I would like to begin my Swift Report for 2007 by thanking the many loyal readers of Eyewear who have made this blog so popular. Eyewear is maybe one of the leading literary blogs based in the UK, if only judged by readership, it being cited in The Writer's Handbook, and being quoted at length several times recently in The Guardian Review. The vitality of my blog is much improved by the kind donations of poems by poets whose work interests me, regardless of their prize status, publication record, nation of origin, or geographical location. It doesn't take much, these days, to be a fresh pair of eyes in the British poetry world - one simply has to read poetry with sincerity, integrity, and without biases based on ideas of nativist traditions, or univocal styles. It's sometimes suggested I have a radical perspective. I hope not. I simply believe that poetry can be written anywhere, by anyone, anyhow - a critic's job is not to evaluate the poem in terms of taste or practice drawn from one single tradition - but to approach the work as a possibly new thing, and bring to it as much potential for celebration, as condemnation. That being said, finally, it is possible to say what seems to make some poems worth reading many times - and it seems to be a combination of satisfying elements, such as style, complexity, originality, and depth of vision - the dance between form and flow, feeling and intellect, that has marked the best modern poems since 1900.
I want to briefly summarise my year.
2007 was not an easy year for me - my father had died in September of 2006, and I entered 2007 still in mourning. After my 41st birthday, in April of this year, I began to move on from that process, and after the year anniversary of his death, really tried to close the door of grief; but it remains ajar within me.
In terms of publication history, the sore point of the last few years was the reluctance of most of the major British poetry publishers to read, or consider, publishing my collections here in England, where I reside. The response was shamefully dismissive. I was misread by both the UK traditionalists, and the experimenters, equally - neither group quite hearing my complex shifting play between high and low registers, and various sometimes-comic, often-serious, rhetorics. It's been a painful thing for me to accept, especially given the commitment I showed, from 2004-2007, to British poetry, with my Oxfam poetry series and CDs.
I suspect the future, not just for me, but for many good new poets over here, is with the smaller, emerging presses - Cinnamon, Eggbox, Bluechrome, and so on - whose busy, open-minded editors are beginning to pick up very good poets who have been ignored or sidelined by the bigger boys.
At present, I have two collections scheduled for 2008. The first is New and Selected Poems: 1987-2007, which will be introduced by Kevin Higgins, and is out with Salmon Publishing in summer of the coming year. That'll have about 80 poems in it. And, then, there is a smaller untitled collection of newer, and possibly edgier, work, for the up-and-coming London press, Tall-Lighthouse, pencilled in for some time later in '08, or maybe start of '09. Details of the second book are still to be confirmed.
The three big projects of 2007, for me (I am always busy), were, the launch of my fourth full collection, with DC Books, in April, at The Blue Metropolis Festival, the biggest of its kind in Canada, and surely the most multilingual. I read there with John Burnside, Dennis Lee, and other wonderful poets. This new collection, Winter Tennis, is really lovely to behold - I'm well-pleased with DC's design for the cover. It's unfortunate, but the book, which had very supportive back commendations from A. Alvarez, Paul Farley, and George Murray, didn't manage to be listed for any prizes, and was hardly reviewed. Canadians seem less and less interested in their expatriated authors. I am very happy with the collection, all in all.
The second was the launch of Language Acts, co-edited with Jason Camlot, also launched at the same festival. This collection of essays was a five-year labour of love, and represents, on our parts, a very serious attempt to begin the proper study of Anglo-Quebec poetry of the post-76 period. An adjunct aspect of this publication was the appearance, in Jacket, of an online anthology of the major poets from this period in Quebec, which we also edited. The highlight for me was having Leonard Cohen agree to let us have three poems for this.
The third big project of 2007 was my editing and recording the second CD in Oxfam's Life Lines series. I was able to gather major poets in Soho on two days, to record new work - people such as Craig Raine, James Fenton, Fiona Sampson, and many others. That was wonderful. The CD was then launched at The Cheltenham Literary Festival, the biggest in the UK, and there were other readings, at Oxford, and so on.
I also kept busy teaching part-time at Birkbeck, and Kingston University, in creative writing, and English, at the MA and undergraduate levels.
And, I continued to work on my PhD at UEA in Creative and Critical Writing. My thesis topic is a new collection of poems, and a 50,000 word critical piece of writing. I was upgraded to being a doctoral candidate in the summer. My supervisors, Denise Riley, and Clive Scott, have been very supportive and insightful.
Poems of mine appeared, across 2007, in a variety of online and print magazines, from the small to the major, such as, in no order, The Wolf, Penumbra, Mimesis, Bordercrossing Berlin, Succour, fourWeighteen New Writing, Jacket, Atlas, The Manhattan Review, Aesthetica, and others. My reviews continued to appear, especially in Books In Canada. EnRoute magazine, the inflight magazine for Air Canada, ran a big feature on me in March, 2007, written by Doug Saunders, calling me one of the world's leading poetry impresarios.
I also read, during the year, in Galway, at the impressive Over The Edge series, and at The White House series. While there I was interviewed by Pat Boran for RTE national radio. I read also, as stated above, in Montreal, and then again, at UEA, St Albans, and other places, such as Paris, and the fun New Blood series. The most stirring reading was at Dulwich College, where I read with Daljit Nagra, Wendy Cope, Blake Morrison, and Jonathan Ward to an audience of almost 300.
In December 2007, I wrapped up the fourth and final year of the Oxfam reading series, after 22 events, having raised over £80,000 for Oxfam. David Morley, Barbara Marsh and Stephen Gyllenhaal were among the final readers at the final event, which had about 100 in the audience.
The highlights of the year for me were personal. Seeing my many friends at my launches in Montreal. Returning to Quebec for the late summer, to spend time with my mother, my brother and his wife, and to swim and canoe in Canada's beautiful wilderness. Another wonderful time was had, vale-walking in the Lake District, with dear friends, Chris and Lulu, and my wife.
I may have left some things out, but I feel this captures the spirit of the year: tirelessly engaged with reading, writing, editing, promoting, reviewing, and evaluating, poetry and writing in general. Perennially neglected by mainstream poetry Britain, for no good reason but that enthusiasm threatens to overturn their stiff little apple cart, but, in the margins, beavering away - like a good Canadian should.
Projects for 08/09 include completion of an anthology of modern Canadian poets for Carcanet, and a novel, as well as completion of my PhD.
I wish my friends and family, and all my readers, the very best for the Christmas season, and, with love, best wishes for the new year.
December 21, 2007
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