Every Friday, five things that I think are/may be interesting.
- The Poetry Reincarnation, 30/5/15. Part of the Roundhouse’s Last Word Festival, it’s an ambitious attempt to fill a decent sized venue with punters willing to pay £15 a ticket to see some poetry – albeit not quite the 7,000 people who attended the International Poetry Incarnation at the Royal Albert Hall 50 years ago, to see Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Mitchell, etc. The original Incarnation is said to have given a feeling of solidity and solidarity to the counterculture of the mid-60s. It was also truly international, featuring not only the most exciting British and American poets of the era, but people like Ernst Jandl and Andrei Voznesensky (Neruda was booked, but couldn’t make it, apparently). There is a nice paragraph in Write Out Loud about it by David Andrew, who was there – it’s a shame it wasn’t longer, as it would be interesting to read/hear about it at length from the point of view of someone who isn’t Michael Horovitz. The Reincarnation has a very good bill of mostly British, mostly very established (though not necessarily ‘establishment’, although that rather depends on one’s definition) poets. Linking the event to the Incarnation is interesting, but seems, to me, to miss the main point of the Incarnation. The current event wants the association because it wants to be, like the Incarnation, a big deal for poetry; but the Incarnation was only incidentally a big deal for poetry, because it was a big deal. Anyhow, that said, it should still be an entertaining night, if you have fifteen bangers to spare.
- The Sabotage Awards, 31/5/15. Sorry, London agnostics, this is another event in the capital, but it has a wider interest. Sabotage Reviews are holding their 5th annual awards ceremony for small press and live literature. Sabotage is an excellent site for finding out what’s really going on in poetry (and short fiction), publishing reviews of pamphlets, anthologies, live events, short story collections, literary magazines and novellae – basically everything most other publications ignore. The awards are an excellent guide to what’s worth reading/seeing just now – if someone’s on the nominees list, they’re probably worth checking out. Tickets for the awards themselves are now sold out, but the events during the day are free and unticketed. There are two panels which ought to be really interesting: one on ‘The Culture of Criticism in Contemporary Literature’ – readers of this blog, or Lunar Poetry, will know how important I think that subject is; and another on ‘Frontlines and Outposts in Literature Today’, with a short set from Steve Nash in between. There will also be a book fair – and we all know how difficult it is to get access to new small press poetry books (One week to go to donate to the LP Bookshop Indiegogo campaign.). So, if you’re in London on Sunday, I definitely suggest you get to this.
- Dark Horse 20th Anniversary Magazine Launches. Dark Horse Magazine – personally, one of my favourite poetry mags – is having three separate launches to celebrate its 20th One is (of course) in London; another is in New York; but the one I would really recommend going to, if you can (and I wish I could), is the one in Edinburgh, on June 4th. Generally I’m not big on magazine launches – especially for the larger, longer-running magazines, with their oppressive fug of funeral suits and vol au vents – however the line-up for Dark Horse’s Edinburgh launch is Alasdair Gray, Douglas Dunn, Claire Askew and Vicki Feaver. This is pretty impressive, and the chance to see the first two, in particular, isn’t going to come around too often. Alasdair Gray’s poetry is generally overshadowed by his fiction, visual art, etc., but it is very good – in addition, he appears to be the living definition of the word “cantankerous”, so ought to be entertaining. And Douglas Dunn wrote two of the straight-up best collections of the second half of the twentieth century: Terry Street and Elegies. If you live anywhere in the Central Belt, you really ought to try and get along. How much is the train to Edinburgh? Oh. That much.
- ‘Poetry Isn’t Dead: A Wake-Up Call’, Amy Glynn, Paste, 27/5/15. So, this article inspires and infuriates me in about equal measure – to the point where the whole thing leaves me kind of nonplussed. Let me explain. Point against: the framing. “Poetry is dead”, “Poetry is not dead” – all we know is that “Poetry is/ is not dead” is not dead. I wish it were. Point for: once you get past that, Glynn has some good points to make. Poetry is not popular, and there are a number of reasons for this which have little to do with poetry – the actual stuff, that is – itself. Point against: hectoring probably isn’t going to change this. A large part of poetry’s problem is how it portrays itself – telling readers that it’s them who should make the effort rather than poets and publishers is unlikely to help anyone. Point for: expresses pretty well some of the attractions and joys of poetry. Point against: sometimes does this in such a broad, vague way that it makes poetry sound like self-help. For: emphasises the utility of poetry in helping people think about ambiguity, metaphor, etc. Against: yeah, alright, but plenty of perfectly intelligent people manage to deal with nuance without having Seven Types of Ambiguity sticking out of their coat pocket. For: advocates for living poets, not just the classics. Against: does so while swinging wildly in tone from aggressive to passive-aggressive to cajoling to wheedling to something uncomfortably close to begging. Conclusion: I don’t know, read it for yourself – although, if you’re reading this (or that) in the first place, you’re already convinced people ought to read new poetry, so maybe don’t bother.
- New Boots and Pantisocracies. Perhaps poetry would do better by not simply telling people that it’s relevant, but by actually being so. I should point out that, by and large, I consider ‘relevance’ to be a bit of a red herring – all poetry is engaged with the world in one way or another, no matter how introspective or isolated it may seem, and plenty of it is engaged in a fairly tangible way. New Boots and Pantisocracies are publishing a poem for every one of the first hundred days of the new government. There have been a lot of good poems so far, commissioned from a lot of good poets, mostly dealing with what people insist on calling “austerity”. (Austerity is a horrible weasel term designed to disguise the systematic victimisation of those least able to defend themselves. Austerity is a strict but kindly schoolma’am out of an Ealing comedy; what we actually have is a cane-happy bastard who whacks for the sake of whacking.) Anyway, this is worth reading, even if you don’t subscribe to my political views, and there is, for just under the next two weeks, a chance to give your own take on the current state of the nation.
Hope this is helpful. I’ll have another five next Friday. Just to let you know, our daily features for Saturdays and Sundays won’t start until next weekend. Saturday is the guest blog, and Sunday is – not entirely dissimilarly from New Boots, in fact – Bad News to Verse: send in your topical or political poems to email@example.com (BNTV in the subject line), and the best will end up on the site.
Have a lovely weekend.