Thursday, April 30, 2009

Luke Kennard's Street Name

Good news. Salt have recently added an alphabetical search list of authors, which makes finding what you’re looking for much easier.

I just ordered Luke Kennard’s third collection, The Migraine Hotel, yesterday (along with a collection of prose poems, The Bible of Lost Pets, by Jamey Dunham). Should be good.

This article from Gists and Piths is the kind of publicity a book needs – very well done!

Needless to say, I started looking for places that had been named after me and I was initially delighted to find a small Canadian town, Mackenzie, of just over 4,000 inhabitants. I felt quite honoured, and then I read the town description:

“Situated at the south end of Williston Lake, Mackenzie is the gateway to the largest manmade lake in Canada and home to the world's largest tree crusher…”

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

First Taster for May 2009 Readings

After the first highly successful set of readings at our new venue, the Jekyll & Hyde Bar, at 112 Hanover Street, I’m looking forward to Sunday May 10th (8pm-10.15pm) when Robert Crawford, Gerry McGrath, JL Williams and Julia Rampen will be reading their poems.

You can read a bio and poem by Gerry McGrath at the link.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Nuclear Submarines

Just read this story about leaks of radioactive waste into the Gareloch from nuclear submarines. The casual MOD statement says it all really:

“The discharges into the Gareloch had no environmental consequences.”

Oh, sure thing… I also appreciated this paragraph from the news story - "Last year a radioactive waste plant manager was replaced when it emerged he had no qualifications in radioactive waste management"

Here’s my poem on the Gareloch submarines.

Sphinx Issue 10

Sphinx, issue 10 is now out and the paper version is, as usual, a terrific read. It contains an conversation between Helena Nelson and George Simmers conducted in rhyming couplets (really!), an interview with the folk at Nine Arches Press, Colin Will on setting up Calder Wood Press and, most of interesting of all, a seven-page interview with Anthony Delgrado from Bluechrome Press:

" vision of the future is one without chain bookstores, just small indies and libraries where you can browse sample copies of books, and if you want to buy one they'll either download you a copy or print you one to order... Of course, you'll have poets milling around selling their pamphlets from under their coats."

Sphinx costs only £3.50 and it’s definitely worth buying.

The online reviews section contains plenty of interesting reflections on the latest chapbooks, and includes four of my reviews:

The Purpose of Your Visit by River Wolton (Smith/Doorstop)
Didymoi by Peter Brennan (Perdika)
Lady Godiva and Me by Liam Guilar (Nine Arches)
Sky Blue Notebook from the Pyrenees (Calder Wood)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Kei Miller On Poetry

Great article here by Katy Evans-Bush containing ‘advice for a young poet’. I hope Claire at One Night Stanzas has picked up on this one!

The paragraph quoted from Kei Miller (from the excellent Iota magazine) is terrific, I think, although perhaps a “simply” would get over what I’m sure he means in this part: “poetry is never [simply] about what we say, it is about how we say it…” It's not only beginners who need to learn this, of course. I've read published collections and pamphlets where those basic points seem to have been overlooked. It’s also good to see someone (i.e. Katy) rip apart, with real style, the weird ‘Seven Steps to Becoming a Poet’ article from The Times.

Anyway, I want the Kei Miller quote here too, so:

“Now I’m not sure I can pin down three things young poets should understand – and certainly I can’t say it in any better way than such things have been said again and again: that we must read far more than we write; that poetry is never about what we say, it is about how we say it; that poetry is about making people feel things they’ve never thought before, because before our poems they never had the language to feel these feelings. And that is a huge kind of responsibility, to give people new access to their own selves. But these are big things to say, and some poets might understand the rhetoric but still never be able to do it. Perhaps such people aren’t really poets. That is a horribly damning thing to say, I know. Damning because it is so true.

“But it is a scary thing when you realise that you really can do poetry, when you realise what you are capable of doing to people through language. /So perhaps the thing I’d want to say to young poets who realise they can do it, that they can affect people, is simply one thing – don’t be afraid of yourself.”

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Opposite Of Cabbage On Peony Moon

Grateful thanks to writer, Michelle McGrane, who is featuring The Opposite of Cabbage at her Peony Moon blog, including a poem from the book, ‘The Listeners’.

After all the glitz (well, ‘glitz’ in poetry terms) of the launch and the books flying off the Salt shelves for the first few weeks, I guess a new phase has developed. The collection isn’t exactly much in the public eye, like virtually all poetry books, but I am hoping to line up a few more readings and continue to spread word on it without appearing like a self-obsessed jackass. So I’m all the more grateful to Michelle and others who write about it and perhaps even help to sell a few copies.

One funny thing was that underneath Michelle’s article on the book, in an automatically generated list of ‘possibly related posts’, I found a link to ‘Miley Cyrus is Waiting for Marriage’, Miley Cyrus being, of course (for those of you without children), tweenie superstar, Hannah Montana. My daughter is a huge fan and perhaps the automatic generator uncannily knew that. Don’t anyone dare say it must have been the ‘cabbage’ reference. That would be outrageous…

Ground Rules for Alopecia

1. To remain bald without considering your options is an unacceptable flaw.

2. The attempt to disguise baldness with toupees and comb-overs is the equivalent of destroying acne by setting your face alight over a gas hob.

3. Bald heavy metal fans are constitutionally designed to grow pigtails.

4. Hair extensions are classy. If you feel confused by this, you have failed to grasp the distinction between fakery and accessorising.

5. The vast majority of bald individuals are secret hairdressers.

6. Sinéad O’Connor and Michael Stipe became stylishly bald. The concept of manufacturing what would naturally appear disastrous is the bedrock of most capitalist enterprise.

7. Consider, in no less than 3,000 words, the link between receding hairlines and great intelligence.

8. Do not neglect a bald patch; a daily shampoo has proved invaluable therapy for alopecia deniers with self-esteem issues.

9. Baseball caps are useful hiding places for bald rappers.

10. Monks do not shave their heads for reasons of humility or to profess a lack of vanity, but because God is bald.

11. Accountancy represents the sum total of meaningless existence. Bald accountants represent the same sum in negative terms.

12. Phil Collins and Elton John became bald at a point in their careers when this no longer mattered. They were ready to bland out. The bald cannot aspire to critical acclaim.

13. Elton resorted to expensive hair transplants. Perhaps he wanted to return to his early 70s form, but eventually settled for a wig. We knew the bald Elton too well for any greatness to come of it.

14. A knotted handkerchief on the head will lose you any last vestiges of sympathy.

15. Patrick Stewart is the exception to every rule.

16. Every poem you read will steal a hair from your head.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why The Classics?

Now and again I read a poem which compels me to think about what poetry can achieve and, from there, to think about what any artistic endeavour can achieve. It easy to make grand claims for poetry (and enough people have done and continue to make such claims) or to suggest that, given its tiny readership, it doesn’t really matter at all.

The poem I have in mind doesn’t allow such simple answers. It’s a terrific poem in itself. Why the Classics? by Zbigniew Herbert (originally from his 1969 collection, Inscription, and translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott) isn’t arguing that we should only read the classics. It’s asking what’s important about art, about what really matters in life. The final stanza at the link (it’s the second poem down) is misquoted. That section of the poem should read:


if art for its subject
will have a broken jar
a small broken soul
with a great self-pity

what will remain after us
will be like lovers’ weeping
in a small dirty hotel
when wallpaper dawns

Herbert is contrasting this with Thucydides whose military endeavours failed to save his city. He paid for his mistake with exile from the city. Modern day generals would whine instead, says Herbert. So full of self-pity, they would blame others. Thucydides, in his fourth book on the Peloponnesian war, offers no such excuses. Then come the final stanzas, quoted above.

They are completely devastating, I think. They call so much of modern literature into question. I reflect on some poems I have written too… On the other hand, they also suggest that art doesn’t have to have broken souls full of self-pity as subject, that we can all learn something from Thucydides, and that artistic endeavour, including poetry, can find real vitality and importance. The key is not so much even about subject-matter, more an approach to writing a poem, an authenticity. Self-pity is usually a disguise for self-aggrandizement, in any case a step away from how things really are.

Poetry At The Jekyll & Hyde

I felt a few nerves before Sunday evenings readings at Poetry at the… Jekyll and Hyde. I arrived back in Edinburgh in the early evening and went straight to the venue where I was meeting a few people to talk about something else.

It was a new venue. How would the sound be once it filled up? How was visibility? Atmosphere? Would people come? I needn’t have been concerned. The acoustics were excellent, there was a great atmosphere, everyone could see and hear well, and the bar was at almost full capacity. I suppose that’s the one remaining concern - not much room to grow, although that’s not an unpleasant problem to have.

One aspect which never worried me was the quality of readers and none of them disappointed. Four terrific readings from Ryan Van Winkle, Kevin Cadwallender, Claire Crowther, and Nigel McLoughlin. They are all very different poets. Each played to their strengths and read very well. Plenty of positive feedback from the audience. Some of Nigel’s friends from Edinburgh told me they never attended poetry readings but had thoroughly enjoyed all the poets. That’s the kind of reaction I like to hear! It was also good to see several folk in the audience I’d never seen before and to catch up with friends. I do try to make everyone feel welcome and, when people come on their own (not everyone’s friends would consider going to a poetry reading), I try to introduce them to other people. I’m now looking forward to the next event on Sunday May 10th.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Review of Judith Bishop's 'Event'

I got back yesterday evening from our week in North Derbyshire where many of my in-laws stay and went straight to the Jekyll & Hyde for an excellent evening of poetry. More about that later. I also have ideas for blogging on the behaviour of people on public transport and I’ve been unable to banish the words of a particular Zbigniew Herbert stanza from my mind, so I’ll write about that too. Not all today, mind you.

My review of Judith Bishop’s ‘Event’ is now up at Stride magazine. This is a wonderful debut collection.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fourth Taster

You can now read a poem and bio by Kevin Cadwallender at the ‘Poetry at the…’ site. Kevin will be reading at the Jekyll & Hyde (112 Hanover Street) this Sunday 19th April from 8pm along with Nigel McLoughlin, Claire Crowther and Ryan Van Winkle. Completely unmissable.

I hope Bob Dylan is reading at the link!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Third Taster for 19th April 2009

You can now read a poem and bio from Nigel McLoughlin from the ‘Poetry at the…’ (formerly ‘Poetry at the Great Grog’) site. Nigel will be reading at the Jekyll & Hyde bar, 112 Hanover Street, on Sunday 19th April from 8pm along with Claire Crowther, Kevin Cadwallender and Ryan Van Winkle.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Thirty Poems In Thirty Minutes

NaPoWriMo involves writing 30 poems in the 30 days of April. I decided to have my own microcosmic challenge this month by writing 30 poems inside 30 minutes. The result is um...mixed...mainly painful. What else could I expect? But I'm going to post them anyway for posterity. So...

Thirty Breakfast Poems


There’s nothing special about K.
It softens in your bowl.
You gain weight.


Give me bacon for wrapping round parcels,
eggs for those stubborn skulls.


The lovers showed clear distaste for French toast
and still dipped it in their coffee.


I am no friend to the ghost of apple juice,
the glass which expects
emptiness every morning.


It is time to re-evaluate fruit salad
as a method of spreading confusion.


The old woman
swears longevity stems
from a morning pint of Budvar


No one likes black pudding
but still we eat it
sentimental over past mistakes.


No milk in the fridge.
Last night’s pizza, then.


The angel saw me as a glass of milk
and stole only the glass.


The barista tells me she’d never date
a man who drinks cappuccino after noon.


I remember my first plate of muesli.
Without the Swiss, we would have been spared
the invention of the cereal bar.


I like to whisper secrets to my toast.
If I bite them carefully,
they resemble ears.


A wasp is hiding in the marmalade,
last year’s wasp. We all
so envy the wasp.


“Wine in the morning
and some breakfast at night”
Lou Reed sang,
but forgot to tell us
what he had for breakfast.


The traffic is in a rush
we eat in a rush,
the coffee gives us a rush
and while we think about this
no one moves.


Cereal bars are good
for blocking keyholes.


‘A Shreddie is a squashed brown
snowflake,’ said the great
spiritual guru, and now
they are units of currency.


My love for you is like a yoghurt pot
full of holes and yet
worth peering through.


If the radio is on
family life is coming
to an end, but perhaps otherwise
the radio would be lonely.


I keep humming songs
from Children’s TV
I watch over breakfast.


An astrologer wants to tell
my fortune from toast crumbs,
burnt-out constellations.


I now use a plastic spoon for breakfast.
It reminds me of medicine.


My cereal bowl is black.
Her cereal bowl is blue.
I want her cereal bowl
but cannot give up my own.


There is no butter left
in the fortress.
I lick dry fingers.


Raspberry jam seeds between my teeth.
I cannot kiss you
knowing they exist.


Our kitchen clock is cheap
but keeps bad time.
The difference between good and bad
cannot be found there.


I eat in my pyjamas.
Sometimes I eat my pyjamas.


If I eat breakfast in bed, I know
crumbs will linger like longing.


The same jay cloth has washed the plates
for years. It has developed a personality
similar to your artistic eggcup.


I have slept in and missed breakfast.
For this, we are all truly thankful.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

NaPoWriMo 2009

I’m doing the NaPoWriMo challenge for the fifth year in a row, thirty poems in thirty days of April. I’ve been dragging myself from bed extra early each morning. So far so good: some very promising drafts, some throwaway ones. The first batch each contain a corrupted line from Gerard Manley Hopkins. I’ve just moved onto a few ‘Underwood poems’. I plan also to write a few ‘nocturnes’, and no doubt I’ll churn out a few bits of nonsense on days when inspiration entirely deserts me. I also plan, at some point in the month, to write thirty poems inside thirty minutes, a high pressure, high speed act of idiocy. I might even post the result to this blog, possibly as a warning to anyone tempted to follow suit.

Second April 2009 Taster

Ryan Van Winkle is reading at the Jekyll & Hyde bar (what used to be ‘Poetry at the Great Grog’) on Sunday 19th April, along with Nigel McLoughlin, Claire Crowther and Kevin Cadwallender. Should be terrific. You can now read a poem and bio from Ryan (Claire’s is already up).

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

New Venue; New Readings

Over at the Poetry At The… site, you can read a poem and bio from Claire Crowther, who will be reading on 19th April (from 8pm) along with Nigel McLoughlin, Kevin Cadwallender and Ryan Van Winkle.

We’ve moved from the Great Grog Bar. Events will now take place at the Jekyll & Hyde pub (its ‘cellar bar’) at 112 Hanover Street. As you can tell from the link, it’s quite a place!

Monday, April 06, 2009

More On Young Poets

I’ve been commenting, no doubt at more length than necessary, on the ongoing young Scottish poets debate over at One Night Stanzas.

My main points are – high quality will be key to the success of any young poets pamphlet series in Scotland; there are no “right people to know” other than people you sense an affinity with in any case; if you want to be part of a local poetry scene, you have to make an effort to join in. The ball is in your court; publishers and editors always want new talent, but simply aren’t going to scour the internet to find it; there’s a huge amount of goodwill out there towards young and emerging poets; if people do all the self-publicity stuff and the poetry isn’t good enough, it will mean nothing.

It could be that I'm not quite right on some of these matters, but I thought I'd throw out a few ideas.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Salt In The Times

I didn’t really expect my book to be reviewed in The Times ('The London Times’ to those of you outside the UK), but there you go. Who knows how these things happen?

Before the review, I was an obscure but hard-working, off-kilter but well-meaning poet from Scotland. Now I am rising to my new role as a self-conscious, densely populated war poet who matches content to form by avoiding the definite article.

Of course, it ìs great to see Salt titles being reviewed by the national press. Good stuff! Today it’s been Josephine Balmer and myself. Next Saturday, you can read reviews of new collections by Luke Kennard and Olivia Cole. I’ve been looking forward to reading LK’s new collection for ages, so I’m glad it’s almost here.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Tchai Ovna Reading

On Friday 3rd April (tomorrow) from 8pm, I’ll be reading from The Opposite of Cabbage at Glasgow’s West End Tchai Ovna Café (directions at the link). I’ll be reading with Tessa Ransford, Colin Will and Jim Ferguson. Come along if you’re in the area. It sells a huge variety of strange teas and the atmosphere is straight out of a sixties psychedelic movie.

Rosemary Tonks Broadcast

Great to listen to Radio 4’s Rosemary Tonks: the Poet who Vanished over lunchtime today (from today, there are still nine days left to listen to it). I first read a Tonks poem, ‘Sofas, Fogs, and Cinemas’ in The Firebox anthology from 1998 and really liked it.

The story of her disappearance from public life after two collections in the sixties (46 poems in total) has fascinated me ever since. It’s almost inconceivable that any public figure could disappear quite so completely today, I think. The radio show, as well as broadcasting several poems (she was really posh, which I hadn’t realised, although obviously less prim, more bohemian), does actually contain a few grains of information about her current situation. Perhaps it’s better just to be content with the poems she’s published than speculate on what’s going on with her, although the poems are not exactly easy to track down.

Speaking of tracking things down, I have managed to get hold of Michael Hofmann’s first collection, ‘Nights in the Iron Hotel’. If you check on Amazon, it will set you back around £20 for one of those, often far more, so I’m very pleased to have found a copy. The Selected Hofmann begins with ‘White Noise’ and I was taken aback to see that it doesn’t appear in the original book until page 21.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Lost Thomson Poem Found

Amazing! A lost poem from cult Scottish iconoclast and poet, R.D. Thomson (1923-67), has been recovered from a torn A5 sheet of paper stuck between the covers of an old housewives’ manual on a Edinburgh charity shop bookshelf. A customer was leafing through the book and discovered the yellowing manuscript.

It would have marked a radical new direction for Thomson who abandoned poetry in 1953 to concentrate on his cardboard-abstract installations, which he exhibited to coincide with heavy rainfall, that way ensuring a necessary transience. The poem is dated 1967 and could have been written shortly before Thomson’s suicide that year. The author’s favoured themes are all present – liquid, late capitalism and latent violence – but the writing, while avant-garde for its time, is more compressed and less centred on himself than Thomson’s earlier experiments with the onomastic school.

Here is the poem, which is, as you would expect, without title:

steel gothick, penthouse lagging, this means

bones cooking on the stove beans to sludge

ex tempore coercion the hour of pinafore

off colour shotgun aimless and fragile

spend drift water spill banks of mount caramel

halfway between hubris and superego

trickle down the blossoming weed and root

cannibals kill for scrapings from sugar planes

pink depression a working pipe immaterial

hey mac shoot me shoot me in a frame baby

self consciousness becomes you takes flight

clear case of towelling institutional hidrosis

It seems that a certain Barbara G. McCreadie of the Scottish Literature Project has already condemned the poem as “obscure, pointless and enough to put any child off reading poetry for life.” She’s obviously missed the playfully ironic switches of tone and register, the subtle connections and echoes between the fragmented images and, most of all, the searing relevance the poem has in these days of recession, protest and credit crunch. And the final line is a killer.