Monday, January 29, 2007

PAS Reading Next Week

Just over a week until my reading with Gerrie Fellows for the Poetry Association of Scotland! Having been a member of the Association for a good few years, I know I can expect not only a warm welcome but an acute audience. It's the best combination a writer can have.

Here are the details: Wednesday 7th February 2007, 7.30pm, at the Scottish Poetry Library. Entry: £3 (£2 concessions)

Perhaps I'll see you there.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Poems on Pillows: the Renga

After the horror of the photoshoot, we settled down to writing, with Ken first recording an introduction to the renga for the BBC Radio Scotland arts show Radio Cafe. Elspeth had to shuffle off for a live studio interview with them at lunchtime, but Richard and I were left voiceless on the airwaves.

Participating in a renga seems to attune the writing mind well to the sharp focus of the haiku style. It probably helped that the morning was glorious and there was plenty fodder for imagery in the view from the hotel room (I think it's the one at the top of this page) and even in the room itself. The four of us generally took quite different approaches to the strictures of the schema, which made for a stimulating day. Several stanzas that didn't make it into the renga were the equal of any that did.

Word is that, aside from the excerpts on the postcard, the whole renga will be published on the websites of the Scottish Poetry Library and Ten Hill Place. I'll post a link when that happens. It also might be displayed somewhere in the hotel, but you'll have to stay there to be able to see that!

O Wert Thou in the Quirky Shot

I am beginning to think that the necessary qualifications for working in PR and media relations must include a degree of--perhaps that should be "degree in"--Schadenfreude. It seems to me a truth universally ignored, at least by PR people, that the unfortunates who have to appear in quirky publicity shots are never the folk who dream them up.

Picture the scene: hotel bed, three poets, account director from a PR agency, someone from Radio Scotland and four photographers. This is what greeted me, Elspeth and Richard on Thursday when we arrived for the publicity photoshoot that preceeded the renga at Ten Hill Place [new readers start here, then go here]. Laid out on the bed were white dressing gowns and slippers for the three of us and Ken Cockburn, who was leading the renga. This despite the fact that, the previous day, Ken had expressed to the PR woman our unease with the idea of us being photographed together on the bed in white bathrobes and she had responded along the lines of "they won't have to do anything they don't want to."

Ken had suggested he bring his Japanese tea set for shots with an improvised tea ceremony as an alternative to the bathrobes, but he was late in arriving. Elspeth and Richard, seeing how little hope there was in resistance, put aside their inhibitions and donned the gear. I stood on my dignity somewhat longer, but it was clearly futile. Eventually, under the application of a little pressure, including reassurance that "the photographers will know if it's not working", and without Ken's tea set to provide a get-out, I had little option but to girn and bear it.

We were all still fully clothed underneath the dressing gowns of course. With, eventually, 11 people in the room, that made things a little on the warm side for us. By the time Ken made it, the photographers had been absorbed for several minutes in snapping us in various purportedly pensive poses on the bed and were not interested in a tea ceremony. Unfortunately, they seemed to think it was working.

Really, none of us writers particularly enjoyed the experience. Ken managed to avoid being snapped altogether. Elspeth, to remain sane, took to writing the photographers' commands in her notebook ("Richard, could you--I don't know how to say this--move closer to Elspeth's bum?" is one memorable example) and scribbling unbroadcastable comments on the situation. I'm not sure what kind of expression I wore, but the photographers wrongly concluded that I didn't like having my photo taken and called me "the serious one". It was (you may say) unsatisfactory.

Needless to say, I was less than heartbroken when the PR account director phoned on Friday about further publicity and mentioned that they'd had "a disappointing response from the papers". I was simply glad no incriminating evidence was to be found in the public domain. Still, the renga was great fun.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Scotsman gets it not quite right again

Imagine my surprise when I clicked on the headline "Poets' work to form basis of city literature collection" in my daily e-mail from The Scotsman and found it was a report of the poems on pillows commission! As you'll see if you read the piece, they've got rather confused about what is being written when and by whom. As I said in the previous post on the subject, there will be seven or eight postcards. Three of them are the poems that Elspeth, Richard and I are writing inpidually, one will be an excerpt from the renga and three are previously published poems by three other poets they've paid for the permission to use. I'm not sure whether the eighth is definite, but it will be a further commissioned poem.

The Scotsman also says that Elspeth, Richard and I are all "city-based". Well, Lithgae's a royal burgh but, in spite of West Lothian Council's plans for expansion, it ain't no city.

Still, good publicity!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Stanza 2007

The programme for StAnza 2007 is now available. It's the 10th StAnza, and the line-up is a good 'un. I'm particularly interested in hearing Jorie Graham, but I'm disappointed that the Eric Gregory Award showcase reading is at a time utterly inaccessible for me. However, I'm appearing in The Gathering: 100 poets reading a poem each to celebrate the anniversary.

Poetry Association of Scotland: Spring 2007

The Spring programme for the Poetry Association of Scotland came through the door this morning. The blurb for my reading with Gerrie Fellows on 7 February proclaims us:

"Two poets who describe the modern world with an ironic yet lyrical voice."

Other events in the season include a reading by Robert Crawford, Douglas Dunn lecturing on Edwin Muir and a photographic exploration of the Poetry Path near Kirkby Stephen.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Oh Do Desist, Dear Boy

Not that I'm given to watching Sunday morning TV, but I happened to see the art historian Brian Sewell pontificating disdainfully about modern art in churches on BBC 1 this morning. I assume the item, which was part of the Heaven & Earth show, was a brief televisual extension of his BBC Radio 3 show for Christmas week, the rather pompously entitled "Divine Art", which I missed, at least partly by design.

Sewell maintained that "we must insist" on a "spiritual" quality to religious art. The latter term seemed to mean visual art associated directly with Christian worship, which seems a remarkably narrow conception in today's society. However, although the rallying cry might not seem particularly controversial at first sight, it is hopelessly vague. Sewell did not define the "spiritual quality", but as far as I could gather, it is something to do with a sense of mysticism (a term Sewell used), transendence or the ethereal. From his reaction to the Henry Moore piece he lambasted, it certainly seemed to rule out any strong physiciality.

This is one of the most irritating things about Sewell's approach. Christianity in its orthodox forms--and remember, all the pieces he considered were for Christian places of worship--is founded on the belief that God became human in Christ or, to express it slightly differently, that Christ was fully human as well as fully pine. Therefore, the physical is as essential to the faith as the spiritual and ought be as strong an element in Christian art as the spiritual. God's transendence and immanence must be held in tension, if not necessarily in any single artwork then at least across the totality of Christian art.

The other irritatant was that Sewell didn't have anything positive at all to say about the modern and contemporary art he examined, except the grudging acceptance that Moore had at least considered the architectural setting of his altar, unlike another artist he critiqued. Granted, some of his criticisms were justified, but if he had lifted his head above his prejudices and ventured north, he might have found something to shake his disdain in Alison Watt's wonderful, award-winning painting Still in Old St Pauls Episcopal Church in Edinburgh. In this piece, presence and absence, the physical and the spiritual, death and resurrection meet naturally and powerfully. Surely even Brian Sewell could not fail to be moved.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Poems on Pillows

Just before Christmas, the Scottish Poetry Library asked whether I'd be willing to take on a commission for a new three-star metro hotel in Edinburgh, Ten Hill Place. The library and the hotel have put together a project to produce poetry postcards that will be left on the pillows at Ten Hill Place when guests arrive. There will be eight in total, I think, and the commission is not only to write one but to take part in a renga on 25 January at the hotel with two other poets who'll be writing pillow postcard poems--Elspeth Murray and Richard Medrington--and, as renga master, erstwhile Shore Poet Ken Cockburn.

This morning, Richard, Elspeth and I met our contact at the hotel, Adrian Hanger, for a look round the establishment and a chat about the project. Ten Hill Place consists of a swish new building and part of a Georgian terrace. Most of the accommodation is in the Georgian section, but the interior design of the hotel is wholly and beautifully contemporary. It's owned by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, but guests need no connection with the college or surgery.

The commission and the renga are new departures for me, although I've written poems specifically for certain occasions before. I'm looking forward to the work. I know Richard, Elspeth and Ken reasonably well; we're quite different writers in several ways, but that should make the renga more interesting.

Oh, and the poem has to be written by 19 January!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Padel on Difficulty

I like what Ruth Padel has to say about the so-called difficulty of poetry in her comment article last Saturday's Guardian:

Poetry, in other words, is not only good for you, and protects us against meaninglessness: by the pleasure it gives in its artifice, images and imagination, and in the little nudgy sensual relationships between words and sounds that hint at new ideas, poetry augments and reflects our delight in the world.

Isn't it difficult? Not more than we are. Our complicated lives (not to speak of the LCD display on the gym treadmill) are much more difficult than most poems. We are difficult to ourselves, difficult to each other. But OK, yes, some poetic artefacts can be slightly labour-intensive. Wallace Stevens said a poem should "resist the intelligence, almost successfully" and good poems are rarely explicit. They want you to discover what you feel for yourself and don't do simplification. If you simplify, says the Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti, you "misrepresent what's human at the moment of pretending to celebrate it". Taking "the accessible and the easy" out of the human condition, you "blur that condition instead of defining it".

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Links Added

I've added a couple of new links to the "Faith" section:

  • Foundation is an emerging church group in Bristol in which a friend of mine is heavily involved. The site has some basic information about the group and links to blogs by Foundation members, but consists mainly of intimations of events.

  • Perhaps Virtual Theology is of wider interest. It's an online repository for pdfs and mp3s of theological talks that, I think, are run by Foundation. I confess I haven't yet investigated them, just discovered they're there, so I can't comment on the quality of the material.

What's New on Tonguefire