Monday 26 May 2014

Poems about bicycles

"Ten poems about bicycles", Jenny Swann (ed), (Candlestick Press, 2009) has poems by Donaghy, Mahon, Helena Nelson et al in a pamphlet sold with an envelope. It's part of a series that has sold well, I believe. They're easy for the seller to deal with, and easy presents to buy and deliver; something a bit different costing not much more than a posh card.

Poets like sitting in trains and waiting at stations, writing while they do so. Trains not infrequently appear in poems - see my post about trains and poetry. Some formalist poets think lines up while walking with a measured gait. Cycling's a mode of transport that appeals to poets, but bicycles haven't received so much poetry coverage. In 1990 I wrote a poem called "Cycling". I recall a rejection slip from "Staple" saying that it contained some lines they liked, and some they didn't like at all. It's never been published - until now

The dynamo's whine comforts you through unlit streets.
If you stop to turn, silence overtakes you. In the darkness,
alone, it's safer to keep going, hard to start again.
Not so with daguerrotypes. Move and you're a ghost.
Move, and your words already lie. A mind that's still
enough to fix upon the page cannot express.
Waiting to turn, it's too easily struck.
Your beam turns with your handlebar as you regain your poise.
Speeding cars shake you as they light your way, leaving you
blindly trusting till your eyes adjust. The patch of future
that your front wheel cannot splash starts flickering
like old cine film. Motion's aim is stillness;
it's difficult to think if you pedal hard enough

This is rather heavy-handedly in the mode of "Machines", Donaghy's poem in this pamphlet. The bicycle featuring in that poem was my first, seen here leaning against our first shed. I inherited it from my uncle when I was 21 or so. I learnt to cycle on it, then used it to pop to France and back on the ferry. It went with me to Bristol, Oxford (where I sprayed it silver), Nottingham and Liverpool before ending up in Cambridge, never worth stealing.

Trying the new baby-seat of a new bicycle. We might still have been carless then. Putting the children in the baby-seat and going for a ride became a reliable way of getting them to sleep. I, like many parents, became skilled at cycling with one hand on the handle-bars and the other behind my back, cupping a child's head. That baby-seat stayed on the bike for a decade or so. I had great trouble getting it off in the end - once a parent always a parent.

My current bicycle (front-top of the double-decker park-space) at Cambridge train station, a hand-me-down from a son who outgrew it. No suspension, never out of top gear, easy to carry.

Our loft now. My first bike is in pieces, upside down - you can see the rusty chain and big gear-wheel. In front of that are 2 red bikes (one barely visible) - birthday presents to our sons that will be useful later.

My son's old bicycle in an Edinburgh tenement block, illuminated by a skylight 3 floors above. I recall in my Bristol bedsit parking the bike in my room. I guess the stair-well's an improvement - photogenically anyway.

On July 9th the Tour de France will be passing the end of my road, so we'll be stuck for hours. I'm not expected to work on that day so I might get some poetry done thanks to cycling.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Next Generation Poets

The Poetry Book Society is looking for 20 poets to be part of their Next Generation promotion. It last happened about 10 years ago (I wrote a review), and there was another 20 years ago.

Submissions are made by publishers who pay £20 to enter a poet who's started publishing in the last 10 years. They pay a further £300 per title if the poet's selected. See the PBS page page for details. That all sounds fine to me - those amounts shouldn't discourage small presses too much. Previous promotions have raised the profile of poetry, so I don't see why it shouldn't work this time too.

There are signs of a new generation emerging - see my Recent UK poetry anthologies: tradition and the individual - so perhaps this promotion is timely. Judging by previous years however, the choices will be rather conservative, barely risking the odd joker in the pack. The M/F and regional ratios will be scrutinized. Niall Campbell can represent Scotland. I expect Ahren Warner to be included. Also Oli Hazzard, Helen Mort, Sam Riviere, Luke Kennard and Toby Martinez de las Rivas. Sam Willetts would add marketing possibilities if he's eligible. Emily Berry and Rebecca Goss are contenders too. And why not Matt Merritt, Marion McCready, Rob MacKenzie, Simon Barraclough, and Judy Brown?

Oops - I'm up to 15 names already. The official list of 20 will be announced on 9 September 2014.

Sunday 18 May 2014

books I plan to read

I carry a list of books/authors around, in case I visit a bookfair or 2nd hand bookshop.

Ashfeldt, Lane - "Saltwater"
Ballard - "Dead Astronomy"
Caplan - "Questions of Possibility"
Cullin - "A Slight Trick of the Mind"
Davis, Carys - stories
DeLillo - "The Angel Esmeralda"
Doerr - "Memory Wall"
Goldschmidt - novel
Hall, Tina - "The physics of imaginary objects"
Iyer - "Wittgenstein Junior"
Johnson, Kij - "At the mouth of the river of bees"
Leslie, Ann - "Ancilliary Justice" (SF)
Levy, Deborah - stories
Logan, Kirsty - "The Rental Heart"
Moore, Alison - stories
Paul, Collette - "Whoever chose love"
Pynchon - "Bleeding eye"
Rose - "Posthumous stories"
Tarrant, Padrika - novel
Tuttle - a short story
Walter - "We Live in Water"
Yorcenar - "Zeno of Bruge / Abyss"

Barlow, Mike - poems
Brant, Clare - "Dark Eggs"
Chandler, Catherine - "Lines of Flight"
Chase, Linda - poems
Corbett, Maryann - poems
Henson, Stuart - poems
Kennard, Luke - "...hotel"
Maier, Jennifer - (US)
McCullough - "Frost Fairs"
Payne, Stephen
Ragan, James (US)
Ryan, Kay - Flamingo, Niagara
Smith, Tracy - Life on Mars
Tapiador, Frank - his Bridport 2002 poem
Wainwright - poems

Attridge - Moving Words
Carey - "what good are the arts"
Forsythe - "elements of style"
Harris - "the end of absence" (internet)
Herbert - "Strong words"
Lightman - "Einstein's dream"
Macdonald, Helen - "H is for Hawk"
Paglia - "Break, Burn ..."

Monday 12 May 2014

More or less writing

On her blog Vanessa Gebbie's announced that "writing is ... going to take a back seat for the next year". Last year my writing took a back seat due to circumstances beyond my control, but this year I think I've written some decent pieces of prose, and when I put together a pamphlet of poems over the weekend it wasn't as bad as I'd feared. Acceptances are arriving too. So far this year I've had an article, 4 poems and 2 Flashes accepted, most recently Inside at The Pygmy Giant.

So there's hope yet. But writing can never be my first priority. The idea of churning out 250 words a day doesn't appeal. If I don't write for ages, I often catch up months later so I don't panic. Larkin claimed to write for an hour a day after work. I rarely manage that even during the holidays except when in the early stages of writing a story - I sometimes work on it 3 times a day, re-printing it each time. Maybe 3 hours work.

Vanessa's been working on a novel. That requires the kind of dedication I can't spare. But there's always poetry. And work, and family, and weeding.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

The Bath House - end of an era

After a decade or so I'm standing down as a Trustee of The Bath House. Built in 1927, it provided public baths until the mid-70s for one of the poorer parts of Cambridge. From 1978 it's been home to several community groups and charities. It has at least 2 connections to poetry -

  • Peter Daniels' mother helped with the conversion and worked in the Friends of the Earth office there
  • Matt Simpson wrote a poem about it - "The Bath House"

Surprisingly, it's not mentioned in 2 novels that feature Mill Road - Saumya Balsari's "The Cambridge Curry Club" and Fiona Bruce's "The Siren".