Sunday 31 May 2009

"and day brought back my night" - Milton

Following on from the news round up yesterday, I tracked down the Armando Iannucci poetry programme on John Milton's poetry (though it is ostensibly about Paradise Lost, the programme takes some of his other work - Areopagitica and some sonnets, early and late). The reason I chased it was to try and disagree with Simon Armitage when he described the moment Iannucci reads a sonnet to a blind man as "one of the most moving pieces of television ever made" or something.

I can't disagree. It's astonishingly emotional. And I'd go so far as to say that Iannucci's show is one of the most important pieces of television made in the past 30 years, as far as literature is concerned. It begs the question, "Why is so much shit made with taxpayers money, when the bar can be set so high by certain television makers?"

Apologies to our overseas readers. National boundaries have once again tried to disprove the notion that art transcends boundaries, via internet controls. You won't be able to watch this, but I moot the idea that we engage the BBC in a petition to make Iannucci's show public domain, globally.

The show is about language, not just poetry. It's about the nonsense of Paradise Lost's neologisms, to the point where Iannucci questions Milton's motives for making God & the side of 'good' so boring, compared to Satan.

The deep, moral message embedded in the use of language surfaces here; and isn't this the wall we're up against? How do you overcome the politicised control of language (i.e. within a capitalist superstructure), when the dominant, mass media channels are continually equating simplicity with clarity? As if complexity cannot be delivered clearly, as if the analysis of the most simple language, won't equally reveal the flaws in that language.

As with Satan's speeches in Paradise Lost, so the control of media and political parties today, revealed in the most arbitrary of political comment, or news report. When I was an undergraduate, reading Satan's speeches, I was pointed to the fact that a single speech of about 30 lines contained 22 lies. I can't remember the particular speech, nor the accuracy of the tutor's claim, but I do know I found several lies. Who can listen to a Presidential Inauguration Speech, or the Queen's Christmas address, without drawing out a similar whitewashing of reality, by rhetoric?

The war on intelligence, on intellectualism, is a war on freedom, ultimately. Without the awareness to describe the limits of your social environment, you wake in night, though you dream in colour.

The show is available on the BBC iplayer until Wednesday 9.59pm. Happy watchings, UK people. Sorry, rest of the world.

Saturday 30 May 2009

"A poem can't be strangled. A poem can't get AIDS."

Some more recent links, news, things of G&P excitement:

- Kevin Eldon's "Poet's Tree": possibly some of the most appalling comedy I've ever heard (and where the title of this post comes from, so blame him). I'm so glad I don't pay a license fee to the BBC. I'm so glad this stuff is free online. Thanks to Emily Hasler for the heads up.

- Ron Silliman reviews Carol Watt's When Blue Light Falls. I've been a huge fan of her work since I picked up a copy of Wrack a while ago. Carol was kind enough to send me a copy of her (now pretty much unavailable) first pamphlet, brass, running, published by Rod Mengham's Equipage.

- Lately I've been reading Chris McCabe's Zeppelins and Claire Crowther's The Clockwork Gift. They've just completed a fantastic exchange for Likestarlings, which is fast becoming one of my favourite things on the internet. The blog there has some interesting ideas for why collaboration is important to poetry. It's nice to see David Hart's thoughts there too.

- Ruth Padel's press conference at the Hay Festival, in which she explained her reasons for resigning from the Oxford Professorship. BBC Newsnight Review recently held a poetry special (I think this link is UK only, sadly, up til Friday 5th June), in which they include a clipped quotation from Ruth's press statement at the Hay Festival (1'33'' in): "I apologise for anything I have done, which could be misconstrued." Well, that's a bit extreme, Ruth. Your poetry isn't that bad.

- And the BBC are yet again running a public vote to find the Nation's Favourite poet. I like the fact they've listed TS Eliot, who is the only one there who would come close to getting my vote, and is also American. His wiki entry states: "Of his nationality and its role in his work, Eliot said: "[My poetry] wouldn't be what it is if I'd been born in England, and it wouldn't be what it is if I'd stayed in America. It's a combination of things. But in its sources, in its emotional springs, it comes from America." I've voted three times for him and I'm going to vote repeatedly on other computers to make sure I get different IPs logged. I strongly encourage you to do the same, so we can see how the BBC tries to climb out of its hole if he wins.

- Salt's Just One Book campaign continues. It sounds like they're doing really well, but still need your support. If you've not bought a book yet, you could do worse than picking up the just-released Tom Raworth, Earn Your Milk, comprising his uncollected prose works.

- The London Word Festival has just received a massive Paul Hamlyn Award. They've been doing some pioneering work with multi-art form events. They're also young enough to make me feel like I'm over the hill already, given the amount they do. Well done Tom, Marie and Sam!

- And the Foyle Young Poets competition has a (slightly insane?) promo video out, which is manic enough to make me want to watch it twice... Second time round and I'm suddenly thinking it's a polyvocal sound poem that Henri Chopin would have been proud of.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Two Poems by Monika Rinck, translated by Alistair Noon

spending a fortnight in a diving bell

slapping down cards in the chamber of dangerous moments,
then booting a ball around, boomadiboom, the fittings
one enormous clatter. all our bloodstreams
saturated with nitrogen. to decompress
is a daily trial. whole families doze in neoprene,
sorted by size. this waiting, while membranes whimper.
but once that’s over, further treatment with cudgels
fits between first and second tarantellas.
the straps in the gymsuits snap, glasses
mist up inside. between two corresponding shifts
the as yet undecompressed put in a game
of strip chess. but the aching, aging tissue desaturates
too quickly once more, and the pressure just won’t sink.

drifting accumulation

stick to the syllables. no doubt about it now
I’m subject to a takeover, whose aim is to remove me.
some creature launched it. a jellyfish perhaps, conglomerates
of jellyfish. enormous. the weight of it. it’s always inside.
it thinks there’s something to be had. I’m wrong: this
is no animal. depression has no lungs. neither do jellyfish.
its single property is weight. lava lamps, I think.
now they were a good drink, weren’t they. was it there,
back then, the creature that’s no animal but only weight?
we tried to keep the beat. did everything to stop from slowing.
until it cameth to us, spilt and down for the count.
pointless to ponder. it’s there, until it's gone.


Monika Rinck was born in 1969 in Zweibrücken and lives in Berlin. She studied Religious Studies, History und Comparative Literature at Bochum, Berlin and Yale. Her books include Zum Fernbleiben der Umarmung ('to refrain from embracing', poems, Kookbooks 2007), Ah, das Love-Ding (essays, Kookbooks 2006) and Verzückte Distanzen ('enraptured distances', poems, zu Klampen! Verlag 2004). English translations of her work have been published in Shearsman, Litter, No Man's Land, and Atlanta Review, among other places.

Thursday 21 May 2009

Buy Just One Salt Book

Sad news. As you're no doubt aware, Salt Publishing are in dire financial straits at the moment. Here's a note from Chris Hamilton-Emery explaining what you can do to help:

As many of you will know, Jen and I have been struggling to keep Salt moving since June last year when the economic downturn began to affect our press. Our three year funding ends this year: we've £4,000 due from Arts Council England in a final payment, but cannot apply through Grants for the Arts for further funding for Salt's operations. Spring sales were down nearly 80% on the previous year, and despite April's much improved trading, the past twelve months has left us with a budget deficit of over £55,000. It's proving to be a very big hole and we're having to take some drastic measures to save our business. Here's how you can help us to save Salt and all our work with hundreds of authors around the world.


1. Please buy just one book, right now. We don't mind from where, you can buy it from us or from Amazon, your local shop or megastore, online or offline. If you buy just one book now, you'll help to save Salt. Timing is absolutely everything here. We need cash now to stay afloat. If you love literature, help keep it alive. All it takes is just one book sale. Go to our online store and help us keep going.

UK and International


2. Share this note on your Facebook or MySpace profile. Tell your friends. If we can spread the word about our cash crisis, we can hopefully find more sales and save our literary publishing. Remember it's just one book, that's all it takes to save us. Please do it now.

With my best wishes to everyone

Chris Hamilton-Emery


Salt Publishing

Wednesday 20 May 2009

James Wilkes:Reviews (4)

Linda Hadley and Edwin Hak, 6 London Fountains (Canterbury: Panda Press, 2008), 8pp.

One ragged sheet they complicate down, a small hand-inked dribbler, of slit and fold and press within the pages. 13 spumante pencils, the central higher than the rest.

The “rational fountain”, bisected by the shadows of financial courts, turns water to a fabric draped unwrinkled over marble slabs. But a wobble turns a ravel, and it seams.

The dampened husk and scaffold of a civic flow: the blocked stone fountain gathers surplus, of material, of rainspots, in the park.

This review is forthcoming in City State: New London Poetry, which is published today by penned in the margins. Interior Traces will be serialised in three parts on Resonance FM, beginning Friday May 29th, 15:30 to 17:00.

Saturday 16 May 2009

Two Poems by Ben Stainton


“How would you describe Peter Holborn?”
His chin was the size of a watermelon.
“Like a wound that's never scabbed over.”
“Hmm,” I nodded. “Truly heartrending.”

Taunting the vulnerable was a cherished hobby.
“There's no shame in displaying emotion,” young Peter minced.
“No, there's only blame. And a bitter taste.
How would you describe waste?”

“A small beige room filled with silent people.”
“Oh change the record! Love?”
“A flat-iron against my cheek.”
“Have you ever actually owned a flat-iron?”

“Once. She tied a length of rope to her handle and jumped.”
“You're speaking... allegorically?”
“No. From the top of a tall building, obviously.”
(Note to self: Love = Suicide.)

“Very well, Holborn. My conclusion is this:
You have ISSUES. Deep-seated, irreversible ISSUES.
Take a prolonged course of enthusiasm and try to sleep
with no less than 5 human beings per year.”

He slowly turned to me with one red eye:

Ah yes. The bike wheel stuffed with roses.
We infused, like teabags in boiling water.

Day of the Coffeehouse Recital

Once I notice it, the shadow caves in.
I hope I don't cave in.
But then, everyone wants to be noticed.

If you feign confidence, people listen.
“I am the most confident person in the world.”
“Go to sleep” she withers,
warming herself on my talent.

My talent shrivels like a dry lima bean.
I dream contentedly, of waterfalls.
Then the phone rings. Coldly,
I cradle my leather-bound poetry book.


We drink coffee in a coffeehouse
with coffee people discussing coffee.
“There's nothing better
than a great cup of coffee”, we all agree.

The waitress' hair looks like a tuba.
She blames her tuba for everything.
It's probably hereditary, but her mother's
tuba was, perhaps, more subtle.

I wish it would snow. It starts snowing.
A large crow hops, unsentimentally
killing again. I wish I were a crow.


Readings begin at half past ten.
Bags of complimentary pretension
are passed around on trays.

“I’ll scrape the lichen from her thigh...”,
regales the house poet.
Sage nods from the croissant tables.
“But what does it mean?” pipes the dullard.

Everyone else is clapping, falling asleep,
safe in the knowledge they were there.


My turn.
I am the most confident person in the world.
My voice is progressive, electric.
I conclude a masterful sonnet about lima beans.

The room silently throbs.
I wish a pig would fall on my head.

Only the aural confusion of dropped china
and a waiter being publicly fired
rekindles my dignity.

I hand out fliers for my next appearance -
FREE SALT for each attendee!
We buy way too much salt in our house.


Chin on hand, legs crossed uncomfortably
in the traditional poetic stance, I ponder.
“Hey, look at the waitress! Her hair
slightly resembles a tuba!"

Elizabeth digs her heel into my moccasin
and comments on the coffee.
Unspoken hysteria is the worst kind.


In the coffee-coloured restroom,
I rehearse breaking the un-coffee-related news
that my father died last night.

“If only death were an oversight,
on his part”, I quietly begin.


Ben Stainton's poems have appeared in Poetry Salzburg Review, Blackbox Manifold, Great Works and Stride. His first collection, The Jealousies, was published in 2008. More poetry, reviews and mild plagiarism, here.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

James Wilkes: Reviews (3)

Griet Hannay, 8 Little Curtain Rings, (Strasbourg: Ed. de Carnard, 1989), 16pp.

A psychotropic longhouse becomes the locus for this eminent rehash. Its structure is cantilevered thus, so the balcony’s long shadow bunches at my throat. The entrance is a revolving door, a kind of promiscuous lock. Inside many young Belgians bodypop their continental ennui.

This becomes a poetry of lampposts, dogwalkers, poplars, theodolytes, bus stops, municipal statues and radio masts. All the lonely civil spikes. Here is everything to do with comfort, acoustics, light and shade. I was magnificently bored.

This review was previously published in Openned. You can read other reviews by James Wilkes there, and at Intercapillary Space and Readings (here and here). James Wilkes is currently involved in Interior Traces, which will be on Resonance FM soon.

Monday 11 May 2009

Three Poems by Andrew Taylor


I hear the planet crying such Teen Angst
withdraw from use

allow for repair a reconstruction of the senses

amidst the sunshine there will be showers

a blue box of magic tricks
modulator synthesis

forty days forty nights forty lines

this time of year available light

precursor to walking city rivers skimming pebbles

wish for a clearer way
like a leaf circling around the deer shelter

and the poppy towering above the tall grass

Night Shift

Colder at 3.00 a.m.
warehouse shelters Christmas
harbours desire for 6.00 a.m.

cycle through beginning streets of day

scope of clear December moon
the motorway echoes
deliveries light the yard

steam clouds the sulphur tinted view

A Poetry Now
for Tom Raworth

travel through Bostonian dawn
time shift through messenger hits

UK Duty Paid

Kent was in full autumn foxes
and pheasants crossing the lanes

trapped in mesh fence
CCTV windows a security hut

Le Monde a US Campus

new classicality a Vegan promoter
sound-tracking death

Autumn becomes Winter
the first frost

purchasing a Watch Cap
in anticipation

closed Easter, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day

of season accompanied by the swan's call
preparation for the long sleep

Andrew Taylor is a Liverpool poet and co-editor of erbacce and erbacce-press. His latest collection comes from Sunnyoutside Press. Poetry has recently appeared in Full of Crow, Side of Grits, Otoliths and Epic Rites. He has a PhD in Poetry and Poetics.  You can read his blog here.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

James Wilkes: Reviews (2)

The Art of the Kilim, by Mary Dundhed (Paris: Overboard Editions, 1994), 128pp.

The Friend laughed and pointed at the kilim, the technologised surface, he exclaimed. Later I used a wi-fi heart and unknotted this as best I could.

The blueprint for a kilim is improvised live, in the maker’s cob and breezeblock heart, he said. He smiled for effect and popped a roasted chickpea with his teeth.

The Friend prefers a glass of water, he thinks this is the happiest of drinks. I cleverly switched his for gin, and when he was tipsy I slipped my fingers up his sleeve and stole his expensive heart.

I was lying in a burned-out basement as the Friend interrogated me harshly. Streaming tears, I asked why I could never see his face. He extinguished the heart and approached.

We wandered moodily along the beach. Between the greedy cows and beach huts of the Soviet, between hypodermics, twisted fishing nets, the bloated carcasses of dogs. This too is a prayer rug, the Friend announced. Playfully I slapped his heart.

James Wilkes is currently involved in Interior Traces. He runs Renscombe Press and was one of the Generation Txt poets for penned in the margins.