Sunday, 17 September 2023

Poetry trends - Metaphors

In Acumen 107 (Sep 2023), Andrew Gleary writes "There are poets who would use metaphor had not all metaphors been workshopped out of their writing because metaphor is presently unfashionable".

Maybe so. Metaphors go in and out of fashion. There are extreme views about their value -

  • "the damn function of simile, always a displacement of what is happening ... I hate the metaphors", Robert Creeley
  • "Metaphor is the whole of poetry. ... Poetry is simply made of metaphor ... Every poem is a new metaphor inside or it is nothing", Robert Frost

20th century UK Poetry had Surrealism, [political] Realism, The Apocalyptics (Dylan Thomas et al), The Movement, and Martian poetry (Craig Raine, etc). One could interpret each as a reaction to the previous movement, though no doubt influences were more complex than that.

If metaphor is unfashionable nowadays, it may be because the poet and the poem's subject matter have a higher priority. It feels to me that we're in an age where previously suppressed voices are being given space. Minorities (by virtue of race, sexuality, mentality, etc) are out of their niches and have something to say which can be as important as how it is said.

Wednesday, 13 September 2023


Some bookshops I've seen in my travels -

  • Dublin

  • Holland

  • Turin

  • Edinburgh

  • Istanbul

  • Sweden

  • Egypt

  • Glasgow

  • Nottingham (5 leaves)

  • An ex-bookshop, with pictures of books

Wednesday, 6 September 2023

Stockholm and Lombardy

In Sweden I went straight to the university town of Uppsala before having a little taste of the archipelago - Artipelag, Vaxholm, etc. I've read a novel about the second-home life-style in the area. I can see its attractions. Back in town I went to the Photography museum and a smart suburban university campus. I went to 3 big charity shops. One had an Alan Titchmarsh novel in English. I resisted.

From there I flew to Bergamo where I visited some places in Lombardy that I've known for 30 years or so. 10 degrees hotter than Sweden. We had beer and a meal on a hill overlooking Lecco. We dropped some donations off at the museum of local history - a ration book, a sewing machine, a wooden plate. In a village I found a book-exchange cabinet with just the sort of page-turner thriller I can cope with in Italian. So I've enough reading material for a while.

Sunday, 27 August 2023

Stephen Hammond

I was a literary co-executor for a friend, Stephen Hammond. He didn't use e-mail or the web as far as I know. Now, thanks to his brother, he has a posthumous web site - and his "Selected Stories" are on Amazon. His brother John wrote "The stories are humorous and entertaining, sometimes biting social satire taking on fairy tales, children's thrilling adventures, recent alternative history and fantasy."

I think Terry Gilliam (Monty Python) might be another point of reference. I've seen 2 books which reminded me rather of Steve's stuff -

  • Spaghetti Fiction (Phil Doran) - very "small press". Disappeared without trace I think. There are many passages that Steve could have written - e.g. "Sergeant, pull over into The Eagle. I need a pint of beer, not to mention a decent bloody writer with a plot and a purpose in mind other than this bloody awful post-modernist drivel with deliberate withholding of meaning instead of properly thought out structure", etc
  • Mostly hero (Anna Burns). Published by Faber, but only after the author had successfully published something more conventional - "It is a rather curious post-modern subversion of fairytale and comic-book storytelling."

Tuesday, 15 August 2023

Flash Fiction trends

Since attending the Flash Fiction Festival I've had a chance to read the books I bought there, and to think about the state of UK Flash. Among those at the conference were people who've helped to promote and popularise Flash. I think they're doing a good job. I feel that Flash is expanding its scope and that influences/sub-genres are being clarified.

Last year at the festival I felt that I could identify some people who had clearly come from the poetry side, and people who had previously written short stories. At this festival there was more explicit recognition of these two directions, with workshops looking at the influence of poetry on Flash, etc. Anecdotes are at one end of a spectrum whose other end might be the prose-poem or formalist prose.

This year I talked to more scientists/programmers than I did last year, and Tania Hershman was one of the speakers. Maybe that's another influence that's making inroads.

The Novella-in-Flash (NiF) has been around for a while. This year it's really taken off. I've not read one yet. Michael Loveday was at the festival. His craft guide "Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash: from Blank Page to Finished Manuscript" came out last year.

The best book I bought was Christopher Allen's "Other household toxins". I wouldn't recommend it to novel readers, or even short story readers.

Sunday, 6 August 2023

CB1 is back!

CB1, Cambridge's live poetry gathering, has returned at a new venue - the Town and Gown in the city centre (where the Arts Cinema used to be). Over 30 people were there, and there's room for more. No guest poet this time - it was all open mic, with no shortage of people willing to perform.

Perhaps this is what people really want - a place where once a month they can perform for free, free of criticism, with a chance to have a drink and a chat afterwards with like-minded people.

Maybe guest poets put people off - why pay to listen to someone you don't much like and who uses up valuable open mic time? Open mic evenings are easier to organise too, I should think.

The room is goth/cellar style with a glitter-ball, which is becoming rather standard for poetry venues. I like it. My only worry is that there aren't enough chances to chat (i.e. exchange poetry information) with people. Open mic evenings are all very well, but they don't have the edge (or quality control) that Slam Competitions do.

Monday, 31 July 2023

Tori Amos

Until a couple of years ago I knew little about the singer-songwriter Tori Amos. She's now responsible for more of my earworms than any other performer. I watch her often on YouTube, comparing performances.

People used to tell me she was like Kate Bush. My favourite Kate Bush song is "Under the Ivy", which is one of her more Amosish pieces. I think that she has the artistic aspirations of Amos. Bush is less confessional though, and sexuality isn't her topic or vehicle. Janis Ian in "Watercolors" has some of Amos' anger, self-criticism, and social awareness. Joni Mitchell's "Blue" album (perhaps still my favourite record) has the reflection and self-questioning that Amos displays. Amos has more control over her voice than all of them.

Janis Joplin and Bjork throw themselves into their songs. Amos sometimes does too, in her own way. The tremble in her voice may be an act, but sometimes I wonder if she's going to get to the end of a song in one piece.

How much are my judgements affected by the fact that I'm a heterosexual male? Pass. My favourites are "Hey Jupiter", "Baker Baker", "Winter", "Icicle", and "Precious things". "i i e e e" from "Live Sessions 1998" showcases her singing and playing. "Putting the Damage on" is sometimes earwormy. I'm not so keen on "Crucify", "Pretty good year" or "Cornflake girl" though they show her versatility. And I like most of her covers too.

All of the pieces I like are over 25 years old. More recent songs like "Speaking with Trees" sound like re-hashes. I'd rather have a new rendering of "Precious things". Writers who use their early life as source material can run out of inspiration. Some other writers, even if they're not always autobiographical, get their best ideas early and spend the rest of their lives raiding their early notebooks - I think Dylan Thomas did that. Such artists in their later years sometimes produce themed, committed work (concept albums, etc) to compensate for their lack of inspiration, it seems to me.

I've read Janis Ian's autobiography, which I found interesting. She was praised on TV by Leonard Bernstein when she was about 16. She's one of the few live acts I've seen. She wrote that when she first heard Don McLean's "Starry, starry night" she played it dozens of times non-stop thinking it the most perfect song ever. I recall having a crush on that song too. I've read a biography of Joni Mitchell, and I liked that. I've not read an Amos book yet, though I'm looking out for one.