Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Clive Allen kindly loaned me this, which is I'm pleased about, as I was resisting buying it; it only contains one poem, which, of course, I've already got. The main interest is the CD of Bunting reading 'Briggflatts', and the DVD of Peter Bell's 1982 documentary. This latter is a good, old-fashioned, slow-moving documentary. There's not much information in it, but interviews with the poet, in which he talks a lot of about form and technique, and in which he reads long sections of the poem. There are also some shots of Brigflatts meeting house, and of Bunting attending a quaker meeting there. All good stuff.

It was interesting to hear Bunting saying that, at the age he was (82 at the time) his poetry had been written so long ago, it felt like it had been written by someone else. That's a feeling I certainly identify with (tho I'm not 82), and must be a common one amongst poets. In what sense are poems I wrote ten or more years ago written by the same person as I am now?

Bloodaxe, ISBN: 978-1852248260

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Holed up in a hotel near Amsterdam docks, and deterred from venturing into the city in the evenings by wind, wet, cold and dark, I've been passing the time reading Andrew Duncan's 'The Council of Heresy'. A book about difficult modern poetry which makes you laugh out loud - intentionally - can't be bad. Duncan is a dazzling writer, so much so, that I find myself questioning whether I'm being taken in, and his ideas are spurious: I don't think they are, it's just that I'm not used to literary criticism being entertaining. Maybe I should just relax and enjoy it.

I've just read a section called 'Games of the Gifted: Cryptic Canons' in which reading Tom Raworth and Allen Fisher is equated with the mental games that gifted children play when bored in the classroom: "It's arguable that the withdrawal from the High Street poetry scene is a re-enactment of the withdrawal of a seven-year-old child from the classroom into a private world full of games and protected by dissociation".

Duncan also discusses the fear of boredom as a powerful force first encountered in childhood: "...if intelligent people have a paranoid fear of reading Tony Harrison, it's not to do with social conflict, it's just because they're frightened of being bored", though he points out later that "many people are bored by avant-garde poetry too".

There's a chapter later in the book (I'm only part-way through) entitled "The Avant-Garde and East European Cults". I can't imagine how that'll pan out, but can't wait to read it. Cracking stuff, highly recommended.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I'd never been to the Small Publishers Fair before. My impressions were: a smaller room than I'd expected - the tables were uncomfortably close together, so you had to be on friendly terms with the neighbouring stall - and a friendly, almost community atmosphere. Most of the stalls were selling handmade or artists' books, expensive and high quality. Apart from Leafe, there were 5 poetry stalls, all promoting excellent poetry: Veer Books (of Birckbeck College - wherever that is), West House Books, Shearsman, Reality Street and a stall selling work by Thomas A Clark. It was good to meet the proprietors, some of whom I knew already.

I met several other poets there - Giles Goodland, Frances Presley, Andrew Duncan, John Welch, and was sorry to miss some others who couldn't make it due to the UK's disintegrating transport system - Wendy Mulford didn't make it for her reading, but I enjoyed the reading by John Welch and Linda Black. I restricted myself to buying 3 books - the Reality Street Book of Sonnets, Thomas A Clark's new Carcanet book, and Andrew Duncan's 'The Council of Heresy'.

We sold a satisfying number of books, including several of the new Leafe Book by Adbellatif Laâbi.

Sam Ward brought along his latest Skysill Press pamphlet - 'The World Seen from the Air', which is by me (more on that later), and that went on the stall. Sam's done an excellent job of designing it.

Last, but not least, I got to spend a couple of days with friend and co-editor John Bloomberg-Rissman, and to stay over with John and his wife Kathy. A great pleasure. Sad to see them go, not knowing when we'll meet again.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Small Publishers' Fair, Nov 13-14

John Bloomberg-Rissman mans the Leafe stall

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Life is neither meaningful nor meaningless. Meaning and its absence are given to life by language and imagination. We are linguistic beings who inhabit a reality in which it makes sense to make sense.

For life to make sense it needs a purpose. Even if our aim in life is to be totally in the here and now, free from past conditioning and any idea of a goal to be reached, we still have a clear purpose - without which life would be meaningless. A purpose is formed of words and images. And we can no more step out of language and imagination than we can step out of our bodies."

Stephen Bachelor, "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I'm think I'm all ready for the Small Publishers' Fair. The books I need have all been delivered, and all I need to do is pack them into a suitcase (which will be heavy), and get on the train to London early Friday morning. Among the publications I've assembled is only one of mine - the pamphlet 'Hotel February' - but I'm hoping that Sam Ward will appear at the fair, as he said he might, with some copies of my new Skysill pamphlet 'The World Seen from The Air'. That will be my fifth pamphlet. And no 'first full-length collection' yet. At my age! My CV's seriously lacking.

But then, who needs a CV when there's no 'career'? And is a 'first full-length collection' really a step up from pamphlet publication? I'm not so sure. The best - in my view - poets around still publish their work in pamphlet form, and those same pamphlets often reach as many readers as a typical full-length book (and, of course, work published on the Web generally reaches many more readers than the average book). Many poets (myself included when I think about it) actually write specifically for pamphlet publication, in terms of length and format, as if it were a poetic form. Such work often loses something when packaged in a bigger collection. As for CVs: they're useful for getting a job, but have nothing to do with poetry.

Monday, November 9, 2009

On this day, twenty years ago

The Fall of the Berlin Wall, November 9th 1989

In the summer of 1983 I went with a flat-mate on a trip to Berlin, mainly because it was the cheapest city in Europe to fly to, and at that time, flying was very expensive. We found a wealthy, cosmopolitan German city. Of course, we wanted to see the wall, so we walked though a wood in a park until we stumbled on it: smooth concrete, with a rounded top, and covered in graffiti. The west Berlin authorities had built observation towers so that tourists like us could take a peep over, so up we climbed. I still remember my shock when I reached the top: beyond the smooth concrete we saw the trenches, barbed wire, guard dogs and sentry towers. West Berlin suddenly felt very different - like a prison, though, of course, it was the other side that was the prison. During our visit we obtained a 1-day visa to visit the East, and again, I still have very strong impressions of that day: the weirdness of being in a place with no adverts. Not to mention no bars, cafes or shops. The only shop I remember finding was a Marxist-Leninist bookshop. So much for my reminiscences. Six years later, it was all swept away. For a more detailed, and better-informed take on those events, read Alistair Noon's excellent essay on Litter. You'll also find Alistair's translations of contemporary German poet Gunter Kunert.