characters, ‘We are all Wednesdays’ children whose childhoods have an element of the barbaric lurking in the undergrowth.’

She is clearly pleased with her new book and would be she says, ‘Delighted if someone wanted to make it into a movie’. However, she won’t chop the heads off the roses if the reviews aren’t as she would want them. ‘God forbid I should start living my novels,’ she laughs. ‘What a grim thought.’ (Maggie Lennon)

In Cold Domain by Anne Fine ls published by Viking at £9.99 on 3D

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June. i l

The List 1—14 July I994 81