Friday, November 30, 2007


Check out QuickMuse if you haven’t before. Well known poets e.g. Robert Pinsky, Paul Muldoon, Glyn Maxwell and Charles Bernstein, are given 15 minutes to write a poem, and you can watch them writing it in ‘real time.’ Often really fascinating.

Meditation at Lagunitas

Robert Hass’s Meditation at Lagunitas is a poem I never get bored of reading, and Pimone Triplett’s reading of it at the link has just got me reading it again (the poem is printed in full beneath her commentary).

The first thing I read by Hass was his brilliant collection of essays on poetry, Twentieth Century Pleasures (yes, the anonymous Amazon review there is mine). Along with Michael Hamburger’s The Truth of Poetry, it’s probably the best book about poetry I’ve ever read.

I’m going to drop subtle hints to my wife that his latest collection, Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005, would make an excellent Christmas present.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

First Leg of the HappenStance Tour

Actually there only is one leg, but it should be well worth checking out if you are anywhere near Carlisle on Friday 30th November from 8pm. It’s all happening at the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery. Castle Street, Carlisle, Cumbria, CA3 8TP, which happens to be home of the Border Poets, who have organised a series of events over the next few months.

Although the venue’s website suggests that there will be four or five HappenStance poets reading, there will (as far as I remember) be six – Patricia Ace, Eleanor Livingstone, myself, Matt Merritt, Helena Nelson, and James Wood.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Tindersticks / Buried Bones

My favourite Tindersticks song, and there were so many in contention. A terrific band with an unmistakable sound.

Friday, November 23, 2007


I've posted more original poetry here in the last couple of weeks than I normally do, and here's another poem, a draft really. I don't often write poems based on true news stories, but this one begins with a real incident. It will disappear, as ever, at some point tomorrow:


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Poetry Meeting

I went yesterday evening to the inaugural meeting of the UK Poetry Society’s Edinburgh ‘Stanza.’ The idea is that members of the Poetry Society meet together once every month or two and such meetings take place locally up and down the country. I wasn’t sure what these meetings were supposed to do, other than bring people who like poetry together, and went along out of curiosity.

It was a good evening. Valerie Gillies, Edinburgh’s “Makar” (a Scottish version of city area poet laureate), was there reading a few new poems and talking about her work. Then we discussed the future of the group, what could be done that wasn’t already being done by other groups. It will be interesting to see how things develop. Options (not mutually exclusive) include asking well-known poets to come along to read their poems and appraise members’ poems, holding discussions about poets and poetic themes, exploring ways of getting poetry more into the public eye, and hosting short readings by members.

Colin Will and Alan Gay were both there, but it was also good to meet poets and readers who were not otherwise connected with the east of Scotland poetry ‘scene.’

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Daft Sonnet

OK, for anyone who missed (or indeed, anyone unlucky enough to read) the pantoum I've now erased from the post below, here's a sonnet (of a kind) about writing the pantoum. So from a formal poem, I've now moved on to meta-formal:

Muldoon could knock off pantoums with such ease
I thought I’d have a shot. The first line
found truth beneath my neighbour’s tangerine
sofa – a gift to any troubled muse! –
and the first stanza’s making was a breeze.
But by the second stanza, I began
to wish I hadn’t started this insane
form that Muldoon could knock off with such ease.

The repetitions every other line -
I know – are gifts to any troubled muse
when stuck for words. Just write the same again
and again… By the umpteenth stanza I’d begun
to lose the plot of how Muldoon with ease
found truth beneath his neighbour’s tangerine

Monday, November 19, 2007

Formal Debate

I initiated a discussion on full rhyme and metre at the Poets on Fire forum after reading a critic who dismissed writing in traditional forms as “anachronistic.” I know this issue often polarises North American writers, but I had thought that writing and publishing formal verse was uncontroversial in the UK. However, it seems as though not everyone agrees.

I guess only about 10 percent of my output is in traditional form, and I tend to go for slant rhymes and loose metre. However, the poem (a pantoum) below is unusual for me in that it uses full rhyme and fairly strict metre. Does that mean I’ll find difficulty in getting it published, outside specialised “formalist” publications (which I don’t tend to submit to anyway)? Well, I’ll see. I may do some more work on it, and then I’ll keep submitting it to the mainstream magazines until either someone takes it or I give up. Of course, it won't really prove anything if no one accepts it - it might simply not be good enough. I’ll leave it here for about 24 hours.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

We're Out!

Well, that was thoroughly depressing. It might have been easier to shrug off if Scotland had been rubbish, but they were a match for Italy all the way. Dee Rimbaud has said all that needs to be said.

Can Scotland Beat Italy?

Football is a matter of life and death to many Scots. The national self-confidence will either take a huge boost or be plunged into depression later today. Scotland only have to win a single game, with home advantage, kick-off 5pm, to qualify for next year’s European Championship. The bad news is that the game is against Italy, who happen to be the current world champions.

Scotland could have made life easier for themselves by getting a point or two from their last fixture away to Georgia, but you can always trust Scotland to make things as hard as possible for themselves.

Can we do it? On paper, the answer is definitely no. The Italians are too strong. But Scotland have upset the odds several times in the qualifying group. When the draw was made and Scotland ended up in the same group as Italy, France and Ukraine, no one gave us half a chance, but we’ve put together a string of great results - including home and away victories against World Cup runners-up, France.

My feeling is that if Italy score first, we may as well forget it. I can’t see Scotland coming from behind. Italy’s defence is one of the best in the world and they have always been adept at holding one-goal leads and hitting sides mercilessly on the break.

Some people are suggesting Italy might really thump us. I’ve even read predictions of a 4-0 Italy win. I don’t think so, mainly because I think Italy will sit back and defend if they go 2-0 (or even perhaps 1-0) up.

But if the score is 0-0 around the 60-70 minute mark, or if Scotland sneak an early goal and are still ahead around that time, then anything is possible, even against the best team in the world. It won’t be any disgrace for Scotland to go out against Italy. All the pressure is on the world champions. That might work to Scotland’s advantage.

My prediction? I think Scotland will lose 1-0. But I hope that, against all the odds, we sneak a famous victory tonight. The team have performed brilliantly and deserve a reward.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What Poetry Should...

Someone came to this blog yesterday by googling “things poems should contain.”

The reference was to my recent review of Steven Waling’s latest collection and, in particular, these lines from one of his poems:

Poetry should contain/ coffee and croissants

I hope that was helpful! It is of course the only true statement that can be made on this subject. Unless anyone can think of anything else?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Latest HappenStance Pamphlets

Five new pamphlet poetry collections are now available from HappenStance Press, all of which confirm its growing reputation as a small publisher of real quality. The books are:

Michael Munro – Poems for Alice: Michael Munro compiled the legendary ‘dictionary’ of Glasgow dialect, The Patter. But this is his first collection of poetry after 30 years of writing it.

Gregory Leadbetter – The Body in the Well: always comes at a surprising angle to the world. Some excellent writing too.

Marcia Menter - The Longing Machine: all the way from New York, the U.S. editor of cult literary magazine, The Dark Horse, shows she can write a bit herself.

Margaret Christie – The Oboist’s Bedside Book: ever wondered why the oboe seems to connect to just about everything else in life? This unusual, quirky collection makes weird sense of it all.

Ruth Pitter – Persephone in Hades: I haven’t seen this one yet myself, but it sounds fascinating. The author, who died in 1992, was the first woman to win the Queen’s Award for Poetry. This long poem records a “dark night of the soul” and “triumph of the spirit” and is described as “iconoclastic”. A forgotten classic? Not forgotten any more.

Check them out at the link…

Monday, November 12, 2007

Review: Travelator by Steven Waling

Impossible to classify, the poems in Steven Waling’s Travelator (Salt, 2007) flit between the experimentalism, play, shifting tones and unexpected leaps a reader might expect from the New York School, and an earthy, northern English, lyrical vernacular that wouldn’t sound out of place in an early Simon Armitage collection. One aspect they share is a reluctance to tie-up all the loose ends, or close with the force of aphorism, and there’s little straight, linear narrative. Instead, images juxtapose and gradually form a picture, often punctuated by gaps and missing links. The best poems almost seem to push beyond their own limits, very much like the sailors of The Prospects navigating towards a place of blessed happiness they’ve heard about, who finally touch land and find that:

whatever it was we were looking for
on this bare headland out in the ocean
has jumped ship to the next blessed isle
or the next or the next after that.

The collection is split into two sections. The first comprises a selection of ‘sonnets’ (some people might debate use of the term as the 14-line poems are unrhymed and without regular metre), which took their inspiration from a sequence by American poet, Ted Berrigan. The poems often use a ‘cut-up’ technique in which the lines in a poem are reordered. They don’t always make conventional sense, but most are compelling reading nonetheless. The cut-up phrases convey fleeting impressions. The poems leap from one impression to another, line by line and often across lines, using the vocabulary of the lyric poem, slang conversation, advice columns, and responses to news of tragedy by telephone (some of these may even be partly 'found poems', made up up of overhead conversation snippets or chopped-up phrases from newspaper articles). Phrases recur from one poem to another too, lending a tenuous unity to the sequence. An example from Advice Column:

Don’t let it get you down .... Madness is doing
the same old things
.... Since he stopped drinking
nothing about it seems funny except the way
you’re looking at things .... Poetry should contain
coffee and croissants .... Fold it up .... put it away

The artful arrangement of phrases is humorous and absurd in equal measure. The unexpected juxtapositions lend themselves to irony, but can also be utilised to explore feelings of unease, such as in The All-Purpose Stars where a relationship appears to be threatened both by what’s currently unspoken and by what should have been left that way.

Steven Waling’s poems stand at an angle to much contemporary poetry in the UK. Linear narrative isn’t a feature of many poems in this collection, although I should emphasise that they are not absurdly ‘difficult’, abstract or obscure. Waling has an ear for the music of words, a willingness to steer the poems by force of an untamed imagination, a sense of humour, and a connection with real human concerns at an emotional level. Cod, probably a cut-up poem, uses the technique not as an end in itself, but to get to the emotional heart of the matter:

on their way from Iceland emptying cargo
on the deck at Fleetwood less and less
shoals departed smaller the hunger as deep
eaten with fingers washed down with loss

The second section of the book doesn’t evidence cut-up technique with great regularity, and employs fairly conventional syntax for the most part. However, the juxtaposition of surprising images that don’t quite connect (at least, not at first) is still a strong feature in some of these poems. Other poems are nostalgic and lyrical, often beginning from a situation of sadness or alienation. I particularly liked the ‘bus-stop epiphany’ of Catching the 22, in memory of Kenneth Koch.

The characters in many poems are complex and not quite comfortable in their environment: the man commuting to a job interview who feels ill-at-ease in a world where “the lighting of lamps/ on fogbound stations breaks my heart” and “professors speak like newsreaders/chatting theology” (Through the White Hole); the vulnerable Romano outsider wandering Prague with his dreams and love of the arts – “Don’t wait for time/ to give you her hand. Go out, find/ a name for yourself: I call myself home./ My name means Gorge crossed by a bridge” (Ghosts on the Wall); the boy and his sisters looking on as a leather-clad biker, a “roaring streak of Black Lightning,” rides off with his delicate girl, the same man previously described as “reading aloud from the paper,/ that old-fashioned chivalry arm/ gentled round her waist – unnatural/ and stilted” (Before). I won’t give away the ending.

A couple of poems, Trade is Increasing and That Summer, were perhaps just too Ashbery-esque, but quite enjoyable all the same. Gorgeous, the final poem in the sequence Three Poems about Love, contained such a ham-fisted metaphor that I wondered if it had been meant as an ironic joke (but I don’t think so!). However, this collection is generally very strong, and I wouldn’t want to dwell on the few poems that didn’t hit the mark. Travelator is quite different from most collections you’ll read this year. I thought it would be the kind of book I would enjoy, but even I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Féile Filiochta

Hmmmm. I’ve tried twice now to email my entry the Feile Filiochta Poetry Competition, closing date today, and it’s twice been returned to me with the message, “Recipient’s mailbox is full.”

Clear out your mailbox, competition administrators!

***Third time lucky - I think - on Friday evening. So I may have managed to enter this competition after all. Entries were free, so there was nothing to lose.***

Boris Johnson Book of Verse

It appears that buffoon politician, Boris Johnson, has produced a collection of poems – that’s if you stretch your definition of what might be considered a ‘poem’ by several miles.

The Guardian reviewer, Stuart Jeffries, is scathing:

“As you will notice, Johnson has a gift for assonance not heard since Alexander Pope wrote the Rape of the Lock (this will be the quote they use on the paperback edition - just see if it isn't). By which I mean, there are lots of duff rhymes…e.g…

'Every child's a human being,/ not a piece of Plasticine.’

But is Jeffries scathing enough (he tried his very best, I admit)? Why does anyone put up with plonkers like Johnson, give them book deals, buy their books, vote for them?

And I thought I was half-kidding with my Johnson-Mapanje piece a few months ago. Shudder… Perhaps it gave Johnson the idea to write a bloody poetry book!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Monkey Tides

I’ve finished drafting a couple of reviews for Orbis, a UK print magazine. One of them is of Prop by Peter Jaeger, born in Montreal and now based in the UK, very much on the avant-garde side of things.

I knew I’d read something about the collection before online and then remembered it was in a mini-review by Rupert Loydell in Stride magazine (you have to go three-quarters of the way down the page to find the comments relating to Prop). Rupert Loydell comments on one of the poems, this one:

need was cooler than a shout
for drifting anchored loosely

pulling here & there
the monkey tides lap up

against the sun-bleached
logs, how they come & go--

what anchor but a yellow petal
gust of wind or even

saying, “Look at the way this…poem moves between emotion ('need'), abstraction ('monkey tides') and the purely visual & notated ('sun-bleached logs').”

I don't refer to this poem in my review, but I read it very differently. I could be entirely wrong to do so. I separated “monkey” and “tides” – so that you have this drifting matter pulling at a (real! but dead) monkey which the tides act on by lapping it against the logs. The tides (and perhaps also the monkey and logs) “come and go” and the only anchor is the inconstant petal in the wind – a fascinating final image coupled with a deliberately tailed-off fragment “and even”

When I read Rupert Loydell’s comment, I googled “monkey tides” and came up with nothing. That doesn’t mean anything in itself. Because something isn’t in Google doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist (even if some people find that hard to believe), and in any case, Peter Jaeger may have liked the idea of “monkey tides” and decided to invent the phrase. It’s certainly no stranger a phrase than the opening “need was cooler than a shout.” The appearance of an actual monkey would be unique in this book (and hence unlikely), but it’s not impossible, given that some of the poems are set in parts of the world where monkeys are plentiful.

It does make me reflect on the open-endedness of meaning in poetry. This is very different from the vagueness and lack of clarity that afflicts beginners’ poems. Peter Jaeger skews syntax and grammar deliberately to create phrases which can mean one thing or another depending on how a reader chooses to connect the words together. This open-endedness is seen as a strength by some critics, as it allows interplay between the poem and the reader. There’s no sense of definite meaning decided on by the writer. But others would demand a degree of clarity from writers, that they should try to say what they mean, or at least avoid confusion by making images sharp and clear, even if readers then bring their own interpretations to the text.

In other words, does it matter whether there’s a monkey in this poem or a specific type of tides? Does the writer have a responsibility to guide readers one way or the other, or is such confusion part of the joy and fun of poetry?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Minnie Riperton

Her high notes are legendary and the very last one in the song is almost beyond belief, but it's the emotion she puts into the song - the seeming effortlessness of it all - that made Minnie Riperton special.

And she was a one-hit wonder, dying of breast cancer at the age of 31.

"...Please stay with me while we grow old
and we will live each day in Spring
because loving you has made my life so beautiful..."

Monday, November 05, 2007

First Poetry Gig at the Great Grog

Last night’s readings at the Great Grog Bar (by Roddy Lumsden, AB Jackson, Andrew Philip and myself) went really well. I couldn’t single anyone out, as all the poets were excellent, each with a completely different style. I had hoped for just a few more people in the audience, but it wasn’t a bad number, especially given that it was the first poetry event in this venue. More importantly, everyone seemed to enjoy the show, the atmosphere was good (candles on the tables, dimmed lighting), the poetry was of high quality, and the Great Grog’s wine and draught beer was as fine as their advertising claims.

I know Andrew Shields wanted a setlist from every poet. Here's a record of my own set:

1. The Haunting
2. Accident
3. The Listeners
4. Back to Rome
5. Benediction
6. The Innocents
7. Light Storms from a Dark Country
8. How New York You Are

And AB Jackson has just emailed me his setlist:

1. Foxes
2. Office Talk
3. Acts
4. Apocypha: the Apocalypse of Judas
5. Apocrypha: Adam lay miraculous
6. Apocrypha: Abraham
7. Blackbird
8. Acoustic Mineral Wool
9. Missing
10. Lauder's Bar
11. Stammer

Roddy Lumsden has added his setlist to the comments box, but I thought I'd add it here:

1 Against Complaint
2 Shoreline Charismatic
3 Keepsakes
4 Moments of Pleasure
5 My Reptilian Existence
6 Higher Still
7 Tricks for the Barmaid
8 Ludlow
9 The Hook
10 Luck Expressed as a Fraction
11 Contagious Light
12 Against Conceit
13 Ornithogalum Dubium
14 Land's End
15 Sammy's Noodle Bar & Grill
16 Stone Tape Theory
17 A Transatlantic Creed

And finally - what you've all been waiting for - Andrew Philip's setlist.

1. The Invention of Zero
2. Man With a Dove on His Head
3. Pilgrim Variations:
i. The Departure Board
ii. Escape Velocity
iii. To the Naked Eye
iv. Eschatology for Dummies
v. Ice Storm
vi. No Thread to Follow
vii. Futurology
viii. Fire Storm
ix. Via Negativa
x. The Welcoming Committee
4. Notes to Self

Friday, November 02, 2007

Poetry Gig

Just in case any readers from around Edinburgh don’t know this is happening, I’ll paste details of this Sunday’s poetry gig at the Great Grog Bar below. It’s been publicised via the Scottish Poetry Library mailings, the StAnza mailing, Facebook, Poets on Fire, the Shore Poets, a HappenStance Launch, two blogs, and I’ve sent emails to everyone I know in the vicinity. And yet, I’m still concerned that about 5 people are going to turn up!

A great line-up of poets will be reading in the Back Lounge of the Great Grog Bar in Rose Street, Edinburgh (walk up Hanover Street, turn left at Rose Street for 30 metres).

Roddy Lumsden
A. B. Jackson
Andrew Philip
Rob A. Mackenzie

Sunday 4 November 2007, 7.30pm
Free Entry

The Poetry International website’s UK section has just given a page to AB Jackson. Some good new poems of his there. Check it out!

Nothing to do with the reading, but Richard Price now has a page on Poetry International too.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

TS Eliot Prize 2007 Shortlist

The shortlist for the TS Eliot Prize 2007 has been announced, one of the UK’s biggest awards:

Ian Duhig The Speed of Dark Picador
Alan Gillis Hawks and Doves Gallery Press
Sophie Hannah Pessimism for Beginners Carcanet
Mimi Khalvati The Meanest Flower Carcanet
Frances Leviston Public Dream Picador
Sarah Maguire The Pomegranates of Kandahar Chatto & Windus
Edwin Morgan A Book of Lives Carcanet
Sean O’Brien The Drowned Book Picador
Fiona Sampson Common Prayer Carcanet
Matthew Sweeney Black Moon Jonathan Cape

I like a few of these poets, but my first reaction is to feel it’s a rather conservative, predictable list of names.

As far as publishers go, I make the score:

Carcanet 4
Picador 3
Gallery 1
Cape 1
Chatto & Windus 1

which means 0 for Faber & Faber and Bloodaxe, and no debut on the list for Salt or Shearsman (so no Luke Kennard or Claire Crowther), let alone any of the smaller presses. That's nothing new of course.

The two surprises are Allan Gillis (whose book I must take a look at, as he lives in Edinburgh) and Frances Leviston, whose debut collection is still to be published (so impossible for me to know how good it is). **Actually, I've just realised that it was published today.**

Can Edwin Morgan do it? He probably deserves a lifetime’s service award, and there’s some great stuff in A Book of Lives, but I don’t think it’s his strongest collection.

Difficult to call. I'll say more over the next few days.

November Snakeskin

The November issue of online magazine, Snakeskin, is up. It includes two of my poems:

On the Escalator with my Daughter
Love Song from the Pot to the Kettle

Your Messages

Here’s an interesting idea from Lynne Rees and Sarah Salway. Each day of November on their blog, they invite 300-word responses to their “messages” and the best ones will be published in an anthology on bluechrome press in 2008.

Reading the guidelines and examples at the link will give you a better idea of what this is all about.