Interview: Scottish poet David Kinloch on his new collection

By Émer O’Toole

David Kinloch discusses his new collection, In Search of Dustie-Fute, which gives groups of historically marginalised groups – women, LGBT people – back a voice.

In his search for Dustie-Fute, David looks back to where he started out as a poet and where he is now. But what – or who – is Dustie-Fute? David first came across the term in an old Scots dictionary 20 years ago. Dustie-Fute was a peddler, a vagrant in the middle ages and used to go from one fair to another to sell his wares and entertain the crowds. “There was always a kind of entertainment angle to what he did so he was a singer, a musician and for me in that context he became a kind of figure of Orpheus who in Greek mythology was the singer/poet par excellence,” David explains

In this collection David looks back to where he started off as a poet as his first collection was called Dustie-Fute (year). He says his new collection shows the transition from how he used myth when he started out as a poet “and how it has changed in the intervening period.” “It’s an attempt I suppose to apply that same myth to particular aspects of contemporary life that trouble me, that worry me today.”

The book goes back to the Parisian floods in 1910 and starts with a giraffe witnessing what seems to be the end of the world before drowning. David says this is “a humourous inversion of an aspect of the Orphic myth” and is about “what we’re doing to the planet.” “We spend so much time navel gazing about Brexit and things like that, and for me the most important thing is our stewardship of the planet and the way that we are neglecting that.”

David uses the myth of Orpheus’ descent into the underworld to rescue Eurydice. Orpheus is told by the king of hades not to look back but he does and he loses Eurydice as a result. This sense of loss is explored in the LGBT poems in the collection. These were inspired by an LGBT exhibition David saw in Washington that displayed paintings by and of LGBT people from the end of the nineteenth century until now. Many of the paintings in the exhibition were of gay men who died of AIDS. David says AIDS was a “pretty important event” for him when he was growing up as a gay man in the 1970s. “It kind of totally altered my relationship to my friends and my lovers. We’re about thirty years on from those events now and for me it’s a time to look back on that particular period of my life and try to make some kind of sense of it. I suppose my poetry is a way for me to make sense of the experiences that I’ve lived through and I find that particular myth of Orpheus a way of looking obliquely at these contemporary important issues.”

David says he has always felt an obligation to engage with current events in his poetry but thinks this is “slightly ironic” because he doesn’t think people often view his work in this way. He believes this obligation stems from the lack of LGBT figures to identify with when he was growing up. “I had to go away to Paris really to find myself as an individual”, he explains. “The personal and the political have been intimately connected in my life from when I became an adult and so I’ve always felt that it’s part of my job is to write about these things, however obliquely.” However, David stresses that he doesn’t believe all poets have to weave politics into their work. “Other people will have other views but for me there’s always been a political-social dimension to what I try to do.”

David is believes dealing with contemporary issues in poetry also has its downside. “The danger with writing very directly about for example global warming or Brexit or AIDS or whatever is that you fall into cliché very easily because everybody talks about these subjects on a day to day basis it’s difficult sometimes to approach them in a very direct way. You have to find a specific angle, a particular kind of music in order to finesse them to give them a kind of resonance I suppose.”

He believes this resonance can be achieved by using myth. “Myth confers resonance on the everyday and lifts it up and displays it to people so they can see it in a fresh way.” However, while In Search of Dustie-Fute invests in myth, it is also critical of it in the biblical poems. “If you apply myth without a sense of humour, without a sense of irony then it can become kind of pretentious and I think that I’ve tried to counterbalance that and tried to be aware of it.”

In Search of Dustie-Fute is out now.


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