An Interview with Brian Aldiss
Brian Aldiss is the author of over sixty books, including Hothouse, the Helliconia trilogy and the story ‘Supertoys Last All Summer Long’, which was adapted for cinema by Steven Spielberg. Here he talks to Kerry Lagan about T S Eliot, Paul Gauguin and his new poetry collection Mortal Morning.
What does the term ‘Mortal Morning’ signify for you?
It’s a piece of onomatopoeia, which is attractive, yet there is much contrast between the hopeful ‘morning’ and the less hopeful ‘mortal’. A good functional title, easy to pronounce and possibly memorable.
How long have you spent working on this collection?
The collection has simply accumulated. ‘At the Caligula Hotel’ was written long ago, possibly in the sixties. A selection of my poems were published in 1995, entitled At the Caligula Hotel. The poems about favourite artists are only two or three years old, and were designed to accompany my pictorial imitations of the authors involved, for a Christmas gift booklet I sent to friends, entitled You’re Getting Terribly Blonde Lately. The various poems elicited by my wife’s illness and death date from 1998. Antigone’s song, ‘Who knows where my thoughts may lead me’, comes from my opera, Oedipus on Mars (still unperformed). One or two poems have Greek origins; ‘Monemvasia’ was put together there, and on more than one occasion. Of course, several poems have scientific backgrounds. ‘Flight 063’ for instance.
Would you attribute a certain mood or motif to Mortal Morning?
Most are simply serious, some didactic. Yes, but some are humorous. I write when I have something to say – perhaps a new perception. Much as many of my short stories materialise from obscure mental coastlines.
With such a long-spanning career, do you still feel excited about producing new work?
Writing is such a pleasure – a labour, but a distinct pleasure. When you wake in the morning and sit on the side of the bed, scratching yourself, instead of thinking that your back hurts or your legs ache, you have a little inspiration, ‘Oh, yes, after that line about the moth you ought to say – so and so . . .’ and you feel terribly pleased, because the act of creation, however small, is always pleasing. You go downstairs, get yourself a mug of coffee and switch on the Apple.
How does the cover painting incorporate what this collection is about?
Search me. I just thought it was a jolly, rather grand isolée. Isolées are what I do. Colourful.
Which poem was your most challenging to create?
April in East Coker, perhaps, where T S Eliot is buried. I knew Eliot.
Do any particular visual artists inspire your poetry?
Gauguin, G B Tiepolo, Kandinsky. I’ve been crazy about all three at various periods. Gauguin in particular. The recent exhibition at Tate Modern revived my old feeling for him.
Which is your favourite poem in Mortal Morning?
The Cat improvement Co. I had it made into a poster. Or maybe the Gauguin poem.
What is your view on the current state of science-fiction literature and film?
Too childish, much of it, and much of it too violent. But I’m afloat from it and not really a good judge any more (as I was when I wrote Billion Year Spree). But look out for clever Finches of Mars, due for next year, I believe.