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The Swift Report 2005

1. As I sit at my desk, and look out over the year that's been, I am seized by the poet's inevitable desire to boast, strut and advertise - or was it only poets in the 1940s who did this?

Not sure. I suspect the wish to tell others of what one has been up to is as old as Moses - and arguably the need has never been greater. When more than 23 million "blog" each day, it is hardly news for someone to send their signals in to the ether; more specifically, for poets, these are both rich and trying times: while there has never before been more media interest and money thrown at poetry, comparatively-speaking, the public is less concerned with the idea of poetic language than ever before, and even most literary critics and reviewers exhaust their time on prose. As an Internet and print editor of poetry I can attest to the thousands of decent, talented (but not very) people out there interested in wanting to write good poems - sometimes they succeed.

Speaking with Les Murray over tea in my kitchen a few months back, we discussed this idea - one he has based his latest poetry anthology on - that it is these poems, whether from the great or the unknown - that represent the true process of poetry today - and not, as seems so often the case in London - the few and famous in-between.

One thing is sure. Even many poets misunderstand the nature of their craft and art, however sullen: poetry is not merely a) form and wit; b) expression of a view or position or identity; c) an exploration of constraint, or innovation or d) an extension of prose by other means. It is, however, a balanced relationship between form and content, where either may sometimes exceed the other in exquisite tension - as sometimes the language stretches out more in the direction of having something to say, at other times, saying something, to have.

What seems clear in an opaque medium, is that language is both the source and basin of the poem, and therefore, it is right to keep a lively interest in both the practice and theory of how language relates to the world, to the mind, and navigates these twin shoals as an imagination-vessel. In short - call it avant-garde or call it traditional - but poetry is the philosophy of how one best uses words to describe beauty as if was a truth - and vice versa. This being said, I find the tedious arguments between so-called post-moderns and mainstreamers vapid and indifferent to the rich seams beneath such surface struggles.

This has been a difficult personal year for me - several deaths of close family members (like Fred Vickers), and a very serious illness for my father, as well. However, with the love of good friends and family, we've made it through, and there even seems to have been some very good medical news at the end of the year. As this isn't a personal blog per se, I'll leave it at that for now - except to say that my travels in Japan this summer were inspiring.

In 2005, I turned 39. It is a year I am very proud of, for a number of reasons. I completed my MA dissertation in Creative Writing at UEA, with tutors Denise Riley and George Szirtes. I edited two collections of writing, one at the start of the year, one at the end: the 2005 issue of New American Writing carried my special selection, "The New Canadian Poetry" - and I also edited the science-fiction anthology, Future Welcome, for DC Books.

My poetry also appeared in two major anthologies of contemporary Canadian poetry in 2005 - one at the start of the year, one at the end - Open Field, from Persea Books in New York (editor Sina Queyras) - and The New Canon, from Vehicule Press in Montreal (editor Carmine Starnino). I am particularly moved and even gratified to find myself in both these surveys of the best new poets of Canada, since the editors represent two sides of the language debate, Queyras being more open to experimental poetry, and Starnino being more intent on fostering an appreciation for the values of the traditional lyric form (but with a new energy and purpose). I happen to welcome both, and try to write poetry that expresses my broad-church views - a fact which utterly confounds most British poetry editors, who, less used to the broad-spectrum looseness of North American poets - see my sort of "abstract lyric" and post-modern work as falling between stools.

Poems of mine published in 2005 appeared in journals such as Agenda, London Magazine, Stride, Vallum and The Manhattan Review - and my interview with Al Alvarez (a true highlight of my 20 years as a poet) appeared in Magma. I published several reviews in good journals, such as Books in Canada. I was asked to write a poem for the Royal Wedding for The Daily Telegraph, and this story was covered in The Globe & Mail. I edited, for a fourth year, the monthly poetry section at the award-winning site, nthposition.

I read at several wonderful festivals and series this year (for instance was the poet-at-large in Winchester and was featured at the fine Essex Poetry Festival), but no honour was greater than being invited to read at Ledbury, arguably the UK's best for poetry - or at least poets and those who love them. In terms of teaching poetry, I was hired to be a visiting lecturer at London Metropolitan University, and ran seminars and gave lectures for Reading Poetry and Modern British Poetry modules. I was also hired - and this was a thrill - by London's renowned The Poetry School, to run group seminars and one-to-ones - I currently have 20 talented poets I work with regularly as their tutor. I also had the opportunity to mentor a fine young poet, Kavita Joshi, through the East-Side Trust program Write Up Your Street.

I had a few other special treats this year - such as having a photographic portrait displayed in The Poetry Cafe, along with the faces of many of the great and the good - taken by the poet-photographer Derek Adams, whose new book came out this year.

Finally, my work with Oxfam continued, the series of readings that I organized in Marylebone featured many of the best poets now writing, such as Les Murray, Kate Clanchy, Eric Ormsby, and many others - and thousands of pounds were raised. In 2006, Oxfam is creating a major poetry CD, which I am helping to organize, and will edit, and this will feature the work of poets such as Wendy Cope, Andrew Motion, Benjamin Zephaniah, and many more.

In 2006, I hope to begin a PhD. I have a book to finish editing, with Jason Camlot, on Anglo-Quebec poetry. I have a fourth poetry manuscript collection to find a home for. I have more reviews to write, and readings to organize and attend.

Who knows, I might even keep writing this blog.

I want to wish all my friends, poets, and fellow readers, all the best for 2006.
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