Monday, 29 December 2014

THE SWIFT REPORT 2014

2014 seems like a very long year, and, like many moments of crisis, it is an event in two halves. My Swift Report is necessarily personal, even, it may appear, egoistic, or egotistical.  This is in the nature of such posts.  I can make no apology for this, the genre I am writing in here is memoir, specifically, a brief summary of "my" year.  It is not, for example, a history of the year from the perspective of murdered young men in America; or victims of the mysterious plane crash; or the horrid Ukraine conflict; or a story of the victims of the Taliban; nor a jocular discussion of the adventures of Hollywood actors. It is not a story of Ebola victims or doctors, Winter Olympians, World Cup losers and victors, the struggles of Man United, or the return of Simple Minds.  It is not a lament for the rise of the right, or the decline of the book.  In short, to reiterate, it is not a story of all of 2014 (if such were even possible), but of whatever the word "me" can mean.  Me of course, is a word and concept that extends to others, specifically, wife, family, friends, business colleagues, poets I work with, and so on.

2013 ended very well.  I had spent Christmas with my beloved brother, his wife and little boy, my Godson.  My publishing company was faring well.  I was enjoying teaching, and I had a new book of my own poems on the horizon. January 2014 started badly - first the New Year's Day loss at Old Trafford of my team to Tottenham - and then, my family leaving to head back on January 5th to Canada.  I felt bereft. It got worse quickly. It was at that moment my backer for my press reneged on his contractual promises, and pulled all funding for the press, due to major losses he had made on the stock market in 2013. I thought I might have to close Eyewear Publishing; and then, a few days later I collapsed with a terrible flu that became a chest infection. I was in bed for a fortnight on strong antibiotics.  When I arose from my bed, I was a changed person - anxious and shattered, afraid to lose my business; haunted, and feeling lost.

Over the next few months, several close friends died, often young, as Kirsten Bishopric, that wonderful smart, impossibly witty and beautiful Canadian actress and a dear friend, did, at the age of 50. As did Doug Isaac, my troubled, brilliant poet friend. On a lesser note, I fell and broke a finger the day before our Mexican embassy launch, which has still yet to mend entirely. And so on.

This is not the place to go through the first half of 2014.  It is now mostly a nightmarish blur.  However, by summer, I had managed to cobble together ways to keep Eyewear's press afloat, and had moved to a new full time position, at Worcester University (I need the money to keep my press alive).  As it happens, Worcester, city and university, are for the moment at least rather delightful. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know this very friendly and beautiful part of the English midlands; and I have joined a very good new university that is innovative and seems far-seeing.

I will not mention in detail the numerous books Eyewear edited, published, launched, and sold, in 2014, except to say they were highlights of the year, for me, and I am very proud to have worked with the authors and poets, and our Eyewear team.  Of course, having The Boy From Aleppo made as a BBC Radio 4 show that was heard by half a million people in November was a great moment in my life - I am so very proud to have shepherded this book so far.

My own writing never satisfies me.  I always feel there was something better, wiser, truer, kinder, more complex I might have said.  It would be wrong though to say I did not have a few publishing moments in 2014 that gave me satisfaction, pride, even joy.

I had a poetry song with LA-musician Kennedy; a pamphlet from KFS in 2014, a Selected Poems from Marick Press (in Michigan); a poem selected for Best British Poetry 2014 (Salt); and a major review/essay on new British poets in Poetry magazine in the autumn. I also placed poems in Salamander. I have a chapter on FT Prince appearing in a book next year. I am currently working on a full tenth book of poems, which I hope will appear by 2016, when I turn 50. So, in terms of "publishing outputs" - that crude phrase, I am doing okay, I think.

I am not going to "look forward to" 2015 here. I am unsure what such a sentiment might mean, in the world we currently inhabit. I cannot recall, when younger, such a bleak prospect for humanity, even during the nuclear-ready Reagan years.  The idea that in 100 years many species will be gone, and the world scarred by warming and mass starvation is not welcome; and I cannot help but think technology may have made things worse. Nanobots and micro-drones are not my cup of tea. My faith in God is sorely tested, though I find the idea, which I came across recently, that God's impassive silence may be a form of communication, oddly comforting. It is true that the hell on Earth we are making, we are making.  We do not need a demiurge, demon or deity to blame.  We know the culprit. I think it is hard to discount the sense that human nature is, despite what post-structuralists idealistically argue, far less flexible and porous than one might think - our identity as a human species seems hardwired to contain plenty of war, competition, violence, acquisitional greed and sexual depravity. And that's just the poets.

Over the year, a few very good friends came to visit in London, including Phil Hiebert, Lisa Pasold, and Dr Oliver Brennan, and these were all wonderful moments.

My two happiest moments in 2014 came when I left Britain. Though British I am unsure if Britain is heading in the right direction.  I wish Scotland had managed to become independent. I deplore the rise of UKIP. And fear that a Tory government will lead to more and greater cuts. British society has turned against ideas of community and co-operation, to become a divisive, competitive, unequal and often very unfair place to live; and the gross naked capitalism of "The City" is repellent to me, insofar as I believe the highest human goods are (aside from love), communion with nature (swimming, walking, hiking); quietly reading or writing; playing games with friends and family; conversation; and music and art.

Anyway, I was happiest in Quebec at a lake for a few weeks this summer, swimming, reading, BBQing, kayaking, cycling, and, essentially, spending time with my family, who I miss and love.

I was also very moved and happy to launch my Selected in Michigan and Chicago.  I fell in love with Chicago, and also, oddly, with Detroit, a city I suspect is the new Berlin. If I could, I would move to Detroit tomorrow, and live in a loft, where I would write and hold poetry events. It was, finally, the greatest honour of my life to date (after my marriage, and my PhD graduation) to be invited to read, and indeed, to read, at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, in the world's best acoustic room for the human voice.  I wish to end this note with a warm and complete thank you to Don Share, whose belief in my critical writing, and my poetry, helped to sustain me through some very dark months, indeed.

My dream would be one of welcome.  To wake to feel a sense of proper and loving, kind literary community in the UK. None of this likely to be forthcoming, I will do my best to write, publish, edit, mentor, teach, and support others, safe in the knowledge that life is not fair, and we need, always, to fend that off, and be gentler, and more accommodating to others.  Poetics and debate and coteries are fine, but at the end of the day (I use this cliché on purpose as this is a Winter Solstice post) we all die, often in great pain and in fear.  To try to make life more bearable for our fellow humans as we all pass through this vale (veil) of tears seems like the best new year's resolution of all.

I wish you all love, joy, peace, and, failing that, the strength to overcome sorrow, and find some measure of hope or faith, in and for the new year, 2015.
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