Wednesday 23 May 2018


The transparency of language - its ability let us see the world through it - is a joyous make-believe, a spell that shouldn't be broken carelessly. It's often thought that this transparency is at odds with art -

  • "If reality impacted directly on our senses and our consciousness, if we could have direct communication between the material world and ourselves, art would be unnecessary", Bergson
  • "If what has happened in the one person were communicated directly to the other, all art would collapse, all the effects of art would disappear", Valéry
  • "The non-mimetic character of language is thus, in a certain way, the opportunity and the condition for poetry to exist. Poetry exists only to 'renumerate' in other words, to repair and compensate for the 'defect of languages'", Gerard Genette

Language nowadays has two foundation layers - that of sounds and that of typography. Both these layers can show through when we experience a poem. I suspect a text will seem more poetic if they do - i.e. if the text has many sonic effects or uses visual effects.

The effects of the underlying layers can synchronize with the meaning or be largely independent of it - "The remarkable result of Valéry's treatment of sound and sense as consciously separated variables is that it allows the semantic components of the poem to take on structural value and the structural values of the poem to take part in a semantic or signifying action in turn" (C. Crow). Interaction can happen in many ways -

  • Sound and meaning interacting - Perhaps key words are emphasised by being rhymed, but the effects may be more pervasive and subtle. Sound can begin to take over in Dada Sound Poetry, or even in some Dylan Thomas poems. Poets like Bunting thought that the sounds could convey an important meaning.
  • Typography and meaning interacting - In Abcedereans and Anagrams words are decomposed into letters rather than sounds. Line-breaks can have various effects, and with Concrete poetry appearance can be a dominating factor.

The sculptor, Brancusi, believed that his art might "coax an image from within the material rather than forcing an image onto the materials". Similarly, poetry might help bring to light something implicit within language, especially if conventional "meaning" doesn't get in the way.

Gérard Genette used the term 'metalepsis' for when boundaries between layers are crossed by characters or other textual elements. I think the term "Entanglement" is useful to describe when, more generally, meaning and the underlying layers can't easily be separated.

I think I try to write entangled poetry - it's as likely to reach down into language as it is to allude to nature or states of mind. Here are some examples -

A poet's double life
He went gray; too
guilty to stray
he longed to graze
on beauty without
needing to pray;

At the end of this poem there's a note saying that it should be re-read omitting the rs. The next poem begins with puns and anagrams involving "surreal" and "freud dada"

Surrealism is Symbolism without footnotes,
nonsensequitur offspring of Freud and Dada,
a dead fraud, fad, a dud era. It's a real serial
artist called Sir Real - Cyril for short -

The next poem has more anagrams.

Sound sense
Lines; truths by committee,
tones buried in words
like a sword in stone.
Stock quotations tumble.
Culture’s very core is shaken; recovery is slow
until a rag man risks an anagram.

In poetry books and magazines nowadays poems using wordplay aren't so uncommon, though I suspect they divide opinion. Language (its sound and spelling) is rarely a transparent medium in Paul Stephenson's "Selfie with Waterlillies". Sometimes it seeps into the foreground as in

I want to know swathe,
want to bathe in swathe,
I'd scythe swathes of grasses,
no, better still, swathes of heather.
Lithe, I'd scythe longest swathes loose

My Truth to Materials and Heather McHugh article has more information.

Tuesday 15 May 2018

Literary journals and longevity

With the rising cost of paper and stamps, what's the point of producing a paper journal? It's unsustainable. Why not publish online? If the production quality of HTML isn't sufficient, you can offer PDF, which is what Antiphon does. And the best online magazines are taken just as seriously as paper ones.

Paper magazines are indeed being converted into online publications, but even those are disappearing - some with a bang, some with a whimper. Web sites and submission guidelines are abandoned without as much as a goodbye. The trouble is that the hidden cost of running a literary magazine - the time required dealing with submissions - increases when online submission is offered. Magazines have dealt with the extra load in several ways -

Limiting submissions

  • Retaining a paper submissions process - South for example does this
  • Online submission windows - US magazines often close during summer. An increasing number of UK magazines open for a month per issue.

Increasing person-power

  • Internships - The Forge advertised one that wasn't unpaid.
  • Teams - Realising the fatigue of sole-editorship, recently launched magazines are team efforts. The Forge has a rotating editorship - see their About The Forge page.

Getting money

  • Applying for grants - not easy nowadays unless there are special reasons
  • Having the support of an institution - This is much less common in the UK than in the USA. Magazines like Flash are based in Universities, run by staff. Sometimes a magazine is running by students, associated with a Creative Writing course, providing editing experience
  • Competitions - Reflex runs a quarterly Flash competition, entries doubling as submissions for being printed on their site
  • Submission fees - Magazines like Iota charge for submission via submittable


  • High production values - Strix (paper-based, with care) has recently appeared.
  • International contemporary writing - Wasafiri (paper-based) has lasted a while. Grant-aided.

Tuesday 8 May 2018

Long write-ups

There are some books that I not only like but also find useful for my writing. I can write a lot about them, though the result's not really a review. It's more for my own benefit - a study-aid. Here are 2 examples of what I mean -

Sometimes themes emerge. With "In the Glasshouse" by Helen Tookey (poems) I homed in on Symbols and Fragmentation. With "Used to be" by Elizabeth Baines (short stories) I wrote both long themed notes and a short review.

The longer write-ups aren't usually entertaining reading, though the original author can find them interesting enough to use - see the sites of

Monday 7 May 2018

Glimpses of home

This tapestry shows our house - it's the one on the right. Everything looks tidier than it really is - no telephone line for a start.

My bedside. Radio, diary, reading material, writing material, etc. The green folder contains my submissions record. In the distance there's an Italian/ English dictionary and a competition form.

From our bedroom window in this photo you can see the table-tennis table twice. As usual, there's lots of greenery. From this distance you can't see the grapes around the summer house. I'm trying to write outside more.

One day we'll tidy up the loft - the board-games, the children's books, old bank-statements, demi-johns, Scalextrics, etc. Here are bikes and a sledge.

A rarely-seen view of the kitchen from the spare room which makes the place look huge. I spy cereal packets top-left and Woks on the right, with a big blue cold-box straight ahead.

The spare room at the back serves many functions. Here, behind the ironing board, you can see the left-overs of my attempt to create a video of a programming talk.

Thursday 3 May 2018

Flash collections

More Flash collections are appearing nowadays. "You're Not Supposed to Cry" by Gary Duncan (Vagabond Voices, 2017) is the most mainstream one I've read lately. "Some of us glow more than others" by Tania Hershman (Unthank books, 2017) is a mix of Flash and short stories. Her earlier "My Mother Was An Upright Piano" (Tangent, 2012) was more purely Flash.

More problematic in some ways is "Seeing stars" by Simon Armitage (Faber and Faber, 2010). It was sold as poetry, but the pieces aren't even prose poetry. A few are Flash. They're all short prose. Suppose someone tried to invoke the Trade Descriptions Act? "Waiting for the nightingale" by Miles Burrows (Carcanet, 2017) is mostly short prose too, though unlike "Seeing stars" it uses line-breaks.

Other flash books I'm looking out for include "What We Know So Far" by Robert Scotellaro and "PEEK" by Paul Beckman.