Wednesday, 29 June 2005

Six Poets for Oxfam

Last night's Oxfam poetry benefit reading for Oxfam Unwrapped was a great success. I hosted the evening (and read three poems), and we had about 90-100 people in the shop. The poets were uniformly superb (okay some were very good and a few were excellent but I'm not telling) and in true pathetic fallacy mode, the London heat was broken by violent thunder and lightning - especially during Jamie McKendrick's and Alan Brownjohn's sets - and rain - which drummed on the large (and slightly open) skylight.

Afterwards, Alan Brownjohn, Eric Ormsby, Robyn Sarah, Patrick Chapman and other fellow poets (Leah Fritz and Alana Pryce for instance) and family and friends went out for wine and crepes, and we had a great and boisterous chat. Alan Brownjohn told me much about the legendary The Group - perhaps the key poetry workshop of the 20th century - led by Philip Hobsbaum, and which produced, among others, Peter Porter, Peter Redgrove, and Seamus Heaney - as well as Alan. I'd like to try and set up such a group myself, at some point.

I include the poet's bios, for your interest.

Patrick Chapman
Patrick Chapman was born in Ireland in 1968. His poetry books are Jazztown (1991), The New Pornography (1996) and Touchpaper Star (2004). His short story, A Ghost, won first prize in the story category of the Cinescape Genre Literary Competition in Los Angeles in 2003. He has been a finalist on two occasions in the Hennessy Literary Awards (in 1995 for poetry, and 1999 for fiction) and in the Ian St James Awards for fiction (1990). His poems appear in many anthologies and in the 100 Poets anti-war series from nthposition. Burning the Bed, his first film script, based on his own short story, was directed in 2003 by Denis McArdle and named Best Narrative Short at the 2004 Dead Center Film Festival in Oklahoma. The film has just gone on general cinema release in Ireland, along with the feature, A Lot Like Love.

Robyn Sarah
Robyn Sarah was born in New York City to Canadian parents and has lived for most of her life in Montreal. Following studies in music at the Conservatoire du Quebec, and Philosophy and English at McGill University, she taught English for 20 years at a community college. Considered one of Canada’s finest poets, she is the author of many poetry collections, including Promise of Shelter, which was shortlisted for the Hugh MacLennan Prize. Her writing has appeared in The Hudson Review, Poetry, The Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. Her story, "Accept My Story", won a National Magazine Award and was shortlisted in Best American Short Stories 1994. Her poetry appears in the new (2005) 5th edition of the Norton Anthology of Poetry.

Jamie McKendrick
Jamie McKendrick is an art critic, contributing regularly to Modern Painters, and a poet. He was awarded the Forward Prize for The Marble Fly (Oxford Poets). Poetry collections include Sky Nails and Ink Stone (both Faber and Faber). He recently edited The Faber Book of 20th Century Italian Poems.

Eric Ormsby
Eric Ormsby was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and grew up in Florida. He attended Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated summa cum laude in Oriental Studies. He attended Princeton, where he earned a doctorate in Near Eastern Studies, specializing in Islamic theology and Classical Arabic language and literature. Among other scholarly works, Ormsby is the author of Theodicy in Islamic Thought (1984). He has written five poetry collections, Bavarian Shrine and Other Poems (1990), which won a Quebec prize for the best poetry of that year, Coastlines (1992), and For a Modest God: New & Selected Poems (1997). Araby, was published with VĂ©hicule Press, Montreal, in 2001. Daybreak at the Straits and Other poems is his latest. His poems have also been published in various journals including The New Yorker, The New Republic, Paris Review, and Parnassus. Until recently Ormsby lived in Montreal, where he was a professor at McGill's Institute of Islamic Studies. His poetry appears in the new (2005) 5th edition of the Norton Anthology of Poetry.

Kate Clanchy
Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1965, Kate Clanchy was educated in Edinburgh and Oxford. She lived in London’s East End for several years, before moving to Oxford where she now works as a teacher, journalist and freelance writer. She is a regular contributor to The Guardian newspaper and teaches Creative Writing at the Arvon Foundation. She was Poet in Residence for the Red Cross in the UK as part of the Poetry Society’s Poetry Places scheme. Kate Clanchy is the author of prize-winning collections of poetry, the acclaimed Slattern (1995), which won the Forward Poetry Prize (Best First Collection), and a Somerset Maugham Award, and Samarkand (1999), which won a Scottish Arts Council Book Award. Her latest collection is Newborn (2004).

Alan Brownjohn
As a young man Alan Brownjohn was a member of The Group, a workshop run by Philip Hobsbaum, employing the principles of Practical Criticism. Other members included Peter Porter and Peter Redgrove. He was born in London and was educated at Merton College, Oxford. He worked as a schoolteacher between 1957 and 1965 and lectured at Battersea College of Education and South Bank Polytechnic until he left to become a full-time freelance writer in 1979. A regular broadcaster, reviewer and contributor to journals including the Times Literary Supplement, Encounter and the Sunday Times, Alan Brownjohn was poetry critic for the New Statesman and was Chairman of the Poetry Society between 1982 and 1988. He has also served on the Arts Council literature panel, was a Labour councillor and a candidate for Parliament. His first collection of poetry, The Railings, was published in 1961. His poetry appeared in The Penguin Modern Poets series, number 14. Other poetry books include Collected Poems 1952-1983 and The Observation Car (1990). He is also the author of three novels, as well as two books for children and a critical study of the poet Philip Larkin. His most recent collection of poetry is The Men Around Her Bed (2004).

Tuesday, 28 June 2005

The Argotist Online

Blogs bring out the egotist in people, almost by definition.

Time to bring out The Argotist. The link's where you'd think it'd be.

They're becoming an increasingly interesting place to find interviews with poets, critics and editors of note: Charles Bernstein, Marjorie Perloff, and yours truly, among others.

Also, some good poetry can be located there, including by Mr. Waling, whose blog is noted elsewhere at this one.

Mirror In The Bathroom

Poet and photographer Derek Adams recently took photos for his forthcoming exhibition of poets based in the UK.

Here's an example of his work. The fellow in the photograph is me.

Monday, 27 June 2005

Shaw, Todd Shaw

I am back from the silver anniversary of the Annual Writers Conference, in Winchester, the brainchild of Barbara Large. From humbler beginnings, it has developed into a major gathering of (mainly commercial) writers, from thriller and romance novelists, to top literary agents, non-fiction types, and even some poets. She is to be congratulated on a marvelous occasion.

I was honoured to be at the head table for the dinner on Saturday evening, and was asked to read a few poems to the gathering, which I did. I failed to use the mic to my advantage - I have a tendency to want to swallow it. Still, I think I mostly got the poems across to the somewhat bemused gathering. One of the poems I read is the "American Found Poem" also at this site. One of my dinner companions was a noted geneticist who confessed to having a secret passion for raunchy limericks. He recited some of them to me over our salad.

One of the best parts of the day - for me - was the so-called "One-to-Ones" - these take place, like speed dating, at tables in a large room. Writers and agents sit at these small card tables and await - at fifteen minute intervals - the latest aspiring writer to sidle up, sit down, and show you their work. It wasn't as awkward a procedure as it at first promised to be, and, despite or because of the very loud buzzing in the room, there was a palpable sense of occasion.

Some of the poets I saw were quite good. Several were rather too open about their disappointment at not having U.A. Fanthorpe - I was sitting in for her. One woman kept repeating, at regular intervals you just aren't Ursula and there was nothing I could do. There's a poem or at least a title of a band in that, maybe.

Perhaps the low point was the fact that the little flag at my table, with my name on it, signaling how to come and find me, was initially inscribed Todd Shaw. From such ignominy is great poetry made.

Thursday, 23 June 2005

On The Ropes

Another very hot day in London.

Tony Blair tongue-lashing the EU with his brand of "British pragmatism" (would that be common-sensical Newton, Hobbes, Smith, Locke, Pope and Hume vs. irrational Brahe, Rousseau, Rimbaud, Marx, Freud, and Derrida, by any chance?) - and Tim Henman (sadly if predictably) being knocked out of Wimbledon in the second round. Henmania in 05 is not what Beatlemania was in 65, to be sure.

Speaking of being on the ropes - delight of authors everywhere - a good review arrived in the post today, which I read over tea in the shade. It is for my latest collection of poems, Rue du Regard (sometimes mis-spelled, or is that mis-spelt as Rue de Regarde); if you google the title you'll discover it is a famous little street in Paris on which lived prime minsters and a psychoanalyst.

The review is in Ropes, issue 13, sub-titled untwined: a fine-looking Creative Writing Grad Student production out of Ireland, with an Introduction by Patrick McCabe (The Butcher Boy).

Basically, the review says my poems deserve "a far wider audience" due to my poetry's combination of "lyricism, irony and honesty" and that's pleasant to hear. Thank you for that. Now if we can only do something to help Tim. I've given up on Tony.

Wednesday, 22 June 2005

Poet At Large

The vaguely muggy, quite hot weather continues here today in London. 83% of people polled in Britain believe in global warming, and they have reason to.

This Saturday, June 25, I have the honour of being "Poet At Large" at one of the largest writers' festivals in the UK. To be precise, The 25th Annual Writers' Conference, Bookfair & Workshops at University College Winchester. Hope to see you there.

I'll be chairing some panels, reading a few poems at the conference dinner, and, perhaps most importantly, filling in for U.A Fanthorpe, who was unable to hold her one-to-one poetry workshops. Terribly big shoes to fill, since Fanthorpe is one of the most beloved and best known of English poets. I'll do my best.

Tuesday, 21 June 2005

The Case For Colin Wilson

Today is the summer solstice, and this morning's BBC news broadcast (on Radio 4) informed us that the Druids at Stonehenge might be on strike; meanwhile, ambulance times are getting faster in the UK - allegedly due to time-fixing: 400 cases last year arrived before the emergency call was put through. Philip K Dick territory, surely.

As you no doubt know, I am the poetry editor of - and from time to time I also write reviews for Nth. This June sees my review of Colin Wilson's latest autobiography (he wrote one years ago in about three days), which is very good. I have recently been in email correspondence with Colin Wilson (legendary author of The Outsider pictured above), and he is very witty and open. Long may he continue to think and write.

Saturday, 18 June 2005

New American Writing in London

Today might be described as the first hot, sunny day of the summer here in London. This while all hell breaks loose over Britain's intransigence regarding the EU budget. It is odd to live in a country that, while nominally in Europe, sees its weather map halt at the English Channel.

Today's post brought the new issue (23) of New American Writing, edited and published by Paul Hoover and Maxine Chernoff. I was a special guest editor of a section of this issue, called "The New Canadian poetry" which represents 20 younger poets born between 1960-1980. I'll try and write more about that a later time.

The issue includes much else besides, and has a very cool cover - based on a found photograph, artist unknown - out of focus but the colours are sympathetic to the eye. I'm looking forward to sitting down with a cup of tea and reading over the complete NAW sometime soon.

Friday, 17 June 2005

Larkin With Women

I travelled to and from Manchester today - two and a half hours each way - for a 20 minute poetry reading - on Virgin's semi-fast tilting trains. Nauseating at any speed, so no reading. At one station, the conductor came on to announce: DO NOT PANIC, THE DOORS ARE BROKEN, DO NOT PANIC. Everyone looked glum.

Before the reading - which was at the monumental Central Library (built in 1935 and very much like some lovely retro edifice from Brazil the movie) - I went to the Library Theatre for tea and a cheese and pickle sandwich, a very English thing to do, I suspect. Hundreds of sexy posters of a nubile bespectacled 19-year-old "librarian" gazed down at me, with the words: LARKIN WITH WOMEN underneath - the new play celebrating bachelor PL's wandering eye and weakness for women in the stacks. I love all things Larkin, so that was a treat.

The reading room itself was small, but wood-panelled. The organiser (who was very kind and hospitable) made the fatal error - as they all do these days - of telling me how the series usually get big audiences of 50 or so (Les Murray will read this fall, it is a good series) - cue straggling band of the usual suspects: the nine and half people who tend to come to these things. Actually, discounting the organiser and her colleagues, there were seven people. Still, it was a good reading, especially as I got to hear John for the first time, for any extended period - he is quite good, read poems about his family, and one very erotic poem about sucking necks and "lips" which had the women in the audience mock-swooning. He also filmed the event.

Still, it was vaguely depressing. After the reading, we went for seafood and he bought me a beer. We both agree that the taboo must be broken - we need to say it from the rooftops: most people don't like poetry. That really is the reason why, despite all the endless grinning advertisments, campaigns, slogans, national days, and so on, the average Dan Browner - a decent enough chap who will read a rollicking yarn - will walk a mile to miss a poetry event.

Thursday, 16 June 2005

Calling All Librarians

For those poetry-intrigued people in the Manchester (UK) area, please note that myself and the fine poet John Siddique will be reading Friday, June 17, 2005, at Manchester Central Library starting at 1pm.

This'll be my first time in Manchester, despite a long-time interest in some of the great bands that have hailed from there.

Wednesday, 1 June 2005

The Ministry of Emergency Situations

The Ministry of Emergency Situations

After an emergency situation
All wedding rings must be removed
And citizens will be asked to undress
In the streets. The Minister herself
Will bathe those affected with disinfectant
Foam. They must ensure their eyes
Are shut. Those who refuse to take off
Their jewelry, tokens of affection, clothes,
Will be shot. The fully naked will dance
In the medical shower, then be x-rayed
And scanned by robot magnets small as
Mites. The dead will rot where they fall.
The Minister’s minions will run things;
Inspections will go on. The cleansed
Victims will be allowed to request
Compensation for their torn rags,
Their melted trinkets, irradiated keepsakes.
The Ministry of Songs will form a choir,
And douse them in anthems on liberty.

by Todd Swift

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