INTERVIEW WITH STEVE FINBOW
INTERVIEW WITH STEVE FINBOW
Photo by Karolina Urbaniak
A short interview with the remarkable writer, Steve Finbow. I first encountered his work on necrophilia, Grave Desire, and then discovered he had already written a bio of Allen Ginsberg. Out of the blue I found out he’s friends with the remarkable artistic duo, Martin Bladh and Karolina Urbaniak, who run the amazing Infinity Land Press. His last book was a collaboration with Karolina, Death Mort Tod: A European Book of the Dead, a superb book, which I cannot recommend highly enough.
(I recently interviewed Martin and Karolina on their series of Artaud publications which can be found here.)
Check out his publications -
I discovered Ballard in my teens when the film Crash came out and I was too young to go to the cinema so I read the book. He spoke of his obsessions as an impetus for his work. What are your obsessions or recurring themes?
I grew up five miles from where Ballard lived – Old Charlton Road in Shepperton – so I knew Ballard’s topography, cycled its roads, watched planes land and depart, walked around the reservoirs. I think I was about eighteen when I summoned up the courage – or had quaffed enough pints of lager – to phone Mr. Ballard (his number was in the book) to ask him for an interview. He was very polite but declined, saying that he had a deadline – no doubt with a large glass of scotch and soda. So I took to walking past his house with its yellow door and overgrown front garden, hoping to catch a glimpse through the dingy net curtains of Jim or at least his reproductions of Paul Delvaux’s ‘The Violation’ and ‘The Mirror’, apt descriptions of Ballard’s prose with its doubles and perversions, its violence and psychological/pathological reflection. My obsessions stem from my early interest in Surrealism – dreams, orgasms, immanence, chance, violence. I was about fourteen when I became interested in Magritte, Ernst, Carrington… and then punk started and then post-punk and industrial and so it all melded together into an obsession with nightmares, paraphilia, death and I found these primarily through writers like Nietzsche, Genet, Burroughs, Ballard, Kavan. So there was a cross-threading of music, literature and art. I was very pretentious and would walk around with Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen sticking out of my pocket, drinking cans of Skol Special Strength because the colour of the can matched the book cover.
Let’s talk a bit about necrophilia. Why fuck the dead?
I don’t think many people have. As far as I can tell through my research, it’s a case of proximity, ritual or psychopathology. It is, arguably, the greatest taboo – even more so than paedophilia or zoophilia. Strange, because there is no real victim. The dead body is merely a receptacle of semen – vaginal secretions in Karen Greenlee’s case – and fantasy. I’m interested in borderline morality and the breaching of rules, not only with regards to sex but also with art – Malevich and Warhol, poetry – Khlebnikov and Mac Low, music – Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse. People ask why I wrote Grave Desire and it was because I wanted to read about it but could only find legal and/or medical texts on the subject.
One of the things I’m always entranced by with your work is the sheer diversity of influences. I come from the poetry world, where schoolism is a real thing 🤮. I wonder what prompted you to ignore or even fight against sitting nicely in one school of thought…
Well, as you can see from above, I’ve been influenced my many artists. But I don’t really believe in schools. Take the Beats – the writings of Burroughs, Kerouac and Ginsberg are completely unalike. Politically, Burroughs and Kerouac were poles apart. Like necrophilia, schools have to do with proximity – usually an anthology or a group show – so the New York school of poets, abstract expressionism, pop art. I dismiss categorisation. I don’t want a ‘voice,’ I want millions of voices. I don’t want to just write fiction or nonfiction or poetry or essays, I want to be able to write in all forms. It’s a very British thing to pigeonhole an artist to work in a singular genre – “form is never more than an extension of content” – as Charles Olson argued. I’m equally influenced by Clark Coolidge as I am by E. M. Cioran, by Captain Beefheart as I am by Cabaret Voltaire, by Caravaggio as I am by Luc Tuymans. Fuck schoolism.
Have your obsessions turned into a methodology for you?
Do you mean, have I applied my theory for practical purposes? No. Fantasy – be it sexual, violent, artistic – is the realm in which I play out my obsessions. This is from where my writing stems – as in the case of Grave Desire – I’ll think of a subject I’m interested in – necrophilia, illness and creativity, sadomasochism, happiness (believe it or not) – and then look for works on these subjects. If I can’t find anything that fulfils my fantasy about the subject, then I will write about it, as in my next published work The Mindshaft (coming soon from Amphetamine Sulphate). So, yes, in that way, my obsession turns to methodology but, no, I haven’t been breaking into cemeteries late at night with a crowbar and a tube of lube.
Your book on Ginsberg – who is Ginsberg to you?
I was very lucky to work for Allen. Right time, right place. I’m not a great admirer of his poetry – I prefer more experimental writing – but as a writer and a human being, there are not many who are more hard-working and generous. Allen gave freely of his time and advice. And also, through Allen, I met a lot of my heroes. It was a remarkable time – 1989-1990 – I lived in Harlem and then 13th street and 6th Avenue, it was before gentrification in Manhattan – great bars, White Horse, Kettle of Fish, Grassroots and Chumley’s where, on a visit fifteen years after I had left NYC, a girlfriend spotted my name signed on a board on display with the signatures of Faulkner, Dos Passos, Kerouac and Mailer. Looks like the pretentiousness hadn’t gone away. Still hasn’t.
I loved the book of the dead you did with Karolina. Obvs death has been a long-term obsession with me. Being immersed in the histories of death – how did that shape your understanding?
Through illness. I’ve been close to death on at least six occasions. At one point, while
embolising my gastroduodenal and then my splenic artery, the surgeon shouted “Fuck!” When I regained consciousness, he told me if they hadn’t stopped the multiple aneurysms, I would have had ten minutes to live. I’ve also been in numerous comas because of my type-1 diabetes, a notable one while I was living in Chitose, Hokkaido, Japan. So I was interested in death anyway through my artistic interests and then through experience. I’ll quote Simon Critchley here, ‘For human beings, time comes to an end with our death. Therefore, if we want to understand what it means to be an authentic human being, then it is essential that we constantly project our lives onto the horizon of our death. This is what Heidegger famously calls “being-towards-death”. If our being is finite, then an authentic human life can only be found by confronting finitude and trying to make a meaning out of the fact of our death. Heidegger subscribes to the ancient maxim that “to philosophise is to learn how to die”. Mortality is that in relation to which we shape and fashion our selfhood.’ But I would also say “morality” and “art” in relation to how we shape our selfhood. Death Mort Tod was a long project and Karolina Urbaniak created some amazing images to go along with my text and I think it works in its discussion and projection of mortality, morality and art and the transgression of all three.
What else would you like to say about yourself and your work?
At a time when seemingly everyone is either writing or contemplating writing a book, for the first time in fifteen years, I am not writing one. The Mindshaft will be out later this year. I have a novella in a science-fiction anthology (also Amphetamine Sulphate) published later in 2020, maybe a trilogy of sci-fi novellas linked to that as well. I have a huge novel The Tokyo Dead sitting with my agent. I am researching something that will be called Being & Happiness (no italics yet) and copying up twenty-five years of notes on William Burroughs, which at the current rate will be over one thousand pages in length. I’m also enjoying writing introductions, afterwords and blurbs for people and contributing shorter stuff for journals and magazines.
Thanks for asking.
heave and plunge: atoms
colliding converging collapsing camouflaging contaminating;
the urge to destroy
is a creative one, as seen on
a street wall and
signed by Filth; between the fresh sheets of
newspapers we stumbled upon fragments
of mendacities; after
all that, it has come to this; your writing
is already being
considered for a posthumous award;
it might bring some
comfort to make a list of the things
we will not do
ever, ever, ever; nothing
seems to be rising
from the ashes
of societal expectations; you had always
wished for a life
lived dangerously, and look at you
today; they even cancelled
the journey I embarked upon to meet
my fate; this time
I am planning to finish
Dead Souls; the prevailing
comprises a solitary
cyclist, a single van,
a secluded child; as you recite Eliot
by heart, there is clearly
on your mind;
we will probably never
meet again, at least
in our present state; I can be found
in my red room
for the conceivable
future; in any case, sex
was already performed in
self-isolation; no one must mention
the/this war; explain
what you mean
by fulfilment; more fiction than
would have thought; from this moment
on, we will need to live off
who we once were;
it is not a plight but
one more plight among many
plights; the memory
along the elm-lined lane
as to tomorrow, it is
have they signed
Isabel del Rio is a poet, a fiction writer and an extremely amateur photographer and artist. She is the editor of the independent imprint Friends of Alice Publishing, with the aim of creating some kind of wonderland to which to escape to one day.
I’m sitting on the closed lid of the toilet replying to messages
my daughter is in the bath drinking bath water using upturned
Lego pieces as cups which she is double fisting
I am ignoring her to write this poem which I am writing to avoid
replying to friends I first messaged to try and keep up with
only to get replies which demand more replies and the nightmare continues
I am writing to avoid my total lack of velvet or capsule wardrobe
my memeless empty mouth roof how at my core I am a seaplane taking off for nowhere Kim Kardashian in the passenger seat and the pilot
is the inflatable autopilot from Airplane! my daughter is submerging
and rescuing a plastic octopus slide over and over and she runs
to the bottom of the staircase when I walk down it and shouts ‘hooray!’
but one day she will understand that I am a dry blank bathroom
a driverless vehicle she will know and there will be nothing I can do about it
Amy Acre is the editor of Bad Betty Press, and the author of two pamphlets: And They Are Covered in Gold Light and Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads, each chosen as a PBS Pamphlet Choice.
In the swimming pool I spat out something red. I looked at it a while and then forgot it. If we look at all the intellectual undertakings of humankind, as far as they’ve been recorded all over the world, the common denominator is always to introduce some kind of order. It’s extremely important to find out if there’s a difference and, if there is, what kind of difference between traditions collected from the outside from those collected on the inside, though as if they were collected from the outside.
This story, despite my best efforts, freed an anguished memory that had been haunting me ever since the world began. An alienated human subject is born, a silence gifted with speech, oscillating between unthinking unity and reflective dislocation. Body and soul at war.
Life consists of burning up questions. Desire comprehends blindly by linking body to body. There can be no potentiality where there was no expectation. You who have nothing left must nevertheless find something to eat and drink to build up your strength for endurance and yet more endurance in the teeth of all possible logic. You’ve said what you’ve said, that is all, that is enough. These moments are candles to be snuffed out until the dark swamp out of which you crawled reclaims you in a process not dissimilar to digestion or entrapment. You’ve loved all the wrong things, but the dust that’s thickened on every surface of your worthless past can be made to shine if the timing is right and the downdraft of an angel’s wing is allowed to disturb the fine covering of grit that kept you alive this long. Crows land on your face, refuse to move, refuse to be silent, too. Their chorus gives you nightmares, but the alternative reality provided by these nightmares is a comfort, a blanket, that allows you to continue breathing despite your best efforts to expire without fuss and cover your tracks with the flight feathers with which all of us are born and few retain beyond puberty. As the waters rise, you realise there is no one here to teach you how to swim.
You’ve tried to kill the heart many times, but it stubbornly refuses to die. That battered little muscle keeps reaching out for something, not even him, necessarily, the object of your love, for didn’t he treat it with such cavalier disregard sometimes it made you doubt that this is love at all. But still your imbecile heart sits with arms outstretched, pleading.
As forests burn, so does your heart; that heart you plucked from the cosmos at random and used to give some substance to the candyfloss that rotted your teeth and left you standing at bus stops in the dead of night offering blow jobs to any passing man. The wave isn’t complete until it’s dissipated on the shore.
After you’ve fucked under a sky of timeless time, eruptions, interruptions, the insignificance of lust, you will replay each kiss, each position, each moan, recalling the ecstasy on his face as you both got exactly what you wanted.
I’m aware of dangerous forces lurking within me. The appetite for singularity and the attraction of the forbidden.
You realise that you will always throw love out of the window for you know too well what comes afterwards, when it fails. The carnage. Your wisdom is as spurned as chaos. The body a treasure to be squandered.
Your tiredness and isolation balance each other, alleviated and aggravated in equal measure. He leaves. Leaving holes in a text is a form of seduction. Mystery is the clarity you’ve found. Beyond the extinction of human life lies what? The promise to do better? A comedown is the price of every high just as grief is the price of every love. The only conclusion I can draw is that the whole world has gone mad. This thought strangely soothes me.
During the Mercuralia, merchants sprinkled water from his sacred well near the Porta Capena on their heads.
Graceful, clever, and quick, he makes me feel slower than a glacier. Eyes black and unfathomable as a phone screen. I see infinity if I look too long into those inscrutable eyes. I feel exposed to their gaze, like he can see me in a way that I can’t see myself. What do those eyes see when they look at me?
How could one today approach the question of how to live an ethical life? How much can you tell about a person from the size of the lines of coke they rack out?
N leads you and S to a hollowed out tree where you each have a shot of g and a hit on the pipe. N pulls down his trackie bottoms and squats to release a pool of pearly cum and lube that glows amongst the autumned leaves, which makes all three of you laugh. Then you link live location on your phones and separate. What is queer if not a way of being that is radically, violently, at odds with the norm?
Let me repeat, none of this has any real meaning.
Jonathan Kemp lives & works in London. His first novel London Triptych won the Authors' Club Best First Novel Award.
HAIBUN/UNCERTAINTY/A PROMISE TO YOUR CLOTHES/
You are making catacombs of your other life. Each drawer droops out its lip, swallows its meal of unnecessary things – a misting of loose-limbed tights, stubs of lipstick, any shoe with giddy heels. Dresses hang in the wardrobe’s tomb, flat as ghosts, null without a body to bloat them. Scents of occasion linger the folds – perfume, smoke, pale hints of sweat. You look your necklaces straight in their spangled eyes. I will wear you again. Touch the core of pain at the centre of your chest. This is the hole where your mother used to be. There is no way of knowing whether she is living or dead. Your brothers nest in the trunk of your throat – dawn, they hatch from your aviary mouth, wing your breath like a sometime memory of birds. You have forgotten where you buried the sound of your father’s voice. Your sister is thirty eight years old. You have never seen the way time has made a stranger of her face.
Night wields its blunt tool
though you remember the smell
of her newborn hair
Jane Burn's poems and stories have been published in a wide variety of magazines and anthologies, placed in many competitions and nominated for the Forward and Pushcart Prize. Her latest collection Yan, Tan, Tether is available from Indigo Dreams.
THE DEATH OF ALEISTER CROWLEY
Hastings and St. Leonards Observer, Saturday, 6th December, 1947
At 11am on Saturday, 1st December, 1947, Aleister Crowley died (in Room 13 of Netherwood, a Hastings guest house) of myocardial degeneration, aggravated by chronic bronchitis, aged 72.
Aleister Crowley in bed in Room 13, Netherwood, Hastings
Perhaps not surprisingly, given Aleister Crowley’s infamous reputation, there are a number of differing accounts of Crowley’s death. These include:
‘He was well taken care of. I made him have a nurse about 3 months ago as he was dirty and neglected and he had Watson who was most devoted and the Symonds were as nice as they knew how to be. At the last Mrs MacAlpine and the boy were there. I saw him the day he died, but he did not recognise me. I think Mrs. MacAlpine was with him but she says there was no struggle, just stopped breathing. I shall miss him terribly. An irreplaceable loss.’
Letter from Frieda Harris to Frederic Mellinger
7th December, 1947
‘Frieda Harris told me that Crowley died unhappily and fearfully. She held his twitching hands while the tears flowed down his cheeks. “I am perplexed,” he said. She was not with him at the very end. A Mr Rowe was there; he was in the room with a nurse, and according to him, Crowley’s last words were: “Sometimes I hate myself.”’
The Beast 666, The Life of Aleister Crowley
Pindar Press, 1997, p585
‘Herr Ralph Tegtmeier, author and translator, and Chief of the Saturn-Gnosis Lodge of the OTO, claims that he saw a magical sign apparently drawn by Crowley on the external brickwork of Netherwood. He found it so disturbing that he wiped it away a dish-cloth – and the next day Crowley died.’
The Legacy of the Beast, The Life, Work and Influence of Aleister Crowley
W.H. Allen, 1988, p76
‘Deirdre Patricia MacAlpine, who was certainly at Netherwood at the time, has stated Frieda Harris was not present on the day Crowley died and that there were definitely no scenes of remorse and weeping or an unhappy and fearful death. According to her account the bedridden Great Beast was in good spirits, talking to her and the children on the day before he died. He passed away peacefully and at the moment of his death a gust of wind blew in the curtains and a clap of thunder was heard.’
Anthony Clayton and Gary Lachman
Netherwood: Last Resort of Aleister Crowley
Accumulator Press, 2017, p195
‘The Manager of Netherwood at that time, a gentleman whom I shall call Mr W.H., showed me what is probably Crowley’s last signature on the back of a laundry bill. One cannot discern any motive for lying in Mr W.H. He has never taken the slightest interest in occultism; he now earns his living as a chartered accountant; and when we met in the mid-seventies he was astounded to learn that Crowley had made a come-back and kept saying: “Well, I never.” According to Mr W.H., Crowley used to pace up and down his living room. One day the Beast was pacing and Mr W.H. was on the floor below, polishing furniture. Suddenly there was a crash. Mr W.H. went upstairs and entered Crowley’s rooms to find him dead on the floor.’
The Legacy of the Beast, The Life, Work and Influence of Aleister Crowley
W.H. Allen, 1988, p76
Aleister Crowley’s death certificate (3515105-2/DYD113986) gave his name as Edward Alexander Crowley; his age at death as 72 years; his occupation, author. Crowley’s death was certified by Hasting physician, William Magowan, MB. The cause of death was attributed to myocardial degeneration, aggravated by chronic bronchitis. There was an added note describing the deceased as a Chronic Heroin Addict’. The Informant of Crowley’s death was his friend, Herbert
Crowley’s funeral was held at a Brighton Cemetery crematorium on the afternoon of Friday, 5th December, 1947. About a dozen of Crowley’s friends attended. A number of newspaper reporters were also present. At 2.45pm, Crowley’s coffin was carried into the chapel and placed on the bier. Crowley’s friend, Louis Wilkinson read excerpts from Crowley’s The Book of the Law (which Crowley always maintained was his most important text):
49. I am in a secret fourfold word, the blasphemy against all gods of men.
50. Curse them! Curse them! Curse them!
51. With my Hawk's head I peck at the eyes of Jesus as he hangs upon the cross.
52. I flap my wings in the face of Mohammed & blind him.
53. With my claws I tear out the flesh of the Indian and the Buddhist, Mongol and Din.
54. Bahlasti! Ompehda! I spit on your crapulous creeds.
Bottom of Form
55. Let Mary inviolate be torn upon wheels: for her sake let all chaste women be utterly despised among you!
56. Also for beauty’s sake and love’s.
57. Despise also all cowards; professional soldiers who dare not fight, but play; all fools despise.
58. But the keen and the proud, the royal and the lofty; ye are my brothers!
59. As brothers fight ye!
60. There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt.
The Book of Law
Wilkinson also read Crowley’s most well-known poem, ‘Hymn to Pan’. Because of the readings, the funeral generated press controversy, and was labelled a Black Mass by some of the tabloids. An urn containing Crowley's ashes were sent to his successor, Karl Germer, the new head of the OTO, in the United States. Germer buried Crowley’s ashes in his garden in Hampton, New Jersey.
Hymn to Pan
Thrill with lissome lust of the light,
O man! My man!
Come careering out of the night
Of Pan! Io Pan!
Io Pan! Io Pan! Come over the sea
From Sicily and from Arcady!
Roaming as Bacchus, with fauns and pards
And nymphs and satyrs for thy guards,
On a milk-white ass, come over the sea
To me, to me!
Come with Apollo in bridal dress
(Shepherdess and pythoness)
Come with Artemis, silken shod,
And wash thy white thigh, beautiful god,
In the moon of the woods, on the marble mount,
The dimpled dawn of the amber fount!
Dip the purple of passionate prayer
In the crimson shrine, the scarlet snare,
The soul that startles in eyes of blue
To watch thy wantonness weeping through
The tangled grove, the gnarled bole
Of the living tree that is spirit and soul
And body and brain — come over the sea,
(Io Pan! Io Pan!)
Devil or god, to me, to me,
My man! my man!
Come with trumpets sounding shrill
Over the hill!
Come with drums low muttering
From the spring!
Come with flute and come with pipe!
Am I not ripe?
I, who wait and writhe and wrestle
With air that hath no boughs to nestle
My body, weary of empty clasp,
Strong as a lion and sharp as an asp —
Come, O come!
I am numb
With the lonely lust of devildom.
Thrust the sword through the galling fetter,
Give me the sign of the Open Eye,
And the token erect of thorny thigh,
And the word of madness and mystery,
O Pan! Io Pan!
Io Pan! Io Pan Pan! Pan Pan! Pan,
I am a man:
Do as thou wilt, as a great god can,
O Pan! Io Pan!
Io Pan! Io Pan Pan! I am awake
In the grip of the snake.
The eagle slashes with beak and claw;
The gods withdraw:
The great beasts come. Io Pan! I am borne
To death on the horn
Of the Unicorn.
I am Pan! Io Pan! Io Pan Pan! Pan!
I am thy mate, I am thy man,
Goat of thy flock, I am gold, I am god,
Flesh to thy bone, flower to thy rod.
With hoofs of steel I race on the rocks
Through solstice stubborn to equinox.
And I rave; and I rape and I rip and I rend
Everlasting, world without end,
Mannikin, maiden, Maenad, man,
In the might of Pan.
Io Pan! Io Pan Pan! Pan! Io Pan!
RJ Dent is a novelist, poet, translator, essayist and short story writer. He has translated Charles Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil (2009), and Le Comte de Lautréamont’s The Songs of Maldoror (illustrated by Salvadore Dali) (2011) to critical acclaim. His poems, short stories, novellas and essays continue to appear in numerous magazines and journals.