Saturday, September 27, 2008

The TLS, Horizon Review, and Throckmorton's Bookshop

I'm very happy to say that Horizon Review made the back page of the TLS this week. My colourful past as editor was flagged up for comment rather than any of the many excellent - some of them award-winning - poets, writers and critics in this first issue, but all publicity is good publicity, as they say.

I'm now selecting new poetry for the second issue, commissioning new critical articles, and looking for literary reviewers. This last is proving harder than I'd imagined. It appears I know only poets and poetry-lovers.

So if you're highly literate and critically engaged - or at least prepared to be - and fancy a crack at reviewing some brand-new literary novels later this year or early next, give me a shout.

I read some of my new work at the Atherstone Arts Festival, Warwckshire, today. Wine was enjoyed afterwards by myself, my fellow readers, and some of the audience in Throckmorton's Bookshop. An excellent bookshop to visit if you're in the area, and not least because they stock several of my books!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Critics Inc.

CHROMA: Want to learn how to review Poetry?

Found this fascinating. A London-based Poetry School course on how to review poetry, with well-known critic Charles Bainbridge. A very worthy thing, I suspect, teaching people how to review.

If it was even remotely possible, which it isn't, I'd take this course myself. It sounds marvellous and I bet some of the post-class pub conversations would be worth the trip too. If you think cramming fifteen poets onto one table at the pub could make for a bitchy conversation, just imagine the potential ding-dong between fifteen poetry critics.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

On the Delicate Art of Blurb Writing

Found this deliciously ironic blurb on the back of Faber's Poet-to-Poet Series edition of Hart Crane's poetry selected by Maurice Riordan:

Harold Hart Crane was born in 1899. He spent much of his life in New York City, where he worked irregularly as a copywriter. White Buildings, his first collection, appeared in 1926 and his most famous work, The Bridge, in 1930. A reaction against the pessimism in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, it is a love song to the myth of America and its optimism encapsulates the excitement and energy of the Jazz Age. Hart Crane committed suicide in 1932.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"Leap from the crags, brave boy"

The Dhoon

Leap from the crags, brave boy
The musing hills have kept thee long
But they have made thee strong
And fed thee with the fullness of their joy
And given direction that thou might'st return
To me who yearn
At foot of this great steep
Leap! Leap!
So the stream leapt
Into his mother's arms
Who wept
A space

Then calmed her sweet alarms
And smiled to see him as he slept
Wrapt in that dear embrace
And with the brooding of her tepid breast
Cherished his mountain chillness
O, then what a rest!
O, everywhere what stillness.

That was the Victorian Manx poet T.E. Brown writing about one of the Isle of Man's most secluded but spectacular National Glens, the Dhoon.

I'm afraid that I can't be bothered to get the formatting right - I could be here all night, fiddling with it - so apologies to dear old TE, for whom 'A garden is a lovesome thing, god wot!'

The photograph above shows me sitting 'midst the bluebells in Dhoon Glen and was taken in the spring of 2000 by the late Roly Drower, musician, poet and political activist, with whom I was in a relationship at the time.

I was recently contemplating changing that photograph as the 'official' picture on my home page - since it's nearly ten years out of date now - and felt rather sad, remembering the happy circumstances in which it was taken and knowing I couldn't hang on to it forever.

The TE Brown poem seemed startling apposite when I came across it on the Dhoon Glen site, which is why I've reproduced it here, unashamedly corny though it is: 'Leap from the crags, brave boy/The musing hills have kept thee long ... //O, then what a rest!/O, everywhere what stillness.'

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

5000 page views in the first 48 hours

The first issue of Horizon Review appears to have been well-received so far and is certainly bringing in the hits.

Some excellent stats here from Chris Hamilton-Emery on the Booktrade info page.

Meanwhile, back at the word-face, this week I have:

offered some new poetry books for review to various magazines

started - but not yet finished - a tongue-in-cheek 1000 word article on poem titles for Mimesis

written two more poems

emailed 10 finished poems across to the organisers for the Warwick Festival Photography and Poetry Exhibition that's planned for early October

enrolled at Warwick University for a BA in English & Cultural Studies

made final arrangements to read at the Atherstone Arts Festival on Saturday 27th September

continued reading Simon Barraclough's Los Alamos Mon Amour (which I'm reviewing for Under the Radar)

blogged up some Warwick Words Festival and Birmingham Books Festival events on my Warwick Poet Laureate blog

booked a restaurant for Friday night - my husband's 43rd birthday! - which will be our first meal out together in months

emailed all publishers with books under review in HR with a link to the reviews pages

begun commissioning articles and reviews for the second issue of Horizon Review

set myself to learn some deponent verb forms in Latin - OU examination coming up on October 8th!

printed out the first three chapters of my Young Adult fantasy novel, for some last minute revisions before it wings its way to a highly recommended literary agent next week

managed to slot in some new last-minute names to read at next month's Festival Poetry Cafe in Warwick

groaned over forgetting again to review Brendan Cleary's pamphlet for Write out Loud

got more than five hours' sleep on at least TWO occasions so far!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ultima Thule, from CVB

Ultima Thule

Cool, the lochside road and still. Leaves already lifting at my approach, frail under the shedding trees; sheer plenitude of road, a brim-filled bowl of light spilling white into the distance. The stag’s head swivels to an antlered mask, broad-legged, sinewy centaur’s neck: lord of silence, archangel above a stubbled field.

He leaps out from the plot, heart muscle singing with blood, springing from statue to flesh-arrow slicing blue shadows. Afterwards, in winged mirrors, the road at my back blanches and steadies.

A new prose poem of mine, to be published in Camper Van Blues, Salt Publishing, October 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Horizon Review: launch issue now online

The new arts magazine I'm editing for Salt Publishing, Horizon Review, is now live online.

Forgive me while I collapse into a corner and dribble for a few hours.

Then it's back to work.

I wrote a poem yesterday which I suspect may turn out to be the cornerstone of my next collection. It came to me abruptly, right out of left field, while I was desperately busy doing something else, as the best poems so often do. And it's kind of fitting that it should arrive this weekend, as I not only see Horizon Review launched but also a stunning advertisement for my next full-length poetry collection, Camper Van Blues, go up on the Salt website.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Los Alamos Mon Amour

Reading this new Forward-shortlisted debut poetry collection by Simon Barraclough at the moment, and also sharing it with my husband, who keeps surreptitiously stealing it from me in moments of domestic distraction, i.e. while wrestling with the preparation of a typically late supper or collecting the children's school uniforms for washing.

Can't say much else, as I'm reviewing Los Alamos Mon Amour for Under the Radar, and would prefer to keep my thoughts for that sparkly new publication.

But I certainly admire the title. And this hardback with its stunning cover illustration, as a physical object, is beautiful to behold and own.

Ride the Word: New Writing from Salt hits London

Friday, September 12, 2008

Back to Babel: Tomlinson's "Poetry and Metamorphosis"

We began talking about metaphor and allegory over on the poetry forum this week, but events overtook us and the thread had to be closed. Before that happened, I had intended to quote from Charles Tomlinson's Clarke Lectures on Poetry and Metamorphosis, but since the thread's no longer with us, I thought Raw Light was as good a place as any to kick off a discussion of metaphor in that context.

Tomlinson's Clark Lectures were published by Cambridge University Press in 1983 - I found a nice First Edition on the secondhand book stall at last year's Aldeburgh Festival on our wild eastern coastline, hence the gratuitous photograph above of a giant, metal Coquille St Jacques - and I'm taking the liberty of quoting quite a substantial amount from his essay 'T.S. Eliot: Meaning and Metamorphosis' in the hope that it will spur people into seeking out a copy of the book for themselves.

Please note, I've also taken the liberty of breaking Tomlinson's rather dense paragraphs here into shorter paragraphs for ease of reading on-screen. You can buy the book itself, in a 2003 edition from Carcanet Press, here.

'I am no longer concerned with metaphors but with metamorphosis.' Thus Georges Braque in Cahiers D'Art. His words might stand as epigraph not only to the modernist phase in painting, fragmenting reality to reconstitute it in non-imitative forms, but also to certain aspects of the collage-poems of Pound and Eliot. Literature will go on to concern itself with metaphors, of course, though what Braque seems to mean by metaphor in painting is that by realistically imitating the appearance of an object, by letting your imitation stand in place of that object, you are denying the creative mind its full plastic power.

By metamorphosis, as distinct from metaphor in Braque's sense, the mind could transform that object into a less predictable, a more variously faceted image. Music, which does not concern itself in any exact sense of the meaning, also, in the hands of Schoenberg, followed the way of fragmentation, building new wholes out of its atonalized constituents, venturing on new sound paths. In both visual and literary art, the notions of fragmentation and metamorphosis travel together, as at the climax of The Waste Land within sight of Babel:

Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam uti chelidon
- O swallow swallow
Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo's mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
                     Shantih shantih shantih

Do we hear that any longer, or have we lost the Babelic din it makes to the rumble of a thousand commentaries? Five languages, and their differing metrical forms - or bits of them. Read aloud like this, without warning, the famous climax recalls, perhaps, our forgotten first reading, as the mind re-adjusts itelf to take in and differentiate all that sheer noise, and attempts to reconstitute noise as meaning. In the reconstituting, we help to complete a metamorphosis.

Literary art was always like this - to some degree; so that what we are reading now reshapes what we have read up to this point. But Eliot foreshortens the process, speeds it up, involves you in the crisis of it, and the languages are a part of that. From our first reading, scarcely possible to recall, perhaps what still remains in the memory is a sense of pleasant bewilderment, and something of that same sense returns each time we re-hear these lines and re-focus their meaning. If our act of reading is an act of metamorphosing the fragments towards a whole, metamorphosis also belongs in the passage as a directly stated theme:

nel foco che gli affina

- into the fire which refines them. This Dantescan fire changes and purified - in a word, metamorphoses; and the sliver of Dante gives place immediately to another myth of metamorphosis, that of Philomela and Procne:

Quando fiam uti chelidon

- when shall I become like the swallow?

Some interesting things here. In particular there is some useful discussion to be had from this section: 'In the reconstituting, we help to complete a metamorphosis ... what we are reading now reshapes what we have read up to this point.' The act of reading, in other words, is itself about transformation. How does a poet read? In particular, how does a poet read his or her own work, as well as that of other poets? Because it seems to me that Tomlinson is referring here to the mysterious process of poetic influence as much as to the impact on a reader that such deeply layered and complex poetry might have.

Influence is about individual memory, after all, and this idea of retaining a residual memory of our first impressions of such important texts - important for ourselves, that is, not merely in terms of a literary value judgement - has enormous implications for the poet. It means that language and cadence and all the various supportive structures of the poetic line become entangled with one particular moment, one proto-reading, which may or may not even be an accurate or sensitive one, but which may be involuntarily recalled, resurrected, on later readings or brought back to life in our own work with the deliberate twist of a phrase into something hauntingly familiar yet at the same time defiantly different - "So I assumed a double part, and cried / And heard another's voice cry: 'What! are you here?'" - or - in a less self-aware poet's work - the unconscious copying of a style so powerful it has swamped and subsumed the individual voice.

My own eye, falling on 'Quando fiam uti chelido' ('When shall I become as the swallow?) couldn't help but resurrect my early brushes with Italian, pulling the word 'fiamma' out of the ether - 'flame'. Did that particular connection between 'fiam' and 'fiamma' come about because I was thinking of Dante's Inferno, Eliot's purifying fire, or simply because the mind has to worry at these partial words - or what may seem to us like partial words, presented in a language we don't know as fluently as our own - until a possible solution or meaning presents itself?

Whichever it is, this combination of eye, ear and memory amounts to a powerful influence over the individual mind and to the continuing synthesis of such influences - linguistic, poetic, or ranging wider, philosophical, historical, spiritual - until we are nothing but a mass of idea and language-producing nerve-endings constantly reacting to the inferences and echoes of words, words, words. A Babelic existence, in fact, as Tomlinson puts it.

And could that be a definition of the metaphor? Substituting one thing for another, making these tenuous but dynamic connections which may or may not be there in reality, always looking at things aslant rather than head-on, in case we're turned to stone in some foolish attempt to take language too literally ...


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Poetry: Not Funny?

And just when I begin to suspect there's no humour left in poetry, I'm proven wrong. How refreshing!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Hard Working Weekend

Carnaval at Dunkirk: Colin Dick, a Coventry artist

No rest for the wicked. I've finished the six riddle poems for Tescos and now have to start on the remainder of the photography and poetry exhibition poems. About fifteen of them, to be written in the next fortnight.

I'm also hard at work sorting out last minute stuff for Horizon Review, the new magazine coming out of Salt Publishing that I'm editing. I thought it would be easier than a print magazine, but there's actually an enormous amount of work to do 'on-screen' just preparing the files for transfer to Salt. Each one has to be combed through for typos and other errors. Each one has to be renamed for clarity and emailed in the correct order in batches. Each contributor file needs to be accompanied by the correct photograph and biographical information, all of which have to be sourced from various different places in the Horizon in-box.

Then there are the 'art' photographs - about twenty photographs of Colin Dick's paintings, of between 1 and 3 MB each, to accompany a critical article on his life's work - which need to be resized to ease transfer and uploading to the Horizon site. The resizing procedure can take up to ten minutes per photograph, as I have little memory available on my rather small Mac and don't have the most up-to-date software for the process. So I'm not looking forward to that!

I still have several reviews to read through before tonight, and a few other issues which need to be dealt with before I can start the file transfer process. And at some point this afternoon we have to duck out for a couple of hours to visit my husband's elderly mother who has just been moved to an old people's home, suffering from Alzheimer's.

So, not an easy Sunday here in rainy Warwickshire.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


I'm writing six riddle poems for Tescos this week, which is something I've never done before - though it was my idea, so I can't really complain. It's for a children's Food Riddle competition that will take place in the Warwick branch of Tescos over the long weekend of the Warwick Words Festival, 2nd - 5th October.

Riddle poems were very popular with the Anglo-Saxons, of course, and Tolkien carried on that tradition in The Hobbit ('What's it got in its pocketses, my precioussss?' etc.), but they've since fallen out of favour with the majority of poets.

I have no idea what possessed me to think it was a good idea to write a load of food riddles when the Tescos poetry project was first mooted, in connection with my Warwick Laureateship. But I agreed to do it and must now produce them as arranged - by the end of this week, anyway.

But where to start?

Sylvia Plath's Horoscope

We've been discussing poetry and astrology on the poetry forum this week. Whilst looking up something else, I came across Sylvia Plath's chart online, and thought it would make a nice start to the week. (Quite without irony; being a Scorpio myself, such things are lovely little dainties to me.)

Hope the chart is legible. I've also copied out the basic planetary positions for clarity. It seems at first glance quite a free-flowing chart, as opposed to the chart of an intense and conflicted poet and serial suicide-attempter, though I imagine that unaspected 8th house Moon in Libra can't have sat well with the darker elements in her make-up.

According to this site, her birth date is: Sylvia Plath, born 1932 October 27 at 0210PM, Boston, Massachusetts (42N22 71W04 5W), and they are using the Koch House system, for those familiar with astrology. (I'm assuming the P stands for Pacific? Not post-meridian, which surely couldn't make sense here. And how can their red line stand for conjunct? That definitely makes no sense, looking at the chart. Very odd.)

Sun -- 4 Scorpio 10
Moon -- 8 Libra 30
Mercury -- 21 Scorpio 28
Venus -- 23 Virgo 39
Mars -- 21 Leo 14
Jupiter -- 16 Virgo 00
Saturn -- 28 Capricorn 34
Uranus -- 20 Aries 54 Rx
Neptune -- 9 Virgo 41
Pluto -- 23 Cancer 22 Rx
Chiron -- 26 Taurus 58 Rx
Node -- 14 Pisces 21
Ascendant -- 29 Aquarius 21
Midheaven -- 13 Sagittarius 44

Monday, September 01, 2008

Day Tripping

This is the poem that opens the 'Camper Van Blues' sequence in my new collection. It is amongst my personal favourites in the book, and sets the intended tone of the collection perfectly, which is by turns one of nihilism, vatic utterance, emotional restlessness, and irony.

Frustratingly, I can't do the HTML effectively enough to manage the indents, but many of these lines do indent, and that really makes a difference to the poem's dynamics and fluidity on the page. I'm afraid you'll have to buy the book from Salt - next month? - in order to see how it's supposed to be presented. Meanwhile, this is the basic text.

Since I was unable to place it in any of the magazines I sent it to, this is Day Tripping's first outing in public. It was a disappointment to me that nobody wanted to publish it - though I agree it's not a great poem - but at least I can give it some respect on Raw Light, if nowhere else.

Day Tripping

Wasted again, I’m slumped
over a fold-up table
in a battered charabanc
by a Stygian river
listening to nothing.

Slumped on both elbows
in whiskeyed vestments,
hair lank with the addict’s
unwashed sheen:
three months now
unable to pray, or pay rent
or put pen to paper.

Slumped, unseen
behind the stained blind
of a flyscreen
I listen to the wind-shear song
of nothing
the thin translucent whine
of nothing
until my bones begin to smoke
my eyeballs roll up white
and sing.