Thursday, April 30, 2009

Three sections from 'The Book of Random Access' have appeared on the new issue of Great Works. Click here to read them, and here to see a description of the poem. Apart from my own, there's some nice stuff on there and I'd recommend a browse. Many thanks to Peter Philpott for all his hard labour.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

At the Flying Goose reading last this month I spoke to Nottingham poet Julie Lumsden, who published a pamphlet of poetry with Leafe Press in 2000. I asked Julie if she'd like to submit some new work to Litter. As it happens, and after some cajoling, she has done so, but past experience has shown me that women are much less likely to submit work than men. I don't know why. Tony Frazer has spoken of a similar concern at Shearsman. Men don't generally turn down the chance to have their poetry published, but women are much more reticent. And it seems more true of women poets who might be regarded as "innovative".

Over the last year or so I've asked for work from - to name names - Frances Presley, Harriet Tarlo and Tilla Brading, all poets I admire a great deal, and so far have had no submissions from them. One might say that the male-dominated nature of Litter (and I don't think it's unusual in that respect) reflects the still-sexist nature of society at large, and yet, as Geraldine Monk has pointed out, women poets are hardly disadvanted, at least in the UK; certainly, mainstream poets like Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay etc, are feted. I don't know whether it's just a UK thing - American women poets seem more forthcoming. In fact, the most recent innovate women poets appearing on Litter are all American - Catherine Wagner, Carrie Etter and Andrea Brady. Maybe it's an issue with post-modern/innovative circles over here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

It's five years today that poet, artist and publisher Ian Robinson died. By chance, in the last few days, I came across some copies of his magazine Oasis - in the days when POD is creating a uniform look for poetry publications, it's worth remembering what a bit of artistic flair and a photocopier could do. Ian's press, Oasis Books, has a back-list which is like a roll-call of the best practitioners from the 70s onwards. Here's a tribute I wrote for Poetry Nottingham, soon after Ian's death.

My friendship with Ian Robinson was one of those strange ones so common in our world of small presses and poetry magazines; we never met, and we knew very little about each other's personal lives, but there was fellow-feeling and mutual regard, and a sustained sense of comradeship. After Adrian Buckner had sent him the first Leafe Press pamphlet I'd published, Ian wrote to me in a characteristically enthusiastic, helpful and wise tone. I soon grew familiar with the small, neat script of his handwritten letters, which arrived regularly on the doormat, often with one of his Oasis publications. His advice, encouragement and concrete support (such as putting Leafe Press flyers into Oasis magazine) were a significant factor in keeping my little press going. Like Adrian, I was introduced by Ian to other poetries, such as the concrete and visual poetry that he was an exponent of, and about which he corresponded with contacts in a number of countries. I, of course, was only one of a whole range of poets, artists and editors with whom Ian corresponded. He also published, promoted and assisted them with their writing. His energy seemed endless; his interest in, and support for, other people and their work was exemplary. For me, he embodied the spirit of samizdat and camaraderie that helps to keep poetry alive.

Monday, April 13, 2009

There's an interesting perspective on the 'northern poetry renaissance' from Peter Riley, who was very much involved in it at the time. Click here to read. It's interesting that when Aidan Semmens told me he had been good friends with Barry MacSweeney and Ric Caddell, that he saw Bunting read at Morden Tower etc., I remarked that he seemed to have been 'well in' with the Newcastle poetry scene; to which Aidan replied "I never thought of myself as 'well in' with any scene, but looking back I suppose I was in a way", adding that, although he knew MacSweeney well, they "hardly ever talked poetry". That chimes more with real experience, but, those of us who've only read about that era tend to romanticise it somewhat. To people around at the time it probably wasn't that different to the loose associations and sporadic activities we're all involved with now.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

‘Warrant Error’ by Robert Sheppard, pub. Shearsman. 118pp, £8.95 / $16. ISBN 9781848610187

Here's the opening sonnet of 'Warrant Error':

Immensities blade rushes the wind and
grieves a full deck of bad luck.

A managed democracy dances in tune
to a spread-cleft litany, as the Queen's English
warbler, toned to death, unstrews his truth

The blind justice hangs his slogan. Stop.
Burgeon a burden for the chat laureate
entuning and consuming his own genius. The comedy
terrorist brags his mince as roast beef

No peace fries up on a multiple mind grill,
dithering states in desperate times; the sandy
trap-door promise of paradise rusted by frost.
The biggest part of self weakens its softest
option: its cast out old alibi song

This poem shows a mastery and a thorough understanding of the sonnet form; a tension between compression and expansive discursion, sudden switches of meaning, and a lyricism resulting from close-knit sound and expression. It reminds me of Geoffrey Hill in its tightness and allusiveness (a comparison Sheppard would probably be uncomfortable with); but the crucial difference is that, with Sheppard, there's no patriarchal persona running the show; instead, the borrowings and appropriated texts speak for themselves.

Read the full review here.
No More Heroes Any More?

Well, here's one: Craig Murray was a senior British diplomat with 20 years' service who, while Ambassador to Uzbekistan, sacrificed his career to expose the British government's involvement in torture. He was dismissed from his post and villified, and is now a human rights campaigner and insightful political blogger, with an insider's knowledge of how the British establishment operates. He should be a national hero. Maybe one day he will be.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A police state is not a state where the police rule. It is a state where there is no distance between the politicians and police.

A police state is a state where a policeman can be caught on camera launching an unprovoked fatal assault from behind, yet not be arrested. A police state is a state where the police raid the parliamentary offices of opposition MPs. A police state is a state where it is the politicians who are making the decisions on who gets arrested and when.

Craig Murray

Read Murray's blog here

Monday, April 6, 2009

The history of little magazines, should anyone venture to write it, would be voluminous, and a large section of it would be given over to magazines that only lasted for a single issue. This was common in the days when getting something into print was more costly and difficult than it is now (i.e. pre-digital), but it might be enough to start a poet or two on their career, inspire someome to start their own magazine, or spark a lifelong interest in a chance reader.

Aiden Semmens recently sent me copy of 'Molly Bloom' the magazine he briefly edited after giving up the editorship of Perfect Bound in Cambridge, and it's nice to have this little sample from the annals of poetry history. The issue dates from November 1980 - yes, that's 30 years ago. It was the first issue and the magazine folded after the second.

The contributors were:

E. A. Markham, Geoffrey Ward, Peter Riley, Kelvin Corcoran, Stephen Romer, Rosemarie Waldrop, Vittorio Sereni, Richard Hammersely, David Chaloner, Lee Harwood, Gael Turnbull, Chris Hunt, Aidan Semmens, Malcolm McGregor, Wendy Mulford, Edmond Jabes

That's quite a roll-call. Some, like Kelvin Corcoran, were just starting their careers, some were already established, and some of course, are no longer with us. But when you think how many of those writers are recognised and applauded today, it says much for the editor's knowledge and judgement. And Molly Bloom is a great name - someone should resurrect it.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A discussion on Todd Swift's blog about mainstream vs innovative poetry, which references a revaluation of Seamus Heaney on Jacket, put me in mind of a poem by Roy Fisher:


If you take a poem
you must take another
and another
till you have a poet.

And if you take a poet
you'll take another, and so on,
till finally you get
a civilization: or
the dirtiest brawl you ever saw -
the choice isn't yours.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I enjoy reading the marketing-speak of poetry publishers, where they use a form of language which the poetry they're publishing generally tries to satirise, appropriate or subvert. The Salt website in particular, has taken hard-sell into new territory. How's this for an announcement of a poetry book:

The knives are out. Poetry declares hand-to-hand guerrilla war on conservative aesthetics

That's got to be spoof, but... I'm not so sure. It's for a book by one Vincent de Souza, who's work I don't know,but who surely doesn't deserve such a blurb. We are told that his book 'fashions a new set of intellectual, technical and visual dynamics', which would be impressive enough, but Mr. de Souza apparently does it 'without resorting to bludgeoning or violence'. Amazing. And something attendees at his readings will be relieved to hear.

Another big-hitter in the poetry salestalk arena is of course, Bloodaxe Books. It still describes itself as 'Britain's premier poetry publisher'. Is that true? Well, it depends which measure you use. Quality of poetry is notoriously subjective and unscientific, so let's try another: the number of titles published. In 2008, Bloodaxe published 28 new titles, Shearsman published 60. Bloodaxe have planned 32 titles in 2009, Shearsman, again 60. As for Salt, a quick count shows they've published 54 titles in the last 6 months(!).

So Bloodaxe aren't the most prolific publisher, that's for sure. and now they're even slipping behind in the league table of overstatement and exaggerated claims. Who'd have thought it?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I get bored by the various 'discoveries' of pictures of Shakespeare, as if what he looked like is really that important. However, I am intrigued, and possibly convinced by this latest image, which makes me think we may indeed be seeing that face of the man himself.