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.
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.
7:30 Wednesday 25th April
Venue The John Harvey Tavern
Bear Yard (off Cliffe High Street),
Lewes BN7 2AN.
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 me, it’s all been about poetry so far this year. Sarah Barnsley, Robin Houghton and I have been putting together an anthology from Telltale, about which there will be more news shortly. Meanwhile I’ve been editing my own 24-poem, pamphlet-length collection, and have been lucky enough to receive excellent advice and a good deal of encouragement from Robin, Sarah and Charlotte Gann.
Back in January, Robin and I went to see the poet’s AGM; the T.S. Eliot award readings. I love how this reignites my love of poetry every year. Perhaps not a vintage crop this time, but I have since enjoyed the collections by the worthy winner Ocean Vuong, as well as Jacqueline Saphra, and James Sheard.
Omnivorously gobbling poetry, my reading has included Kate Tempest and Anna Akhmatova and, returning after many years, William Blake. I had forgotten how Songs of Innocence seem almost more sinister to me than the Songs of Experience. I must also recommend Nine Gates, Entering the Mind of Poetry, essays by Jane Hirshfield. I can’t remember reading essays about poetry and agreeing so much. I came across Jane Hirshfield on the fabulous Brain Pickings site.
So off tomorrow to the launch of Robin’s Cinnamon Press prize winning collection, All the Relevant Gods and Stephen Bone’s excellent Plainsong pamphlet from Indigo Dreams. With Sarah Barnsley and Antony Mair reading, it will be a really good night.
My double life requires me to switch from working in advertising agencies, back to picking up the threads of my creative life and vice versa. My most recent agency stint was with a lovely crew at DDB Remedy in London, which culminated in six days in Austria. The work was a bit full on, however, so all I could do was imagine the foresty, golden Klimts in nearby Viennese galleries I knew I had no time to see. One night I broke away for half an hour and walked randomly from the hotel, looking wistfully at the side streets not taken, but happy that I had at least a few minutes to breathe the cold night air of Vienna and feel for a moment that I was inside a film.
One thing about doing agency work for a couple of months is that it gave me plenty of commuting time to read. I can devour a short novel in a day or two, and I usually take some poetry with me to dip in when feeling the need. I read novels by, among others, Ali Smith, Elizabeth Stroud, Richard Ford, Lloyd Jones and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and poetry by Fernando Pessoa, J.O. Morgan, Adélia Prado, John McCullough and Tess Jolly.
I’ve noticed several agency creatives over the last few years using Instagram and ‘late-adopter’ that I am, I now use it too, documenting lunchtime strolls around the canals of Little Venice near Paddington, London, and a couple of snaps in Vienna.
Now, feeling a bit exhausted, I’m taking stock of my own creative work. Apart from two poetry readings, and some quickly scribbled drafts of poem ideas, I have left everything untouched since October. And not having much on the horizon feels odd and dangling. I have no play in production, no new play written, my children’s novel is waiting for another agent to look at it, with one rejection so far that took over four months to receive.
But poetry, my first love, remains true and I’m always tinkering at some poem or another. I met with some fellow poets on Monday in Lewes, to talk about a forthcoming poetry anthology from Telltale and to drink some beer. This is therapy for me. Chatting with friends Robin Houghton, Sarah Barnsley, Charlotte Gann and Stephen Bone, makes me feel the obsession that has dogged me since my teens is actually a perfectly reasonable response to the world. Writers can be as backbitey and competitive as anyone else, so when you find yourself among supportive colleagues the affirmation is priceless.
I am doing a course in making stained glass windows in the new year, something I’ve always had a hankering to try, despite not being very good with my hands. A poem I wrote in the 80s, The Window Maker was printed on some National Book Tokens. Apparently an impostor went into a northern bookshop raging because Book Tokens had stolen his poem, and he was in fact the real Peter Kenny and wasn’t happy about it. I often think about doppelgängers, because my life contains quite a few incidents like this. Having a twin brother is the worst nightmare I can imagine. But I digress… I love stained glass. I love the way light passes through it. I love the leading too, and how these thick lines allow something to be assembled from fragments into a whole that plays with gorgeous light. What’s not to love? I already have designs in my head that are on the scale of Coventry Cathedral. I might have to reign in my expectations.
So to end this pre-Christmas ramble, I would just like to wish you a very Merry Christmas. I love this time of year enormously. Even looking at a Christmas tree can bring a tear to my eye. Luckily I got to be Santa this year at my wife’s village school. To play a part in the unfurling of Christmas was great fun, and I am always amazed by the intelligence of children. I was plunged into ontological debates about the reality of Father Christmas with three or four nippers, (trying not to feel affronted, for did I not refute their argument just by being there in front of them?) I came out of that quite well I thought.
I’ve spent the last couple of months with little time. I’ve been commuting to London to work in an advertising agency every day (a four hour round trip). The Gods of Freelance then added in more work for me to do on the train, and in the evenings and weekends and through holidays. By chance this coincided with one of my worst-ever bouts of depression. I rarely get depressed. Glum, sure, but that’s usually over in a few days. But being down for weeks on end was unusual for me, and my respect for people who keep on keeping on, despite dealing with repeated depression, is more acute now.
Now, having thawed from that glacier, I feel myself again. Being depressed for me means having myself at the centre of all my thoughts. And you can take it from me, it is a tedious place. Now I can laugh about myself again, I can’t wait to get stuck into being creative on my own projects. The enforced ‘downtime’ has given me unexpected benefits. I am suddenly much clearer about two of my projects. Time is often the best editor. I could have done without pouring tea into my laptop the other day, however, but that’s a different story.
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I attended the recent Telltale Press reading in Lewes, which featured Siegfried Baber, mining his love of Americana to enormous effect, Marion Tracey whose poems have an Apollonian dreamlike clarity. Sarah Barnsley read particularly well I thought. One of her poems, called The Fugitive, I loved. It reminded me of C.P. Cavafy’s wonderful concreteness. I think Sarah’s work is fantastic. Sarah introduced her friend Katrina Naomi who also read excellently, despite being interrupted by the Telltale Stand collapsing dramatically as if some poltergeist had given it a good shake. Katrina’s work seems effortless, both accessible and deep. Everyone lapped up her reading.
I snapped two rather poor photos on the night. One of Sarah Barnsley, and the other of Katrina Naomi. The room was packed, although it doesn’t look like it.
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Meanwhile two of my poetry chums are on the cusp of new publications, and I’m delighted for both of them.
By old pal Richard Fleming is just about to publish Stone Witness, a new collection with the Guernsey-oriented Blue Ormer Publishing. Richard’s box of books has just arrived and his blog captures the moment. It is going to be launched during the Guernsey Literary Festival, and I am really looking to seeing him soon, and owning a copy.
Meanwhile Robin Houghton has had a pamphlet accepted by Cinnamon, called All The Relevant Gods, to be published next year. Robin has an inspiring blog post about the journey to acceptance here. For all kinds of reasons, even for an exceptional poet like Robin, making progress can be tough. But it means getting the breakthrough is even sweeter.
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Beth Symons and I are beginning to sort out our Edinburgh Fringe run. We all have somewhere to stay, which is a start. We are just about to start auditioning for a male actor (preferably Brighton based, or within striking distance) to join the ensemble. So if you happen to be male, in your twenties, and an actor with comedy chops, then please get in touch with me through this site.
My play, A Glass of Nothing, which is directed by and stars Beth Symons, and features Kitty Underhill will be on at The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall, Theatre 2, 9.10pm on 5/8/17, (free preview) 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th August 17 (4-night run). Naturally I hope to be blah-blahing about this more ere long.
There will be one of Telltale’s splendid reading in Lewes at the end of the month. Super talented Telltale pals Sarah Barnsley and Siegfried Baber, plus Sussex-based Marion Tracy, whose book Dreaming of Our Better Selves, I find distinctive and unusual. I’m looking forward to hearing more of Katrina Naomi’s work too. We have a great time at the Telltale events in The Lewes Arms, so please come along if you can make it.
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.
Since 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’.