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.