Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Monday, 11 May 2009

An interview with Ani Smith

 

There are a lot of different blogs that I subscribe to. Some are by seasoned (i.e. older) writers like Dick Jones or Reyes Cardenas, others are by comparative youngsters like Marion McCready or Colin McGuire. When you compare these it’s hard to see what they have in common apart from the fact they write in the English language.

I don’t always like everything they write. I don’t always get everything they write. And yet I keep coming back for more. The reason is that every one of them has written something that has got a hold of something in me and not let go.

I think that writing should have a purpose. That being the case I think that reading should have a purpose. I don’t read simply to be entertained. I have the television for that and it entertains me far too often each week. So when I read I like to be challenged. And all the writers listed above do. On occasion they try my patience, too, it’s true. And I’d like to introduce you to a young lady who does that a lot of the time, probably more than most. And yet I keep coming back for more.

Her name is Ani Smith. She was born in South America, was brought up in the States and now lives in London for her sins. I ran into her quite by chance on her website down in me back in May 2008 and I immediately subscribed to her RSS feed. Since then we’ve also exchanged the odd e-mail too. But I don’t think for one minute that I know her and I wanted to put that to rights. Recently she has given a couple of interviews neither of which asked the kinds of questions I wanted to have answered and so I sent her an e-mail and asked if she was interested. I’m pleased to say she was. It seemed a nice way to celebrate our one year anniversary.

Before the interview proper I think it would help if we read four of her shorter (and gentler) pieces to give you some idea what we’re up against here.

 

Self-Doubt

Once upon a time... just kidding. Oh shit, there go two of my six. This is definitely harder than it looked. Oh god, this is awful, I'm not a real writer, I'm a sham, a nobody, a wannabe who is terrible with narrative and uses far too many semicolons; what am I doing? I'm finished, crushed by self-doubt once again! Argh!

 

I like calling it poetry

I like ‘poems’
‘cause they can
be short
and you can be
easily fooled
into reading one

 

WANTED #1

Sensitive type with puppy dog eyes for exchange of awkward glances across cubicles and heart-poundingly quiet moments at the photocopier. No experience necessary. Muteness a plus.

 

Great writers never need write

“I’ve just written four stories.”

“Where?”

“In my head.”

“Oh.”

“What?”

“Well, it’s just ... that doesn’t help anyone else much, does it?”

“Who said stories should be helpful?”

“Whom indeed.”

“Oh, just fuck off will you.”

 

***

I can see from your website that you either value your privacy or think, as I do, that knowing too much about an author can actually be a bad thing. What say you?

I've only read four or five biographies in my life and I never want to read another. Some interviews, reviews, biographies and other devices for understanding a thing or the maker of a thing are ultimately telling you what to make of it all when you can better make something of it all for yourself. This question also makes me wonder who cares who I am? I don't.

 

We live in a culture where celebrity is becoming everything. I pity any actor that experiences even a modicum of success. It’s expected that they open up their lives to their fans. And successful writers aren’t exempt from this. What do you think it would be helpful for people to know about you other than what I’ve already mentioned?

Nothing. You can probably deduce most of it from the writing if you're really interested, but see above. Also, because it is today you can always email. I suppose back in the day you could have sent a letter. I am shy but not unfriendly.

 

In everything I’ve read by and about you I sense a need to muddy the waters, to obscure your readers’ perception of the ‘real’ Ani Smith. Why is that?

I don't think it matters who I am. What I write isn't scientific or academic or something, where my trustworthiness should come into question. I also don't think anyone is ever fully 'real'. At most, we are a comfortable percentage of ourselves. For me, more people equals less comfort so a lower percentage of 'me' will be on display. Likewise there are people who are more fully themselves in a crowd or on a stage. But none of that has anything to do with your eyeball fondling my typings.

 

I can never decide if your writing has a serious message or if you’re just being flippant half the time. My belief is that you’re deadly serious and that your humour is a way of tackling some hard-hitting subjects. Is writing just a way to let off steam, or is there more to you? Where would you place ‘writer’ in the identikit that is Ani Smith?

I don't know. I think if I were serious about anything I'd have to kill myself. I'm serious about that, Jim. As for writing, I like to write more than I like to speak or work or watch the news, but less than I like to daydream or have sex and probably just the same as I like recreational drugs, but maybe a little more because it's healthier for my body. That was confusing. I think I should illustrate with a diagram or a pie chart or something.

 

In Ryan Manning’s interview the first question he asked was concerning your ethnicity which you gave as “a kind of mulatto”. Had I been asked to guess before reading this I would have been right but I really couldn’t say what in your writing might have brought me to that conclusion. Any thoughts?

As I said already, I think that's because whatever you want to know you can guess from the writing. Maybe obscurity is a good platform for discovery. Or maybe I am not as clever at 'muddying' my 'real' self as we think, Jim.

 

Much of your writing is provocative, designed to shock or even to offend. Why?

I knew you'd ask that. My writing until now has not been designed. I don't even know how to do that, which I sometimes feel is a general failing. But regarding shock factor specifically, I feel comparatively tame-kitty. People that are shocked by my writing have relatively low tolerance. I control what I write about as much as I control who reads. Which is a somewhat cryptic way of saying fuck them.

 

Why do you write about sex and gender conflicts so much?

I think everyone has themes, preoccupations. You can see them more clearly in writers through what they choose to write about. Sex has just always been one of mine. I know someone who is obsessed with eyelids. You just can never tell.


You use a number of tags to describe your writing. The one under which we’ll find your poetry for example is ‘crap poetry’. Is your poetry crap? If ‘yes’ then, why put it out there for all to see? If ‘no’ then are you not pushing your readers to trivialise the work before they read it?

I've actually thought about that. I think there is a risk that some will trivialise the writing before reading it. I don't know if I care about that. One reason for that category is a tongue in cheek reference to the pervasive idea that poetry is crap. A lot of people run an opposite mile at a hushed whisper of the word and not entirely without reason. Sometimes I think poetry might be like 'noise' or 'experimental' music: more fun to give than to receive. But with enough interest you can get beyond that. The other more relevant reason is that I am self-deprecating to the point of self-harm.


I get the distinct feeling when reading your work that I’m on my own, that you’ve written the piece for yourself and if I happen to get anything from it then lucky me. If that’s a fair assessment, then why?

That could be a fair assessment of a lot of my writing. I do write for myself. But also, I just have no answers. If writing attempts to make sense of things, my world simply makes no sense. I give you my confusion, irrationality, senselessness and hopefully the humour in it. So neither of us has to be alone.

Interesting, that is very similar to what C S Lewis wrote, that we read to know we’re not alone. I’d never really thought about that from a writer’s perspective before.


Do you think some writers do too much for their readers and don’t expect (or allow) them to think for themselves, to be a part of the creative process?

Sure.

 

And of course it’s possible to go too far in the opposite direction. There have been a few pieces of yours where I’ve not known where to start and in fact I feel quite stupid for not getting it, for example I put it on a book and then I sat there lost me completely.

Care to enlighten me? I have a terrible habit of looking for meaning in everything. What am I missing here?

I don't think you missed anything. That piece is about need and frustration, which sounds exactly like what you say you experienced while reading it.

 

There is a spontaneity to your work. (I think I Am would be a good example of that.) How important is that to you? Do you revise much?

I generally don't revise. I am trying to do more, especially for longer pieces or if I feel like sending a piece to a place I admire. But I am very, very lazy. I am a chronic underachiever but I am okay with that most of the time. On the flip side, I love to work with editors and I like editing other people's work. I love when someone tells me to delete a sentence because it sucks and the reasons cited make sense to me or show me something I hadn't seen.

 

In the past you have expressed some surprise that I read your work faithfully. Why do you think I a) read your stuff at all and b) would recommend you to others? “God alone knows” – or any statement expressing a similar thought – is not an acceptable response.

My first reaction is to devalue us both by saying that you are probably interested in the overt sexuality. I know you better than that, though. I am good at devaluing things, especially myself. So good, I can't think of a plausible reason. The pieces you chose to share above give us a clue. I don't think they're the most representative of my writing, so maybe you just enjoy certain aspects? Or maybe you want to see what the fuck I'm going to say next. MAYBE you want to shock! your readers by the breadth and depth of your tastes. Just kidding, I really have no idea. Are you going to spank me now?

Actually I read your stuff for much the same reason I got caught up in The Prisoner back in the day and Lost now. I keep thinking if I just keep hanging in there a wee bit longer then a picture will begin to form, something that will a) make sense or b) make me not feel that I had just wasted the past x hours of my life, the way I felt watching the last episode of The X-Files.

As for the smutty talk, do you not realise that my generation invented sex? My parents assure me that it was them but I’m pretty sure it was us. If anything, your writing devalues sex; it’s just another thing you talk about, nothing special, just something people do.

 

Give me three examples of your work I should direct my readers to. Why these three?

I guess we'll go with 'things I wrote that don't make me want to hang myself':

The baby panda bear still makes me laugh.

Hemingway is long and maybe doesn't go anywhere and there are things I would change but surprisingly I still like it.

The evolution of masturbation. Fun with universal themes (creation, anatomy, gender or something) in 200 arguably unintelligible words or less.

 

Now a couple of examples of writers that excite you.

Someone whose writing I bleeding heart adore is Sam Pink. I think he is an important human and I'm scared/excited for him. Another writer I'm really digging but who I haven't known about as long as Sam is Krammer Abrahams. I recently discovered him through one of his pieces in Robot Melon, a journal I always eat up like ravenous. I could go on, but I will follow your rules because I feel docile.

 

Do you have ambitions to see your work in print or do you think that real books have had their day?

I don't know. I don't think ahead. I like reading books, I like their shape, I like bookshelves and jacket designs. The internet is easy, fast, available, but that doesn't mean it's better or worse. I'll still write, whatever comes, in one form or another. Sometimes form inspires content and that can be fun.

 

Why down in me as a title for your website?

It's a song lyric from a band I was deeply in love with during my, ahem, formative years. I didn't realise how truly apt it would be when I chose it. See how boring that is now that you know? Some things you just shouldn't ask.

 

What is fuguestate.TUMBLR.com all about?

So I started seeing these Tumblr things around, which were sort of like blogs but felt more immediate and ephemeral, just people sharing whatever excites from one minute to the next. I jumped on and began collecting quotes and interesting pictures, clips from recently viewed or much loved films, earworms, just stuff. I think you can tell a lot about someone by the stuff they choose to pay attention to. Sometimes I also post short pieces written on my phone or recordings of myself drunk reading poetry. It is probably interesting to no one but me and guys that want to get in my panties but it is fun and I like doing it right now.

 

What is PIFFLE and how come there are over fifty of your poems there?

PIFFLE is a place where a few people I like and who are kind enough to humour me post shit that occurs to them. I wanted to collaborate and needed a constraint to be the glue, so I chose poetic form because I find it easy. It's fun to juxtapose so many different approaches to poetry. We've sparked the ubiquitous what-is-real-poetry blah blah debates a time or two. Contributors have written everything from free to limerick to haynaku (which I hadn't even heard of before), but it is usually irreverent, dark and a lot of times funny, although that is debatable. It's just different people from all around the world who occasionally write poetry while being faintly embarrassed to be called 'poets'. Or maybe I'm projecting.

 

Tell me about Writers' Bloc.

Writers' Bloc is run by my mate Vaughan Simon's of An Unreliable Witness fame. He's a fucking genius and apparently very, very pretentious so he started this site for writers that want to write about writing and not feel too self-conscious. Anyone can submit and there has been a huge response so far. There have been some kick you in the face pieces like this one by Vaughan, and this one by Sean Lovelace, or this other one by Jimmy Chen. I can't even believe my bullshit is on there with the likes of them. I am definitely not an essayist (although there's more than just essays on there which is partly why it shines).

 

Will I ever see a novel with your name on it?

Probably not.

 

And lastly, I didn’t like the interview you gave on <HMTLGIANT> – does that make me officially ‘old’?

I think only you can say whether it's because you're old or because that's just how you roll. The HTML Giant interview was one of my favourites because I was allowed fun writing a character and there were no expectations. And also I am in love with the interviewer. That's really all this is about, Jim. Being in love and alone and so feeling you could die.

***

Fascinating. Now the eagle-eyed amongst you will have probably noticed the picture at the start of this piece. It’s a Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani). I asked Ani for a photo to go with this interview (not that I actually expected one knowing how shy she is) but I pressed her and this was what I got. Typical. God alone knows what Freud would make of it as a proxy.

And finally, If you want to hear Ms Smith read Pink a little too fast, read Bukowski whilst drunk (my personal favourite) and have a crack at Pablo Neruda in Spanish then have a click on the following links:

I Am Going To Clone Myself Then Kill The Clone And Eat It (excerpt) by Sam Pink

‘Working It Out’ by Charles Bukowski

‘Sexual Water’ by Pablo Neruda

12 comments:

Dick said...

A great find, Jim, and a great interview.

And...er...'seasoned' would have been fine on its own without 'older'. We all know what you mean...

Dave King said...

I go along with Dick: a great find indeed. I was particularly taken with the concept of a comfortable percentage of ourselves. I am sure that is absolutely true. A great interview - probably one of your best.

Sorlil said...

Thanks for the mention :)
Interesting interview, I'll need to come back later to read it properly.

Jim Murdoch said...

Dick, Dave, thanks for that. I'm glad you think Ani is a real find. Now all we have to do is convince her.

I'm quite pleased with the interview too. Not a few e-mails exchanged to get it spot on.

And, Sorlil, you're very welcome. Your poetry is as different to Ani's as hers is to mine. It would be a very boring world if we all wroye the same stuff.

Mariana Soffer said...

ani smith is excelent, I love the fact that you did a questionare to her, intresting questions, and she seemed to be pretty serious in answering them.


(It might sound very stupid, but is the only way I know how to say this in english)
To annie;
I thought you where a guy for almost a month, probably cause how you curse and use dirty words, I hope I could write like you, at least when I am old. My name in computer stuff is also related to music, it is of my favourite band.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for dropping by, Mariana. I'm glad you appreciated the interview. And in case you wonder how I got Ani to be serious for five minutes I guess she was just in a good mood with me when I asked.

I had a wee look at your site BTW and I really liked your post on the differences in the aesthetics between math and art - quite a fascinating entry.

Mariana Soffer said...

Thank you very much jim, nice to meet you by the way. I am happy you liked the post, I would recomend an extended version of it made from somebody who really knows what he is talking about:
http://apperceptual.wordpress.com/2009/05/08/math-and-art-differences-and-similarities/
cheers
M

Jim Murdoch said...

A fascinating response to your article, Marina. Thanks for the link.

McGuire said...

Interesting interview, Ani has a defiant and artistic streak through her like a lick of red. I even listened to her reading one of her long meandering and useless poems, it was filled with so much: a page filled with dung and flowers and brutal images and incongruent ideas and scenes.

I enjoyed it thoroughly, although some hit me more than others and in the general stream of consciousness I did drown a little but resurfaced every while to take in some beautiful scenes and mad ideas. (Reminded me a wee bit of my 'Concrete Irrationality' eye sore I wrote a few years ago and posted on my blog)> Interesting character is Ani. I'll be keeping an eye on her site. She has inspired me too.

Thanks for the mention Jim, didn't expect that, I was beginning to feel the quality of my blog was sinking to swamp depths of mere amatuer note taker. It encourages me to work on and work harder when someone reads you and sees a few sparks worth blowin upon.

More work coming.

Jim Murdoch said...

Now, McGuire, have a look over the first paragraph in your comment and tell me you're not a poet.

I'm delighted that you find Ani inspiring because she is and, yes, she can be very in-your-face but then you're not shy in speaking your mind either.

I gave you the plug I suppose you're right, partly to encourage you right now, but more because you've written some damn fine stuff since I met you. What you put up on your site is usually rough, needs editing – and you know what I think about your spelling and punctuation – but there's always something there, the odd flower in the dung to use your own imagery. I still think your poem 'Pancakes' is absolutely brilliant.

Rachel Fox said...

I like the writing of Ani's that you've posted in this, Jim.
x

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for that, Rachel, but the stuff I posted was all the 'safe' stuff to rope you in. You should check out her site where she really lets rip.

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