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