Thursday, May 25, 2006

Artist on a Quest

Dave Martin, who's mentioned in this post, is about to embark on a year-long art project beginning with a trip from Egypt, through the Levant and into Eastern Europe and culminating in a show at the Royal Scottish Academy in 2007. You can follow his progress here.

There Were Words

Tuesday night saw the launch of There are words, the collected poems of Gael Turnbull, who died in 2004. Gael was a doctor, morris dancer, Liberal Democrat activist and endlessly inventive poet, though I knew of only the first and last of those aspects to his life while he was with us.

Gael's publishing life was lived in small presses and numerous pamphlets, so it was easy for a comparative neophyte like me to miss the significant volume of his work and the role that he had played in bringing American moderist poetry to a UK audience through his own publishing activities. A correspondent of, among others, William Carlos Williams, Basil Bunting and Robert Creeley, he was no peripheral figure. Roy Fisher says on the back-cover blurb for There are words:

I heard that Charles Tomlinson's first response to the news of Gael Turnbull's
sudden death was, "I owe everything to Gael!" Those words could have been mine.

Not that Gael, modest almost to a fault, would accept any such talk. I remember his response when Allan Crosbie mentioned to him that he had recently heard how influential a role he had played: Gael simply smiled and said quietly, "Oh, you shouldn't believe everything you hear about me."

Well, whatever you have or haven't heard about Gael Turnbull, you can read him in There are words. It's a handsomely bound, substantial volume. Nice paper, too. One could perhaps wish for slightly better type here and there, but that's quibbling. You hear the man himself reading online at Shore Poets a few years ago and reading from his own and others' work in 1963, but it's most wonderful to hear the weight and lightness of his voice through the pages of the book.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

An Act of Class?

Reading this review, I was struck by the American reviewer's incomprehension of "the dichotomy ... of accessibility vs difficulty" (an incomprehension I share to a great extent, as you might know if you've read my post on Geoffrey Hill). I was set to wondering what it is that makes this tribalism so British. It's not as though American poetry isn't riven by its own tribalisms--it seems to have a barrelload of them--so why was it unfamiliar to Mr Schwabsky? Then it struck me: could it be that class, that perennial British obsession, is at the root?

What think you?

"We have come to clean the pipes"

Listen to this before it vanishes from the internet next week.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

EdRush gig confirmed

Monday 22nd May, at The Village, 8 - 11pm, £3: Foakies present:

TRAVELLING WAVERLIES. The Waverlies line-up will feature Bob Shields, Mike Dillon, Tom Fairnie, Mark Barnett, Nancy Somerville and Jane Fairnie.

Shore Poet ANDREW PHILIP

Dutch singer songwriter BERNARD BROGUE, a superb songwriter and guitarist who will play an extended spot on what will be his only gig in Edinburgh.

The Book Trade is Going to the Dog

The Competition Commission has finally cleared HMV's bid for Ottakar's. Now tell me, how is it not lessening competition for HMV, which owns Waterstones, to buy Ottakar's? In central Edinburgh, there are already three Waterstones stores and only one Ottakar's store. The only other sizeable bookshop is Blackwells, and that company is in financial trouble too. Maybe HMV should drop the H.

Mind you, whoever takes over whom, it probably won't make a blind bit of difference to the fact that it's nigh on impossible to find a decent poetry section in any big bookshop these days. Tragically, small, independent bookshops are also under pressure from online sales. Nothing comes close to a good, leisurely browse among a good stock of books in a good shop, but might it soon be a matter of history?

Edinburgh Rush Festival

Heavens, Edinburgh is home to more festivals that you can shake a wad of tickets at! This one was brought to my attention by fellow Shore poet Nancy Somerville. I might be reading on the Monday night in the--ahem--Foakie Doakies event, but that's still to be confirmed. That's this Monday coming, by the way.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Hill Difficulty

I've been dipping in and out of Geoffrey Hill's new book, Without Title, lately. It's not his most immediately captivating work, but there are flashes of the Hill brilliance here and there throughout.

Hill is one of those poets considered difficult. I'm not about to deny that his work is dense and challenging, but I have a difficulty with the use of "difficult", especially when it's set in opposition to "accessible". To put the equation crudely, any readily understandable writing is "accessible", which is considered very good; any writing that is not readily understandable is "difficult", which is considered very bad. Question that, and you're elitst, which is considered very very bad.

The problem is that such an assessment is external to the poetry, as it is based on the knowledge and experience of the reader and the attitude they hold towards the unfamiliar. Some readers derive pleasure from looking up things they don't understand. I'm one such reader, even if I don't always have time and energy for it. Moreover, in an interview on Radio 3's The Verb, Hill once said not only that it's not necessary to get all the references in his work to enjoy it, but that he sometimes doesn't get them all.

An assessment based on accessibility/difficulty also closes down debate about the intrinsic qualities and merits of the writing. That's where the debate should lie. Hill can write exquisitely; he can also write real stinkers. He should be judged as a poet on the weight and balance of the good work against the bad.

Unlike some, I'm not against so-called accessible poetry per se--some of it is wonderful--but I believe it's important that the republic of letters not succumb to the tyranny of the accessible or the dictatorship of the academic.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Question of Culture

What would happen if, instead of constantly asking about the use of art, our society began to ask itself seriously about the art of use?

Debut Authors Festival Again

The Debut Authors Festival now has its programme online. The organisers say the lack of poets this year is down to a lack of debut poets. All the more disappointing, then, that participation in the unpublished writers jam session is open to prose writers only.

Festival of Scottish Writing

The City of Edinburgh Council's 2006 Festival of Scottish Writing begins this weekend. Don't think I'll manage to get to much, if any, of it. It's a varied line-up. There are a few Gaelic events on the programme, but I didn't notice any specifically Scots-language events. There ought to be one or two at least. (Admittedly, I had only a quick scroll through the pdf, so I might have missed something.) There are a few poetry events, one of which focuses on Asian writing. Sounds interesting, though I'm not entirely clear from the brochure whether it's all in Urdu.

A Taste of Salt

Cambridge-based publisher Salt has created a bulletin board brimming with literary news and virtual space to exchange useful and interesting information. At the moment, the focus in the news sections is on Salt publications, but that's only because the main people to have posted so far are Salt. Anyone can sign up and post. Looks like it could develop into a fantastic resource.

Friday, May 05, 2006

What Roddy Lumsden says

Roddy Lumsden has reviewed HappenStance and its publications for his blog on the Books from Scotland site. This is what he has to say about Tonguefire:

My favourite of the bunch is Andrew Philip's Tonguefire, a selection of careful, image-heavy lyric pieces dealing with the domestic and the numinous. I first encountered Philip, who now works as a reporter for the Scottish Parliament, when he was an Edinburgh University student a decade back, and it is rewarding to read this pamphlet, hopefully a step towards a deserved first full collection.

What's New on Tonguefire