May 1


This, of course, is Election Week in the UK. For the benefit of our overseas readers, this means it’s the week we re-elect Tony Blair to be Pres .... Prime Minister. At least, for a while. Sometime soon he will hand over the job to Gordon Brown. (Personally, I rather miss old style politicians like Harold MacMillan. 3He used to look like my rich Uncle Frank. Politicians these days seem to look like people I might once have gone to school with, which I find altogether scary.) Anyway, for US citizens reading this, you could perhaps do with checking out Gordon Brown if you have not done so already, because he will be the one sucking up to George Bush before too long, and it is always good to know who is sucking etcetera.

Actually, in the interests of fairness, parity, clarity, charity (and even hilarity, because it rhymes and this is, after all, a primarily poetry website) and general truth I should say, of course, that the outcome of the Election is by no means a foregone conclusion. I should say that, yes. Perhaps I will.

Also I should point out that there are lots of political parties fighting for our votes, and these are some of the main ones:

The ones who will almost certainly win. We trusted them once, I think.

The ones who gave us Margaret Thatcher.

The ones who seem quite nice in a quite nice kind of a way. Their leader and his wife just had a baby, which should pull in a few votes.

The ones who I have never met a member of, ever.

There are lots more, of course. Some of them take distasteful further, even, than the so-called main parties. I have asked around for someone to write something here about why it’s important to use your vote and to not succumb to voter apathy. But it’s been difficult. It’s Spring, and several people were too busy in their vegetable gardens, getting seeds in. And the football season is almost at its end, and things have become very exciting, what with promotion and relegation issues reaching the crunch point. What was that great song about it all? Oh yes, “The Final Countdown”. People are distracted, and I can understand that. So am I.

One really should use one’s vote. I say that, but I haven’t voted in the last two elections. I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but only a little. My excuse is I don’t like politicians, either the ones I’ve met or the ones I’ve only seen and heard on TV and Radio. And to suggest I support them or condone their actions in any way seems to me to be a very difficult thing to do, when for the most part I don’t. That anyone could turn around to me one day and say accusingly “Well, you voted for them....” Simply, I’d like to be able to say I didn’t. I know it’s an unsatisfactory stance to take. I assume it's not a stance I would take if I lived in Zimbabwe. Don’t think I haven’t thought about it. But I have scepticism in my veins instead of blood, I’m afraid, and it’s times like this I become very aware of it (much more so than when I'm reviewing little books of poems, that's for sure).



May 4

(TOMORROW IS) 05/05/05

Review by Rupert Mallin

PRESENT TENSE: Poets in the World, edited by Mark Pawlak (Hanging Loose, New York)

Western politicians and economists often evoke meteorological metaphors to describe the workings of global society, as if the stock markets, banks and the G8 states are a nature in and of themselves, whereby our trusty leaders are merely navigating us through the storms and still waters, with full steam ahead here and a light touch on the tiller there.

A poet could readily parody the politician as faithful pilot in a satire but how much more effective and engaging is the poet who wrings the entire cloth of this nature:-


My folder of poems
labeled "weather" holds
no clues as to whether
or not there'll be any

weather to count on, say,
a hard rain like "little nails," or
that deluge "plunging radiant"

now that we've plunged into war
and wars don't stop like rain stops

like the last slow drizzle
"dissolving like salt"
on the old tin bathroom vent

sweet hint of growth
in the soft wet drift north

fire or ice, fire or ice

are you breathing, are you lucky enough
to be breathing

This evocative poem by Hettie Jones is just one of the many remarkable poems in the “Present Tense” anthology, with contributions by twenty-eight American poets. As Mark Pawlak states: "the poems all speak about the present moment in history even when (some) were written prior to September 11th, 2001."

9/11 has entered universal consciousness as the day terror and mayhem destroyed nearly 3,000 lives in New York. Pawlak's phrase "a moment in history" is the important context to the anthology I feel, for so much of US history can be viewed as a sort of geography in that vast land - the Boston Tea Party, Pearl Harbour, Oklahoma, Columbine. I know where I was when JFK was shot but the date itself is not etched into me for all time like 9/11.

1It seems the greatest paradox to me that in the present tense of history, rationality is the victim: Both in the US and in the UK, to varying degrees, we have leaders whose historical destinies are wrapped up in faith. For George W. Bush it is a religiosity of Neo-Cons linked to global big business, while for Tony Blair, facing a General Election, it is both the parochial attachment to the US and the self-deluding morality of "I know I am right." Blair has elevated faith to a more medieval concept of fate and some bright young playwright is probably penning Tony Macbeth as I write. Of course it would be a farce. The young Tony had it planned: I will be the first Labour Prime Minister ever to be elected to a third term on the fifth day of the fifth month of the fifth year of the new millennium. The witches grimace smiles into their caldrons, though chancellor Gordon Brown may turn out to be Duncan and those oh so rooted trees of the populous may yet grow legs.

We live in strange times where fate and faith are conjuring up heaven's damnation - the ice melts and the seas rise. How do poets intervene in this turmoil?

There is a danger in the tag 'political poetry'. If poetry enters all things, so does politics and holding one poem or many to a specific subject can thereby limit the terrain of the poem or poems. From my own experience, such bound poems lurch between speech making and preaching to the converted, often falling into parody or a rant of rhyming couplets. However, context is central to the issue: is it poetry for a stage or a page or both?

The other problem I suspect is reportage - a witness at the scene or through the screen. Yet this anthology avoids these pitfalls.

Ken Mikolowski's ‘The Witness’ plays with the onlooker:

someday they'll bring you in
as a witness
after all you watched it happen
you were there
maybe you were even an accomplice

The poem takes the reader to multiple scenes, the poet placing the emphasis on ourselves as ongoing voyeurs and accomplices, while Jayne Cortez becomes 9/11 in ‘I am New York City 2’:

I have on my hard hat, my gloves my goggles
My ear plugs, my gasmask, my welding torch,
My tool belt flapping, my tongue clearing the path
My big steel teeth picking up chunks of cement
And I am excavating my arse off
I am New York City

Some poets go straight to the jugular:

I prepare the last meal
for the Indian man to be executed

but this killer doesn't want much:
baked potato, salad, tall glass of ice water.

The strength of Sherman Alexie's ‘Capital Punishment’ is the juxtaposition of the execution with the meal and its mundane preparation.

I turn off the kitchen lights
and sit alone in the dark

because the whole damn prison dims
when the chair is switched on.

The strength of “Present Tense” is the diversity of the poets - their voices and subjects. Bravely it includes near songs and chants alongside prose poems. Braver still is the mix of uncertainties placed centre stage, global in its search, yet able to move between the concrete, everyday experience into more abstract and universal terrains. There are great poems here by Robert Hershon, Anselm Hollo, Denise Levertov and many others.

Uncertainty is not to be found in Tony Blair's vocabulary. In his mind the votes on 05/05 are already weighed, his hands once more poised to turn our boat toward the storms.

© Rupert Mallin, 2005



May 6


A Poem by Paul Violi

O you Cacklers, cackle away!
    O Cacklers and Cacklettes,
          cackle cackle cackle!

Arise, O Ridicules, O righteous Cacklings,
    snicker and snigger, cackle and gloat!
Cackleladies and Cacklegents,
    cackling cackleophonously,
                   O my Cackleeeeers!

Greet the morn, O you Cacklers and Cacklettes!
          Welcome Chuckleheads,
Welcome to Cackledom!
    O you cacklishly contagious Cacklings!
Splattering cachinnations, cackle every which way!
       Cease not, O noontide Cacklettes
                      and Cacklings—cackle away!

Cackle away all ye Cacklers,
       O Cacklings and Cacklettes,
                                     cackle away!

© Paul Violi, 2005



May 7


This is from the liner notes to The Arcade Fire's "Funeral" LP.....

Members fled from Texas and Ontario at young ages and joined with local youth, making their home in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Somehow they survived the first terrible winters, and in August 2003 at the dusty Hotel 2 Tango they made some preliminary recordings for a new album. Partially due to the intense heat, two of them married each other. This time in the sun was short lived however, and soon the terrible winter of 2004 was upon them. To keep warm they recorded the remaining nine tracks, at the Hotel and in Win and Régine’s apartment, on 24 track 2 inch tape, ½ inch 16 track, ½ inch 8 track, optimus ctr-108, and G_d-forsaken Computer. When family members kept dying they realized that they should call their record “Funeral”, noting the irony of their first full length recording bearing a name with such closure.

They started out with the first verse of Dylan’s “Hard Rain”, and segued from there into their anthemic and marvellous “Wake Up”. It was great, it was live. I was there. The Arcade Fire is the band of this year, without a doubt. There’s a ridiculous amount of good music coming out of Canada at the moment, and this lot are in a league of their own, and almost on another planet. Friday night, at Birmingham’s Academy, they were absolutely awesome. Mr. Belbin, in one of his more inspired moments, brought an Import of “Funeral” around here just after Christmas, and it’s copy has been played and played and played ever since. In the end, it’s one of those records a copy isn’t enough. I had to get the real deal, the cover, the artwork, the thing itself, because it’s that good. Plus, of course, I’ve raided the infoweb for bootlegs of gigs, and any other bits and bobs that are kicking around. Friday night we had great expectations. Reviews of their shows said they were brilliant live. They are. Absolutely. Brilliant. There are plenty of descriptions of The Arcade Fire’s music to be had. Here and here, for example. And also here. Personally, I’d compare this show to the first time I saw The Flaming Lips. It combined great swells of emotion and melody with a wonderful performance – it was loud, it was clear to the ear, it rocked, it was intelligent, they were happy, the audience were happy. It was one of those occasions when you’re reminded, if you need reminding, how enriching the sharing of something can be.

Win Butler was in great voice and was happy talking to the crowd between songs. Richard Reed Parry, who seems to play every instrument he can lay his hands on, played, I think, every instrument on stage at one time or another, including beating out rhythms on the ceiling and the speakers while wearing a motorcycle helmet. Régine Chassagne’s performance of “Haiti” was accompanied by what one might call a dance, but that’s not really the right word. But these guys really do perform. They know there’s an audience out there to be entertained, and never mind that most of the songs are about serious things, and have quite a lot of death in them. This is energetic and energising, uplifting stuff.

I don't think anyone wanted the evening to end. But it had to end, and as is usual with Arcade Fire gigs it ended with "In The Backseat", the beautiful haunting song which concludes "Funeral" and on which Régine takes lead vocal. "I like the peace in the backseat, I don't have to drive, I can watch the countryside, and I can fall asleep. My family tree's losing all its leaves...." No, mate. It didn't bring a tear to my eye. I swear to God it didn't. It was just smoky in there, that's all.



May 10


I live in what is, more or less, the inner city. It’s not a bad neighbourhood. It’s kind of on the edge of what some people might think of as not a great neighbourhood, but I’ve been here over two years and apart from the occasional and transitory drunks and some cars going faster than is polite it’s been quiet as any leafy suburban avenue. True, there are also sometimes a few "rambunctious peddle-twats loitering" (cf. Paul Violi, "Police Blotter") but it's no big deal. This evening, however, I was roused by raised voices out in the street, some ten yards from my window. The language made me blush. I was thankful the vicar had just left. I looked out in time to see a baseball-capped and tracksuit-trousered male run across the road to smack what I can only assume was his girlfriend around the head. As it happens, she was no lightweight, and she smacked him back. They then exchanged a few more blows, then he went indoors and left her out in the street, experimenting with language.

She experimented at some length, quite loudly, and hung around on the pavement for half an hour or so, clutching her shopping bag, talking into her mobile phone, and occasionally shouting up at a window where, presumably, her loved one lurked. I don’t want you to think I was watching this, but I was observing. It’s what writers do, as I’ve mentioned before.

1Then a police car turned up, and a couple of policemen got out and started chatting to the girl. I couldn’t hear what they were talking about, of course. Then another police car turned up. I thought this a trifle extravagant. Nottingham has a reputation for being something of a gun city. You’d think, especially if you were a Conservative, that it was almost too dangerous to go out. But these chaps evidently had time on their hands if they could come around and lavish so much attention on this little incident.

I was thinking exactly this when a third police car arrived. I couldn’t help looking up into the sky, to see if I could spot the helicopter. Then I got bored, because nothing was happening much. My mind wandered, and I remembered I was going to say something witty about the fact that someone by the unlikely name of Lord Adonis has just been given a government job by Tony Blair.

He is, it seems, going to be whatever a Parliamentary Secretary in the Department of Education and Skills is. I’m more taken by his name than his job. I mean, you couldn’t make it up, could you? You could? Oh, okay. The picture isn’t him, by the way.





May 13


Review by Gareth Twose

(£10.95 & £9.95 respectively, from Shearsman Books)

I read John Seed’s "Pictures From Mayhew" during the first weeks of the most dispiriting and offensive General Election I could remember, a PR person’s wet dream, an election entirely without political content; not so much issue‑lite as issue-free. Seed’s book, based on Henry Mayhew’s journalistic exposé of poverty in nineteenth century London, arrived through the letter box at the same time as a bunch of party political manifestoes, but was the only writing I read that contained any real politics, any idealism. It actually had something important to say about the nature of free-market capitalism and human nature. As Pound said, literature is news that stays news.

What Seed has done is edited and re-packaged some of Mayhew’s writings published in "The Morning Chronicle" newspaper and his book "London Labour and the London Poor" between 1849 and 1852. He’s filleted the pieces, stripping out Mayhew’s own voice, in order to foreground the actual voices of a huge range of London’s working people, including costermongers, ballad sellers, coal heavers, sweepers, thieves, prostitutes, bird sellers, seamstresses and slop sellers, sewermen and soldiers. These selected first-person accounts of working lives and conditions, which appear in much more extended form in the Mayhew pieces, have been lineated and organised into stanzas, and re-presented as a kind of street poetry. The result is a vivid and timely portrait of the sort of urban underclass that our society in 2005 is so anxious to render invisible. For many of the people in "Pictures From Mayhew", hitting rock bottom would be a step up. For many of these people, by a cruel irony, their poverty is the only commodity they have left to ‘sell’:

I’ve done the shivering dodge too gone out
in the cold weather half naked one man
can’t get off shivering now Shaking Jemmy went
on with his shivering so long he couldn’t
help it at last he shivered like a jelly
like a calf’s foot with the ague on
the hottest day in summer it’s a good
dodge in tidy inclement seasons it’s not so
good a lurk by two bob a day
as it once was it’s a single-handed job
if one man shivers less than another he
shows it isn’t so cold as the good
shiverer makes it out then it’s no go


I’ve stood
up to the ankles in snow
till after midnight &
till I’ve wished I was
snow myself & could melt &
have an end

The non-standard and uneducated dialect used here is both lively and deeply poetic in places and confers a real sense of authenticity. The lineation in the second section, which greatly slows the reading pace, adds to the poignancy.
The dialect becomes a vehicle for a devastating political critique of Victorian society without at any point talking politics. One speaker who hustles a living searching sewers for discarded coins inadvertently pictures a society rotting in the middle of its own self-created waste:

The evacuations of the human body
is not only wasted into the Thames but the tide
washes it back again

the water we use is

we drink a solution of our own
dead dogs
offal from slaughter houses
the entrails of animals
pavement dirt stable dung night soil
bodies of murdered men

The image from "Pictures From Mayhew" has an apocalyptic and prophetic power. It can be read as indirectly offering a shaming indictment of New Labour’s so-called environmental policies, the green light it’s given to new roads that only serve to generate new traffic, the all too willing compliance with plans to double air traffic by 2050, the same air traffic which represents the biggest single cause of global warming. Societal failure to look after the environment remains unchanged.

"Pictures From Mayhew" is also full of humour. It tells of a world in which the rich and poor literally inhabit different planets. Cross-class contact is rare and when it occurs, the result is often baffled incomprehension. One speaker comments on the table manners of the upper classes:

People that’s quality that’s
my notion on it
that hasn’t neither to
yarn their dinner nor
to cook it but
just open their mouths
& eat it
can’t dirty their hands so
at dinner as to
have glasses to wash
’em in arterards but
there’s queer ways everywhere

The irony of this is nicely observed by Seed. The speaker looks upon the eating habits of his social superiors with an anthropological critical detachment.

"Pictures From Mayhew", then, represents a rather wonderful kind of ‘found’ poetry, teeming with life, noise and colour. As such, it contrasts starkly with Seed’s "New and Collected Poems", with which is has been jointly published, and about which I have rather more mixed feelings. Seed’s poetry here, as Pictures from Mayhew, is very influenced by the Objectivists, Reznikoff, Zukofsky, Oppen, Carlos Williams et al. But where "Pictures from Mayhew" teems with noise, life and colour, some of "New and Collected Poems" is poetry with the humanity and social context hoovered out of it, and is conspicuously humourless. Whatever else it is, it is Serious.

Part of the problem here is with the Objectivist Method, or what I understand to be the Objectivist method. The Objectivists were thirties poets who took Imagism by the scruff of the neck and made it leaner, meaner, fitter. I like to think of the Objectivists as the Dexy’s Midnight Runners of poetry. They were the mark II Dexy’s, the Celtic Soul Brothers who sang "Pure, let’s make this pure." Two aspects of the Objectivist technique are relevant here. As Michael Davidson explains in his introduction to Oppen’s "New Collected Poems", the use of fragments is a governing principle of composition in Objectivist poetry because it reveals totality to be a lie. Oppen famously in his 1934 volume Discrete Series composed poems which consisted of interlinked fragments, fragments which were separate but related. The model for this technique is a mathematical series in which each term is derived from the preceding term by a rule. Another aspect of the technique of Objectivists was the attention paid to "the little words" (Oppen), grammatical function words like 'to' and 'the'. Zukofsky, in his essay "An Objective", admired "the isolation of each noun so that in itself, it is an image". Objectivists wanted to show the thingness of things.

When this Method works in Seed’s poetry, it genuinely allows the reader to see things in a new way. Witness After Time, one of seven poems that form a discrete series, from the collection Spaces In:

in the night the night
wind     voices
in the small street

"…the absolute projection of an object
of the origin of which no account can
be given with the result that the space
between projection and thing projected
is dark and void…"

footsteps fade

The reader is led by the unorthodox lay-out and radical enjambment in interesting and surprising directions. The first line radically enjambs with the second line: the line‑break occurs in the middle of the noun phrase the night wind. But if read as a self-contained whole, the first line in the night the night triggers an image of night as containing different depths of night. The spacing gives exaggerated emphasis to individual words, the 'little words' Oppen was on about. The syntactic ambiguity created by the absence of punctuation, the line-breaks and lay-out is productive and suggestive. What I particularly liked about the poem was the clash of registers: the scientific techno-jargon of the prose quotation clashes with the much more lyrical and poetic surrounding language. But the two languages can also be seen as complementing each other; they talk to each other. For me, the poem can be seen as a meditation on history, the way in which streets are filled with the voices of the historical dead, the unknown footsteps. And it can be seen as a meditation on the creative process. Both history and poetry involve working with the gap between image and object, between the thing and the projection of the thing.

However, this poem is linked with six others. The next one in the series is the following:

Not speaking we
Stare out     linked
To a matrix a kind of
Each instant the point
Where we are
Shared     if it is possible
Keeps the mind
Off blank walls the open door
In twilight the path winding
Back     the way we came

My problem with this is: I’m not sure what it adds to the last poem, which said it all so much more succinctly. The use of words like ‘a matrix’ adds a whiff of portentousness, if not pretentiousness. I started to sense not radical innovation, but brow-furrowing earnestness. This poetry is not exactly light on its feet.

Similarly, a poem like "New Year’s Eve, 1989. Driving South" is heavily freighted with ideological significance. Carrying echoes of both Donne’s "Nocturnall Upon St Lucies Day" and "Goodfriday, 1613. Riding Westward", the poem is all too clearly some sort of indictment of Thatcherism, a weighing up of the "The decade’s/Deep midnight":

Toppling over the horizon
Behind us blueish
Whatever’s the opposite
Of a construction site
Distributed North

What were we meant
To feel if not political
Hate?   and failure…

Poverty lies and despair

For me, there’s a really awkward gear change at the start of the second stanza here, symptomatic of a straining for significance. The self-conscious moralising doesn’t arise naturally from what precedes it and has a bolted-on quality. It’s just not very subtle. The shortness of the lines, far from adding intensity, creates bathos. That said, the poem explores some interesting ideas. Witness, from later in the same poem:

Where do the dreaming kids
In the back seat come from speaking
Or not speaking
What kind of English
History can I tell them?

Migrants     intently we
Study the map for ideas

The speaker is problematizing the idea of Englishness and suggesting that we are all migrants, which is, of course, historically accurate. It’s just that the language here is not very interesting. The abstract noun History and the reference to English (the language) makes it look, well, abstract. The earnest I’m-giving-a-seminar tone is increased by the reference to his kids in the back seat of the car in the third person. The dreaming kids, they are just there to illustrate a general point. The abstraction can make the poetry look cold and rather academic.

I’ve got nothing against poetry being difficult or dealing with complex ideas; it’s a question of how you do it. In "Pictures from Mayhew", the politics is all the more powerful for being so understated. There, more often than not the Method works for Seed rather than against him.

© Gareth Twose, 2005



May 15


2The phone rang early Saturday morning, and I was immediately concerned by its unexpectedness. My phone usually rings only in the early evening when someone in a call centre in India wants to talk to me about how I spell my name and what is my address and they have something they think I want to buy. I figured it was maybe an emergency, that perhaps a family pet had died, or there had been a meeting and I was being called, and not before time, into the bored room of Poetry World. (I may have spelt bored wrong.)

But it was Sam. She wanted to know if I was busy. I said I was rarely busy at 7:15 in the morning, unless I was at work, which I wasn’t. She failed to notice the irk lurking in my voice. I had been intending a marathon sleep, and I was only half the way through it. Sam said she was buying a second-hand computer off a friend of a bloke she knew, but didn’t know how to transport it from Hucknall to Hyson Green. Then she added that she wasn’t sure how she was going to transport herself from Hyson Green to Hucknall in the first place. Then she said she remembered I had a car and had offered to help her out any time she needed it. I could remember doing that, saying that. It was an evening when we were both a bit drunk. I could remember what I had meant, and I could remember that it hadn’t meant being woken up early in the morning. Not for this reason, anyway.

But, as it happens, I am kind and wise and immature beyond my years. So a little later in the morning we drove over to Hucknall. I hadn’t been to Hucknall for ages, not since I lived in nearby Newstead with a wife I used to be married to. I had forgotten how grim it is over there, how everyone looks down at heel, and with time on their hands. I had forgotten how unhappy I had been there, although it had been easy to fit in. The computer Sam was buying was a pretty good one. It looked brand new. The chap selling it looked like someone you would avoid if you met him. We didn’t hang around long; I said I had a funeral to go to and it would be awful to be late.

On the way back into town we stopped off at The Burnt Stump for lunch. It's next door, more or less, give or take a few trees, to Nottinghamshire Police Headquarters. Halfway through my vegetarian burger with a side salad and her egg mayo baguette Sam said she thought the computer was probably stolen, and did I mind we had a probably stolen computer on the backseat of my car, which was in the car park, which was next door, more or less, to Police Headquarters. I feigned nonchalance.

I helped Sam set up the computer in her flat. The one she’d been using had been useless for Broadband; she said she kept having to wind it up. There was a moment there when I thought we didn’t have enough cables, and I was terrified we would have to go back to Hucknall. Then I discovered we had more cables than we needed, and we spent some time seeing if there was anything else we could wire up. There wasn't.

Later, back at my place and comfortable in my romper suit, I remembered I’d gone out in the morning before the postman had been, so I went out into the communal hall to see if there was any mail for me. In among the junk for all the people who don't live here any more, there was. My friend Sharon in New York, or Brooklyn to be exact, had sent me her new book of prose, "In Ordinary Time". Sharon’s surname is Mesmer, and she is also a poet who I like loads. I wanted to read the book from cover to cover, there and then, but before I could do that the phone rang. I was immediately concerned that this time it was India.

It was Sam. She said did I know what a “.rar” file was. I said Yes, sadly I did. Then she said did I know what a “.flac” file was. Yes, and I was feeling sadder and more computer geekish by the moment. She asked me if I knew how the fuck to open them or make them do anything. I said Yes, I am perhaps one of the saddest people you know. She said did I think I could perhaps just possibly go over and help her sort one or two things out. I said Yes, but not tonight. She sounded a little disappointed, but (a) I was in my indoors clothes and (b) I had been to Hucknall and (c) I had a book I wanted to read from cover to cover because I suspected it would make me happy. Also I am immature beyond my years, which sometimes rules me out of doing some things I know I would enjoy once I got started.



May 17


I don't know about you, but I think this is really funny. The punchline knocks me out. Anyway, here are some bits and pieces:-

1. Envy and Regret

July is Cork International Poetry Festival time. There are some great people set to be there. To add to the excitement, I was going to be there too, to read with my old pal Rupert Mallin. But something has come up and I’m now inextricably marooned in Nottingham for all of July, with no hope of escape. But if you like the idea of a few days in Ireland, surrounded by poets like Tom Raworth and Mairead Byrne, which I sure as hell did, and if you go…. well, I envy you, that’s all.

2. His review isn't as good as mine (.... I'm only joking, of course ....)

E&D regular Ian Seed reviews Dean Young’s “Ready-Made Bouquet” over at NHI Online, and those of you who enjoyed Ian's prose poems here might also like to take a look at some more at The Argotist and at Aught. Both these e-zines look like good places, in fact. I’ve not seen them before, but it always takes me ages to catch up with things.

3. Also Dean Young

There is also mention of Dean Young, somewhat in passing but of interest nonetheless, over at Ron Silliman's site (the Tuesday 17th entry).

4. Meanwhile, where the really good stuff is....

I have three new poems online at Stride.

5. And finally, it runs in the family

I have no idea if it's because he's my kid, or if I'm always a bit drunk when I read it, but Tim's The Long Lost Lagomorph seems to be getting funnier.



May 20


Review by Martin Stannard

Heart of Anthracite by Campbell McGrath (Stride, £8.50)

Jackie from Toledo: What do you tell people when they ask you to define the prose poem? (Has anyone ever asked you that?) Why write in the prose poem form rather than in broken lines?

Campbell McGrath: People ask me that all the time, and I'm happy to act as spokesperson for the prose poem, though I receive no recompense in my role as product endorser. First of all, I wrote a poem called "The Prose Poem" that is actually a parable or essay about prose poems, so check that out if what I say here is unclear. A prose poem is exactly what it says it is: a poem written in prose. This appears confusing only because of the false dichotomy some people perceive between poetry and prose, as if these were two realms divided by some kind of Berlin wall. Of course this is not true at all, but because of some confusing nomenclature, prose poems appear to be a logical impossibility, a homeless refugee in no man's land. If prose poems were called something else -like "gridmatics" or "Rufus"- there would be far less confusion about their identity and validity as a poetic form. Rather than inhabiting rigidly delineated zones, poetry and prose share a complicated terrain with no hard and fast boundaries; there are lyrical and poetic prose writers who steal generously from poetry, and poets who rely on traditional prose techniques. Poetry and prose are like silver and gold, and to emphasize their differences is to overlook their far more obvious kinship. A prose poem is essentially a shortish piece of imagistic, lyrically written prose that employs poetic structural strategies, in particular poetic closure. It is like a building sheathed in the smooth glass of prose, whose inner workings remain poetry. A prose poem is not written in lines, but in prose sentences - it surrenders the poet's most valuable tool, the line break, but in return gains access to a broader palette of syntax and sentence structures. I find prose poems particularly accommodating to poems with a strong narrative line, or a lot of landscape detail - a lot of hard-to-digest data. It is a great form, well worth exploring.

“The Prose Poem” Campbell McGrath mentions in the piece above ostensibly concerns a chunk of land (“less rill than rivulet, more gully than dell”) between two fields somewhere un-named but perhaps almost any and everywhere somewhere in the United States. It lays between a field of corn and a field of wheat; the farmers of those fields “are, for the most part, indistinguishable…… What happens in the gully between them is no concern of theirs”. But for the writer of the prose poem it’s what happens in the gully that’s the primary concern, because “what grows in that place is possessed of a beauty all its own, ramshackle and unexpected”:

even in winter, when the wind hangs icicles from the skeletons of briars and small tracks cross the snow in search of forgotten grain; in the spring the little trickle of water swells to welcome frogs and minnows, a muskrat, a family of turtles, nesting doves in the verdant grass; in summer it is a thoroughfare for raccoons and opossums, field mice, swallows and black birds, migrating egrets, a passing fox; in autumn the geese avoid its abundance, seeking out windrows of toppled stalks, fatter grain more quickly discerned, more easily digested. Of those that travel the local road few pay that fertile hollow any mind, even those with an eye for what blossoms, vetch and timothy, early forsythia, the fatted calf in the fallow field, the rabbit running for cover, the hawk’s descent from the lightning-struck tree. You’ve passed this way yourself many times, and can tell me, if you would, do the formal fields end where the valley begins, or does everything that surrounds us emerge from its embrace?

Campbell McGrath appears to be another of those Americans determined to make me feel energised by something other than British writing. He’s not going to succeed, of course, because I recognise no international borders, no accents, no different foodstuffs, no strange hairstyles, no nothing other: we’re all one. Mind you, I also wish I knew what I was muttering about. Let me start again: Campbell McGrath is really good. A student of American literature and history could go on at some length about, for example, the place of the catalogue in American literature, which dates from the very first person who ever wrote about what they'd found in the new found land and couldn’t believe his eyes and ears and nose and taste buds and sent back letters listing all he could name and some he couldn’t. The same student could also probably write a piece about the ambivalence felt towards the same catalogue. Is it good, or bad? Does all this American stuff (“Box cars and electric guitars; ospreys, oceans, glaciers, coins; the whisper of the green corn kachina; the hard sell, the fast buck, casual traffic, nothing at all…” -- this continues for another 15 or so lines…) constitute threat or blessing? Quite.

There is a good deal of poetry here (“and their husbands in toupees – from his hometown, too, Tupelo, Mississippi – and troops of women”) and a good deal of prose (“This is a true story”) and it’s good to accept McGrath’s take on the prose poem because this is a book by a poet, all of it written by a poet, and it is in a prose.

Forget labels. Stop worrying. This is absolutely cracking stuff.


(More questions for Campbell McGrath, and more answers, can be found here.



May 24

OH SHIT.....

I have decided it's time I owned up and told the world (or as much of the world as comes to this website) that I have been remiss. (Hang on. I just need to check “remiss” means what I think it means. “Remiss: adj negligent; slack; lax; lacking vigour.”) Oh yes, I have been all of those things, quite often. But the main thing I have been in connection with what I want to say is that I have been negligent. At Christmas I was handed a copy of Paul Durcan’s “The Art of Life” by friends who had also been given it. They didn’t want it. They didn’t want it because they thought it was rubbish. I glanced through it when they gave it to me and agreed that it certainly did look like what literary critics, if they are honest (and they are not always that), call “rubbish”. I agreed to take it off their hands and out of their house (and to the household waste tip if necessary) in return for a glass of wine and a mince pie. It was Christmas.

The book has poems in it like this:

Ireland 2001

Where’s my bikini?
We’ll be late for Mass.

Yes, I know. You think I’m taking the piss. I’m not. The book is a hardback book, and it costs £12, which is not cheap, and it's published by The Harvill Press. It has a paper wrap-around cover, and around the paper wrap-around cover is a paper wrap-around slip which has on it a couple of quotes. This is where the lavish presentation of bad poems takes on a new aspect; it's where the silly becomes ludicrous. One of the quotes is by Alice Sebold, whoever the hell she is. I probably should know, but since this is what she says I don’t want to know at all. Not at all. She is obviously mad. She says

Durcan is a God.

This God wrote this poem:


At 93, she is a young girl laughing
At midnight in her doorway.
She cries: “Come again, come again!”
Exhausted, I limp away.

Yes, I know. You think I’m taking the piss. I’m not. This poem makes me feel almost physically sick. Perhaps this is why I’ve not written about this awful book until now. I’ve read some of the longer poems and struggled with the sense that this chap thinks he can write anything and get away with it. Gods should surely know that being politically reasonably well-aligned and finding that words come easy isn’t enough. Well, maybe it’s okay for gods (I have no idea what it takes to be a god) but it’s sure as hell not enough for poets. Mind you, gods also know sycophants are easy to come by. (Hang on, I need to check “sycophant” means what I think it means.)

Yes. It does.



May 26


Review by Nigel Pickard

Introducing the Hobo Poets by The Hobo Poets
Spontaneous Combustion by John Adair
London Visions by William Oxley
Rooms and Dialogues by Sam Smith
(all from bluechrome)

We recently had one of those recycling bins delivered. It’s silver, which is a shame, but as our original bin is green I guess those who make these decisions were in a bit of a quandary. So we’re now a two-bin family, and this must, I suppose, be a Good Thing; though, if I’m honest, and I like to be, it’s also a bit of a Pain in the Arse. In the silver (Green) bin we’re now supposed to dump plastics, cardboard and paper. This has, however, proved useful on Sundays and after a redraft of the book I’m currently working on. No messing. The silver (Green) bin gulps it all down.

I mention this because I wonder if it wouldn’t be a bad thing for all (mainstream and independent) publishers to have a silver (Green) bin parked right in the middle of their offices/front rooms, just as a reminder that presumably a lot of what has to be recycled could possibly have been avoided in the first place. In recent years, quality control in both sectors seems to have become a Pain in the Arse.

So when in the introduction to "Introducing the Hobo Poets", an anthology of 6 bluechrome poets who also have first full collections with the imprint, Anthony Delgrado, the editor-in-chief of the company, writes "In the short time we’ve been publishing poetry…. we’ve received literally thousands of submissions…. Of these, many have been good (and) a few have been great" I began to worry. Maybe it’s me. I can be a miserable bugger when I want to be. But I’m not sure there is necessarily a lot of 'great' poetry out there. In a calendar year how many new 'great' poets, or even for that matter 'good' ones, do you, a reasonably informed reader of poetry, come across? Of course we can argue about the semantics of 'great' and 'good'; but, surely, at least the former are people you are going to regularly reread, and get that buzz that top-notch art gives you each time you return to them. I reckon I’ve been introduced to one contemporary poet - Mark Halliday – like that in the last 2 years. And that’s fine, because that kind of experience ought to be extraordinary. In the 'good' category in the same period, maybe 6 poets. (And I do mean poets rather than poems – I’ve read plenty of good poems in that time.)

So, in all honesty, there’s 3 poets in the anthology that I’m surprised to see in this format. The excellent production values of the imprint only emphasises the lack of quality in the poetry: it’s imbued with that sub-Georgian vagueness and sense of reverie that the third-rate often has. At the other end of the stylistic spectrum Mr Delgrado demonstrates the variegated nature of his tastes by including an American sex’n’drugs’n’rock’n’roll poet, RC Edrington, who, while verging on the adolescent on occasion, at least sounds as though he is aware of the new millennium, and employs a nicely mordant tone from time to time:

Rita used to be
a model, but then
even I
used to be

('Used Furniture')

For me, the saving grace of the anthology is John Adair, so I gave his first collection, "Spontaneous Combustion", a try. I wish I didn’t know he has a connection with Liverpool because he does seem like a fairly close relation of Messrs McGough, Henri and Patten. Thus 'Kimberley' and 'Sex' are McGough, 'Unrequited Love' and 'The Little Things' are Henri and 'Walking Barefoot to the Moon' is Patten. Adair writes short poems that are readable and generally amusing. I imagine that if you were at one of his readings and you’d had a couple of drinks, you’d have quite a jolly time. You’d probably buy the book (and, again, it looks wonderful), but, at this stage, his stuff seems more suited to being part of an anthology than maybe stretching to a full-length collection.

The title of William Oxley’s new book, "London Visions", promises more than it delivers. Visions as in visionary these poems by and large ain’t. However, as befitting somebody of a more long-standing reputation, Oxley manipulates language far more deftly than any of the other, previously-mentioned bluechromers: "wind-tongued", "nudging dusk", "rain-pimpled" or:

commuters spill from trains, spread
like suds from an upset pail.

('Spare Some Change?')

The poems in the book seem to fall into 3 major categories: autobiographical snippets ('St John’s Wood' replete with the line "Sixties stylish fillies" – yes, young women, not well-dressed horses), mini-Ackroydian lectures ('The Towers of London', 'Bridges', 'A Stab at Chelsea') or contemporary description ('Soho', 'Snack Bar, Leather Lane'). There are some stand-out moments: I like the Blakean 'Thy Vanity':

The walls of the Bank
cloudy with time
pocked and pitted
with unsurious slime

wherein sound-effects proliferate nicely to underscore the stanza’s acerbic intent, while 'View From a Bridge' has an expedient energy (opening line: "That is London! I cried") which, to this reader at least, is lacking elsewhere. It’s also a surprisingly discontinuous collection, given its nominal focus. I’m not suggesting, by the way, that poetry collections should have a generic disposition towards structural coherence: the problem here is that some of Oxley’s poems fail to stand up on their own terms, and would only really work if they were benefiting from that convergent kind of interdependency, collusion of meaning and mirroring that a more successfully aligned book might have produced.

I can’t help thinking that there’s a lack of editorial input evident in "London Visions", and the same seems to be the case in Sam Smith’s "Rooms and Dialogues". Having said that, this is my favourite book under review. Again, bluechrome are nothing if not eclectic: Smith’s work is unlike anything already considered. The first half of the book consists of 67 poems, each with 'notes for reading'. For example:

Room 3

In the room
a television,
two armchairs.
(Sofas are for sitcoms.)
He rubs
His socks
She rustles
crisp packets.

(notes for reading: Point dramatically, as if declaiming, at various members of the audience. Nod vigorously at end of each sentence. If no audience point to objects within room.)

Obviously, you’ll either like this stuff or really, really dislike it. To continue Luke Kennard’s splendid metaphor: if light verse is strawberry flan, then I guess Smith’s Rooms are olives. Just don’t ask me which sort. Anyhow, even if the 'Rooms' themselves don’t do it for you, the Dadaist 'notes for reading' can’t fail. They are extremely funny and should be given out randomly to poets at all future poetry readings – how about Andrew Motion with 'Room 17's notes: "Balance a swallow-tailed butterfly on the back of the hand not holding the page. One drop of golden syrup will hold it there. At end of poem throw hand in the air. If butterfly flies away – dramatic conclusion. If not – laughter." I won’t pretend to understand the connection between the individual 'Rooms' and their 'notes' (their connection is probably their lack of connection), but it’s a pleasant kind of ignorance, and anyway most of the 'Rooms' are of interest in themselves. They are pithy, stark, emphatic pieces, occasionally like fragments of Absurdist drama (Rooms 39 and 50, for example) or very short stories ('Room 40'). I like them best when they’re inhabited: the people in them are depicted like aliens might view humankind:

Every person stands,
a clear space
between themselves
and the next.

('Room 50')

Here, as Charles Olson put it, "Form is never more than an extension of content." Crucially, unlike in Oxley’s collection, the separate poems in Rooms do play off each other, echoing and distorting what’s come before. Smith, I think, is the type of poet you’d hope for from bluechrome, given their stated aim of discovering poets who are "new, exciting and original": he admirably fits the bill. Mr Delgrado tells us bluechrome have published 25 collections (as well as fiction) in less than 2 years. Hats off to that commitment and industry. But keep a symbolic silver (Green) bin in your office/front room, please, Mr D.

© Nigel Pickard, 2005



May 30


1. Train Travel (Sun)

I would just like to say I have been to Brighton and back on the train, and everything ran exactly to time. Also, the sun came out and the heaters were turned up and I sat on the promenade by the beach drinking beer and burning my head. Also my arms. I wish I was still there. I like the sea.

The next train has gone ten minutes ago.
(Punch, 1871)

2. Lagomorph (Hope)

There was a reason for going to Brighton. Tim and Charlotte live there. He is my son. She is what makes his life, and I can understand. They have a rabbit called Hope, who lives indoors with them and is the fluffiest lump of wonderfulness. That’s why I went to Brighton.

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. (Isaac Newton)

3. Family (Weird)

At one point there, we were on the Internet and talking via MSN Messenger to Andy, my other son, who is in Nicaragua. At the same time, Tim's and Andy's mother (who I’ve not seen for some 13 years) phoned to speak to Tim. So, in some way, the family of four I broke up all that time ago was in the same room at the same time. Tenuous, yes. Weird, sort of.

I am the family face;
Flesh perishes, I live on.
(Thomas Hardy)

4. Death (It comes to us all)

A couple of hours after I got home from Brighton, my brother rang to tell me that my father, who has been quite poorly for some time, and is 85, and is now very ill, is (officially) not going to make it. The doctors say. But don’t worry, I am not going to write any poems about it.

Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollock. But is the
earth as full as life was full, of them?
(Frank O’Hara)

5. Skin (It flakes, don’t it?)

Where I burned my head, my skin seems to be flaking off. I think this is quite funny. I sit watching TV, and I rub my forehead, and little bits of white skin float down on to my black t-shirt. Actually, it’s not funny at all. Why is this all going under the heading of “Ennui”, anyway?

Things had indeed been very slow with us, and I had learned to dread such periods of inaction, for I knew by experience that my companion’s brain was so abnormally active that it was dangerous to leave it without material upon which to work.