Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2010: what's in it for me?

I was a little morose when I wrote my last blog entry. Sorry about that. Must be the time of year. I shall endeavour to be more upbeat in 2010.



From now until the spring ...

Current project is a proposal for a book on Creative Redrafting, based around a series of self-editing exercises I've developed over the past two years, specifically for use with the BA in Creative Writing students at Warwick University, though I did use part of it on this blog about a year ago.

The proposal is shaping up nicely, helped by the fact that I'm using the same basic material for five articles commissioned by Mslexia in the run-up to their poetry competition in April.

I anticipate getting this Creative Redrafting proposal done and sent off by the end of January, then I have a poetry project - possibly developing my Gawain sequence, or starting something new - and a new novel to work on while I wait for news on my last magnum opus. (Not to be confused with an opus magnus, which is what I put originally, my inability to decline Latin nouns and adjectives being legendary, despite twenty-five years of hard effort.)

Still haven't decided whether Gawain should go in my next poetry collection. I think it's unlikely. Such an oddity. But it would be good to get it published as a pamphlet or chapbook at some stage.

More reviews to write this month - a vast round-up of no fewer than 10 recent collections, commissioned by the marvellously supportive Poetry Review. You can find me in most of the PR issues from the past three years or so ... and pre-Herd and Potts too ... most recently in the current issue, 'This Time It's Personal'.



I haven't thought beyond Spring 2010. Is that foolish or a good thing?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Aphorisms after all -- at Frances Leviston's Verse Palace

Still haven't got round to posting up some aphorisms here, but if you feel the need to enaphorise yourself - I just made that verb up, in case you were unsure - I've got a whole series of them on the topic of Poetic Authenticity over on Frances Leviston's essay blog, Verse Palace.

They've just gone up today, all fresh and snowy-white for the Christmas season.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Poets on Fire: have you seen it recently?

Just thought I'd remind everyone of the existence of POETS ON FIRE, a marvellous poetry resource currently being run by the equally marvellous Matt Merritt.

Back in 2006, I wanted to find a way of keeping tabs on what was happening in poetry right across the UK and Ireland, and although there were various online resources which helped with that - such as the Poetry Library site - I wanted something a little more interactive, preferably with daily updates.

So I launched POETS ON FIRE and started blogging about poetry events. After a few years, the demands of running that site and all my other work began to tell on my psyche. So I asked around, and a number of people - Charlotte Runcie, Nina Davies and Matt Merritt - came forward and offered their help with maintaining the site.

Charlotte Runcie did a great job of overhauling the 'look' of POF, but then had to slip off to university. Nina also couldn't take the pace, with a career and a young family to look after, and these days only brave Matt Merritt shows up for work, stalwartly blogging UK poetry events for the benefit of the many thousands of visitors to the site.

So, a very merry Christmas and three loud cheers for Matt Merritt -- without whom I would have to do some serious blogging!

If you've never visited POETS ON FIRE, why not do so now?

There's even a highly selective poetry forum attached, which I administer ... ;)

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Short Season of Aphorisms and Other Nonsense

In the run up to Christmas, I've decided it might be a fun idea to post up some short thoughts, aphorisms and, as I put it, other nonsense, on Raw Light: related to writing, hopefully, but the connection can be tenuous if necessary.

By the way, after numerous emailers have sent me wonderful - but not original - aphorisms in response to this, I want to stress that the aphorisms should be your own by preference, i.e. please make them up YOURSELVES!

If you have something to contribute in that way, and already know me in some vague manner, please email me with your gem. (Email address in sidebar if you scroll down.)

If it ain't a gem, I reserve the right to cough politely and send it back. But of course it will be brilliant, so that's unlikely to happen.

Anonymous or with your name, as you prefer.

And if you run a blog yourself, please do spread the news about. I need all the help I can get.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ready to Submit?

Sounds like a BDSM scenario? No, it's just me, finding myself ready at last to send off my partial manuscript and synopsis, after months of fiddling and procrastination. It's a long road, so wish me luck!

Meanwhile, I have to produce between 500 and 800 lines of poetry based on a myth for late spring. I think I may have the subject, but everything depends on how it goes once I start actually writing. If it flops instantly and feels wrong, I'll have to choose a different topic. Being superstitious though, I won't reveal what I've chosen until I'm sure it's a runner.

My other project is completing an essay on poetry for Frances Leviston's 'Verse Palace' blog, which she invited me to write a few months ago. I began to write something a touch dangerous for it, then abruptly changed my mind, and am now at work on a - hopefully - less contentious article.

It's unlike me to be cautious, I agree. But there's only so many times you can run your neck into a noose and get away with it, isn't there?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mslexia: Short Fiction Exercises

This, by Laura Fish, has just gone up on the Mslexia site for women who write. It's all part of the online run-up to the Mslexia Short Story Competition, which is to be judged by Tracy Chevalier, and which closes on January 25th 2010.

For my own part, I've been commissioned to contribute a series of five articles on the art of rewriting poems for the Mslexia website, due to be published March 2010.

The Mslexia articles will feature nuggets of wisdom from other established poets alongside my own suggestions. Watch this space for further details!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Handbags and Gladrags

Preparing a synopsis to send off next week, feeling good about this coming weekend's trip to Liverpool for the inter-university 9-ball pool championships, and working on a poem that 'won't come right' to borrow Ian MacMillan's phrase in his poem about Ted Hughes.

Today's mood is Stereophonics: Handbags and Gladrags.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Happy Birthday to me!

It's my birthday today and I'm planning to write, even though I have the option of sitting about eating chocolates. Does this indicate maturity at last? Seems so unlikely, I can't give that idea much credence.

On an wholly unrelated note, aren't online archives marvellous? The LRB has been busy archiving its older issues, and I recently found my own Diary of a Hustler piece there from February 1997 - the snooker article which springboarded my first novel with Sceptre and gained me an agent at Curtis Brown.

Those were the days! What the hell happened?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

All SALT lineup on Wednesday: plug, plug reminder

ride-the-word pic

Ride the Word XVIII

on the road to

The Café Yumchaa

Free Admission
45 Berwick Street, Soho, London W.1

Wed 18th November 7.00 p.m.—9.15 p.m.

Cast:
All Salt lineup
Elizabeth Baines reading from her new novel: Too Many Magpies
Jane Holland
Vincent De Souza
Jay Merill
and guests:

Horizon Review introduced by:
editor, Jane Holland, plus readers George Ttoouli and Sophie Mayer

also
Floor spots: Jan Woolf, Alan Franks,
Marc Compton, et al

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On the team

So, how cool is this? I've been selected to represent Warwick University - in a team of about 10 or 12 - at the UPC 9 Ball Pool Championships in Liverpool. I shall be the only female on the team, to the best of my knowledge.

Pot, pot. What could be more fun? And to go for a try-out off the cuff like that, cracking out the trusty old cue like Dracula from his wooden crate, only having played the odd game over the past few years, and get a spot on the team straight off ... well, it's very gratifying.

Now I just have to sort out some childcare for the three days of the Championships.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Flarestack Launch coming up soon

This is a worthwhile poetry event here in the Midlands:


FLARESTACK POETS BOOK LAUNCH, 2pm, SATURDAY, 21ST NOVEMBER, BIRMINGHAM  REP

Flarestack Poets, the new imprint from Flarestack Publishing, will celebrate the publication of its first three pamphlets,  Wake by Cliff Forshaw, Advice On Wearing Animal  Prints by Selima Hill (both winners of the Flarestack Poets Pamphlet Competition 2009) and Mr Barton Isn't Paying, an anthology of poems selected from the competition.

There will be readings from Cliff Forshaw, Selima Hill and poets whose work appears in the anthology.

Wine and other refreshments will be served. The event is free, but anyone wishing to attend should contact jacquirowe@hotmail.co.uk


Friday, November 06, 2009

Verse Palace

Poet Frances Leviston has started a poetry and poetics blogzine, if that's an appropriate description.

Find it at Verse Palace.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Horizon and a reading from Camper Van Blues, November 18th

Ride the Word XVIII
    on the road to
The CAFE YUMCHAA
Free Admission
45 Berwick Street, Soho, London W.1
 
 Wed 18th November  7- 9.15pm 
 
Cast:
all Salt lineup
Elizabeth Baines
reading from her new novel: Too Many Magpies
Jane Holland
Vincent De Souza
Jay Merill
and guests:
Horizon Magazine introduced by:
editor, Jane Holland, plus readers George Ttoouli and Sophie Mayer
 
also
Floor spots: Jan Woolf, Alan Franks,
Marc Compton, et al
 
Hosted by Jay Merill  & Vincent de Souza
 
(Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Rd.,
All Oxford Street buses - to Berwick St stop)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Birmingham Poetry Reading: Tuesday, 20th October

'Surreal in the City'

Part of Birmingham Book Festival with Salt Publishing and Nine Arches Press poets.

Tuesday 20th October 2009 at 6.45pm, Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham.

Readings from Tom Chivers, Luke Kennard, Simon Turner and Matt Nunn.

Through their distinctive and bold poetry, these four poets re-imagine and re-interpret the digital age and the urban spaces in which we live. Their frequently surreal and wry poetry challenges language and poetic form to produce work that responds to the peculiarities of contemporary life and the ever-shifting landscapes it inhabits.

Tom Chivers’ first collection, How To Build A City, won the Crashaw Prize. He has also published a pamphlet, The Terrors , and is Associate Editor of literary journal Tears in the Fence.

Matt Nunn is a freelance writer and workshop leader. He is the co-editor of Under The Radar and Nine Arches Press and has just launched his third collection, Sounds in the Grass

Simon Turner’s collections include You Are Here, and Difficult Second Album, due out in 2010. His work has appeared in Tears in the Fence, The Wolf, and The London Magazine.

Luke Kennard
is an award-winning poet, critic and dramatist. He won an Eric Gregory Award in 2005. His latest collection, The Migraine Hotel was published in 2009.

Unbelieveable, but true: tickets for this excellent event are FREE! But please reserve them in advance with the box office - just call 0121 303 2323

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Blending of Species

Another interesting link for you. (I do have thoughts of my own; I'm just not sharing them at the moment, as most are still at formation/thrashing-out stage.)

This link is to a blog entry from 2008 on David Morley's Warwick University blog - to which I may have linked before but no matter; this entry would repay a second or third visit - where David is describing the events at the Great Troubador Poetry Debate.

The key thing, however, is the less formal debate that follows in the Comments section, which makes for informative and often curious reading, and follows the train of thought expressed below:

David Morley wrote:

Outside is now becoming the new inside. One example: the gently whale-like appetite of Salt Publications – whose work and enterprise I think is totally welcome and good fun – has torn the nets between what we used to call the avant-grade, what we used to call the middle of the road, and what we used to call the mainstream. I think this blending of species is probably a good thing. Now we are different types of krill mixing about in the same space. Now we are all inside the whale, as Orwell would have it. Now we are all calling from the inside hoping to be heard on the outside. A new slightly enlarged small world, a convergence of alternative universes, but at least we have all become more visible and audible to each other.

Then read the Comments which follow. I have ideas of my own about this 'blending' of two different types of poetry - more on that anon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Quote of the Week

Many thanks to Lawrence Upton, AHRC Creative Writing Fellow in the Department of Music at Goldsmiths, University of London, for the following marvellous encomium, discovered today at Poetryetc, an email list frequented largely by avant-gardists.

Mr Upton describes a critical comment I made about the experimental poet Keston Sutherland's work as demonstrating 'egotism of a high and dangerous order'.

Astonishing how just a few lines of mine quoted at random on an email list can reveal quite so much of my character.

Trying that link again: but it may be encrypted against non-list subscribers. If it won't work, you may have to google Poetry etc and possibly even join the list in order to read the archives.

Cambridge Literary Review

There was a somewhat supercilious review of the first issue of a new magazine recently, which annoyed me - it used to be considered out of order to trash first issues - and made me want to support the project.

You can find out more about the Cambridge Literary Review here.

I shall be subscribing to the magazine myself; if the second issue justifies the critic's comments, I shall not lose any sleep over criticising it myself. But everyone should be entitled to launch a new review without fear of missiles whizzing over their heads.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Billy Collins, review at Tower Poetry

Just flagging up my review of former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins' latest collection on Tower Poetry.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Horizon 3

Dowson’s grave, Brodsky’s dwindling reputation, Paterson’s Forward-winning collection and new Native American writing, all examined in the latest Horizon Review ...

Issue three of Horizon Review is the Poetry Issue, featuring provocative and in-depth interviews with Craig Raine, Pascale Petit and Hugo Williams, plus new poems by David Morley, Helen Ivory, Claire Crowther and many others, and a review of the Forward Prize-winning collection Rain by Don Paterson.

Countering recent accusations across the poetry world of a gender imbalance in poetry journals, women contributors outnumber men in this issue.

There is also a 'Bedside Table Interview' with A.L. Kennedy, plus essays on Shelley, Victorian decadent poet Ernest Dowson, new Native American writing and Ruth Padel. The Horizon Podcast explores the current renaissance in Midlands Poetry, while the issue closes out with another whimsical offering from columnist and Guardian-blogger Peter Robins on cookery books-cum-musicals.

Read Horizon here

Horizon Review Issue Three
  • Horizon Review is edited by Jane Holland. The online review is published twice a year.
  • The free magazine forms part of the Salt website which receives 2.3 million page downloads a year, 23 million hits and over half a million unique visitors.
  • Irish writer Nuala Ní Chonchúir is now Fiction Editor.
  • Critic George Ttoouli is now Reviews Editor.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Salt Blog Explosion

Salt Publishing has now rolled all its blogs into one page: read them here.

Salt Confidential is powering on with ideas for Christmas presents, hot-off-the-press news from the poetry frontline, and facts on fiction. I haven't posted any entries on Horizon Review since the summer though. Bad Jane!

Still, now that Horizon is about to launch its 3rd issue, the blog entries will rise again, dripping and steaming from the ... whatever that gooey stuff is under my feet.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

"Villains" for National Poetry Day

It's National Poetry Day, and the theme this year was "Heroes and Heroines". The problem for me is that writing a poem about a heroic character is akin to writing the straight man in a comedy; it's hard to be inspired, and the result is often a little flat and tricky to deliver with any conviction.

Now villains ... those fit the dark art of poetry far better. Look at Milton's Lucifer!

And the day begins with the news that at last night's Forward Prizes (already dubbed Backward by some wag), Don Paterson's collection Rain (Faber) won the Prize for Best Collection, Emma Jones (also, um, Faber) won the Best First Collection with her Striped World, and, as Rob MacKenzie put it this morning, The Best Poem category was 'won by the editor at Cape who is published by Picador, where the poetry editor is the winner of the Best Collection.'

So, is it time yet for a revolution?

What we need on the ground is a public symbol of such cosy interdependences, some kind of Bastille to storm. Though even if there was one, and we stormed it, there'd probably only be a few copies of past Faber collections in there to liberate.

Friday, October 02, 2009

David Kennedy reviews Voice Recognition at Stride


Stride continues its good work online with a review by 'New Poetry' anthologist David Kennedy of the recent Bloodaxe anthology Voice Recognition.

Not everyone's cup of tea, since it doesn't conform to the 'praise everything equally' school of literary criticism, but worth a look if you prefer a bit of politics instead with your toasted teacake.

Thanks to Roddy Lumsden for sharing this link on the Poets on Fire forum.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My "Anker" Poem to be installed at Polesworth

Polesworth Poets Trail

To mark National Poetry day on the 8th October, the Polesworth Poets Trail project team are pleased to announce that the first poem installation will be take place during this week.

The poem, The River Anker by Jane Holland, has been etched into copper plate and fixed to five large pieces of Mancetter stone which were kindly donated by Tarmac at Mancetter Quarry and have been sculpted by Planet Art. The stones, which will also include Michael Drayton’s poem, To the Ancor, will be placed on the river bank in Abbey Green park close to the foot bridge.

This is the first of ten contemporary poems that will be installed over the coming weeks, the poems coming from two commissions and eight poems chosen from a national competition. The installation of these ten poems will complete the first phase of the trail which has been funded from a generous grant from Advantage West Midlands.

Project Director, Malcolm Dewhirst said “This is the culmination of a lot of hard work from a dedicated team of people who shared the vision of bringing poetry back to Polesworth. We hope that the poetry trail will attract poets from all over the world to come to Polesworth and that this will be the first of many poetry events to be held in this literary town, which saw the greatest poets of the 16th century meeting at Polesworth Abbey.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Birmingham Book Festival - coming up!

I'm extremely pleased to be running a day of one-to-one poetry surgeries on Saturday October 10th at the Birmingham Book Festival, under the auspices of The Poetry School and along with Mimi Khalvati.

Here are some more details of the festival:

The Birmingham Book Festival (6th – 29th October 2009), in its tenth glorious year, presents... Nick Hornby on ‘Juliet, Naked’, Kate Mosse on novels and readers’ groups, novelists Sadie Jones and Kate Pullinger in conversation, BBC Radio Four’s A Good Read and the final of the BBC Radio Four Poetry Slam (recorded for broadcast), John Boyne, author of The Boy in Striped Pyjamas, David Edgar on writing plays, Paul Griffiths on Ophelia, Robert Goddard, the crime writer, George Monbiot on the future, Karen Armstrong on faith, Richard Hamblyn on extraordinary clouds, Jo Toye on The Archers, thriller writer Roger Ellory launches his new novel, Lindsey Davis talks about her new book, Brian Keenan on his life and times, the Tindal Street Booker Prize authors (Catherine O’Flynn, Gaynor Arnold and Clare Morrall ) and many more writers and performers, also workshops and seminars.

We also have a wonderful Readers’ Afternoon on Saturday 24th October with novelists Jenn Ashworth, Mark Illis, Jeremy Page and Amanda Smyth with special group booking discounts for readers’ groups and groups of readers!

Do come to events, take part in workshops, become a Festival Friend... for more details of everything and to join the e-list visit Birmingham Book Festival | 6-29 October 2009. Follow us on facebook, on twitter and read our blog.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Poetic Swings and Prose Roundabouts


John Keats, probably not having any trouble writing prose and poetry at the same time, unlike me

The kids go back to school next week, and I can already feel that inexorable swing back toward prose happening inside. I wrote another poem today in my rebranded, reshaped Gawain sequence, but it was an effort. The easy glide of mid-summer poetry is dissipating. I may only have a few more days of composition left in me. Until next time, that is.

I want to write something about Hughes, so that's been flagged up mentally and is now occupying some space where my own work was. And I'm studying Romantic and Victorian poetry over the next academic year, which means I have Keats and Hopkins permanently at my bedside - metaphorically speaking - and though I love them both deeply, they are not the stuff new poetry is made from.

But last week, oh last week, I wrote something good. Not in the Gawain sequence, but a stand-alone lyric. I was very pleased with it. So pleased, in fact, it may keep my toes warm all winter.

Horizon Review is due out in another few weeks, too. More work of a non-poetic type. So it's back to school and back to prose. But until that last leaf falls from the tree, I shall keep squeezing the remnants of poetry out as best I can.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Big Salt Facebook Vote

Three posts in one day. I'm having a rush of blood!

I also forgot to mention the big Salt vote-fest on Facebook. What is the most important book Salt has ever published?

You'll need to login to Facebook (or register if you're not already in the system) in order to vote here.

Katy Evans-Bush: The Poetry Workshop

And I forgot to flag this up, for those in the London area: a new poetry workshop, being run by Katy Evans-Bush, whose poetry is published by Salt and whose Love Ditty of an 'eartsick Pirate, an affectionate and hilarious take on Eliot's Prufrock, in Piratese, can be found at the Horizon Review website.

Katy's workshop will meet at the Lamb Pub, 94 Lambs Conduit Street, London WC1
6.30-8.30pm, Wednesdays
The price is £125 a term
Starts September 23rd

See Katy Evans-Bush's website for details of how to join.

Reviewing (and the importance of the line-break)

I seem to go through phases in my writing. Some months it's prose fiction, others it's poetry, and still others it's reviewing. Not that I don't mix and match occasionally, but prose and poetry do feel like natural opposites - enemies, even? - and so try not to do both at the same time, or not without experiencing a little inner tension.

This month, I've been writing some new poems, revising old ones, and also working up to a handful of reviews I've got in hand, one bunch for Iota and the other for Poetry Review. By working up to them, I don't mean girding my loins, i.e. mentally preparing myself, but reading the books in question, making a few notes, and generally allowing the poems I've read to circulate creatively in my mind.

It's an instructive exercise, reviewing. Having to formulate your thoughts on someone else's poetry can make you return to your own work with a more analytical eye. Or it can make you despondent, if the poet you're reviewing happens to be very good!

Something that has a strong effect on me at the moment is the line-break. I'm becoming a little obsessed, perhaps, with the ramifications of the line-break. It was always a defining moment for me in the poems I have written, but it now seems, more than ever, the key to a good poem. Or perhaps, deeper than that, the key to what kind of poet one is or becomes.

So when I review books of poetry, one of the most important things I'm instinctively - rather than overtly - noticing as I read through, is the line-break. Which really means, I'm listening to the rhythms of the poem even more than I'm listening to the surface meaning, because in a bad poem the line-break struggles against the meaning in a clumsy and inapposite way, and in a good poem, the line-break hands you the sense and feel of the poem both aurally and visually, without effort.

This was meant to be a post about reviewing, but perhaps it's secretly a post about the importance of the line-break. Which is indeed the very thing vexing and exciting me this morning.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Gawain, Again


I'm rather relieved this week because, after months of impasse on my Gawain and the Green Knight sequence, I am finally clear about its structure and general direction.

It all happened rather suddenly. I was just browsing my file of poems, tidying things up and pondering the shape my fourth collection might take, when it struck me that instead of just vaguely picking out key moments in the poem, or key emotions, and writing poems around them in an ad hoc fashion, I should follow the traditional division of the poem into four Fitts and restrict myself to writing only three or four poems for each Fitt.

For this new-and-improved sequence, I selected four of the poems I had already written and jettisoned the rest. Then I started writing some new poems in a more linear way, choosing key scenes rather than floating about the topic.

I was also concerned to change the style of the poems themselves. To regiment my earlier disorganised margins, I pulled in all off-set lines to the left-hand margin and capitalised the first word of each line. This seemed to give the growing sequence an air of "difference" from the other poems I've written this year, and also some faked, much-needed gravitas.

Having done that, and written some new poems in this new format, I then discarded the capitalisation, which had served its purpose, and allowed some of the lines to drift back into their earlier positions, away from the left-hand margin. But I am keeping the majority of lines flush with the left for the moment, as that formal discipline does seem to be working on the whole.

I'm still not sure whether the sequence is any good, by which I mean worth publishing. But it has some good moments. It's definitely something to keep tinkering with, on and off, with a spanner and an oily rag. My Sunday sequence.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Looking Back



I've written a handful of poems in recent weeks about my childhood and teenage years: Proustian reminiscences, holiday snapshots, family portraits, that kind of thing. It's a well-worn genre within poetry, and that fact alone makes me worried. Is it the poetic equivalent of a mid-life crisis to suddenly start writing poems about one's youth?

They're not desperately bad, these poems. One has just been accepted at Poetry Review, and I'm fairly confident of placing a number of others in magazines over the next year. They are honest poems, written - thanks to a general lack of it in my family - without sentimentality. They appear to work well in a stand-alone lyric sense, and easily earn their place in my fourth collection.

Yet somehow I'm uneasy about having written them and about wishing to write more, which I definitely do. There seems to be a positive wellspring there, looking back at my past with older eyes, and any gush of new, publishable poetry must surely be welcome after twelve years in the game.

But am I really the sort of poet who writes 'nostalgia'?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Being Honest

Hopefully not another blind alley, since I've lost myself in a few of those recently, but I'm writing poetry again after a short break (not dried up but forcing myself to concentrate on prose this summer, since, as David Morley advised me a few months back, we all have to eat and prose tends to pay where poetry doesn't).

I didn't want to write any poetry again until the autumn, but my poetry had other ideas ...

The most important thing for me at the moment, in terms of writing poems, is to be honest and not get sucked into making empty gestures, by which I mean the 'telling' last line which explains the poem, or the genre piece which points to nothing beyond itself, and other crimes against poetry.

The danger is that in not wishing to be too damned honest - i.e. gushing or becoming too realistic/mundane for poetry to bear it, so that it breaks apart into prose - I may err on the side of being too laconical or obscure.

Artifice or artistic integrity. Dirty great hints to the reader or embarrassed dumbshow. Where are the dividing lines? What are the differences?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Mort à la poesie



Some mid-summer break entertainment for you. "Death to Poetry." And a very odd film to accompany that sentiment.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Review of The Wanderer on the Happenstance site

I just found a groovy short review of my Heaventree-published pamphlet translation of the Anglo-Saxon classic, The Wanderer, on the Happenstance website.

Thanks to Matt Merritt for that. Not sure how long it's been there, but it's a great review and much appreciated. All those rather painful months of work on The Wanderer ... and now I can be sure at least one person enjoyed it!

P.S: Yet More Reviews, Summer 2009
There's also a charming review of Camper Van Blues (reviewed by Sarah Maskill) and a highly complimentary review of The Lament of the Wanderer (reviewed by David Morley) both in this quarter's issue of Poetry Review, which is entitled "Cosmopolis" and can be bought online or via most good bookshops.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Gawain: Loved, and shining with it


Loved, and shining with it, tin cup champion,
you step out, stand hard
in winter gleam, sunshine. Armed
with your lance, ice-tipped,
you’ll drive forth
along the motorways of Britain, Coldplay
cast on for company,
the blow that awaits you hidden;
still loved, unlost,
a lily.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Poetic Justice: feminism and poetry

Ought to flag this new development up in between poems from the Gawain sequence. Feminists, and proto-feminists, follow this link. Anti-feminists, best not to.

As if I didn't have enough to do these days ...

Poetic Justice

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Gawain: "The scaly dragon, surprised"

The scaly dragon, surprised,
seizing one metal-gold thigh in his teeth ...

Sorry, folks, but a few hours after posting this poem, I received an email reminding me that it was about to be published in Trespass Magazine. I had somehow forgotten to note that acceptance down in my files, and thought the poem was okay to post up. Apologies to Trespass, I've removed it now.

Ho-hum. I'll find a replacement once I'm back from the dentist. Assuming I ever come back from the dentist, that is.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Gawain: "Sithen the sege"

Sithen the sege and the assaut
               was sesed at Troye

                 – that city
a heap of half-burnt timbers and ashes, smoking still –




This poem has now been removed to allow later publication elsewhere. Many thanks for all comments!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Gawain sequence & an angry squeak

My exams are finally over and I can return to writing the historical novel that I was entangled with before revision began in earnest. This summer will be given over, by and large, to writing prose. The thought gives me pause, and no little emotional anguish. I'm beginning to realise that I simply can't afford to write poetry. It doesn't pay well enough - if anything at all, in the majority of cases - and with the economic downturn, I don't have the luxury of being able to work without at least the potential prospect of payment.

I've spent the past two decades without a regular income: first, as a semi-pro snooker player, then as a full-time poet. The handful of novels I've published in the past ten years have been genre, written under a pen-name, low-paid, as my numerous attempts at mainstream fiction since Kissing the Pink (Sceptre, 1999) have proved impossible to place. Yet I seem reasonably talented at writing the shorter, genre novel. Which is just as well, frankly. Since my Gregory Award in 1996, I've published five collections of poetry - three long, two short; the money I've received from sales of all five poetry collections would not even amount to the money garnered from one genre novel.

I enjoy writing prose. It can be a rich and highly entertaining canvas to work on, even in the relatively narrow field of genre fiction. But poetry is - and always has been, since I was a young child - my vocation. I had hoped that the next few years would see me working more fruitfully in poetry. But a recent application for a poetry 'job' for which I was more than qualified, and which would have secured me enough money over the next two years to continue writing without fear of eviction, was turned down out of hand. In the meantime, like many people at the moment, I've reached a critical point cash-wise and can't ignore my financial problems any longer.

So, as I mentioned earlier, I'm going to post up the unpublished Gawain sequence poems I've written so far - removing a few of them later, as I may yet send some of them out to magazines - and then make a stab at actually writing some new ones, which I will then post up as drafts whenever they appear in my notebook. Two of the early Gawain poems have already been posted here, and a few have been accepted for publication elsewhere, but the rest are fair game.

I'll start either tomorrow at at the weekend, then post up one Gawain poem every other day, until I run out of poems. And what will happen then?

Friday, May 22, 2009

SALT's Natural Habitat is Fast Disappearing ... Can You Save SALT?

Sorry about the sidebar overlap. Just click PLAY and the sidebar will be covered.



"Please go to www.saltpublishing.com and buy ONE BOOK today. Because we don't want to say goodbye to SALT PUBLISHING forever."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Just One Book!

My own publishers, Salt Publishing, as some of you may know, has hit some very hard times recently, due in part to discontinued grants from the Arts Council. This has happened to a number of publishers, both small and large, across the Uk, and probably worldwide too.

Earlier today Salt Publishing announced that all their forthcoming 2009 titles were to be axed, and only backlist titles would be available via Print on Demand. I was aware of the situation beforehand, and thought all was lost. I have since heard, however, that they are trying to save the 2009 list by a combination of methods. One substantial method is by encouraging people to buy books from Salt.

If you would like to help save the 2009 list, and possibly keep Salt Publishing financially viable into next year as well, please follow the suggestions below:

Here's how you can help us to save Salt.

JUST ONE BOOK

1. Please buy just one book, right now. We don't mind from where, you can buy it from us or from Amazon, your local shop or megastore, online or offline. If you buy just one book now, you'll help to save Salt. Timing is absolutely everything here. We need cash now to stay afloat. If you love literature, help keep it alive. All it takes is just one book sale. Go to our online store and help us keep going.

UK and International
Salt Shop

USA
Salt Shop USA


2. Share this note on your Facebook and MySpace profile. Tell your friends. If we can spread the word about our cash crisis, we can hopefully find more sales and save our literary publishing. Remember, it's just one book, that's all it takes to save us. Please do it now.

Brighton Pilgrimage

Okay, found a poem to while away the hours.

Brighton Pilgrimage is a longish poem about someone I used to know, whom I admired very much and whose early life fascinated me. And that's all I have to say about that.

The most interesting thing about this particular poem for me is that I am the pilgrim of the title, I am the one driving the car at the opening of the poem, and yet the narratorial voice gradually shifts into hers, or an imaginary amalgam of hers and mine, although at the end I do seem to come back to myself somewhat. I suppose much of that is about smoke and mirrors, especially where some of the many puns, double-entendres and significant images are concerned.

There is much I like about my earlier self as a poet, and much that I wish I could recapture: freshness, confidence, lyrical and imaginative strength, plus a startling lack of inhibition, probably due to an amusing misunderstanding of how poems are read. But there's also a naivety and an awkwardness of phrasing and line-breaking that I wouldn't want to return to.

And the last stanza needs to be rewritten.

Brighton Pilgrimage was among my earliest longer poems - having cut my teeth on the standard sub-40, moving beyond a page in length was a bit of an exciting departure for me - and was first published in The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman (Bloodaxe, 1997).


Brighton Pilgrimage

She drives down through the dawn:
Brighton streets, traffic-lights, railings,
the Indian summer of the Pavilion,
white-washed terraced houses,
green lawns dotted with sprinklers,
surrounded by wallflowers, roses.
A long police patrol car on its beat.

Coming out onto the promenade,
sea becomes a flicker in the mirror,
a long incessant flash of silver
at her shoulder, indicating left
and casting off along the coast.
Not stopping to read the signs,
the place-names, green arrows,

but following the drift of the wind,
due west. She adjusts the mirror;
fumbles, eyes straight ahead, for
her sunglasses on the dashboard.
It was like a dream she once had,
a landscape of the mind, useless
as a now unbeaten track, stopped

like a clock, tickless, unchiming,
not even the second hand moving.
She has driven all night. It is
morning, late spring or summer,
birds drifting out over driftwood
on the long line of the beach,
a man in shirt-sleeves, staring.

The end of the promenade is
a safety-marker, warning-buoy.
Then a cafe, open for business -
a woman out on the step, sweeping.
The sign says: 'All Day Breakfast'.
Two black dogs lie at the roadside
like strange bookends, motionless.

This is the place it started from:
an oak tree root, it winds out
from its origins like a snake,
moving in all directions at once.
She cannot resist, cannot stop.
She is the figure on the beach,
too distant to contact, a dot

halfway between the tidewall
and the tide. The water turns.
It does not have indolence
of stars, the sophistication
of a satellite in sling-shot orbit,
but in the shallows, the slow
brackish water of the rockpool,

it is the enemy of time, still
unchanged, forever turning.
This mirrored millpond sea,
this copper-coloured coast,
the strangle-hold of estuary,
have stood stock still for years
in ebb and flow monotony.

The villages have grown to towns
of course, with schools, shops,
penny arcades, the sprawl
of make-shift modern bungalows.
But not this view, the estuary
pulled into rhythm by the sea -
nothing here has changed.

Deserted factories, each window
broken by a different stone
along the jagged water's edge.
House-boats moored uneasily,
up to their shoulders in silt,
their painted timbers peeling
from the frame, water-logged.

No other sign of life,
no welcome for a woman
who takes that winding road
along the waterside, looks
out to sea and sees herself
beside an ancient traffic-light
still turning green to red,

stopping an invisible flow
of traffic from the right.
She waits, conditioned to
instruction without cause.
This peace, this timeless blue,
evaded her for thirty years
like sleep; its dark circles

are bruising her eyes.
She wants to stop the car
beside the blanket of the sea,
walk into its white folds
like a child, but the lights
ahead are turning green;
she keeps on driving.

This is the picket fence,
the gate, the garden wall,
a small green square of lawn
where she bent her head
back in the lap of the daisies,
first looked up at the sun
and was made fierce by it.

Like a tall ship in a bottle,
she had to learn to fold herself
into the rigid glass of home,
although the sea had always
beckoned, running beside her
like a shadow on water,
ship-thrown, spray-blown.

Here in this narrow street,
she first perfected cuckoo-
calls, dubbed the briar patch
the wild dog-rose and called
herself by different names -
but none would ever fit
until she found her own.

With the engine running,
she sits, watches the curtain
twitch, lets the sun bounce
back off the dark windows.
She wakes, shakes herself
like a dog out of water,
and fumbles for first gear.

She turns and takes the inland
road. Where does the line
begin, drawn through the time
of the journey, the stopping-in,
the moving-out, the destination?
In the slant of her rear-view mirror,
the sea always a blur, beginning.



----------------
Now playing: "As I lay me down to sleep" from Sophie B. Hawkins
via FoxyTunes

Monday, May 18, 2009

Today feels like a good day to ...

Move into prose!

In eight days' time, my exams will be over and I'll be free at last to carry on with the historical novel I'd been joyfully writing before the need for revision caught up with me.

I still plan to post up a poem a day for a month this summer or maybe autumn - all depends on how much time is available to me when not novel-writing - but for the foreseeable future, I shall be concentrating on prose.

Anyone care to join me?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The TITANIC CAFE closes its doors and hits the rocks ...


The Titanic Cafe closes its doors and hits the rocks or: Knife, fork and bulldozer ultra modern retail outlet complex development scenario with flowers is the latest pamphlet out from intrepid new Midlands poetry publishers, Nine Arches Press.

This shiny new offering is from David Hart, so well-known on the Midlands poetry scene that he almost requires no introduction, but for those readers beyond our little region, Hart is a kind of mesmeric, shamanic figure with an Old Testament-style grey beard, poetic idiom and gestures worthy of the great eccentric - mostly northern - mavericks of the last century: Jon Silkin, Ken Smith, Basil Bunting, Barry MacSweeney and their ilk, if rather more jovial than those particular poets had a reputation for being.

So what of this new pamphlet? Well, it consists of a single long poem, demonstrating Nine Arches' continuing commitment to British experimental writing outside the mainstream that both makes sense to normal folk who might come across it - hoorah for that! - and addresses Big Issues rather than what the poet had for lunch. Though, of course, this being a poem about a cafe, lunch does come into it. And tea: strong, sweet, and plenty of it. But what of the poetry itself?

Titanic Cafe is just stunning. Just stunning. I sat down and read the poem in bursts: slipped first towards the end, pulled in by a phrase that caught my eye, trawled backwards a few pages, frowned as I realised the enormity and scope of what I was reading, hurriedly turned to the beginning, leapt ahead uncontrollably, checked myself and went back again, more slowly this time, lost myself somewhere in the middle and couldn't have been happier.

Titanic Cafe is one of the most lightly achieved, unpretentious, mordantly ironic, and relevant contemporary poems I have ever read. It possesses gravitas in spadefuls, yet never fails to laugh at its own futility as a gesture against change - this is the poet as King Canute, both pointing ironically and weeping as the waves sweep in around him, or the bulldozers in this case.


The poem concerns an ancient, tumbledown cafe in Birmingham, which was demolished in 2007 to make way for a giant Sainsbury's shopping complex. With the discipline of a true artist, David Hart treats his subject with a deep and loving nostalgia that is never allowed to dissolve into sentimentality. The result is a poetic call to arms which accepts the inevitability of change whilst stopping to salute fallen comrades like Titanic Cafe in the hope that something, at least, of its spirit and ethos may be encouraged to remain in this world; a call to the memory of a steaming tea urn, or a much-used greasy spoon, in these days of counter queues, hygienic serve-yourself plastic cups and pre-packed, mass-produced snacks.

In pursuit of his nostalgic homage, Hart employs a cornucopia of poetic - and daringly anti-poetic - effects: lists, italics, capital letters, vocal asides, end rhyme, internal rhyme, alliteration, assonance, local history, mythological references, dictionary definitions, botanical lore, imagined and real conversations, bureaucratic development-speak, publicity posters, billboard messages, statistics, long-dead poets and their inspirations (Offa looms large in this poem, with shades of Geoffrey Hill behind him, though here clearly Hart's own monarch), plus blocks of 'real' poetry, whatever I might mean by that tricksy comment. You'll need to buy the pamphlet to draw your own conclusions on that.

The theatre of THE BEST TEA IN THE UK
        is falling down,
the canal isn't deep enough for the TITANIC CAFE
to sink without trace, there'd be a fine mess.
            All but ready to collapse
            of its own volition. Listen,
a child on a longboat along from Bournville asks,
    What's that?! 'It's a
planks and struts and frames by numbers temple
            to the God of Advertising
where you could buy God's Own Tea
till the God of Storm
                        took it away almost.'

To add to these delights, the 36 page pamphlet is handsomely produced in a smart dark grey card, with excellent black lettering, a fold-out map, and a large number of full-colour plates depicting the life and death of the Titanic Cafe, photographs taken by David Hart. There are also copious, fascinating notes and relevant quotations at the back, some of which almost constitute a prose poem in themselves. I urge everyone to buy a copy and show it to all their friends, to demonstrate the relevance and great good sense of contemporary poetry in the face of all kinds of other nonsense.

Gone now, the Knife and Fork Titanic
without the dignity of sinking even
in shallow water, but knocked down
            and taken away
                in a lorry.
The new Sainsbury's will sell hot tea
              so that's okay.

David Hart's glorious TITANIC CAFE is available now from Nine Arches Press and online booksellers such as Amazon and costs - all those full colour plates, remember! - £8. You can find out more about David Hart at the Nine Arches site, or at his somewhat infrequent blog.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Groovy or Cheesy, it's the Books Slideshow



I only wish I could find my Lament of the Wanderer online somewhere. Maybe when I do, I'll add that. And Brief History, which is also absent but surely deserves a place in this cheesy Holland hall of fame.

I love these gadgets!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Poetry Voice - may it be damned forever

Just been watching another poet, well-known to me, on YouTube and wondering why on earth the insidious Poetry Voice is still so widespread amongst our kind, when it so clearly blights and destroys the poetry it touches? I've blogged about this before but it continues to annoy me.

It's like a sickness, the overwhelming urge to read aloud in this effeminate, floating, breathy voice that so many seem to adopt when performing their poetry to an audience. The meaning and impact of the poetry is suffocated or swallowed up in that voice, and all that's left as you walk away afterwards is the memory of someone "breathing" the ends of their lines, like a diseased lung rasping on a death-bed.

The Poetry Voice is hideously artificial and very far from musical (which is presumably the idea behind it, to drag poetry closer to the rise and fall of music). It does nothing for poetry. At best, it puts the unfortunate listener to sleep or makes them want to escape to the bar as soon as possible.

Whatever happened to poetry that is spoken with honesty, to the raw power of a poet's true and natural voice - not the floating cadences of some piously intoning priest?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

My Po Mo

I've been writing nothing but prose recently, and have exams coming up at the end of this month, so poetry has been the poor relation this spring.

It takes me ages to get back into writing poetry after a few months away from the habit. To counteract that effect, I'd rather like to try a month of poems in June or maybe July: writing one poem a day if possible, or every other day if that's too difficult. And posting them up here on Raw Light. I can always delete them after a few days, and just leave the first few lines behind. That's acceptable practice, isn't it?

July would probably be best, as June will be filled with all those things I'm putting off until after my exams. It would be an excellent discipline, I think. Though I'm not sure it will result in any good poems.

Monday, May 04, 2009

"Spoken Spring" - poetry reading this week

SPOKEN SPRING
Poetry and Open Mic event for Warwick Words.

Join host Jane Holland for an evening of petty chit-chat and poetry readings by Warwick Poet Laureate 2009, Catherine Whittaker, Don Barnard, Jane Commane and Jacqui Rowe followed by an Open Mic.

Thursday 7 May at 7.30pm Kozi Bar, Market Place Warwick, Warwickshire.

Tickets: £5.00 (includes glass of wine/juice on arrival)

Free Poetry Surgeries with Catherine Whittaker from 6.00pm - please call 07944 768607 to book a place.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Post-Baby Book Boom

I was speaking to the poet David Morley yesterday at Warwick University; his wife recently gave birth, and he was telling me how he had been writing furiously ever since the event, poems shooting out of him.

I was reminded by his story of my own experience back in 2002 in North Cornwall when, having just given birth to twin boys, I found myself writing a novel some 100,000 words long. I wrote at night largely, in an annex of the renovated barn we were renting, with one ear open for any squeaks from the baby monitor.

This system worked well for about five or six weeks postnatally. The boys slept in Moses baskets in the living room and I tapped away most of the night. It was the summer holidays and my husband, a teacher, was not at work, so he was able to look after the babies during the daytime while I caught up on my sleep - though breastfeeding meant having to be at least vaguely awake some of the time - and I would take the night shift.

The oddest thing was how little sleep I seemed to require. I've always been able to survive on five or six hours a night for long periods of time without too much trouble, but during those six weeks after the birth of my twin boys, I was almost electric. I would plug myself into a couple of hours' nap to recharge, and then stay awake for the next twenty-two, not only functioning normally, but super-normally, writing thousands upon thousands of words as they just flew out of me.

That novel was never published; it remains one of those bottom drawer efforts that I still wonder about. But I do wonder now, far less electrically charged these days, what it was about the post-birth period - traditionally held to be so exhausting, particularly with twins! - that suddenly lit me up creatively in that bizarre, almost painful fashion, forcing me to write and write as though I were running out of time to do so.

It occurs to me that some kind of adrenalin must kick in at times following a birth - not for every birth, not for every person - that leaves you in that super-charged state. A natural reaction, perhaps, designed to allow you to cope with a three month period of such profound lack of sleep that it would knock most people sideways.

For creative people, it may also result in a period of the most astonishing fecundity.

At the time, I assumed it was because I had been dragging around for nine months with this double burden, this sense of gravity and vulnerability that can occasionally kick in when pregnant. I was certainly vast with the boys, and carried them full term, so wide towards the end that I had to shuffle sideways through doors. So when their birth finally released me, I was filled with such restless energy that I felt I could do anything. Super-human ...

So how to recapture that state of being super-charged, of being creatively electric and lit up from within - without having to produce twins beforehand?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Nine Arches Press Birthday Shindig

You are invited to come and join Nine Arches Press in celebrating their first year in business at a special Birthday Shindig!

On: Tuesday May 5th 2009 at 7pm

At: The CAPITAL Centre, Milburn House, Milburn Hill Road, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL

Readings by a fine selection of Midlands poets, so far confirmed are Simon Turner, George Ttoouli, Matt Nunn and Jane Holland. PLUS: Cakes, music and open-mic slots for up-and-coming poets, not to mention Nine Arches pamphlets for sale too.

This event is FREE and all are welcome.

If you can drop along to celebrate our first year with us, it would be a pleasure to see you there.

Jane Commane
www.ninearchespress.com

Monday, April 27, 2009

Motion Sickness?

He hasn't been the most popular of Laureates, nor the most scintillating. He has been, at times, both too much and too little in the public eye. Some people I've met have had nothing but good things to say about the man and his work. Indeed, I've met the man myself - but only for thirty seconds, before he dashed off, wine glass still in hand, to another gathering of poets somewhere across London. He seemed rather unengaged in the poetry event I was attending, and who can blame him? Once you've been to one, you've been to them all.

The big question is, how many poets will state in later years to have been 'inspired' by Andrew Motion's term as Laureate?

Well, stranger things have happened at sea.

* POETRY SOCIETY EVENT *

Monday 28th April 2009, 7.45pm.

The Poetry Society marks the end of Andrew Motion's decade as Poet Laureate. On this historic occasion, Andrew will also be reading from his new collection The Cinder Path.

VENUE: Purcell Room, 7.45pm, Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre. £9 for Poetry Society Members, £10 for others. Tickets from www.southbankcentre.co.uk or 0871 663 2500.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Email Virus: Apologies

Many apologies to anyone who received a spam email apparently from my email account recently. I have today found many instances of other people online who have suffered with precisely the same spam message coming from their accounts, quite innocently, and why.

"This is due to a worm virus currently propagating itself through e-mail and instant messaging.

The worm sends various messages that entice users to click on a malicious link that leads to a Web site. Clicking on the said link downloads a copy of worm onto message recipients' computers. Upon download, it then gathers e-mail addresses saved on the recipient's computer and sends itself out to all of those addresses. It also creates e-mail addresses using common names appended with a domain name.

The virus, most likely, has acquired your e-mail address from one of your contacts. The virus then forges the "To" field of the e-mail making it appear that it came from you or one of your contacts. When a recipient's e-mail server rejects the e-mail, a non-delivery notification is then sent to your e-mail address."

I have no memory of clicking on a link to activate this, and I have no real idea how to get rid of it. I've contacted my email provider but so far no reply. My main question is, is that it, or will it strike again? Is it safe?!

Any clues?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Podcasts?

Just been listening to some Harlequin podcasts (romance series fiction) on the e-Harlequin site, and thought it might be fun to put up some podcasts on this blog.

Podcasts are pretty simple to make with an MP3 player or on a laptop - I could probably even manage a short film, via YouTube, if I knew someone with a reasonable camera - and they would certainly ring the changes from text-based discussions, besides being a more intimate, first-hand approach to blogging.

So, any thoughts about what I could cover in a short writing-based podcast?

I could, for instance, rather than rambling on about whatever I've been doing recently, invite a local writer or two to talk with me. One of the co-editors of Nine Arches Press, Jane Commane and I have been talking about developing a Midlands-based poetry podcast for the next issue of Horizon Review, but I think there's also a possibility there for creating less grand podcasts, in a casual sort of ad hoc style, for Raw Light.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tom Chivers' "The Terrors"


Tom Chivers is a poet based in London, who has just published a pamphlet of poem-emails entitled THE TERRORS. To give you a flavour of his content, here's the short preface:

What follows is a sequence of imagined emails sent from the author to inmates at London's Newgate Prison incarcerated between roughly 1700 and 1760. All mistakes, typos and anachronisms are deliberate.

Tom Chivers promises - and delivers - anachronisms in these well-presented 30-odd pages of poems - poem-emails, prose-poems, email-musings - with an urban twist well-suited to such disturbing subject matter. For instance, in an email to Babs_Spencer@yahoo.co.uk, Chivers addresses the unfortunate Barbara, who appears to have been imprisoned for forgery, as though they are personal friends. 'Thank god you were throttled before you were burnt', he writes, then leaps straight into another stanza: 'The burger vans hum as I wait for the nightbus, onions caramelising on the grill, faggots and all.'

This is contemporary elegy, then, for the long-dead, the unknown, many of them victims of a clumsy, unjust and barbaric legal system.

Geoffrey Hill in his Mercian Hymns phase is, surely, an influence in these poems, structurally at least, if not in tone as well. This is from one of several emails to William Dodd :

I snared the gaping crowd, Will; told Akerman you once danc'd into the living grave wherin we're food for worms. I'd love to see your homely porter, clad in bespoke skin of wolsey grey; strange choirs, guttural outpourings.

I'm what you'd call a fellow traveller; terrestrial stranger with my twin-pack scriptures, ghostly doctrine tagged along the walls. Watch for the pattern and the source, you said.

The pattern: infamy!
The source: infamy!

But not all these email-poems run along such expansive, discursive lines. Some are elegant with impressive one-liners - 'The Chinese say a person with a bad name is already half-hanged' - while others try a different tack, short clauses and place names run together in mini-sentences, creating a breathless, accusatory charge into the past:

Hooded in a whimple. Skirts up to here. It was you, wasn't it?
Gun Street. Spitalfields. Drab or tom.
Findy sides open to the fog. Bundle of kid.


Even though some of these poems are difficult to read, and must have been even worse to write, Tom Chivers does not shy away from the unsettling or the genuinely horrific detail in these quasi-historical accounts; indeed, his outraged sense of injustice permeates THE TERRORS. Here are the opening lines of 'To: Elizabeth Brownrigg/Subject: Murder by inches':

1. The subject is tied up naked, beaten with a hearth-broom, a horsewhip, or a cane, til she is speechless.

Some of the rest of this poem is so horrific, I don't feel able to quote it here. But it conveys, swiftly and eloquently, the atmosphere of Newgate Prison in the eighteenth century, or how we, looking back on such times from the present, can only believe or fear it must have been for the inmates.

Nine Arches Press is to be congratulated for publishing this short collection by Tom Chivers, which is both innovative and disturbing, and which gives a voice to the voiceless, albeit an imagined, anachronistic one. I was extremely pleased to be present at the launch a few weeks ago in London, and to be able to read alongside Tom. Hearing his introductions, and the poems themselves, left me keen to review such a fascinating, experimental collection.

If I had one minor criticism to make, it would be that, on reading these poems, I felt curious to know more about the people to whom they were addressed, including crimes they had been accused of and how they were sentenced. But it's only a minor point, and perhaps a list in an appendix could be added in a later edition.

THE TERRORS is a bold, dark, and deeply unsettling collection which introduces a strong new poetic voice in Tom Chivers. You can buy the book online from Nine Arches Press via Throckmortons bookshop (which will directly support this bold new publishing house).

There is also a short poetry film by Tom Chivers reading from THE TERRORS on location at Newgate, available here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Doctor Who and the BBC Writing Room


Doctor Who and the recent Planet of the Dead episode.

Like many people, I'm a fan of Doctor Who and am eagerly looking forward to the last few episodes with David Tennant (stagger, swoon) before he bows off our screens - as Doctor Who - forever.

Today it was brought to my attention that Raw Light is now listed on British Blogs, which I promptly visited and found this interesting website on Doctor Who, amongst other things.

If you're a writer and fancy trying your hand at writing for television - or radio - as I've said before on Raw Light, your first port of call must be the marvellous BBC Writers' Room website.

There you will find many examples of real BBC scripts - for Doctor Who, Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes, etc. - and thousands of tips on script-writing and other useful stuff, including their free ScriptSmart software download (not available for Mac, when I last checked, so sadly I can't use it) so you can concentrate on the dialogue, not the formatting.

It's great to have samples of these scripts online now, and to be able to watch missed episodes online or buy the DVDs. But it wasn't always that easy for writers - or fans, for that matter.

When I was a teenager, two of my school friends - Lynn and Sheila - used to send off specially for BBC scripts of Blakes 7, learn them by heart, then shoot barrages of dialogue at me relentlessly to check if I knew the episodes well enough to fill in the blanks (it was an all-girls' school and we were odd like that).

Lynn got married, Sheila died tragically young in a riding accident, and here I am, 42 years old and still able to quote vast chunks of Blakes 7 from memory. Just a pity it's kind of pointless knowledge ...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hopkins' "Easter Communion"

Easter Communion

Pure fasted faces draw unto this feast:
God comes all sweetness to your Lenten lips.
You striped in secret with breath-taking whips,
Those crooked rough-scored chequers may be pieced
To crosses meant for Jesu's; you whom the East
With draught of thin and pursuant cold so nips
Breathe Easter now; you serged fellowships,
You vigil-keepers with low flames decreased,

God shall o'er-brim the measures you have spent
With oil of gladness, for sackcloth and frieze
And the ever-fretting shirt of punishment
Give myrrhy-threaded golden folds of ease.
Your scarce-sheathed bones are weary of being bent:
Lo, God shall strengthen all the feeble knees.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

This is one of Gerard Manley Hopkins' lesser-known poems but perfect for Easter Day. One of my favourite poets and most in-built poetic influences - encountered young; forever present - Hopkins whirls from word to word, almost delirious at times, careless of convention, his alliterative criss-crossing of sounds deeply Anglo-Saxon, seemingly lost in religious ecstasy yet never out of control, leaving the faithful reader breathless and dizzy.

For further reading, his most beautiful and achieved poem is "The Wreck of the Deutschland".

Happy Easter/Spring!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Enough Reading, Start Writing!

It can be a lonely life, being a writer, and rather low on feedback. So it was a pleasure to catch up today with the kind words a few people had to say about my poem 'Day Tripping' on the Peony Moon site earlier this year.

Reading the comments, although fairly short, was a reminder that I need to do more writing and less reading - which is all I seem to have been doing in recent months, apart from the odd essay for my studies at Warwick. (Hence the long silence on Raw Light.) Reading is fabulous and utterly essential, but there comes a point as a writer when you have to say 'Basta!', lay the books aside and pick up the pen. Or pencil, in my case.

Which is precisely what I shall be doing, later this week and next, despite my pressing need to revise for forthcoming exams.

Though this week must also involve a quick trip down to Cornwall to see my eldest daughter. An important visit, since the latest news is that I'm going to be a grandmother!

Friday, March 27, 2009

New Poem (a Sapphic) in the latest Poetry Review

The latest issue of the flagship magazine of the Poetry Society, Poetry Review, is just out this week, and I have a brand-new poem in it, entitled Sapphic: Jamesian, Aureate.

I also have a review of poetry books by Wendy Cope, Maureen Duffy and Patience Agbabi amongst its pages.

To buy or subscribe to Poetry Review, you can visit their website here. It's £30 for the magazine (4 issues a year) or £40 for the magazine PLUS membership of the Society, with all the usual perks.

There's some discussion of the latest issue recently on Poets on Fire, for those interested in forum life.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Amazon Reviews

My third poetry collection Camper Van Blues has been out a few months now, and still no reviews on Amazon. Which is rather sad. If anyone has read Camper Van Blues, and would like to leave a few comments on Amazon, I'd be ever so grateful. I'm sure it must help to boost sales if there's at least a few reviews. Assuming, that is, that most of them don't begin 'Don't waste your money on this steaming pile of utter ... etc.'

If you're willing, here's Camper Van Blues on Amazon.co.uk.

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London poetry reading this weekend

FREE POETRY EVENT!

Join me on Sunday 29th March from 7pm for drinking games, petty chit-chat and poetry readings by Tom Chivers, Tim Wells, Jane Holland, Jane Commane and James Wilkes , at The Market Trader, 50 Middlesex Street E1 7EX. Nearest Tube: Aldgate, Aldgate East, Liverpool Street.

The Terrors launch on Facebook

Find the venue

THE TERRORS by Tom Chivers is the first in a series of special edition pamphlets from Nine Arches Press; darkly-humoured e-dispatches of crime and punishment from over the walls and across centuries. The Terrors is a sequence of imagined emails; poetic missives from the start of the 21st century to inmates at London's notorious Newgate Prison. The emails introduce a cast of 18th century villains and their gruesome crimes: 'Half-hanged Smith'; executioner-turned-murderer Jack Ketch; the notorious Waltham Blacks.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Some Questions about Major Poems

William Butler Yeats, originator of many 'major poems'

Not a military high-achiever, Major Poems, but a type of writing which seems to have eluded me to date. I have dreadful, unexplained upper back pain at the moment; having spent some hours today typing up recent poems from my notebook, it is now far worse. In this admittedly wretched mood, I find myself wondering - not for the first time, alas - why so many of my poems end up as minor notes instead of major chords.

I wonder whether a comparison of major poems of the twentieth-century might throw some light on this question. But whose poems would make the list? (One thinks instantly of Yeats and his numerous political masterpieces, of 'Easter, 1916', and that haunting opening line, 'I have met them at close of day'.) And what might these poems have in common to justify their greatness?

Among the various things to be considered, I list, somewhat arbitrarily:
ideas
imagery
structure
length
content
time of writing
point of writing within a poet's career ...

For instance, is it only older poets, in general, rather than younger poets, who write major poems?

And does any particular style of writing preclude the writing of a major poem? One might say, for instance, comic. Yet we have comic masterpieces too. Stevie Smith's 'Not Waving but Drowning' is one example. But again, is that major or merely memorable?

If so, what are the criteria for a poem becoming major rather than 'merely memorable' or striking enough to have stood the test of time? Do we say 'This is a major poem' straightaway, or do we wait for anthologists and critics to tell us which poems are major?

Bloom would include 'influence' on my list, no doubt. The influence of a precursor. But influence means nothing without an accompanying act of rebellion to spark originality.

The only thing I return to here, again and again, is that a major poem must possess, or represent in itself, an important idea. Yet clearly it is not the idea which makes it important, or one could simply state an idea in prose and it would qualify as a major poem. So the important idea or ideas would be accompanied by ...

Or are such questions ultimately pointless?

I don't believe, like Keats, that poems should come naturally or not at all. Art is about making it look natural, hiding the brushstrokes. But they are always there, nonetheless.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Horizon Review, Mark II


'The Dark Pool', Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller (1995). Photo: Cardiff & Miller. See Kathryn Brown's review of this latest Modern Art Oxford exhibition at Horizon Review.

The rumours are true. The poems are all in. The short stories artfully arranged. The reviews straightened. The interviews gasped over. Now the covers have been dragged off. The windows thrown open. The mangy old slippers replaced by spanking red stilettos. HR II is both done and beautifully dusted. Still a little tweaking required, but all very minor and after-the-event. Some apparent vague incompatability with the Vista IE7 browser, which happily I do not use.

But otherwise wickedly delightful, skipping for joy, and live online right now at

Horizon Review

it's the long-awaited ... [extravagant drum-roll] ... ISSUE TWO!!

Go read and enjoy.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ride the Word VII: March 25th 2009


I will be reading in London from my latest poetry collection Camper Van Blues later this month, when I drop in on the Resurrecting Knives tour special, an event which includes
Vincent De Souza reading from his eponymous April 2009 Salt poetry collection.

Here are the details of time, venue, date and the names of the other Salt Publishing writers reading alongside me that evening at Borders, Oxford Street.

Wednesday 25th March 2009
Borders Oxford St, 203-207 Oxford St, London W1D 2LE
7.00 - 9.15 pm FREE

Jay Merill
David Gaffney
Jane Holland
Mark Norfolk
Vincent De Souza
Scott Thurston

Plus special guests Brand magazine - Editor Nina Rapi

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Short Season of Other Poets: Rik Roots

Cliff

As the hovercraft puffed its skirts
against the concrete apron, so I flew -
Dover harbour a spray of images
behind my brother as he swung me
over the salt-crust lawns, the edge
of the unguarded cliff, a handgrasp away
from learning the dangers of trust.

Now the last hovercraft has been scrapped
for spares, I can discover new seductions:
the dangers of windy walks through stiff grasses
to watch the sea bolster Dover below; the feel
of rain spattering my neck, my back
as I dance with you, tonight's friend,
on the edge of the cliff - eyes forward
not down - each step an experiment
in my trust of flinty contact.


This poem is from the e-chapbook 'Poems to Quote to your Lover' by Rik Roots, which you can find - amongst other publications and poems by Rik - on the RikVerse website.

"Rik was born in the small village of Dymchurch on the Romney Marshes in Kent, England. Dymchurch has three Martello Towers and a station on the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway. This was Rik's world for the first 24 years of his life, except for those six terms away at college - the North East Surrey College of Technology, that is: Rik somehow managed to fail his final school exams and thus never made it to university.

Poetically, Rik has been writing since he was 14 or 15. He happily acknowledges that no work from that early period survives, thanks to a fortuitous kitchen fire which may or may not have been started deliberately. The kitchen was relatively unharmed, in case you were worrying.

Rik's major claim to 'proper' poetic fame is being part of the group that established Magma Magazine - he even edited Magma 6, for his sins. The magazine's subsequent success has nothing to do with Rik; he left the Management Board a few weeks before Magma 7 was published. Rik's main publishing credentials are, strangely enough, in Magma Magazine. Nowadays he rarely submits poems to journals and has no plans to seek 'proper' venues for his chapbooks and manuscripts - Rik has a website, after all, which makes him very happy!

On a broader note, Rik is currently studying for that elusive degree with the Open University, and writing science fiction novels. Rik used to work for Her Majesty's Civil Service which is, he says, a perfect training ground for people wanting to write novels based on alternate realities and fantasy.

Rik currently lives in London with his partner, Nigel, and some cats. His other hobbies include causing trouble in various online venues and inventing languages. He also codes up websites."

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And this concludes my Short Season of Other Poets. Many thanks to all those who kindly agreed to let me host their poems on my blog, and good luck with the publications I've mentioned here over the past few weeks.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A Short Season of Other Poets: Siriol Troup


CAGED ELEPHANTS

There were things no one told us –
how dusk trickled slowly through the cracks
like something you could touch with your trunk,

a soft mist scented with myrtle and laurel,
voluptuous, weighed down by the rills
of brown birds tearing their throats, and pain

below the range of human hearing: the grief
of solitary, creamy moths, the terrified
crumbling of cement. Or how, beyond

watering distance, eyes would kipper in their sockets
and to weep would be like the first gasp
of a fresh wound, cruel and beautiful. How day

would no longer be that sweet climb
into brilliance – the sun oiling the warm
bark of the baobab tree, the horizon glittering

like a needle. How our ears would soon forget
the shape and weave of a continent,
which no amount of trumpeting could bring back

because we were stretched to the very limits
of illumination, our only constant,
fear – not fear of death or darkness or hunger

but the fear that we might go on hoping
for something better than this: a small
adjustment, or a giving in.


About Siriol Troup:

Siriol comes from a Welsh family but was born in Hong Kong and spent most of her childhood and teenage years abroad, in Africa, Germany, Holland and Iran. She now lives in Twickenham with her husband and four children.

She read Modern Languages (French and German) at St Hugh's College, Oxford and later returned there to teach 19th and 20th century French Literature.

Her poems have previously appeared in The TLS, Poetry Review, PN Review, Poetry London, Poetry Wales, Modern Poetry in Translation, and other journals. Her pamphlet, Moss, won the Poetry Monthly Open Booklet competition in 2002 and her first full-length collection, Drowning up the Blue End, was published by Bluechrome in 2004.

She has won many prizes for her poems, including 2nd prize in the Arvon International Poetry Competition 2006. She teaches and lectures on poetry and is currently poet in residence for the Twickenham River Centre Project. Beneath the Rime is her second collection, published by Shearsman.