Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bunting Re-Evaluated

The role of Basil Bunting as poet laureate of Northumbria is re-evaluated here by Tynesider Keith Armstrong. The essay was drawn to my attention by Alistair Noon. I think Armstrong makes some valid points: I'm all for questioning the power of the 'vast cultural umbrella' bequeathed by twelve years of New Labour, and the consequent 'hegemony ... of local authorities and the Arts Council and many other unaccountable quangos'. It's also fine by me to re-evaluate Bunting in general, and, as I said to Alistair, I certainly wouldn't hold Bunting up as a moral paragon - his attitude to women, and ridiculous views on 'southrons' aren't things I'd admire (though to call him 'fascist', as one contributor does is just plain wrong). However, the article seems incoherent, and lacking in a clear argument. Armstrong rails against the 'literary intelligentsia' as opposed to the 'grass roots' (in fine 1970s-style Old Labour language), but it's hard to see exactly why he objects so much to Basil Bunting. He quotes Peter Riley's objection to Lee Hall's recent radio programme, and the way it propagated a North v South mythology; but that's hardly Bunting's fault, and more to do with the fantasising of Barry MacSweeney. He trots out a series of poets who don't like Bunting's work, though as none of them substantiate their views with quotation or detailed comment, they are really just matters of opinion. A number of contributors question the authenticity of Bunting's accent; I agree that in the recordings I've heard it's over-exagerated, but I can detect authentic pronunciation of Northumberland (as opposed to Tyneside) speech under the put-on, and, in any case, Bunting's poetry wasn't a poetry modelled on everyday conversation. So, as I've said, it's hard to work out precisely what his objection to Bunting is. One clue might be his comments on Tom Pickard's and Barry MacSweeney's poetry:

" [their] collections make monotonous reading... Their work is virtually inaccessible to those unable to share the crude and simplistic emotions or tolerate the inarticulateness of the language which goes as near to using words without meaning as one can. "

Whether it's actually possible to use words 'without meaning' is a moot point, but, by contrast, talking about the poetry of working class poets like Joseph Skipsey, the coal-miner, and Tyneside shipyard worker Jack Davitt, Armstrong says "What these poems lack in literary technique they more than make up for in their refreshing openness and accessibility". The question here is: is there something fundamentally different about poetry when it's written by - or written for - 'working-class people'? It seems rather patronising to suggest that the working classes (however that's defined) can only cope with "openness and accessibliity". The mental processes and the perceptions of the world experienced by a coal-miner or truck driver aren't essentially different to those of a doctor or lawyer. W.S. Graham was a working-class poet; apprenticed as a shipyard engineer at fourteen, he remained until he'd served his time at twenty-one, and throughout his life worked at casual jobs, including work as a fisherman on a trawler. But his poetry addresses philosophical and perceptual questions, and can be as complex as any. And when does a working-class person cease to be working class once he / she becomes a poet, or gets an education? Is Keith Armstrong working class? Maybe, but he also has a PhD from Durham University. Growing up, as I did, in a working-class community, one thing I learned is that you can't pigeon-hole people. The shipyard workers and miners who were our neighbours were as complex and contradictory as any other human beings; any poetry written or read by such people would have needed to reflect that.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A hopeful thought for 2010 on:

"When I realize that any chapbook publisher with a Blogspot page and PayPal account can sell directly to readers worldwide, I feel hopeful. I just hope we can find time to read & enjoy this great bounty."

Ron Silliman

To read Ron's full post, click here.
Cid Corman, Ed Baker, Theodore Enslin and Chuck Sandy

Turns out Ed Baker, regular visitor to Litterbug, is a friend of Theodore Enslin (see photo). Ed reminded me that the poem to George Oppen was called 'The Weather Within'; it's a wonderful piece of work, and it's still available on-line, here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Follow follow follow after following
flow flowing follow after flow
a milk of light the nacre flowing
into follow milk flow as follows
milked of its colors let them
follow flow sun's bent a lasting
milk in light its nacre sheers to
touch as flow feels following after
flow touch to feel against light
against a following flow to after
let be on what is flowing it
follows as let of nacre after
sun to color dogged it will appear
a following discreet as distance follows

Theodore Enslin

I haven't read much Enslin for a long time, and today, when I knew I'd have to wait in the car for a family member to arrive at the station, I grabbed a book of his poetry on the way out. The book was In Tandem published in 2001 by Stop Press, which I believe was run by artist Basil King. Being on my own, I could read the poetry aloud without people thinking I'm mad. It's like listening to, or playing, a piece of music (Enslin,of course, is a composer), and as you read, you notice the careful, sound-based composition, and the way phrases are introduced, then re-worked and developed. It's an exhilirating experience. I don't know of any other poet who writes quite like this, with the possible exception of John Taggart, who is a friend of Enslin's.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Here's good blog: it's not poetry, but highly amusing satirical comment on the goings-on of British politics, with a grotesque set of characters - drawn from life - including The Vicar of Downing Street, The Glorious Successor and Lord Mandelbrot the Ever-Recurring. It's called The Curmudgeon.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I'm off to Frankfurt tomorrow, after a three-hour search all over the house for my missing passport, which we (the whole family joined in) finally found. Phew! If it hadn't showed up, I simply couldn't have gone. So much for freedom of movement, or even just Freedom. Anyway, there would have been serious repercussions had I not been able to go, and I have a living to earn. So very relieved.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The World Seen from the Air

Stuck for a Christmas present for that hard-to-please family member, that discerning friend? Try this. New from Nottingham's own Skysill Press, and with a beautfiful cover design from Sam Ward, this 22-page booklet contains poems I wrote about three years ago. The work is, I guess, lyric poetry, and uses repetition and variation, as in musical form.

Support an enterprising new press and a struggling poet by buying a copy from the Skysill website.

22 pages. £4 including postage.

Many thanks to Sam for all his hard work and support.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Yet more on...

In reponse to the the previous post, I'd first of all say to Ms. Litherland - if she's reading this - thank you for taking the trouble to comment on my post, and for your interesting take on the subject. I do take issue with a couple of things however, as will be apparent below. But to take up one point at the outset: I'm sure Sean O'Brien was indeed moved by MacSweeney's poetry; I don't doubt his sincerity on that. The reason people objected to him being a major source in the documentary is that he represents a faction in poetry which has held cultural dominance (though that appears to be changing) and has, in his written statements, consistently attacked - I could dig out the quotes if I looked hard enough - what might be called 'innovative' or 'radical' poetry and poets; these latter being the very people who sustained MacSweeney over the years with friendship and practical help. It was this that made people feel that O'Brien's prominence in the documentary was incongruous.

As for MacSweeney's poetry, I have my own views on it, which differ from Ms. Litherland's and also from Andrew Duncan's in 'The Council of Heresy'. Duncan identifies 'Pearl' as MacsWeeney's masterpiece, and regards 'The Book of Demons' - with reservations - very highly. In my view however, the best work is the mid-period of 'Ranter', 'Wild Knitting', 'Jury Vet' etc. While there's plenty of rage and passion in these works, these emotions are lent force by a level of restraint, and by impersonal elements - historical in Ranter, sociological in Jury Vet, for example. I read these works, and 'Hellhound Memos', before I knew anything about MacSweeney the man, and what have learnt about him since hasn't added anything to the work. In Wild Knitting, there's a section which the fury of the speaker leads up to the tenderness of the lines:

You the wronged woman. You the complexity. You the seeker
of buses and trains. You the wandering wife far from home.

The change of tempo and blending of emotions in this poem is subtler and more skillful than anything found in 'The Book of Demons'.

For me, the least interesting thing about MacSweeney, or about his poetry, is the man's alchoholism. In terms of emotional and intellectual content, 'The Book of Demons' is thinner than the earlier work, though it's undoubtedly rip-roaring and would have come across well in performance. I thing Pearl is more complex, but still not as rich as the mid-period work. I didn't know MacSweeney personally, but to say that "he had no skin" as O'Brien did, is implying that he was a uniquely sensitive individual in line with the Romantic stereotype. But he worked as a reporter - a notoriously hard-nosed profession - and as Adian Semmens has pointed out, plenty of people knew him as a reporter and nothing else. Wilfred Owen's contention that 'the poetry is in the pity' was controversial at the time, and was objected to by Yeats, for example. To say 'the poetry is in the pain' doesn't do justice to MacSweeney's work. Everyone suffers pain, but not everyone writes great poetry.

More on MacSweeney

I really must check my blog comments more often. The following post consists of the comment posted by Jackie Litherland in response to the discussion of the recent BBC Radio programme on Barry MacSweeney. Ms Litherland was Barry MacSweeney's partner in his last years, and is the dedicatee of 'The Book of Demons'.

"The type of programme described by Alan about Barry's poetics we would all love to hear. As Tom said you could have several programmes about Barry and why not? Music has just this kind of coverage on Radio 3. I have always been bemused that poetry is not given the same serious space.
I thought, however, that in 30 minutes, Tom and the producers managed to give a taste of Barry and his work.
As to the reference to Barry's alcoholism, it is not a side show away from the main stage. Barry wrote The Book of Demons to make sure that did not happen. It is not just a question of separating the poetry from his life, the poetry is the pain, just as in Owen's work the poetry is the pity.
Barry was never one to shirk a fight. Once he started to try to renounce the demon drink, he threw himself into the cause. I use the language of messianic zeal deliberately.
Of course a complicated and complex poet and man such as Barry saw the humour and irony of such a battle as well as its terrible consequences.
He wasn't ashamed of his alcoholism, he was part of a movement that treated it as an illness.
As for Sean's presence in the programme, I thought his comment about Barry having no skin was very perceptive.
The Poetry Book Society Recommendation for The Book of Demons came from Sean (who was one of two judges) who wrote a strong appreciation of the book.
The reference to 'a bucket of lava flung over the listener' in his poem Coffinboat quoted on the programme is not about Barry's reading style but about his late night telephone calls.
Sean told me he was moved to tears when he heard Barry read his Pearl poems at Morden Tower.
However I do agree that a poet from within the avant garde circle that Barry belonged to should have been interviewed. Ric Caddel would have been the ideal candidate had he lived. But Maggie O'Sullivan, Nicholas Johnson come to mind."

Jackie Litherland

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tom Chivers: 'The Terrors'

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Clive Allen kindly loaned me this, which is I'm pleased about, as I was resisting buying it; it only contains one poem, which, of course, I've already got. The main interest is the CD of Bunting reading 'Briggflatts', and the DVD of Peter Bell's 1982 documentary. This latter is a good, old-fashioned, slow-moving documentary. There's not much information in it, but interviews with the poet, in which he talks a lot of about form and technique, and in which he reads long sections of the poem. There are also some shots of Brigflatts meeting house, and of Bunting attending a quaker meeting there. All good stuff.

It was interesting to hear Bunting saying that, at the age he was (82 at the time) his poetry had been written so long ago, it felt like it had been written by someone else. That's a feeling I certainly identify with (tho I'm not 82), and must be a common one amongst poets. In what sense are poems I wrote ten or more years ago written by the same person as I am now?

Bloodaxe, ISBN: 978-1852248260

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Holed up in a hotel near Amsterdam docks, and deterred from venturing into the city in the evenings by wind, wet, cold and dark, I've been passing the time reading Andrew Duncan's 'The Council of Heresy'. A book about difficult modern poetry which makes you laugh out loud - intentionally - can't be bad. Duncan is a dazzling writer, so much so, that I find myself questioning whether I'm being taken in, and his ideas are spurious: I don't think they are, it's just that I'm not used to literary criticism being entertaining. Maybe I should just relax and enjoy it.

I've just read a section called 'Games of the Gifted: Cryptic Canons' in which reading Tom Raworth and Allen Fisher is equated with the mental games that gifted children play when bored in the classroom: "It's arguable that the withdrawal from the High Street poetry scene is a re-enactment of the withdrawal of a seven-year-old child from the classroom into a private world full of games and protected by dissociation".

Duncan also discusses the fear of boredom as a powerful force first encountered in childhood: "...if intelligent people have a paranoid fear of reading Tony Harrison, it's not to do with social conflict, it's just because they're frightened of being bored", though he points out later that "many people are bored by avant-garde poetry too".

There's a chapter later in the book (I'm only part-way through) entitled "The Avant-Garde and East European Cults". I can't imagine how that'll pan out, but can't wait to read it. Cracking stuff, highly recommended.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I'd never been to the Small Publishers Fair before. My impressions were: a smaller room than I'd expected - the tables were uncomfortably close together, so you had to be on friendly terms with the neighbouring stall - and a friendly, almost community atmosphere. Most of the stalls were selling handmade or artists' books, expensive and high quality. Apart from Leafe, there were 5 poetry stalls, all promoting excellent poetry: Veer Books (of Birckbeck College - wherever that is), West House Books, Shearsman, Reality Street and a stall selling work by Thomas A Clark. It was good to meet the proprietors, some of whom I knew already.

I met several other poets there - Giles Goodland, Frances Presley, Andrew Duncan, John Welch, and was sorry to miss some others who couldn't make it due to the UK's disintegrating transport system - Wendy Mulford didn't make it for her reading, but I enjoyed the reading by John Welch and Linda Black. I restricted myself to buying 3 books - the Reality Street Book of Sonnets, Thomas A Clark's new Carcanet book, and Andrew Duncan's 'The Council of Heresy'.

We sold a satisfying number of books, including several of the new Leafe Book by Adbellatif Laâbi.

Sam Ward brought along his latest Skysill Press pamphlet - 'The World Seen from the Air', which is by me (more on that later), and that went on the stall. Sam's done an excellent job of designing it.

Last, but not least, I got to spend a couple of days with friend and co-editor John Bloomberg-Rissman, and to stay over with John and his wife Kathy. A great pleasure. Sad to see them go, not knowing when we'll meet again.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Small Publishers' Fair, Nov 13-14

John Bloomberg-Rissman mans the Leafe stall

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Life is neither meaningful nor meaningless. Meaning and its absence are given to life by language and imagination. We are linguistic beings who inhabit a reality in which it makes sense to make sense.

For life to make sense it needs a purpose. Even if our aim in life is to be totally in the here and now, free from past conditioning and any idea of a goal to be reached, we still have a clear purpose - without which life would be meaningless. A purpose is formed of words and images. And we can no more step out of language and imagination than we can step out of our bodies."

Stephen Bachelor, "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I'm think I'm all ready for the Small Publishers' Fair. The books I need have all been delivered, and all I need to do is pack them into a suitcase (which will be heavy), and get on the train to London early Friday morning. Among the publications I've assembled is only one of mine - the pamphlet 'Hotel February' - but I'm hoping that Sam Ward will appear at the fair, as he said he might, with some copies of my new Skysill pamphlet 'The World Seen from The Air'. That will be my fifth pamphlet. And no 'first full-length collection' yet. At my age! My CV's seriously lacking.

But then, who needs a CV when there's no 'career'? And is a 'first full-length collection' really a step up from pamphlet publication? I'm not so sure. The best - in my view - poets around still publish their work in pamphlet form, and those same pamphlets often reach as many readers as a typical full-length book (and, of course, work published on the Web generally reaches many more readers than the average book). Many poets (myself included when I think about it) actually write specifically for pamphlet publication, in terms of length and format, as if it were a poetic form. Such work often loses something when packaged in a bigger collection. As for CVs: they're useful for getting a job, but have nothing to do with poetry.

Monday, November 9, 2009

On this day, twenty years ago

The Fall of the Berlin Wall, November 9th 1989

In the summer of 1983 I went with a flat-mate on a trip to Berlin, mainly because it was the cheapest city in Europe to fly to, and at that time, flying was very expensive. We found a wealthy, cosmopolitan German city. Of course, we wanted to see the wall, so we walked though a wood in a park until we stumbled on it: smooth concrete, with a rounded top, and covered in graffiti. The west Berlin authorities had built observation towers so that tourists like us could take a peep over, so up we climbed. I still remember my shock when I reached the top: beyond the smooth concrete we saw the trenches, barbed wire, guard dogs and sentry towers. West Berlin suddenly felt very different - like a prison, though, of course, it was the other side that was the prison. During our visit we obtained a 1-day visa to visit the East, and again, I still have very strong impressions of that day: the weirdness of being in a place with no adverts. Not to mention no bars, cafes or shops. The only shop I remember finding was a Marxist-Leninist bookshop. So much for my reminiscences. Six years later, it was all swept away. For a more detailed, and better-informed take on those events, read Alistair Noon's excellent essay on Litter. You'll also find Alistair's translations of contemporary German poet Gunter Kunert.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Small Publishers' Fair Friday 13th and Saturday 14th November 2009 Open 11am to 7pm each day - admission free Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL

Leafe Press will be there, with Bamboo books. Your chance to meet editors, Alan Baker and John Bloomberg-Rissman - how could you miss it??!

for more details. click here

Saturday, October 24, 2009

“Else” by Mark Goodwin (pub. Shearsman, 2008, ISBN: 978-1905700-97-4. £7.95)

I first encountered Mark Goodwin's poetry as editor of this e-zine (Litter), and I thought it was striking, individual work that didn't fit into any current category. Goodwin's upbringing on a farm and activities as a climber and walker colour the poetry, which presents an unsentimental picture of the natural world. Some of this work could be seen as contemporary pastoral, in the sense that it contains social comment in the context of a rural, or urban/rural setting (the rural backdrop here offset by urban blight). In 'Ways Through an Outskirts Estate' the choice of detail holds the reader's attention, while the poem makes a tangential comment on social conditions:

where eight-year-olds of uncertain
ages wander in strangely dangerous
grubby packs

The language is rugged with Anglo-Saxon diction and alliterative metre, and in keeping with that, some poems are like riddles, particularly the intriguing “Peter’s Selfless Portrait”:

My paper is hard dark. Deep
as Said, yet smells of voltage-white;
the tingle of fish slipping.

and we have these lines from the poem “Hoar Frost”:

We wake
to a new world, white and shatterable...

...a brilliance of crazed white pages; a collage
of crinkled manuscripts.

There's always a danger in this type of writing of overdoing it, and there are one or two places when Goodwin does this; but overall, this poem, like many others in this collection, shows a skillful handling of pace and sound judgment about how far he can push the phrasing.

To read the full review, click here...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More sections from The Book of Random Access are available, this time, I'm very pleased to say, on Stride. Many thanks to editor Rupert Loydell.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Manipulating Goddess

Ed Baker

and here's some poetry to go with it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Gertrude Stein, in her work, has always been possessed by the intellectual passion for exactitude in the description of inner or outer reality. She has produced a simplification by this concentration, and as a result the destruction of associational emotion in poetry and prose. She knows that beauty, music, decoration, the result of emotion should never be the cause, even events should not be the cause of emotion nor should they be the material of poetry or prose. They should consist of an exact reproduction of either an outer or an inner reality."

from The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Back from foreign climes, I have to take in the unastounding news that the Forward Prize has been won by a certain Don Paterson (BTW, is that 'Don' as in 'Don Corleone'?). What the criteria were I don't know, though judge David Harsent did praise the winner of the Best Single Poem prize by saying "It's just knee-weakeningly good". As it happens, I already have weak knees from an old sports injury, so I'm not interested in poems that would make them any weaker. The poem in question was by Robin Robertson, and according to The Guardian:

"...Paterson and Robertson have now each won three Forward prizes... Sean O'Brien became the first poet to win all three prizes in 2007."

In the words of Private Eye, "The small but perfectly-formed world of British poetry just got a little smaller".

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Gists and Piths is publishing sections from The Book of Random Access - they're serializing one a day over the next week, which I'm very pleased about. Thanks to editors Simon Turner and George Ttoouli.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Post-Warhol we're used to the idea of artists as wealthy business people à la Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons. Young artists trying to forge a career appear, from their glossy websites, to be operating in the world of commerce. We're used to thinking of works of art in terms of their monetary value. Myself, I think artwork - literary, visual, or whatever - comes from a different place to impulse to make money, so it's interesting to read Gertrude Stein's description of the Paris art scene in the days when Picasso, Matisse et al where penniless unknowns. Speaking of her Saturday night salons, at which paintings by the likes of Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse were hanging for visitors to look at, she says:

"...really everybody could come in and as at that time these pictures had no value and there was no social privilege attached to knowing anyone there, only those came who were really interested".

The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas is full of insights into the creative process, and about Stein's work. Here she talks about her own writing:

"He [Valloton] asked Gertrude Stein to pose for him. She did the following year. She had come to like posing, the long still hours folowed by a long dark walk intensified the concentration with which she was creating her sentences. The sentences of which Marcel Brion, the french critic, has written, by exactitude, austerity, absence of variety in light and shade, by the refusal of the use of the subconscious Gertrude Stein achieves a symmetry which has a close analogy to the symmetry of the musical fugue of Bach."

It strikes me that by using a proxy to tell her own story, Stein is doing the opposite of what some people accuse her of: namely, puffing herself up. She refers to herself in the third person, and always uses her full name; the reader is fully aware that she is the author of the book, so she seems to me to ironically questioning the objectivity of any autobiography, and also questioning the validity of authorial and artistic identity - highlighting the fact that an author's or artist's name is their 'brand'. At the same time, she is able to give some valuable insights into her own psychology as a writer. In this passage she expresses the mixture of confidence and diffidence that characterises the artistic personality:

"The winter went on. Three Lives was written. Gertrude Stein asked her sister-in-law to come and read it. She did and was deeply moved. This pleased Gertrude Stein immensely, she did not believe that anyone could read anything she wrote and be interested. In those days she never asked anyone what they thought of her work, but were they interested wnough to read it. Now she says if they can bring themselves to read it they will be interested."

Monday, October 12, 2009

This post is to reply to the comments to the previous one:

To John: I didn't meet any poets in Bulgaria, and still know nothing about Bulgarian poetry. This is due to to my double-life, mentioned before on this blog, whereby no-one I work with knows I have anything to do with poetry. I intend to keep it that way. I don't know why. A strange quirk in my personality.

To Ed: I too am excited about discovering and exploring (if that's not too colonial a metaphor) Stein's work. The more I read her work, the more I think she's one of the greats, in the sense that great writers invent forms which subsequent writers perform variations on. Writing her autobiography through the persona of her life-partner is a brilliant ruse. But it's one thing to think of a brilliant ruse, quite another to implement it successfully; of course, she does, and manages to extract the maximum humour, irony and subversion from it. I'm also amazed at the sheer volume of her output. How to Write sounds like something I'd like to read. And is The Making of Americans available in full?

To Alistair: that's interesting; I'm not surprised that people in Bulgaria can't afford to travel. I was taken aback by the poverty-stricken state of Sofia. Not what you expect from a European capital city. I read that's it's the poorest country in Europe, and that during the 90s inflation reached 579%. It seems to have had the closest links to the Soviet Union of any eastern bloc country, and the people there told me there's still a hankering after the communist days, especially amongst the older generation. Meanwhile, some of the young people I spoke to see the free market as the answer to their problems...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bulgaria feels like a country that hasn't quite dragged itself out from behind the Iron Curtain. I'm staying in the capital Sofia in a concrete block of a hotel, with surly staff and a brown-beige 1970s interior. I'm surrounded by decaying concrete apartment blocks, that stretch for miles through the city. My Bulgarian colleagues are young IT professionals, friendly and extremely hospitable, and last night they took me for a traditional Bulgarian meal in the city centre.They're the country's future, although, unlike their counterparts whom I worked with in the Czech Republic, who were full of optimism about their country, the young Bulgarians I met seemed rather less hopeful, in fact a little resigned.

Did you know that Bulgarians shake their heads to mean 'yes', and nod to mean 'no'?

Trips like this are like a suspension of everyday life for me; of housework, shopping, car problems and general family duties. I've taken the oppurtunity lately of using these trips to read books I should have read before, but which take time the aforementioned chores don't usually allow. On recent trips I've digested Don Quijote, Moby Dick and Great Expectations. This time I brought along the Library of America edition of Gertrude Stein's works, and I'm currently immersed in 'The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas'. It's a delight, and I'll be posting some quotes from it soon.

Monday, September 28, 2009

There's some new artwork on Litter from Peterjon Skelt, complementing the poetry already published from Frances Presley.

Forthcoming: new poetry from Mark Goodwin, and a review of Goodwin's collection Else.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Last week I visited relatives in Newcastle, going there and back in a day, by train. As reading I took W.S. Graham's New Collected Poems. Of course, WSG is one of my Poetic Heroes, and the book, published in 2004, which has a beautiful hardback version, contains all Graham's published work, plus a lot of stuff from previously unpublished manuscripts. It's an awe-inspiring collection. I enjoyed burying myself in his 1940s collection "The White Threshold". But one thing that spoils the book for me, is the 6-page "Foreword" by Douglas Dunn. It's hard to see what purpose it serves, as there's already a brief and interesting Introduction by editor Matthew Francis which talks about the text and sources. Dunn's "Foreword" is too short to say much about a collecton of such scope, but too long to be ignored, and in fact veers into unsubstantiated opinion, culminating in this:

"Literary history invites us to choose between Graham and Larkin, or Larkin and Hughes, or who and who... it's the owl-cry of bores attempting to make a name for themselves by 'revising the canon'. God rot them."

which is no more than a rant. Really, it seems to have no place at the head of a book like this. Personally I would choose between Larkin and Graham, and would assert that the latter is a more important poet. This would make me a "bore" who is "revising the canon" in inverted commas. Yet in the very next sentence, Dunn says "... literary history is often wrong...". So, it's OK for Douglas Dunn to question literary history and the canon, but anyone else who tries it is to be rotted by God (at least that phrase has the virtue of originality, as I've never heard anyone use it in all my years on the planet). But hey, I've wasted enough time on what is really just a sloppy opinion-piece. To get to the point; Douglas Dunn is a British poet of the "mainstream", or what Ron Silliman has dubbed "The School of Quietude". Silliman's phrase points up how what we call "mainstream" poets are really just another school or faction within the Byzantine complexity of contemporary poetry. Pretending they're not a School, and that they're a gold standard which everyone else deviates from, is a longstanding tactic. It's this tactic that forms the rationale for Douglas Dunns's piece.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My attention's been drawn to two new books that look more than interesting:

Alistair Noon's translation of August Stramm - Alistair will be known to readers of Litter, and is producing some interesting translation work at the moment. I wonder if he'll be translating W.S. Graham into German anytime soon? Germanophones are really deprived there.

Peter Gizzi's new book New Depths of Deadpan, which I can't wait to get my hands on.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I thought this response to the recent BBC radio broadcast on Barry MacSweeney - from someone who knew the man personally - ought to be lifted out of the 'comments' stream and put on the main blog:

"An interesting programme, which I caught up with rather late. Didn't really tell me very much I didn't know already, but I was staggered by Iain Sinclair's remark that Barry 'was nothing but a poet'.

I know, and have known, many people who also knew Barry, some of them quite well, who had no idea he was a poet at all."

Aidan Semmens

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Terrors

The Terrors
Tom Chivers, Nine Arches Press. ISBN: 978-0-9560559-2-7. £5
Image (right) copyright © Emma Robertson, 2009

This chapbook is "...a sequence of imagined emails sent from the author to inmates at London's Newgate Prison incarcerted between roughly 1700 and 1760." When I first read that I suspected that it might be a little contrived or gimmicky. I ordered the chapbook thinking that if I didn't like it I just wouldn't mention it. I needn't have worried; it's excellent. The emails provides titles for the prose-poems, and a framing device, which then allows the poems to play with language: the mixing of registers and the anachronisms work well, and because we see just one side of the correspondence, the inmates have a kind of spectral presence. We get glimpses of the horrors (terrors) of their lives, which the chatty emails throw into stark relief:

"Barbara, is it true? They tied you to a hurdle, hauled you screaming from Newgate to Tyburn? If a woman kills her husband, right, that's treason: regal submission writ small Babs."

It's powerful stuff - one email says "I attach evidence of your crimes in high res jpeg" followed by descriptions of some nasty physical abuse. But it also has energetic language, knowing irony and the textual sophistication.

The chapbook is well-produced in a kind of old-fashioned style, and includes good line-drawings from Emma Robertson. John Bloomberg-Rissman has asked me to collect some UK pamphlets for him for when he visits in the autumn. This one will be on the list.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The UK government's plan to require every adult who has contact with children not their own (such as volunteers at youth clubs etc) to be cleared by the Criminal Records Bureau is yet another step in removing from UK citizens the presumption of innocence. From now on, you have to prove your innocence; you're not a valid person until you been cleared by the authorities.

Craig Murray talks sense on this. As some of the commentators on Murray's blog point out, for those of us who grew up with a certain level of personal freedom it's bad enough, but the generation now growing up under constant supervision and instilled with fear and suspicion, is in danger of buying into the idea that the government needs to control you in order to protect you.

What of the role of poetry in all this? The usual vexed question. Given that we have an education system that seems designed to breed conformity - Peter Philpott has pointed out that it would be impossible to put innovative poetry into the reductive, target-driven curriculum - poetry might provide a way into less constrained mode of thinking. I heard a story about how W.B. Yeats once dismissed a poet's work by saying 'it lacks chaos'. Maybe chaotic thinking is one useful thing poetry might provide us with.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A new sequence of mine has been published in the latest issue of Shadowtrain. It's called 'Driving Songs'. Click here to read it. This sequence is from a short (unpublished) collection called 'everyday songs', which also includes 'Kitchen Songs' and 'Reading Songs'.

'Driving Songs' contains quotes from the following texts:

Thomas Paine, "Common Sense"
Charles Darwin, "The Origin of Species"
The Guardian, January 2009
President Obama's inauguration speech

Henry David Thoreau, "On Walden Pond"
Ian Sinclair, the blurb for Bill Griffiths' "Book of Spilt Cities"
Travelodge borchure

Thanks to Shadowtrain editor Ian Seed.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Michael Haslam, The Quiet Works.
Oystercatcher Press. £4.00 A5 16pp. ISBN: 978-1-905885-21-3.

This pamphlet, which I've just bought, comes highly recommended. Haslam is one of our elder-statesman, a contemporary of Peter Riley and Lee Harwood. His work is like neither of theirs, consisting of highly-wrought lyrical utterances, though, like Riley, he investigates landscape as a palimpset, a layered record of social history, and the individual's place within it. "The Quiet Works" is "the latest, or last, of a Work, under the general title 'Continuale Song' in print (2009) in the following books: Mid Life (Shearsman 2007), The Music Laid Her Songs in Language (Arc 2001), A Sinner Saved by Grace (Arc 2005), and A Cure for Woodness (Arc 2009). Details of these publications may be found here.

The poetry works best when read out loud, which brings out its alliterative music:

Disquieted poor lover stumbles in defeat
as yelping plover tips the tumbril, tumbles
from a troubled youth his mill-shed fumbles
through to elders' umbral gloom and grumbles
where waters meet in derelicted darkness,
at a confluence of brooks: the spill of self disgorged
where goit-wall crumbles into streaming turmoil.

Great stuff from Peter Hughes' Oystercatcher Press; it was great to see it pick up the Michael Marks Publishers'Award (for outstanding UK publisher of poetry in pamphlet form).

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The radio programme on Barry MacSweeney was broadcast to an audience that probably new little about the type of poetry he represented, or about MacSweeney himself, and it had thirty minutes to position the poet and his work. Ian Sinclair, Jackie Litherland and Chivers himself did convey some important aspects of the poetry, namely its foregrounding of the oral - of sound patterning and repeated motifs - and MacSweeney's ability to create his own myths and maintain them within a poem or sequence of poems.

But, inevitably, the programme presented MacSweeney as the stereotypical Romantic doomed poet, born to live fast and die young (or at least middle-aged). Did we really need the gruesome detail of the effects of alcohol on his body? Probably not, though at least it was followed by him reading one of the Demon Poems for which it provided a context. You could argue that MacSweeney's poetry, like Ginsberg's, can't really be separated from his biography. Is that a fault in a body of poetic work? Discuss. But an inordinate number of those thirty minutes were spent discussing his alcohol habit, and all of the recordings of MacSweeney talking were of him talking about drinking.

The programme assumed that readers weren't interested in, or capable of absorbing, a simple outline of his poetic development, and the influences on it. There was little contextualizing in terms of poetic contemporaries or religious and political influences (like seventeenth century radical movements for example, or MacSweeney's late conversion to Christianity); no mention of Ranter, and its reference to the 17th century Ranters, and no mention of Pearl, and its reference to the medieval poem of that name. No mention of Thomas Chatterton, and the influence of that literary myth on MacSweeney. The best thing in the programme were the clips of MacSweeney reading his work; he was a very good reader. Unintentional humour was provided by the quote from a Sean O'Brien poem which likened MacSweeney's reading style to 'a bucket of lava flung over the listener'.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Barry MacSweeney on BBC Radio: tomorrow afternoon, 4.30pm, Tom Chivers presents The Poet of Sparty Lea. I'll reserve judgement till I've heard the broadcast, but it sounds promising. Will any non-poets tune in, I wonder?

Friday, September 4, 2009

John BR recently asked me "what's wrong with us?", following on from the same question in Angel Exhaust 20. Here's one answer: what's wrong with us is that we cling to the idea that there's an audience for contemporary poetry which doesn't consist of its practitioners. We also cling to the notion that this is a bad thing. We need to get used to the idea that the practice of poetry, at least in the US and Britain (and as far as I'm aware, in France) is no longer one where 'a poet' writes for his/her public. It's a participation sport. But "we" still retain an embarassment about that fact, and try to pretend, for example, that our publishing ventures are proper businesses. Maybe that was Salt's mistake (I see they've now had to venture into chick-lit fiction to balance the books).

"Innovative" poets, as much as anyone, still yearn for the poet-public paradigm, perhaps as a legacy of modernism. Witness this paragraph, from the otherwise excellent "Meaning Performance" from Tony Lopez

"There are always lots of poets who go in for competitions, belong to local writers' groups, and publish in small circulation magazines or vanity presses. They do no harm and they vanish in time."

Is it me, or does this sound like someone who thinks a select band of poets write the real stuff, and the myriad other scribblers ought to stop and listen to them? There are always lots of poets who go in for literary theory, belong to academic institutions, and publish with specialist presses and innovative magazines. They too do no harm, and, they (like all of us) vanish in time. In fact, the phenomenon Lopez comments on is the same one that sees thousands of creative writing graduates produced every year and poetry readings in Cambridge packed [sic] solely by poets. In neither case is this a bad thing, and in both cases it can produce exciting and beautiful poetry. It can also, in both cases, produce a lot of... OK let's not get negative.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"God help me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught - nay, the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience."

Melville, "Moby-Dick"

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tears in the Fence 50

One of the best UK magazines, Tears in the Fence, has reached issue 50, and is celebrating with a night of poetry on Saturday 5th September, at The Bell, 50 Middlesex St, E1 7EX, near Aldgate tube station. The said issue is packed with good stuff, including work by Iain Sinclair, Nathaniel Tarn, Martin Stannard, John James, John Welch and a collaboration between John Hall and Lee Harwood. The reviews and criticism section, is, as usual, excellent. This issue also contains three poems by the truly wonderful Vahni Capildeo, whose work I first came across in a pamphlet from Landfill Press called 'Person Animal Figure'; an engaging and powerful prose-poem sequence. Capildeo hails from Trinidad and is currently resident in Cambridge. She's reading in London on 15th September at The Lamb, 94 Lamb’s Conduit Street, WC1 - a reading I'd very much like to get to but probably won't.

To subscribe to Tears in the Fence, contact David Caddy at 38 Hod View, Stourpane, Blandford Forum, Dorset DT11 8TN, or email at david [at] davidcaddy . wanadoo .co .uk.
There's some excellent new poetry on Litter from John Phillips, Rufo Quintavalle and Janet Sutherland, and there'll shortly be some artwork by Peterjon Skelt to accompany the poems already published by Frances Presley.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Angel Exhaust 20

Angel Exhaust 20, edited by the inimitable Andrew Duncan and his co-editor Charles Bainbridge, comes highly recommended. In evidence of which, I need only list the contributors:

Kelvin Corcoran
Michael Haslam
David Chaloner
Charles Bainbridge
Colin Simms
John Goodby
D.S. Marriott
Jesse Glass
Carrie Etter
Jason Wilkinson
Out to Lunch
Rita Dahl
Jeff Hilson
Chris Brownsword
John Kinsella

The poets are given plenty of space, and the twenty-page sequence by David Chaloner is noteworthy. At the end, some entertaining responses to the question "what's wrong with us all?" including some nice invective from one Simon Gregory, such as:

"There is no primacy for the aural. Like, writing, heard of it? You don't think it's irretrievably altered our entire relationship with language? Call it [performance poetry] something to do with theatricals and bugger off.Likewise visual poetry, whether traditional, media or computerised. Totally trivial. Nothing to do with poetry. A minor decorative craft, like macramé."

And from AD himself:

"I have to say first of all that the worst thing on the scene is dumbing down. There are powerful institutional interests which want to eliminate every form of poetry except what is suitable for 15 year olds with learning difficulties."

There are also some thoughts on poetry readings by Alexander Hutchison, whose recent reading in Nottingham remains one of the most memorable I've heard.

I also have to mention the excellent cover, showing "the crows fighting the owls with the curling tongues of flame proper to the Altaic hillside" (Not the image at the top of this post, which is just what came up on Google Images for 'angel exhaust').

Contact details on Carrie Etter's blog.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

There can't be many first-rate songwriters and musicians who can boast a fully-fledged career as a poet and novelist before they took up songwriting, but Leonard Cohen can, of course. I stumbled across this gem recently: a documentary made in 1965 before he was known as a musician. It was made by the National Film Board of Canada, and as well a good documentary and an insight into Cohen himself, it's a glimpse into a lost literary culture.

To see it on the NFB website, click here

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Last week Amsterdam, this week North Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland. Bunting country. Not to mention Caedmon, Bede, Swinburne and Joseph Skipsey country. Or Tom Pickard, Barry MacSweeney... etc., etc.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

We've just returned from a family holiday, five days in Amsterdam; my first visit there and I wasn't disapppointed. It's the quietest and most traffic-free capital city I've ever been to, though you do have to watch out for the cyclists, who don't stop for anyone. We walked for miles in the sunshine along the tree-lined canals. As reading, I took the poems of Wallace Stevens. I was intending to get stuck into Stevens' late, long poem-sequences, but ended up agreeing with Lee Harwood in his afterword to Wendy Mulford's 'Collected Poems', when he asks "Do we ever 'do justice' to others' poems? Ever pay enough attention?" With poetry like Stevens', you feel it could take a lifetime to 'do justice' to it. As it turned out I read and re-read "The Man with the Blue Guitar". In case you haven't read it recently, here's part of this rich poem:


It is the sea that whitens the roof.
The sea drifts through the winter air.

It is the sea that the north wind makes.
The sea is in the falling snow.

This gloom is the darkness of the sea.
Geographers and philosophers,

Regard. But for that salty cup,
But for the icicles on the eaves -

The sea is a form of ridicule.
The iceberg settings satirize

The demon that cannot be himself,
That tours to shift the shifting scene.


I am a native in this world
And think in it as a native thinks,

Gesu, not native of a mind
Thinking the thoughts I call my own,

Native, a native in the world
And like a native think in it.

It could not be a mind, the wave
In which the watery grasses flow

And yet are fixed as a photograph,
The wind in which the dead leaves blow.

Here I inhale profounder strength
And as I am, I speak and move

And things are as I think they are
And say they are on the blue guitar.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I've started reading Tony Lopez's book of prose poems, 'Darwin'. The book itself doesn't attribute any quotes, but I assume it's made entirely of quotations. I recognized a quotation from Charles Darwin early on, then one or two others, as well as other passages that look certain to be from him. There are news reports, including some on another Darwin, the "back-from-the-dead" canoeist John Darwin, who faked his own death at sea in 2002 but walked into a London police station more than five years later. I also spotted a quote from J.H. Prynne's recent book on Wordwsorth. So we have Darwin's writings framing other found language and contemporary references. As you read, you spot repetitions, and the self-referentiality this creates gives you, as reader, a framework to latch on to; so the pleasure (which it is) comes from the language-world that the writing creates. It's a collage that has the effect of placing human activity into the larger framework of evolution and of physical natural processes. For example:

"Something so far unexplained is cutting off the whales' food supply in the Arctic circle, where the ice is retreating at an unprecedented rate. Appollinaire proposed the abolition of syntax, the adjective, punctuation, typographic harmony, the tenses and persons of verbs, and verses and stanzas in poems. The collapse was in the perception of artificial intelligence by government agencies and investors. We went on, the car wandering all over the muddy road, and Gertrude Stein sticking to the wheel."


I thought initially, that this work was similar to Lopez's 'False Memory', but re-reading some of those sonnets, I realised the effect is very different. The method of constructing the pieces out of quotations tends to foreground the form. The sonnets are quicker, with more twists and turns, and also I'd say, more lyrical. The prose-poems in 'Darwin' are good examples of that form; with a slower, cumulative build-up and a more expansive tone.

Friday, July 24, 2009

À propos the previous post, it's an interesting thought that children of around that age have no pre-conceived ideas about poetry, because they don't know any. Unlike previous generations of British schoolchildren who were made to memorize poems, and introduced to classics early on (I remember learning Jonson's 'drink to me only' aged 8), by the age of 12 most children have read virtually no poetry - so if you're asked to produce a sonnet, why not cobble it together from snatches of proverbs, song titles (that's another one she did) or whatever, rather than imitating a classic sonnet, which is what schoolchildren from another era may have done

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A chip off the old block

Here is a sonnet that will make you wise
This verse is not as difficult as a book
Without A Doubt A Blessing In Disguise
Well honestly with this your off the Hook

When Drastic Times Do Call For Drastic Measures
The Ball Is In Your Court and you have fought
The world is full of wonderous treasures
From Rags To Riches you have earnt and caught

If it Takes Two To Tango - me and you
To Get Up on The Wrong Side Of The Bed
The Icing On The Cake your dreams come true
The Best of Both Worlds it can spin your head

To Make A Long Story Somewhat Short
You must remember all that you are taught

This fine piece of work is by my daughter, aged 12. It was written as an assigment for school ('write a sonnet'). I think it's fab, but I am biased. It's interesting though, that she came up with idea of constructing it from proverbs (her own idea) - found language and constructed text in fact. Eat your heart out Tony Lopez!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Footnotes to Algebra

For various boring work-related reasons I haven't been able to post much lately. I hope to resume normal service soon. In the meantime, here's a shot of Eileen Tabios's latest book, featuring john Bloomberg-Rissman's impressive tattoo. The Book is FOOTNOTES TO ALGEBRA: Uncollected Poems 1995-2009, from Marsh Hawk Press.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Had a very civilized day on Saturday: we went to a garden party at Bromley House, an eighteenth century house in the centre of Nottingham, which was Nottingham's first subscripton library. My daughter works there part-time, as does one of our neighbours, which is how we got an invite. The library has some spectacular manuscripts dating back to the seventeenth century, and does a good job of preserving them.

After that, I met up with poets Adrian Buckner, Clive Allen and Julia Gaze, for one of our regular gatherings - not really a workshop; we just meet and discuss examples of our own and other people's work. We're not exactly like-minded. To give you an idea of the range, the samples we brought along to discuss were a short poem by 17C poet Thomas Bastard, a translation of a first-century AD Chinese poem by by Kenneth Rexroth, 'Man and Wife' by Robert Lowell (a poet I have an aversion to, though I can't deny the power of some his stuff), and one of Ted Berrigan's sonnets. Adrian and I have radically different notions of what constitutes poetry, but I'm very grateful for the discussions I have with him, which at least knock me out of the rut which I'm always in danger of getting into.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Tony Lopez's book of sonnets, "False Memory" is one of my favourite examples of poetry constructed from found language, in this case from the realms of commerce, business and technology. There's no narrative, and no cohesive sense to the poems, and yet they're a pleasurable read, deriving their strength, and - dare I say it, beauty - from the juxtaposition of seemingly unconnected phrases. I wondered how Lopez could come up with something as readable as this, when it would be easy to create a rather dull 'word salad'. So it was interesting to read, in 'Meaning Performance' an account of his working method:

"Performativity judged by reading the work aloud for me is the most important structuring device in composition. A collage of existing materials gets copied and re-copied , and reading aloud is the check for emotional, grammatical and rhythmical continuity."

So the process of creating a constructed text like this isn't that different to the way one might create more conventional work; by attention to the spoken word, to rhythms and cadences, where word and phrase can be re-worked and re-used. This latter is something most practising poets would recognise, even when their end-product appears to be the result of inspiration or impulse. And Lopez describes something else most poets would recognise, though I'd guess most, like me, are still trying to work out how to consistently achieve it; speaking of how he connects performance and writing, he says:

"The most significant aspect is the surrender of complete control in making something new."

So it may be that the process whereby good poetry is created is essentially the same, whether that poetry be modernist collage or conventional lyric; it's just that exponents of the former are likely to be more open about the procedures they use.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

You may have noticed that there hasn't been much activity on the Leafe Press publishing front lately; not that it's ever been a prolific press, but there's definitely been a lull, and there's a reason for that. John and I have been working on two books due to come out in September. They're full-sized books, and both involve collaborations with a number of people. So progress has been slow, and that's before the books have been printed and the marketing and distribution begin. But I don't want to sound at all disheartened. These are wonderful books, and I can't wait to unveil them. They are:

1,000 Views of Girl Singing - a collaborative project run from John's blog, and involving 47 contributors from around the world. A mix of visual art, music, translations and poetic transformations. And with a cover worked on by ten artists orchestrated by Rebekah May.

Fragments of a Forgotten Genesis, by Abdellatif Laâbi.A book-length poem by this major Moroccan poet. It will be the only version available in either French or English. Laâbi lives in Paris, the translators, Gordon and Nancy Hadfield, live in Denver, and Bob Rissman, who designed the cover, lives in California. So getting everyone's contribution coordinated takes time.

Publishing full-scale books is certainly a different proposition to pamphlets, and I do miss the immediacy and personal connection (as publisher) of the latter. So once these two big books are up and running, I intend to buy a new printer, a guillotine and a stapler, and start cranking out pamphlets again.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

best that any artist/poet learn and apprentice to a trade...learn a trade a useful trade! carpentry, plumbing, electrician, pottery, doctoring, ..

one builds a deck (to sit upon and read poetry) same way one builds a poem: one nail/one word at a time.

learn and practice the rules of your craft.... then break the rules.

Ed Baker

There is no excuse for literary criticism

Basil Bunting

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

John Bloomberg-Rissman recently pointed me to the newly-formed Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry, edited by Robert Sheppard and Scott Thurston. I took a look at its website, and, while it will certainly promote the type of poetry I approve of, I couldn't help feeling a little intimidated by, and cool towards it. This may be my prejudice, I accept. Due to a complicated set of circumstances, I arrived at adulthood without a single educational qualification worth mentioning, and remain in that state now. The editorial board of the Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry contains 13 Professors and 7 Doctors in total. Does it represent the takeover by the academic world of innovative British poetry? Peter Philpott gives us a lucid discussion of the issue here:

POETIC SPECIATION AND DIVERSIFICATION; Or, Why I am Alarmed at the Role the Academic Environment is Playing in Contemporary British Innovative Poetry

"Poetry isn’t important because it is the subject of academic study. In no way does it depend on academic study. It is important because it is a fundamental human relationship with language (like music is with sound-production, art with mark making, dance with movement). Poetry as such is as unstoppable as sex. It will take place!"

Peter Philpott

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I remember Tilla Brading telling me what a good teacher Tony Lopez was, and reading his book of essays, 'Meaning Performance', I'm sure it's true. The first essay in the book, 'Limits of Reference and Abstraction in American Poetry', is an admirably clear, non-techical description of Language Poetry, its rationale, and what it's trying to achieve. I'm sure that if the average, reasonably intelligent person-in-the-street were to read this essay, they'd be able to read Charles Bernstein, Bob Perelman, Lyn Hejinian and all the rest, with no problem at all, and with a great deal of pleasure. It strikes me that an absence of such clear, non-academic explanations of so-called 'difficult' poetry may be what keeps such poetry on the margins.

Lopez identifies Gertrude Stein as a seminal figure, whose influence has increased over the years. In a later essay, he says of Stein's writing, "It is a kind of postmodernism that is not foreseen in the writings of Eliot, Pound or Williams." And on Stein's increasing influence, Lopez says:

"Stein's work has been appropriated by various interest groups because you can make it anything you like. It is abstract writing that resists meaning, so little bits of it can be made to seem full of intention that may be invention. Reading Stein's work as it is is a real and permanent challenge. She hugely expanded the possibilities for writing, and we are nowhere near using them up."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jess Mynes' broadsheet from Fewer and Further Press is a selection of work soon to appear in a new publication from Nottingham's Skysill Press. It's a series of meditations on the paintings of Mark Rothko in beautifully-crafted language:

Untitled, 1953

past midday in a
crush crayon green

cracked to virtue

think Spring
inking creeks

I'm only as good
mouthing back
Aaron Tieger: 'Secret Donut', pub. Pressed Wafer I've had lots of nice things in the post recently (after complaining of not getting many). As well as the Kelvin Corcoran pamphlets and Hassle Press broadsheets, I've just received Aaron Tieger's excellent new book 'Secret Donut', and a single folded sheet of card containing poems by Jess Mynes. Tieger, an American poet based in Boston, has been mentioned on this blog before. Both of these poets, and othes, like Christopher Rizzo, are associated with Carve Press and Editions. It's interesting that British influence appears to be important to them, and heartening, to see that Richard Cadell is regarded as a seminal figure. The poetry of both Tieger and Mynes show the influence of Bunting (Cadell's mentor). Aaron Tieger's book is focussed on everyday experience mediated through diction that asks to be spoken aloud. I'd highly recommend it, and point you to his work on Litter.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Of course it was the morning
up early for apprenticeship
where the radio played the harp
before the train to Glasgow.

My good mistake at first light
to sing the song I didn't know,
the boy dreamt the night before
the poem unwritten in the shipyard.

These lines are from Kelvin Corcoran's poem "Learning to Play the Harp", written about W.S.Graham and dedicated to Andrew Duncan. To "sing the song I didn't know" seems like a good way to compose poetry, to let the lyric impetus take over; not to write what the poet, and reader, already know, but to expose something new each time, which is what good poems do. Kelvin sent me "Learning to Play the Harp" printed as a single sheet of Conqueror laid paper; it's from Longbarrow Press of Swindon. In the same package was Kelvin's poem "Madeleine's Letter to Bunting" - dedicated to "my daughter and all the unabashed". It's a poem about ageing, and about the parent-child relationship:

This tree has such a colour,
is it blond cinnamon, and the etymology?
- she might sweep me up if I fall.

At your age I thought I had plan,
I did not, or it was the wrong plan;
it was not to be fifty and exhausted up a tree

Speaking the only three words I have
to the local children bemused,
and numb - Eucalyptus, if I fall, save me.

"Madeleine's Letter to Bunting" is a moving poem (if we're still allowed to say that about poetry), combining, as Corcoran's poems often do, language as lyric construction with an examination of the personal and domestic. It's printed on the same laid paper, folded and inserted into an envelope; an excellent artefact, which I'm pleased to have.

I've just found out that Longbarrow Press was founded by Andrew Hirst and Brian Lewis "with the aim of developing new writing in close collaboration with its authors. It is committed to a mode of production that places equal emphasis on the printed word and the materiality of the object; to achieve this end, each of its titles has been designed, printed and assembled by hand". For more information, contact Brian Lewis, Longbarrow Press, 6 Tenby Close, Lawn, Swindon, SN3 1LN.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I know I shouldn't waste time on these things, but... the BBC's poll for "The Nation's Favourite Poet" presents us with a shortlist "compiled in consultation with The Poetry Society and The Arts Council". I suspect this is a list of poets they think the public might have heard of. Still, it has some amazing ommissions - Chaucer, Shakespeare, Pope and Dryden for example. The living poets are Simon Armitage, Wendy Cope, Roger McGough, Carole-Ann Duffy, Seamus Heaney and Benjamin Zephaniah. That's it. And we're not allowed to have foreigners as favourite poets, unless they're Irish (though there is one American on the list - guess who?). But although the list is bizarre and insular, I'd guess that similar lists made 100, 200 and 300 years ago by the cultural arbiters of the day would also have come up with currently fashionable forebears combined with a bunch of soon-to-be-forgotten contemporaries.

One interesting thing: we're allowed to vote for Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Blake, but... not Shelley. In a way, it's heartening to think that, even now, Shelley's radicalism is too much for the bureaucrats of the poetry establishment.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Martin Stannard, who lives in China, was unable to access this blog yesterday. Or any other blog. How strange. Must have been a technical fault...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

On this day, twenty years ago

The Tiananmen Square massacre, June 4th 1989.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

There's new work by Martin Stannard on Litter, plus a review of his latest collection,"Faith" from Shadowtrain Books. Martin is an under-appreciated poet, possibly because he doesn't fit with any particular school or into the mainstream vs innovative paradigm. I hope this latest collecton gets to as many people as possible.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The hapless BBC continues apace with its Poetry Season. Friday night's Newsnight Review, dedicated solely to poetry, presented a hackneyed dichotomy of poets-for-the-page (Ruth Padel, Geoffrey Hill) opposed to hip-hop and poetry slams, with nothing in between. Still, they did interview Chris McCabe and Chris Hamilton-Emery, even if they only got about 10 seconds between them. They completely blew the chance to plug Salt's buy-a-book campaign. Instead, they spent ages on the latest Bloodaxe anthology, without putting the anthology, or Bloodaxe itself into any kind of context. Surprisingly, Simon Armitage talked the most sense of anyone on the panel, and gave a good spiel on how poetry shouldn't try too hard to entice readers, but should be an awkward, inconvenient truth-teller (or words to that effect). It's a pity he doesn't follow his own advice. It is strange, though, and even a little heartening, to see poetry given this much space on mainstream media; it's also a reminder of how far it's been pushed into the cultural margin.

Friday, May 29, 2009

With most communications now electronic, it's an old-fashioned pleasure to have something real drop onto the doormat, especially when it's completely unexpected. The other day I got an envelope full of what Americans call 'broadsheets', A4 sheets folded to a quarter of their size and covered in poetry. About as cheaply-produced as is possible, these excellent artefacts are from Hassle Press, Cornwall, run by a gentleman (unknown to me before) called John Phillips. There's no price on the sheets, but the press can be contacted at 27 Treverbyn Road, St. Ives, Cornwall, TR26 1EZ. There were broadsheets by:

Jimmy Juniper
Joseph Massey
Whit Griffin
John Levy
Richard Owens
Theodore Enslin

All American, all in a similar vein. They were all new to me except Joseph Massey and, of course, the inimitable Theodore Enslin. All excellent. Thank you John Phillips for making my day.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Oh what a tangled web we weave...

The culture of spin that's infected the body politic in Britain seems to have seeped into the poetry world, or at least into its upper echelons, judging from the fiasco surrounding the post of Oxford Professor of Poetry. The campaign to discredit Derek Walcott could have come right out of a handbook written by Alistair Campbell. And Padel's "apology" could have come from the mouth of one of our shamed MPs - an apology in which she says she has nothing to apologize for:

"I'd like to apologize to Derek Walcott for anything I have done which can be misconstrued as being against him"

You don't need to apologize for having been "miscontrued". The mistake she made was to get caught - that's what she's sorry about. Still, as Aidan Semmens has pointed out, at poetry's coal-face (small presses, webzines, readings in pubs...) the Professorship at Oxford seems like a distant irrelevance.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Salt Books are struggling to survive in the recession. They're asking everyone to buy one book, in a last-ditch attempt to save the press.

I bought the book of essays by Tony Lopez, 'Meaning Performance'.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"I know the poetry must be expertly crafted, because at no time did the form stand in the way of the information."

...from an Amazon review of Padel's "Darwin: A Life in Poems"
The political system in the UK is in turmoil due to a wave of public anger. The Speaker of the House has just resigned, and there's even talk of calling a General Election. What is it that's stirred up such outrage? We didn't see such a storm when it was revealed that the then Prime Minister Tony Blair had orchestrated a campaign of deceit, and had deliberately lied to parliament and the country to take us to war; we didn't see it when age-old liberties were abolished - freedom of assembly, the right to silence, the freedom from imprisonment without due process. There was no such public clamour when police arrested an opposition MP and raided his offices without a search warrant. No, what's whipped us into a fury is the revelation that some MPs have exagerated their expense claims.

Last week it was the fabled Swine Flu pandemic, this week MPs' expenses, next week... Surely it can't be that the entire course of public debate in this country is dictated by the media industry's need to sell more newspapers and maximise TV viewing figures, while never really threatening the status quo. No, that's cynical...