Sunday, August 31, 2008

September 2008 Taster

You can read a bio and poem by Charlotte Runcie at the Poetry at the Great Grog site. Good stuff, I think. Also details of the next reading (14th September) and much more…

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lounge Kylie

It seems to have become Kylie week on this blog, or at least ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ Week. We’ve had Teeny Disco Kylie, my corrupt Kylie poem, Spoken-Word Kylie, and now here’s Lounge Kylie, which probably tops them all.

Kylie’s greatest ever musical moment came on the same show – this is a genuinely terrific performance.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Kylie Minogue, Poetry and Purity

Following the Kylie Minogue post below, I had a vision this morning and immediately felt shocked by my own thoughts, tainted as they were by the celebrity-fuelled commercialism I claim to despise (although I somehow seem to know far more about the lives of celebrities than I ought to).

This was the vision – a poetry collection (with my name on it, as author, I suspect) called I Should Be So Lucky with a big picture of a smiling Kylie on the front. How would that affect sales? Would it fly off the shelves, or would people throw it down in disgust when they realised it contained poems? Would habitual poetry fans warm to the whole idea of selling poetry by this method, or would they organise book-burning parties (no, these poets wouldn't go to 'parties' - book-burning rallies then), enraged at such a crass marketing ploy? Such a book would certainly stand out a mile on the poetry shelves.

Of course, I realise that it couldn’t happen. Kylie (or, more likely, Kylie’s agent) wouldn’t allow it, certainly not without far more cash changing hands than any poetry press is worth. But in any case, I then felt appalled at myself for even thinking it. This is poetry, not some cheap hairspray a celebrity wouldn’t dream of using, other than during the TV ad.

But, on the other hand, if Kylie offered her photo free for a front cover, would (or should) a poetry press refuse it – if it puts poetry books in the hands of people who would normally never think of reading any? Or are other considerations more important?

with grateful thanks to Dick Jones for directing me to this excellent video clip.

Poetry at the Great Grog Returns!

Summer is drawing to a premature and very wet end here in Edinburgh, but the bright side is that Poetry at the Great Grog will be back very soon – on Sunday 14th September from 8pm, to be exact. It’s a sterling line-up, I think, an event not to be missed!

Michael Schmidt
Helena Nelson
Dorothy Baird
Charlotte Runcie

At the link above, you can find the (almost complete) 2008-09 programme down the left-hand column. Click on any name to get further information.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Why Bother?

I wrote this last night. I haven’t a clue what I’m going to do with it. I hardly ever post my poems to this blog these days, but I thought (rightly or wrongly) that it might amuse (maybe "amuse" isn't quite the right word) some people. I'll no doubt remove the poem after a short time.

The fact that I bothered going to the trouble of revising it this morning might go some way to answering Nic’s question, which in turn was a response to Quincy’s comments on how getting a poetry collection published doesn’t result in fame, riches, greater sexual attraction, or even selling more than a few hundred copies (if you’re lucky) - his comments are fairly accurate, by the way.

Why bother then? Because poetry is an obsession. Even if book sales are disappointing. Even if the poem doesn’t matter to anyone else. If it's still necessary to write it, then it's worth getting "out there" at least to give people a choice on whether to ignore it or not.

- poem deleted -

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Music - Silver Jews

The Silver Jews are fronted by David Berman, a poet as well as a musician, although I’m not a huge fan of his page poems. They are good at times, but not always my kind of thing. However, I love his music and he has written some terrific lyrics. I’m a sucker for that combination of morbidity, humour, irony, absurdity and lo-fi alt country.

The latest album, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, released a couple of months ago, is slightly more upbeat than previous offerings but, thankfully, the deadpan wit is still there and there are plenty of good tunes if you like music sung in a half-spoken drawl. Maybe not as consistently strong as Bright Flight or American Water – I wouldn’t say there are no fillers on this album – but nothing stands out as bad, and the good tracks are really good. My favourite is probably Suffering Jukebox:

“Suffering jukebox, such a sad machine.
You’re all filled up with what other people mean.
And they never seem to turn you up loud.
Gotta lotta chatterboxes in this crowd.
Suffering jukebox in a happy town.
You’re over in the corner breaking down.
They always seem to keep you way down low.
The people in this town don’t want to know…”

Friday, August 22, 2008

Aurora Borealis - Edinburgh Fringe

Whenever I hear the term “experimental” applied to an art form, I’m automatically suspicious. Most experimental poetry is rubbish and the same is true, I think, in all art forms. Most people only imagine they are being experimental when, in fact, they are either

a) doing what they’ve seen other experimental artists doing – except badly

b) doing what millions of people have done before, but not realising it because they know so little about the art form they are attempting to practise.

However, now and again, there’s a real triumph and I witnessed one yesterday at the Edinburgh Festival fringe. If you get the chance to see Aurora Borealis (and the last performance is tomorrow, Saturday!), don’t miss out. It’s a terrific piece of innovative theatre. 12 noon at Dance Base, Grassmarket, Edinburgh.

There is no dialogue, only jazz piano music and movement. The venue has a glass roof (an important prop as it turns out) and a giant mirror opposite the audience, so that you can see everyone at all times. The set is minimal but everything is vital, just as every word is vital to a taut poem. The performance plays on ideas of self-image, sadness, and transformation that can come following an encounter with the unknown or numinous. If that sounds serious, let me assure you that the performance is also unpretentious, very funny, the timing is perfect (though also, I believe, improvised), and the dancing is of high quality.

It lasts 35 minutes and is entirely captivating. Humour and intensity are successfully held in tension throughout. For an audience member, it feels more like an experience than a spectacle. Not theatre you’re liable to forget in a hurry.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Violent UK

A few weeks ago, my wife drove out from under a bridge at about 30 miles-an-hour when one of a group of hooded young people hurled a rock at the car which, luckily, just missed.

About five days ago, my wife and I were loading a couple of boxes into our car, about 4.30 in the afternoon. Three teenagers passed by, I’d guess between 13-15 years-old. One of them beckoned to me and shouted, “Ya f****ing bastard,” and so on… I had never seen him before. One of the others added further insults, and then the first one joined him again. The third one was pushing an empty shopping trolley down the pavement. He suddenly pushed it, with force, towards my wife, who stopped it calmly, turned round and carried on with what she was doing. All this time, the other two were gradually moving past and continued to shout insults until we’d got into the car and drove off.
I recognised one of them. His family (mum, dad, older brothers) are always in and out of prison – drugs, violence, little-gangster-type stuff. No big deal really, but things could easily gone wrong – the wrong kind of eye contact, an unthinking response, a whim – it only takes a few seconds to land someone in hospital with a serious head injury.

Two nights ago, my stepson was clubbing down the Cowgate in Edinburgh. About 1am, he was walking along the street with a friend when a gang of teenagers attacked him. He was very lucky. The gang members were so out-of-their-heads that they didn’t notice a police car parked 30 metres away. He suffered a few bruises and kicks to his shoulders and only one to his head before being rescued. To the police’s credit, they caught the gang. Could have been very much worse. He was shaken and a little sore, but fine.

What’s going on? To an extent, it’s been going on for many years. People being attacked or abused on the streets by complete strangers without provocation is hardly a new phenomenon. What seems to be new is the savagery of the attacks, the severity of injuries incurred. The number of reported (“reported”, of course, being a significant word) assaults hasn’t increased much in the past decade, but the severity of injuries suffered has shot up. The number of young people carrying knives has also increased. Beating people up is like a sport for some people – they go out for the sole, deliberate purpose of attacking others and causing real harm. The large number of teenage murders in London this year is symptomatic of a wider problem.

Solutions are another matter. The bland soundbites of politicians piss me off no end. Labour have had their chance and have failed. David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, talks of how he plans to be a “social reformer in much the same way as Margaret Thatcher was an economic reformer” (God save us), but he offers no solutions to social problems, no doubt because he is clueless and because the problems are too complex for a press release to handle. The other parties are no better in this respect. They witter on about a “lack of role models” as if a new Cliff Richard is going to have any appeal for young people today. They live on another planet.

Coincidentally, I received an invitation yesterday to be part of an audience for the ‘Save our Streets’ roadshow, organised by the News of the World tabloid. They claim the event is a response to rising violent crime on our streets. The roadshow will have a panel of politicians and an audience comprised of local councillors, victims of crime, special police constables and community groups and agencies. I have no interest in attending, mainly because although the tabloid will claim it has the interests of the nation at heart, its agenda will centre on itself. It wants to lead a crusade, to make itself look like the ‘voice of the people’, while achieving nothing other than (it hopes) increased sales. I’m unsure why tabloids feel the need to create a climate of fear and instability among their readerships, but that seems to be what sells. It will come up with a few soundbites of its own, a few slogans. It’ll no doubt call for more police on the streets in particularly violent areas (but where is the money for this?), tougher sentencing (which will make no difference at all), and regeneration of deprived communities (but how exactly?). The result is predictable and will make no difference to anyone. As long as the News of the World succeeds in making itself popular with its readers, it will be happy, and will continue to print lurid stories about how unhappy our society is. But the tabloids are one of the sicknesses at its heart.

I wish I had solutions myself. I see the need to tackle problems by breaking them down into components because the whole picture is so enormous that it can induce only paralysis. A project set up to respond to “Violence” has too big a problem on its hands. A project working on employment, family, and sociability issues with repeat offenders might at least achieve something. We need an entire cultural shift, that’s clear. Not all countries experience the UK’s wave of casual, deliberate violence. But I doubt the political, financial and cultural commitment exists to tackle the problems. I’m fairly sure these problems stem, partly at least, from a lack of respect, a lack of self-worth, a need to fit in with the crowd, and an increasing despair for a future where consumption is the only settled value and where the thrills of alcohol, drugs and violence seem to many to be the only source of escape from the self. An adequate response will need a huge amount of money (which always seems to be freely available for other people’s wars, but not for issues that really matter), but it goes far deeper than that.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hits and Novels

Hits to this blog went through the roof yesterday. The reason? Well, a link from Books Inq to my article on poem endings gave a significant increase. But even that was dwarfed by the number of hits coming from Ron Silliman, who linked to the same article – about three-quarters of the way down a vast column of links in his Monday 18th post. I can’t imagine how many hits I would have had if it had been near the top. Considering Ron Silliman writes an uncompromising poetry blog, the number of readers he gets is amazing, about as many in one hour as I normally get in a month, I suspect. But yesterday was a new record for me…


I often find it hard to concentrate on poetry in late evening, especially if I’ve had a lot of work to do during the day, but there’s hardly ever anything on TV (and I’m not much interested in the Olympics), so I decided I’d start reading novels again. I must admit – I’ve enjoyed it. If the novel doesn’t grab me in the first ten pages, I ditch it. I don’t have the time or patience to see if it gets better. But I’ve enjoyed Marina Lewycka’s Two Caravans, Kapka Kassabova’s Street Without a Name (a prose memoir, non-fiction), Salem Falls by Jodi Picault (yes, I know, very Richard and Judy, but an entertaining page-turner nonetheless), Exit Ghost by Philip Roth, The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland, and - so far – Falling Man by Don DeLillo. One thing is for sure – fiction is so much easier than poetry. I’d forgotten how simple it was – simple to read, that is, not at all easy to write (well).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Four-Hour Festival Report

I enjoyed the Four-Hour Festival yesterday at the inaugural West Port Book festival. The venue was relaxed, and filled with natural sunlight beaming through the huge windows (and clouds). There was a mixture of poetry and prose, good stuff and not so good, but most of the readings were entertaining. Poets I’d heard before like Nancy Somerville, Ryan van Winkle and Andy Philip all read well (and it was good to hear the title poem from Andy's forthcoming collection on Salt, 'The Ambulance Box', which hadn't been included in the draft manuscripts I'd read previously) and I enjoyed some of the short stories. The size of the audience varied throughout the afternoon. It was never big but it never petered out either. I felt it was a decent number considering the number of literary events in Edinburgh at the moment.

My own set went fine. I read a few new-ish poems after a couple from the old guard. For the purists and set-collectors, here’s my setlist:

1. The Kingdom
3. Spliced and Fading Out
4. Edinburgh in Summer
5. Hot Shit
6. Visiting Hour

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ending a Collection

I’ve been reading Douglas Coupland’s most recent novel, The Gum Thief. On page 141, one of the characters photocopies the last two pages of 100 randomly-chosen novels to see what common ground exists in their endings. Her conclusion?

“It’s not in every book, but it’s in most books. It’s this: when a book ends, the characters are often moving either towards or away from a source of light – literally – like carrying a candle into a dark room or running a red light at an intersection or opening curtains or falling into a well or – this list goes on. I circled all the bits about light and there’s no mistaking it.”

Now the character making this observation is a twenty-something woman approaching the end of her “goth phase,” and I don’t know whether Coupland has himself ever looked through 100 novels at random to establish the facts. But I wondered whether there was any common thread at the end of poetry collections, partly because my own pamphlet ends with the phrase, “a spin of bright dust in a thread of light.” So I chose 12 poetry collections from my shelves and here’s what I found at the end of each:

You wore your cummerband with the stars and stripes. I, kilted in lime, held a stethoscope to the head of the parting guest. Together we were a couple forever.
(John Ashbery – Where Shall I Wander)

Your nephew, Charles, applied
the necessary, transfiguring gold,
and at last on darkness the dark eyes
closed, brimming with the memory of colour.
(John Ash – The Parthian Stations)

I dream my unborn daughter:
within her palm
one sand-grain’s infinite

coastline becomes one country, becomes
the whole inhabited land.
(A B Jackson – Fire Stations)

turn-ups, a polka-dot dress, one blustery day;
her arm hooked round his arm
as if that could stop him blowing away.
(Stephen Knight – Flowering Limbs)

where the past turns, its face sparkling like emery,
to open its grace and incredible harm
over my life, and I will never die.
(Denis Johnson – The Incognito Lounge)

- The stars will soon be out.
- I think so: the beam, the blister, and the blaze.
(Edwin Morgan – A Book of Lives)

McAdam wakes in a hospital bed singing
a tirade of love songs

in a language yet to be born
(Andrew Philip – Tonguefire)

This is the right light, this pewter shine on the water,
not the carnage of clouds, not the expected wonder
of self-igniting truth and oracular rains,
but these shallows as gentle as the voice of your daughter,
while the gods fade like thunder in the rattling mountains.
(Derek Walcott – The Bounty)

Falling light as casts
Laid down
On shining waters,
Under the moon’s stigmata

Six thousand miles away,
I imagine untroubled dust,
A loosening gravity,
Christ weighing by his hands.
(Seamus Heaney – Wintering Out)

What syllable are you seeking,
In the distances of sleep?
Speak it.
(Wallace Stevens – Harmonium)

They stumble all night over bones of the dead,
And feel they know not what but care,
And wish to lead others, when they should be led.
(William Blake – Songs of Experience)

Words dry and riderless,
The indefatigable hoof-taps.
From the bottom of the pool, fixed stars
Govern a life.
(Sylvia Plath – Ariel)

There is plenty of light in these passages, isn’t there? Also, perhaps even more prevalent, a movement into an unknown or unspoken future - whether positive, negative or plainly ironic. That’s in spite of the many different strategies employed. Of course, this might just be a fluke, but I didn’t deliberately choose these books to prove a thesis. It’s just the way it’s worked out.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

West Port Book Festival

Those of you who read here regularly might be forgiven for wondering whether I really do live in Edinburgh and if I’ve noticed a major cultural festival happening in this city at the moment. Well, yes, on both counts. But for the past two weeks, work has been ridiculously busy – morning, afternoon and evening. I’ve been rising early to revise certain poems and then it’s been work… I’ve seen nothing at the festival so far.

However, “festival” isn’t strictly an accurate description, as the Edinburgh festival covers several festivals at once. There’s the main festival, but also the book and film festivals, and a huge fringe.

Several other festivals also take place, and a new one has emerged this year – the West Port Book Festival, which starts today and goes on through Sunday. All events are free and several top names are taking part. I’m doing a ten-minute poetry slot from 1.10pm on the Saturday, as part of the four-hour-festival at the Edinburgh College of Art. Andrew Philip is also involved – at around 3pm, I think.

Some of the other events look great, but I’m working today, tomorrow, Saturday morning, Sunday morning and afternoon, and can’t get out on Saturday evening due to childcare. That leaves only Sunday evening.

Anyway, next week looks like it will be more relaxed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Critical Task

Interesting post as ever by Patrick Kurp on the role of the critic.

A brief excerpt:

“A critic must write well, care about books and possess good taste and good sense. If his prose is slipshod or dull, if ideology means more to him than style, if he claims to admire bad or mediocre books, he loses the thoughtful reader’s respect. And while celebration makes for the best criticism, negative reviews in the right hands can be turned into the mirror-image of celebration, and usually offer more opportunities for laughs.”

I’m with that pretty much all the way. The best critics have a passion for literature, a desire to stand up for what’s good and knock down what’s bad. I doubt whether ideology can be separated from these judgements in the clear-cut way described above, but one should try.

While all critical judgements are subjective, they need to be argued for. There are more than enough people these days arguing that everything is relative and no opinion counts for more than any other, which is, I think, an abdication of responsible thought, as if – for the first time in history – 21st century human beings have neither the capacity nor the will to discriminate between what’s worth carrying forward and what ought to be dumped on the kerbside.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Killing Drafts

I revised a couple of poems over the last week – one was almost there but needed more work, the other was nowhere in particular, but I think it’s getting somewhere now. It can be a slow process – revision.

There’s the danger of killing off everything that was interesting in the original draft and ending up only with the bits that seem good because that kind of thing has seemed good in other people’s poems.

There’s the danger that, in trying to push the poem off from where it was before into some place more interesting, you might push things too far and end up sounding inauthentic i.e. trying too hard to be interesting!

There’s the danger of battering your head against a computer screen at ten past midnight in total frustration at a poem that won’t quite work the way you hoped when you wrote those first few lines and everything had so much promise.

There are so many ways to kill a promising draft stone dead, it’s a wonder good poems manage to get written at all. But somehow they do. I can’t yet tell whether these latest ones are good or destined for the shredder (many of my poem-attempts end up unread by anyone but me. I can imagine them all meeting up in some after-life venue for discarded poems. Not a happy place, I guess).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Verdi Cries

It's been a long week at work and next week will be still more hectic - then it should all slow down a bit.

Luckily, Natalie Merchant exists. This song and performance will see me through the next week and beyond.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Clown Wordle

I decided to give Wordle a go. The site can deliver any text you feed it as a ‘word-cloud’. I gave it the manuscript of my chapbook,The Clown of Natural Sorrow and the result is below. I must have used more similes than I thought.

If you click on the link below, it takes you to a larger version of the image:
title="Wordle: The Clown"> src=""
style="padding:4px;border:1px solid #ddd">

By the way, I'm told there are only a handful of copies left of The Clown. It would be good to sell out and, if you feel either tempted or altruistic, please place an order from the link to the book above. Cheers.

'Classic Poem' Choice

Ryan van Winkle, recently appointed ‘reader-in-residence’ (basically, the idea is to promote the reading of poetry in Scotland) at the Scottish Poetry Library (bonus: there’s a Colin Will poem on the SPL front page at the moment) asked me to choose a classic poem and say something about it for one of the SPL’s ‘reading room’ pages. I chose Paradise Lost and you can read my comments at the link.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Gabriele D'Annunzio

The poet, Gabriel d’Annunzio (1863-1938), is a legend, but his notoriety often has less to do with his poetry than with his life.

He was a ‘decadent’ and had affairs with many women, including celebrated actress Eleonora Duse, and took delight in scandalising the defenders of public morals. He also seemed fond of duelling. He was – without doubt – a man of action. His most famous exploit came after the First World War. D’Annunzio had supported the allies during the war and lost an eye in the fighting, but was furious when the city of Fiume was taken from Italy at the Treaty of Paris. He marched with 2000 men on the city and forced the Allied Powers to withdraw. However, Italy didn’t want to support his irregular action, blockaded the city, and demanded his surrender. D’Annunzio’s reaction was to declare the city an independent state with himself as autocratic leader. Incredibly, he held onto Fiume for more than 18 months and declared war on Italy before being booted out. He was disarmed and allowed to walk free.

JG Nichols, in 1988, called his exploits “a sort of elegant hooliganism.” However, in a 1922 speech to the Chicago Literary Club, Rudolph Altrocchi said that “the epic of his record during the war must, we repeat, redeem, in the sight of all, his previous lyric and moral shortcomings and prove besides that they had not fatally undermined his virile stamina.” Original newspaper reports (you can read them in full by clicking on the .pdf button at the link) from the New York Times in 1920 give some idea of the crisis he caused.

His politics were ambiguous, to say the least. The Italian fascist movement cite his ideas as a prime influence, but he often seemed hostile towards the fascists. He’s described (in the Wikipedia article at the link) as Mussolini’s mentor, but the article is also clear that Mussolini greatly feared d’Annunzio’s popularity and regularly paid him stipends not to enter the political arena. He opposed Hitler and all attempts to align Italy with the German Nazi regime. On the other hand, in Fiume, he “popularised the black shirts, the balcony speeches, the promulgation of ambitious charters and the entire choreography of street parades and ceremonies,” and some have accused him (without any hard evidence) of originating the practice of poisoning opponents and prisoners with an excess of castor oil, which Mussolini picked up on and used with relish. Although d’Annunzio never tiptoed around Mussolini, it would be foolish to suggest that his own ideas didn’t have much in common with the fascism that built on their foundations. D'Annunzio died in a large villa provided for him by Mussolini himself.

He was the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to get too close to. He’d double-cross you as soon as look at you and his main principle seemed to be to get what he wanted using any means necessary, as long as the price was right. His ego must have been huge. His first poem, written in school, was dedicated to the King of Italy. From 1923 until his death in 1938, he collected items for his own museum to ensure his commemoration beyond his own lifetime. Just try that one!

What about the poetry? Well, he is one of Italy’s greatest poets although comparatively little attention has been paid to his work in the English-speaking world.

I translated one of his poems recently, quite a ‘free’ interpretation, and I hope to work on several more in the next few months. My translation is below and, for those who read Italian, the original poem is below that. On one level, it’s about the Icarus story. But I think it’s really about poetry, the singular “mad flight” that only the greatest and most innovative artists make, by which even their common destination must be arrived at “alone”. With reference to the poem, it might be useful to know that Daedalus, father of Icarus and maker of the fatal wings, also made a wooden cow for King Minos's wife to hide in. She was in love with a bull (a curse sent by the god, Poseidon) and the contraption enabled her to satiate her lust in relative safety. She then gave birth to the Minotaur, but that's another story:

The Wing in the Sea

Ardi, in the sea’s haze a wing,
cast adrift, shudders like a wreck.
The feathers, severed and scattered,
ripple in the air’s uneven breath.

Ardi, I see wax, the wing of Icarus!
When its creator served the king’s court
he built a hollow, wooden cow –
with far from innocent import.

Who will raise it? Who can reunite
feathers with strength greater than before
and again attempt the mad flight?

Such exalted destiny for Daedalus’s son!
Courage drove him high above normal frontiers
and he dropped to the whirlpools alone.


L'Ala sul Mare

Ardi, un'ala sul mare è solitaria.
Ondeggia come pallido rottame.
E le sue penne, senza più legame,
sparse tremano ad ogni soffio d'aria.

Ardi, veggo la cera! E' l'ala icaria,
quella che il fabro della vacca infame
foggiò quando fu servo nel reame
del re gnòssio per l'opera nefaria.

Chi la raccoglierà? Chi con più forte
lega saprà rigiugnere le penne
sparse per ritentare il folle volo?

Oh del figlio di Dedalo alta sorte!
Lungi dal medio limite si tenne
il prode, e ruinò nei gorghi solo.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Meekings's or Meekings'

In a previous blog entry I used the possessive form – “Sam Meekings’s book.” I hated the sound of that and could hardly bear to write it. I notice that Matt went for “Sam Meekings’ book” in his comment.

Strunk and White open their book on English style with the injunction:

1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s.

Follow this rule whatever the final consonant. Thus write,

Charles’s friend
Burns’s poems
the witch’s malice

Exceptions are the possessives of ancient proper names ending in -es and –is, the possessive Jesus’, and such forms as for conscience’ sake

However, English isn’t a static language. Increasingly, I see people using the apostrophe without an added –s with words which end on the letter –s. Are we leaving the awful sound of Meekings’s behind forever? In many ways, I hope so.

I know some people will throw up their arms and say, “Who cares! Lighten up!” Well, I care…

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Forward Poetry Prize Shortlists 2008

This year’s Forward Poetry Prize’s shortlists have been made public in the last few days. It’s one of the biggest UK poetry awards and does seem at least open to looking a little beyond the major publishing houses. But there’s not much I can say about it as I haven’t read many of the books.

There are three categories. First of all, the shortlist for Best Collection Published in the UK this year:

Jamie McKendrick - Crocodiles & Obelisks (Faber)
Sujata Bhatt - Pure Lizard (Carcanet)
Mick Imlah - The Lost Leader (Faber)
Jane Griffiths- Another Country (Bloodaxe)
Jen Hadfield - Nigh-No-Place (Bloodaxe)
Catherine Smith - Lip (Smith Doorstop)

I’ve read only Jen Hadfield’s book from that lot. It’s really good and I’m glad to see it there. The smart money would be on Mick Imlah, I think. It’s on Faber, it’s thematic, it’s big – everything about it looks monumental. People say it’s good too, which obviously helps. But without reading it and the other books, I can’t come to any judgement.

The second category is for Best First Collection, and I’ve read a few more here:

Simon Barraclough - Los Alamos Mon Amour (Salt)
Andrew Forster - Fear of Thunder (Flambard)
Frances Leviston - Public Dream (Picador)
Allison McVety - The Night Trotsky Came to Stay (Smith Doorstop)
Stephanie Norgate - Hidden River (Bloodaxe)
Kathryn Simmonds - Sunday at the Skin Launderette (Seren)

I’ve read the collections from Simon Barraclough, Frances Leviston and Stephanie Norgate (I reviewed Stephanie Norgate’s collection in Magma, issue 40). I might be tempted to investigate the others. I read a few Andrew Forster poems a few months ago and was impressed. Allison McVety’s book won the Poetry Business competition. Kathryn Simmonds book sounded interesting in a recent review in Magma, issue 41.

The third category is for Best Single Poem:

Seamus Heaney - Cutaways
Christopher Buehlman - Wanton
Catherine Ormell - Campaign Desk, December 1812
Don Paterson - Love Poem for Natalie 'Tusja' Beridze
Kate Rhodes - Wells-next-the-Sea
Tim Turnbull - Ode on a Grayson Perry Urn

I’ve read two of these, the Paterson and Turnbull, and both are extremely good. Heaney’s poem is bound to be a contender. The really strange thing about the other three choices are that they are all taken from the Bridport Prize – the 1st and 3rd placed poems and a commended poem. I don’t know what to make of that. In any case, a very good year for the Bridport! There’s an audio of Christopher Buehlman’s winning poem at the link.

I feel a little disappointed in the First Collection list, more because of books that aren’t on it rather than anything against those that are. I’m convinced that Matt Merritt’s Troy Town (Arrowhead) and Sam Meekings’s The Bestiary (Polygon) should have been shortlisted as genuine contenders to win. But I guess everyone has a book or two they think should be there but isn’t…