A Glass of Nothing a writer's life Poetry Theatre Working

Life in splinters

All work at present with a forest of deadlines. This mixed with unpleasant things like a house flood and the death of an old friend, means my life is being lived in weekend splinters.

So a few of the splinters:

My play with Beth Symons, A Glass of Nothing will be staged at The Box Theatre, The Warren in May as part of the Brighton Fringe. There is lots to be done between then and now, casting starts in a few weeks. More details here when we, quite literally, get our act together.

Had the Telltale Poets AGM two weeks ago. It’s a privilege to be know such a talented group of poets. More news about forthcoming Telltale announcements shortly. I did a reading with them at the beginning of January. I felt the force wasn’t with me that evening, however one of my poems Ernstophilia was filmed by Robin Houghton which can be watched here… along with a performance by the splendid Jack Underwood.

I finally read all of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen having been very taken with her performance at the T.S. Eliot wards. It seems to me to be concerned with how history amplifies everyday slights and unfairness, and gives them a resonance for people of colour in the US and elsewhere. A legacy which will take a lot of healing. This is illustrated through chunks of elegantly  anecdotal prose, an essay on Serena Williams, photographs and so on. It is an interesting miscellany (and IMO only poetry if you cast your modernist net wide enough). An important work, but did I enjoy it? Frankly not much. When poetry is dealing with really difficult subjects it can make the heart soar and affirm life. I personally didn’t get this from Citizen. But I am certain there are loads who will – and I am pleased I read it.

As usual I’m reading several things at once. Life, the biography of Keith Richards, I’m listening to as an audiobook. I’m not a massive Rolling Stone’s fan but as a glimpse into hedonistic life lived with gusto it is bracing and strangely cheering. And quite funny too.

A Year with Swollen Appendixes by Brian Eno is a book I return to when I need to refocus and remotivate. For those who have not read it, it is essentially Eno’s diary for 1995. Or to look at it another way, a prototype blog. His engagement with creativity is utterly inspiring, as well as his friendships with so many amazing people. Including David Bowie. But Bowie is another blog post, bless him.




Poetry Readings

Hearing Sarah Howe & Claudia Rankine

Lucky enough to go to the South Bank with Robin Houghton who had nabbed second row seats at the T S Eliot award readings on Sunday. As last year, it was a wonderful way to experience readings from the best of last year’s poetry publications. There was indeed fine poetry on offer. I’m rather dubious about competitions generally, and comparing the apples with the oranges of this year’s offerings must have been particularly hard.

Most interesting to me were Claudia Rankine and Sarah Howe. Both delivered single poem readings of great power and intensity. Sarah Howe said her poem from heart and paused dramatically before she began. She read, with utter clarity and beauty, her poem ‘Crossing from Guangdong’ from her collection Loop of Jade. The poem’s opening line of ‘Something sets us looking for a place’ took me to a Rilke’s Duino Elegies-ish place in my mind (always a good thing). Of dual British and Chinese heritage, Sarah’s poem described how she has ‘crossed/the imaginary line’ into a different and larger identity using travel to explore the eastern side of her identity. It was a breath-taking reading. At least one person Robin spoke to was put off by her sheer professionalism of her delivery, sneering at its theatricality. I couldn’t have disagreed more. It was a stunning performance and I was glad to hear the next day that Sarah had won for Loop of Jade.

Claudia Rankine read from ‘Section VII’ of her book Citizen, which she introduced by asking us to imagine we were archaeologists examining the pronoun. The poem seemed to me perhaps over-long but it had a bracing ambition that I found completely exhilarating. Rankine, and Howe too, are dealing with the eternal trope of identity in a utterly refreshing and direct way. 

If the event did anything, it made me zoom out and buy Howe and Rankine’s books. Along with Don Paterson’s 40 Sonnets, which is also a rewarding book.

Even though Robin and I were sat in the second row, I was too spellbound by Sarah’s reading to snap her, but I did manage this not particularly brilliant shot of Claudia Rankine.

Claudia Rankine, reading from Citizen in London Jan 11 2016