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"
  • Porter, Max - Grief Is the Thing with Feathers
  • Wigfall, Clare - short stories
  • Barlow, Mike - poems
  • Edwards, Jonathan - poems (Seren)
  • Smith, Tracy - Life on Mars
  • William Stephenson - Rain Dancers in the Data Cloud (Templar)
  • 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

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A list of holiday posts

I often take books with me when I go on holiday. I do some writing as well, and go on little photography expeditions, so these posts are rather more than holiday write-ups. I don't think that I've ever had anything published that's a result of these holidays, though the odd phrase creeps in.

Monday, 11 July 2016


We stayed in Letojanni for a week. The view from our window looked towards Isola Bella, which we often passed. It looked beautiful from a distance.

Our nearest shop had this notice outside, showing a still that it appeared in, from Roberto Begnini's "Johnny Stecchino". They made their own wine, which we bought. Further along the coast is Taormina-Giardini train station, which Begnini's used as well. It's in the Godfather III too.

The view of Etna from Taormina's theatre is impressive.

We went up Etna - by coach, cable-car, bus and foot-guide. It was more bleak than I expected, with snow in places under the ash. I knew that a Pink Floyd film showed it, but I didn't know that ColdPlay used it too.

In Catania I visited the markets and toured the sights. Down a side-road I found Verga's house. I didn't go in - I've not read him. Round the corner was a shop where you could freely exchange books.

This recent statue in Syracuse of Archimedes is only a few weeks old. He's holding a mirror and standing on a combinatorics problem. One of the programming exercises we used to set was based on some of his work. I wandered round the narrow residential alleys of the nearby Ortigia area, having visited the Neopolis area earlier. We saw some papyrus growing.

Here's a scene from Syracuse showing a mix of old and new. The majority of my photos are of streets involving contrasts. Chess fans will be pleased to know that I noticed a Sicilian "Dragon Street" from a bus.

Sunday, 19 June 2016


I'm gradually changing my mind about second readings, especially regarding when they're deserved. I think

  • there's too much poetry that shouldn't require a second reading, but does.
  • there are too many pieces that should do more to reward a thorough first reading.

Poems that are too hard

I used to think that "tight" writing was admirable, the tighter the better even at the expense of clarity. Now I'm less sure. Which is best? - a short piece that needs to be read 5 times, or a piece 3 times longer that needs only one reading? The latter's more concise if (as nowadays) time rather than space is the determining factor. A tight piece verging on being cryptic requires reader intervention, but it might not be poetic intervention per se. It might just be a matter of having to de-code - a proof of a commitment after which the reader will be tempted to justify the time they've spent.

If instead the reader gives up after the first few lines, why should the writer worry? Nowadays there seems less of an attempt by writers to discourage accusations of charlatanism or unnecessary obscurity. Nietzsche wrote that poets "all muddy their waters to make them appear deep", which again makes me suspect cryptic poems - even if they're not deceptive they might still be inconsiderate. Whereas tight poems require on-the-fly exegesis skills from the reader, long poems require on-the-fly editing skills, which are more common.

Sometimes a second reading is required because the writing's not clear. Sometime this is deliberate, though that isn't always a good excuse. In

He liked John's body but not his brashness. "Are you doing anything tonight?" "No" "Well let's go out then."

which of the 2 men mentioned in the first sentence popped the question? Should more words be added to make it clearer, or should we assume that the supposedly brasher man made the invitation? Does it deserve a second read? That example's made up, but what about the following from "The Hunter's Wife" by Anthony Doerr? It's not ambiguous but is the lack of punctuation a help?

You know her? the hunter asked.
Oh no, Marpes said, and shook his head. No I don't. He spread his legs and swiveled his hips as if stretching before a foot race. But I've read her

Poems that are too easy

A poem/Flash begins with "he and "she" in conversation. It seems like a father/toddler relationship. Later however, it becomes clear that a grown man is conversing with his senile mother. That twist is what makes the piece work. People usually enjoy the deception. Writers are advised to "show not tell". This piece goes a step further, showing enough to make the readers err so that they can discover their unwarranted assumption.

"punchline pieces" don't survive repeated readings (except for a second reading to admire technique), but the trouble is that some pieces don't survive to the end of a first reading. An experienced reader will be expecting a twist and will try to anticipate it. When I read this piece the banality of the start immediately raised suspicion. I thought the father might be about to deliver bad news to the child about the mother, or that the daughter was an AI system. When the twist came, my reaction was "well, I knew it would be something like that".

I suppose you can't please everyone.