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 ūüôā

Cheers!

Peter Kenny and Robin Houghton

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
Poetry Telltale Press

Sarah Barnsley, the phoenix of ‘The Fire Station’

P1000503
The Fire Station¬†by Sarah Barnsley is being officially launched on Thursday 12th November at Goldsmith’s, University of London, where Sarah¬†teaches. It is published by Telltale Press¬†so I can hardly claim to be impartial about it. But I have to say something, because her poetry is exceptional.

The Fire Station¬†is a¬†pamphlet which is partly¬†autobiographical, detailing a relationship with a erratic¬†— but plainly loved¬†— father who once worked as a fireman. Some of the poems are set in the scorched aftermath of her father’s difficulties having lost his job through injury.

The poems collected here are the work of a writer who has emerged from these childhood challenges with her humour hardened and fire-tempered. She also has a clear perception of tragedy but never allows this to stoop to self-indulgence. My current favourite of the fire themed poems is called Big Hands. The poem smoulders with a hard-won black humour.

When you put my budgie
under the grill
and apologied for not being

able to afford a microwave
to resuscitate him
I didn’t think you were mad.

You didn’t think I was mad,
conducting a bird
funeral on the patio, reading

from Genesis, scattering
cornflakes on
the rosebud in lots of three.

I wasn’t I was seven. But
you were forty-two
when you shat in a bag in

Morrison’s car park and
laughed,

Gradually the fire abates in The Fire Station and a lyrical liquidity emerges. The poem¬†Les Rapides Faciles describes with effortless originality two¬†people kayaking to the supermarket, “slaloming around postboxes,/wheelie bins, silver birches”. But the poem surprises us with a gorgeous and candid declaration of love. Wonderful¬†stuff, isn’t it?

We may rush corners,
tumble down the rapids of

Victorian-banked streets,
but it’s the gliding I like best,

the effortless, continuous flow
of being with you, the kingfishers

and dragonflies dipping into our
gentle wash like magic sapphires.

Categories
Greece Poetry Travel

The treasures of Greek poetry

Just back from a couple of weeks in Thassos, the northernmost Greek island of the Aegean, and Kavala on the mainland. While Lorraine and I did lots of site-seeing, notably at the site of Phillipi a short drive from Kavala, and also, rather bravely, going on a jeep safari to the top of Mount Ipsarion on the green and lovely island of Thassos, we did a fair bit of lounging about too. Much of what I go to Greece for is to sink into the timelessness of olive groves, glassy seas, mountains, pine forest and fingers of cypress trees pointing up into the blue. One of the things that makes my holiday, however, is sampling the more recent treasures of its poetry.

My love affair with Greece, which I have visited well over a dozen times, started¬†with¬†the book My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. As a boy I¬†re-read it¬†and¬†sequels such as Birds Beasts and Relatives several times. Gerald Durrell wrote about Corfu (K√©rkyra) in a humorously idealised way that felt safe, funny and, for a boy that was interested in natural history, was fascinating for all the right reasons. I had read versions of the Greek Myths and children’s versions of the Illiad and Odyssey too, but these didn’t seem to connect with Durrell’s world.¬†Later I graduated onto the work of his older brother Lawrence Durrell, whose travel writing is extraordinary and I loved his sequence of novels The¬†Alexandria Quartet. Currently¬†out of fashion, I remember The Quartet as being unlike anything I had read before or since.

In my twenties I began to read Greek poets in translation, starting with C.P. Cavafy, who appeared as a figure haunting the Alexandria of Lawrence Durrell. I followed it with reading George Sepheris (who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1963) and who was in the characteristic dialogue of a modern Greek writer with Classical Greece. Then an Anthology of Modern Greek Poetry translated by Kimon Friar published by the Efstathiadis Group I purchased on my first visit to Greece in 1992, introduced me to dozens of fabulous poets. This collection opened a door to the soul of Greece just as easily as I could hear the cicada from the comfort of my sun-lounger. Recently I have been reading lots of the poet Odysseus Elytis, (Nobel Prize 1979) who I fiercely admire. Greek poetry often speaks more viscerally to me in a way that English poetry of the same period does not. Perhaps it is because of the inevitable focus on islands it contains, and my connection with the channel islands means I tune into this.

And although I was reading Elytis again this trip, it was the new translation of The Collected Poems of C.P. Cavafy, with a parallel Greek text by Evangelos Sachperoglou published by Oxford World’s Classics that snared me all over again, and I find it the best translation of Cavafy I have read. I find¬†three broad streams in Cavafy’s work. Those poems when he returns to what are to this reader at least fairly obscure historical events; his sensuous, erotically charged love poems, drenched in the poignancy of remembering lost youth and abandon. Then there are the times when he makes concrete an emotion with disarming directness. ¬†An early poem called Candles, for example, uses the image of a line of candles to express anxiety about the passage of time. ¬†Or this poem Walls.¬†I was discussing this with Eleni, a Greek friend and singer based in Kavala, she read it again and said: “but this is what is happening to us now!” For her, the current economic travails of Greece were reflected in this poem written before 1910. It’s worth quoting in full:

WALLS

Without consideration, without pity, without shame,
they built around me great and towering walls.

And now I am sitting and despairing here.
I think of nothing else: this fate is gnawing at my mind;

for I had many things to do out there.
When they were building the walls, how could I not be aware?

Yet never did I hear clatter of builders, or any sound.
Imperceptibly, they shut me off from the world outside.

Two men

Categories
Autobiographical Music Real life

A one-way ticket to Palookaville and other random observations

There are all kinds of romantic ideas about how you should behave as an artist. But starving in a garret, which I have done in the past, was not for me.¬†Just¬†recently, pockets full of air¬†after moving house, I had a sequence of six freelance assignments being cancelled one after another – all for legitimate and completely random reasons.¬†Suddenly worries were tugging at my sleeve like a tiresome child, saying ‘how can you be wasting your time on stupid¬†POETRY¬†when you are not earning any MONEY’.¬†Luckily the pesky tyke has given it a rest lately as I have work again. Obviously, thanks to the work¬†I’m now doing, I have no time to finish off the poetry¬†I was able to start in the last few months, but was too twitchy to complete. The Catch 22 of real life.

Having returned from 15 or 20 years scribbling about locusts in the wilderness, I notice that the poetry world is now populated by poets who market themselves excellently through social media. Of course there are people who are giants in cyberspace, but Lilliputians on the page and vice versa. But¬†I love the fact that the internet has opened up avenues to all kinds of writing. But I do get irritated by all the ‘on-message’, relentlessly positive stuff – almost as much as I do with passive aggressive self-righteousness. When the little homunculus of real life is goading me and I’m not feeling positive, I try to steer clear of cyberspace for a few hours. With my marketing hat on, I’d say sincerity is an undervalued commodity when building any kind of a brand, especially a personal one.

I prefer to get hold of a book or a pamphlet and read a collection. I want my attention to focus on what I’m reading, not see it on a screen where there are a bazillion other possibilities trembling with life at the touch of a finger or the click of a mouse.¬†I felt this when I started and edited an¬†e-zine around 2000-2003 called AnotherSun. Although it was quite obscure it featured the work of poets around the world and was visited by quite a few in its¬†time.

A one way ticket to palookaville
A one way ticket to Palookaville

One way to be successful, of course, is to focus on one thing and do it properly. A life lesson I have never been able to learn. If I had focused on AnotherSun for a few more years, for example, perhaps I could have been somebody, instead of sitting writing this at my computer screen like a bum.

But focusing on one thing is just not who I am. I wish I could because I think I would be a lot more successful. Poetry as my first love has cut the deepest, but I can never resist diversification.

The Opera I’m working on with Helen Russell, for example, is going remarkably well.¬†We have settled into a good working arrangement, meeting regularly to discuss at length the section we are about to write, and how it fits with the shape of the whole piece. I write some words and Helen then scores them for singers and an orchestra. Naturally my bit is a good deal faster than Helen’s, but we already have nearly half an hour of music fully scored with words since February. I like writing these words as you can introduce as much¬†fighting, sex, and stabby stuff as you like. After all, they lap it up in opera I’m told.¬†More news of this when it happens.

Categories
Design Poetry

A note on formats: Free Verse – The Poetry Book Fair

Popped into the Conway Hall in Red Lion Square on 6th September to meet Robin Houghton and have a mooch around the stands at this year’s¬†Poetry Book Fair together. We found it¬†heartening to chat to dozens of poetry publishers from around the UK, and see evidence of a thriving scene.

Poetry’s tendency to¬† experiment with good quality visual design, and unusual formats may actually help protect these small presses. When working as a copywriter in the days of¬†junk mail, I spent countless afternoons with an¬†art director¬†partner,¬†dreaming up different formats (aka ‘paper engineering’) for junk mail. Perhaps it is for that reason¬†I often¬†feel slightly short changed¬†by pedestrian ‘me-too’ production.

It may be fortunate for such publishers that poetry doesn’t fare well in ebooks. On a kindle, the poem’s¬†formatting is often wrong, introducing bogus line breaks or ruining the shape of the poem on the page.¬†Seen on a bland screen,¬†the value of these sweated-over words is diminished. Poetry publications in general, and especially publications that use interesting formats, have a¬†tactile quality and shape on the page that enhances the reading experience. Being reminded of this at the fair reassured me that the future of the niche poetry publication scene is secure. More than that, many¬†in the room seemed on a mission powered by a fierce love for what they were doing. Nobody can stop them.

Below I enjoyed speaking to Hugh Bryden, of Roncadora Press from Dumfries, and particularly liked the visual style of some of his productions, which he illustrates. I came away with one example, Five Days A Week/Twelve Months A Year, a limited edition pamphlet designed and illustrated by Hugh, with poems by Hugh McMillan.

17 Poems by Hugh McMillan, designed by Hugh Bryden.
17 Poems by Hugh McMillan, designed by Hugh Bryden.