Godefroy Dronsart is a French poet and musician currently living in the Parisian suburbs and maintaining a sense of self-teaching British literature. His work has been published in various magazines such as the Belleville Park Pages, PostBLANK, Lunar Poetry, Paris Lit Up, and others. He is a former host and curator of the Poets Live reading series alongside Malik Crumpler. His first chapbook, The Manual, is available now from Sweat Drenched Press. Part of his musical work can be found on Bandcamp under the name Ozone Grass
Godefroy, can you define poetry? What is it to you?
Hah, a banging question right off the start! I don’t think I can define poetry, but I can say what it means to me. I think poetry is the literary space in which langage can be as free as we want it to be. It’s the place where the text as space, the word as spell, the intimate voice and the formal experiment are all possible. I like the fact that in poetry you can shed any sense of expectation. You can do plot if you want, but you don’t have to, you can be lyrical, but you don’t have to. It’s very much a playground, a magic circle. Everytime a poet sits down to write they chart the outside of the little temenos of this moment. And the reader is invited to sit down within it and to stay as long as they want.
If I were describing your collection, The Manual, I might use words like challenging, innovative, and creative. To what extent do you agree or disagree with these?
They’re all good adjectives, so I would be a fool to disagree with them! I don’t know how challenging it is to the reader, but it certainly is for me. I found myself a bit silly when friends would ask me ‘Oh you’ve got a book out? Cool! What’s it about?’ and my answer would be ‘I don’t know.’ Or someone asked ‘Oh great your first chapbook! Is it poems?’, ‘I don’t know.’ It’s a challenging work to categorise because although for ease of use we can present it as a poetry chapbook, it’s very hybrid. I cannibalised bits and pieces from other poems and drafts but you can’t really take a piece out. It’s the same kind of book a manual is. In a way it’s not very creative – I took a manual I was reading through at the time for an electronic instrument and thought what if I wrote one of these – only the manual has no object? And then of course past the first pages and the well-known rhetoric of manual-writing I had to decide on what kind of text it would become and it ended up being this.
Poetry, or more broadly art, provides ample room for originality, such as yours – but I am interested to know how you see this piece of work. Where would you place this text in literary history?
Well it’s very much experimental and doesn’t try to follow any pre-existing artistic guideline. But I can’t escape the people who made my writing what it is. My spouse said she found it to be a very surrealist text. I’m in love with prety much all of modernism so she can’t be wrong about that. All I know is that I liked the idea enough to push through it in ten days before the submission deadline for the press I wanted to send it to closed! I remember Zak, the editor of Sweat Drenched Press, emphasised the comedy of the book. Other people called it part game part civil disobedience manifesto. I think it’s fascinating how it garners these different opinions.
Can you give the reader some background? What was the inspiration for this collection?
Well a friend of mine sent me the website of Sweat Drenched Press. They had a submission call closing in ten days for an experimental chapbook series. I had poems and ideas for chapbooks, but looking at SDP, I didn’t think it would fit their aesthetic. And I loved their strange aesthetic so I definitely wanted to submit something. I had just started to play around with a small drum synthesiser from Moog, which comes with a great user manual. So one sleepless night the idea came – write a manual, but it’s only about itself, but not really. I was also getting really interested in a subset of tabletop role-playing games called the OSR – Old School Revival, which used (among a lot of other things) a number of random tables to generate events, characters, plots, items. The last pages of The Manual come from this. I thought that as a reader, I often receive an aesthetic experience. But reading this synth manual, I wasn’t just passive or contemplative – the text talked to me directly. Do this, be warned about that. Try this. Now try this and study the difference. And I wondered how would an art book reproduce that. How do you shift the position of the reader. But this is not a new idea: gamebooks do it. If you’ve played a choose-your-own-adventure book, like Fighting Fantasy, you’ve engaged in an interactive narrative experience. I wanted to see if I could take lessons from these pop forms and use them in a very different artistic context.
I think that your work in The Manual has a definite self-awareness, is this intentional?
I would say so. The book presents itself as a book and does not want you to forget that you are holding a book. The artist for the cover, Reverse Brackets, said when he read it that it was a hypnosis spell. I liked that. I think part of the ambition I had was to write something that wouldn’t take you out of your surroundings, nothing escapist, but on the other hand which you slightly maybe change your view of the surrounding reality. Sounds like a load of pretentious bollocks said like this, but I’d be lying if I were to say that the book wasn’t influenced by magical procedures and occult culture.
What would you say to somebody who might dispute this being called poetry? Indeed, you go as far as to write, ‘The purpose of this book is purely educational and/ should not be mistaken for any artistic endeavour.’
Honestly, anyone who might dispute this being called poetry would have a great point. It’s more poetry than anything else, I think? But it’s not a book of poems. I don’t even know if it is a poem itself. Some parts are more recognisably poetic than others, some are not. It’s as close to poetry as an installation is to painting or sculpture, in a way. As for that quote, well, you probably should trust what the manual says. Why wouldn’t you? It’s a simple manual.
You have made brave language and form choices, but there are discernible, perhaps more traditional, poetic elements to be found with the text, I particularly like the lines, ‘The ghost of a voice’ and ‘With eyes opened or closed, mouth open or closed,/ stick your hands deep inside the carcass of a deer or a/ bull’. With this in mind, how would you encourage readers to approach this publication?
I don’t know how they should approach it, it would be grand if people were to approach my tiny and strange book at all! But you’re right, and that connects to the previous question. I had never written anything like this before, and I come from a background of writing poems. So I could not do without these moments. They’re much closer to traditional free verse, for sure. Prose is a cool way to connect the book to what it isn’t – a simple way of conveying information – but right now I can’t write without the inkling that language is at heart an incantation. And that can’t happen without verse in my opinion. As guidance though, I would offer the idea of treating the book like a book you found by accident. Can’t hurt to open it. It’s only a manual.
What was the last book/record you bought?
That’s a particularly well-timed question considering the shopping spree I just went on … The two new books I just received are Portable Darkness, an Aleister Crowley reader, and the Myth and Metamorphosis Anthology from Penteract Press. I’m becoming a massive fan of Penteract. They’re a small press with a vision and their vision nourishes me greatly. Last records I bought were the latest Ibibio Sound Machine album, Doko Mien, and a dungeon synth release from Gnoll, Mörk Borg. First one is a super-fun mixture of funk, disco, new wave and rock, while the second is an ominous electronic album. Got a massive wishlist on Bandcamp though …
Is there a correlation between your writing and your music?
Inevitably there is, but while in music I mainly deal with improvisation or semi-improvisation, I’m much more of a control freak in writing. I come from an academic background and that can often sabotage the view one has of one’s writing. But the original impulse is often very similar. Usually a first draft will happen with a line or two, and it’s these words that guide the rest of the poem, through sound and meaning. I’m starting to consider these drafts like sound design sessions : they’re not automatic writing, and I definitely edit as I write, but more and more I don’t sacralise the writing. Whatever came out can become a poem or maybe will help the growth of a second text later on. Maybe it’s just a bag of images I can draw from later.
What is next for Godefroy Dronsart?
A lot, I hope! I’ve got at least three more book ideas in the works. All of them are pretty conceptual, but since I dont write individual poems with a plan, I found that starting with a clear idea of the organisation of a manuscript helps to track progress and to have ideas boiling in the cerebral cauldron. I want to play more with the idea of gamebook poetry, to use the tools given by text treatment software to a broader extent, and just to read more, write more and submit more!
The Manual is available now.