Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Flittit!

Tonguefire has moved. I've been building a wee website on WordPress, incorporating this blog . Although it's not exactly finished, I deem it ready enough for me to point www.andrewphilip.net at it and shift the blog over there.

I do hope you'll update your bookmarks, feeds and blogrolls and join me in the new virtual abode. All the old posts and comments are there. I think you'll find it elegantly styled and comfortable. Perhaps you'll also find it interesting and a bit more user friendly. See you over there!

Now, where did I put the keys for this place ...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Thursday Past: What Did and Didn't Happen

Blackwell's on Thursday was a good night. A really varied bunch of perfomers -- poetry, fiction, non-fiction and folk music -- in a great venue, despite the traffic noise. It was a good audience, too. Heartening to see a mix of kent faces and new. Good on the bookshop for putting on such a good programme. If you're in the vicintiy and have missed it, there's still this week coming, when the line-up includes my fellow Lithgae resident Douglas Watt, along with Jim Sinclair, Michel Faber, Kenneth Steven and Louise Welsh.

Unfortunately, I had to head straight home after the reading and so didn't get to see David Gaffney's show or meet the man himself. I also didn't manage to get to either of Michael Symmons Roberts's EIBF readings this weekend. Not much of a festival for me this year. There's always the next one! I vow to do more readings in Edinburgh next August too.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Destroy PowerPoint -- Another Festival Plug

Anyone who has read David Gaffney's hilarious, dark, moving and imaginative collection of micro fiction Sawn-Off Tales or who enjoyed his sawn-off operas on The Verb a while back will doubtless want to check out his Fringe show, I reckon. Click the flyer image to go to the Fringe web page for the show.

‘Office life eats itself in witty, profound stories of love and desperation in the workplace.’

About PowerPoint, made in PowerPoint, presented in PowerPoint, micro-fiction writer David Gaffney demonstrates how PowerPoint dominates, destroys, and pollutes workplace communication with his unique, funny, profound tales of a complex corporate world where the spirit thrives despite everything.

Why PowerPoint?
‘I’ve worked in many public service jobs,’ said David, ‘as a debt counselor, a trainer, a funding officer, and a legal consultant, and I’ve been subjected to hundreds of PowerPoint presentations and delivered many as well. I began to wonder about the format - did PowerPoint release creativity within the workforce or stifle it? I wanted to test this out and my specialism being what I call sawn-off tales - micro stories of only a few hundred words long - I wondered what it would be like to use PowerPoint as a format to tell stories. It would be the workplace talking to itself in the only language it knows. The stories would be about people delivering PowerPoint presentations and, in traditional PowerPoint style, every word would appear on the screen.’

Destroy PowerPoint will appeal to anyone who likes good literature, strong original comedy, or is just interested in making fun of the way we communicate at work. Think Daniel Kitson, The Office, Peep Show, Dave Gorman, David Shrigley.

David Gaffney lives in Manchester. He is the author of Sawn-off Tales (2006), Aromabingo, (2007), and Never, Never (2008). Destroy PowerPoint is his first Edinburgh show.

The Importance of Sodium

On Facebook at the moment, you can vote for what you think is the most important book Salt has published. It's a fascinating list. At the moment, Shaindel Beers is way out in front and looking unassailable. (Well done, Shaindel! It is a strong book.)

Of course, importance is deeply subjective but that's half the fun. There's no doubt that The Ambulance Box is the most important Salt book to me personally for a number of reasons, but what is most important in the wider literary sense is a completely different matter. I chose Scales Dog and The Harbour Beyond the Movie. What are your picks? Drop my the Facebook note and add them, comment here or at the Salt Confidential post. The vote closes on 15 September.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Blackwell's Writers at the Fringe and More

Family circumstances mean I'm almost absent from Edinburgh this festival season, but I'll be reading at Blackwell's Writers at the Fringe on Thurs 20th. Rob A Mackenzie is reading there tomorrow night.

There are, of course, numerous literary events going on in Edinburgh this month. I hope that I might manage to hear one of Michael Symmons Roberts two readings at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, but we'll have to see how things work out.

Jenny Bornholdt, Bashabi Fraser & Martin MacIntyre are reading at EIBF on Saturday from 4pm., although I won't make it. However, it should be worth checking out, especially for Martin’s very fine Gaelic poetry.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Top 20

The front page of Salt's website now carries a top 20 bestsellers list and I'm delighted to say that The Ambulance Box currently comes in at 11, just above Keats (!). Here are the top 10:

  1. Tania Hershman, The White Road and Other Stories
  2. Chris Agee, Next to Nothing
  3. Shaindel Beers, A Brief History of Time
  4. Luke Kennard, The Migraine Hotel
  5. Marion May Campbell, Fragments from a Paper Witch
  6. Siân Hughes, The Missing
  7. Andrew Taylor, The Unhaunting
  8. Mark Illis, Tender
  9. Chrissie Gittins, I’ll Dress One Night As You
  10. Anita Heiss, I’m Not Racist, But …

Well done to all the above writers! I'm particularly pleased to see Chris Agee's wonderful, deeply moving book so high up the hit parade. A good strong showing for the poetry list too!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Journey's End, Fair and Squared

There were some strained moments last week on the Ambulance Box tour bus after the driver nearly fell asleep at the wheel in the Swiss Alps and the tour manager's navigation nearly had us in Luxembourg rather than heading Londonward. But nobody has actually fallen out or off and, today, we reach our final stop at fellow Salt poet Anne Berkeley's blog Squared. Drop by to read about opening the book on a monostich; mentoring, colleagues and development; and the future of poetry publishing.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Open Plan Otherness: An Interview with Claire Crowther

The Clockwork Gift is Claire Crowther's second collection. It's a rich and powerful book from a unique voice. I started off our chat by asking about the poem "Open Plan".

Andrew Philip: Welcome to Tonguefire, Claire. I love the unsettled and unsettling examination of contemporary family life in this poem. What was its genesis?

Claire Crowther: I began to imagine the world of this poem when I went to live in a gated estate. It was an unpleasant feeling and I kept wanting the walls and gates to be taken away. The image of walls being taken down persisted in my head and I wrote a few failed poems about gated communities. Then I simplified it to a home in which a couple are powerless to resist the actions of government and are made vulnerable in a way they don't expect.

AP: How typical is that of your writing process?

CC: It's typical that I think of a scene or action in which I am stuck, fearful and confused - I meditate on such a scene for weeks or months. Gradually I take myself out of the scene and universalise it or bring others in or make myself into another character. At this point I am driven to start writing a poem, or a few lines.

AP: Family life, particularly from the point of view of a grandmother, is a frequent area of exploration in the book. However, it's always dangerous for a reader to assume autobiography. How closely do you draw on your own experience?

CC: In a way I always do but only as a starting point. I have always felt what I write about - that's the genesis of a poem. But the detail varies from my own experience - it could be that I observe other families interacting and freely bring in their details. I never feel I have to stick to any one set of facts - I mingle and match facts I've observed to serve the poem which becomes something different. In the end, there is rarely any autobiography at all - the poem has taken over completely.

AP: You also use and even create myth. How did the set of poems about the thike come about?

CC: I feel very strongly about the way we human beings make ourselves 'other' all the time. We seem to treat people outside our own groups as differently as we treat animals. I wanted a story - or myth - that would express that. I also think animals are interesting because our care and/or use of them is so complicated and so often destructive. But I was also happy to depict a thike as human because I think there is very little difference in our treatment of humans and animals in some circumstances.

AP: Are you done with the thike or will we see more of it in future?

CC: I'm not done with thinking about the thike - but I can never plan for poems so I don't know if any more of these poems will emerge fully finished.

AP: Do you feel able to tell us what you're working on at the moment?

CC: I'm working on a series of poems about an imaginary village called Low Village - it serves as a mythical underworld. I lived in a village for twenty two years so, though these poems do not describe that village, many of my feelings about village life are expressed in these poems. They are not realistic poems. The human thike in "Sleeping on a Trampoline" lives there.

AP: The formal variety in The Clockwork Gift is striking. I'm especially interested that you sometimes slip between verse and a prose-poem layout within a single poem. Will you comment on that and on your relationship to the space of the page?

CC: I would like to do more with the space on a page. I love the white expanse and have not yet explored it fully. Alternating prose and verse is another tool to pace a poem and help a reader extract more meaning from a situation. I am still writing poems with that form. I understand that haibun poems use prose as well as verse so I haven't invented it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

August Offer at Salt

This just in from Salt:

In order to keep Salt on track through the wet British summer, we're offering you another special deal throughout August. All Salt books are available from us at 33% discount yet again. That's a third off all Salt titles, and free shipping on orders with a cover price of over £30 or $30. Offer ends 31 August 2009.

Simply enter the coupon code HU693FB2 when in the store to benefit.

As before, all we ask is two things—

1. Buy one book. Or perhaps another one ... go on.
2. Pass it on. Share this offer with everyone who loves gorgeous books and likes a bargain (whilst saving independent literature).

http://www.saltpublishing.com

Closely Shielded Secrets

The Ambulance Box tour bus nears the end of its journey this week as I pull into Switzerland and the blog of poet, academic and musician Andrew Shields. Andrew is a tough questioner! But I enjoyed it. Click here to read his questions to me about Scots and German, my poetics and lists.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Spreading the Sodium

The Bookseller is reporting good news on the Salt front: the press has managed to raise enough money to keep going through 2009 -- as long, that is, as it achieves its budgeted sales for the rest of the year, which is far from a given. Which means all sales and efforts such as this week's benefit reading in Edinburgh are still necessities. There's an exciting diversification programme at Salt too, about which the link above gives a tantalising glimpse. Please help to keep this vibrant and innovative publisher afloat not only for today's readers and writers but for the future.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Out of the Salty Blue

Kevin Cadwallender, editor of Red Squirrel Scotland, has organised an Edinburgh benefit reading for Salt. It's at Out of the Blue arts centre, Dalmeny Street on Thursday July 30th at 7 pm. Poets include JL Williams, Rob A Mackenzie, Colin Donati, Kevin Cadwallender, James Oates, Anita Govan, Steve Urwin, Alistair Robinson and others TBC, all giving their time and raising their voices to raise money for Salt Publishing. Entry is free but donations to the cause are welcome and expected.

I can't be there, sadly. If you can be there, go; if you can spread the word, do. It is important that we keep publishers like Salt afloat.

Open Plan

I'll be interviewing another Shearsman poet, Claire Crowther, here on Friday 31 July. The following poem comes from her marvellous new collection The Clockwork Gift.

Open Plan

They took the walls away without warning.
The roof floated, a miraculous over of shelter.
We were caught out. We cooled quickly. A sty?

My hands made paws? My lover stamped in the open.
Who took the decision? Editorials argued
about iconoclasm. We’d had a tradition

of opening the inside but obscuring doors.
But doorlessness isn’t just trailing ivy
over a letterbox or bricking the front

to look like the side. Our family walls were all sides.
The trick was to show passers-by a gleam of room.
One of our walls had had an exquisite trompe l’oeil

library. No stranger could find a way in
and no one knew how we had done it, which book
the idea came from. Every unwalled home

can’t be called a ruin. I missed the rally.
Thousands met in a park — that seems so ironic.
Were they protesting about their gazebos?

My bed is a perfect copy of straw, comfortable.
I hold you as close as when we were walled in,
though nearer the pavement, though clearer to them.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Flint, Rime, Paint: An Interview with Siriol Troup

Siriol Troup's Beneath the Rime, her second full collection of poetry, was published earlier this year by the wonderful Shearsman Press. I first met Siriol when we read together at StAnza 2006, along with Richard Price, and was only too pleased when asked to take part in her virtual book tour.

Andrew Philip: It's a pleasure to have you here. at Tonguefire, Siriol. Will you tell a little about how and when you started to write poetry?

Siriol Troup: I had a wonderful English teacher, Miss Flint, who encouraged us all to read and write poetry. Once a term, each house was given a theme to write about and the best efforts were pinned up on the ‘Literary Board’. Other girls would pay me to write poems for them – sometimes there were half a dozen of my poems on the board, each under a different name. After I left school I had little time for poetry – raising four children took a fair amount of my time! – until 2001 when I abandoned work on yet another terrible novel and returned to writing poetry.

AP: The real and imagined journeys in Beneath the Rime cover a lot of ground in place and time. It seems a very European book in that France, Germany, Spain and Rome are recurrent settings, although we also get a bit of America. That breadth of view is refreshing in British poetry. Will you comment on this? Do you see yourself as primarily a British or European poet?

ST: My father was in the army so most of my childhood and teenage years were spent abroad, I then read French and German at Oxford, returned to teach French Literature there for a few years, went on to learn Italian and Spanish, and, more recently, I’ve been learning a bit of ancient Greek and Norwegian – so European languages and literature have always been part of my everyday vocabulary, and I suppose that’s why I’d like to see myself as a European, rather than British, poet. In fact, taking a quick look at the piles on my desk and my bedside table, I’d say I read a lot more in foreign languages (both poetry and prose) than I do in English! The French settings in Beneath the Rime are in fact Belgian: I spent summer holidays living with a family in Brabant who kept rabbits and became the background for a set of five poems in the book, the first of which is “Country Living”.

AP: You make frequent use of the dramatic monologue, sometimes even in non-human voices, such as the elephants in “Nox Elephantorum” and “Caged Elephants”. What attracts you to that approach? What do you consider to be its advantages and disadvantages?

ST: I like the freedom of being able to use a voice that’s not my own. Perhaps it’s something to do with being a linguist, always using someone else’s language. Finding another voice – human, animal or mineral (there’s a poem in my first book, Drowning up the Blue End, written from the point of view of Samuel Pepys’s gall stone) – lets you inhabit a different world, a different time, gives you a chance to see things from other, possibly more interesting, points of view. At its worst, dramatic monologue can simply be a frustrating mask, a cover-up that’s pretentious or annoying, but at its best, it’s a way of approaching the truth obliquely that can be liberating and illuminating, for both writer and reader – think of Plath’s “Lady Lazarus”, or Charlotte Mew’s “The Farmer’s Bride”.

AP: The third section of the book explores imaginatively the circumstances of Velázquez’s court portraits of the Infanta María Teresa and Mariana of Austria. I’m interested in the writing of this sequence. Did the poems arise out of reading you had already done or did you research the background with the intention of writing about it? Did you conceive it as a sequence or did it simply grow into one?

ST: I’ve been passionate about Velázquez since I was a teenager – one of the first art books I ever read was a Phaidon book with colour plates of some of his most famous portraits, including ones of Philip IV of Spain and his children Baltasar Carlos and Margarita, though oddly enough none of María Teresa herself. Since then I’ve read a lot about Velázquez and seen more of his paintings in galleries and exhibitions, most recently in the National Gallery exhibition in 2006, where I stood for a long while in front of the portrait of María Teresa aged about fourteen, wearing a wig decorated with ribbons in the shape of butterflies.

I was intrigued by the unusually intimate relationship that might – must! – have developed between artist and sitter over the years during which Velázquez was court painter and the Infanta was growing up, approaching marriageable age – even more intrigued by the fact that, as Chamberlain of the Royal Palace, Velázquez actually helped organize her wedding to Louis XIV of France and was so exhausted by the ceremonies that he died only two months later, leaving her to an unfaithful husband, children who all, apart from one, died in infancy, and a country that hated her.

I did a lot of background research about the Infanta and also about Velázquez and his painting techniques, always intending that what I wrote would form a sequence with a narrative thread, though I didn’t realise until quite far into my research that the poems would be in the Infanta’s voice. Once I’d done the reading and found her voice, I wrote very quickly – it was hard knowing when to stop, even harder leaving her behind and moving on to other subjects.

AP: That’s a long gestation, if the interest goes back to your teens. Do you generally find it takes considerable time for poems to germinate or do you tend to work quite quickly?

ST: Once I have an idea for a poem, I usually write the first draft quite quickly, but it can then take me months, even years, to finish it. There’s a poem in my first book which I wrote during take-off on a flight from Newcastle to London, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. I like to leave poems alone for a long while before coming back to them, then I can see more clearly what needs to be done and be ruthless about doing it.

AP: Beneath the Rime is a beautifully produced book. What attracted you to Shearsman and how did you find working with Tony Frazer?

ST: I’d already been impressed by Shearsman’s list (which includes César Vallejo, Gael Turnbull, Fernando Pessoa, Lutz Seiler...) and seen Tony in action at some of the Shearsman readings at the Swedenborg Hall in London. He’s passionate about all kinds of poetry and, for me, a big attraction was his interest in and enormous knowledge about German poetry, which he also translates. As a publisher, he’s perceptive, efficient, approachable, decisive – everything you could hope for. The cover for Beneath the Rime is all down to him. When the first image we looked at turned out to have been used elsewhere, he immediately put together five new covers for me to choose from, any one of which would have been a pleasure to use.

AP: How does it feel to be on your second collection? Is it harder work or easier than your first?

ST: It feels great to have my second collection out, but it was definitely harder work than my first. The more I write – and the more I read – the more I realise how far I fall short.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Transatlantic Hutter

If a disadvantage of touring virtually is that you don't get long stretches of reading time on trains or planes, one advantage is certainly the ability to skip back and forth over huge stretches of ocean and land as if you had a little nut tree. Accordingly, this week finds me back in the USA at Jilly Dybka's Poetry Hut blog. Click here to read about the connections between poetry, grief and chocolate cake.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Nox Elephantorum

I'll be interviewing the poet Siriol Troup here on Tonguefire on Friday, 24 July. The following poem comes from her new collection, Beneath the Rime.

Nox Elephantorum
– Elephant Night at the Coliseum

Climb the railings by moonlight – you’ll find us
on our knees in the ring, turning tricks
under the sky’s black awning. Such eloquent
desolation: the rime of ivory on tufa,
a breeze down the stairwells, the whiff
of dung and pozzolana. We have only
a few hours each night, but they are very long.

How shall we entertain you? Walk the tightrope
backwards? Toss stray cats in the air, watch them
break as they fall? For Germanicus
we danced the graveyard shuffle, our big feet
tender as pincushions, a crimson ellipsis
on the sand. The people roared, the vultures
lunged and hissed over the bleachers.

Let me be your guide. Once there were
statues, frescoes, trapdoors, marble seats, sails
flying through cloud. The butchery defied
imagination: bulls, bears, crocodiles,
tigers and giraffes – an alphabet of beasts
slaughtered ad libitum, carousels
of blood. Listen, you can hear the skirl

of tusks along the colonnades.
I had a mother once. These ears are for
remembering: the feverish sea, psoriasis
of salt on skin, the subterranean
cells, the bite of chains. Now, in the centre
of the herd, we place the ones who cannot
die, shading them with the bark of our hides,

with memories of acacias rooted in heat-
haze. They weep like rocks, piteously, below
the range of human hearing. In summer
the moths come, creamy as baobab flowers,
wings like gauze on their wounds. How many
of us lie buried in this vanished world?
Step closer, let me show you the little paths

that wind among the ruins. The travertine vaults.
The drains gathering water from the hills of Rome.
The Vestals sat here. Here’s the spot where tongues
of lightning set fire to the upper floors. Here
twenty elephants were killed, but not before
we’d raised our trunks to heaven, causing the crowd
to rain down curses on Pompey. And here

you stand with your guidebook, staring at things
you cannot see. Soon it will be dawn.
You’ll leave with our dust on your feet, our breath
on your neck, our tears on your dry cheeks.
Will you remember how we died? How little
we asked of the gods? How the moon tonight
was encompassed by a light unknown in your land?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Extra Tour Date!

Unoccupied as I am and have been, I've added another date to the Ambulance Box virtual tour: on 5 August, I'll be at fellow Salt poet Anne Berkeley's blog Squared.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Spark Plugs, Squirrels and Slams

Others may be going on a summer holiday, but here at Tonguefire the Ambulance Box virtual tour bus keeps chugging along. It's a remarkable engine, managing to pull me over the Atlantic and back in a week with barely a dampened spark plug to speak of.

Today, it pulls into Cadwallender, the eponymous blog of Edinburgh-based poet and editor Kevin Cadwallender, whose Dances With Vowels: New and Selected Poems came out on Smokestack last month. Kevin asks me 10 rather intriguing questions. Where else would Adrian Mitchell, Willam Dunbar, John Ashberry, Ian Hamilton Finlay and slam be likely to turn up in the same post?

Next week, it's another hop over the pond for a few questions at Jilly Dybka's Poetry Hut blog. Chug, chug!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Words are Wild

Just finished reading Shira Wolosky's The Art of Poetry: How to Read a Poem, which I borrowed from the Scottish Poetry Library. Good book, I thought; one I'd certainly recommend as a general overview of poetic form and rhetoric. I might well buy a copy for reference. Only once or twice did really think she'd missed something or got it slightly wrong about a poem, but she knows a lot more than I do. But I was amused by the following sentence, which closes a brief assessment of Poe and is the book's only comment on poetry in a language other than English:

Such poems [those that "try to block the process of signification altogether"] remain, however, rather extreme cases, although they are wildly influential in France.

(p 193, emphasis mine.)

Dear me, whatever will those French folk think of doing next?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Duffy, Hughes, Eliot and Translation

This week, Carol Ann Duffy launched her new poetry prize: the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry for

the most exciting contribution to poetry in that year.

It's a generous gesture from the new laureate, though questions have been asked about whether we need another poetry award. The test will be the shortlists: if they copy those of the other prizes, the Ted Hughes Award will be pointless; if they're as broad as the outlined criteria, it could be worthwhile:

Eligible works include, but are not limited to, poetry collections (for adults or children), individual published poems, radio poems, verse translations, verse dramas, libretti, film poems, and public poetry pieces.

It's particularly encouraging that translations will be in the running. Translation is an art largely unsung in the UK. Indeed, the rules for the TS Eliot Prize stipulate:

Books which contain more than twenty percent (20%) translations (including versions, imitations or any poetry inspired by the work of one or more other writers) will not be eligible. Percentages should be calculated on the total number of lines of poetry in a book.

A translation award could too easily reinforce the ghettoisation of translated poetry but, by including it along with untranslated work, I sincerely hope Duffy's new prize helps to raise the status of translating in the British poetry scene.

Reviews Bubbling Up

The first print review of The Ambulance Box is in! It's part of a piece in Magma 44, where Rosie Shepperd reviews it alongside Paula Meehan’s Painting Rain (Carcanet) and River Wolton’s The Purpose of Your Visit (Smith/Doorstop Books). The review is thorough and extremely positive. Here's a headline quote:

delights readers with a dance through images and words that express powerful visionary and and spiritual experiences.

The issue also contains reviews of several friends' books: Ben Wilkinson reviews Rob A Mackenzie's The Opposite of Cabbage enthusiastically alongside no lesser names than Mark Doty and John Agard; there's a mixed review of Lorraine Mariner's fresh quirky and moving Furniture that nonetheless includes some high praise indeed; and another fine poet, Claire Crowther, provides a very positive review of Polly Clark's Farewell My Lovely.

Click the cover image above to go to the page for this issue of the magazine, though you can't read the review online. It's a great encouragement to be reviewed so warmly in such a good publication.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Bridging the Pond

My Cyclone virtual book tour skips over the Atlantic today to stop in Ojai, California at poet Robert Peake's blog. Thanks to the wonders of Skype and Robert's technical know-how, you can see and hear us discuss the surprises of publication; language; the music of poetry; the importance of the page; and grief and hope. You can also hear me read "Berlin/Berlin/Berlin" and "Pedestrian" from The Ambulance Box.

The whole 35-minute interview is available to view at Robert's post. The lip sync is a bit out in places, but I hope you take as much pleasure in hearing the interview as I took in speaking to him. Alternatively, you could view the five self-contained sections of video if you don't have time to digest it in a oner or simply play the audio of the full chat. Take time to explore Robert's intelligent, sensitive blog too.

Next week, I'm back on virtual home ground when I stop at Kevin Cadwallender's blog.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

"The Night" Today

My choice of classic poem has just gone up on the Scottish Poetry Library's Reading Room site. Click here to read my thoughts on Henry Vaughan's "The Night". Don't omit to browse the growing wealth of previous choices too.

Founded and Boxed

Just back online after my trip to London for the Lemon Monkey reading (a fanstastic evening of which more anon) and a brief computer hiatus enforced by redecorating. All of which leaves me with two tour stops to catch up on.

First of all, on Monday, as Rob Mackenzie and I sped southwards on the not yet renationalised east coast mainline, Ivy Alvarez posted her interview with me on Dumbfoundry. Swing by to read about Biblical imagery and myth, the distancing or solidary effect of using Scots and how much distance I put between myself and the floor when I first saw copies of my book.

Today, I'm at Mark Calder's blog Boxolgies for some political and theological blether. Read my thoughts on language as power and resistance, the necessity of saying the impossible to say, and how I would review my own poetry*.

*Little do you know what you're letting yourself in for when you ask folk for these questions!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Pleasant Sound of Poetry Sales Increasing

A wee while back, I speculated about the preception and truth of poetry sales. This was before the BBC's admirable poetry season and Salt's cash crisis. Now, today, courtesy of Matt Merritt, I found this article on the effect the Beeb's tranche of programmes has had on poetry sales.

Or, to be more precise, the sales of some poetry books. All by dead white poets, though one of them isn't male. Some of the percentages are staggering, and I can't help but wonder whether there was any similar effect on sales for the contemporary poets who featured as talking heads in Owen Sheers's series on BBC4. They each got to read a poem of theirs, but they were largely there to discuss the poet and poem under scrutiny (and a good thing it was too; I'd much rather have fellow poets do that than non-poet academics).

Would a similar run of programmes on living poets have a similar effect on sales of their works? I guess the Beeb might not find it so easy to get hold of knowledgable, articulate, well-known enthusiasts to present flagship programmes for such a season, but it's well worth a shot. (Any commissioning editors reading this?)

In not unconnected news, Chris Hamilton-Emery blogs compellingly about the origins of, and response to, Salt's "Just One Book" campaign. This, like the response to the BBC season, demonstrates that there is a market for poetry*. The problem is 1) tapping it and 2) broadening it. That's where a well-researched, well-produced, well-presented season on contemporary poetry could do the art a world of good. The public, of course, needs a way into any art form, especially when the reality of its practice challenges their perceptions. The Beeb has shown how it can achieve that. The challenge now is to take that into new territory.

*The Ambulance Box is now into its third print run!

Taking Lines for a Walk

Today's tour stop is at the blog of Dundee-born artist Douglas Robertson. Doug has turned our chat via Facebook messages into a fine post about my sequence of "Hebridean Thumbnails", incorporating the poems themselves and beautiful, deft sketches he has created to accompany them. I say it's about the sequence, but that's really only the jumping-off point for a discussion of monostiches and minimalism in art more generally, exploring some of the connections between writing and visual art.

Next week also sees two tour stops: on Monday, Dumbfoundry hosts Ivy Alvarez's interview with me; on Thursday, I'll be getting slightly political and theological over at Mark Calder's Boxologies blog. Owing to the London gig and some redecorating at home, I might not get the chance to link to Ivy's post until Thursday. Should be quicker off the mark with Mark's, though.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

One Day Late

Whoops! I've got a day behind myself in posting the links to my Cylone virtual book tour. Thankfully, Claire Askew is on the ball and posted her interview with me on her One Night Stanzas blog yesterday as advertised. Drop by and read about how I became a writer, how I got from my first poem to my first collection, why I think literary blogs are a good thing and more.

If you're following the tour, you're in for a treat on Friday, when we stop by the blog of Scottish artist Douglas Robertson. Words and pictures ...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Lemon Monkey Approaches

Less than a week now till Rob A Mackenzie and I hit Stoke Newington! I'm hugely excited about this opportunity for us to read with Katy Evans-Bush and Yang Lian. Katy read a great set at the Jekyll and Hyde a week past Sunday.

I first came across Yang Lian when I did some Chinese lit -- in translation, I hasten to add -- at uni. I was impressed with the movement to which he belongs, the misty poets, though we focused on Bei Dao. I also heard Yang Lian read at Edinburgh international book festival a few years ago with his Scottish translators, the Holton brothers. There were some particularly striking Scots translations of some of his work, which are available as the Kettilonia pamphlet. Whaur the Deep Sea Devauls. He'll be reading from his next book, Lee Valley Poems -- his first based on his life as a Londoner.

If you're in or near London, come and join us at Lemon Monkey between 7 pm and 9 pm on Monday 29 June. (Facebook event here.) Meanwhile, here's a taste of Yang Lian, speaking about his book Concentric Circles, courtesy of Bloodaxe:

Yang Lian from Neil Astley on Vimeo.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

thePROJECT2: In the Flesh

I'll be busy on Saturday: besides the Word Power reading (see the post below), I'll be popping up along with Rob A Mackenzie at the thePROJECT2. Twice, in fact: 2 pm at the Lot and 7:30 pm at the Pleasance Cabaret Bar. Booking information here. It's a varied and interesting programme.

thePROJECT is an exploration of the arts from a Christian perspective. Or of faith from an artistic perspective. Or of life, from a third perspective I can't think up. The universe and everything are probably in there too. Anyway, as part of the journey towards a larger festival in 2011, thePROJECT is putting on a series of small, more organic events this year and next, starting with a half-day festival that doesn't seem that small scale on Saturday. More information here.

Powering Up

Come to Word Power, 43-45 West Nicolson Street, Edinburgh this Saturday for a feast of fine verse. The reading starts at 12 noon sharp, finishes at 1pm. And it’s free! We'll all have books for sale.

Matt Merritt lives near Leicester. His first collection, Troy Town, was published in March 2008 by Arrowhead Press and his chapbook, Making The Most Of The Light, in 2005 by Happenstance Press.

Rob A Mackenzie’s chapbook, The Clown of Natural Sorrow, was published by HappenStance Press in 2005. His first collection, The Opposite of Cabbage was published by Salt in March 2009.

Andrew Philip has published two poetry pamphlets with HappenStance Press—Tonguefire and Andrew Philip: A Sampler. The Ambulance Box, his first book of poems, was published in March by Salt.

James W Wood’s pamphlet, The Theory of Everything, was published by Happenstance Press in 2006, and Inextinguishable by Knucker Press in 2008.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Getting Crafty

This week, the Ambulance Box virtual book tour stops off at Fiona Veitch Smith's fine blog The Crafty Writer, a rich resource of information about the craft and business of writing. Click here to read my poem "Lullaby", our discussion of writing as therapy, the marketing of writing in Scots, getting your poetry published and more besides.

Next week, things hot up with two stops. More of that anon ...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Weebles Wobble but How Do They Write?

Lifting the Lid: the Ambulance Box virtual book tour gets under way today over at Our sweet old etcetera ... the blog of the Scottish Poetry Library. Pop by and read about my earliest influences, Weebles, my writing methods and more besides.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Word(s) on Sunday

April, may be the cruelest month, but June is shaping up to be the busiest. This Sunday coming (14th), I'll be doing not one but two readings. First of all, you can join me and a variety of other Linlithgow-based authors in the marquee at the Rugby Club for "Take Tea With an Author", a free event, with all donations going to Donaldson's school for the deaf, which is now based in the town. There will be tea, coffee, home baking and books. The other authors are: Ian Emerson, Harry Knox, Douglas Watt, Jane McKie, Wallace Lockhart and Ewan McVicar.

In the evening, you'll find me sharing the Crypt Bar of the Jekyll & Hyde in Edinburgh with Zorras, my fellow former Shore Poet Allan Crosbie, and fellow Salt poet and blogger exraordinaire, Katy Evans-Bush. You can read my poem "Lullaby" and a biog note at the Poetry at the ... site. In fact, it's been up there since 31 May, but I've been rather tardy in blogging it (sorry, Rob!). Should be a great evening.

More gigs to come this month, including a bundle in Edinburgh on Sat 20th and what promises to be a cracker in London on 29th, where I'll be reading with Rob A Mackenzie, Katy Evans-Bush again and the distinguished Chinese "misty poet" Yang Lian.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Sustainable Development

This latest update on Just One Book comes courtesy of the blog of Salt short story writer Elizabeth Baines:

We’ve been busy campaigning over the last two weeks to save Salt. The business has faced some serious financial difficulties as the recession hit us hard. I’m pleased to say we’ve stabilised the business, but we still need to build our cash reserves to secure our future. We’d like to thank all our customers for supporting us; but more than that, we thought we’d offer everyone a summer treat:—

A THIRD OFF ALL SALT TITLES THROUGHOUT JUNE

We’re now giving you a huge 33% off ALL books till the end of June. Use the coupon code G3SRT453 when in the checkout to benefit. Don't forget if you spend £30 or $30 you get free shipping too.

Please continue to spread the word, and spread news of this offer. Please don't let up. It's been extraordinary, but we're not out of danger yet. Every penny goes into developing Salt's books and services. We want to start a new children's list, and offer more resources to teachers and schools. We want to extend our publishing in new areas including our translations programme, we want to offer you more free magazines online. We want to help develop more support for debuts with the enhancement of our Crashaw and Scott prizes. We're planning audio books, ebooks and new videos for you. We only want to move forward, to develop and expand what we do and deliver great books in new ways to you and yours.

We need your support throughout June. We'll try and organise more readings and promotions with our authors. Virtual book tours. More launches. We'll work with bookstores to bring you short story and poety evenings. Stick with us throughout June and we can do something astonishing. That's the power of Just One Book — we want you to be a part of it. Follow us on Twitter look for #SaltBooks and #JustOneBook. Join our Facebook Group.

And have a giggle at the vid, too.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdcTqXaOD2s

Oh, and one last special offer — Catherine Eisner’s magnificent crime novel, Sister Morphine for £7.50 plus P&P, simply enter coupon code EISNER in the UK checkout http://bit.ly/8rHDa

Watch out for more special offers throughout June.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

A Whale of a Cabbage

While you're waiting for the All New Ambulance Box Tour to begin, why not have a look at Rob A Mackenzie's De-Cabbage Yourself Tour? It kicked off this week at Very Like A Whale, where Rob answers questions about Scottish identity and his writing; cabbages (such a solid vegetable); putting his book together; being classed as an urban writer; and emotional impact versus detached irony. If any of that sounds dry or academic, you obviously don't know Rob.

"Rapturous even in despair"

Many thanks to Robert Peake for his sensitive and enthusiastic review of The Ambulance Box. As Robert says, he and I share the grief of having lost a newborn son, so his assessment of the book is of particular significance to me. Here's a taste:

Sentimentality and easy words seem as though they might never have been invented in the remarkable worldview Andrew hands us in this book.

Robert's blog is well worth a look. He too writes movingly about his loss and intelligently about poetry. As you'll have seen below, I'll be stopping by his site for my virtual book tour on 8 July. I think that promises to be a very special leg of the journey.

It worked!

I was delighted to read this Facebook status update from Salt's Chris Hamilton-Emery mid afternoon today:

Salt is now commissioning again, including a children's poetry list. Thanks for buying us time & for saving the press.

Tremendous news! Many thanks to everyone who bought books and helped this vital publisher not only continue but push forward. Double helpings of thanks to those of you who bought The Ambulance Box.

Of course, like any business, Salt needs to maintain sales to keep going, so please continue to buy from their great poetry, short story and other lists. As an extra enticement, there's 33% off throughout June. Just use the coupon code G3SRT453 in the checkout of Salt's online store (US store here).

Lifiting the Lid: the Ambulance Box Virtual Book Tour!

From Wednesday next week, I'll be popping up here and there on the blogosphere, subjecting myself to the inquisitions of a varied bunch of bloggers. Here's the full itinerary*:

The links above will magically trasform into permalinks for each post as we progress and the same will happen over at Salt's repository for virtual tours, Cyclone, where you'll also be able to read profiles of participating blogs.

Tag along. Ask questions. Make comments. View the video. Buy the T-shirt**. Most of all, enjoy yourselves.

*The 2, 15 and 22 July dates are still to be confirmed.

**Just kidding about the T-shirt. But then again ...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Reading the Leaves This Friday

On Friday this week, I'll be through in Glasgow to read at Tchai Ovna, Otago Lane. The reading starts at 8 pm. Also appearing are poets Colin Donati and Jim Carruth, crime fiction writer Alex Gray and writer/poet Stewart Ennis.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

On Newsnight Review

Well, I almost was: the covers for The Ambulance Box, The Opposite of Cabbage and Ian Gregson's How We Met filled the screen momentarily as a clip from Salt's Just One Book video was played. Priceless advertising! Chris got a few seconds on the campaign, on which you can read the latest here.

You can watch the programme here for the next seven days. It was great to have an edition of Newsnight Review dedicated to poetry. Simon Armitage spoke a lot of sense, to my mind, but most of the panel came over well. The hip-hop artist, whose name escapes me, also impressed me. A pity we didn't hear or see any of his Shakespeare work.

I have to say, hooray for the licence fee! We wouldn't have had a poetry season without it, would we?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Salt Latest

The Just One Book campaign has hit the Guardian books blog here! And that's not all folks: Chris Hamilton-Emery will be on Newsnight Review this Friday. The campaign is working -- 800 orders in the first four days, bringing in £17,000, which is six weeks' cash for Salt -- but Chris, Jen and their stalwart helpers are far from out of the woods yet, so let's keep it up.

Not bought your one book yet? Here's a quick list of Salt poetry titles I've particularly enjoyed over the past few months:

And here are several more still waiting to be read:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Portal

Chris and Jen are marvels. Cash crisis or no, they have just launched Salt Contemporary Writers, the new Salt author portal, a typically stylish web resource with a page for every one of their authors. Here's mine. It seems that they never cease to innovate and push forward. That's one of the reasons why we -- all readers and writers of poetry and fiction, not just the folk on their list -- need Salt to survive.

Another Review!

Another review! It seems to be my collection's weekend for reviews, especially ones with a HappenStance connection: Matt Merritt has just posted a wonderfully thoughtful, warm and generous appreciation of The Ambulance Box (the first link above). I'm indebted to him.

Matt and I will be reading with Rob A Mackenzie and James W Wood at Word Power Bookshop in Edinburgh on Saturday 20th June 2009 12.00 noon - 1.00pm. I'm very much looking forward to it.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Increase Your Poetry Emissions!

The good news is that Salt's "Just One Book" campaign is beginning to make a difference. It has even been picked up by the Bookseller, but Chris and Jen are far from out of the woods yet and we need to keep it up. I intend to make a few suggestions for your one book over the coming days/weeks but, meanwhile, here's that spoof advert. (I would embed it, but it overlaps the sidebar if I do. The Ambulance Box appears at about 0:16.)

Reviews

The previous two posts collide in Helena Nelson's generous review ofThe Ambulance Box and Rob A Mackenzie's The Opposite of Cabbage over on the HappenStance blog. It's my first blog review! (Although I've already gained a five-star Amazon customer review!) There are also reviews in the pipline or promised from Matt Merritt, Tony Williams and James W Wood for ONE Magazine.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Well Done Nell!

Huge congratulations to Helena Nelson on HappenStance press being shortlisted for the publisher's award in the inaugural Michael Marks pamphlet awards. It's much deserved, as Nell has done a huge amount to boost the publishing careers of numerous poets and the world of poetry chapbooks in the UK, not only through her own quality productions but through the magazine Sphinx, the only publication dedicated to reviewing poetry pamphlets. Here's hoping she goes on to take the prize. But whatever the outcome, it just makes me even more proud to be associated with HappenStance.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Just One Book

Everyone has been hit in some way by the downturn, with the arts suffering a predictable squeeze as Government and business belts tighten all over the place. According to Jane Holland, the UK has lost or is going to lose several poetry presses. It's a dire time for poetry -- indeed, for literature in general -- in these islands.

Salt, publisher of my collection and very many fine books, is facing a financial crisis. Chris and Jen have been struggling to keep Salt moving since June last year when the economic downturn began to affect the press. Their three-year funding ends this year: £4,000 is due from Arts Council England in a final payment, but they can't apply through Grants for the Arts for further funding for Salt's operations. Spring sales were down nearly 80% on the previous year, and despite April's much improved trading, the past twelve months have left Salt with a budget deficit of over £55,000.

It's proving to be a very big hole and they're having to take some drastic measures to save our business. Earlier today, it seemed that all the books scheduled for publication this year would have to been shelved, but Chris and Jen, in their seemingly infinite determination and ingenuity, have found a way to rescue this front list. It still involves considerable scaling back.

Salt is far from out of the woods, if that's not a mixed metaphor. But we can all help it to survive. Chris tells us how below ...

JUST ONE BOOK

1. Please buy just one book, right now.

We don't mind from where, you can buy it from us or from Amazon, your local shop
or megastore, online or offline. If you buy just one book now, you'll help to save Salt. Timing is absolutely everything here. We need cash now to stay afloat. If you love literature, help keep it alive. All it takes is just one book sale. Go to our online store (UK and International or USA) and help us keep going.

2. Share this note on your Facebook and MySpace profile.

Tell your friends. If we can spread the word about our cash crisis, we can hopefully find more sales and save our literary publishing. Remember it's just one book, that's all it takes to save us. Please do it now.

With my best wishes to everyone,
Chris Hamilton-Emery

Friday, April 17, 2009

Next Gigs

Next week, I'll be returning to the Golden Hour with The Ambulance Box. I can't help but be flattered by what Ryan Van Winkle has put on the poster:

Click on the pic to see the details. It looks like a really good night. Hope to see some of you there.

The next gig after that is the Sotto Voce quiet slam at VoXboX on The Meadow Bar in Edinburgh, Thurs 7th May 2009 7.30pm.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Shrill Sound of Poetry Sales Descending into Sound Bites

Sales of poetry books are down

screamed the BBC news website on Wednesday last week, before exhorting us all:

but one way to reinvigorate this traditional art form could be to make it functional

and going on to suggest that we could re-engage the public with the art of poetry by turning the instructions on how to wire a plug into poetry. Give me a break. Not that I'm against using anything as the material for a poem, but I just can't help groan at this kind of stuff. I mean, poetry does have functions, for goodness sake.

Apparently,

In recent years, there has been a sharp fall in sales - from £12m spent in 2005 to £8.6m in 2008, according to Book Marketing Ltd.

How peculiar, then, that Jill Pattle, who runs The Linlithgow Bookshop, should be telling me on the platform at Waverley station today that their poetry sales have "risen exponentially" and she is now revamping the poetry shelf to make more space for poetry books. The last time I looked, the space that the shop devotes to poetry would probably, as a proportion of the shelving, equate to something like three whole floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in any of the Edinburgh Waterstones stores. That's an extremely rough estimate, but you get the picture; when was the last time those Waterstones stores had one such shelf full of poetry? Jill's poetry section is also at the front of the shop.

Likewise, when I was in Eyemouth last week, I was delighted to see that the wonderful wee bookshop Crossing the Bar had a small poetry shelf, with an unusual selection of books, including a beautiful Michael Longley book, Out of the Cold, illustrated by his daughter that I came that close to buying.

Is there a lesson here? What would happen to poetry book sales if, instead of hiding the poetry sections away at the back of the basement and shaving stock from it like a döner kebab, the big shops were to put it out front, with offers, staff recommendations and displays? Will we ever find out?

StAnza: Unlike the Duck

StAnza seems so long ago now that it’s almost hardly worth reporting any more on it, but there are a couple of things don’t want to slide into the dim and distant without comment.

First and foremost of those is Roddy Lumsden’s reading. I’ve known Roddy since I was a student, since before he published his first collection. That book — Yeah Yeah Yeah — was launched upstairs in The Waverley, a quirky wee pub a stone’s throw from the eponymous railway station. At StAnza, Roddy was launching Third Wish Wasted, his fifth collection, accompanied by the munching of some truly tasty pies.*

I’ve no hestitation in declaring Roddy’s reading the best I saw on the festival. The poetry was so good: a gleaming, distinctive sound; an enviable imaginative and formal range; wit, intelligence and fun. Nothing wasted. You can hear an excerpt from his performance on the relevant StAnza podcast. Neil Astley was also there with the Bloodaxe video camera, and you can see the result roughly halfway down this page on their site. Even better, you can read the book. Unlike the duck, it does not disappoint.

Speaking of Bloodaxe and films, I should also mention the extra showing of the taster for In Person. It was put on for those who missed tickets for the much more than sold out Duffy and Agbabi event. That reading wasn’t on my list anyway, and I think very few of the small audience for the film were refugees from it. However, I’m mightily glad to have had the opportunity to see the film, partly because I missed all the other ones on this year’s festival but mainly because it was well worth watching in its own right. I haven’t yet bought the In Person anthology, but it looks to be excellent value.

The main reason I didn’t get to any of the films was probably the fact that Rob A Mackenzie and I had a stall at the poets’ market, touting our and Alexander Hutchison’s Salt collections. That was also the reason I didn’t really get round the other stalls, but I thoroughly enjoyed chatting to James and Marianne of Kettilonia Press, who were beside us, as well as to the folk who came along to the stall. It was also good to meet Rachel Fox, albeit extremely briefly. If you have access to Facebook, you’ll find a shot of me at the stall among Robert Alan Jamieson’s photos.

StAnza was so much more than the sum of all these different parts and the many other meetings and encounters I haven’t mentioned. As Susan Mansfield says in her Scotsman write-up,

someone compared the festival to T in the Park. And while poetry is not quite the new rock'n'roll, year on year StAnza feels more like a festival.


*I now realise the Scotch pie can be a thing of beauty, not simply a dull companion to a bag of chips.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

5PX2

Despite holidaying in Eyemouth, on Thursday last week, I joined most of the other contributors* (inlcuding one of the translators) at the Italian Cultural Institute in Edinburgh to launch 5PX2: Five Italian Poets and Five Scottish Poets. The evening was slightly chaotic but enormous fun. A good-sized audience, too, for a Thursday in holiday time with competition from the Science Festival.

Everybody’s work was performed in the original and translation. I don’t speak Italian, but hearing the contributors from Italy — Dome Bulfaro, Tiziana Cera Rosco, Tiziano Fratus, Federico Italiano and Eliana Deborah Langiu — enriched my appreciation of the translations considerably. At the last minute, I was asked to read the English translations for Dome Bulfaro, which was fun. It felt a bit like playing by ear, as I tried to follow his pauses as much as possible. Of my own five in the book (which are all new), I read “The White Dot” and “Breathing is the Place to Start”. For me, the highlights of the other performances were Matthew Fitt and his translator alternating the pages of “Kate O’Shanter’s Tale” between Scots and Italian; Tiziana Cera Rosco’s reading, which electrified her poems; and Tiziano Fratus’s translation of my “Breathing is the Place to Start”, which sounded truly beautiful.

These things are always about meeting people as much as about the poems. Some good friendships were made and others strengthened — I hadn't sat down with Matthew Fitt for a long time, for instance. The Italians were great craic; I only wish we could have spent more time together, but thanks are due to the Institute for the meal that enabled us to spend the time together that we did.

With all the conversation we’re having around here about younger Scottish poets, it was particularly refreshing to connect with a bunch poets under 40 from outside the Scottish and British bubbles. For some reason, the sheer volume of good will and admiration that exists abroad for Scotland and Scottish writing always takes me by surprise. Perhaps there’s more of the Scottish cringe left in me than I thought. Let's hope the evening helped to kill that vestige off.


*Unfortunately, Claire Askew couldn’t make it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Holy Saturday Poem

This weekend's* Saturday poem in The Scotsman was the title poem from The Ambulance Box**. Great publicity for the collection! I'd heard several weeks ago that it was happening and knew the date but it only occurred to me in the middle of the week that it would be the Holy Saturday poem. An appropriate date, given the piece is about, as the paper neatly puts it,

"THE inextricable link between our suffering, our sense of celebration and our hopes for healing".

Many thanks to the good folk of the Scottish Poetry Library for choosing it.

*I'd have posted this yesterday but couldn't get on to Blogger for technical reasons.

**Please note that the layout isn't quite right in the paper, because the indentation hasn't come out at all. You'll just have to read it in the book for the full effect on the page.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

StAnza: Flight and Finesse

My first event on the Saturday at StAnza was Bill Manhire's masterclass: a one-off workshop with six writers selected from among a batch of submissions plus an audience. I was in the audience, not having submitted anything.

Manhire was warm and engaging while still being quite thorough. As he pointed out, there was no time to build up the trust that would be established in a long-running workshop group. Perhaps he'd be a tougher critic in that setting, but I get the sense he wouldn't have the bluntness of some well-known poets. Whether you think that's good or bad depends on what you look for in a critic of your poetry, I guess, but it suited the set-up.

We were all give copies of the poems, chosen by Manhire mid air over Singapo. The poet would read their piece, then Manhire would ask them about it and comment on it himself before opening the discussion to comments, suggestions and questions from the audience and the other selected participants. The atmosphere was friendly, the selection varied and the discussion intelligent.

For me, the best poem of the session was Matthew Hotham's "Forms of Flight". It was the most interesting formally and possessed a distinctive beauty. It had mystery, imagination and a quiet but insistent power. It simply said to me that Matthew had real talent, underpinned by skill and intelligence. Several people in the room obviously just didn't quite get what he was up to, and made suggestions that would have robbed the poem of mystery and richness. That's what you might expect of such an event, I suppose; I couldn't help but defend his piece.

After the masterclass, Rob Mackenzie, Ross Wilson and I had a brief chat with Matthew and Cynthia Chin, who also had a poem in the masterclass. They'd come over from the States specially for StAnza. So we're not just talking talent and skill here, but ocean-crossing commitment! Later, at the poets' market, Matthew bought The Ambulance Box and The Opposite of Cabbage and gave Rob and me each a copy of his chapbook, Early Art, published by Turtle Ink Press in 2006.

Having had a quick read through Early Art, I'm really looking forward to going back and savouring it. Everything I saw in "Forms of Flight" seems to be there in the pamphlet, though perhaps not quite as developed, given that it was published three years ago. Still, the talent is obvious. It's exciting to find a good writer at an early stage in his career, and I'm looking forward even more to seeing where Matthew takes his poetry in the future.

The Lithgae Launch

Summertime (officially), and the temperature's freezing. That's Scotland's wind chill for you. Otherwise, it's a glorious morning; a fitting follow-up to a good night at the Black Bitch, with Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage playing in the background. I lost count, but I think there were close to 30 people there. It was mostly Linlithgow folk, but James W Wood came through from Edinburgh, Alastair Findlay came over the hills from Bathgate and my good friends Alex and Jacqueline escaped the Netherlands just as the Tartan Army was invading. I read two sets, as follows:

  • Pedestrian
  • Improvisation for the Angel Who Announces the End of Time
  • The Meisure o a Nation
  • Cardiac
  • Hairst Day
  • Wandelvakanties Dicht bij Huis
  • The Invention of Zero
  • The Ambulance Box
Then:
  • Still
  • Waukrife
  • In Praise of Dust
  • Lullaby
  • Notes to Self

I sold 20 copies and chatted to various folk until 11ish -- midnightish BST -- then we headed home with a couple of boxes of chips.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Home and Away

Tomorrow night, I'm on home turf to launch The Ambulance Box in Linlithgow's Black Bitch Inn*. I'm expecting a smaller crowd than at the SPL, but looking forward to it just as much. The event kicks off at 8 pm. There's a bar and I'll be reading two 15-minute sets, though I've yet to decide what. Anyone is welcome.

On Thursday 9 April, I'll be at the Italian Cultural Institute in Edinburgh to celebrate the publication of 5PX2: Five Italian Poets and Five Scottish Poets. Details of the event are at the first link in this paragraph.

*The black bitch is the emblem of Linlithgow -- it's one of those faithful hound stories -- and, indeed, natives of the town, regardless of sex, are known as "black bitches". That's right: Scotland's current First Minister is a black bitch.

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