The darkness is real

Noir by Charlotte Gann published by HappenStance Press9781910131350_1793727299.jpg

Noir is a word with a freight of associations, but in the title poem of Charlotte Gann’s first full collection the protagonist enters what seems to be a cinema where ‘I only ever catch a moon-thin glimpse /of the projectionist’s face…’ This fits happily with the film noir atmosphere in many of these poems. The cinema (or what seems to be a cinema) is the place ‘where my life and the darkness meet’.

But what the ‘I’ of the poem is watching, or how she feels about the projectionist, or the liquidly tangible darkness with its ‘deep thick folds of milky black,’ is another matter.

Darkness leaks into the poems, a darkness impossible for the trained eye of the protagonist to miss, but perhaps unnoticed by others.

                                        …I can’t not see
the cold dark water, can’t not feel its oil
seep through my boyfriend’s jumper.

(The Black Water)

An atmosphere of spy-like surveillance pervades these poems. People peer at each other’s apparently mundane lives and catch glimpses of darkness and impending catastrophe. In Tunnel, ‘She and I, two farmers’ wives’ are shown drinking ‘giant frosted lagers’ but soon we are in territory that reminds me of filmmaker David Lynch: ‘The darkness is real, she says, leaning towards me’.

When we are hunting for clues, we see this is a world where windows take on an unusual significance, offering portals into other realities, or presenting us with choices to be made.

Where are you getting your information?
My walls are papered with newspaper
cuttings–black and white on deep-red
plaster. Through one window I see
the red-brick houses I grew up in. Through
another, cliffs and sea and wild woodland.
(Column inches)

Sometimes this choice is evaded, the world outside to be hidden from.

We’re at the small high window.
You stand. I kneel, rest my cheek
on the window sill.

You’re reaching for the letterbox
of blue, I’m ducking down low.
(Sisters)

One of the cumulative effects of all this is that it begins to supercharge Gann’s images. We are in Gannland as soon as we notice that the woman sitting alone in a pub is wearing a black jumper. Something’s not right:

She sits alone, swaddled
in a boy’s black jumper
unravelling at the cuffs,

(The King’s Head)

Noir provokes all kinds of questions. There is an inherent seriousness to this work that I find thrilling. In the angst, the curious interplay of observed and observing, and the sense of near-palpable danger, there is a dark magnificence to these poems.

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A new play, poetry and other news…

I have been a bit AWOL from cyberspace this summer. A blissful two weeks in the south of France with my wife. I had been using Duolingo to try to refresh my French before I went. Not that the French I was trying to refresh was any good in the first place. However I tried to speak to people. Sometimes it worked, other times I would launch my français and watch people flinch as if in physical pain. New for me was attempting to read poetry in French. It helps if you are fairly familiar with the poetry in translation. So I am re-reading Léopold Sédar Senghor and Aimé Césaire, poets who were founders of Négritude in 1930s France. It has been a struggle and I must keep referring to translations for words I don’t get. But I’m getting a better feel for the poems, and it’s an improving experience.

Returning from France, my alter ego Peter Kenny the Writer Ltd has been hard at it, with two pitches won, and clients with whom I hope some work to be proud of is possible.

New play to be staged this December – We Three Kings

As for the plays, A Glass of Nothing will be staged again by Brighton Blonde Productions this December at the Marlborough Theatre, and old stomping ground for me and Beth Symons. More ‘deets’ here soon.

The show will be of two plays: a slightly tightened A Glass of Nothing, (fresh from its Brighton Fringe success) plus a new short play We Three Kings that I am writing now. Also a comedy, in an edgy, existential, post modern kind of way. Loads of laughs in it I hope.

Poets and poetry

I’m having the dissonant experience of writing what I think of as some of my best work, but going through a spate of rejections. To quote Wordsworth ‘The poet, gentle creature as he is…’ [no female poets obvs.] ‘… Hath, like the Lover, his unruly times; His fits when he is neither sick nor well, Though no distress be near him but his own Unmanageable thoughts.’  A glut of rejections and I get if not quite unmanageable thoughts, certainly the odd gloom.

More happily, I went last weekend to Free Verse: Poetry Book Fair where I was on the Telltale Press stand, with fellow Telltale poets Sarah Barnsley  and Jess Mookherjee. It was the launch of Jess’s pamphlet The Swell, which is pretty exceptional. I also bumped into Charlotte Gann, whose book Noir is hot of the press. I greatly admire Charlotte’s work so I snapped up my copy right away. By far the most exciting poet I heard read was Judy Brown, reading from her book Crowd Sensations. More about Crowd Sensations, The Swell, Noir, and John McCullough‘s stonking new book Spacecraft, here at a later date.

Below a snap of me and Sarah Barnsley getting slightly overexcited at the poetry book fair. Then one of  Jess Mookherjee, with Sarah. Sarah edited Jess’s pamphlet The Swell.

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Peter Caton’s Chad photos

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Some of Peter Caton’s photograph from our trip to Chad are here on the Guardian Online.

Pete’s shot of many of the people of the the village meeting under a good tree is typical of his excellent work. For the people he captures here, there is plenty to discuss: an appalling drought, extreme hunger that threatens the children. The fact that several crazy guys in a charity team had arrived and were busy flying a drone, taking photos, interviewing people and generally disrupting normal life was also quite a talking point.

Watching Peter Caton at work was fascinating. He is a man of perpetual motion, and always working.

I was very interested in how he would lean right into the faces of people he was taking, all the while smiling and engaging with his subjects. Asking him about this, he said that leaning in was actually less disconcerting for the person he was photographing that being aloof and pulling away. I’d never thought of it like that.

This publication happened at an interesting time for me, as only recently have I been able to start writing properly about what was for me an experience unlike any other I’d had. I find that there is a filtration process going on. That whatever experience I have it takes months (in this case about nine months) before I could write about it freely in the way I wanted. At last I’ve been gripped by a the sudden urge to write about Chad, and am already five poems into a sequence. Of course I hope I don’t block myself by mentioning it here…

I’m off now on holiday for a couple of weeks. Time to unwind, and of course write more poetry. To finish, here is a shot I took of Pete with a screen-lit face at night in the compound after another sweltering day. The large locust crawling in his hair just evaded photographic capture.

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The Interpreter’s House, a home from home

IMG_3029Since meeting Martin Malone, editor of The Interpreter’s House, last year at a reading we were giving in Lewes, and hearing him read excellently (and pyrotechnically as his folder of poems accidentally caught alight) I have finally got my act together to become a subscriber.  In fact I tend to share my limited subscriptions budget around among various titles, so I’ve only just received my first issue. And I’m happy to report that it’s a thoroughly well-edited magazine. I’m still dipping in, and rereading.

The issue featured prize winners from the 2016 Open House Poetry Competition. The winner, Little Things, by Jeremy Wikeley seems to be an object lesson in how to write a winner. Concise, deceptively simple about the space grief takes up in your heart. ‘Little things, like big distances, make all/the difference. In Japan, they’ve made a/skyscraper graveyard.’

It was great to see the Telltale Press posse being heavily represented, poems from Sarah Barnsley, Robin Houghton and Siegfried Baber. To my surprise, I found it also contained an encouraging short review of my pamplet The Nightwork by Neil Young.

Every line insists on attention in Peter Kenny’s The Nightwork (Telltale Press), and yet there’s a lightness of touch to the writing that rendered its craft seamless. An undercurrent of anxiety – and the dangers lurking in our apparent normalities — combine with wit and a fluidity of language to tug the reader along from first to final lines. This is a poet at ease with his talents. Everyday observations juggle with snapshots from mythology and history, but nothing jars. The opener, ‘A Sparrow at 30,000ft’, holds out a wry foretaste of what’s to come, with the speaker internalising reassurances that are sure to prompt an amused nod of recognition among readers: “Cattle class, in clear air turbulence / this shuddering is perfectly normal”.

Robin’s The Great Vowel Shift, was reviewed too. He found a ‘camera-panning quality to some of some of these observations’ and he particularly liked Robin’s ‘Fermata’, with its ‘intimations of menace and unresolved sorrows’ and concluded ‘These are impressive collections from Telltale’.

So good job I subscribed then!

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Facebook ads to force you off the fence

It’s nice to imagine that people are going to ponder your marketing message, but sadly real life isn’t like that. Here are two Facebook executions of campaigns I’ve worked on with 11 London. Both are in what I call decision territory, which is particularly useful when there’s little time to engage and you want to encapsulate a dilemma. It forces the target audience to get off the fence and make a decision.

Working with 11 London and Tearfund I arrived at the phrase ‘Give Like Jesus’ and the questioning format that prompts the target audience to ask herself  Would Jesus leave her hungry? She’ll supply her own answer. The beautiful photograph was taken by Peter Caton on our trip to Chad last year.

Similar thinking went into this execution for World Animal Protection UK. I suggested interrogative headlines such as ‘Kill or cure?’,  ‘Act now. Or ignore?’ ‘Vaccinate. Or exterminate?’ to emphasise the urgency of the choice animal lovers have make about this cruelty.

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Off the bench

Forgot to mention here that I was a last minute substitute for a poorly Siegfried Baber on a recent Telltale and Friends night at Telltale’s old stomping ground of the Poetry Cafe. A quick reshuffle meant that Robin Houghton introduced the event instead of me. Uncharacteristically I was not really in the mood for doing a reading, but having done so I was very pleased I did.

John McCullough read from his new book Spacecraft which is wonderful, and I will write something about it on this site soon. Sarah Barnsley read some extraordinary new and playful poems. Jess Mookherjee, the newest Telltale recruit and gave us a preview of her new pamphlet Swell, due out this Autumn. It’s lovely work, sensitive and direct.

All participants had to hare off afterwards due to the unspeakable Southern Trains debacle. Jess headed off to Tunbridge Wells, while Sara, John, Robin and I got the train to Brighton. Unusually for poets after the meeting, stone cold sober but the journey home passed in a flash with such good company.

Below left to right, Sarah Barnsley, John McCullough, Jess Mookherjee and me. Photo taken by Robin.

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Robin has long held an ambition to film Telltale performances, but for all kinds of reasons this has not worked particularly well.  During the evening Robin took a film of me reading Postcard from Ithaca. Seeing this film below has already had one positive outcome. I have started a frowny new diet.

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Occupying Love by Marilyn Chapman

Marilyn Chapman‘s new story Occupying Love is a popular novel set on Guernsey during the occupation. It blurs the barrier between romantic and historical fiction and begins with the bombing raid by the Luftwaffe on St Peter Port and becomes a pacy (and not saccharine) romance about a young woman called Lydia Le Page who, having returned to Guernsey just before the German invasion of the island in 1940, commences star-crossed relationships with two men against a backdrop of the Nazi occupation.

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I can’t resist comparing Occupying Love with  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer (completed by Annie Barrows) which was set in wartime London and in Guernsey. I felt decidedly curmudgeonly about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society because it demonstrated little or no knowledge of the island of Guernsey, its people, ways of speaking and so on. Of course a popular novel doesn’t have to groan under the weight of its research to be enjoyable, but a convincing dash of local colour can only add interest to the work.

It greatly benefits this book that Marilyn Chapman was actually born in Guernsey and Occupying Love demonstrates her thorough knowledge of the island, and its years of occupation. Although she has done lots of research, it was enriched by having heard lots about the occupation from her own grandparents.

Probably more important to the reader, however, is that Occupying Love has pace and an involving plot as well as an intriguing backdrop. So read Occupying Love if you like romantic fiction with a gritty undercurrent, read it too as historical fiction or if you are interested in the Channel Islands. This is a labour of love, and it shows.

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