Monthly Archives: June 2011

Claire Trévien’s Low-Tide Lottery

Claire Trévien by Richard Davenport

Claire Trévien was born in 1985 in Brittany. She is a poet, critic and literary translator. Her writing has been published in a wide variety of literary magazines including Under The Radar, Poetry Salzburg Review, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Warwick Review, Nth Position and Fuselit. Earlier this year she published an e-chapbook of poetry with Silkworms Ink called Patterns of Decay. She is the editor of Sabotage Reviews and Noises Off. She was the winner of Leaf Book’s 2010 Nano-Fiction Competition. 

Low-Tide Lottery is an introduction to the work of upcoming poet Claire Trévien. This is an exuberant collection that rummages in the rust of the everyday in search of beauty. It crackles with imagination, rubbing history together with the present to create unexpected, wild imagery. Bodies become machines, Minotaurs and ancient Greek gods stalk the streets of Paris. Both theatrical and intimate, the author’s native Brittany is a backdrop to many of these poems.
“Whenever I read new poetry I’m looking for someone else’s delight in language and ideas; for work that commands and sustains my attention. What I never expect, but what I found in Claire Trévien’s work, is a voice already so mature and refined it reads like a previously untranslated classic rather than a debut. These are serious, visually stunning poems of nationality, history and memory, but they’re personal and generous in their wit, as formally innovative as they are endlessly engaged and engaging. Reading them is like spending an hour in the company of someone you secretly admire. The world could do with fewer blurbs and more great poetry so I’ll leave it at that.”
– Luke Kennard
“Auden said that the first sign of an authentic gift in any poet was a passion for language, and she has that richly, but she possesses other vital resources too: an engagement with history, a talent for expressing the intellect through the senses, a subtle weave of intimacy and openness, and all the best things that French culture gives its children. She hears the silence after the tempest – and knows how to make us attend to it too.”
– Michael Hulse
“This is fresh, exuberant, intellectually serious poetry, enriched by a French passport and a French library; Claire Trévien  draws fruitfully on her joint heritage to create poems infused with formal questioning, linguistic vivacity and local colour. History, family, personal experience express a hierarchy of memory and questioning, made sharper by its access to – and sometimes drift between – two languages, each with its own life. There is a lot happening in these poems, and it is never – as the poem ‘1798’ almost puts it – ‘Alors qu’il ne se passe rien’.  An exciting first pamphlet.”
— Katy Evans-Bush
An Urdu poet is born, a Dutch anatomist dies.
Zirkonerde, Nina, L’artiste et sa fille
Public Good,
and The Power of Sympathy.
First inaugural ball, three tidal waves in Coringa.
Belgium declares independence from Vienna.
History of the American Revolution,
Traité élémentaire de chimie, Panthéon,
An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation.

Giuseppe Balsamo is arrested for freemasonry,
Japan bans streetwalkers, the toothpuller is captured,
Jafar Khan is poisoned, Casanova is probably enraptured.
At last comes to the US a machine for macaroni.
Songs of Innocence, Le Misogallo,
La fille mal gardée, Parigi sbastigliato.

Russia fights Sweden, Russia fights Turkey,
Abdul Hamid stops writing poetry.
The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, also Charles IX,
die Metamorphose der Pflanzen zu erklären, The Botanic Garden.
Alors qu’en France il ne se passe rien*.
*  Louis XVI famously wrote in his hunting diary for 14 July 1789:

Art boils and is thrown into the gutter, oil spills
rainbows around the island of a dropped glove.
The tendons of windows are exposed, plastic
flapping over the guttural mouth. ‘Hey love!
You In-glish?’ The market’s skeleton shines
its claws at night, but in this twilight, only
songs are shred as the smile of the knife
cuts ripe pears in half. Beggars want your grin
to light on their burnt-out eyes. Rue de Belleville’s
shirt is open, neon lights winking through for
Chinese joints and Turkish-Greek restaurants.
Offside are the labyrinths, darkened and grim
where minotaurs pulse from wall to wall
their rum breath like  a thread suspended
above the groove of piss. You catch through
a broken bottle the glint of Avalon.
This cog of a hill cranks some more,
the eyes of Eiffel on your back until the top:
Pyrénées. There are no glaciers here, just iced
tea, the place looks less like another country.
Here the walls don’t wear their hearts.
from Low-Tide Lottery (Salt Publishing, 2011).
Order Low-Tide Lottery.
Visit Claire’s website.
Visit Sabotage Reviews.

Congratulations to Kona Macphee: Perfect Blue wins the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize

Kona Macphee was born in London in 1969 but grew up in Australia, where she experimented with a range of occupations including composer, violinist, waitress and motorcycle mechanic.
Eventually she took up robotics and computer science, which brought her to Cambridge as a graduate student in 1995.
She now lives in Perthshire, where she works as a freelance writer and tutor, and moonlights as the co-director of a software and consultancy company.
Kona received an Eric Gregory Award in 1998. Her first collection, Tails, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2004, and her second collection, Perfect Blue, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2010. 

In Perfect Blue, Kona Macphee applies her versatile and polished technique to a characteristic diversity of themes – from the natural world to war and politics, from memories of childhood to bittersweet snapshots of everyday life, from wry asides to fantastical flights of narrative fantasy.
Her eclecticism is never more apparent than in the ‘Book of Diseases’ sequence, which launches from its simple premise into a delirious medley of forms and subjects.
The meticulously crafted lyrical poems of Perfect Blue reflect the growing power of a distinctively original, musical and compassionate voice that laments the transience and fragility of life while celebrating the joy of truly living it.
The invention of the electric chair
All the slow purposes that make a tree
were in you once – to grow; to gauge
in every measured angle of your leaves
that moving target, light; to hold
through winter like an indrawn breath; to feel
the buzz of resurrection borne on spring.
As neutral wood suborns to dark intents
of blame, in icons hewn and nailed –
the scaffold and the catherine wheel,
the cross and gallows: symbols of
a skill that’s more than carpentry,
and deeply less than human – so, lost tree,
this timber rictus of your supple green
has made a foursquare chair. Now history
awaits in thrall the painted scene
that might beatify your sacrifice –
those drooping limbs surrendered to your arms;
that smoking moment held: a Pietà.
This poem was first published in New Welsh Review,
Issue 86, Winter 2009.
These conflicts always stem from faith or race.
(Subtitle: Leading Academic’s views.)
[Now cut to close-up; linger on ravaged face.]
There’s fear the growing violence might displace
the farmers, with their yearly crop to lose.
These conflicts always stem from faith or race.
Another bombing struck the marketplace
this morning, near the long employment queues.
[Now cut to close-up; linger on ravaged face.]
The children here have vanished without trace.
[Slow pan across a blood-stained pile of shoes.]
These conflicts always stem from faith or race.
The overflowing camps have no more space
for victims trickling back in ones and twos.
[Now cut to close-up; linger on ravaged face.]
The ceasefire holds, but nothing can erase
the painful memories. More in tomorrow’s news.
These conflicts always stem from faith or race.
[Now cut to close-up; linger on ravaged face.]
This poem was first published in Magma, Issue 43, 2009.

Pheasant and astronomers
Burnished, finicky, picking his headbob way
across the asphalt path, into the leafy scrub
behind the twelve-pane window of our office,
we can’t not watch his colours in the sunlight.
Our measures and projections fall aside
as coarsest calculus to his most perfect curve;
so we observe.
                         Can such a day-star brave
the midnight sky whose glaring spectral eyes
seethe down the invert shrinkage of a telescope,
or does he sleep all clouded in the hedgerows’
straight-line rays of green restraint to roads
that sling his slow kin cockeyed in the gutter?
On foot and unconcerned, he patters out of view,
out of our world again; the sunlit room
falls just a lumen dimmer with his passing.
This poem also appears in the Identity Parade anthology
from Bloodaxe Books.
Marchmont Road
Above the tarmacked voids that breach
the ranks of tenements, a reach
of sky to which the day has lent
a calibrated gradient
of northern blue. Along the road
the pelt of antlike cars is slowed:
a hearse in mirror-faultless gloss
precedes its cavalcade of loss,
and while this dark skein passes, I
cast out for where its gist might lie …
Stop it. No moment must encore
itself in some pert metaphor.
Suspend that distanced commentary.
Take a deep breath. Now be here. Be.
This poem was first published in Northwords Now,
Issue 13, December 2009.

Order Perfect Blue here or here.
Visit Kona’s website.
Visit Kona’s blog, that elusive clarity.

Five short excerpts from The Edge of Things

The Edge of Things (Dye Hard Press, 2011) consists of 24 South African short stories selected by Arja Salafranca. The contributors are Jayne Bauling, Arja Salafranca, Liesl Jobson, Gillian Schutte, Karina Magdalena Szczurek, Jenna Mervis, Jennifer Lean, Fred de Vries, Margie Orford, Aryan Kaganof, Bernard Levinson, Hamilton Wende, Pravasan Pillay, Beatrice Lamwaka, Hans Pienaar, Rosemund Handler, Tiah Beautement, Angelina N Sithebe, Jeanne Hromnik, David wa Maahlamela, Perd Booysen, Gail Dendy, Silke Heiss and Dan Wylie.
Arja Salafranca’s debut collection of short stories, The Thin Line, was published by Modjaji Books in 2010. She has published two collections of poetry, A life Stripped of Illusions, and The Fire in Which we Burn. Her poetry is also collected in Isis X (Botsotso). She received the 2010 Dalro Award for poetry and has twice received the Sanlam Award, for fiction and poetry. She edits the Life supplement in The Sunday Independent and is studying toward an MA in Creative Writing at Wits University.  
“The Edge of Things is an eclectic collection of short stories traversing a vast distance emotionally and intellectually. For example, Arja Salafranca’s moving story about a woman forced to live in a restrictive apparatus in ‘Iron Lung’ is a million miles away stylistically from Aryan Kaganof’s tale of decadence and debauchery on a night out in Durban in ‘Same Difference’. … Liesl Jobson’s ‘You Pay for The View: Twenty Tips for Super Pics’ is a series of verbal snapshots of pivotal moments of a mother trying to find a connection with her children. It is written with poignancy and deep longing. ‘Doubt’ by Gillian Schutte is an examination of how passion can seep out of a marriage once the chase is over and when feelings of irrelevance grow due to being part of a couple.”

– Janet Van Eeden, LitNet
“There are 24 pieces here, some of which qualify as short stories, others more like prose poems and descriptions of emotional experiences. Relationships are central, aloneness integral and fictional reality flexible. The collection displays a variety of writing styles. It includes pieces by some of South Africa’s well-known writers, but also some gems from lesser knowns, including Beatrice Lamwaka’s prize-worthy ‘Trophy’ and Dan Wylie’s tour-de-force, ‘Solitude’.”

Cape Times
You Pay For The View: Twenty Tips For Super Pics
Liesl Jobson
3.  Kill the flash
1998 – Bryanston, Sandton, Alexandra
Behind the lens I was possessed. I stood between the cars on Jan Smuts Avenue at sunset for a feature on traffic for the weekly community paper where I’d landed my first job. I composed drivers’ faces that squinted in the low light, homeward bound.
To catch the taillights, red as the sky, I turned my back to the drivers for their silhouette, impervious to danger. When the circus came to town, the elephant enclosure caught my eye. I unclipped the flash and edged in slowly to avoid startling the beast. The deep creases in its skin, the bright circle of its eye drew me in. A group of children gathered at the gate, keen for adventure. The elephant looked primal, flapped its ears, but I had super powers. The right shot would make front page. I worked the angle, pulling in closer. Disengaging eventually from the viewfinder to put in a new roll of film I snapped from my trance. The children had followed me in. We were all too close.
Gillian Schutte
She is walking on the side path of her married life – as she has been doing for a few years now. She has created this well-worn path out of necessity because the central path is cluttered up with ‘ifs’ and ‘whys’ and ‘maybes’. After years of clearing up others’ paths she is just too tired to bend down and pick up her own doubts. Besides there are very few empty spaces left to pack them. This circumvented pathway has led her to many possible encounters – mainly with men in white shoes. So far she has sidestepped them all – only slightly grateful for the amorous glint in the eyes of the wearers.
One day she collides with a tall man in tasteful black leathers. She, prudent by habit, looks into the horizon, for she has in her memory bank the knowledge that the heave she feels in her bosom could only mean trouble. In such circumstances any response could cause a hasty and astonished retreat, and this hardly seems right to her because if someone appears on her pathway, it is unfair that a natural chemistry should compel her to feel like the intruder. She sidesteps the man in the knowledge that it is already too late to steel herself against the onslaught of previously repressed passions and that this is sure to establish a penitentiary of emotional incoherence rather than her usual free will and forthrightness.
Telephoning The Enemy
Hans Pienaar
Pretoria, January, 1983
Victim number two: Johnny had to go all the way to Pretoria North to fetch his big box of slides because none of us had a photograph of Suzy. Now people hang around the dining room table and look at the slides of her, which Johnny took when she was on holiday with us. Most slides did not come out good, something about melting in the sun, but you can still see that she was a sexy woman, long tanned legs without any varicose veins, not a single one, although she was 36 already.
That’s why Johnny took so many slides of her. That’s why she didn’t last: she was too sexy. Her lover did not pitch up here. He never will, the pig. When the bomb exploded, he went off like he saw the green flag on Kyalami, instead of trying to help people.
I mean, can you believe this guy! It was him who got her to play hide and seek and always meet him on the other side of the block so that the people at work would not see them together. She would never have walked past the bomb otherwise.
Angelina N Sithebe
Two months later Jean received an unsigned email: I was terrified. I felt I was on an express train to an unknown destination. Before you were a shadow, now you have a face. I still dream about you.
Jean’s answer was brief: I long for you more. Where and when? What changed?
Sanele replied: I thought we might not have even three hundred and fifty hours to live; we don’t have the luxury of waiting three hundred and fifty years while we equalise the past to at least try to discover each other. Tell me where the contaminated beach is.
It took another two weeks before they made it to the bungalow in Vilankulo in Mozambique. ‘Is this the place of your dreams?’
Jean asked as he led her on the beach.
Sanele nodded. ‘I’m Judas.’
‘You’ll deceive nobody except us.’
‘I’ll disgrace all black people and future generations for four centuries of conquest and oppression.’
‘You can’t reverse history.’

Bus From Cape Town
David wa Maahlamela
When I told my friend I had made love to a stranger, with tons of arrogance he was like: ‘Yeah dude, I also did that before.’ ‘Inside the bus,’ I added. ‘Was it standing?’ ‘No, it was on the road’. I started seeing a storm of questions blustering from his face, his eyes gleaming enthusiasm. ‘Were there passengers inside?’ ‘Of course, yes!’ I replied. ‘Tell me you’re joking. How did you do it? How did it happen? Where? I mean …’ He curiously confused me with questions. I didn’t even know which one to answer first. ‘Hooooh, relax broer. I will explain everything.’
He moved his chair closer to mine and sat directly opposite to me, with eyes that said: ‘Go on. I’m all ears.’ Even though Aryan Kaganof says that writing about a nasty event is a lot less nasty than the event itself, with my friend I knew I had to try and tell it as it was.
To be honest, writers do not write everything about themselves. There’s a certain locked shelf which is always untouched, hence they know exactly the impression they are intending to give their readers. My birthday holiday to Cape Town ended up being filed in this do-not-touch shelf, but after seeing how thrilled and fascinated my friend was when I was sharing with him about this adventurous trip, I thought … why don’t I hide this little secret of mine in a book despite how earthly saints will judge me? After all, blessed are those who admit their sins, right?
The Edge of Things is available from Exclusive Books countrywide,
retail price R185.
Visit Arja’s blog here.
Visit Dye Hard Press.

The Alexandria Quartet

“As for me I am neither happy nor unhappy; I lie suspended like a hair or a feather in the cloudy mixtures of memory. I spoke of the uselessness of art but added nothing truthful about its consolations. The solace of such work as I do with brain and heart lies in this — that only there, in the silences of the painter or the writer can reality be reordered, reworked and made to show its significant side. Our common actions in reality are simply the sackcloth covering which hides the cloth-of-gold — the meaning of the pattern. For us artists there waits the joyous compromise through art with all that wounded or defeated us in daily life; in this way, not to evade destiny, as the ordinary people try to do, but to fulfil it in its true potential — the imagination.”
— Lawrence Durrell, The Alexandria Quartet (Faber & Faber)

A trip to beautiful Cape Town

'The Tavern of the Seas'

Next Sunday I’ll be flying to Cape Town, the Mother City, the Tavern of the Seas. I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends, meeting new poetry friends, reading at Off the Wall in Observatory on Monday, 27 June, and launching The Suitable Girl (co-published by Pindrop Press and Modjaji Books) at The Book Lounge on Tuesday, 28 June.
If you’re in the area I’d love to see you on Monday or Tuesday evening – or both! 

Reading at Off the Wall

A Touch of Madness, the Victorian Quaffery in Observatory

Hosted by Karin Schimke and Huge Hodge, Off the Wall is a well established weekly event held at A Touch of Madness (love the name!), a Victorian Quaffery, ‘in the heart of bohemian Observatory’.
Date: Monday, 27 June 2011
Time: 20h00 – 22h00
Venue: A Touch of Madness Restaurant, 12 Nuttall Road,
Tel: 021 448 2266
Google map directions.
After the reading there will an open mike session so come along and share your work.

Bohemian dining

Launch at The Book Lounge

The Book Lounge, Cape Town

The Suitable Girl is being launched at The Book Lounge, an independent bookshop in the Eastern Precinct of Cape Town City Centre. I’ve heard so many great things about Mervyn Sloman, the Loungers and the wide range of local and international books available on The Book Lounge’s shelves. I hope to have at least fifteen minutes to browse and buy …
I’m thrilled that Helen Moffett will be introducing me at the launch and can’t wait to see Colleen Higgs again. Colleen is the inspiration behind Modjaji Books and the last time we saw each other was at the Cape Town Book Fair in 2006. It’s been far too long.
Date: Tuesday, 28 June 2011
Time: 18h00 – 19h30
Venue: The Book Lounge, corner of Roeland and Buitenkant Streets
Tel: 021 462 2425
Google map directions.
There’ll be wine sponsored by Leopard’s Leap, soul food and books – lots and lots of books.
Please RSVP.

The Suitable Girl (co-published by Modjaji Books)

Jacqueline Saphra’s The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions

© Image by Naomi Woddis

Jacqueline Saphra read Drama at Manchester University and is a screenwriting graduate from the National Film School. Her plays have been commissioned and produced by touring companies and repertory theatres including the Watford Palace and Manchester Library Theatre. She is on the editorial board for Magma Poetry and organises a regular poetry night, The Shuffle, at the Poetry Café. Her poetry has been widely published and anthologised and she has won several awards including first prize in the Ledbury Poetry Competition. Her pamphlet, Rock’n’Roll Mamma was published by Flarestack in 2008 and The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions (flipped eye publishing, 2011) was developed with the support of the Arts Council of England. She lives in London with her partner Robin and four children.

A man claims ambush and assault by women’s underwear, Houdini’s diametrically opposed counterpart waits taped and shackled for her man to save her, and girly-weak is not an option. Described as a poet of the world, Jacqueline Saphra’s work dances between the personal and the profound to offer a striking vision of growing up and growing older, mothers and motherhood, femininity and gender relations, all framed against the backdrop of a modern world, itself subject to growing pains.
“The eternal triangle of childhood, sex, and death doesn’t make for happiness, but if memory is indeed the mother of the muses, then it furnishes a rich and haunted house. In Jacqueline Saphra’s case the house is full of energy – even at its darkest it remains light and brisk on its feet. Her ear is sharp and her eye sharper still. The heart aches, the shoulders shrug but the feet dance.”
– George Szirtes
“Jacqueline Saphra’s poems are simultaneously as searing, sexy, funny and cleansing as any poems on earth – she has the gift of the sifter mixed with the power of the big sharp knife! Do not miss these savory pleasures.”
– Naomi Shihab Nye 
“A strikingly confident first collection, notable both for its formal skills, and for the poet’s ability to explore challenging and complex relationships in memorable and agile language. Here is a poet of the world and not of the ivory tower. Fiercely intelligent; a remarkable debut.”
– Penelope Shuttle
An Unofficial History
It must have been at night and no doubt they kept
the light on because each of them liked to watch
whatever they were touching and desired moreover
to be seen. And what a night it was, of steam and invocation,
mutters, cries and wishes, miraculous lust, irrevocable
human error. Sometimes the most unlikely combinations
can produce a tangible result. Strange to think that just
the common heave and thrust, the usual universal ecstasy
could be their marriage glue, transcend, over years, such rank
incompatibility. As unofficial chronicler of that night, I believe
there must have been a mutual outrageous climax, that
it was a pivotal experience imbued with unexpected
gravitas, as was the bracing follow-up, that twitching race
of the ridiculous, those nearly-beings making for one huge
stranded cell ripe for the breaching, programmed
for a kind of mad union, that two half-lives might be salvaged
to make a whole. I can’t say I was there precisely but I swear
my floating soul was witness to this chance, the sweetest, gravest
and most typical of mistakes and that this story was laid down
in my bones, because I was waiting, willing to be conjured.
The Striking Hour
I’m the girl in black with gravitas who rocks
with the pendulum, the one who won’t forgive,
the diva who lives and re-lives the drama
of the tick and toll, bruised in the places
where I trip and trip again, running for trains.
Maybe that’s why I break so many watches:
I overwork the cogs of memory, wind and rewind,
tune in, tune out of eras till the springs give way.
Though it makes me sick, I travel backwards
too often, stopping at those pinch-points:
what if, if only, where nothing can change.
But sometimes, I see myself humming
on some bright platform, beside a pyramid
of broken clocks. I sychronise my selves
call them to heel all dressed in lipstick, feathers
of unnatural pink, outrageous tights. I smash
a few plates, kiss somebody, anybody, slur
my sorries into the mic. Make up for lost time.
The Pick-up
This is the girl
the front seat tramp
with the haversack
and the long cigarette
and the Spanish guitar
and the bong that she smoked
at your side in the car
who spread her legs
on the burning bed
and gave you her heat.
This is the girl
with the sky tattooed
on the soles of her feet
who sat in your truck
full of sugar and salt
the hard-boned bitch
who flicked your switch
at the edge of a cliff
the girl who felt
the bite of your belt
who cut herself free
with a silver knife
and jumped from the bridge.
This is the girl
with brine for eyes
with floating limbs
and a voice unhinged
who festers and sighs
who gurgles and sings
who laughs at your lies
in her bloated disguise
your trouble and strife
with the golden ring
whose scent still clings
to the skin of your life.
Seventeen and all that Shit
You wore ugly like seventies corridors wore their skin
of anaglypta. Your ugly wink flickered like the vacant signs
that beckoned from motorways; twitched in dayglo mirrors
in hotel lifts. You fasted ugly round your neck in strands
like fake pearls, took it naked to bed with third rate
touring drummers, taxi drivers, men with diaries and wives;
you flaunted ugly like cheap knickers retrieved on many
pinked-up mornings, sun rising like a boil. You let your ugly
seep into these envelopes of photographs carried home
from chemists, and you turned your head away.
But now you stare, blinded, at these clean sheets
of negatives, backlit with hindsight. There was no ugly;
only youth with its tilted longings, and those myths
written in lipstick on the mirror, the ones you took for truth.
from The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions
(flipped eye publishing, 2011).
Pre-order The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions here and here.
The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions will be available from
flipped eye’s online bookstore from 7 July.
Visit flipped eye publishing’s website.
Visit Jacqui’s website.
Midsummer launch details

Date: Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Time: 19h00
Venue: Woolfson & Tay, 12 Bermondsey Square, London SE1 3UN
Tel: 0207 407 9316

Wine and canapes.
Live music from Fiona Bevan and short, sweet star turns from
Nii Parkes, Alison White  and Jacqui.
Please RSVP to

Simon Barraclough on poetry and planets

How has the process of writing and arranging the poems in Neptune Blue compared to that of Los Alamos Mon Amour?
It’s been very different for several reasons. Los Alamos was a debut and took about seven years to come together, to reach that instinctive ‘critical mass’ at which point a book starts to ‘feel’ like a book rather than a growing collection of poems on your hard drive or in a box file or wherever.
Neptune Blue took just under three years. Also, I didn’t know the poems in Los Alamos would be published in book form and I didn’t know that book would be called Los Alamos Mon Amour or have the cover it eventually had. With Neptune Blue I was a little more certain that the book would exist and the title came about eight months ago, as did the cover. I’d say the final 15 poems I wrote for the book were written after I had a title, a cover and an agreement to publish.
Also, while Los Alamos has a sequence of five St. Paul’s sonnets and some overlapping themes, Neptune Blue has two longer cohesive sequences that form a kind of helix, or ‘twin backbone’, which made it easier to arrange. The sequences are the nine planet poems that sit side by side and the 11 ‘_________ Heart’ poems, which are distributed among the other more ‘standalone’ poems.
Did you begin writing the heart poems with the idea of creating a sequence?
Not at all. The first poem was ‘Starfish Heart’, which came directly from a dream and was written down within ten minutes of waking. I dreamt that my heart was a starfish and I could feel its light rubbery limbs tickling over and between my ribs. It was quite a startling, very physical, dream and I didn’t even think about whether it would serve as a poem, I just wrote it down.
A few days later I was reading at an event celebrating food and thought it would be nice to take along something new and I thought maybe this short ‘Starfish Heart’ poem would be a good model. I’m a bit obsessed with pizza, so I worked on the title ‘Pizza Heart’ and then ‘Celeriac Heart’. I chose the latter as, like the human heart, celeriac can be an odd, puzzling thing: ugly beautiful and in need of care and attention.
So then I had three short poems with ‘Heart’ in the title and they were going down well at readings and I thought maybe I should add more. I was going to pick random nouns from the dictionary but in the end the defining nouns chose themselves over the next few months. They were very enjoyable poems to write and in fact I’ve written more since the book’s deadline passed.
Tell me about the planet sequence.
That’s a wide open question. Let me see … My interest in the solar system and all things astronomical goes way back into my childhood. I don’t know what triggered it. Maybe a glimpse of the beauty of Saturn on the BBC’s The Sky at Night or the overwhelming vastness of the Milky Way as scrutinised, on my back, lying in the unlit field in front of my childhood home?
But there was something else as well: Holst’s The Planets. My father was a composer and the house was full of music and on Saturday nights, when my parents went out and my big sister and I had the run of the house, we used to play ‘Mars’ and ‘Jupiter’ at full pelt and perform silly little ballets to them. I’ve always thought what a fantastic, coherent project Holst’s was and sometime last year I realised there was nothing stopping me from writing my own planet suite.
I’d already written a poem for the new book called ‘We’ll Always Have CGI Paris’, which begins just outside the galaxy and zooms past our ‘local planets’, so it felt natural to go back and take another look at our neighbours, including the recently demoted Pluto. The first poem I wrote was ‘Jupiter’ and I wanted the poem about the largest planet to be the smallest in the sequence. So I was off to a relatively playful start and I just filled the rest of them in over the following nine months or so. The second poem I finished was ‘Pluto’, which is a one-word poem but, I hope, meaningful and a shade tragic. So this is really the shortest poem in the sequence, not ‘Jupiter’. But is it even a poem? And is Pluto a planet?
Since the Seventies we’ve gone so far and learned so much more thanks to things like the Hubble telescope, which can see 13 billion years back into time and space, and amazing techniques like helioseismology. In an odd way our local planets feel almost quaint now, even though we’re still learning new and important things about them. For that reason I wanted to linger on them a while, get up close, treat them with affection and a little mischief.
I tried to pitch the poems somewhere between fact and fantasy; between the anthropomorphised and the inanimate; the comical and the poignant. I wrote ‘Earth’ last and I was surprised at how tender I felt towards this old muck ball and how much more difficult it was to write because we know so much about it compared to a planet like Neptune. Write what you know? Sometimes that’s the hardest thing of all.
“We gorge on your gorgeousness/ but there’s icy music buried/ in your spiralling grooves.” You’ve dedicated ‘Saturn’ to Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous who took his own life last year…
Mark Linkous was a musician whose work I’ve always loved (I swear I was in love with Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot when it first came out and listened to little else for about a year) and I was very upset when I heard he’d taken his own life. It was the grief a fan feels, nothing like the pain a friend or family member goes through, but it affected me more than such tragic things usually do.

I wanted to write some kind of tribute to him but couldn’t find the ignition key. I was tinkering with my ‘Saturn’ poem when I came across a lyric of his from ‘Sea of Teeth’ that goes: “Can you feel the rings/ of Saturn on your fingers?” and I realised I could make the Saturn poem the one. And it felt right. So I sent an old bakelite spacecraft to the rings to drop a stylus onto them and listen to Mark’s songs out there, circling forever.
The fact that Holst’s ‘Saturn’ is subtitled ‘The Bringer of Old Age’ and Mark left us at 47 is a painful irony. But the music, for me, and I’m sure many others, is timeless. 
Aside from providing a means of exploring themes that might otherwise be too multi-faceted to consider in single poems, how do you think sequences can contribute to the sense of continuity and cohesion in a collection?
A sequence is a juicy bone for the dog of your mind. You can take it into the yard, trap it between your paws and gnaw on it. You can bury it for a while and dig it up to see if it’s still worth a chew and when you’ve nibbled all the meat from it you’re ready to hunt for new quarry.
I never intend to write sequences but they suggest themselves sometimes and it’s interesting to follow them to see where they take you.
In terms of making a book feel more cohesive, yes, I think that effect is inevitable. I don’t think they’re essential but they can keep a collection from feeling like a bolt of material which, at a certain point, you’ve decided is long enough and have guillotined off. A sequence gives you a little extra something to hang on to, almost like a guided tour through a large exhibition.
Neptune Blue has two sequences. This may be something to do with Brecht’s line from Baal: “Vices have their use once you see it as such, stick to two for one will be too much.”
Then again, there are things going on with dogs and birds too … Maybe a book is just a larger sequence; one’s entire output ends up being a sequence of sorts I suppose.
There’s an international flavour to the collection. ‘The Dogs of Trieste’, ‘Due Cinghiali’, ‘St. Francis of the Boston Hilton’, ‘SoBe It’, ‘The Dogs of Sri Lanka’, ‘Mr. English at Home’ and ‘The Remote Island of Schalansky’ are some of the poems set in foreign locales. In what ways do travelling and exploring different cultures nourish your imagination and writing?
All poets are continually on the lookout for ideas, stimuli, strong impressions, connections and spurs to writing. You do this at home and away, so it’s natural that if you travel at all you will end up with some poems taken from those experiences. At the same time I also think it’s important not to travel with the thought, ‘This place will lead to some good poems’. You don’t want to force anything or go anywhere predisposed to writing about some amazing feature you’ve heard or read about already. You need to let the place take you by surprise.
In terms of exploring different cultures, I’m sure I do no more than skim the surface when I travel, so I don’t know how nourishing it’s been in that respect. Oddly enough, the foreign place I travel to most often and know best of all is Rome and I don’t think I’ve written a word about it yet. Maybe I love it too much to subject it to one of my poems. Although I’ve had the title ‘The Dogs of Circus Maximus’ in my thoughts for a while now.
Most of the ‘travel’ poems I’ve written come years after the event. I spent a month or so in Sri Lanka in 2003 and it took about seven years before I wrote anything about it. And the Miami poem took 11 years to see the light of day and was prompted less by memories of the trip than the notes I scrawled inside the dust jacket of Glamorama, which I was reading at the time.
I do remember as a teenager I was very impressed by the exotic place names beneath so many of D.H. Lawrence’s poems. I still want to see Taormina.
A number of commissioned poems appear in Neptune Blue. How do you approach a commission?
There are many things I like about commissions: a new subject is dropped into your lap; you get a guaranteed reading or publication; you get to work with interesting people; and you often get paid!
But the thing I really like about a commissioned poem is the curious way it is both indisputably your own but at the same time it wouldn’t exist if the cuckoo commission hadn’t smuggled it into your nest to hatch and feed. They’re like foundlings for whom you’ve kept a room and a crib spare on the off chance. They’re both random and inevitable somehow.
In terms of approaching the writing of a commission, I’m not sure if I do so in the same manner each time but it’s generally a process of allowing the imagination or the unconscious to start doing some groundwork. Maybe there’s some research to be done, some viewing, some reading of other poems on similar themes. Always on the alert for that trigger idea or image that lets you know it’s possible.
Some are easier than others, of course, and it’s often the ones you think will be relatively easy that prove the most stubborn. I’ve already written about the first atom bomb test and I’m interested in the history of nuclear science, so a poem about the double survivor of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should not have been quite as difficult as it turned out to be.
I only had a few days to write it but it was far trickier than I’d expected. This is partly due to the weightiness of the issues involved and my desire to treat Tsutomu Yamaguchi with the respect he deserved.
In the end I drew on my knowledge of the Manhattan Project and its key players and mixed in a little of John Adams’s opera Doctor Atomic with its stunning setting of Donne’s ‘Holy Sonnet XIV’ (‘Batter my heart, three-person’d God’). But the poem really grew from the phrase, “the luckiest of luckless men” and the image of the skin togas, of citizens, city dwellers reduced to this hapless state.
The poem originally had a different ending, which wasn’t working, so I told the producer at Radio 3 that I didn’t want to air the poem as it didn’t do the subject justice. They understood but suggested that all I did was lop off that finale. I did and suddenly it seemed to work. Another case of trimming to improve.
A commission like ‘Incorrigibly Plural’ was just terrific fun to write, once I realised there was comedy to be had in privatising snowfall and inventing ridiculous franchise names for clouds.
Do you enjoy exploring different forms?
Years ago I used to practice form for the sake of experience and to test myself. It’s good to become familiar with rules and restrictions and to submit your urge to express to the pressures of formal rules. I enjoy sonnets, there’s a villanelle in Bonjour Tetris and some formal quatrains, rhyming couplets here and there in the new book too.
These days I think I work more instinctively. I let formal patterning season a poem if I feel the music or the narrative or the accumulating sounds respond to it. Neptune Blue contains my first and so far only prose poem: ‘The Remote Island of Schalansky’. I chose the form as I wanted to be free of line breaks entirely for one poem and to concentrate on the internal patterns needed to lift it from being merely prose to something approaching poetry.
I’m no expert on the form but I’d like to explore it more. It suited the homage to Judith Schalansky’s wonderful prose work Atlas of Remote Islands as it mirrors her style and form to some degree. I love reading about the intricacies and rigours of forms though but these days I allow myself to play with them a little more loosely.
In his Paris Review interview with Clive Wilmer, Thom Gunn said: “Sometimes when I haven’t written in some time, I really decide I’m going to work toward getting the requisite fever, and this would involve, oh, reading a few favorite poets intensively: Hardy, for example, John Donne, Herbert, Basil Bunting—any one of a number of my favorites. I try to get their tunes going in my head so I get a tune of my own.” Which poets would you read?
That’s a great question. I have poetry books all over the place and pick them up at random to read one or two as I’m moving about. Most recently I’ve been dipping into a collected Auden, Chris McCabe’s The Hutton Inquiry, and some Valerio Magrelli.
In terms of reading certain poets to ‘get the requisite fever’, I often dive back into Berryman’s The Dream Songs and I never like to be too far away from a collected Edwin Morgan. I think it was Morgan’s brilliant and frequent sequences that convinced me I should develop mine for this book.
When I was writing ‘Being a Woman You Will’, I had a mass of ideas but no form or structure and I felt that reading some James Dickey (which I hadn’t done for years) would help, and it did. I needed something with a light narrative pulse, a whiff of Americana and a kind of steeliness. I think he helped me find that.
There are so many, it’s hard to know when to stop. Clampitt for her serene, luscious playground of vocabulary; Ashbery to ward away too much neat, contained lyricism; and the background radiation in my head is always full of Shakespeare, Beckett, Milton and countless others. I’ve also just realised that there’s a touch of Rebecca Elson in the planet poems too. And I haven’t read her in years. But some voices go in and just … stick.
I’d love to hear about Psycho Poetica and your ideas for the next project.
Psycho Poetica is a poetic recreation (or ‘faithful distortion’ as I like to call it) of Hitchcock’s classic thriller, written and performed by 12 poets accompanied by a rather unconventional string quartet (one violin and three cellos). I gave each poet a slice of the film to write a new poem about and Oli Barrett of Bleeding Heart Narrative and Petrels composed the music, which pays deft homage to Bernard Herrmann’s original score. The piece is performed in sequence without titles or introductions to the poems and each poem has its own mini score. It’s quite an intense experience.
I’ve always loved Hitchcock and Los Alamos actually contains a short poem called ‘Psycho’ but the 50th anniversary of the film’s release gave me the impetus to mount something more ambitious and collaborative. We performed the piece at the British Film Institute, the Whitechapel Gallery, the Latitude Festival and the Royal Festival Hall. We have another performance coming up at Stanza in 2012 as well, although it will be a ‘light’ version featuring only three readers and pre-recorded music.
I’m now working with Isobel Dixon and Chris McCabe, who both took part in Psycho Poetica, to develop a multi-media show commemorating the centenary of the loss of the Titanic in April 2012. The hour-long show will feature poetry, live music and film and we hope we’ll be able to take it to several key venues and cities with links to the construction and loss of the ship.
Read four poems from Neptune Blue
Pre-order Neptune Blue here, here or here.
Visit Simon’s website.

Simon Barraclough’s Neptune Blue

Simon Barraclough was born in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, but has lived in London since 1996. He won the poetry section of the London Writers’ Prize in 2000 and his debut, Los Alamos Mon Amour (Salt Publishing) was a finalist for the Best First Collection in the Forward Poetry Prizes 2008. In 2010 he published a boxed ‘mini-book’ of commissioned poems, Bonjour Tetris (Penned in the Margins). His work appears in the anthologies Identity Parade (Bloodaxe, 2010) and Poems for Love (Penguin, 2009). In 2010 he devised Psycho Poetica, a collaborative celebration of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which was performed at the BFI, The Whitechapel Gallery, Latitude Festival and the Royal Festival Hall.

“Simon Barraclough dazzles with his luscious iconography, his intriguing observations, obsessions and predilections. These poems are complex, acrobatic, inventive, intelligent, exuberant, funny, tender and … bloody marvellous.”
– Annie Freud
“I read it as though I’m reading a phrase book from a new country called Barraclough, a country we should all discover. An excellent book.”
– Ian McMillan
We’ll Always Have CGI Paris
Open on the galaxy, dolly zoom
through Doppler shifting stars, leave the local planets
in our wake, brush off the moon
and rummage through the clouds to find
the crouching continent where Paris piggybacks.
Pinpoint the pyramid, dogleg along the Seine
until the camera starts to weave between the struts
of youknowwhat and youknowwhere
to finish on us kissing in the festive, fireworky air.
But we were never there. My sitcom kept me
in LA, your slasher movie debut
saw you junketing in hotel rooms out east.
We shot green screen on different days: my face
a balloon taped to a broom, your waist a tailor’s dummy;
our foggy breath was lifted from Titanic;
the cutaways to clasping hands were cut in
from a jewellery ad as all of Paris waited
to be pixellated, cut and pasted.
But we’ll always have Paris,
although our eye lines never matched
and everything we tried to hold onto
our phantom fingers passed clean through.
Solar system’s undisputed supermodel,
moon-mad, sixty satellites and counting,
Saturnine werewolves howling for a night off.
Snapped from every angle
by NASA’s paparazzi,
it’s well you have no flaws for the gawpers.
We gorge on your gorgeousnes
but there’s icy music buried
in your spiralling grooves.
They sent a crew in a Bakelite spaceship,
the Anglo-Russian Dansette Conquest,
to lower a stylus onto your discs
and ever since they’ve been gliding
towards your spindle, listening
to ‘Cruel Sun’, ‘Box of Stars’, ‘Chaos of the Galaxy’.
          i.m. Mark Linkous 
Pizza Heart
Squat ellipsoid of dough.
Yeasty, pummelled, elastic.
You knuckle into it,
it takes the dimpled kneading
of your need,
you twirl it thin and wide, ridiculous dervish.
Into the fire with it.
          Et ellu é bellu e radiante cun grande splendore
St. Francis of Assisi, Cantico delle Creature
I heard of one who thought himself too much i’the Sun.
I had to laugh. And blast a billion lethal particles
across your path. You say you want your place in the Sun,
so be it, but know that I am Heaven and Hell in one,
your saintly haloes and your branding tongs,
an inquisition which no atom can resist,
a thirteen million Kelvin kiss. I must admit
I’m one that loved not wisely but too well.
Consider my poor off sprung offspring;
there’s one that’s just been taken into care;
two cold and gassy monsters so remote they never think
of picking up the phone or sending me a probe;
a starlet sucking up my limelight, barring me from all her shows;
a bully bending comets on his knee and tossing them my way;
a red-faced tin pot despot sulking in his rot;
a hellish vixen boiling off each residue of love;
an iron bullet—kryptonite to any star—poised above my heart.
But here she comes: my one success, the fertile fluke,
dreaming in her just-right, just-so, bed,
her arm thrown back across her brow.
I mustn’t get too close. I mustn’t be so ardent.
I’ll learn to keep my distance, for now.
from Neptune Blue (Salt Publishing, 2011).
Pre-order Neptune Blue here, here or here.
Visit Simon’s website.

Katy Evans-Bush’s Egg Printing Explained

Katy Evans-Bush is the author of Me and the Dead (Salt Publishing, 2008), Oscar & Henry (Rack Press, 2010) and Egg Printing Explained (out today from Salt). She also writes the blog Baroque in Hackney, edits Salt’s online magazine, Horizon Review, and is a tutor for the Poetry School.

In a world where everything has more possible explanations than ever before, where no experience seems real unless it is refracted, this book examines love, loss, and time itself under a variety of lenses: these poems are made from other poems, from paintings, from songs, from spam emails, snapshots, jokes, dreams. We are the experts on our own existence, but what does it all mean?
Katy Evans-Bush has been praised for situating poetry in the heart of daily life, and her second collection is written in deep engagement with the sounds and colours of real and imaginative worlds. The French writer Nerval’s pet lobster takes us on a vibrant summer’s outing in nineteenth century Paris. Two playwrights in two centuries ponder happily on their unseen downfalls. A child dithers on a hot day, and a lover resorts to pure tactile expression at the moment it means the most.
A sharply-lit American childhood is seen as if through a telescope, from amid the mists of London and its layered lives. Ordinary objects act of their own accord; art speaks to us more than the person standing beside us; and the core of love remains the same while everything around it shapeshifts. One thing is certain, though: an egg is never just an egg.
Egg Printing Explained is an immediately likeable, lively and readable collection. The poems crackle with invention. The book is a dance of language: dramatic, comic and exuberant. What is especially dazzling is the cavalcade of forms and registers. The poems shift in mood and music from plain song to baroque, from chant to rock, from blues to opera. Her phrases surprise and delight and no reader will ever forget the exhilarating and brilliantly sustained ‘The Love Ditty of an ‘eartsick Pirate’. This is a sharply-written book from one of our sharpest wits. But it is also one of the most generous and melodic books of contemporary poetry I’ve read in some time.”
– David Morley
The Fabiola
Francis Alÿs, National Portrait Gallery
The day she has bitten her nails she goes to the Fabiola.
She is distracted and not inclined to look at pictures.
But imagine! When she arrives. A city in a room,
a whole city of similar sainted matrons,
all but a few faced in the same direction.
The same the same the same the same the same —
but with those minute variations,
such as being different, that get your attention.
Happy Fabiolas gaze doll-like all around: some luminous
in oils that sing like the dark that shines
through trees, conferring
a numinous seriousness. Stern, frowning
Fabiolas may be only confused, knitting their brows
in a variety of clumsy media.
About a dozen really are in stitches.
Fabiola is young and beautiful, or pretty or plain.
Seen from her good side, her eye
looks straight ahead into the future,
or down, or if poorly painted then nowhere:
a proper old-fashioned saintly gaze, or else
a bit cross. But then who wouldn’t be cross. O Fabiola,
whose headscarf is red, except for where it is green,
she whispered secretly among the scented patrons,
read to me the deepdown vertical
that folds like a waterfall down the side of your veil,
implacable as a wall, with the knack for shadow.
Beside, in front of, above, behind each other,
but anyway together, they face the future,
or was it the past? Where one is in reverse
she looks to another who faces her, and asks
the question. (Oh, do not ask what is it.) Look:
the fabulous Fabiolas in their red riot are minutely
different different different different different.
She speaks, but silently. Listen to the veil.
Observe like a ritual the careful dab of white
on her pupil. You see what she
would do. Not one,
not one Fabiola must be forgotten.
from Hammershøi
Portrait of Ida
Attentive and green, she sits alone,
wife of the painter,
daughter of the blue and the rose:
their ghosts. She immerses her spoon
and stirs her coffee, watching
her husband, the painter, paint her. Her cup
gives a glow with its pink palette.
Interior, With Coffeepot

The other chair is pushed away
as if the artist had been sitting on it;
a coffee pot hovers on the table.
There is a woman there, and one cup.
‘Not only is the artist,’ he says, ‘a child.’
‘He is an only child.’ His wife sits by herself.
He sits by himself. They are joined together
by the two ends of the brush.
On a Note by Louise Bourgeois

My memories are moth-eaten.
My memories are things I remember.
Things I remember are half-eaten.
My memories are the things I don’t remember.
The moths are full of my memories.
My memories are my mind.
The moths have eaten my mind.
My memories clothe the stomachs of the moths;
The moths’ wings are decorated with my memories.
My memories are infinitesimal tapestries:
My memories are the sails on which the moths fly.
My memories billow and stretch.
My memories are muscular against the wind.
My memories are of a green luna moth on the doorframe,
My memories sit like moths in a green doorframe.
Melodies of moths like butterflies all summer:
I remember the moths like butter, flying all summer.
My recollections are quiet as Melmoth in a brown garden.
Do you mind the moths like memories in the summer?
My memories are browbeaten as a moth garden.
I mind the moths, like mother flies they shimmered.
My memories are mouths. Mined.
My mammaries are lost in the
Mastery is my myth.
More enemies: clutter, Eden mirth.
My mystery is a moth.
Mrs Mary Morrie is a stitch in nine.
More mummeries than ever are mostly mime.
More trappists than moths have recently dined.
Monsters are loosened easily with sophistry.
I must get the sofa covers cleaned this summer.
My butterbeans are beaten oh travesty.
from Egg Printing Explained (Salt, 2011).
Order Egg Printing Explained.
Visit Katy’s website.
Visit Katy’s blog, Baroque in Hackney.
Launch with Tamar Yoseloff’s The City with Horns
Date: Thursday, 2 June 2011
Time: 18h30 – 20h30

Venue: Purdy Hicks Gallery, 65 Hopton Street, London SE1 9GZ