Date Archives October 2018

Stoner: A revelation

Image result for stoner book

It’s a few weeks since I read Stoner by John Williams and I still think about it. I remember picking up a copy of the book in my local Rise a few years ago and thinking that it looked a bit hipster-ish and, well, boring. A book about a fictional forgotten academic? Nah, there are plenty of other books that I’ve already bought and still haven’t read…But recently I read an interview with Julian Barnes in which he mentioned Stoner, and his endorsement, possibly coupled with the fact that I work at a university and occasionally fantasise that I am a scholar, propelled me into the local library. A few pages in, I started to imagine Stoner as being Adam Driver in the film Paterson – a sensitive, weary, kind poetic soul. I still think about the inane cruelty of his wife and the frustration that he spent so little time with the woman he did love. And the image of him literally clinging to his work while the world indifferently carries on… Apparently Williams thought it was a happy book, but I’m not convinced. He does, however, make sadness seem unbearably beautiful.

 

 

Very, Very, Quite Contrary

‘I’m allergic to “light verse”, because it seems a betrayal of the purpose of poetry.’

So said Robin Robertson in an interview published last month in The Guardian, which you can read here. I find myself vaguely appalled that someone can be so certain that poetry has one single purpose.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.*

I do like a bit of ‘light verse’ and parodies – I love parodies. I’ve just been enjoying ‘Harold Pinter’s Nursery Rhymes’ by the Private Eye satirist Craig Brown. Very funny. If poetry has one purpose then surely it’s to provoke a strong emotional reaction? In that case, a theatre full of people laughing so much that they cry fulfils the criterion. Well done, Mr Brown. Come on, Mr Robertson.

*From Snow by Louis MacNeice

Pleased to meet you… J.S.Watts

J.S.Watts is a poet and novelist based near Cambridge. Her poetry has been published across the world and in magazines such as Acumen, Envoi, Mslexia and Orbis. Her latest poetry pamphlet, The Submerged Sea, was published earlier this year by Dempsey & Windle and her novels, A Darker Moon and Witchlight, are published in the US and UK by Vagabondage Press.

What makes you write poetry despite the overwhelming majority of people’s crushing indifference towards it?

Because I’m not indifferent to it. Because I know many people who are not indifferent to it. Because other people’s indifference should not prevent anyone from practising their art. Because I’d like to decrease the indifference of the many (if it exists).

WH Auden wrote that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ – how do you know that this isn’t true?

How do you know that it is? Anything written is unlikely to have a direct impact. It’s not like building a bomb or saving someone’s life during surgery. Poetry, and writing in general, spreads ideas, influences, makes people think, feel, respond and who knows what may come of that? Things happen because of how people feel and poetry stimulates that, but it’s rarely direct cause and effect and even if it is, you probably can’t see it.

Once when I sneezed, a piece of sweetcorn came out of my nose – can you tell me something interesting about you?

Eurgh, gross! I have never knowingly mistreated sweetcorn. I am, however, a French Horn player, which I think is interesting.

If poetry was a metaphor, what metaphor would it be?

Poetry is one long metaphor. Poetry is every metaphor ever written. Poetry is a metaphor for itself.

What is your favourite room?

When I’m sleeping, it’s my bedroom. When I’m working, it’s my study.

What is the worst poem you have ever written?

Sshhhhh, I’m so not telling.

Which poems or poets are currently inspiring you?

This is a difficult question to answer, because there are so many. As soon as I write one name down, I think of another and I don’t want to leave anyone out. So, in no particular order and naming both the living and the dead (and apologising to some who should be down here, but I’ve momentarily overlooked): Charles Causley, Alice Oswald, Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Wilfred Owen, Liz Berry, Fay Roberts, Pascale Petit, Dylan Thomas, Carole Satyamurti, Benjamin Zephaniah, Tennyson, Emily Dickinson, Imtiaz Dharkar, Allison McVety, Helen Mort, T.S.Eliot and John Donne. There are more. There will always be more.

What is the most annoying moment you have ever experienced at a poetry event?

Timing is always a frustration. One open mic event I went to was advertised as starting at 7pm. The MC advised everyone to get there early to make sure they could sign up. I arrived at 6.50pm. The MC didn’t turn up until 7.30pm and then said things wouldn’t start till around 9pm because people were always late. Grrrrr.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing poetry?

Go write it. Why are you hesitating? Enjoy writing it. Don’t, however, expect to earn a living from it alone.

What is the point?

The end of my pencil.

www.jswatts.co.uk

Pleased to meet you (again)…Jonathan Pinnock

The Truth About Archie and Pye is ‘an absurd mathematical murder mystery’ and a ‘humorous thriller’ written by Jonathan Pinnock. I know Jonathan through his funny poetry website Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis and his own poetry collection Love and Loss and Other Important Stuff (Silhouette Press). I am honoured to be part of his blog tour to promote The Truth About Archie and Pye (Farrago Books) and I am sorry for repeatedly talking about poetry and not mentioning the book at all in the interview below.

What makes you write poetry despite the overwhelming majority of people’s crushing indifference towards it?

Well, the sad fact is that I’m on a bit of a sabbatical from poetry at the moment, as I am fully immersed in the world of the novel (OUT NOW: THE TRUTH ABOUT ARCHIE AND PYE. IT’S VERY GOOD. SEE PICTURE. ISN’T IT AN AWESOME COVER?). However, when I do come back to it, I think “Crushing Indifference” would be a great title for my next poetry collection.

WH Auden wrote that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ – how do you know that this isn’t true?

I’m not sure I do. It’s certainly done very little for my bank balance. But then again, not much of my writing has, so it’s not an observation that only applies to poetry.

Once when I sneezed, a piece of sweetcorn came out of my nose – can you tell me something interesting about you?

Oddly enough, a long, long time ago I once managed to do a similar trick myself. I found myself on an effective writing course at work with someone I fancied, and for some reason she started talking to me during the lunch break. I was so embarrassed and awkward that I managed to choke on the sandwich I was eating at the time and most of the filling went up my nose. Spent the rest of the afternoon blowing pieces of lettuce into a handkerchief. Oddly enough, she never spoke to me again. Not sure I’ve ever told anyone that story before, and I’m wondering why I’m telling it to you now, to be honest.

If poetry was a metaphor, what metaphor would it be?

Probably life. Most things are a metaphor for life in the end.

What is your favourite room?

The Albert Hall. Because I met my wife in the queue outside.

What is the worst poem you have ever written?

I have written many bad poems, but the very worst is probably the one that I submitted a very, very long time ago to “Poetry Now: Redundancy”, called “Violation”, which used a horrendously inappropriate sexual metaphor for being made redundant. I have no idea what I was thinking. It actually got worse, as the wires got crossed at the publisher and they were about to publish it in “Poetry Now: Relationships,” until I pulled the plug on it. I still have nightmares about that one.

Which poems or poets are currently inspiring you?

As I said, I’m taking a bit of a sabbatical from poetry, but I think the last poetry book I read was Brian Bilston’s “You Took the Last Bus Home”, which I enjoyed a lot. Good thing, because I supported the crowdfunder for it.

What is the most annoying moment you have ever experienced at a poetry event?

It’s not exactly an annoying moment, but there’s one bad memory that stands out. I was shortlisted in a competition and invited to read some of my poems along with the winners at a special event. This was the first time I’d actually been asked to do something like this, and I failed to realise that I really should say something about each of the poems before I read them. Instead, I just gabbled through them and about halfway through, I realised I was losing the room. There was one member of the audience in particular, with a shock of white hair, who was staring at me with such malevolence that the look on his face haunts me to this day. Then again, it’s possible that he was just bored, I suppose.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing poetry?

Make sure every single word is earning its keep. If it isn’t, kick it out, or at least remove a letter or two to encourage the others.

What is the point?

It’s usually the sharp bit at the end. But sometimes it can be quite fluffy. There’s a lot to be said for a fluffy point.

www.jonathanpinnock.com

@jonpinnock

Pleased to meet you (again)…Claire Walker

Claire is a wonderful Worcestershire poet. One of my favourite poetry memories is from a reading given by Claire – one line in particular took everyone’s breath away and there was an impromptu mini interval while hearts were nudged back into their ribcages. I was proud to read at the launch of Claire’s debut pamphlet ‘The Girl Who Grew Into a Crocodile’ (V Press). Her second pamphlet ‘Somewhere Between Rose and Black’ (also V Press) was shortlisted for Best Poetry Pamphlet in the 2018 Saboteur Awards.

What makes you write poetry despite the overwhelming majority of people’s crushing indifference towards it?

I increasingly ask myself the same question! When I first started writing, I don’t think I knew how indifferent most people were. By the time I realised, I had started to get to know lots of other people who were part of the poetry community, and I feel very lucky to have so many people in my life who are interested in poetry. Although it would be nice if poetry wasn’t such a relatively niche thing.

WH Auden wrote that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ – how do you know that this isn’t true?

I know it’s not true because poetry makes me laugh, it makes me cry. It makes people get together and listen to each other, and find connections with one another. It forges friendships and strong bonds, and opportunities to collaborate. I also think that it can give people the courage to speak out at times when they may be feeling scared or alone. I think recent anthologies like #MeToo and Please Hear What I’m Not Saying have given strength and reassurance to many people.

Once when I sneezed, a piece of sweetcorn came out of my nose – can you tell me something interesting about you?

Well, that’s a hard one to beat. I have no sense of smell, and people seem to find that interesting when I tell them. My mum says I definitely had a sense of smell when I was a child, but I have no recollection of when or how I lost it. I don’t think it involved sweetcorn though.

If poetry was a metaphor, what metaphor would it be?

Poetry is a toolbox with a torch, hammer, nails, tape measure and spirit level inside.

What is your favourite room?

My study, because it’s where I write and read. It’s not been taken over by anyone else in the house – it’s calm, and it’s mine!

What is the worst poem you have ever written?

I don’t think I’ve got one particular worst poem, but there are many from when I first started writing that I’d be embarrassed to show to people!

Which poems or poets are currently inspiring you?

Cheryl Pearson, Ben Banyard, Anna Saunders and Kim Moore to name a few.

What is the most annoying moment you have ever experienced at a poetry event?

Oh it’s definitely got to be the times when someone turns up, reads their bit, then leaves almost straightaway without listening to others. If you expect people to listen to you, you should have the good grace to listen to others! Also, I’ve been to events where there is a lot of heckling from the audience – not to be rude to the performers, but ‘in jokes’ between regulars. I find that quite annoying too, as it can be alienating for newcomers.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing poetry?

Read as much as you can, as often as you can. Try to be strict about making time to write – it’s so easy to push it to the end of the to-do list because it doesn’t have to be done, but if you don’t set aside time to write then you definitely won’t! Also, ask people you trust to read through your work and offer feedback. It can be nerve-wracking to show someone what you’ve written, but it’s invaluable to get opinions and advice.

What is the point?

Is that a rhetorical question?

www.clairewalkerpoetry.com

@ClaireWpoetry

Pleased to meet you…Kerry Hammerton

To the southern hemisphere we go…Kerry Hammerton lives in South Africa and her third poetry collection ‘Secret Keeper’ was published by Modjaji Books earlier this year.

What makes you write poetry despite the overwhelming majority of people’s crushing indifference towards it?

This question is why I love poets – we are direct when others fail to be; we ask difficult questions when no-one will ask those questions. We observe, ponder and then write poetry. Whenever I am with a flock of poets I feel as if I have connected with my true tribe. I write poetry because it is who I am and if I didn’t I would be ignoring myself. I don’t write for other people to notice – although when they do it is wonderful.

WH Auden wrote that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ – how do you know that this isn’t true?

My father died when I was in the middle of completing my MA in Creative Writing. I stopped writing for two months. I stopped reading poetry for even longer. When I finally came back to the page I wrote about his death, about the grieving process, about the breakdown I had a few months after his death. If I didn’t write poetry I would have stayed stuck in grief.

Once when I sneezed, a piece of sweetcorn came out of my nose – can you tell me something interesting about you?

I have one thumb longer and thinner than the other. The nail shape and width is so completely different they could be thumbs from two different people.

If poetry was a metaphor, what metaphor would it be?

This is a poem I wrote titled ‘Writing Poetry’:

‘I catch a glimpse of you
through the half-opened
bathroom door;
the strong swell
of your buttock,
the long hard line
of your thigh,
and for a moment
nothing else matters expect
that slice of light.
I breathe in steam,
cinnamon, lemon zest, earth
and unsteady,
stagger to my desk
and write you.’

What is your favourite room?

The room at the Musee de l’Organerie in Paris that houses Monet’s Water Lilies. I wish my bed was in the middle of that room.

What is the worst poem you have ever written?

The last one. The next one. Every poem. In particular every poem I wrote as a child and an adolescent.

Which poems or poets are currently inspiring you?

Pascale Petit’s collection Mama Amazonica. The book has a heavenly cover which I could stare at for hours, and each poem is so finely crafted with beautiful language. She stays true to her theme throughout the collection. I am also inspired by Inger Christensen’s work particularly in her collection ‘it’, she does interesting things with structure and language. And always the poets Antjie Krog (South African) and Kim Addonizio – both address women’s sexual and other experiences with honesty.

What is the most annoying moment you have ever experienced at a poetry event?

A weekly poetry event in Cape Town, South Africa (where I live) takes place in a room at a local restaurant. A few years ago I was the guest poet. Listeners came in late and interrupted which was annoying enough, but one of the restaurant staff came in and casually opened a cupboard and looked through a stack of tablecloths. She selected one and left. Five minutes later another staff member came in and rooted through the cupboard to look for tablecloths again. Both apologised but the room is so small I had to stop reading. I have read there subsequently and it has improved, although people still do come late. Why is that?

What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing poetry?

Do (or don’t do. There is no try.) to quote Yoda. If you are thinking about it and not already doing it are you a poet? Scribble. Think about words. Don’t write for money or accolade – write for yourself. And find a class if you haven’t done one already – they will help your skills; and you will find other poets you can hang out with and complain that there is no money in poetry, and no-one reads it anyway.

What is the point?

An isosceles triangle. A whale breaching. Dolphins playing in the waves. An iridescent sugar bird flitting above a Strelizia. The harsh call of a hadeda. Spring flowers. Winter rain. The smell of vanilla, or cinnamon. Discovering a new poet. Learning. Meeting friends for coffee/lunch/dinner. Watching a film alone. Talking about poetry or writing. Writing a new poem. Inspiring someone to write. Blueberries. Being crazy. Being sane. Getting a tattoo. A new notebook. A new pen. Living outside my own head. Taking photographs. Walking on the beach or on the mountain. Swimming. Going to yoga. Reading, always reading; and books. If you know any more let me know.

www.kerryhammerton.com

You can hear a recording of the aforementioned poem ‘Writing Poetry’ on Kerry’s SoundCloud page here.

Pleased to meet you…Isabelle Kenyon

Isabelle is editor of the small press Fly on the Wall Poetry and she has just launched an anthology called ‘Persona Non Grata’. All profits from the book will be donated to Shelter and Crisis Aid UK. Find out more here.

I’m well pleased that Isabelle is the first person to be interviewed for this blog. Despite having compiled a book that covers serious themes such as homelessness and loneliness, she assured me that she was happy to answer some daft questions…

What makes you write poetry despite the overwhelming majority of people’s crushing indifference towards it?

Well people seemed indifferent to Brexit, until it made an impact on their lives! I write political poetry or poetry which makes observations about the world, which you could label as ‘left’ and ‘feminist’ and ultimately, through my small press, Fly on the Wall Poetry, raises money for the very causes and injustices the books write about. I write poetry specifically because it sums up the human experience succinctly and leaves room for interpretation, meaning others identify with your writing.

WH Auden wrote that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ – how do you know that this isn’t true?

The first anthology, Please Hear What I’m Not Saying, for Mind, has raised over £500 for mental health services. Readers have also said reading it made them feel less alone. Writing in general elicits feeling and emotion, which in a tech generation is important.

Once when I sneezed, a piece of sweetcorn came out of my nose – can you tell me something interesting about you?

Beautiful. Well I have danced salsa for the last three years, which is hopefully a better image!

If poetry was a metaphor, what metaphor would it be?

An iron fist in a velvet glove.

What is your favourite room?

A cosy bedroom.

What is the worst poem you have ever written?

None, I was a child prodigy.

Which poems or poets are currently inspiring you?

Kate Garrett with her goth selkies, real-life fairytale villains, and Anna Saunders (recently published with Indigo Dreams Publishing).

What is the most annoying moment you have ever experienced at a poetry event?

I had a guy tell me he didn’t like poetry. I told him he was in the wrong place, but he kept talking.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing poetry?

Why are you thinking and not writing or reading?

What is the point?

To be filthy, stinking rich, as all poets are. (In joy, at least.)

www.flyonthewallpoetry.co.uk

 

Shoegazing: amazing

I’ve been listening to ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ by Wolf Alice a lot. It’s been described as ‘shoegaze’. So, is shoegaze having another comeback? Is this now new-newgaze? Anyway, here’s my shoegaze top 10:

Ride – Vapour Trail
My Bloody Valentine – Soon
Sensational Logo – Best Before
Chapterhouse – Falling Down
Hirsute Protectors –Taken To A Movie
Slowdive – Crazy For You
Tiger Lightning – Percentages
School of Seven Bells – Connjur
Place – Tension
Clusterfluff – Abundant Love