Categories
Planet Poetry Poetry

Twice is a charm

Merry Christmas! With 2020 heading for the dustbin of history, I’m beginning to take stock of what has been — at the very least — a year of thwarted plans.

However, it has forced me to innovate a little. And one of the best innovations was starting the Planet Poetry podcast with Robin Houghton. The latest edition carries an interview with Jack Underwood, and discussions of books by John McCullough, Caleb Femi, Maureen N. McLane, and Ilya Kaminsky. We’ve breaking for Christmas, but we’ll kick off the year with a deep exploration of the work of Mario Petrucci. The Podcast gives Robin and I a chance to chat to poets about poetry. One of the best things about it is that it has turned me into a fan again.

I have been through times this year where I have experienced the kind of anxiety that makes it hard to settle down and focus on reading, or I found I was reading but not giving a text my full attention. So it was only the second time I sat down to read Charlotte Gann’s The Girl Who Cried, that its power really hit me. It is a book I find quietly magnificent, and has moved me to tears on more than one occasion. There is nothing that’s extraneous or doesn’t feel true in these poems, and they hit you in unexpected ways.

Charlotte has agreed to be interviewed for Planet Poetry soon, about her new book, and its predecessor Noir, which I looked at here. The Girl Who Cried is definitely one of my books of the year.

I also reread Joy Harjo’s She Had Some Horses, first published in the 80s. It is one of those mic drop books — so brilliant that if she never wrote another book ever again, it would be enough. It made me download Crazy Brave, her memoir as an audiobook. It is only about four and a half hours long, but it is a fascinating listen, and weaves mythology and dream into the story of her childhood.

Joy Harjo is also the main editor of a new Norton Anthology, called When the light of the world was subdued, our songs came through, which I have just started. It is an anthology of Native Nations poetry and is quietly blowing me away. This, from Joy Harjo’s introduction, was very sobering.

‘We are more than 573 federally recognized indigenous tribal nations in the mainland United States …. We speak more than 150 indigenous languages. As contact with European Invaders we were estimated at over 112 million. By 1650 we were fewer than six million. Today we are one-half of one percent of the total population of the United States. Imagine the African continent with one-half of one percent of indigenous Africans and you might understand the immensity of the American holocaust.’

This anthology represent a genuine cultural landmark for Native Nations people, and a testament to their survival against all the odds. For that reason alone it seems this anthology has enormous significance.

Categories
Fiction Planet Poetry Poetry

It’s uncanny – Tess Jolly and Krishan Coupland on Planet Poetry

Robin and I have just uploaded the latest episode of Planet Poetry. This one dabbles in the Uncanny, and is an overlap in the Venn diagram of my interests, with my interests in dark fiction and black comedy.

Tess Jolly has cropped up severally in this blog. I have always been a fan of Tess’s work — for my first glance at her earlier pamphlets see here and here on this blog, and I am delighted she has been snapped up by the excellent Blue Diode for her new collection Breakfast at the Origami Cafe.

Krishan Coupland is that rare thing, an accomplished editor with a particular vision. I have subscribed to his magazine Neon, and it has marked out a distinct territory for itself both in poetry and prose… And it looks great too.

Listen to the podcast where you normally would get podcasts, or simply click here…

Categories
Planet Poetry Poetry

Zoom launches, Planet Poetry, and a spot of horror

England is in its second day of its second national lockdown. The outcome of the US Presidential Election is on a knife edge, but I know readers of this blog will have lain awake at night wondering what on earth has Peter Kenny been doing?

Yesterday Robin Houghton and I — the Smashy and Nicey of poetry podcasting — released another episode of Panet Poetry into the wild. There’s a fascinating interview by Robin with Clare Shaw, who discusses and reads from her book Flood triggered by the flooding of her hometown in 2015. Robin gave me Flood recently, and I can heartily recommend it. In the podcast I also chat with Elizabeth Murtough the thoughtful and highly talented co-editor of  Channel, Ireland’s Environmentalist Literary Magazine. You simply get the podcast wherever you normally get podcasts or go here.

Robin and I have only met twice in person since Covid struck and we decided to launch the podcast in the first lockdown. A couple of days ago, we met up in Lewes, and ended up having a solitary drink in an empty open air terrace on top of a pub in Lewes called The Rights of Man, doing a bit of recording, drinking a couple of drinks, and eating crisps with freezing hands as the November sun sank and imaginary penguins, arctic foxes, polar bears etc. stirred in the shadows. We were outside and there was only one other person there, who left pronto when we started muttering about poetry. Lewes’s famous Guy Fawkes bonfires and fireworks had to be cancelled this year. For enthusiasts of explosions, 2020 was a damp squib.

That said, I am thoroughly enjoying Zoom poetry events, such as the launch of Tess Jolly’s Breakfast at the Origami Cafe from Blue Diode Press. Regular visitors know I’ve admired Tess’s poetry for a long time, and I am really pleased for her. (I have interviewed her for a forthcoming Podcast too). Tess read with Charlotte Gann, another of my personal favourites, who read from her new collection, The Girl Who Cried which is a tour de force — another launch I attended online this year. Also reading was Karen Smith, whose reading made me want to investigate more. Rob MacKenzie from Blue Diode, based in Leith, hosted — and is clearly an excellent and supportive Editor. I got to hang out with some friends in the zoom audience afterwards and talk a little to Ann Perrin who I only encounter in cyberspace.

As for my own poetry, apart from a stonking January 1st, when I had my 24 poem sequence published online at e.ratio in the USA. I have not written or published much this year. I had a small poem The Door in The Wall, which in part refers to the story of the same name by H.G. Wells, in London Grip, and I am very grateful to its poetry editor Michael Bartholomew-Biggs. I began scribbling again last month however, so maybe not all is lost.

As for my horrific side, a couple of days ago I was chuffed to learn that I have one of my new short stories, The Grieving, accepted by Supernatural Tales. As Skelton Yawngrave I also have been writing a sequel to my children’s book Magnificent Grace, but although I have made some progress, I find my elevated anxiety levels, always pretty high at the best of times, makes the prospect of holding a larger project in my head quite challenging. I had been going into schools before the first lockdown doing readings and selling books by the boxload, to try to get momentum going for this self-published experiment. But sadly Covid stubbed that toe too.

All the best to everyone reading this. Stay safe and keep smiling!

Categories
Planet Poetry Podcast Poetry

Planet Poetry launches with an in-depth interview with Pascale Petit

What’s that? The sound of virtual corks? Wish us luck as Robin Houghton and I launch our podcast on an unsuspecting planet.

To be honest, it feels a bit like standing on a diving board, and gazing into the cold deep water with trepidation. But here we go! The first episode of Planet Poetry is now live, and available wherever you get your podcasts.

In our first episode we were absolutely delighted to meet multi-award winning poet Pascale Petit and explore the lush Edens of her poetry. Hear Pascale talk frankly about the troubling shadows cast by her mother and father on her life and work.  Enjoy her readings from several collections, including the recently published Tiger Girl, which describes the sanctuary offered by her relationship with her Indian grandmother.

In this episode Robin and I shoot the breeze about Home Farm by Janet Sutherland and Wild Nights: New & Selected Poems by Kim Addonizio

You can also listen to the podcast here….

https://planetpoetry.buzzsprout.com

Categories
Planet Poetry Podcast Poetry

Counting down to…

So the podcast is called Planet Poetry and we have a wee trailer ready to listen to

Just a few tweaks here and there, and ensuring the podcast is available on your favourite podcast platforms… Before Robin Houghton and I press the big button, with any luck, later this week.

The first episode will feature a long conversation with the multi award wining Pascale Petit. Fingers crossed — we are a few days away from launching now.

Feel a bit like I have a parachute strapped onto my back, and about to leap out of the side of a small aircraft — but in a good way.

Categories
Blowing my own trumpet Podcast Poetry

A poetry podcast? Why not!

Robin Houghton and I have teamed up again, and we are about to launch a podcast featuring poets, influencers and editors. We are preparing to launch soon — so expect us to be parping enthusiastically on our social media trumpets with more details than you can shake a stick at very soon.

Delightfully, this project has reminded me that, first and foremost, I am a fan. The fact is, I straightforwardly love poets and poetry. I have found it absolutely fascinating to begin to talk to accomplished poets and publishers about their work and how they function in today’s world.

Yes it has been a steep learning curve, and there is still plenty of that curve ahead. But apart from, ah-hem, occasional John Cleese style IT rages, I have loved every minute of it. Robin says she has too.

Obviously none of this happens in a vacuum. Our better halves have been top too. My Lorraine, home from a hard day’s headteachering, has been compelled to tiptoe around the house, while Nick, Robin’s professional musician husband, has been warned away from the piano on more than one occasion.

Robin and I have interviewed all our guests online, and chatted to each other in the same way. Only once, a few weeks, ago did Robin and I actually meet up on a sunny day in an empty pub garden in Brighton for a few beers and a chat. The podcast is a product of its socially distanced times.

Meanwhile here is a pic of me and Robin from March, when Robin was launching her latest pamphlet in London, taken by our pal Sarah Barnsley. Just as the time that you could actually have a beer with your mates (without cringing) was coming to an end.

Here’s to happier days! More news very soon 🙂

Cheers!

Peter Kenny and Robin Houghton

Categories
Book Launch Poetry

Poetry South East 2020, edited by Jeremy Page

This week I received a copy of Poetry South East, an excellent anthology produced by The Frogmore Press. According to Frogmore, ‘the original series was published by South East Arts between 1976 and 1983, with Howard Sergeant editing the first and Anthony Thwaite the last. The Frogmore Press revived the series with Poetry South East 2000 and published Poetry South East 2010 ten years later.’

I read the anthology from cover to cover, and what leapt out right away, even more than the individual talents, was how well the anthology had been edited. Each poem passes the baton without a false step or an uncomfortable fumble. Jeremy Page’s selection and arrangement — all conducted under lockdown conditions of course — is absolutely exemplary.

Fifty two poets are each represented by a single poem, and it is a pretty convincing snapshot of poetry written for the page in the South East. I am delighted to be one of them, and there are real treats in this collection from wonderful poets, many of them such as John Agard, Brendan Cleary, Sasha Dugdale, Maria Jastrzębska, Patricia McCarthy, John McCullough, Grace Nichols, Catherine Smith, Susan Wicks and Jackie Wills, who are rightly famed in the region. There are lots of my poetry pals in it too, such as Robin Houghton, Sarah Barnsley, Charlotte Gann, Stephen Bone, Antony Mair and more all shining.

And the cover by Neil Gower is gorgeous too.

Categories
Poetry Readings

WHY? AND OTHER QUESTIONS, by Robin Houghton

In March, when people had started self-consciously bumping elbows, my pal Sarah Barnsley and I trained up to London, to see our friend Robin Houghton launch her new Live Canon pamphlet, WHY? AND OTHER QUESTIONS. It was an excellent afternoon, and Robin read with fellow pamphleteers Tania Hershman, Miranda Peake and Katie Griffiths at the Boulevard Theatre Bar, London. 

I thought sharing something about these poems is well overdue.

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What is suggested, in a horror movie for example, is invariably more unnerving than the monster when you get to see it. The terrors and sublime pleasures in Robin Houghton’s poems are always suggested, and the bathos of wobbly latex is carefully avoided.  

The poem Was it the Diet Coke? is perhaps the most straightforward example of her potent command of suggestion.

offhandedly lefthandedly
drunk by the can-full
my dose of phenylalanine
my be-my-baby ringpull

Here we have dipped into a relentless anxious inner monologue; a chatter in the void like some lost soul in Dante’s Inferno.

what it my fault or God’s
did I do wrong break a law
was it bad timing was it
me   fuck   was it me   or

In The Retelling the story, a memory of war, the incident being related is barely sketched, but there is a horrific glimpse of the blur and confusion of war.

some throat opened and the long night’s breath
tumbled through the lift shaft of his lungs, threw
up knives, a scything freak show in his brain.
The flapping mask, the call to brace, the prayers.

But the focus of the poem is on what it is to be able to tell such a story, on the storyteller.

This void sits at the edge of several of Robin Houghton’s poems. In ‘His hope was a waking dream’ the note of the poem refers to a man falling into an Anish Kapoor art installation. Again without capitals, and this time completely unpunctuated, the poem lists reasons for falling, and again there is that sense of the unresting interior monologue unable to reach a firm conclusion.

he wanted to step quickly
he absented the light and his body gave way
into nothing in it

he fell in love with nothing
he fell into lies and he wanted to go in
out of the outside in

We see in Drowning the Doves, 1916 what may be T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, co-creator of the Doves typeface, casting the metal typeface into the Thames,

                                              … By spring, handfuls of ‘a’s

and ‘m’s he starts to cast as seed, or throw–with hope,
like confetti–the pebbled water laughing up at him.

With each piece of type, a piece of himself also–the moon
as witness–bequeathed in bits to the river, rag and bone:

four parts sacrifice, six parts revenge.

It’s twinned poem Under Hammersmith Bridge, 2016, sees the letters salvaged. I love this metaphor of strewing language into the water, which felt to me like a metaphor for writing itself.

There is a beautiful, Samuel Beckett bleakness in some of Robin’s work. The setting for the final poem of the collection, Ladies’ Hour features a terrifying scenario: the swimming bath on one of the middle decks of The Titanic.

between me and the sea
just the smell of steerage,
the low belly of a boat, the swell.

While a disturbing void haunts these poems, in this collection. There is also an enigmatic beauty about many of the poems. I find the exquisite poem ‘I ask what colour is the sea’ to be heartbreakingly beautiful.

I find it greyscale of gull belly caught in a squint, a hint of gravestone.
Some days a sick greenish grey. But I ask the world and it says blue.

WHY? AND OTHER QUESTIONS is a profoundly moving pamphlet, with quiet moments of dark and painful beauty.  It’s just wonderful.

Categories
a writer's life Book Launch Fiction Guernsey Literature Novels Reviews Richard Fleming

Barking Mad! By Jane Mosse

418CImAzKeL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Barking Mad! by Jane Mosse published by Blue Ormer

What with one thing and another, I have found it hard to read lately. It’s as if a smoke alarm keeps going off in the house. Yesterday, having a hateful ear infection, I opted for a sofa day. When I wasn’t dripping antibiotics into my ear and moaning peevishly, I was completely taken by the highly-diverting Barking Mad! by my Guernsey based pal Jane Mosse. Her last project mentioned on this blog was Guernsey Legends — but this is a very different book, being a fictionalised account of several years of pet sitting with her husband Richard Fleming.  All they have to do is live in stranger’s houses, and befriend their pets. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Luckily for the reader, things are rarely straightforward.

Travel, plus animals, plus nosing about in other people’s houses? It’s a perfect formula for an enjoyably escapist read. You can imagine yourself anywhere from arriving in Alderney in a tiny aircraft on a rabbit sitting mission, to the ballroom of a grand estate in Northumbria with a Shetland pony that lets itself into the house from time to time, freezing in Prague as the boiler goes kaput before Christmas, or in a lock keeper’s cottage deep in a northern industrial wasteland.  There is a panoply of loveable pooches and pampered cats — not to mention the cast of eccentrics who hand them into our heroes’ care. Our pet-sitting wanderers also encounter all manner of other critters on their travels, from water snakes to deer, mosquitoes to rabbits, piglets to a lugubrious bathtub carp. Many of these creatures harbour ideas of their own so they certainly give their temporary minders plenty deal with.  

Part of the fun of course, is getting an real insight into their host’s lives. So if your sanity could benefit from imagining yourself basking in Tuscan sunlight under lemon trees as cats haunt the shadows, or gazing out on snowy, deer-filled parkland just before Christmas… Then you’d be mad not to simply get yourself a copy of  Barking Mad!  

Categories
Fiction Horror Performance Readings

Peter Kenny’s Little Horrors

Is anyone in their right mind interested in horror stories at a time like this?

Despite this, I find uploading readings onto YouTube is helping me manage my anxiety.  I was talking to my pal Robin Houghton yesterday that this outbreak makes me want to upload all my best work. Robin said it made her want to burn things, which made me laugh.

Anyhow… I intend to upload a few readings of published horror stories just for fun. Peter Kenny’s Little Horrors allows me to give published stuff another airing for a different audience, and to be there for posterity. 

This story was first published by the excellent Jeremy Page in The Frogmore Papers, in 2019. Hope you enjoy it….