Friday, 29 June 2012

Being Human

Not the TV show, though. Let's get that straight right from the outset. Anyone who's landed here expecting discussion of that, you'd best bail out here and now.

No, I'm talking about the theatrical production based on the Bloodaxe anthology. I haven't seen it yet, but over at Gists & Piths, George Ttoouli has posted this excellent review of the show, which makes me want to make sure that I do, and soon.

I know the anthologies - Staying Alive, Being Alive and now Being Human - have divided opinion in poetryworld at times, but then so does pretty much every anthology that comes along. I'm not mad about the packaging, I suppose, and I can take or leave the division of them into chapters, with little essays introducing each one. When all's said and done, though, all three have contained plenty of poetry that I'm glad to have encountered, and which I might well not have done otherwise. George has a point about some of the more non-mainstream voices generally being represented by their least left-field work, but even so, it puts them in front of a potential new audience.

There's more about the show, including dates and venues, here. I think I'll probably catch it at Uppingham School in October (who thought it would be a good idea to call a festival Up The Arts, though?)

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Reading at Moseley

I'm going to be reading along with fellow Nine Arches poets Angela France and Daniel Sluman at the Moseley Exchange, Birmingham, at 7pm on July 14th. The event, presented by Cannon Poets, is part of the Moseley Festival, and admission is £2.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Poetry reviewing

It's not often I find my way over to Facebook these days, but I have been following an interesting discussion on Rob Mackenzie's wall this week, about the way that poetry is reviewed in this country.

It's a complex subject, and to a large extent I find myself agreeing with the thrust of Jon Stone's argument (why can't poetry be reviewed in the same way that, say, film and music are?), as well as feeling a good deal of sympathy for Rob's starting-point.

I suppose one of the angles that hasn't been explored fully is where the reviews are appearing. I've no idea what The Guardian (or any of the other broadsheets) pay their reviewers, but I'd assume they do, and that would inevitably create a different situation to that of reviewers writing for a small press mag for no financial reward. While it might on the one hand make it easier for the reviewer to be critical (not having to worry about offending a potentially large proportion of the magazine's subscribers), it might also work the other way - the paper would be reluctant to consistently be too lukewarm towards the books of a regular advertiser.

In poetry mags and webzines themselves, it's a bit different. The reviewer is often writing for no reward other than a free copy of the book (although some, such as Magma, certainly pay). From personal experience, that's fine - it's a chance to read more poetry than I could otherwise afford, and especially to take a chance on books that I'd otherwise have thought looked interesting but didn't feel like shelling out for. It does mean, though, that the reviewer is often predisposed to like what they're reading - you're unlikely to take the time and effort to read the book carefully, make notes, then write the review, if it's something you just don't like.

The same's true on blogs, and that's certainly unashamedly the case here at Polyolbion. I don't get the time or the money to read anything like all the poetry I'd like to, so I'm not going to waste precious time writing a negative blog review when I could be just getting on with finding something I do like. I don't get enough time to be positive about all the things I do like, for that matter, so a great many good books go unheralded.

Finally, someone in the discussion brought up the subject of what a review is actually for. I haven't ever, I don't think, bought a book of poetry purely on the strength of a review, but a good review (as in a well written one) is often enough to spark my interest in a book that might otherwise have passed me by - again, it might well encourage me to take a few chances.

So what is a good review? Well, as Rob originally suggested, I want to see some suggestion of weak points, as well as strengths (and I can't think of a single collection I own that doesn't have at least some negatives), and I want to see both highlighted with plenty of reference to the actual text. In that, at least, I suppose it's always going to be different to any print review of film or music, where examples can only be described.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

New at Nine Arches

Nine Arches Press has two new debut collections out now - Melanchrini, by Loughborough poet Maria Taylor, and Absence has a weight of its own, by Cheltenham-based Daniel Sluman. Having heard them both read from the books, I'm looking forward to getting stuck into them, because they're realkly both very distinctive poets.

Meanwhile, over at Gists & Piths, Simon Turner is interviewing another Nine Arches poet, C J Allen, whose At The Oblivion Tea-Rooms was recently published. Regular readers here might recall that I'm a big fan of both Clive's and Simon's poetry, so it's probably no surprise that it's a terrific interview, with a lot of interesting things to say about form, among other things.*

Finally, the next Nine Arches/Crystal Clear Creators Shindig takes place at The Western in Leicester on July 16th - be there!

* Incidentally, I think Clive's reason for wanting to be a painter - "I liked the smell of linseed oil and the way they hardly ever seemed to do anything" - probably sums up my childhood ambition to be a cricketer, and continuing obsession with the game.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Tom Duddy, RIP

The weekend brought the very sad news of the death of Irish poet Tom Duddy. I'd never met Tom, but his wonderful HappenStance pamphlet The Small Hours and the ensuing full collection, The Hiding Place, were evidence of an exceptional and highly individual talent, and a sharp, incisive yet deeply compassionate intelligence.

Helena Nelson, who deserves credit for first bringing Tom's poetry to a wider audience, and Matthew Stewart have both blogged about a writer who really does deserve to be better known and more widely read, and say it all far better than I could. I'd known Tom was very ill, but the end still came as a shock - as Nell says, he was taken long before his time. 

The poems remain. I think The Small Hours is long gone, but The Hiding Place is still available, and as Matthew mentions, SoundCloud also has some recordings of Tom reading his own work, and reading it very well.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

Writers probably get thoroughly fed up with responding to that old question about who their main influences are, but I have to admit, I rarely get fed up of reading their answers. The better interviewees make a point of explaining exactly how those influences worked. Otherwise, I think there’s a default assumption (or maybe it’s just me) that Writer A reads Writers B, C, D and E and becomes something that’s an amalgam of all four.

The death of Ray Bradbury this week, at the age of 91, set me thinking about this, and other things. When I was a kid, I think around 9 or 10, I read a story of Bradbury’s in the Reader's Digest. I was a pretty voracious reader anyway, but it was the first time I’d come across Bradbury, so had no preconceptions about his status as a science-fiction writer (he considered himself a fantasy writer, incidentally, but both terms tend to get used rather sniffily by literary critics*).

All I can remember of the story now is that it was set in an American small town, and centred on a boy’s longing for a new pair of sneakers that he sees in a shop window. Perhaps that was all there was to the plot. That’s not really important. What is significant is that I distinctly remember realising that it was the first time I’d read something and enjoyed it for no other reason than the way it was written. The writing was what made it pleasurable, not the narrative or anything else, and to prove that to myself I read it again and again over a few weeks.

I didn’t go away and read libraries full of Bradbury. I came back to him much later, after university, I think, and read The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles, and what I’d consider his masterpiece, October Country, and I loved them, but I don’t think I’ve ever had the urge to write anything along remotely similar lines. Where Bradbury did influence me, probably more than any other writer, was in making me want to write. Anything. Everything. Every day, if at all possible. So, thanks Ray. Every time I re-read those books I mentioned, I still get that same feeling.

* It'll be interesting to see how Bradbury is re-evaluated in the next few years, because despite the fantasy/sci-fi settings of much of his work, his real subjects, of course, were the USA, and the 20th Century. It's a constant source of irritation to me that so-called 'genre' fiction is so often sidelined, or treated as somehow less serious than 'literary fiction. If ever a writer shattered that myth, it was Bradbury.