Friday, August 15, 2008

10 Minutes, Four Hours, One Day

Here is the full information for my reading tomorrow at the Four Hour Festival:

Venue: Evolution Cafe, Evolution House. This is the entrance to eca on the West Port. It's a big glass building right on the corner of the crossroads, apparently.

Time: I'm on at 3pm. The event starts at 1pm with Shore Poet Nancy Somerville. Rob Mackenzie is on straight after Nancy and Ryan Van Winkle is on at 2pm.

Cost: Your time, not your cash. (But if you'd like to buy a pamphlet I'd be most grateful.)

I plan to read from Andrew Philip: A Sampler, the manuscript for The Ambulance Box and one new poem. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bullet Points

The new PBS Bulletin and choice arrived today. I can't let this pass without noting that Katy Evans-Bush (aka Ms Baroque) is the first Salt poet to have her first collection mentioned in the Bulletin. (Curiously, her book's cover isn't shown.) Big congratulations to Katy! Next quarter, Tim Dooley goes one better by being the first Salt poet to get a recommendation. Gaun yersel, Tim!! Janet Fisher is also mentioned, next to Katy, which makes it the first time Salt has got two books in the Bulletin. Congratulations to Janet too.

Pax? Pax?

Here's all I have to say about this story:

The Pax can belt a Mac at Night
xxMiscaw wir Bard and aw that
But critic's care's abuin his might;
xxGuid faith, he mauna faw that!
For aw that and aw that,
xxHis sarky sneers and aw that,
The pith o sense and pride o worth
xxAre higher ranks than aw that.

Meanwhile, in less carnaptious news, Burns's words are to be inscribed on the transport system in the west of Scotland. At a cost of £15,000, the scheme seems pretty cheap. Perhaps we can afford to do something similar for more of Scotland's great poets. (Maybe a sequence of topiary somewhere to commemorate MacDiarmid.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lithuanian Poets

To the Book Festival yesterday for a reading by three Lithuanian poets: Eugenijus Alisanka, Gintaras Grajauskas and Sigitas Parulskis, representing one half of the anthology Six Lithuanian Poets. It was a fairly small audience, not even filling up the smallest of the festival's performance tents. A pity, really, because the absentees missed themselves: it was a very good reading. The poets read their work in Lithuanian, with the translations read by somebody from Arc whose name I forget but whose face is familiar (though she does look very much like Iseabail McLeod formerly of Scottish Language Dictionaries). I'm utterly unfamiliar with Lithuanian, but it was still fairly easy to hear some of the rhythm and song that was missing from the translations, although the latter weren't bad poems in English either.

Next definite on my festival list is "Jidariyya", by the Palestinian National Theatre. It's based on a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, who died at the weekend, so it ticks the poetry box too. After that, it's my 3pm appearance at the "Four Hour Festival" on Saturday, though I'm hoping I'll get the chance to look in on other West Port Book Festival events too.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

45 Minutes

My poem "45 Minutes" has just been posted on the Artisan Initiatives website. It was written for the Artisan magazine time-themed issue, but they couldn't fit in. Never mind, I'm happy with online publication and very pleased to contribute. However, when you read it, bear in mind that each of the lines beginning "time enough" is supposed to be indented, which it isn't on the web page, and that the other lines have run over the end of the rather tight space it has been put in. It does nark somewhat when people ignore the shape of the poem on the page, but perhaps my long lines were somewhat impractical for the publication!

Update: the formatting has now been corrected and the poem looks as I intended it. (Thanks, Jess!)

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Clear Beginning

My 2008 Edinburgh festival season began last night with a trip to the Usher Hall to hear the BBC SSO under Ilan Volkov perform Thomas Adès’s Tevot and Olivier Messiaen’s final work, Éclairs sur L'Au-delà.

Tevot, a recent composition, was described in the programme note (which you can find here) as “effectively Adès’s second symphony”; if that’s the case, at just over 20 minutes long, it’s a fiendishly compressed one. Of course, it’s certainly not the first symphony to consist of a single movement, but the pace of the musical development for the first third or so seemed relentless. The string writing often seemed to be in opposition to what the rest of the orchestra was doing and, just as I had begun to absorb what was happening, the music would shift direction, forcing my ear to retune itself again. However, the piece climaxes with an intensely beautiful, moving treatment of a simple rocking melodic figure that starts out on the strings, is passed along the woodwind and then developed by the orchestra as a whole before the string writing begins to separate itself slightly from the rest of the orchestra again.

I had half-listened to Tevot on the radio a couple of weeks ago, but this was the first time I’d heard any Adès properly. I was certainly left wanting to hear the piece again. I have every intention of investigating his previous work and following his future compositions.

The Messiaen was the piece I was really waiting for. I’ve blogged before about the significance of Messiaen’s music for me, and I’ve loved this work since I first heard it on Radio 3 in 2004 played by the Berliner Philharmoniker under Simon Rattle, whose recording I cannot recommend highly enough.

Éclairs sur L'Au-delà couldn’t be more different from Tevot in many respects. If the latter seemed a bit impetuous at times, Éclairs was more than a tonic: Messiaen certainly takes his time to explore his hope and vision of heaven in 11 movements ranging in length from less than two minutes to more than 11. You’ll be glad to hear I won’t attempt a blow-by-blow account of the piece or performance, but I will, of course, say something.

Éclairs is full of Messiaen’s characteristic tonal colour and rhythmic/harmonic invention. It opens with an incredible chorale for brass. Here—and in the the fifth and final movements, in which the strings take up the song—the almost static harmonies and melody the create an expansive musical space, a sound world that I almost feel able to walk about in. It’s difficult to describe the emotional tone and impact of these movements. Words such as majestic, sombre, rapt and ecstatic come to mind but none of them capture the profound sense of something beyond understanding, beyond tension and peace. I have to say, though, Volkov and BCC SSO didn’t quite put this across as powerfully as Rattle and the Berlin Phil.

There is, naturally with Messiaen, plenty birdsong throughout the piece. Here, the woodwind shone brightly, especially in the gloriously, joyfully chaotic ninth movement, “Plusieurs oiseaux des arbres de Vieu”. But there was some tremendous playing throughout, notably from the flautists.

All in all, it was a fine performance. Bits of Éclairs are filling my head even now. That’s probably my live Messiaen fix for another year or so, so I’d better live off it as long as I can.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Benali Hits the Fringe

More excitement here yesterday when I discovered that "Yasser" was on at the Assembly Rooms this Fringe. Why? Well, it's written by someone I know: the Dutch Moroccan novelist Abdelkader Benali. I haven't seen or heard from Abdel for a long while, but I keep loosely up to date with his life and career through our good mutual friends. My Dutch (practically non-existent) isn't good enough to appreciate his work in the original, so I'm delighted at the opportunity to experience it in English on my home soil.


A big moment here yesterday: my contract from Salt for The Ambulance Box came through. It feels such a significant point to have reached; the book is that next step closer to becoming a reality! I was almost as excited as when Chris Hamilton-Emery accepted it! (You can tell by the number of exclamation marks in this post.) Now there's work to do on biographical notes (I'm used to them), describing the book (something I'm much less practised at)--blurby stuff, in other words--and thinking further about how to market it.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Phantom Purchase

The Herald reports today that the title painting from Alison Watt's recent National Gallery exhibition, which I saw during my trip to London in May, has been bought by the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow. I'm delighted it'll be on permanent display reasonably close to home.

Just heard the excellent news that Dedalus Press in Dublin will be publishing my friend Ray Givans next year. Ray has had several small press publications previously, but this will be his first full collection. I'm delighted our first collections will be out in the same year.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Slotting In

My time for the "Four Hour Festival" event has been confirmed: I'm on at 15:00 and it's a 10-minute set. Plenty time to get myself organised for that.

The event is open to prose as well as poetry and I've no idea what the balance between the two will be, but it should be fun. It also includes Shore Poet Nancy Somerville at 13:00; fellow blogger and HappenStancer Rob A Mackenzie at 13:10; and the Scottish Poetry Library's new reader in residence, Ryan Van Winkle, at 14:00. That's three other poets at least. I don't recognise any of the other names on the bill, so I'm looking forward to hearing some unfamiliar writers, including the fabulously named Jimmy Warblegoose.

Forward Reading +

Dropped into the Scottish Poetry Library to pick up a couple of the books on the shortlist for the Forward best first collection prize. I've decided to focus on that prize because of the stage I'm at in my own publishing history. Frances Leviston's and Andrew Forster's books were the only two from the list on the shelves, so I've come away with them.

They'll have to wait a little, however, until I'm finished Window for a Small Blue Child by Gerrie Fellows. It's a cracking book. I knew it would be good because I heard Gerrie read from it when we appeared together for the Poetry Association of Scotland last year, but I'm enthralled by its power and lyricism and I'm enjoying it hugely. Get your hands on it.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Forward Shortlists 2008

In the past few days, this year's Forward Prize shortlists have been announced. Here they are in full:

Main Prize
Jamie McKendrick - Crocodiles & Obelisks (Faber)
Sujata Bhatt - Pure Lizard (Carcanet)
Mick Imlah - The Lost Leader (Faber)
Jane Griffiths- Another Country (Bloodaxe)
Jen Hadfield - Nigh-No-Place (Bloodaxe)
Catherine Smith - Lip (Smith Doorstop)

First Book
Simon Barraclough - Los Alamos Mon Amour (Salt)
Andrew Forster - Fear of Thunder (Flambard)
Frances Leviston - Public Dream (Picador)
Allison McVety - The Night Trotsky Came to Stay (Smith Doorstop)
Stephanie Norgate - Hidden River (Bloodaxe)
Kathryn Simmonds - Sunday at the Skin Launderette (Seren)

Single Poem
Seamus Heaney - "Cutaways"
Christopher Buehlman - "Wanton"
Catherine Ormell - "Campaign Desk, December 1812"
Don Paterson - "Love Poem for Natalie 'Tusja' Beridze"
Kate Rhodes - "Wells-next-the-Sea"
Tim Turnbull - "Ode on a Grayson Perry Urn"

It would be idle for me to comment on the quality of the choices because, as usual, I've read hardly any of books on the shortlists. (The only one I have read is Hadfield's, which is strong, inventive and fresh.) However, I can see it's another good year for the small presses, especially on the first collection list. I'm glad to see Salt there for the third year running (not that I have any vested interest, you understand!) even if it's with fewer titles than last year. Simon Barraclough's book is being talked about as a strong contender, though Frances Leviston's seems to be considered the frontrunner. It's also a pleasure to see and acquaintance, Andrew Forster, appear on the list.

Cape is conspicuous by its absence in either of the collection categories. A shame there are no Salt titles on the shortlist for the main prize. If I remember rightly, Luke Kennard's The Harbour Beyond the Movie was the only book on last year's main list from a press outside the Mighty Handful; the pattern is repeated this year with Catherine Smith's collection in that position.

Of course, next year I might not be quite so dispassionate about the whole thing ...

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Professionals

Just discovered this page of interview excerpts from a small gathering of big-name poets. It's something of a mixed bunch to my eye (no great fan of Betjeman, me), but it looks worth investigating and at least it's pretty international. I'll certainly be commenting on Walcott's remarks on rhyme at some point once I've digested them a bit more and formulated my response.

I'm intrigued by the url: "... audiointerviews/professions/poets ..." Perhaps someone at BBC Four is under the impression there's an awful lot more money in poetry than any of us involved it think.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Pretending to be Normal

You know, I haven't written anything for weeks. It's not a case of writer's block as much as one of writer's break, one of those fallow periods you have now and then. In past years, I've found the summer a surprisingly unproductive season: I never write on holiday (so I no longer expect myself to); my day job slows down to such an extent that the dust even loses all motivation to shift in the stale air; and August gets filled with the festivals.

I've come to accept that summer isn't a time to try to push myself into generating new poems. But it's an odd sensation, since I feel like I'm pretending to be a normal person. The pretence can't last long, of course. I start to fidget interally and can't really rest after a while. And normal people don't exactly get excited about going to a Messiaen concert or get interested in hearing Lithuanian poets read. In fact, I have strong suspicion that all normal people usually found in Edinburgh evaporate for the month of August, perhaps due to the heat generated by the sudden influx of artistic types from all over the globe. Maybe there's a solution to the looming energy crisis in there somewhere. Now, if only we could find a way to harness ...

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