Wave Caps is the debut collection of poetry and short stories written by former Hackney Gazette journalist Miguel Cullen and designed by artist Alix Janta-Polczynski.
Here the avant-garde poet talks to Hackney Citizen about his Argentine roots and the breadth of his references – from the dust of Agrippa to black Nike golfing gloves – as well as the performance instinct of poetry
Spanish sounds and words fill Wave Caps. Could you tell me a bit about your background, and the influence of language on your work?
My father comes from Argentina, he moved over in the 1970s to work as a live-in Freudian psycho-analyst in a commune in Gospel Oak. My family out there are from the Provincia de Buenos Aires, and much of my writing is taken from my life out there, working when I was younger, during a difficult personal period for me. I was born and grown here in the UK, but studied Spanish at university and have been bilingual since birth. I read a lot in Spanish and talk a lot with my dad in Spanish, who loves reading.
I’m not native Spanish, but I think and write in Spanish, and in poetry, the natural voice speaks lines or fragments of lines to me very lucidly.
You used to write for the Hackney Gazette. How is it different writing poetry?
Yes I had a brief time at the Hackney Gazette, after longer work at other local London papers. I find that news writing is very much a discipline, but with poetry you have to be just as true to the facts of your reality as much as a news writer is true to the facts of the story.
What is your day job now?
I am arts editor for the Catholic Herald, in Moorgate. It’s very different from the rest of the free-lancing I do, which is for culture publications like Vice and Wonderland, and elsewhere, as well as being a full-time poet.
In ‘Gravediggaz – Niggamortis’ you write: “We are all sepulchred on cypress hills, tombed/ Like fingers in black Nike golfing gloves.” Could you try and describe juxtapostion between modern idiom and ancient civilisation in your work?
There’s a performance attitude to my writing, so when I mention people wearing one Nike black golfing glove, which was a trend at drum & bass raves, it’s part of my references, just as Agrippa returning to Rome in ashes, which I do later in the poem is, which I took from a Turner painting at the Tate Britain.
Equally the performance instinct in poetry, which may provoke harsher juxtapositions, is just as real an instinct as the description of ‘everyday truths’ that are prevalent in contemporary poetry. I’d definitely say I’m in the ‘avant-garde’ bracket of contemporary poetry, and this leads to images that are utterly opposite, to the point of being incomprehensible – I think I’m being led vaguely in that direction now.
The narrators of your poems often have a wistfulness for Argentina, but also a love of London. Does this reflect in some way your own displacement between the two?
Yes – indeed some of the love I have for reggae, drum & bass and hip hop comes from a love of minority cultures that I have through my lack of connection on a basic level with one of my mother countries.
My brother and I have always gravitated towards music that is exciting, vibrant, more kinetic, like hip hop, reggae, dancehall, reggaeton, all that, perhaps because we’re drawn to it through that. My last poem ‘Citoyen Des Deux Mondes’ talks of the “Talkers that step out of the hand” of the King, the talkers who were created by the way the British Empire took us. We’re Spanish, but the African and Asian diaspora still talk to me. As the sample in the book, the audio element, which is taken from Hackney then-pirate radio station Kool FM, goes to show.
The book, designed, bound and with collages by Alix Janta-Polczynski, is published by Odilo Press, a poetry platform founded by the two. odilo-press.com/shop/wave-caps
The dad’s eyes were withered like fingerprints spurting out of control
His nose was like a hard-on through a stocking hat
His round frames were dodecahedrons clicking into place
Like the Terminator or the missing suspension of a psychotic
He looked like an Iranian living in High Street Ken
And his daughter, with skin like leaves
And lipstick like the small type of nipple-colour
We were graduating in the class of BA Hons 2014
We were my brother.
So now I understand, the place where the daughters of the rich
Middle-class people go. They go where we go.
It’s boring but it’s what I thought.
Being classless is being out of control of being out of control
About being like you,
Like you, and everything that is outside you that isn’t me and isn’t you
Doesn’t kill me yet, because today I’m with you.