Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"From about the age of fifty I produced a number of designs, yet of all I drew prior to the age of seventy there is truly nothing of any great note. At the age of seventy-three I finally came to understand somewhat the true quality of birds, animals, insects - the vital nature of grasses and trees. Therefore, at eighty I shall gradually have made progress, at ninety I shall have penetrated still further the deeper meaning of things, at one hundred I shall have become truly marvelous, and at one hundred and ten, each dot, each line shall surely possess a life of its own."

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

Last weekend I attended the launch of Poetry Nottingham at the aforementioned splendid Mechanics' Institute. Readings by contributors and a talk on the poetry of Michael Donaghy by Ian Collinson. I'm on the editorial board, but I don't have to do very much, certainly no editing. The magazine is all Adrian Buckner's, and a nice job he's doing, even if the poetry he chooses isn't what I'd choose - there's an integrity and coherence to the magazine, and in the latest issue a considered defence of 'mainstream' poetic values.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Poetry Review Reviewed

In just a very short time, maybe two or three years, the authority of magazines like Poetry Review has been seriously undermined, in the sense that its job of presenting to the poetry-reading public 'the best' of contemporary British poetry ('the best' defined at one level by being in Poetry Review) isn't really needed any more. For non-UK readers, the magazine is the organ of the Poetry Society, the main public body for the promotion of poetry in the UK. Print-on-demand publishing and of course, the Web, mean that there can no longer be a central authority. Consumers now have more information available to them, and greater access to what's published - they can find things out for themselves. The contents of Poetry Review are simply editor Fiona Sampson's choice (which is not to belittle it, but it's no more valuable than, say Tony Frazer's or John Tranter's choice).

My subscription to the magazine has expired and I've just had the reminder. The mag had no interest for me during Peter Forbes' long tenure, but I signed up during the (brief) Potts and Herd period. In the forthcoming series we are promised "Don Paterson's stunning essay", and "stunning poetry by Peter Porter, John Burnside...etc". Don't know if I can cope with being stunned twice in one year. They ask for my email address because "We put great value in communicating with you effectively" - a rather
obsequious piece of service-speak.

To renew or not? I find it generally rather dull, and I wasn't impressed by a recent issue which had two Dante translations - by John Kinsella and Sean O'Brien - both entirely unnecessary. It seems the application form for Major Poet status has a check box labelled 'Dante translation'. Anyhow, Sean O'Brien's effort was bebunked by someone who should know here. There's a feature in the latest issue on Paul Muldoon, a poet to whose charms I've so far remained immune, and nothing else that really catches my eye. So the chances are I'll save my 30 quid for something more exciting.

Friday, May 18, 2007

We've always had an unelected Head of State. We now have an unelected head of government. Gordon Brown is now, to all intents and purposes, Prime Minister of the UK. No-one voted for him. Not even his own party, let alone the country. The power-loving apparatchiks and sycophants which make up the Parliamentary Labour Party didn't have enough backbone between them to muster just 45 supporters for a challenger. So no election, no debate, no forcing Gordon Brown to come out with more than the vacuous buzzwords he's mouthed so far ("trust... renewal..."). No democracy.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I've finally backed up the Leafe Press website. It says something about my personality that the site's been running since 2004, and it's the first time it's been backed up. The ISP losing some data a while ago jolted me into action. The site is now preserved for posterity, and can easily be switched to another ISP if need be. For those interested, the total size of it is 23.4 megabytes, which is tiny (it's mainly text, a few graphics, no video or sound - yet). the total number of web pages is 181, most of them on Litter. The site costs me only £1.59 a month. It's now averaging about 4,500 visits a month, which is double what it was getting this time last year.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The e-zine Greatworks has included Litter in its list of 20 Crucial British Innovative Poetry Sites, which has made my day! Many thanks to editor Peter Philpott.
My quest for public funding for Leafe has not started well. Two emails to the local Arts Council representative have gone unanswered. Time for Plan B, when I think of it. Perhaps a phone call?

I had to tell John Lucas that I couldn't get involved in organising the Flying Goose readings with himself and another Nottingham-based publisher. I just can't fit anything else into my life (without seriously neglecting my family and job). But John has said he'll continue to put the readings on, probably in conjunction with Nottingham's Five Leaves Publications. The readings will be revived with a new series starting this autumn.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Poetic Heroes, Series 1: Octavio Paz

I've been reading Paz's poetry for several years after I bought his Collected (pub. Caracent) with the fee from judging a local poetry competition. I also acquired his early work in a New Directions edition from the US. It's now become a life-companion. I don't read Spanish (that didn't stop me producing a version of one of his poems), but I know enough to get the pronunciation and rhythm of the original, and the translations are top-notch, the main man being Eliot Weinberger, but there's Elizabeth Bishop, Charles Tomlinson, Muriel Rukeyser, W.C. Williams, Paul Blackburn - an impressive roll-call. I won't attempt to summarize the work of one the the 20th century's great writers. Suffice to say that the range of his intellectual concerns is vast, and, of course, he managed to turn those concerns into poetry. One example is his work on Indian culture (he was Mexican ambassador to India for several years). Before the Beatles met the Maharishi, Paz had conducted rather more in-depth studies (for example, he organized, the first exhibition of Tantric Art held in the West), and the Chilean artist-poet Cecilia Vicuña has spoken of Paz as a guru for herself and other Latin American poets during this period. I've read his essays on the erotic, 'The Double Flame', and planned reading for the summer is his classic book on Mexican culture, 'The Labyrinth of Solitude'. Paz's poetry spans a huge range of forms, from the wilder shores of surrealism to discursive sonnets to visual poetry. I recently tackled his long poem 'Pasado En Claro/A Draft of Shadows':

Are there messengers? Yes,
space is a body tattooed with signs, the air
an invisible web of calls and answers.
Animals and things make languages,
through us the universe talks with itself.
We are a fragment -
accomplished in our unaccomplishment -
of its discourse. A coherent and empty solipsism...

(tr. Eliot Weinberger)

Thursday, May 3, 2007

I found the term 'micropress' in Aaron Tieger's blog, which accurately describes Leafe and others like it. I've teamed up with a Californian micropress, Bamboo Books to co-publish a pamphlet called World Zero by John Bloomberg-Rissman. While working on this I came across (also on Tieger's blog), a quote by Ric Cadell:

" much of the best poetry in this country exists on a self-help basis, I think it's important that participants in such a process do their bit - join in the table-laying and washing up around the meal. I'm generally impatient of people who sit back and wait for it all to happen to them."

Amen to that.

I also found a passage in Peter Riley's essay on Dylan Thomas which seems relevant to my current reading of Peter Gizzi's work, which, as previously mentioned, is lyric (song-like) in its impulse:

"I cannot think of any practice prior to Thomas which recognised so explicitly the poetical potential of closure, of offering the linguistic surface of the poem as a thing of “worth” in itself, without the reader necessarily needing to see “through” it. There is nothing mysterious about this, and no trickery or concealment is involved. It is the operation of lyrical intuition, the basis of song and thus of all poetical writing which does not set out to reverse it."