March 1


Pictures_1_001 I realize that of late I’ve not been particularly regular with posts here. It’s been holiday time in China, and I’ve kind of drifted along with things, read Samuel Richardson’s “Clarissa” (which at 1500 pages of 18th century prose is very time-consuming) and been away a couple of times. I’ve always intended to try and post here twice a week; I’ll try and do that from now on, if I can. I probably can’t, but you never know. This is the Year of the Pig, and maybe they can fly after all.

Pictures_1_031 I’ve got a few new poems over at Stride today. Also there were some new things at Shadowtrain a while back, and I forgot to link to them, so I’ll do that now. This is not a career move, you understand, or self-promotion. It’s just a move. Stride, as ever, is crammed full of interesting stuff; Shadowtrain is too, but I only see bits of it, because I can’t get to the website from here so I just see bits people send me via email, which is frustrating as hell. I have no idea why I can’t get to Shadowtrain; it must be a server blocked somewhere by the still alarmingly unenlightened government here.

Pictures_1_101On a completely different note, if any poets and/or publishers out there want to send review copies of books to us, please do. Send an email to Luke Kennard and get the postal address. Because this isn’t “a proper magazine” as such, sometimes we don’t figure in publishers’ eyes as a place for reviews, but we are, and we’re good at it, too. So there. Also, lots of people read things here. I keep telling Carcanet that, but they don’t bloody listen.



March 5


Collected Poems  1967 – 2006 by Anne Beresford
Katabasis,  £14.95

Review by Sandra Tappenden

Annefin_2 When I first started reading these poems I thought them remarkably uncentred and difficult to fix, or hold. Then as I read further I thought them rather flat and/or lifeless, but I’m wondering if this effect is caused partly by the simple language, as Beresford hardly ever uses words of more than three syllables which require the use of a big dictionary, and none of them are being stretched to encompass more than the most obvious meaning. Which is fine, but I do like to be surprised every now and then. So the poems, if/when they work, do so due to a mood or tone. Mostly, that tone is quietly depressed, but always striving hard to find a moment of (spiritual) enlightenment … I can go with quietly depressed however, as any forcing of joy just makes the whole illusion fold. But the all-pervasive tone does end up making this reader feel, well, quietly depressed. And it’s not just the sound of the lines in my head which creates this unvarying air of free-floating albeit understated malaise, but also the structure of the poems, as
the lines often chop
so I must work hard
before I get a chance
to be with the idea
of the line.
The pattern of sound (the music? hmm) is reduced to a kind of hiccoughing discomfort akin to the onset of motion sickness.

Here’s the beginning of  “In Memoriam” ( from “The Sele of the Morning” 1988):

She stripped the sheets from your bed
and lay sleepless
in the blank night
fingers grasping tightly
on her own hand.

Repeated use of the truncated line is a peculiar dislike all of my own, however, which has to do with the way a shortened line (in what is evidently a sub-narrative type poem)  parcels meanings into chunks, often disguising the fact that there isn’t much to a poem, but hinting in a saucy manner that there may be … so maybe I think this sort of thing, from “Suffolk Future”  (“Landscape with Figures” 1994)

The sea splashes forlorn
on an empty beach
listening to the buzz of power.
This car park
is a garden of remembrance
where we sat on a worn bench
and counted butterflies
resting on the sunny wall.

is annoying. Note the ‘forlorn’, ‘empty’ and ‘worn’ above; time for my Prozac.
“Winter Saturday” has both the truncated line and that promise of there being a further ‘something’ waiting to unravel itself. But there isn’t a further anything, and by now I am beginning to want my money back, if I had indeed paid £14.95 for this tome.

Child of my child
holding my hand
we walked on the promenade
to watch the waves

There was no alteration
nothing happened
only our eyes met
in acknowledgement
as the blood ties
which unite us

Okay, so “blood ties” having been explained in “child of my child” have to be further explained by way of “unite us”? I think not. As to “nothing happened”? Well, precisely.

Curiously, the poems I enjoyed most were some of the earliest. Even curiouser, it’s hard to sense a deepening progression or development over time in these poems. The preoccupations stay the same, often via worthy ‘voices’ telling their stories, (a vast range of mythic/biblical characters from Persephone to the Serpent in the Garden) and the style reverts back to the short line throughout. As story-telling in poetry goes, I rather liked “Farmer’s Fantasy”, wherein a varmer vinds himsen a magical bone. It has all the elements of a good folk tale, and is handled with an air of comic-horror which I liked a lot:

‘I must fetch me a spade from the barn,’
as he left the house,
the spade coming to meet him
you could almost say walking.

Funny and creepy. And I was left wishing that the nerve and verve in this poem had appeared more frequently throughout the book, so that the reading was less of a ‘lesson’, (less deliberately worthy? Is that it? ) in content, and more relaxed, or friendly, or something.

Leaving aside my evident ‘thing’ with short lines, the main complaint I have with Anne Beresford’s poems is that they are almost too aware of themselves, as poems. There is a stolid if slightly over-self-conscious will driving this work, and although the motives are no doubt honourable, the poems could be so much more … where is the joy? I’m just not getting it. Is this even a requirement? Am I saying I want comedy as opposed to gravity? No. I think poems with ‘a message’ are a bit difficult to manage, and the impression I have is of the poet struggling not to do this, which is unfortunate. Beresford wants us to see the ugly and difficult as if we didn’t know it was there, and I find that in itself ugly and difficult. She also wants to lighten our burden with gently applied sops of beauty, drawn from nature, or loving relationships, which is alright, but doesn’t ring true somehow. The overall style is awkward. Or ungainly.

This is a huge book. It’s the poet’s own selection culled from thirteen collections, and runs to 350 pages… Quotes from magazines on the back cover often sound, even more curiously than previously noted curiousnesses, like damning with faint praise; “Poems which do not advertise their powers of observation.” (Agenda) … is that good? And again, “…these poems read easily with a spontaneity that is usually the result of fine crafting.” (Envoi). Usually?

If I were to buy a collection of Anne Beresford’s it would be “Songs a Thracian Taught Me” (1980) as there is more invention evident and a (slightly) lighter or freer touch.

Here’s an  extract from “Diploma”, where a woman recounts a particular, recognisable kind of social conditioning taking place, and the falling away of expectation:

The world,
Said grandfather,
Is an exciting place
I've travelled everywhere
In Russia the snow
Would have covered you
Men, said mother, are liars
Women, said father, never tell the truth

The Amazon is in South America,
said teacher,
yellow and blue make green
Napoleon came from Corsica
You, child, are an imbecile

A “selected”, from a poet with such a vast body of work, is often a neat way for the reader to trace that poet’s movement through stages of creative development, giving a greater insight into their world view. And hopefully it will include several corking poems. But I’m afraid so much Anne Beresford, in one go, has left me with the claustrophobic sense of being trapped in a lift with the Ancient Mariner.

© Sandra Tappenden, 2007



March 7


Pictures_1_086 Here’s a thing. Think about list poems. Or device poems. What do you think when you think about those things? There is some stuff over at Ron Silliman’s blog in a review of Elaine Equi that is thought-provoking, to say the least. An almost-argument with it is contained in a review of Paul Violi’s new book here (you have to scroll down to February 27th). Me, I use lists and so-called devices all the time (well, maybe not all the time, but quite a bit), and often think it’s a sign that I can’t think of anything else to do. But sometimes I don’t think that at all, and just crack on for almost ever, as here a few years ago…… Boy, that was fun. Sort of.

Oh, by the way, a review of Violi’s book, and other new Hanging Loose titles, will appear here soon. Or so I am told.



March 13


A Poem by Jeff Harrison


I don't remember when I first read the word resume
I don't remember when I first elicited the word certain
I don't remember when I first heard the word soldier
I don't remember when I first heard the word silver
I don't remember when I first heard the word center
I don't remember when I first read the word fable
I don't remember when I first read the word inertia
I don't remember when I first heard the word afloat


I don't remember when I first heard the word miss
I don't remember when I first heard the word airplane
I don't remember when I first heard the word afternoon
I don't remember when I first faltered the word rose
I don't remember when I first heard the word bridge
I don't remember when I first read the word increase
I don't remember when I first heard the word warm
I don't remember when I first heard the word receive


I don't remember when I first heard the word spring
I don't remember when I first heard the word reason
I don't remember when I first heard the word portray
I don't remember when I first heard the word milk
I don't remember when I first heard the word resound
I don't remember when I first doubted the word time
I don't remember when I first wrote the word sea
I don't remember when I first said the word leaves


I don't remember when I first heard the word likely
I don't remember when I first heard the word clock
I don't remember when I first heard the word giant
I don't remember when I first heard the word bough
I don't remember when I first wrote the word must
I don't remember when I first heard the word ink
I don't remember when I first heard the word hundred
I don't remember when I first repeated the word sea


I don't remember when I first heard the word coin
I don't remember when I first suggested the word garden
I don't remember when I first said the word morning
I don't remember when I first heard the word hymn
I don't remember when I first heard the word harbor
I don't remember when I first heard the word mirror
I don't remember when I first said the word royal
I don't remember when I first read the word mercurial

© Jeff Harrison, 2007



March 18


Thinking takes many different forms, and a poet I have heard of once said that thinking is not always what we think it is, but we usually think that thinking means sitting down and being serious with a cup of tea and thoughtful, but often thinking happens when our life is a mess and busy and confused, but we still manage to think and have ideas and opinions although sometimes they are really stupid or lovable and here comes a dog.

Thinking Someone just asked me (don’t ask me why), What is everyday thinking? That made me think, but I answered thus: Everyday thinking is, Do I need to go shopping? Shall I wash my clothes? But we think about these things only briefly and it’s not what we think of as thinking. Come on -- is it? This kind of thinking seems to be only a small part of our day and we don’t really think we are thinking about it. It’s not like when we have to engage in critical thinking, if we ever do, the kind of thinking that’s like me now thinking about what I am writing now, and we have to stop and put everything else out of our mind and concentrate on the subject, and be as rational and focussed as possible, which actually I’m not because I’m chatting on the internet with a couple of people while I do this. On the other hand, if we want to be creative, if we ever do, we can let our imagination go and do anything we want to do, pretty much, though there are limits, though I have no idea what those limits might be. This is still thinking, I think, but the amount we control it varies: we can have great ideas, perhaps, or not so great ones, and we maybe don’t know where they come from but then we can have other ideas come rushing along in their wake like horses on fire and think rationally about them and develop them, not like perhaps a footballer who has a half-baked idea for a story and doesn’t work it out and become a famous novelist.

The same someone also asked me how to think, because he is a bit of a dope, and I answered him thus, somewhat without hope and also somewhat not knowing what the hell I was talking about, which I think you have already figured. I said, because I like the sound of my own voice, Here are some instructions on how to think:

1) First, everyday thinking. Are your clothes dirty? Are there no clean socks in your drawer? Think about it! You may need to do some washing. But how do you think about it? That’s a good question. I’m going to have to think about it, but after I’ve done my washing.

2) Second, critical thinking. This is much easier, or at least it feels much easier if you are not being too critical about it.  When you’re thinking critically you have to analyse the structure and make up of your subject and balance objectivity and subjectivity in your decision making, the way I did when I got married all those times and divorced all those times and had all those love affairs and then there was the arrest and the driving ban… anyway, you have to concentrate fully on the subject and examine ideas from every angle. (A bit of me understood what I just said.)

3) Third, creative thinking, which I once heard described as a bit of a bugger. This can appear to be free and undisciplined because the ideas may be new and original and even perhaps break some rules of, for example, writing or decorating the living room or sculpturing (a word which, surprisingly, my spellchecker is allowing) or music or curling or basketball, but the best creative thinking (as if I know what that is) combines freedom of expression with the discipline of critical thinking, because the great creative artists work very hard (yawn) to make sure that their work will withstand the best (yawn) critical thinking – in other words, they make something from what might be nothing, but is it "nothing"? They also (perhaps) know their craft, and combine craft with originality and freedom of idea to (yawn) create something that is strong and lasting. I need to have a drink now.

In conclusion, which is perhaps the end of all things, I used to think that thinking was something not worth thinking about but having thought about it I think it is worth thinking about and I think that having thought about it I am now going to have to think about it some more. I need another drink, but I think I am giving up drink so I will have an apple, and if not an apple something I think is very much like one.



March 24


As I've said before, I cannot see Shadowtrain here in China, so I cannot see this stuff that's in the new issue -- and I quote:

Zoë Skoulding sandbags the reach of vision; Leonard Gontarek takes the bread and sets down the heart; Nicholas Manning speaks of the forgotten; Charles Freeland finds no footnotes in the neighbourhood though occasionally something needs an asterisk; Alan Baker shows us his cardiac diaries; Pauline Keith clicks the light on and sees a different place; and Rosmarie Waldrop's language curves get appreciated.

Shadowtrain is now inviting submissions for the next issue.....

There are times the internet here drives me around the bend. It’s primarily because I’m on the university’s network, and it’s overloaded and overcrowded and oversomethingelse but I can’t think of the word. What should take me a few minutes to put on here sometimes takes an hour or more; often it all breaks down in mid-thing; sometimes I just give up and have a drink.

The best times for me to do stuff on here are before everyone wakes up in the morning, or after the students’ internet access is closed down at midnight. Great. I really want to get up extra-early to do this, or stay up after my bedtime. If I don’t get enough sleep I turn into someone else.

I’ve just read, as if this has anything to do with anything, David Lodge’s three university novels – “Changing Places”, “Small World” and “Nice Work”. I realise this doesn’t put me at the cutting edge of contemporary fiction; it’s because I am running out of things to read here, and a teacher lent me this kind of omnibus 3-in-1 edition last year, and I’m getting quite near the bottom of the barrel, hence I finally read these things. And all I have to say about them is that the first one is pretty damn good, the second is okay but approaches tedium on occasion, and the third one is horrible. You may have noticed that my literary critical skills are still nicely honed.

But what I've really been doing is not reading a book that's been on my shelf for several months since I bought it in Guangzhou in a moment of unprecedented enthusiasm. It's something I've read large chunks of over the years but I've never done the whole thing; maybe this is the time. There's a bit in one of the David Lodge novels where people have to own up to not having read canonical works. Well, I have read some of this one, at least, but not all of it. But maybe this is the time. Anyway, when (and if) I finish "Paradise Lost" I'll let you know.

Don't hold your breath.



March 29


Sea Lilies: Selected Poems 1984 – 2003 by John Barnie
Seren Books £9.99

Review by Paul Sutton

Unsettling poetry: poems about urban structures, the vast organisms of the city; but also the miniature perfections of nature, its terrifying fragility.

Barnie Years ago I was reading around the subject of urban poetry. I’d long been a fan of Roy Fisher’s work, and was – in desperation – searching for other British poetry with similar weight. Driven towards enfeeblement, and possible insanity, by the fraudulent puffery and self-satisfaction surrounding the “New Generation”, I was relieved to read some powerful prose sequences from Barnie’s book “The City” – a title tantalisingly close to Fisher’s breakthrough work, “City”.

What a book. A sequence of numbered prose poems with disconnected voices, wonderfully unreconciled and contradictory, raging into the urban space. And then in counterweight, a set of lapidary lyrics, equally as haunting:


Yes you can talk. Do you think I came here because I have nothing better to do. That I wanted to leave my country and my home. Do you think I’m here because I like it. There is no faith here, no truth. Only lies. When I look at you I see that you are a lie. When I look into your eyes I know what is there. Hollowness and ashes like the Dead Sea fruit…

If he goes on, I know that one of us will smash the other in the face. I estimate his speed against mine in reaching for the bottle whose green glass has no purpose now except as a weapon.

– Bastard. Bastard. Bastard. Bastard.


New names for the city. Not urbs or polis, or metro-polis. The ancient cities flourished as vividly as dreams cast against a glare. Stone lions and winged Victories and temple columns. To be trowelled out of the desert, picked clean, labelled, numbered, described, drawn. The ancient cities.


The churches have wire mesh over the windows and doors are locked. Someone’s pissed against the wall. That’s how it is. No use being a dreamer. The city rushes on, obsessed with its motion. If it stops it won’t exist…Nothing selfish at all in this, in the city. Not a race against time. Not out to make the rich or down the poor.


Most people arrive
to gather on the shore
with packages
and children. The fighter

that nosed in
like the air’s curious
fish, bled itself thin
over the hills.

“Here we are.”
The bald statement
like the man, who shoulders
a suitcase and takes

a son by the arm. They
disappear over Earth’s
trails. Did you ever
see things so strange.

Until recently, Barnie edited “Planet”, an internationalist arts magazine based in Wales. His editorials were the first thing I read, and decided to subscribe immediately. Here was a writer with an Orwell-like detachment and sense of responsibility, with the great man’s total contempt for the piety and constant lies of “progressive” politics.   

Unfortunately, this Selected Poems doesn’t contain any of those prose sequences from “The City”, nor anything from the extraordinary verse novel “Ice” – set in a frozen future, the Gulf Stream lost through global warming, mankind living in underground cities run by a New Labour like discourse.

In compensation, and contrast, there are numerous “nature poems”. And don’t let that description put you off; like Peter Reading, Barnie can match his skill in urban engagement with a mastery of poems about our wider environment that are actually interesting to read:


Shallows of the sea frozen over in sheets,
Crackling panes of ice that split, squeaked under foot,
And in between, wrinkled sand like buried ribs.
The tide was turning, sneaking in under the ice,
Cold runs of water like the clearest crystal…

Pitch perfect and coldly exhilarating; why isn’t he better known? I teach 'multi-cultural' poems of deathly enervation to a bottom set of 16-year olds. Maybe they'd stop their (justified) wailing if the examiners prescribed John Barnie. Then again, it wouldn’t help them regurgitate the compulsory Newspeak bilge about diversity, needed to tick boxes when getting “soft-skilled” jobs in our “knowledge-based economy”. Better stick with the anodyne.

© Paul Sutton, January 2007