Well, Baroque in Hackney must being the running for Least Active Poetry Blog of the Year. But that is about to change, at least for a few days, because I am on the train to Saxmundham, for the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. I’m in the way of a no-strings junket; the idea is that the people at Penned in the Margins wanted to see what I’d have to say about Hannah Silva’s show, Schlock!, which has been commissioned by the festival.

From the leaflet I glean that it is something about ripping up her copy of Fifty Shades of Grey (which presumably she had to make a special trip to the MIND shop to get), and reassembling womanhood via it and Kathy Acker? The publicity material is styled like one of those 50s Vogue shoots and features Hannah in full maquillage; I’ll know more after tomorrow. I do know that whatever it’s like it will be very interesting.

Other highlights of the festival for me include Julian Stannard, Jen Hadfield, and the US poet Thomas Lux talking about onomatopoiea. Paula Bohince, whom I interviewed in the current Poetry News, is over here to read in the festival, and I went in to the Poetry Society the other day to record a podcast with her. We had a really interesting conversation – well, I hope it was interesting – which included some good talk about sound in poetry. I mentioned something Paula said in our original interview, about ‘little hooks and nets of sound’, which I was really struck by. Then she did it again, and said she likes the way the hard edges of consonants hit against the curves of the vowels, or something.So the best bit of the conversation, for me, was after the recorder was turned off unfortunately, when I said I thought that sounded like a synaesthesiac thing to say, and so many poets do seem to have a degree of synaesthesia. Paula said no at first, but as we got talking it really seemed as if her ‘ear’ includes other textures and dimensions, if not actual colours.  I’ll be going to her reading too, naturally.

As an event, though, this festival is significant because it’s Naomi Jaffa’s last as director. She founded it all those years ago and ran it and grew it into this amazing thing, and now she’s going to do something else. (I’m not sure if even she knows exactly what.) It’s hard to imagine aldeburgh Poetry Festival without her energy, her expansive sense of possibility, her collaborative creativity, and her eagle-like focus. Of course, Dean Parkin is staying – PHEW! – and whoever they her to replace Naomi will have their own huge personality to stamp upon the festival, otherwise they wouldn’t get the job. But for now, this is her weekend and I am incredibly glad to be able to be there.

In other news, as it’s been so long, there were builders for a week who dismantled Baroque Mansions and repaired the damage form the Rains of august – leaving me to reassemble the halls of Baroque, which for a couple of reasons involved a lot of hemming of curtains. The minute they were gone I got flu. I am only just now feeling not like cotton wool, and not clammy, though the first stop in Aldeburgh will be some Lemsip. During all this I’ve written two book reviews, for Poetry London and the Poetry Review, and a few poems, and been thinking about essays for my book thats coming out next year.

And the typewriters. I’ve been practicing my touch typing, and indeed typing on this train is a fortuitous opportunity to type without moving my hand position – as there is simply no room – as advised by the lady in this 1944 US Navy typing video. (Yes, I love her.)

I have fixed a couple of typewriters now and am in love with them (and have been writing on them, as well as attempting to improve my typing) and you’ll be hearing more about that. Oh yes.

But before that, you’ll be hearing more about Aldeburgh.


Pippa's TippaThis autumn is really dragging us along like puppies on a lead, isn’t it? Here in Baroque Mansions we are all – me, my alter ego, my esteemed other, my kids, everybody – sort of inundated, in both good ways and puppy-on-a-lead ways. In between juggling bills, reluctantly updating web domains, and feverishly checking lottery tickets, there’s hardly time for any sort of leisure activity… and I’ve been doing so much poet profiling and poetry reviewing (see autumn issue of Poetry Wales, and upcoming issues of Poetry London and Poetry Review) that blogging on top seems like a bit tooooo much…

Plus, Baroque Mansions has gone a bit typewriter mad, one has emerged as a bit of an overnight geek, and that’s been taking up a lot of time, frankly. More on that one after I take possession of my own little adopted Adler Tippa (from my friend Pippa) on Wednesday.

BUT you will be pleased to know that where I am falling down on the job, others are blogging heartily away. Edward Ferrari’s The Republic of Yorkshire attracted me right away by his use of the IM Fell DW Pica tentypeface for his banner; as you can see, the Baroque banner is in IM Fell French Canon, so it’s rather as if we bought the same shoes but in different colours. Also, he has a picture of James Merrill’s collected poems in his sidebar, so basically, I’m there. Check it out.

Fiona Moore is doing some storming blogging on Displacement – her discussion of the new Ten anthology and issues around race and poetry in the UK is fascinating. I love that she reviews the launch event because I wasn’t able to make it on the night, and the discussion – including a discussion of aesthetic values – sounds really fascinating, and not before its time. What do we look for in our poetry (or in any other literature, for that matter)?

Lumsden Mischief cover 176And Anthony Wilson is going from strength to strength, as they say. Not only is his own blog giving rise to a book – Lifesaving Poems is going to be published in June by Bloodaxe – he’s also doing a magnificent job as the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival blogger. The festival is in only three weeks; well, under three weeks, now, as today is Sunday.

(Also, funnily enough, I’ve just finished writing a feature for MsLexia magazine (which will appear in the next issue) on ways to think of turning a blog into a book – and poetry only gets a sort of sideways mention, but this is a brilliant development.)


The good news from the Baroque point of view is that I am going to be at Aldeburgh myself, as well, as a sort of reviewer-stroke-Penned-in-the-Margins presence, thanks to the imaginative generosity of Tom Chivers and Naomi Jaffa. That’s really exciting because the festival is Naomi’s last as Director, and the line-up looks quite frankly amazing. There are several people I’m really looking forward to hearing; off the top of my head now, not only Hannah Silva’s new PITM show, Schlock!, but also Julian Stannard, Jonathan Edwards, the US poet Paula Bohince, and Jen Hadfield (always a pleasure, and it’s been years).

Er, in other news, we’re waiting for the eldest Baroque offspring to be slightly less beset with work and wisdom teeth and do some essential back end work for us, and then I can resume my new website project, which I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned yet. Suffice to say it will be good. Once it happens. Projected launch date now, I hope, in the New Year. I’ll try and get a gold dress.


Forward on National Poetry Day

October 2, 2014

Happy National Poetry Day! I’m heading down to the Southbank Centre in a little while to hear live poetry in the Clore Ballroom (in the Royal Festival Hall building), and then to not one but two events this evening. At 6pm, The Pity – four poets reading specially commissioned work on war. Steve Ely, whose […]

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Dannie Abse the infinite

September 28, 2014

  On Tuesday this year’s Forward Prize winners will be announced, and the entire auditorium will be in a hush of sorrow. There will be a hole where one of the judges was to have sat, and most of the people in the auditorium will be feeling bereft. A light has gone out. I use this […]

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Donaghy: ten years today

September 16, 2014

‘Don’t be afraid, old son, it’s only me…’ Today, 16 September, while the Scottish Referendum rages, the future once again seems uncertain – like it did for some of us this week ten years ago, when Michael Donaghy lay in hospital, on a life support system, after a massive brain haemorrhage. Of course, I now […]

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Free Verse and Penned in the Margins: be there or be square

August 29, 2014

Once again it’s that time. If you can possibly get to London next Saturday – the 6th, that is, not tomorrow – and are even remotely interested in the state of UK poetry, Free Verse is the place to be. I think this might be the fair’s fourth year; it’s now such a well-embedded date […]

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The Great Below and the great after

August 18, 2014

This year marks ten years since Michael Donaghy died. As it happens, this autumn his Collecteds – poems and prose – are both going to be out in paperback, at last. Almost more to the point, the first critical guide to his work (appropriately called Smith: A Reader’s Guide to Michael Donaghy) will be published by […]

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Purple prose for purple times

August 4, 2014

1980: One of the things I really wish I hadn’t lost over the years is my great-grandfather’s scrapbook. It was a large, old-fashioned tome with dark pages, on which anything that meant something to my great-grandfather had been glued. A lot of it was very boring to the teenager I was when I read it. […]

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