Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Last night's reading at the Flying Goose featured Andy Croft and WN Herbert. It was a great evening. The two poets had been on a trip to Moscow, specifically to write a series of poems about the Moscow metro. For a personal reasons, I have very fond memories of Moscow, and of the metro there, so it was a promising start. The reading worked because it had a theme, and because both poets are skilled readers; funny and entertaining. Croft's poetry, while I generally approve of the political content, is too obvious most of the time; Herbert's has more depth - he's one of the more interesting mainstream poets. There was a lot of chat between poems, something innovative poets avoid; but last night it worked, as the evening was more a themed entertainment, with anecdotes, history, cultural background and general banter relating to the Moscow underground interweaved with poetry. A couple of pints of cask-conditioned beer at the Hop Pole pub, next door, rounded things off nicely.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

David Hart on Leafe's "1,000 Views of Girl Singing":

"When I received [the Laâbi] in the post, I saw at its endpaper an advertisement for Leafe Press's 1,000 Views of "Girl Singing", edited by John Bloomberg-Rissman, which caught my imagination strongly enough for me to send a cheque for it. It was money very well spent, it's a unique book, if in uneasily small print, of many invited responses, by way of poetry or visually, to a poem by Eileen Tabios.

It has led me to speculate about early modern, say 15th-16th centuries or earlier, whether there were, along with circulation of poems by hand, also response-poems and perhaps drawings: exchanges and additions verbally and visually. The book implements a fertile present and suggests a future for such intermingled new work. A delight."

States of Independence

Leafe Press will have a stall at:

"States of Independence", Independent Press Day,
Clephan Building, De Montfort University, Oxford Road, Leicester

10.30am – 4.30pm, Saturday 20th March.

Stalls from dozens of independent publishers. Workshops, readings and book launches.

Independent presses from across the region (and some from around the country) will be on site, together with many regional writers whose work is published by large and small independent publishers. Join us for an hour or two or the whole day.

Open to all and free of charge.

Full programme on or from

Printed programmes and posters available from

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ed Baker's reading list from 1972 (see comments to previous post).
A young relative of mine is in her first year of a degree at a Russell Group university; her subject is Eng Lit and German, and this term she started the English poetry module. Her seminar group was asked to bring along their favourite poem. Most of the group took a poem by Carole Anne Duffy, some took a well-known poem by one of the Romantics. In discussion, all of the group confessed to not reading poetry (except when required for study). The tutor seemed to have been expecting this, as she told them that the purpose of this module was to get them to start reading poetry. It's clear to me, that the choice of Carole Anne Duffy was made simply because she is on the A-level syllabus, and that it was less a case of her being a favourite, and more that she was the only poet they'd read. Fifty years ago, perhaps thirty years ago even, such a situation would have been inconceivable. After all, these are English undergraduates! It brought home to me the fact that poetry really is crushingly unpopular, at least amongst the young. But why? Is it because we're now a visual culture, rather than oral or literary one? But people read novels, and memorize song lyrics - a form of poetry after all. Is it - as I tend to think - because what people are interested in is determined by marketing, and poetry isn't marketed, partly because it's doesn't lend itself to being marketed. TV adverts have introduced James Brown and Marvin Gaye to whole new generation, but you couldn't so easily use a poem to sell a product; what the poem is saying is too likely to conflict with the advertiser's message.

Re-reading the above, I'm not sure it's quite right to say poetry is 'unpopular'; it's more that it doesn't grab people's attention, it's not on their radar; which might support the idea that it's about marketing.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Last time I was in Stockholm it was blue skies and warm weather; this time I'm trudging through snow. They told me the sea was frozen, but when I went down to look tonight, it wasn't - apart from a narrow inlet near the Royal Palace. I'm back in the warmth now writing this, before I settle down to read Marina Warner's book on fairy tales - 'From the Beast to the Blonde' which saw me nicely through the six-hour journey to get here.
Anyone within striking distance of Leicester might want to know that there's a reading by none other than:

Tom Raworth
John James
Simon Perril

On March 4th. Details here. Thanks to Sam Ward for alerting me about this. Sadly, I won't be able to make it - I'll either be working away or at my daughter's Parent Evening.

Monday, February 1, 2010

New on Litter: a review by Clive Allen of 'Planisphere', John Ashbery's latest book

Clive said to me the other day that he'd spotted an interview quote by Ashbery:

‘I always try not to have obscure references in my poems, yet I do it all the time. It upsets me, but I go on doing it.’

As I said to Clive, I find what Ashbery says quite encouraging. In a sense, it justifies difficult poetry, because, if it's not a willed decision to be 'difficult', then it's something that comes from the subconscious, which means that difficult poetry is a genuine expression of at least one aspect of being human.

I also pointed out that Martin Amis says something similar in a recent interview in The Guardian.