It's been, I'd be the first to admit, rather quiet on the Gists and Piths front of late, but spring is here, fitfully, and that's as good a time as any to get things kickstarted. At least part of the problem, I'm sure, is that George and I have actually been doing things in the real world, which gets in the way of actually posting. Writing would be easy if people didn't keep getting in the way.
Most recently, the Editors were up in Leicester, for States of Independence, a day of small press activity, including readings, talks, and lots and lots of bookstalls. Highlights included:
Clive (otherwise known as CJ) Allen and Alan Baker, mainstays of the East Midlands poetry scene. (Clive's published by Leafe, which is run by Alan, and Alan's published by Skysill, also based in Nottingham, and run by Sam Ward.) I've seen Clive's work described as 'muscular whimsy', and whilst that's accurate, it's only part of the story, as the poems mix a demotic mateyness with what can only be described as a kind of metaphysical consciousness. How else to explain the last line of 'Poetry is Your Friend': "It [poetry] wants you like a tyrant or the sun"? Part of the power here is that the line comes almost from nowhere, as what precedes it is disarmingly chatty and offhand, with poetry being compared variously to "a high-sugar drink" or "that special moment, you know / the one" (the mutilated ghosts of adspeak being parodied in this case, I suspect). His selected poems from Leafe is full of comparably wonderful things.
Alan Baker's reading, too, was great. His work is more obviously a part of the avant garde line than Clive's, though equally approachable. A number of linguistically and structurally innovative techniques - found text, collage, repetitive combinatorial compositions - sit alongside a quiet, you might even say delicate lyricism, to create a beguiling mixture of elements. Though influenced by the more meliorative elements of the British Poetry Revival - John James and Lee Harwood more explicitly - Alan's voice is very much his own. Skysill have recently published a big collection, Variations on Painting a Room (Alan quipping that it represented a sort of collected pamphlets, as much of his work has previously appeared in that form over the years), and it's great to see his work gathered together in one place at last.
It was also good to see Matt Merritt give a reading as part of a talk by Nine Arches Press' co-editors, Jane Commane and Matt Nunn. Editorial bias alert: Nine Arches published my second collection, so obviously I'm going to say good things about them, but I do genuinely think they're one of the most interesting small presses currently working: their pamphlets, in particular, are things of beauty, and represent a united front in terms of quality and design which harks back to the best of small press publishing in the 70s and 80s. (The first two volumes of Chris Torrance's The Magic Door, from Albion Village Press, are my benchmark in matters of poetry pamphlet design.) Matt's new book, his second, has the distinction of having one of the most difficult collection title's in recent memory: Hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, though it becomes less difficult if you break it down into its component elements. I'm increasingly drawn to Matt's work: it's decidely unshowy but musically alive lyricism is something genuinely unique in contemporary poetry, and time and time again in both his collections, I've stumbled across moments that have made me green with envy, which is the highest praise, really.
What else? New Walk, a publication whose first issue came out late last year, looks like an interesting and eclectic addition to the world of little magazines: their roster includes Peter Larkin, Alison Brackenbury, and Andrew Motion (I never thought a magazine would exist where those names would be included alongside one another, unless it were in the context of the following sentence: "I never thought a magazine would exist where Peter Larkin, Alison Brackenbury and Andrew Motion would be included alongside one another"); Five Leaves Press, another East Midlands mainstay, whose current specialism is reprints of lost masterpieces of London fiction, including Scamp by Roland Camberton, which I've just started reading, and it's fantastic; Flarestack, whose new pamhlet imprint is a model of editorial acumen and bold design; and, I'm sure, others I've missed, or whose tables I didn't make it to because I was too busy drooling over the poetry.
In other news: Sunday saw the broadcast of Make Perhaps This Out Sense of Can You, a documentary on Bob Cobbing, high priest of sound and concrete poetry in the UK, and one of the key players in the 'Poetry Wars' of the 1970s. I've not listened to it yet, but the fact that this exists at all is remarkable, and the names involved - including Iain Sinclair and Peter Finch - are noteworthy in themselves. The programme's up at BBC iPlayer until Sunday 27th of March. I suggest you make good with your ears and brain, and fill your head up with it forthwith.