November 1


A poem by Michael Blackburn



I carried it
like a lost
vampire movie
all night quiet
like a shadow
an angel
then I lost it
the years passed


looking for stories
a story of his own
each one somehow crucial
in this case not original
a recurring urban myth
the man follows a falling beam
life is futile
he simply walks
starts a new life 'Life
could be a falling beam'
an idea that underpins his life


he slept and meditated
he had learned
drifted out
brushed past the awed girl
returned to the womb
was lost


as soon as she was introduced
she began a story:
gold mine in a Ghost Town
discarded by the old miners
a ladder down a shaft
enough ore to spend in the evening
Ghost Town life
The old saloon
and a crystal chandelier
wealth came first
on ten dollars a day
my artist friends come and live with this plan
During the war
sick surrealists sail back
I invited all those who want me.
But the ship sank


lying on the sofa
her feet up in the air
head down
contrary to the rules
thick brown woolly hair
compact and simple face
blue trousers red sweater
large unmoving black eyes
a slightly imbecile expression
I warn you it's bad today


I cannot stay
I have not slept
I am not myself
I am afraid of myself
I had not time
time to draw back
felt the tumultuous beating
she murmured
suddenly she pointed
out of the room
open, terrible, menacing
I heard a faint fluttering
those terrible eyes
those lips
look at those eyes
the next day
I fainted
regained consciousness
we were on our way


we know that we are going
only one thing we know
the rest is mere guesswork
we guess wrong
we grope our way through
one day to another
to our destiny
too far away
fate lies in ourselves
the better for us
it is a waste of time


what is
what day
what is
what country
what city
what are
what do
and this
take a
write a


an hour later
in the kitchen
baking the bread
I would not mind the smell
I rather liked it
my bed was already cold
stout timber
protection against the cold
the snow of winter
clothes and furs neatly hung
his wife's winter furs
her silk bodice with silver thread
tippet of squirrel-skin
lace, red leather belt
we climbed down
said it did not matter
sat down to a splendid supper
home-made bread
and home-brewed ale
two old folk


I lose it all the time
I find it again
then I lose it
because I believe in chance
the only way I can advance
is to move
from chance to chance

© Michael Blackburn, 2007



November 4


ArcadefireSo you hang around for a good gig to come along, and then like buses two arrive more or less together. The Arcade Fire show at Nottingham's Arena last Wednesday has already made lots of news thanks to the fact that an idiot in the crowd threw either a plastic bottle of water or a shoe (there's a debate about what exactly it was) at singer Win Butler, hitting him in the face. Butler threw down his guitar, gestured in the general direction of the thrower, and stormed off stage. The interruption was brief, thankfully, but what was a great gig had definitely been soured.

How good this band are is very very good indeed. The last time I saw them, back in May 2005, was at a much smaller and more intimate venue in Birmingham. Here, in the vast space of the Arena, I have no idea what this gig felt like if you were sitting somewhere up in the gods, but crammed in down near the stage in the standing area the Fire still somehow managed to make it seem intimate and what gigs with bands like this should be like: exciting, sweaty, and worth being there.

There were 10 musicians in the band this time around, swapping instruments, moving around, oozing energy. They'd appeared onstage in a variety of Halloween masks (it was Halloween) and ripped into a pounding version of "Black Mirror".... and, flying shoes and bottles aside, it was a wonderful show. Saving the best for last, they encored with a majestic "Intervention" and finished off everything with the wonderful "Wake Up", during which Butler left the stage and finished the song in the middle of the standing area (followed by a stagehand manfully trying to keep up with him while handling the mike lead); Butler was mobbed by ecstatic fans, of course. It was mayhem but magical.

And also pretty magical, though in a far less frenzied and anthemic way, was the Iron & Wine show at the Rescue Rooms last night. Iron & Wine is singer/songwriter Sam Beam, and his Iw3 first couple of records were quite simple and really classy affairs, not a hell of a lot of instrumentation beyond the folky guitar and basic accompaniment. The latest record, "The Shepherd's Dog", is a much bigger thing, with more musicians, more varied instruments, and a couple of tracks can even claim to be upbeat and bouncy.

One of the reasons I really like Iron & Wine, though, is that Beam writes really good words. The new record is shot through with a palpable sense of unease, a backdrop of a country at questionable war, but it's achieved subtly and with intelligence. It's a record you really should listen to if your head is anywhere near to enjoying American alt-folk rocky kind of stuff.

Where The Arcade Fire were ten, Iron & Wine last night were eight, a measure of how much bigger Beam's music has become. We had pedal steel guitar, keyboards, fiddle, guitars, a couple of percussionists.... and boy, they could rock along when they wanted to. And they could be quiet, too. They played all (I think, I wasn't keep a proper check) of the latest record, and a few from the back catalogue. Sam Beam is a lot of hair, but he's got a really fine voice, too. Soft but strong, with range. The show was a sellout, and for a change at the Rescue Rooms we weren't plagued by loads of people standing round chatting to their mates; everyone was in thrall to a class act, everyone around me seemed to know all the words to the songs, and there was a really nice atmosphere.

At last, a couple of not just decent gigs: a couple of great gigs. Now all I want is for my bad back to stop killing me.



November 7


Eleanor Normal service is resumed.....

The Fiery Furnaces have always been pretty good live. The last time I saw them three years ago they were good, even though that particular day was one of the worst days of my recent life (for reasons that I am, of course, not going into here.) Mr Belbin and I have been fans of the FFs since way back when “Gallowsbird's Bark” came out. One feature of their live show has always been how they’d take songs you knew and throw them all into a big bag together and shake them up and then tip them out into a medley of fragments and play it all in a way you’d never heard before and it was exciting and energetic and challenging and the FFs never sound like anybody else.

They still don’t sound like anybody else, but last night what we’d suspected might happen happened. The FF's recent records have been difficult to listen to. To put it another way, the FF's recent records have been pretty much unlistenable. They do a lot of storytelling in their songs, which is good, but they do a lot of stop/start, fast/slow changes that can get tiring, frankly, but most significantly they’ve somewhere lost or abandoned the idea of melody.

What we got at this gig was individual songs, mostly tuneless, if there were stories in the songs it was beside the point because the words were inaudible, and though there were quite often some decent rhythms thumping around you could also rely on it all suddenly stopping for a change of pace, which always means everyone stopping while Matthew plays some tinkly bits on the keyboard for a few seconds.

I like a decent tune, and the only time we got a hint of that was when they did a brief medley of old songs, including a barely recognisable but still great “Tropical Iceland”. Oh, I say the only time, but there was one song late on that started with a quite lovely tune, but they abandoned the tune after about 30 seconds and replaced it with some more of the same thumpy ramblings.

To be honest, the best thing about the evening was Eleanor’s hair. She’s got a new style. Don't look at the picture; it's better than that now, or perhaps it's exactly like that but she'd just had it refreshed. Anyway, it's a very fashionable fringe and the sides are feathered (a technical term I’ve learned from knowing more than a few girls). And it was very shiny and obviously in very good condition. I spent all evening looking at it and waiting for a decent tune.



November 12


Voluntary Quicksand by Byron Coley, David Keenan & Bill Shute
Next Exit: one by Doug Draime & Bill Shute
Retrospective Forecasts by K.M. Dersley

all from Kendra Steiner Editions (details below)

Review by James B. Kendrick

“Kendra Steiner Editions” is the exotic-sounding name of a small press based in San Antonio, Texas. I don’t know it’s history, but of its current activities I have in hand three small chapbooks (as the Americans love to call them), each presented in its individual polythene envelope. The chapbooks are simple but well-produced side-stapled affairs, slim but pleasing to behold and hold.


Two of the chapbooks are joint-author affairs:

“Voluntary Quicksand” by the three dudes mentioned above is subtitled “In memory of Richard Brautigan”, a writer I have singularly failed ever to read. No matter. The individual poems in this chapbook (I am getting used to using that word) are not attributed, so therefore it’s not clear if these poems are collaborations between the three authors or not; the repeated use of the "I" ingredient suggests not. It is probably unimportant. We should not worry about such things. Egotism is an illness, according to an idiot I know.

The poems can be appalling:

In Kelvingrove Park
I’m led on
by girls in jogging pants
the colour of Neptune
and struck by a vision
of the soft tits
of traffic wardens
I wonder when this nightmare is
coming to an

(from "send me your pillow in burning hell”)

but they can also be a little intriguing:

turdblossom  spoonbread
pigtails and lace
Sundays, after church, again
destiny,  with grace

(from “turdblossom spoonbread”)

One wonders whether drugs come into this at all. The cumulative effect has been for me, thus far, one of not knowing whether to be appalled or intrigued, or just appallingly intrigued.  I had thought of saying that even if there aren’t particularly great poems in this chapbook then there are some quite good, even very good lines. But I have abandoned that idea because, to be honest, I cannot find any. A pall of sentimentality pervades the whole enterprise, the word “heart” showing up much too often for this reader’s comfort.

Kendra2 The poems in “Next Exit: one” (once again unattributed) each bear as a title the name and state of an American town. My complete lack of knowledge about any of the towns made me feel as if I am not American, which I am not -- a state of affairs I am quite happy with. Whether or not a familiarity with the places, or even a sense of what their names might conjure to the American reader, is of any import I can only guess. If a British poet wrote a poem entitled “Slough” you’d think he was John Betjeman, and he would be on Radio Four. When an American writes “Vincennes, Indiana” it just sounds American. And it comes as no surprise to find that Vincennes, Indiana is home to people who have no money, women who turn tricks to pay the rent, and beer. Schertz, Texas has softball, sex Bingo, freemasonry, Starbucks, and “nine-minute oil changes”. In Blackwell, Oklahoma the guy (whoever) works two jobs after arriving there with 23 cents in his pocket. San Luis, Arizona, on the other hand, simply sounds distinctly unattractive as a place to live. And as much as I respect the fact that these are accurate enough pictures of slices of American life, and readable enough come to that, I feel more than justified in saying that we have been to similar places before, on numerous occasions.

Kendra3 K.M. Dersley is the British representative here today, and since he was recently praised to the high heavens here I am a little nervous about saying anything other than “wonderful” or “smashing”. But I have been reassured that I can say anything I like. We shall see.

Dersley sounds nothing like the Americans, of course, although all of these chapbooks (I’ve said it again!) are “Beat”-derived in language, form, subject matter and treatment of said subject matter. Dersley’s world is filled with careworn lonely old women, the grim lives lived on council estates, dreams and unfulfilled dreams, and love. Which could be tedious were it not for the fact that Dersley has a strain of wit and humour that permeates most of what he does. It’s not so much that he is side-splittingly funny, it’s rather he hints that he can see beyond the immediate to a better life:

it was like the news
of the death of
something which
we thought would endure –
yes, even unto the expiry
of all insurance policies.

(from “Melancholy Coffee”)

Kendra Steiner Editions are available for $4 each from 8200 Pat Booker Road, San Antonio, Texas, 78233. European Distribution is from Volcanic Tongue



November 19


Chapman I saw Michael Chapman play at The Maze about three years ago. He was a name I remembered from listening to John Peel’s “Top Gear” when I was still at school back in the late 1960s, and though I’d never bought a Michael Chapman record I figured if he was playing ten minutes away from my door then I’d go and see him. He was great. Just a class act. So when he returned to The Maze last week it seemed more than reasonable to go and see him again.

It was kind of funny at first. I went with my friend Jill. We’re both 55. One of the first things she said was how old everybody in the audience was. She was right. It wasn’t like there were loads of walking frames around, but there was quite a lot of silver hair. I’ve got grey hair, but I felt quite young. Chapman is now in his sixties, I guess, but boy, can he play guitar! He split the set into two: in the first half he played solo, and later he was joined onstage by his band. I’m not even going to mention how old some of them looked. If I’d been an undertaker maybe I would’ve been measuring them up in my mind. But they played a storm. I have no idea what songs they played, because I don’t know any Michael Chapman songs, but it was all really good. Some folky stuff can be really glum and meandering and somewhat devoid of life, but life was what this show was absolutely full of.

Mikeh1 A few days later (last night, to be exact) it was Mike Heron at the same venue. Mike Heron who a long time ago, with Robin Williamson, was The Incredible String Band. I also saw Heron a while back in one of the recent reincarnations of the String Band (read the review here), but this time he was solo, although he did have his daughter Georgia alongside, on occasional keyboards, percussion and voice. The only Mike Heron stuff I know is the ISB things; other solo stuff I have no idea about. On the evidence of this show I’d have to say that the old material is way better than the new. I don’t think my lack of familiarity with the new songs made any difference. I don’t have to know songs. But half the set was String Band golden oldies, and for melody and energy they left the new things standing. It was a rotten night outside. My Chinese teacher and I had trudged from her house for over half an hour in snow and rain to get there, but it was worth it to hear “You Get Brighter” and “Log Cabin Home In The Sky”, from “Wee Tam & The Big Huge”, and a startling “Swift As The Wind” from “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter”. I grew up on that stuff. And when we got outside at 11 o’clock the snow was gone, replaced by rain.



November 23


Humbug by Abi Curtis
Queen of the Cotton Cities by Adam O’Riordan
both from Tall Lighthouse Pilot Publications, £4 each

Review by Luke Kennard

How’ve you been? Not so well? Sorry to hear that. Want to hear about some new poetry? No? Well, I hear there’s some great new news at – so maybe you could spend your lunch-break there instead. For those of you still here, today I’m discussing two new pamphlets from the Tall Lighthouse Pilot Series, edited by Roddy Lumsden – a thoroughly noble endeavour set up by people who noticed that some of Book_humbugthe big presses are currently suffering from Raine’s Syndrome (a neurotic compulsion in editors never to publish anything by young poets). And, as Eric Gregory slowly rotates in his grave, most of us have been happy to curse the darkness.

The idea is that the pilot series, although printed to book-standard, count as pamphlets, being no longer than 20 pages, thus leaving the promising younger poets in question free to seek big league publication for their first collections. Anyway, they look edible: bright white, 20 pages, perfect bound with red end-papers. And, more importantly, the poetry is superlative.

The very first couplet of “Humbug” places the reader slap-bang in the middle of their own childhood:

The first time we saw him I was small enough
to examine gaps in the paving slabs.

(from ‘Humbug’)

It’s like a zoom lens – although for time (my metaphors are way off today). There’s something universal about examining the gaps in the pavement – when I was a child I basically lived there. Also, I have a thing about descriptions of rain (and this year was the first Summer I’ve ever suffered from a combination of damp-induced flu and storm-induced headaches) so I love “The murmur of the rain began like quiet terror”. For an abstract emotion it’s extraordinarily apposite and sensory. At times like these Curtis seems to have some kind of conduit straight into your head. She knows, for instance, exactly how you feel when you fall over:

Today a thought cut down
by a slip on a wet drain

(from ‘Bruise’)

Let’s face it: that’s a better couplet than any of us is going to write this year. Curtis never tells you things you already know – she tells you things you are, things you’ve always felt and have never managed to put into words. It’s wondrously satisfying – like being broke then finding a twenty pound note in an old pair of jeans. It makes you realise how absent that sense is from a lot of modern poetry – the sense of a poet who actually wants to take you with her, not just tell you stuff about something that happened to them once. And if you were ever going to write about horses, don’t bother.

There is nothing better or worse
than a horse…


And then we’ll know the hooves,
the drop down to
the smack of shit and confetti
on the lips. The taste
of tigerclaw and clownfoot.

I’m not used to reviewing pamphlets – so I need to curb my desire to over-quote. I could easily just type out the whole thing here and write “SEE?!” at the end of it. Among my favourites is ‘Electricity’ – a sequence of biopics about the electrical pioneers, including the exhortation “damp your hands / and hold this gutted mouse.” As opposed to just using historical detail as a grab-bag of empty signifiers, Curtis looks for the resonance of the telling detail – the things you can easily wrap your head around:

…Your tongue and my finger tip
swarm with our differences.

(from ‘Volta’)

There is a musical sensibility at work here – ‘Lupercalia’ begins like a dark neo-folk song, “This is a night to go out, / dare the wolves to circle.” – and this grants the book an urgency and contemporary feel. Humbug is a rich collection – and unbelievably full for its brevity – the colour associations, the circus superstition, the mole a “Velour glove with no fingers” – yet each poem is linked by an eerily beautiful twilight atmosphere and an intuition of the strangeness of the everyday. Anyway, that’s enough – just fucking buy it already.


Book_cotton_cities There is a spiritual precision to the metaphors of O’Riordan’s “Queen of the Cotton Cities”. Satellites, for instance, travel “in Trappist silence”. Equally striking: the skull in ‘Small Adult Skull’ is “an empty cathedral”. There’s a refreshing lack of sarcasm to his poetry, alive with mystery and, fundamentally, respect for humanity. The fizzing antidote to the kind of stuff that clumsily tries to assert the poet’s superiority over that which he describes. Like Curtis, O’Riordan has a fine instinct for the askew:


Bungalows huddled in the fields below
as if attracted to their own.

(from ‘The Whetstone’)

He can make the mundanest of views fantastic without losing any of the visual accuracy: “huddled” – is the perfect choice of word here. ‘Goooogle’, about the search engine, begins:

A prayer then
for the men who sit,
pale as geishas,
by the glow of obsolete

- the geisha metaphor elegantly indicating the promise of sexuality as much as enslavement. It concludes at dawn, with the palpable sense of a night wasted in online stalking. It’s the kind of thing Carver would have written if he’d survived into the age of the internet: a heartfelt lament on our capacity to sell-out our potential goodness.

The ancient and modern combine to great effect, especially in ‘Solomon’ where Song of Solomon is described as “the hissing bootleg for the fanatic”, playing on the word fan as it applies to the contemporary music aficionado, collecting rare tapes of his favourite band, and to the religious fundamentalist. And ‘Hands of an Apostle’:

Dürer scratched this attitude of devotion
in lines as fine as a banknote’s…

O’Riordan is accomplished in a variety of registers – whether celebrating the city of his birth in ‘Manchester’:

Your little merchants, hawking Lucifers and besoms
to set a small flame guttering in a wet-brick basement…

or brilliantly, unironically eulogising Mike Tyson in ‘The Long Count’. But his voice is always clear – and his strong-suit is the striking, immediate image. ‘Cheat’ pivots on a description of sex: “our movements incessant as a distaff and spindle” which at once captures the moment itself and the mechanically inexorable journey of the narrator and his lover. I’m in danger of quoting too much again.

© Luke Kennard, 2007



November 25


My friend Nigel was around here Friday after we’d been to see “The Darjeeling Limited” which, incidentally, is a wonderful movie. Wes Anderson movies are just brilliant. (That was a review, by the way. Short and to the point.) Anyways, Nigel was browsing through the books on my table while we started in on the red wine and I knocked up a quick chilli. We got to talking about just how much poetry there is around and how, with the internet at our fingertips, it’s all available but also, somehow, not available at all. There’s a weight of numbers that is almost overwhelming and there’s no way (is there?) that you can even begin to approach the half of it. Of course, this has always been the case even before the internet. Mimeo’d magazines abounded years ago, and there were loads and loads of poets in those, too. Maybe it’s the case that there are always loads and loads of poets. Too many? I’m guilty as hell, of course, because I’m one of them. But it’s easier to get to their work Confusion now, or it’s easier to get to their names. You don’t have to write a letter to someone and enclose a cheque and wait for the postman. So how do you sort out who to read, and how do you read? Do you stick with the few websites you know, and follow their recommendations? Do you, for example, trust Stride or Shearsman, and stick with them and only them because there are only so many hours in the day, and days in the week? And do you spend back-breaking hours in an uncomfortable chair in front of your computer reading poems online? My back aches just thinking about doing that.

Thinking about the numbers thing, and how much there is to read out there in cyberpoetryworld, here’s what happens if you follow a thread I, a very guilty one, started. If you begin here and follow the link to the publisher and go to here and click on “poets” and arrive here you find a list of 27 poets, only a couple of whom I’ve heard. Then click on the poetry links to get to here and Shearsman is top of the list so go there and click on authors and arrive here. There are 132 people listed. I’ve heard of many of them, for what it’s worth. Shearsman has its share of bigger names, I guess. By comparison, if we’d gone here we’d have only come across 9 poets. They must be a new press.

Of course, like I said, I'm guilty too. I contribute to this poetry superstore. If a couple of weeks ago you did as I suggested and went here then you’d have found 61 (I think it’s 61) poets. Sixty-one! Did you read them all? I didn’t. And it’s not because I didn’t want to, it’s because I spend half my life in front of this fucking computer and enough is enough.

And I have all those links down in E&D’s sidebar that will take you to so many places, but how much can you actually read? Without going into too many personal details, I like to go to bed and read. I like to have stuff pile up on what passes as my bedside table (it’s a floor, actually) and I read a bit of something then listen to the midnight news and fall asleep. But I can’t do that with what's on the internet, so "Dusie Issue 6" is loitering in cyberspace, untouched by me now, and I haven’t looked at it anything like as much as I would have done had it been something I could take to bed. I look at what I take to bed. Honestly, I do.

Perhaps it’s my being back into teaching creative writing, albeit in a smallish kind of a way and already, even after only a few weeks, shying away from the questions that always creep into my head whenever I do that. Maybe I should just ignore all those questions and get on with whatever it is I get on with. I know writing this post is a waste of time. I know even thinking about this is a waste of time. So much of what I do is a waste of time.

But if I stay mildly bothered and troubled, the logical conclusion to all this of course -- which I think boils down to a more than slightly confused mix of "There is too much of this stuff, and how the hell do you even begin to read the half of it?" (which is stupid, because I'd never argue for less making) & "Does poetry on the internet make for comfortable reading?" (poetry armchair & bed lovers of the world, I am one of you) -- is that (a) I should stop writing poems, to reduce the number of poets by one (b) I should shut down this website, to reduce the number of websites by one (c) I should buy printed books and magazines of poetry to take to bed, which I almost never do and (d) I should come up with a reason for even talking about this in the first place. I know this is ridiculously circular, somewhat rambling, and not asking any particular question, and only an expression of a certain unease with Poetry World that's always with me but usually remains reasonably well suppressed (albeit not wonderfully suppressed.) So forgive me. But anyway:

(d) is very difficult, because I don’t really know what my point is, except one of feeling just mildly troubled about something.

But while (d) is very difficult, (a) (b) and (c) are really easy to do.



November 28


Blake Serendipity? Well, sort of. And enough to make me chuckle or think. I’ve been doing a chunk of thinking lately, so perhaps we’ll just stick with the chuckle.

I was browsing the infoweb this afternoon, and read this by Terry Eagleton about William Blake and, to a lesser extent, (take deep breath) Gordon Brown, which I thought was pretty interesting, and then I went to the same newspaper’s music page and saw this headline:

Amy Winehouse cancels rest of tour dates for 2007.

Blake2 I’m not particularly interested in Amy Winehouse, but it was the next bit that caught my attention:

Singer says she is unable to continue while her husband is in prison: 'I can't give it my all on stage without my Blake'

And there are witty things to be said, but you can probably figure them all out for yourselves.