Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Suona per Te

Alexander Hutchison writes:

This is to let you know about an event on the evening of Thursday May 8th at 6pm (note new time!) in the Italian Cultural Insitute, 82 Nicolson Street, Edinburgh. I have been working with Alessandro Valenzisi on Italian versions of my poems – and we will be reading from and commenting on a selection of the poems and translations.

In the first part of the evening Professor Jonathan Usher of Edinburgh University has been invited by the Director of the Institute, Dr Luigino Zecchin, to provide an introductory critique and talk about the poems, and there will be an opportunity to put questions at some point to all participants.

Refreshments will be provided, and members of the audience will also receive a presentation copy of a booklet Suona per Te, printed specially for the occasion.

I do hope you will manage to make it along on the night!

If you are planning to go, can you RSVP the Italian Cultural Institute
on iicedimburgo [AT] so they have an idea of numbers.

I certainly plan to be there. It should be really good.


Yesterday afternoon I heard a radio announcement on the line-up at this year’s Glastonbury music festival. There were to be several “surprise acts”, the DJ said, including “Shakin’ Stevens, Leonard Cohen, and Gilbert O’Sullivan.”

My jaw dropped. Why is mention of Cohen sandwiched between two singers from the 70s and 80s who, at best, will be ironic retro novelty acts? Why is it such a surprise that Cohen, who has written and recorded his material over decades, and continues to do so, might be asked to perform his stuff?

Beats me.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Shore Poets April 2008 Review

Pretty good night at the Shore Poets yesterday.

The musician was a guy called Callum More, a guitarist – rootsy, bluesy material – good stuff.

I hadn’t heard of Julie Sheridan before, but she read well. Her best poems had a precision that made them come alive in the mind, and she revealed a keen ear for the sound and rhythm of words. I enjoyed most of what she read. Lots of beaches and shore-life, so very apt for the Shore Poets too.

Next up was Andrew Philip and, despite only just recovering from a stomach bug, Andy gave a typical performance – intense, mysterious, reflective. He read a few new poems, which were strange and mesmerising. Whatever Andy is doing, it’s quite distinct from what anyone else seems to be doing, and I’ve no doubt that’s a good thing.

Colin Will was the headline poet. He’d had a sore throat and kept having to sip water, but it didn’t detract from his reading. It’s obvious that Colin’s poems are not just written for show. The combination of craft and feeling is in good balance. The poems have a deceptive simplicity and directness about them, but also real impact.

So another fine night of poetry. Is there no end to fine nights of poetry in Edinburgh at the moment?

May Taster

At the 'Poetry at the Great Grog' site, I’ve posted a bio and poem from one of the readers at the next Great Grog gig on Sunday 11th May – Claire Askew.

More poems and bios to follow.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Poetry at the Great Grog - May 2008

I had planned to bypass May at the Great Grog, skipping straight to the 8th June. However, there now will be a Great Grog gig in May!

The date will be Sunday 11th May from 8pm at the Great Grog Bar on 43 Rose Street, Edinburgh. And the programme is excellent:

Alan Gillis (his latest collection, 'Hawks and Doves', was nominated for this year's TS Eliot Prize)
Sally Evans (editor of Poetry Scotland and author of several collections, including her latest, "The Bees," just out)
Barbara Smith (debut collection, 'Kairos', was published by Doghouse Press last year)
Claire Askew (21 years old, poetry soon to be published in the Edinburgh Review)

An updated programme for 2008-09 is now up at the Poetry at the Great Grog site.

Shore Poets - April 2008

This Sunday 27 April, the Shore Poets readings promise to be really good. You can hear Colin Will, Andrew Philip, and a poet as yet unknown to me, Julie Sheridan.

This takes place from 7.45pm at the Mai Thai cafe bar, 111 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AE (down the lane from the Scottish Poetry Library). I’ll be there.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Audience for Poetry

It’s easy to say that I would like people who don’t normally read much poetry to pick up my stuff and enjoy reading it. I guess most poets would like to reach beyond the traditional poetry audience.

But how to go about that? It’s got nothing to do with any “difficulty vs. accessibility” debate, nothing to do with the poetry itself (with the proviso that the poetry is good quality). It must be to do with getting one’s poetry in the public eye, getting it noticed by those other than habitual poetry fans. It must be to do with marketing, attracting new audiences, a touch of evangelism. As I’ve observed before, people who don’t read poetry sometimes find they like it when they do.

Practically, how can poets draw readers who would rarely think of opening a poetry book or going to a reading?

Herring Song

How about a song to start the week? This is poet, Alexander Hutchison, caught on film by Frisian poet and film-maker, Elmar Kuiper, during the StAnza International Poetry Festival this March.

Kuiper made other short films at StAnza too, mainly using poetry, with:

Jim Carruth
Eleanor Livingstone
Brian Turner
Eddie Gibbons
Alexander Hutchison
Rab Wilson
Odveig Klyve

and here’s an experimental short he showed at the Leeuwarden Film Festival.

Future Primitive

Friday, April 18, 2008

After the Events

Last night, the award ceremony and readings for the Scottish National Galleries creative writing competition went really well. It was professional without being stressful, and the speeches from the organisers and the main sponsor – the Scottish Qualifications Authority (good on those people for their generous support of initiatives like this!) were warm, short and well done.

The commended writers and the second and first placed writers all read their piece in turn while the artwork that had inspired each one was displayed on a giant screen. The writers in the ‘unpublished’ category read first. I’ve got to say that I was astonished that some of those people were unpublished! They won’t be in that situation for long if they submit their stuff. Good to hear poems from Anna Dickie and the winner, Andrew (not ‘AB’) Jackson. Then it was the turn of the ‘published’ category. Some good stuff here too, of course, from the likes of Alan Gay and the winner, Ian McDonough, whose poem was well worth the first place. My reading was fine, and the prize was great – a illustrated book from the Gallery of Modern Art, a book of Scottish poems, a beautiful anthology featuring paintings and poems from two previous years of the competition, and a selection of tickets-for-two to various art exhibitions.

I talked to Elizabeth Gold (one of the stars of last Sunday's Great Grog readings) and a few other folk at the reception. Then I rushed up the road to hear the tail-end of Robert Crawford’s reading and discussion, which was very good. That review which suggested his new poems lacked “personal feeling”? Don’t want to go on about this, but what a load of nonsense! As early as page 4 in Full Volume, you get:

The Change of Life

Sometimes full volume is a breathy whisper.
‘There’s something I need to say.’ You tilt your ear

Towards love’s ensuing, lifelong pent-up silence
Crackling with all you want, but fear to hear.

That’s just superb!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Full Volume and the National Gallery

I’m hoping to get to the Scottish Poetry Library at 7pm this evening where Robert Crawford will be reading and talking about his work. His new collection, Full Volume, looks great from what I’ve seen of it (as yet, I’ve only read a few poems). It certainly received an extremely warm review from Sean O’Brien in The Guardian.

Another review I read, in The Scotsman (halfway down the page), suggested that the collection lacked “personal feeling” and was more a “riot of cleverness”. I really doubt that (even at a casual glance, the collection displays deep concern for the ecological balance of the world and for personal beliefs), but I’ve never been one to feel that a poem is simply a repository for personal emotions in any case. What’s so terrible about “cleverness”, word gymnastics, and fire-cracking sonic display in poetry? There is too much casual acceptance of poetry which taps into personal emotion with flat diction, which lacks flair and imagination when it comes to word-choice and syntax, and which pays little attention to the subtleties of sound and rhythm.

I think Robert Crawford is one of the best writers in the UK at the moment and I’m very much looking forward to hearing him read.

(nice to see HappenStance author, Cliff Ashby, get an excellent review in that same Scotsman round-up, mind you. Because I disagree with a reviewer over one review doesn't mean that I won't feel pleased at another, even on the same page!)

The slight catch in all this is that I’ll be at the readings for the Scottish National Galleries Competition beforehand, and will read my poem. These start at 5.30pm, and there’s a reception afterwards. I’ll have to sprint up to the SPL to get there on time. Maybe I'll sneak in late.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Virtual Poetry Audience

I’ve read several articles recently on blogging, on what makes for a good blog, on how often to write blog posts, on how to increase one’s blog readership etc, particularly with regard to blogs about poetry and other forms of literature.

Jim Murdoch wrote an excellent post on the subject, which was taken up by Andy Philip.

I’ve never really gone about blogging in a strategic way. It’s good to know that people read my blog, but I’ve never even tried to reach a mass audience. To attract even a modest number of readers each month to any blog requires huge effort and I have to save my time and effort for other activities.

Anyway, I glanced at the “Blogs of Note” column on my Blogger dashboard and, to my surprise, saw that a site called Poem of the Week was listed. I went there and discovered it was pretty much what I might have expected. The blog author posts one poem each week, usually by a well known or emerging poet. The poems are usually of good quality.

Leaving aside copyright issues, what I found most interesting were the comments sections. Because of its “Blog of Note” status, there have been a large number of comments on the last few posts – many from people who don’t seem to know how many poetry blogs there are out there. Comments like “Great idea!” for example. And there are many people commenting on how great it is to find poetry on this site and how much they love reading poetry. Clearly, there is a much larger audience for poetry than poets and critics often assume. But unless people are pointed to the right places where good poetry is available, they don’t know how to find what they are looking for. But when they do find it, many like it and some are surprised to find themselves liking it.

So, clearly, poetry-related blogs could be far more popular than they actually are, if only they could find ways of tapping in to that large pool of potential readers. That “if only” is a big task.

Sunday's Great Grog Poetry Event

I suppose it’s almost inevitable that after a Poetry at the Great Grog event, I will tell everyone how good it was.

But I’m not making it up. Each gig so far really has been terrific and the poetry of a very high standard. I’ve been delighted with how things have gone so far. I need help though! I’m going to try to put a team together, so that the tasks that need done can be done better.

Sunday’s readings – by Tom Pow, Joy Hendry, Margaret Christie, and Elizabeth Gold – were excellent. I couldn’t single anyone out. Everyone read their poems brilliantly, and the audience were blown away, as the emails, messages and phone calls I’ve received today testify.

Andy Philip has written a fine report and Colin Will has agreed with him. I can’t really add much to what Andy and Colin have written.

On Sunday 8th June, the line-up is really strong: Kapka Kassabova, Mike Stocks, Eleanor Livingstone, and Jim Carruth.

I hadn't originally planned anything in May, but... Watch this space.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

National Poetry Competition 2008 - Sinéad Morrissey

Interesting to read Carol Rumens’s comments on Sinéad Morrissey’s poem, Through the Square Window (you can read its full text at the link), which has won this year’s UK National Poetry Competition.

When I first heard that Sinéad Morrissey had won the competition, I was very pleased, as I had really enjoyed her last collection, The State of the Prisons, one of my favourites from 2006 when I read it.

But when I first read this winning poem, I was less sure. Is it any good? Carol Rumens doesn’t really think so. I glanced through the comments after her post but got fed up very quickly – too much inane stuff.

So I’ve read it a few times. One of the things people seemed stuck over was the final image of the narrator waking with a cork stuffed in her mouth, and it bewildered me at first. But now I have an idea.

The poem is about death and, more to the point, it’s about how death seeks to inhabit us and threaten us. The dead arrive, in a dream, at N’s house “to wash the windows”. Clouds also gather, and at times the dead and the clouds appear practically synonymous. They threaten her baby son, but he is untroubled by the battering on the window. Then they go away, but leave behind “a density in the room,” which makes breathing (in the dream) difficult. It’s as if water from the clouds (which are the bringers of death) has flooded the room. But then N wakes up with this cork in her mouth “like a herbalist’s cure for dropsy.”

Dropsy is excess fluid in the body. One old superstition was that a toad should be reduced to ashes and the ashes bottled, but no other element should be allowed to mingle with those pure ashes. The ashes would be taken by the patient three times a day. So the narrator is the remedy or, more accurately, the superstitious attempt to ward off this growth of water in the body, this incremental death. But I think that the dead have indeed breached the defences of the room. They’ve gained ground, and no mere superstition is going to hold them back forever.

The title contains an image of innocence, as it references a UK television programme for young children. What looks like a “shining exterior” (S5 L1) is actually the dead “sluicing and battering and paring back.” (S4 L3) While the baby is indeed “inured” (S4 L2) from reality, the narrator certainly isn’t, and the closing image is one of conscious horror – not a dummy/pacifier, but a cork and a mouth “stopper-bottled.”

As far as craft goes, I have several issues with the poem, some of which mirror Carol Rumens’s reaction:

S1 L3 – the final “with” is surely unnecessary.

S2 – I can’t fathom the reason for the comparison with Delft. The poem doesn’t revisit the town and I can’t see how it illuminates the image of stacked clouds in Lough.

S3 L2 – the line-break on “his” is odd. What’s the point of breaking the phrase there?

S5 L2 – I just don’t understand this image of the rag in teeth “like a conjuror”, mainly because I can’t remember ever seeing a conjuror with a rag in his/her teeth. But maybe Sinéad Morrissey has done!

S8 – Although I can (I think) make sense of the final image, it seems rather contrived. It’s a nightmarish vision, like a bad dream that continues into waking life, and I see why the water image beneath the skin is relevant, as death has also crept in. It’s a jolt of an image, it made me think, it was surprising, but it feels contrived nonetheless, something labouring to fit the demands of the poem rather than emerging naturally from it.

So I’m in two minds about the poem. I’m still glad that Sinéad Morrissey won, as I like her stuff a lot. I think the poem has a definite appeal. But a winner?

(by the way, no NaPoWriMo 'thread of the day' today. This instead!)

Monday, April 07, 2008

Paradise Lost Schedule

I finished reading PL in March, as planned, and made notes so that I could complete my reflections on this blog. However, due to NaPoWriMo and various other assignments, I don't have the energy or time to commentate on PL this month.

However, in May, I will start posting on PL again until I finish the task I began. Promise.

NaPoWriMo 2008 Thread of the Day: 6th

Lots of good stuff to choose from, but Scavella’s thread gets my vote today.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Final Great Grog Taster: 13 April 2008

Click on the link for a poem and bio from the fourth and final reader at the Great Grog Bar on Sunday 13 April. Joy Hendry: poet, editor of Chapman, and a whole lot more besides!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

NaPoWriMo 2008: Thread of the Day: 5th

What must it be like to be inside the mind of sefton? Hard to imagine… But these poetic soundtracks to scenes of movies that don’t exist give us all some idea. And it’s not a bad place to be.

Poetry at the Great Grog Poster

Take at look at this great publicity poster, designed by Iain McCaig. Fantastic!

Friday, April 04, 2008

NaPoWriMo 2008 - Thread of the Day: 4th

Jee Leong Koh has been going at this from before April, so there’s a fair number of poems already done on his Glass City theme. The form is interesting – a kind of cross between a sestina and a sonnet, known as a “quartina” apparently. It’s also a sequence, the last line of one poem becoming the fist line of the next. Ambitious, strange, different. It certainly stands out from the pack.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

NaPoWriMo 2008 - Thread of the Day: 3rd

Always nice to find really good poems written by someone previously unknown to me. That’s certainly the case with David Wright’s first couple of ekphrastic poems for NaPoWriMo 2008. I’ll be reading through the month with interest.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Paradise Lost - Part 23

Back to Paradise Lost in one month again, which I finished on holiday on 28 March. I’m going to blog through sections of roughly 200 lines until I’ve got to the end. This one is from Book 9, Line 1017 until the end of Book 9, at line 1189.

Adam and Eve have now both eaten the forbidden fruit and they’re on fire. Who wouldn’t be? Two beautiful people, in love, suddenly realising they’re stark naked. What’s more, they’re high on the fruit, drunk really, and are ruing the pleasure they believe they’ve lost through their previous abstention from eating. Adam says, “But come, so well refreshed, now let us play.” (L 1027) Sex before the fall was pretty amazing, and there’s argument between the experts over whether this sex after the fall achieves anything by way of contrast. Fowler says the “now let us play” is perfunctory, even “crude”, and I suppose that might be how Milton viewed it. Could it be a pun on “let us pray?” But I don’t know. They fall into “earth’s freshest, softest lap” and take “their fill of love.” (L 1041-42), which sounds OK. On the other hand, it does recall the woman of Proverbs chapter 7 who entices a young man into adultery with the words, “Come let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves,” which Milton also echoes in L 1043-44 (“their mutual guilt the seal,/ the solace of their sin”).

It’s only when they wake up that they feel horror and shame, the come-down from the drunken high, and they want, naturally enough, to hide from God. Adam is inconsolable (L 1080-90):

How shall I behold the face
Henceforth of God or angel, erst with joy
And rapture so oft beheld? Those heavenly shapes
Will dazzle now this earthly, with their blaze
Insufferably bright. O might I here
In solitude live savage, in some glad
Obscured, where highest woods impenetrable
To star or sunlight, spread their umbrage broad,
And brown as evening: cover me ye pines,
Ye cedars, with innumerable boughs
Hide me, where I may never see them more.

They cover their private parts with leaves and begin arguing over who was to blame. Milton gets the psychology spot on. Eve accuses Adam of not being firm enough in stopping her from going away to work by herself. If he had done what he ought to have done, the snake wouldn’t have found its opening. Adam plays his trump card by suggesting this doesn’t say much for her so-called love for him. These arguments and the way they’re conducted don’t change much down the centuries! The relationship is well on the rocks, and I guess "fruitless hours" must have been an irresistable pun (L 1187-89):

Thus they in mutual accusation spent
The fruitless hours, but neither self-condemning
And of their vain contest appeared no end.

Two Bens

Another Paradise Lost entry coming later.

But first, I couldn’t let this pass. I was skimming through the new issue of Poetry Review (Spring 2008) and read with interest a review of John Ashbery’s Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems. At the end of the review, I was amazed to read this credit:

"Ben Wilkinson recently completed a doctoral study of John Ashbery at the University of Kent."

And I had always thought that Ben had been working on the ‘New Generation’ poets at Sheffield! Dumbstruck at Ben’s double life, I turned back a page to find that the review had in fact been written by Ben Hickman and the end credit had been a mistake.

All the same, Ben, good to know that the creators of Poetry Review just can’t get you out of their heads (as Kylie would say)!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Great Grog April 2008 Taster

I’ve just posted a new poem and bio up at the Poetry at the Great Grog site – the third of the four readers for April 13th from 8pm: Margaret Christie. Have a look.

NaPoWriMo 2008

It’s (Inter-)National Poetry Writing Month, otherwise known as NaPoWriMo. The idea is to write a poem on every day of April. I’ve done it three years running, but this year I’ve decided to challenge myself to write a single poem – in around thirty sections - over the thirty days. Given that the longest poem I’ve ever written so far clocks in at about 70 lines, this is unknown territory for me.

Anyway, I’ve started a NaPoWriMo thread for this poem and I’ll add to it each day. I’ll also build an index of links for each day at the beginning of the thread to make it easy to find each daily section. If I run out of steam halfway, I’ll need a new idea quick!