“Fear of failure is the biggest thing that blocks creativity. It makes you give up too soon on a project, or on a writing life.”
– Kim Addonizio, about creativity interview, 2007
” … How many days
are left of my life, how much does it matter if I manage to say
one true thing about it –”
– Kim Addonizio, ‘The Numbers’
Tell Me (BOA Editions, 2000)
“Poems, like dreams, have a visible subject and an invisible one. The invisible one is the one you can’t choose, the one that writes itself.”
– Alice Oswald, Get Writing, 2004
“Writing poems is a bit like panning for gold. You have to be prepared to sit for a long while in the cold murk of the river-bed and grow heavy with alluvial dust for the sake of the gold it contains.”
– Julia Copus, New Blood (Bloodaxe Books, 1999)
“When I write, it’s like running my hand over a length of cloth, picking out patterns, testing the give, rubbing the fabric between thumb and forefinger to feel out the texture and the flaws.”
– Vona Groarke, Modern Women Poets (Bloodaxe, 2005)
“The books I end up writing are the ones that I would rather dodge altogether, but those are really the only ones I can write, because those are the ones I’m obsessed by. It would be so much easier to write an update of Pride and Prejudice and have everything turn out happily. If you don’t have conviction about it, you can’t do it.”
– Margaret Atwood
Erica Wagner’s interview with Margaret Atwood in The Times,
15 August 2009.
Sinclair McKay’s interview with Margaret Atwood in The Telegraph, 20 August 2009.
Ursula Le Guin’s review of The Year of the Flood in The Guardian,
29 August 2009.
Bernadine Evaristo’s review of The Year of the Flood in the Financial Times, 5 September 2009.
Philip Hensher’s review of The Year of the Flood in The Observer,
6 September 2009.
Jane Shilling’s review of The Year of the Flood in The Telegraph,
7 September 2009.
Fredric Jameson’s review of The Year of the Flood: ‘Then You Are Them’ in the London Review of Books, 10 September 2009.
Caroline Moore’s review of The Year of the Flood in The Telegraph,
10 September 2009.
Jane Ciabattari’s review of The Year of the Flood: ‘Disease And Dystopia In Atwood’s Flood” in NPR, 10 September 2009.
Adam McDowell’s interview with Margaret Atwood: ‘Margaret Atwood, planet smasher’ in the National Post, 11 September 2009.
John Barber’s interview with Margaret Atwood: ‘Atwood: ‘Have I ever eaten maggots? Perhaps …” in the Globe and Mail, 12 September 2009.
Philip Marchand’s review of The Year of the Flood: ‘Eloquence and irony do battle in Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Year of the Flood” in the National Post, 12 September 2009.
Darryl Whetter’s review of The Year of the Flood: ‘Atwood’s pen returns to apocalyptic theme’ in the Chronicle Herald, 13 September 2009.
Visit The Year of the Flood website.
Visit Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood blog.
Peter Pan Versus Captain Hook
My friend vouched a theory that all men were either
Peter Pans or Captain Hooks. I don’t know about you but
I know where I stand. Look what that bastard did to poor Wendy;
Tinkerbell too. I’ll have no truck with flighty boys.
Give me instead the feel of steel on my thigh,
the screams of pirates trapped in the boo-boo box.
But most of all give me the whispery hair under the wig,
the gnarled hand, the hook trailing red lines down my abdomen.
He pulls my hair, holds his hook to my mouth, then, suddenly shy,
his mouth. No thimbles in sight. Finally, a real kiss.
Waiting for the Post
End with Amen or a clap?
I get confused.
I lose my place.
Is this a circle we’re standing in?
Are we standing stones?
Is there magic here?
I think there are things in here with us.
A Jack-in-the-box, purple corners,
An incessant buzzing.
Bruises on our knees.
And as we look we find bruises everywhere,
blue and black from front to back.
I remember when outside meant away
and I was always a stranger,
alien and wild in unfamiliar streets,
erupting from my own womb.
Can’t you see my footprints
on the ocean? I’ve been here before.
Was it for a long time? Or a short time?
I don’t know.
I don’t remember much.
Reality flinches. I pull my knees up.
Balance on the surface of things.
A waxed stare. Bleached fingers.
A postcard sent from Feltham.
A broken branch on lavender seas.
A silk hat, a felt slipper.
and things I wanted.
Published in Charismatic Megafauna (Penned in the Margins, 2009)
Read more about Tamsin and Charismatic Megafauna here.
“The only really good piece of advice I have for my students is, ‘Write something you’d never show your mother or father. And you know what they say? I could never do that!'”
– Lorrie Moore, Elle interview, September 2009
“The detachment of the artist is kind of creepy. It’s kind of rude, and yet really it’s where art comes from. It’s not the same as courage. It’s closer to bad manners than to courage. […] if you’re going to be a writer, you basically have to say, ‘this is just who I am […]’. There’s a certain indefensibility about it. It’s not about loving your community and taking care of it — you’re not attached to the chamber of commerce. It’s a little unsafe. You have to be willing to have only four friends, not 11.”
– Lorrie Moore, Elle interview, September 2009
Michiko Kakutani’s review of A Gate at the Stairs: ‘First Time for Taxis, Lo Mein and Loss’ in the New York Times, 27 August 2009.
Jonathan Letham’s review of A Gate at the Stairs: ‘Eyes Wide Open’ in the New York Times, 27 August 2009.
Aja Gabel’s review of A Gate at the Stairs in The Virginia Quarterly Review, 27 August 2009.
New York Times excerpt from A Gate at the Stairs, 28 August 2009.
Mokoto Rich’s profile of Lorrie Moore: ‘Hate, Love, Chores: Lorrie Moore’s Midwest Chronicle’ in the New York Times, 1 September 2009.
Stephanie Zacharek’s review of A Gate at the Stairs: ‘People like Lorrie Moore are the only people here’ at Salon, 1 September 2009.
Ron Charles’ review of A Gate at the Stairs: ‘With Novel Twists, Moore Paints Both Darkness and an Age of Enlightenment’ in
The Washington Post, 2 September 2009.
Kelsey Keith’s ‘Mini interview with Lorrie Moore, Patron Saint of Our Bookshelf’ at Flavorwire, 2 September 2009.
Edan Lepucki’s review of A Gate at the Stairs: ‘It’s Not You, It’s Me: Thoughts on Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs’ at The Millions, 3 September 2009.
The transcript of Scott Simon’s radio interview with Lorrie Moore: ‘Lorrie Moore On Writing And A ‘Very Crowded’ Life’ on NPR,
5 September 2009.
Glen Weldon’s review of A Gate at the Stairs: ‘Moore’s Hallmark Mix Of Wit, Heartache in ‘Gate” on NPR, 5 September 2009.
Geeta Sharma Jensen interviews Lorrie Moore: ‘No longer an exile’ in the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, 5 September 2009.
Anna Mundow interviews Lorrie Moore: ‘Wry, young everywoman in 9/11 era’ in The Boston Globe, 6 September 2009.
Tom Alesia interviews Lorrie Moore: ”Gate’ expections’ at Madison.com, 6 September 2006.
Tom Nissley’s interview with Lorrie Moore at Omnivoracious,
8 September 2009.
Lisa Moore’s review of A Gate at the Stairs in The Globe and Mail,
9 September 2009.
Megan O’Grady interviews Lorrie Moore at Vogue Daily’s ‘People Are Talking About’, 10 September 2009.
Maureen Corrigan’s review of A Gate at the Stairs: ‘Wonder, Bemusement Reign in Moore’s ‘Gate” at NPR, 11 September 2009.
Amy Hanridge reviews A Gate at the Stairs at Bookslut,
Edited by Sophy Kohler (who is also the Cape Assistant Editor of BOOK SA), Imago publishes poetry, short stories and creative essays by University of Cape Town past and present students and staff. The journal is designed and produced by Sophy Kohler and Electric Book Works.
Issue 1 includes contributions by Simon Abbott, Diane Awerbuck, Leila Bloch, Kyle Fullerton, John Higgins, Karen Jennings, Matthew Kalil, Jordan Kantey, Matthew Koehorst, Sophy Kohler, Emma Lombard, Peter Merrington, Masande Ntshanga, Redvers, Farrah Schwab, Oliver Strang and Nick Wicht.
Email queries to email@example.com.
Tom Chivers was born in 1983. A writer, editor and promoter, he is Director of live literature organisation Penned in the Margins, Co-Director of London Word Festival and Associate Editor of international journal Tears in the Fence. In 2008 he was the first ever Poet in Residence at The Bishopsgate Institute, London. In September 2009 BBC Radio 4 broadcast his documentary about the poet Barry MacSweeney.
His first collection, How To Build A City, was published by Salt in 2009. A sequence of poems, The Terrors, has appeared as a limited edition chapbook from Nine Arches Press, described by Iain Sinclair as ‘dark London history, dredged and interrogated’.
Tom, what did you enjoy about studying Medieval English Literature at Oxford?
Grappling with medieval literature at university was an extraordinary privilege, but a slog too. I had to learn Old English (Anglo-Saxon) from scratch and even some of the Middle English dialects are pretty demanding. Beowulf, Pearl, Gawain and the Green Knight, Piers Plowman, most of Chaucer and countless other texts have really nourished my love of language, of eccentricity, humour and the exotic. My final year dissertation was entitled ‘Literary Practice in Late Medieval London’ and certainly extended the depth of my knowledge of and interest in London history. My thesis proposed that the socio-political conditions of the city at that time (1350-1500) created a peculiarly heightened sense of textual anxiety. I think we’re going through something similar now, with the internet, blogging, e-books and the rest.
Salt recently published your Crashaw Prize-winning collection, How To Build A City. How did you decide upon the title?
How To Build A City is the title of the longest piece in the book, a prose narrative I sometimes refer to as a kind of failed travelogue to the East End. Initially it appeared as an A3 poster pull-out in the underground literary magazine The Edgeless Shape – if I remember correctly, one of the editors, Caleb Klaces, came up with the title during a conversation at his kitchen table!
The volume is divided into two parts. How did you order the poems?
With difficulty. I knew I wanted the title piece in the middle, the sequence of fragments ‘Thom, C & I’ at the end, and some short poems at the beginning. The rest just fell into place during the editing process. The first part of the book focuses on the city; the second part is more of a miscellany, with poems set in Israel, Nepal and the Peak District.
Tell me about your relationship with London and, in particular, the East End?
I was born and raised in South London but have lived in the East End for the past five years. I identify with the city very strongly. I suppose it’s a kind of pride, but not a static, smug sense of belonging but a flawed, fluid impulse to describe the urban environment. Or rather, to evoke and work-out my subjective relationship with that environment. I don’t believe in a poetry that speaks truths or captures a knowable ‘reality’. I am suspicious of those who do. I admire the Futurists, the way they engaged with the speed and ruthless modernity of urbanism. I don’t care much for their decline into low-level Fascism, however.
When I first moved to the East End I felt as if I had betrayed my roots south of the river. I know that sounds pompous, but hey … It’s a very strange area. It’s a terminus zone for journeys of exile: French Huguenots, Russian Jews, Bengalis, Somalis. I live on a historic street market, reputedly where cockney rhyming slang was invented. That might sound romantic and sometimes it is, but usually it’s just very loud. I don’t get much sleep.
Which local East End haunts would you recommend to a first-time visitor?
The whole area around Spitalfields is fascinating, although I would recommend avoiding the rather mawkish Jack the Ripper tours. The tiny alleys off Middlesex Street are worth hunting down, as well as the grand Georgian houses on Fournier, Princelet and Wilkes Streets. Further south, near the Tower of London, is one of the most beautiful and undiscovered buildings in the city: Wilton’s Music Hall. So much of the East End, particularly around the Docks, was destroyed during the Blitz, so it’s a blessing this crumbling gem is still here.
Can you briefly describe your chapbook, The Terrors?
The Terrors is a sequence of ‘imagined emails’ written to inmates at London’s notorious Newgate Prison between 1700 and 1740. Still with me? Good. The poems steal from various sources including The Newgate Calendar, a popular anthology of prison tales which combines celebrity, voyeurism and moral snobbery with shameless gore. I’ve incorporated some of the tone and language of the original, as well as oblique references to modern places of terror, such as Abu Ghraib and the Big Brother house.
As director of Penned in the Margins, you promote live literature in the city. Is the spoken word scene thriving in London?
Yes, thriving and surviving! The last five or six years has seen a genuine revival in interest in spoken word, and a lot of energy has been generated by independent promoters. The extent to which that revival will extend beyond transitory media attention and occasional culture industry buy-in is yet to be decided. But I am personally excited about what is being written, read and performed. I see my role as an instigator of activity and nurturer of talent. I’m in it for the long haul.
Penned in the Margins has also published anthologies, Generation Txt and City State: The New London Poetry, as well as full collections by David Caddy, Tamsin Kendrick, Ross Sutherland, Stephanie Leal and Sarah Hesketh. Does conflict exist between your work as an editor and your own writing? How compatible are the two?
That’s a probing question indeed. Speaking frankly, there are some ways in which my work as an editor/promoter has actually stymied my own creativity. But now I’ve had my first collection published, I feel more justified in carving out time to write. In general I’m concerned with drawing a distinct line between my professional work and my writing, but that line is often blurrier than I’d like. I’m lucky enough to work with writers who inspire and influence me – Iain Sinclair, Ross Sutherland, James Wilkes, et al. Being a poet also helps me edit other people’s work as I hope to bring sensitivity and attention to language to the process.
Would you name a few of your favourite poetry collections? Why are they important to you?
The Book of Demons by Barry MacSweeney for its passion, dark comedy and jagged edge. Seamus Heaney’s North for the visceral language and for risk. The wildly musical poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins have been an inspiration (as well as Alice Oswald, whose first two books channel that music brilliantly); I connect with the humour of Ashbery and the controlled energy of the New York poets, as well as the relentless innovation of Allen Fisher, Geraldine Monk, and others. Of more recent volumes, D.S. Marriott’s Hoodoo Voodoo takes some beating for its haunting evocation of the Afro-Diaspora experience. I think Chris McCabe is mining some important veins too.
Thank you for your time, Tom.
Read more about Tom and How To Build A City here.
Follow Tom’s blog, this is yogic.
Read more from Tom at the Londonist and Gists and Piths. Tomorrow, he’ll stop by Baroque in Hackney and on Friday he’ll visit Mercy Recommends.
“Any time I’m not writing (which of course means most of the time) finding my way to a new poem feels entirely impossible. There have been many times in my life when I’ve gone months without writing. This happens frequently enough that I’ve come to think of them as necessary fallows, from which I often emerge with an altered set of poetic energies.”
– Jane Hirshfield, MiPoesias interview (2005)