Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Small Publishers' Fair Friday 13th and Saturday 14th November 2009 Open 11am to 7pm each day - admission free Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL

Leafe Press will be there, with Bamboo books. Your chance to meet editors, Alan Baker and John Bloomberg-Rissman - how could you miss it??!

for more details. click here

Saturday, October 24, 2009

“Else” by Mark Goodwin (pub. Shearsman, 2008, ISBN: 978-1905700-97-4. £7.95)

I first encountered Mark Goodwin's poetry as editor of this e-zine (Litter), and I thought it was striking, individual work that didn't fit into any current category. Goodwin's upbringing on a farm and activities as a climber and walker colour the poetry, which presents an unsentimental picture of the natural world. Some of this work could be seen as contemporary pastoral, in the sense that it contains social comment in the context of a rural, or urban/rural setting (the rural backdrop here offset by urban blight). In 'Ways Through an Outskirts Estate' the choice of detail holds the reader's attention, while the poem makes a tangential comment on social conditions:

where eight-year-olds of uncertain
ages wander in strangely dangerous
grubby packs

The language is rugged with Anglo-Saxon diction and alliterative metre, and in keeping with that, some poems are like riddles, particularly the intriguing “Peter’s Selfless Portrait”:

My paper is hard dark. Deep
as Said, yet smells of voltage-white;
the tingle of fish slipping.

and we have these lines from the poem “Hoar Frost”:

We wake
to a new world, white and shatterable...

...a brilliance of crazed white pages; a collage
of crinkled manuscripts.

There's always a danger in this type of writing of overdoing it, and there are one or two places when Goodwin does this; but overall, this poem, like many others in this collection, shows a skillful handling of pace and sound judgment about how far he can push the phrasing.

To read the full review, click here...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More sections from The Book of Random Access are available, this time, I'm very pleased to say, on Stride. Many thanks to editor Rupert Loydell.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Manipulating Goddess

Ed Baker

and here's some poetry to go with it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Gertrude Stein, in her work, has always been possessed by the intellectual passion for exactitude in the description of inner or outer reality. She has produced a simplification by this concentration, and as a result the destruction of associational emotion in poetry and prose. She knows that beauty, music, decoration, the result of emotion should never be the cause, even events should not be the cause of emotion nor should they be the material of poetry or prose. They should consist of an exact reproduction of either an outer or an inner reality."

from The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Back from foreign climes, I have to take in the unastounding news that the Forward Prize has been won by a certain Don Paterson (BTW, is that 'Don' as in 'Don Corleone'?). What the criteria were I don't know, though judge David Harsent did praise the winner of the Best Single Poem prize by saying "It's just knee-weakeningly good". As it happens, I already have weak knees from an old sports injury, so I'm not interested in poems that would make them any weaker. The poem in question was by Robin Robertson, and according to The Guardian:

"...Paterson and Robertson have now each won three Forward prizes... Sean O'Brien became the first poet to win all three prizes in 2007."

In the words of Private Eye, "The small but perfectly-formed world of British poetry just got a little smaller".

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Gists and Piths is publishing sections from The Book of Random Access - they're serializing one a day over the next week, which I'm very pleased about. Thanks to editors Simon Turner and George Ttoouli.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Post-Warhol we're used to the idea of artists as wealthy business people à la Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons. Young artists trying to forge a career appear, from their glossy websites, to be operating in the world of commerce. We're used to thinking of works of art in terms of their monetary value. Myself, I think artwork - literary, visual, or whatever - comes from a different place to impulse to make money, so it's interesting to read Gertrude Stein's description of the Paris art scene in the days when Picasso, Matisse et al where penniless unknowns. Speaking of her Saturday night salons, at which paintings by the likes of Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse were hanging for visitors to look at, she says:

"...really everybody could come in and as at that time these pictures had no value and there was no social privilege attached to knowing anyone there, only those came who were really interested".

The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas is full of insights into the creative process, and about Stein's work. Here she talks about her own writing:

"He [Valloton] asked Gertrude Stein to pose for him. She did the following year. She had come to like posing, the long still hours folowed by a long dark walk intensified the concentration with which she was creating her sentences. The sentences of which Marcel Brion, the french critic, has written, by exactitude, austerity, absence of variety in light and shade, by the refusal of the use of the subconscious Gertrude Stein achieves a symmetry which has a close analogy to the symmetry of the musical fugue of Bach."

It strikes me that by using a proxy to tell her own story, Stein is doing the opposite of what some people accuse her of: namely, puffing herself up. She refers to herself in the third person, and always uses her full name; the reader is fully aware that she is the author of the book, so she seems to me to ironically questioning the objectivity of any autobiography, and also questioning the validity of authorial and artistic identity - highlighting the fact that an author's or artist's name is their 'brand'. At the same time, she is able to give some valuable insights into her own psychology as a writer. In this passage she expresses the mixture of confidence and diffidence that characterises the artistic personality:

"The winter went on. Three Lives was written. Gertrude Stein asked her sister-in-law to come and read it. She did and was deeply moved. This pleased Gertrude Stein immensely, she did not believe that anyone could read anything she wrote and be interested. In those days she never asked anyone what they thought of her work, but were they interested wnough to read it. Now she says if they can bring themselves to read it they will be interested."

Monday, October 12, 2009

This post is to reply to the comments to the previous one:

To John: I didn't meet any poets in Bulgaria, and still know nothing about Bulgarian poetry. This is due to to my double-life, mentioned before on this blog, whereby no-one I work with knows I have anything to do with poetry. I intend to keep it that way. I don't know why. A strange quirk in my personality.

To Ed: I too am excited about discovering and exploring (if that's not too colonial a metaphor) Stein's work. The more I read her work, the more I think she's one of the greats, in the sense that great writers invent forms which subsequent writers perform variations on. Writing her autobiography through the persona of her life-partner is a brilliant ruse. But it's one thing to think of a brilliant ruse, quite another to implement it successfully; of course, she does, and manages to extract the maximum humour, irony and subversion from it. I'm also amazed at the sheer volume of her output. How to Write sounds like something I'd like to read. And is The Making of Americans available in full?

To Alistair: that's interesting; I'm not surprised that people in Bulgaria can't afford to travel. I was taken aback by the poverty-stricken state of Sofia. Not what you expect from a European capital city. I read that's it's the poorest country in Europe, and that during the 90s inflation reached 579%. It seems to have had the closest links to the Soviet Union of any eastern bloc country, and the people there told me there's still a hankering after the communist days, especially amongst the older generation. Meanwhile, some of the young people I spoke to see the free market as the answer to their problems...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bulgaria feels like a country that hasn't quite dragged itself out from behind the Iron Curtain. I'm staying in the capital Sofia in a concrete block of a hotel, with surly staff and a brown-beige 1970s interior. I'm surrounded by decaying concrete apartment blocks, that stretch for miles through the city. My Bulgarian colleagues are young IT professionals, friendly and extremely hospitable, and last night they took me for a traditional Bulgarian meal in the city centre.They're the country's future, although, unlike their counterparts whom I worked with in the Czech Republic, who were full of optimism about their country, the young Bulgarians I met seemed rather less hopeful, in fact a little resigned.

Did you know that Bulgarians shake their heads to mean 'yes', and nod to mean 'no'?

Trips like this are like a suspension of everyday life for me; of housework, shopping, car problems and general family duties. I've taken the oppurtunity lately of using these trips to read books I should have read before, but which take time the aforementioned chores don't usually allow. On recent trips I've digested Don Quijote, Moby Dick and Great Expectations. This time I brought along the Library of America edition of Gertrude Stein's works, and I'm currently immersed in 'The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas'. It's a delight, and I'll be posting some quotes from it soon.