Thursday, November 27, 2008

Leicester Poetry Reading & Magazine Launch coming up

Thursday, 11th December, 2008, doors open 7.30pm, FREE
Friends Meeting House, Queen's Road, Leicester.

Open mic and poetry night to celebrate the launch of Under The Radar issue 2, featuring:

Jane Holland - Editor of Horizon Review, reading from her latest Salt collection, Camper Van Blues.
Matt Merritt - Leicestershire poet, shares poems from his first collection, Troy Town.
Matt Nunn - Birmingham's finest poetic export, reading from his forthcoming collection, Sounds in the Grass.
Jane Commane - Warwickshire-based poet reading a selection of her recent work.

Plus open mic slots available - please arrive early to sign up for a place.
Again, anyone in the area who can make this reading, I'd be happy to see you. There will be books for sale, and I can personally vouch for the fact that Matt Nunn is very funny!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wednesday December 3rd: "Ride the Word" at the Foundry, London

Ride the Word

Vincent de Souza, poetry
Vanessa Gebbie, short fiction
Jane Holland, poetry
Chris McCabe, poetry
Jay Merill, short fiction
also Guest Publication: The Delinquent
Speaker: Jason King, editor
Truckers' Art Exhibition
Speaker: Stefan Roman, artist

I'll be reading from my new poetry collection, Camper Van Blues, at the above reading in London next week, Wednesday December 3rd.

Please come along if you can! (There'll also be a reading in Leicester on Thursday December 11th, if that's nearer to home for you. Details to be posted up soon.)

The Foundry is at 86 Great Eastern Street London EC2A 3JL
Old Street tube (exit3) t 020 7739 6900 e info at

All events at the Foundry start at 7pm and are FREE!

The Short Story

I was skimming through some dusty old computer files the other day and came across a slightly promising file labelled Short Stories.

At some point in the past - what on earth possessed me? - I decided to try my hand at that venerable but highly complicated form, the short story. Some of my efforts were published in American anthologies a while ago and promptly fell through a hole in the universe. Others remain unpublished, probably because I'm not terribly good at sending work out once it's finished. Or perhaps because some of those stories had minor problems which had to be sorted before they could be submitted, and of course I lost interest or moved on to some new project, and so the stories were left to gather cyber dust in some abandoned file.

But I've finally decided to dust them off, see if anything can be fixed, and send them out. But where should I submit them?

It's notoriously hard to place short stories, especially non-genre, i.e. 'literary' stories, which most of these unpublished ones are. I'm sure some of the regular readers of this blog could advise me with a few places, in print or online, which take short stories. Preferably places which pay, but I'd be happy with non-paying places for the moment, on the grounds that any publication is better than none!

I notice, for instance, that the estimable Mslexia has a short story competition open at the moment.

So maybe after my cyber-dusting, or rearranging, or complete disembowelling, and last minute polishing, one or maybe even two of these offerings may make their way over to Mslexia in the hope of catching the judge's eye. This, regardless of the fact that all competition wins are utterly random. (Though, of course, when you win one yourself, it was all down to talent!)

Stories can be up to 2,200 words on any topic.
Judge: Helen Simpson
First prize: £2,000 plus a one week retreat and a day with a Virago editor.
Second Prize: £500
Third Prize: £250
3 x other finalists: £100 each
Fee: £8 per story
Deadline: 23rd January 2009
Carole Blake of Blake Friedmann will read all the winning stories.

Visit Mslexia for details of how to enter.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A "Wild" Gawain

I mentioned a while back that I was interested in translating Gawain, since it's one of my favourite pre-Modern English texts, but that since everyone is doing it these days, there seemed little point in jumping on an overcrowded bandwagon.

Well, I've suddenly found an "in" to the project, and written ten poems towards it so far, mostly over the past week or so. Sequences always flow well for me once I'm into the thick of them, and although other work has now interrupted my writing, I have good hopes of getting back to this one soon without losing interest.

What I've done is not started a translation, per se, but written some short sequential responses to Gawain. Though perhaps a better description would be to call it a "wild" or parallel version.

My "wild" version mixes past and present - one of my favourite gimmicks at the moment - so I have a contemporary Gawain story and a medieval Gawain story, interwoven in a sequence of new poems. These poems both follow the thread of the original narrative and depart from it by showing scenes that don't appear there but are mentioned - off-stage scenes, as it were - or that are entirely new.

Sometimes I throw in phrases from the medieval text, or hint at them in passing, but generally, this is all original work. As usual, no guarantees that the sequence will work out and be published in the future. But it's started me writing again with energy after a dry period, and I'm happy enough with that.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


It's my birthday tomorrow - 21 again! - so I'm celebrating it here by posting up this rather marvellous compilation of kd lang stills alongside her smoky version of The Joker:

And to follow that, this is a birthday-related poem from my first poetry collection, published by Bloodaxe Books in 1997, The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman:

Cherchez la Femme

There is rain
on the windows when I am born
no cries
into a cold November.
The midwife is Caribbean,
complaining of these British winters
even as I slide
into her arms.

Rain becomes my season.
I walk out under the dark clouds
like a missionary
preaching the world of the wet.
I kneel on the earth,
put my face to the dampness
like a child
hidden in her mother's skirt.

Later, unable to wear lace,
I finger photographs
of beautiful women.
Run my hands along lapels,
loving the coarseness of a country tweed,
the brisk crease of a man's shirt.
I sit apart,
smoke French cigarettes,

my room dark with desire.
Each night it falls at my window
like sharp insistent rain.
My desire is insatiable.
It has many names.
Watching through streaked glass,
I know none of them.

Winners of the Stephen Spender Prize 2008

My apologies for not blogging this past week. I have the best excuse in the world; I was writing. Eight poems in the last seven days, to be precise. Which is particularly pleasing, given that poetry had slowed to a trickle for me in recent months (following the somewhat apocryphal deluge of the summer).

The sudden outpouring is due to a new sequence, of course. Sequences always get me writing with more ease and fluidity. More on that later, since though I've rushed in with the first few poems, the overall structure is still in the process of being shaped in my mind.

So, back to the Stephen Spender Prize 2008.

Joint Winners of the 14s-and-under prize:
Paula Alonso-Lalanda - 'Let's go to the Market!' by Gloria Fuertes (Spanish)
Scarlett Koller - 'Roundelay' by Charles d'Orleans (French)

Winners of the 18-and-under category:
Daniel Galbraith (FIRST) - Amores I.V. by Ovid (Latin)
Iwona Luszowicz (SECOND) - 'In Remembrance of Marie A.' by Bertolt Brecht (German)
Rupert Mercer (THIRD) - Catullus VIII (Latin)

Winners of the Open Category:
Imogen Halstead (FIRST) - Amores 1.1. by Ovid (Latin)
Jane Draycott (SECOND) - an extract from Pearl (Middle English)
Emily Jeremiah - 'Theorem' by Eeva-Liisa Manner (Finnish)
Timothy Allen - 'Broken Heart, New Lament' by Nguyen Du (Vietnamese)

The winner of the Open category, Imogen Halstead, is currently in China and couldn't make the award ceremony. So Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate, agreed to read the poem in her place. To make her win even more astounding, Imogen is actually 18, and was the original winner in the 18-and-under category. However, the judges decided that her presence there was so powerful as to be unfair to the other poems entered, so she was 'bumped up', in the words of one judge, to win the adult category instead.

For me though, the most powerful and mesmerising poems of the evening undoubtedly came from Daniel Galbraith and Rupert Mercer, talented young writers in the 18-and-under category with two highly idiosyncratic translations from the Latin, and Jane Draycott, whose extract from 'Pearl' was beautifully and sparingly written.

After the readings, we mingled. The awards were being held at the Venezuelan Embassy in central London, a packed hall with tiered seating and a generous raised platform for the performers. Some extraordinarily tasty red wine was served, and a selection of canapés. Lady Spender was there, along with a smattering of other Spenders, Valerie Eliot (the widow of T.S. Eliot), and other luminaries of the poetry world, including Josephine Balmer, one of the judges and herself a fine poet and classicist.

I spoke at length to Matthew Spender, founder of the new 14-and-under category, whose speech had strongly criticised the government as 'not sympathetic to the idea of studying foreign languages in schools'. He considers these prizes for younger translators a 'reproach' to the government for their apathy, and I have to agree with him.

Heaventree Press founding editor Jon Morley, who published my 'Lament of the Wanderer' translation earlier this year, was also there that night, along with Susan Bassnett, a pro-vice-chancellor at the University of Warwick. Susan was one of the Stephen Spender Prize judges, and is herself an expert in a number of languages, including an old favourite of mine, Anglo-Saxon.

Taking the train back to the Midlands together, the party atmosphere continued for another hour, with an enthusiastic discussion of translations, 'poets we have known', and what each of us is currently working on.

Home just before midnight, I then had to hurriedly dash off a Middle English translation for a class the next morning. It was Chaucer, the wonderfully obscene Miller's Tale. From the sublime to the ridiculous!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Stephen Spender Translation Awards

Well, I'm going to brave the inclement weather and dash down to London tonight for the Stephen Spender Translation Awards. I've had a bad chest for the past week, so it's been touch and go whether I could take up the invitation to attend, as editor of Horizon Review, but I've finally decided that I will make the attempt.

Stephen Spender, of course, was not only a great English poet of the last century, but was also one of the founders of the original Horizon, back in the 1940s. And I'm interested in the translation awards, not least because I was intending to enter for the Awards this year but didn't manage to finish my translation in time for the deadline.

So I'm naturally very keen to go tonight and get a feel for the standard, because there's always next year ... !

Definitely a good night to take an umbrella though.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Healthy Food Riddles for Tescos

Sometimes I run and drip,
sometimes I’m still and cloudy.
You may have seen me with a bear.
I wish I could fly
like those who made me.
I’m the only comb
you mustn’t put in your hair.

What am I?

This riddle is intended for 5-10 yr olds, so shouldn't be too tricky!

More riddle poems, written for Tescos as part of my Warwick Poet Laureateship, here.