Thank Goodness I Had the Brass Neck: An Interview with Chris Stewart

Jane Ormerod catches up with The Careless Embrace of the Boneshaker contributor, Chris Stewart. 

Sublunary position,
A field of dead animals.
Half-Earth along the western quarterly,
In London it is 6 a.m.
— Chris Stewart, "Sublunary"

JO:  Congratulations, Chris, on your publication in our anthology, The Careless Embrace of the Boneshaker. "Sublunary" is a complex and rhythmic work. What is the background behind it?

CS:  "Sublunary" came from a desire to play with the form of the duet. I wanted to do something where two voices combine to create a new piece of spoken word. Radio transmissions seemed the best vehicle. As the thought experiment progressed, it developed into an astronaut and a cosmonaut falling in love and colliding in space. I think the grim ending comes from my reaction to the idea romantic love will solve all problems. In my experience, romantic love is a temporary insanity that clouds judgement and makes problems invisible. Reality seeps back. My tagline for this poem is, "a soviet spy thriller were two traitors find their greatest obstacle in Newton's Third Law."

JO:  What made you submit it to a New York based publication? How often do you send work out and what have you learned from the process?

CS:  You don't gain anything by not taking a chance. Last year I decided to put my money where my mouth is. I have a hundred or so poems I've never submitted anywhere and decided to go for it. I've submitted to about 200 publications, been knocked back my at least 100, and been accepted by 15. great weather for MEDIA and The Wrong Quarterly are my two greatest successes. I remember vividly, after four hours of submitting, thinking these publications were too big and there was no point. Thank goodness I had the brass neck to submit anyway.

What I've learnt is that there's always a publication out there that will love your stuff. You've just got to find them. I decided to play the numbers game - labour intensive but it's paid off. I made submitting a part of my daily routine for four months solid.  A chore but time well invested.

I also got a slot at next year's prestigious Cheltenham Literary Festival by the same brazen attitude. Twenty festivals rejected me. The big one got back. They said I was "refreshingly quirky." You never know who you'll appeal to, really.

JO:  You perform around Britain and will be joining us for our London and Manchester shows. (August 31 and September 2, 2016). What can audiences expect from you? And what have you learned from being in the spoken word scene?

CS:  My last professional gig described me in their press as, "may as well have Wild Card as his middle name." What I've learned from the scene is there's a move towards homogeneity in any movement. A monotone consensus on opinion and people imitating copies of someone else's original thought. That makes for a lot of shades on stage.

I live somewhere removed from the national scene. Middlesbrough. People say there must be something in the water in Middlesbrough. Perhaps it's simply because it's got the highest rate of unemployment in the UK. But the curse of being out the loop may be a blessing. Poets have made a U-Turn recently from advising me to be more accessible to telling me to, "stay niche."

JO:  Tell us a little about yourself. When and why did you start writing?

CS:  I always say I took a friendly teacher's advice too far. Now I have to keep going or I'd be admitting defeat.

JO:  When you write, are you thinking of a live audience or a solo reader?

CS:  I started as a page poet. I still think in terms of writing for a solo reader. I adapt poems for live performance rather than vice versa. Having said that, I find myself increasingly writing things on the toilet through a process of ad-libbing monologues to myself. The bathroom is my safe space. I think the solo reading experience is the most powerful. I write for that experience first then I try to solve the problem of how to perform for a live audience.

JO:  What writers and performers inspire you? Anyone you feel more people should be aware of?

CS:  Mike Edwards, Mike Edwards and Mike Edwards. The best spoken word performer in the UK in my opinion. People throw the word 'genius' around a lot.  I'm not going to. But anyone who does ought to see Mike Edwards first.

JO:  Finally, what’s next for Chris Stewart?

CS:  I'm turning my life into a text-based adventure. I've been teaching myself game design for the past three years. Apart from that, more of the same. You can find out what I'm up to by following me on Twitter @SideBurnedPoet. One day, I may even get around to making a website. In the meantime, I'll be at the coal face, writing.


The Careless Embrace of the Boneshaker is a fearless and dynamic collection of contemporary poetry and short fiction by established and emerging writers. The anthology also contains an interview with musician Thurston Moore.

Submissions for our annual anthologies are open October 15th to January 15th.

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