Writer Heather Phillipson on Her New Book of Poetry & How the Internet Delivers It


Writer Heather Phillipson on Her New Book of Poetry & How the Internet Delivers It


2012 was the year of the video flyer. Just when we thought we had seen it all, you capped off the year with a video promo for your book!
Breakfast cereals have adverts. Cars have adverts. There are even adverts for adverts. (Have you seen those ‘choose your advert’ adverts on the internet?) I thought, why not have an advert for a book? Books can be about desire too.


Increasingly, books are about desire. Becoming hot luxury items. And your speciality – poetry – falls into that catergory contemporarily. Would you say NOT AN ESSAY is a book of poetry?
That’s great. I thought books, as paper-and-card encumbrances, were O-U-T. Though I should say that, for me, books aren’t luxury items so much as a staple – like muesli. You can get all your amino acids that way. It reminds me of Frank O’Hara – ‘when I want to know the news, I read Byron.’ But maybe to even be able to think about books that way is luxurious.

If I try to describe what NOT AN ESSAY is, I’ll only go wrong. My intro-blurb characterizes it as a tense handshake, momentary eye-contact, a rap on the cranium. But it’s true that it’s half written in the language of poetry, with its excesses of language and inefficiencies. (In the sense that poetry’s not necessarily expedient, nor easily digestible.) I keep coming back to something that Marianne Moore said – ‘my poems are poems because nobody knows what else they could be.’

This idea of poetry being ‘hot’ is intriguing – is that true? I’ve recently been reading Bifo’s (Franco Berardi) text ‘The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance’ in which he asserts that poetry, as a revitalization and reclamation of language, is the way to a new form of social autonomy.

3. A Is to D

True – as in my opinion. I do think poetry is heating up. What about the ‘Weird Twitter‘ movement?  Half the people in my feed are writing these posts that sound somewhere between __________ and corporate strategy tips. You my dear, however, have not just happened upon the poetic. When I first worked with you in 2011, I remember over hearing you had already become acclaimed in the world of British poetry.

Heather Phillipson_still from Well, this is embarrassing, 2011

Ha! so maybe it’s more like ‘when I want to know the news, I read Weird Twitter.’ It’s like a new kind of Formalism, torturing and upturning language to wrench it into 140 characters. It’s another way of squeezing words into a tight dress. And screens have this incredible capacity to convert everything (images, words, noises) into digi-info. Who’s to say where the edges are? I like this idea of poetry being something you ‘happen upon’ – I think that is how it works – one minute you’re writing a text message, the next it’s a poem. You re-calibrate the intention.

So Weird Twitter is a Kardashian poured into a bandage dress…. maybe. DM me maybe! The digital compression of words into letter images, even choice of typeface from platform to platform does change the way we read them. Lots of the ‘Captchas’ you have to enter when you forget your password remind me of poetry. The other day I got ‘MAGICAL REALISM’ and it was all wavy! but even that digital waviness has a symmetry to it, that the eye reads. Looking at your website I see a lot of scans of handwritten work, pieces that really show a process.

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Those captchas, when you get lucky and decipher a real word in the demi-legible gobbledygook, can resemble a kind of Apollinairian calligramme. Apollinaire’s a good guy for mixing up word and image…… And maybe that does relate to those scans and photos of scripts you’re talking about, with the hand-annotations and highlighter marks, in which the words are an image / the image is a representation of words. It’s kind of how we ended up with the handwritten cover title for NOT AN ESSAY – the conversion of the casual written gesture to gold foil image. The writing is still there…or is it?

Compression – it makes me think of MikeTV in the original Wonka film, disintegrated and reassembled in miniature. 


Just like this convo for an online platform about a non-essay book and it’s video promotion! I’ve always liked thinking of uploading and downloading work like that – dividing up into a million little bits and swirling like a flock of birds up to a satellite before being re-directed to its new destination. With David Attenborough narrating…

Yes, maybe it’s like a process of migration! (And you know how the term ‘migration’ is techno-speak for changing/upgrading systems.) Reassembling in a different configuration in a different destination. The promo video is a kind of compression and transposition of the book – it enables it to fly to other places.

Buy ‘Not An Essay’ HERE . See more of Heather’s work HERE.