MELTING CHEESE ON THE COSMIC PIZZA BY ANDREW BUTTON
Andrew Button’s first Fire & Dust headline set was back in December 2016, when he was promoting his poetry pamphlet, ‘Dry Days in Wet Towns’. In April 2018, he returned to us – bigger venue, bigger crowd, but same welcoming vibe – touring his new book ‘Melting Cheese on the Cosmic Pizza’. The blurb on the back cover describes this collection as a “poetic pizza with an eclectic range of flavours” and a “poetry jukebox” where the poems “all jostle to leave you humming their tune”.
Born in 1965, Andrew is originally from Nottingham and currently lives in Market Bosworth, Leicestershire. He works as a librarian. Alongside his two published works, his poems have appeared in magazines such as Orbis, Envoi and Smoke. The ideas for his observational, anecdotal and ironic poetry are mostly drawn from the world around him. (He likens himself to a poetic eavesdropper!) Sources of inspiration range from quirky news stories, popular culture, his own life experiences…and then more unusual candidates, such as woodlice. Readers are likely to agree with the testimony of Siobhan Logan (another Leicestershire poet): Andrew’s poems “swerve from the apocalyptic to the domestic, from cosmic to comic, on the flip of a coin.”
We caught up with Andrew after the gig, to ask him a few questions…
The title for ‘Melted Cheese on the Cosmic Pizza’ seems to have come from a line in your poem ‘The Only Clue’. Is this poem particularly significant to you, and did you know as soon as you wrote that line that it would make a good title?
I tend to spend a generous amount of time thinking about titles as I believe that they set the poem up for the reader. I know that if a reader is flicking through a collection, they will be attracted to the quirky and more unusual titles.
Was it tough choosing which poems from your pamphlet ‘Dry Days in Wet Towns’ to include in this new collection?
Not as difficult as you would imagine. I chose the poems that were my favourites and those that were received more favourably at readings. I decided with my editor only to include a smattering of the best and most representative poems. I must admit that I saw them as a hook to lure people to read the new poems.
Was there a particular message that you wanted to convey with this book?
I have noticed that many poets publish collections with a theme these days. Personally, I prefer to present a collection that showcases who I really am as a poet. Admittedly, I do have themes, angles and tones that I seem to favour but, like my favourite CD albums, I like variety. Single theme collections seem too restrictive and risky to me.
Now…onto the serious stuff (!) Is your signature red Fedora a prop, like part of a poet persona for gigs, or is it just a hat that you’re fond of?
I do like hats and have half a dozen but must confess that a) the Fedora is my favourite and b) Yes. It has become a significant part of my poet persona – like Clark Kent slipping into a phone booth to become Superman!
Have you always been a confident performer?
I have always enjoyed talking in front of an audience but would say that my style and delivery as a poet reading in public has improved since five years ago, when I first ventured above the parapet of the writer’s garret to attend a regular Poetry Open Mic in Leicester.
Do you write your poems purely for the page, or with performance in mind as well?
I think that I write my poems to subconsciously entertain. I want my poems to work on the page and when read out loud. I get a thrill reading my poems to an audience. I like to amuse people and make them ponder at the same time.
There’s often a lot of humour in your poems. Do you think humour is an important device in poetry, as a way to appeal to readers?
Humour is one of the most powerful and direct ways to connect with an audience, if not the most important, in my opinion. From a young age I always wanted to make people laugh. It’s a drug but a very desirable addiction. Writing anything humorous is a challenge and precarious. It is so easy to overdo it. One conclusion I have come to is that there is a lot of humour to extract from real life situations. I hope that comes across in my poetry. My raison d’etre as a poet is to write poems that make people laugh and think, and often at the same time. I am a big Roger McGough fan and would say that is his forte.
For me, one of the most memorable poems from your Fire & Dust performances was ‘We’re Lovin’ It’. You say in your show that this narrative originated as a true story in the news. When did you first start making use of news articles as inspiration for your poetry?
To be honest, I have always been interested in quirky news stories. Many of my friends describe me as ‘quirky’. So, that’s not surprising. However, my fascination with news stories as inspiration for poems is more than that. I enjoy the flight of fancy. Imagining the background and motives. Bringing the characters to life. Perversely, that sounds like the working mind of a novelist more than a poet, doesn’t it.
Your poem ‘Light of Wonder’ explores your admiration of Ray Bradbury. Is Bradbury a direct influence at all on your writing? Do you write prose fiction as well?
Yes. The irony is that Ray Bradbury’s descriptive prose has been the biggest influence on my development as a writer. Appropriately, one critic described his work as the ‘poetry of the ordinary’. Another element of his writing that has inspired me is his ability to communicate a sense of wonder. That sense of wonder that children have and many lose in adulthood. I read somewhere that to be considered a well-rounded adult you need to retain a slice of that sense of wonder. Ray Bradbury captured it, bottled it and released it through his writing to millions of people all over the world. I tried my hand at writing short stories when I was younger but quickly began to realise that the poem was my chosen form of literary expression – or rather, it chose me!
Who are your favourite poets? / What poetry have you been enjoying recently?
There are so many poets I admire. I love the imagery of Keats, the evocations and language used by Larkin. The humour of Roger McGough, Adrian Henri, Ian McMillan and Simon Armitage. The wit and poignancy of the Scottish poet, Liz Lochhead. I like Paul Farley (The Boy From the Chemist is Here to See You is a marvellous collection). I know a lot of local poets that deserve greater attention like Maria Taylor, Geraldine Clarkson, Jayne Stanton and Roy Marshall, all of whom I would recommend. When I attend an Open Mic event, I am one of those people who always buys somebody’s new book!!
Could you please share some writing tips for other poets out there? For instance, do you have a set writing routine?
I think it is very important to get into a ‘writing routine’. Setting aside time regularly on a weekly basis is crucial. It is vital to keep the ‘writing muscle’ working. The very act of getting something down on paper helps the creative process. It is like a potter shaping his piece of clay. Even if inspiration is deserting me, I will revisit a poem that I am unhappy with or research a subject that is currently preoccupying me. That helps to kick start the poetry brain. Reading a book and listening to music often lead me somewhere. A phrase or a lyric. As my greatest influence, Ray Bradbury said, ‘Keep writing. Don’t stop.’
Where can people get hold of a copy of your book?
You can get hold of a copy of my book from my publishers’ website; from stores like The Big Comfy Bookshop in Coventry, Warwick Books, Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham and Amazon; or public libraries in Coventry, Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire.
Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
Poetry is for sharing. Poetry should be given out with prescriptions, by the milkman, with school dinners. Poets should be parachuted into offices and shops, banks and supermarkets because there are still masses of people who think poetry is a foreign language and not for them.
Any upcoming gigs/future projects?
On the next leg of my Cosmic Pizza Tour 2018, I will be calling at Lichfield Poetry Alight Open Mic on 22nd May and Scriptstuff Open Mic in Leamington on May 30th. Come along and get your slice!!!