Five Things for Friday 01/04/16

Before we look at this week’s five things, a quick reminder that The English PEN Modern Literature Festival I mentioned last week is on tomorrow, starting at 2pm.

  1. After exhuming this feature last week, I had thought of digging up Poetry in the Papers – a feature where I looked for poetry-related content in the previous week’s press. To be honest though, ploughing through newspaper websites last weekend and finding that the top poetry story seemed to be the fact the Radovan Karadžić is apparently a fan, kind of bummed me out. I did, though, find the Guardian Books Podcast, which last week interviewed Luke Wright and Holly McNish about their new books and, in Wright’s case, show. Wright discusses class and late nineties politics, and McNish talks about attitudes to motherhood, and it’s a pretty entertaining hour. However, although both poets say some amusing things, the funniest line comes from interviewer Claire Armitstead. To Wright: “You’ve published a collection, and pamphlets, which is what young poets do.” (Attenborough voice: “It has been a hard winter. The young poet leaves the cave for the first time this year. He is going to publish a pamphlet.”) Anyway, it’s worth a listen; Wright also writes a little about the production of the book and show, again in the Guardian, here. And, if podcasts are your thing, I may as well remind you that we are publishing one Lunar Poetry Podcast on this blog every day this month, until we are caught up with the YouTube page.
  2. We’ve also updated our Briefs page and are, as ever, open to submissions. Briony Bax recently set out a few guidelines for submission to Ambit which seem pretty sensible to me:

    If you choose to write about birds, photographs, pictures, impending death, illnesses and nature (mainly beaches and sunsets) just be aware that many other people are writing about these subjects, so you’ll need to do something new and interesting with them to grab the editors’ attention. Avoid clichés and heavy-handed sentimentality, as these two things can send your work straight to the reject pile.

    I’d like to add gardens, holidays, pets, trains and generalized philosophical maunderings to the list. Write about whatever you like, but do something new with it.

  1. Here is something new: Swimmers. What it is, exactly, I don’t know, but it looks like it might be interesting. A series of free pamphlets with a print run of 35, according to the article in Frieze. There is a little more information on their Facebook page, but not a whole lot. The first pamphlet is “introduced by a brilliant essay by Kayo Chingonyi addressing how the promotion by prominent British critics of a modest, ‘restrained’ style in poetry is tantamount to silencing those voices who do not belong or accede to the dominant culture.” That sounds like something with which I’d probably agree; unfortunately, printing 35 copies and barely advertising you are doing so doesn’t necessarily seem like the sort of noise that will carry very far over this silence. “The resistance is there, if you want it.” And if you can find it.
  2. Lack of information about new poetry publications is frustrating, isn’t it? Swimmers is free, but most collections and pamphlets (which are what young poets do, you’ll remember) cost a bit of money – sometimes a lot – but are often just as coy as Swimmers. The mainstream press isn’t much help, and the standard of reviews in the poetry press is, let’s say, inconsistent. I’m sure I’ve mentioned Dave Poems on here before, but probably not since he’s set himself up with a Patreon account. Intelligent poetry reviews are worthwhile; hopefully people will also think they’re worth money. If you pledge $5 a month or more you get this nifty wee ‘zine.

    Netflix and Kill

  1. Dave Coates won Best Reviewer at the Sabotage Awards last year, and it’s almost that time again. Nominations open today. Small presses, magazines and live literary performances don’t get much in the way of recognition; Sabotage has been making a case for the importance of these outlets for over five years now. If you’ve read or seen something in the last year you think the wider world should know about, this is a chance to spread the word.

Five Things for Friday – 25/3/16

I’m going to be putting the odd blogpost up here from time to time. No promises of regularity, but you know what they say: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing sporadically.”

So here are five things which interested me this week.

  1. The English PEN Modern Literature Festival, hosted by SJ Fowler, takes place at Rich Mix in Shoreditch on Saturday, 2nd April, from 2pm. It is free to attend, with the goal of raising awareness of the work PEN does representing writers facing political persecution. There will be 30 excellent poets (full programme here) responding to work from writers currently facing state oppression. I highly recommend getting along if you can.
  2. One of the poets whose work will be discussed is Ashraf Fayadh, still Imprisoned in Saudi Arabia on apostasy charges. You can read some of his poems, translated into English by Mona Kareem, here, here and, by the author, here. There are also some useful links in this article from The Poetry School.
  3. Okay, so we’ve “raised awareness” of some bad things going on in the world; perhaps we’ve given some money to someone who might possibly be able to mitigate some of these bad things. Perhaps we’ve even gone to see the bad things for ourselves – to “bear witness”. Here’s an interesting little bit in Granta by Eliza Griswold talking about the queasy act of bearing witness in relation to her poem, ‘Friday Afternoon with Boko Haram’.
  4. This vicarious martyrdom is the sort of thing which could make you hate poetry. And so to Hate Poetry, an interesting German cabaret night which attempts to draw the sting of hate speech by pointing out how bloody silly it is. Here’s an article from The Guardian last year giving an overview, and here is an article on one of the night’s founders, Hasnain Kazim.
  5. Finally, plenty of people hate poetry for rather more mundane reasons. David Clarke wrote a rather interesting blog post about it recently; the conversation in the comments serves as a pretty good illustration of his point, too.

Five Things for Friday

  1. Stand Up and Spit is an ongoing project cataloguing Ranting poetry from the 1980s, and producing a series of gigs and events. There are still a couple of events left in their current schedule, and there may be more in the future – if you can get to them, they’re definitely worth getting to. If not, but you’re interested in the history of spoken word or political poetry you will get lost for hours on this site.
  2. Josephine Corcoran’s piece on finding poems written in adolescence (and sensibly not publishing them online). The reason we write bad poetry as teenagers is a combination of not having read enough, and not having lived enough. The latter will sort itself out; the former requires a bit more effort.
  3. Earlier in the week I confessed my ignorance about the post of US Poet Laureate. Here is an interview with the new USPoLo, Juan Felipe Herrera, on the Slate Culture Gabfest (starts about 31.30).
  4. Nine Arches are looking for submissions to an anthology of poetry by UK disabled poets. If you are worried about the potential for it to be awful, this quote should reassure you, and perhaps encourage you to submit: “We’re not looking for ‘inspiration porn’, work whose primary purpose is therapeutic, and definitely not work which perpetuates ableist tropes or rhetoric in any way.”
  5. I looked for a while for a good piece on the recent Craig Raine debacle – here are three of the better ones from Charles Whalley, Mathew Lyons, and David Clarke, who will be writing a guest blog here tomorrow – but this clip from a twenty year old comedy show seems the most appropriate illustration:

There’s been a mass debate about Raine’s poem, ‘Gatwick’, and the London Review of Books’s decision to publish it. Most people have downplayed a major point, though, which is that the poem isn’t really very good. I feel this is something of a boner. It may not seem like the most important issue in a discussion about the male gaze, freedom of expression, privilege and so on, but actually it illustrates it rather nicely. The fact that an elderly, white, male member of the literary establishment can toss off a not very good poem to one of the world’s leading literary periodicals in the knowledge it will almost certainly end up splashed across its sheets without question makes it difficult for any ensuing defence of the poem on the grounds of freedom of expression to be taken seriously, especially in a journal (and a sector) which is notoriously underrepresentative of female viewpoints.

The justification used by Raine’s supporters for the actual content of the poem is that these are real emotions that real people have. There are a few responses to that. One might be that yes, it is perhaps an accurate reflection of the thoughts of a certain subset of privileged middle-aged men, brought up in an era when the objectification of women was second nature – and good, isn’t it about time these people were represented?

Another might be that while one might have these thoughts, there is an argument for attempting to be better than ourselves, or at least acknowledging that we haven’t managed to be so. Many people are racist, xenophobic, homophobic, or have other thoughts which – as a society – we consider unacceptable. If the LRB published a poem in which one of these viewpoints was adopted by the author, with every appearance of being the author’s own, and with no sign of the author reflecting upon their views, we would not be having a debate, we’d be having a rally. And for anyone who might be thinking “Well, Raine’s poem was only a little bit sexist”, replace the word “sexist” in that statement with the word “racist” or “homophobic”, etc., and see how far you get.

Another might be, okay, so the narrator is a real person (even if we were to say he is a character created by the poet, he is being defended on the merits of the “realness” of his emotions. That said, it is interesting how all sides have worked on the basis that everything in the poem is based on a real event. On another occasion I’d make a point about the reader’s assumptions, but here Raine’s obvious solipsism makes the objection pointless.), but so are the women he is objectifying: what do you suppose their thoughts might be if they ever read this poem? And at least one of them, with an MA in Poetry, might very well do so. Normally I do not much care if the subject of a poem is real or imagined, but in this case it actually is a problem. Anyone who has spent much time going to open mic nights has probably witnessed a poet (not necessarily, but usually, male) “dedicating” an overtly sexual poem to some individual in the audience. Hopefully you have then witnessed someone else tell the poet that that is really not okay. Because it isn’t, and doing it through the pages of the LRB rather than in the back room of a pub in front of five other people doesn’t make it any better.

And again, even if these women aren’t “real” (although I suspect that Raine, at this point in his career, doesn’t possess the energy to create a fictional character), how is any other young woman (or indeed anyone brought up after women’s lib) likely to feel upon reading it?

This goes back to the question of not merely what is in the poem, but where the poem was printed. Say you don’t read much poetry but are interested in literature more broadly. You know the LRB is one of the most respected lit mags. It would not be unreasonable for you to assume that any poem published therein must be representative of the very best of current poetry in English (it would be incorrect, but not unreasonable). And it turns out that the best of British poetry is an old chap at half mast. It’s unlikely it would send you scrambling to take out a subscription to Areté. But in any case, if the “reality” of the poem is the main point in its favour, where are the women’s realities – even if they are fictions, they ought to have realities within the world of the poem? But they are cyphers – there is no acknowledgement that they may have thoughts, hopes, wants or needs, or exist in any other form than as a pair of tits or a potentially sagging arse.

Five for Friday, 29/5/15

Every Friday, five things that I think are/may be interesting.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. ‘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.
  1. 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 (BNTV in the subject line), and the best will end up on the site.

Have a lovely weekend.