LIDIA VIANU

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Poets' Liverpool

 

 

POETS' LIVERPOOL

(DENIS JOE O'DRISCOLL, ELAINE FEINSTEIN, NIGEL WALKER, PAUL FARLEY, PHIL BOWEN, ROGER SHANNON, GEORGE SZIRTES)

 

Interviews by LIDIA VIANU

 

The Liverbird: Symbol of Liverpool.

  

DENIS JOE O’DRISCOLL

 

LIDIA VIANU: What is your private perception of Liverpool? Your memories, your emotional emblem of the town?

DENIS JOE O’DRISCOLL: I grew up in an Irish, and therefore, Catholic background.  Liverpool, along with Glasgow, was the city of Britain that maintained a sectarian divide. This divide was maintained in the Football clubs of Everton and Liverpool FC.  Support for these clubs indicated where the individual stood on the sectarian divide.

            This has since disappeared with introduction of new laws against bigotry and the way that team support has moved away from its working class (male) base and toward a family orientated entertainment.

            The history of Liverpool has its roots in the slave trade and this is what made this port city so rich.  The influx of Irish over the centuries has had a massive impact on the social fabric of ordinary people.

            I did not grow up in Liverpool, but its sectarian symbolism played a part in my attitude to the City.  For me and friends (mostly of Irish working-class background) Liverpool was a city dominated by loyalist Protestants as far as we were concerned.

Part of that image arose from the fact that Liverpool FC dominated football above the Catholic Everton.

            For us it wasn’t a question of religion, it was that religion dictated the divide between Ireland and England, especially in the War of the six counties of the North.  For Irish in Britain, especially in the years that I was growing up in the 1970s, being Irish was an identity that was, to some extent, political.  It was also attractive to our innate rebelliousness, I suppose.

 

LV: How much do you know of the city’s cultural life? Any personal involvement in it, or a glimpse of what is going on?

DD: Liverpool has always relied on its working class image, and this has been reinforced throughout its political history. As a port city, Liverpool’s largest employment sector was the Docks.

            Surprisingly, Liverpool has relatively, very little to offer in the art world.  One of the most famous poets of the area, Wilfred Owen, came from Birkenhead, and there is very little to celebrate this fact (nothing that celebrates Owen’s work, is on offer throughout the 08, Capital of Culture year.)

            Aside from football the only thing of relevance that has come out of Liverpool has been a few Pop groups in the early 1960 that fell under the banner of ‘Merseybeat’ and comedians. Liverpool has had a greater representation of comedians. Very little of Liverpool’s contribution to the arts is anything other than parochial.  With the exception of the Beatles and the artist Terry Duffy, I can think of very few artists that have ‘travelled well’. The most prominent poet at present is Roger Mc Gough. Very little of his work captures the universal that can be found in the works of greater poets.

 

 LV: What does Liverpool stand for, in your inner sense of the geography of England?

 DD: This is a difficult question. The history of the city is littered with social strife and the city seems to be in a transitionary phase of which Capital of Culture seems to be playing a role.

            In Britain, regionalism is quite strong and ‘pride’ in one’s home city is never far from everyday discussion.  But there is little that Liverpool has to be proud of. 

            Neighbouring Manchester, for example, rebuilt its city centre after a bombing by the IRA in the 90s.  Had the same thing happened in Liverpool, I believe that nothing of the sort would happen and the city would still be in mourning. More than any other area, Liverpool sums up the ‘victim mentality’ that pervades a lot of thinking these days. The Hillsborough Disaster of 1998, in which 96 football fans were killed is still something that is prominent in the day-to-day of the city.

            This morbid fascination with tragedy was something that was commented on by Boris Johnson (an MP and now Lord Mayor of London).  He was badgered into retracting his statement, yet no-one contradicted what he said, there just seems to be an atmosphere of morbid acceptance.

            Aside from that, I believe that Liverpool has no claim to uniqueness that any other British city.

 

 LV: Will Liverpool represent the English spirit in culture? 

DD: Unfortunately, yes!  There are some great community groups, particularly in theatre. The City has, in my opinion, two great theatres: The Everyman, which shows cutting edge productions of plays that are not put on in the more established theatres. I recently saw an excellent production of Endgame, by Samuel Beckett.  There are not many cities in Britain where you could see such a commitment.

            The Unity Theatre specialises in smaller scale and is more ‘community based’ than The Everyman.  A recent production of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, proved excellent and was put on by a community drama group, Dingle Community Theatre.

            Theatre, in particular, is well catered for and newcomers, such as Julian Bond, have a good opportunity to present their work to the public.

            Classical music is not served well in Liverpool. There is a great Philharmonic hall, but the programming of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra has been unadventurous.  Though, with the Capital of Culture upon us, the Orchestra has been trying out other programmes.  A recent concert of Viennese music from the second school featured Webern, Berg  and  Schreker.  However that appears to be a one-off.

            Poetry is well catered for. The recent launch of Content, a journal of creative writing, was a success when the launch was held at the Everyman.  The Egg café has open mic nights, but they are very unsatisfactory.  Better are the open mic nights run by the Dead Good Poets Society.  However most of the contributors are performance poets and serious poetry has to fight to get a hearing.

            That said, I have had some good receptions at these nights and the audience can prove quite open to the serious.

            I think that Liverpool is the ideal city to represent Britain. At first I was against the city winning the bid, on the grounds that it has very little to offer in cultural terms. My mistake was to undermine the demand (especially by politicians) for a celebration of various cultures; relativism, and a populist feel at that.  I saw a play recently, called Running the Silk Road.  It was a collaboration with the Chinese Community in Liverpool.  It combined Chinese opera with  a Western dramatic approach and worked really well.

            There is a definite feeling against anything that could be seen as ‘Elitist’, and I don’t think that this is a very good attitude as someone always has to opine what is elitist in the first place. For me, though, the conservatism of thinking in Britain is summed up in a work of art called Lambanana. Most people have hated this yellow monstrosity.  It has been situated around different parts of the city over the years; at present it is positioned outside of one of the Student buildings. The piece is intended as a warning against genetic research. It depicts a half lamb and half banana.

            My personal feelings about this monstrosity aside, the city have pushed it and commissioned replicas from the artist to display around the city. It is as if the decision makers are intent on pushing bad art. Whatever the cost. This alone, will haunt the city for decades to come.

 

LV: Is there any particular feature about Liverpool that other English towns do not have?

DD: In the North of England there is a strong feeling of parochialism.  Liverpool is no exception and anything Scouse is sacrosanct. The feeling is that Liverpool has a strong working class history. But that is true of all cities.

            Over the past Decade that ‘history’ has been slowly eroded as the industrial base (especially in the Docks) has disappeared and with it a strong trade union presence.  Liverpool fancies itself as a City of the People but, as in all cities, the people do not have a voice on local decision making and  the ‘People’s’ tag is little more than a sop to the idea of inclusiveness.

 

LV: Is Liverpool a symbol of arts? Of certain arts? Which arts do you feel it can best represent?

DD: Not really. Football, pop music and comedy seem to be the only things that Liverpool has produced with any success. In the Arts, Liverpool is no more representative than any other area of Britain.

 

LV: When your life touched that of Liverpool , did it produce a memorable moment?

DD: No, never!  It produced some of my best writing, though. Two poems ‘Liverpool’ and ‘A Visit to the Walker Gallery’ have received a good reception at readings and are an example of how I feel Liverpool has touched me.

            I think that the inwardness of Liverpool is, ironically, a stimulus for me.  Mixing with other writers and doing readings in Liverpool seems to have sharpened my focus and helped my words to find some direction.

 

LV: What does, in your perception, the European side of Liverpool consist in?

DD: Sadly, very little.  Liverpool is a very inward looking city. An influx of Polish immigrants recently was, generally speaking, not welcomed by ordinary Liverpool people. If there is any ‘pride’ in Liverpool, by its people, then that ‘pride’ is very narrow and doesn’t seem to have much of a welcome for ‘outsider’

 

LV: Will Liverpool do justice to English culture in 2008?

DD: No more so than any other English city would have done.  Birmingham was the other city that was a contender for the Capital of Culture. I remember Birmingham well, as a child.  It used to be a run down industrial city. Over the past couple of decades, Birmingham transformed itself, rebuilding the city centre and is a dynamic and forward looking city, compared to Liverpool. It is half way through the Capital of Culture year and Liverpool is still only half built and cranes still dominate the skyline.

 

LV: Can it be the history of Liverpool (political, social, ideas, arts...) that has made it a capital of ideas today?

DD: I think it is taken for granted that the awarding to Liverpool of the Capital of Culture was a political decision. It is not a forward-looking city and culture is firmly rooted in the past.  That past has little in the way of positiveness towards the future.

            The history of Liverpool, particularly that of the Working Class, is very much tied to Ireland. I find that Liverpool is very much like Dublin in its attitude and even in the way people talk: accents are divided between North and South Liverpool as they are with the North and South of Dublin.

            Liverpool also shares its misplaced Romanticism for the past, with Ireland. I attended a recent meeting which had the British film maker Ken Loach as a speaker.  The meeting was about rebuilding a Workers (political) Party.  The proposal was to build up an industrial base, such as that of the Dockers in the 1980s.  This, even though there is no ‘Industrial base’ in Liverpool (or any part of Britain, for that matter).

            A vote to federate the North West of England (allowing local authorities greater power in decision making) failed in a plebiscite. This may have had something to do with Liverpool winning the Capital of Culture.

            The truth is that if it was about Culture, as in the Arts and what a city has to offer the world, then many European cities, including Bucharest, have a far greater and valid claim to the title of Capital of Culture than Liverpool.

 

  

 

 

ELAINE FEINSTEIN

 

 

LIDIA VIANU: What is your private perception of Liverpool ? Your memories, your emotional emblem of the town?

ELAINE FEINSTEIN: It is the Liverpool voice, with its skeptical,  upturned, intonation; its mockery of pretension. My family left Liverpool when I was still a child, but that voice surrounded me, in my parents’ voices, while I was growing up in Leicester, and also when I visited aunts, uncles and grandparents who remained in the city.  

 

LV: How much do you know of the city’s cultural life? Any personal involvement in it, or a glimpse of what is going on?

EF: The Beatles and Poetry are what I think of as the culture of the city.  And the new Art Museum.  (I was part of an anthology of Liverpool poets edited by Peter Robinson); I still see Brian Patten on the literary circuit over the years.

 

LV: What does Liverpool stand for, in your inner sense of the geography of England?

EF: For several decades Liverpool  was a depressed area,  mainly because of the effect the use of containers  had on the docks. But Liverpool has a truculent, defiant sprit, perhaps most influenced by the long connection with Ireland.


LV: Will Liverpool represent the English spirit in culture?
  

EF: A fierce local part of it. 

 

LV: Is there any particular feature about Liverpool that other English towns do not have?

EF: A wonderful sea front, nineteenth century mercantile buildings, the Tate Art Museum – but the old centre has been completely re-built since I lived there. My novel The Survivors, about two  contrasting immigrant families,  is set in Liverpool

 

LV: Is Liverpool a symbol of arts? Of certain arts? Which arts do you feel it can best represent?

EF: Poetry and Painting. And of course popular music.   

 

LV: When your life touched that of Liverpool , did it produce a memorable moment?

EF: Family moments: my grandparents, particularly, who came there from Southern Russia, uncles and aunts ready to pounce on any enthusiasm they suspected was exaggerated.  

 

LV: What does, in your perception, the European side of Liverpool consist in?

EF: It was always a trading port of huge importance.  

 

LV: Will Liverpool do justice to English culture in 2008?

EF: I hope so.

 

LV: Can it be the history of Liverpool (political, social, ideas, arts...) that has made it a capital of ideas today?

EF: The history  is a bit controversial. Its huge wealth in the nineteenth century was founded on the slave trade. The other side of that  coin, however, is that it has always been a cosmopolitan city, with an early China town, and many immigrants from all over the globe.   

 

 

 

 

NIGEL WALKER

 

 

LIDIA VIANU: What is your private perception of Liverpool? Your memories, your emotional emblem of the town?

NIGEL WALKER: Liverpool is a hard industrial city that developed through sea-faring and subsequent industrial processes. It faces West, towards America and the West Indies so grew through trade with those countries, especially in cotton (Lancashire was the main cotton producing area) sugar, Caribbean fruits (such as pineapples and bananas) and the slave trade (more shamingly). Later Liverpool was a point of disembarkation for tens of thousands of people seeking a new life in America.

            Liverpool was also the main point of entry for the Irish who fled from the potato famines and sought hard industrial work building railways, roads and factories in England. It has been multi-cultural for hundreds of years and shows tolerance, humour and a certain bravado to those from outside. I still love the hard edge of Liverpool that belies the softness of the people, their genuine concern for friends and family and their ability to reflect that in the songs, music, films and poems down the years. My personal emblem of Liverpool would be a pen to represent the endeavours of its citizens to portray themselves and their stories across time.

 

LV: How much do you know of the city’s cultural life? Any personal involvement in it, or a glimpse of what is going on?

NW: I was born in Liverpool in 1950 and lived through a period when rock and roll music was discovered, largely through people travelling the Atlantic to and from America on Cunard liners that still sailed from Liverpool. They brought back records and copied the sound. The most successful group, The Beatles, of course become world famous, but they were not the only music makers in Liverpool as the Mersey Sound made clear. Classical music flourished too and Liverpool has a Philharmonic Orchestra and beautiful Philharmonic Hall for performances.

            There were writers too including now world famous writers such as Nicholas Monsarrat or Beryl Bainbridge, novelists, playwrights and script writers. And of course the Liverpool poets, of whom Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten became the most famous. The Liverpool Poetry Committee had a list of over 130 active writers and performers (many published) of poetry in the city in 1970 and public performances and readings occurred somewhere almost on a nightly basis .In 1972 a reading by 10 poets at the Philharmonic Hall (called Big Poetry Night) brought 2000 people to that one reading. The launch of local radio stations in England (Radio Merseyside was the first) gave another outlet for poetry and we ran regular programmes for over two years with an audience of over 1000 on a regular basis.

            Liverpool had art too and many artists and sculptors used Liverpool as a base. The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool had opened in 1874 and attracted over 300,00 visitors in four months. It still houses one of the leading European collections and runs the bi-annual and highly prestigious John Moores exhibition. At the end of the last century the Tate Gallery opened a gallery for contemporary art on the waterfront.

            Liverpool’s art scene continues to thrive and music clubs, live bands (such as the Zutons) still play, poetry is still read and novels and playwrights still produce stunning literature.

            And there are still very strong links with Irish culture, especially music. Many Liverpool families have direct connections to an Irish past.

 

LV: What does Liverpool stand for, in your inner sense of the geography of England?

NW: Liverpool is not as central to English life as it once was. Shipping has become a minor part of the economy and manufacturing industry has declined. The more modern service industries have secured a base in Manchester, a rival city only 40kms away. Liverpool is poorer economically than it has been for many years. However the status as the European Capital of Culture has helped revive the city and it is not in as desperate a state as it was during a period of prolonged rioting in the 1980’s. If it wasn’t for the success of its two football teams, Liverpool and Everton, it may be more ignored than it is. The physical isolation of Liverpool (few people pass through it now as they did when going to America and Ireland – you actually have to make  a decision to go there!) has, in some ways preserved much of the past culture whilst depriving the city in other ways.

 

LV: Will Liverpool represent the English spirit in culture?

NW: Liverpool will represent many aspects of English culture, but more than that it will represent the multi-cultural nature of what England is becoming. This is, in some ways, unique to Liverpool and they have had more time to practise it than most other cities in England except probably London and Bristol.

 

LV: Is there any particular feature about Liverpool that other English towns do not have?

NW: Apart from the comments above on its multi-cultural nature I would say that it has a pronounced sense of humour. Many well-known comedians have come from Liverpool and humour is rife in the songs, poems and books.

 

LV: Is Liverpool a symbol of arts? Of certain arts? Which arts do you feel it  can best represent?

NW: I would certainly say that music and poetry are probably the two arts most people would mention in relation to Liverpool, although they might mention the art galleries as well.

 

 LV: When your life touched that of Liverpool, did it produce a memorable moment?

NW: I lived in Liverpool for 23 years, from birth until leaving to pursue studies and a career elsewhere in England. I have many memories of Liverpool. Among the most memorable are the sunsets on the Mersey, the feeling of genuine companionship amongst the artists and writers in Liverpool during the my time writing there, and I suppose the feeling in the 1960’s that Liverpool was at a cultural cutting edge and could try anything, do anything and succeed. This was not the euphoria of the 60’s but a genuine belief of the city in itself. It is sad to think that within ten years around 20% of its workforce had no jobs, there were riots on the streets and all hope seemed to have drained away.

 

LV: What does, in your perception, the European side of Liverpool consist in?

NW: Liverpool is probably less European than American although its sea faring past has meant that all nationalities have come to Liverpool. In recent years there has been a much more developed  relationship with Europe, partly driven by the socialist politics of Liverpool and the links to other socialist countries in Europe (and the disillusion with American politics of the Reagan and Bush eras) and the opening up of Europe beyond “old” Europe. This has included many young Europeans coming to work in the city and the city creating links with artists and writers across these changing boundaries.

 

LV: Will Liverpool do justice to English culture in 2008?

NW: Yes, I believe that it will.

 

LV: Can it be the history of Liverpool (political, social, ideas, arts...) that has made it a capital of ideas today?

NW: Culture is hard to describe and pin down but it is undoubtedly unique in many ways to place and therefore to influence. Liverpool’s history and world view and  inclusiveness have undoubtedly had an impact on its cultural status and it has always shown itself to be open to ideas and had a means of synthesising these into something new and fresh.

 

 

 

 

PAUL FARLEY

 

 

LIDIA VIANU: What is your private perception of Liverpool? Your memories, your emotional emblem of the town?

PAUL FARLEY: Liverpool is the place where I started out from, where I spent my childhood and adolescence, and it’s the place where my family has its roots, so I’ve my deepest emotional and imaginative roots there. So there are many memories: one of the earliest is being taken by my father to look around the waterfront and docks when I was very young, maybe four or five, and I recall being fascinated by seeing tunnels into which the dark dock water seemed to flow, Roman numerals cut into the dock walls to measure sea level and tides, old sandstone, gangplanks, the river itself of course, its smells and sounds, the play of light… It was a very interesting, mysterious place for a child to explore. He also took me to this yard with a shed full of ladders – he had window-cleaning rounds in the city centre – and I always associate that with Liverpool, too.

            There are many other things I associate with the city, too many to recount, but in essence, it felt like a place still grimy and redolent with the textures of a world that’s largely vanished from England, right next to a river where the very water seemed ancient, salt and primal in some way. But then, crossing a river on a ferry, watching the froth of a bow wave, is an ancient, elemental thing. I couldn’t really see it then, but I can now. 

 

LV: How much do you know of the city’s cultural life? Any personal involvement in it, or a glimpse of what is going on?

PF: I don’t know too much about it now because I left the city in 1985. At that time, it was undergoing real turmoil, unemployment had gone through the roof, there’d been bad rioting in parts of the city, and I’d characterize what culture there was there then as largely a culture of resistance, and protest.

            But I was always fascinated by the city’s variety. On the one hand, it had this ability to link itself into older traditions or avant-garde sensibilities. That was all new to me as a teenager, and very attractive. So you could spend time in bars talking about Joyce or Abstract Expressionism with people who lived in or off the squares near the old cathedral – Liverpool’s Left Bank – and it felt authentically bohemian, at least it did to me then.

            But it was also a place where the white working class youth were what I’d call ‘creative consumers’ – like, they’d always want to have the latest trainers or jeans or whatever, but they’d mix their clothes in these bizarre combinations. They seemed more interested in the music that was emergent then from the city, and from Manchester, or from across the Atlantic. The two often overlapped. I remember buying ‘A William Burroughs Reader’ from the W H Smith on Church Street, and reading it sneakily on the bus home while everybody else was talking about football or going to a club or music. Like any city that’s worth a damn, it had lots of different dimensions.

            I don’t know if it’s still like that. I visit the city often enough, but it isn’t the same as that total immersion I once had. There seems to be a lot more going on and promoted nowadays; there seems to be more places that focus and enable that kind of activity, new galleries and performance spaces, though these are inevitably a bit like what’s happening everywhere else, a general move towards establishing a kind of metropolitan culture that we’ve seen happening throughout the UK in the past decade or so. But, being Liverpool, it does seem to do things its own way. 

 

LV: What does Liverpool stand for, in your inner sense of the geography of England?

PF: It doesn’t feel like England. When I was a kid growing up there, I wondered where ‘England’ was. Was there really this place where people played cricket on village greens and drank ale and walked along bridleways on warm summer evenings? I was totally fascinated by this. It was there in books, and on the TV, and I wanted to find out if it really was out there.

            Now, I know it to be a kind of fiction, though it has elements of truth: I’ve even watched a cricket match on a village green, sipping a pint. But back then, in Liverpool, it seemed ridiculous, because the city feels so separate. Even going just ten or twenty miles into Lancashire felt exotic. The Lake District and Wales were these high, magical places in the distance where we’d go for day trips. Liverpool is insular and disconnected in that way, and I think always will be.

            The accent, and the way people speak, reinforces this – an amalgam of many different tongues from all over the place that have, paradoxically, forged this very singular identity. In that way, it’s still a port city, even though its prime commercial moment has been and gone.

 

LV: Will Liverpool represent the English spirit in culture?

PF: Like I’ve said, it feels so singular and separate that it’s more likely to represent its own culture, though that isn’t to say it can’t or won’t act as a platform for art and culture from all over the world. I think Liverpool will be a decent host. But I can’t think of a more atypical English place.

 

LV: Is there any particular feature about Liverpool that other English towns do not have?

PF: There’s a depth of myth, and self-mythologizing, that other English cities don’t seem to manage or attempt. It means that the place is instantly recognizable, and easily caricatured. Everybody has an opinion about it, good or bad.  

 

LV: Is Liverpool a symbol of arts? Of certain arts? Which arts do you feel it  can best represent?

PF: I was talking to somebody years ago about why Liverpool perhaps hadn’t managed to produce a big Punk band (when many British cities were managing to), and he said: ‘Liverpool is hung-up on tunes’, which has stayed with me. I’m bound to say this, but I think storytelling, and poetry, might turn out to be the city’s greatest cultural force. I think Paul Morley said somewhere recently that ‘Liverpool has a great mouth’, and I think he’s on to something. It talks itself up, but does so in such an unmistakable way.

 

LV: When your life touched that of Liverpool, did it produce a memorable moment?

PF: Liverpool has a cosmopolitan, international history that has left its mark in a myriad of ways. It made its money through the transatlantic trade in slaves, then as a port of embarkation and import. In some respects the city has lost touch with its own diversity, maybe simply because the port doesn’t operate at the levels it did during the previous couple of centuries. It was a cheek-by-jowl place of arrivals and departures for such a long time, though in the last few decades it seemed to harden into discrete districts, along lines of ethnicity and class and so on. But when Herman Melville was there in the middle of the nineteenth century, he found a place where a mixed race couple would be easily tolerated in a way that simply wouldn’t be back in New York.

 

LV: Can it be the history of Liverpool (political, social, ideas, arts...) that has made it a capital of ideas today?

PF: The city’s history is there in the fabric of the place you’d find today. Just the fact of its enormous wealth and its periods of poverty, even within living memory, informs the character of the city. Undoubtedly.

  

 

 

PHIL BOWEN

 

LIDIA VIANU: What is your private perception of Liverpool ? Your memories, your emotional emblem of the town?

PHIL BOWEN: Everyone has a face in Liverpool – in so many other places they just have heads.

 

LV: How much do you know of the city’s cultural life? Any personal involvement in it, or a glimpse of what is going on?

PB: Edited ''Things We Said Today' – poetry about The Beatles ; am biographer of The Mersey Poets – McGough, Patten and Henri; 'A Gallery to Play To' republished 2008 – Liverpool University Press; curated 'Adrian's Wall ' commemorative installation re late Adrian Henri – Liverpool Culture Company 2007.

 

LV: What does Liverpool stand for, in your inner sense of the geography of England ?

PB: It's the heart and soul.

 

LV: Will Liverpool represent the English spirit in culture?

PB: To some extent but it's very tribal and fractious very independently minded.

 

LV: Is there any particular feature about Liverpool that other English towns do not have?

PB: A bigger sense of humour and  real warmth – a quickness of perception and famous sarcasm.

 

LV: Is Liverpool a symbol of arts? Of certain arts? Which arts do you feel it  can best represent?

 

PB: Its hearty innovative musicality best represented by The Beatles and  Comedy through comedians from Billy Bennet  Ted Ray, Arthur Askey, Rob Wilton to the great Ken Dodd.

 

LV: When your life touched that of Liverpool , did it produce a memorable moment?

PB: Too many to say – early memories of parks and ferries.

 

LV: What does, in your perception, the European side of Liverpool consist in?

PB: It looks more to America – 

 

LV: Will Liverpool do justice to English culture in 2008?

I think so.

 

LV: Can it be the history of Liverpool (political, social, ideas, arts...) that has made it a capital of ideas today?

Maybe probably – yes.

 

 

 

ROGER SHANNON

 

 

LIDIA VIANU: What is your private perception of Liverpool? Your memories, your emotional emblem of the town?

ROGER SHANNON: It's a very vibrant place. You can feel the buzz in the air - you can almost pull it down. My memories are very dense about the city having been born and raised there, and after leaving for college and university in my late teens, I find myself going back there for work etc, even tho' I live in Birmingham. 

 

LV: How much do you know of the city’s cultural life? Any personal involvement in it, or a glimpse of what is going on?

RS: In fact, I was there yesterday discussing with people at FACT what type of film festival to put on next March 2009.

 

LV: What does Liverpool stand for, in your inner sense of the geography of England?

RS: More like, the Celtic spirit, as the city is home to many folk from Scottish, Irish and Welsh backgrounds. And of course that other Celtic outpost, the Isle Of Man, in the Irish Sea, where my mother and father honeymooned.

 

LV: Is there any particular feature about Liverpool that other English towns do not have?

RS: Birmingham and Manchester see themselves as second city to London's first. To Liverpudlians, London is the second city; Liverpool, the first. 

 

LV: Is Liverpool a symbol of arts? Of certain arts? Which arts do you feel it  can best represent?

RS: Writing - Liverpool is an ink well to the world.

 

LV: What does, in your perception, the European side of Liverpool consist in?

RS: The republican side.

 

LV: Will Liverpool do justice to English culture in 2008?

RS: It will do justice to the adventure of international culture. Liverpool is not a part of English culture. It is apart from English culture.

 

LV: Can it be the history of Liverpool (political, social, ideas, arts...) that has made it a capital of ideas today?

RS: Yes, most definitely. It is the shipping and externally facing aspect of the city that has given it its defining character. That and the sense of being on the 'edge' literally of the rest of the UK. 

 



 

 

 

GEORGE SZIRTES

 

 

LIDIA VIANU: What is your private perception of Liverpool? Your memories, your emotional emblem of the town?

GEORGE SZIRTES: I have visited Liverpool a few times, have friends there and have read in and around the city, Liverpool in the 1960s, according to Allen Ginsberg (as far as I remember) was "the centre of human consciousness". Like all those of my generation I grew up with Liverpool music and the Liverpool football team. By the time I started visiting it in the late 70s it had entered an economic decline, like most of Britain, but in a more desolate, more spectacular way. So, apart from The Beatles and the great football team, and the Liverbird building across the Mersey, it would be the memory of that economic depression.

 

LV: How much do you know of the city’s cultural life? Any personal involvement in it, or a glimpse of what is going on?

GS: I have read in Liverpool and taken part in events. I remember particularly the Everyman Theatre and the Bluecoats Gallery, both of which were, and continue to be, centres of literary activity. Liverpool, as a seaport, has long been a great mix of cultures: English, Irish, Caribbean, European, Asian. It is the mixture that gave the place its energy and vitality. So many writers have lived and worked there, some of them friends now. I conducted an interview with the novelist Linda Grant for a book about writers' views of the city where they were brought up.

 

 LV: What does Liverpool stand for, in your inner sense of the geography of England?

GS: Liverpool is one of the cities of the imagination, along with Manchester, Newcastle and Bristol. I exclude London because it is the greatest and the capital, Birmingham because it is too many places at once, and I exclude Oxford and Cambridge because they are primarily university towns. In terms of the human body, Liverpool is the country's heart, Manchester is the muscle, Newcastle is its rough voice and Bristol - well, I am not sure about Bristol, but feel it is important. Liverpool is more sentimental, more Irish than the others.

 

LV: Will Liverpool represent the English spirit in culture?

GS: Not so much the English spirit, but the spirit of contemporary England, which is a blend of spirits. I am glad for Liverpool because of all the great cities of the sixties it had the hardest transition in the following twenty-five years.

 

LV: Is there any particular feature about Liverpool that other English towns do not have?

GS: Other cities have rivers but the River Mersey is more absorbed into the life of the city than are the Tyne or the Avon or the Severn. The Mersey is an industrial river. The Mersey is a key part of the city's identity.

 

LV: Is Liverpool a symbol of arts? Of certain arts? Which arts do you feel it  can best represent?

GS: Liverpool, for me, is chiefly music and literature. The music is popular music: the literature covers the entire range of writing, theatre, fiction, poetry, screenwriting. It is a talking and singing city. It talks all the time.

 

LV: When your life touched that of Liverpool, did it produce a memorable moment?

GS: Two personal ones. 1. When I was nineteen I drove to Liverpool to visit an old school friend. We quarreled that evening and I drove all through the night, spending an hour asleep in the car in Wolverhampton. It was a moment of growing up. 2. My wife Clarissa and I spent our first married night in Liverpool at the Adelphi Hotel before boarding the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company ferry for a week in the west of the Isle of Man. My student landlord, who had a soft spot for me, had bought us the overnight accommodation. A Force 8 gale was blowing. We were poor and could only afford the cheapest possible breakfast so we spent the four hour journey feeling sick, hardly seeing each other. Clarissa walking around on deck and being sick, I lying at the centre of gravity of the boat without being sick. It was a rough crossing.

 

LV: What does, in your perception, the European side of Liverpool consist in?

GS: The internationalism generally and the influence of Liverpool music on the world at large. Somehow the Beatles were local and international at once. Young Hungarian acquaintances learned English from the lyrics of Beatles records. Liverpool is like Hamburg and Shanghai: all the wealth and misery of the world has passed through it, leaving a culture of fiercely parochial exiles behind.

 

LV: Will Liverpool do justice to English culture in 2008?

GS: I don't see why not. I think Liverpool stands for something valuable in British consciousness. High crime rate, of course, but much warmth too.

 

LV: Can it be the history of Liverpool (political, social, ideas, arts...) that has made it a capital of ideas today?

GS: Yes, of course. That is exactly what it is. Although I think it is less the capital of ideas, more the capital of feeling.

 

 

August 3, 2008