AP: Do you think you would have been a writer if you had stayed in Poland, and do you think your writing would have been the same?
AW: Well it’s interesting because my writing really began in Poland. I was sort of poet laureate of primary school. It was a very wonderful encouraging education. So that’s where the fairytale was given to me, in first grade, you know, for being a ‘good student’. And they encouraged children to perform, to write something, do a dance, and I was writing poetry already then. So if I stayed on … well it’s interesting you know, the most important Polish theatre was happening in Wroclaw, just near where I lived. So [Jerzy] Grotowski, the experimental theatre productions, were happening right near, I would’ve ended up going there.
But you know, currently things are just the same as here – there’s no funding for the arts. It seems that internationally, there’s a different climate now, and … maybe I will have to write doubly, doubly! But it is curious, you know, how literature reflects what is encouraged, what is discouraged. Today I did a class on Kurt Schwitters, and I love his work, you know he appeared in that ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition that was the one Hitler actually created, he put all these artists that he considered ‘degenerates’ and people were meant to go and laugh: ‘ha ha ha’. And I played Schwitter’s Ursonate where he just made sounds, and this sort of material still lives on. But you know people’s expectations vary. So it’s amazing what different reactions people can have to a work of art.
AP: In Horse, through going through this psychodramatic and fictocritical process, you discover a lot about, I felt, your own writing practice. And you’re laying it out there in some ways, that this is where the text, the practice is coming from; which seems like a really subversive kind of thing to do, given your reputation for being difficult and experimental.
AW: I always want to know how people wrote, and I always like reading writer’s diaries. I read the diaries of Franz Kafka – that’s how I discovered how automatic writing works, and surrealism – and then I traced that to psychoanalytic sort of beginnings. So it’s fascinating. I want to know how people write and how they feel and how it all happens, because the creative act is in itself a cathartic and magical act, too. A transformative act. Ahh – I have said it!
But you know, when I was working with children I didn’t have to introduce it. I would read my work, and they would say, ‘well, we write like that too’. And they said, ‘We only put the punctuation in later!’ And actually they devised a great work, a mode that I teach other people, how to write fairytales. You just begin, ‘Once upon a time …’ and then you get into this mode of writing. Not directing it at all. And they invented that, because we were looking at fairytales and I was thinking, how should we write them? And that was their idea, that they would do iot like that. But you know, they were about 12, so their creative material was still in that primal level, then people are more curtailed. And I suppose current education, I don’t know, I haven’t worked in a school project for a long time, I wonder, because creative writing was so major, but now I think it’s more the idea of clear thinking and essay writing in a more consecutive mode.
AP: Is it hard to get to that state? Children can get there and do it naturally, but is it hard?
AW: Well it’s amazing. Because you know Picasso once said that to create, one has to go back to one’s childhood and feel in that sort of mode of thought. But I’ve consciously tried to maintain that. Maybe my short height has allowed it! But it is curious, how one is trained to think in a particular way. Well I went to university, and then I went to art school, so I also do visual work. But in that era, art school allowed people a kind of free-floating situation; which sort of annoyed me at the time, thinking ‘Ugh! They should be directing me!’ But in fact they gave people a space to read and to explore their processes. And I was writing then, it was VCA when it was still National Gallery Art School, the little school behind the art gallery which is now storage. So I was given an opportunity for that kind of free-floating, autodidact situation. But I wonder how current education is preparing people and how it is all organised, I don’t know. But it’s strange to think what sort of readership is created by education and how the two correlate.
But I always had this idea: I’ll sit at home, write books for children, make millions. But! I wonder if it’s possible. And you know books that I love, like Dr Seuss – I see myself as a kind of evil version of Dr Seuss. But, I am a doctor! Because I did finish, this is my doctorate! Horse is a doctorate, doctor of philosophy. But it’s a book, foremost.