Saturday, 24 September 2016

"Prose" and "poetry" again

  • Reading Sunshine by Melissa Lee-Houghton (much of which I liked) made me think again about "poetic language" vs "the language of the mentally ill". The non-standard twists, turns and dis-inhibition that characterise some forms of mental illness can have a strong initial impact, displaying features common to poetic language, but it also lacks features (conciseness, unity) that are common to poetic language. Thanks to new treatments we're less exposed than we used to be to schizophrenic or manic language, and hence perhaps we have trouble assessing its literary merit.
  • Reading Citizen (Claudia Rankine) and "Grief is the thing with feathers" (Porter) have made me think again about the prose-poetry spectrum. I'm surprised the "Citizen" was thought eligible for a poetry prize. Certainly some of the book is, but (equally certainly?) some of it isn't.
  • Reading Jonathan Edwards' "My Family and Other Superheroes" (much of which I liked) I thought that many of the texts were poetic without being poems, much as the Mona Lisa could be considered poetic without being a poem. They don't use language as a medium - the words don't warp the thoughts and the thoughts don't distort the language. The language is transparent, letting us see through to the poetic value.
    Was it market forces that made it into a poetry book? It contains a sestina and a villanelle, and books that combine poetry and poetry aren't popular, so I guess the poetry tag is sensible. And besides, the term "poetry" still has an aura that (say) "micro-literature" lacks.

Again, we see the use and abuse of categories. I find the terms "prose" and "poetry" (and come to that "mainstream") useful as short-hand descriptions, but there are situations (competitions, for example, or bookshops) when a text must be assigned to either the "prose" or "poetry" category. It's analogous to the problem in sports when competitors must be either male or female even if in other situations they'd prefer to be undefined.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could stop petty pigeon-holing and just have "Text competitions" instead of "Poetry competitions" and "Story competitions"! Actually, I think some poetry competitions are already "text competitions" in practice, the only limitation being the number of lines. And the Costa Award eventually matches poetry against prose. However, I can't help thinking that category-based competitions will never die out, just as female-only sports won't die out. I'd be wary of entering a "Text competition" - I'm already dubious about the judges' range of aesthetic sensibilities. Besides, most readers prefer to have a rough idea of what's between the covers before they browse or buy - many novel readers don't want to read poetry.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Longer Write-ups (2015-16)

I don't try hard to make my write-ups entertaining, but here are some that are longer - they're almost reviews.

Books read 2015-16

Thursday, 15 September 2016

All change, all change

Autumn's often a time of change, this year even more so -

  • One of my sons is now a doctor - at A&E initially. Loads of anecdotes I'd better not use in stories.
  • My other son starts Univ at Birmingham. I guess we'll be exploring the Birmingham area. The literary events up there are tempting.
  • My wife's 50th birthday's approaching.
  • There are some big syllabus revisions in the courses I'm involved with at work (C++ to Python, etc), with knock-on consequences for years to come.

So there'll be life-style changes. The house will feel quiet (until the builders start the extension). I need a project to keep me busy. Perhaps I should work harder at sorting out my "difficult third book" syndrome.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Nine Arches Press

Three exciting announcements concerning Nine Arches Press -

  • Julia Webb (whose Bird Sisters I've read) and Roy McFarlane (whose book is out soon) have poems in the Forward Book of Poetry 2017
  • Nine Arches Press has a 50k grant from ACE which will "enable the press to publish 10 new poetry publications and launch a new series of creative writing handbooks called ‘Write Sparks’" along with other initiatives
  • There's summer sale - 50% off lots of Nine Arches Press poetry books, plus some from just £3

Monday, 22 August 2016

Books I plan to read

I've managed to shrink my list considerably. Here are the prose, poetry and theory books on my current wanted list

  • Ashfeldt, Lane - "Saltwater"
  • DeLillo - "The Angel Esmeralda"
  • Galloway - Jellyfish
  • Goldschmidt - novel
  • Garth Greenwell - What Belongs to You
  • Hall, Tina - "The physics of imaginary objects"
  • Hempel, Amy - short stories
  • Logan, Kirsty - "The Rental Heart"
  • Wigfall, Clare - short stories
  • Barlow, Mike - poems
  • Smith, Tracy - Life on Mars
  • Paglia - "Break, Burn ..."

Friday, 5 August 2016

Next Generation UK/Eire short story writers?

Every 10 years a list of Next Generation Poets is produced. I think there's an emerging consensus about which authors from Eire and the UK would be on a similar list for story-writers. Their names appear regularly in anthologies and on the back of other people's books even if they haven't published a short story book themselves for a while. As with the poets, age is not a factor. More important is that none of these writers have produced many short story collections yet, that perhaps the best is yet to come -

My current favourites are Elizabeth Baines, Sarah Hall and Danielle McLaughlin. I've not read Janice Galloway, Kirsty Logan, or Clare Wigfall otherwise they'd probably be on the list too. Doubtless I've forgotten some of my other favourites. Apologies in advance.

I've a soft spot for Matthew Francis, Guy Ware and Chris Beckett, but they've probably not produced enough. And though I like much of Jon McGregor's work, I don't think his This Isn't The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You suffices to include him here.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Allotment stocktaking

The allotment (about 250 sq m) is in full swing. We've picked the shallots, onion, garlic and some potatoes, and have been harvesting rhubarb for weeks. Here's the rest

  • Artichoke (globe) - 2 plants
  • Beans - 12m row
  • Beet - 30 plants
  • Beetroot - 60 plants
  • Broccoli - 6 plants
  • Carrots - 30 plants
  • Courgette - 12 plants
  • Fennel - 15 plants
  • Fruit bushes - 5 sq m
  • Leeks - 160 plants
  • Lettuce - 30 plants
  • Parsley - 4 plants
  • Potatoes - 9m row
  • Rhubarb - 4 sq m
  • Sage - 1 bush
  • Sweetcorn - 70 plants

However, the news isn't all good. Muntjac deer (or maybe badgers?) are raiding our sweetcorn.

Later: someone set a motion-activated night-vision camera up. The output's online, entitled Badger devastating sweetcorn at 0213 13 Aug 2016