To start our web site rolling we thought we would interview someone. This is something we might do on a fairly regular basis. The interviewees won’t necessarily be clients of ours, just writers who catch our eye for one reason or another. First up is Steve Rushton – we owe him a favour because we promised to publicise the recent re-launch of his book, Sweet Sex Education Teacher from Chichester, but forgot…
So hello Steve Rushton. Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Ex grammar school, ex art school, ex potato picker, ex potato and egg door to door seller, ex drummer, ex milkman (brief but formative period), ex book packer to the aristocracy, ex picture hanger for Royal Societies, ex performer in country house scenarios, ex curriculum area leader for arts and science, artist since 1983, art and design history lecturer since 1993, poet since 2003.
When did you start writing and when did you first take yourself seriously as a writer?
As an adolescent I loved writing stories, but chose art instead of literature after sixth form, went to art school, and that was it for the next twenty years, until as a cash strapped artist I retrained as an art history lecturer. Studying for my MA I realized I was no researcher, as my essays were more a way back into painting, and writing stories, and poetry. Thinking back on the way literature was taught at school, with an emphasis on study rather than making work – as art was very much about – I’m sure that influenced me. At one point I was going to do a dual degree in art and English at York, but think the jack of all trades master of none argument persuaded me otherwise.
What else have you written apart from Sweet Sex Education Teacher from Chichester?
Sweet Sex Education Teacher from Chichester is my first book. However, I have a project where I’m writing a series of four poetry collections and three verse novels, the first of which – sex, love & boring poetry, a comedy about a country house tour with a difference – is just finished. I like working in series. If I have lots of things going on, I can compare them more easily, work out what works and what doesn’t. It’s what I do when I make paintings, and I’m now using that method with poetry too.
…Teacher is such an eye-catching title. Tell us about the work, where you got your inspiration from, how it developed, and so on.
I wrote the following poem to answer – to myself – this very question
Who Is The Sweet Sex Education Teacher From Chichester Anyway?
She’s everybody ever tempted by something, who secretly dreams that
repercussions could change their over-regimented lives
She’s an embodiment of space, between town and country,
London and Chichester (“somewhere near Crawley?”)
She’s a manifesto for a new art – minimalism with sex,
Lichtenstein inside the bubble, cubist collage without the collage,
modern art without the art
She’s a manifesto for a new poetry – Dylan Thomas without the words,
Charles Bukowski off the booze, bawdy seaside cards but not,
children’s’ books with only a few words to a page. “Look said Jack”
She’s an art and poetry meeting, neither an illustration of the other
She’s “a perfect format for a witty poem”, a cliff-hanger,
not a first person singular (like so many other poems)
She’s a Ramones record, but shorter,
a Chuck Berry song without guitar breaks
a Beethoven sonata without the sonata
She’s “reviving the 7 inch single in book form”
She’s someone starting as object, but finishing as subject, like us all
She’s tangible and lovely, single, and waiting for you
Price £4.99p, from Shop 33, amazon .co.uk
And selected booksellers
This relationship between art and poetry is important for me – that a poem can be something else – an object, for sale, a shape surrounded by white space, a manifesto, lots of things, without limit perhaps.
Also, and most importantly, the Sweet Sex Education Teacher From Chichester is my wife, and the events in the poem are extrapolations from our early romance of train journeys between very different cities.
Sex education is one thing, but do you think it is possible to learn ‘creative writing’ as an academic subject?
Again, the relationship between art and poetry is interesting with regard to this question. We all use language – words, sentences – everyday, in a way that we don’t draw, or paint, or sculpt, to live our lives. So I think we need to study art more to become an artist, but this doesn’t apply as much to using writing creatively, because we are doing this everyday already, often without realizing it. And sometimes, before reading a poem to an audience, there is a preamble, which on reflection sounds more interesting, with its complicated rhythms, nuances and unforced intonations, than the actual poem that follows.
In your opinion, what is the purpose of literature? How would you define ‘literature’ anyway? Does it seem to you to have any obvious limits.
Literature, like art, is evidence of culture. I think that is its main context. The interesting thing for me is whether good literature, art, exists independently of context – and that is certainly an aim, whether it is achievable or not. And as for limits, no I don’t think so. The one limit that often gets talked about is the relationship with society – that society can change art and literature, but not the other way round. While I agree that society is the dominant partner in this, we have no way of knowing what future art and literature might be like, so how can we say it can’t change society?
Also, I like the idea that even if artists/writers who believe their work can change things are wrong, their work is better for their misbelief.
When you read someone else’s work, what qualities do you look for? What thrills you and gives you delight when you find it in someone else’s work?
I want imagination, intelligence, sex, a sense of humour
And not just a longing
For something that’s over
Give us your take on self-publishing. Is conventional publishing (along with literary agencies) doomed?
No, there will always be a need for benchmarks, hoops, barriers, agencies helping both the traditional and the non traditional, just as their will always be – and this is a terrible word – “creatives” who seek for whatever reason new ways to reach audiences.
The ‘Sue Lawley’ question – I’ve marooned you on a desert Island, you have the Bible and Shakespeare, should you need either, what one other book would you like to have by you?
I suppose my answer to this question would change every week, but in this week I would say, what I’m reading, looking at, at the moment – the complete etchings of Goya. Although I now write more than I paint, and however many favourite poets I have, will have, my first love will always be visual art, and I think – if there is anything slightly different in my work, it is down to that. And the great thing about this book is – the works are reproduced in their original size, and they’re black and white – so there are no bad colour reproduction problems, and all the images have accompanying original text, so this complex relationship between word and image that I’m fascinated by is played and replayed on every page of the book. And also, Goya is such a great drawer, with such a powerful vision, and sense of composition, and perhaps because his vision is so dark, it would cheer me up on my desert island – things can’t be that bad.
If you could meet one literary person past or present, real or fictional, who would it be?
I think Dylan Thomas, probably because he was the first poet I loved, because I still love him now, although a lot of his stuff I don’t, but I see him as an artist whose work – some of it – is trapped by context – his time, and doesn’t resonate today as much as perhaps it used to, perhaps as much as it used to when I first read it as an adolescent, and also, because I think a few of his works definitely do escape context, have become, free of context, good, great, whatever – Poem in October for instance, or Under Milk Wood – and also, because, I like a drink in a pub, as he did, albeit with some moderation, and prefer that to a dinner table conversation, apropos the who would you have round for dinner question, to which my answer would be – no one, I’m off to the pub.
Thank you Steve. Mine’s a pint. Straight glass.
 Hugh Baggaley
 Venetia Vyvyan, Heywood Hill’s Book Shop, Mayfair
 Jan Noble, Not Your Average Type
 New version of poem published in Nazar Look, Nov.2012
The agency waives its right to insist on the terms shown at the foot of the contact page, in the context of this interview.