By Sarah Douglas

Published: November 12, 2009
One of the sculptures in this show has a basket-like object on top. What does it represent?

A tidemark from where I grew up in Margate. I’ve always said that if I could own any sculpture in the whole world I would own one of these tidemarks, so I thought, why don’t I make one? Lots of the things in this show are about my dreams. And the fear of dreams. In Margate there are these big cliffs. In a dream, I’d hear this roaring noise and I’d turn, and there would be a giant tidal wave coming in. And there was nowhere for me to go. These basket tidemarks are there so the ships can see the level of the water. In my dream when the tidal wave goes out, the tidemark comes back. So for me it’s a symbol of both fragility and strength.

Speaking of dreams, there’s a pretty enigmatic drawing in this show, with a pair of figures, one of them seeming to crouch, and the phrase, “Just sat there like nothing was happening and all the time I was screaming and you can’t help me.” What’s the story there?

When I was pregnant, I didn’t know I was pregnant, and I went to bed, and I woke up, and St. Paul is sitting on the edge of my bed, waking me up, touching my hand. He said to me, “You must go to Rome.” Can you imagine waking up and St. Paul is fucking sitting on your bed telling you to go to Rome? What the hell does that mean? You know when you have a nightmare and you’re screaming and there’s someone lying there next to you and they can’t hear you because you’re screaming in your head, in your dream, but nothing’s coming out of your mouth?

Yes. Let’s talk about the title of the show, “Only God Knows I’m Good,” a phrase that is also spelled out in one of the neon pieces here. It sounds a little defensive. Or is it about feeling guilty?

No, it’s about, I’m nearly 50, and I’m so fucking pissed about people judging me. How dare they? They don’t know me, they don’t know what my soul is like, they don’t know my level of integrity, my level of honesty. Judge my work, that’s fine. It’s here, it’s on the wall. But don’t judge my soul. So even though it sounds a little tongue-in-cheek, it isn’t. And in terms of God — not religion, but in terms of God — I have a vast amount of faith, and belief.

You had a book of poetry released recently — your work as poet-in-residence for GQ magazine, where you used to review hotels, and were formerly Feng Shui editor. You must have a good relationship with the magazine!

I’ve written for GQ for ten years. But for two years [the editor] Dylan Jones didn’t speak to me because I got drunk at the GQ awards [in 2003] when I was giving the Clash the lifetime achievement award. I got onstage and it was like they were waiting for every advertiser to pull out of the magazine. So horrific. Honestly, it was like watching pornography with your grandparents.

Poetry usually gets a bad rap along the lines of: no one reads it. But here you are putting poems in a glossy magazine.

And GQ gets loads of emails from people enjoying them. When I wrote for the magazine before Dylan was always saying, “You can’t write about bloody condoms and it’s the safest time to have sex, sorry, you can’t do it, we can’t have that, men don’t want to know, it’s a male magazine.” Like that. But men do like to know how women think, and a poem gives them the chance to look into a woman’s mind.

Which do you think has been your best-received poem?

The one I read at the Serpentine last month [as part of the Poetry Marathon]. The one that ends, “And sometimes I think, Christ, your penis is big.”

Oh yes, I remember that. After reading it you said, “Lucky girl.”

I got a really big laugh.

How did the poet-in-residence gig come about, anyhow?

Because Dylan went to see my show in L.A. [at Gagosian Gallery in 2007], and loved the tiny embroideries, and said they were like poems.

How did you like showing in L.A.?

Gagosian’s gallery is beautiful. But the thing about L.A. is you do a fantastic show and no one sees it! It’s like the end of America. Also, in L.A., it seemed like when I said, “Oh, yes, thank you I would like sugar,” people thought I said, “You’re a fucking cunt and I’m gonna kill your mum.”

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