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.
I have two poetry readings in the pipeline in about a month’s time. In Brighton, and London. Here are the deets:
N.B. DATE CHANGE Wednesday October 25, 2017 7:30 pm — The Nightingale Room, Grand Central, 29-30 Surrey St, Brighton BN1 3PA Pighog poetry evening with Charlotte Gann, Peter Kenny and another guest TBA – Tickets on the door £5, £4 concessions, £3 for open mic participants.
Wednesday November 1, 2017 7.30 pm — The Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton St, London WC2H 9BX Telltale Press & Friends with Catherine Smith, Abigail Parry, Robin Houghton and Peter Kenny – FREE
I’ve fan-boyishly blogged on this blog about Charlotte Gann who is an amazing poet, and I loved her book Noir. We are reading at one of the Pighog events in Brighton on Oct 26th organised by Michaela Ridgway. The excellent Clare Best was also due to read with us, but has had to pull out as the date of the reading had to change.
Then, the following week on November the first, there’s another Telltale & Friends reading. I’m keen to hear Abigail Parry, who has been a magnet for poetry prizes. Her highly-anticipated collection Jinx will be published by Bloodaxe next year. I’ll have another opportunity to hear the extremely accomplished and sometimes saucy Catherine Smith, as well as my pal Robin Houghton, who has a new pamphlet All the relevant gods, out from Cinnamon next year. There are a few more details about the Telltale reading on the Telltale Blog.
I like the flyer Robin put together for the Telltale Reading below. I am pleased I asked Innis McAllister to do a decent shot of me. I think Robin looks like she has something really important to tell you. And what’s more, she has. But you’ll have to come along to hear it.
Gillian Clarke’s remarks on the pamphlet flap for Jessica Mookherjee’s Telltale Press pamphlet The Swellare spot on. Among them she says Jess’s poems are ‘Bold, fiery, truthful, they tell an original story with power’.
Other than reading The Swell at a fairly late stage before publication, I had little to do with Jess’s pamphlet. Sarah Barnsley, who along with Robin Houghton, helped Jess edit The Swell said that, in the process of finalising the selection, Jess had a whole sheaf of possible replacements for each poem. Amazingly prolific at the moment, Jess is already well on her way to forming a first full collection, and her work is frequently cropping up in many magazines. The reason is that they are fabulous.
The first poem of the The Swell pamphlet, ‘Snapshot’ depicts the loss of a mother’s attention away from the little girl ‘I’ of the poem. ‘I passed on my birthright to all those unborn/ boys,’ the mother tragedy spills into the poem, she becomes a person who needs her ‘worried forehead’ soothed, needs to be watched over:
Stood behind my mother as she prayed at the front door, led her to the kitchen, made sure she looked at the babies.
but finally we are left with an image of childhood abandonment, how the absence of attention leaves its mark with an image of neglect:
There is no photograph of me climbing the stairs two at a time, no evidence that I tried not to slip and break my neck.
One thing I love about Jess’s work is the balance between such nuance, and unabashed boldness. In the poem ‘Red’:
The red curtains in my mother’s house looked like someone had shot her.
A colour is shown as a symbol for domestic disagreement, and disappointment:
I tell you not to wear that that red shirt, it doesn’t flatter. There’s blood in the bathroom again, this month.
The pamphlet is fraught with thwarted hopes and expectations, and its arena is the female body. We glimpse the weight of expectation on women to have sons, to create families, to select the right partner. I find the poem ‘Mother’s Day’ to be eloquent about assigned roles. The poem opens, with typical boldness, describing a delivery of flowers:
Delivered like unwanted children, I didn’t put them into water.
I find a passion and rebellion in The Swell. I can’t recommend it enough. And if you’d like to hear Jess’s next reading, at the Telltale Press & Friends reading in Lewes with a fine array of poets. These include Judy Brown, whose book Crowd Sensationsis becoming one of my favourites of recent times, and will write about it on here soon. It’s a great opportunity to hear Telltale’s Siegfried Baber up from Bath, and Brighton’s own Michaela Ridgway showcase their work too.
Forgot to mention here that I was a last minute substitute for a poorly Siegfried Baber on a recent Telltale and Friends night at Telltale’s old stomping ground of the Poetry Cafe. A quick reshuffle meant that Robin Houghton introduced the event instead of me. Uncharacteristically I was not really in the mood for doing a reading, but having done so I was very pleased I did.
John McCullough read from his new book Spacecraft which is wonderful, and I will write something about it on this site soon. Sarah Barnsley read some extraordinary new and playful poems. Jess Mookherjee, the newest Telltale recruit and gave us a preview of her new pamphlet Swell, due out this Autumn. It’s lovely work, sensitive and direct.
All participants had to hare off afterwards due to the unspeakable Southern Trains debacle. Jess headed off to Tunbridge Wells, while Sara, John, Robin and I got the train to Brighton. Unusually for poets after the meeting, stone cold sober but the journey home passed in a flash with such good company.
Below left to right, Sarah Barnsley, John McCullough, Jess Mookherjee and me. Photo taken by Robin.
Robin has long held an ambition to film Telltale performances, but for all kinds of reasons this has not worked particularly well. During the evening Robin took a film of me reading Postcard from Ithaca. Seeing this film below has already had one positive outcome. I have started a frowny new diet.
The Telltale poets’ collective is positively gambolling into Spring, bringing with it some exceptional poetry to Lewes next month. I’m looking forward to this Telltale reading greatly, not least because I can hungrily engulf the poetry without having to perform myself. Plus the event is free and in the characterful Lewes Arms, one of my favourite pubs in the centre of Lewes.
Prepare a fiendish pitfall trap on a Lewes side street and you’d be unlucky not to end up with a half a dozen writers in it at the end of the day. This may account for why Lewes audiences are usually so thoughtful and responsive. I’m looking forward to blending in with them there.
I’m looking forward to hearing Abegail Morley read for the first time. She has a fine publishing track record, and I last encountered her yeti dodging at the Himalayan Gardens in Kent. Her forthcoming book is ‘The Skin Diary’. Maybe I’m biased, but I always find my fellow Telltale poets Robin and Sarah to be moving and engrossing, and I’m interested to meet Rebecca White, who I am hearing good things about.
Frankly I’d rather eat a cactus sandwich than not hear Jack Underwood, Kitty Coles & Siegfried Baber read on Thursday night at the Poetry Cafe at 7.00 pm. But then I’ll be reading with them too in an event hosted by Telltale Press. Please come along if you’re able, or find yourself in London’s Covent Garden and in desperate need of poetry.
For me it will be an interesting to compare our night with this weekend’s annual jamboree of the T.S. Elliot prize readings, which I’ll be lucky enough to attend. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or more of my colleagues on Thursday might find themselves on a TSE shortlist one day. So why not glimpse the future now?
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.
Final stage of prep seems now to be done. Passport renewed, visa obtained, jabs jabbed (although inconveniently I had a fever when I went for my yellow fever jab so I had to return a few days later) anti-malarial Malerone tablets bought, while my wife has armed me with lots of practical things like wet wipes, hand sanitisers and so on. Final thing to buy is a mosquito net, and I need to locate and deploy my inner hairy-chested man of action.
My inner h-c man of action especially required after a day of compulsory security training. Essentially the training gave you an idea of what to do in every conceivable worst case scenario, delivered by a man who has spent much of his life working in the most hostile environments, bless his white-rimmed eyes. Lots of advice from what to do if you are being robbed (simply give them everything) right up to the best position to take on the floor if someone throws a live grenade into the room. Rather melodramatically a dummy grenade was thrown into our room, prompting us to flatten ourselves on the floor, heads pointed away from the blast. Hardly soothing stuff.
Nevertheless, the script I wrote which we are filming seems to have been approved by everyone, and next week we see how reality matches our expectation. I am hoping we can edge beyond the normal tropes of DRTV and see if we can get something exceptional. Fundraising DRTV advertisements have some rigid but proven conventions so it is definitely about striking a balance between abiding by conventions and managing to surprise people.
I’ve not had much chance to engage with poetry over the last few weeks, due being very busy in my Peter Kenny The Writer Ltd mode. This is making me itch to write poems again.
I particularly enjoyed being on the Telltale Stand for the Poetry Book Fair. More than anything I value the chance to get a snapshot of what is going on in poetry in the UK, and also to drift about chatting to some old friends and putting some names to faces. I bought books too. One simply because I liked its name: Infragreen by Kate Bingham, and another because it was connected with Guernsey: Timothy Adès translation of How to be a Grandfather, by Victor Hugo. I spoke with Timothy who had just returned from the Guernsey Literary Festival, and had bumped into Edward Chaney there. I also bought a Carcanet New Poetries IV anthology. I love these Carcanet anthologies. They invite a kind of personal statement of its poets, which is a potential minefield. Some are illuminating while others make me hoot with laughter at their portentous vacuity. All adds to the fun.
My favourite moment on the Telltale stand was when a woman looked at the four free poem postcards we were giving away. Silently she picked up one after another, read the first line or two through her magnifying glass, and replaced the card on its pile with a visible shudder. She came to Sarah Barnsley’s card last, and lo! She regally retained it before moving on. Praise indeed.