Thursday, December 21, 2006

Poems by Martin Stannard

These poems were accepted by Brando's Hat magazine before my head went haywire and the whole thing ended in ignominy. I've been reading Martin's poems for years and they always make me smile, think, smile some more and wish I'd written them.


Oh, my silly head has been in a bucket
But things are better now. I pulled it out of the bucket
And stuck it in this bag, with some fruit. Fruit
Is good for me, and looking at girls is good
For a moment or two, then it palls. Then it un-palls,
And my head is now in the clouds, and here comes
An aeroplane so I duck, and I am okay for a moment,
But only for that. A moment can take so long.
It would be awful to be hit on the head by an aeroplane,
And it would also be unusual. I like
The idea of the unusual happening, so long
As it doesn’t hurt. Nothing should hurt,
Pain is bad, my forehead is sunburned, I can’t sleep,
What am I thinking about tonight? How pathetic
Everything feels when I feel like this, my love.
Oh, my heart is lost for good this time. I try
And read The Times but I don’t feel like
Reading papers, although I enjoy the crossword,
Word games, and stuff to take your mind off stuff.


Of what one might trade for happiness
I cannot think today. Goodness knows

Where we go from here. All night I sat up,
Tried to puzzle it out, such a long distance

Alone. I was trying to think of one thing
But all I could think of was loads of things

I didn’t want to think of at all and had no idea
Even from whence they came. I daren’t

Think about beauty, it freaks me out.
By beauty I don’t mean horses, or those

Trees in a wood. Sadness follows me down
An alley. Once upon a time things happened

Then I had a dreadful riding accident. Or
Perhaps it was a dreadful writing accident.

It doesn’t make any difference, life turns out
How it’s supposed to turn out, and nobody

Takes any notice, being too busy with
Their own life to bother about yours.


My wardrobe is made out of some off-cuts
From a tree. The clothes are rubbish but the birds
Who live there sound pretty happy. Today
In the charity shop I bumped into
Charity, who I hadn’t seen since the Church Social.
She looked scrumptious, like a vegetable samosa.
In all the world
There are probably only a handful of people
With whom you are destined to spend
The rest of your life. If only I had not been
Wearing this shirt. If only not this hat.
In the woodland, which is more of a thicket,
It’s easy to lose
Much more than yourself. I have never
Seen a woodpecker there. I hear lorries, though,
And chainsaws, and barking of dogs, and iTunes.
I wear out my Wessex shoes, you your military outfit,
Which reminds me I meant never to become involved
With any one else’s thoughts, ever again,
Until I had resolved to resolve all my inner conflicts.
At the moment, though, everything is in abeyance.
It makes me happy, and I don’t care what
You think, or at all.
Charity said she would meet me
Under a clock. It was only when I got home
I realised that “a” clock is different from
“The” clock. Eventually you get so
You can’t be bothered. Some years ago I fell in love
And have only in the last week or so come off
The antibiotics. It’s not worth trying to explain.



There are lots of things I want to keep from the people
I’m playing with. Nurse, bring me my surgery mask, please.
I have nothing against enjoyment, as such.
Bird watching is one way. Bird watching is two ways.
Absorb the news. No, I have no idea who writes it.
All I know is to hide before the big scary man comes
Lurching along all dribbly. Then, after they’ve told us
The TV weather, along comes a full and tiresome evening,
As good a reason as any to procreate recklessly.


All the people who like sex a lot stand on one side of the yard
And all the people who don’t care for it stand on the other side.
A few people are scurrying to and fro from side to side etcetera.
I’m up on a teetering chair trying to see out the window.


It’s awfully quiet for busy. I can remember as a kid
Getting the wrong idea about strip lighting as I sprawled
In the bed and contemplated the ceiling but it was an okay feeling.
There goes a trolley but it has no cakes on it.
In trays we planted the seeds of revolt but they didn’t take root –
It can be frustrating waiting around for trees.
I’m only in favour of freedom
Of information if one makes allowances for secrecy.

© Martin Stannard

Monday, December 04, 2006

Poems by Tinashe Mushekavanhu


We stopped at every station

Bakerloo Piccadilly Hammersmith Jubilee Victoria Waterloo

I had no idea where I was going,

I was following the train where it was going

Once the train halted for 10 minutes

In a dark dark dark tunnel, Is hell so black?

Panic panic panic

I thought we would never get out of this merry go round

We sat in a pause anticipating, anxious, and frightened
10 long minutes

My ears were stuffed with black earphone stubs listening to a Shona song
Pindurai Mambo, Give us Answers Lord

A girl opposite me caught my eye, she did not look away
I smiled. She didn’t.
It was not her pierced navel or pierced lip that disturbed me,
I remember, it was her posture
The girl was big and composed like a piece of sculpture
I wanted to caress it, feel its velvet texture, its stone coolness

someone coughed. The air in the train was thick

And finally a light appeared, I had to drop out
At the next station

Reading Hemingway sitting in Regent’s Park

The sun was up. The time was 12:15.
I had checked out of the International Students House.

It was a boring Sunday.

Fountains splashed on noon-warmed pigeons, someone took a picture,
A squirrel parachuted from a tree.

Myself bored stiff.

I was reading Ernest Hemingway’s Men Without Women
A female jogger passed by; I could see the outline of her G-String

Oh Christ-mas! Mama used to say, ‘Never swear using the Son of God.’

I didn’t sleep well last night; a woman was pursuing me in my dreams,
My vest was soaked in sweat, my boxer shorts mapped with dried semen,

It was the smell of sex!

Midas voice

My first day in London

On an inner city bus, I sat next to a young black woman
Assuming she was English speaking like the rest of the city
I decided to ask for directions in English

“E-eh excuse me
I don’t know
where e-eh
I am e-eh going
but I e-eh…?”

Stupid me, I was in the middle of England but the Shona daemon had followed

“Bhudhi muri kuda kuenda kupi kwacho London yakakura?”

She smiled showing front gold teeth
Long artificial black hair covering part of her face
Things she had obviously picked in London

We ended up sleeping together at her flat

A badge was pinned on her uniform
NETSAYI MASIYAMBIRI, a nurse at Princess Grace Hospital

We came from the same rural village under the same chief back home
in Zimbabwe.

Tinashe is from Zimbabwe, and is currently doing a degree in creative writing at the University of Wales. His poetry was one of the standouts of the Crossing Borders project for me, because of its directness and straight-talking, very much in the tradition of Dembudzo Marechera. There's something of Frank O'Hara in these poems about his first encounter with London: a kind of Zimbabweann version of I-do-this-I-do-that. Also, Ginsberg and the Beats. Its very roughness, the fact that he hasn't made some neat and ordered out of his experiences (as a quietist English poet might) is what attracts me to these poems.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Elizabeth Bishop

I went to a celebration of Elizabeth Bishop that was very well-attended in Manchester Central Library yesterday lunchtime. There were readings by various people, a short talk by Micheal Schmidt - and the opportunity to hear the poet's own voice in a recording. That last was invaluable - it's funny how the poet's voice does make a difference to one's reading of the poem. But now, when I'm reading poems like "Crusoe in England", her marvelous reimagining of Defoe, I'll hear that New England drawl, and the way she doesn't pause at line-endings as you might expect her to.

There's something about Elizabeth Bishop's meticulousness that is universal - to count poets as diverse as Ron Silliman, James Schuyler and Sean O'Brien as fans is quite an acheivement. She wrote her poems sometimes over ridiculous lengths ot time, and there's nothing spontaneous about her work, yet the flow as smoothly as riverwater from sentence to sentence, image to image. I love the risk of a poem like "The Moose", where it takes ages to get to the ostensible subject, but nobody minds because the eye of the poet is observing everything with the same intensity, from the people on the bus to the landscape passing by.

The wonderful "Visits to St Elisabeth's" was read by Matt Welton - himself an intriguing poet, interested as such in the shape and sound of poetry as its subject. He didn't tell us it was about Pound, incarcerated in a mental hospital for his wartime broadcasts for the fascists in Italy. He drew attention to the poem itself - its use of repetition and its "The House that Jack Built" form.

The events at the library are often quietly terrific, and it's a shame I don't get along to more. Of course, when my book comes out, I want my launch there.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

This is the blurb I wrote for my forthcoming book:

One day, the poet found himself with a dying poem. So, out of sheer frustration, he took a pair of scissors to it and began to cut the poem up and rearrange it, without looking at what he was doing. Suddenly, a poem that had been destined for the file marked "worthy but dull" sparked to life again, and he found himself excited by the possibilities of language again. Since then, this technique - and other uses of chance - have come to be increasingly important in his work. Constantly looking for the wonderful in the ordinary, the beautiful in the demotic, he is still essentially a lyric poet but in this book, he messes up the lyric's hair, exploring the the chances and encounters of modern life in vibrant, exploratory poems. A major section of the book are the Travelator Sonnets, inspired by Ted Berrigan's pioneering Sonnets and the boxes of Joseph Cornell, cut-and-paste sonnets exploring nostalgia, travel and the chance encounters of modern life in 14 lines. Other poems explore his life in Manchester, his travels to Europe and Africa and his relationships, and there is a section of early poems that explore similar themes.

I hope it encourages people to buy the book and doesn't sound too pretentious.

You can find some of the Travelator sonnets on Issue 9 of Shadowtrain: if you want a preview of the book.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Not Liking Auden

I had an intriguing conversation with Peter Sansom yesterday, in which we covered many subjects. I'd met him in Manchester after he'd been to a meeting with primary school teachers. We went for a cup of tea and chatted while he waited for his train to Sheffield.

The most interesting, however, was when we started talking about the famous poets we didn't like. We both agreed we didn't like Glynn Maxwell's poetry, but I said that I didn't like Auden much and he said he did.

Auden? I don't like Auden? But surely he's one of the major British poets of the 20th Century? Yes, he is, and no doubt a great one, but I just can't read him...

This isn't about whether they are "good" or "bad" poets. I can recognise Auden as a good poet - but for some reason, I just don't like his poems. Maybe it's that feel schoolmarmish to me - I don't really know. I'd make an exception for Funeral Blues but only because I have a rather shameful love for Four Weddings & a Funeral. I've had the same problem with Olson from another perspective - great poet, but it just doesn't work for me.

Admitting you don't like someone that everyone else thinks is great feels like letting out a great secret. It feels slightly sinful to not like a poet with the reputation of Auden; like saying you don't like Shakespeare (I do, actually.) But I think it's good to let these things out of the bag. Great cultural icons sometimes seem to be beyond criticism, and little old me couldn't possibly measure up to them. Well, maybe I can't be as skillful a poet as Auden undoubtedly was, but that doesn't mean I have to pretend to like something I don't.

So I'm coming out of the closet: I don't like Auden. I do like MacNeice, however. Louis MacNeice was, for me, the best of that bunch. I could happily take his poems with me to a desert island and spend my time reading them.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Library day

I went up to sunny Preston this weekend, where there was a networking day for writers and librarians. I got there late, due to not sleeping well the previous night; but apart from some introductory remarks, I don't seem to have missed much.

It was good to realise that there are people in libraries trying to promote writing and reading, even within budget constraints. I met people from Wigan, Bolton, Bury, Tameside, Cheshire and other parts of the North-West - as well as a few writers I've never met before. And someone I've met before that I'd forgotten I'd met. Apologies to her - I seem to have senior moments with gay abandon these days.

We came up with some nice ideas - including one for a kind of poetry tribute band - called perhaps "Huge Ted?" - to read favourite poems by other writers. Poetry's often put on a pedestal in many ordinary readers' minds - one it doesn't have for poets themselves - and they feel scared by it. Breaking down those barriers is always difficult, challenging and necessary. I'll have to follow up some of these contacts, do some kind of project - especially with my new book coming out, these contacts are invaluable.

Libraries have always been tremendously important for me - sources of good books, information, even computors these days. And records, CDs etc. It seems that some libraries at least are trying their best to encourage new readers and bring people into the sometimes imposing buildings that a lot of libraries still seem. I'm in one now - an elegant Edwardian local library that is both well-preserved and well-used.

I should have taken some books - unfortunately, out in a rush and all that, they stayed at home, apart from my reading copu.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Discovering/Recovering British Jazz

Isn't it a shame that we British are so crap at doing justice to our own achievements? Well, except for sporting achievements, and even there, we're more concerned with not winning the world cup than with winning the Ryder Cup for the third time in a row. Not that I'm a golf fan - or a fan of any kind of sport. Nevertheless, a twinge of delight went through me when I heard that we'd beaten the Yanks into a very ignominious second place.

Another place where America thinks it's the best and British people are inclined to agree with them is in the jazz world. Of course, Americans (African Americans mainly) invented it, so they ought to be best at it. There's a lot of great music came out of American jazz - from its origins in New Orleans to such greats as Coltrane, Miles Davis, Mingus, Coleman, Monk.

But then it came to Britain, and in that way jazz has of both transforming and being transformed into something new and strange wherever it goes, it took root here. Not that many people in this country are aware of it; but there are some great British jazz musicians who can equal the achievements of any American, except possibly for a handful of the very greatest.

Take saxophonist Joe Harriot, for instance, who refused to go to America because he thought he didn't need to. He came to Britain, where his invention of free form jazz was at least as radical - in its similarity to and in its difference from - as that of Ornette Coleman. There's much to be said about him, about how he's been allowed to fade into invisibility since his early death.

Or Tubby Hayes, who could blow everyone else away, and whose Mexican Green is one of the great British jazz albums. Or the still-playing phenomenon of Stan Tracey - whose Under Milkwood suite is one of the seminal moments in British jazz. It's a very British album - in its lyricism, its feel for the intimate landscape of sound. American jazz is often very urban, spiky and assertive; British jazz insinuates its way into your soul. It doesn't shout often; but it speaks with great depth of feeling.

I've just been listening to an extraordinary album from the early 70's, Troppo by pianist, composer and band leader, Michael Garrick. It's a frighteningly good album, full of extraordinary playing from such people as Don Rendall and Art Themen on tenors, Henry Lowther on trumpet and Dave Green on bass. Then there is Norma Winstone on vocals - whose voice soars and swoops through every track. One track stands out: Fellow Feeling, where Coleridge Goode, Joe Harriot's regular sideman, takes over on bass. There's a section of the tune where Winstone and Goode's swooping wordless humming and Goode's bowed bass are soloing and duetting off each other in such unity that you feel like you've been taken into a new world, where everyone walks around with one less skin on them.

I've only just begun to explore this music that we've been so good at hiding from ourselves for so long. Britain, whether it knows it or not, has been and still is a great jazz nation. Maybe if there's a Ryder cup for jazz, we might just give the Yanks a run for their money.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Exciting news on the publication front.

It seems I'm about to join the Salt stable. One of the leading new publishers of an incredible variety of poetry and criticism, from the feircely avant-garde to the interestingly mainstream, it feels like a real privilege to be part of their organisation. See what I mean at their website: - one of the best poetry sites on the web methinks.

The book will be called Travelator and will include lots of new stuff, and maybe the odd old poem that I can still read without cringing.

I still keep slapping myself to see if I'm dreaming.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I've been thinking about Englishness, and what it means to me. Not yet come to any conclusions, of course; but I do have a few interim thoughts.

1) there's more than one "England," and they're often opposed to one another.

There's the England of the rural South-East, all chalk downs and nostalgia for the past, and the England of the future, all coffee-bars and glass-fronted offices.

There's the urban experience of the industrial North and the suburban experience.

There's the tough-as-nails landscape of the north and the seemingly softer South.

There's the England of the immigrant - from the Jews who've arrived here since they were allowed back in the country (18th Century?) to the England that the Polish plumber (yes I know that's a cliche) meets on his arrival in Stoke-on-Trent.

There's the England of the radical left - the Diggers, the Quakers, etc and the England of the Anglican Establishment.

There's the England of the empirical down to earth Movement poets and the England of the neo-Romantic imagination (from Dylan Thomas to Peter Redgrove and beyond.)

2.) Everybody's nostalgic for something. Nostalgia is where a lot of poetry comes from, but it can be dangerous if over-valorised.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Not been around for awhile. A bout of the blues, the probable collapse of Brando's Hat the magazine and other such things has kept me away. I shall hopefully get back to having something to say soon. In the meantime, here's a recent poem:


Everywhere the same man washes his car.
Indeterminate, in all the cul-de-sacs,
hours stretch from one galaxy to the next.

Long weekends are a wet black hole
where the tree that bears no fruit's cut down
and neighbours fall in love with themselves
then rise unrefreshed at 11 or 12.

More at least than these carbonised words
for all this effort in the kitchen. A recipe
ought to have something to show for it.

But those days I was able to lie abed,
tell huge whoppers all night, are gone.
I thought we'd all be editors someday,
not yet wanting to be tied down.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Poems by Henry Muguluma

I’m Henry Muguluma, 24 years, male, a Writer, Teacher and Project Director. I live in Kampala, Uganda working as a fulltime Director of Gaba Child Sponsorship Project. I’m currently compiling my first poetry manuscript; with some poems on the net. I also teach English Language and Literature in English.

In Transit

Some shout and some quiet as
We squeeze
in a taxi whose

Number we didn’t read and
Whose mechanical state

We can’t tell, trusting
The unknown driver who

Seems more
into his wasiwasi
Than his passengers and

A conductor who begged
Us to board and now barks

For the fare as if we were
To escape
through windows;

One-way, two-way, roundabout
Stage, stopover,

Overtaking and being overtaken
Bumps, potholes, corners,

Parking on driveways and
Driving on parkways

stopping us for those
Who won’t stop for us

Past familiar faces and
Unfamiliar places and faces

Signposts pointing us where
They have never been

Seeing so much to take with us,
So much we
can’t take with us

Trees running, even houses
Away in the opposite

Some traveling miles for smiles and
Some hating the
journey they make

But heaven or hell, we’re all
Dying to get there.


Again yesterday evening
I grabbed a cheap one
A bunch in Kisenyi.

So tempting in her yellow
Cotton coat with
A black brown cap.

Pulled her closer and
Her perfume stirred the monkeys.

Ripe, innocent.
Could feel the
eyes of
The hungry woman by
Her full basket

But for hunger, I
Devoured her, all
Of her, leaving no
Sugar for pancakes.

you also like

Konyi’s Harvest

he finally marched to Freedom Square
Eyes didn’t see him,
Ears didn’t
hear him,
Hands didn’t salute him,
Legs didn’t attend his swearing-in:

They all stayed back in
Gulu, Kitgum, Lira. Busy
Burying the

I worked with Henry on the Crossing Borders project, and he came on leaps and bounds as a poet.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


Quick notice: I have a reading coming up at Manky Poets, Chorlton Library, on the 16th June. It starts 7.30pm for 8pm, then there's an open-mike spot, then there's a break, then there's little old me, where I'll no doubt be reading more of me sonnets, and more.

Saturday, May 27, 2006


Thanks for you kind comment on sonnets, Micheal Farrel.

Here's my reply to those who say sonnets are old-fashioned:

It is of course a sonnet:

someone asked why write a sonnet these days/

my reply? His peircing pince-nez/

dear ted, it's 12.33 pm a sonnet is a shape/

for thought/

all I hear is amateurish crap/

quick a lost poem before i go off my rocker/

for lost read last, for last read list/

only six more lines to go/

i'm writing a sequence of sonnets at the moment/

dear ted, are you spinning?/

soq is mostly boredom dressed up in a nice suit/

seems like a combination of all three to me/

the sonnet an ideal, a small explosion/

in the box of your ear. dear ted hello

Friday, May 26, 2006

Pacific Overtures

Went to Leicester Haymarket to see Pacific Overtures, Stephen Sondheim's extraordinary musical about the first meeting between the Japanese and the American. Very good in many ways, and worth the trip, though I was a bit unsure about all the corporate sponsorship from a Japanese firm at the end. Very well sung and with a great dancer playing Admiral Perry.

I met the musical director, who didn't take much to the version of Sweeney Todd I'd seen in Manchester, with its singers also being the musicians etc... Now, I liked that; though I can see it wasn't the "correct" way to do it. Not being a fully trained musician, however, has its advantages. I've always thought that if something is done wrong but done in an interesting way, it's better than something done right in a boring way.

Not that Pacific Overtures in Leicester was boring: it was very good. Leicester itself is an interesting place, much better than I'd imagined. We stayed in a chintzy hotel, but there was a few really interesting buildings around, and we visited the New Walk gallery, which has an interesting collection of German expressionist paintings, including a lovely Franz Marc. There was also a small exhibition of drawings that included three drawings by Brenda Chamberlain - someone I'd seen connected with Forty's poetry but knew nothing about. She apparently killed herself in 1971, which is tragic; but she seems to have been an accomplished artist as well as a poet. Anyone out there knows anything about her, do get in touch.

There was also an Eileen Agar frottage which was lovely; and the main collection had a great Paul Nash, and a John Tunnard. All in all a good visit. Leicester seems to be the kind of place that you might not visit just to see for itself. You'd go there for a conference, or to see a musical, and you'd spend some time looking round its museums and enjoy yourself. But you wouldn't, for instance, visit its cathedral for its own sake, unless you were a Richard III fanatic and wanted to see the memorial stone laid in the apse.

Friday, May 19, 2006

I saw Micheal Schmidt reading at Poets & Players the other day - and was really pleasantly surprised by how good his new poems are. He only read seven, but most of them were quite long and narrative-ish, including one about Jesus healing a woman which was quite startling. It's good to see he's writing again - and doing it so well.

I've been a little slack on reading recently, but I finally managed to finish John Ashbery's Where Shall I Wander; for some reason, I hadn't quite got round to the last few poems. There are some great poems in the book, like Wolf Ridge which seems to reference the New York School period when everybody was friendly with one another. He's very funny in places, and nostalgic, thinking of death and suchlike (he's about eighty now I think) but remains faithful to his lack of subject matter technique. Or rather, it's not that he doesn't have a subject; he has lots of them at the same time. You can't say about an Ashbery poem, this is about "Jesus healing a woman" or "a visit to the gay bar," though in any one poem he may make reference to them both at some point. I have a little article by Meghan O'Rouke which says that his poems are basically about feelings not subjects; though of course, feelings are subjects, and you really can't say of any of his poems, this one's about feeling nostalgic, or this one's about feeling grouchy, though again, both those feelings might be in the same poem.

Anyway, one thing that bugged me recently was a remark someone made on the Ron Silliman blog comments book. Why would anyone want to write a sonnet anymore? someone asked. Well, the simple answer is because they think they can do something with it. I've written nine sonnets over the last two years, and it looks like I'll be writing a few more over the next few months. Not much rhyme, lots of cut and paste and chance technique, so it's more Ted Berrigan than George Szirtes, but hey, that's me. I like the limitation of space, and the feeling that a sonnet can be a kind of controlled explosion of thought and feeling. I like to think that some of them have the virtues of a traditional sonnet, like a volta or a closing couplet that opens the poem out, but I guess some of them are just not going to keep many of the rules at all.

Freedom and constraint is, I guess, what it's about. What can you do in a small space? How free can you be in a box? Poets have always had barriers to push against; it's what makes poetry interesting. Total freedom is boring.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Well, it's cricket season again. And England still seem to be winning...

Anyway, interesting discussion that gets a little heated over at is there sexism in poetry publishing. Well, I guess for me the answer is, "yes and no". I don't think there's anybody out there actively discriminating against women poets, any more than I believe that there's anyone actively discriminating against black poets.

But what do we expect when we read a poem? I was reading something that Sheila Murphy was saying in an interview in Binary Myths (published by Stride a few years ago) the other day, and one of the things she looks for is "surprise." How many editors are looking for "surprise", rather than for something which is familiar to them, which will fit into preconcieved notions of what a poem should look like or sound like?

That's where the discrimination comes in: somewhere at the level of expectation. If you expect a poem to sound like, say, a regular anecdotal half-pager, rather than, say, one of those very tight but incredibly full poems of Lorinne Neidecker, or if you expect a poem to be full of clever show-offy metaphors, then that's what your choices will look like. I suspect that the editors of most of the mainstream poetry publishers are not looking far out of their chosen boxes for work.

But personally, I'd rather have a poem that surprises me than one that confirms what I already know.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


I'll be doing a workshop for the Chorlton Festival on 22nd May between 10pm and 3pm at Chorlton Library. The event is free and is described in the brochure as "Write & Refine with Steve Waling: Bring along a favourite piece of your writing, prose or script and be guided through an enjoyable process of editing, revising and re-imagining using a variety of often surprising methods." Chorlton library is on the main Barlow Moor Road in Chorlton Manchester, fairly easy to get to.

I'll also hopefully be reading at What the Papers Said, at the Lloyds pub upstairs room at 8pm on Wednesday 24 May in an evening of satirical comedy, poetry and music including Steve O'Donoghue, Dave Pullar, Claire Mooney & others. I think it's also open-mike, so unless you hear from me otherwise, bring yourself and your poems along.

Further details, as well as details of other events, can be obtained from

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Future Welcome

It's a funny thing being in an anthology; you look at the company you keep and wonder if it's good enough for you. Why isn't so-and-so in it/isn't it great that so-and-s0 is next to me? Well, I don't have any problem with this anthology because on the whole I don't know a lot of the writers. That's because a lot of them are Canadian, as this anthology is produced by DC Books (it's their Moosehead anthology X) and so I don't know many of their names. I don't have to feel miffed or superior; I can just enjoy some great writing and hope that my own poem comes up to scratch.

The theme of the anthology - that of the future - is sufficiently broad enough to take in lots of approaches, from science fiction to Tim Cumming's "relentless enthusiasm of American newscasters". It's one anthology I'm proud to be in because there's so much good writing in it. David Prater's Inna for instance, with its unpunctuated lines leading you down the page:

you may never have even lived in
this world on these planets your
orbs dig a furrow for my desires
i zoom in using alien technology
take soil samples & then am gone

It somehow reminds me of all those science fiction novels I read as a kid, full of terms like "server farms". It's good to see a mixture of prose and poetry, though as usual I'm way behind on the prose. There's mixture of styles from Language influenced to straight forward lyric, which I think is down to its editor, Todd Swift, who likes to mix things up.

I'm not going to quote a lot of it, but I will quote one that I really like. I've a fondness for really short poems, and Hal Sirowitz's Hiaku tickled me pink:

The future
is the past

Other highlights include Sina Queyras, Jason Camlot, Hilary Menos, Todd Colby and so many others. It's also got my poem Every Planet Has a North.

I'd recommend you get hold of it now, from

Monday, April 24, 2006

I did a workshop at the Poetry Business on Saturday, and used a couple of Robert Adamson poems as stimulus for writing. He's an Australian poet who's always lived in the same part of the Hawkesbury River, influenced by American poets like Zukovsky and Williams but there's a real sense of lived experience in his work. I sometimes feel with John Kinsella that there's always a theory behind everything he writes, however good and well-written he is. I don't get that with Robert Adamson.

I've never really been very good with theories and ideologies etc. I've always been political - pacifist, left-of-centre, liberal-minded etc... and I've never thought that such things don't matter. But as for actually using my poetry to get my ideas across, I can't do it. All that evangelical religion early on, with its guilt-inducing pressure to evangelise, did for that. So I can write from my experience, but I find it difficult if not impossible to write from my ideas. Those ideas could be religious; I want to write about those times when I was very religious and very fundamentalist even, but I find it difficult to get past criticising the ideas to the actual experience.

Religious poetry is difficult anyway; how do you express religious ideas in poetry that doesn't sound like it was lifted from Hymns Ancient & Modern? Or that doesn't sound like a catalouge of New Age vagaries? I still haven't worked that one out, even though a few of my poems have been religious. I didn't plan them that way though; I just wrote them and found out what they were about.

Which is probably my best way of working: not having an idea of what I'm going to say before I write it. I might be writing about a specific experience, but I don't know what I'll say about it. Will I even end up agreeing with myself?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Dusty in Memphis

I've been thinking about what it is that made me gravitate towards American models for poetry rather than English ones. I saw a programme about Dusty Springfield on Sunday (South Bank Show - haven't seen one for ages) and thought it was an appropriate metaphor. English provincial girl who feels out of place in her own town and has a great singing voice; English provincial boy who feels cramped in his small town but has a way with words (or at least a desire to have a way with words.) English girl hears American soul singers and reaches out to something that is so different from everything she's known, it has to be better, falls in love with Motown/Stax. English boy escapes home town, discovers American poetry, realises it's freer and more open that anything he's so far read in English poetry and falls in love with New York City.

Well, it has the virtues of neatness, even if it was all a lot more complicated than that. My first readings of Ashbery, for instance, were exercises in incomprehension. But it has some truth in it. On the discussion board, Eva Salzmann says that she became fascinated with British poetry, maybe for similar reasons? Because, perhaps, it was different to what was familiar?

It's at least part of the picutre, I feel. There are lots of other reasons too, but the desire to escape from the stifling bonds of one's own upbringing is surely one of the reasons we become artists in the first place. We want to be "different", like the boys from Liverpool who grew up to be the Beatles by imitating their heroes in America.


I read again at the Trof last night. There was quite a lot of poetry; although I'm not sure I'd call Thick Richard poets. Pale imitators of John Cooper Clark who actually still use the word "punk" and think that taking dope is still cool. Then there was Angry Sam, a good performer from Brighton with a silly name. It sounds like a punk children's TV puppet: Postman Pat, Fireman Sam and Angry Sam. But he sounded like he cared about words.

Friday, April 07, 2006

I've been quite busy since I was last here. A quick and very short trip to Amsterdam, going by coach via York, a few hours there then back again. I visited the American Cafe and an Indonesian restaurant called Bojo's, walked around the canals, then caught the coach back; but a couple of nights on a ferry were very pleasant.

I've been reading a lot of novels: Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night, Martin Booth's penulitimate novel The Industry of Souls, and I've just started on John Murray's Murphy's Favourite Channels. The Martin Booth one left me feeling sad at the end - that I had to leave the company of the main character. He was Alexander Alanovich Bayliss, an Englishman who had been caught up in the Russion gulag for twenty years, but who stayed in Russia rather than come home. It was very well written - and there's some lovely incidents in it - of eating mammoth steak in the frozen tundra, for instance. I'm not sure it's even possible, but Martin Booth made it seem so while I was reading. It's published by the publishers Dewi Lewis in Stockport - another example of a small independent regional publisher picking up on a mid-list writer who really ought to be better known. The John Murray has already had me giggling on the Metro. Very funny.

I did a workshop on Wednesday in Bolton with the Bank Street Writers, where I talked about rhyme metre and free verse. Really nice people, and a good discussion. They asked what "prose poetry" was, which kind of stumped me because I don't know enough about it. I should probably look more into it.

Anyway, I sold some copies of Calling Myself On the Phone - all the ones I took in fact - and that's no bad thing.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Reading Matters

I finally got hold of David Challoner's Collected Poems on Monday - by ordering it from my local library. I think I'll do more of this kind of thing - ordering books throught the library. That way, more books will be available to more people, and instead of paying £18.99, it'll only cost me 50p. I have to take the book back or renew it; but when I've finished, others can read it.

I'm not sure what I think of him on the whole. But I'll reserve judgement for now.


I've been doing a lot of reading recently. Chris McCabe's The Hutton Enquiry is also on my list. He's a youngish poet, originally from London, who now lives in London. Very lively, with a political edge and a kind of spikiness that I don't often find in poetry. I don't mean by that that he's one of those Charles Bukowski wannabees always writing "from the street", though he does have a very urban feel to him. Again, I'll try and do something more in depth later.


I've been trying to write as well. Half my poems these days seem to turn into unrhyming "sonnets" of one kind or another.


Then there's Lynette Roberts, who's proving to be a rather lovely find. What was it about the '40's that the Movement found so objectionable? There are a few characteristics: the use of the "I" for instance in lines like "I, in my intricate image..." (Dylan Thomas) where the "I" almost becomes a floating signifier, a sailor lost in the sea of selves. Then there's the seeming over the top image of lines like "Shall I make my disasters clear?" (Nicholas Moore) where the Movement poets wanted to return after the war to a kind of reticence about feelings.

It's good to see them republished, though. It feels like a gap in English poetry (a whole decade's gap) is finally being filled.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

More on Readings & '40's Poetry

I've read in two places this week, and the contrast is fascinating. First is Linda Chase's Village Hall, as part of a Poets & Players event. Quiet, full of nice people who were very nice, and with more of that nice folk music. I enjoyed it, and the standard was reasonably good. There was a good group poem that was pretty interesting. One chap recited a ballad and we had a song from a young woman playing a wind organ. I read one poem, In Hitler's Bath, which I guess was semi-abstract. Because it was about Lee Miller, someone asked questions about it, and generally it went down very well. We had tea in little China cups and biscuits.

The other was the Trof, a bar, between lots of singers and a couple of other spoken word artists, including an interesting black poet whose accent sounded African. There was much more noise, and the whole thing was much less polite. Everyone was younger (students mainly) and there was a DJ playing everything from Kraftwerk to Kate Bush, ending up with The Fall's Hip Priest, still out-rocking the opposition twenty-odd years on. I read some of my more "performable" poems, and got a heckler. Then someone said I was better than Ted Hughes! Nice...

Two illustrations of the context where poetry can take place these days; it can either be treated with reverence as a kind of secular religious practice. The Village Hall is usually used for Tai Chi, so the metaphor is appropriate; we even had to take off our shoes. Or it can be thrown into the lion's den of noise that is a student bar. Somehow, through it all, the poetry comes through. Maybe I'm schizophrenic or something, but I enjoy both. I'm not so keen on slams, because of the competition element (capitalistic as it is) but I like the fact that both kinds of venue exist.


As well as reading in public, I've been rediscovering another neglectorino: the 40's poet Lynette Roberts. It seems that the 40's as a poetic era is being finally rediscovered, and I do wonder what it is that's prompting this. There's something in the air, perhaps. A lot of these poets seem to be writing out of an emergancy, a sense of not doom as such but certainly of big events that the individual couldn't control happening elsewhere, or even in front of their faces. There's a poem in the new Carcanet Collected Poems about a bombing raid on the East End of London, for instance.

Perhaps our own sense of emergancy: the Iraq War and its aftermath, 9/11, the London bombs last year etc, have made poets and readers look to the 2nd World War to see how poets then responded to the times. Whatever the reason, it's good to be able to read Burns Singer, Lynette Roberts and Nicholas Moore again; to see a full collection of WS Graham etc.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Wanting an Audience

I think a lot of us as writers exist in a kind of paradoxical relationship with readers. We want a large audience, we want to sell thousands of copies of our slim volumes. We want to be "famous writers", and we want to be loved by the public.

But we also don't want to "give the public what they want." We want to challenge their expectations, perhaps, alter their perceptions of the world etc... We want to be original, originality being the big idol of art since at least the Romantic movement. The more post-avant, modernist, post-modernist we are, the more we want to disrupt expectations, disorient readers, challenge them to, as it were, write their own meanings into our poems.

But then we don't want to disorient them so much that they don't come back, and so we're constantly torn with between the desire to be original, challenging etc. and the need to find an audience to read what we write. So we write for the kinds of people who will like the kinds of things that we like to write. If you write rhyming doggeral, you will find a willing audience who like that stuff; if you write viso-poetic works, you will find a willing audience for that too. We group ourselves into camps because we all like to be accepted by people, at the same time as we like to think of ourselves as challenging others. We create our own "us" and "thems".

I was listening to a Gang of Four compilation recently and reading about how they put together songs according to certain rules of democracy. They were trying to resist the consumer society's demands to please the audience; but they were also acutely aware of being part of it. They were purists aware of their own impurities, unlike those rock and roll heroes who think that a guitar solo is, by itself, an act of rebellion, rather that something that lots of perfectly unrebellious folk expect from rock and roll. As the phrase about turning "revolt" into "style" has it, it's not something any of us can escape. Even the most uncompromising follower of Prynne needs an audience, and will probably find one.

Gang of Four made paradoxically moving records by using what is on one level a very cold and calculated method, because through them, they expressed their own frustrations with the process, their own uncertainties. Too self-aware to be fooled by the rock and roll hero stances of other bands (like the Clash) but also wanting to rock out themselves. Wanting an audience and wanting to disorient the audience. Wanting to be original, and knowing that complete originality is a chimera. Wanting to defamiliarise, and wanting to bring the audience into your world.

I suspect that those of us who want to be "serious writers" all find ourselves in this dilemma, or maybe a series of dilemma. We'll find different solutions and positions along that spectrum; and that's why I find the whole avant-mainstream fascinating.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

It's been a sad month. First, Barbara Guest died, now Ivor Cutler. I saw him years ago at the Lancaster Literature Festival, playing his harmonium, singing his strange songs and reciting his strange poems. His Life In a Scotch Sitting Room, vol. II is a classic; but I wonder now how he will be remembered. He was never part of an grouping, whether avant or mainstream, his poetry doesn't make the big anthologies, but anyone who can write a poem like this:

If your breasts are too big
you will fall over
unless you wear a rucksack

deserves to be remembered.


Talking of being remembered, I thought I'd post my favourite poem by Nicholas Moore, 40's poet and neglectarino supreme:


'Ingenious as it may seem, the Emperor Caligula
Was in the habit of sharing his bath with a tiger.
Its huge muscles gleamed; and the black stripes on the orange
Fur brought him lascivious delights. Its vigour

Reminded him of his manliness and of
The manliness of all emperors.' I smiled.
Anecdotes flew from Mr. Tabbeney's mouth, but
Could they be true? His surmises were all wild;

The strangest creatures populated his fancies.
'And when his bath was over, the Emperor would laugh,
And his wife, who loved to hear him laughing, would come in,
Beautiful as a re-touched photograph,

Her bronze hair strung in waves upon her shoulders.
And she would kiss him, naked as he was.'
'And what about the tiger in the bath?'
I asked. 'He sat and watched them. In his paws

He trapped the soap, then chased it like a fish
Around the slippery walls. He would seem to grin
At Caligula and his mistress, happy
In the warm water, impervious to the din

Of her kisses and faithful sounds, gay as a child
In the water. He was tame. And his stripes were the blackest of black.'
I conjured up the scene, the emperor, his mistress
And the tame beast, and I gave this man a look,

Observing the spots on his coat and his unpressed trousers,
The dirty, small ends of his moustache, his cigarette-stained fingers.
Anecdote, I thought, anecdote. And is
Every anecdote a meeting ground for strangers?

Nicholas Moore, 1950

It's a beautifully unexpected piece; I love the anachronism of that "beautiful as a retouched photograph," and the details of the strange man telling the tale. It came from his second major collection, Recollections of the Gala, in 1950.

If this poem were included in some of the major anthologies of 20th Century poetry, I'd think a lot better of them.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Becoming the Poet I Am

Kelvin Corcoran's recent book did bring up some interesting questions for me. How does one become the poet one becomes?

Some of it is down to personality. TS Eliot could never have written something as "wild" as "Howl" because he just wasn't Allen Ginsberg. But if I'd stayed in Accrington, or if I'd done an English degree rather than a Theology degree, I would be a very different writer than the one I am now. If I hadn't discovered old copies of the Poetry Review full of terribly avant garde poetry I didn't understand, if I hadn't discovered the poetry of John Ashbery and Frank O'Hara...

...I might have stayed with Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes, with the poets in my local library or available at the local bookshop. Of course, you might need an investigative spirit even to crack open the spine of a writer you're not familiar with, but they have to available to you in the first place. If you never go into a second hand bookshop, you're never going to find that copy of George Macbeth's The Cleaver Garden. But there has to be a second-hand bookshop for you to go in.

The problem with a lot of the non-mainstream poetries in this country is not its incomprehensibility; but its unavailability. If there's a large Waterstones, and it's got a good stock, you might nowadays find the odd Shearman or Salt book in there; but West House? Equipage? Barque? Highly unlikely. I guess the same could be said for presses like Enitharmon, Peterloo or Smith/Doorstop. It's harder and harder these days to discover the outre, the out of the way, the not very popular.

There is the Internet, of course, and there's a lot of it out there. But the Internet is largely unregulated, and again you only come across the good stuff by accident or recommendation. You can't get a recommendation unless you know someone, who knows someone who knows someone... If you live in the city, there are groups you can go to, you can make friends. But how do you do that if you live in the boondocks?

Becoming the poet I became has been a long and twisted path, involving a lot of discovery, a fair amount of incomprehensability and a fair amount of amazement. But at times, it's been frustrating, trying to track down writers and books. There's lots more out there, I'm sure. As Captain Picard might put it, "Let's see what's out there."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Kelvin Corcoran

One of the reasons that the perpetual divisions in British poetry don't make sense any more is that so many good poets languish in obscurity, unread and therefore unenjoyed by the readership they deserve.

One example of this has to be the poet Kelvin Corcoran. I first came across him by accident: a copy of one of his early books in Frontline Books, a radical bookshop co-operative that used to exist in Manchester. It was either TCL or Qiryat Sepher which I bought first, and later I found Melanie's Book in a second hand bookshop. Yesterday, I obtained the New and Selected Poems, published by Shearsman Books, and it's an absolute delight.

The division is often ridiculous because it is assumed that all non-mainstream poets must be terribly difficult and extreme. But there's as much - and in many ways, very much more - variety in the non-mainstream as the mainstream. Kelvin Corcoran is - supremely and unashamedaly - lyrical in his concerns. Take this example from Melanie's Book:


Saxon mouth, telling us how to live,
over the scabby allotments back there
but for the warmth in the name
even my sister, what do you expect?

It leaps up from the long table into your face:
at 1.20 dread wind slips into town,
at 1.20 total loss holds me.
There's no stepping back from here.

Standing outside the house I
thought we were dark bodies
walking, through the light of facing windows;
another family lives there now.

It means don't believe that broadcast,
the time of your life or.

Roll the sylables around your head for awhile. It's even a sonnet; not one that gives out its meaning too easily, it needs some working out; but it's as good as anything I've read this year. It's lyrical and it has a mystery about it that you want to explore. His use of the unrhymed sonnet throughout this collection is noticeable; I think he has a deep awareness of form, of that Poundian sense of condensare, of every word counting to the whole.

There's a political edge to his poetry which doesn't impinge or preach but which is a quietly insistent pulse of care throughout the book; or at least, the poems I've so far read. The latest poems have a Greek setting, and often invoke or write about the gods. This might seem old-fashioned, but it perhaps reveals something of his roots in modernism and his interest in Greek poets such as Cavafy. There are poems that refer directly to the refugees who regularly wash up on the shores of Europe, drowned through unscrupulous traffickers or upturned boats.

His earlier poetry is perhaps slightly too concerned to establish his non-mainstream credentials. No-one but a non-mainstream poet would talk of "the hot symbolism of dawn", for instance: a line too proud of its own awareness. But he soon grows out of that. The politics are perhaps a little too earnest early on; but they're a young man's poems so we can forgive him.

I haven't finished reading this book yet, so these are only interim statements. There are some terrific poems in this book: poems like The Empire Stores and A Shelley Poet. He makes me think; but he also makes your head sing with sound. And to think, if I hadn't found him in a small radical bookshop that no longer (alas!) exists, I would have missed him. That's why it's important to step out of the mainstream: just think of what jewels you're missing by sticking to the tried and the tested!

Monday, February 20, 2006


I've had a busy weekend. I went to two readings, and finally saw the film, The Constant Gardener, which was a good thriller with a pretty decent message, though at times I wondered if it overdid the preachiness. Ralph Fiennes was very good as the diffident English diplomat, and Rachel Weisz as his wife, the campaining woman whose meaning for life seemed to depend on making the world a better place.

But it's the readings I really want to talk about. Firstly, there was Anjum Malik, who is really a performance poet, who also happens to write for the radio. She may well be very good at that; she's got a serial on Woman's Hour and one on the Asian Network. Her poetry - well, lots of coy sexual references in poems about fish and chips, and the occassional serious poem with a message. A good performance, technically; but I didn't appreciate being jollied along and told to say "wa wa" if I liked something. It may be popular in Asian poetry circles; but the material wasn't really strong enough or challenging enough for me. It was OK as far as it goes; but that's not very far.

Then a reading in the Whitworth, with Grevel Lindop as the star guest. Now, he is a good poet; I liked the one about the six lemons, for instance. They were very well-constructed, basically School of Quietude but done with craft and a certain amount of depth of thought. I liked his reading. There were three other poets, who I won't embarass by naming. The first was the kind of woman one imagines drinking tea in a tea-shop in Buckhamshire while solving a murder in the vicarage. Very Home Counties, and she used the word "beau" in a poem. Now there is a word that really ought to have been taken out and shot in 1914, along with the perpetrators of that dreadful war. Poems about art, the kind of art that people in Cheshire like that doesn't frighten the horses.

Then there was a young woman on the MA course at MMU, who was very shy and not very loud but from what I could gather, very interesting and promising. She needs to practice using a microphone, and maybe be given some training in standing before an audience, but otherwise she might go far. Her poems had long, interesting sounding titles and actually seemed to go somewhere.

The third woman poet was a middle-aged woman who read something from memory that was in the voice of a woman who was possibly in love with someone, and there was one good line: "so what if there's no moon, let's make one." She hummed between each section, which made her seem even more soporific, and the whole seem rather sentimental.

So: two out of four ain't bad really. None of them, though, really challenged any boundaries. It was a very polite do with some mildly diverting folk at the beginning and the end, just the kind of thing you'd expect in a very respectable gallery setting. It would have been fun to see what a Geraldine Monk or a Bob Cobbing would have made of the place.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I seem to be having a month of publication. First, I receive my copy of the Moosehead Anthology X: Future Welcome, with my poem Every Planet Has a North in it. Then Poetry Nottingham 59/4 arrives with two of my poems in it. Then I get a poem accepted by a new anthology from a new press, University of Central Lancashire Press, for an anthology of food poems called Taste. That's interesting because the poem is an old one, that was in my collection Mee-Mawing in an earlier version. Now I've just had 4 poems accepted by a new internet mag edited by Ian Seed, Shadow Train. Things are looking up.

I still get a buzz from seeing my name in print.

Meanwhile, I'm still looking for more suggestions of English neglectorinos.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

English Neglectorino's

Over in America, there's now a website dedicated to neglected poets run by the poet CA Conrad ( and it occured to me to wonder who the English poets would be who are most deserving of reviving. I have a few candidates myself, in particular George MacBeth, Nicholas Moore, Veronica Forrest Thomson, Geoffery Holloway and many of the poets of the '40's such as Lynette Roberts, Paul Dehn, and others.

Some of these poets seem to have disappeared recently: George MacBeth died of motor neurone disease, then seems to have been forgotten until Enitharmon's Selected Poems. This was edited by Anthony Thwaite, and while useful, only showcases his more sensible formalist side; there's nothing of the hit-and-miss playfulness and games-playing side of him as seen in his Unwin Collected Poems, and nothing of his longer poems or experimental autobiography such as My Scotland.

Lynette Roberts has recently been published in a handsome edition by Carcanet, of course, and the forties poets might just be about to re-enter the canon a little. Their voice - anxious, committed and often more interesting than the Movement poets that pushed them out of the way - has been missing from contemporary poetry for too long.

Geoffery Holloway seemed to be stalwart of the small-press scene, and apart from two early Anvil volumes, never made it beyond that. But there was always something about his poetry that wasn't well-behaved, and he was always readable and often funny and wise at the same time.

Sometimes these neglected poets died, or became ill, or stopped writing too early to establish a reputation. Such was the fate of Nicholas Moore - though he later took up writing again, but by then the poetry world had moved on, and he never found a major publisher again. Lynette Roberts stopped writing when she got religion, then became ill as well. Rosemary Tonks is another poet who is neglected - two books, a couple of novels then she got born again. Why does being born again stop you from writing?

There are plenty of others I could name. Stanley Cook, Frank Redpath among the School of Quietude, early Denise Levertov perhaps, and of course Mina Loy. Derryn Rees Jones I think has recently been seeking to reassess Edith Sitwell. The surrealists, in particular Philip O'Connor. I'd be interested in any names of British poets (they have to be dead, by the way, and twentieth century) that my readers think are unjustly neglected.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

George Oppen's Psalm

A poem I wish I'd written by George Oppen:


Veritas sequitur . . .

In the small beauty of the forest
The wild deer bedding down —That they are there!

Their eyes
Effortless, the soft lips
Nuzzle and the alien small teeth
Tear at the grass

The roots of it
Dangle from their mouths
Scattering earth in the strange woods.
They who are there.

Their paths
Nibbled thru the fields, the leaves that shade them
Hang in the distances
Of sun

The small nouns
Crying faith
In this in which the wild deer
Startle, and stare out.

The concision, the beauty of the images, that wonderful opening out into a kind of secular faith at the end, is truely mindblowing. Not a very critical statement that. George Oppen was one of the leading members of the so-called Objectivist movement in America, and I guess this would be an example of that type of poetry. Except in another sense, it's just a beautiful nature poem. It's also - in that last verse - about celebrating the ordinary words, the everyday language, about finding spiritual value in the world around us, rather than the high-falutin'. In that sense, it's an incarnational poem: it doesn't find meaning by looking up at the skies, it finds meaning by looking at the dirt.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Teaching avant poetry

Last week I did a class on Free Verse for an Adult Education Class in Bury and introduced them to a poem by Lee Harwood and a poem by Barry MacSweeney. I didn't say at first that these two are regarded in some circles as "avant garde" - neither poem was them at their most difficult, though MacSweeney's was typically mordant. I looked at their use of images, sound and even the visual appearance on the page. Line-ending too -

why does the poet end
the line here

there for instance?

They took to them both without much persuasion. Some prefered Harwood's lightness, others MacSweeney's heaviness but that I suspect had more to do with their respective tastes for light and dark anyway. Nobody had any difficulty with them.

Interesting that. There is this strange idea that the avant garde is "difficult" but when you introduce people to the avant garde without telling them it is, they don't seem to mindat all.
Of course, I didn't show them any JH Prynne or Drew Milne. I didn't show them any Bob Cobbing (though the recent exhibition of his work in Bury went down well, I believe) or face them down with US Language poetry. It was perhaps the more comprehensible end of the avant garde, nevertheless...

I don't think there's anything wrong with trying to widen peoples' perspective, especially if there are parts of the poetry world that most people don't usually have access to. Lee Harwood's Collected is a delight: both experimental and airy, open and free-wheeling. I'm less of a fan of MacSweeney's, though I don't know it well apart from A Book of Demons and Pearl
The avant garde poetry world does tend to be harder to access than the mainstream, I guess - like free jazz improv, it goes on on the sidelines. Some of the protagonists probably like it like that - it gives them a sense of superiority, and feedstheir persecution complex - but getting more readers/listeners to find out about you is no bad thing, in my opinion.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Stephen Poliakoff

I watched the latest film by Stephen Poliakoff on BBC1 yesterday, and it was a marvel. There's something about his work that is utterly refreshing and new each time I see it.

It was called Friends & Crocodiles and was about the working relationship between a man with a vision and a very hemmed-in, prim kind of woman. They didn't fancy each other, so there was no posibility of them ending up in bed together, or walking into the sunset hand in hand. This in itself is enough to recommend it; not that there was no sex in it (Paul, the visionary entrepreneur with the chaotic lifestyle, was partial to threesomes) but that the relationship between the two characters wasn't about sexual tension.

They were characters who rubbed each other up the wrong way all the time, who couldn't work together but should have done, because they each needed the challenge the other brought them. I know what that kind of relationship is like; I have that relationship with a friend. We sometimes argue, but she always challenges me with my poetry and my life. I don't know if I do the same for her, but I hope so.

Anyway, back to the TV film. What I like about Poliakoff is that there's often a kind of epic quality to his work that never seems overblown or dependent on trickery. He's what I feel like calling a "slow" worker: his films take time to tell their stories, to reveal their characters. He doesn't feel the need to blast you with noise either; people speak quietly in his films. The music is often string-heavy but contemporary, neither too lush nor harsh. This gives them an air of strangeness that it's difficult to describe in print.

I'm reminded a little of the films of Powell/Pressburger. Though Poliakoff is a lot less lush and neo-romantic, there is nevertheless an air that is very different from most British films these days. They're not trying to be working-class nostalgia, period pieces or in-yer-face gangster. They are not cute like Richard Curtis films (not a ditzy Yank actress in sight; and no Rowan Atkinson gurning.) Films like this, The Little Prince and Shooting The Past get you involved by good story telling and dialogue, and the script is almost scored like a piece of music. BBC4 are doing a special on him; I wish I had digital now.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


Seems to me that's there's interesting things going on in the world of Zimbabwean poetry at the moment. The poetry they are producing seems to be very lively and direct and full of reality in a way that I very rarely see. So I've linked to the webpage for so that people can go and investigate it. Dambudzo Marechera seems to have inspired a whole new generation of young poets, including some of the ones I've worked with on the Crossing Borders project for the British Council. Irene Staunton seems to be doing a great job in encoraging them and bringing them some recognition.

What I like about the poems is their directness of address. In reading Marechera and Philip Zuwhao, I feel like I'm reading the New American Poetry again, except with a greater urgency because this is not some American with a relatively privilaged upbringing. Life's hard in Zimbabwe at the moment, very hard, as seen by the short life of Philip Zuwhao. They deserve our support and encoragement, so go and read them.

And if they have books to sell, buy them.