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.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

A poetry blog tour

Matt Merritt was looking for people to take part in a tour of poetry blogs, so like him I answered four standard questions about my own work. Also like him I'm happy to link to other poets who want to continue the tour.

What am I working on?

A blank-verse poem about Art and Time is vexing me at the moment. I'm also trying to get another pamphlet out. The number of pamphlet competitions is increasing, so I'm giving them a try. I've been sending out a general pamphlet and two themed ones.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

Mostly it doesn't. Currently I'm trying to publish some poems old and new that depend on re-arranging letters. I've tried to justify this in an article that was accepted by Hinterland - Something Old, Something New – The Return of Letters. My rationale is that just as some poets use sound-effects to enrich their work (engaging an extra part of their - and the reader's - brain) so letter-effects can be used too. The trouble is that just as some readers (especially those not brought up with rhyme/metrics) get fixated by rhymes to the detriment of the content, so some readers over-emphasise the wordplay.

I'm also happy to incorporate non-lyrical material, in particular essay-like sentences or factoids.

Content-wise I think I've more of an aversion than many writers have to doing what's been done before, even if I've never done it before. Why add to the pile of poems about finding your old toys and jigsaws in the loft?

Why do I write what I write?

It's not an uncontrollable urge. I can imagine not writing poetry - I average only a poem a month anyway. I don't see poetry as a way to express the otherwise inexpressible (though it may be the shortest, most elegant way I can express something, so I try).

I find it less likely that I'd give up creative writing in general. Increasingly I'm distrusting white-space. If I have a little idea I'd rather use it to slightly strengthen a story than plonk it grandly in the middle of a plinth of white-space and give it a suggestive title.

How does your writing process work?

I scribble notes on scraps of paper. Sounds, interesting words, phrases, ideas for poems, etc. They get collected into notebooks. Every so often I trawl through the notebooks. Here's an extract

Sometimes (though less often lately) a poem arrives more suddenly, bypassing the notebook. First drafts are always hand-written. I might hand-write several more drafts. Only when I think I might be able to finish the piece do I type it in.

Now see the next part of the tour