A few days after that, he invited me to collaborate with him for an experimental poetry sort of blog. So we exchanged some ideas and he came up with a name: Servant Drone. When we finished the project (30 poems each) we sent it in to KFS and got accepted. It is expected to be published by the end of the year.
Q: There’s an obvious, and in places more subtle, sense of acute, social commentary/observation in your poetry (early work/editions/literature). Reading your work is similar to being dropped into, or left out of, a conversation, to just miss a stated crucial element. In a framework of collaboration, how do you and Paul Hawkins work together? How do your pieces develop?
B: Since 2010, I've been bringing together seemingly meaningless bits of speech taken from newspapers, technical books, TV and radio programmes, the Web, etc., and editing them in order to develop a critique of social interaction under capitalism. But my first poems in English, shown to the public through e-zines, blogzines and such, were much simpler and a bit drawn to kitchen-sink imagery.
For our collaboration, Servant Drone, I would write one poem and Paul would answer to that poem, and vice versa, until we reached 30 poems, each.
From Servant Drone:
Caught short in Dream Doors,
a noodle-speciality-cum-guarana bar,
she made an excuse for
her lacking liquidity;
something about her boyfriend’s
of cash vs plastic
(not being what it used to be)
and agreed with the intern
that, damn right,
black coffee in bed
was better than
In this humidity,
lardy breakfast sweat
Joan Jett t-shirt.
The jukebox played
I Can’t Stand The Rain
by Ann Peebles,
as she tried to recall
a: over cuppa leafing through situations vacant
b: rolling eyes, hair dying tips, pipe dreaming
c: little we know let alone borrowed ideas at five quid each
a: the valves of the heart put under the microscope are but a foil to the best choric scenes
b: as we speak, the canine affection to the martyrs along the brick floor
c: one has not merely to pay for oneself but to yield a certain profit
d: cinema’s equivocal position between art and industry accounts for the relations between author and public
e: you see I once married the Oban girl I did
f: something is wrong with the silence but it often proves pointless trying to assign precise meaning to details
g: he forgot his second pint of brown ale before he was sent on his journey; I brusquely took it, left the field of operations and made my way out
/ / / / / / / / / /
Q: There’s about 30 pages each of Servant Drone -- did Servant Drone have a form that you both worked out, or was it more organic, leaving each of you to your own styles, inclinations, craft?
B: We had total freedom and never interfered with the other’s work. In all collaborations, you know, things do work or they don’t work at all, there’s no middle term really. So we didn’t impose anything on the other. When we showed each other the very first poems of Servant Drone we instinctively knew that it could work that way. So we kept writing until the book was completed.
Form/Structure? As I said before, I would write one poem and Paul would answer to that poem, and vice versa, until we reached 30 poems each.
P: I would write in response to Bruno's text, and then write a fresh piece for Bruno to respond to; there were no fixed form(s) at all, then he would do the same. That was how we shaped the project; it allowed opportunities to experiment, there were no rules. I found collaborating with Bruno as SD (Servant Drone) really helped me hone and sharpen an ongoing personal project: my own definition of poetry; one that reflects the 21st century we live in (uncertainty vs endless possibility, unpredictability, confusion; a vast richness ) rather than surfing in the chemtrail of conservative mainstream poetry traditions; being stuck in a time-warp.
Q: Servant Drone is socially agile; you both point to/protest injustices, contradictions, stratifications within perceptions of social ‘conditions’ and systems, offer wry to biting commentary on place/situations and the self in them. Does collaboration strengthen social commentary? What sorts of alignments did you discover in your writing? View of things?
B: With Servant Drone, Paul and I worked on ways of deconstructing the discourse of cultural status quo and also built narratives out of our own experiences, focusing on places, situations and memory within a political context. For that effect we followed a number of textual strategies, such as appropriation, parody and the use of a direct, prosaic and sometimes harsh language, exploring most uncommon situations at work places, supermarkets, restaurants, streets, etc.
I don't think any collaboration per se strengthens social commentary. I mean, there are many possible outcomes out of collaborative work. Things between Paul and I just happened to work well. Despite the fact that we come from different countries, we were able to easily find a common ground.
As Servant Drone progressed I think we became more aware that seemingly unimportant details do matter. Especially Paul. For instance, he used references of local snacks, junk food items, food brands, etc. We can't really forget that this feature is all over Servant Drone. The omnipresent imagery of food industry defines capitalist lifestyle. But food is also inextricably related to memory, to the places we've been and the people we've met, to the amount of money we have.
P: I think collaborative work certainly stretches the focus across each persons geo-politics, experience(s) and creativity. In the case of Servant Drone, I know that Bruno's writing strengthened and added to what I was trying to do with the experiment of exploratory text on place and those areas you mentioned, Chris. I could conclude that we have both lived in many zones/places in our lives to date; lived in different countries, cities and spaces. I learn't we both have a feverish curiousity and an inability to accept what is apparent on the surface of things, experiences, people; that we share a dark cynicism as well as an impetuously experimental streak; to smash-up/un-make/re-hash/embolden. With humour. And protest. I'd hazard a guess that this, in part, comes from Project: life in the 21st century; a need to make some kind of (temporary) sense//non-sense. And that is all intrinsically political.
Q: How has living in other regions physically affected your writing? What choices have you made, writing wise, as an effect of moving/displacement/returns? Did you move while working on Servant Drone? Do you, looking back, see a shift of some sort in your writing/collaboration?
B: I didn’t move as many times as Paul. So far, I lived in the North and Centre of Portugal, Switzerland and in the North of Spain. I’m back to Portugal now, after quite some years away.
Servant Drone was written when I was still living in Spain. I used to give in-company Business English classes during that period and it gave me a lot of material to work on. It’s true that every time I move home I instantly start working on new stuff. Maybe it’s the effect of new surroundings, I can’t really tell. And then there’s the memory I retain of the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met, which is sometimes presented in my work, especially in my poems, in a rather direct fashion. Memory’s a valuable tool indeed.
P: I’ve moved on average every 11 months to date, sometimes through choice, other times through having no choice; where political, economic or personal situations have dictated me packing a bag. I've lived the life of, at times, an itinerant traveller, mainly in the south of the UK and the south of Spain, and to a lesser degree in France and the USA. Looking back there has been nothing remotely romantic about this state of affairs; it's been painful, exciting, depressing and baffling. I am in no doubt that it has influenced my writing; certainly in my two books, Claremont Road and in Contumacy, as well as in diaries, journals and in other creative non-fiction, as well as in Place Waste Dissent and Servant Drone. I've been obsessively compelled to write in order to try and make (non)sense of the twenty-first century world I/we inhabit.
One of my earliest memories is falling asleep whilst studying a large map of London that was selotaped on the bedroom wall around the age of nine; the contour lines, road markings, train stations, place names, rivers etc. etc. filled my imagination and dreams, and place has personally always been the site where many frameworks of interrogation/imagination have been constructed; be they linked to memories of friends, family, events, or of politics, relationships, experience, to the huge opening up of the planet that the internet has brought about etc. A psychological/geographical terrain retains its lineage, its echo and resonance long after the lived experiences in real-time have taken place. Areas in east London I learn't from the bedside map, travelling through them en route to other places, then squatting and living in them, and of course what photos/films/media/music I watch, listen to, read, the personal memories exist often by what is absent, what is written out of the grand narrative, of the (his) story of newspapers, journals, documentaries, books, of walks, of politics. The culturally contested sites. When I physically inhabit these places (Leyton, Leytonstone, Hackney); walk or cycle, travel by bus, train or car, the accompanying rush, or drip-drip of conscious/subconscious psycho-geography begins to leak through into my writing. This has directly influenced the multiple perspectives that are often transgressing, crossing-over, confronting each other in my work. For example;
Shooting Location: Airport Lounge (or privately-funded hospital foyer)
Director(s): Donna Bale
Actor(s); Charlie Uncle, Kid Tango, Dog
Editor(s): Sal Barchmann, Roger Lazerbee
Login: TTYI4545@nasr ____
Dog’s gotta booklet. Scoop salmon from the tin onto sideplated white bread. Masticate. Gums, roof of mouth, teeth popping fish spine beads. Clench-ripple throat muscles, squeeze the paste past turnstile of tonsils. Dog’s gotta bowl. Passively smoke: the sun shines tuneless blue air. I stopped, listened, repaired the cistern. Dog’s gotta boss. The washing machine? It’s full of rust. Dog’s gotta boundary.
Whilst working on Servant Drone I moved from Bournemouth to live in Bristol with my partner Sarer. On a very basic level the unfamiliarity of a new city, and a lack of personal connections there fed directly into the collaboration. A sense of movement, alienation, lack of familiarity, a physical and psychological disruption, the uncertainties, the love and joy of a new phase in a relationship, the endless possibilities seemingly squeezed in the vice of a tired, corrupt and biased political system . . . that said, I'm not too sure specifically what shift occurred. We completed the sixty poems in Servant Drone not long afterwards and then moved onto the process of manuscript editing, which, for me, was thankfully a short and sweet experience.
Section 1 of Hawkins' "Tell Me" from Contumacy (erbacce-press: 2014)
C O N F O R M I N G
NO ADMIT TAN CE
LOW QUAL ITY
HIGH CON TROL
b e p r o u d o f t h e j o b y o u d o
DO N O T
WHE N IN USE
Q: Is Servant Drone entirely text based?
B: Sort of.
Q: What sorts of performance possibilities do you see for Servant Drone? How do the text version and performance possibilities shift elements of your collaboration and Servant Drone as a “place-specific zone enquiry”? Will you launch the book in both Portugal and the UK?
B: Well, we do have a performance plan for Servant Drone, but I’m afraid you’ll have to see it live…
As to book launches, we’re still working on it. It would be superb to launch it both in Portugal and the UK. We’re having a go at that.
P: As Bruno says, we’ve some plans hatching regarding performing Servant Drone; they’re under incubation lights in Portugal and the UK. Launch news will be forthcoming closer to publication, which we’re working on with our publishers.
Servant Drone's #29 (Hawkins) was published in the International Times as "Cameron Meets/Greets" with an image by Claire Palmerthe.
...& a final round of questions for Paul and Bruno:
Q: I'm curious about how some of these pieces were written. Bruno has said he's worked from other pieces out of newspapers, other media, etc.; Paul, you've pointed to multiple forms of media informing your writing. When you write, do you read the poem before it's "finalized" to hear it and/or do you write it visually, without ever potentially having read it out loud before you "finalize" it?
B: In the making of all my poems reading the bits is an important part of the editing process.
P: I didn’t have a strict rule for these poems; they were mainly written in direct response to Bruno’s prompt(s), or off the cuff. When we were putting the manuscript together for publication I did check for typo’s and made some very minor edits to the poems. I wanted my contributions to our collaborative text, Servant Drone, to be as improvised and responsive as possible, to have an urgency that reflected our intensive method of working.
Q: Have you ever listened to anyone else read from Servant Drone or your poetry generally? How'd that work out?
B: Apart from me and Paul, I’ve never listened to anyone read a poem from Servant Drone.
It would be quite interesting if that happened.
P: I haven’t heard anyone else, other than Bruno or myself read any of the Servant Drone texts. When I launched my pamphlet collection Claremont Road, early last year, I did ask the three other poets (Sarer Scotthorne, Markie Burnhope and Steve Rushton) who performed that night to each read a poem from the pamphlet. It was exciting and powerful experience to hear a different voice, with different inflection, tone, emphasis and rhythm reading the poems. It gave them a new ‘life’. It was a real honour to have these three poets read my work.
Q: Is this the end of Servant Drone? Or is it possible that it would continue, down the road, another collaboration? Another version?
B: I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that question. Paul and I are definitely going to work together again soon but, for the time being, not on a follow-up to Servant Drone.
P: We’ve asked ourselves similar questions of late. Given the way this collaboration worked I would very much like to work with Bruno in another experimental text project. However, we are both up to our necks in various other artistic endeavours for the remainder of 2015. I’d like to hope we’d be folding dough in 2016.
Q: Whose artwork is on your website? In what ways does it illustrate Servant Drone for you? How does it contribute to your collaboration?
B: The author of Servant Drone’s cover art is Bárbara Mesquita, a Portuguese architect and graphic artist. The artwork is taken from a series called “privados” (stands for “privates” in English). Its grainy texture, hard, minimal lines and dark tones positively embody a critique of architecture and urbanism as it voices today’s disenchantment and ennui in contemporary cities. It definitely fits well in our book. You can find more of here work here: http://brrm.tumblr.com/.
P: It’s the artwork of Bárbara Mesquita, whose work I admire hugely for the sense of discordant purpose, the measuring off and pacing out of the corridors of uncertainty I sometimes run down trying to make some sort of order and sense of the 21st century. I conclude that I never will; there is, in the main, endless discordance, with moments of experimental serenity.
Q: Anything you'd like to add to this interview?
B: Thanks for interviewing me and Paul. And for your patience. You’ve conducted this interview quite well and you’ve also been very supportive.
P: Thank you, Chris, for asking me to take part in this interview. And thanks to rob mclennan and Ottawa Poetry Newsletter for enabling others to read it. It’s an honour and a humbling experience to be asked about my poetry, more specifically about Servant Drone, a collaborative text project with Bruno that I’m particularly proud of.