I was tagged by fantastic poet and all-round nice guy Matt Merritt to take part in the ongoing blog project The Next Big Thing. A writer answers a series of questions on an existing or forthcoming book, and then tags four other writers to do the same thing on their blog (or other Internet venue of choice!). You can read Matt’s interview here. I’m shockingly late with mine, but better late than never, right?
Where did the idea for the book come from?
Fit To Work: Poets Against Atos is an online ‘rolling’ anthology that I’m editing, as we speak, with Sophie Mayer and Daniel Sluman. The idea has been gradually becoming more concrete over the last year or so. It's a culmination of the seemingly endless news articles, experiences of good friends and colleagues, and petitions and campaigns which I’ve come across over the last two years. Countless individuals and organisations (including in the poetry world) have protested the Coalition’s welfare reforms already, but I felt it was time that specific attention was given to Atos, the firm employed by the government to assess disability and capability for work on behalf of the DWP.
Under the government's witch hunt for ‘skivers’, Atos has been wreaking havoc. Our message: end the Atos contract, end it now, and, if the system was broke in the first place (I have my doubts), at least rethink the reforms directly and negatively affecting the disabled and sick. The poets contributing to FTW are joining a protest which has been relegated to the disabled community for too long. On one hand, the damage is being done among the disabled and the chronically sick; but on the other, an intelligent, nuanced and compassionate welfare system is something we, the people, should be rallying to protect. We can’t afford to dismiss any kind of oppression as a ‘special interest group’ concern. Oppression is everyone’s issue. I guess the project is part of my ongoing need to see whether poetry can make something happen.
What genre does your book fall in?
Poetry and political protest writing, in a similar vein to other political poetry anthologies, like Emergency Verse: Poetry in defence of the Welfare State, The Robin Hood Book: Verse Versus Austerity, Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot, and Binders Full of Women. I wanted to include both known, practicing poets, and people who wrote as a hobby but were directly affected and wanted to speak out publically. I also wanted to build myself a bridge from the ‘poetry community’ into the disability arts community, since the anti-Atos voice screaming the loudest is (naturally but frustratingly) that of disabled and chronically ill people.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I might find some way of answering this question when I know which poems we have. Fit To Work: The Movie. I’ll definitely keep it in mind.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Cripple-poet-editor gets angry, and gathers an army of other poets to sharpen their tools, don their anon masks, paint their signs and go on a proetest march.
How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?
We created a Facebook group, to gather an initial number of submissions to launch with, before Christmas. The deadline for that ‘first wave’ is February 15th. But as it's a rolling anthology online, it will hopefully be an organic and evolving process with updates made to the site as we go along, as more people want to get involved. We’ve already had great support from Disability Arts Online and are working on eventually having an e-book or print book to represent the project.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’ve already answered that, probably. Erm… OK, how’s this? The Triune Muse of Anger, Despair and Hope.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Being online, I’m hoping that these poems will be accessible to various audiences, particularly disabled people who use assistive technology and software to read books. That’s something a lot of the e-book vs. print book debate has missed, I think. Ultimately the debate shouldn’t be about what shape a ‘real book’ is, but how many people are able to access literature, and, in this case, who is given a voice to protest and who is made to sit up and hear it. And the book isn't all explicit angry-punk-protest; there will also be exciting and beautiful approaches to poetry by disabled people, and about the disabled body and experience.
Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?
I'm probably repeating myself, but it will begin life as an online ‘rolling anthology’, eventually becoming a database of those ‘fit to work’ against ruthless welfare reform, but specifically Atos’ part in it (and by extension, all outsourced private firms helping to contribute to the problems as reported by, say, Panorama). We are looking into the idea of eventually having an e-book and / or print anthology, possibly representing a selection of the best of the work we featured during FTW’s online incarnation. Or we might just chuck everything in. We’ll see.
The writers I'm planning to tag are: