Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Commentaries written by the author

According to William Empson "Poets, on the face of it, have either got to be easier or to write their own notes; readers have either got to take more trouble over reading or cease to regard notes as pretentious and a sign of bad poetry" ("Argufying", 1987). I've some sympathy with this. Though the author might not be best placed to write a study guide, they have a unique viewpoint and should have some worthwhile comments to offer. The best example that I know of (and it's excellent) is Kona MacPhee's The Perfect Blue companion. She writes - "I'm hoping to provide the same kind of informal preambles that I might offer when introducing the poems at a reading" and that "The commentaries aren't aimed at other poets, critics, literary academics or "professional" poetry readers, but rather, they are explicitly intended to provide a handhold, a stepping stone, a small reason-to-trust for readers new to poetry".

I'm surprised that more people haven't written such commentaries. If you know of more, tell me. My attempts are

I've had no feedback about these. They're not often visited; the pages that are read the most are those that web searches on other subjects would most likely stumble upon. At least they serve to archive something of the books' beginnings and launches, and correct misunderstandings that might easily arise. They also helped with the issue of deciding how many notes and footnotes to put in the books.

Later ...

Having made a similar post at Eratosphere, Maryann Corbett et al made the point that there are different kinds of web-augmentation -

  • Notes - like you'd get in the poetry book
  • Study Guides - see for example Jehanne Dubrow's Red Army Red Study Guide. Some books include study guides nowadays. They might encourage CW tutors or reading groups to choose the book.
  • Commentaries - like Kona MacPhee's, aimed at non-poets
  • Companion Site - a place to store corrections, and links to youtube clips or reviews.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Happenstance at the Torriano

At about 3pm on Apr 13th, my DIY/family circumstances clarified so somewhat unexpectedly off I went to the Happenstance extravaganza in London. The excitement began at the station where I had my first chance to use double-decker bicycle-parking.

On the journey I prepared for my 2 minute slot, following the brief that Helena Nelson, the Happenstance editor, had provided. How had publication changed me? I don't feel my self-image has changed much, but other people treat me differently. Of course, I have problems with people who think that my poetry's all true, consoling me regarding all the tragic events I've experienced. No less surprizingly there are people who think the poetry voice of the pamphlet selection is my only poetry voice. I was going to say that the thing I hadn't realised prior to publication was that a Happenstance poet's success depends in part on the success of fellow poets. We're all in it together - a brand. I decided to read In the soul's darkroom, one of the 5 poems I'd reprint if I published a book. In my intro to it I was going to say "I'd normally explain first what a darkroom is, but given the age of the audience maybe I don't need to".

The non-stop train soon arrived at platform 0 of King's Cross. I was early, so I walked along Regent's canal and read about Daubenton's bat before drifting north. In a window I saw this sign for writers and artists. It took me a while to work out what "rapers" meant in the third line ("ranters, rapers, poets and storytellers"). And it ends with "Do not forget: Everyone can be creative!". I wouldn't like to be running those meetings.

The Torriano venue was locked when I arrived, so I found a nearby bench and wrote a piece of short prose à la Lydia Davis. That's a dozen or so in the last few weeks. When I walked back I found Nell in Torriano Avenue. We'd both heard of the venue before, though we'd never visited. I'm glad I got there early because soon people were standing.

Nell's meticulous plan was that 20 or so poets would read in order of publication and she'd interpolate the history of the press. 9 years of history compressed into 90 minutes or so. I thought it would overrun hopelessly - not the first time my predictions had turned out wrong. When, years ago, she'd first mentioned to me the idea of starting a press, I'd not given the project much of a chance (see my article about happenstance). After all, everyone knows that poetry publishing's a mug's game. When D.A. Prince read she said that she'd anticipated problems too when Nell first mentioned to her the idea of starting a press. As Nell said, there were problems, but the show goes on.

Poet after poet (some from North Norfolk or Scotland, one from Spain) took the stage, many of whom I knew by name though not by appearance (for example, I'd never seen Michael Mackmin before). I knew Peter Daniels though (see the photo). Many poets mentioned the quality of Nell's editing (even if there were some "comma-wars") and how skillfully she'd managed to foster camaraderie. It's true - it's almost a USP. Several poets said how much publication had transformed their outlook.

A few minutes before I was due on I changed my mind about what to say and perform. In the end I read Touch, a poem I wouldn't reprint. And then I sold a book! Afterwards I dashed for the train, only to discover it had been delayed. It was a good day.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Read my shorts

I'm not sure that I really write Flash, but I've had about a dozen short texts published. As well as compact 1000-word stories, there's also comedy and Oulipo. A few are online -

The latest one ("The Word Limit", 300 words) will be in the next Stand Magazine.

I've also added my Flash fiction outlets page to this blog for people who have Flash to send out.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Blogstats 2007-2014

This blog's been going for 7 years. The graphs show the stats during that time. My article blog has been going for about 5 years, and is as popular as my main and reviews blogs combined - 100,000 hits so far. I suspect that's because it's a honeypot as far as literary searches are concerned. Top searches that lead to the articles are for "avant garde poetry", "metaphor uses like or as", "language poetry examples", "short metaphors", and "nel mezzo del cammin". Top pages are

Translating Dante's La Commedia Divina13187
Child narrators in adult fiction9431
Getting Poetry published in the UK8373
Metaphor and Simile7188

Thursday, 27 March 2014

CB1: Ann Drysdale and Caroline Gilfillan

I must have passed the Cambridge Royal Hotel over 10,000 times to and from work, but I've never gone in. All that changed on 27/3/2014 when CB1's poetry evening was there as a one-off. If I don't go to poetry events, poetry events will come to me. From my seat at the venue I photographed my workplace just beyond the hotel's carpark, the reflected chandelier adding some class to a dreary block of offices.

CB1 consistently presents a broad range of poets - some university-based, some from further afield. About 40 people usually attend. Ann Drysdale (from Wales) and Caroline Gilfillan are both seasoned, impressive performers. I'd not come across Caroline Gilfillan before. She mostly read from her poetic biography of the Samuel Pepys, who lived in interesting times (and was a Cambridge student). She also read a "mirror poem" (the first and last line the same, and so on).

I've read 2 books by Ann Drysdale and I read some poems of hers on the Eratosphere forums, so I knew what to expect - humane; never a dull moment. I learnt both from the content and the delivery. She's equally adept at comic, thoughtful and sad pieces, with entertaining inter-poem talk. She read poems about spreading her husband's ashes from various types of containers (tobacco tins, camera film tubes) in Paris, etc, which were all the more moving for having an edge of humour. Her prose introduction to her piece about babies' dummies was a work in its own right. I prefer her poetry to much of Wendy Cope's later works, partly perhaps because of its more open and conciliatory attitude to death.

As a bonus, Mary McLean from the poetry group I attend contributed to the Open Mic session.

Monday, 17 March 2014

States of Independence - Roy Marshall, Rory Waterman and e-lit

I went to 2 events -

Sunbathers, Tonight the Summer's Over

I listened to readings by Rory Waterman and Roy Marshall, who've both had books out recently. They're both personable family people with lively senses of humour (though the latter doesn't come out in their poetry as much as one might expect). They complement each other well - at times their styles overlap, though they've taken different routes to poetry (Roy was a "delivery driver, gardener and coronary care nurse, amongst other occupations"; "Dr Waterman lectures in English Literature and Creative Writing", and his father was a poet). I'm not a very patient poetry listener, but I could have handled more from both of them. Rory read the poems that I most like from his book - "Navigating", "Family Business", "To Help the Birds through Winter" etc. Roy gave us some poems from his book, which I bought (the first print run's already sold out!).

They're both active on the poetry scene, the kind of people whose success restores one's confidence in poetry's meritocratic claims. Rory co-edits "New Walk" and has appeared in some prestigious places recently (Times Literary Supplement, the Guardian, the Financial Times). I see Roy's name in many of the publications (paper and Web) that I read. The Acknowledgements page of his recent book mentions over 20 publications, and it's worth keeping eyes on his blog.

Reading and Publishing Digital Literature

David Devanny and David Boyes talked about electronic literature. Amongst the points they made were -

  • Some people exclude plain e-books from electronic literature, insisting that there be some random/game/choice element, or some use of the WWW.
  • Language as Gameplay: toward a vocabulary for describing works of electronic literature by Brian Kim Stefans was recommended
  • Stud Poetry by Marko Niemi was shown. It's a commonly shown example
  • Money - the "games model" (offering 3 chapters free, for example) works better for fiction than poetry
  • Amazon claim that people buy more paper books after they've got a Kindle
  • Poets aren't likely to be good coders and artists too, so collaborations are likely
  • Readers might not get the most from works unless they look at the code
  • Hypertext might not be dead but in itself it's not the answer
  • Each interesting new work might almost be a new genre - i.e. necessarily avant-garde
  • See Electronic Literature Collection 1 and Electronic Literature Collection 2 for examples
  • David Boyes is putting together Blast 2014

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

What Happenstance debut poets do next

Having read Matthew Stewart's From pamphlet to full collection post and re-read my Career paths post I was interested to see the fate of poets who'd had debut pamphlet publications with HappenStance. Here's a list of people who've continued publishing elsewhere (apologies for any omissions)

AuthorHappenStance publicationSubsequent books (poetry unless otherwise stated)
Patricia Ace"First Blood", 2006"Fabulous Beast" (Freight books, 2013)
Clare Best"Treasure Ground", 2010"Excisions" (Waterloo Press, 2011)
"Breastless" (Pighog, 2011) (pamphlet)
Anne Caldwell"Slug Language", 2008"Talking with the Dead" (Cinnamon Press, 2011)
Niall Campbell"After the Creel Fleet", 2012"Moontide" (Bloodaxe, 2014)
Rose Cook"Everyday Festival", 2009"Taking Flight" (Oversteps, 2009)
"Notes from a Bright Field" (Cultured Llama, 2013)
Peter Daniels"Mr Luczinski makes a move", 2011"Counting Eggs" (Mulfran Press, 2012)
"Vladislav Khodasevich:Selected Poems" (Angel Classics, 2013) translations
Kirsten Irving"What to do", 2011"Never Never Never Come Back" (Salt, 2012)
Gregory Leadbetter"The Body in the Well", 2007"Coleridge and the Daemonic Imagination" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) theory
Eleanor Livingstone"The Last King of Fife", 2005"Even the Sea" (Red Squirrel Press, 2012)
Tim Love"Moving Parts", 2010"By all means" (Nine Arches Press, 2012) stories
Rob Mackenzie"The Clown of Natural Sorrow", 2003"The Opposite of Cabbage" (Salt, 2009)
"Fleck and the Bank" (Salt, 2012) (pamphlet)
"The Good News" (Salt, 2013)
Richie McCaffery"Spinning Plates", 2012 "Ballast Flint", (Cromarty Arts Trust, 2013)
"Cairn" (Nine Arches Press, 2014)
Gill McEvoy"Uncertain Days", 2006"The Plucking Shed" (Cinnamon Press, 2010)
"Rise" (Cinnamon Press, 2013)
Matt Merritt"Making the Most of the Light", 2005"Troy Town" (Arrowhead Press, 2008)
"Hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica" (Nine Arches Press, 2010)
"The Elephant Tests" (Nine Arches Press, 2013)
Andrew Philip"Tonguefire", 2005 "The Ambulance Box" (Salt, 2009)
"The North End of the Possible" (Salt, 2013)
Jon Stone"Scarecrows", 2010"School of Forgery" (Salt, 2012)

Conclusions? Well, unsurprisingly the young poets fare better, though Peter Daniels is no slouch. It's a shame that "Salt" is no longer an option.