Monday, January 30, 2012

'Fleck and the Bank' Cover

The cover of my forthcoming chapbook, which will be published as part of the Salt Modern Voices series. It features a guy called Fleck, a bank, and poems which riff around themes of collapse, disintegration and disappearance via friends, virtual friends and obscure notes. Orignal lines square up to stolen ones, money makes a cameo appearance as a ghost, politicians leap into cauldrons of boiling fat, theology is done by mobile phone, and the Patron Saint of Plainsong Maledictions turns up with a little advice in song, which readers are welcome to singalong to if they wish. I also have a full collection coming out in 2013, although none of the poems in the chapbook will also feature in the collection.

There's not yet a definite publication date, but I'll let you know when that becomes clear. A good number of the other chapbooks in the series can be found here. So far, I've read Neil Addison's Apocapulco (for some reason, this doesn't seem to have its own page on the site) and Mark Burnhope's The Snowboy, both of which were really good.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Two Manuscripts and Three Magazines

I’ve been trying not to neglect this blog. I have ideas, no shortage of things to write about. But the last week or two have been so busy that I’ve had to prioritise other poetry-related activities.

First of all, I did a bit of work on a chapbook manuscript and then decided it was finished (or as finished as it was going to be before submitting it). I now have submitted it for publication and will just have to wait and see what happens.

Secondly, I’ve been hard at work on reading and evaluating Magma 53 submissions. I’ve enjoyed it at times but it’s been hard going too. The submissions never stop flooding in – a good thing, I guess – but there’s only so many I can read each night without my brain turning into mulch. I have to stop as it’s hardly fair to consider poems after that point. It’s been hard rejecting friends and people whose work I actually quite enjoyed, but it has to be done.

Thirdly, I’ve been sent three poetry publications I haven’t been able to resist reading. Richard Price sent me the new copy of Painted, Spoken (issue 22) and so far I’ve enjoyed some excellent poems by Chris McCabe, Dorothy Lawrenson and Gerry Loose, and a review of PolyPly, an event which involved innovative poetry and film. I’m a fan of Chris and Gerry and expect to enjoy their stuff. But I was also struck by Dorothy Lawrenson’s poetry, which seemed to me far tighter and more affecting than anything she was doing 5 or 6 years ago – what any writer wants to happen, I guess. No doubt I’m going to find out she wrote these ones 6 years ago now! I read through the latest edition of Poetry magazine – always one of my favourite reads of the month. And Chris Hamilton-Emery sent me the manuscript of his new book, which will be published in March. Yesterday was my day off and I took advantage by reading through the first 20 pages – some fantastic, distinctive poems in there.

Anyway, I have managed a blog post, even if not a particularly focused one. I have meant to write about BBC1’s recent adaptation of Dickens's ‘Great Expectations’, about the Scottish independence referendum, about Michael Gove’s cultural vandalism, about a Denis Johnson poem... So far, you have been spared.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

All the Rooms of Uncle's Head: Fact and Fiction

My review of All the Rooms of Uncle’s Head by Tony Williams (Nine Arches press, 2011, £6) is up at Sphinx issue 19, together with reviews of the same pamphlet by Jon Stone and Nikolai Duffy. Oddly, the same Nikolai Duffy review, slightly extended, also appears at Stride magazine.

One issue that emerges from the reviews is whether the background to the poems is fact or fiction. The description on the pamphlet’s back cover says:
The maker of these strange pieces was an inmate of an asylum somewhere in Central Europe in the first decades of the 20th century. His fevered versions of the sonnet form were painted on to ceramic tiles, since smashed, and now pieced together.

Sounds like historical fact – if that’s as far as you read. But I was convinced from the outset that this was a fiction – even if a fiction interweaved with certain historical facts. My reasons are as follows:

1. The pamphlet’s cover clearly asserts Tony Williams as sole author.

2. Nowhere does the pamphlet ever suggest itself to be a work of translation. The poems are © Tony Williams and no one else.

3. The pamphlet’s introduction says that in 1986, the building occupied by German psychiatrist, Hans Prinzhorn, was stripped for renovation, and it was during this that the ceramic poem-tiles were discovered. Prinzhorn, his landmark book on ‘outsider art’, and his accommodation in Munich, are all historically verifiable, but a Google search for ‘Prinzhorn ceramic tiles 1986’ or any other similar search directs the searcher only to Tony Williams’s pamphlet.

4. There is no reference to those tiles anywhere, or to their previous publication in their original language. That means Tony must have worked with the original tiles, which no one else had ever thought to publish either within a book or online. Surely that’s impossible, given their obvious literary quality.

5. The back cover description above continues with, “Inspired by the great artists celebrated by Hans Prinzhorn in his famous work The Artistry of the Mentally Ill, Tony Williams has explored what it might mean to create literature under such conditions of stress.” This seals it for me: those phrases, “Tony Williams has explored...” and “inspired by...”. In other words, these are original poems by Williams, inspired by his research into ‘outsider art’.

I am a fan of literary hoaxes. Ern Malley springs to mind, and I know of a few other brilliantly conceived hoaxes. But I don’t think Tony Williams is hoaxing anyone here. All the Rooms of Uncle’s Head is a fiction, not a hoax. The poems are obviously by Tony Williams but are written in a convincing persona and, like any strong work of fiction, it draws the reader into a spell so that he/she enters a world that feels absolutely real. One thing that makes this pamphlet so convincing is how well Williams evokes the style of central European poetry of the early 20th century and yet still manages to make it sound something like Tony Williams. I’d definitely recommend you get yourself a copy, particularly if you like poems that offer new discoveries with every read.