Sunday 29 March 2009

"a dismal, breathless, untold place": Simon Turner reviews The Terrors by Tom Chivers

Okay. First, a disclaimer: blogger has this awful habit of deleting everything you've written if you select all the text manually for formatting and so on. Its autosave function, meanwhile, means that once the work is lost, it's lost, leaving you pretty much boned without any recourse. A sensible person might save the work elsewhere, but it's part and parcel of the instantaneous nature of blogging that such concerns rarely present themselves.

Basically, I'm telling you this so that you've got some reason to forgive me for any lapses of intelligence, critical judgement or taste. No doubt the original lost version of this review was infinitely more witty and erudite than the crude reconstruction you now see before you, but only the electronic ether will ever no for sure. (I would say it was, but I'm deeply biased and you should treat all of my opinions with scepticism and disgust.) Anyway, here's the review: don't say I didn't warn you.


The small press scene is absolutely vital to the health of poetry in this country. It's here that all the real work of poetry is done, whilst the higher echelons of the poetry kingdom reap the benefits of the hard work that the small presses have done. It's a little like feudalism, though with a lot less mud. Nine Arches Press is a new addition to the small press stable, but it's already done some excellent work publishing and promoting new poetry in the West Midlands and beyond. I'm saying this not only because the editors, after weeks of pleading, tears and threats, have agreed to publish a pamphlet by yours truly some time in the near future, but because I genuinely believe in what they're doing. So far, their editorial decisions have been spot on, and this new pamphlet from Tom Chivers does noting to alter that trend.

Tom Chivers is a very nice man who runs Penned in the Margins, which publishes and promotes new poetry in London. He often sends free books to the editors, which we never get around to reviewing because we're too boorish and lazy and uncultured. (I am, anyway: George is the very pinnacle of Guardian-reading metrosexual sophistication.) The Terrors is the first collection he's authored himself and, frankly, it's a blinder. It takes the form of emails fired off to the inmates of London's Newgate prison between, according to the author, "roughly 1700 and 1760". This is more than just a means of mining easy humour from anachronism. Rather, through the language itself - wherein internet age slang mingles uneasily with an almost Shakespearean diction to create a socio-linguistic palimpsest or montage - Chivers suggests the persistence of the past, and its unsettling intrusion into the present. In this regard, he's working very much within a continuum of London authors - which includes Michael Moorcock, Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd in its rollcall - for whom the past is never a static thing, but constantly reasserting itself, often against the present's will. Barry MacSweeney's 'Ranter', with its omnivorous mingling of registers, its immersion in the world of the religious and political pamphleteers of the 17th and 18th centuries, is another definite forebear.

MacSweeney's sheer verbal energy seems to have rubbed off on Chivers, as what impresses most about The Terrors is its headlong rush of language, an explosive approach to the written word that matches the violence of the events it details:

"First, I look up 'corn-chandler'. There are Jacobites abroad, a plague of hungry Irish stamping at the bridleway. London draws you to its meagre bosom. And then, it seems like seven years: a simple country boy (that's you) stark bollock naked with a fruit knife in his hand. The plan is only half-cocked. The duffle-coated master bleeds, he bleeds, bleeds, bleeds. You pitch his blood int the coal-hole. His still-warm corpse decays inside the privy. The yard begins to smell like coffee burnt into a brick of ash. You know all this, of course. I've read the letter to your wife; how the knife was not a plan, just an afterthought. And they hung your hanged cadaver in the gibbet, Shepherd's Bush, 'til your insides trickled out and your knuckles stank of sulphur (also, an afterthought)."

It's difficult to give an impression of the excitement this collection generates for me. It's a truly remarkable sequence, alive to the possibilities of what language can do, totally confident in its creation of a hyperreality where past and present mingle and bleed into one another. If all of its meaning is not immediately apparent at first, second, or even third reading, this is no kind of handicap. The verve and energy of the writing is enough to make the leap over any semantic gaps the reader might uncover. This is a very achieved debut, and I see it as something of a call to arms to other young poets: who's going to top it?

Saturday 28 March 2009

The Terrors Launch Tomorrow

Tom Chivers is launching his Nine Arches pamphlet The Terrors tomorrow evening. A review is in the pipeline. Details below:

Join us on Sunday 29th March from 7pm for drinking games, petty chit-chat and readings by Tom Chivers, Tim Wells, Jane Holland, Jane Commane and James Wilkes , at The Market Trader, 50 Middlesex Street E1 7EX. Nearest Tube: Aldgate, Aldgate East, Liverpool Street.

The Terrors launch on Facebook

Find the venue

THE TERRORS by Tom Chivers is the first in a series of special edition pamphlets from Nine Arches Press; darkly-humoured e-dispatches of crime and punishment from over the walls and across centuries. The Terrors is a sequence of imagined emails; poetic missives from the start of the 21st century to inmates at London's notorious Newgate Prison. The emails introduce a cast of 18th century villains and their gruesome crimes: 'Half-hanged Smith'; executioner-turned-murderer Jack Ketch; the notorious Waltham Blacks.

Friday 27 March 2009

Rupert Loydell & Nathan Thompson - Memos to Self (9)

In Memoriam

The Hourglass figures if you don’t mind the walk. That is where you say we will find him. You can recognise him by his gaunt figure, wasting the day at the very point of crux.

‘No sudden movements. Just turn slowly and leave until it is time to come back again.’ Those are my instructions.

I can sense the nights are getting longer. Vampires are coming, dressed in their vicious bunny suits. Their sockets mark a space to the backs of our heads. We try to light candles in there, greased with recitations of the Hail Mary.

I leave a note to myself behind the bar that there is a full moon over the opera house. The murderer will be there too. So twirl your moustache dramatically and walk out into the night.

9 of 9

The Basho Award

Gists and Piths are proud to announce the inaugural Basho Poetry Award, introduced to exploit, sorry, honour the name of one Japan's most celebrated poets.

Basho was an acknowledged master of the haiku, a strictly measured short poem consisting of three lines, and containing only 17 syllables.

The minimum length of all entries to the Basho Poetry Award is 2000 lines.

Basho's haiku are widely regarded as the pinnacle of the haiku form, and are noted for their brevity, restraint and concision.

Our wildly inappropriate judging panel includes Homer, Virgil, Dante and Tolstoy.

The entry fee for the first poem is a frog in a pond, and a crow in a pine tree for each subsequent poem. All entry fees will be donated to the Norfolk Rest Home for Hungry Spaniels.

Thursday 26 March 2009

Rupert Loydell & Nathan Thompson - Memos to Self (8)

After Much Thought

I have decided to change teams and follow the hourglass storyline into shadow. Underexposed photos and unanswered questions are more than enough to keep us amused. It seems to fill all the hours in the day.

I use the days simply to filter the nervous system, to exhibit complex responses and specify the correct amount of air and fluid to take on board. Phew clap whoo clap phew clap surrender.

Licking the glass clean, I stare through the pane and hope the murderer arrives soon. Last time I heard he was lecturing up north and reacting to sudden movements. Irrationality demands intervals and accusations; a power of insight to overcome optical illusions and suspicions of underhand behaviour.

A is for a house. Any house. It will never become a home, just somewhere to rest up and hide, keep warm if a little damp, cowering in the boiler room. Buses run every 15-30 minutes and if you don’t mind the walk it is ideally situated for information overload and all your everyday needs.

The central idea is individual creativity and personal excess. Public interaction is encouraged.

8 of 9

The Basil Bunting Award

The Basil Bunting Award has been set up 'to acknowledge and celebrate the life and work of Basil Bunting'.
Bunting's masterpiece, Briggflatts, was described by Cyril Connolly as 'the finest long poem to have been published in English since T S Eliot’s Four Quartets'. An early draft of the poem stretched to 2000 lines.
Poems submitted to the Basil Bunting Award must be no longer than 42 lines.
According to the information on the Basil Bunting Award's homepage, Bunting was 'a leading British modernist poet whose poems have established their place amongst the twentieth century’s best poetry'.
One of the judges for the Basil Bunting Award is Sean O'Brien.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Rupert Loydell & Nathan Thompson - Memos to Self (7)

Melodrama wth Aforethought

You stick dribbling to the window. Down the pane tangents of sucked lozenges bomb the suburbs. I am friendly to this but it brings no clarity.

People try not to notice, playing at wise monkeys, but the marks are genuine. You are indifferent to these shortcuts, the cherry-wood romances of Johann Strauss.

Then it becomes entirely terrible: This is a conflict in which nobody even bothers to get undressed. Cinderella weeps among her shattered slippers. She will never know.

Music for dancing suggests strings of puppets disgusted with the homophony of vast deserts. Ours is a human enterprise which doesn’t happen. Enter the murderer flexing his muscles.

7 of 9

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Rupert Loydell & Nathan Thompson - Memos to Self (6)

Magic Lantern

Shadows play games with unformed memories. Your sleepy danse macabre flicks ash from the music box. We are taking it in turns to be grotesque.

A witch flies upside-down in pursuit of her falling familiars. Beneath her, a crescent moon wraps around a cat retelling the past. Each time she passes she fails to grasp it.

But this is to discount jasmine outside our curtained window, lifting gently, tilting at its edges.

You keep dreaming through figures of eight, each one tighter until the knot is tangled. The last stars tense at the lips of your eyes.

6 of 9

Monday 23 March 2009

Rupert Loydell & Nathan Thompson - Memos to Self (5)


I’m sorry, I didn’t realise the story had gone astray. It is difficult to find plot or make headway. Memo to self: build a world with language. Memo to reader: get on with it. This was never meant to be an easy read!

“My reaction was a longing for some sense of necessity behind the work. I’d be dishonest to say otherwise.”

And I’d be dishonest if I said your comment didn’t hurt. But the parcels of books made up for it, along with a visit from a friend. I have other reputations as well, warm hands to hold until the clocks go back.

“It looks like a line, not like a line pretending to be a line. Which is why it is more interesting.”

Early evening sunshine warms the darkest corners of human memory. I am hiding your present from you.

5 of 9

Sunday 22 March 2009

Rupert Loydell & Nathan Thompson - Memos to Self (4)


If I cannot live backwards I will live forwards.

Midnight - noon - a charm bracelet of tickets. Soon the whole fiesta.

I think perhaps I should lighten up a little.

How can you tell that the morning star and the evening star are the same thing? Circular breathing. There is still a risk of course: inner city; cold water; the reckless heckles that contribute smallness.

It would be apposite to point out that sometimes air brightens and begins to clear. The moon rising like a love-song through the clouds; a cat on a tightrope walking to the party.

4 of 9

Saturday 21 March 2009

Rupert Loydell & Nathan Thompson - Memos to Self (3)

Aid to Memory

I do not understand why the cat goes missing for several days and then returns, seeking food and affection.

I am praying for airtime, wishing for air. What I have are this stuffy office and a computer I don’t know how to use.

The fire in the pub hasn’t been lit for months. No-one is talking to anyone they don’t know. Faces have turned hard with age.

The cat is language. This place is too quiet to be home.

Nothing is set in stone.

3 of 9

Friday 20 March 2009

Rupert Loydell & Nathan Thompson - Memos to Self (2)

Statement to Self

We are not the children of love we are the children of war.
We have other reputations as well.

Your hand can’t get tired, it hasn’t got eyes.
Memory is full of alterations, facts, short-cuts.

This is an attempt to make things clear, a spatial rendition of time.
I am already regretting the whole thing, will pretend it doesn’t exist.

We are different people this morning.
No-one talks to anyone they don’t already know.

2 of 9

Thursday 19 March 2009

Rupert Loydell & Nathan Thompson - Memos to Self (1)

Once Upon a Time

Ice and morning mist, cold juice for breakfast, long hours to fill. The chronometer is not working and you would be surprised how much we sleep, how much we eat – probably how often meal times come around.

In a funny sort of way happiness is not to do with being happy. It is simply being content and settled in routine. Keeping warm and alive takes all our time up here. What little spare we have we dedicate to mapping out words on the white pages of our journals.

This is a fiction. And also this.

This is the first of nine parts extracted from a longer collaborative project titled 'Memos to Self' by Rupert Loydell and Nathan Thompson. We'll be serialising them daily. You can read further sections from the series in Shadowtrain #27.

Sunday 15 March 2009

Elisabeth Bletsoe: The Separable Soul (audio)

Late November 2008 I organised a reading for students, featuring Tony Frazer of Shearsman and Elisabeth Bletsoe, one of my favourite poets of 2008. It was a real gem of a recording, though I was completely nervous and an incompetent host (and technician, when it came to recording the event).

Elisabeth very kindly gave permission to share some of the poems from the recording of the event. To begin, 'The Separable Soul', which she introduced as wondering "what it would be like to be transformed back into a swan".

Recorded live at the Writers' Room, CAPITAL, University of Warwick. Elisabeth Bletsoe's latest collection, Landscape from a Dream, is published by Shearsman. Full text of this poem is available at Poetry International Web.

Tuesday 10 March 2009


Just discovered a new and very interesting project, pairing up poets for timed, collaborative work: Likestarlings. Editor-in-Chief and co-founder, Caleb Klaces, is a former Foyle Young Poet of the Year (twice), amongst other things.

I like the fact the project pushes the idea of collaboration, emphasising the shared nature of writing. Reading sequences of poems produced by paired poets, I get the sense of the dialogue emphasised above the individual poems. One piece, Caleb writes, reads as if it is a single poem broken into sections. Others respond to each other, as if a strange object - some kind of essence of the poem - is being passed back and forth between the pair.

Mostly the poets are being commissioned at the moment, but do get in touch if you'd like to know more or be considered for a pairing. And have a read of the articles on the blog - 'Palaver' - which express very eloquently ideas relating to collaborative writing and writing collectives.

Link also added to the sidebar.

Monday 2 March 2009

Things have been a little quiet here. But at the same time, things haven't been quiet elsewhere. Here are some things that have been taking up my time:

Ira Lightman on Ira Lightman
(Hilarious stuff! I hope the first in a new series of reviews from Stride Mag. Which reminds me: if anyone else has outstanding reviews for Stride, send 'em in.)

A pile of Shearsman titles lined up:
Claire Crowther's The Clockwork Gift
Robert Sheppard's Warrant Error
Susan Connolly's Forest Music
Hanne Bramness's Salt on the eye: selected poems (trans. Bramness and Frances Presley)

Technically should be sending them out for review, but I'm going to read them all first.

Robert Sheppard will be reading with Philip Kuhn tomorrow night in London. Wish I could go, but will be teaching out of town until late.

New Tears in the Fence is just out - issue 49.
(David Caddy very kindly put the G&P editors' poems on consecutive pages. I've not seen it yet as it went to London, not my Not-London address, but I assume our poems are sat side by side on stools, drinking caipirinhas and absinthe, muttering like graffiti scratched into the bar's much-abused surface.)

Which reminds me, the London Word Festival launches this Thursday. Invite received, with thanks, and declined, sadly for similar Not-London reasons. But hopefully one of the G&P agents will be there.

Meanwhile, the second issue of Horizon Review is due some time this month! Woohoo! (Good luck with the workload...) Expect inordinately long review from me, plus a column on the Singapore poetry scene (which, having spent all of 8 days immersed in it, I'm now more than qualified to rant about it).

And less-poetic time-consumers:

Questionable Content
(I feel really guilty about this one. While Simon probably gets all the indie references, I don't which leaves me with no excuse. Although the specials menu in Coffee of Doom sometimes brings great joy.)

(Thanks to Neeral for this one.)

(And thanks to Jeph Jaques of Questionable Content for this one.)

Right, an inordinately unintelligent post, but if I keep regular with these, maybe Simon will crack his knuckles and outwit me.