Sunday, August 30, 2009

Megrahi And The UK's 'Overwhelming Interests'

When I wrote my post on Megrahi’s release, I didn’t think things would move quite so fast. Ten days ago, I wrote:

“‘UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband …rejected suggestions the UK pushed for Megrahi's release to improve relations as ‘a slur on both myself and the government’.”

Today we hear Jack Straw, negotiating with Libya in 2007, wrote to Scottish Justice minister, Kenny MacAskill, on the terms of the Prison Transfer Agreement with Libya:

“I had previously accepted the importance of the al-Megrahi issue to Scotland and said I would try to get an exclusion for him on the face of the agreement. I have not been able to secure an explicit exclusion. The wider negotiations with the Libyans are reaching a critical stage and, in view of the overwhelming interests for the UK, I have agreed that in this instance the [PTA] should be in the standard form and not mention any individual."

Straw is now suggesting that this agreement had nothing to do with Megrahi and that the PTA agreement is “academic” in any case, given that Megrahi was freed on compassionate grounds. I don’t think it’s “academic” at all. Megrahi was the only Libyan prisoner in a British jail. And the reason there was no exclusion was because of the “overwhelming interests for the UK.”

So the slur on Miliband and the Government sticks. Or, rather, it doesn’t. A slur involves degrading someone in the eyes of others, it means casting serious doubt on someone’s good reputation. This Government of liars, spinners and cover-ups have no such reputation to lose. The new revelations are simply par for the course.

Friday, August 28, 2009

At The Magma Blog

A question worth considering: Does Classical Mythology Have A Place In Contemporary Poetry?

Kelman On Scottish Literary Culture

At the Edinburgh Book Festival, the Guardian have extracted a few salvos from James Kelman on Scottish literary culture.

“…it's always been an indication of that Anglocentric nature of what's at the heart of the Scottish literary establishment, that they will not see the tremendous art of a writer like Tom Leonard for example, and how they will praise the mediocre.”

I’m not quite clear who Kelman’s target is here. Who or what makes up the Scottish literary establishment? If we’re talking about those who hand out prizes, then these often go to literary novels. Talk of “praise” suggests critics and perhaps funders. Maybe he means the whole package – administrators, boffins, prize givers, funders, critics, newspapers, publishers – the lot. But perhaps it’s more a gesture of frustration that so little publicity is given to Scottish writers who are pushing literature forward compared to those who sell loads of books. If that’s the case, it’s the same all over the UK, not just in Scotland.

Rosemary Tonks On The Search For An Idiom

Ben Wilkinson has dug up a great quote from poet, Rosemary Tonks, from 1963. One to print off and hang on the wall. A quick snatch (but worth reading the whole thing):

“My foremost preoccupation at the moment is the search for an idiom which is individual, contemporary and musical. And one that has sufficient authority to bear the full weight of whatever passion I would wish to lay upon it.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Eduardo's 'Dive'

There is, I think, no doubt at all that Arsenal deserved to beat Celtic last night. They were the better team, but the comments over Eduardo’s dive that led to a penalty and Arsenal’s vital opening goal have been mind-boggling.

One Arsenal fan at the BBC site says, "It doesn't look like a penalty, neither does it look like a dive to me." Let’s examine this claim. There’s no contact from the Celtic keeper. Eduardo waits until exactly the right moment and then falls forward for no apparent reason. What is it if it isn’t a dive?

Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, says, “I do not go as far to say Eduardo dived. He went down, for what reason I do not know.” Well, Arsene, it could be he went down because he wanted to win a penalty and thought he could fool the referee into giving one. Unless you can think of any other reason? And again, if it isn’t a dive, what alternative word is there? Any suggestions?

Scottish Literature Working Group

I was having a quick read through Product magazine the other day (summer 2009 issue) – good, stimulating stuff. I came to an opinion piece (written by someone on the editorial board, I guess) on the new Literature Working Group set up to examine “the future of literature and publishing in Scotland.” This section in particular caught my eye:

Scottish “publishing” and “literature” are not a seamless garment. Scottish publishing can make money pretty well without literature. Scottish literature is thriving – with London publishers. At present the Arts Council invests in writers (primarily through bursaries), publishers (primarily through grants), and publicity (primarily through projects and prizes).

It’s a matter of some concern that this sometimes translates into paying an author to write a book, paying the publisher to publish it, and then giving it an award at the end.

Well, put like that, it does sound somewhat absurd, doesn’t it? But it’s less easy to decide how public money should be used to benefit Scottish literature. I’ve just noticed that public response to the Working Group needs to be in by the end of this month (email address at the link). I suspect it would be good for people who don’t normally have input into such consultations to make a few points. Perhaps someone will take notice?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Salt On Display At Blackwell's Bookshop

It's not often that I see poetry collections on the most prominent display table of a bookshop but at Blackwell's Bookshop on Edinburgh's South Bridge, you'll find both my 'The Opposite of Cabbage' and Andy Philip's 'The Ambulance Box' sharing space with novels and non-fiction, just as you enter the main door.

Of course, Blackwell's might begin to think there's real mileage in displaying poetry if these piles of books start disappearing. So, if you're in Edinburgh and want a book to read, Blackwell's is the place to buy it, and those '£2 Off' stickers mean what they say - for a limted time.

I've always had a theory that, if poetry books had a higher profile in bookshops, people would pick them up and buy them, not in numbers similar to Dan Brown or Katie Price, but in similar numbers to an average literary novel. I'm now hoping that really is the case!

Stevens And The Personal

Dan Pritchard quotes Vendler on Stevens in the context of a new Selected Poems.

'How differently might a reader take in “Burghers of Petty Death” if it had been called “A Son’s Lament for His Dead Parents,” or “The Snow Man” if it had been called “Stoicism in a Failed Marriage”? Like Dickinson, Stevens has won a wide audience in spite of the guard he put on his privacy, and we are now better acquainted with his sorrows. . . .'

Is that link made between the poet’s life and his poems important though? The Snow Man is worth reading because it’s a great poem and I’d feel that, while Stevens’ circumstances may be interesting for scholars, the poem has wider application than any personal grief.

Although...perhaps I'm wrong to read Vendler's comments in a reductive sense. Maybe it adds a new dimension to the poem if you read it in the context of a marriage?

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

- Wallace Stevens, 1921

Monday, August 24, 2009

Facebook vs. Blog

The feed from this blog goes directly to my Facebook page. People comment there as well as (perhaps more than) on the blog – fair enough, seeing as I’m responsible for making that possible. However, I’m now not so convinced that it was a good idea, so I think I might cut the Facebook feed. It just makes sense to have all comments at the same place and, in any case, non-members of Facebook can’t read the comments there. Does anyone feel strongly about this? i.e. do people much prefer the convenience of reading my blog content as a Facebook note? If so, I might rethink…

Sunday, August 23, 2009

News From Salt Publishing

Just a reminder that all Salt books are available in August direct from Salt Publishing at a 33% discount, free shipping on orders with a cover price of over £30 or $30. The offer ends 31 August 2009, so only one week to go. Enter the coupon code HU693FB2 when in the store to benefit.

I’ve ordered three books, all of which look really interesting:

The Wrong Miracle by Liz Gallagher
The Poems of Sidney West by Juan Gelman (‘Sidney West’ is an imaginary American author invented by Gelman).
Home and Variations by Robert Archambeau

Salt hardbacks are also available for excellent prices, complete with free postage in many parts of the world (including North America), from The Book Depository.

Also, Chris at Salt asks:

“What do you think is the most important book Salt has published?

“You don't have to have read everything we’ve done, or have knowledge of it all, just cast your vote on the Salt book that mattered most to you and that you believe is an important literary work.

“Do share the vote with any online friends, I’ll register the vote here on this Facebook note. I’ll accept email votes (chris[AT], too, and Tweets to @saltpublishing or #JustOneBook. Deadline 15th September 2009.”

If there are a few books that you value equally, you can have more than one vote. I’d see the vote as less about a competition and more about getting books on people’s radar. I voted for Scales Dog and I already know of one person who has bought it since and really enjoyed it.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Email From Amazon

I just received one of those promotional emails from Amazon where they recommend books to you on the basis (presumably) of books you've previously bought. This time they've told me that I might well be interested in buying The Opposite of Cabbage by Rob A. Mackenzie. Seriously...

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Megrahi Release

How should one react to the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi? Not easy.

Well, for some, it’s simple. For those waiting for him at the airport in Tripoli, the reaction appeared to be jubilation. Reports suggest he will be feted as a hero by many Libyans in the last few months of his life. For some of those who lost a loved one on Pam Am flight 103, the reaction is outrage and talk of ‘compassion’ sticks in their throats. I can certainly understand this latter reaction. The airport jubilation is harder to fathom. Some Libyans, bizarrely, waved Scottish flags to welcome home a man convicted of killing a number of Scottish people (189 of the 259 people of board the plane were American. I don’t have an exact figure for Scottish deaths, but there were some, both on the plane and in Lockerbie itself). You may wave our flag, folks, but you’re crazy if you think that went down well here.

Still, complexity abounds. Jim Swire reiterated what seems to be the predominant view of those in Scotland who lost loved ones when the plane tore through Lockerbie: that Megrahi was stitched up, that whatever his involvement, he wasn’t the mastermind behind the bomb. Senior members of the Scottish Government have spoken of the need to show compassion, even though Megrahi showed none himself, even if it means him serving only eight years in prison for the indiscriminate murder of 270 people. He is going to die very soon, of course, but dying in Greenock prison is a very different death than dying among his family as a national icon.

The moral issues at the heart of this affair are hard to deal with. I was leaning to the side of compassion. The guy is dying, after all. Is there anything to be gained from being hard-hearted? But those scenes of triumph at Tripoli airport test the limits of compassion. They shouldn’t make any difference, and yet they do. We expect a more muted entry from someone who killed 270 people and has been granted unexpected freedom on compassionate grounds. And if he was innocent and really deeply regretted the deaths caused by the bomb, we’d expect a more muted entry still.

He wouldn’t be free if he hadn’t contracted terminal cancer. Those who say he should have died in prison – is this a ‘let him rot in hell’ position, or a genuine sense that justice would have been served? I guess that will vary from person to person. And what about compassion? I heard two quotes yesterday from relatives of people who had died: one said that there was no reason to extend compassion towards someone who had shown none; the other said that if human beings lose their sense of compassion, even in such circumstances, what remains? What hope is there?

Interesting to see how politicians have reacted. The UK Government in Westminster needs to come under scrutiny. The USA claims that assurances were given by the UK Government that Megrahi would never be released, but the UK declined to make representations to the Scottish Government’s committee considering Megrahi’s release – other than to assert that there was no legal barrier to the release and to deny that assurances had been given to the USA. Libya have oil and gas, let’s not forget that.

Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice minister, backed the release on compassionate grounds. Previously, a Prison-Transfer-Agreement had been agreed between Libya and the UK Government in Westminster. Given that Britain’s jails only housed one Libyan prisoner (guess who!), you can see what that Agreement was aiming for. The USA claim they were given assurances by the UK that Megrahi would finish his sentence in Scotland, but the UK deny these assurances were ever given. However, it seems clear that the UK Government were looking for ways to shift Megrahi from UK soil. Why? Couldn’t be the oil, could it?

Kenny MacAskill may well have felt bound to release Megrahi – either due to compassion (the public face), or due to pressure from Westminster (the private reality), or by a combination of those. Commentators seem to have interpreted Kenny MacAskill’s somewhat religious language as an attempt to appeal to the USA. Well, maybe. I see it differently. I don’t know if he really wanted to release Megrahi at all and his appeal to a ‘higher power’ to give out justice may be a coded way to suggest his own dissatisfaction at being forced into making the decision. MacAskill followed up his ‘higher power’ statement by saying, ‘He is going to die’, leaving open to interpretation whether he was suggesting God would judge him in the after-life, or that Death was a higher and more final power than any human court or politician. He chose his words very carefully, I think.

There has been heavy pressure from the USA not to release Megrahi. The Labour Government has refused to make a public statement (other than to say that it’s been a matter for the Scottish administration to decide on) because, presumably, they want to open up greater trade with Libya without upsetting the USA. Only Conservative opposition leader, David Cameron, has been opportunistic enough to side with the USA (to cement that so-called ‘special relationship’ for when he becomes Prime Minister, no doubt) and to criticize the Scottish Government publicly. Well, at least we now know, if we didn’t before, where his priorities lie.

A website has appeared urging you to Boycott Scotland! Ah yes, boycott our evil regime… You know, some people are just plain idiots. Yes, boycott us, but carry on trading with China and other regimes which destroy human rights on a daily basis. Duh…

We may never know what happened on Pam Am flight 103, but this case has opened up wounds that have never truly healed. It also asks serious moral questions on the limits of compassion. It could, and probably should, open a can of worms on how such decisions may really have less to do with morality and more with political and financial expediency.

[edit, 22.8.09: from the BBC News - "The Lockerbie bomber's release was raised at trade talks between the UK and Libya, Colonel Gaddafi's son reportedly tells Libyan TV." It's that 'reportedly' that gets me. Either he did tell Libyan TV or he didn't, surely.

OK, getting to grips with this tangent now - Gadaffi’s son is Seif al-Islam: "In all commercial contracts, for oil and gas with Britain, (Megrahi) was always on the negotiating table," Mr Islam said told Libya's Al Mutawassit channel.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "No deal has been made between the UK government and the Libyan government in relation to Megrahi and any commercial interests in the country."
UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband earlier rejected suggestions the UK pushed for Megrahi's release to improve relations as "a slur on both myself and the government".

Notice one thing – neither the Foreign Office nor Miliband actually deny al-Islam’s claim. The FO say ‘no deal has been made’ (not that it wasn’t on the table at negotiations – they are hardly likely to put such a thing in writing, are they?) and Miliband simply says that the accusation, if factual, is a slur (and so it would be if this Government had any reputation left to discredit). But he doesn’t directly deny the accusation.]

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Gutter Magazine And Anonymous Reviews

A couple of weeks ago, the first issue of Gutter arrived. It’s a new magazine of Scottish writing and much of what I’ve read in it so far has been very good. A new quality Scottish lit mag is much needed for all kinds of reasons.

The editorial contains two controversial items on anonymity. Here’s the first (the second will come on a later date!), from the editorial, concerning the magazine’s review section:

“These are written anonymously by practising writers – not through wilful obfuscation but to allow for more candid opinions.”

The reviews certainly are candid. They are generally well written and provocative. Some are very positive, some highly negative, some in between. But the reviews are all anonymous. Now, the subtext here is that reviewers can write what they really think without having to worry about the writer’s reaction – either of the ‘hate mail’ type or of a well known writer threatening to destroy their careers etc

I sympathise, to an extent, and the reviews in Gutter do seem more candid than in many magazines. None of them appear to me to have abused their anonymity by trashing books and I don’t get the impression that any were fawning blurbs written by an author’s best friend. I’ve read several bizarre blog posts saying that people should only review books they like, but they obviously don’t understand how the reviewing process works. Usually, an editor sends you books and asks you to review them. You don’t choose the books and, even if you did, you wouldn’t know whether you liked them until after you’d agreed to review them and had read them. You simply have to do as good a job as you can. That might entail making some critical points.

On the other hand, I am uncomfortable with anonymity, and I’m not alone in asking questions about it. I don’t even like anonymous comments on my blog (posting under ‘anonymous’ is fine if you include your name in the comments box), especially if they are negative about someone’s poetry or are personal attacks. I’ve always felt that if people have something to say, they should be prepared to put their name to it. Anything less smacks of cowardice.

But perhaps anonymity does have an advantage. As long as an editor tries to ensure that books aren’t handed out for review to a writer’s close friends or enemies, then anonymous reviews prevent personal poetry wars. A writer could run into a reviewer who had anonymously torn his/her work to shreds and fists wouldn’t fly. No ‘revenge reviews’ would be written. It keeps the peace.

Of course, writers shouldn’t publish books or should expressly tell their publisher not to send books for review if they’re not prepared for negative reviews. Some reviewers are awful, some want to make their name by trashing books, some have an ideological agenda that your book doesn’t fit, some reviews are badly written compared to the book under review. On the other hand, your book might be praised to the skies by someone who equally doesn’t know what they’re talking about, so these things tend to balance themselves out. But is it actually better not to know who has praised or trashed your book?

Monday, August 17, 2009

De-Cabbage Yourself! - Step 11

I’ve reached the end, the final step in my Cyclone virtual book tour. Today I’m at New York/Singaporean poet Jee Leong Koh’s excellent Song of a Reformed Headhunter blog. You might get a screen warning you of 'adult content' on Jee's blog, but don't get too excited about that. If anyone is expecting lewd images, they will be disappointed. It's a poetry blog and sometimes poetry has to tackle subjects without worrying whether they will discomfort Google or Blogger or whoever makes these decisions.

I’m talking about beginnings and endings, politics and Scottish nationalism, the promises and dangers of American poetry and culture, the second person, and a shift from narrative.

I’ve enjoyed doing the tour and it’s clearly vital that I publicise my book. I don’t know if the book has sold many copies or not as a direct result (how can anyone measure those things?), but it’s been a good opportunity to reflect on poetry and practice. I’m glad the tour is over though. I’ve felt this blog has become too much like a marketing tool at times, and that’s never how I’d envisaged it. I’ll still try to sell books in other ways, but the blog can now shift from the driving seat.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Live At The Edinburgh Fringe

To catch up: my Blackwell’s at the Fringe reading went well, and I enjoyed all the others on the night too. The crowd was a good size and very positive. Blackwell’s is an excellent bookshop, one of my favourites in Edinburgh, and I was amazed and delighted to see they had copies of my book and Andrew Philip’s (Andy is reading there this Thursday 20th) not only in the shop but also on the window display. Salt in shop windows! Three cheers for Blackwell’s! My set list was:

1. Light Storms from a Dark Country
2. Girl Playing Sudoku on the 7.15
3. Berlusconi and the National Grid
4. While the Moonies are Taking Over Uruguay
5. Scottish Sonnet Ending in American
6. Scotlands
7. Everyone Will Go Crazy

On Friday I was MC at Utter!, introducing Rapunzel Wizard (who lived up to his name), Stephen Barnaby and Graeme Hawley. It’s well worth checking out Utter! by the way. It’s free (although donations are more than welcome), and there’s a different programme every evening. On Friday, I read:

1. Our Inventions
2. Scotland
3. Breaking the Hoodoo
4. Whisky
5. Visiting Hour

Yesterday evening, I was back at Utter! to hear John Hegley, Tim Wells and Tim Turnbull – excellent performances by the Donut Press crew. Afterwards, I ended up in the Oxford Bar where Tim Wells celebrated his birthday in the traditional way.

Tomorrow (Monday), I’ll be doing a short poetry set sometime between 7.50-8.40pm for Underword at Fingers Piano Bar, Frederick Street. Then I have a break for a week and am back at Utter (5.30-6.20pm) on Wednesday 26th and Saturday 29th.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Sparks

Today, I’m glad to feature Ben Wilkinson on Surroundings. Some of you may know him from his blog, Deconstructive Wasteland. Some of you may have read his debut pamphlet, The Sparks. It’s a very good read, published as part of tall-lighthouse’s pilot series for introducing the work of talented younger poets.

Ben has allowed me to publish a poem from it below and has answered a couple of questions:


These days, the way my mind works,
when she and I are side-by-side the morning after
in a bedroom-cum-DIY-disaster

it takes no more than a number or word
or her surreptitious hand brushing close to mine
to set the rhymes racing off

like inmates that’ve tripped
the central security system
and are running like fuck-knows into the distance

the way thoughts might link
hex to text to the lesser-striped Baryonyx of the Early Cretaceous
who, with twice as many teeth

as its nearest relatives and a sharp angle
near the snout, could hold onto its prey
with twenty times the efficiency of the modern crocodile or shrike.

.............- Ben Wilkinson © 2009

Ben, do the poems in 'The Sparks' have a unifying principle? If so, can you describe what you were trying to achieve?

Hi Rob - good to be here on Surroundings. As my first pamphlet of poems, ‘The Sparks’ is intended as a taster of sorts: a selection of work that will hopefully interest readers. It draws on three or so years’ worth of poems – what myself and Roddy Lumsden, who edits the tall-lighthouse Pilot series, thought was my best stuff at the time. I tried to arrange it in such a way that if you’re not enjoying one poem, you might like the next. As such it doesn’t have much of a unifying principle, though certain themes, as they say, are recurrent. If anything unites the poems, it’s a general attempt to mix the everyday language I speak with the richer diction and syntax and semantic leaps that poetry allows for. That’s what I usually try to do – root poems in experience (whether something psychodramatised or fictional) then head off in a direction that when you look back, it’s from an unusual, and hopefully interesting, angle. I want any poem I write to finish somewhere quite different from where it started out. I don’t think that there’s any point sitting down to write a poem if you already know where it’s going to end up. It won’t be interesting to write and, chances are, it won’t be interesting to read either.

In ‘Hex’, tender imagery (‘surreptitious hand brushing close to mine’) is set alongside the narrator’s reflections on security systems and dinosaurs. There’s a (successful, to my mind) disconnection between what’s happening and what’s being thought. Did you have the surprising final image in mind when you began to write the poem, or did it emerge in the process of writing?

I hope that ‘Hex’ illustrates my answer to your first question. I had no idea when I started writing the poem that it would finish with a summary of the predatory nature of the Baryonyx, though I can see how if I’d had that image from the outset, I might’ve worked backwards from it. I actually started writing the poem from my immediate surroundings – a tiny, but not entirely charmless, one bedroom flat that I was living in at the time. Writing from what’s around you is often a one-way ticket to Boredom Central, but I hope that the rhyming leaps of ‘Hex’ justify its beginnings. It’s a poem about habitually creating links between things, whether through rhyme, metaphor, simile, analogy – a sort of magic that’s at the poet’s disposal given their acute awareness of it, but also something which can come to govern their way of thinking about the world. That's where the disconnection you mention comes in - a sort of 'zoning out', if you see what I mean. By the end of the poem, the narrator is left with the strange image of the Baryonyx sinking its teeth into its prey through nothing more than one thought leading into another. But by analogy, this far-flung image can still be linked to the narrator’s circumstances.

At the risk of sounding grand, we naturally finds ways to forge links between the most disparate and different things. It’s just an instinctive attempt to reconcile everything – something we all do, but that art in general has a particular tendency towards. At its best, with great writers and artists, it can produce an entirely fresh, credible and exciting perspective on something otherwise familiar. To my mind, it’s worth my carrying on writing poems in the hope that they might achieve that, one way or another.

You can order ‘The Sparks’ for £4 from tall-lighthouse at this link.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Few Plugs

Quick reminder that I’m also appearing in Blackwell’s Bookshop on the South Bridge, Edinburgh on Thursday 13th August from 6-7.15pm as part of the Blackwell’s Writers at the Fringe events (scroll down at the link), along with five other writers. If any of you are around, it would be great to see a friend or two in the audience.


I thought I’d flag up this Edinburgh Book Festival event with Jenny Bornholdt, Bashabi Fraser & Martin MacIntyre on Saturday from 4pm. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it. However, it should be well worth checking out, especially for Martin’s poetry, which is mainly in Gaelic (with English translation).


The autumn 2009 programme for Poetry at the... is now up. Check out the links on the names down the left sidebar. Should be great! I’m also interested to hear your views on the possibility of having a short open-mic at each event. Is that a good or bad idea?


The Magma blog asks, Are you bored with the default poem? You can of course answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no’, although further intelligent remarks will also be appreciated.

De-Cabbage Yourself! - Step 10

My Cyclone virtual book tour has reached its penultimate stop. This week the un-cabbage has landed for the second time at Nic Sebastian’s Very Like a Whale.

I talk about personal involvement in poems, a weird journey through the north of England, the importance of a sense of humour, why I'm not a surrealist, five books I kept by my side, and the difference between the UK and the US poetry worlds (to the very limited extent I can make sense of either).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Report from Utter!

Excellent opening night for Utter! at the Festival Fringe last Saturday. I really enjoyed the readings by Richard Tyrone-Jones, Tim Key, Jenny Lindsay and Jude Simpson and my own reading went well. Good audience too. A Radio 4 programme, You and Yours, was recording bits of it and asking members of the audience for their reaction. It should be broadcast on Friday between midday and one o’clock.

My set-list?

1. Concentration
2. Inbox
3. Hangover
4. Shopping List
5. Advice from the Lion-Tamer to the Poetry Critic
6. Homecoming

I’m going to catch today’s performance, at the usual time – 5.30pm at Fingers Piano Bar, Frederick Street. Free!

On Saturday, I stayed on for this strange improvised ‘dating counsellor’ act. This guy got audience members to enact various dating scenarios and to consider strategies. One of those acts you’d only find at the Edinburgh Fringe. It was good fun. I also stayed on for Underword, another Spoken Word event (7.50-8.40pm each night at Fingers Piano Bar). Again, some good, enjoyable stuff there and I may also stay on tonight. I’m on at Utter! again this Friday 14th, doing my MC thing, introducing English poets who liked Scotland so much they moved here.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Currently Listening To...

...Yo La Tengo.

And you know how you get some bands who take themselves far too seriously, well here's the antidote:


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Berryman, Hill, And Porter

I am reading three books which I think should do me until around Christmas. They are:

The Dream Songs – John Berryman: 427 pages
Collected Poems – Geoffrey Hill (1984 edition): 207 pages
Collected Poems vol. 1 – Peter Porter (poems 1961-81): 335 pages

I mean, I have picked up a few other, mainly contemporary collections I’d really like to read e.g. Cocktails by DA Powell, Riding Pisces by Yang Lian, Arioflotga by Frank Kuppner, The Tethers by Carrie Etter, and Zero by Brian McCabe. Also, I plan to buy a few Salt books just published or soon to be e.g. Liz Gallagher, Tony Williams. I will read a few books for review. But Berryman, Hill and Porter are going to be my main diet for the rest of the year.

I’ve been reading a few of Peter Porter’s early 1961 poems. They are often highly compressed, and require quite a bit of concentration. A few seem infused with a kind of Larkin-esque melancholy, grey visions of a decaying England, and the melancholy somehow lacks impact. However, other poems are terrific and are packed with surprising and disturbing phrases and imagery. The pick of them so far is Conventions of Death with the stomping final stanza:

So give up thinking, work hard, buy a car,
Get married, keep a garden, bring up kids –
Answers to all the problems that there are,
Except the love that kills, the death that lives.

Utter! And Blackwell's At The Fringe

I hope plenty of people manage to catch some of the Utter! (full programme at the link) shows in Edinburgh throughout the festival, from 8-29 August at Fingers Piano Bar , Frederick Street, from 5.30-6.30pm. I’ll be part of it on Sat 8th, Fri 14th (as MC), Wed 26th, and Sat 29th. I’m looking forward to the Donut night on the 15th with John Hegley, Tim Turnbull and Tim Wells. Poets as varied as Jude Simpson, Claire Askew, Anita Govan, Hazel Frew and Christie Williamson are reading on various dates, and also lots of people whose work I don’t yet know. The whole thing is organised by Richard Tyrone Jones (check out his 'Celery Seller'). Because it’s part of the Free Fringe, it won’t cost you a penny.

I’m also appearing in Blackwell’s Bookshop on the South Bridge on Thursday 13th August from 6-7.15pm as part of the Blackwell’s Writers at the Fringe events (scroll down at the link). The full line-up that evening (all sounds great to me) is:

Caro Ramsay
Gillian Philip
Rob A. MacKenzie
Donald Smith
Robin Laing
Arnold Maran

On 20th August, Andrew Philip will be reading with five other writers, and there are also interesting line-ups on the 6th and 27th. Again, it’s free.

Monday, August 03, 2009

De-Cabbage Yourself! - Step 9

My Cyclone virtual book tour rolls onward. Today I’ve reached South Africa and am interviewed by Michelle McGrane on her Peony Moon blog.

I meditate on how Joy Division stopped me going to parties, the experience of life abroad, live poetry, my creative chaos, and fatherhood. I also name the first five favourite books that popped into my head.

Thanks to Michelle for some great questions. Next Monday (10th August), I’m back at Nic Sebastian’s Very Like A Whale, and the tour closes on the 17th at Jee Leong Koh’s Song of a Reformed Headhunter.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Salt Benefit Gig

Big thanks to Kevin Cadwallender for organising a benefit reading for Salt last Thursday evening at the wonderful Out Of The Blue centre. It was a fantastic space, maybe a shade big for this reading, but I hope it can be utilized as a venue for future literary events.

Alexander Hutchison and I were the Salt poets on show (Andrew Philip was waiting for his wife to give birth. It finally happened yesterday. They have a new daughter – Cerys Ilona – so big congratulations to them!). We were joined by poets published (or forthcoming) by Red Squirrel Press. It was a shame that the audience wasn’t bigger, but the evening was still very enjoyable and did make some money for Salt.

My set-list:

1. “He is between sandwiches…”
2. One Way To Be A Catholic
3. Everyone Will Go Crazy
4. Hospital
5. The Scuffle