Tuesday, 24 May 2016

May 2016: It's Spring... Publications, Events and Two Poems from Alison Brackenbury

High Spring: Cherry Tree in the Garden

 Hi, here’s May so far. As I said in earlier posts, I’ve had a bit of a poetry hiatus recently. May has definitely been a time to get back on the poetic horse.  I’ve been writing and editing, but I’ve also had a couple of acceptances and...and... here’s the big news. In September I’ll have a pamphlet out with HappenStance Press, hurrah! At the moment it hasn’t got a title, I’m calling it ‘pamphlet’ for now, but hopefully a better title will appear. So, I’ve been doing that thing that a lot of poets do, take photos of and share on-line:

And yes, I could write an entire blog post about ordering and editing, and maybe I will when I find some spare hours hiding under a mattress or something. I’ll write more over future posts, but for now I’ll say this: I’m utterly delighted to have a publication with a press I deeply admire. Nell is a wonderful editor.  Some of my favourite poetry has been published by HappenStance Press. I first came across Mark Halliday through HappenStance and over the years I’ve enjoyed books and pamphlets by Fiona Moore, Chrissie Williams, Matthew Stewart, Rosie Miles, D A Prince, Tom Duddy and others. Hopefully it'll be out in September.

This has also been the month of attending poetry readings. Earlier on in May, I went to Jazz and Poetry in Nottingham to hear readings from three Nine Arches Press poets: David Clarke, Jo Bell and Daniel Sluman. These evenings are organised by David Belbin and John Lucas turns up with his Jazz band Four in a Bar and much heel kicking takes place.  The venue for the event has changed.  It used to be in the Guitar Bar across the road, but it’s now in the Polish Eagle Club. It’s a great new place with lots of space, panelled walls and a big dance floor. It reminds of the kind of places I used to attend at weddings and christenings as a girl. The atmosphere was very relaxed and all three poets delivered fantastic readings. It was Jane Commane’s  birthday, she runs the good ship Nine Arches. Jo presented her with a super choclately birthday cake and a good time was had by all. 

The Nine Arches Press Firm (L-R Daniel, Jane, Yours Truly, Jo and David. Photo by Emily Brenchi.)
Jazz and Poetry, Nottingham.

In Leicester we had the May Shindig. I think it’s only fair to say that May has been Leicester’s month. They only just went and won the football didn’t they? Ok, I was born in Notts and raised within the bells of QPR, but I’m very happy for my closest city up the road. We even went to the Victory Parade. Now, on the subject of the Victory Parade, Shindig was scheduled for the same date. It soon became clear this wasn’t going to be practical. 250,000 people turned up in Leicester that day, but they weren’t going to Shindig. We had to cancel and rearrange the date for the 23rd. That was last night. We had readings from two excellent Leicester based poets, Shruti Chauhan and Lydia Towsey and we had the superb Alison Brackenbury all the way from Gloucestershire. It was an absolute treat having Alison join us, we were very lucky. She was reading from her new collection ‘Skies’ published by Carcanet. It’s had great reviews  in The Guardian and The Independent and been featured on Radio 4. Below are a couple of short but perfectly and richly formed poems from the collection, which Alison has very kindly allowed me to include here. Her lyricism is second to none or 'heavenly' as I said last night when I introduced her.

'Skies' by Alison Brackenbury

So May belongs to Leicester perhaps, but the author of Commonplace resides in a hinterland town between Leicester and Nottingham. We’re not forgetting Nottingham, oh no. I went to another More Raw Material, Alan Sillitoe event in Nottingham and heard some great readings from some of the contributors. There were three memorable performances from poets I know, but had never heard or seen in the flesh: Bethany Pope, Rosie Garland and Ruth Fainlight, Alan Sillitoe’s widow. Next week, all being well, I’m attending a reading at Five Leaves Bookshop with Jo Dixon and Kathy Pimlott. I’m currently enjoying their pamphlets.

Finally, I even had some poems published of my own. After some months off this has been quite lovely. This year I’ve sent off four submissions, one was a polite ‘decline,’ two have been acceptances and one is still at the artwork stage, although a poem’s been shortlisted. Who knows.  I have two poems up on And Other Poems and I’m grateful to Josephine Corcoran and Rishi Dastidar for selecting them. I’ve had two poems accepted by The North too. It really has felt like a while since this has happened.
To finish off, as promised, here are two poems by Alison Brackenbury. Please have a look at the book at the Carcanet website for more details.Both are a perfect example of how a short poem can convey so much.


I am cycling, in a sensible bright coat.
A girl comes pedalling, quickly by, loose shawls
skidding from shoulders, hitched skirt, silver pumps.
I was that girl. O may she ride her falls.

‘Will The Comet Survive Its
Encounter With the Sun?’
(astronomer, writing of Comet Ison)

This, I suppose, is what we do,
we fly into the sun
and some are gone and some survive
like shadows, limping on.
And some, far closer than stars,
fill all our eyes at dawn.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

A Pause...

Image result for The hanged man

Hi again, I'm challenging my one post a month target this April. I'm often a diarist when it comes to blogging, but I thought this was a good time to write more generally about things. I might write another 'diary' post this month too.

The young man featured above is 'The Hanged Man.'  You may remember him from T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, where he's mentioned but doesn't actually turn up to the Tarot party. He's not as unhappy as you might think. Yes, he's upside down hanging from his left ankle, but here he's actually giving up control, taking time out. He's happy to watch the world go by, albeit from a strange angle.

What has this to do with a poetry blog, apart from the tenuous reference to Eliot? In my experience poets can be very impatient. I am no exception. I had about 4-5 months off sending out recently. This has been an interesting time. I've not heard anything as yet and am about to start work in earnest on a manuscript very soon. A return to the world of acceptance/rejection and being active is imminent. No news is possibly good news at this stage. In the last few days of 'hanging out' and mulling over things, it's worth reflecting on this. Many poets, and I do this as well, judge what they do on 'acceptance.' This time last year I was very busy sending off and getting published. This went on till about October and I needed a breather. By Christmas, I'd had a couple of' 'no thank yous' and then the holidays came and went. January is usually a non-starter and February's only marginally better etc and then I realised I was out of the game! I'd not sent out for ages - well relatively, it was only 4 months, but things move fast. I was missing all sorts of deadlines. I'd spent more time off-line and felt a bit overwhelmed when I realised how much was going on. So, I made myself  send out again and am waiting for responses! I've had 6 months off now, even though there's been the odd publication from that earlier period of busily sending out.

Why is sending out so important? Well, apart from the glow of acceptance, even rejection is important. It sends signals out to both poet and editor that you're out there doing your thing. Some rejections are 'nice' ones, even though they don't feel like it. Some poets choose only to send to people they know, some aerially bombard everywhere. When I first started sending out over 6 years ago I kept a notebook and had an X for reject and tick for acceptance. There were a lot of Xs. The majority in fact were Xs. But I kept going.  I look back at that time and realise how important it was, like cutting teeth. You don't need a complicated system of recording your submissions, unless you have lots of them. A simple notebook will do. There will always be Xs of course. I also think it's natural to go through quieter periods as it's hard to maintain that busy momentum.

Here are two things David Morley taught me that seem relevant here:

1. Don't write for magazines - i.e. write what you need to write, not what you think you should.

Added to this is the not-beating-yourself-up-over-not-writing-much:

2. 'The Silence Reservoir'. I'm quoting here from David: 'You will find you fluency naturally slowing in order to allow the reservoir of language and ideas within your unconscious mind to replenish. Leave the field. Stop writing. Finish for the day and go for a walk...Silence is itself a type of eloquence...'*

David should know. David was my tutor at Warwick many years ago and I remember one seminar in 1998 where he came in distraught at the start. He'd just heard that Ted Hughes had died. Hughes was a massive influence on David and he referred to him that day as 'a poetic father.' He felt an undeniable loss, which makes this news not only gratifying, but also very moving as it was won in Ted's name.

See you later on in April!

* From The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing, David Morley, Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Monday, 28 March 2016

March 2016: Sometimes Poetry Makes a Few Things Happen

March Acquisitions...

The title of this blog post owes a debt to Auden’s well known line, ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ because ironically, a few things have happened recently due to poetry. At the end of February I read at and attended a refugee benefit hosted by Lydia Towsey that featured some great poets. The event also supported the Over Land Over Sea anthology, a book which I’ve mentioned in an earlier post. The book’s raised thousands of pounds for groups like Médecins Sans Frontières and Leicester City of Sanctuary. This is through sales of a poetry anthology. Sometimes poetry does make things happen.

March has been fairly busy and now sees me with a new batch of reading material; some of which has been gratefully received as gifts, winnings and even purchased. This included a couple of pamphlets I won from the Poetry Business in a most random comp on email. I also have/had a cold and a chest infection (nothing changes there) so that’s slowed me down a bit, but I’ve also been organising the next batch of reviews for Under the Radar. I am very pleased to say that’s been sorted. For both the current issue and the next, the vast majority of reviewers  are female, so I’d like to think we’re redressing the balance in our own way. As ever I’ve tried really hard to ensure that a fair spread of books and pamphlets are getting reviewed, but we have more books coming in than reviewers and pages to print on. It’s good at least that there’s a lot of enthusiasm on all sides.

March is always about States of Independence. This was held on a couple of Saturdays ago at De Montfort University and there was the usual merry mix of stalls, publishers and free events and readings. The small presses were well and truly celebrated, but sometimes I think it’s the small presses that hold things up for the bigger ones. This is where you find the kind of people who are interested and open minded about books and publishing and where you can make discoveries. I read at two events, the Over Land Over Sea one and the Alan Sillitoe Anthology, More Raw Material, reading with Martin Figura. Can I say to begin with that Martin Figura is bloody amazing. I’ve written about his show Whistle before. He was reading from his latest collection Dr. Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine which, and I am quoting here from the Cinnamon Press website, ‘blurs the edges of personal and collective memory to explore family, relationships and belonging against a social, historical and political backdrop.’ That says it better than I could. I have a cold y'know.  Though I will add to that and say there was a hanging-on-to-every-word thing going on for me when Martin read. We’ve ordered a copy. The event was hosted by the anthology’s tireless editors Neil Fullwood and David Sillitoe, who read from some of Alan Silitoe’s work as well. I went to Deborah Tyler-Bennett’s and Andy Green’s readings first thing too. Mr. Commonplace (aka Jonathan Taylor) got shortlisted for the East Midlands Book of the Year Award panel for Melissa.

I spent a lot of time at the panels and readings in fact, and probably not enough time downstairs perusing the books, although I made a few purchases from Charles Boyle at CB Editions. They’re becoming one of my favourite presses. Bob Richardson was also there selling his fantastically, super-reasonably priced Poem Flyers at 20p each! He’s made a couple of flyers out poems by me. Other presses and magazines like Nine Arches Press, Five Leaves, Flarestack, Shearsman, Smith Doorstop, Soundswrite, Interpreter’s House, Shoestring, Leafe Press, Longbarrow  - I could go on, but I  can’t cover everything because I have a cold. 

At States...Photo by Ambrose Musiyiwa
March also featured a couple of launches. Firstly there was Sarah Leavesley’s prize winning pamphlet Lampshades and Glass Rivers for the Bill Overton Memorial Award at Loughborough Uni. Added bonus of being 5 mins walk away for me, a rare thing. Also Cliff Yates’ launched Jam at Cafe Wired in Nottingham and one of the hosts Becky Cullen sang a bit which is always a highlight. In January she got everyone to sing David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance,’ although I probably had a cold at the time and didn’t sing much. 

Cliff Yates
As for my writing...well I’ve come out of hibernation a bit and actually sent off a few poems, first batch since October. Now the waiting game begins. Also - and I’ll say more next month - I am putting together a new manuscript for a pamphlet which is scheduled for later on in the year. I haven’t done this seriously since 2011/’12. It’s VERY HARD. Maybe it’s even harder than putting together a full-length manuscript because you have to be very picky. There was me thinking it would arrange itself, NO CHANCE. I’ll probably be writing a blog post about that sooner or later, you lucky people. 


Before I go off in search of antibiotics, I'd like to mention Kim Moore's blog as she wrote an entry which really resonated with me, the title of which was the (previosuly mentioned) Auden line: 'Poetry makes nothing happen.' There's a really intriguing poem by Kim at the end which spells out all the things that poetry does or allows you to do, by saying, ironically, that it doesn't. I'll leave you to ponder. See you soon.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Quite Contrary: Martin Stannard and Kim Addonizio - February 2016

I’m trying to keep up with my personal target of at least one post per month, although February’s been quiet. I’ve mainly been getting on with editing and so on, but this would not make for a very interesting post so I’m going to tell you about a reading I went to earlier on in the month. Martin Stannard came over all the way from China to read in Nottingham. Martin’s work is relatively new to me; I only came across one of his books last August. I had only come across the reviews. If you’re of a nervous poetic disposition and/or a fan of Simon Armitage, well especially if you’re a fan of Simon Armitage, watch out. It’ll sting. Martin described himself as ‘contrary’ on the night and, well, read this for yourself after this post. Anyway, I’m writing about the poetry now. Martin has done a lot for poetry. He edited the magazine Joe Soap’s Canoe from 1978 to 1993 and introduced many home-grown poets as well as lesser known American ones. You’ll find a great deal of work from the second generation of New York Poets and one edition was dedicated to the work of Paul Violi. He even published Simon Armitage too. I’d come across the excellent ‘The Ingredient’ in Anthony Wilson’s Lifesaving Poems and by a random act of happenstance received a copy of The Gracing Of Days which was published by Slow Dancer Press in 1989 and also featured that poem. All the pages are falling out of my copy, but that’s probably a good sign, as I’ve been reading it a lot.

A rare copy...

On the night Martin read from his new collection Poems for the Young at Heart which is published by Leafe Press and has a very nice endorsement on the back by Ian McMillan. Another poet once published in Joe Soap’s Canoe. Martin’s reading was funny. Honestly, you don’t often laugh your way through readings very often, and I for one enjoyed that. Intermingled with this were moments of Romance and acerbic commentary. All these elements sit together casually in the poetry. You can tell it’s very heavily influenced by the New York School and Frank O’Hara in particular. It’s conversational, follows its own inner logic and goes ‘on its nerve,’ as O'Hara once said and lots of people having been saying since.

Excerpt from  'A Few Words of Wisdom,' From The Gracing of Days...seems appropriate for a blog called 'Commonplace.'

I’m glad I went despite having a cold (I always have a cold) and drove home through the night with C Duncan’s latest album for company.   David Belbin has also written something about the evening, although his post includes some footage and a trip to A&E.



Someone else who’s quite contrary, but perhaps in a more openly emotive and autobiographical way, is the American poet Kim Addonizio. I’d been reading Wild Nights published by Bloodaxe last year on and off for a while now. I think I once wrote that when you enjoy a poem you don’t read it just once and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read ones like ‘Glass,’ ‘November 11’ and ‘Florida.’ Even though I’ve read the book I’m still returning to the poems. This collection is one of new and selected poems and goes back about twenty years or so. Kim’s poems are very upfront about relationships, love and sex.  There's a lot of drinking and harmonica playing too. We often use the phrase 'someone who’s lived it’ but I’d be inclined to say this is poetry by someone who isn’t afraid to write candidly about living. The poems themselves have a conversational, almost stream of consciousness style. There’s that word again, conversational. We seem to use it a lot when we talk about American poets, apparently UK poets don’t chat so much (apart from Coleridge). 

Kim’s book has spent a lot of time by the bed and in my kitchen; I just pick it up and dive in. I was trying to find an excerpt to share, but that felt very difficult as I don’t feel I can neatly quote from any poem without showing it in the context of the whole thing. I’ve found a recording of someone called, somewhat implausibly, Porridgebrain, reading out ‘Glass’ with a very English accent, but it's still very conversational, and ah, that last line, ‘I’m so in love with you I can’t stand up.’ 

Thank you, Porridgebrain. Until March.