Monday, 30 May 2011

Constructed Landscapes

Last Thursday, I took part in a workshop led by Mark Goodwin at the Phoenix in Leicester, which took the work of artist Helen Saunders as its starting point.

It was a great couple of hours, very inspiring, and I'm going to go back for another look at Helen's work, as the exhibition has been extended until a week on Friday (June 10th). Quite the best thing, I think, was that Helen herself took part, and talked quite a bit about her processes and techniques.

I'm going to come back to that, and its relevance to poetry (incidentally, I might be wrong, but I think Helen's responsible for the cover of Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts' Edgelands), in more depth a bit later, but in the meantime, I can recommend the exhibition very highly.


Yesterday's Nine Arches Press reading at Warwick University, as part of the Kaleidoscope conference, was just that bit different to any reading I've done before.

After Jane Commane had talked about how the press uses colour in the design of its books and chapbooks, Roz Goddard, Matt Nunn, Maria Taylor and myself took turns to talk a little about how colour figures in our work, and why we used particular favourite colours, before reading poems that, hopefully, illustrated what we'd mentioned.

To be honest, I really enjoyed the preparation for the event. It's very strange going back through your own work in detail, and I found myself noticing a couple of themes, and more than a couple of stylistic tics, that I hadn't really noticed before. When I get a bit more time, I'll post some of my notes on here, maybe.

There was a small but very responsive audience, and it all closed with a discussion of what we'd just read that I only wish could have gone on longer. Lots of food for thought.

My set was:


Thursday, 26 May 2011

People of Europe, rise up

Good post here by Alan Baker about the protests going on in Spain. I've heard various reports online, and through friends living in Spain, but it's been nearly impossible to find anything in the mainstream media in the UK.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

A Nine Arches reading with a difference

On Sunday, I'll be reading along with Matt Nunn, Roz Goddard and Maria Taylor at a conference at the University of Warwick, entitled Kaleidoscope: new perspectives on the humanities. Our Nine Arches Press Showcase takes place at 1.30pm, in Milburn House. More details are here.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

StAnza afterword

There are photos, podcasts, videos, interviews and reviews from StAnza 2011 here - enjoy!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Some recent reading

There's a good review of Claire Askew's chapbook The Mermaid and the Sailors over at Rob Mackenzie's blog. I've been meaning to write something about it myself, and will do eventually. In fact, reading Rob's excellent piece will give me the kick up the arse I need to start rolling out some reviews from next week, starting with David Morley's Enchantment.

Sphinx has the first reviews of Matthew Stewart's fine pamphlet Inventing Truth, and there are new reviews appearing there all the time, plus a great archive of past articles.

Meanwhile, I've been enjoying Ernesto Priego's The Present Day. I've just come across this review of it, which sounds pretty spot-on to me. It's a terrific book, and I've even had a go at reading some of the untranslated Spanish poems. I might need a bit more practice there, though.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Drafting poetry

David Morley flagged this up earlier on Twitter, and it's absolutely fascinating. It's Jacob Polley's poem The Reader, draft by draft, or at least in umpteen alternative versions.

At StAnza recently, one of the highlights for me was Paul Farley's workshop in which he took us back through the drafts of his poem Treacle. I thought it was really a pretty brave thing to do - I think I'd die of shame if some of the drafts of most of my poems ever saw the light of day. It was actually quite reassuring to see that the simple hard graft of writing and revising again and again could be so effective, but also slightly terrifying in the way it highlighted that changing just one or two words could tip a poem in a completely new direction.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Essential viewing

So, tomorrow night at nine, our TV screens will once again be given over to the stories of a group of ruthless, back-stabbing, self-interested individuals and their endless machinations and romantic complications.

Of course, if you don't want to watch The Viking Sagas, on BBC4, which will look at the great outpouring of historically-based literature from 13th Century Iceland (it focuses on Laxdaela Saga, although my own favourite is Njal's Saga), you could go for something completely different and switch to BBC1 for The Apprentice. Which would, to be fair, be improved further by the contestants settling their differences with axes.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Two election questions

I have a couple of questions that I'd genuinely like to hear some answers to. One's for any Lib Dems out there, the other for returning officers.

1 The Lib Dems have repeatedly said that a coalition with the Tories was the only real option open to them, other than trying to force a second election last year. Now I can understand that they didn't want to prop up a beaten Labour Party, but what was stopping them agreeing to support a minority Tory government on a bill-by-bill basis? It would have allowed them to temper the worst excesses of Cameron and Osborne, while remaining true to the principles still held by the majority of the Lib Dem rank and file. It might even have proved popular with the electorate, given that it would have involved actual debate and compromise, rather than Lib Dem MPs being used to steamroller ideologically-driven policies through Parliament.

OK, so the Tories might not have wanted it, but had they then forced a second election, the country could have drawn its own conclusions. As it stands, in return for an AV referendum they were never going to win (partly because even many supporters of electoral reform, myself included, can't see that AV is much of an improvement on FPTP) and a few cabinet posts for Clegg and his cronies, the Lib Dems are committed to supporting policies they never advocated. Individual MPs can still rebel, but it's much harder to do so inside a formal coalition. All I've heard from Lib Dem frontbenchers on this is that the country didn't need uncertainty. Oh yes, because the current arrangement is so stable, isn't it?

To argue, as Clegg and others have done, that their manifesto was for a Liberal government, not a ConDem one, and that they're not therefore breaking any promises, is a barefaced lie. They knew when they drew up the manifesto that the only situation in which they'd be able to implement any of its policies would be as part of a coalition, formal or otherwise. If any of them genuinely believed there was any likelihood of a majority Liberal government, then they're too deluded to be allowed anywhere near  any sort of power.

2 At every election - general, local, European, whatever - since I moved to my current home in 2000, I've been approached on the way into the polling station by canvassers from one or other party (the three main ones, plus the BNP), asking to see my polling card. On every occasion, I've asked who they are, and what business it is of theirs, and have been told "Oh, we're allowed to" (note that they don't answer the first of my questions).

Well, no, I don't think you are. I was under the impression that the law guarantees a secret ballot, so surely that means that whether or not you vote (until it becoms compulsory, which I'd have no problem with), as well as how you vote, should remain secret? A colleague has pointed out that it also creates the impression that you have to have a polling card to vote. You don't. It speeds things up, but you don't need it.

If they're so convinced they're allowed to do this, why do they do it in such a shifty fashion, without first identifying themselves (there have been one or two honourable exceptions)? In almost every case, it's done by someone wearing no party rosettes or similar, and in a manner that suggests they're election officials.

So, perhaps someone with experience of election administration could explain why canvassers are allowed to continue doing this? In the meantime, I'll continue telling them to mind their own business.

Catapult To Mars

This rather splendid blog, Catapult To Mars, was flagged up to me the other day. It boasts poetry from the likes of CJ Allen, which is never a bad thing, but I'm also intrigued by anywhere that's willing to publish poetry in English, Scots or Spanish. As I'm attempting to learn the latter, I can tell myself that time spent browsing the blog's archives isn't just enjoyable, or artistically satisfying, it's educational too. Bonus!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Birdbook 1: Towns, Parks, Gardens and Woodland

A satisfyingly solid package thudded onto the doormat the other day, my copy of the long-awaited Birdbook 1, from Sidekick Books.

It's an anthology of bird poetry from contemporary writers, along with artwork for each species, and it contains work from (deep breath...) Rachael Allen, Rowyda Amin, Hannah Bagshaw, Becky Barnicoat, Simon Barraclough, Julia Bird, Niall Campbell, Michael Chance, Tom Chivers, Hanna Terese Christiansson, Monika Cilmi, John Clegg, Dave Coates, Phil Cooper, Lois Cordelia, Lorna Crabbe, Caroline Crew, Nia Davies, Lizzy Dening, Isobel Dixon, Philip Elbourne, Dai George, Matthew Gregory, Cliff Hammett, Aiko Harman, Emily Hasler, Holly Hopkins, Nicholas Hughes, i-lib, Kirsten Irving, Andrew Jamison, Amy Key, Judith Lal, Alexandra Lazar, Natalie Lazarus, Katherine Leedale, Roddy Lumsden, Edward Mackay, Marion McCready, Siofra McSherry, Kate Parkinson, Saroj Patel, Kate Potts, Richard Price, Fiona Purves, Declan Ryan, Bethany Settle, Jon Stone, Jennie Webber, James Wilkes, Chrissy Williams and myself.

That's a lot of birds, a lot of poetry, a lot of art, and a lot of kudos due to Sidekick's driving forces, Jon Stone and Kirsten Irving, with the 156 handsome pages costing you just £10.

While you're over there, have a look at Sidekick's other publications (all produced to the same high standard), and their rather splendid website, which contains some really excellent reviews, among other features.

Oh, and my four poems in the book (all previously unpublished) are Bullfinch; Watching Woodcocks, 25.4.10; ID (about Collared Doves) and Evidence (about Long-eared Owls).

I'll be returning to this book soon with a look at a few of the other poets featured, but in the meantime, get hold of a copy, and enjoy.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

That was the month that was

Well, the madness that was April and NaPoWriMo 2011 is all over. It was the first time I'd taken part since 2007, and although I'm not sure how much of what was written will stand the test of time (by which I mean, will I still think it's worth keeping a month from now), it was a great exercise in forcing me to make time for writing every day. It also pushed me in one or two different directions, which could be interesting.

Anyway, I've taken the posts down for now, but as soon as I get a moment or two in the next week, I'll post them all to a page that's now listed in the bar at the top of this blog. Hopefully I can get the formatting, etc, to work a bit better. In the meantime, thanks very much to all those who offered advice and congratulations.