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.