Tuesday 27 July 2010

Valve Works

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Rob Sherman's Valve Works, a collection of illustrated poems published online for free by the really rather excellent Philistine Press. There were one or two things I didn't quite "get" on first reading, so it was a pleasure that Rob was prepared to take the time to talk to me about Valve Works. The illustrations are by the fantastic Sarah Ogilvie.

Rob will next be working on a few plays, including one of King Arthur's bowel movements. He is moving back to London to continue writing music and producing as much material as possible. These are a few of the ways he can be found online.
Twitter - http://twitter.com/robshermanmusic
Tumblr - http://bonfiredog.tumblr.com/
myspace - www.myspace.com/robshermanmusic

1. Why did you choose Philistine Press?
Philistine Press was recommended to me by one of those circular emails that come around and you pay very little attention to; however, I had been reading a lot about Creative Commons, Fair Use Licenses, censorship and ownership in relation to the internet. It was something I was passionate about. And Philistine seems to be somewhere that artists can produce and publish their work without compromise, for the joy of it, for the exposure; when money is removed from the equation it is quite liberating. Obviously money would be lovely, but poetry, as a singular product, makes very little money nowadays anyway. Philistine seemed to share my philosophy, and I was happy to work with them.

2. Can you tell me about the introduction, and how it fits with the rest of the collection? That's something that didn't quite click. It felt very contemporary, yet the collection feels like it has a very 18/19th century sensibility. On the other hand if the electricity reference were tied in to Frankenstein, that would make perfect sense... (um, and what do you say to people who say steampunk to you?)
The introduction, I will admit, is a bit of a strange thing; on its own, it is entitled "A Theory", because that is really all it is; a theory of behavioural constructs and human biology, albeit put much less professionally than that! I can understand the feel of different centuries at work; I guess that the introduction is fulfilling the role of an introduction like in any other form of media. It is the voice of the author, or the editor, in a much different voice than the poems, espousing the philosophy of it all. The body for me is terrifying and wonderful, and its baser elements are not to be ignored; the electricity compels us mentally and physically, to both reproduce and create. I suppose the metaphor was pleasing, rather than a concious choice. I would not go as far to say that it is steampunk, though I am a huge fan of the genre and it certainly informs my work.

3. The chimpanzee - Basement Jaxx?
Haha! Do you mean the drawing or the poem? It didn't come into my head; perhaps it came from Sarah's (the illustrator's) imagination. It does look similar though, doesn't it? Perhaps not as grumpy; I think he's quite cheery, with his gargantuan plug socket.

4. How did the illustration process work - did you simply hand over the collection, and take what you got back, or was there toing and froing?
Well, Sarah is my girlfriend, so it is a close working relationship to say the least! The poems were written a long time before the drawings were produced, and I was really starting to see what she was capable of as an artist. I asked her to do them, and we both benefitted, as they were part of the portfolio that got her a place at Camberwell art school. But yes, I pretty much left her to it, to let her put a mark on it herself. Her drawings are quite nightmarish, quite warped in a beautiful way, and I thought it suited the whole aesthetic of the piece. I also paid her back with fancy meals and flowers, so I think business was done properly!

5. Tell me a bit about the fascination with medical textbooks
I am a huge fan of technical language in poetry; one of my tutors, Andy Brown, is an ecologist and a poet, and the beautifully onomatopoeic technicalities of the various disciplines of science work so well; they should not just be kept for dry lab reports. Though it sounds clichéd, the human body is a fascinating subject for poetry, and the body of knowledge mankind has in relation to it can only aid creativity.

6. The actual poems felt at times as though they were almost like Keatsian odes. Is that fair?
I am not that knowledgeable on Keats, so I will just nod my head slowly... though I know what you mean. There is a grandeur to it, especially in "Hypothalamus"; I particularly enjoyed it there as the hypothalamus is such a vital yet obscure part of human anatomy; it has a hand in almost every bodily process, and yet is hidden under the brain, about the size of a pea. Such a poetic opportunity couldn't go to waste!

7. I see you are also a musician. Could you explain a bit about your approach to combining different arts in your work? Do you see boundaries between arts that you are blurring, or do you see it all as essentially aspects of the same?
To be honest, there is no method to it. Most artforms work very well together, drawing from similar themes, tropes, traditions and ideas. There are definitely boundaries; without the boundaries there would just be a huge mess of unprofessional, amorphous ideas; wonderful, raw stuff, but with no discipline they are of little use or importance. Music is music, and should be its own discipline, as well as writing, or theatre; but when they encroach on each other, whether slightly or massively, interesting things happening. They are aspects of experience, but it is important to me, that they remain distinct, and any blurring remains just that.


  1. Poetry is the one area of literature I haven't really latched onto. So I appreciate links like yours. The conversation makes me very interested and I'll get over to Philistine Press to read these tonight.

    Nicely done.

  2. Thank you this usefull information. Your blog is very impressive and good to see.