Saturday 28 June 2008

George Ttoouli - Chris McCabe: damn near everywhere

I'm not sure why, but I keep seeing Chris McCabe's name around. Readings in London, readings in Cambridge, readings in Brighton. Poems in damn near every print journal I've picked up since winter '07. I think I even saw his name on a few Downing Street petition links I was sent on circulars.

Is this a bad thing? No. I'm amazed that he gets everywhere - I assume he's learned some teleportation techniques from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar - but, although I've not yet actually managed to make it to one of his readings (lacking the necessary teleportation techniques myself) I've read several poems and thoroughly enjoyed them.

The latest set I found was in in Tears in the Fence #47. The first piece, titled 'Good Friday', could be summarised as follows: "Christ = Chris = Ian Curtis. Oh, the football's on." But it's even better than that.

Anyway, just needed to get that off my chest. Definitely one to watch.

Addendum 2/7/08 from the inbox:

SINCLAIR + McCabe + Silva, Bishopsgate Institute, Thursday
Penned in the Margins

Don't miss the second and final instalment of our Visions of the City mini-series at Bishopsgate Institute, tomorrow night. Iain Sinclair, Chris McCabe and Hannah Silva star. Limited capacity. For tickets call 020 7392 9220.

Thursday 26 June 2008

Statements of Intent (2) - Rupert Loydell: "Excerpts from Two Interviews"

Most of my written work is - much like many other poets' writing - a response to the world around me; a kind of ongoing diary of experience, reading and observation. This is catalysed and changed by the processes I use to try and make the language playful, interesting and new. I'm personally bored by poems that tell stories and have an epiphanic punchline at the end. I like poems that bemuse, confuse, befuddle and delight.

I want poems that ask more questions than offer answers, poets who facilitate a way through unreason and uncertainty, disbelief and doubt. I'm not alone: poet/critic Charles Bernstein, in his book My Way [University of Chicago, 1999], suggests that 'Poetry is turbulent thought, at least that's what I want from it. It leaves things unsettled, unresolved - leaves you knowing less than you did when you started.'

In this [my] kind of poetry themes emerge, tentatively appear and disappear. I try to keep the vocabulary everyday and readable, but distort syntax and the linear. Make surprises, jumps, leaps of imagination. What I read, see and engage with around me gets - sometimes directly - collaged into poems; so it's very personal. It's my voice because I made it. It isn't as simple as "cut-up", as the sorts of poems I once-upon-a-time wrote usually get worked into the poems of the sort I now write.

I remain more interested in language as a medium and what one can do with it now perhaps more than "saying something". The reader brings meaning to the poem as much as the author; they always have, now its made more explicit/implicit in the work.


For the last few years my main way of writing has been to assemble phrases into a poem. These phrases come from my own notebooks, from books I am reading at the time [sometimes grabbed almost at random; at other times phrases I've jotted down whilst reading], from songs and CD covers, from newspapers and magazines, from my head.... One thing I don't do is take lines from other people's poems - that's just a personal choice. I somehow synthesize this assemblage of words and phrases into a poem around the theme, or image, I started with. I type them up fairly early on, and then edit them every 2 or 3 days, usually for at least 3 months. When they haven't been changed for a fortnight or so, I will regard a work as finished. It will then be submitted to a magazine, and a copy put in my current poetry file and in my folder for readings.

I tend to do a lot of thinking in my head around a subject. I listen to a lot of different sorts of music, especially improvised, contemporary jazz and classical, and out-rock, and I think musical composition [in a loose sense; I don't read music] has affected my use of form. I am also a bookworm and read a lot of poetics and visual arts theory, postmodern theology along with fiction and poetry. All this somehow "shakes down" into my poetry, as does what I see around me.

I don't think anyone will get anything more or extra out of my poetry by knowing how it is written. I'm not, in the end, a great one for contextualisation: here is the poem, on the page; here is the painting, on the gallery wall; here is song, on the CD [or played live]. What you see is what you get.

© Rupert Loydell

Tuesday 17 June 2008

"Bliss is bliss" - Poems by Gerry Loose

Ceann Tràigh Breige

tender flesh to sit
foolish & hoping

to be
come mountain

the sun bides in
the loch surfacing

cormorants can’t
look in its void eye

Port na h-Uamha

sea’s scales
grey crow rises straight

from rock to
plummet crack

cockles & her
self falls

south wind riffs
a blue line pulleys up oak

Garbh Eilean

cold fingertips
legacy of the quick

ocean drools on
otter’s back

on hooping-under

body catching up

Sàilean an Eòrna

o there’s
nothing but

Resipole being

on its

fund in

from the deer path to my door

watched a goosepair become

sky specks dancing eyes


evening April snow bonfire rhododendron doesn’t

know it’s in the wrong place wrong time sorry


250 the oak 5 years the apple

planted move in spring winds


roof leaks black mould in the corner what

to do plant lavender in a big circle digging now


billion volt lightning thunder boomcracks circling

ozone sky smell wet head again what joy what joy


in woods bliss is bliss not

ignorance cuckoo’s back


tomatoes planted out apple blossom

on the bough what have I forgotten


Gerry Loose's book Printed on Water: New and Selected Poems was published by Shearsman in 2007. His own website can be found here, and his Ardnamurchan Journal is also well worth a look.

Sunday 15 June 2008

Simon Turner - The New Rock and Roll

I've made peace, finally, with the fact that my obtuse ramblings about Dorothy Wordsworth and Prunella Clough never attract any comments, so I've decided to grasp the populist nettle and kickstart a follow-up to George's 'computer games and poets' post from a few weeks back. This time round, it's poets and their rock-star equivalents. Not all that strange, considering poetry's continuously being dubbed the new 'rock and roll', and besides, Simon Armitage has come out as a frustrated rock star, blowing the lid on the whole gaff - all poets, basically, are frustrated musicians. My ideal career would be as a noise metal impressario - if Lightning Bolt are reading and have a position for an untrained but enthusiastic triangle player, let me know - but, as it stands, I have to make do with being a poet for now. So I thought I'd kick things off with a pairing I came up with while idly chopping onions the other evening: Geoffrey Hill and Bob Mould. Both are venerated within their fields - Hill as the last great English modernist in the Eliot vein; Mould as the 'godfather of grunge' - and both have suddenly hit an astonishingly productive stage in their careers (Hill, before The Triumph of Love, could never have been labelled prolific, whilst Mould, prior to Modulate, had threatened to go into semi-retirement). And, just as Mould has latterly discovered a passion for electronic music, so Hill, in Without Title, professes his admiration for bluegrass and Jimi Hendrix, which, let's be honest, none of us could have seen coming. They even look a little bit alike, see?

Now: suggestions from the floor for some more rock / verse pairings?

Friday 13 June 2008

Statements of Intent (1) - Catherine Hales: "A Note on 'Poetics'"

I glean, I garner, I gather, I hoard,– scraps of sentences, scraps of other texts, things heard on the radio or tv or overheard in the street , the u-bahn... bits & pieces, and at some point I play around with the bits & pieces and they coalesce into a poem. But I like to keep things moving, I try to get the poem to hit the ground running and keep running and take off again at the end: flux and continuum. so when I say coalesce, I don't mean becoming fixed, but just becoming, always becoming, being in flux, there just long enough to be perceived or guessed at and then it's off again somewhere else. I don't necessarily write poems 'about', since messages are for tracts; meaning is contingent and a matter of negotiation with the reader as an equal partner in the process. 'Meaning is neither imposed, nor passively imbibed, but arises out of a struggle or negotiation between competing frames of reference, motivation and experience. (Christine Gledhill).

So a poem is also play – put these things together and see what happens. It's play as in theatre, mime, pretend; as in play on words; as in the play of light on a clear stream; as in game theory; as in mucking about in the mudpit and getting filthy. Form is part of the play, an arbitrary choice as to how to arrange the words on the page, possibly even giving some kind of order to the coalescing chaos, imitating, ironising or mocking conventional notions of form. This does not contradict the notion of flux. It is rather part of the 'meaning'.

Or an apposite quote from John Ashbery I just found on Ron Silliman's blog: "I would not put a statement in a poem. I feel that poetry must reflect on already existing statements...Poetry does not have a subject matter, because it is the subject matter. We are the subject matter of poetry, not vice versa...When statements appear in poetry they are merely a part of the combined refractions of everything else."

Or none of the above.

Catherine Hales, May 2008

Monday 9 June 2008

"Chess without squares" - Four Poems by Nathan Thompson

March 29th

you feel stern today
the weather plays a game
that is somewhat like chess without squares
Easter draws on previous sales
and the harbour is electric

shall I meet you at the point
the boats are cantankerous
they are travelling tinkers
I will be wearing the Russian hat
to symbolize my lack of solidarity

how the sky draws in
like ears tapering to pixies
beside the 'tween times which is Irish for 'tourist'

I'm not satisfied with being here
so I should pay visits
but you are approaching the evening
turns its back I forget
the smell of jasmine helps me
up the banister

the castle
is in the water now it's not
tides listen to the rigging
it sounds like cutting loose from
something stand back a little
snap there we are

if the bells are in the gallery

it may be 5 now
but it's the same
as the clocks refuse to fix

probably sunnier in [insert favourite]
if I read the books right
the sly
maintenance of this picture is smoke gives pause
I've read the news and think
how adjectival why don't I
love music the same
it's not fixed
give the signal
for your band-wagon and I'll jump
properly clean not because but
merciful father I forgive you

today on the rainbow

spring comes
and easier
trying to be serious
(call me Ham)

it seems wrong to tell the animals
a function of breakdown

sometimes less deceived
the sea walks that is safe
within the bounds of abilities
and capable inhabiting dreams
the words left out make propositions

another ark passes filled with flowers

all this to think of
candle-wax and figures of speech
spilled like honey over bees

'get off'
the basement shifts
to catch the sun windows grow towards
open speech marks
here is
a promise

as the day goes

the long way
along the beach
our chairs are in the sun

how many articles have you brought with you
a cart emerges barring the road

Friday 6 June 2008

George Ttoouli - Running from the Hills with a Guilty Look on Your Face

I picked up the latest issue of Pennine Platform from work yesterday. It surprised me - much better poetry than I expected from a saddle-stitched, badly folded product with a grayscale cover image. The leading edge hadn't even been trimmed. A hint that there's been a good editorial job on the content, as it leans slightly towards a consistency of style, though there are very few glaring points of unoriginality, banality or wastage to drag me down.

In the editorial, Nicholas Bielby announces the launch of the magazine's new book publishing venture, Graft Poetry. After a brief discussion of the name - attaching the press to the magazine; hard bloody work, and associations of the Greek root, 'writing' - he announces the opening publications: Julia Deakin's Without a dog and Andrew Boobier's Reader, help me.

So far so good. Charged with ideas, an engaging introduction. And then he puts the knife in the Arts Council: "This magazine has not sought any funding from the Arts Council for many years. It is not just that to apply for funding is a long, complicated and irksome task (though it is!). It is that the Arts Council is conceived as a branch of social policy. Its aims are primarily social engineering. Sexual orientation is more important to them than quality!"

I could discuss the problems in this statement, but instead I'll just agree with the gist of it and move on.

Alarm bells start ringing in my head when people start talking about the funding of a project. The real point I want to make is about where this line is obviously heading. Bielby concludes his introduction with: "The point of my mentioning the funding of this venture is to encourage you to buy the books so that Graft Poetry can continue its work of publishing high quality poetry for a national audience. We have no other source of funds."

How do I hate these marketing techniques? Let me count the ways. Well OK, just the one: guilt. The USP is to force readers to make a decision between social responsibility towards poetry or being bastards. Talk about 'social engineering', eh? When has it ever been sensible to try and sustain an industry on a marketing campaign of guilt? And yet too much of the poetry industry is operating on this level. (Am I sounding like Neil Astley again? [Yes - ST].)

I could list a few examples, from the numerous magazines and memberships that sell themselves on the basis of longevity (i.e. 'It would be really sad if we weren't here tomorrow because of you, you bastard'), to the new magazines that pitch the worthy freshness angle ('It would be really sad if we weren't here tomorrow and you were left with all the old stuff, because of you, you bastard'). But why bother? The effect is to isolate audiences.

If you only market your poetry products in a way that says, 'Do your Duty' then you're only preaching to the converted, who know what it means to be dutifully supporting of poetry ('Poetry is DyD. RIP.'). Which is to say, people can learn to love poetry elsewhere, by accident, because they won't learn it here. Or in other words, "You'd better buy this subscription to our magazine, or otherwise you'll only spend the money on beer / crack / fast food / evil capitalist extravagances that will kill African children / crap / children / prostitutes / child prostitutes / world war - and poetry's more valuable than all of those put together, even though you might get some good poetry out of buying some of those, especially war and child prostitutes, but that's not the point because this is POETRY."