Thursday, 30 April 2009

the green room was red

On returning from St Ives last week I hurried across London to Dulwich College to hear Lee Harwood and Peter Robinson read their work. The College readings, organised by Ian Brinton, have been well worth attending and the audiences, mostly students with some visitors, have been very receptive. Some months back I heard Peter Riley and Roger Langley there, then, later, I gave a reading myself. Last night I read again, up at Luton, in The Green Room with Frances Presley (above). It was the first of an ‘out of town’ series nominally connected to Holborn’s Blue Bus events. Not a large turnout but they stayed, they listened, and they bought a few books. We walked back to the station through a dystopian landscape that the late JG Ballard might well have used as a set.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Friday, 17 April 2009

thursday in Swedenborg Hall

Thursday night’s Shearsman reading featured Martin Anderson (above) and David Grubb. Anderson, whose reading earlier in the year had to be abandoned due to wild weather, read from Belonging, a book of wonderfully spare work. It was worth the wait.

Saturday, 11 April 2009


The photo above shows the author of this blog (right) and two friends in the back yard of a rented house in Petersham, an inner suburb of Sydney, in November 1972. We had, some hours before the photograph was taken, ingested some substances on small pieces of blotting paper. The previous day just happened to be the one in which it was announced that the Australian Labor Party had won the Federal election for the first time since 1949, the year of my birth. It’s hard to recapture the feeling of the early Labor years. The Liberal/Country Party Coalition Government had been led from 1949 to 1966 by (Sir) Robert Menzies who probably felt that the greatest honour conferred upon him was to be named, after his retirement, a Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. With Gough Whitlam’s Labor anything seemed possible (though the government was unseated in 1975 after various financial scandals). University fees were abolished. A new system of arts funding got off the ground. Young people were understood. Labor did eventually regain power in the 1980s under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, but it had by then become a fully-fledged instrument of right-wing economic theory. But for us that day in 1972 was a moment for celebration. In the evening we drove around town in a VW beetle, shouting joyously when we saw flags or bunting of any kind ‘this is socialism!’ We felt as though we had landed on a strange planet. The next day I went back to work, on the City of Sydney Public Library mobile, delivering books to the aged and incapacitated. My first visit was to the home of a man with a tracheotomy who spoke through a hole in his neck.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Monday, 6 April 2009

apus apus

The swift is a bird seen in Britain usually between May and August. It’s a long-distance flyer and a highly acrobatic one. But at this point I’d better let Jeff Hilson, no mean acrobat himself, take over:

Easily told around the houses and they went this way looking like quick
and brown, the same as before only going. Going to a roding valley there
to feel for the wrong bee. A fish carried forward in the hand, to soothe.
There in time to motley. The head to lead the circle. They fell down
rhyming, lightly come, like a man at things in a wood. A poetry ring
recent and wet. The point is outside and in, though scarcely so. Like
scarcely weeping, or scarcely so. From town to form, from place to
position. Or grazing on each other they work the suburb to a thin.

This is one of the 41 poems in Bird Bird, a book I can’t recommend too highly. Landfill Press in Norwich brought it out a month or so back but though they have a site I’m told they are just about to amalgamate with another press. It would be a great pity if this wonderful book were to be lost in the shuffle. Hilson quotes Philip Whalen: ‘I’ll ignore those preposterous feathers’ But if I were you I wouldn’t ignore this book.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

two more gigs in London

On Tuesday the Shearsman reading featured Lisa Samuels, fresh off the plane from New Zealand, launching a book-length poem Tomorrowland, and Canadian Erín Moure (above) reading some of her own work alongside further translations of the astonishing Galician poet Chus Pato (m-Talá). En route to this and Thursday’s readings in the capital it was possible to play the game ‘spot the banker’ – it’s that one over there with the purple dreadlocks! – due to the profession advising staff to come to work in mufti to avoid confrontations with irate G20 protestors.

Thursday’s Crossing the Line reading was a launch for The Canting Academy, a book of responses, as the cover says, to a 16th century rogues’ lexicon. Of the twenty respondents the reading featured David Annwn, Vahni Capildeo, Giles Goodland, Ken Edwards, Alan Halsey, Geraldine Monk and Gavin Selerie. A ‘canting academy’, creating its own secret languages, might serve as a jocular self-image of poetry that isn’t part of the hegemonic Official Verse Culture. Here’s the actual Leather Exchange building (next to the pub of the same name), and here too is Ken Edwards reading his selection.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Embankment, April

Official Verse Culture

It’s interesting to observe the furore going on in relation to Jeffrey Side’s piece ‘The dissembling poet’ in Jacket magazine. Interesting and depressing because it illustrates only too well the kind of toxic atmosphere still hanging around from the late Poetry Wars. There are, of course, good reasons for the arguments to take place though they soon enough degenerate to name-calling. I’ve met people who, thirty years after the purge at the Poetry Society, still won’t go anywhere near the building, even if there’s someone whose work they might like performing in there. It’s impossible to be an innocent bystander here (in England) when, almost by definition, my own writing, along with that of so many others, can never be a part of Official Verse Culture. I use this term rather than Ron Silliman’s ‘School of Quietude’ because I think it describes with greater accuracy what can be seen at work in the UK. I prefer not to use the term ‘mainstream’ since it automatically means that the kind of writing done by the people I’m interested in is somehow beside the point. Peter Riley has suggested that it is this writing that is really the mainstream and that the work that appears in the weekend magazines is truly marginal, but I think he jumps the gun a bit here. What is or isn’t the mainstream can only become apparent in time. It’s clear though that the sort of work that appears in newspapers and the well-publicised books from large publishing houses does represent a kind of ‘official’ phenomenon. The pervasiveness of this ‘culture’ doesn’t occur in America to as great an extent (at least there are alternative ‘official’ cultures there), nor does it occur in Australia (I asked a friend to ‘imagine if the only poets whose work you ever saw in the Australian newspapers were Les Murray, Alan Gould and Mark O’Connor together with an occasional young person from their fan club. That’s what it’s like over here. Of course the internet and POD technologies have meant that non-Official work gets around. It is indeed a livelier and perhaps more pervasive phenomenon than the Faber and Faber catalogue would have you imagine. But as long as the old news media continue to be of any importance there will be a sense that the work so many people here are engaged in is ‘peripheral’ or, indeed, doesn’t exist at all.