Saturday, August 27, 2005

Sestina Addendum

I just discovered today that a sestina written by me and John Calvert one evening when we were bored has been published on McSweeney's Internet Tendency Sestinas project. It's a very silly poem using words from literary theory, but I hope y'all enjoy it folks:

Reading etc

I went to Stockport Library yesterday and borrowed a few books, including John Murray's Radio Activity, which I'm looking forward to reading. I read his Jazz Etc. some months back and very good it was too. But I bet nobody's heard of him out there in blogland. Which is a shame because he's very interesting indeed, very good comic novelist who comes from Cumbria.

Yep, you read right. Is there anything good that comes from Cumbria? Well, there's John Murray for starters. And the late Geoffery Holloway came from there too: a very good, plain-spoken but deceptively so poet from the Lake District. This one appears to be set in Workington - a place that from my one brief visit there as a child lives up to its drab name.

Which set me to thinking about reading outside of the box. How many people go into a library and pick out a book that nobody has reviewed, nobody has included in a list of the "100 best novels with cooking in them" or something equally inane, and nobody from a book club has recommended? How many people create their own taste in literature rather than have it created for them?

John Murray's novels are published by Flambard - a small publisher in the North East that's decided to start its own Northern Classics list; but how successful will that be when the London-based media dominate the reviews and never read anything set or published outside the South-East? Manchester's own Dewi Lewis Press produces a great fiction list, and Comma Press recently produced a great collection of David Constantine's short stories. There's all kinds of good things happening outside the metropolis. Find their websites, click on a book you like the look of and make small publishers happy.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Religious Poets

There was a time when I used to be unsure about whether poetry was a "good thing" to spend my time in. I was in the grip of fundamentalist religion at the time - though even then I was squirming around in an iron glove that never fitted me. I looked about for Christian poets to confirm that it was OK. I discovered a few: Steve Turner was a kind of evangelical Roger McGough, for instance; and one or two others.

But it wasn't until I discovered Elizabeth Jennings that I realised you could be a Christian and write poetry that wasn't just a sermon in disguise; and sometime later got in touch with Rupert Loydell of Stride. Even then, he was probably more liberal theologically (I think I've probably caught up with him on that score) than me; but we at least shared an interest in the possibility of expressing one's faith, or even discovering one's faith, through poetry.

I read RS Thomas for his bracingly mordant faith, that seemed to be all silence with little or no communication from above. I discovered the religious poems of David Gascoyne, which I think has fired an interest in the neo-romantic and Apocalyptic writers of the 40's. There were others, and even now, if I find a decent poet who is also religious, I'm drawn to them.

I don't try and write to persuade anyone of my beliefs; I very rarely write specifically religious poems. But it does come through: one reviewer of my last book called it the "beast with two books", which was probably terribly supercillious of him. I don't you should try writing religious poetry to persuade; poets are not advertising execs, leave that to the evangelists in their glass cathedrals. But when you write down your life, your faith comes through; sometimes because your poems are as much a dialogue with the divine as much as they are anything else.

I think I probably needed to know that there were other poets out there with faith once. I still need to know that there are poets doing things that are in the same or similar ballpark as me; poets need to feel part of a community.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Fran Pridham

Been away for a bit. A weekend in the Lake District and personal stuff to sort out. Anyway, I thought I'd come back with a couple of poems by Fran Pridham, who's my fellow editor on Brando's Hat. Here's what Amanda Dalton said about her:

'Fran Pridham creates vivid domestic landscapes... Weaving through these places are her often painful explorations of emotion and relationships. The poems enter dark territory as they look at transience and our attempts to cope with loss; eruptions of violence, and a sense of the alone. But these are not entirely bleak poems: Pridham writes of hope, of moments of beauty, the leveling common-sense of children and the 'oneness' "sometimes unexpectedly" discovered..."

Air to breathe, water to swim

The sea breathing on the
in deep asthmatic stone filled breaths
like winter breathing,
sucking warmed air
through rough blankets to ease
constant chest pain
and the cough.

Scrubby wind tugged daisies, leaf stripped
growing in
the slag and coughed up mine dust;
coal rimmed eyes and blue scars that are
not water washed.

Deep sea diving to swim away
the trapped and
breathless sweat of mining.
Finding no clear sunlit water playing
in the
rock filled bladder wrack pools,
only blocked sewage pipes in the harbour's
silted depths.

Alien suited and spluttering
on the man made gas
bubbles, a reckless wish
to wash life away in alcohol-stained
breathing in of man made lead.

Sunday Praise

Each cup of tea he makes she leaves undrunk;
she says he cannot even
tie his laces well.

They meet, eat tacos, sour cream and read
papers spread across the table top.
Sunday passers by can glance and through
the steamy cafe's window blur make out
the leather jacket of a man who
the dark hair of a woman move to turn
and call the waitress for a
glass of milk.

Unremarkable and yet she knows
his flesh; it's
searching movements
which remind her of the oneness that
unexpectedly she can possess.

There's a beautiful poise about her poems, though sometimes they seem almost unbearably sad, and at occasional times almost unbearably happy.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Nothing to Say

"I have nothing to say and I am saying" - a quote by John Cage, used by Edwin Morgan in one of his concrete poems and kind of appropriate for this blog. I thought I wasn't going to write anything because I didn't have anything to say. So I thought, well, why not write about having nothing to say?

Some people have a lot to say in their poems - they are going to write a poem, for instance, about the bombing of Hiroshima & Nagasaki (we've just had the 60th anniversary of that atrocity), or about global capitalism. If you come from a society where corruption is pandemic (as many of my African friends do) there you are with a subject right on your doorstep. I find it really difficult to write if I have that definite a subject. When asked to write a poem for Conscientious Objectors' Day, I wrote a very bad piece of propaganda that won't ever see the light of day again if I have anything to say about it (quick - chuck it in the bin before the literary executors get hold of it and publish it in a variorum edition!)

Mayakovsky wrote propaganda - and I wonder if he really liked doing it because his best poems are very personal, as well as radical and revolutionary. I don't have any big themes and I don't tend to write big poems. Well - I recently wrote about Hitler and my latest poem namechecks Hector Peterson - so I don't leave them out either. But I can't sit down and write about anything in particular. I write around subjects, mix and match things and am getting very fond of using bricollage as a technique - even collaging my own words, and there's very often hidden quotes in my work. I read some David Schubert on the recommendation of John Ashbery (in his Other Traditions) and liked the way he made poems up from fragments written in notebooks. My latest (a poem about Soweto) uses something from the poems I wrote some time ago using Oblique Strategies cards. Well, it seemed to fit.

What I try to do (and don't always succeed) is to find the emotional heart of whatever nothing I'm trying to tease out. That to me is poetry.

I'm going to try and solicit a few other peoples' poems on this website I think. I'm getting tired of the sound of my own voice.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Finally, a new poem. I think it must be a month since I've written anything decent, then I get out a poem about the photographer Lee Miller. She was a great photographer, and a tricky personality, so I've read. She produced some fantastic images, both as a fashion photographer and as a documentary photographer. Associated with the Surrealists, she was a lover of Man Ray, and became the wife of Roland Penrose, the sadly almost forgotten British Surrealist artist and critic.

We're not very good at promoting ourselves in Britain, when it comes to the arts. We think we have the right to the World Cup, though we've only won it once, but we never trumpet the talents of artists as diverse as Paul Nash, Ivon Hitchens, Ceri Richards, Penrose himself, Eileen Agar and a host of others. Instead we have to put up with grimly-nostalgic LS Lowry, or the Pre-Raphealite brotherhood of bores.

Anyway, Lee Miller was American by birth, but ended up living with Penrose in England. I met her son in Whitworth Art Gallery, at an event involving readings from her writing and a slide show of photographs. He used to not like his mother (she could be difficult, and drank too much; partly through Traumatic Stress Disorder after her experience of the war in Europe.) Then he discovered the rolls of film and her writings in the attic; now he's her greatest champion. Check out her archive at:

I'm not going to put the poem up here; I'm going to send it to a magazine, so you'll have to buy it, or download it if it's online. Besides, I suspect it needs a little time. But it's good to be back in the saddle. A poet's never happy except when writing.

But you can go to and read my review of Robert Sheppard's Lore if you wish.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


I've got two more magazines through recently - the latest Orbis which has a review by me in it of Mathew Sweeney's Sanctuary, and Agenda, which has a large selection of new Australian poetry in it. I'll confess to having a bit of a fondness for Australian verse - I have John Kinsella's Landbridge anthology (Arc) and it's full of really interesting poems. This one looks good too - with Alison Croggan, John Tranter and Emma Lew, and loads of others, it has to be. There's a spirit of adventure in their poetry which I sometimes find lacking over here.

I guess that spirit of adventure is here too, but it's harder to find. I mean, I quite like Orbis; it has a nice friendly spirit about it; but I often find myself not terrifically excited by the poetry. It's often well-enough written, but... It also has American poets in it, and at least one Australian, so I should be satisfied.

It could be over-familiarity. Maybe I read so much non-English poetry because I want something stranger than most English poetry magazines provide. Maybe I need to read so widely in order to keep myself interested, especially as now when I'm not writing so much. Ah well. I do look forward to reading both magazines; it'll be interesting to compare and contrast.