September 3


Overnight by Paul Violi
Hanging Loose $15.00

Review by Luke Kennard

"Overnight" is Violi's eleventh volume of poetry and it contains the best poem from "Best American Poems 2006" - "Counterman" - about ordering a sandwich. I read this book in one sitting and then I read it again. I haven't been this excited by a book in a long time. Violi has the borderless imagination of Richard Brautigan and the flawless delivery of Ashbery. He makes irony and experimentation fun again - and he makes old-fashioned sincerity something you actually want to listen to.

Wake up! I can't wait to tell you
How much I learned in my sleep.
And though I remain somewhat modest
And completely charming,
I have indeed changed.

Do you know that taxidermy students
Begin with a mastodon
And end by stuffing a flea?
And as for poetry, it's easy
And impossible - like stealing from yourself.

(from "Thief Tempted by the Grandeur of February")

While most of us are worrying about how to be taken seriously, Violi is completely fearless in the pursuit of his vision - which combines high wit with melancholy and righteous anger with surrealism. From the clipped sense-poem, "A Podiatrist Crawls Home in the Moonlight":

Right knee left foot
Left knee right foot
Right ouch

We also have mock "Acknowledgements" sections ("Architectural Digest: 'This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison'; Teen Life: 'On the Death of Chatterton' ... ") which bring to mind Gilbert Sorentino on form. Then several superbly executed list poems such as "Finish These Sentences", my two favourites being:

I like to think my supervisors value my ability to


From the bloody throats of those dull-coloured birds
That scream at the sun,

Violi It's the sort of thing jealous, po-faced whiners read and say, "Oh, yes, it's all very clever, but where's the wherewithal?" Although really they're just bitter that nobody talks to them at parties. In fact, Violi's poetry is as likely to have you howling with laughter as it is to have you howling in dismay. "As I Was Telling Dave and Alex Kelley" has to be read to be believed. I'm not going to quote from it at all. You need to read it, as soon as you possibly can. Point is, "Overnight" contains every device and process poem you can imagine - especially the ones you thought were just parlour games. Concrete poem "The Art of Restoration", is written, I shit you not, in the shape of a broken commemorative plate. It's also a great piece of writing. Nothing here is presented as if it were a novelty, but rather as if it were another form to be chosen, like the sonnet or a sestina - which is the truth. Violi is reclaiming the novelties. "Overnight" is like a Christmas cracker with an actual crown inside it. And it's not a "political", anti-traditional-form thing, it's an exhortation: "Will you just fucking relax?" He can write Pisa, 1822 at the end of a poem and you almost believe it.

And our special thanks to Haiku Annual for a Special Mention Certificate for a Collaboration That Extols the Pleasures of Urban Life While Employing at Least Five Annoyingly Obscure Words and the Image of an Overturned Barrel of Olives on a Rain-glazed Cobblestone Street.

(from "Acknowledgements")

It's the same voice needling us to examine our own stupid judgements in the First Impressions ("Ostentatious, but a bleeder and subject to fits") and Saving Graces ("Delightfully garrulous yet a blowhard") of "Seesaw" as the voice startling us with a lyrical detail in "Envoy":

An open book on the patio table,
Pages turning back and forth
As if it were reading itself
And lost its place.

The droll "House of Xerxes" in which the armies of the Greco-Persian wars are given a fawning real-time style commentary - ("... all very wearable, very sporty. / Huge amounts of gold, / A killer-look feel / But it still says A Day at the Shore.") - is funny, but outstays its welcome at four pages. I guess it's just that if you watch sitcoms like The Simpsons and Arrested Development your mind has grown accustomed to being hit by three gags like that in one minute - which is not to say my attention span is shot to hell, rather that I.... Oh, hey, look - a poodle! Ha ha! Look at its tail!

So, I being a philistine and a baboon, it's really a testament to Violi's finely calibrated sense of humour that not one of the other poems in "Overnight" had me turning to 'Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess' or my new Season 3 box-set of 'The Wire' or the bottle of sherry and tube of Pringles in the kitchen. "I.D. or Mistaken Identities"€™ is an extended play on the "Who Am I?" riddle. It starts with genuine historical figures like Homer and Mark Antony, but ends up with complete strangers like Newton Minnow and Larsen E. Whipsnade. Every line is a pleasure: "I was fired today by a man with a terrible stutter."; "I didn't know where else to spit / That would have offended you less." No. 9 is just a fast-talking, conversational monologue - like from a Bukowski protagonist - offering absolutely no autobiographical information or clues whatsoever.

Moments later "September 13, 2001" effortlessly becomes the best 9/11 poem in its defiant informality, its perfect evocation of the celebrated New York School voice. It concludes:

Uptown early enough for another coffee, I stop
At the West End, keep a weak joke about Oswald Spengler
To myself, and ask Jay to translate what heâs chalked up
On the slate board behind the bar. Veni, Vidi, Velcro:
"I came, I saw, I stuck around."

The second book of "Overnight" is called "For a February Songbook" and explores a quieter, more sombre terrain - but with no less exuberance. The reader learns, for instance, the eerily apposite uses for quill pens from different feathers in "Light Rain Falling on Deep Snow":

A buzzard quill for epitaphs,
An albatross for arrivals,
A goose for laughs, an eagle
For denials, a swan for
Invitations, a kiwi for regrets,
A condor for condolences,
A chickadee for threats...

There is a filmic quality to the interjections of "Pastorale":

Paul Violi, volunteer, was on hand to enjoy
The day and encourage less experienced paddlers

Watch where the hell you're going!
For the love of god, are you blind?

And around the evening campfire offer the youngsters
The benefit of his knowledge and years

You guessed it, Fatso. If I had to
Do it all again, I'd be
A friggin' diplomat.

Among the quotes on the back cover is this: "Violi writes poems so enjoyable that poetry purists may feel guilty about savouring them."

Whoa! I've committed the greater part of my life to studying literature because I enjoyed it. Was I not supposed to? Did the various teachers and supervisors I've had the good fortune to learn from fail to impress on me how important it is to take no pleasure whatsoever in writing and reading? Was the enthusiasm and delight they inspired in me the last thing they intended?

No. Here's a secret: when people talk about "guilty pleasures" in literature they mean the stuff that's actually any good. They say it because they're scared by how little they understand the "serious" stuff. And they don't understand it because it's rubbish and not meant to be understood.

Here's another secret: Good writing is always funny. Even when it's really sad. Ever since we first started scratching marks into the walls, the good marks were funny. The Bible, Shakespeare, Milton, Austen, Dickens, Eliot, Pound, Proust, Beckett. Funny, funny, funny, funny, funny, funny, funny, funny, funny. If contemporary poetry is not funny then it is pointless even thinking about reading it. Might as well just have a sandwich and watch the snooker.

And before you go all John Kinsella on me ("I write not to pleasure or to leisure but to prod" - I'm paraphrasing), let's take a sensible definition of 'pleasure', shall we?: it's a pleasure to be provoked, to be made uncomfortable as well as to be lulled into a meditative trance or delighted by fireworks. Everyone loves being made to think more deeply about something. Everyone enjoys questioning their views and testing them out. Good writing - even when it's only trying to upset you - is a pleasure. I like it. We all like it. EVERYONE likes it. Anyone who says otherwise is either a liar or a moron.

I know I'm reading between the lines here, but this is the kind of art-as-green-vegetables bullshit that continues to plague poetry. Yeah, it's dull, it's completely personal and could only be of interest to the writer themselves and the style is bafflingly obscure, but it's high art and it's good for you. So no TV until you've finished it. Violi's work is like a V2 full of confetti against all that po-faced, po-minded nonsense. And if you feel guilty for appreciating that, I just don't know where to start with you - except for maybe cooing, "It's okay to laugh; laughter is what makes us human; laughter is pretty much a mainstay throughout all literature from the beginning of time. How could you miss that? Have you actually not read anything?" into your ear until you tell me to stop it.

© Luke Kennard, 2007



September 9


A poem by Jeffrey Side


Angers and failures:
my lads are not for reconciliation.

I alone drink accurately

on the uncertainty.
I drink for the occasion,
similarly impressed, to brakes, skies,
and ghosts.

Snow ranges and fair woods
have their stint.

Printed feasts of richness.
Thrushes that quote but do not sing.

Racing to the beginning where the
reed's breath sums up heaven.

And yet the reed speaks of simplicity
while full motion reconciles earthly years.

Dread lurks in the forest.
Candle boys shine the rough men.
Safe are the spheres that are dried
like the shells.

The old ships cry fleetingly
under the moonshine.

© Jeffrey Side, 2007



September 10


It saddens me more than I can say to announce the death of American poet Lydia Tomkiw.

People who remember joe soap’s canoe may well remember poems in there by Lydia. She also came to the UK (I think it was 1991, I’m not sure) and did a reading tour with me and Paul Violi. It was one of the funniest and most enjoyable weeks of my life.

Back then, Lydia was one half of Algebra Suicide, the other half being her (then) husband Don Hedeker. I stayed at their place (I can't remember what year) in Chicago on a visit, read with her at a funky arty bar somewhere, and had a wonderful time.

People change, and life throws up all kinds of stuff, and Lydia and I lost touch. She split with Don, moved from Chicago to New York, and it seems she also lost touch with other people too. So it goes.

The circumstances of her death are not clear at the moment, but from what my friends in New York tell me it seems safe to say the circumstances are not pleasant ones.

Click here to find out how fucking good she was.

(Read Sharon Mesmer's personal memoir of Lydia Tomkiw here.)



September 14


I hadn’t seen Wendy for over two years. I met her briefly on the bus just before I went to China, but it hadn’t been for long enough to do more than say I haven’t seen you for a long time, are you ok? I think then she was in the process of breaking up with her boyfriend, the chap who had a job that was something to do with lightbulbs. I can’t really remember.

This time Wendy was loitering outside the Primark in town, looking like she didn’t know whether or not to go in and risk being branded as a terrifically uncool cheapskate by anyone who knew her and saw her. Go in, I said. I bought a jacket in there a few weeks back. If I can, you can. But she didn’t.

We went and got a coffee in Victoria Market. She told me she was working in a florist’s in Bestwood. I said I didn’t know there were any florist’s in Bestwood. Gun shops, maybe, but not florist’s. She didn’t think that was funny, but laughed anyway.

She said she’d heard I’d gone to China, and that she thought I’d either never come home, or show up back here with a Chinese girl-wife in tow. I told her that both options were still real possibilities, and to hold the front page. You still doing that poetry crap? she asked, with her usual incisive wit. Yes, but not much at the moment, not really. If I was someone else I’d say the muse has temporarily deserted me, gone on a long holiday, or whatever. But the truth is I can’t do it at the moment. I’m doing some collaborative stuff, plays and the like, with my buddy in the USA, and that’s fun, and there’s another collaboration trying to happen here with someone, but when I sit down to actually write a poem it’s horrible, and if I do write something I throw it away, because I look at it and realise I’ve done it before, and doing what I’ve done before bores me.

Is it really a problem? said Wendy. I mean, doing stuff you’ve done before? When you have sex, does it bother you if you’ve done it like that before? If it’s good, it’s good.

Which reminds me, I said, how someone once said that poetry is like sex. How it’s this thing that you do on your own mainly, and sometimes with someone else if you’re lucky.

That doesn’t really work, does it? she said. Maybe not. I’ve lived a quiet and sheltered life. Then she went on to tell me that she’d burned all her poems. Ages ago she’d put them together into what she knew we poets called “a collection” and tried to get it published. It had been met with universal disdain. Disdain was her word. Then she said it had disappeared for almost a year, it was with a publisher for all that time and then one day she got a note that said it “wasn’t for them”. That was when she decided she couldn’t be bothered anymore and burned the manuscript in a small private ceremony in her bathroom.

In your bathroom? I said. Wasn’t that a bit dangerous? I mean, all that paper going up in flames. I’ve seen your bathroom. It’s pretty small.

No problem, she said. Eight limericks burned up in the handbasin in no time at all and left no trace apart from a slight scorch mark on the cold tap.



September 16


..... spent a very pleasant Saturday afternoon at The Lakeside complex at Nottingham University, drinking tea and munching cake and talking about poems with Mr. A. Baker (poet and editor of Leafe Press), Mr. C. J. Allen (poet and reviews editor of Staple magazine), and Mr. A. Buckner (poet and editor of Poetry Nottingham magazine).

Pn It's a kind of regular monthly get together (which I've missed for the last two years) where we gossip a lot, laugh a lot, and then share a recent poem for like an informal workshoppy kind of chat. Except Saturday I didn't take along a poem because I've not written anything lately.

The recent issue of Poetry Nottingham, which needs new subscribers now it's become an interesting magazine and, as a result, lost the support of some of the older members of the Nottingham Poetry Society who looked upon it more as an in-house journal rather than a place for people they didn't know, is available from Mr. Buckner at 11, Orkney Close, Stenson Fields, Derby, DE24 3LW. A single issue costs £4 plus 55p postage. A subscription is £12 (overseas £20) for three issues. Go for it....

In other news, we're trying to ignore but can't because he was a hero the 30th anniversary of the death of Marc Bolan. I don't like anniversaries of anything, but it's difficult to ignore this one, what with all these white swans strolling across the lawn that runs down to the jetty, and swimming majestically on the sun-dappled waters of the stream that flows ripplingly by. Anyway, this afternoon I intend going for a Beltane Walk to get it all out of my system.



September 18


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0171 0033 0156_2

photographs © Dŏng Yĭng, 2007



September 24

1 AND 2 AND 3

First, I have some new stuff newly online in Shadowtrain #19, alongside other nice people like Annie Clarkson, Rupert Loydell and Sheila Murphy.

Second, I'm reading Adam Sisman's "Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Friendship". Imagine me for the last couple of days, sprawled on the couch, reading. It's a hard life. The book's very readable, but I'm up to page 310 of 430 and so far haven't found anything that I didn't already know from other Coleridge and Wordsworth biographies, and when he talks about the poems Sisman is not especially illuminating. In fact, he's almost pedestrian, and sounds like someone regurgitating someone else's ideas. It's also bad of me, I know, to criticise a book I haven't even finished yet, but I'm in a weird mood at the moment. Having said all of which, if you've never read a biography of either Wordsworth or Coleridge and fancy killing two birds with one stone, this is how to do it.

Third.... oh, there isn't a third. Oh yes there is. I was going to say something about the new Iron & Wine record, but I think I'll save that for another time, because I'm going to see them (him) soon (if my mate has remembered to get tickets) and also I've only heard it twice, and of course twice is not enough. Never enough. But I would say and remind you, dear Readers, that E & D is now open to submissions of poems and other assorted nonsenses if you feel so inclined. And we also want books for review. Look over on the left-hand side for details of how to send things.

I'm definitely in a weird mood at the moment. I think I'll go shopping now.....



September 27



This afternoon I was reading (again; I've read it many times before) Kenneth Koch's poem "The Art of Love", to figure out if I can use it as part of a talk I'm going to give in a couple of places about poetry and humour. (It's been christened "The Poisoned Chalice Lecture".) I've got to be able to use Koch somehow, I'm sure.

Anyway, I think he would be more than happy for me to quote a couple of chunks of "The Art of Love" here. I'd quote it all, but it's 40 pages .....

Love between living beings was unknown in Ming
China. All passion was centred on material things.
This accounts for the vases.


Ten things an older man must never say to a younger woman:
1) I'm dying! 2) I can't hear what you're saying! 3) How many fingers are you holding up?
4) Listen to my heart. 5) Take my pulse. 6) What's your name?
7) Is it cold in here? 8) Is it hot in here? 9) Are you in here?
10) What wings are those beating at the window?
Not that a man should stress his youth in a dishonest way
But that he should not unduly emphasize his age.

Koch once asked me what it was I liked about his poetry. I told him it made me want to be alive. Nothing's changed.



September 30



Autumn Leafe @ Broadway



CJ Allen reads from

'A Strange Arrangement: New and Selected Poems'.

Martin Stannard reads from

his Leafe Press pamphlet 'Coral' and other work.

Admission and refreshments free, all welcome

Gallery (Room 1)

Broadway Cinema

14-18 Broad Street



7.30,pm, Thurs 4 October

Hosted by Alan Baker, editor of Leafe Press.