Monday, December 31, 2007

Emmylou Harris

Happy New Year, everyone, when it comes. May Emmylou lead us there.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A New Kind of Music Station

I have Martin Stannard to thank for this one. Pandora is a new kind of radio station. You key in a band/artist you like and Pandora will form a ‘station’ that plays songs non-stop by that band/artist and others who have some kind of affinity with that band/artist.

It works (and it's legal. Artists get paid, presumably through the discreet advertising - no horrible pop-ups)! I have five stations now that play music akin to Tom Waits, Talking Heads, Yo La Tengo, Miles Davis, and Belle and Sebastian. Some of the music I had heard before, some was completely new to me, but nearly all of it was good. If you hate a track, you can tell Pandora and they promise never to play it again.

When you go there first, you can have a trial shot. Then it asks you to register (quite minimal information) and to provide a U.S. zipcode. If you don’t know what to do at that point and are ready to give up, does this help?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tommy Sheridan Charged with Perjury

Last year, I covered the Tommy Sheridan trial – outspoken Scottish socialist leader, campaigner, ex-member of the Scottish parliament and rampant egotist. Sheridan had sued the tabloid newspaper, the News of the World, because it had made lurid allegations about his private life e.g. that he’d visited swingers clubs and had sex with various women (other than his wife).

But the real crux of the matter was whether Sheridan’s working-class-hero image was a sham and that he was really a champagne guzzling sex addict who had thought nothing of lying to his family, his political allies and, of course, the ‘people’. Sheridan’s case against the newspaper was sensationally upheld and the News of the World were ordered to pay costs.

However an perjury enquiry was immediately launched. Had Tommy Sheridan and his witnesses lied in court? More than a year later, the enquiry has concluded that there is enough evidence to bring Sheridan to trial for perjury and perhaps others too.

Sheridan describes the proceedings as a witch-hunt instigated by the Murdoch Empire (Rupert Murdoch owns the News of the World). This, I think, is pure ego. The News of the World is an odious publication and I wish it didn’t exist. But I can’t see why Murdoch would consider Sheridan important enough to pursue over many years in expensive court battles. Hasn’t Murdoch got more important tasks to carry out in his quest for world domination?

The truth is surely that the accounts of evidence given at the original trial were so contradictory that one side had to be lying. The Crown Office instigated the enquiry for that reason and the trial is surely worth investigating. Whoever lied caused vast sums of public money to be thrown away on expensive legal proceedings, and if sufficient evidence has been produced to allow a trial, it’s important that the evidence is properly assessed. If Sheridan is found innocent, we an all draw a line under the case and perhaps just a few people might decide no longer to buy the trash that is the News of the World. If Sheridan is guilty, at least we’ll know how far he deserves to be trusted in the future when he complains about the government wasting taxpayers’ money.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Favourites of 2007

I’ve been ruthless in only including books I’ve finished, which rules out Claire Crowther, James Schuyler, Edwin Morgan, Richard Price, Alan Gillis, and W.S Graham – whose books I am still reading (I tend to read several books at the one time). Some of them, perhaps all, may well feature in my 2008 lists. I won’t finish any of them before the end of the year as I am reading two huge Selected Poems sent to me for review by a magazine and have no time to read anything else.

Favourite Poetry Books published in 2007

The Parthian Stations – John Ash (Carcanet)
The Harbour Beyond the Movie – Luke Kennard (Salt)
Travelator – Steven Waling (Salt)

Favourite Poetry Books read in 2007 (but not published then)

The Never-Never – Kathryn Gray (Seren)
Selected Poems – Mark Strand (Carcanet)
Fire Stations – AB Jackson (Anvil)
The Deleted World – Tomas Transtromer (Enitharmon)
Masculinity – Robert Crawford (Cape)
The Truth of Poetry – Michael Hamburger (Anvil)
Coming to Terms – Harry Guest (Anvil)
The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly – Denis Johnson (Harper Perennial)
Carbon Atom – Alexander Hutchison (Link-Light)
A Little Book of Meat – Selima Hill (Bloodaxe)
Green Sees Things in Waves – August Kleinzahler (Faber & Faber)

Favourite Chapbooks/Pamphlets of 2007

The Small Hours – Tom Duddy (HappenStance)
Smoke – Jenni Daiches (Kettillonia)
Payday Loans – Jee Leong Koh (Poets Wear Prada)
Cabinet d'Amateur - Andrew Shields (Darling)
19th Century Blues – Patrick McGuinness (Smith/Doorstop)
The Body in the Well – Gregory Leadbetter (HappenStance)
Super Try Again – Roddy Lumsden (Donut)

Favourite Poetry Magazines


Favourite Poetry Webzines


Most Provocative Essay on Poetry

Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment – Tony Hoagland

Best Live Poetry Gig

Of events I have been involved in, the HappenStance reading at Carlisle was brilliant, and Roddy Lumsden, AB Jackson, and Andrew Philip at the Great Grog, Edinburgh, would take a lot of beating.

Mark Strand at StAnza 2007 was terrific.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Poetry and Copyright

Wendy Cope’s article in last week’s Guardian on breach of copyright raises complex issues.

Cope complains that her poems can be found “all over the Internet” and I’ve no doubt that’s true. She depends on income from writing. It’s her job. She feels that the sheer amount of her material online must adversely affect her book sales.

This week in the Guardian blog, Oliver Burkeman makes the opposite case. He feels that while wholesale copying from poetry collections is clearly wrong, the availability of a few poems online is most likely to increase sales.

Part of me agrees with him. I’ve bought several collections after finding poems online. The amount of poetry online simply hasn’t stopped me from buying poetry books. My own bookcases are ample evidence of this. Also, there is a lot of really bad poetry on the internet – millions of poems that wouldn’t stand a chance of being published, but which find a home on showcase sites and blogs. It’s good that quality poems exist on the internet – otherwise people might get the impression that most poetry was of the unpublishable variety. In addition, the Internet has opened up the work of poets to a global readership. Because I've found work online, I've ordered and read collections from foreign poets (especially Americans) who are virtually unknown and often unpublished in the UK. I wouldn't have had the opportunity to do so without such fortuitous breach of copyright.

On the other hand, I can see why Wendy Cope isn’t happy. The idea that poets should be grateful when people reproduce their work without permission (even if they credit the poet) is incredibly patronising. Poets are supposed to nod their heads in thanks for any crumb of attention people throw to them, even if that means allowing people to reproduce their work without payment – even if writing is part of the poet’s livelihood. The worst offenders in that regard are sites like Poemhunter which reproduce large amounts of poets’ work (even creating ebooks of it!) without permission and who make money from revenue generated by site-ads.

But uploading occasional poems without financial gain seems to me to belong to a different category. On balance I think it brings attention to a poet’s work. It leaves people wanting more. Of course, if you only want a single poem by a poet and you find it on a website, it saves you from buying the book and Wendy Cope’s argument is vindicated. But I suspect that’s more than balanced out by people finding a poem by someone, liking it, and then buying the collection it comes from. Of course, it’s impossible to prove this either way.


As a postscript; I typed ‘Wendy Cope poems’ into a search engine just to see what would come up and despite Ms Cope’s efforts, there are quite a number of sites still showcasing her poems. The most thought-provoking was this one, in which a poster asked where she might find Wendy Cope’s A Christmas Poem. She felt it would be a good quote for her Facebook page. The question has been “resolved”.

The “resolution” was another poster typing the poem, in full, into a comment box, without any thought that doing so was breach of copyright (just as using it on a Facebook site would be). Other posters had recommended trying various websites. But no one suggested purchasing Cope’s collection Serious Concerns, where the poem actually appears. Makes you think!


Another postscript: the attitude of melodic pop band, the Trash Can Sinatras, shows how some artists have embraced both the Internet and breach of copyright.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Twisted and Bent

I've no idea of how many times I saw The Trashcan Sinatras live in Glasgow back in the nineties, but it was a lot. This is my favourite of their songs, especially the harmonies in the last section.

As an interesting adjunct to the debate on copyright and the Internet above, here’s a list of Trash Can Sinatras videos available on YouTube, provided by the band’s own website!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The X Factor Final 2007 - Part 5

Well, you wouldn’t take a tip off me, would you? I’ve at least been consistent in getting it wrong all evening. Leon won! I must admit, I am as stunned at that result as Leon obviously was. And relieved too. Leon is at least a modest kind of guy. He only began singing about 10 months ago, but he has quite a voice and I guess it will keep getting better for a while. He will be Christmas number one. After that, I don’t know…

Anyway, I guess it's now back to business as usual - poetry, criticism etc - all that stuff I've left behind for one evening.

The X Factor Final 2007 - Part 4

Yes, Rhydian sang it exactly as I knew he would. It’s anybody’s game. The lines are closed, the votes have been cast. In five minutes, it’ll all be over.

The X Factor Final 2007 - Part 3

Huh! What a useless pundit I am. Same Difference are out of the competition in third place. So it’s between Leon and Rhydian and only one percent of votes separates them at the moment. Leon sang the final song, When You Believe (I think that’s what it’s called) and did a good job. Rhydian is just about to go. I know exactly how he will sing it and I know I won’t like it.

I hope Leon wins. I think Rhydian will win.

The X Factor Final 2007 - Part 2

OK, all three finalists have sung their hearts out, and here’s how I see it, round by round. I’ll try to put aside my prejudices and be as objective as I can:

1. The Christmas Songs

It pains me to say it, but I have to hand this round to Rhydian. O Holy Night turned out to be an inspired choice. It suited his voice down to the ground. He had a backing choir and a bunch of children on stage too – always a winner on the X Factor.

Second would be Leon – he did a pretty good White Christmas.

Same Difference were energetic but shrill.

2. The Duets

A complete surprise. Same Difference and Jason Donovan were cheesy, but extraordinarily effective. The kids on backing vocals will pile on the votes. I’d give them this round.

I suspect that most people would give it to Leon and Kylie. I would too if it was Kylie I was voting for. I don’t really like Kylie much, but she has star quality and she showed it. Without her, Leon would have been struggling.

If you wanted proof of why classical vocalists singing pop songs is nearly always a terrible idea, you don’t need to look any further than Rhydian and Katherine Jenkins demolishing You Raise Me Up. It was awful. And it reminded me of how important it is that Rhydian doesn’t win tonight.

3. Performers’ Choice

A tough one to call. The judges loved Rhydian’s Somewhere. I didn’t care for it, but I guess it will get a lot of votes.

Leon’s You Don’t Know Me was good. His diction is excellent, every word as clear as a bell. I don’t think it is a vote-grabber though.

Same Difference did a great job with the High School Musical song. They jumped off desks and did a kind of scissors-kick in unison on the way down, which was a great piece of television. They had trendy child-dancers. I think they shaded this round, given that their fan base will vote from their mobiles in huge numbers.


My predictions: I think Leon will take third place.

Picking a winner is hard. On tonight’s performances, I think Same Difference were best, even though what they do means nothing to me. But the judges were angling for Rhydian and I reckon their opinions have a big influence on the voting. So I’m going to stick to Rhydian to win, even if it means I will have to:

a) buy ear-muffs for the next few weeks at least, as his single will be playing everywhere

b) buy his album for Andy Jackson, as I foolishly promised I would after a previous post – if he wins.

The results show begins in about ten minutes. Please don’t win, Rhydian.

The X Factor Final 2007 - Part 1

The X Factor Final will begin in approximately five minutes. But who will win? Perhaps the answer is in the songs:


White Christmas
Better the Devil You Know (duet with Kylie Minogue)
You Don’t Know Me

That duet with Kylie is a masterstroke. Plenty of votes there. I hope Leon wins. If he does, I don’t think anyone will remember him by this time next year, but at least we’ll have forgotten about the other two as well. Small mercies.


O Holy Night
You Raise Me Up (duet with Katherine Jenkins)

Certainly a more inspiring set of songs than those of Leon. But it’s Rhydian singing them. I really really hope he doesn’t win. I don’t want to see his smarmy little face again or hear his distinctly average pseudo-classical voice. But I think he will win. Aaaaargh…


All I Want for Christmas is You
Any Dream Will Do (duet with Jason Donovan)
Breaking Free

Well, they’ve drawn the short straw with the duet. Leon gets Kylie, but SD get Jason? But Breaking Free is another masterstroke – it’s from High School Musical and will earn them the primary school vote and the uncool teenagers vote – probably that’s a lot of votes.


I'm off to watch now. I'll blog again after the perfomances and say what I think.

Jack and the Beanstalk

Last night, I went to see Jack and the Beanstalk, this year’s pantomime produced by the Edinburgh People’s Theatre. Anne, my wife, plays a glittery pink fairy, making sure love wins the day against those who are determined to raise taxes and stop everyone from having a good time. Being a fairy, she speaks in rhyme – poetry not quite up to the standard of Paul Muldoon or George Szirtes, I admit – but pantomime is always enhanced by fun and doggerel, and she gives a good performance.

I was there with a group of children, who are no doubt the best judges of a pantomime, and they loved it. Unsurprising, as the baddies (the baron and his incompetent henchmen) are really bad, but not in a way liable to give kids nightmares. In fact, my lot were more than a match for the forces of evil. They booed and hissed with enthusiasm whenever the nasty threesome came near the stage, so much that in one scene the baron stared at them and said, “Go back to Broomhouse,” the area of Edinburgh where they live (he had obviously been tipped off by the fairy…), which stemmed a predictable reaction!

Jack is convincing as the naïve boy who is determined to rescue his true love (he falls in love at first sight in a hilariously over-the-top scene – never can a dialogue have contained so many romantic clichés, deliberately of course) by climbing the beanstalk and rescuing her from a ghastly dungeon. Jack’s mum, Dame Bella (brought into the production less than three weeks ago after the original dame had to pull out), was excellent – you would never have guessed he had learned all those lines and moves in so short a time.

The singing is good too and the camp soundtrack straight out of Eurovision (usually with altered words) will give the adults a good laugh. “Fly the Flag”, the UK’s Eurovision entry earlier this year, is really well done, complete with air hostess and safety demonstration. There were a few problems with the sound, the vocals being too quiet for the music during the first few songs. That was dealt with as the play went on, but the sound people might want to make sure the levels are right from the beginning in future shows.

So if you’re looking for a panto that will engage children, but also entertain adults, Jack and the Beanstalk might be what you’re looking for. Details below:

CHURCH HILL THEATRE Morningside Road, Edinburgh
12th - 22nd December 2007 (not 16th)

Evenings at 7:00pm (not 16th or 22nd);
Matinees at 2:30pm on 15th & 22nd

Tickets: £8.00, Concessions: £7.00

Friday, December 14, 2007

Poems in This Week's TLS

If any of you pick up a copy of this week’s Times Literary Supplement (dated 14 December), you’ll find poems by three excellent writers - AB Jackson, Carrie Etter, and Robert Crawford, in amongst all the other stuff.

I’ll have to hunt down an issue myself. Apparently there is a misprint in Carrie’s poem, and they’ve printed the wrong version of Andy’s. However, I’ve read Andy’s poem, The Visitor, and it’s really good even without his final tweaks. Worth getting a copy of the TLS for.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Notes on the Christmas Poetry Pamphlet Party and Fair

I thought I’d never reach the Christmas Poetry Pamphlet Party and Fair last night. I left the house slightly late, due to family responsibilities, missed a bus and had to wait 25 minutes for the next one, which took ages to crawl through town. I arrived 40 minutes late, just in time to elbow my way through the bustle (really…) to the table I was sharing with HappenStance poet, Margaret Christie – we laid our pamphlets out and waited to see if we could sell any.

And the story of most of this event for me is one of sitting at a table. There were four sessions of live poetry – one poem per person, blocks of six or so poets – the usual mix of brilliance and hopelessness. I read Advice to the Lion Tamer on Becoming a Poetry Critic. Margaret read a really good haiku. Occasionally I got up from my table with the plan of leafing through (and perhaps buying) pamphlets on other tables but always got involved in conversations with people, so I didn’t get to read much of anything.

I met Rachel Fox, whose poems I had enjoyed in the HappenStance light verse anthology, Unsuitable Companions, which also featured my Lion Taming poem. She had produced 10 postcards, each with one of her poems on it, so I bought a set.

I ran into A.C. Clarke who told me that a sonnet of mine, The Long Stand, had been runner-up in the readers’ poll for best poem in a recent issue of Orbis magazine. This was news to me, but obviously nice to hear about. Thank you, Orbis readers!

I also bought Jo Gibson’s The Heart is Full, just out on Colin Will’s Calder Wood Press (Colin has also blogged on this event). I’d met Jo at StAnza 2007, the legendary night in the bar when famous poets like Ruth Padel and Daljit Nagra were singing Irish folk songs at the top of their voices in honour of St Patrick’s Day. It was nice to catch up with Jo again and I look forward to reading her poems.

I swapped my chapbook for one called Baz Uber Alles, by Kevin Cadwallender, who has recently moved to Edinburgh from NE England. He had read a very funny poem earlier (about an existentialist bricklayer – not in the chapbook), so I think his chapbook will be entertaining.

I asked a woman at one table whether she was interested in swapping chapbooks and she told me that she “had never thought about it,” as if a swap was an entirely new idea to her. She glanced at my chapbook and during our conversation, slipped it back to me. So I know now that “never thought about it” is clever-code for “no.” I have a policy about these things. If anyone suggests a swap to me, I always say yes. What’s the worst that can happen? I might get a lousy book in return, or the other person might hate my book. But there’s always a chance of picking up something terrific, which might lead to me buying publications by that author in the future. Everyone wins.

Surroundings got a few mentions at the event – Patricia Ace announced that everyone should read it so that they could find out what had happened at the event they had just been at (heh heh), Alan Gay mentioned it soon afterwards, and I’m sure there was a third mention…. Afterwards people asked me, “Are you the guy that does the blog?” I run these imaginary conversations in my head:

A: Are you the guy that does the blog?”
Me: Yes, and I write poetry too.
A: Well yes, but that blog sounds good.
Me: Thanks. This is my chapbook, The Clown of Natural Sorrow.
A: Uh… what’s your blog url?...

That didn’t happen. It was more like:

A: Are you the guy that does the blog?
Me: Yes. This is my card. The url is on it.

I sold 5 Clowns and 1 Unsuitable Companions (I only had one of those on me). Margaret Christie sold slightly more. Not bad really.

I have this fictional scenario in which, after this event, everyone goes out to a bar together and has a laugh. Actually, everyone gets into their cars and goes home, unless there was a secret bar that no one told me about. I waited on a bus – for ages again – and went home. A good thing probably, after all the red wine and mince pies at the event.

In any case, thanks are due to Tessa Ransford and her team for making the event happen. Perhaps we should have an International Poetry Pamphlet Day in which everyone buys a new chapbook. Or swaps one… Or at least reads one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas Poetry Pamphlet Party and Fair 2007

This is where I’ll be tomorrow early evening.

Christmas Poetry Pamphlet Party and Fair
Wednesday 12th December 2007 - 6 to 8.30pm

Phase 2 Lecture Room, Causewayside Building,
33 Salisbury Place, Edinburgh

Free entry: wine, mince pies, readings,
poetry pamphlets and cards to buy.

Poets and publishers display and read samples of their work. Plenty of opportunity for browsing, chatting and buying pamphlets…

Monday, December 10, 2007

The X-Factor 2007

Last year, I blogged quite a bit about the X-Factor (the UK version of American Idol) and Big Brother. I find reality TV fascinating – in equal measure compelling and repulsive. There is far, far too much of it. I never watch all those shows about people buying houses abroad or eating insects in fake jungles or swapping partners or being sworn at and humiliated in restaurant kitchens or hiring self-proclaimed ‘experts’ to bring their rebellious children into line etc. But the X-Factor’s brazen fast-track-to-fame mentality and Big Brother’s voyeuristic control experiments are of a different quality – often trashy but nonetheless interesting to watch.

And of course I write a lot about that place (whatever it is) that lies between the real and the unreal, the world as it is and the imagination, the living and the dead, one’s self-perception and how one is perceived by others – and reality TV occupies that place in a unique way. It gives me plenty of material, no doubt about that. Yes, I know, my attitude is all wrong. I should either love this show for what it is or switch off and read some criminally-neglected literary classic instead, because life is short and every hour is precious. But for a couple of hours a week, I crave my dose of nonsense.

Last year, when Leona Lewis hit the X-Factor stage, I guess Simon Cowell and the other judges must have been rubbing their hands in glee. They had obviously struck gold. Leona doesn’t sing the kind of music I am interested in and I hate her recent number one single, but she has an incredible voice. She was way above all the other contestants. Only Brenda, from the previous year, inexplicably voted out the week before the 2005 final, had that same star quality (and I understand Brenda now sings on Broadway).

This year, I can’t get interested. The final takes place this Saturday and I’ve been keeping an eye on the show, but the quality is way down. Every week when someone is voted off the show, I cringe when they say, “This is not the end, just the beginning for me.” The performers voted off so far this year might enjoy their fifteen minutes of tabloid fame, but I don’t see any of them enduring in the public consciousness much beyond March 2008. How many can you remember even now? Perhaps the formula has become tedious, despite the much-hyped changes of personnel in presenters and judges. I watched last Saturday’s show and saw:

Rhydian – I can’t stand this guy. People who sing pop songs in faux-operatic voices do my head in. I hate it. Why anyone likes it is beyond me. What’s more, Rhydian’s voice isn’t that good – not good enough for serious opera and horrible for pop. He is hot favourite. If he wins, it will be a victory for bad taste. If you don’t believe me, watch him singing You’ll Never Walk Alone. Will the UK prove that it has finally lost all its marbles?

Same Difference – remember Dollar? Cheesy pap, ridiculous dancing – OK for a one-off Royal Variety Show, as long as you don’t make me watch it.

Leon – this year’s ‘Ray’ (finalist last year). He sings swing in an entirely unremarkable way. He is Scottish and with the Scottish block vote, he might win. But who will care?

Niki – Niki represents the quality bar of this year’s show. She was easily the best singer of the four, but not a patch on Leona or Brenda. The show’s image-makers had also made the weird decision of making her look like a soap opera barmaid on stage. Anyway, she was voted out, so the final will be between the first three.

I will watch the final, but it will be a struggle. I can listen to the inoffensive Leon. I hope he wins. At least he is not annoying.

Fuselit Foxes

Does the thought of ‘Fox’ suddenly inspire you to write a poem or prose piece, or record a weird soundscape, or get your crayons out? You might consider sending the results to Fuselit, a sparky little publication. I know the website says the deadline for contributions is 30 November, but that’s now been extended to 31 December.

I have two 'fox' poems on the go. Whether I'll manage to finish them is another matter.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

On Dark Places

Interesting. Jane Holland has initiated an exercise on her blog to do with first-draft writing and revision. Anyone can take part. The exercise is titled On Dark Places and full details can be found there. You can also read Jane’s attempt and responses to the first-draft part of the challenge at this link. You’ve got until Wednesday 12th December if you want to give it a shot.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Scales Dog

Scales Dog, really a New and Selected Poems by Alexander Hutchison is now out, published by Salt. His last collection, Carbon Atom, much of which is included in Scales Dog, was terrific. I’m going to have to leave buying Scales Dog until January (and wouldn’t have time to start reading it until then anyway), but it looks like being one of the best collections of the year - if the rest of it is as good as the bits and pieces I've read so far.



Thursday, December 06, 2007

Thoughts on Recent Collections

Andrew Shields has been reading some of the books nominated for this year’s TS Eliot Prize and he’s done a great job of presenting Matthew Sweeney’s Black Moon and Sarah Maguire’s The Pomegranates of Kandahar so far. Well worth taking a look at.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Best Scottish Poems 2007

The list of Best Scottish Poems 2007, part of an annual series produced by the Scottish Poetry Library and chosen this year by Alan Spence, is now online.

Of the 20 poems, my favourites were:

Unaccompanied by Fiona Benson
Afterlife by John Burnside
Salvador Dali: Christ of St John of the Cross by Edwin Morgan

I enjoyed some of the others too.

I’m not going to say which ones, as I have to live in this country and don’t want to get into fistfights unnecessarily, but I thought that a few of these poems were awful

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Publishing Poetry

First off, big congratulations to fellow HappenStance poet, Matt Merritt, whose manuscript has been accepted by Arrowhead Press and will become a full-length collection in 2008. Matt’s poems are wonderfully observed and always have impact at a deep human level. It’s terrific news and well deserved.

My own manuscript is still crawling its way towards the outside world. I still haven’t sent it to any publishers, but I’m convinced now that it’s far stronger than it was a few months ago. I’ve added poems, revised a few that hadn’t quite hit the mark before, and chucked out a fair number. Thanks are due to Andrew Philip and AB Jackson for their perceptive comments on my earlier draft. Most publishers don’t want to receive a full manuscript at first – only a selection from it, the exact number of poems depending on their submission guidelines – so I’m going to have to give serious thought to which poems are the strongest. Sometimes my favourites aren’t the best ones. I'm also thinking about how to 'sell' it - how it hangs together, whether it's sufficiently distinctive (if not, there's no point in its existence).

I’ve also been printing off my favourite unpublished poems from my MS with a view to sending them to journals. I haven’t submitted a huge number of poems in the last six months or so, so I have a lot of unpublished material. The trouble now is deciding which magazines to submit to. I am making a list of potential magazines, but choosing the right poems for each magazine is really hard. My golden rule is to send only to publications I like or to publications someone I trust has recommended. That, at least, cuts down my options considerably!

I confess that I’m wary of many Internet zines. Not all of them – some are very good. But others seem to me to publish a kind of “McPoem” – worthy, decently crafted, and entirely dull – and an acceptance from any of them would be more worrying than anything else. Hmmmm, perhaps I’m being too harsh. Probably.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Carlisle HappenStance Poetry Party

The photo is from the HappenStance reading in Carlisle on Friday evening at the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery. Six of us were involved:

L-R: Matt Merritt, James Wood, Eleanor Livingstone, Trish Ace, myself, and Helena Nelson.

It was a really terrific night, one of those readings that seemed to make a connection with the audience and came alive in a way that none of us could have predicted. The first half involved each poet reading about three poems apiece. The second half constituted two poems and a few minutes of waffle about ourselves, our plans, our current activities, and in my case, this blog. If anyone from the uniquely receptive Carlisle audience has found Surroundings – a warm welcome, and thanks for a highly enjoyable evening.

[for another angle on the event, have a look at Matt Merritt’s report]

I was close to not making it at all. After waiting ages on a bus to Haymarket station, it crawled all the way, stopped at every stop, and I’d just stepped onto the platform when the train to Carlisle rolled in. The train was full, the guy next to me had BO, but my Collected James Schuyler took my mind off things. What a fantastic writer he was, my favourite of all the New York School poets, despite my only realising this in recent months.

I had met Eleanor and Helena getting on the train, and Matt was at the B&B when we arrived. We were told that Trish, her husband, James and his girlfriend, were at the Howard Bar, but they weren’t. Eventually Trish turned up, but James had disappeared. Nobody knew where he was or how to track him down. However he did turn up at the venue, a room in a spectacular Art Gallery, complete with bar and ideal acoustics.

The readings were all good – very entertaining and engaging – and the audience were terrific. They also bought loads of chapbooks. There were only three or four chapbooks left by the end of the gig. As far as I know, all of mine were bought – that’s a first!

Afterwards we tried to find food in Carlisle, but even though it hadn’t hit 10pm, the people of Carlisle had stopped eating and moved onto more liquid pursuits. We walked about the city and asked in every café and restaurant we came across, but no one would serve us. Perhaps they’d been tipped off that the poets were in town. We found an Indian restaurant that still seemed fairly lively, but were told that the chefs had just left the building. A taxi driver sent us to a Thai place that looked as if it hadn’t opened in years. There were two chip shops near the train station but it was cold and drizzly and no one wanted to wander about for any longer. We found a Subway café and bought sandwiches. Mine was laden with jalapeno chillies that set my mouth on fire. I would have gone out for a drink afterwards, but Trish ordered a hot chocolate, which suggested to me that the night was drawing to a close, and indeed, two minutes later, we were on our way back to the B&B. However, I believe Trish and her husband followed up their hot chocolate with a night on the town - one strength of good poets is the ability to do things in the wrong order.

The next morning, we all had breakfast, gathered around the table in front of the Christmas tree as if we were a family on Christmas Day – all that was missing were the crackers and daft hats. Afterwards, on the way to the station, the Salvation Army band were out playing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and other carols, so the commecialism all around us made a temporary retreat - at least until we passed a well known DVD/CD shop with the slogan on its windows, Take the Nightmare out of Christmas!, as if Christmas had been a nightmare before all these guys with their slogans came along.

Oh, and my obligatory setlist:

1. While the Moonies are Taking Over Uruguay
2. Concentration
3. Light Storms from a Dark Country
4. At the Harry Potter Launch
5. Advice to the Lion-Tamer on becoming a Poetry Critic