Thursday, October 30, 2008

Having Been Tagged

I've been tagged, apparently! From what I can tell, being tagged is the blogging (or should that be 'blogal'?) equivalent of playing paint-ball and getting hit in the backside with a large splodge of pink.

So I'm supposed to link to the person who 'tagged' me. Write 6 random things about myself here. Then 'tag' six other victims.

I'm going to write the 6 random things below, because I'm a raving egotist and it's always fun for me to talk about myself. But I'm going to shy clear of tagging another six people, as I'm vaguely worried that I'll tag someone who'll consider me a damn nuisance and never speak to me again because of it.

Luckily for Bo, who tagged me, I could never consider him a nuisance, being one of my oldest friends now (in the nicest sense), and besides which I owe him a dinner. Several dinners, if truth be told.

So he gets away with it ...

Meanwhile, 6 random facts about myself, starting with the most obvious:

I was once ranked 24th in the world for women's snooker

I can't make pastry. Well, I can, but few would want to eat the results.

I've flown at Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound) on Concorde - London to New York - and seen the curvature of the earth. How many people will ever be able to say that?

My all-time favourite book is probably A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. (Harry Potter's an interesting character, but he can't compete with Ged.)

I used to run a secondhand bookshop called 'The Little Camel Bookshop'.

Family aside, given the choice between being in company and being alone, I nearly always prefer solitude.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Camper Van Blues

My third full-length collection, Camper Van Blues, has now been launched by Salt Publishing!

There should be an official reading from it at some point but for now I will be reading at the Troubadour (Old Brompton Road, London) next Monday 3rd November, as part of the Seam Magazine launch, and again on December 3rd, which is a Wednesday, with Ride the Word at The Old Foundry, also in London.

If anyone can make the Troubadour reading on Monday, I'd be pleased to see you there. Though it sounds like it may be a very popular night, so do get there early, which means by about 7.30, I think.

Other readers at the Troubadour this Monday include: Anne Berkeley, Michael Laskey, Helen Ivory, Chris Beckett, Katy Evans-Bush, John Greening, Esther Morgan, Peter Howard and Hisham Matar.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Is Verse Drama Dead?

Becket, pictured in a stained glass window at Canterbury Cathedral
We hear occasionally of new verse dramas being produced on radio or on the stage but never with any great trumpeting along the lines of 'Verse drama is back!'

Many of us would think of T.S. Eliot's 'Murder in the Cathedral' as one of the last critically acclaimed verse dramas; not exactly a recent work though, is it? Verse drama simply isn't popular. It makes people uncomfortable.

Speaking verse? As a character in a play? The concept itself sounds old-fashioned and highfalutin. As though the playwright is a little too big for his/her costume drama boots. None of us are Shakespeare or Racine, after all.

So although verse drama is still being written, it tends to be sidelined whenever it resurfaces in public - nothing of any real importance, pleasantly arty and worthwhile, perhaps, but not to be lingered over by the critics.

Can we shake off that 'worthy but dull' image of the verse drama? How do we turn around the predictable 'lovely but I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole' reaction of so many producers and publishers?

Is the effort worth making, or is verse drama irretrievably dead?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Forget technique, forget impressing us: write from the heart, write with your own voice

I won't embarrass the poets by naming them, but at a London poetry reading the other night I really did want to leave before the end. Which is rare for me, someone who has sat through some of the most excruciatingly bad poetry ever produced on this planet. But it really was almost more than I could bear.

Sitting at the back, where a hurried exit would have been spotted by friends, including some of the poets themselves, there were moments when I felt like an animal caught in a trap, desperate enough to consider gnawing my own leg off in order to escape.

The poets whose work particularly offended me were introduced to us as brilliant, innovative, talented, highly thought of, the best young ... etc.

And then they stood up and read reams of tiresome poetry clotted with pointlessly arcane references, foreign words they embarrassingly couldn't pronounce correctly, Latinate phrases for the simplest thoughts - 'ambulate' was used instead of 'walk' at one stage - and all of it in tones of such grave, deliberative pretention, I feared they were in fact eighty-year-old retired church wardens trapped in the bodies of healthy twenty-somethings.

For pity's sake, I wanted to say, write from the heart. Forget technique, forget Greek prosody, forget trying to impress us with your erudition. Life is what impresses us. Give us life in your poetry, raw and beautiful and - above all - honest, and we will forgive you any number of faults.

The voice you need is your own. So use it; not someone else's, least of all poets who have been dead for hundreds or even thousands of years.

But of course, they wouldn't have listened even if I'd stood up there and then to tell them. Because other teachers had been there before me, well-meaning but not up to the task teachers, and poisoned their minds and their talent, to the extent that their poetry has - not surprisingly - died. All that's left is the fossilised husk they read out to us that night, and the instinct to bolster their own work with the words of other, more dynamic, long-dead poets.

I hope to hear them again in the future and be proved wrong.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Start the Week" this Monday, 9am

Just to let you know I'll be talking about Horizon Review on "Start the Week" this Monday, 20th October - at 9am, if you're ever up that early on a Monday! - which is BBC Radio 4's flagship arts programme.

The other guests with me this Monday are Rupert Goold, theatre director - who's currently directing Pete Postlethwaite in King Lear, along with Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Audience at the Gielgud Theatre, Pinter at the Duke of York AND Oliver! at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane - also Duncan Wu, writer and biographer (his most recent work is a biography of William Hazlitt) and Jackie Wullschlager, chief art critic for the Financial Times, who's just written a comprehensive tome on the Russian emigré artist Chagall.

If you miss it on Monday, "Start the Week" should be available for about a week using the Listen Again facility on the BBC Radio 4 website.

I'll be visiting the Poetry Library at the South Bank afterwards, having lunch with poet, critic and creative writing tutor George Ttoouli at the Poetry Society, and generally swanning about London in search of lattés and good poetry.

Ah, the life of a literary editor ...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

To Translate or Innovate?

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, British Library, MS Cotton Nero A.x

It may be possible to do both, but I've been wondering recently whether I should do some translation work next or write something completely new.

I'm studying Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in the original Middle English this month, so of course my fingers are itching to write a new and truly contemporary version of that - sure, everyone says of each new translation of SGGK that it's 'contemporary' but I mean genuinely so, with contemporary references instead of axes and helmets etc. and not following the original form - but whenever I start to consider how I might come at that poem in an original way, I remember someone saying to me recently that everybody seems to be translating these ancient and venerable poems at the moment instead of writing brand new epics. Almost as though poets are scared of pushing ahead into new poetic territories right now, and prefer to look back instead at what's already been achieved.

So part of me is keen to make a new translation or version of some ancient work, and part of me is excited by the thought of creating something utterly new.

But what?

Friday, October 10, 2008

End of the Laureateship

So, about a week ago, I very cheerfully handed over the Warwick Poet Laureateship to Cathy Whittaker, who will hold that post from 2008 - 09, and am now free as a bird. She says, ironically. In fact, I have so many irons in the fire right now, I'm in serious danger of burning my little pinkies.

I'm now studying at Warwick part-time (part-time has actually worked out as four days a week though, so it's more like full than part-time), sending out my teen fantasy novel in the hope of finding a buyer, continuing to work on new poems, editing issue two of Horizon Review, and possibly adapting my long poem "On Warwick Castle" for the stage.

In other words, life is challenging at the moment (especially when it comes to finding somewhere to park at Warwick University!) and far more pressured than before. Hence the absence of blogging in recent weeks.

Indeed, I've had to turn down several offers of work this month alone because I simply don't have time to squeeze in any more commitments. But no doubt as the year moves on I'll grow accustomed to this more rapid pace of life and feel able to take on new projects. For which, watch this space!

During my Laureateship, I wrote my long poem, "On Warwick Castle", and published that last week along with other Warwick-related poems in a pamphlet from Nine Arches Press, plus wrote several locally commissioned pieces, as well as six riddle poems for Tescos and sixteen poems to accompany Anand Chhabra's photographs in the Warwick Words Poetry & Photography Exhibition. I also visited a few schools in the region as Poet Laureate, and performed at a number of social events, including a rather delicious fish and chip fund-raising supper at the medieval Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick.

Meanwhile, although I shall miss being so closely involved with poetry in the Warwickshire region, I'm excited to be turning back to my own personal writing projects, and wish the new Laureate, Cathy Whittaker, all the very best in her year ahead!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

How on earth do you pronounce that?

Okay, yes, I'm ridiculously snowed under with work and study, and can't blog, even to bring you up to speed with the great sea-changes that have taken place in my life recently.

Instead, with apologies, I bring you a site I stumbled across today when checking how to pronounce a French place-name: Forvo.

All the words in the world. Pronounced correctly.

How useful is that?