Friday, October 30, 2009

Report From Aberdeen's Dead Good Poets

I didn’t get to bed until after 1am last night after taking the last train to Edinburgh from Aberdeen where Andrew Philip and I had been reading at the Dead Good Poets. The venue, an independent bookshop/cafĂ© in Belmont Street called Books and Beans, was a great place to read and does a fine chai latte, which we both took advantage of. The evening started with an enjoyable open mic, which included everything from Rapunzel Wizard's (I’d first met him at one of the Utter! Edinburgh Fringe shows) very funny rant against Donald Trump to the calm precision of 2009 Foyle Young Poet of the Year, Bryony Harrower. There was a good audience, positive and friendly, and they bought our books too (very much appreciated, folks!). The only regret is that there isn’t much time to have proper conversations with people when you have to sit at a table to sell and sign books, but it was good to have a pint afterwards with Gerard Rochford, Eddie Gibbons and Osob Dahir.

Andy and I had been given 25 minutes each to read. Rather than doing two separate sets, we decided to integrate them. I think the approach worked well and the contrast in the alternating voices and styles might have kept people awake (clearly, only the audience could verify that – they seemed to be awake).

Here’s the set-list. Andy’s poems are in red and mine are in blue:

The Preacher’s Ear
The White Dot
In the Last Few Seconds
The Loser
Via Negativa
In Question to the Answers
The Ambulance Box
Everyone Will Go Crazy
Berlin, Berlin, Berlin
Jacko Holed Up in Blackfriars Street B and B?
The Meisure o a Nation
Scottish Sonnet Ending in American
(Sevenling) Elizabeth had II
The Invention of Zero
Light Storms from a Dark Country
Dream Family Holiday
Aileen’s Cupboard
Notes to Self
In Praise of Dust
How New York You Are

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Salt In Aberdeen

I’m reading in Aberdeen tomorrow evening (Thursday 29th) from 6.30pm at the Dead Good Poets event in the ‘Books and Beans’ shop, along with Andy Philip. It’s the Aberdeen launch for our books.

I studied law at Aberdeen many years ago and remember well the cold blast that rakes down King Street to the beach and back again. I now know almost no one there, but I hope we get an audience in any case. I’m now rushing off to do some work-related stuff by bus and, on the way, I’ll try to choose a pool of poems to read from. Andy and I may try to mix up our sets rather than read separately if we can find a way of doing that which works.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Christopher Whyte Book Launch

News of the launch of Christopher Whyte's major new book: Bho Leabhar-Latha Maria Malibran. (Acair. Thursday at the Scottish Poetry Library from 7.30pm (there's also a Wednesday launch at the Mitchell Library, Glasgow). Chris is coming all the way from Budapest. I would be there if I could (but can't). It will be Gaelic and English translation.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bag A Salt Bundle

I was reading on the Salt Blog about the new themed Christmas bundles – selections of five books that are likely to have a common appeal – and was delighted (and somewhat amused) to see that The Opposite of Cabbage is included in the book bundle 'for the deep thinker'! The other books are a short story collection by John Saul, and three poetry collections by John Hartley Williams, Peter Abbs and Alexander Hutchison. Great to be in such august company!

In other news from Salt, Tony Williams’s debut collection, The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street, is just out. That should be terrific, I think – a ‘must read’ as far as I am concerned.

Last, but not least, Andy Philip’s The Ambulance Box has been shortlisted for the 2009 Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize. Two Salt authors are on the shortlist (Sian Hughes is the other) and three are Scottish (Andy, Dawn Wood and J.O. Morgan). Philip Rush, previously unknown to me, is the fifth name on the list. Intriguing that the judges have bypassed Faber, Cape, Picador, Seren, Bloodaxe and Carcanet. Perhaps they didn’t enter? Or maybe they did… Either way, it’s an interesting shortlist.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Horizon Review, Issue 3

I’ve been reading sporadically from the brand new issue 3 of Horizon Review. So far, it’s excellent, a genuinely stimulating experience: interviews, articles, podcasts, reviews, fiction and poetry are all thrown into the mix. The Craig Raine interview is liable to be the most obviously controversial (and what magazine doesn’t appreciate a bit of controversy?), but there’s plenty of other good stuff, both serious and funny. I have a poem there called One Way to Be a Catholic.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Syllabary At The Scottish Poetry Library

After Friday’s readings from Kinloch, Hutchison, Price and McCarey, I felt I couldn’t miss Saturday evening’s offering at the Scottish Poetry Library - the launch of two new versions of The Syllabary, the brainchild of Scottish poet, Peter McCarey. The first launch was of the upgraded site at the link. The second launch was of a collaborative project, which I’ll say something about in a minute.

At the link, the revolving dial at the bottom right corner contains every syllable in the language. Each syllable is split into cells containing all monosyllabic words corresponding to the syllable. McCarey’s project is to write a poem for every cell. He is currently (after 15 years) almost halfway through the mammoth task. You can both read and hear the poems. If McCarey hasn’t yet written a poem for a cell, the dial continues to spin until it reaches a completed poem. This review from 2006 gives a fairly good idea of the ambition, scope, vision and sheer obsession that drives the task. It’s an astonishing work.

The SPL event also launched a new collaborative version. The idea is that you can email Peter McCarey (mccarey*AT* and he will assign you a cell – a syllable and the words in that cell. You write a short poem, using all the words provided. There are no deadlines, no pressure. Aiko Harman explains the concept in more detail. By the time it’s finished, McCarey hopes that more than 2,200 poets will have taken part. I’m just about to request a syllable –some are easier to write with than others(!), but you take what you get. The collaborative site will be up soon. I guess he needs to gather a number of poems initially to make visiting the collaborative version worthwhile.

Friday, October 09, 2009

StAnza 2010 Participants and Two Readings

The participants in 2010’s StAnza International Poetry Festival have been unveiled and it’s a terrific line-up. How fast will the Heaney tickets sell? No advance orders. You’ll see my name on the list. I’m not reading poems, but doing something else. When the full programme is released, all will be revealed.

And tonight, from 7pm, I’ll be in the Word Power Bookshop, Edinburgh, for a reading from four excellent poets:

Richard Price
Peter McCarey
David Kinloch
Alexander Hutchison

I reckon this will be a terrific reading.

Finally, on Sunday evening (11th October), ‘Poetry at the…GRV’ (35 Guthrie Street, Edinburgh - £4, concessions £3) is back from 7.45-9.45pm, featuring Brian Johnstone, Eddie Gibbons and Dave Coates. You can read poems and bios from all three at the link.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Happy National Poetry Day...

...but as poetry is around for the other 364 days of the years too, I though Frank Zappa might be just what's needed for today.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Poetry and Dirt Bikes

My poetry collection appears to have a following among the dirt bike riding community of Australia. One of them asked for tips on where to go around Sydney, and the second post down suggested the rather surreal route of my book!

It gave me a much-needed laugh anyway…

Forward Prize 2009 Predictions

This Sunday (11th October), I’m looking forward to ‘Poetry at the… GRV’ (7.45-9.45pm) and have just posted a poem and bio from Dave Coates who’ll be reading along with Brian Johnstone and Eddie Gibbons.

Now for a little idle speculation. The winners of the Forward Prize will be announced on Wednesday. Who will win? I’m bound to get this wrong and I haven’t read most of the books in any case (although I have read at least a few poems from all the main prize books and some of the first collection books), but I’m going to guess anyway.

First of all, the Best Collection category. Here’s the shortlist (note - 5 men, 1 woman):

Glyn Maxwell - Hide Now
Sharon Olds - One Secret Thing
Don Paterson – Rain
Peter Porter - Better than God
Christopher Reid - A Scattering
Hugo Williams - West End Final.

The favourite is probably Don Paterson’s ‘Rain’. I like DP’s work, although I haven’t yet read this new collection. However, I predict Glyn Maxwell’s ‘Hide Now’ will pull off a surprise win.

Secondly, the Best First Collection shortlist (4 women, 2 men):

Sian Hughes - The Missing
Emma Jones - The Striped World
Meirion Jordan – Moonrise
Lorraine Mariner – Furniture
J.O. Morgan - Natural Mechanical
Meghan O'Rourke - Halflife.

I’d like to see Sian Hughes win, for the obvious reason that the book is published by Salt. I guess Emma Jones is the favourite, as a Faber debut always tends to be the favourite (I have actually read this book and liked it). My prediction for winner is Lorraine Mariner – I just have a hunch.

Thirdly the shortlist for Best Poem (5 men, 1 woman):

Paul Farley – Moles
Michael Longley – Visiting Stanley Kunitz
Robin Robertson - At Roane Road
Elizabeth Speller – Finistere
George Szirtes – Song
CK Williams - Either/Or

Now, I have read four out of the six poems. Of these, I thought (just my opinion, remember) one was poor and its inclusion almost inexplicable, one was far from the author’s best work, one was a strong contender, and one (‘Song’ by George Szirtes) could well be the winner unless either of the two poems I haven’t read are very special indeed.

Tune in for the result on Wednesday evening to find out how absolutely wrong I’ve been!

Friday, October 02, 2009

GRV Poetry Taster

I had been living and working under the illusion that the next Poetry at the… GRV on October 11th was ages away, but of course it’s in 9 days’ time. So yesterday, I got some publicity going and posted Brian Johnstone’s poem and bio to the website. He’ll be reading on Sunday 11th (7.45-9.45pm) at the GRV, Guthrie Street, Edinburgh, along with Eddie Gibbons and Dave Coates. There are still spaces for a couple of 3-minute spots on the bill as well, so email me (address at my profile) if you want one of those. These are for poets at any and all levels – people who’ve never read before or experienced poets who want to read a couple of new poems to an audience – it worked well last month.

At The Magma Blog

A fair bit of action on the Magma blog at the moment: news of a Magma-associated Don Paterson workshop if you’re around Cheltenham, a discussion on writing beyond your own experience (what you don't know), a reminder of the Troubadour Competition, and the new initiative of the Subscribers’ Poem Workshop.