We caught up with award-winning poet Anthony Anaxagorou ahead of his appearance in How Do We Live with Death? on Sunday 5 March.
Name three things you want to do before you die.
I would like to eventually write a novel or a book of non-fiction, see my son perform a poem and start a poetry school. Not necessarily in that order.
What do you believe in, above all else?
I believe in people. In collective energy. In my own strength and determination to get up in the morning and do an honest job that doesn’t involve harming anyone else. And I believe that what we do as individuals has a profound impact on the future, so long as our ideas are carried out with care. Belief is a necessary thing.
If there is an afterlife, what would you want it to look like?
It’s tricky to delineate an afterlife without conjuring up whimsical imagery of a world like the one that already exists, only without all the injustices and deleterious leaders who ruin the experience of life for so many of us. If I’m honest, I’m reluctant to believe there is such a thing. My guess is that the afterlife is a lot of space and very little consciousness, as we know it to be. I’ve come to see death as merely that, the end of consciousness but perhaps the start of something new and unintelligible.
What would your funeral poem be?
My choice of funeral poem, as morbid as it sounds, would probably sit somewhere between Derek Walcott’s ‘Love After Love’, WB Yeats’ ‘Sailing To Byzantium’ or Naomi Shihab Nye’s ‘Kindness’. They all manage to transcend the temporal hinting at something either regrettable, selfless or philosophical.
Do you believe any part of us continues to exist after death?
Not in the form we currently define as human. I’ve come to follow the first law of thermodynamics that suggests energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. In this context death, or the redistribution of matter, makes far more sense to me than any other speculative abstraction offered by mainstream religious teachings. Much of what keeps us clinging to the idea of an ‘afterlife’ is perhaps the unhealthy attachment we forge with our egos or self. The idea of letting go and accepting ‘nothingness’ is something we rarely see being promulgated among the major belief systems, even within the more existential ones such as Buddhism, Sufism, Taoism etc – the afterlife and God are just defined in different ways but the centralisation of authority is always present.
Name a work of art (can be any art form) that has made you think differently about the meaning of life.
I think most great art, in some, attempts to unpack the meaning of life, or renegotiate what it means to be alive. Off the top of my head, art for me that exemplifies this would typically be many of Rembrandt’s works – ‘The Apostle Paul In Prison’, ‘The Unconscious Patient’ and most famously the ‘Philosopher in Meditation’. There have been some great films too which I’ve seen over the years that really throw many of those existential questions into a more considered and original light – the Italian film The Great Beauty I found to be incredibly poignant while being full of conflict and nuance.
Do you think a more spiritual world would be a better place?
I do. I feel this post-industrial age has totally drawn away from spirituality, and I don’t mean that in a bohemian sense, more so we’ve stunted our capacity for introspection as the digital age has pushed things into a more overexposed, vacuous place that further down the line will have a catastrophic impact on an individual’s inner world. From how I see it, everything is spectacle and projected outwards, to draw back in and confront whatever it is that might unsettle a person is a discipline that feels as if it’s slowly fallen into abeyance.
One of the free pop-ups over the weekend is an exhibition of bespoke Crazy Coffins. What would your 'crazy coffin' look like?
I’d have a mixed collage of poems, sunsets, London buses and coffee stains all scattered around. Then some song lyrics. I’d maybe have a little section inside to take some books up (or down) with me, a flask of green tea and a new pair of spectacles in case I bump into my grandad in old Elysium.
As part of our year-long Belief and Beyond Belief festival, Anthony chairs two panel discussions on Sunday 5 March: This Way to Immortality, on the future of our digital selves, and Life After Life: Creativity and Death.