Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Revolution

Happy New Year!

Resist the cuts in 2011!

don't renew trident in 2011!

Tax the rich not vat the poor!

Friday, December 24, 2010

I've probably written more posts on here this year than I have for a while; which is either a very good thing or me just wasting my life away.

Whatever it is, this is probably my last for this year,

so here's my favourite Christmas poem, by Edwin Morgan, whose loss this year, though expected for some time, is still huge:

The Computer's First Christmas Card





































Saturday, December 18, 2010


Some new stuff that I also did enjoy this year:

Carrie Etter's Infinite Difference - wonderfully widespread anthology full of new experimental women poets.
Elaine Randell's Faulty Mothering - probably my book of the year. Moving, Objectivist in the best way, taught as a bowstring.
Micheal Haslam - A Cure for Woodness - visionary, experimental, deeply felt, musical poems set in the Pennines, a kind of John Clare filtered through Jack Spicer and free-form jazz.

Those - in no particular order - are my top three this year, but there's also the new book from Tom Raworth and Scott Thurston's Momentum which were pretty special too.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Not Keeping Up

Apart from reviews, I've given up trying to keep up with the current books, albums, arts events etc; so I'm not about to give you my best of list for this year. I find those lists rather tiresome anyway. So, no, I can neither recommend nor not recommend the latest books by Heaney and Armitage; because I haven't read them. I may get round to it one day. But some things I have read and liked this year, in no particular order:

1) Brain Scream At Night by Paul Sutton
2) A lovely pamphlet by David Morley
3) Sidings by Richard Barrett
4) In the Assarts by Jeff Hilson
5) The Thief by Gill Andrews
6) Folklore by Tim Atkins
7) A Map of Verona by Henry Reed

The last was published in 1946 and I found it in a bookshop in Liverpool for the princely sum of £2.

There's lots more, I'm sure, and by the end of this year, I hope to have read only my second novel of the year. I hope to read more next year. I've just got so little attention span. I am looking forward to Elizabeth Baine's The Birth Machine.

Albums? Nothing much new. I found a copy of Genesis by Stan Tracey in an Oxfam, and I enjoyed Peepers by Polar Bear, and I picked up the odd bargain from Fop. Oh, and the Neil Cowley Trio's Radio Silence. But again I don't keep up. I don't see why there can't be advantages to being over 50, and not keeping up with what's current is one of them.

This is only a provisional list. If I think about what I read this year a bit more carefully, I might come back to it. On the other hand, I might not.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Poetries Not Poetry

I've come slightly reluctantly to the conclusion that there isn't a single species called poetry. There is instead a whole genus of poetry. The most obvious ' species division' has always been seen to be that between 'non-mainstream' and 'mainstream', or 'avant garde' and 'conservative', or 'linguistically innovative' and... what exactly? Lowell saw it as the 'raw' and the 'cooked' - and he, as a premier 'cooked' poet, coveted something of the 'wildness' he saw in Ginsberg et al, hence the freer rhythms of 'Life Studies' and after.

But that seems these days to be too binary; and I was thinking of this whilst reading the magazine Department, edited by Richard Barret, and the chapbook by Adrian Slatcher, Playing Solitaire for Money, new out from Salt.

Adrian Slatcher's book is, without being too disparaging, fairly mainstream. All the poems are well-written, often with a darkly reflective and apocalyptic edge. I really liked a lot of them, especially The Monster with its vision of urban menace symbolised by the monster seemingly made of detritus and abandoned hopes; and The Death of the Grand Gesture, about how small life seems to have come. It's an excellent pamphlet, well-worth £6.50 of your hard-earned cash.

But then we turn to Department, a magazine of innovative writing edited by one of Manchester's foremost innovative poets. Here we have poems that do not hold to the left-hand margin, but spread across the page; poems which are using language as a medium rather as an artist would, making associative leaps and including a visual element. There are poems in prose by Bill Drennan and Karen Sandhu; and the associative poetry of Stephen Emmerson and Nat Raha. Unlike Adrian's chapbook, it doesn't all make strict logical sense. But again excellent.

So far so binary; but even here we have a couple of different poetries being presented: James Davies' review of David Berridge's Knives Forks & Spoons Press chapbook is an argument for 'minimalist' poetry. There is no strictly visual poetry (though Becky Cremin's work contains an element of that) but there is another poetry.

So we have 'mainstream' poetry, 'innovative' poetry, 'minimalist' poetry, 'visual' poetry: each with their arguments for and against, and I haven't even mentioned 'formalist' poetry, which still continues over at Eratosphere, for instance. Each with their entrenched positions - and traditions. Do they have much to do with one another? And should they?

I do like the idea of poets crossing boundaries, stepping out of their safety zones and trying things; that's why I like visual poetry, where the writer is stepping into the territory of the visual artist; and 'sound poetry' which crosses the border into 'sound art' and even music.

But I doubt that anyone can like everything in poetry; I have to say that, despite being intrigued by it, 'minimalist' poetry does no more for me than most 'minimalist' art; I was always more of a maximalist in my taste. I like colour and noise and mess.

So 'genus' isn't probably the right word, as poets frequently like to cross the species barrier and borders are porous as sieves. So maybe it's more like bacteria: frequently mutating into new species and new shapes. And long may that be the case.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Things I'm Not Too Keen On

...but can't get overly worked up about:

1) Comedy gigs - I really can't see the point in being in the same theatre as one bloke spouting off for two hours with his own 'amusing' take on the world. I might make an exception for Stewart Lee, but even then.

2) Novels that are more than 200-250 pages long. Really, you need to employ an editor. Most mainstream novels are just not that interesting enough that I need to spend that much time with them.

3) Indie music that sounds just like every other indie band that's around at the moment. Pretend indie, in other words, without an ounce of real originality. But I wouldn't turn it off the radio if it was on.

4) The kind of "art" you find in those private galleries in town, full of pictures of 'romantic' ballet dancers and 'cute' creatures. Art for people who don't really like art but have a space above the fireplace that needs filling. Actually, on second thoughts, anyone got a good flamethrower?

5) Poets with 'crazee' nom-de-plumes. Puh-leeze!

6) Most poetry published by Faber, Picador or Cape. File under mostly dull.

7) Lists. (Including this one)

8) Those 'Fifty Best TV Programmes About Grass' that keep getting repeated on More4.

9) Sequels/Prequels/Remakes of films that are never as good as the original. Or weren't even any good the first time around.

10) Rom-coms starring Jennifer Anniston, any other actor from Friends, or Steve Carrell Was Funny Once Carrell.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Look Out: It's the Rialto Young Poets!

There's lots of young poets about. Suddenly, fresh young voices are jumping up out of the woodwork all over the place. Some of them sound a bit like what's gone before, others sound different. Voice Recognition, from Bloodaxe, was the first anthology to pick up on the young, along with City State: New London Poets, which confined itself to the capital. Both these anthologies are unusual in British anthologies in having both mainstream and more experimental voices swimming alongside each other, and the last two issues of The Rialto have continued this trend.

Nathan Hamilton, the guest editor of this section of the magazine, has been given about a third of the last two issues to publish these new voices; and he has, as they say round here, done a grand job. As with other collections of new poets, we have a plethora of new names to add to the mix, with a few familiar names. So we have Chris McCabe and Luke Kennard, Heather Philipson and Paul Batchelor; but we also have Ian Neames, the splendidly named Eileen Pun and Penny Boxall.

Hamilton's thesis is an interesting one: he sees the emergence of a generation of poets who are less bothered about the whole experimental/mainstream division. Some are producing interesting hybrid work, of whom he names Luke Kennard as the chief exponent. Kennard's narratives are often absurdist, funny and decidedly odd, often in prose (though here he's represented by two poems.) One can see this hybridism, though, even in a poet like Heather Phillipson: funny, and often with a philosophical edge, juxtaposing ideas but also making a kind of sense.

Some of the names I've read before include Emily Critchley, associated with the latest version of the Cambridge School but very much her own woman; and Amy De'ath, whose poem in issue 69 is, among other things, a feisty feminist declaration of intent:

I bit to chew and chewed down hard to make it known
That I am not here for smiling, coyness, shyness, or was it something
I had in mind grinning growling yakking making my
presence felt or manning up...
From Lena on the Beach
That this selection is deliberately so diverse feels like a real change in the air to me. For the first time maybe since the sixties, there seems to be a genuine movement to break down some of the barriers between poetries. A poet like Toby Martinez las Rivas, for instance, whose two long-lined, meditative poems are a highlight of issue 69, seems to owe as much to Geoffery Hill as to Barry MacSweeney. Todd Swift has tried to promote this hybridisation for some time now; and I think he may be onto something.

Even the poets who seem most comfortable within the mainstream style are perhaps less trying to ape the Armitage/Duffy style than to try to set out their own stalls. I'm quietly optimistic that this next generation will bring up many more surprises.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Writeoutloud Big Weekend & Jerome Rothenburg

It's been busy of late.

Last weekend, I went as a workshop leader to Hebden Bridge for the first Writeoutloud Big Weekend. We stayed in a hostel, there were about 40 odd of us, and the nights didn't end until after 1am each night. But apart from that, it was a wonderful experience for me when I led a couple of workshops on experimental writing and managed to coax some experimental writing out of people who probably haven't come across it before, let alone tried it. The whole weekend took me back to my roots among community writing groups.

I started by introducing the theme, and the various elements that might make up "experimental writing." It's an odd term: it makes the writing sound a bit like it ought to wear a white coat. But the people who came to the workshops were eager to learn and to participate.

It's one of the problems with "experimental" writers that sometimes there is an unwillingness to explain in reasonably simple language just what you're doing. Of course, all simple explanations falsify to some extent, they're bound to; but one can explain oneself in simple terms as long as one points out that this is a provisional statement of where one is now.

It's already created some reaction on the page, with one poet posting his "experiments" and getting a mixed reaction from readers. Mixed reactions are probably a good thing. Better than indifference, at least.

Tuesday night, I went to the reading at the Anthony Burgess Centre with Maggie O'Sullivan, Allen Fisher and Jerome Rothenburg, followed by the launch of the 3rd volume of Poems for the Millenium, covering Romantic and Post-Romantic Poetries. I really enjoyed the first set of readings, especially Maggie, who's work used to befuddle me no end. Which just goes to show that one should always have an open mind. Poetry you think is beyond you can grow on you, get under your skin; and I loved the way she used the sounds of language, the parts of words, as acts of communication in themselves: communicating, not a message, but a feel of a message.

Jerome Rothenburg was also wonderful, though his reading was interupted by my having to go to the loo. Still, I made up for it later by letting him know of a bunch of Lancashire dialect poets of the cotton famine he hadn't heard of... The readings from the anthology were eye-opening - a wonderfully funny extract from Clare's letters about city folk thinking every bird they hear at night must be a nightingale, some of the extracts from late Holderlin, some Issa haiku that seemed to largely involve pissing and frogs...

It was a beautiful reading, and afterwards we went to Cocotoo's underneath the railway arches, which had a replica of the Sistine Chapel Michelangelo on its ceiling...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Found Poetics

It's been awhile since I've been here. I've been busy... not least becoming a performer in a band! Not, you understand, a singer - I would not inflict what passes for my singing voice on anyone in the public. But as a poet in a jazz/poetry combo called Backchat.

Which is kind of weird - everyone I know wanted to be in a band at some point in their lives, but most of course never got to be. Now, past the age of 50, I'm in a band. A jazz band. It's probably not the most innovative of jazz bands, but neither is it trad. A bit like my poetry - modernist, fragmentary and all that it might be; but I'm probably not at the absolute cutting edge of anything. I go to The Other Room and Counting Backwards, and I'm always inspired by what I hear/see; but I can only go in the directions that mean something to me.

Last Counting Backwards, by the way, was terrific, including a wonderful performance of the Bricks, by a woman going under the moniker, Sonic Pleasure. Also, Stephen Emmerson's poetry and the improve sax/whistle/recorder/swanney whistle of Philip Bent (I think). A wonderful evening, sometimes intense, sometimes quietly reflective. I'll never look at a pile of building materials the same way again...

What I liked about her performance were the twin aspects of temporariness and recycling. She was re-using materials in new ways, and as she performed, some of the bricks were crumbling as she banged or scrapped them together. A lot of modernist writing incorporates recycled material and found text, in my case, over- and mis- hearings. The modernist technique par excellance appears to be bricollage: you find it in Eliot, in Pound, Olson, Williams; and in contemporary writers such as Frances Presley or Tony Lopez. Even Elaine Randell's poems are using the material of others' lives in her almost case-note like poems.

Although it is how you put it together that makes the poems work, the fact that so much poetry is essentially found, fascinates me. Perhaps all poetry is found; where else would it come from? Poets recycle the world around them, but it's true in other art forms too. Be-Bop tunes are often based on older tunes, or quote them speed them up, add more notes. Collage and installation use found materials. Now there's the basis of a thesis. All art is about finding.

Feel free to use and rearrange any of these words in any order...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Recognition, Vertigo, and Passionate Worldliness by Tony Hoagland : Poetry Magazine [article/magazine]

Recognition, Vertigo, and Passionate Worldliness by Tony Hoagland : Poetry Magazine [article/magazine]

I found this article fascinating because it actually articulated the differences between mainstream and non-mainstream poetry in a non-confrontational way, as a kind of argument between a rational, logical way of thinking that sees poetry as a vehicle for ordering the world; and the alternative, Dionysian way of seeing the beauty in and through the chaos of existence.

I liked the article because he was not denying the sophistication of anyone, or saying that one way is better than another. He may personally have his preferences, as I do, as we all do. But Mozart is not less sophisticated than Stravinsky; or vice versa. If mainstream poetry can sometimes to some people 'run the gamut of emotions from A to A' (as was said of Roger Moore's Bond), non-mainstream poetry can seem sometimes to be just a disorganised mess.

I like both kinds of poetry, but lean strongly towards the latter. I'm currently reading Sean Bonney's Document, and wonderful it is too: by turns angry, tender, chaotic, political, even personal. But there's also a sense that he has something to say and he's going to say it. Mainstream poets will probably write poetry that 'has something to say': that is about a specific experience or set of ideas, and then they will describe them. This book too has something to say: but he disrupts the message, makes it hard to read, muddies the water. He still wants you to understand, however; he just doesn't trust the usual ways of communicating, so he goes round the back, the side, below and above the main point. Which is, of course, that capitalism is a bad thing for everyone, including poetry. And who could disagree with that?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I went to That London at the weekend, and while I was there, photocopied some of the poems of Nicholas Moore. Here's one I find amusing, mysterious, slightly dark and somehow really beautiful, from Recollections of the Gala, his last full selection for many years before he died:

Girl With A Wine Glass

Bright intelligence. The foot moves
Skillfully, the small hand holds
Its dearest possession stiff and straight.
A young girl holds the world, a pencil

In her clean, her correct hands. Time -
That dubious bird with such a cunning eye -
Elects to look upon her with disdain,
As though it were nothing she is holding.

For Time, and it our conception of time,
Not hers, proves that it is no pencil
She holds so stiffly, nor that her
Demeanour, correct as it is, is anything

But a bluff. The foot moves. The eye
falters. There is a tree grows
In a foreign land, marked, named,
Of a rare species, valuable and tall,

And this it is which, in the woody pencil,
Her attitude is symbol to.
She is intelligent, simple. She moves
With a direct, a frank movement, talks

Without reticence, is friendly, charming, gay.
And yet she holds that thing withing her hands,
Remembering Salome, and, as she speaks,
One sees the hands fold round that tender head.

It seems almost criminal that this poet is no longer in print.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Getting It And Not Getting It

Todd Swift's Eyewear review of Seamus Heaney set me to thinking about the question of how different people seem to appreciate different things. There often seems to be a mutual incomprehesion of two different kinds of poetry. In the comment stream, Mark Granier seems to see things in Heaney's poetry that Todd can't see. If I read Heaney, I'd probably feel the same as Todd, I suspect.

Alan Baker puts this difference down to the "increasing sophistication" of the reader of nonmainstream poetries: just as we widen out taste in music to include more difficult pieces as we get older. But I'm unhpapy with this formulation, because it involves a value judgement. It says, nay shouts, "I'm better than you," at the unsophisticated reader of mainstream poetry, who is presumed to be less intelligent, lazy or, even worse, terribly bourgeois and accepting of the comfortable status quo. Instead of being made to think viz a viz language and meaning creation, instead of seeing how meaning is a social product etc etc... they prefer a slice of 'social realism lite', the comforting feeling of being given an insight into the human condition that isn't too different from other very similar insights, an over-described slice of life etc etc...

But then the non-mainstreamer tells us things about language that we already know, doesn't he/she? Don't we all know about the way language is manipulated by adevertising/capitalism/etc etc and isn't it just a bit boring? And why don't they make some concession to ordinary readers, instead of using all these jump-cuts and juxtapositions etc etc?

You can see how the argument goes. I personally can see where this is coming from, and am in definite sympathy with it. But, Janus-like, I can often find myself thinking that yes, there's something in the other point of view too. There are times when I read non-mainstream poetry when I get somewhat tired of being told about language and meaning creation as a social product, etc etc and just want 'a good read.' Maybe not Heaney; I still don't like his little epiphanies about the human condition; but maybe Reznikoff: his social realisms are never 'lite', but his narratives are simple, direct, "unsophisticated." But beautiful: moving, often on the edge of despair but also hopeful. And he never leaves us with any neat insights into the human condition to make us feel good about ourselves; instead you work out your insights for yourself.

In the Starbucks I'm writing this from, there's jazz trumpet coming through the speakers. Jazz is my favourite music; it's "sophisticated." But I also like pop music sometimes. Jazz fans sometims look down at "pop" fans for being "unsophisticated"; not unlike nonmainstreamers looking down their noses at mainstreamers. So I haven't really learnt why one person like Heaney, and finds great depth in him; and another thinks it's nothing that wasn't done in the 19th century. Or another likes JH Prynne while someone else finds him just incomprehensible. In can't just be to do with one person being better than another, can it?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Edwin Morgan 1920-2010

I felt unaccountably sad on Thursday, when I found out that Edwin Morgan had died. I felt like I'd lost a kind of literary uncle: someone whose breadth and depth of vision, whose experimental nature and willingness to explore all kinds of poetry, from the sonnet to the sound poem, excited me when I first read him and still excites me now. He made me believe anything was possible with language.

So here is my most immediate attempt at, not an elegy, but at representing what he means to me. It's a poem made from words found in the brochure of the Royal Exchange theatre, words strangely capitalised in the paragraphs advertising the plays. As I was mucking around with the words on the back of the bus home, it occurred to me that it would be the kind of thing that he would do, and suddenly it came to seem apt to dedicate it to him:

EXCHANGE SESTINA i.m. Edwin Morgan







I hope it's the kind of thing that Edwin Morgan, bricolouer, poet and experimenter, would approve of.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Children of Albion: Part 2

The previous post really looked at some of the less well-known names in the anthology. People like Pete Brown and Spike Hawkins whose names only get remembered in passing these days. Pete Brown, of course, does have a second existence as a lyricist for Cream and a musician; but a lot of the names are now forgotten.

But there are poets in this anthology who could be classed as among some of the best British poets of the 20th century. Roy Fisher is here, for instance, with extracts from his very influential City, as is Gael Turnbull, Scottish-Candadian doctor and publisher of Migrant press and magazine, seminal British Modernist. Tom Pickard, Lee Harwood, Tom Raworth, David Challoner, Andrew Crozier are all easily among the best poets in the country, though here reresented by early work. Tom Pickard's combination of Black Mountain poetics and Newcastle dialect is only one of the many innovations here.

Then there are the British Beats. Jim Burns shines the brightest for me; I've always liked the seeming casuallness of his writing and the insight into everyday life his work gives. But I really must go and read some more of Micheal Horowitz, and his wife Frances. Not much could be said about Dave Cunliffe, unfortunately; though two of his contributions seemed to have the stink of real life about them, you could smell the patchouli again. Then there's Herbert Lomas, who may or not have been beat, but here seems remarkably sharp.

It's an interesting snapshot into interesting times, and a window into what might have been. What would English poetry be like if Larkin had been consigned to the margins and Roy Fisher had been the poet to imitate? Or if Gael Turnbull had been more widely spoken of than Heaney? I wonder...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Children of Albion: Underground Poetry 40 Years On

I bought a copy of this anthology, edited by Micheal Horovitz, in my local Oxfam shop, out of curiousity as much as anything. How does it stand up after all this time? And is it still important or relevant?

There is inevitably going to be some wastage after all this time, and the less successful poems are the ones that bear too much of the imprint of the '60's. Two lines from Tom Taylor's High Sequence encapsulate its worst faults: "Violence is a drag / it brings me down". The hippy egotism of those two lines and their blissed out insoucience almost seem like cliches nowadays. This one poem shows why it's not a good idea to write when high.

On the other hand, I have a soft spot for some of the short instant poems that were probably written on the cuff, like Pete Brown's Vision:

Wow! 2
small virgins
a gigantic
Not, I'm sure you'll agree, the most deep and meaningful verse ever penned, but it wasn't intended to be. This inclusion of humourous instant poetry gives the anthology a charm that is sometimes lacking in more serious collections of avant-garde poetry. Then there's David Kozubei's delightfully Milliganesque Tragedian's Speech:

Death, death, death, alas;
Death, death, death, alas;
Woe, woe, woe, woe;

I don't suppose such poetry was ever really intended to last or be important, and the fact that it got into one of the more significant anthologies of the '60's is a happy accident. But other poets also have a kind of instancy about them that reminds me of Frank O'Hara and the poets of the Lower East Side who were operating at the same time. Poets such as Paul Evans, Pete Brown and Spike Hawkins, with a touch of that English strain of surrealism that descends from Lewis Carroll:

Shot Throughwithbrownlight

She fled from the carriage
In a flurry of sandwiches
That flew around the old man's head
Their springs broken
Like small fishes panting clank

There's a mixture of sharp observation and odd juxtaposition that is very English, as well as being part American. If this is influenced by Blake, it's by the poet of Innocence & Experience, not the poet of the prophetic books.

Blake does cast a shadow over the whole anthology, not just because of the cover, but because of the Afterword, which also invokes the Beats; but it's actually surprising how few of the poets here are actually Beats. The best poets in the book; people such as Gael Turnbull, Roy Fisher, Lee Harwood, Harry Guest and others; seem to me to be more interested in Black Mountain poetries, New York School poetries and the Objectivists. The worst poems seem like parodies of the Beats. Micheal Horowitz' own poems stand up, as do Jim Burns'; but the poems in praise of hash or about jazz music fail to do much more than be damp squibs.

So is it still an important anthology? Well, yes and no. There is still a stuffiness in the poetry that needs fresh air blowing through it. When Robin Robertson can declare with all seriousness that there are too many poetry books being published, there is still a need for the constant revolution of underground poetry. It's also good to become more aware of the various paths that poetry has taken in this country apart from the official line that leads from the Movement to Carol Ann Duffy. There is much beauty in this book, much joy, and an openness to experience, to the world outside the academy.

On the other hand, it does have its faults. The lack of women poets for one. The lack of rigour in some of the poetry is also regretable, though all anthologies contain duds. Not all the poetry here is particularly avant garde; Herbert Lomas, for instance, though I like his poems here, doesn't strike me as particularly underground. Non-mainstream poetry has moved on too, and there are ommissions from the time: no Jeff Nuttall, Eric Mottram, Bob Cobbing or JH Prynne for instance.

On the whole, I like this anthology. There are parts of it which are very sixties, but it survives the blissed-out hipness and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a trip to the past.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Sidings by Richard Barrett (White Leaf Press £5)

Richard Barrett's first book is a dinky little thing you could easily fit into your pocket, but contained within are some of the most interesting words to have come out of a young Manchester poet in many a year. It's a pretty adventurous ride through the urban environment from a poet who is aware of the world around him, worries about the economy, works in an office and observes the media-saturated, channel-hopping world we all live in with a mixture of wry humour and a kind of undecieved romanticism.

The book starts with "Reason For Not Writing Poetry", a bold statement considering its possible commentary on what follows; but soon we're bang-slap into the urban environment, with references to architecture, to the consequence of the current lack of coherent policy on social housing. Throughout this collection, politics keeps rearing its head, in sequences such as the rushes and The Hard Shoulder. But this is never an agit-prop anti-capitalist rant; politics is seen here as being as much a part of life as falling in love or going to work. Throughout this collection, we feel Barrett's confusion and anger about the banking crisis, about what's going on with the language around him:

Asked to resign. Meaning
confused. That's sacked.
No hastily typed letter on
the boss's desk.
No assessing the menu for
the cheapest items. Leaving
- hint of a way back -
(to be expected).
CEO states:
at time of mortgage application /
facts were accurate.
Are we supposed to have
that short a memory?
Not idiots. We. Are. Not idiots.

His technique of rapid jump-cuts from the personal to the political, from the external to the internal and from his own thoughts to what's overheard suits these poems well. To use a phrase from his almost-manifesto, We Dig Repetition, he's trying to keep pace with mind.

Anyone with an interest in contempory poetry should be buying this collection.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Novelty & the New

What's the difference between "the pusuit of mere novelty" and that Poundian injunction to "make it new?"

It's an interesting question, isn't it? Does it have something to do with your own approach to newness? What about gimmickry? Do you use gimmicks in poetry, or are you being "authentic" in reflecting your experience of the world through new techniques? Does the parsing of the verb "to make new" go something like this:

"I am making it new

You are pursuing mere novely.

They are using gimmicks."
All poets, whatever their critical allegiances, have a troubled relationship with the 'tradition.' With all those dead poets breathing over our shoulders (or rather, not breathing...) it's a wonder we ever get any work done... Even innovative poets are often working in areas that have been explored before: flarf is another form of found poetry, viso-poets are exploring areas that have been explored by other poets etc - but they are being pursued in new contexts or with a different approach. There is nothing new under the sun, as the preacher said, yet every day is a new day: we've both been here before and never been here before ever.

What is a gimmick in poetry? Is a sonnet a "gimmick" that just has the dubious virtue of having been around for a long time? Open form has been around since the early poems of Charles Olson: has it now ceased to become a gimmick and become an accepted form of writing now sixty years have passed?

The difference between novely and newness seems to be more to do with the critic's own ideology and less to do with critical acumen. How can you tell that something is going to last? I don't think you can.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lost Your Voice? Try Strepsils.

So what is voice? When I was asked what my voice was recently, I was stumped. I don't know. Isn't it up to someone else to tell me what I sound like? All I hear is what I hear in my own ears, distorted by wind, traffic noise, the beating of my own pulse, and the fact that I've got a headache this morning or went to bed too late last night or faint images of the film I saw on TV or repeats of QI on Dave. Is there something that I retain from the first good poems I wrote? Am I still a Northern Anecdotalist (copyright Roddy Lumsden) or have a become something else?

Most of my influences are New American or post-British Poetry Revival. Is that part of my voice. Is a voice a combination of all your influences plus something from your childhood plus some essential essence of individual self that somehow gets preserved from the ravages of just living your life or is there such a thing as an individual self to preserve anyway? If I was to learn another language and write in that, would I still preserve that essential ingredient, the self?

I happen to be somewhat religious, but not in the way I was when I started writing. Then I was a born-again Christian (yes, I am a Survivor of Evangelicalism.) Now I'm a Quaker who isn't at all sure if he can intellectually justify the feeling at the back of his head that there is something he calls God that in some philosophical vague way sort of exists (I could go on but I'd be here till doomsday.) Am I the same person as I was then, or have I changed?

Has my voice changed, deepened, become more or less serious, sonorous, facile, fluent, stammering, louder, quieter, and does any of this matter anyway?

Who am I? And who are you? And who's he (behind you)?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Moving On

One of the things about being an artist or a writer is that you're constantly moving your own goalposts, changing the way you write. I'm sure there are some who seem to be writing very similar poems to ones they did before; but even the most seemingly familiar poet like Seamus Heaney has changed his poetry over the years. He's not writing Digging anymore, though there are continuities.

But readers sometimes don't want you to move on, and I had this experience recently. My first "proper" book, Calling Myself On The Phone, is very different from the more experimental poetry I'm writing now, though again there are probably continuities. This person, a very good friend of mine, said she liked the simple love poems I wrote then, and why couldn't I write like that now? It's the kind of challenging question that I think every poet should ask themselves now and again: why did I change?

It's a difficult question, because it also came with her feeling that I was no longer expressing my feelings in my poetry. After going through the two-fold process of "am I really avoiding feeling? (doubt)/no I bloody well am not! (anger)" I began to think this through.

And I came to the conclusion that I am basically right, after all, and there is an element of not being able to go back to what I did before, even if I wanted to. Quite simply, I haven't become a less feeling poet, and when I'm writing well, I'm not just doing it for show either. The poems I write now have as much emotion invested in them as the poems I wrote then. This friend of mine helped me to break through to writing about feelings in a way I never had before; and I've never looked back since.

But to expect me to write the same kinds of poems as I used it is impossible. Since then, there have been several more breakthroughs, including the one that led to the cut-ups of my second book Travelator, and the even more experimental poems of my latest pamphlet. Expecting me to go back now would be rather like asking Picasso to stop being cubist and go back to his Rose period. Like him, I can still look back on my earlier book with affection; but I can't repeat myself. I've forgotten how to write like that anyway.

So I'm going to keep moving on: probably my writing in the future will be different from what it is now. Who knows, some kind of clarity will return to my writing; but it won't be the same kind as before. Am I still expressing emotions through my writing? Yes, I am: but now I'm much more abstract. Still bothered about beauty as I always was. Still angry, still alive to feelings of love and loss (my mother has dementia: and the poems I write about that are very painful to write, however much I use cut-up, overheard conversation and chance proceedures.)

Anyway, I'm sure there's still copies of Travelator available, and Salt need your support. So if you still haven't got a copy, do get hold of one...

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Problems of Performance

I wanted to set down, as clearly as possible, some of my own thoughts about performance poetry. As someone whose alliances are more with avant garde, post avant and experimental writings, I sometimes sound off at performance poetry without really explaining what I have a problem with, so I thought it would be useful to try and be as clear as possible.

Firstly, there are some really good performers about in Manchester, which is obviously the area I know most about. There are also some terrible ones, who don't seem to have much in the way of self-awareness; but I won't embarass them by naming them. But there are performers who are consistently good at what they do, and I'll be mentioning them as I go along.

Secondly, it's very encouraging to see so many young people involved in poetry, and the support that the older generation such as Gerry Potter and John G Hall give to the younger. There isn't a sense of competition or dog-eat-dogness; though it might be there underground, I haven't found it.

So those are the positives; and there are probably many more, but I'm here to talk about problems that I have with it, so let's get on with them. Not that my comments only refer to performance poetry; a lot of mainstream page poetry is not much different in essence, however subtly it tries to hide it. These comments are personal and don't apply to everyone at all times.

Its Eagerness to Please

And I'm not just talking about the way so many performers want to make us laugh by pretending that making your jokes rhyme constitutes writing a poem. It's also a result of having to stand in front of an audience and try to entertain them. Now, there's nothing wrong with entertainment; but poetry is an artform not just show business. The listener should be offered an experience, not merely be amused. I have seen performances like that, where the poet offered us an entrance into an unfamiliar world and we entered into it unsure if we'd come out of it again, and subtly changed by the experience; but not very often.

The poet should never be too eager to please. Or its mirror image: to shock. It's one of the problems I always had with Chloe Poems and Rosie Lugosi. They were so busy being either shocking or entertaining that the real sharpness of their poetry got lost in a frisson of music-hall outrage, that frankly most of their audiences lapped up because that's what most of them had come for. When Chloe became Gerry and Rosie Lugosi become Rosie Garland, I saw genuine voices begin to emerge that were not simply trying to entertain us, or to shock us, but were trying to enlighten us.

A poem really should be itself; it should be an experience of the poet's world. It doesn't exist to please. Though it's not a bad thing if it does.

A corrollary of this is:

Its Cuteness

Look at me! I'm not going to give you anything where you have to feel any bad emotions, sadness or anger or melancholy, and I'm certainly not going to make you think, bemuse you or confuse you, make you feel uncomfortable or bore you.

Now of course, nobody wants to be bored in a poetry performance. But do want to be constantly entertained, amused like a Roman audience at the circus?  Or do we want some reality in a poet?

I've been watching Jackie Hagen perform for a few years now, and she's very good at what she does. But her performances have recently become a completely different thing. She used to be amusing, sometimes cute, and was introduced recently as a "poetry pixie." But her recent poems have taken us somewhere darker, much less cute, angrier, wilder. She's no longer trying to amuse us, to show us the wisdom of the jumble sale; she's giving us an experience that challenges us. She recently performed a poem about a man having a heart attack on Oxford Road that was raw, angry and moving all at the same time, that drew us into the experience and left me at least gasping for breath.

Sometimes it explains too much

This maybe a consequence of the kind of people who become performers rather than, say, mainstream page poets or avant garde poets. It might be a class thing or a confidence thing; although performers may have been to university, they may also be working class, or suspicious of anything too difficult or too strange. Now, I would never personally advocate a poetry that requires a string of references or notes, but a little difficulty is not a bad thing.

As an editor, one of my most common tasks is to cross the last verse out. Sometimes the first, but very often the last. This is where the poet explains to his/her reader what the poem is about, or gives us the lesson that the poet is trying to teach us. If you see yourself starting to explain what the poem is about in the poem itself, stop. Not only does your audience know as much (or as little...) as you, but they should also be given the choice to read it or experience it for themselves. Poets and poems are like cameras: they are lens through which other people see the world in a new way. They notice things, and point them out. They are not preachers, or teachers, and they are not any wiser than the rest of the world.

But what if the audience don't get it? That's the fear, isn't it? But then I have to ask, so what if they don't get it? Puzzlement, bafflement even, is as much a reaction to a poem as applause. Sometimes, a poet's imagination runs off into the surreal: so let it. A poem doesn't have to make the same kind of sense that a newspaper article does; it's a work of the imagination not an essay.

Well, I could go on. But this is enough for now. These are my thoughts at the moment, and they'll probably change tomorrow,

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Firstly, more poetry church: I went to the poetry picnic at Linda Chase's place, and helped out on the bookstall. Carol Ann Duffy read to a rapt crowd, and it reminded me of a tent crusade. The poetry? Well, it was OK. Then they sold one of her manuscripts, a handwritten poem, in the auction, and I was thinking: Piece of the True Cross.

Still, it was a good sunny day and I had strawberries, and bought a book about the New York East Village poetry scene in the '60's that was worth having.

The readings at the Independent Book Fair were less reverent, but with Gerry Potter as (very able) compere it did feel a bit like Old Time Religion still. I got the chance to read, and went all pantomime by getting the audience to join in a fairly surrealist poem about Arran. Sneaking a bit of the avant-garde under the radar, I feel. I met some interesting people, including Marvin Cheeseman, who actually told me he wasn't really a poet. Funny, his poems always sound like poetry to me. Maybe a bit further along the line towards "I wish I'd looked after me teeth" poetry than me, but it's still poetry. Poetry goes from "but that's not poetry" wild experimentalism (Paula Claire, Bob Cobbing etc...) to music hall verse, in my book;  and if I prefer one to the other, then that doesn't mean that poets who entertain the public with cheesy rhymes should feel that they're not really poets.

Which probably means that I find the sometimes sniffy comments about mainstream poetry that I'm often guilty of making myself somewhat unfortunate. Not that I'm about to praise the latest Simon Armitage, mind. I'll still find it dull and unimaginative. But sometimes, when I'm in a generous mood, I can admit he has his place. The same is true of Pam Ayres, though: personally, it makes me squirm, but plenty of people enjoy it. It's not great literature, though.

If this blog is coming across as a little bi-polar, perhaps that's how it should be. I have my preferences, and my "can't stand's", and I like to think that I know what I'm talking about. But I don't believe in being precious about it either. Poetry is a wide church. Not that it excuses boredom: and if something bores you, just walk away.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Poetry As Church

I went to a couple of events this week that made me feel somewhat uncomfortable. Not in a nasty way, but nevertheless, it was slightly discomfiting. I went first to see Simon Armitage in hallowed surroundings of the baronial hall at Chet's. He was stood at the front, reading from a lectern and looked his usual slightly bemused Northern bloke, reading from his new book, Seeing Stars. He read well, but the whole event had the reverential air of a church service, with everyone else the members of the congregation listening respectfully to the man in the front giving us his wisdom.

I didn't object to the poetry, which was, as the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy says about earth, mostly harmless. Quite amusing, in fact, with a slight frisson of soft surrealism here and there. Pretty much Armitage as usual. But a part of me wanted to get up and shout "Summer is in the trees! It is time to strangle several bad poets!" not because the reading was bad, but just to puncture the atmosphere. No doubt everyone would have been polite and they wouldn't have dragged me outside to beat the crap out of me, which is what happened to George Fox when he interupted the sermons in church!

Afterwards, I went to Paradox, hosted by John G Hall because Lauren Bolger was not well. There, with the addition of alcohol and the fact that it was in Sandbar, the atmosphere was much less reverential, and there was music too. In fact, I performed myself. I found myself feeling much more comfortable in that atmosphere. A bit worrying that, as I think I probably drank too much. On the whole I enjoyed the poetry too: and predicted that there was a new San Francisco Rennaisance happening in Manchester. Somewhat over the top, but like I say, I'd drunk a lot.

Then, last night, I went to Pass On A Poem, which again had the atmosphere of a church about it. Only now, it was more like a bible study: here we all are reading these sacred texts out to each other. Not that there weren't good poems: Hopkins, Lowell and a rather fine rendition of The Hotel Brown Poems by John Ash. But again, it was this idea of poetry as almost a substitute faith.

I didn't stand up and read Kenneth Koch of course. I'm far too polite and English for that sort of thing. But I felt like it.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Pre-Arran Thoughts 2: Counting Backwards

My seciond encounter with the contemporary post-avant this week was at Fuel yesterday. Mike Cannell, Holly Pester and THF Drenching. A very interesting evening.

First up was Mike Cannell, who I have to say was quite good rather than spectacular. His work is still finding its own direction; a lot of what he did was variations on the kind of sound poetry that has been going on since, well, Bob Cobbing. All very well, but not quite individual enough, though I liked individual pieces. And he had the most startling teeth I've seen for a long time, which did give an added frisson of creepiness to the performance. But it went on far too long; by the end of it I was beginning to lose all hope. Twenty minutes is about the attention span of most people; and he went on for twice that.

I think he's a promising name for the future, rather than a fully formed poet yet. But Holly Pester was terrific and really lifted the evening, She only read two pieces; which were both about 10 minutes long. In the first one, she read part of it using a public address microphone that made it sound like messages at an airport and it was a terrific performance. The second piece was one I'd heard before at the Other Room; but it was great to hear again, a kind of apocalyptic piece that might be about the end of the world, or the breakdown of civilisation. She was a quietly assertive presence at the front of an audience who were mainly much bigger than she is.

Finally, THF Drenching: an improvised set using various electronic noise-makers and drums in what was at times a wonderful cacophony of bleeps and hisses and clattering drums. I've never been a big fan of free improvisation; sometimes it's just three individuals doing their own thing; but I got the feeling that there was a lot of listening going on, and they complemented each beautifully, making at times lovely sounds, at others an ugly sound, but all somehow very well integrated.

There was, apprarently, a free-improv session going to happen after the next break; but by then, I was getting tired, last night's long night taking its toll.

It was a great evening, all told; and now I'm all ready to take my post-avant self to Arran.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Each to Their Own (Pre-Arran Thoughts)

Yesterday was the latest reading at The Other Room, with three very good performances from Susanna Gardner, Peter Manson and Nicole Mauro. After a previous week where I was performing three times, including once in a jazz band, it was a relief to sit back and watch for a change.

I have to confess that The Other Room is a kind of lifeline for me: in a city that seems at times to be dominated by performance poetry evenings, it's a real pleasure to go somewhere where the art of the bleeding obvious isn't constantly on display. And it continues: tonight at Fuel, Matt Dalby and Richard Barratt are hosting an evening involving Holly Pester and others. And then there's the if p then q launch later on this month.

Because I have friends who are very much in the performance or the mainstream scenes, I can't entirely divorce myself from those scenes; even if at times I get so frustrated with the whole thing that I go off on a massive grump about the whole thing. And many of them are good at what they do, seasoned performers or writers of well-crafted poems that might not break any boundaries but are good in themselves. There's a place for performance and a place for well-crafted mainstream poems. Just not anymore on my bookshelves, or in my head.

But it's complicated: I want to be nice to people, and sometimes I say things that make me sound terribly pompous and even elitist about poetry I don't really connect with. And I get frustrated that poet x is famous for nothing much (it seems to me) while poet y, who is actually extending the idea of what poetry can be, is languishing in obscurity. Elaine Randell, for instance, knocks the socks off Carol Ann Duffy. But who's famous?

I like adventure in writing. I like something that is at the edge of understanding, at the edge of acceptable, that makes me think, but that also takes an emotional risk. There aren't many mainstream poets who do that (Jane Holland manages it, for instance, but not Armitage.) I don't see the point in saying what's already been said in ways that have already been used.

Anyway, I've got a whole host of Dusie chapbooks to read, plus a couple of full length collections. So it should keep me satisfied for awhile. I'm off to Arran in two days time, for a week of R'n'R on an island with only two roads and a distillery.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fame, fame fatal fame...

...still I'd rather be famous than holy, any day, any day, any day...

So sang Morrisey. And I go off to the Oxfam bookshop in Didsbury, and find there, for the princely sum of .99p, the book Passport to Earth by Henry Graham. This erstwhile member of the Liverpool group of poets from the '60's, according to the blurb, "is considered to be one of the most mature and permanent poetic talents yo have emerged from the 'pop' scene."

What do you mean you've never heard of him? Surely you must have if that blurb is anything to go by...

It's a good collection, actually, as is my only other substantial collection of his, Bar Room Ballads. Tinged with if not occassionally steeped in Surrealism and a deep knowledge of the visual arts, his writing is certainly worth looking up. Not particularly experimental or too dully mainstream, it's certainly more serious and contemplative than the Liverpool Scene of Roger McGough & Brian Patten. The book I bought Tuesday (after I'd had my teeth done) was published in 1971, and if anyone had taken any notice, we might have remembered it the way we remember Seamus Heaney's Death of a Naturalist.

But maybe it wasn't special enough, or didn't get the right reviews, or wasn't taken up on any courses, and it disappeared into that enormous invisible library, the Library of Forgotten Books. Well, it's a good read, worth at least a couple of quid of anyone's money, so if you see it in an Oxfam shop near you, let it be read again, and remembered in the ears of readers.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mexican Poetry

I went to a great reading yesterday, with three Mexican poets: David Huerta, Coral Bracho and Victor Teran. It was in the very Hogwarts venue of the Baronial Hall at Chet's Library. There was a bust of the benefactor on the wall, old paintings, a high beamed roof and big old wooden doors that looked strong enough to keep out an army. It was quite an atmosphere for a reading.

The poets who read were all unknown to me, as is most Mexican poetry. In fact, pretty much all of it till last night. My favourite has to be Coral Bracho's very sensuous poetry, but Victor Teran's reading, with translation read by the very dandyish David Shook, was the best in terms of sound. He spoke his own indigenous language of Isthmus Zapotec, a language spoken by only about 100,000 people but one with its own music, and tonal in its effects. David Huerta's poetry is also very good; and he seemed the most "intellectual" of the three.

All in all, a great evening.

Friday, April 16, 2010

How long is a piece of string?

I think I want to get away from the idea that poetry is a "puzzle." Puzzles have single answers, even if you can't work out what the answer is. So people ask, "what does poem X mean?" as if you can supply them with the answer. And it's not as if you can't supply an answer; you can, if the poem is more than just an exercise. But it's an answer not the answer.

So I often ask, what do you think it means?

And then nod when they tell me.

A poem is not a puzzle. It is a field of meaning, of sounds harmonising and not harmonising, of ideas and feelings and registers of language. It might be univocal or multivocal. It might represent the author's thoughts, but those thoughts might be provisional not fully formed. A poem is a stimulus for the reader's thoughts, not simply a statement of the writer's thoughts.

Some of the greatest literature in the world has been spoiled because readers want nice definite answers to it. The Bible, for instance. People go it it, ask it questions it wasn't designed to answer ("Is abortion wrong?" for instance) and either find exactly what they're looking for or complain when it doesn't do what they think it should. But the Bible - in common with most great literature - was not designed to give answers, but to stimulate thought. The writers of the Bible weren't the systematic theologians of the later church; they were much more unsystematic, working things out as they're going along. That's why I still read it, when I can rid myself of 2000 years worth of theology.

Take the creation narratives, for instance. They weren't intended to be science - no ancient Hebrew would have known scientific method from a hole in their boots - they were stories, intended to be told to hearers in the synagogue and the Temple. Arguing over whether they're scientifically accurate is pointless. The first chapter is a beautifully constructed prose poem, the second chapter is a tale, lovingly retold. They're ancient in origin, and they feel it; but they pose questions about the world such as: where do we come from? Is there a god? Does life have a meaning? 2000 years of theology has spoiled them. I think we need to strip that away and get to the real simplicity of the story underneath.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Identity Parade: Pre-Review

I thought it would be interesting, before reading the book, to look at it as an object: as as thing to be handled. My friend John Calvert brought a copy round last night, though I don't personally have my own copy yet. So this is not a review of the content.

Firstly the cover. Like the recent anthology of young poets, Voice Recognition, but unlike the light blue livery of The New Poetry, this is a book clothed in black. This makes it look somewhat more serious, perhaps a little more Goth, and perhaps it reflects the more serious times. Voice Recognition has a picture of a lot of young people in a field, and Identity Parade has a rather strange picture of a piece of installation art or sculpture by Annette Messagger, with lots of eyes and faces in it. It's rather creepy, in fact: but it's striking, and on a shelf it would draw the eye toward it, if only to find out what it was.

It's a good cover, on the whole; and it speaks of the contents in two ways. Firstly, both covers emphasise the pluralism which the main theme of the anthology: neither anthology speaks of the single way forward for British poetry. But, whereas Voice Recognition emphasises youthfullness of its contents, Identity Parade emphasises its diversity. Both anthologies are serious (black livery) but Identity Parade is more so.

Both anthologies have interesting titles: one is taken from a piece of computer software; the other is a police line-up. They both suggest what might be one of the major themes of contemporary British poetry: namely, in this complex world of interlocking forces and competing markets, who am I, what am I responsible for? Am I just a blip on a cosmic computer screen?

And the book itself: a handy size, not too big, but big enough to look substantial. Looking inside (again, not really reading the content), the introduction doesn't overstay its welcome. Each poet is introduced seperately with a photo and some blurb, which actually seems useful because it gives an insight into each poet's method as well as their subjects. When Bloodaxe first did this I wasn't sure how helpful it was; but I have to put myself into the mind of someone who is only really discovering poetry through this anthology, and I think they would find it useful, though a definition of terms might have been useful: what exactly do terms such as traditional, mainstream and innovative mean?

So that's the book as a book: later, when I get my copy (anyone magazine like me to review it?) I can give my opinions on the actual poetry. But I think it's useful to ask questions about how it looks on the bookshelves at Waterstones, because that's where people will look at it, or not look at it. I think the rather creepy cover might put some off; but others (Gothy young people?) will find it intriguing enough to want to look in. I like it, personally.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What Me? I'm just Jenny from the block...

Any body else experience this strange sensation whenever you find your name mentioned? I've just been linked for the first time to Ron Silliman's blog, and the Other Room blog seems to like my last post too. Great! I should feel glad. But I can't help that awful feeling of "why me?" Every time I see my name in print, I get this awful feeling that it's not me, it can't be me they're thinking of.

It's that Borgesian Other who goes about saying wise and significant things, or even writing half-way decent poems that get put into magazines and published online. It can't possibly be this bloke who comes from a deadend ex-industrial town in East Lancashire and has the gall to call himself a poet.

There must be several selves in there, swimming about. The religious self I hardly ever talk about. The poet self. The pacifist self. The grumpy old man who complains about the traffic down Oxford Road and the self who watches me getting all this attention and thinks, "who does he think he is, a blip on the cultural landscape? Ha!"

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Becoming Post Avant

1. Don't worry about the name. Today, Mathew I shall be Post-Avant. Tomorrow, Mathew, I shall be "Experimental". The day after tomorrow, I shall be Late/Post/Modernist/Innovative/Non-mainstream.

2. Nobody wakes up wanting to be different. Everybody wants to be different. But mostly in ways that are not different, so we can still have some friends.

3. If Faber came knocking, would I say no? Of course, I'd say yes, as long as they didn't want me to write nice anecdotal poems about my holiday in the South of France.

4. It was a pressure in my head that made me finally admit that I was whatever kind of poet it is I think I've become. I had a failing poem that annoyed me so much, as a last resort, I cut it up. Lo! A light came down from heaven illuminating the path I must follow... or something... Rather, I discovered that I didn't have to do the whole thing straight, that going the crooked route was just as interesting.

5. I want to be as clear as possible. But life isn't clear, it comes at you from all kinds of directions at all kinds of speed. And I have to confess that I like, and think that poetry should reflect my experience, rather than try to impose an artificial order on it.

6. How important is the reader? Important enough not to be mollycoddled.

Friday, March 12, 2010

William Blake and the Naked Teaparty
12/03/2010 at 6:56 am · Filed under Publications and tagged: , , , ,
The new issue of Ekleksographia online magazine ‘William Blake and the Naked Teaparty’ guest edited by Philip Davenport features textworks that emphasise the touch – handwrit and haptic – particularly pieces that consider emotional engagements, human space – that weird trace and corporate/military erasure of the handmade, the human touch, the not-digital. These qualities link into the alternative tradition of poetics – and to ‘outsider’ artists who are owed a debt by the experimenters (an IOU all the way back to Will Blake, he and the Mrs sitting on the lawn in London afternoons, naked, drinking tea).
Contributors: Alan Halsey, Anna MacGowan, The Atlas Group, Ben Gwilliam, Carol Watts, Carolyn Thompson, Darren Marsh, Dave Griffiths, David Tibet, Geof Huth, George Widener, Geraldine Monk, The Gingerbread Tree, Hainer Wormann, Harald Stoffers, Helmut Lemke, Holly Pester, James Davies, Jesse Glass, Jonathan Penton, Julia Grime, Kerry Morrison, Kirstie Gregory, Laurence Lane, Lee Patterson, Li E Chen, Liz Collini, Matt Dalby, Michael Wilson, Morry Carlin, Nick Blinko, Nico Vassilakis, Patricia Farrell, Rachael Elwell, Robert Grenier, Robert Sheppard, Sarah Sanders, Sean Bonney, Stephen Vincent, Steve Waling, Sue Arrowsmith, Todd Thorpe, Tony Lopez and Tony Trehy
The issue goes online 15th March 2010 and will be launched with a 24 hour ‘live’ online writing event by Sarah Sanders
Series Editor Jesse Glass; this issue designed by Jonathan Penton.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

What is Poetry

My favourite definition of poetry at present is by an American fifth-grader: Poetry is the memory of everything. It can be found in the comments stream at:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

feels rather dated/follow your nose

A little comment on this rather intriguing phrase of Matt's in his generous review of my reading at The Other Room (I personally don't think I was as good as I know I can be - a combination of bad light and the daunting prospect of reading to my first ever totally non-mainstream audience.)

I understand what he means with regard to the pop-cultural references - but than I was brought up with pop music and the like, so that's probably inevitable! I'm 51 you know! (using my best old man voice there!)

But there's a question of what it means to be "rather dated." I read a comment on Tod Swift's Eyewear (by Jeffery Sides) to the effect that Robert Sheppard is no longer non-mainstream because he now things disruptive syntax a little dated - as if disruptive syntax = non-mainstream and non-disruptive = mainstream. Which makes me wonder if there's a set of qualifications for being a non-mainstream poet, a tick-box you have to fill in. Which makes me wonder why I bother, if there is.

Talking sometimes to non-mainstream poets around Manchester, I sometimes get the feeling there's a mutual incomprehension thing going on. After one reading at the Whitworth, one chap asked why do people bother with their little anecdotal poems about animals and aunts and the like. Well, presumably they bother because they enjoy it. Otherwise they would go and do something else. And sometimes I catch myself enjoying it for what it is, rather than what I think it ought to be.

If you spent your time worrying if what you do is "up to date" I think you'd very soon give yourself a hernia. You follow your nose. I think I personally at the moment I'm following my nose in two ways: in one direction, it's all found text and (no longer involving scissors) a kind of cut-n-paste disruptiveness. In another, it's a kind of urban lyricism/wandering through life astonishment at the beauty of it all kind of thing. Some of my poems aren't so much written as assembled.

I listen to a lot of jazz and I think it sort of affects the way I write. I improvise poetry into shapes that seem pleasing to me. It's probably been done before, by someone else, somewhere in the world of poetry. But non-mainstream poetry is not a set of tick-boxes, or novel just for the sake of being novel. If it is new, then the newness is earned, and probably happens not because the poet has been self-consciously trying to be different. It happens because the poet is following his/her nose.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Matt Dalby's Review

I recently gave a reading at The Other Room. This was Matt Dalby's review of my performance:

Despite snow there were around thirty people at The Old Abbey Inn for the latest
Other Room reading on Wednesday. The readers were Steven Waling, Holly Pester
and Rob Holloway. To be honest I found my attention wandering a lot throughout
the evening so my account will be pretty unreliable. That wasn't the poets'
fault, it's just been a hazy kind of a week, but it may have contributed to some
of the misgivings I had that will become apparent.Steven Waling opened with
poems drawn from Travelator and Captured Yes as well as other more recent poems.
This was a particularly interesting set because it appeared to offer views from
different stages of a writer attempting to rethink and reposition his practice
closer to where his interests lie than what is conventionally expected of him.
Plainly given my own history over the last few years this has resonance for me,
and it helped that I am more familiar with his work than with that of the other
readers on the night.My personal preference was for the poems from Captured Yes
because they appeared most thoroughly subjected to disruptive processes like
being cut-up and the furthest from personal/confessional poetry. This is not to
say that the poems from Travelator were not disjointed but that the way they
were read tended to smooth over any disjunctions. This is not something unique
to Steven I must stress, it is something I have noticed in some other readers,
and in a slightly different way was present in Rob Holloway's reading. I will
expand my thoughts on performance a little at the end of this review.I like
Steven's collaging of disparate elements from a variety of sources although for
my taste his use of pop culture references feels rather dated. I feel that
experimental musics and poetry on the whole have started to move beyond the
navel-gazing Romantic heroic/visionary fantasy of the artist as the centre of
their art that these references seem to conjure up. This may be a personal
idiosyncracy and didn't seriously impair my enjoyment of the reading. I did feel
that the reading was somewhat tentative and broken-up without that necessarily
being the intention.Steven's poems shift from the present tense to the past
tense or reflection, from specific observations or reported speech/text to more
abstract concerns, from simple language and quotidian detail to complex and
specialist language. There are nods to the conventional formal structures of
poetry - particularly in the form of sonnets that are in the contemporary
tradition of exploding and exploring the form and its meaning rather than the
historical tradition of inherited metrical and rhyme schemes. It will be very
interesting to see where he goes from here.

In mitigation, I have to say at the beginning I could hardly read some of the pages from Captured Yes. I made a mistake there; I'll not use the book again. But he also made some interesting remarks about performance itself which will make me think for the future, so much thanks for that:
My misgivings about Steven and Rob's performances are reflected by a wider
concern with performance that I've become increasingly aware of over the last
couple of years. I appreciate that many poets do not want to perform, that many
would even see it as inimical to their practice. There is the argument that
performance can give a spurious authority to the performer and narrow
understanding of the work. There is also what I would regard as the more serious
problem that performance can draw attention to the poet, that performance can be
used in the development of a persona, and that the persona becomes a block to
critical approaches to the work. Some poetry primarily exists on the page and
any performance would be a form of translation and perhaps remove important
elements of the original work.But while recognising this I believe that if poets
choose to perform, especially if they claim that performance is a part of their
practice or an element in how certain poems were written, then that should be
reflected in the performance. Performance is not just something that happens to
the poem, and the effects on the poem are not trivial or unimportant. For one it
is different from the poem on the page in that it is a unique iteration. Those
precise circumstances of space, people, time, and other environmental factors
will not be repeated. A live performance cannot be reworked and revised in the
same way that poems can prior to their appearance on the page. The page is a
space that looks more or less the same in any place or situation, and that can
be visited at times when it's most convenient for the reader. This means that
the performer is in a unique position to react moment by moment to the specific
circumstances of the reading. For me this ability to be responsive and the
ephemerality of performance are crucial, core differences between poetry on the
page and poetry readings.This is not to say that the performance needs to be
easy to understand, or that the poet should try to project a persona that the
audience will easily warm to. Any glance at the performing arts of the last
century should demonstrate that. But any writer considering performance should
think about what they want to achieve with their performance, how they want to
go about that, and what unique aspects of performance (duration, location,
acoustics) they want to reflect in what way, and how that relates to the poems
they will perform. Surely for someone who wants to perform with any sort of
regularity, or who finds that they are performing frequently, these should be
considered in the same way that words, meaning or non-meaning, arrangement on
the page and other elements of poetry are considered during the writing and
editing of pieces. I may return to this subject at greater length shortly.
The whole review can be found at:

Friday, February 05, 2010

Ten Dumb Things To Say About Jackson Pollock

1. I can see a face in it.

2. How can they tell it's not upside down?

3. Do you think he paints landscapes in his spare time?

4. I'd hate to be his shrink.

5. The eyes kind of follow you around the room don't they?

6. The more you look into it, the more it looks into you.

7. I hear they've taught elephants in India to paint.

8. I don't know why, but I'm thinking spag boll for tea.

9. Are you sure there's not a face in it?

10. Well, it's deep; I'll give it that.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

OLD ABBEY WEDS. 3RD FEB. 7PM (in Manchester Science Park)

The Other Room Reading with Holly Pester, myself and Rob Holloway. My chance to be terrifically post-avant without restraint.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Cold Weather

Oh yes, it's beautiful.

But it's murder to walk through.

Still, I've got a few new poems under my belt, and I've already written the first for 2010. It's called May Eye and has nothing to do with the snow.

I've been working my way through Barbara Guest's Collected, being amazed at every turn by just what a wonderful poet she was. I've finally finished Warrent Error, and that too is recommended, for very different reasons. I got hold of Galatea by Melanie Challenger, and I'm currently reading Cliff Yate's Frank Freeman's Dancing School.

I saw the film Nowhere Boy last Saturday, and me and my friend Elaine both agreed that it was very good. It tells the story of John Lennon's difficult relationship with his absent mother and his very different Aunt Mimi, and it's very powerful at dealing with those emotions. Kristen Scott Thomas is brilliant as Mimi, very reined in, a contrast to his mother, who seemed to me to be rather bi-polar. Worth catching.

(Irony mode) Yesterday I achieved my greatest ambition! I went on one of the new Manchester trams! I was visiting a friend near Heaton Park. Very swish they are too, and quiet.

Anyway, Happy (belated) New Year and I hope it's a productive and innovative year for all. I'm reading at The Other Room in February, so be there or be square.