INTERVIEW FOR POETRY LIFE AND TIMES – JUNE 2007
1. What is your particular relationship with poetry and painting?
I am primarily a writer and couldn’t live without expressing myself in words. Words are the most natural medium to me with art coming second. There is a special need and drive within me to write down how I see the world around me and how I feel in words.
I have the illness ME. But ME doesn’t have me – writing and painting do, but especially poetry, which wells up from an inner compulsion as lava from a volcano, so that I am driven to put pen to paper and always do, having notebooks all round the house, bits of paper with scrawly Italic scribbles over them.
My bedside diary is the most important for I often wake up in the middle of the night feeling grim, experiencing vivid, lucid dreams and inspirations for poems.
As a poet and painter, I tend to use my paintings to illustrate my poems with the poems usually coming first. Ultimately I believe wordcraft (as well as paintcraft) is a spiritual gift from God and although I must have faith in my ability to use words in the best possible way, I am thankful for loving the use of words when trying to interpret and convey how I see, hear, smell, taste and feel the world around me, as well as the mystery of that which is unseen.
2. What do you think are the greatest advantages of both media (poetry and painting respectively)?
Writing is an activity that requires a minimum of physical effort - you can do it anywhere, but it specially lends itself to bed, where I reside quite a lot of the time. I prop myself up with an architecture of pillows, until I disappear amongst large, white marshmallows, then I draw my feet up so that my legs form a natural support for my pad of paper. My pen seems to take on a life of its own – almost like automatic writing, where a person goes into a trance, pen flashing across the paper in a specific style of writing that does not belong to them. I type my work onto my computer, but I need the feeling of pen on paper first to make my writing breathe.
Poems paint pictures with feelings in words. Its condensed, concentrated form intensifies experience and distills it. Its easily portable form means you can read a poem anywhere at any time. Words reach you in a different way to painted shapes. Words to the poet are what paint is to the painter.
A painting is more labour intensive to create. Hopefully it will reach the viewer in the same way a poem will reach the reader. Perhaps illustrating poems could be seen as unnecessary, but it is interesting to have an interpretation of the words in paint and to have an interpretation of paint in words. Words and pictures, pictures and words – to me they go together.
My work is deeply influenced by the natural world, which I often use as symbolism for the spiritual. My paintings are intertwined with my poems, which they illustrate. My exhibitions are entitled “TALKING PAINT”. I have designed/produced three collections of my illustrated poems - *PROMISE*, *MANDALA* and recently *SECRETS*, which can be bought via my website “Talking Paint” @ HYPERLINK "http://www.freewebs.com/viviensteels" www.freewebs.com/viviensteels
3. What incidents in your childhood influenced your writing?
I have very vivid memories of my childhood and it feeds my writing in many ways. I can recall specific events and what I saw and how I felt. This was often intense and I think it flows into my writing. A child sees the world in a fresh, undiluted way. It is good for a writer (and an artist) to keep that childlike view of the world and be a careful observer of people and things around them. To see things in an original and unusual way is essential to creativity.
I used to have a lovely teacher, Mr Dobbs, when I was eight, who did a lot of artwork, writing and nature work with us. He greatly enhanced my love of the natural world, which has stayed with me through the years.
4. How does where you live affect your work?
I live inside a beautiful Country Park in Nottinghamshire overlooking two lakes surrounded by trees and wildlife. It is like a green oasis within the rush of the town. Usually it is quiet. I need quietness to think and be creative. As a lover of wildlife I am forever watching the birds and animals around me and I’m sure it invades my soul.
5. What are your specific projects for the future?
I was to have an exhibition at Arnold Library in Nottingham during June this year, but I’ve had to step down and cancel it, because I had a bad M.E. relapse.
Christian Aid, in their recent report, believes one billion people in the world could be forced to leave their homes over the next fifty years as the effects of climate change worsen. More and more people are expected to be affected by water shortages, sea level rises, deteriorating pasture land, conflicts and famine.
Leonardo Di Caprio produced and narrated the documentary ‘The 11th Hour’, which was unveiled at The Cannes Film Festival. It stresses that mankind must change and transform its approach to the environment if we are to avoid imminent catastrophe.
If the artist and writer is a sensitive reflection of the world around her/him, then it is inevitable that themes for their work will be how the environment, and the people in it, is changing e.g. pollution of water, drying up of rivers, pollution of land, erasing of forests, air pollution, increase in the ozone layer, the melting of the Polar Caps and it continues...
Being creative is a way of solving problems and artists, writers, film makers and scientists together can use their gifts for the betterment, transformation and salvation of mankind.
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Interview by Amparo Arrospide, Editor, Poetry Life and Times © June 2007
Vivien Steels’ website “Talking Paint” is @ "http://www.freewebs.com/viviensteels"