Ross Sutherland

Question 1

I’m always on standby, little red
light. Trying for weeks to telecine the remnants
of a timecode I lodged on tape somewhere between
Redruth
and Glasgow. Somewhere between
here and there, climbing back up colour
bars – I swear it was after “create your own
narrative” but before “Prynne’s first snow.”
My mind is analogue, coated in iron
and leftover steel wire. High fidelity is for winners,
the lucky ones. How do you navigate the maze
between memory and paper?

– Aaron Kent

Answer 1

Poetry is failure, that’s how it finds me.
That’s how I like it. A poet sets off
looking for the exit, accidentally drowns in the fountain.
Accidentally ends up in the wrong bathroom, apologising.
Accidentally knocks a kid down an open lift-shaft.

There’s a conference in the rose ballroom:
7th EAST AND SOUTHEAST ASIAN
WILD ANIMAL RESCUE NETWORK.
The theme is “Perspectives, methodologies
and challenges in the reintroduction of wildlife”
The poet just takes a seat in the back
and pretends this is where they headed all along.

Whenever I read a poem,
I invisibly add an extra line at the end:
or something like that anyway fuck this.
The empty space at the bottom of the page
is awkward silence & should be performed as such.

I take the stairs three at a time,
desperate to tell you something.
By the time I reach you, I’m too knackered to say anything of value.
(I smoke and I have asthma. Plus I have nothing to say of value).

Choose a bar at random, ask the drunkest man there
what to do next. The question makes sense,
the answer does not. At least, not yet.
I’m just trying to get away from myself, hence this
hotel in Cambodia.

– Ross Sutherland

Question 2

If somebody listens in, somebody booking
or scripting, I’ve always seen myself
as a face. There’s a beauty
in creating your own downfall and calling it
Montreal,
calling it Sharpshooter, calling it
treachery. Expectations
are Heartbreak, Kid,
somebody has to blunt their bones
watching the clock turn heel.
[your career is what happens when you

write the first draft of you notice].
You can wrestle with your shadows
in the projection room, in the dead of night. Nobody
cares about the ladders, or the steel
diamonds [interlocked cage] – they only recall
the stab in the back
and the hours spent counting cat’s eyes
for fifty miles, and the possibility that this all,
every second of it, might be your own
creation –
and the whole damn thing might be fake.
What do you
want to be remembered for?

– Aaron Kent

Answer 2

This month I’m mostly trapped on trains

and though the British countryside is pretty in a plain kind of way
I can barely think straight with all the heat and noise.

I want to try and start somewhere honest
Poetry makes it all too easy to duck questions

Particularly important ones;
hence crappy love poetry, etc.

Q: Do you love me?
Poet: Hey, look at this bowl of vegetables in October.

I’m not above this shit but sometimes you just have to say,
No, I don’t love you. Sorry. It’s not just because of Halloween.

My self-worth is wrapped up in my writing
I can’t lie and say I don’t care what happens to it.

I lost a hard-drive full of poetry two years ago
and the Russian tech guy who looked at it

told me about his past life as an anarchist
and how he once put a pipe bomb

through the window of a parked car
and I walked home along the Cam river feeling

like I’d wasted all my sadness on inflammable objects.
I couldn’t rewrite those lost poems.

There’s something perverse
about trying to repeat those journeys.

Nothing feels as good as a spontaneous change of direction
But it’s joyless to simulate such things.

Something needs to survive
But I don’t think its the words.

What needs to be passed on
are the tools of poetry. The ability

to look at the queue in the passport office
and suddenly be having sex with a corpse.

(Let me try and put this another way)

What I want is the feeling of being over-written
just as I have overwritten others.

(And I know this will sound like a contradiction
based on the things I’ve just been talking about, but-)

I don’t think you can truly understand a poem
until you’ve plagiarised it.

Until you have systematically removed someone else’s words
and replaced them with your own.

It’s like secretly moving in with your girlfriend
by bringing over one of your DVDs every night.

I know it’s easier to make this claim
when your art-form exists entirely outside the flow of capital

but I think that worthlessness
is actually it’s greatest gift.

If you are reading poetry and not copying it I don’t know
I just think that something remains incomplete.

My girlfriends house is a different shape to mine.
Now I walk into walls where doors should be.

Particularly in the middle of the night
when I’m trying to find the right room to pee in

Time flows differently these days.
I wake up and look at her stupid blue bookcases

And don’t know who the fuck I am.
But not in a bad way at all.

We’re all victims of architecture, more or less.
So shout-out to every eighteen year old

typing a sort-of Bukowski poem
into his phone in the corner of a nightclub

I like the frequency with which you hit enter, kid!
Now go back to the dancefloor & sing along to Sex Bomb .

It doesn’t matter, in fact it’s preferable
if the only words you know are “Sex Bomb”

& as long as you keep moving
you can call it a career.

– Ross Sutherland

Question 3

My car is on its way to blowing up,
or falling apart –
I know this because I can feel it,
the way you can sometimes feel it’s about to rain
even though the clouds aren’t yet so full of themselves
they can be heard laughing while we sleep.
I drive through my hometown every single night
and wonder what I did to be lucky enough
to escape the attempted
murders and all the restlessness
[all my friends are enemies are wasted
are wasting away].
I read somewhere about a driver who died
after being struck by a loose brick, so now
I know
I won’t sleep tonight. I’ll be wrapped in cotton,
stuffing sand into my ears hoping those words see fit
to stay on the page. And I hope there was no passenger
to see the final moment, to watch that brick swing coincidence
into the way of
bad luck. I can hear the impact, and either silence or screams
[I’m not really sure what’s worse].
You ever get that way, Ross? You ever
delve too far into the story and find yourself struggling
on the wrong side of the lifeguard flags?
Between my car and their car, I’m not really sure
I want to drive home tonight.
But I can’t stay here.

– Aaron Kent

Answer 3

I’m in the window of a cafe in Peterborough.
My first day off in three weeks. There’s some kids
in long sleeved black hoodies despite the heat.
Old guy in aviators, scuffed Rolex. A baby
with a cyan hair-clip. A saxophone plays
Chris de’Burgh I think. A man that looks like
Louis CK in a blue anorak slowly sets up
a stall in the courtyard. The sign says ENERGY
RECRUITMENT ROADSHOW. He loads
mysterious silver parcels onto a fold-out table.

This is a town of terrible dressers.
It’s not just the shape of the people.

It’s almost as if the city is built
on some kind of electromagnetic anomaly
that glitches out our ability to match top to bottom.
It gives the streets a kind of off-key music
Not like some awful art-rock band but nevertheless
a music that you cant talk over at the bar.

And I want to talk about other things
but christ it’s distracting.

We’re always half dreaming
And I try to remind myself of this.

I spend a lot of time having private conversations with the past
A kind of anti-sleep
where I endlessly accuse old friends of changing the rules.

Thats me in the grip of your car-crashes Aaron
some right hemisphere demon
Stuck in a living poem
that thinks God rhymes with the address of some ex-girlfriend.

Last week I ran away from the press night of my new play
I just couldn’t take it.
It was like a dream that had escaped me.

(Old Mitch Herburg joke:
instead of following your dreams,
why not find out where your dreams are going
and then just meet up with them later.)

Instead I got a train back to Peterborough.
A bonfire went past my window
like a fireball.

And I started to wonder
if the longest creative project of my life
would be the story of How I Gave Up On Art.

God knows what draft I’m on already.

Eventually released (limited edition of one)
for friends to flip through when they shit in my house.

*hugs Freddy Krueger*

*wakes up*

Well you know what I’m talking about here.

Which is why it’s good sometimes
just to just sit in the window
and catalogue the uneven fashions
of your new home town.

It feels good to translate everything
into the cold calm prose of car manuals.

Great moons of Scotland,
It’s awesome to be boring
at 4:35 on the 24th of September.

– Ross Sutherland

Question 4

‘Si deve suonare tutto questo pezzo delicatissimamente e senza sordino’

It was winter
[blue]
when they split the bark and married it
with chemicals. I was bound. Molten salts.
Press Johannes Gutenberg’s words
onto the population – every byproduct of some father’s racism.
There are 290 boxes to think outside of,
to play both summer and winter
[red and blue]
for 14 times, 14 midnights, 14 full moons.

Some impromptu fantasy, I suppose.
I still call my father’s name in my sleep,
in triple p dynamic, so I don’t disturb the neighbours
and give them reason to care.
I like the nonchalance. Don’t you?
Isn’t it nice knowing you can call the cat in it at night
without worrying that next door might offer a hand?
I hallucinate, spring
[yellow]
out of bed when grass is luminescent

in twilight. Pavor Nocturnus.
Killing either God, or my father
twenty years too late for it to make a difference.
[I’ve already used this sentiment in a poem,
but I get lazy,
and I can’t kill my demons in one stream of thought]
Buy me delta sleep, rip the turpentine and soap
from my glands. Give me beautiful sleep architecture,
house my dreams in autumn
[brown].

– Aaron Kent

Answer 4

So I just phone-googled your epigraph

plus some other sections of the poem you sent
Perhaps unnecessary but it’s 10pm

in a pub full of Islington haircuts
screaming at the pay-per-view boxing

so I don’t know.
I don’t have much faith in ignorance tonight.

Your poem had a sadness
a ghost house in dramamine

and I don’t want to steer away from it.
It’d be all too easy to do so.

Poets write “responses” all the time
though they tend to fail the basic rules of conversation.

It’s more like two drunks in an airport bar: “Johannes Gutenberg?
Sounds a lot like my youngest son, let me tell you—“

When we started, I told you I used writing to escape.
But the ethics feel different when you’re not on your own.

It’s douchey to leave a date
through the bathroom window

And this is a date of sorts Aaron.
I’m sorry.

(Poetry is a failing restaurant
with a suspiciously broad buffet)

On my first day teaching poetry in prison
My boss led me across an empty ochre courtyard

through endless gates and checkpoints
The wind incomprehensible.

One, she said, never to talk about yourself.
Your students will find ways to use it against you.

Two: don’t let them tell you their crimes.
Once you know, you can never go back.

I thought to myself: well this is fucking daft.
Are we just going to write haiku about dogs?

My workshops felt like waiting rooms
rap videos censored to an empty blue screen.

But over time, language began to expand
to fill the gap between us:

A torched land rover, the shadow of a mountain
A horse through a keyhole, a black kite, a nail.

Metaphor was a third place, a safe-house
we could share. A way to talk without actually talking.

But prisons are already giant code machines.
Dense with secret languages, controlled and meticulous.

An inmate needs to know the purpose of a metaphor.
Too much is at stake to leave an image in the wind.

Perhaps this is why all the cons quit the workshop.
Either we all escape together, or no one escapes at all.

Knowing full well that I can’t walk through walls,
it still helps me to think of your poem as a prison.

I want to come work in it a while,
even if all I do

is collect the excuses of your inmates
as they drop out one by one

returning to some distant part of the facility
where I cannot follow, cannot even imagine.

***

‘Si deve suonare tutto questo pezzo
delicatissimamente e senza sordino’

“This whole piece ought to be played
with the utmost delicacy and without dampers”

A request lifted from the opening page
of Beethoven’s Sonata 14.

Is this a plea for a delicate reading,
a delicate interpretation, or a delicate response?

Should I skip though it lightly, the colour wheel spinning
the scenes into one clip of moonlight?

Or should I move slow and cautious, weigh every word,
Listen for the story behind your dream?

If I ignore someone’s scar, does that make me delicate?
Or is the delicate reading to ask from where it came?

Modern players of the Moonlight Sonata
ignore this request. The piano has changed.

Now a note left undampened outstays its welcome.
(This is what Wikipedia says anyway)

The maestro’s advice now ruins the song
No, don’t say ruins. Say “updates”.

The moon we once sought — destroyed by reflection.
Dopplered by its own waves.

I bought it on iTunes. I’m playing it now:
Steve Anderson: Classics for the Heart.

Kings Cross, empty at this time of night
glows like a kind of caffeinated heaven.

As if the dead were more awake
than any of us.

Vague shadows of the evening, pub dregs and night-shift
filtered through the snow of Sonata 14.

Unheard— but calculated by breath and moment.
As Ludwig wrote it: invisible sadness.

The last drunks, minds like pranked campus fountains
explain themselves over and over.

On a long enough timeline, we all share a past.
(The last train out of this station is mine.)

There are twelve full moons in a single year.
Thirteen sometimes. But never fourteen.

Nor do I get the line about 290 boxes.
Google just brings up storage solutions,

the 290 bus route to Twickenham…
The University of Illinois Psychology Department

has a form called 290,
but you have to log into the system to read it.

(Insert: one week later, 290 is the number
of votes that wins Donald Trump the US election.

I re-read your phrase “impromptu fantasy”
with newfound horror when I woke this morning.

I am trapped outside the dream.
I do not understand. I may never understand.

Am I asleep or awake?
Christ I want to fucking vomit)

The last train smells of terrible sleep.

I’m far too tired to keep writing
but way too far from home to stop.

A voice says Stevenage like anything matters
Outside, nothing but parallel carriages.

Release 290 on Project Gutenberg
is The Stark Munro Letters by Arthur Conan Doyle

who (based on this low res painting) was the spit of my granddad:
very much a locked room mystery of his own.

I am streaming the audio file
His robot voice carrying me back towards the fens.

The words slowly phasing into music
rocks in a fast-flowing stream.

Ghostly shapes in the darkness,
rolling over fields like black plastic.

Sometimes I am sent to teach soldiers.

There is a house in the country where they all live together,
different parts of them missing.

I wait in a classroom.
Some days no one comes.

My first day I asked if we could “go round the circle,
say your name and a word that you like….”

“My name is Brian. I like the word silence”
“My name is Rob. My word is nothing.”

“My name is Karen. My word is quiet.”
“My name is Christopher. I like the word no”

“Triple p dynamic” means pian-iss-issimo
More musical notation: play very very soft.

These days we just sit and talk about movies.
I don’t care. For me, sitting down is enough.

Pavor Nocturnus — a name for night terrors.
Distinguished from nightmares, says the NCBI,

as terrors can cross from REM into deep sleep.
They follow you into the abyss.

You cry out in pain but you don’t remember.
You’re woken by screams, a soldier once told me,

Yet you can never tell if the noise came from you
or from a guy in some other room.

Dude, I told him, as I packed up my things.
You should definitely put that image in a poem.

My name is Ross. My word is oh fuck off.
These days I try not to even scroll back up.

Each page a spent nicotine patch.
Something dead long before you arrive.

I’ve made my peace with things like that.

Though I still like to go to back-room bars
and listen to kids who talk like fire

who reticulate their verses
as a kind of skeezy spellcasting.

But afterwards in the pub across the road
Pay-per-view boxing on every wall

A white kid yells my nigger at the screen
and then nothing.

The fight continues on-screen
but my neighbours are undisturbed.

We all go to our bed every night
having failed a secret test.

Your top three Bond films,
ranked worst to best?

Live and Let Die, Casino Royale,
Dr No: that’s me.

– Ross Sutherland

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