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Published and performing

17 Aug

Well it was about time for some good news really, and it came in the form of an inclusion into an anthology, which is a first for me, and very exciting.  I have had a poem, called The Management of Hope included in the anthology from Caparison E-books which is titled Emergency Verse:  Poetry in Defense of the Welfare State and in Support of a Robin Hood Tax on the City and should be available to download in a few weeks.  I have managed to squeeze my way in among some much more well know names such as Michael Rosen, Michael Horovitz, Mario Petrucci and many more.  Political poetry often runs the risk of turning a little lecturous (yes, I’ve just invented a new word) or polemical, however I feel sure that such experienced writers will tackle this issue with great skill.

Secondly I will be performing this Sunday as part of the Free Fringe at Chaos Raging Sweet: 14.40-15.50, Banshee Labyrinth, Banqueting Hall, Niddry Street. MCing are Andrew C Ferguson and Rob A MacKenzie.  Having been initially very pleased to be asked, and having written a poem especially for the occasion my nerves are now beginning to get the better of me and I’m realising why I don’t perform very often.  However, it would be lovely to see and meet any of my readers, so please do come and introduce yourself.


Literary Salons, Anon 7 and simultaneous blogging

1 Jul

This week, for the first time ever, I attended a Literary Salon.  It was my cousin who suggested that we go along, and I really wasn’t sure what to expect.  The word Salon puts me in mind of all the 17th or 19th century groups, that you read about in historical novels.  However, there was very little old fashioned about the Edinburgh City of Literature Salon.  Unfortunately due to bus’s I missed the first part of the evening, but the atmosphere was warm and relaxed and is set out to be very friendly.  If you don’t believe me, the Guardian’s Edinburgh correspondent, Tom Allen, was there and has blogged his thoughts on the Salon.

I was also very pleased to bump into Colin and Peggy of Anon, and pick up the latest edition Anon 7, which I am planning to spend my Sunday reading.  I always enjoy Anon, and love the ethos of an anonymous submissions system, which I note from the website has a swanky new poets interface.  Their ethos means that it really has become a must have publication for me to see my work in, and I am determined that one day I will manage it.

The simultaneous blogging experiment is starting to pick up a-pace.  Poets such as Claire Askew, Kevin Cadwallender, Russell Jones and Sally Evans are taking part.  Thanks also goes to Sally and Rob MacKenzie for their help in promoting the idea.  I’m keeping things open for a few more days to see who is interested, but will be starting soon, so if you want to take part, please say now.

The filming of poetry

2 Jun

Alastair Cook photographer, architect and artist writes about filming poetry.  Alastair lives and works in Edinburgh. His professional work can be found at http://alastaircook.com. Alastair’s ongoing interpretive and responsive work with poets can be watched at http://filmpoem.com

The combination of film and poetry is an attractive one. For the poet, perhaps a hope that the filmmaker will bring something to the poem: a new audience, a visual attraction, the laying of way markers; for the filmmaker, a fixed parameter to respond to, the power of a text sparking the imagination with visual connections and metaphor.

Poetry has been seen as a bountiful source for the creative process of the lyrical side of experimental film practice since filmmakers and critics began theorising the concepts of film. Many filmmakers view film as an independent art, often persuading that film can only be an art form if it struggles to work within its own language. The combination of image and text forms what writer William Wees has called Poetry-film. In his essay, The Poetry Film, published in 1984, he notes that “…a number of avant-garde film and video makers have created a synthesis of poetry and film that generates associations, connotations and metaphors neither the verbal nor the visual text would produce on its own.”

The initial step taken by the poet is the very essence of collaboration: the underlying trust placed in the filmmaker with one’s work. This handover of the text is a moment of trepidation, a transfer of trust. However, it is also a point of invigoration, described by Morgan Downie: “I love the notion of collaboration and especially the way technology frees us up to do these things. It’s great to see someone else taking something you’ve done and running with it…. there’s a sense of engagement and commitment.”

In an interview with the Scottish Poetry Library this spring, poet and presenter Owen Sheers made a similar point, that the genesis of a poem may be with the poet, but there comes a point where the filmmaker takes control. I took the opportunity to discuss with Owen Sheers the methodology imposed when bringing six poems to the screen in the recent BBC4 series, A Poet’s Guide to Britain. It is clear there is a conflict for the filmmaker when drawing the viewer’s attention to the poem; is the text of the poem placed on the screen or is it merely read? The answer, with unswerving common sense, is that it depends.

The possibilities for the introduction of literal visual images, non-literal images, suggestive images or visual signposts are all vying for attention. The filmmaker’s skill is to interpret what the particular poem is asking for. Owen’s measured opinion was that there is an opportunity for “a surprising image, to place two things up against each other which don’t quite fit.” The essence is that if the words must be on screen then perhaps not the entire text but only a carefully chosen extract, alongside the poem being read in full. Sheers noted that he feels that this is essential in attempting to reach a wider audience.

And so, the poem will be read to you. Listening to a poem is not like reading a poem; there’s a sense of enlivening as a poem is launched into the air. Seamus Heaney, talking of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, noted that when he heard the whole thing read aloud the experience taught him, in the words of the poem, to sit still. This idea, the experience of being read to, allows the reader to be captive, open to the experience.  This is the essence of Poetry-film.

So, a Poetry-film is a single entwined entity, a melting, a cleaving together of words, sound and vision. It is an attempt to take a poem and present it through a medium that will create a new artwork, separate from the original poem. The film is a separate work from the text itself and this in turn may be able to open up poetry to people who are not necessarily receptive to the written word. Poetry often tries to deal with the abstract world of thought and feeling, rather than the literal world of things. The Poetry-film is the perfect marriage of the two.

Many thanks to the team at Anon for allowing the publication of this piece, it is an abridged extract from a longer article that will appear in Anon 7, out soon.  It’s worth buying.

Published.

10 Apr


If Carlsberg made poetry magazines…
Well, it certainly wouldn’t be making Popshot, as let’s face it, Carlsberg just isn’t that good a lager.  I was very excited this week to receive my gratis copy of Popshot, partly because is is a very beautifully made magazine, but mainly because I am in it.

This issue was on the theme of Liberate, and my poem The Toad Burps, was accepted.  What made me doubly excited is that every poem is illustrated.  It is always interesting to see how different art forms can feed off each other and I am extremely pleased with the talented  James Majowski’s interpretation of my work.

I was pleased also to find a poem by Helen Mort in this edition.  I first came across Helen’s work when reading the 10th Anniversary Anthology of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, and I very much enjoyed her piece Poem for Ben.

This week I have listened to Suckers!  Poets and Parasites, a BBC Radio 4 production looking at the relationship between poetry and blood sucking insects.

This week I have been…

2 Apr

Listening to BBC Radio 7’s adaptation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Many more intelligent and better educated people than me have written about Paradise Lost and so I am not going to attempt any analysis.  However I would urge anyone who is interested in this to listen.  A fifteen minute episode is played every night at 9pm.  There are forty one episodes in total, but there will also be an omnibus every Sunday at 8pm.  Also don’t forget the BBC’s excellent Listen Again service with the iPlayer.  iMairi recommends.

I have also been reading Gutter 02.  Gutter is a new magazine on the block, and one so far which I have been enjoying.  I have not finished it yet, but I would particularly recommend Art Divided an enjoyable and macabre short story by Anneliese Mackintosh.

Published and performing

22 Jan

I have had a pretty good start to the new year.  At the beginng of January I was wondering if there would be enough going on for a regular once-a-week post.  Now I find I am inundated.

Firstly I have had my first ever print publication.  It was in Poetry Scotland, a broadsheet edited by Sally Evans.  It was a very small contribution, but pleasing for me none-the-less.

At the end of this month I will be performing at Hidden Door.  Hidden Door is an interdiscaplinary arts festival held in Edinburgh.  There will be musicians, artists, filmakers and poets.  I shall be performing on the Saturday at 4.00 – 4.30 in the lounge and then from 4.30 on the Main Stage – a bit scary but I’m sure the adrenaline rush from doing two slots back to back will leave me on a massive natural high for long afterward.  I shall also be helping poet Andrew Philip, and artist Geri Loup-Nolan with their planned raidal poem, which festival visitors can participate in.  Please come along and check things out.

Lastly I will also be performing next month at Poetry at the GRV.  As it is Valentines Day the organiser, Rob MacKenzie, has asked poets to write a response to a specific line from the Song of Songs, and ancient love poem.  The line I have been given is “Adjure, Oh daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved; tell him I am love-sick”.  So wether you celebrate Valentines Day or feel it is a load of rubbish drummed up to sell cards please come along, it will be a great night.

The Next Issue is at the Printers

10 Dec

Sally Evans, esteemed editor of Poetry Scotland, explains the process of selecting poems and deciding what goes into the broadsheet.

The editor heaves a sigh of relief. The magazine has “gone to bed” as printers say and there is a pause before the mail-out. Every magazine is different, but there are constants whatever the set-up, whether the magazine has a committee, a single editor or changing editors.

 
Poetry Scotland is a broadsheet, and in the tradition of broadsheets you fill it with poems –which answers people who have sometimes criticised it for having too much poetry in it. There is always enough material collected in the few months between issues, but the first question is, what will make this issue interesting and give it character, what will be the main noticeable content? There may be longer poems or poems on themes, or work by a popular and high-profile poet. There are various languages to consider: I try to include Scots and Gaelic fairly often, and occasionally other languages or dialects. With Scots, there are several dialects and I have noticed people will usually only read their own dialect — I can tell this from the feedback I receive. Sometimes there are projects within poetry, such as the English Diaspora issue (the only study of this subject in Scottish Poetry that I know of) — or other special issues.

This time we have an inset on a Scottish Natural Heritage Project on Flanders Moss, a raised bog, and for the first time in Poetry Scotland’s history we are printing poems by school pupils in this inset. Their work is very exciting. You see, we have to develop, we have to move on and make sure the broadsheet does not become boringly repetitive. One result of this in terms of this particular Poetry Scotland is there was less space in the magazine proper.

I had an interesting long poem from a good poet who has contributed before, an account of how Zhou En-Lai came to Edinburgh in 1920, hoping to study at Edinburgh University. In the event he could not get in and hung around with Scottish communists before sailing back to China. It makes an interesting poem and takes just over a page of narrow columns inside, leaving about three pages for single poems or groups of poems.

 
Then something I really liked came along, a political ballad, but after very careful consideration I decided this ballad could not be printed for reasons to do with the content. Though I thought it an extremely good poem, I rejected it, explaining the problems to the poet. That left me rather without some oomph on the front page, for although we all like to read gentle poems and formal poems, we also like something grittier or more startling at times – you can’t produce a good magazine by marking poems out of ten and putting in all the top ones!

The day was saved by an international poet who I knew through an email list. I solicited a poem from her, and that poem sits on the front page, giving some bite to the issue. ‘Soliciting’ a poem of course means asking someone if they will contribute a poem, either because you know their work, or their name is such that everyone will be interested and they can be relied upon to be good.

What else goes in? There are always some poems I have definitely promised or even some left from the previous issue, so these go in and now we have to start looking at the subject matter and type of poem as well as their lengths and widths, which become vital at this secondary stage. I had a nice short but wide poem which I wasn’t sure if I would use: in the end it slotted in. You can’t use several poems on the same subject unless they are deliberately balanced against each other. I received two poems about a train crash once, (possibly the same train crash) and I had to more or less toss up. If they had been contrasting I could perhaps have used them both. Finally, good little short poems or haiku may well find their way into the corners of columns as I  finish the page layouts.

I have said that I will take good beginner work from Scotland but not from England, as I receive a lot of poems from England and I can only include them if they fit in the Scottish “cultural window” in some way. With beginners and younger writers who have not yet built up an image, I have to use my instinct for poems that I like. I think I look for fresh work, not samey work that has too much of a feel of  a “writing programme” about it. Over time, as long as their work is ok, co-operative and helpful writers will win out, those who don’t indulge in tricks, double submissions, conflicting pseudonyms, or negative gossip (all editors have a great ear to the ground).

I try to balance the genders reasonably over each issue. Having begun Poetry Scotland when women were not given a fair share of space, I firmly printed women authors and now have to very slightly discriminate against them to prevent this magazine looking heavily biased towards women. I have many women poet friends and am glad to give them all space from time to time. I have never believed in ghetto writing and I’ll go out of my way to include all kinds of writers, from Stanley Robertson the traveller/gypsy to beat poets, good disestablishment poets such as Steve Sneyd, out on a limb poets and the most literary people in the English speaking world that I can get.

On the whole I would call my approach poet-based rather than poem-based: I like to include many people as long as their work is good.
As well as editing Poetry Scotland Sally also blogs at www.desktopsallye.com, runs Kings Book Shop in Callander and the diehard poetry series.

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