Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 - The Year I Read Even More Books and Even Wrote One

As an end of year sign off I thought I should probably write a few things about my reading and writing activities. I'll keep it brief. Firstly, on a personal note I should say this has been a mixed year. A lot of my family have suffered with various illnesses and I lost an aunt in February. However, my twins have kept me rather busy and entertained on the positive side.

In terms of books I've read here are some that have been key this year. I discovered Hilary Mantel this year; I devoured 'Beyond Black' and 'Giving Up the Ghost.' Next year I plan to read more. This year I also read new poetry by Kim Moore and loved her pamphlet 'If We Could Speak Like Wolves.' Another poetry collection that I enjoyed was Daniel Sluman's 'Absence Has A Weight of It's Own.' Daniel's book was launched by Nine Arches Press at the same time as mine. It's received some good reviews and I hope it continues to do well.  Will Buckingham's novel 'The Descent of the Lyre' was beautiful; a wonderfully conceived piece of work. Geoff Hattersley's 'Inside the Blue Hebium' was a quirky joy and Jacob Sam-La Rose's 'Breaking Silence' was a pleasure too. Through the serendipity of reviewing I was also impressed by Meredith Andrea's 'Organnon' and Chris McCabe's 'The Restructure.' In terms of not 2012 poetry Allison McVety's 'Miming Happiness' and the 'Making for Planet Alice' women's poetry anthology were good too. I'm scratching the surface with a teaspoon here, there was a lot of stuff I enjoyed. It was nice to get reacquainted with Danny Abse's 'Funland' which I read in ninety-ninety-something and forgot about. Carrie Etter's 'The Tethers' was also another fairly recent book which I read for the first time this year. Her reading at 'The Flying Goose' in Summer was terrific and being able to 'hear' the poetry on the page enhanced my enjoyment. Ian Duhig was another good reader at the Leicester Poetry Society in May, as was Ian McMillan around the same time. I wish I could cover everything on this blog, there's more I could mention. Of course I still have a long reading list so I will be reading more of 2012's books and previous years far on into the 2010s!

I said I'd keep this short. I can't. Obviously I was really pleased about my debut collection 'Melanchrini' out in July. It was long listed by one of the judges for the TS Eliot prize, I'd read about it by accident in The Guardian Review section. I nearly died. It's doing alright, some good, thoughtful reviews here and there. It was fabulous to launch it at the Ledbury festival in July. I've been lucky enough to do some buzzy readings this year and sell a few books! I loved doing the Wordsmiths & Co. reading with host Jo Bell in December. Also PROSE. Yes I realised I also write PROSE too (now and then). That's PROSE, not poetry. My short story 'A Daughter's Wedding' was a featured in the 'Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud' edited by Jonathan Taylor and published by Salt. Alongside some really strong writing by Hanf Kureshi, Vannessa Gebbie, actually look it up here if you like!

Crystal Clear turned into a poetry publisher of six excellent pamphlets (look here friends!) and we continue to run the mighty Shindigs in Leicester along with Nine Arches Press. Apart from the public readings I've been quiet, not submitting much, trying very hard to work on what I've got. I'll try and get back on the horse next year, but after the book I'm trying to get my next 'projects' (whatever they are) into some perspective. A year is not a long time in poetry, so I'm taking my time despite my natural impatience. I am following the words of Hilary Mantel: 'You may have to creep towards it...'

Let's finish with a song. As a teenager I was a huge Blur fan and only a week ago I'd actually found out they'd released another song this year. I'm slow! In the words of Damon Albarn 'But I am going to sing Hallelujah, Sing it out loud and sing it to you...' Sayonara 2012.

Friday, 28 December 2012

'Tasting Notes' by Matthew Stewart

I did entertain the notion of compiling a 'best-of-2012' book list, but the feeling quickly passed. Instead I'm writing about a pamphlet which had some pretty interesting launches this year. Here's a 'read-about-what-you're-drinking-while-you're-drinking-it' poetry book. Matthew Stewart's Happenstance pamphlet 'Tasting Notes' is exactly that. Matthew is a blender and exporter of Spanish wine, as well as a poet. What I liked about this pamphlet is the fact that some of the poems are written from rather different perspectives, including from the wine itself, such as the rosé or rosado, as it's known in Spanish, which 'hasn't got the guts for red.' While there are many poets who quaff bucketfulls of wine, there are few poets giving their drinks a voice. Spare a thought next time you drink a decent glass of wine for the voices in your glass, 'leaving arch after arch behind / a silhouetted cathedral / where you're worshipping yet again.' Read here for more details.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A Poem by Dennis O'Driscoll

A poem by Dennis O'Driscoll, who died yesterday, Christmas Day. As a nominal Greek Orthodox it speaks to me.

Missing God

His grace is no longer called for
before meals: farmed fish multiply
without His intercession.
Bread production rises through
disease-resistant grains devised
scientifically to mitigate His faults.

Yet, though we rebelled against Him
like adolescents, uplifted to see
an oppressive father banished -
a bearded hermit - to the desert,
we confess to missing Him at times.

Miss Him during the civil wedding
when, at the blossomy altar
of the registrar’s desk, we wait in vain
to be fed a line containing words
like ‘everlasting’ and ‘divine’.

Miss Him when the TV scientist
explains the cosmos through equations,
leaving our planet to revolve on its axis
aimlessly, a wheel skidding in snow.

Miss Him when the radio catches a snatch
of plainchant from some echoey priory;
when the gospel choir raises its collective voice
to ask Shall We Gather at the River?
or the forces of the oratorio converge
on I Know That My Redeemer Liveth
and our contracted hearts lose a beat.

Miss Him when a choked voice at
the crematorium recites the poem
about fearing no more the heat of the sun.

Miss Him when we stand in judgement
on a lank Crucifixion in an art museum,
its stripe-like ribs testifying to rank.

Miss Him when the gamma-rays
recorded on the satellite graph
seem arranged into a celestial score,
the music of the spheres,
the Ave Verum Corpus of the observatory lab.

Miss Him when we stumble on the breast lump
for the first time and an involuntary prayer
escapes our lips; when a shadow crosses
our bodies on an x-ray screen; when we receive
a transfusion of foaming blood
sacrificed anonymously to save life.

Miss Him when we exclaim His name
spontaneously in awe or anger
as a woman in a birth ward
calls to her long-dead mother.

Miss Him when the linen-covered
dining table holds warm bread rolls,
shiny glasses of red wine.

Miss Him when a dove swoops
from the orange grove in a tourist village
just as the monastery bell begins to take its toll.

Miss Him when our journey leads us
under leaves of Gothic tracery, an arch
of overlapping branches that meet
like hands in Michelangelo’s Creation.

Miss Him when, trudging past a church,
we catch a residual blast of incense,
a perfume on par with the fresh-baked loaf
which Milosz compared to happiness.

Miss Him when our newly-fitted kitchen
comes in Shaker-style and we order
a matching set of Mother Ann Lee chairs.

Miss Him when we listen to the prophecy
of astronomers that the visible galaxies
will recede as the universe expands.

Miss Him when the sunset makes
its presence felt in the stained glass
window of the fake antique lounge bar.

Miss Him the way an uncoupled glider
riding the evening thermals misses its tug.

Miss Him, as the lovers shrugging
shoulders outside the cheap hotel
ponder what their next move should be.

Even feel nostalgic, odd days,
for His Second Coming,
like standing in the brick
dome of a dovecote
after the birds have flown.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Wordsmiths & Co. at Warwick Arts Centre

Last night I did a reading with a difference. I read along with Lemn Sissay, Jacob Sam-La Rose and Laura Dedicoat. This was one of a series of collaborative events between Apples and Snakes and Nine Arches Press, with support from Bloodaxe Books and Warwick Arts Centre. So why was this one different you might wonder? We’ll all used to the standard format of a poetry reading, aren’t we? A) Poet gets up B) Poet reads poems C) Poet ends, applause, sit down. What made the Wordsmiths & Co. reading different was that all four poets were interviewed on aspects of their work by a host, in this case the host was the wonderful Jo Bell. Jo asked some very thoughtful questions after reading and getting acquainted with our work. It’s a format I’ve seen here and there, but this reading didn’t just feature the questions as an afterthought but as an integral part of the performance. I was really impressed with Jo’s ability to ask questions which were suited to the poetry and the poet and do so in a very sharp and structured fashion. She must have really done her homework on us!

The readings were great. In many ways all four of us were quite different writers, but I felt along with most of the audience it seemed, that there were common threads uniting the work. Mainly there were links in terms of identity, self-perception and personal history. Laura Dedicoat is a young performance poet, one of the Nottingham based ‘Mouthy Poets,’ even though she lives in Birmingham. Her commitment to poetry was startling, her approach was warm and approachable and I’m eager to see more. Jacob Sam La-Rose read from his brilliant first collection ‘Breaking Silence.’ His work seemed to have a biographical focus and was full of imagery and inventive used of language. The poems about mothers, families, traditions and city life immediately appealed to me. I brought a copy and it’s a welcome addition to my reading. Here’s one of Jacob’s poem on the Poetry Archive site that we all enjoyed last night on the curious subject matter for dreams. Click here for a treat. Lemn Sissay is obviously very well known and his performance was theatrical and super-charged with energy. He made for a fascinating interviewee and I found his comments on poetry and using the Internet really thought-provoking. At one point he said that he kept a blog for the love of writing and didn’t care if no one read it; a blog is a personal record. I was asked about not only my poetry but about my other writing; prose, reviews and blogging. I often think of blog posts as open diary entries which are written out of enthusiasm rather than simply for the sake of saying something.

I am so proud to have been part of this event and look forward to forthcoming events from Wordsmiths& Co. After 4 weeks of the Taylor household being pursued by virus after virus it was a welcome source of inspiration!