Friday, 28 October 2011

The waiting game

I've been thinking hard about the writing process this week. After hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica came out last November, I wrote very little poetry until April, when I did NaPoWriMo. From then until the start of September, I did little more than revise a few of the poems written during that month.

It wasn't exactly writer's block, though. I don't think I've ever exactly rushed to get poems out there - I tend to revise a lot and the last book, for example, contained some poems that had their origin six or seven years ago - but I had decided that I'd really take my time before sending anything out to magazines, e-zines, etc.

In the last six weeks or so, though, I've started to write some new material alongside the continuing revisions, and rather to my surprise most of the poems seem to have been arriving 'complete'. That's not to say finished, but whole poems, rather than fragments (at other times I've often had beginnings and endings with no middle, or middle sections in desperate need of something to bookend them). I've resisted the temptation to send any of them out there yet, but it has had me wondering about how much of the process of composition takes place before you ever pick up pen, or keyboard. I have, I realise, been slowly writing these poems in my head for the last 12 months - it's only now the urge to get them down on paper has become irresistible.

Then, at Monday night's Nine Arches/Crystal Clear Creators Shindig, I was going to read a poem called Azul at the open mic. I started writing it about three years ago, and I'd read it a couple of times previously, at the Colour Conference at Warwick University earlier this year, and at the last Nottingham Shindig. I'd always felt that it needed more tweaking though, and as I sat there on Monday night, I suddenly realised what. I changed things around when I read it, rewrote it when I got home, and I think it's now a much stronger poem. Again, I wonder if the rewriting's actually been taking place each time I've read it, each time I've looked at it in frustration and bafflement.

So, the waiting game seems to be working for me at the moment. The problem, of course, is knowing when to trust first impressions and go with something the moment it hits the page. But that'd be a nice problem to have.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Fizz 10

Polesworth's well-established poetry reading and open mic night, The Fizz, welcomes three poets from Cork - Afric McGlinchey, Colm Scully and Jennifer Matthews - on November 3rd, as part of the Coventry-Cork Literature Exchange.

It's worth pointing out that it's on a Thursday night (not the usual Tuesday) and at the Tythe Barn on Bridge Street, rather than in the Abbey Refectory as usual. It all starts at 7.30pm, and there'll be open mic slots available, as well as refreshments. See you there...

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Full house

Last night's Shindig at The Western might have been the best yet, courtesy of a great line-up of featured readers, the usual high standard of open mic contributions, and a large and generous audience.

Mal Dewhirst, of Polesworth Poetry Trail fame, kicked off the readings in the first (Nine Arches Press) half of the night. I particularly enjoyed his piece inspired by Pooley Country Park, but all of what he read had a strong sense of place, and he's not afraid to take unusual approaches to his subject, either - I'd like to see a lot more of the archaeological 'dig' poem he read from.

It was good to be reminded of just how good a poet Nine Arches co-editor Jane Commane is, too, with her reading touching on areas as diverse as music, racehorses and maps (the latter being a subject I always find irresistible). Her bypass poem, too, was one I'd like to hear again and again.

The second half of the night, run by Crystal Clear Creators, first featured Charles Lauder Jr. I enjoyed his poems a lot - there was just enough of a transatlantic flavour to them to make them constantly surprising. I'll look forward to seeing his pamphlet from CCC next year.

Finally, Wayne Burrows, editor of Staple, read from a variety of new work. I think his apple-inspired sequence (the green things, I mean, not the Steve Jobs empire) was my favourite section, but the loose translations of Czechoslovakian pop songs from the 60s ran it pretty close.

Loads of excellent open mic readings - Mark Goodwin's poem about climbing Cader Idris with his daughter was as perfectly balanced as you'd expect, and it was nice to hear Catullus get a look in, thanks to Graham Norman. What I enjoy most is that the open mic readers are really starting to work off each other - each Shindig now seems to throw up certain themes which the poets just naturally fall into step with.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Best British Poetry 2011 - a sample

I've not got round to posting anything from Salt's Best British Poetry 2011 yet, but over at Michelle McGrane's Peony Moon today, there are poems from Kayo Chingonyi, Abigail Parry and Jon Stone, plus links to them reading the poems. Enjoy...

Monday, 17 October 2011

A date for the diary

The latest Nine Arches Press/Crystal Clear Creators Shindig takes place at The Western, Western Road, Leicester, next Monday (October 24th) from 7.30pm.

It's a great line-up, with readers Wayne Burrows (poet and editor of Staple magazine), Charles Lauder Jr (American expat poet whose debut pamphlet will be out from Crystal Clear next year), Mal Dewhirst (poet and film-maker and the driving force behind the Polesworth Poets Trail), and Nine Arches' own Jane Commane (recently featured in Best British Poetry 2011).

As usual, there'll be plenty of open mic slots (you can sign up on the door), and it's all free.

Monday, 10 October 2011

An interview with Mark Burnhope

Mark Burnhope was born in 1982 and studied at London School of Theology before completing an MA in Creative Writing at Brunel University. His work has appeared in a variety of print and online publications. He currently lives and writes in Bournemouth, Dorset with his partner, four stepchildren, two geckos and a greyhound, and his first chapbook, The Snowboy, was recently published by Salt.

I talked to him about it, poetry in general, and much much more…

How much of an influence is your background in theology on your writing? One of the things I liked most about The Snowboy was the way it made me look afresh at religion, and specifically Christianity, in terms of metaphor.

That’s very kind of you. Yes, my first degree was in theology, and you could say it’s been a lasting influence, especially some progressive and liberation theologies like Nancy L Eisland’s The Disabled God, and various things written from within the L’Arche Community. In poetry, though, I try to avoid exploring those abstract concepts in a way which divorces them from life (‘No ideas but in things’ and all that). I’m a fan of the Metaphysical poets; as well as being serious explorers of faith, they were irreverent satirists. In Donne’s early work there’s this confusion, self-doubt, the personal tension of needing to write honestly while still honouring God, and that kaleidoscope of feeling, mingled with a range of aesthetics, often amounts to something very funny. My poem The House, the Church and Fisherman’s Walk is a slightly farcical metaphysical conceit where I pit two Christianities’ pictures of disability against one another. It has some of the ecstasy of Hopkins, and the comedic side of Dylan Thomas.

I try not to write narrowly ‘religious’ poetry, but I’ve found threads in the poetry I’ve loved and pulled them together: the Romantics, landscape and nature, Confessional poetry, which grabbed me in a big way as a teenager, and hasn’t let go. I love strong, blunt feeling. Emoliage, with its flower that can never be black enough, plays with that stuff. If my poems have ‘God’ in them, I hope it’s by way of motifs, metaphors and symbols which add up to an impression of him/her/it. I’m usually more interested in open-ended symbol than metaphor. RS Thomas saw words as vessels which embody, or signs which point towards, ‘something other’, rather than just descriptors. His poems have that sacramental / incarnational approach. I see it in current poets like Michael Symmons Roberts and Andrew Philip. I try to make that part of my writing. Thomas often used ‘The Poet’ for ‘God’, which is symbolically suggestive, not prescriptive. I’ve used ‘The Man Upstairs’ in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way, playing with the story of the seamstress that Schopenhauer allegedly pushed down the stairs (and to whom he’d owed money for 20 years). God backs me up in my demand to see buildings made accessible, but there’s this suggestion that maybe he metaphorically pushed me (or us) down the stairs, and is shifting responsibility. So it’s not all overly serious. In other poems, God is situated in a landscape or relationship. I want to leave space for the reader to interpret things for themselves.

Ah, I didn’t want to mention RS Thomas, because I’m such a fan, I tend to worry that I see his influence even where it’s not! I think in talking about ‘The Man Upstairs’, you touched on one of the other things that’s most impressive about the chapbook – its very pragmatic, realistic engagement with political concerns, most notably disability. My own impression is that this is something that’s gathering real momentum in UK poetry (thank heavens) – do you think that’s the case?

I really hope so. I remember discovering Zbigniew Herbert years ago; his deadpan, caustic wit in dealing with difficult and public subjects like the Nazi occupation in Poland, and received religious and poetic meaning. I wanted to see people doing similar now in the UK. It cemented my view that poetry is as diverse as visual art, so political and near-the-knuckle subjects should be encompassed and encouraged. There’s only so much pure wordplay I can take. I hear talk about ‘poetry for poetry’s sake’, and I know what it’s getting at, but nothing can be written in a vacuum. There are always cultures, viewpoints, theories buried in the words. Word-choice and form can carry a political and public message as much as, or better than, any soapbox.

Maybe the biggest clue that we don’t sniff at political / social activist stuff anymore is that Blake is back in fashion (was he ever out of fashion?). There’s great queer poetry being written in the UK at the moment, John McCullough’s The Frost Fairs and others. Lots of stuff which isn’t UK-centric: Vesna Goldsworthy’s Crashaw prize-winning The Angel of Salonika, just out from Salt, is partly based in her ‘vanished Balkan homeland’, Communist Yugoslavia, but also speaks about learning to write poetry in English. I’ve only read a sample, but there seems to be an undercurrent about resituating ourselves, finding freedom in language then having to take that freedom back when old ways are lost to memory. That makes me think about reforming language in a political sense, to speak about things which we apparently can’t or shouldn’t. I recently reviewed two first collections by David Swann and River Wolton. They cover prison life, war and political exile consecutively. There’s that social element again, the urge to prove Auden wrong, and see that poetry does make something happen.

The other thing I’ve noticed recently is sheer variety, the blurring of boundaries like ‘light’ and ‘serious’, ‘mainstream’ and ‘experimental’. Poems are multilingual, multi-worldview, infinitely pliable in structure, respectful of ‘tradition’ and given to linguistic anarchy. Katy Evans-Bush’s Egg Printing Explained has a kaleidoscopic approach where no worldview, school or aesthetic is given precedence. Jonty Tiplady, Anthony Joseph, Benjamin Friedlander (and so many others) are pushing that pretty far. Some have called this everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach ‘post-lyrical’. I don’t know the term, but to me it amounts to a political act; or at least, it reflects where we are as a culture: a desire for diversity, inclusion, equality. That’s a good landscape for poets to deal with those difficult public subjects, I think. I’ve found so little poetry being written from within disability in the UK. In America there’s a fledgling movement some have called crip poetry, comparable to queer poetry in that it’s trying to redress tradition, a very able-bodied one in this case; trying to take back and redefine vocabulary (‘crip’ as a term of endearment, for one). My interest in that happened by accident. In compiling my poems, I realised that lots of them had this disability, prejudice and discrimination thread running through them. I’m happy to join the conversation, if there is one. It seems arrogant to think I’m starting one; I just want to write more poems. Incidentally, I’ve just heard of an anthology of American disability poetry coming out in September, called Beauty is a Verb. Really excited about that.

One question I always find myself asking poets is how their collection came together. Did you set out writing with a definite plan, or was it more a case of allowing ‘occasional’ poems to coalesce around the themes that emerged?

There was no plan initially, I was just collecting together what I thought were my best poems. But I wanted the book to cohere in some way, not just be a random collection of jottings. They had to talk to each other. I’d had vague ideas before: one of those was to respond to Blake. I had a couple of poems which did, but not enough reasons to force the Blakean idea on the whole pamphlet. I had poems about the sea, and at one point I thought I’d have a sea pamphlet. But then that seemed too one-note for me, even though I’d seen others do it well. I had these epistles to fictional characters, and chose three of the best ones. I hadn’t been consciously writing about disability or faith at the time; they were both things that I wanted to do, but I considered them blind spots (apart from two or three poems which spoke of disability explicitly; they were a fluke, I thought). But collecting them together, I found that I’d used these images of the body – sea, land, constructed things, buildings, puppets, machines, monuments. I’d written poems where prejudice tended to pop up, those prejudices which religion has tried to excuse, to do with the body, sexuality, nationality. I wanted The SnowboyThe Snowboy was a good central poem to encompass the whole. I got used to that idea pretty quickly. That’s when I had my title. in there but it was a while before I saw it as an emotional focal point, being born out of the miscarriage my partner and I had grieved a couple of years ago. Ira Lightman was looking at the manuscript, and one day he said that

That seems a good point to ask about influences and mentors. I think I was very lucky when I started writing and publishing that the internet was just starting to make it easy to get feedback and support from all over the place, and that seems to be even more the case now. Or have you been part of a more traditional ‘scene’, centred on a local group, for example?

In some ways, I’d love to say I’ve been part of a ‘scene’ or a local group. I’ve seen these mentoring schemes and always slightly envied anyone who did them. The truth is, I did my creative writing MA, but I didn’t write much poetry as part of the course. I’m not sure what it’s like now, but at the time it was very much focussed on fiction, and to say I’ve written very little fiction since would be the understatement of the century. No, I’m definitely a product of the Internet generation. I’ve been a member of the online poetry workshop PFFA for a few years, and that’s where I’ve learned so much of my craft. The opportunities the Internet gives you to meet other writers either at a similar stage as you, or a little further forward, is staggering. PFFA allowed me to learn the technical basics, to interact with a few writers I didn’t know who were going through the same baptism of fire as I was, as well as a few I’d already read and respected. Around the time I was published in Magma last year, I was reading about the need to have an ‘online presence’, so I started blogging, feeling the fear but doing it anyway. Shortly after that I joined Facebook. I didn’t know how to network, but I said hello to various poets one after the other. Some of them have become good online friends, and haven’t been shy about critiquing and offering advice. So I feel as if I’ve had lots of mentors. There are so many poets I’d thank for their advice, criticism, correction and support over the last year or much more, if only I could get them all in the same chat room.

And how about the next step? Are you working towards a full collection?

Well, first things first: I have The Snowboy to promote. I have a poem in Roddy Lumsden’s new anthology The Best British Poetry 2011 (Salt), which is doing well I think. I have poems in two other anthologies coming up, the details of which will be released fairly soon. I have vague ideas about what a first collection might look like. But I’ve only been publishing poems for just over a year. I’ve got a way to go, I’m in no rush. I have a couple of new pamphlet ideas, one of which might go to The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, if I can get it up to scratch. I’m excited about pamphlets; they’re realistically inexpensive, a good introduction to a poet’s work, and a great way for a writer to practice collecting together poems on a larger scale. I’m happy to stay in that territory for a while. Other than that, I’m going to just keep writing poems, and reviews. I hope to end up with enough stuff for a full collection, eventually.

Yes, the revival of chapbooks in the last decade or so is something I like a lot, and a lot of younger poets, or new poets (Helen Mort is one who immediately springs to mind), seem to be using them really imaginatively to try different approaches before moving to a full collection. I want to ask now about readings – do you do them, and is it something you enjoy?

I’m fairly new at reading my poems, and the only major readings I’ve done so far were at the Magma 48 launch last year, and the Best British Poetry launch in September. But I plan on doing more, yes. I have a couple of readings coming up for the Salt Modern Voices Tour, in Oxford (24th Oct) and London (28th Nov). Part of the problem is my lack of funds, a car, and the lack of disabled access in so many of the venues where poetry is read. I’ve not found a reading venue without a staircase (or with a lift) yet. There’s an infinite amount of loopholes preventing many cultural heritage sites, arts venues and stuff, from becoming accessible. So there are those barriers. Lack of disabled access is possibly a big factor in why there aren’t more physically disabled people on the circuit. But yes, I’m looking to do more readings whenever I can, and based on the Magma 48 launch, I can say that I really do enjoy the live event. I have this uncomfortable mixed feeling: I think poetry really does belong on the stage (and if it was seen in more public performance venues, maybe it would get wider recognition) but that as long as readings are held in cellars and lofts, it’s excluding some of us. That complaint isn’t exclusive to poetry: I was in a band for 10 years or so, and the problem of finding gigs at accessible venues was the same. As a way of counteracting all that, I’ve been looking at alternative ways of providing readings online, all of that viral marketing stuff. I don’t think the Internet has been fully mined yet, in terms of the opportunities it might present to those with similar difficulties in ‘getting out there’.

I think that’s a good point – I’m not sure poets and people staging poetry events always think hard enough about just what audience they’re trying to attract. It’s interesting that you mention a band – what did you play? And did your involvement in poetry and music ever cross over?

I was in a rock band, yeah. I played drums. We formed (if I remember rightly) in ’97, when the grunge / alternative scene was still a huge deal. At that point we were called Hollow. I don’t think my musical heart has ever really left Seattle, to be honest (I’ve never been to Seattle, but in terms of that early-mid 90’s music scene). We changed our name to The Witness Reel much later on, when one of our friends joined as a fourth member, our style was changing quite a bit, and there was a trend of having ‘The’ at the start of your band name. Shortly after that, we all lost touch for various reasons, and now we’re all living in different parts of the country. I miss the gigging, actually. If I could go back, I would definitely try to involve my poetry in some way. I really believe in all the projects people are doing to fuse the artforms, or just have them work alongside one another. That synthesis is really important. Poetry started with that, didn’t it? The word ‘lyric’ gets thrown around today, but its original intent has largely been lost. Anyway, when I was playing in my band, I hadn’t fully settled on poetry as a main priority. I did try and get a few songs written, but I don’t play guitar, so the most I could do was to write lyrics and give them to Jon, our guitarist and songwriter, to see what he could do with them. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Besides, you’ve heard all the jokes about drummers who think they can write songs? Needless to say, mine never became live staples.

Finally, one question slightly out of left field – which one thing would you do to enthuse schoolkids about poetry (it can be as little as exposing them to a particular poem)?

I’ve only taught young adults, and in a charity workshop capacity rather than school. But based on the little experience I have, the first thing I think is that we can’t force enthusiasm. It seems to me that kids need to know that their own response is OK. Very often our own response is all we have as a bridge into a poem. Something about training kids to answer questions ‘correctly’ in order to pass exams etc. seems paradoxical (if not antithetical) to teaching poetry, because all that stuff tricks kids into thinking they should always be aiming for ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers. The one thing they’re not being asked is ‘What do you think?’ There’s always a fear that they will say ‘I hate it; it’s rubbish.’ Why are we scared of that? We could be saying ‘OK then, tell me why it’s rubbish.’ There’s a massive learning opportunity there; and when we’re encouraged to delve in and find out why we don’t like a poem, we often realise that we actually do. This piece of writing we once thought had nothing going for it is actually extremely exciting. That’s exactly what happened to me years ago with The Red Wheelbarrow.

I’m not sure kids need encouragement to write poetry; create the right environment and they will. They do need teachers who will tell them it’s OK to write poetry – in fact, it’s cool, and fun, and can be meaningful to them. Those teachers need to then cultivate talent when they see it, as one teacher – Mr. Matthews – did for me during my GCSEs. Most kids are worrying about what their friends will think if they pick up a pen and withdraw from the ‘real world’ of video games and football. Again, there’s a balance to strike. We can’t force kids to think poetry is cool. We have to rely on the fact that it just is, and some kids will see that. Some won’t, but that’s alright. Films and music are cool as well. Oh, and we need to be showing kids more contemporary stuff. They need to know that poetry’s still being written. They’re so used to reading stuff which is 30 years old or more. I was at secondary school, anyway.

To buy The Snowboy, click here.


The Ideal Bed

Double bed which shouldn’t look
like this: so skewiff but no one on,
I can’t even stand to smooth its sheet.
I try to circle round it, but my wheels
won’t fit down the right side, the one
which, incidentally, I try to imagine hides
who we were five years ago: you standing
heaving the bed to and fro, trying to catch
our south-facing garden’s light
(the bulbs were always blowing)
and me laughing; then afterwards
us, falling bed-long into this
self-same undividable iron maiden.
My nurse has just replaced our mattress
with a manmade, farcical memory-foam
thing: cures pressure sores faster.
You’d laugh if you could be here.
Remember shopping in IKEA,
wondering what kind of carpenter
constructed, folded, boxed and sold our bed?
Hardly an artist, probably couldn’t
have given an actual fuck, you said.
When we got home the bed refused to stand
up in the room we’d meant for it. In its form,
we saw the ideal parts to shed:
a little off this surface, that corner.
We grew hungry, desperately so
pushed it against the larder door
so neither of us could hoard
when the waves crashed hard. Its back
was flimsy chipboard and would give
out in the year’s most unnewsworthy
quake, if the front of the frame stayed.
So you sanded back for days, weeks,
months; pored over cookbooks,
catalogues and promotions; reclined
on the mattress like an ocean, faced
me and my canvas, and said, Draw!
(But the kitchen bulb was dying.)
Hardness the Lord made then tore:
the one you pushed aside to get past
the fact we never found
the perfect light to lie in.

The Man Upstairs Drafts a Letter to the Councils
obit anus, abit onus

Dear . . . no. My Loving . . . no. None of you
love me; neither should you, really. Look,
we never intended our peaceful landlady
to tumble those twenty steps to her death.

So I am about pay forward the blame,
but do you blame me? Money’s a root
of nearly every evil, don’t you know. Hers
was a house but henceforth, let all places apply:

eatery, train tour, music venue, centre for
the frothing-over of mugs and mouths —
grant yourselves a great favour, raise
every lower surface to its higher. Fit a lift.

Twelve Steps towards Better Despair

Rehearse its salt between your fingers often, vigorously.

Have it amalgamate into your petrol-slick tinted lethargy.

Write of the cormorant’s yellow beak over her black body.

The iceberg: for a sound few seconds, it will stand
for solid material to marvel at. It need not sink your battleship
before you shy away from it. So don’t bemoan its tip, thank it.

Make sure you have shouldered the world for a man who tried
dying — sorry, died trying — to climb a cliff summit,
or summat like it, to find a stronger sunlight.

Write of the good in global warming, icebergs melting, salt.

Recite names of the dead on your fingers often, vigorously.

Have their ashes sown into the stinking spumes of elegy.

Write of the widow’s blonde wig over her black bodice.

Go fearlessly: for a modest seventy years we’ll stand,
most of us men, to be gawped at; never forget that. So choose
your battles, and — if you buy — the best cruiser in the marina.

Make sure you have shouldered rope for a man who tied
skilfully: docked a boat and helped his lover onto the land
for both to stand under the cliffs and observe a cormorant.

Find and write of the good in swiftly dying — sorry, flying.


Underneath the arches

Saturday saw the first States of Independence (west), at Eastside Projects, Digbeth, Birmingham, just along the street from the Custard Factory, as it turned out. Appropriately, given that the viaduct above towered over the venue, the Nine Arches Press stall was the first thing to meet my eyes as I entered, but as with the previous SoI events, at De Montfort University in Leicester, plenty of small presses were present.

I heard Geraldine Monk's excellent and energetic reading from her recent Leafe Press book, Lobe Scarps & Finials*, which lit up the rather murkily-lit reading space, and Jim Caruth's understated but quietly resonant poetry. I heard him a few years back, at the the Derwent Poetry Festival, and enjoyed his debut collection A Stone's Throw, so it was nice to catch up with what he'd done since.

In between times, I ate cake (of course), and spent some money. Longbarrow Press's anthology of readings by poets including Matthew Clegg, Kelvin Corcoran, Jim Caruth, Rob Hindle, Mark Goodwin and Lee Harwood grabbed my attention (very good it is, too), and I also bought Lee Harwood's The Books, a mini-chapbook/CD combo, also from Longbarrow. Jon Stone and Kirsten Irving of Sidekick Books were also there, and I bought their Confronting The Danger Of Art, by Ian McLachlan and Phil Cooper. I got it for my sister, but she might have to wait now until I buy a second copy. It comes complete with a badge, you see, and I can't tell you how much I like that.

It was good to chat with Robin Vaughan-Williams, who was manning the HappenStance stand as tirelessly as ever, and with another HappenStancer, Gregory Leadbetter, as well as with John Lucas, of Shoestring Press (a couple of his titles, and a couple on the Five Leaves Press table next door, really caught the eye, but will have to wait until next payday), Alan Baker of Leafe Press, Geraldine Monk, and last but not least, Salt poet Cliff Yates, whose fine collection Frank Freeman's Dancing School I enjoyed earlier in the year.**

* I was going to post a full review of the collection on here, but I'll be writing a review for the next issue of Under The Radar instead.
** If you're reading Cliff, sorry I didn't catch up with you again later. We got cut off mid-discussion and I had to scoot rather too fast. If I can remember what it was I was just about to say, I'll email you.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Transtromer enNobeled

I was just starting to pull together a few thoughts on last night's announcement of the Forward Prize winners when Twitter started, er... twittering with speculation about who would win the Nobel Prize for Literature. I'd completely forgotten that the announcement was due.

There seemed to be a strong rumour that Bob Dylan might be in line for it. Now, I'm a big fan (I spent the drive to work this morning listening to Blood On The Tracks, funnily enough), but I can't help feeling this would have been a bad thing. It's not so much that I'd see it as a slap in the face to novelists and poets, as a bit of a half-hearted recognition of his Royal Bobness. After all, if he'd intended his songs to be read purely as poems, he wouldn't have bothered writing the music for them, then playing and arranging it, in the first place, would he?

Anyhow, turns out that Twitter was barking up the wrong tree entirely, as it's Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer who has scooped the prize (how appropriate, on National Poetry Day). I'm highly delighted about this, although what the evil Decepticons think about it is anyone's guess (oh come on! Everyone is making at least one Transformers joke about this).

My copy of his New and Collected Poems (the New Directions edition from 2006, translated by Robin Fulton), is extremely well-thumbed, being one of those books I find myself going back to on a very regular basis. So, hats off to the judges for recognising a consistently fine body of work.

Going back to the Forward Prizes, John Burnside took Best Collection for Black Cat Bone, Rachael Boast took Best First Collection for Sidereal, and RF Langley, who sadly died earlier this year, took Best Poem for To A Nightingale.

I was a bit underwhelmed by the shortlists at the time they came out, although without having read much of what was nominated. I have rectified that partly now, and I'm pretty glad that Burnside won. I do wonder if there's an element of 'lifetime achievement' in it, because I don't think this is anything like his best work, but still, I can't grumble.

I can't really comment on Rachael Boast's book, because I haven't read it yet - Ahren Warner's the only one on that list I have read thoroughly (and enjoyed, incidentally). In the Best Poem category, I like Langley's poems a lot, so it's good to see him win. I hope it doesn't sound too bitter to say that it would have been nice to see him get more recognition while he was alive.

Monday, 3 October 2011

States of Independence (West)

This Saturday, October 8th, sees the States of Independence (West) book fair, celebrating independent publishing, at Eastside Projects (Gallery), 86 Heath Mill Lane, Digbeth, Birmingham B9 4AR.

It's been born out of the success of the original States of Independence fairs, which take place at Leicester's De Montfort University each March, and runs from 10am to 4pm, with admission free.

You can browse the latest in independent publications, meet publishers, writers and other readers. There will be a programme of events and readings throughout the day, including panel discussions and a wide range of readings, as well as a quiet area to relax with a coffee and your just-bought book.

Publishers who will be present include:
Shoestring Press, Bloodaxe Books, Leafe Press, Cinnamon Press, Penned in the Margins, Five Leaves Publications, Templar, Nine Arches Press, Flarestack Poets, Sidekick Books, Tindal Street Press, Offa’s Press, Ikon, Longbarrow, Flipped Eye, Candlestick Press, HappenStance, Shearsman, Queer Ink, Linux Publishing and more...

Flash Space: Short Readings

11am - Charlie Hill

11.20am - Michael W Thomas

11.40am - Gail Ashton (Cinnamon)

12.00 noon - Simon Thirsk (Bloodaxe)

12.20pm - Tom Chivers (Penned in the Margins)

12.40pm - Kirsten Irving & Jon Stone (Sidekick Books)

1pm - Robin Vaughan-Williams (Happenstance)

1.20 - pm Nick Pearson (Offa’s Press)

1.40 - pm Geraldine Monk (Leafe Press)

2pm - James Caruth (Longbarrow Press)

2.40pm - Jane Weir (Templar)

3pm - Martin De Mello (Flipped-Eye)

Think Space: Short Seminars

10.30am  – Life Writing? Creative Writing? Jan Fortune-Wood discusses 'Stale Bread & Miracles'.

11am  – Brian Gambles talks about how the new Library of Birmingham, opening in 2013, will engage with the region’s writers.

12pm  – Poetry & Dementia: Jacqui Rowe and David Calcutt introduce us to an innovative project.

1pm – Show Me The Money: Jane Commane, Paul McDonald and Roz Goddard talk frankly about making a living out of writing.

2pm - Best Of The West: West Midlands writers read from new work - Caleb Klaces (Flarestack Poets), Joel Lane (Nine Arches Press), Gaynor Arnold (Tindal Street Press) and Dave Reeves (Offa’s Press).

3pm - The Future of Independent Publishing: Bloodaxe editor Simon Thirsk, Linus Press editor Kate Cooper and writer David Belbin discuss.

States of Independence (West) has been produced by the West Midlands Independent Publishers Network, and has been managed by Writing West Midlands and Nine Arches Press. The Network includes Nine Arches PressFlarestack Poets, Cinnamon Press, Offa’s Press, Five Seasons Press, Rubery Press and Tindal Street Press. States of Independence was first created in the East Midlands by Five Leaves Press, who have supported the Network in bringing this event to the West Midlands.

You can follow the twitter hashtag #SoIWestBookFair for any further updates or details.