Site Meter

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Down Under

If he could shit, Beckett’s Unnamable says, his turds would come out in Australia. I hereby fundamentally expel myself from the Northern hemisphere to go and spend six weeks down under, that topsy-turvy land where toilets flush the other way round and hot snow falls upwards from the ground.

I assume I will start posting from down under, eventually, but in the meantime can you please take in my milk bottles and keep any interesting pieces from the books pages of the West Hull Advertiser for me, thanks.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hommes et Femmes

There’s a Jacques Lacan joke about a boy and girl on a train pulling into a station. ‘I see we’re in Femmes’, says the girl. ‘No you idiot, it’s Hommes!’ the boy corrects her.

Consider the implications of that joke in relation to the review pages of the new Poetry Review. As follows:

Steven Matthews reviews John Kinsella. Man/man.

Sara Crown reviews Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Tamara Fulcher and Mary Oliver. Woman/three women.

David Morley reviews Adam Foulds and Ciaran Carson. Man/two men.

Jamie McKendrick review Michael Hofmann/Bernard O’Donoghue. Man/two men.

Adam Thorpe reviews Taha Muhammad Ali and Mahmoud Darwish. Man/two men.

Jane Holland reviews Charlotte Mew, Ruth Pitter and Janet Frame. Woman/three women.

Michael Hulse reviews Matthew Francis and Robert Crawford. Man/two men.

Sarah Wardle reviews Annemarie Austin, Sujata Bhatt, Alison Brackenbury, U.A. Fanthorpe and R.V. Bailey. Woman/five women.

Tim Liardet reviews John Seed, Ken Cockburn, Julian Stannard, Graham Mort, Gerard Smyth, John McAuliffe, Philip Nikolayev and David Grubb. Man/eight men.

Melanie Challenger reviews Lotte Kramer, Zoe Brigley, Jen Hadfield, Gerrie Fellows and Julie O’Callaghan. Woman/five women.

Tony Frazer reviews Kenji Miyazawa, Soleïman Adel Guémar, Ivan Blatný, Nikola Vaptsarov, Yana Glembotskaya and Oleg Burkov (eds), and Marc Falkoff (ed). Man/four men plus two anthologies, one of whose three editors is a man. Reader, Nikola Vaptsarov is a man.

Charlotte Newman reviews Tamar Yoseloff, Kathryn Simmonds, Deborah Garrison and Jane Griffiths. Woman/four women.

The Tony Frazer review complicates things ever so slightly, but leaving those two anthologies out of the picture we still have seven male reviewers reviewing 21 men and five women reviewing 20 women.

Hommes and Femmes. Someone tell me how highly significant this is, and why, or why in fact it means nothing at all.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ignoble Savages

Hard to disagree much with this from William Logan:

The disparity between what Graham believes she’s doing and what the reader sees on the page is enormous. Perhaps these rambling, doddering, lifeless poems are “crucial,” as she claims; yet it’s as if all their imaginative energy went to “enact the idea of, and sensation of” writing the poem itself. I’m not sure aesthetic choices should be justified in philosophic terms, because it makes matters of taste seem conditioned or inevitable (taste can have philosophical carriage, but perhaps it takes a century or more to discover it). Her language, so slack and unbearable now, doesn’t possess the resources of Williams or Whitman, whose arguments lay in language, not length of line. Graham can chatter in the latest philosopher’s mode but can’t compose a good metaphor.


Readers of Poetry will remember the centrefold-style excitement of the poems that ended up in Sea Change, reclining Odalisque-like on their side, beached and out of proportion to their surroundings, like an Antarctic glacier floating into Tampa Bay.

Adam Kirsch talked about the algebraic quality of Graham’s work in his recent book of essays, and the defiant fill-it-in-for-yourself quality of the earlier poems he was discussing. Graham books, in a Beckett phrase I like, have always come with ‘missing parts included’. In Sea Change though all too many of these have been filled in, in all the wrong ways, and all I find is Heathcote Williams meets the Discovery Channel meets the nearest piece of late Heidegger to hand. Dipping into ‘Embodies’ at random I find: ‘& there is still /innocence, it is starting up somewhere /even now, and the strange swelling of the so-called Milky Way, and the sound of the /wings of the bird as it lifts off /suddenly, & how it is going somewhere precise, & that precision, & how I no longer /can say for that it /knows nothing, flaming, razory...’ I pause on that insistence on ‘precision’. Bird-flight is a very precise thing, but this writing isn’t. So much of Graham’s work operates on a meta-level these days that it has become enough for her to make a gesture in the direction of precision for her writing (she must think) to take on that quality. If the whole thrust of Sea Change is towards an attention to the natural world (‘Absolute unmixed attention is prayer’, as Simone Weil said), its effect on me is of sublimation – a book-length sublimation of its material into a stance, a style, a tic. The natural world has become so much material, in a strange mimetic echo of the despoliation of the earth that she writes about. Display supercedes meditation and understanding. A rare and showy bird is pluming itself, energetically, on behalf of the lesser species that have not made it into camera-shot. This is not to say I think Jorie Graham has become the Harvard wing of Exxon Mobile, but still.

There is a three-part series on BBC at the moment about the remote Hebridean island of St Kilda, and attempting to recreate an episode in which some St Kildans were marooned on the nearby rocky outpost of Boreray for several months the camera crew ran into storms and winched their man off the rock. The historically respectful thing would have been to leave him there, or better again to have sent the camera crew but left the presenter at home, or best of all just not to have made the programme, perhaps. Because how better to honour Hopkins’ words, ‘Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet’, than by getting ourselves out of the picture as much as possible, and preferably altogether. This may be a flippant suggestion, but as a rhetorical impossibility is at least worth a try, or a better try than the vapidities of Sea Change.

These reflections prompted by George Szirtes blogging about the New Writing Worlds 2008 Human: Nature (note Grahamesque colon) conference in UEA. Szirtes worries about the recrudescence of Noble Savage theology he finds in those who would lecture us on the wisdom of indigenous peoples, and the hymners of nature who would overlook its weakness for letting off tsnunamis and earthquakes when the mood takes it. I would agree that there is a mood of neo-Rousseauism afoot, as memorably skewered by Kathleen Jamie in her LRB review of Robert MacFarlane’s The Wild Places, but think this is less a problem than the common failure to grasp our true predicament: that we are the last indigenous people left, the last tribe to make contact with the folk who still live in the forests of Peru and Papua New Guinea, the most dogged believers on earth in the absolute state of nature in which we live, whether we’re admiring our sensitive response to a Seamus Heaney poem or fuelling up the people-carrier for the school run, the last culture left with no use for or conception of anything beyond ourselves. And what are we going to do about that, eh? That’s what I want to know.

If I want to see rabbits here where I live, I can drive to a dual carriageway roundabout, where a large colony appears to be thriving. That to me is contemporary nature.

On the subject of nature writing, I would also say that if Jorie Graham is a distracting sideshow it’s good to be reminded by an extract from his forthcoming The Last Pool of Darkness in the new Dublin Review that Tim Robinson is, for my money, the best writer on nature writing today, and probably the best prose writer at work in Ireland or Britain too. Always nice to end on a note of hyperbole.

Photo found here.


‘Sunday Discount night 25% off in eating over 2 people’ (on Indian takeaway menu).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


‘Pictures are illustrations only’ (on Chinese takeaway menu).

Manatee, Manatee

Manatee, manatee, all is manatee. I mention this because the author’s likeness of Ned Kelly in his home-made armour adorning the cover of Cliff Forshaw’s A Ned Kelly Hymnal (Paper Special Edition) is demonstrably not Ned Kelly at all, but a manatee, and a manatee wearing a jilbab at that. The manatee is a religious beast by nature, sheltering behind its faith from the slings and arrows of man’s inhumanity to manatee. (That’s a Kit Wright joke by the way, I didn’t just make that up.)

The final photograph of Kelly, bush-ranger-bushy-bearded, the whites of his eyes:

Eyes peeled like hard-boiled eggs. Flecked red.
Yellow. Black-dotted. Jaundiced, downcast or lidded;
hooded with flame, day’s end or blood.
Or pool-balls, yours, spotted, on the edge of the pocket:
one good crack (stripes, then on the black)
and they’re lined-up, potted.

Sidney Nolan’s Kelly portraits, old Wanted posters, ‘the price above that head dolorous with silver haloes’:

Helmet or bucket?
Kick it. Fuck it.
What’s it matter when
eight thousand pounds
press on four men’s heads?

Transvestism and the Molly Malones. Kelly gang member Steve Hart’s similar inclinations. De Valera smuggled from prison in a dress, in more recent times. The Glenrowan shootout. The hanging. And, by way of epilogue, Nolan’s ‘Death of a Poet’ in Liverpool’s Walker Gallery:

Death-mask or bust. Kicked the bucket.
Right now he’s just something in the trees,
round as a gourd, shiny on top,
bald as baked clay, a terracotta pot

Or one that’s bloomed, blown, grown scratchy dry;
breeze-rustled beard ready to fall to scrub,
dead-heeled by some passer-by.


This blog of course takes a strongly anti-nepotistic line, but wriggles off the hook of promoting one of its (its?) friends by insisting we’re not really a friend of Cliff’s at all, and are only pretending for as long as it takes until he returns that tenner he owes us.

I warmly recommend this book. Write to him at c.forshaw at if you want a copy.

Photograph shows the author helping to launch a beermat (no really).

Monday, June 16, 2008


For anyone in the habit of sitting bolt upright in the wee small hours wondering what ‘the healthiest single phenomenon’ to occur in poetry ‘in several decades’ might be, wonder no more. Silliman:

I was thinking about the debate, to call it that, between flarf & conceptual writing, and specifically thinking that such a debate was in many respects the healthiest single phenomenon I’ve seen regarding poetry in several decades.

Now roll over and go back to sleep. You’ve probably got an early start.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Thorngumbald, Worthy Successor to Agriculture and Flower Show Of

My new favourite bedside volume is The East Yorkshire Village Book, as ‘compiled by the East Yorkshire Federation of Women’s Institutes from notes and illustrations sent by Institutes in the County’, and if that’s not all right by you then too bad, as I’m about to treat you to some extracts from it.

Roos today is a friendly village where older residents and newcomers mix very well. New housing is being built and the community is growing steadily. At one time villages had to be more self-sufficient and the village used to have more shops and trades than there are now. There is still a grocer/newsagent’s (with a petrol pump) and a butcher’s shop selling savouries and cakes.

Some people would say that the most exciting pastime in Preston is to watch the traffic lights change, but others would strongly disagree! Many are happy to live in the village of Preston – not Lancashire, but Yorkshire.

Thorngumbald was once renowned for its Agriculture and Flower Show until costs and age overtook its original helpers. A worthy successor has emerged with the Annual Gala, raising funds to help village projects and renovations. Old and new have integrated quite well, though few of the true Thorngumbald villagers are left to recall the transformation.

[Thwing] has gradually succumbed to the advent of the motorcar and modern day living. Types of occupation have altered, although farming is the predominant industry, and more people are commuting from the parish. With no village shop, bus service or school, the village church and public house are now the focus of activity in the parish, with little to mar the tranquillity of the quiet backwater.


This fine photo found here.

Free Milk

Jeremy Noel-Tod on Ted Hughes in the new Oxford Poetry:

In December 1969, Hughes comments that he is ‘half-inclined to suspect [Crow], but has decided to publish it on the grounds that it is ‘my masterpiece. Insofar as I can manage a likeness of a masterpiece.’ Crow’s likeness to a masterpiece is just what maims it: a pseudo-Modernist ‘super-crude’ experiment in lyre-smashing that pales beside the elegant revolutions of Hughes’s contemporaries (Veronica Forrest-Thomson definitively establishes the distance between Hughes and Prynne and Ashbery at this time in her book Poetic Artifice (1978)). The Crow poems were the apotheosis and implosion of everything that had made Hughes the Eng. Lit. equivalent of free school milk: symbolic animals, prosaic morals and nutritional alliteration.


Other nutritional prose by John Redmond, Chris Fenwick and Andrew Duncan, and poetry by Stephen Burt, David Constantine, George Szirtes, Peter McDonald, Andrew McNeillie and others. Read more here.

Richard Price Beams Message into Brains of Huddled Masses, Cafe Waitresses

Richard Price and Simon Lewandowski introduce their rotating letter-cell installation Hotel/Motel/Motet at McCoy’s café yesterday. Geoff Squires, Christopher Reid and Cliff Forshaw look on, and four teenage girls crouch over their cappuccinos in awe, terror, delight, indifference and any other number of randomly unimaginable responses.

Drift Trawlermen Beam Message Directly into Brains of Huddled Masses, Local Pigeons

Remember When You Fought For Yourself

Sunday, June 08, 2008

At the Cafe Slavia

I’m off to
Ireland for a few days, so barring any on-the-hoof postings you can all amuse yourselves reading this new long poem by marvellous Irish writer Justin Quinn.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Villainy of Mayo

The cartoon of Dean Windass in my last post bore a passing resemblance to Desperate Dan (make that Desperate Dean by next Christmas, but I digress), and I was thrilled to read here of the involvement of the Dandy comic in a Mayo Echo story under the startling title ‘Castlebar Lake Attracts Hundreds of Perverts.’ Hundreds of perverts are descending on Castlebar every week as the town has become the “cruising” capital of Connaught, we read. The bushes round a grotty car park in Castlebar are crawling with hundreds of seminally intoxicated, nay ‘drooling’ perverts, reducing normal life in Co. Mayo to a standstill. Images from ‘boys’ magazines’ found at the cruising site were named by Mayo Echo scribe Tony Geraghty as evidence of underhand activities afoot on phone-in moron-a-thon Liveline until revealed to be nothing more fiendish than random pages from the Dandy. Mr Tony Geraghty heroically persisted with his claim that the Dandy pages had been used for ‘sexual gratification’, which may result in a telephone call from a Channel 5 documentary maker any day now (perhaps the one who made the programme screened this week about the woman in a romantic relationship with the Berlin wall, and who had cheated on it with a fence). ‘It seems in this modern day that there are certain groups we simply are not alloyed [sic] to discuss’, Mr Geraghty further fumed and foamed, before I presume offering to come down hard on the nearest sodomite. Less amusingly, his oafish threats of litigation against the popular local discussion forum, where his idiocy had attracted much ridicule and disbelief, resulted in that website suspending publication. What a total prick.

Twenty Major’s hilarious take on this.

This is self-evidently the greatest news story ever told.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

O Deano

For more Dean Windass-related fun and frolics, see here.


Hard copy next week (plus DVD!), but in the meantime feast yourselves sick on this (adjust settings on scribd for optimum viewing).

Photo found here.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

In East Park

By day, in the pool,
where the teals splash,
the hottentot teals,

to the sound of the peacocks,
peacocks in heat,
and the curassow,

the firework bird going off
with a bang, it
happens, all of it

happens, and I
will not say what,
while the guinea pigs

scatter, their necks
and backsides
as one, decide

it’s worse over there
and come back,
envying the orange

bishop his perch, and how
to him too it happens;
but why spell it out,

what with the peacocks
in heat, the curassow’s
screech like a whoopee

cushion deflating,
and the llamas tossing
and trotting, happens

too freely
and indistinctly
for misunderstanding,

the one thing necessary,
whatever it was:
that guinea pig has it,

he’s getting away,
and don’t expect help
from a peacock in heat,

but now I remember,
it all comes back now,
and if only

the curassow’s song
would leave me
in peace, or I could

just see you
(are you still there?)
through the peacock’s

fanned tail, there is nothing,
nothing, I would
rather discuss.


Image found here.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

It Says Here

‘I believe literature is the biggest form in which no one is wrong or right.’ (From an essay I just read.)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Not Ideas About the Thing But Not Quite the Thing Itself

Wallace Stevens lived an ‘aZuent’ kind of life, John Burnside tells us four lines into the introduction to his new selection of Wallace Stevens’ poems for Faber. The scanner is mightier than the brain, we tell ourselves, but there it is again at the end of ‘The Planet on the Table’: ‘Some aZuence, if only half-perceived...’ The scanner is mightier than the galley-proof too. But then we reach ‘Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself’, after whose sixth line (‘In the early March wind’) we read this:

With slight, prismatic reeks not recollected,
A bubble without a wall on which to hang.

The curtains, when pulled, might show another whole.
An azure outre-terre, oranged and rosed,
At the elbow of Copernicus, a sphere,
A universe without life’s limp and lack,
Philosophers’ end... What difference would it make,
So long as the mind, for once, fulfilled itself?

{Poem ends}

Poem does indeed end, the only problem being that the poem in question is ‘As at a Theatre’, depriving us of the final words of Stevens’ final poem in his final book:

That scrawny cry – it was
A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,

Surrounded by its choral rings,
Still far away. It was like
A new knowledge of reality.

{Really does end}

Matthew Francis noticed something amiss with the new edition the other day on the Poets on Fire forum, to which I’d link except it seems to be down at the moment.

Simone Weil, Geoffrey Hill reminds us, suggested a system whereby ‘“anybody, no matter who, discovering an avoidable error in a printed text or radio broadcast, would be entitled to bring a special action before [special] courts empowered to condemn a convicted offender to prison or hard labour.