October 4


It’s very difficult to do exactly what
you should. And people do pretty much
what they want. It’s okay because we live
in a democracy. Outside there is a man
with boxes; I don’t know what’s in
the boxes but can imagine: oranges,
t-shirts, enough things for an explosion.
Along the road someone is installing
satellite TV; soon it will be time to
slip back into or out of consciousness.
Look at it this way: it depends which
way you look at it. A flower border
alongside the garden path is nice; a wave
as he walked away would have been
gracious. A van pulls up outside the door,
it has no markings; then a very big man
appears to drag a refrigerator out of it
in this early autumn, then they disappear
through a yellow door that opened for
long enough. There’s a message
on my phone to meet someone if I want
but I don’t want. It may rain today if
it wishes. When you look up into
the sky you see helicopters. Too far away
to see but not far enough away to ignore,
something is happening to someone.
You really ought to live life to the full.



October 9


Last night I went to The Maze to see Laura Veirs play for the second time this year. (You can read my review of her last appearance, and her LP “Carbon Glacier” by doing the mouse click thing here.) Of course, with this being the time of Nottingham’s “Poetry in the City” festival I could have gone to a poetry event ten minutes walk in the opposite direction. But since this was a writing workshop on the theme of tea, coffee and chocolate, I figure the choice was made for me by the organisers of the festival. Actually, come to think of it, I have a poem called “Coffee” (which you can read, along with a couple of others, at The Ragged Edge.) Perhaps I should have gone along, and tried to write a companion piece: “Milk and no sugar. Ta.”

Anyway, Laura Veirs was great, again. She was, if anything, more confident in performance this time. It was the last night of her UK tour, and she started off by announcing that she’d thrown away the set list for the night and would play whatever the audience asked for. Of course, one or two wags asked for Ramones songs, and a Britney Spears B-side, but otherwise people chose Laura Veirs stuff. At one point, two girls shouted together for “the one about the coal mine” – and Veirs responded with a spine-tingling version of “Shadow Blues”. Yes, she was very good. And The Maze was full. It was a busy night in the area – it’s Goose Fair weekend in Nottingham, and lots of people were around. The Fair site is plonk exactly halfway between my flat and The Maze, a short stroll from each, so I wandered around and through there on the way to the gig. It was like a detour that was no detour at all, and it was somewhat depressing, to be honest. The Goose Fair is pretty damned historical, but unsurprisingly these days it’s one gigantic burger and fun fair and a thrilling ride rip off. When I moved to the Nottingham area in 1992 I swear it was only on Friday and Saturday. Now, it starts on Wednesday afternoon and finishes Saturday night. I guess they make more money in four days than in two. A girl at work told me yesterday that one of her friends was charged three pounds for a polystyrene cup of mushy peas. I suggested she might have been an idiot for paying it. I had a pretty weird experience at Goose Fair once. I went to one of the apparently crappy fortune tellers who sit in caravans at the edge of the site, and for five pounds and a quick glance at my palm a wizened old Romany woman described exactly the rotten state of my marriage and my life as if she’d been living inside my head for the previous eighteen months. It was very disconcerting.

I mentioned earlier how it’s “Poetry in the City” in Nottingham at the moment, and you might be wondering why I’ve not reviewed any of the interesting poetry festival events so far. It’s because I haven’t been to any. The festival started on Thursday, and so far I’ve missed “Poetry on a Plate” (“bring your sandwiches” – honestly, that’s what the brochure says. I’m not kidding.) and the winners of the “Food Poem on a Postcard” competition, among other things. There is a food & drink theme; you may have guessed. But I’m going to a couple of things next week, and will probably write about them. One is an evening with Leafe Press, and as they’re publishing a pamphlet by me next month, and all the readers are friends of mine, I’ll declare my bias in advance. There’s another thing on, too: an evening with Blake Morrison. I’m not going to that. I may, however, go to see Neil “Bloodaxe” Astley pushing his “Staying Being Almost Alive” publicity show. If I go, it would have to be to heckle, but I’ll probably not. There’s the ten pound entrance fee to consider, for starters. I only pay that to see bands I like, not poetry editors I don’t like.



October 16


Recently I wrote a review of Michael Laskey’s new book for Staple magazine. It’s a strongly critical review, I have to admit, but their reviews editor, Clive Allen, was happy enough. But late last week he e-mailed me to say that the Staple editors had decided not to publish it because, to their mind, it was too critical. Not positive. Not affirming enough. He admitted a difficulty in finding the right words for a decision he obviously felt less than comfortable with. So I e-mailed Ann Atkinson, one of the editors, and asked her to tell me in her own words why the review was kicked out. She said their reviews policy included that a review “focus on the work rather than an overt display of the reviewer's erudition and opinion” and that they looked for reviews “which are generally positive, though absolutely not anodyne and ultimately which engage the reader enough to interest them in reading the whole book.” She then went on to say that “the overriding tone of the review was pointedly critical on a very personal level. Ultimately you had nothing positive to say about Michael Laskey's new collection; better to say nothing.” Now, since by “personal” she can’t have meant that I attacked Michael Laskey personally – which I would never do – I have to assume that she means I brought my personal opinions to the piece. My response to that, and to her, was what else was I supposed to bring? Someone else’s? She even suggested that “we would be very interested to read the article you could write which takes on some of the issues you raise in the review. The article is the place for your personal views, your exposure of the banality of the well-behaved poem…..” So, a review is no place for personal views. If anyone can explain this to me, please do. Ann Atkinson hasn’t.

On a different subject, but one also close to my heart, I have to mention my toothache. (Poetry and toothache: is there a connection to be made?) I lost a filling a week or so ago, but there was no discomfort even though it felt like I had a hole in my tooth the size of, um – (what’s a very big hole? A poetry magazine?) Anyway, I called the dentist up and made an appointment, which was for next week. But earlier this week a tooth on the opposite side of my mouth started hurting, and by Thursday morning I officially had “a very bad toothache”. I called the dentist up for an emergency appointment Thursday morning. It was his day off. Dentists should not have days off. So, I had to go Friday morning – yesterday. I had one big filling put in, and one bad tooth taken out. Both sides of my face were numb for a couple of hours, and when the numbness wore off the pain kicked in. And no matter which way you approach it, having a tooth out is horrible. The sound it makes in your head as the guy cracks it up and yanks it out…..

so, I had toothache when I went to two poetry gigs this week. (There is always a connection to be made.) Tuesday was Open Mic night at The Maze. Because it’s the “Poetry in the City” Festival this was the "Living Poets Magazine Annual Performance Poetry Competition”, which is a very long title. It was quite a long night, too. Actually, that’s not fair, although the last time I went to one of these things at The Maze was truly one of the longest nights of my life, it was so bad. And I’ve said most of what I want to say about open mic poetry before, in various places, but Tuesday night was okay, to be honest. The poetry was pretty uninteresting, by and large, but the beer there is good. One of my pals, Ian Collinson, is more or less the bloke who runs things, and I’m pleased for his sake that lots of people turned up and had a good time. At the end of the evening I found myself involved in a somewhat too serious discussion about the merits or otherwise of some of the poetry we’d heard. The guy I was talking with was one of the performers, and I’m afraid that when he said he didn’t actually read much poetry himself my heart sank quite a lot. My general point was that I tend to prefer poems that tell me something I don’t know, and which don’t always even know themselves what they’re telling me. Even a seriously heartfelt poem about first-hand experience of child abuse didn’t do anything a magazine article or a television programme might have done, or had done in the past. One of the reasons I don’t go to many open mic things is because of a certain predictability in what’s it’s going to be like. I felt myself stood there on Tuesday, listening, and under my breath asking the poets to Come on, surprise me, but they didn’t.

Mind you, that’s also one of the reasons I don’t go to many poetry readings. There are other reasons, of course. But I went to the Angel Row Library on Wednesday for the Leafe Press reading. There should be a link to the Leafe Press website here, but since there isn’t a Leafe Press website there’s no link. Alan Baker, who runs the press (and who should get a website) and two of the readers, Clive Allen (yes, the same one who is the reviews editor for that magazine I no longer mention) and Adrian Buckner, are friends of mine, but I’d not heard Adrian read before. And the reading? It was okay, and very different from The Maze the night before, not surprisingly. The poets and the poems were fine, but that café room somewhere at the top of the library building is a little impersonal and dull, and none of the poets were able to instil much life into the proceedings, although both Clive and Adrian are very good at humorous chit-chat between poems. Everyone was much livelier in the pub afterwards. Belinda mentioned to Adrian that he had a habit of trailing off quietly when he reached the last lines of his poems, and she had missed “the punch-lines” (her words) because of that. I think my suggestion that in future he read the last lines first has some mileage in it. I may try it myself.

There are other things on next week I should maybe go to, but I probably won’t. Matthew Sweeney and John Hartley-Williams are at Waterstone’s on Tuesday. Apparently they have written a book called “Writing Poetry”, which is “a popular manual for practising poets”. Is it?

Anyway, thank you for asking: I no longer have toothache, but my head does rather feel as if someone might have kicked it yesterday. In fact, it feels like I have toothache. But since there’s no tooth there, it must have another name.



October 18


This is a postscript to the previous post.

My review of the Michael Laskey book can be read at Stride.

Alison Croggon picked up on the post, and there’s been some interesting discussion about reviewing at the PoetryEtc list, which she runs. For those of you not familiar with sites like this, when you get there go to October, and scroll down the list of topics to find “Reviewing and so on.”

I’ve also posted at the British Poets list, where the process is the same, the topic in this instance being "Reviews". That post has only been there an hour or two as I write this, so nothing much has happened yet. Perhaps nothing will.

As I said in a reply to the comments about the earlier post, the issue here isn’t the review itself. The issue is a reviews policy that only wants positive comment, which I think is silly, but lots more dangerous and unsettling than silly. And I want to stress that the Staple decision came from the Editors, not the Reviews Editor.

Enough. For now.



October 20


Pondering a little over the last few days as a result of the various discussions about reviewing that have taken place -- While replying to Martin Blyth's comments posted here, I found myself thinking how reviews, from my point of view (I’m going to partly repeat my response to the comment, so I can get to where I’m going with this), are and have always been a place to be honest, to ask questions, and to look for answers. I know quite a lot about poetry, but there’s a bigger, enormous amount I don’t know, and reading and reviewing books is one way of continuing a continuing education.

I’ve always found it much more difficult to write about work I like than to write about work I don’t like. I find it very difficult to explain why certain things touch me profoundly, and make me fall in love with words all over again. I remember how at University I submitted my first English essay, which was about John Donne. And my teacher, when she talked to me about the essay, smiled and said something like, “Well, Martin, I now know you like Donne. But your job was to tell me why. Wow! isn’t enough.” And the same applies to one’s dislikes too, of course. It’s not enough, in other words, to say “This is horrible.”

A recent piece I did on the New York School poets (who you will probably know I absolutely like loads), which is also lurking somewhere on Stride, was very difficult to write because I still hear her telling me it's no good just saying you like something, or don't like something; you have to say Why. And articulating those reasons can be very demanding and, actually, very instructive.

I learned something about the New York poets while writing that review. And I learned something about well-behaved poems writing the Laskey review. It may all have been stuff I already sort of knew but had never before articulated. But it felt like discovery. It always surprises me, even now, how often you can suddenly find yourself having written something and you look at it and think, Crikey! Yes, that’s it exactly. Why didn’t I think of that before! Or, perhaps, and maybe more likely: Do I mean what I just said? And you have to examine what you’re thinking and writing. In many respects writing a review is exactly the same as writing a poem. For me, anyway.

Having said which, I know I'm very able to have prejudices about certain poets and types of poems. But in the process of reviewing and therefore articulating my views, I've more than once found myself re-thinking and coming to different and unexpected conclusions. If Michael Laskey had written 20 poems about the death of his parents that absolutely stunned me, then I’d have had to rethink my ideas about poems about the death of loved ones, and about books that revolve around those kind of events, and about poems that owe many of their values to the world of the poetry workshop. But that didn’t happen. In short, I think sometimes I've found myself changing what I thought was my mind as often as I’ve found words for what I’ve always thought but never quite been able to say. (Of course, sometimes I just say what I meant to say and knew what I was going to say and it’s very simple; I don’t want to give the impression I live in a state of never-ending revelation.) But, as far as I’m concerned, it's all about questions. I've always suspected that for lots of people in poetry world it's about something else.



October 22


1. Bagpipes

I knew it was going to be a good day. I woke up just after 8 and remembered I didn’t have to get up and go to work. I went to the kitchen to fetch some orange juice, then went back to bed and listened to the radio, half asleep. Part way through “Desert Island Discs” whoever was doing the choosing chose something that involved bagpipes. I loathe bagpipes. Loathe is not a strong enough word. But then I knew it was going to be a good day because against all the odds, and possibly even against Nature, I enjoyed whatever it was he chose. It was a good tune and the bagpipes were offset by strings, which toned down the usual sounds of cats being strangled. I think it was called “Highland Cathedral” or “Cathedral of the Highlands”, but I may have completely imagined that in my sleepiness.

2. Playlist

Later in the morning, I shut the cold wet windy autumn world out and settled down with a pile of books and put on iTunes and let it shuffle my record collection for me. Since I put all my music on the computer it’s got over 5000 tracks to play around with, and this is what it chose for me while I had a poem reading day.

Stupid - The Long Winters
Long Cut - Wilco
You Shouldn’t Do That - Hawkwind
S.F.Sorrow Is Born - The Pretty Things
850 Double Pumper Holley - Sparklehorse
John Riley - The Byrds
Nothing Is Good Enough - Aimee Mann
I Know My Rider - The Byrds
If You Were A Priest - Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians
Mathilde - Scott Walker
Log Cabin Home In The Sky - The Incredible String Band
Knives Out - The Flaming Lips
Inside - Moby
Four Corners - The Sea and Cake
Aikea-Guinea - The Cocteau Twins
Swift As the Wind - The Incredible String Band
Lightness - Death Cab For Cutie
No Reservations - Husker Dü
The Last Rose of Summer - Nina Simone
Piku - The Chemical Brothers
Halloween - Ryan Adams
Because You’re Young - David Bowie
A Saucerful of Secrets - Pink Floyd
Stars’n’Stripes - Grant Lee Buffalo
Syrtis Major - The Flaming Lips
Masters of War - Bob Dylan
Methods of Dance - Japan
Good Morning Spider - Sparklehorse
Daydream Believer - The Monkees
Life During Wartime - Talking Heads
Gun - John Cale
Such Great Heights - The Postal Service
Birds Fly - Aspera
Union Square - Tom Waits
She Wears My Hair - The Soft Boys
Babe You Turn Me On - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Rapture - Laura Veirs
I Believe In You - Kylie Minogue & The Scissor Sisters
Stars - Dub Star
New Year’s Eve - The Walkmen
Suzanne - Leonard Cohen
Everything Gone Green - New Order
Miss the Mississippi In You - Bob Dylan
The Band Played Waltzing Mathilda - The Pogues
Sleep Spent - Death Cab For Cutie
Death Threat - Death in Vegas
Only A Pawn In Their Game - Bob Dylan
Without You - Harry Nilsson
His Majesty King Raam - Lemon Jelly
First Breath After Coma - Explosions in the Sky
American Trilogy - The Delgados
$100 - Captain Comatose
The Cow’s Wrong - The Beta Band
Bad Time - The Jayhawks
Dead End Street - The Kinks
B-on-E - Psychic TV

Don’t you just love that Death bit:

Sleep Spent - Death Cab For Cutie
Death Threat - Death in Vegas

I’m not making it up. Honestly.

Anyway, I turned the music off at 5 o’clock. “Star Trek: The Next Generation” was on Sky One. It was the “Skin of Evil” episode, where they kill off one of the early cast who evidently wasn’t up to scratch. The blonde head of security. I don’t know what her name was.

3. Poem

Then, there’s a new poem by Rupert Loydell. I told you it was a good fun happy cathedral of an autumn day:

from, and for, Martin Stannard

I lost my parents in the shopping precinct
last Saturday morning. I am overwhelmed
by loss but let's be honest, this isn't an
amazing poem, it doesn't really justify
its presence. If only my parents had
tragically died, then this poem could
have been laden with grief and had
things written about it by the likes
of Martin Stannard. He'd have hated it,
of course, but when the end comes
I could have told Saint Peter that
'Martin reviewed it'. Salvation!
As it is I'm left with a few lines
rooted in retail mishap and the
possibility of losing a friend. Not
down the shop, you understand,
but in a well-behaved-poetry-seeks-
really-nice-review way. I guess
I should be pleased this doesn't read
like a workshop piece, isn't too neat
or tidy, over-worked or resolved.
He wouldn't like that. I have no
desire to stretch language or to
exercise the imagination, this poem
is polite and decent, tries hard to be
ordinary and not to shock. Am I
boring you? Have you seen
my parents? Do you know where
they might be? I'll be damned if
I will talk to them in public
if they're dead. Are you the right
person reading the wrong book?
Have you lost the will to live? Big
deal. I couldn't care less. My robot
heartlessness has lost interest in this
laudatory flannel. I don't need your
permission to be bored. When the
last line arrives I've already been
out of the room to make a cup of tea,
have flicked through the channels
to see what's on. This poetry serves
the author's desire to write and assuage
something in their self not dealt with
elsewhere. This is something like a fact,
an undeniable truth. It worries the hell
out of me. And Martin Stannard, too.

© Rupert M Loydell



October 25


I keep meaning to mention a new magazine, edited by Luke Kennard. But I keep forgetting to mention it. I just remembered, so I'm doing it now. I should be in bed, but I'm not sleepy.

The magazine's called "Popularity Contest", and it's made of paper. By which I mean it's made of paper and it's not a magazine on the InterWeb.

You can find out something about it here although not much. But if you follow some of the links around the same site you will find out what sort of bloke Luke Kennard might be, and about some of his friends. It will give you some idea of what the magazine is like. It isn't like Staple, that's for sure.

The first issue features Andy Brown, Paul Sutton, Rupert Loydell and others and I like it loads. It reminds me of what magazines used to be like: pages of A4 copied and stapled together, enthusiasm, irreverence and signs of life.



A sunny and happy day and I go
to the local shop to buy something
for lunch and crouching by a wall
a young pigeon attacked by some predator
is cowering its wing bloodied and torn
its neck raw and bleeding
but I don’t know what to do about it so
I do nothing and a little further along
two youths are in a bus shelter and
one of them is punching the bus shelter
but I don’t have anything futile to say here
about punching a bus shelter and
in the shop one of the staff is busy
putting reduced price labels on food
she says it’s better to sell it cheap
than throw it away unsold and I’m tempted
to say it’d be even better
to give it away but I don’t
I buy something for lunch and go home
and the bus shelter is empty
although next to it now there’s a car
with about twenty youths in it all talking
at the same time and playing loud music
(“if you can call that infernal racket music”)
and then I’m approaching the pigeon
and thinking I wonder if there’s
a pigeon rescue organisation I can phone
when at that moment a woman
comes out of an office building
with a cardboard box and some plastic bags
and rags and she’s going to rescue the pigeon
at least I hope rescue is the right word
and not “take and put out of its misery”
so I go on along home and don’t stop
to see if I can help because
I’m in a hurry to take my washing out
of the machine and hang it to dry
and to make my bed I left unmade and
to eat the lunch I’ve just bought
on this sunny and happy day.

Martin Stannard, 2004



October 29


Sometimes you have to stay up late. You’re not always sleepy. Then you get hungry, and while eating something you found in the fridge at 1 o’clock in the morning you turn on the TV to find that just started is an old British movie, about which the cable channel had this to say:

“I Don’t Want To Be Born”

Bizarre horror starring Joan Collins and Eileen Atkins, 1976. Chiller in which an ex-stripper cursed by a dwarf gives birth to an enormous havoc-wreaking, satanic infant.

It sounded too good to miss. And I tried watching it, but it was unwatchable. I was there for 20 minutes or so, by which time the baby had drowned the babysitter. You may find this difficult to believe, but Joan Collins was the ex-stripper, and Eileen Atkins was an Italian nun.


I've put a "Links" list on here, by the way, over on the right hand side ..... I've been meaning to do it for a while, but had to learn how to do it, and kept putting it off. It's done now.



October 31


PROOF OF SILHOUETTES by Sheila E. Murphy (Stride, £8.50)
Review by Ian Seed

And feeling chance amid the textures and harmonics
Risen past the point of thought

These lines from the poem “I Saw in Her Face My Face” could serve as a motif for Sheila E. Murphy’s work. Murphy has huge affection for the realities of chaos and uses language to explore it. At their best, the poems in Proof of Silhouettes intrigue and invite us to travel with her, providing us with tender, elusive insights:

I think that sleep became the only way to heal […] I table words that are deciduous. They mine the other worlds I strain to know. / / Small evidence of having lived, the spoils of trees, stilled laughter.

(from “Soft Percussion”)

There is often an intense lyrical quality combined with a gentle sense of humour and self-irony, producing lines which haunt and make us smile at the same time:

I walk as though I were the only one to try the fluency of streets.
I walk through episodes on streets already changed, the leaves, their hesitation…

(from “Before 2002”)

The poems lead to unexpected denouements, which catch us by surprise with their funny sad insights:

Sleeping in a parent’s home is often deeper sleep, recalled as certainty misnamed.

(“Before 2002”)

Murphy is more concerned with listening to where language will take her than with writing a “good poem”, and in much of her work, she uses (and mixes) her senses to take us with her. The effect can be enchanting:

When I used to sing I was the flavor of a Sunday roast. Served as anchor to
the floating voices. Always heard…”

(from “Following”)

However, there a number of poems in this book where I, as a reader, felt shut out. I don’t mean from “understanding” the poems in terms of “meaning”, but simply in terms of being able to experience them. At its worst, the writing has that pretentious, falsely intellectual quality typical of much so-called “innovative” poetry. This only makes me impatient. But don’t believe me, judge for yourselves - you may feel differently:

A stored regression therapy affords our liquefied untold
Mere obviosos when and if restorative resplendence
Glows a pact we can absolve ourselves
From yearning for and when and why if supplemental

(from “Octaves”)

Murphy occasionally shoves in the odd foreign word, such as “fenêtres” or “molto” Here I wish she would either do it more, which would show that she is really hearing languages such as French and Italian. Or she should just cut them all together.

Having got this out of my system, I have to tell you that I am a fan of Murphy’s work. When I see her name in the contents of a magazine, she is one of the first poets I will go to. The celebratory and unexpected quality of the best of her writing has a liberating effect, sweet as a bird to read.

And Sheila Murphy is, at least, a highly individual poet prepared to take risks, something needed more than ever in these days of safe little poems churned out for deadening competitions.

© Ian Seed, 2004