Archive | February, 2010

The Newcomer Reviews: Poetry at the GRV

25 Feb

On February the 14th Poetry at the GRV held a night of poems inspired by the Song of Solomon.  Each poet had been given one line from the song and had written a poem in response to that particular line.  The Newcomer and I went along to review.

Some people might be a bit wary of going to a poetry reading on Valentine’s Day – they immediately expect the “cringe factor”.  What were your feelings?

For me poetry is intimately connected to emotions and with love, so poetry on Valentine’s Day is perfect.  And who else was going to read me a love poem?

The set up for the Song of Songs Project readings is different from the other readings you have attended.  How do think the poetry being themed shaped the evening?

Firstly I will admit that it is a long time since I last opened a bible and I had no idea what the Song of Songs is about so I had no prior expectations.  What I found interesting about a themed night is the very different ways in which each poet interpreted the theme.  Every emotion from humour to sadness was included.  And the theme was explored in many ways from cooking to Dolly the Sheep to nature.  I also liked that each poet introduced their reading and explained how they came to the reference and how their allocated verse of Song of Songs sparked their thought process.  For me the themed evening was a great success, everything hung together but was still very varied and surprising.

What did you think of the readers?  Did any stand out for you?

I was extremely impressed by the very high standard from all the readers.  I enjoyed every single poem.  As a non-poetry expert I have no idea which were the “best” poems but a few did stand out for me, mainly those with humor as I am not really the sentimental type!  I very much enjoyed Eleanor Livingstone’s poem telling the different stages of a relationship by the state of the couch, Alan Gray’s Song of Leith Walk painted a very vivid picture, Tessa Ransford’s “memory cupboards” looked a love of family rather than romantic love.

Would there be anything you’d do differently?

Only make sure there was some heating in the room!  It was so cold in there

From starting as a complete novice in poetry you’ve been attending more and more readings.  Do you feel differently towards poetry as a result?

I am still a complete novice in poetry!  However each of the readings has been very different so I am beginning to get a flavor of wide variety of poetry and to develop ideas on what I like and what I don’t like.  The main difference is that before if I thought of poetry at all it would be as an irrelevance but now I can see that it does have an importance in modern life and should be even more influential.

I was actually one of the poets reading that night, and The Newcomer and I came to a gentlewoman’s agreement not to include my poem in the reviewing process. I want the reviews to be as honest as possible, as reviewers should be, and I felt that she may feel uncomfortable reviewing a friend.  Therefore, unfortunately I am not included in this review.


Poets on Film: Pinero

19 Feb

Miguel Pinero was a Puerto Rican who moved to the Lower East Side of New York with his family when he was just four.  After several stints in jail he became part of a play writing workshop while in Sing Sing prison.  The play which resulted from this  workshop was called Short Eyes and ended up being staged on Broadway and receiving several Tony awards.  Not content with playwriting Pinero also wrote poetry and was a founder member of the Nuyorcian Poets Cafe.  The cafe is still open today and champions all types of artists who are existing outside of the mainstream, and held New York’s first ever poetry slam. Pinero’s literary acclaim however did not help him stray from the path he had already set his life on, which was drug addiction and crime.  He eventually died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1988.

I had no knowledge of Pinero and the Nuyorcian Poets Cafe before watching this film and I hoped to find out more about both him and the arts movement he was part of.  Benjamin Bratt in the lead role is certainly captivating, and he delivers performance poetry in a way that most can almost dream of.  However the film is let down by its non-linear narrative.

Since modernism it has been accepted that there is no need to have a linear narrative, and any watching or reading audience has become used to the flash-back and flash-forward.  Pinero suffers from so many flash-forward’s and back’s that it is hard not to get motion sickness.  In one way it mirrors the chaotic life of Pinero, but in itself becomes so chaotic that it is hard to get a handle on the man or his work.  It is the filmatic equivalent of doing a jigsaw puzzle without all the pieces.

If you know nothing about Pinero or the Nuyorcian Poets Cafe it may be a good place to start to find out more.  If you are interested in performance poetry watching Bratt will certainly be helpfull, however it is a style I have seen copied so many time you will need to bring something new and of yourself to really make it sing.

Do you know anything about Pinero or NPC?  I’d love to hear more so get in touch.

Poetry in unsual places: The Whych Elm Project 2

12 Feb

Last year in the regular Poetry in Unusual Places post I reported on the beautiful calligraphy of Susie Leiper at the Whych Elm Project in the Royal Botanical Garndens Edinburgh.  Susie has used lines from several contemporary poems and combined them with the sensuous wood of the whych elm.  I hope you’ll agree that the result is very beautiful.  Below Susie speaks a little about the process.

When the woodcarver Roger Hall suggested I use the offcuts of the wych elm tree to paint poetry on, I wasn’t sure. How could I fully integrate words and wood? Carving does that, but could painting?

My solution was to treat the lines of the wood grain as my writing guidelines, to let those haphazardly spaced sweeps and whorls determine the size and shape of my letterforms. And I wanted very plain letterforms, that would sing with the sheen of the bronze paint.

Also, the words themselves needed to speak to the particular piece of wood – each piece was different, some were in pairs. I read a lot of nature poetry and gather lines in a folder. Sometimes I just have to wait for the right place for those lines. For example, one of the most beautiful pieces of wych elm, with a rough untreated bole, lay waiting for some months until I came across these lines from Kathleen Raine’s Northumbrian Sequence:

For pressing at the tree’s deep root,

Still underground, unformed, is world.

The subterranean, primeval allusions of these lines seemed just right for that piece of elm.

There could be no preplanning other than a quick pencil sketch – I just had to trust my hand that the words would fit when painted. I had to think all the time as I painted: Is this line going to fit? Do I need to reduce some letters to squeeze up. This is thrilling, but meant I had to concentrate all the time on the words. And as the process is so slow, I relished the words as I go along. Writing like this becomes a kind of meditation.

If any readers have examples of poetry in unusual places you would like me to cover then please drop a comment in the comments box or to

Doing it for ourselves?

9 Feb

Last week at One Night Stanzas poet Claire Askew posted a blog about the current state of poetry.  This is not a new subject it is written and discussed with great regularity.  What is different about this one is that it wasn’t from the poet or cultural commentators point of view.  It was from the point of view of her Mum, a non-poetry reader.  Refreshingly enough Mummy Askew thinks poetry is alive and kicking.  Not only that, but living in a golden age.  Read some of her reasons why, and you will come away kicking yourself for your incredibly short sightedness in accepting the prevailing cultural view of an élite, expressing outdated and poorly thought out views.  Well, I was…

For instance.  There is a prevailing view that “poetry is irrelevant”.  Now, we have made a mistake in trying to counter this view by arguing for poetries relevance i.e. arguing on their terms.  The argument should instead be that culture has nothing to do with relevance.  If it does then explain the Da Vinci Code?  But, please don’t, I might have to vomit out of tedium.

One of Mummy Askew’s arguments is that people not buying poetry books is not a new thing.  And my God, when you think about it, it’s true.  You only need to dip your toe in the history of poetry and you can see umpteen stories about what are now well-known and famous poems/collections that sold pitiful amounts.  Only centuries later to bore to death hordes of school children – well, that’s the kind of success we all dream about.

This did get me thinking about the sales of books, especially poetry books.  Looking at my collection there are very few that I have bought through mainstream stores.  There are a lot I have bought by mail through small presses, or at book fairs.  There are some I have bought that aren’t even books, but pamphlets.

So, instead of continually bleating about the lack of poetry in the best sellers list,why is there not a best sellers list of poetry by independent publishers and bookshops?  After all, the music business has been quick enough to legitimize downloads and include them in charts and sales figures.  Why cant the book business do it too, and if the mainstream won’t, why aren’t we doing it for ourselves?

Five ways to boost your creativity

4 Feb

Last week everyone at my work place underwent a training course on creativity.  Inspired by the day I decided to post some tips on how to boosts yours.

1. Remember, everyone can be creative. Yes, the idea that some people are born with an innate talent is incredibly attractive , especially if you believe yourself to be one of those lucky few.  But it’s a big lie.

Creativity is mainly about the ability to think flexibly, and that is a skill that can be learned.  It’s up to you to decide to practice it.  All you need to do is learn about flexible thinking, then practice, practice, practice.

2.  Exercise, body and mind. Your mind is the only tool you have in your creativity.  Make sure it is healthy and well exercised.  Never underestimate the link between physical and mental health.

It is amazing the amount of creative people I know who come up with their best ideas while the conscious is engaged in a physical activity i.e. brushing their teeth, taking a shower, walking.  Physical activity gives the subconscious time to work on all those problems you’ve been storing up.

3. DON’T think outside the box. There is a reason the boxes are there.  We live in a random, violent and utterly confusing world, the boxes help us make sense of it , and stop us going mad.  Don’t go mad.  Just think bigger box.

There is a now a well known story in which NASA spends thousands of dollars developing a pen that can work in space, as normal pens can’t work in zero gravity.  The Russians, instead of thinking “pen” thought in a bigger box “writing implement” and just used a pencil.

4.  Keep a scrapbook or note book.  Whatever works for you, because you know that bright idea you’ve had just now will be out your head and away with the wind in a few seconds.

I also like to note down song lyrics, phrases I hear people use, headlines from papers and any words I come across that spark my imagination.  In this way you create springboards which you can return to should you be feeling a little creatively low.

5.  Sleep. There may be a lot of writer/artists/musicians/creatives who stayed up late and suffered from insomnia, but generally you find they were creative despite it, not because of it.

Any research you care to read about sleep will tell you about it’s importance.  The loss of one hours sleep for an 11 year-old has them slipping to the academic equivalent of an nine-year old. Image what that does to you at your age.

Sleep gives your body a chance to rest and repair.  But crucially it also gives your brain a chance to do the same.  All those crazy dreams you have.  That’s your brain sorting through your concious and trying to make sense of it.  When your asleep you brain no longer has to deal with the minutia of the day-to-day so again, spends some time on those probelms you store up.

Dali used to go to sleep on a couch holding a spoon in his right hand, below the hand, there would be a plate.  As he fell into his deepest sleep and started to dream, he would let go of the spoon, the noise it made falling against the plate would wake him.  Whatever dreams were left imprinted on his brain, he painted.

Sleep is when you are the most creative.  Sleep.