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Poetry Uncategorized

Sin Cycle in E·ratio

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Detail of Infant Sorrow by William Blake

Happy new year!  I already have enormous amounts to be thankful for this year.  Chief of these is the editorship of Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino, the editor of E·ratio Postmodern Poetry Journal based in New York. Gregory’s own work, as I have written about here is extraordinary, and challenging and should be explored.  

E·ratio itself (and the 29th issue I find myself in) is a fascinating place to visit. The magazine is crammed full of bracing work in a postmodern idiom from writers around the world. It is one of the best magazines I know.  I have been a regular visitor ever since I found the site a few years ago.

I had suspected my 24 poem sequence Sin Cycle was always going to be hard to place, especially in the UK — and so it proved. Luckily for me Gregory was happy to risk giving a platform to the unreliable, raw and disreputable voice of this sequence.

The eight line poems in this sequence emerged naturally and quickly, and I was lucky enough that three poets I greatly respect, Robin Houghton, Charlotte Gann and Sarah Barnsley read these poems as they started to take shape.  I took a good deal of advice and I should thank them again here for their brains, friendship and support.

William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience lurked in the back of my mind when I was writing Sin Cycle, and the sequence starts with a four line quote from Infant Sorrow.

I was struck by the realisation that I had spent much of my writing life subconsciously wanting to be seen as nice. On some level I realised I had always wanted people to think how clever, or sensitive or aesthetically evolved I was. In these poems I abandoned any idea of smelling of roses or of people thinking well of me. I found it very liberating.

Sin Cycle
Sin Cycle in E·ratio

 

Categories
Poetry Reading Reviews

Exploring Janet Sutherland’s poetry

There are perhaps only a couple-of-dozen poets I find myself returning to time and again. In the last year, however, Janet Sutherland has become one of them.

Janet Sutherland Home Farm jpeg

I own her four collections from Shearsman Books, which are, in order of publication,  Burning the Heartwood, Hangman’s AcreBone Monkey, and Home Farm. Each of these books contains an embarrassment of riches, and the more I look into them, the less able I feel to convey just how much I admire this work. But in the spirit of not letting perfect be the enemy of the good, I’ll have a go here. I know it’s a spoiler, but the short version of this blog post is: do yourself a favour and simply read Janet Sutherland’s books now.

Certain themes and images recur throughout the collections. In the first of them, Burning the Heartwood, poems that refer to a Wiltshire farm background in poems like ‘an image of skin‘ are already in place. While in her second collection Hangman’s Acre we meet her character Bone Monkey, who gives its name to her third collection, Bone Monkey. This was the first of her books I read, having been told to do so by my pal Charlotte Gann. Many of the poems this collection contains are about this dark, Loki-like trickster, somehow bestial, but all too human:

Bone monkey knows himself a god
although his raddled arms, his ruined balls
and buttocks seem to say he’s less than that.

(As a God, from Bone Monkey)

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I love the freedom the adoption of a dubious and unreliable character provides. In Janet Sutherland’s hands he becomes a violent, legendary figure.

Bone Monkey swaggers through a plain of thorns
crowned with insignia of warlike deeds–
emblems stolen from the wolves
are fixed securely to his skull with cords

(Emblems from Wolves, from Bone Monkey)

It was in the Bone Monkey collection that I first became enchanted by Janet Sutherland’s lightness of touch with images.

I think of memory
like three swans that sweep
over the river’s surface

ghosts
of the aerial
and of the deep

or like the rivers’ flow
tidal and complex
at an estuary.

(His exposition on the art of memory, Bone Monkey)

The poet has no axe to grind and never seeks our pity. Instead there is alchemy. Personal experiences accrue a near mythical force, in imagery that is dewy fresh and deftly condensed. Images return hauntingly in her work, such as her repeated association of  association of snakes with water…

little adders fall
out of pitch-forked hay

into the stooks
floating the swollen river

(Memory, from Burning the Heartwood)  

This river’s a snake that opens its mouth
and sings, looping and undulating, leaving
a sloughed skin oxbow by its side.

(At Cuckmere, from Home Farm)

Culminating in the wonderful weirdness of these eels.

                                                                 …At night
white water grinds over and over through this sieve,
and in that loneliness the eels come quietly, one by one,
driven by longing for a spawning place at sea. Slither
an eye across the peep show floor. The risen dark
pools where eels still hide trapped in a storage well,
somersaulting, tumbling and unbalancing.

(The Eel House, from Home Farm)

Home Farm, published this year, contains perhaps Janet Sutherland’s most autobiographical work. Here her childhood exists in several dimensions: in the awareness of the history of the land, of villagers who lived there before, of family history, in the names of fields and beasts and flowers, and in the suggestions of fleeting human experience, and the tragedy of lost memory. And the result is… Well, just wonderful.

For some reason, she makes me want to use the word ‘ontology’ for her poetry has a complex kind of ‘being’ that has, for me, proper heft and its own strange life. At her best, Janet Sutherland has the power to make her fabulously-realised world exist in the imagination as a place one wants to continually return to.  I can admire lots of poetry, but there are few collections I genuinely love as much as these.

Categories
a writer's life Blowing my own trumpet Horror Poetry Prose

The Dream Home

Very happy to have a new dark tale in the Autumn 2019 94th edition of the literary magazine The Frogmore Papers, edited by Jeremy Page. There are two other stories in this edition: A Citadel by Natalya Lowndes, and A Few Brief Words by Andrew Blair. I found both had a lovely balance of humour and pathos. A Citadel is an evocative portrait of the narrator’s Uncle Julius a lonely, hard-drinking British ex-pat in Moscow. A Few Brief Words, takes the form of a speech given at a funeral for a curmudgeonly writer who idolised Arthur Miller.

My own story The Dream Home is about insomnia, and is based on a technique I used in the past to fall asleep. The idea is when you go to bed, to imagine your perfect house. Night after night I would do this, adding to the house I was building in my imagination, and then I would nod off. In this story, there is naturally something lurking in the dream home. Like others of my recent stories, I set it in a place I have lived in. When I first moved to Brighton over fourteen years ago now, I lived in a Twitten called Camden Terrace very close to the railway station. I often lay awake listening to the rough sleepers gathered in the underpass of Trafalgar Street, and could hear them shouting and sometimes singing.

This issue of The Frogmore Press as ever has some fine poetry in it. Two poems have leapt out at me right away. One by my pal Stephen Bone, called Curry which is spicy in every sense, and another by Laura Chalar called The Nineties Revisited. This simply written poem about a lost time and lost love that got me right away. Here are its closing lines…

“Bring back

your gorgeous life and mine–never
to be merged, I’m afraid (too late for that),

but for the humbler treats of coffee
and a talk. You may of course choose to

remain silent, but I’ve always been curious–
how on earth could you fail to gauge

the depth of that love? Come back, will you? Can you?
We’re so young. A bright century is about to come in.”

Categories
a writer's life Horror Poetry

Home thoughts from abroad

So at last found a bit of time to update this blog, as you can see from the photo, taken by my brother, of me tapping away on a terrace in Sicily. I am here taking a break with family. I love Sicily, and the terrace is quick with lizards, and has geckos crawling about on the walls in the evenings. So good to escape the political madness plaguing the UK for a while.

Naturally, there is always time for a quick humblebrag… A poem of mine The House of Hidden Hope, on the poetry village website. This was based on my grandmother who hid things in the fabric of the 16th century granite cottage she lived in Guernsey. She was a practical person who built cupboards, but also secreted things away in case of burglary and so on. This meant wedging objects into the fabric of the house, rather in the way spells were done in older buildings.

I am also continuing with my horror craze, and have two short stories about to be published this autumn, one, The Inheritor, will appear in Supernatural Tales, and is based on Guernsey, in a spooky house also modelled on the one my Grandmother lived in, the other is a nightmarish take on insomnia, called The Dream Home, which will appear in The Frogmore Papers this autumn. I am finding horror stories a rich seam, and have written several over the last few months. I am loving it.

Categories
Book Launch Poetry Readings

An Outbreak of Peace

An Outbreak of Peace, Stories and Poems in Response to the End of WWI

Edited by Cherry Potts of Arachne Press, this great new anthology coincides with the centenary of the 1918 Armistice.

The Launch Party, will be held: 7.00 pm, Wednesday 14th November 2018 — at Housmans, 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX. If you’d like to come, simply email  cherry@arachnepress.com. Find out more about the anthology, its contributors and the readings here.

Personally, I’m looking forward to hearing the readings, drinking some wine, and also reading my poem War diary in 1/72 scale, which is about how the legacy of male hostility is passed down the generations… And Airfix kits.

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Categories
Poetry Telltale Press

Get your TRUTHS here

I wanted to post this link to the Telltale Press site to get your copy of TRUTHS: A Telltale Press Anthology.  Crammed with exceptional poets, this anthology is Telltale’s swansong, edited by Sarah Barnsley, Robin Houghton and I. Lovely to be able to finish the Telltale project on a high.

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Sarah Barnsley, Robin Houghton and myself pictured in gleeful mode, at an editorial  meeting in a pub earlier this year.

Categories
Poetry Reading

Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino, and grappling with what’s difficult

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When I meet a difficult text, it invariably makes me think of the Genesis story of Jacob and the Angel, or at least its depictions in art.  I like Jacob Epstein’s statue Jacob and the Angel (1940) in the Tate, but it is Gauguin’s Vision after the Sermon (1888) with women having just left church on Sunday, receiving a vision of Jacob wrestling with the angel that most often comes to mind. What does the angel want? Obedience? Submission? When Jacob prevails after a night of wrestling, he is freed with a wounded hip joint and he is given a new name: Israel.

* * *

Grappling all night with difficult texts can seem an ordeal too, especially if there is an exam at the end of it. As a student, I sometimes found unpicking all the references in say T.S. Eliot or Ezra Pound tiresome. I still think of this stage of modernism as an exercise of cultural collage, or mosaic work: a tessera of Dante, a smidge of Wordsworth, a splash of Bhagavad Gita. Exemplified by The Waste Land, this juxtaposition of  pan-cultural resonances was undoubtedly exciting, and a leap ahead in poetry. As a student, the better read you became, the easier it became to nod with a certain smugness, for example, when you’d traced the origins.

In the mid eighties, I was given J.H.Prynne’s The Oval Window by my friend Michael, who is now a professor in the US. This was the best kind of grappling. Michael was a Prynne advocate, and we swapped letters (yes, in actual envelopes) for a few months about Prynne’s work. My first reaction to Prynne was hostile. I got that he used language in part to portray the difficulty of communicating, a familiar trope in twentieth century writing. But itseemed to me that Prynne took this to heroic levels of wilful obscurity. Grappling with the angel of Prynne frequently left me feeling angry and baffled. But it stretched me as a reader, and something else happened that I hadn’t bargained for: I became haunted by the images in his work. Here’s a section from one of the untitled (they are all untitled) poems in the book.

Given to allergic twitching, the frame
compounds for invertible counterpoint
and waits to see. A view is a window
on the real data, or a lower surplus in oil
and erratic items such as precious stones,
aircraft and the corpses of men, tigers
fish and pythons, “all in a confused tangle.”

This collection is full of points ‘of vantage, private and inert’, and these poems have been  a sphinx on my imaginative horizon ever since, and in the way that poems that yield their pleasures more easily simply have not. I’m still conflicted by Prynne. Do I find this language beautiful? Not really. Does it move me? Only in a weird way. Do I find myself picking up Prynne on a regular basis? Yes, damn it!

Since Prynne I have grappled with poets I find difficult, and even if I have to submit, bruised and baffled, I often feel I have at least encountered something mysterious, and that the struggle taught me something, even if only about my own limitations.

* * *

Most writers of poetry often encounter invitations to enter competitions. The majority of them exist to bolster the funds of poetry publishers, which is a perfectly good reason to support them. Sifting through hundreds of poems, those judges, however sincere and thorough, are more likely to respond to work that rapidly downloads its meaning and rewards. While these poems can be profound, my feeling is that only rarely do they provoke a lengthy engagement. The worst of them are like jokes, you read them once or twice, get the punchline and move on.

 * * *

I have lately been visiting the New York based site E·ratio, which is edited by Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino. E·ratio ‘publishes poetry in the postmodern idioms with an emphasis on the intransitive’. The intransitive being writing that draws attention to the act of writing itself, in a Prynne-like way, rather than pointing to something in the outside world. I loved this bracing precision, and there is bags of challenging work on the site. I was also delighted when Gregory published a rare sortie into this kind of postmodernism by me.

 * * *

I have been enjoying getting to grips with Gregory’s Vincent St. Thomasino’s selected writings, collected in the soon-to-be-released, The Wet Motorcycle. This work, which I have been lucky enough to see before publication, includes some absolutely pyrotechnic  poems, that burst off the page and whoosh over your head.  An early sequence is called Bolts. To me they are mysterious meteors of meaning. Take Bolt twenty which pinballs between tiny fragments of perhaps, Tristan and Iseult, and Petrach, and may be alluding to the  misfortune of having to dash your brain on the harsh business of grappling with words.

Bolt twenty
Por Deu
Omnipotent
Ce
Fu pechiez
dash my brain L’
Aspre vie
Words
New
Woe

The Wet Motorcycle is also remarkable, in that it provides the theoretical background to enable you to better understand the poet’s way of seeing. He offers a  Crash Course in Logoclastics,  which employs the term ‘logoclastics’ to suggest a break or dislocation in discourse. This break is where the reader steps in to bridge the gap with ‘their own logic, sense and meaning’. I think it may be possible to read this as encouraging a more engaged reading, where the reader is co-creating with the writer. Nothing to argue with here. While I have never thought of it this way, I always enjoy writing that has ambiguity, suggestion, and territories left for the reader to explore. Leaving space for the reader is essential in serious writing.

The theory continues with a description of the ‘pannarrative’ text.

The pannarrative text. If “text-collage” is the general term for such, then a “text collage” composed of fragments (word fragments, words, sentences, verses, elements [quotation]) of narrative (narrative as found / appropriation) “stitched” together. It is a sort of “list” or “roll call.”
The pannarrative poem begins by seeing all the world as one great narration — a narrative that is known in proportion to the degree of the relation of its parts.
As an instance of the pannarrative text (or, of, the collage text) I here do offer a text. And notice, please, the composition, the assemblage, is of things from the world writ large, from the world encircling me, and these are mixed with my own sensibilities, with my own emotions (and that my poem is the analogue to the expressionist depiction, and thus an ekphrasis of sorts).

This description of how the writer engages with the ‘one great narration’ to produce his work I find fascinating.

I have just embarked on Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino’s work. Sure it is difficult. But it has rewards and challenges. But one thing is for certain, this is a way of writing that is distinctly different to my own, and I enjoy it for precisely this reason. His is a serious and pioneering endeavour, which has poetry, flash fiction, novels and theory in its ambit. It is unlike any other I have read, so must be explored.

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Categories
Book Launch Poetry

Antony Mair launches ‘Bestiary, and Other Animals’ at the Poetry Cafe

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Antony Mair, signing ‘Bestiary, and Other Animals’ 20 June 18 at the Poetry Cafe

To The Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden last night, where Antony Mair launched his first full collection, Bestiary, and Other Animals, published by Live Canon. The Poetry Cafe was more crowded than I have ever seen it. Introduced by Helen Eastman, director of Live Canon, the reading was in two halves, reflecting the two sections of the book. Antony read poems from Bestiary, a sequence of 26 animal poems from Aardvark to Zebra.  In the second half, two actors from live Live Canon read from the And Other Animals section, they brilliantly expressed the energy and emotions in the poems. It was an extremely enjoyable evening.

I haven’t had the book for a day hours yet, but from reading the poems this morning, and on the train home last night, Antony’s poems shine with warmth, acute observation and an understated but powerful originality. It’s a cracking collection. Buy your copy here you’d be mad not to.

 

Categories
Poetry Readings Telltale Press

Telltale Press finishes on a high

Robin Houghton and Sarah Barnsley and I co-edited TRUTHS: A Telltale Press Anthology,  and we had our big launch. All kinds of marvellous poets who were in the anthology came and read. Sarah, Robin and I introduced the night and also read. Our guests were amazing.

It was emotional, as we are wrapping up Telltale and wanted to do it in a celebratory way and on a high. Telltale now has lots of friends, and I have met some amazing people through it since Robin first approached me with the idea in 2014. I feel I’ve learned how to ‘be’ a poet again from my friends in Telltale, Robin, Sarah, Siegfried and Jess — and Catherine Smith our associate editor. We’ll all do stuff together at some point again, but the experience has been enriching in all kinds of ways.

Below is a photo my wife Lorraine took of the chaotic poet posse in Lewes on 25th April. Deep breath… l to R Louise Tondeur, Jeremy Page, Clare Best, Catherine Smith, me at the back, Sarah Barnsley (kneeling) Jess Mookherjee, Mike Bartholomew-Biggs, Abigail Parry (kneeling), Janet Sutherland, Abegail Morley (with Charlotte Gann hidden behind her d’oh), Stephen Bone, Marion Tracy, John McCullough, Robin Houghton, Judy Brown.

A night to remember.

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Blowing my own trumpet Book Launch Poetry Telltale Press

Launching Truths: A Telltale Press Anthology

7:30 Wednesday 25th April
Venue The John Harvey Tavern
Bear Yard (off Cliffe High Street),
Lewes BN7 2AN.

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So just a quick note here about the launch of TRUTHS – A Telltale Press Anthology, edited by Sarah Barnsley, Robin Houghton, and myself.  Expect the anthology’s launch to contain readings, a few drinks and much optimism. Frankly this Anthology is far better than I had dared hoped — and it looks beautiful too, with cover art by Hannah Clare.

It is the fruition of conversations Sarah, Robin and I had last Summer about life in a post truth age. Ever since Plato banished poets from his Republic, poetry has had a complex relationship to truth. Poems often arise out of an honest attempt to explore and engage with the world and they express truths that are uncomfortable, because poets have always been in the business of confronting shallow thinking with far a deeper truth.

We have drawn on friends of Telltale to create an enviable list of contributors: Siegfried Baber / Sarah Barnsley / Michael Bartholomew-Biggs / Clare Best / Stephen Bone / Judy Brown / Rishi Dastidar / Helen Fletcher / Charlotte Gann / Robin Houghton / Peter Kenny / Martin Malone / John McCullough / Jessica Mookherjee / Abegail Morley / Katrina Naomi / E.E. Nobbs / Jeremy Page / Abigail Parry / Sue Rose / Catherine Smith / Janet Sutherland / Louise Tondeur / Marion Tracy / Rebecca Violet White.

For more, simply read the Telltale Press blog about it here.

I can’t wait. If you’re able to join us, please do.