Monday, December 19, 2011

On Saturday I met with Clive Allen and Adrian Buckner in a cafe on the campus of Nottingham University. The meeting was one of our regular ones at which we bring a poem of our own to discuss and critique, and also, one by another poet. My poem by the 'other poet' was Shakespeare's poem beginning "Let the bird of loudest lay...". The poem in question, usually titled (though not by the author) "The Phoenix and the Turtle", has been one that I've re-read often in recent weeks and which I've been somewhat haunted by. You can read the poem here.

Part of the appeal of this poem is that it's enigmatic and unclear - one reads it as through a glass darkly. Compared to the other poems of WS, it has an unmodern quality: the session of birds and the allegorical figures hark back to Chaucer and the medieval period. But apart from its distance in time, the poem treats its subject matter obliquely, and has a number of puzzling lines. Much ink has been spilt over the possibility that it has coded Catholic sympathies, and there's a convincing theory that the two eponymous birds represent Roger and Anne Line, a married couple, Roman Catholics, who were separated when Roger was exiled for his beliefs, then died abroad. Anne was arrested for harbouring catholic priests and was hanged at Tyburn in 1601, the same year this poem was published. There are remarkable correspondences between this story and the poem; for example, the Lines were known to have taken a vow of celibacy within their marriage, and were childless; in the poem there's the puzzling lines:

Leaving no posterity:--
'Twas not their infirmity,
It was married chastity.

as well as this:

Distance, and no space was seen
'Twixt the turtle and his queen;

"Distance and no space" is Euclid's definition of a line, something WS would have been aware of from his schoolbook geometry. Despite these correspondences, the evidence is not conclusive, and there are other theories, none of which are ever likely to be finally confirmed. While hauntingly beautiful, the poem remains elusive; were there contemporaries - a select few perhaps - to whom its coded messages were clear? Or are there no coded messages, but a deliberately elusive poem by a supremely skilled writer? Further, how many of us twenty-first century readers can enter the mind of renaissance England to read the poem as contemporaries would have read it? Have the intervening periods - The Enlightenment, Romanticism, Modernism, the age of science and technology - changed us so much that what we read now is analogous to a translation? I'm reminded, in all this, of a short piece of writing by by Jorge Luis Borges: "The Parable of Cervantes and The Quijote". The parable talks about how the opposition in Cervantes' novel was between "the unreal world of the books of chivalry and the ordinary, everyday world of sixteenth century Spain". The parable continues:

"They did not suspect that the years would smooth away that discord, they did not suspect that La Mancha and Montiel and the knight's lean figure would be, for posterity, no less poetic than the episodes of Sinbad or the vast geographies of Ariosto.

For in the beginning of literature is the myth, and in the end as well."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"..for me, poetry is the great unsettler. It questions the established order of the mind. It is radical, by which I don't mean that it is either leftwing or rightwing, but that it works at the roots of thinking. It goes lower than rhetoric, lower than conversation, lower than logic, right down to the very faint honest voice at the bottom of the skull. You can hear that voice in a letter written by the 16th‑century poet Thomas Wyatt to his son: "No doubt in any thing you do, if you ask yourself or examine the thing for yourself afore you do it, you shall find, if it be evil, a repining against it. My son, for our Lord's love, keep well that repining …"

Alice Oswald, on why she withdrew from the TS Eliot Prize.

To read the full article, click here

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Assent" magazine, published by the university of Derby has just published a review of "Variations on Painting a Room", written by the Reviews Editor, Julia Gaze. It's a print magazine, so the review's not available online as yet. Ms. Gaze, like Ian Seed in his review, focuses on The Book of Random Access, and it's becoming clear to me that, at least in readers' eyes (which is what counts) that section of the book is the most significant. What's interesting to me is that it's the part of the book which I wrote most quickly - at a rate of about one prose poem every two days. I also wrote it while my mind was largely on other things, during a busy domestic and professional period of my life. I typed and wrote the poems during brief breaks at my desk at work, while sitting at the front of a class (I train IT staff), while waiting to pick my kids up from various places, and while doing the washing up, gardening and cleaning. I've discussed a similar aspect of this work elsewhere on this blog, but it still fascinates me, the creative process. Having the conscious miind distracted in some way seems almost a requirement of artistic production.

R.I.P. Christopher Logue

I've blogged about Logue in the past, and the "Cold Calls" section of his Iliad has been reviewed on Litter. Of course, now he's passed away, that version will never be complete, but, as I've said before, it seems appropriate for our post-modern condition that our age's translation of Homer should be fragmentary and incomplete.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I've been having an interesting discussion over at the blog of Canadian writer Conrad DiDiodato. The discussion started with the following quote, on Conrad's blog, from Eliot weinberger:

"The United States doesn’t have the class of literary supplements that you find in Spain and many other countries… Criticism, in the United States, has been reduced to ‘recommendations’, which arrive through reviews, blogs and Twitter. Prizes have become the standard validation of literary merit. I can’t think of a single American critic to whom one can turn in search of ideas …" (read the full quote here)

We then discussed the high quality of reviews and essays in the French press, and I introduced Conrad to Pierre Assouline's blog. We do have the TLS and the London Review of Books, which, although they're pretty conservative, do carry quality critical writing. But in the broadsheets, reviews of poetry, at least, are largely reduced to ‘recommendations’, witness this recent 'review' in The Guardian. The blogosphere seems to be the place for a wider range and more in-depth discussion of poetry. But even here, there's a problem; namely, that in the age of Facebook and Twitter, poets are very likely to know each other, if not personally, then virtually. On-line communications lends itself, indeed, possibly requires, comforting compliments and regular praise, to keep communication flowing with someone you've never met; or, conversely, unrestrained, anonymous venom. Neither of these things are conducive to objective, disinterested critique. Maybe we need more critics who are not poets, and therefore untrestrained by the need to butter up publishers and other poets. But such people are rare; maybe it just needs a bit more courage and objectivity from poet-critics.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Some poems and photographs in tribute to Theodore Enslin, by fellow poets and friends Ed Baker, David Giannini, and John Phillips, as well as a poem by the poet himself. In addition, there is also a link to a brief obituary (and an excerpt from same) and a recording of Brahms Intermezzo, Opus 18, No. 2, which Theodore Enslin requested be played in lieu of a memorial service or other type of observance.

All available here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Stride magazine's Editor's Picks 2011 includes my "Variations on Painting a Room" - along with lots of other good stuff. I'm very pleased. Thanks to Rupert Loydell.

Review - The Best British Poetry 2011

...this anthology [implies] that contemporary poetry is a single homogeneous entity. In reality, it isn't; there is a division between the poetry of, say, Carol Ann Duffy and that of Maggie O'Sullivan, and it's not just due to official acceptance or funding of one over the other; it's to do with the philosophies and assumptions which underlie the poetry; put simply, Duffy and O'Sullivan have different notions about what poetry is. Such divisions are intrinsic to the post-modern nature of poetry in the twenty-first century. To deny that there are 'schools' or movements in poetry, and instead to assert that it's all one, (and that the finest work will somehow rise to the top - as 'the best' tag implies) is to deny the very energies which drive much poetic production.

To read the complete review, click here

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Flying Goose, December 13th

Emily Hasler, Shaun Belcher, J. T. Welsch, & Adrian Slatcher

Brought to you by the Nottingham Poetry Series
& Nottingham Trent University

Entry is free, but donations (£3 suggested) are welcome.

December 13, 7:30 pm at

The Flying Goose Café
Beeston High Road
NG9 1EH.

The café sells tea, coffee, snacks, and cake.
Followed by an open reading: please feel free to bring a
poem for this winter evening

Saturday, November 26, 2011


an anthology edited by Rupert Loydell, pub. The Knives Forks and Spoons Press. ISBN: 978-1-97812-50-7. £9

On the back cover of this book, the editor, Rupert Loydell, explains the title:

"The poetry I want at the moment is smartarse: a whirlwind mix of comedy, fiction, collage, free association, confession, bravado, parataxis and storytelling. It uses or may use experimental or linguistically innovative techniques, be rooted in modernism or postmodernism, but maybe not so that you as a reader would notice."

In his introduction, Nicholas Rombes, expert on punk and professor of poetry at the University of Detroit Mercy, says: "Rupert Loydell ran the term by me in 2010, and without even having to think about it, I knew what it meant." Rombes cites the influence of the internet on young USA writers, which, he claims, has resulted in a "renewed attention to the vernacular", which, Rombes continues, involves attention to "the way people talk - their voices and language, and the rhythm and texture of their words, mediated through all manner of digital technologies".

Loydell has assembled fifteen writers who, as he sees it, embody the principles above. Whether they do or not, as a mirror of Loydell's current taste, this is certainly a lively mix, and the poets as a whole, are not lacking in "attitude" or irony. No-one here takes themselves too seriously. I liked this anthology. Loydell’s candid admission that the book is filled with poetry that he just happens to like is refreshing.

To read the rest of the review,click HERE.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Honicknowle Book of the Dead

The Honicknowle Book of the Dead by Kenny Knight

(Shearsman books), 106pp, £8.95 / $16 ISBN 9781848610170

In this book the world of suburban Plymouth is transfigured by the the imagination in a stream of anecdote, wit and invention reminiscent of the New York school. Kenny Knight's seemingly artless poems in fact combine a number of techniques that require considerable skill from the poet, and which achieve their effects without being in any way intrusive.

To read the rest of the review, click HERE

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Theodore Enslin 1925-2011

The given,
which has concerned us,
no longer strikes so deep.
Age is more adventurous:
That is its gift to us, and from us.
We might almost wish
that it were not so.
Old age is poised --
rarely takes that last flight
above the peaks
that youth tried to scale
in vain.

from "The Weather Within"

I was sorry to hear the news that Enslin passed away last weekend. I have blogged about him previously, and, as I said then, I admired him enormously. He went his own way, in an American tradition of independence, and his later work, analogous to musical composition, is outside of any fashion or trend, and is quite unlike anything else being written right now. His last book will be published posthumously by Skysill Press.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

'Violets' by C.J. Allen

New pamphlet by C.J. Allen now available from Derbyshire's very own Templar Poetry. Buy the collection here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Poets on the Great Recession

I was asked to contribute to "Poets on the Great Recession", a project run by the redoubtable Eileen Tabios.

Here's my contribution.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

More on the Pistol Tree Poems

Peter Hughes dropped me an email commenting on the pieces quoted below. This is what he said:

"I thought you might be interested to know something more about the passages you quoted. Leonardo da Vinci makes several appearances in the sequence, usually in non-obvious ways! So Len is there, experimenting with form & the random, dropping bits of molten lead into water, & seeing what happens. He recorded his thoughts in his notebooks, & the 'prawn' was something he saw in one of the shapes. He dropped them from just above the surface of the water: a height of just one inch (or pollice - 'thumb' & 'inch' in Italian). I got most of my details from Charles Nicholl's biography of Leonardo. Plus a few old art books. His fondness for bright red or pink leggings is also documented!

Simon & I gestured towards the deaths or anniversaries of a few musicians. The buccaneer loons' in that passage by Simon belonged to John Martyn, someone we both admired, who died at the end of January 2009. Some of Martyn's lyrics appear elsewhere.

The title - The Pistol Tree Poems - comes from a mishearing of "epistolary poems' on a dodgy phone line between the UK & Italy."

London Poems and Pistol Tree Poems

Last week I acquired "City State - New London Poetry" from Penned in the Margins, and last night I sat down and opened the book at random. This is what I read:

"when Pan the only dead god lost his long life
savings and took solace in his mortal position
started drinking cursing Wall Street took a breadknife
to Camberwell Green with a bag of those onions
little gaunt white bought a bag of Camberwell Green
and told himself the most Capricious joke
(look I'm dead!) took out his knife from the skein
of his crosshatched loins had an Arcadian smoke
he devised a new cogito fit for his state
it was ravenous drinking not thinking the first antic
verb really he was 'on' Camberwell Green far too alone
to imagine a field not Arcadian lush not a slick
of poured concrete does Pan have to moan
like a goat with his sibiliants spittling the screen
in panic from Wall Street to Camberwell Green?"

This is by one Ben Borek. I loved the verbal energy and musicality of this piece, the use of line-breaks ('his long life/savings') and the way it doesn't pause for breath, so that the scene it describes is half-hidden behind the wordplay. This poem manages to update the classical, not by heavy-handed juxtapositions with the present'-day, but by dropping in key words (Pan, Arcadian, panic, cogito) into a disjointed an fast-moving set of contemporary references. The poem is part of what could be described as a sonnet sequence, and they're all of this quality. I haven't investigated the rest of the anthology, but this is a good start.

I also acquired a copy of "The Pistol Tree Poems" by Peter Hughes and Simon Marsh. I'd seen some of these poems on Great Works, and enjoyed them, but wasn't sure what I'd make of a whole book-full. The poems alternate between the two poets, and each one is a response to the previous poem. Such exercises can end up being rather self-indulgent, but this one is saved by the skill of the two poets, as well as its humour and irreverence. I'm very much enjoying reading the poems at random, though whether I'll get to read all of them I don't know. Surrealism never really took hold in British poetry (with a few exceptions), but there's always been a strong tradition of nonsense poetry, from the rantings of Pistol to the poems of Edward Lear and Lewis Carol to the lyrics of John Lennon and Syd Barret. These poems are in that line:

"& as the Omniscient Mussel mused
On Len's pink tights & bristles
it recalled blobs of molten lead
dropped from a height of one thumb..."

(poem 51)

The above is from Peter Hughes, who has a slightly different tone to Simon Marsh, who tends to be more formal and lyrical:

"I can't pick out a single tune
he's slap looped
strut and pranced
in buccaneer loons
a deep wail syllable drawn
from his heart's clutter..."

(poem 52)

The poems are epistolary (excuse the pun) and drawn from the everyday:

"so tomorrow it's off to King's Lynn
1 to fit tow bar
2 to have Great Aunt Maisie splayed
3 investigate suede wall-art"

The poems manage some acerbic comments on current affairs ("...your internet history available
to entire herds of minor government voyeurs..."), but at the moment I'm enjoying reading it for the fun of it, and I'm sure I'll enjoy dipping into it for a long time:

"as many had foretold
aliens landed on Dartmoor
in teapots formed from many-coloured lights
& early Hillage solos"

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Skysill Press has a nice new website. Click here to see it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Leafe Press poet CJ Allen has a new collection - "Violets" - out soon with publisher Templar Poetry. He is also featured on the "Poet a Month" slot for November on the Derbyshire Libraries blog, which you can read here.

Monday, October 31, 2011


Last time I was in Paris I was alone, so I spent my spare time mooching around the bookshops of the Latin Quarter. This time, with my wife and teenage daughter, it was a bit different. I found myself mooching instead around the textile and dressmaking shops of the Place St. Pierre in Montmartre, and having lunch in the cafe featured in "Amelie". This last attraction is a typically and admirably
French phenomenon; tourists flock from far and wide, as we did, because of the movie connection, but cafe is run with complete indifference to it all. Sure, there are pictures of the movie and Amelie table covers, but it's still a rough-and-ready bistro serving very good, cheap meals, and catering for the locals.

During our visit to Paris we were also lucky enough to be able to take in the Stein exhibition at the swanky Grand Palais museum. They've gathered together the paintings originally collected by Gertrude Stein, her brother Leo and sister sister-in-law Sara, so you get to see some of the greatest paintings of the first half of the twentieth century. But if you're interested in Gertrude Stein the writer, as I am, then it's a bonus, as there are home movie clips of Gertrude at her sister's Le Corbusier home, and of her reading from "Tender Buttons". I hadn't realised how many artist's had painted her portrait; in addition to the famous Picasso portrait. I also hadn't quite realised how, in her "Autobiography of Alice B Toklas" Stein had bigged up her own role in the formation of the famous salons at the Rue de Fleurus, to the chagrin of her brother Leo, and others. Such is the benefit of being a writer; there's always the possibility of creating your own myth, which then becomes almost impossible for anyone to undo.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Carrie Etter: The Son

pub. Oystercatcher Press

There are times when a poet who is skilled in modernist techniques and the use of abstraction in poetry feels the need, due to the circumstances of his or her life, to tackle a personal subject, or at least one that deals with emotion and with the basic humanity that is common to us all. When this happens the results can be powerful. Carrie Etter's pamphlet "The Son" represents such a moment. The poems centre around a child who appears to have been given up for adoption; a sensitive subject, and one that could, in the wrong hands, result in sentimentality. But there's no fear of that with an accomplished practitioner like Etter. The collection consists of a series of prose poems, entitled "Imagined Sons", numbered 1-12. Interspersed with the prose poems are four poems called "A Birthmother's Catechism" with a question and response format:

How did you let him go?

With black ink and legalese.

How did you let him go?

It'd be another year before I could vote.

These short responses are in a laconic American tradition; their deadpan understatement conveying much more than any overblown cry of emotion could:

How did you let him go?

Who hangs a birdhouse from a sapling?

What a great line that is: expressing self-doubt and fragility in practical, workmanlike terms. The "Imagined Sons" poems are short dream-like stories, which hit exactly the right note, as suppressed emotion resurfaces in our dreams. There's a surrealist element to these stories, with a motif of a young man, familiar, but out-of-reach, the repetition of which builds up a powerful sense of longing.

The first and last poems - both in the catechism form - link the personal loss to the public loss of the 9/11 attacks. It's a risk, but it works, due in part to the understated nature of the poems; in fact, it succeeds in universalising an experience that might otherwise be intensely personal.
The Shindig in Leicester this week has been reported on by other bloggers, and everyone's commented on the strength of the open-mic slot. I must have listened to around thirty poets read that evening, and every one was worth listening to. It's interesting that, according to Kathleen Bell, one of the De Montfort Creative Writing team who have done so much to engender these type of events in Leicester, that the open-mic standard has improved as time has gone on, as less experienced poets have learned from the more experienced ones. To me, the whole phenomenon says a great deal about the contemporary poetry scene. Poetry is a participation sport; most readers are also writers of poetry, and the whole scene is democratic and unhierarchical. But this is not to say that standards have to be driven down to the lowest common denominator; there's no reason why that should happen, and the evidence of the Leicester readings is quite the opposite, with people generally trying to raise their game to keep up with others. Despite attempts by initiatives like The Forward Prize and now the Salt Best British Poetry (more on that one later), to establish canons and hierarchies, it seems that, at the cutting edge, the poetry scene is open, participatory and supportive. Long may it stay that way!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Simon Perril's Nitrate: the video

Simon Perril's 'Nitrate' (Salt Publishing) is a "meditation upon the birth of the moving picture". Here's the video to go with it:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

New Work on Litter


Martin Stannard
A Poem in tribute to the late Paul Violi

Geraldine Monk
A Poem from her new book 'Lobe Scarps & Finials'
Mark Goodwin
Two tributes to Geraldine Monk


of books by Julie Lumsden, Eileen Tabios and Aidan Semmens

Click here to read

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Review - 'A Stone Dog' by Aidan Semmens

published by Shearsman books, 90pp, £8.95 / $15, ISBN 9781848611658

If I were a tutor on creative writing course (an unlikely scenario) I'd advise young poets to stop writng for twenty years or so, then, after having some experience of life and wide reading, to take up the craft again. It seems to have beneficial effects. George Oppen famously gave up poetry for political activism for twenty-six years, and a number of poets I'm in touch with have taken life-sized sabbaticals: Ed Baker, for one, and the excellent Alisdair Paterson for another. And now we have Aidan Semmens, who has been working as a journalist and leading a normal life for a few decades, but who has now returned to writing and publishing poetry. Semmens was at Cambridge in the 70s - he won the 1978 Chancellor's Medal for an English Poem at Cambridge - and for a while edited Perfect Bound, the magazine associated with the Cambridge school and the British Poetry Revival. He then lived in the north-east, where he was involved with with the Morden Tower readings and was a friend of Barry MacSweeney and Richard Cadell.

To read the rest of the review, click here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Review: Lumsden and Tabios

True Crime by Julie Lumsden (Shoestring Press), £5.00, ISBN: 978 1 907356 38 4

Silk Egg by Eileen Tabios (Shearsman Books), £9.95 / $17 ISBN 9781848611436

These two books are, on the surface, dissimilar; Tabios writing out of a post-modern, post-colonial milieu, Lumsden writing in what seems a more conservative mode. But the apparent differences are deceptive. Both books are ironic, economic with language, and concerned to present a subversive account of an accepted discourse.

Julie Lumsden is a writer I've admired for a long time, and was in fact, one of the first writers to be published by Leafe. This short pamphlet is exemplary in its concision and economy, delivering a series of monologues and brief, acerbic observations. Much mainstream poetry, combines monologue and lyric, but achieves neither mode successfully. Lumsden's monologues are dramatic in the way that Browning's were; Lumsden is a playwright for stage and theatre, and it shows. The opening sequence of ten poems tells the story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. and it does so from the viewpoint of the characters involved - The Best Friend, the Witness, the Hangman etc. The Hangman, speaking of the woman he's hanged before Ruth Ellis:

No one wept through the night for
Mrs Christofi, or broke through a police cordon...

...Let's put it this way, she
wasn't the sort of woman

men apologise to with roses.
She was older, not much of a looker.

Typically, this implies so much more than it says. The rest of the pamphlet has a similar cutting edge:

I'll stop when I'm ready, stop
driving to poetry events in suburban libraries
wondering if Frank is dead,
and if there's a poem in it.

What this pamphlet does is create a convincing world, peopled by believable characters, then draws the reader into it. A skillful thing to do.

Eileen Tabios is a renowned Filipino-American poet, publisher, editor and intellectual, and this is her first, long-overdue, UK publication, from the ever-reliable Shearsman Books. If all novels were like the ones in this book, I'd read a lot more of them.There are seven 'novels' here, each chapter of which consists of a short prose-poem, often just a couple of sentences, and each novel is a distiliation of the essential elements which could make up a real novel. I was won over on encountering these lines:

He moved into her gift, woke each morning to soft warm
lucidity, and agreed as regards the irrelevance of ribbons.

The understated sensuouness of that last line is superb. Each novel is an unfinished narrative, a set of fragments, for which the reader can supply completion, or, alternatively, they could just enjoy the phrasing, imagery and the sense of mystery each piece invokes. At one level, this book is a satire on contemporary novels, with each of the ten novels being a precis of a certain type. Thus, "Opium-Centred Lace", is - parody is too strong, and not the right word - is the ghost or shadow of a novel that might be a travelogue with some sort of love interest. But the language has a light touch and is too lyrical to be a straightforward satire:

The cafe was owned by the grandaughter of Romanian

Living a good life, someone once whispered in a
childhood schoolyard, is one conclusion to a grave secret.

In "Silk Egg" there is the most-modern notion of appropriating the contemporary realist novel, and the element of parody; but what ultimately appeals about this book is the delicate lyricism.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Men at Risk from Modern Poetry

Researchers have found that men who read difficult modern poetry - from Wallace Stevens to JH Prynne - struggle with relationships. It seems that such men become disillusioned with everyday conversations. Findings suggest that the poetry gives men unrealistic expectations about the complexity of daily language. According to one expert: "Men in particular, can find that the language their wives and families use is lacking in the exciting conundrums, non-sequiturs and thrilling blind-alleys of poetic diction. This can lead to them drifting out of relationships to join groups of like-minded individuals who can comprehend such verbal intricacies". Doctors recommend a gradual transfer of reading to simpler poetry - such as that published by Faber and Faber - with the ultimate aim of being able to survive on a diet of light romantic novels. "We believe such a course will help men to return to normal linguistic usage."

(source: McUniversity, Donaldstown, USA)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Carlo Gébler complains (see my post below) of the "the atrophy of community (writers have never been more marginal and their enterprise more quixotic and ridiculous)". He can't be talking about the poetry world, in which post-modern conditions have rendered traditional hierarchies meaningless, and in which writing and publishing is a shared, communal activity. As for his parenthetical aside; I think the aim of every writer should be to become quixotic and ridiculous.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ian Seed reviews 'Variations on Painting a Room' on Stride.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

"...for on top of the abolition of the Net Book Agreement, all sorts of other deleterious developments have worsened the lot of writers (at least in these islands) over the last fifteen years, among which, and in no particular order, are the following: the rise of branding; the enslavement of publishers to media endorsement by celebrity presenters; the obsession with the physical appearance of writers which in turn has meant publishers demand ever younger, ever more photogenic authors; the decline of the editor in publishing houses in order to save money; the abandonment by publishers of the idea that writers have lifelong careers and that given the right support over a lengthy period they can develop; the failure of payment for literary endeavour either to keep pace with inflation or to reflect the actual amount of labour involved in literary production; the atrophy of community (writers have never been more marginal and their enterprise more quixotic and ridiculous); and, finally, the eclipse of literary forms that once helped writers to survive, such as the short story, especially the short story broadcast on radio."

Carlo Gébler

Monday, June 27, 2011

All's Well That Ends Well

I've been meaning to see a play at The Globe for years, so I was looking forward to it, and the weather yesterday was perfect. But, to be honest, I'd been expecting a museum-type experience; interesting, but not of the here and now. It turns out I was wrong: what I saw on Sunday was a vibrant piece of theatre; with the high level of audience interaction making it seem like a participation event. I have a problem with theatre when it re-creates movies or novels; when it tries to be real in the way that a movie does. But the audience at The Globe can't ignore the fact that the actors are people like them, pretending to be someone else; and that adds a whole dimension to the experience. The audience is part of the play. It strikes me that The Globe has more in common with theatres of the last fifty years or so than it does to the proscenium-arch theatre of Victorian days and earlier. In his book "1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare", James Shapiro writes, "Shakespeare didn’t write ‘as if from another planet,’ as Coleridge put it: he wrote for the Globe; it wasn’t in his mind’s eye, or even on the page, but in the aptly named theater where his plays came to life and mattered". Seems about right to me.

...but then again, Bertram in "All' Well That Ends Well" is a self-centred young man, inconsiderate, impulsive and exasperated by the demands made on him. He's not good, but he's not especially bad; just ordinary, which is the hardest character for any dramatist to create. Whatever type of theatre - proscenium arch, in-the-round, promenade, or with contemporary or period settings and dress, Bertram is a character audiences will recognise and identify with. And that's to do with the ability of the dramatist to create, or re-create a character in the minds of his / her audience, independent of any specific staging.

Of course, it's not possible to completely recreate the Elizabethan experience. Their world was in many ways, strange and remote from ours: that Juliet, Cleopatra and Rosalind were all played by boys, seems very weird. It was a time when church attendance was compulsory, and catholicism illegal. No-one questioned the notion that it was fun to see live animals torn to pieces, or that it was right that those convicted of certain crimes be tortured to death in public. We don't know how the plays were acted, but, as the acting styles of Gielgud and Olivier already seem dated, it's possible that Elizabethan acting would have seemed very strange to a 21st century observer. But I enjoyed getting as close as I could to the experience of an Elizabethan playgoer, and I'm convinced now - if I wasn't totally before - that The Globe is much more than a museum-piece.

POSTSCRIPT: These lines from "All's Well..." -
on the transience of poltical power - really struck me. Spoken by the King of France :

"For we are old, and on our quick'st decrees
The inaudible and noiseless foot of time
Steals ere we can effect them."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lobe Scarps & Finials by Geraldine Monk

Lobe Scarps & Finials by Geraldine Monk
£8.95 / $14.50. 104 pages

Leafe Press are excited to announce the publication of the latest collection by Geraldine Monk. This new book features the controversial "A Nocturnall Upon S Lucies Day", a newly revised "Raccoon" and three new sequences: "Glow in the Darklunar Calendar", "Print & Pin" and "Poppyheads".

The book is available on Amazon, but it would help Leafe Press if you bought it directly from us via our website.

Geraldine Monk was born in Blackburn, Lancashire in 1952. Since first being published in the 1970s she has published a series of major collections of poetry and numerous chapbooks. Her writing has appeared extensively in the both the UK and the USA. As an extension to her activities in poetry she collaborates with many musicians including Martin Archer, Charlie Collins and Julie Tippetts. A collection of essays on her poetry, The Salt Companion to Geraldine Monk was brought out in 2007 by Salt Publishing.

‘Monk is more attuned to the physical heft of words than any other poet working in English today’

Simon Turner, Horizon Review

"Monk’s latest collection shows a continuing foray into the alchemy of language and a reclamation of the visceral soundscapes of loss and celebration...the poems can seem little miracles of construction."

Chris Emery, Jacket Magazine on "Noctivagations"

“Geraldine Monk’s poetry activates words, makes them events rather than hollow vessels for received understanding. They play, clash, spark and rub up against one another in unpredictable ways with unforeseen consequences.”

Julian Cowley, The Wire

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Madrid Protests

It's my first visit to Madrid, I don't speak Spanish, and I'm only here on a five-day business trip, so I can't claim to be any kind of expert. I'm only reporting what I see. I'd heard vaguely about the Spanish protests, but I was unprepared for the scenes when I emerged from the Puerta del Sol underground and into the square. It's a complete take-over by mainly young people - students I guess - and they're clearly here for a long stay. Tents, sleeping bags, stoves, kitchens and, according to a newspaper report "canteens, daycare, pharmacy, press centre and other facilities...". The picture above gives you an idea of the banners, mainly in Spanish, but I saw several in English with the message - shown in the picture above - saying ""People of Europe, Rise Up". It's quite staggering.

A large area of central Madrid has been taken over, not just the Puerta del Sol. Lots of other smaller squares are full of (mainly young) people who seem to have occupied them on a semi-permanent basis. The gatherings look like sit-ins , reminiscent of the 60s and 70s. And there are smaller gropus every now and then, sometimes gathered round someone making a speech, sometimes in animated conversation. And there are makeshift signs and placards everywhere.

There was a heavy police presence around the government buildings - one was the Finance Ministry, I think - around Puerta del Sol, but in the main the protests seem relatively unpoliced - something inconceivable in London.

On the late train back to Tres Cantos, the town I'm working in, three women in their 50s and 60s and a young woman spotted that we were foreigners - I was with three colleagues, two Dutch, one English - and they moved seats to speak to us about the situation: "What do you think of the protests?" "It's very important what's happening here." The two older women spoke in Spanish and the younger one interpreted. They asked about the student protests in Britain, asking "did the students attain their demands" (to which we had to say, sadly, "not yet"). They were keen to point out that the in Spain "it's not just students, it's everyone".

This is all I know at the moment, but, in the face of an almost total news blackout, I'd thought I'd at least give my limited eye-witness account. These demonstrators clearly see the "austerity measures" being inflicted on Spain as part of the same programme that's inflicting them on Britain, Ireland, Greece and other countries. That's why they're saying "People of Europe, Rise Up".

And that's why it's not in the news.

Madrid Protests

Madrid Protests

Puerta del Sol, Madrid

Thursday, May 12, 2011

In the novel 'Mr Palomar' by Italo Calvino, there is an episode in which the eponymous hero visits a Zen meditation garden - the Ryoanji in Tokyo - where he tries to meditate on the sand and rocks which are meant to invoke a feeling peace and oneness:

"[Mr Palomar] allows the indefinable harmony that links the elements of the picture gradually to pervade him.

Or, rather, he tries to imagine these things as they would be felt by someone who could concentrate on looking at the Zen garden in solitude and silence. Because - we had forgotten to say - Mr Palomar is crammed on the platform in the midst of hundreds of visitors, who jostle him on every side...

...What does he see? He sees the human race in the era of great numbers, which extends in a crowd, level, but still made up of distinct individualities, like the sea of grains of sand that submerges the surface of the world..."

I like that expression "the era of great numbers", which captures the combination of magnificence and banality that characterises our experience of living in an overpopulated world. If you're wondering where this is heading, well, first I just want to say what a wonderful piece of work "Mr Palomar" is: I've recently read this short novel, which reads like a set of prose poems, and which I'd love to be able to read in the original Italian. Secondly, the "the era of great numbers" aptly describes the poetry world, and probably the world of most other artforms, at least in The West. The number of poets and the volume of poetry they produce is overwhelming. But I don't take the high-modernist approach that it's too much, that the masses have usurped the citadel, and that the days when a few members of the elect dispensed poetry to the public was better (note: that's a tongue-in-cheek caricature). If you keep an open mind, you can enjoy the constant delights and surprises that crop up all the time - tinged with the regret that you're never going to get it all. A small sample of poetry arrives on my doormat or inbox at a steady rate. These are a few books I'm very much enjoying at the moment:

in arcadia by Alisdair Paterson (Oystercatcher)
Play. Pause - Words to Three Musics by David Kennedy (Cherry on the Top)
Shod by Mark Goodwin (Nine Arches)
Silk Egg by Eileen R Tabios (Shearsman)
A Stone Dog by Aidan Semmens (Shearsman)
Shifting Registers by Ian Seed
When the blue light falls 2 by Carol Watts (Oystercatcher)

All of these are excellent, and I hope to get round to writing short reviews of at least some of them; in the meantime I'm enjoying their variety and range - one benefit at least of living in "the era of great numbers".

Saturday, April 23, 2011

And while I'm blowing my own trumpet, here's a link to a review of my Bonnefoy translation by Peter Hughes. It's on the PBS website. Click here.

Thank you Peter.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Variations on Painting a Room: Poems 2000-2010

Warning: Contains Severe Self-Promotion!!!

Now available from SKYSILL PRESS:

Alan Baker, Variations on Painting a Room: Poems 2000-2010

Variations on Painting a Room brings together ten years of small press publications by Alan Baker, together with two uncollected sequences, "The Book of Random Access" and "Everyday Songs".

It's available on Amazon, but it would help the publisher if you bought it direct from them: Skysill Press

Lee Harwood:

Elizabeth Bishop wrote "The three qualities I admire in the poetry I like best are: Accuracy, Spontaneity, Mystery". These are the qualities I find in Alan Baker's poems. The precise particulars that create a very real, clear and believable writing, a willingness to take risks, and an awareness that what matters is not to be found in the obvious but in the half glimpsed, half said, half understood. Equally admirable are the ambitions for what writing can possibly do. Right from the first prose poem in "Not Bondi Beach" to the long poem "A Lull" in that same book, "The Cardiac Diaries" in his "Hotel February" collection, and on to the larger sequences such as "The Book of Random Access", Baker spreads out an awareness of the working moving world, and its politics, around him, around all of us.

Todd Swift:

Baker represents an alternative ("other") British poetry tradition, and poetics, that, often quietly, in the so-called margins of a mainstream, continues to do excellent work. His work ...turns the British lyric subtly, and offers new angles on how a line may be shaped, or allowed to spin off in another direction.

Rupert Loydell: (on "The Book of Random Access")

'[It] is the recording of people's memories.' I don't think so. 'It's only a piece of make believe': the narrator says so, later on. And yet, and yet ... Of course these fantastic texts are made up, are just randomly accessed words assembled on the page, each section under a black and white hexagram. But they are subtle, delicate (but tough) evocations of the confused lives we live, seemingly confessional outpourings, full of surprising and alarming images and insights. These texts work by luring the reader in, by being so transparent that we believe them. The details and declamations entwine themselves into sense, the everyday phrases bump and jostle themselves into a momentary order that offers teaching and insight. There is no ego here, no polemic or rant, just an intersection and gathering of lived moments, each under the spotlight for a brief moment of time. 'Let's sit down at the table together and talk softly into the night'. Okay, let's. Perhaps you will read to me, grant me random access to your world.

Monday, April 11, 2011

More on ED

In 1896, Lavinia Dickinson, sister of Emily, took the stand as witness and plaintiff in a court case against Mabel Loomis Todd, the editor of E.D.s first three books, and long-term mistress of her brother, Austin. Lavinia, while not quite as withdrawn as her sister, was nevertheless a reclusive character, not given to leaving home much in later years. Like her sister, she was regarded as strange by the Amherst townsfolk; in one authenticated story, local children came to sing for the Dickinsons, but were asked to do so downstairs, while the two sisters listened, unseen, from an upstairs room. So how did Lavinia cope with the very public arena of a court-room? To quote Lyndall Gordon's biography:

"Her junior counsel, Henry Field, remembered Miss Vinnie 'distinctly' in after years when he himself had become a judge. He'd feared cross-examination might confuse her. 'But not at all. On the witness stand she appeared perfectly natural and composed, not in the least bit disconcerted by an array of opposing counsel and a Court-room filled with curious spectators'."

In fact, Miss Vinnie put on an impressive and assured display, with not a small amount of guile, and she won her case - about the disputed ownership of a strip of land - despite having, on a purely factual basis, the weaker case. To me, this is interesting as it lends weight to the increasingly-held opinion that Emily Dickinson's withdrawal from the world was not due to diffidence or timidity - attributes absent from the accounts of those who actually met her - but was a conscious decision that the independence (from social and marital expectations) provided by seclusion in her father's house was necessary to allow her to practice her chosen profession of poet. Just as Lavinia impressed on the witness stand, so Emily impressed those who met her with her wit and verbal intelligence; often leaving them feeling upstaged and shaken; as was the case with T W Higginson, who famously declared 'I have never met anyone who drained my nerve power so much'. Many reasons for ED's seclusion have been suggested; but while there may have been contributory factors - medical or psychological perhaps - it does seem that artistic independence may have been the primary one.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Eigner and Dickinson

I've been much-inspired lately by the poetry of Larry Eigner and Emily Dickinson. After my incursions into digitized cut-and-paste techniques, these two poets take me back to the basic materials of pen, paper, typewriter; and in Eigner's case, the poetry of immediate perception.
The work of both these writers is also resistant to print and publication; in Dickinon's case because almost all her poetry came down to us hand-written, with no authorised print version, and in Eigner's case, because his disability meant that he produced text using a typewriter with great difficulty; his typescripts, with their positioning of text and his corrections and annotations, are arguably the most authentic representations of his poems.
Yet the manuscripts of both of these poets are hard to see; in Eigner's case, his big Collected from Stanford University Press is set in Courier, and is doesn't consist of scanned originals. In the case of Dickinson, her handmade fascicle booklets are available in fascimile, but at a cost - around 300 pounds; but why aren't the originals of her poems available on the web? There are a few, if you look for them, but why haven't the been scanned and made available as a public resource? Why can't we buy selections of her work with the original manuscripts alongside, as you can with Blake? It's incredible that, one hundred and twenty five years after her death, Dickinson's work is not out of copyright. As Dickinson scholar Betsa Erkkila puts it "[The Dickinson papers] are now owned collectively by Harvard University and Amherst college, where access to and circulation of her writing are vigorously policed and controlled. If you want to quote from or publish the work of Dickinson, you must ask for the privilege and pay the price." All of which is ironic, when the poet herself said:

Publication - is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man -

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Napolean in Rags

I was driving up the M1 last week, and, for old times' sake, I put on a CD of Bob Dylan's 'Highway 61 Revisited. It's hard not to feel a surge of adrenalin at the crescendos of 'Like a Rolling Stone', especially as I was a fervent Dylan fan in my younger days. The song features a contextless narrator / singer addressing a female subject who seems to have been socially privileged, but who has been brought low and forced into homelessness. The music and lyrics invite the listener to join in the triumphalism of the singer, who revels in the subject's downfall. But as soon as this invitation is mentally declined, you realise how extraordinarily vindictive this song is. It's a sustained attack: 'How does it feel?' .i.e. 'I feel bad; I want to know that you feel bad too, and I think you deserve to'. And the song goes on long enough to make it seem obssessive in its malice.

This judgemental streak seemed to increase in Dylan's work from that period on, and can be found in other songs like 'Positively 4th Street' ('you've got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend'); it also looks forward to the ultimate judgements during his conversion to fire and brimstone Christianity. What's lacking in these songs, and, one could argue, in Dylan's work generally, is self-awareness on the part of the singing persona: the singer is infallible, but the subject is judged and condemned. Nowhere in Dylan's work will you find the painful self-criticism of John Lennon's first two solo albums.

It may be due to this lack of self-knowledge on Dylan's part that I found his autobiography - the loftily-titled 'Chronicles' - impossible to read. Or rather, I read it compulsively, but when I put the book down, I didn't feel like picking it up again (and didn't even finish volume one). 'Chronicles' presents a man who believes in his 'destiny' - a concept I find hard to accept. Dylan even uses at one point the phrase 'my destiny had become manifest'. As an echo of the notorious doctrine of 'Manifest Destiny', which justified the US colonisation of the American West and its brutal campaigns against the Native Americans, this phrase shows remarkable insensitivity and ignorance on the writer's part.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

States of Independence, Leicester


Clephan Building, De Montfort University, Oxford Street, Leicester

10.30am – 4.30pm, Saturday 19th March 2011

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

States of Independence is one day - and free - book and spoken word festival at De Montfort University in Leicester, celebrating independent publishing and independent writing. The full programme is on There are stalls from many independent publishers and a programme with events for all tastes. Join us for an hour or all day. No need for tickets, simply turn up. There are more than sixty writers from the region presenting, reading, launching, discussing
The programme includes:
Surgeries with a literary agent; a talk on the 1950s; Hearing Voices magazine launch; a session on publishing poetry; on artists' books; panels of writers reading; crime fiction; an introduction to anarchism; creative writing from DMU, writing about sex; fiction in performance; Asian writing; the first reading from the East Midlands Book Award; eBooks; poetry reading; speculative fiction; celebrating The Coffee House; graphic novels; how to access money (or not); short stories; Word! in performance; young adult fiction; Irish publishing; The Moomins and philosophy; words and music; editing a literary magazine.

Leafe Press poets C.J. Allen and Ernesto Priego, who will be reading from their work. Mark Goodwin will be reading from his book 'Shod' which has been shortlisted for the East Mids Book Award, and Skysill Press will host a reading by Alan Baker, launching his new collection.

States of Independence is organised by Five Leaves Publications in Nottingham and De Montfort Creative Writing Team
Ross Bradshaw
Five Leaves Publications
PO Box 8786
Note new number: 0115 9895465
Out of office: 0115 9693597