Saturday, February 28, 2009

SPL Poet Of The Month

I’m fairly sure I’ve never been “poet of the month” anywhere, until now. I am Scottish Poetry Library’s joint poet-of-the-month for March, along with Andrew Philip, who will replace me on the SPL front page about halfway through the month. Grateful thanks are due to the SPL for all their support in many different ways.

The SPL have also given me a Poets A-Z page where you can read a poem, ‘Glory Box’, and find out which three books I chose as favourites of one kind or another.

It’s possible (maybe) that some readers won’t know what ‘Glory Box’ is. Well, it’s here below. It’s hard to appreciate how original this stuff sounded at the time. The song brings back so many memories – of triphop and This Life and what you might call a turbulent, but fruitful, period in my personal life.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Second Taster for March 2009

Over at the ‘Poetry at the Great Grog’ site, you can now read a bio and poem from Paula Jennings, whose ‘From the Body of the Green Girl’ was one of the best chapbooks I read last year. She’ll be reading at the GG (43 Rose St, Edinburgh) on Sunday 8th March from 8pm.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Holiday Hymn

According to that iTunes meme I posted a short whole ago, the song that will be played at my funeral is Orange Juice’s version of Holiday Hymn, originally by Vic Goddard & the Subway Sect:

“It’s such fun to hear the children singing.
The church is full, the bells are ringing.
Open your hearts and sing a holiday hymn…”

I don’t have any problem with that – if only! The song is one of my faves, but I expect my family might have other ideas.

iTunes Meme

This is probably the most ludicrous meme I've ever seen, so I decided to have a go. No one tagged me and I'm not going to inflict it on anyone else. Some of the random answers turned out to be quite amusing - to me, at any rate:

1. Put your iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc. on 'shuffle' (in the 'Controls' drop-down menu in iTunes).
2. For each question, press the 'next' button (in the 'Controls' drop-down menu) to get your answer.
3 You must write that song title down, no matter how silly it sounds.

What women do to men

Take this longing

This side of the blue


Take this waltz

Freedom come all ye

Tiny tears

Sometimes I don’t get you

Trouble sleeping

WHAT IS 2 + 2?
Get up, John

Wild wild life

Wind chimes

The future

Dying day

Dance me to the end of love – live version (seriously!)

Holiday hymn

Marshmallow world

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Poetry At The Great Grog Taster - 8th March 2009

The next ‘Poetry at the Great Grog’ event takes place on Sunday 8th March from 8pm at the Great Grog Bar on 43 Rose St, Edinburgh. Four excellent poets will feature – Colin Donati, Alexander Hutchison, Paula Jennings, and Nalini Paul.

You can read a bio and poem from Nalini Paul – others to follow over the remaining time.

Monday, February 23, 2009

First Review, Cabbage, And Keats

It is very good of Tony Williams to give The Opposite of Cabbage its first review. Thanks Tony!


The book is now on the Salt home page, as is Andrew Philip’s The Ambulance Box. You can find Andy beneath Vincent de Souza. I am below Keats, which is certainly the place for me, although I shouldn’t really be within touching distance:

Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane
In some untrodden region of the mind,
Where branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain,
Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind

(from Ode to Psyche)


Useless Cabbage Fact no. 1:

Did you know that Cato the Elder praised the humble cabbage’s health-giving properties and declared it to be ‘the first of all vegetables’?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

An Email I Received Today

Greetings the Friend!!!

I liked your structure on one of places for acquaintances, and I have made a decision to write to yours. Wash name Alina. In me 28 years. I wish to speak at once to you, that I search for serious communications. I wish to find the one who wished to experience a long and happy life. I very cheerful and at me am a good comic genre. I wish to find much unique love and the true partner in life. I wait that you will answer me,

I ask you to write only to this direction - (email address)

I am applied my photo and with pleasure I shall answer you if you will write to me. I shall wait your answer with impatience and I wait that you to not neglect my letter. It is thankful in advance, Alina.

(photo of young, fake-tanned bottle blonde)


So, dear reader, what is your "wash name"? And are you a "good comic genre"? I better not ask your opinions of my "structure"...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Alien Vs. Predator

At more or less any given time in Blogland, someone will be huffing and puffing on the subject of ‘difficult’ poetry. There are two approaches.

The first comes from those who believe ‘difficult’ poetry is a necessary antidote to a dumbed-down culture. In any case, they say, there’s nothing difficult about ‘difficult’ poetry. You just need to learn how to read it. They believe strongly in the ability of words to transcend their strictures – grammatical, syntactical, or otherwise – and can, at times, be contemptuous of poems that don’t attempt such innovation, which means more or less all ‘mainstream’ poetry.

The second approach is from those who believe ‘difficult’ poetry to be a bad thing. They argue that poetry has become an obscure and bewildering academic artform, remote from general experience. This obscurity, they say, is largely to blame for poetry’s (allegedly) tiny audience. They support poetry which is straightforward, clear, and can be easily understood. They condemn people who have little tolerance for this ‘easy’ poetry, and may call them elitist, snobby, or exclusive (i.e. they show little tolerance themselves). They often dismiss poems and poets who don’t fit their norm, which will, ironically, include many poets their opponents think of as entirely mainstream.

I was thinking about this when reading Anna Evans’s thoughtful post on Archibald MacLeish’s ars poetica. In the course of that discussion, Anna cites a poem recently published in the New Yorker, Alien vs Predator by Michael Robbins. It’s worth taking a look at. It’s easy and ultimately self-defeating to talk on this subject in generalities, but a real poem might focus attention.

This poem, to me, doesn’t seem particularly experimental. I think we can be sure that Ron Silliman, for example, would throw this one into the ‘School of Quietude’ pile. However, I’m equally sure that for someone who had read only a limited range of poetry, it would be quite bewildering. It does bewilder me, to an extent, although I’m sure that’s one of its intended effects. The title, referencing the movie of the same name, relates only slightly (if at all) to the poem. That reminds me of Ashbery and others, who do the same – a fun (yawn, some might think) exercise in discontinuity.

The poem is fragmented. The narrator appears to be some kind of deity, but not the traditional type – a self-centred, contemptuous little shit, prone to unexpected violence, incarnate as much in a cigarette as in the New York Times itself. The tone is playful and cynical. The world is a commodity, a spectacle; the Tibetans are released in front of ‘Best Buy’, but the freak show to follow doesn’t turn up, to the narrator’s displeasure. The absurdity of the images is like a commentary on the world, as if life is a reality TV show set in a Victorian asylum. The deity is angry at ‘Rilke…the jerk’ for denying him his right to be praised, and echoes the phrase with ‘that elk is such a dick.’ The deity seeds the ionosphere and translates the Bible into Dinosaur. The juxtapositions are humorous and serve to undermine anything that might confer serious meaning.

In some ways, I enjoyed the poem. But I think it’s simply a mirror of other poems, a very standard way of looking at the world. There’s no challenge, nothing unusual being said, despite the superficial weirdness of its imagery. ‘The world is absurd, authority is there only to be shot down, political causes are commodities, and as for newspapers, cigarettes, gods, they all come to the same thing, which isn’t much.’ I don’t believe the poem can be summed up like that – at least, that would be unfair, but it does reflect such a prevalent world-view and, like most art that reflects this prevalent world-view, knocks down a few once-sacred cows (these days, this approach feels like shooting at an animal already caught in a trap) and is content simply to do that.

Having said that, I liked much of the absurdity. The rhythms and rhymes were handled well. I enjoyed the ride, I suppose. Some of the images intrigued me, some of them made me laugh – ‘the space tree/ making a ski and a little foam chiropractor’ for example, and ‘The sandhill cranes make brains look easy’ and ‘I’d eat your bra – point being – in a heartbeat.’ The slit monkeys, the Bible, the Best Buy and whale on stilts, the names, the sleeping on meat – all of these are ingenious images. In short, I enjoyed many, perhaps most, of the fragments. Put them together and I can make certain connections, but what have I got in the end? The poem may, in itself, be suggesting that it doesn’t matter, that nothing matters really. Well, thanks for that…

But as for being ‘difficult’… Difficult for whom? I would be really interested to know what people think of this poem – positive or negative viewpoints.

I found an interview with Michael Robbins here, which may or may not shed light on his method. I do enjoy much of Frederick Seidel’s work, who Robbins also seems to admire.

Monday, February 16, 2009

This Collection, Sarah Jackson, And More

A while back, I submitted a poem to this collection. No, nothing to do with that collection. this collection brings together 100 unpublished poems about Edinburgh, each of around 100 words. Each poem will be paired with a local film-maker and will made into a short film.

The top 100 poems are now up at the site (actually, they are still uploading poems, but a fair number of the 100 are now up), including my entry, Corstorphine, Midnight. There are poems from Roddy Lumsden, Ron Butlin, Andrew Philip, and many others. I am intrigued, more than intrigued in fact, to see what the film-makers do with them.

Over on the Magma blog, I’ve just posted a short interview with Sarah Jackson, who was featured poet in Magma, issue 42. I enjoyed her poems in the issue and I hope you enjoy the interview.

I have hardly submitted any poems in the last few months, but I did send one to Jane Holland’s Raw Light blog, as part of her ‘season of other poets.’ My poem, Fallen Villages of the North, is now up. It’s in that collection and was fun to write. You can also read a new poem, No Strings, by Katy Evans-Bush there. The poets still to come are a secret for the moment.

I've submitted a few poems to a magazine – new poems – the first I’ve sent out that have been written since I completed ‘The Opposite of Cabbage’ (other than the Corstorphine, Midnight poem above). I have another three or four that are ready for submission, but can’t decide where to send them…

I’m told that the back of this week’s London Review of Books carries a full page advert for several Salt publications, including my book and Andy Philip’s. I haven’t seen this yet and will no doubt have to make a trip to the city centre to find a copy.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Another Arrival And A Few Photos

I just got a text from Andrew Philip saying that his book, The Ambulance Box, has arrived and is also now available from Salt. Andy and I plan to meet for a quick lunch today. We also plan to exchange books. I've seen his collection at the ms stage and it will be great to read the final version. Apparently, there's a terrific shade of dark green in the endpapers.

On Andrew Shields’s blog, you can look at photos from Sunday evening’s reading, which was a blast. The snow afterwards was the cherry on the cake of a really good reading. We're back at the Great Grog Bar next month (Sunday March 8th) with Colin Donati, Alexander Hutchison, Paula Jennings and Maureen Sangster - more details, bios and poems to follow soon.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The Opposite of Cabbage arrived today, six copies through the post, and it looks and feels really good. So far, I haven’t found any typos although I’m sure I will have missed something. It’s still hard to believe that the book actually exists as a physical object, but the evidence is currently piled on my office floor. Whenever I turn round, I keep thinking it will have disappeared.

Oh, I've just heard... Apparently, you can buy it now (ignore the publication date of 1st March) from Salt here - Don't all stampede at once!

I am writing a horrendously complex funding application – to do with work, not poetry. It has killed off my poetic imagination, but (I hope) not for good. I must now get back to it. Procrastination is tempting, very tempting, but finishing the form – besides being vital for a community project – is now important for my sanity.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Sumo And Poetry

This just came in by a circuitous route from Mr Scales:

'When Channel Four used to put on Sumo wrestling late at night I saw an interview once with Chiyonofuji, the "Wolf," the most dominant yokozuna at the time. Rather disconcertingly he looked almost like a regular human being (his opponents by contrast had nicknames like "Haystack" and "Dump Truck"). He said the key things they emphasised in training were physique (strength), skill/technique and chi (or qi – spirit or "heart"). He admitted that as far as some aspects of physique were concerned – sheer body weight, for example – he was deficient. But he compensated with exceptional skill and chi.

‘It's maybe spurious to use those categories to draw parallels with the making of poetry; but if we tweak the first to refer, say, to wit in the older sense – intellectual capacity – it's pretty rare to find the right balance of that plus technique and vital spark. If the Wolf is right, maybe two will do. Common enough, though, now to meet "poets" who aim to get by on one or none of the three.'

Any thoughts?

The February Gig

An excellent evening yesterday at Poetry at the Great Grog, as displaced to a hall in St Cuthbert’s Church. The acoustics were good, the church officer was friendly and helpful, there was a good crowd, and the readings were terrific. Thanks to Alan Gay, Andrew Shields, Jane McKie and Tim Turnbull – all entirely different in style, but together showing the range of what good poetry can offer.

Before the gig, I had tied laminated posters to the railings outside on Lothian Road (a very busy city centre street) which simply said “POETRY” along with an arrow pointing to the venue. I wondered if any curious passer-by would follow the arrows and come in to see what was going on, but that didn’t happen. Maybe people aren’t really curious?

The snow began during the gig and was still falling heavily afterwards. Tim had his car but was staying in my living room rather than driving home. So was Andrew. So we piled into Tim’s car and I attempted to give directions through the snow and roadworks – in fact, the mile from the city centre to Haymarket station is, literally, one giant roadwork – we made it (we only got in the wrong lane once) and then shot home at about 20 miles per hour where a few welcome bottles of Tuborg awaited us.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Poetry In The Snow

It’s snowing outside. I’m getting just a little concerned about tomorrow’s readings at St Cuthbert’s Church hall (5 Lothian Road, just behind St John’s Church on the corner with Princes Street) as part of the 'Poetry at the Great Grog' reading series (different venue this month, but still an 8pm start). I just hope people persevere and make it through the snow.

I’ve had a good look at the venue. It’s excellent and should provide a brilliant atmosphere for the poetry. With readers like Tim Turnbull, Jane McKie, Andrew Shields and Alan Gay, it’s bound to be a memorable evening. But that snow… Will it put people off coming? I hope not.

Another Poetry Dream

I never dream about poetry or poets. However, following my Selima Hill dream of two nights ago, I had another poetry dream last night, this time featuring Simon Barraclough. Maybe I’ve started having more because I wrote the Selima Hill dream down.

Simon Barraclough is sitting at a café table, outdoors in the sun. He is with MF, who happens to be minister (vicar) of a church near my house in Edinburgh. The conversation goes something like:

MF – Our organist is going to be away on Sunday.
SB – Well, I’ll play for you. Where’s your organist going?
MF – Some village in the east.
SB – He can play there then. And someone from the village can play mine.
MF – Yes, that’s great. Thanks…

That’s all I remember.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Dream About Selima Hill

Last night I had a strange poetry dream. I was sitting in my living room with two other poets, both fairly well known. I had met one of these poets once before, a few years ago, and I’d met the other briefly on a couple of occasions. We were each reading a book. I can’t remember what I was reading, but one of the others was reading my copy of Selima Hill’s Gloria: Selected Poems.

“It’s highly inventive work,” I said.
“But not in terms of form,” said the poet.
“I mean, it’s inventive in terms of content, the way she deals with her subject-matter,” I replied.
The other poet silently went back to the book and didn’t look up again.

Then I woke up.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Against Time

This week has been terribly busy and I’ve had hardly any time even to think about blogging. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to the readings on Sunday evening from Tim Turnbull, Jane McKie, Andrew Shields and Alan Gay. At the last minute I’ve had to switch venue from the Great Grog Bar to St Cuthbert’s Church Hall (5 Lothian Road – just behind the big St John’s Episcopal Church on the corner of Princes Street and Lothian Road). I’ve tried to get the news out to as many people as possible. The reason is due to rugby – see the Poetry at the Great Grog site for full details. However, the new venue will be good and is still very central. We’ll kick off about 8.10pm.

I haven’t read much in the last fortnight. I got through one chapbook which I’m to review for Sphinx, but it hasn’t exactly bowled me over – there are three more, one of which I’ve read a part of. I like some of it.

Andrew Philip and I have been gearing up for our books launch on March 11th at the SPL (we also are reading at the Glasgow Mirrorball on 5th March). Sometimes we’re worried we might not have enough seats in the SPL to fit everyone in. Other times, we think almost no one is going to turn up and the whole thing will be a disaster. I wish there was such a thing as a “sure thing” in poetry, but there doesn’t seem to be.

Andrew Shields is arriving from Switzerland this afternoon. Lots to do before then, so I better get moving. I lost a few hours yesterday dealing with the Great Grog venue situation, hours I could really do with being given back now.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Fringe Poetry

On Saturday afternoon, I went to a meeting in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre about how to put on a show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I have been thinking about doing some kind of poetry cabaret at the festival, over a week or so – not a one-man show, I’d hasten to add. The idea would be that every evening would be different, with poetry, music, prose, film etc from a variety of performers. I’d want top quality stuff though, the kind of material people are going to swoon over. Otherwise there’s no point.

The meeting opened my eyes a bit. The venues are expensive to hire at that time of year and the panel reckoned that a show needs to sell about 40 percent of seats, at least, to break even. Exactly how to pitch a poetry cabaret so that it attracts an audience who have about 2000 other shows to choose from is obviously a key issue. Who do you pitch poetry to, and how do you best reach these people? What time should it be at? – that’s a key question. The peak time of 7.30pm is too expensive, apart from anything else, but is it best to do a morning show, or does that give the wrong impression, that poetry is only for a tea and buns crowd? Maybe a late-night session is better, or perhaps late afternoon before dinner time.

One panel member said that it was vital people knew why they wanted to do a show. Is it get noticed by promoters? Is it as a calling card so that people will remember you and pick up on your work later? Is it to make contact with other artists? Is it to strengthen your CV? He took it as read that everyone wanted to express themselves through their art and to have fun, but there had to be another central reason for doing it.

One guy asked how best to win a Fringe Award. A panellist told him that, if that was his attitude, he shouldn’t be in the arts in the first place. They didn’t pull punches…

I met quite a few venue promoters. Some venues, one in particular, looked great for the type of show I envisage. It was small (about 40 seats) and very atmospheric. I’ll have to decide soon whether I can actually pull it off and get people involved. The panellists warned that it was impossible to do everything yourself – venue negotiations, publicity, press and marketing, design, direction, tickets, money etc. A good organising team is invaluable.

Issues of dealing with the press, getting reviewed in good time (before your run is over!), working well with the fringe staff and box office were also dealt with. It’s a huge undertaking. Hmmmmm, I don’t know whether I can do this or not. Perhaps aiming for 2010 might be a better idea, but I’m planning a big event for around Easter 2010. So it’s either 2009 or 2011…