meet crispin best, london's most original and oddest poet
As he publishes his first collection with Faber, we got on gchat with him to discuss living, working, and being fluent at being ill-at-ease.
Crispin Best is a poet who lives in London and on the internet. He has read his work internationally including in the US, Australia, Berlin, and in the Serpentine Gallery in London. He also edits For Every Year, a project inviting writers and artists to contribute a work to mark every year since 1400. Crispin's work is renowned for its originality and oddness; its aggressive playfulness acts as a challenge to the formal structures of literature. For me, the absurdity and fragility of his poems work to highlight the ongoing impossibility of being alive, while being funny and beautiful enough to make you glad you are. In 2015, Faber announced that he was one of this year's Faber New Poets, one of four emerging poets to receive mentorship, financial support, and the publication of their first pamphlet. On his publication day, we talked to Crispin on Gchat about his work and life.
Ok let's get started. We promise not to bother you.
I just want to seem cool.
Where do you get off the train in the morning?
I get off at Vauxhall on my way to work at a real job.
Like so many of us, you have a full time job which isn't even tangential to your creative career.
We are straight onto the Tory revealing angles.
I think it's more Tory to live off your art in London.
You have to be Tory to be an artist in London, yes. I am in complete denial. I am still sheepish about ever revealing my full time job, which I have been doing for close to 90 months at this point.
90 months -- strange unit to choose.
I accept the criticism of 90 months but it seems somehow longer to me than 7 years which to me is basically the age of a boy excited to go watch The Minions film rather than around a quarter of my lifetime.
If someone at a party said "what do you do," what would you say?
I will maybe say: "Mostly I feel bad. I do a job in a striplit room where I use Facebook all day and also try to write." What do you say? You answer quite straight I think.
"A writer and my waged work is XYZ." "Waged work" is a phrase you only hear in London, socializing with artists. It's often important to announce to people that you're trying to be more than you currently are...
Yeah, more successful at what we're truly passionate and excel at, more our "selves."
My problem with the poetry world as I see it is the absolute inability to be carefree. You know this from seeing readings, everyone is up there tugging at their shirt bottoms and boring the arses off the audience.
You commented at a reading we were at recently how everyone in the room was like ALRIGHT! when the one guy only did four minutes.
At readings it's just so crystallised. It's so evident. People love for things to be over. I think most people's dream is to turn up to an art opening and be turned away because it was too full. All of us need to admit that and figure out what it means.
What has being published by Faber meant to you?
At first people were into me because it wasn't what they expected poetry to be, similar to Steve Roggenbuck or Mira Gonzalez. What happened next, I don't know. Did I go toward Faber or did Faber come toward me? Was Faber trying to hang 10?
It doesn't feel like your poems got any less Crispin Best-y. Like they are still about peeing and stuff.
You know me well. There is a poem in the pamphlet which talks about wanting to fart gently on someone's legs which contains the line: "darling you smell awesome / like a grandma". And Faber is publishing that. This thing with Faber feels like the top of a mountain where you can see other better higher mountains. As a person who hadn't published a book, I don't think anything better could have happened really. Maybe from here I can see better ways to go in different directions or make my way, but it feels like the top of whatever it is.
I think it's amazing just to have an object you are signing and will be able to show your parents.
Yeah I am always going to have the anecdote about trying to write "To Victoria" and writing "To Victory." Nervous guy. One thing I noticed is how implicated I feel by my childlike handwriting. I feel like part of why the poems work is because people assume rightly or wrongly that it's all some kind of pose -- some sort of high wire act of lowbrow. But I have the handwriting of an 11-year-old, so this message in the front of an arguably juvenile work of art in like, non-joined up writing… I feel like I'm giving something away. It's too revealing.
We're curious about faux naivety in the position you take. Is it a deliberate thing to fly against certain poetry attitudes you mentioned earlier? Because in person you are a very sharp guy who is unusually clear-sighted about things.
I mean I know what I'm doing. I heard today that someone called my writing twee and I felt somehow good about that, which I suppose means that I'm confident enough that if it's twee, then that's what I was aiming for. I'm sure this sort of glib iconoclasm is one of a few crutches I use.
Do you see your writing as a means to connect with people?
I don't think so. I think it's quite gaudy and is maybe supposed to make people feel sorry for me, and also that I'm somehow a genius and a rebel.
But people take pleasure from what you write.
Well I want to be useful to the world. I love to vote. I fucking reveled in jury service because I was fulfilling a purpose and knew exactly what my purpose was in that moment. I love utility and a sense of function.
Why do you write? When you talk about utility it reminds me of an artist friend of mine who is a Quaker whose work is very much directed towards addressing his concerns with social justice, and in a certain way as well as being good art it's very much utilitarian for that reason.
I certainly don't see my work as utilitarian. I want to be useful to specific people, and I want to understand the good that i do. I don't know that writing is a good way of achieving this. At all. But I think that encouraging other people to write potentially is.
Is writing at the core of who you are?
The core of me is in bed having a panic attack about death; everything else is an attempt to get away from that.
Without getting into a dissection of alt lit as a community, does the lack of a tangible online writing network make a difference to how or what you write?
I think the most important thing is that I socialize online. The main way into a community now seems via IRL events. I don't want to go out to a dank Peckham basement space. I want to sit at home, with my trousers off, eating instant noodles making dumb jokes in the comments while the poets are reading.
I feel like I feel things more immediately when I don't have to experience them in a prescribed way, which is how all IRL events inevitably are. Art events are inherently great because you get to be close to attractive and interesting people but it's unfulfilling and demoralizing, really.
True. We tend not go to those things to absorb writing or art really but rather cement or establish ties to the people we already admire and think are good artists.
Well there you go. The awful thing is I don't even know if I'm an introvert or extrovert.
You're a social boy most of the time
I'm a social boy, but raised as a recluse. I am fluent in ill-at-ease.
Your main mode is ill-at-ease and overcoming it in a heroic way. It's what I love about you! Lastly, what's your favorite line in the pamphlet?
Shit. This means I have to look at it again. Just now I smiled at: "asking a person to care about you is like / telling then "take a seat" / and pointing at a month-old pretzel."
Text Megan Nolan
Photography Anthony Gerace