Ladies and gentlemen, please put your virtual hands together for Andrew Philip. We’re delighted to provide the first platform and the first leg on his virtual book tour! Andrew’s first collection, The Ambulance Box, was published this year by Salt, and launched here at the SPL in March. Of his work, Michael Symmons Roberts said ‘A timely reminder of the range and power of the lyric. This is a powerful debut, and Andrew Philip is a significant new voice.’
Andrew was born in Aberdeen in 1975 and grew up near Falkirk. He lived in Berlin for a short spell in the 1990s before studying linguistics at Edinburgh University. He has published two poetry pamphlets with HappenStance Press—Tonguefire (2005) and Andrew Philip: A Sampler (2008)—was chosen as a Scottish Poetry Library “New Voice” in 2006, and starred as our Poet of the Month in March past.
Where did it all begin?
Two Ladybirds: “Tootles the Taxi” and the wonderful “Bedtime Rhymes”, both of which I’ve recently had cause to rediscover. Of course, the fact my mother put me to bed as a toddler with the afternoon play may also have exerted an influence.
All through school, creative writing was one of the tasks I enjoyed the most and was best at but it wasn’t until my sixth year of high school that poetry dug its teeth into me and refused to let go.
What is the weather like at your destination?
Winds light to variable.
Tell us a little of the Andrew Philip writing method…
Long hand unless I’m on a shooglie train. A little black Moleskine — oh I do like those Moleskines — for first jottings, a chunky notebook for the serious rough drafting and a foolscap exercise book for when I want to see the overall shape better. Then on to the computer. Usually, there are further changes to the first print-outs.
Actually, there are two chunky notebooks on the go, alternated at roughly two-month intervals to give me distance from ideas. It’s a trick I stumbled on after I was away in Dublin for a month with the day job and rediscovered some rough drafts in a notebook I’d left at home.
There have been periods of outpouring, but mostly it’s hard won. The poems don’t generally end up looking like their initial drafts. If I’m lucky — and occasionally I am — the changes are fairly few. Nothing worth doing is effortless, but the effort extends across all the work you’ve ever done, not simply the individual poem.
Whose understudy are you?
I’m a student of many masters. Doing MacCaig in school broke the idea of free verse open to me. Hopkins and Eliot were early teachers after that, and I’m probably going to go back to Eliot again soon after watching that BBC documentary at the weekend. Donne is essential. Likewise Rilke and Celan. I learnt a lot from Michael Symmons Roberts about writing effective contemporary poetry out of a religious viewpoint, and I’m learning more about that from Gillian Allnutt.
Gael Turnbull has been great for expanding the possibilities; still a lot to learn from him. I didn’t appreciate what he was doing when I first encountered his work, but my eyes gradually opened so that, by the time I got to know him a little, I was ready for it.
Have you arrived at something yet?
Recently, I’ve managed to achieve sufficient Gaelic to begin to appreciate the sound world of the language’s poetry. It’s lamentable how few Scottish poets outside the Gaelic writers have any proper access to that. They don’t know what they’re missing. They don’t know what the Scottish education system has deprived them of. I always loved Meg Bateman’s poem ‘Aotromachd’ (‘Lightness’) in its English translation, but it’s even more amazing in Gaelic.
If you had to pick just one poem, the one that means the most to you, which would you pick?
I’d be paralysed. I can hardly choose a beverage without endless deliberation, so how could I manage this?
Okay, if you pushed me, at the moment, it would probably have to be ‘The Night’ by Henry Vaughan: “There is in God (some say) / A deep, but dazzling darkness”. There are other candidates, but that has acquired particular resonance in the past few years.
Your best gig?
The joint launch of The Ambulance Box and Rob A Mackenzie’s The Opposite of Cabbage here at the SPL really takes some beating. The audience is always well disposed towards you at a launch, but to have an above-capacity audience so well disposed to you makes for an incredible night!
Tonight I will be mostly wearing… what?
You’re asking me for fashion advice? I was once known to all and sundry as Andy Hat. I may yet return to that state of grace one day, but the winds around here intromit.
At the moment, I’m savouring Bruce Cockburn’s two-disc live album “Slice o Life”. Bruce has been part of my life for the best part of 20 years <gulp!> and, although some of his spark has dimmed a little in the past few, he’s still a mind-blowing guitarist and a passionate, intelligent singer-songwriter. His best recordings are just him and his guitar, as all this album is.
Please describe yourself as a poetic meter; a biscuit; a toy from your childhood.
I’d be the caesura — quiet but, hopefully, full of meaning.
Choco Leibniz Dark — good with a strong black coffee; not so good without.
Weebles — I’d like to think I’ve a similar resilience without the girth.
Who’d play you in a film of your life?
David Tennant. I’ve always harboured a desire to be Doctor Who and that would achieve it by proxy.
What did you expect?
I’m not entirely sure what I did expect, but I never expected to have such a handsome — if I do say so myself — book with one of the most dynamic publishers around. Nor to have people say such wonderful things about it as they have been. I’m truly grateful.
After all this time, what has the beach left to say to the tide?
Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?
What is the next line in this sequence?
The virtual book tour continues next week at the Crafty Writer and carries on through a variety of stops, including a jaunt to Wales, two to the USA and one to Switzerland. I’ve a bundle of readings this June: on Sunday 14th, you can take tea with various Linlithgow-based authors including me in the marquee at Linlithgow Rugby Club — all very civilised — and then catch me at the Jekyll & Hyde along with Zorras, Allan Crosbie and Katy-Evans Bush. On Saturday 20th, I’m reading at Word Power Bookshop with Matt Merritt, Rob A Mackenzie and James W Wood. Rob and I are also at the Lot and the Pleasance Cabaret Bar the same day as part of thePROJECT2. The month’s readings finish on the 29th at Lemon Monkey in Stoke Newington, London, with Rob and Katy again and the prominent dissident Chinese poet Yang Lian. After which a significant family event will be taking up plenty time. And if there’s any time and energy left after that, I have plans for an anthology of poetry from post-devolution Scotland.
Tour dates in full:
10 June – Our sweet old etcetera
17 June – The Crafty Writer
23 June – One Night Stanzas
26 June – Douglas Robertson
29 June – Dumbfoundry
2 July - Boxologies
8 July – Robert Peake
15 July - Cadwallender
22 July – Poetry Hut
29 July – Andrew Shields