My poetry smorgasbord: the best cuts


Okay a blog post! It will be all change around here as soon as my new glasses arrive. And not a moment too soon – I thought I’d gone stupid, but it turned out that my left eye has decided to respond to its treatment of the past few months by going, after all these years, shortsighted. And the right one is still a bit longsighted (though nothing like it was) for reading. And my left iris is partly ‘worn away’, as the doctor delicately put it, where they  made the incision, which means the pupil is distorted, and can’t close to keep light out. So I’ve waited the two months and had my test, and am getting two pairs of lovely varifocals. Plain and sun.

So as of Tuesday (ish) I will be able to SEE PROPERLY for the first time in over six months.*

In the meantime, the books continue to come in; I must do the sidebar. Most recent arrivals: Kathryn Maris’ long-awaited collection, God Loves You – now, I can’t tell you how long I’ve been listening to these poems read at readings, so I am very keen to read this book. Just my sort of thing, heartfeltly sardonic and very attentive to language and tone. And Marianne Burton’s She Inserts the Key, which looks complex and ambitious; the title feels to me like an assertive response to that old poem, ‘Wedding the Locksmith’s Daughter’. Both from Seren, which is having a very good year for poetry. Owen Sheers’ verse drama about three young soldiers in Afghanistan, Pink Mist, in a beautiful dustjacket, from Faber. Then there’s Trunk , vol two: Blood – an Australian anthology exploring blood in art and literature – which I poetry-edited, and contributed a poem to. (Vol 1 was ‘hair’.) And I’m finally reading, though it didn’t just arrive, Gert Hofmann’s Lichtenberg & The Little Flower Girl, translated by his son Michael Hofmann (from CB Editions).

For the three years I’ve had it, I vaguely imagined this book was two things in one volume; and typing out the title has made me see the reason for that: it’s the capital T in ‘The’. Ha! In fact, it’s a novel about the 18th century German scientist and satirist, Georg Lichtenberg. Is it a comic  novel? So far it’s very funny. The tone of voice – a sort of free indirect voice, part authorial observation and part Lichtenberg’s thoughts – is (I’m sorry to resort to this word) delicious. Sort of part story-telling and part train-of-thought. His story in real life is sad but I feel his intellectual and emotional bravery were exceptional. (And Lichtenberg is the inventor of international standard paper sizes, eg A4, A5; so he shapes our daily material life.)

The new term of indie poetry workshops is settling down nicely, with two brilliant interesting groups; the syllabus is surprisingly like the picture at the top, now I think about it. I’m also investigating opportunities for running courses online, especially Poetic Technique and The Poem Is a Question. With luck, this will be together in time for that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness that we like to think of as ‘the autumn term’.

In addition there are several manuscripts on the go, on the appraisals & editing front. Mentoring, and editing, and the launch party of one of them on Monday! It’s exciting, and it’s on a ship. More after the event.

Which reminds me that on Saturday, June 1st, I am going to be a Poetry Butcher at the Southbank’s London Literature Festival. ‘Not for the fainthearted”, they say. What am I supposed to do to these people? Don’t worry, kids; if you come to see me (advance booking required) I will fillet your poem so gently you’ll feel positively caressed by the poets’ blade.

And tonight I am going to see a very interesting thing indeed. It is Electronic Voice Phenomena, best described by quoting its website:

Electronic Voice Phenomena is an experimental literature and new media project for 2013, exploring contemporary approaches to sound, voice, technology and writing, brought to you by Mercy and Penned in the Margins.

The EVP programme takes its inspiration from Konstantin Raudive’s notorious ‘Breakthrough’ experiments of the 1970s, where he divined voices-from-beyond in electronic noise. Themes of otherness, the profane and divine join with new approaches to writing and performing on this website built around our platform of new commissioned works.

To me this has an echo (ha) of the thing I heard on the radio in the early 80s about the ferric acid in the plaster of ancient buildings somehow trapping the sounds that have been made in them over the centuries – and a recording of what purported to be centuries f voices was played, like a crowded (over time) room… It has fascinated me for decades. and I’m a big fan of Ross Sutherland and Hannah Silva, and indeed of Tom Chivers’ tireless work in presenting these explorations of what lies just beyond our grasp.

It’s in Shoreditch tonight and then the tour continues.

This is of course a partial smorgasbord; I’ve missed tons over the past few months, including a Carcanet evening I was really looking forward to, several book launches, and other things including a lot of reading, because my eyes have been wonky for so long. But the feast is about to begin again, I hope. Let them eat poetry.

(N.b., There’s also knitting to report on, but don’t let that put you off.)

* (Tip of the week: I got them from a guy in Spitalfields Market who does vintage (& repro) frames, and prescription lenses at about half what my local indie high street optician was quoting. He has a holding page, proper website to follow:

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