Wednesday 26 April 2023

Poetry at Ely, 25th April

I went to an evening of poetry with Sarah Mnatzaganian, Kathy Pimlott, and Ramona Herdman at Topping & Company, Ely. The poets all read accessible, conversational pieces with edgy humour. I don't know how typical that is of their works. Of the three, perhaps I have the most in common with Ramona Herdman - we both have allotments, degrees from UEA and publications from HappenStance and Nine Arches Press. Lachlan Mackinnon was in the audience I think. He's local, but there were people who'd come from Nottingham, London, etc.

The streets were quiet after. I like Ely - the contrast of cathedral, market square and riverside life - marina, boat houses and houseboats.

Friday 21 April 2023

The reader-writer relationship

I think my attitude to the reader-writer contract is pretty standard. A reader looks at a text and decides on an initial reading strategy, taking into account genre, length, shape, reputation of author etc. Experienced readers are more likely to adjust their strategy, or adopt a sub-strategy. Readers may give up if their strategy isn't working. They may decide that the piece isn't good [of its type - the type the reader perhaps wrongly assumes] or that the author has deliberately misled them. They may find the deception irritating or playful.

Sometimes authors give advice on how to their texts might be read. In her recent "More than Weeds" L.Kiew writes "I do not italicise words because none of them are 'other', 'exotic' or 'foreign' to me ... I believe that all comunication is to some extent partial and problematic; and poetry is to me one of the least dogmatic of the artforms ... readers are curious and able to enjoy the sounds and shapes, to dig out meaning from context, and to explore using the many tools and resources [that] are available online". I like it when authors try to help in this way - I don't think it "collapses polysemy", it makes me trust the author and read on. But I don't think writers should assume that readers will be curious rather than irritated.

Of course, a book might succeed despite an author's intentions (a piece meant to be taken serious may best be read as a comedy) or the advice may be part of the game.

I use obscurity as a device, and I've some understanding about the uses of obscurity (see my poetry and obscurity article for example) but over the years I've come to distrust authors more often. I'm less willing to battle through obscurity if I see no purpose in it other than trying to mask the author's inadequacies - i.e. if I think the author without aesthetic loss could have reduced the muddle, I wonder what their game is. I'd like more authors to appreciate the disadvantages of using obscurity - e.g. that readers might stop reading, might think the author thoughtless, elitist, or rude.

Amongst the newer examples of obscurity I see nowadays is when in the same book a poet uses various alternatives to line-breaks, and sometimes uses inline spaces instead of commas. If a poet makes readers think that there's a purpose (meaning) to something, the poet shouldn't be surprised when readers are frustrated to discover that there is no reason why "/" is used in one poem, "|" in another and line-breaks in another. Poetry layouts can all too easily become obscure - even good old line-breaks are often puzzling enough.

For some other viewpoints see -

Tuesday 18 April 2023

Freston Tower

I had the 5th floor of Freston Tower all to myself for 3 nights. It's said to be the nation's oldest folly. Built in the 1500s it overlooks the Orwell estuary.

From the top you can see Orwell bridge, wading birds (Bar-tailed godwits, Oyster-catchers etc) and, if you're lucky, your own shadow. Not an ivory tower, more a writers retreat with exercise built into the life-style. The spiral staircases and a 30 mile cycle ride kept me fit. Sun, hailstones and lots of mud.

We walked down the coast to see Arthur Ransome's house. I've not read his books, some of which were set in the area.

Further down the coast from Pin Mill was a little village of houseboats. Unlike those I've seen on the Cam some of these had big new superstructures, and didn't look mobile. One was called "The Ark".

Further down still were abandoned boats. 2 men with tripods and cameras were there. I can see the attraction of the setting.

This museum was a surprise - the naval training establishment closed in 1976. The view from it of Harwich container port appealed to 2 men with a tripod and drone.

Sunday 9 April 2023

Bath to Bournemouth bike ride

A gentle 2 days starting at a mile long tunnel, going via Frome, Longleat, Shaftesbury, Blandford Forum and Wimbourne to Poole and finally Bournemouth Pier.

On the edge of Frome we saw the house of Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) who also had a part in Stingray. The town centre had a trendy street.

At Gillingham, on the way to Shaftesbury, we saw a bridge that Constable painted. Golden Lane at Shaftesbury has been painted and jigsawed many times.

Bournemouth on Easter Saturday was lively. Saw a fox crossing a residential street at about 5:30pm.

Wednesday 5 April 2023

Jon Stone at Cambridge Writers

Jon Stone was the speaker at last night's hybrid Cambridge Writers meeting. He told us about the kind of poetry that interested him, and read out a "manifesto" before reading some examples. He's interested in dissolving boundaries - between writer and reader, between authors (hence collaborations), between genres, and between games and poetry.

He pointed out that poetry's more suited to games than prose is - it already has rules, it has units (lines, stanzas) that can be recombined, it already has an audience prepared to put work in, and there's little marketing pressure. He saw himself working in a niche within the niche of poetry, both as a participant and a publisher.

Sunday 2 April 2023

Cambridge's CB1 is closing

CB1 held its last poetry event - at least for a while - tonight. It's been going for well over a decade. I've attended it at various venues, among them CB1 (an Internet Cafe), The Boat house pub, CB2, and most recently the Blue Moon pub. Among the guest poets have been Patience Agbabi, Emily Berry, Roddy Lumsden, Don Paterson, Hugo Williams, etc. (recordings are online) and the open-mic sessions have always been fun.