Monday, December 17, 2007

The Man in Black

This new volume of poetry from David Caddy, editor of the excellent 'Tears in the Fence' dropped on my doormat last week,and very welcome it was too. In his review of Kelvin Corcoran, Kris Hemesley sees that poet as working on a project to define Englishness. Caddy could be seen as engaged in a similar project, and within the same radical and dissenting tradition; his journal "So Here We Are: Poetic Letters From England", is fascinating contribution to that project. Poet of rural South-West England with echoes of Bunting and the MacSweeney of 'Ranter', Caddy enlists to the cause, among others, Coleridge, Johnny Cash and Lady Jane Davy. There's a search for a sense of identity:

Look, we lost ourselves and choices
some time ago, when the land
was untied, overfed, resold
and the local animals were driven away.

Caddy looks to the people forgotten by globalised urban society, like the Quakers who found common cause with poachers and the rural poor, or people who 'have the thumb, can work the hopper, mesher/...have steel to fill these tenant boots'. In some ways, this poetry reminds me of Geoffrey Hill, though Caddy has more sympathy with ordinary people, and the language seems influenced by Basil Bunting in places:

Wide Scatter of bull, clenched
rewinced, disputes the human frame

The book is nicely produced by Penned in the Margins (saddle stitched and good quality paper). I've been reading a lot of New York and Californian poetry recently, and this book is a reminder of a home-grown tradition, both of poetry and of radical politics.

Details: Paperback: 48 pages, (Penned in the Margins, 1 Nov 2007). ISBN-10: 095538463X ISBN-13: 978-0955384639. Price: 8.99

Friday, December 14, 2007

We know the festive season is upon us when we see Rupert Loydell's 'Best of the Year' lists on Stride. This year I'm pleased that he's selected a Leafe book, 'No Sounds of My Own Making' by John Bloomberg-Rissman. Thanks Rupert, if you're reading this. It's a typically eclectic list. I cetainly agree with his choice of Rae Armantrout's 'Next Life', definitely on my list (if I had one) for the best books of the year. And Rachel Blau DuPlessis is on my to-do list, having been highly recommended to me by the aformentioned John B-R.

Monday, December 3, 2007

There's a fascinating review of Kelvin Corcoran's pamphlet "Roger Hilton's Sugar" on Kris Hemensley's blog.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Since my job has become a little more demanding (moan, moan...) it occurs to me that it might be easier to write a sort of anti-blog of things I haven't done. Here are a few:

  • Update Litter. Forthcoming: poems by Pete Huchel (tr. Catherine Hales), a review of Peter Gizzi by CJ Allen, and some poems by the latter.
  • Join Facebook. In fact, I did join, at the invitation of Carrie Etter and Tony Frazer. It looks great: a cornucopia of things to do, and people to talk to. But I could imagine spending a lot of precious hours on it, and right now... so I've suspended my membership for now.
  • Meet up with Clive Allen, Adrian Buckner and Martin Stannard for one of our regular get-togethers, which occured on Saturday afternoon in town. Sorry guys. Next time, I hope...
  • Answer emails, including one from Kris Hemmensley, back in Oz now, and with Leafe Press pamphlets on his bookshop shelves. Sorry Kris, will get back to you.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Leafe Press website, including Litter has gone down. Apologies. My ISP is having problems with its servers, and all the websites hosted by them are out of action. The problem occured Friday evening. The ISP's own site ( is also down, which is worrying. I'm hoping everything will be back to normal soon.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

My employer, a German IT company, has just bought another company, and without going into the boring details, my working life is likely to get a lot more demanding than hitherto. I'm likely to be travelling around the UK and Europe and being generally an even more supine servant of global capital than I was before. I'm not complaining - other people in our work-obsessed culture have it worse - but it means it'll be harder to keep the blog up to date, not to mention maintaining my Litter and Leafe Press activities. Needs must, wolf-from-the-door etc. But I'll try my best. It's a common experience among one-man poetry outfits, witness Peter Philpott's difficulties at GreatWorks. As Peter says 'The job gets in the way of Great Works, but it's nice to be able to afford a house to work in, food etc.'

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

When I met John Bloomberg-Rissman in London early last year, he gave me the Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan, for which I've ever since been very grateful. I'd heard about Berrigan's translation of Rimbaud's 'Le Bateau Ivre' and thought I'd love to see it, and now, a poet/musician from Southern California has sent me a copy. It's a pirated copy. The poet-musician (and publisher) in question, who shall remain nameless, thought such a fine work ought to be in print, so he reproduced it in a limited edition from the original 1974 'Adventures in Poetry' chapbook. This one's complete with original cover design by Joe Brainard. The translation itself is wonderful - I recognised some of the lines from Berrigan's 'Sonnets' - and manages to sound like an American poem, rather than a French poem translated into English. I think most of all it works on a musical level, with some great lines:

...the star-steeped milky flowing mystic sea


I've dreamed green darkness and dazzling white,
Slow kisses on the eyelids of the sea.

It would be nice to see this and other of Berrigan's translations back in print. In the meantime I feel privileged to have a copy of this poem. I'm sure Berrigan and Brainard would approve of the spirit in which this little edition has been made.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The reading at the Broadway Cinema was a success. Somehow, the word got round, and enough people turned up to fill all the seats. The room was long and narrow, with a wide window overlooking the street, and the cinema has a couple of bars and, being an 'alternative' place, has a nice bohemian-type atmosphere. Clive and Martin both read well, with an emphasis on the upbeat and entertaining side of their work. I had a feeling that some of the audience weren't poetry afficionados, and it was nice to see them enthusiastically applauding, sometimes after individual poems - the equivalent of clapping between movements at a classical concert, and a good idea if you ask me. Books were sold, which pleased me, and a good time was had by all.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Last minute panic. I called the Broadway Cinema to check on some details only to find they had no record of any booking. It's all sorted out now, but it reminded me that it's a warped Protestant Work Ethic that keeps me doing all this stuff. At least that's how I feel right now. I'm sure I'll feel different when the heaving crowds have finally dispersed and we're all high on the the post-gig euphoria...
"I noticed no representative of the Shun A’Biro Corporate Creative Writing bloc. But their Art-as-an-enticement-to-business ethos, re-forming history to pose in a suit against bad architecture, wouldn’t even notice the loss of a man who did more for the arts and culture of the North-East in two decades than they have clean shirts and mentors: and it must be hard to move with a Northern Rock tied around your ankles."

Tom Raworth, reporting on Bill Griffiths' funeral

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Autumn Leafe @ Broadway

Seats are waiting to be filled...

C J Allen reads from
'A Strange Arrangement: New and Selected Poems'.

Martin Stannard reads from
his Leafe Press pamphlet 'Coral' and other work.

Admission and refreshments free, all welcome

Gallery (Room 1)
Broadway Cinema
14 - 18 Broad Street

7.30,pm, Thurs 4 October

Hosted by yours truly.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

There's an obituary of Bill Griffiths by Nicholas Johnson in The Independent.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Last Saturday I met up with Clive Allen, Adrian Buckner and Martin Stannard (newly returned from a year in China). We sat in a cafe on Nottingham University's campus, by the lakeside and caught up with the news, then discussed some of our own and others' poetry. Very civilized. For a long time - years - I wrote and read poetry in more or less complete isolation. It doesn't help that I work in IT, and most of my buddies at work are more interested in cars and computers than poetry. Being part of a community (on-line and in the real world) is essential to me now, and in fact, provides the rationale for my writing and publishing.

Sad to note the passing of Bill Griffiths. Griffiths' work was among the first I came across when I first encountered the non-mainstream. His hand-cranked pamphlets in various shapes and bindings from his Amra Imprint were wonderful: 'Starfish Jail', written to raise funds for a prisoner in Wandsworth, or 'Mr Tapscott', a poem about race relations in Liverpool, written to support the campaign to free Ray Gilbert, one of the Toxteth Two whose conviction in 1981 was seriously flawed, but who remains in prison. For me, work like this opened up a whole new approach to poetry, and the use of poetry.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I.M. Bill Griffiths


Poet, scholar of Old English,
archivist, biker, activist and major presence on the
UK poetry scene

Sunday, September 9, 2007

"We live in a time when productivity is everything - to produce a lot, to have a lot, to write a lot. But in poetry, it's not what you want, but what Poetry wants, what Poetry gives you. I can neither force it nor demand it to appear. Poetry has taught me to be patient."

Gloria Gervitz (tr. Mark Schafer)

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Monk Companions

Anyone in the vicinity of Sheffield should try to get to the event below. I'm trying to re-schedule some stuff so I can get there, as it should be a memorable evening. There are so many people on that list I'd like to get to see, not least the legendary Bill Griffiths. Geraldine herself of course, is a real performance poet, and her readings are not to be missed. Her poetry in fact, is meant to be performed (often with props and costumes) and is harder to appreciate with just the printed page to go on.

THE MONK COMPANIONS @ The Site Gallery, 1 Brown Street, Sheffield

September 6pm. Admission free.

An evening to celebrate the launch of THE SALT COMPANION TO GERALDINE MONK, the first collection of critical essays on this major Sheffield poet. Wine reception followed by poetry performances from Monk herself and the poet-contributors:

Bill Griffiths
David Kennedy
Christine Kennedy
Harriet Tarlo
Sean Bonney
David Annwn
Frances Presley
Elizabeth James
Chris Goode
Scott Thurston

Friday, August 31, 2007

I was pleased and flattered to get a friendly email from Kris Hemensley, who'd been reading my blog and Litter. Kris runs the famous 'Collected Works' bookshop in Melbourne, Australia. You can read some background on the man himself here, and read his fascinating blog here. He kindly ordered a batch of Leafe pamphlets.

While in Cornwall, I visited the Tate St. Ives for the first time. I wasn't disappointed by the main gallery and it's fabulous view of the coastline. There were a couple of temporary exhibitions, but the thing I enjoyed was the work by the St.Ives painters Peter Lanyon and Bryan Wynter. There wasn't much by Roger Hilton as I believe it's out on a touring exhibition. My teenage daughter was less impressed. She pointed out that you don't need to traipse round a gallery to see paintings, you could just buy posters or look at them in books or web pages - thus delivering a devastating critique of western Art, albeit one that's been noted before.

Friday, August 24, 2007

For the last two weeks we've been hiding out in a little, steep-sided valley on the Devon coast with no internet access and no mobile phone signal. I bought the Saturday Guardian, and settled down to read it in the sun outside our caravan in a state of prelapsarian bliss, recalling the days so long ago when I knew nothing about the byzantine complexities of the UK poetry scene.

In The Guardian, a mammoth review section looked at cinema, theatre, music, novels, biographies, histories - you name it. And poetry? Buried in the wad of pages, a single short column: Sean O'Brien reviewing a friend (Matthew Sweeney). And the review opens by considering Sweeney's place in "the English tradition". To your average person, happily ignorant of contemporary poetry, this whole situation could be misleading. As if poetry was emitted in slim volumes by a few poets striving to enter The Canon. This is how national newspapers, and the media in general, portrays poetry (when it's not being hailed as 'the new rock and roll'). Getting back from holiday, I came across a neat diagnosis of the problem on Todd Swift's blog:

"...poetry, rather than being seen as a process and a procedure, like "science", that has thousands of practitioners engaged in ongoing mutually-related work (a communal, progressive, and even Utopian model), is defined as an exclusive, minority exercise. This limits the sense of discovery and excitement actually connected to the art form that is poetry, and also minimises its daily relevance to most people... This dynamic, busy and engaged pursuit, by thousands of serious poets is not the truth about poetry that is told"

Read the whole blog entry here.

To my mind, as long as people continue to read poetry, there's no harm in as many people as possible writing it, or in the people reading it being poets themselves. That said, two weeks escape from the said communal activity to a peaceful seaside cove were very welcome.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

There's an informative review of Rae Armantrout's "Next Life" at Shadowtrain, along with some good work by Robert Sheppard, Mairéad Byrne and others.

I bought a batch of pamphlets from West House Books a while ago. It's nice to know pamphlets are still appearing in this age of doorstop P-O-D books. I see the pamphlet as a form in itself, combining production, artwork and poetry. You can always rely on West House for quality, and the pamphlet that stood out for me was Christine Kennedy's 'Nineteen Nights in San Francisco', a short, witty work made up "from text found in an out of date bed and breakfast guide to California".

In the same batch I also got "Dark Wires" by Zoe Skoulding and Ian Davidson, and "It Means Nothing To Me" by Geraldine Monk and David Annwn. All recommended.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Globalisation at work: the IT staff I was training at Nissan were all Indian. The software company they work for employs 28,000 people in India, and it's not even the biggest in the country. There are also a lot of Polish workers in the plant, but I did hear one or two people speaking the local vernacular (which to some people may not sound that different to Polish). Nissan pay shop-floor workers well, so competition for jobs there is fierce, and made more so for locals by migrant workers and off-shore contractors. How long the plant can remain open in competition with Nissan factories in Russia and Czechoslovakia remains to be seen.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Current reading:

'Migrations', the long, modernist poem by Mexican poet, Gloria Gervitz. Encompassing Mexican life, Jewish identity and the immigrant experience. And of course, it's by a woman, and the central relationships in the poem are mother/daughter/grandmother - a feminine presence, sometimes a real woman, sometimes an oracle or female deity, haunts the poem. The wide-format book gives it the space it deserves, and some pages with a few lines, even a single line, give it an impressive visual impact.

Selected poems of Joanne Kyger, seminal American West Coast poet, who seems to have influenced a lot of people, from the Beats to the New Yorkers, with her Buddhist poetry of immediate experience. The notebook is the typical vehicle here for conveying moment-to-moment perception with quietness and gentle humour.

Next week I'm on a business trip to the Nissan car plant at Sunderland, and a week today we're off on a family holiday to Devon and Cornwall. Currently trying to plan a route that avoids flooded areas, taking plenty of books to read and games to play, as there seems no end in sight to the rainy weather.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

No Sounds of My own Making

I'm happy to announce the publication of John Bloomberg-Rissman's new book 'No Sounds of my Own Making'. The book is available via Lightning Source's distribution channels in the UK and the USA. See the catalogue for more details.

I was re-reading this work the other night and reminded of its skillfully-handled rhythm and pace. The conception of a lyric poem as a short, self-contained unit, encompassing completion and which can be admired and dwelt on by the reader, is confounded by work like this. In a non-narrative poem of 200 pages, the reader is urged forward, and, rather than contemplate what has gone before, is presented with a turn of direction or phrase which modifies the passage just read, before being in turn affected by what comes after. Tom Raworth is a presence in these lines. It's invigorating, and not at all difficult, provided that you just go with it.

The poem is in the Hay(na)ku form invented by Eileen Tabios. Each stanza has three lines, and a total of 6 words: 1 in the first line, 2 in the second line, and 3 in the third line. It's a simple, but flexible and quick-paced form.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

During the thirty days of June, the Leafe Press site had 8,181 visitors. A record. Almost twice the number of any previous month, and so far, July is shaping up to be the same. I don't know why; it's possibly because I've been linked by some big sites, including Salt Publishing. Now I know that many of these visitors will be 'spiders' and other software from search engines and so on. But that's still a healthy hit-rate.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

One of my poems has just been published on Great Works. It has seven sections, so make sure you click on the 'next text' link. It's called 'Variations on Painting a Room'. Thanks to editor Peter Philpott.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Alistair Noon's review of Gael Turnbull's Collected is now up on Litter. Turnbull is a good example of how a good, perhaps great, poet, can slip through the net. He's from the same mould as Roy Fisher and Charles Tomlinson; indeed, regarded by both as a mentor and trailblazer, but was less well-known than either during his lifetime. In fact, his work, until recently, was unknown outside samizdat circles, despite the 'accessibility' of much of it. I'm not sure why this is - maybe he was too various a writer to fit into a marketing or academic category. Maybe he confused people by living in more than one country, or offended them by taking an interest in American and French poetry. Whatever the reasons for Turnbull's lack of visibilty, his career certainly proves that writing very good poetry is no guarantee of recognition.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Poetic Heroes, Series 1: W.S. Graham

Of all my encounters with contemporary poetry over the years, nothing has had a profounder effect on me than the poetry of WS Graham. And, like all great art, his work seems to evolve over time, changing its effects on me as I read it.

It's about fifteen years or more since I picked up his Collected Poems in a bookshop. Initially, I was
attracted by his late poems - "To My Wife at Midnight" and his elegies to Peter Lanyon and Roger Hilton - and then I worked my way backwards through his great poem "The Nightfishing" to his early work in the rhetorical "apocalyptic" style. Throughout his mid to late period poetry, even the most abstract and opaque, there's a human element which speaks directly to personal experience.

And of course, Graham's life, much of it spent in west Cornwall in the company of artists, was
heroically dedicated to the art. As Harold Pinter put it:'W.S. Graham drank and ate poetry every day of his life'. It does seem that Graham believed, in his own words, that 'The poet or painter steers his life to maim//Himself somehow for the job'.

Right now, it's this early work that fascinates me. I've grown to appreciate it partly as I've grown to appreciate the early work of Dylan Thomas and as I've read more of contemporaries like Burns Singer. Unlike almost all practitioners of this style who later moved away from it, Graham defended his early poems, insisting that they were as good as anything that came later. Reading this early work now - always musically adept - it seems to broaden his achievement, and add a whole body of lyricism and reference to his oeuvre. I now think of the work as more consistent than I had previously reckoned. As Peter Riley persuasively argues, the later work grew directly out of the early poems and shares many of their qualities.

Take a look at the two WSG items on Litter, by Geoffrey Godbert and my good self. One of the best interpreters of Graham's work is Peter Riley, and a good place to start is his review of the New Collected Poems.

Graham produced very little prose, but I'd recommend to anyone his "Selected Letters" - an amazing, lyrical collecton of correspondence, that also includes his important early essay "Notes Towards a Poetry of Release".

As I grew up on industrial Tyneside, one of the poems that really struck a chord when I first
encountered Graham was "The Dark Dialogues":

The big wind blows
Over the shore of my child
Hood in the off-season.
The small wind remurmurs
The fathering tenement
And a boy I knew running
The hide and seeking streets.
Or do these winds In their forces blow
Between the words only?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I've broken my left wrist, and as I'm left-handed, typing is rather difficult and writing impossible. (Since you ask, I did it playing rounders - an advanced form of baseball- in the park with neighbours and assorted youngsters, something I'm obviously too old to do). So posts may be sparse for a while. But I do have something to say about W.S. Graham which I've already typed out, so that'll appear soon.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Some nice new work is about to appear on Litter: an intimate memoir of WS Graham by Geoffrey Godbert, and an extensive review of Gael Turnbull's Collected by Alistair Noon. There are some astute observations in Alistair's piece. I like this summary of British history:

"What for the Romans were the Tin Islands became the command centre of a maritime empire, has become Airstrip One, and may end up as a supply node for East Asia."

and I also like this comment:

"...there are simply more resources for a poet to draw on than previously. Under such circumstances, synthesis of influence is likely to be ongoing, and perhaps piecemeal, rather than reaching some notional endpoint at which the poet 'finds a voice'."

Why indeed should a poet "find a voice" - why not have many voices, or voices which sounds like other people's voices? I've always admired poets like Edwin Morgan who sometimes sound like other poets, or who have different styles for different types of poetry. It's possible to get hung up on the individualist notion of "voice".

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The proof of Bloomberg-Rissman's book arrived today, and it looks fine. Fantastic in fact. I swear that each time I see a Lightning Source book, it's better quality than the last one. This (I think!) looks good with a white background to the cover, and white paper. I've noticed that publishers like Wesleyan University Press and, I noticed recently, Faber, are now producing expensively-produced hardbacks to differentiate themselves from P-O-D outfits. My next step is to approve the proof and start distributing (the hard part).

Kelvin Corcoran's pamphlet is nw alomost sold out, thanks to his reading tour in the wake of the St.Ives exhbition which is touring art galleries around the country. Kelvin reads at the same galleries and sells pamphlets by the dozen. I think readings are now the only way to sell pamphlets effectively.

Monday, June 4, 2007

I might add, regarding the previous post and as a declaration of interest, that Bamboo Books are publishing my Bonnefoy translations. I'm very pleased about this, of course, and grateful to proprieter Robert Rissman. The pamphlet is Bonnefoy's 1991 collection 'Début et Fin de la Neige'. More details to follow.
The latest Leafe pamphlet is now available. It's 'World Zero' by John Bloomberg-Rissman. Costs four quid - if ordering from the UK send a fiver to cover postage. In the US it's available direct from the author for eight dollars - apply here.

This pamphlet is published in association with Bamboo Books of California - they did all the production and artwork. I'm a big admirer of JBR's poetry (witness, I'm bringing out his 200-page poem 'No Sounds of my Own Making', for which I'm currently awaiting a proof), and I'm proud to adding this to the Leafe catalogue.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"From about the age of fifty I produced a number of designs, yet of all I drew prior to the age of seventy there is truly nothing of any great note. At the age of seventy-three I finally came to understand somewhat the true quality of birds, animals, insects - the vital nature of grasses and trees. Therefore, at eighty I shall gradually have made progress, at ninety I shall have penetrated still further the deeper meaning of things, at one hundred I shall have become truly marvelous, and at one hundred and ten, each dot, each line shall surely possess a life of its own."

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

Last weekend I attended the launch of Poetry Nottingham at the aforementioned splendid Mechanics' Institute. Readings by contributors and a talk on the poetry of Michael Donaghy by Ian Collinson. I'm on the editorial board, but I don't have to do very much, certainly no editing. The magazine is all Adrian Buckner's, and a nice job he's doing, even if the poetry he chooses isn't what I'd choose - there's an integrity and coherence to the magazine, and in the latest issue a considered defence of 'mainstream' poetic values.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Poetry Review Reviewed

In just a very short time, maybe two or three years, the authority of magazines like Poetry Review has been seriously undermined, in the sense that its job of presenting to the poetry-reading public 'the best' of contemporary British poetry ('the best' defined at one level by being in Poetry Review) isn't really needed any more. For non-UK readers, the magazine is the organ of the Poetry Society, the main public body for the promotion of poetry in the UK. Print-on-demand publishing and of course, the Web, mean that there can no longer be a central authority. Consumers now have more information available to them, and greater access to what's published - they can find things out for themselves. The contents of Poetry Review are simply editor Fiona Sampson's choice (which is not to belittle it, but it's no more valuable than, say Tony Frazer's or John Tranter's choice).

My subscription to the magazine has expired and I've just had the reminder. The mag had no interest for me during Peter Forbes' long tenure, but I signed up during the (brief) Potts and Herd period. In the forthcoming series we are promised "Don Paterson's stunning essay", and "stunning poetry by Peter Porter, John Burnside...etc". Don't know if I can cope with being stunned twice in one year. They ask for my email address because "We put great value in communicating with you effectively" - a rather
obsequious piece of service-speak.

To renew or not? I find it generally rather dull, and I wasn't impressed by a recent issue which had two Dante translations - by John Kinsella and Sean O'Brien - both entirely unnecessary. It seems the application form for Major Poet status has a check box labelled 'Dante translation'. Anyhow, Sean O'Brien's effort was bebunked by someone who should know here. There's a feature in the latest issue on Paul Muldoon, a poet to whose charms I've so far remained immune, and nothing else that really catches my eye. So the chances are I'll save my 30 quid for something more exciting.

Friday, May 18, 2007

We've always had an unelected Head of State. We now have an unelected head of government. Gordon Brown is now, to all intents and purposes, Prime Minister of the UK. No-one voted for him. Not even his own party, let alone the country. The power-loving apparatchiks and sycophants which make up the Parliamentary Labour Party didn't have enough backbone between them to muster just 45 supporters for a challenger. So no election, no debate, no forcing Gordon Brown to come out with more than the vacuous buzzwords he's mouthed so far ("trust... renewal..."). No democracy.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I've finally backed up the Leafe Press website. It says something about my personality that the site's been running since 2004, and it's the first time it's been backed up. The ISP losing some data a while ago jolted me into action. The site is now preserved for posterity, and can easily be switched to another ISP if need be. For those interested, the total size of it is 23.4 megabytes, which is tiny (it's mainly text, a few graphics, no video or sound - yet). the total number of web pages is 181, most of them on Litter. The site costs me only £1.59 a month. It's now averaging about 4,500 visits a month, which is double what it was getting this time last year.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The e-zine Greatworks has included Litter in its list of 20 Crucial British Innovative Poetry Sites, which has made my day! Many thanks to editor Peter Philpott.
My quest for public funding for Leafe has not started well. Two emails to the local Arts Council representative have gone unanswered. Time for Plan B, when I think of it. Perhaps a phone call?

I had to tell John Lucas that I couldn't get involved in organising the Flying Goose readings with himself and another Nottingham-based publisher. I just can't fit anything else into my life (without seriously neglecting my family and job). But John has said he'll continue to put the readings on, probably in conjunction with Nottingham's Five Leaves Publications. The readings will be revived with a new series starting this autumn.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Poetic Heroes, Series 1: Octavio Paz

I've been reading Paz's poetry for several years after I bought his Collected (pub. Caracent) with the fee from judging a local poetry competition. I also acquired his early work in a New Directions edition from the US. It's now become a life-companion. I don't read Spanish (that didn't stop me producing a version of one of his poems), but I know enough to get the pronunciation and rhythm of the original, and the translations are top-notch, the main man being Eliot Weinberger, but there's Elizabeth Bishop, Charles Tomlinson, Muriel Rukeyser, W.C. Williams, Paul Blackburn - an impressive roll-call. I won't attempt to summarize the work of one the the 20th century's great writers. Suffice to say that the range of his intellectual concerns is vast, and, of course, he managed to turn those concerns into poetry. One example is his work on Indian culture (he was Mexican ambassador to India for several years). Before the Beatles met the Maharishi, Paz had conducted rather more in-depth studies (for example, he organized, the first exhibition of Tantric Art held in the West), and the Chilean artist-poet Cecilia Vicuña has spoken of Paz as a guru for herself and other Latin American poets during this period. I've read his essays on the erotic, 'The Double Flame', and planned reading for the summer is his classic book on Mexican culture, 'The Labyrinth of Solitude'. Paz's poetry spans a huge range of forms, from the wilder shores of surrealism to discursive sonnets to visual poetry. I recently tackled his long poem 'Pasado En Claro/A Draft of Shadows':

Are there messengers? Yes,
space is a body tattooed with signs, the air
an invisible web of calls and answers.
Animals and things make languages,
through us the universe talks with itself.
We are a fragment -
accomplished in our unaccomplishment -
of its discourse. A coherent and empty solipsism...

(tr. Eliot Weinberger)

Thursday, May 3, 2007

I found the term 'micropress' in Aaron Tieger's blog, which accurately describes Leafe and others like it. I've teamed up with a Californian micropress, Bamboo Books to co-publish a pamphlet called World Zero by John Bloomberg-Rissman. While working on this I came across (also on Tieger's blog), a quote by Ric Cadell:

" much of the best poetry in this country exists on a self-help basis, I think it's important that participants in such a process do their bit - join in the table-laying and washing up around the meal. I'm generally impatient of people who sit back and wait for it all to happen to them."

Amen to that.

I also found a passage in Peter Riley's essay on Dylan Thomas which seems relevant to my current reading of Peter Gizzi's work, which, as previously mentioned, is lyric (song-like) in its impulse:

"I cannot think of any practice prior to Thomas which recognised so explicitly the poetical potential of closure, of offering the linguistic surface of the poem as a thing of “worth” in itself, without the reader necessarily needing to see “through” it. There is nothing mysterious about this, and no trickery or concealment is involved. It is the operation of lyrical intuition, the basis of song and thus of all poetical writing which does not set out to reverse it."

Saturday, April 28, 2007

I've just started work on the next Leafe Press book: a single poem of 200-plus pages by American poet John Bloomberg-Rissman, called 'No Sounds of My Own Making'. As the title implies, it's contructed entirely of quotes from other writers. It's a quick-paced witty and engaging poem, that also manages to look squarely at the way human beings treat each other, mainly in relation to contemporary events. I hope to have it ready for publication by autumn this year at the latest.

I've made the first tentative enquiries about getting a grant of public money to buy some up-to-date DTP software. The Print-on-Demand process was more complicated than it should have been last time because I didn't have the right tools for the job, namely, Adobe Indesign, Acrobat Pro and Photoshop. That lot should set me back abut £1200. Let's hope the vast succubus of the 2012 Olympics hasn't absorbed all the available cash.

Thanks to extensive reports from the BBC, radio, television and the national press, it's clear to me that the most important question facing Britain today is: should Prince Hal enter the field of battle?

It's good that we discuss these things - befitting a country whose government is full of Lords, Knights and and Baronesses.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

There's a good article about Dylan Thomas at Peter Riley's site, April Eye.

There's an interview with C.J. Allen on-line at Arvon Friends.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The new Peter Gizzi book has arrived at last. It's called 'The Outernationale'. His last book 'Some Values of Landscape and Weather' was so good, I thought this one may disappoint, but it hasn't. It's got the same mastery of lyric form, in a tradition running from Wallace Stevens through John Ashbery, but made distinctly his own. It's very similar to his previous book, but not to his early work, which may mean that he's established his mature style. The same concerns are there - the nature of perception, how perception and language interact, visual art and social concerns (there's a lot more politics in this book than is first apparent). And there's at least one unabashed love poem. Like Rae Armantrout, who I'm also currently reading, Gizzi has the ability to pick images and phrases that suggest a lot with a few words. But Gizzi's poetry is more sensual and lyrical. Both poets are published in superb hardback editions by Welseyan.

Just had a weeks's family holiday in Andalucia. Not good for my 'carbon footprint', but we are holidaying in England in the summer. Weather poor. We visited the Alhambra palace in Granada on a day of heavy rain and cold wind. Last time I went there, in the mid-80s it was an idyllic experience. Since then the whole process of visiting has been industrialised, and the sheer number of visitors and guided parties (not helped by officious staff) is threatening to overwhelm a place whose attraction is its small-scale delicacy. I suppose its all down to people like me taking advantage of cheap air travel.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Went to see Chekhov's 'The Cherry Orchard' at Sheffield last night. Great performances, including Joanna Lumley, brilliantly cast as Madame Ranevsky. A nightmare journey in the Easter traffic (2 hours to do the 40 miles from Nottingham), but we got there in time.

I'm currently reading Rae Armantrout's new collection 'Next Life', having been introduced to this wonderful poet by a friend of mine. I'll enthuse more about this book in a later post. In the meantime, two short notices of books received, the first recently, the second some time ago.

'Green Darlings' by Mary Maher. pub. Overstep Books, Salcombe, Devon.

Top quality mainstream poetry by a writer who has been featured on Litter. Themes of motherhood, family, illness and absence expertly handled and with a strength that comes in part from mixing broader and more abstract writing with the personal and domestic. Recommended. Here's a sample:


when my head's no longer clever
it will be beautiful instead

a skull polished by earth's societies

a globe of bone inviting
a hand a new cradle

when I'm empty-headed
a maze of orifices will open up

my mind beyond belief

'My Life in Films' by Mary Michaels. pub. The Other Press, London.

A collection of prose pieces which, while looking at first like short stories, are best approached as prose-poems. They're disjunctive and fragmentary, and, as you'd expect from the title, use cinematic effects, switching between the movies themselves and the making of them (there's a long list of movie directors at the end whose work is referenced in the book). Some of these 'fictions' were more vivid and engaging than others (as you'd expect I suppose), but it's an interesting change of direction from a writer whose poetry is fairly conventional.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Germaine Greer thinks that Stratford-upon-Avon is "the worst kind of tourist trap". It certainly must be a disappointment to foreign visitors, and considering its world-wide importance it is indeed a bit of a dump. After spending an afternoon there, it's hard not to agree with Greer that visitors are left "...with nothing better to spend their money on than McDonald's, KFC or overpriced, mass-produced sandwiches and vile coffee". At least they're seeing the contemporary Britain that the rest of us have to put up with, and not some illusory costume-drama mock-up. But all the same...

But hey, it was a beautiful sunny day, and we had a top-notch performance to look forward to, which didn't let us down. The birthplace museum is good, mainly because the house has miraculously survived more or less intact, and walking on the same flagstones that the man himself must have walked on is quite something. Ian Mckellen's Lear was superb.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Pinoy Poetics

I've been meaning to mention this book for some time. I got it from Eileen Tabios in payment for writing a review. At the time it was a revelation to me, and I couldn't recommend it more highly. 'Pinoy Poetics' was developed by Tabios to be the first international poetics anthology of Filipino English-language poets. The word 'Pinoy' is used by Filipinos to describe their compatriots in the Philippines and around the world, and was coined by expatriate Filipino Americans during the 1920s. The book serves both as a book on poetics - taking in post-colonialism, gender politics and the experience of the Fillipino diaspora along the way - and as a chronicle of a forgotten history. The essays merge creative writing with critical analysis and autobiographical material. There's an invigorating range of subjects, including Taoism, hip-hop, Kali (a Filipino martial arts form), and the legacy of the important but now largely ignored Fillipino poet Jose Garcia Villa (1908-1997). I haven't absorbed all of this book yet, and maybe I never will (it's pretty substantial), but it's opened my eyes to a whole new poetic. Get this book from Meritage Press.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Good reading by Clive (aka CJ Allen) at the Flying Goose on Tuesday night. As usual, an excellent atmosphere and a full house. With a venue that small it'd be difficult not to have a full house of course. I sold several copies of Clive's Selected. I haven't sent any review copies out yet. Like most small press publishers, I find Life gets in the way of Art: as well as publishing and writing poetry I have to earn a living, ferry my children to their various activities, cook, clean, get the car serviced, talk to my wife occasionally (usually when we're both whacked at the end of the day) and have a social life. But the review copies will go out - probably after we have our Easter break (a week in Spain).

Theatre visits I'm looking forward to: King Lear, with Ian McKellen at Stratford. The Cherry Orchard with Joanna Lumley at Sheffield.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Some of my prose-poetry has just been put on-line at the webzine Shadowtrain. Before the web was invented I once waited three years for an acceptance from a magazine - and then it folded without the poem ever appearing. This time it was submitted Saturday, accepted Sunday, published Monday.

Thanks to Shadowtrain's editor Ian Seed. To read the poem, click here.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The next reading at the Flying Goose is next Tuesday, 20th March, 7.30pm, featuring Christopher Southgate and C.J. Allen (published by Leafe Press, of course).

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Paris bookshops. A couple of evenings last week I got off early and headed up to the Notre-Dame/St.Michel area. I looked in at Shakespeare and Co (open midday til midnight), which I'd never been to before - a nice remnant of 1950s American-in-paris bohemianism, still unspoilt, and complete with backpackers sleeping on the floor upstairs. I called in to several other bookshops in the district, most of which were as uncommercial as it's possible to be while still remaining a shop. I'd almost forgotten the sheer pleasure of browsing in a bookshop - I mean one which seems to care about books and writers. In Derby, where I work, there is only one - the dispiriting Waterstones, with its piped music and celebrity biographies.

So, Notre Dame cathedral in the late afternoon sun, cafes and bookshops - I could do with more trips like that.

I'm back home in Nottingham now, back to normal, and need to get the missing entries on Litter put back.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

I'm off to Paris on Monday morning for a four-day business trip (my day job is in IT). I probably won't see much apart from the suburb of Gentilly, where I'm working, but it'll still be nice to be in one of my favourite cities.

My ISP lost three weeks' worth of data from its clients' websites, so poetry by Kelvin Corcoran and Peter Dent, and the excellent Reznikoff review by Alistair Noon have disappeared from Litter. All will be restored. But I could do without this sort of thing.

And when I get back... As any editor will tell you, it's easy to get poetry submissions, but much harder to find people prepared to write reviews and articles. So I get lots of good review books which don't get reviewed. This is the case with two remarkable books from Meritage Press: 'Pinoy Poetics' (poetics in Fillipino poetry) and 'I Take Thee English for my Beloved' (poetry from Eileen R. Tabios). Both excellent, and both will get reported on after I get back from France. Au revoir.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Just been to a talk at my local hospital. Well, not a talk, but a 'presentation' using the ubiquitous MS Powerpoint. "This talk is about the benefits of exercise". Click. 'The Benefits of Exercise' flashes up. "Exercise strengthens the heart. Click. 'Strengthens The Heart' appears, etc. Actually the talk was very good, but it would have been much better if the speaker had ditched the technology and just talked to the audience. As it was, both the speaker and the spoken-to were transfixed by the bullet points on the screen. But then again, I wonder if the audience (myself included) could cope with more than ten minutes oral transmission? We all spend so much time looking at screens that we're all conditioned to visualise rather than listen. Next time my attention wanders at a poetry reading, I'll tell my self this is the reason.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Went to a reading tonight at the Flying Goose - poets were Nadine Brummer and Robin Maunsell, both skilful and engaging writers. Their work was a mixture of anecdote, observation of the world and philosophical reflection. But, I found myself wondering as my attention wandered, is it poetry? I'd be daft to try and answer that, but... it seems to me that whatever a poem is 'about', be it any of the aforementioned things or abstract word-play, that thing must be transfigured by language. There were moments during tonight's reading when a phrase or cadence did just that, but mostly the writers' personal thoughts and assertions were in charge. This is a most unfair comparison, but, at the end of the evening, John Lucas read Auden's "On This Island" to commemorate WH's 100th anniversary. No doubts here - it was the real thing:

Look, stranger, on this island now
The leaping light for your delight discovers,
Stand stable here
And silent be,
That through the channels of the ear
May wander like a river
The swaying sound of the sea…

Friday, February 16, 2007

The mid-winter gloom has been deepened here by UNICEF's report on 'child well-being in rich countries'. Britain's children are the unhappiest in the developed world. We beat the USA into bottom place by slavishly following their (post-Reagan) social and economic model. More than half of our children answered 'no' to the question 'do you find your peers kind and helpful'. Not surprising when they're pitched against each other in our fiercely competitive schools. By the age of seven they're comparing test results in the playground.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Yves Bonnefoy

A friend of mine has persuaded me to try translating some French poetry, and I thought I'd try Bonnefoy as I've been a bit of a fan for some time. What I like about his work is the way he manages to combine the abstraction and philosophical concerns so typical of French poetry, with the personal and with a connection to landscape and a sense of place, as typified in his 1987 collection 'Ce Qui Fut sans Lumière' which centres around the country house in Provence where he lived at that time. The result is a poetry quite unlike English-language poetry. Of course, translating it into English risks losing those distinguishing features, and it's hard not to let the two strands work against each other, in fact, probably impossible.

Here's a little sample from 'Ce Qui Fut Sans Lumière:

A Stone

Come, let me tell you
About a small boy I remember;
See him, stock-still, as he kept
His distance from the other lives.

He didn't join in, that morning,
With those who played in the trees
To multiply the universe,
Nor did he run across the beach
Towards yet more light.
But look, he has continued
On his path at the bottom of the dune -
Footprints prove it, threading
Between thistles and sea.

And close to them, you can make out
the broader tracks
Of an unknown companion,
Her prints filling with water
That doubles the sky.

Translation copyright © Alan Baker, 2007

Friday, February 2, 2007

Anyone who's organised a poetry reading will know that feeling: the chairs are lined up, the books are stacked, the poets are nervously glancing through their papers, and the unspoken question is in the air... will anyone turn up? Thankfully, on this occasion they did. It was the launch of CJ Allen's 'New and Selected Poems'. I stopped myself from counting the audience, but there was a good-sized crowd, and a good proportion of them bought the book. And there was a sense of occasion which is important for a launch, especially when it's such a significant landmark in a poet's career. The free wine helped. Clive's reading was measured and thoughtful - but with his usual dose of humour - and I enjoyed it immensely, despite being preoccupied as the organiser. So the book is now officially launched: any editors reading this - you'll be getting your review copies soon.

Note on the venue:

The Nottingham Mechanics is a great new discovery for me as a poetry venue. A nice new building slap-bang in the middle of Nottingham, a bar, very friendly and helpful staff and a fine old institution to boot (established in 1837 to educate industrial workers).

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Postcard to Martin Stannard

I’m writing regarding my head. Do you think anything can be done about it? You can tell me. I can take it. Birdsong occurs frequently in my poetry (here it is again). I mean, I know it’s preferable to stars, but not how preferable. And what about horses? Because I know horses stand for common sense. Where do you stand on the whole ‘building a bridge between you and the reader’ issue? When should I bring in the horses?

C.J. Allen

'A Strange Arrangement: New and Selected Poems' by C.J. Allen. Launched tonight at the Nottingham Mechanics, North Sherwood Street, Nottingham. 7.30pm. Admission free. Be there or be be square!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

I've survived my first week back at work after an 8-week period of illness (disturbingly, my longest period off work for over 20 years) during which I had plenty of time to read, among other things, the parables and short stories of Borges with its conundrums and alternative worlds, and the poetry of Lee Harwood and John Ashbery. Harwood's work has a gentleness that I found easy and restful. As for Ashbery's poetry, I have to be in the right mood to read it - but in the right mood, there's no-one better. When I was ill I found it soothing - the complete absence of any kind of hectoring or dogmatic tone, the gently entertaining whimsy, the meanderings of the longer poems. I was also sustained my my continuing email correspondence with an American friend, the poet John Bloomberg-Rissman, with whom I've been swapping emails on poetry, poets and much else for 3 or 4 years now.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

In an earlier post I mentioned pamphlet-publishing. Pamphlets have an immediacy and sense of intimacy which regular books don't. Owning a pamphlet by a poet you like gives you a feel of being in touch with their work, and, from my point of view, producing pamphlets has often felt like a collaborative effort, where the pamphlet is a constructed work combining craft, design and, of course poetry.

Pamphlets are also a way of getting poets' work out quickly and they are generally distributed to an in-crowd tuned in to small-press publishing, often via the web. If I shift 100 copies of a pamphlet I feel I've done OK, and my best-seller is Lee Harwood's 'Evening Star' (currently awaiting a re-print), just over 200. But a lot of those copies have gone to reviewers, publishers and editors, so the influence of a pamphlet is out of proportion to the numbers produced.

One pamphlet which hasn't been restricted to an in-crowd is Kelvin Corcoran's "Roger Hilton's Sugar". Kelvin has hooked up with the Hayward Gallery's touring exhibition of St. Ives painters, 'Spotlight on St. Ives', and given readings from "Roger Hilton's Sugar" at several of the galleries on the tour, including Swansea, Cheltenham and others. The next one's at Huddersfield Gallery on 8th Feb, if you're in the area. His readings have been well-received. It's a nice change to see poetry like Kelvin's getting exposure to other than the usual audience of other poets and poetry afficionados.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Stained glass window, Palma Cathedral, Mallorca, Spain
(photo credit: Rachel Baker)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Flying Goose is a tiny venue with a great atmosphere and a nice mixture of regulars and newcomers. I'm a regular and I can usually catch up with friends and acquaintances there. The readings are organised by John Lucas, and they've been running for four years now. John has kindly opened the floor to Leafe Press poets, including Lee Harwood, Kelvin Corcoran and C.J. Allen.

At the start of the evening John Seed read from his 'New and Collected', and, after a break for wine and conversation (and book buying) he read from 'Pictures from Mayhew'. He described Mayhew's reportings on the London poor as a nineteenth century Ullyses (the Joyce version) - a vast proto-modernist collection of voices. He also read from the second volume, due out from Shearsman Books this year, and finished by reading some versions of, or at least poems inspired by, classical Chinese. I already had the Mayhew book, but I bought the other one and got him to sign it. It looks like a fine collection, Objectivist-inspired and influenced I suspect by Richard Cadell, who published Seed's first two collections. Right up my street. And a fine reading I thought.

At one point Seed asserted that "we all speak in verse, and in fragments. We're all poets - we're not novelists and we're not realists". I'll buy that.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Flying Goose

The Flying Goose cafe, Nottingham

There's a reading there tonight by London-based poet John Seed, which I'm going to and which I'll report on tomorrow.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I'm working hard on the first Leafe Press P-O-D book, C.J. Allen's 'New and Selected'. The book is published, I've got the first batch from Lightning Source and the launch is arranged for 30th January. It's been difficult in some ways, but mainly because I don't have the right software, and therefore the digital files I submitted kept getting rejected until I got some help from an expert - he knows who he is - thanks! I also had problems because LS don't make it easy for publishers new to the game, and their ordering system and general website design is confusing (at least for me). But the end result is a beauty and I've learned my lessons for the next one.

Pamphlet publishing now seems hopelessly uneconomic and time-consuming. But I will bring occasional ones out - pamphlets are a genre in their own right and in my own writing I like to work toward pamphlet-sized chunks of poetry. One drawback of P-O-D is that it encourages poets to bring out books that are too long, with a lot of padding and loss of focus.