Tag Archives: poetry books

Ross Sutherland’s Things To Do Before You Leave Town

 
Ross Sutherland was born in Edinburgh in 1979. He was included in The Times’s list of Top Ten Literary Stars of 2008. His debut poetry collection, Things To Do Before You Leave Town (Penned in the Margins), was published in January this year. Ross is also a member of the poetry collective Aisle16 with whom he runs Homework, an evening of literary miscellany in East London. His one-man poetry/comedy show, The Three Stigmata of Pacman, debuts at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington in January 2010. Visit Ross’s website.
 

Ross Sutherland

    
 
Critical praise for my last relationship
Ross Sutherland
   
At first glance, our faces appeared little more
than frayed notes, hinting at a distant mood.
Yet, on reflection, there was something compelling in that fraying:
My beard was loaded with the channeled pressure of something
                                                       being said.
Her eyes were not one thought, but two.
   
If you kept your nerve and stuck with us
You would have found that each day we spent together
had a distinct tone and shape.
Our subject range was impressive:
A man regresses himself through his previously owned automobiles,
A snow crystal grows synthetically on a petri dish,
Ovid laments his exile from Rome.
   
In winter, we underwent an odd shift of register.
Humour masked an aposiopesis. I trailed off into northern slang.
My invocation of a lost England was haunting in its fragility,
A place Frank Ormsby at the Belfast Telegraph described as
                                                      ‘a world of cries’.
  
She was as personal as Emily Dickinson.
I was as striking.
We were happy spanning joy and death together.
Cutting out every word we dared,
then walking out upon empty streets,
heat rising up into the negative space above us.
  
There were occasional poor lines,
but they were made noticeable by their rarity.
A meditation on the exchange of Christmas gifts
whilst well written,
felt too much like a generic picture of despair.
  
   
 
Published in Things To Do Before You Leave Town
(Penned in the Margins, 2009).
  
Buy Things To Do Before You Leave Town.
  
Check out a new animation based on another of Ross’s poems from Things To Do Before You Leave Town.

Sophie Mayer’s Her Various Scalpels

Sophie Mayer

Sophie Mayer by Lady Vervaine

      
Sophie Mayer writes passionately and politically about poetry and film anywhere and everywhere she can, including Horizon Review, Esprit de Corps, Blackbox Manifold, Sight & Sound, Little White Lies and Artesian. She blogs about reading as Delirium’s Librarian, and is a regular contributor to the review blog for Chroma journal, where she is commissioning editor. Her Various Scalpels (Shearsman, 2009), her first solo poetry collection, was the auspicious start to a very exciting three-book year, followed by The Cinema of Sally Potter: A Politics of Love (Wallflower, 2009)and (as co-editor) There She Goes: Feminist Filmmaking and Beyond (Wayne State University Press, 2009). Her next collection, The Private Parts of Girls, will be published by Salt in 2011, and she has future plans for encounters between poetry and film. Visit Sophie’s website.
   
   
Rearranging the Stars
Sophie Mayer
  
after Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient
  
Lost you. Out here, where a call to prayer shivers
stone into song, where night falls like knives,
  
there’s a trick to the sky, how you see it, smell
what’s coming. It is like reading. It’s so small
  
at first, and granular, then overwhelms: eyes,
mouth, hands, hair. You cannot possibly sleep.
  
But you do, lulled by wind and waking. Stories –
his stories, more stories than there could be stars –
   
breathe around you with their shine, draw hearts
on dirty glass. You know what they find in deserts:
   
fragments. Texts under sand winds, brilliant disasters.
And you, in secret, on fire with new constellations.
   
   
Previously published in Staple 71: The Art Issue (Summer 2009).
  
  
Her Various Scalpels

  
pieuvres / lèvres (lilies / lips)
Sophie Mayer
  
Did I realise then that I would spend my whole life
with their lipstick on my face. Other girls and their kisses
 
goodbye. I know that now, having watched soft asses
walk away from me, having been paid my tithe
 
for watchful quiet. For the flattery of desire. Ingrown
hair, that’s what it’s like: turning against the razor
 
blade and on itself. Like my toes, curled mazily
through each other with waiting, waiting that flows
 
up my calves and out my mouth. A shower in reverse:
a fountain, inwards out: And what was in her,
 
I felt that too. All her hardness in my fingers
rattling her stem. All those flower words, perverse
 
euphemisms for a force like an ocean
in a swimming pool. Did she not see
 
what poured out of (her into) me? Salt of her sea,
stick of her sap. And it’s not the explosion
 
that I’m talking about, her wet cunt a concrete
underpass around my hand. It’s the light that thrums
 
from her lily-mouth, her pollinated tongue
extended like a stamen. Like a beesting hot-sweet
 
under the skin, a tear oozing from an eye. An ingrown
hair turning outwards against skin tough as petals
 
under drops of rain. The pain of it like cold metal,
like waiting. The stem of spit plunges down
 
and you wonder that such softness does such hurt.
No softness in the doing: spit’s active as a limb,
  
a cock, a race, a city street. It dances itself thin.
The stem of things. Wet birth. My first.
 
 
Buy Her Various Scalpels (Shearsman, 2009) here.

Janet Sutherland’s Hangman’s Acre

    
   
Janet Sutherland was raised on a dairy farm in Wiltshire, lived twenty years in London and now lives in Lewes. Her second collection, Hangman’s Acre (Shearsman Books, 2009), is to be published on 15 October 2009. Of her first collection, Burning the Heartwood (Shearsman Books, 2006), reviewed in Poetry Review, Judith Kazantzis said the “poems are questioning, tender, guarded”. Her work has appeared in many magazines including Poetry Review and Poetry Wales and in anthologies including The Virago Book of Love Poetry and The New British Poetry 1968-88. She has read widely including at venues in Brighton, London and at the Ledbury Poetry Festival. Read more about Janet and Hangman’s Acre on her Shearsman author page  and website.
    
  
    
Assemblage des Beautés
  
Bone monkey has set up shop in the airing cupboard.
It’s warm in there. Silverfish take refuge in his skull
and slide around his ribs. Worn sheets have ruched between
his bones like the petals of old roses – Assemblage des Beautés
for instance – so cherry red and full it almost seems
there is blood again and a heart beating like crazy.
  
  
Previously published in Poetry Review (Volume 99:2 Summer 2009).
  
  
 
Nearer
  
rain is falling under sodium lights
the municipal toilet roof is bathed in gold
up station street the tarmac shines and little rivers
writhe and coil along the roadside gutters
 
it’s late     the traffic light in broken pieces
scatters across the deserted lane
in amber, red, red and amber, green
in all the houses darkness slowly deepens
  
in this town on a night like this     my heart
glitters     each footfall takes me nearer
to your bed   and to the dark where I will
lie with you this little time     I thought
  
it could not be like this   but I was wrong
walking on light and water     coming home
  
  
Published in Hangman’s Acre (Shearsman Books, 2009).
  
  
 
Bath launch of Carrie Etter’s pamphlet and Janet Sutherland’s second book
  
Monday 26 October, 6.30pm, Carrie Etter and Janet Sutherland launch new collections at Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, 14 – 15 John Street, Bath, BA1 2JL. Phone: 01225331155. Email: books@mrbsemporium.com.
 
Shearsman Books December 2009 Reading
 
Tuesday 1 December 2009, 7.30pm, Alan Wearne and Janet Sutherland at Swedenborg Hall, Swedenborg House, 20/21 Bloomsbury Way (entry on Barter Street), London, WC1A 2TH. Email: editor@shearsman.com.

An interview with Tom Chivers

  
     
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.

Siriol Troup’s Beneath the Rime

  
 
The Final Stretch
    
Having used dogs to haul their sledges over the pack ice towards the North Pole, Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen finally reached open water on August 6th 1895, with only two dogs left.
    
Lift your head from the snow, Kaifas,
this is the final stretch. One hundred
and forty-six days, over six hundred
miles on the ice. Tomorrow
at the glacier’s edge there will be open
water and the plash of little waves
against canvas. The sledges will fall
silent, the kayaks will dance like Samoyeds.
   
Bear blood on the wind, a wounded
bear-cub lowing in the distance, no cartridge
to spare for his pain. His wails track us
across the floe, a bitter requiem
for the fresh meat in our gut. Do you
remember, Kaifas, how this journey
began? The market at Berezov,
the stink of reindeer skins and brandy,
   
the Ostiaks in their reincalf caps
bartering for dogs? How far we have come
since then, following the twisted line
of lichen across the Urals
to the frozen lanes of this white world.
Forty we were at the beginning,
beautiful dogs, thick coats, pricked ears, bright
eyes, ready for anything. Now we are two,
   
Kaifas and Suggen, high-priest and thug,
waiting under the dark water-sky
while our masters wave their hats and celebrate
with chocolate. So many deaths, and I
have watched them all: the ones I barely knew
who strangled on their ropes; my brother
Gammelen taken by a bear; poor Job, poor
Fox, torn into pieces by the other dogs,
    
Livjaegeren felled by Johansen’s spear,
his skinned flesh thrown to us for supper;
Katta, Kvik, Baro, Klapperslangen,
Potifar … I have sat by their corpses
and waited for their souls to fly up
from this hostile land towards the forests
of Siberia where the earth is soft
and wolves howl louder than the Arctic wind.
    
Now we have served our purpose. See, Kaifas,
how the sky fills with birds – little auks,
skuas, kittiwakes, fulmars, ivory gulls,
terns tacking through the mist like prayers.
Bear-breath puckers the snow-drifts, the air
is brackish with seal-fume. We face
each other’s masters, they cannot face
their own. Two shots – two easy deaths –
   
but who will watch our corpses on this last
sheet of floating ice while they set off
in their swift kayaks, paddling towards the land?
   
   
 
Wall
   
All evening there were rumblings: my father
sweating in black tie, my mother snared
in a cocktail frock that swished like a fan.
Even the garden ants were playing up,
pouring from cracks in the lawn
with rustling wings pinned to their metal backs.
  
I put on my new petticoat and climbed
over our fence into the wood. A bristling
of needles, the chill of pine; arrows carved
in the bark, leaking a sour grey sap.
I knew I must follow the signs or be bundled
into the oven, eaten by witches, trapped
  
forever in the fairy-tale. But it was hard to keep
my head while night-owls thrummed like tanks
and waves of thunder boomed through the dark
like guns. My feet were numb, my hem was ripped,
the bread behind me on the path blew away
where it fell, a gust of silver crumbs.
  
We woke next day to road blocks and barbed wire,
a twitching of commentators and politicians.
No one had planned to build a wall, they said,
though it was obvious to any child
that wolves had turned at dawn into Alsatians,
masking their snarls and growls with doggy smiles.
  
  
  
Published in Beneath the Rime (Shearsman Books, 2009).
     
Read more about Siriol and Beneath the Rime here.
   
Order Beneath the Rime.
   
Read ‘Willow Pattern’ at Carrie Etter’s blog.
  
Read ‘Flint, Rime, Paint: An Interview with Siriol Troup’ at
Andrew Philip’s blog, Tonguefire.
   
Read more of Siriol’s poems at poetry pf and The Poem.

Claire Crowther’s The Clockwork Gift

   
    
Abuelita
   
Praise to the grandmother high on a balcony.
Its wearied fencing shuts space into miles.
She scrubs a coconut shell.
Pours dirty water over a herb pot.
Dust from black deposits under her feet blow
towards a terracotta emperor astride
a vent rattling out hot air.
She varnishes her hundredth soap dish
while seven floors below, white van roofs
lie like water lilies and glittering gems
of cars are packed with crystalline couples.
 
I praise the turret she hangs on.
Gardenless, it humbles the low villas,
the opal-crusted scarab beetles on wheels.
  
  
 
Outside the Beauty School
   
Twilight Hour for Senior Customers.
The trees turn, in a May
that pulls their branches gently inside out,
and paints charcoal bark with green polish.
 
While trees think they’re not trunk-stopped
on one spot, it is as good a season as any
for wings to pulse, swollen reddish-pink;
for a heart to rise to it, float up and beat in the wind.
  
  
 
Published in The Clockwork Gift (Shearsman Books, 2009).
  
Read more about Claire and The Clockwork Gift here.
   
Order The Clockwork Gift.
   
Visit Claire’s website.
   
Read ‘Petra Genetrix’ on Carrie Etter’s blog.
   
Read Rob A. Mackenzie’s review at Surroundings.
   
Read Sophie Mayer’s review at Delirium’s Library.

Liz Gallagher’s The Wrong Miracle

 
   
Spring the Life Fandango
Liz Gallagher
 
I want something and there are twinges in my heart.
My heart twinges so badly that I fear the act of dropping
 
down dead before I get what I want. How is that for
momentum or for a god that has the sauciest way of telling
 
me that I have pushed the boat out too far, I have let
the boat land with a splash and a hoot and I am left in mid
 
ocean without a paddle – the paddle they had warned me
about, the paddle that takes on a life of its own and even beats
  
me over the head in my dreams to make me wake
up in the middle of the night with a bunch of hair stuck in my
  
mouth and my cat licking the back of my hand, frantically
reaching a high meter of lickability that says the big gong is
  
going to gong and tell me Time’s Up. I’d hoped to never want
something as badly as I want this – all the karma and jinxing
  
in the world could take it from me with one loose crack
of the whip. I could be sent marching the long way home
  
without the thing I want badly tucked up in my inside
pocket near my heart, no, on my heart, which now has stopped
  
twanging and is doing a la-la-la beat. It is not about wanting
to hold your hand nor about shaking all over, it’s about seeing
 
a tiny dream, like a foamy insole for a favourite winter
boot (a size too big), become something I can lay
myself on and spring, spring, spring the life fandango.
 
 
 
from The Wrong Miracle (Salt Publishing, 2009).
  
Read more about Liz and The Wrong Miracle here.
  
Visit Liz’s blog.

Scottish poet Rob A. Mackenzie interviewed on his De-Cabbage Yourself! tour

 
   
Rob A. Mackenzie was born and brought up in Glasgow.  He received a law degree from Aberdeen University and then abandoned the possibility of significant personal wealth by switching to theology at Edinburgh University.  He wrote over seven hundred songs and doubled on guitar and saxophone for cult art-rock bands Pure Television and Plastic Chicken.  Despite airplay on Radio Scotland and a rash of gigs in tiny Glasgow pubs, he failed miserably to achieve rock stardom.  He spent a year in Seoul, eight years in a Lanarkshire housing scheme, five years in Turin, and now lives in Edinburgh with his wife and daughter where he organises the Poetry at the Great Grog reading series by night and works as a Church of Scotland minister by day.  His pamphlet collection, The Clown of Natural Sorrow, was published by HappenStance Press in 2005.  The Opposite of Cabbage was published this year by Salt Publishing .  His poems, articles and criticism have featured in many literary publications over the last decade or so.  He is an associate editor with Magma magazine. He blogs at Surroundings and at the Magma blog.
    
Rob, will you describe the Glasgow of your childhood?  What were the main social, political and cultural influences of your youth?
    
I lived in the south-west of the city.  Like most boys, I was a football fanatic.  My great uncle took me to games (I maybe won’t mention which team) and I played for my Boys Brigade team until I became a teenager and left the BB.  I was a chess fanatic and played for an under-18 team when I was 12.  I also learned the bagpipe and entered many competitions.  A big change took place when I turned 15 or so.  I dropped the bagpipe in favour of the guitar and started a band.  Glasgow briefly became the centre of everything that was happening in UK music during the 80s.  Indie pop music, particularly the jangly guitar variety, was vital to me.  I sat in my bedroom and listened to The Smiths, Orange Juice and Josef K.  I watched Woody Allen movies and read Graham Greene novels.  I guess I was typical of a certain type of teenager – the kind who wears black clothes and finds solace in Joy Division lyrics.  I might have had better fun hanging around outside the chip shop and going to parties, but it’s too late now.
 
You spent a year in Seoul.  Would you recount something of that experience?
       
It was a great experience, from 1989 to 1990.  I studied Korean liberation theology, taught English, and generally had a great time meeting people and travelling around a country many people would never think of going to.  I loved the food, the friendliness of the people, the clamour of the city, the maccoli houses (maccoli is a Korean alcoholic drink, made from rice, more like beer than wine) and the beauty of the countryside.  The country was a still a little unstable, despite 1988’s democratic election, and there were protests daily on the streets.  The college where I was studying was shut down for two months due to student unrest.  There was often tear gas in the air and I learned to carry a hanky around with me to cover my nose and eyes, just in case.  But people, especially young people, seemed positive about the future and were excited over the new freedoms.  They wanted to talk all the time about politics, the west, and Korean identity.  When I returned to Scotland, people seemed really jaded and cynical in comparison, and I often wonder whether Koreans have become similarly cynical over the last twenty years or not.
     
Later, you moved to Turin for five years.  Has living in other countries, among different cultures and languages, affected your writing and the way you see the world?  Has moving around the world been beneficial for you?
     
That’s hard to know.  I’ve enjoyed the experiences I’ve had living abroad.  It’s widened my social and cultural experience, helped me understand what it’s like to live as a foreigner, and introduced me to some great people.  It also, perhaps, gives me a particular perspective on Scotland.  I can look at how things are done here and compare it to other places.  I’ve no excuses when I’m small-minded.  Of course, there are strengths to living in the same place for an entire life as well.
 
You’re the organiser of Poetry at the Great Grog in Edinburgh.  Tell me about the history and some of the highlights of the reading series.  How does a Great Grog poetry evening unfold?
      
It began when Scottish poet, Roddy Lumsden, who lives in London, asked me to organise a venue for him to read in during a trip to Edinburgh.  I found the Great Grog Bar and decided afterwards that I could do it more often.  It’s now developed into a monthly series – three or four poets read each time.  The event has recently moved from the Great Grog to the Jekyll & Hyde Bar, which suits the readings better, and the event is now called ‘Poetry at the…’.  Poets read for 15 to 20 minutes with a short break after each reading.  There are no gimmicks, no bells and whistles – just quality poems.  As organiser, I wouldn’t want to pick out highlights.  I’m grateful to everyone who has read.  Really, there have been no poor readings at all and I hope that continues.
    
The Guardian is currently running a series called Writers’ Rooms.  Will you describe your creative space?
    
My office is chaotic.  I don’t have enough space on my bookcase.  Books and CDs are spread all over the place in no particular order.  In one corner is my computer, where I tend to write.  At another wall, there’s a desk, which is rarely free from clutter.  That’s dominated by my day job – notes, admin, forms to fill in, stuff I need to read for professional reasons.  Copies of The Opposite of Cabbage lie morosely in a box on the floor.  Pictures drawn by my seven-year-old daughter adorn the walls.  A naked bulb hangs from the ceiling.  There are no curtains or blinds at the window, which overlooks my neighbour’s garden.  As I write this, their washing is being soaked by a sudden downpour…
      
How transformative has fatherhood been for you?  Has it made you feel differently about yourself?  Has it changed your outlook on life?
    
I don’t think it’s possible to exaggerate how much becoming a parent changes a life.  Everything begins to revolve around your children.  This is made more complicated for my wife and I because my daughter is autistic.  She is extremely intelligent, with unbelievable memory, sight, hearing etc, but she also has real difficulties, especially in social situations.  One thing I realised quickly was how few resources are directed to the condition compared to many other disabilities.  We spend a lot of time agitating for support and help, often being met with official indifference and excuses.  We get the feeling that countries such as Australia and (to an extent) the USA are far more geared up to deal with autism, although I could be wrong.
    
I don’t feel that children and young people are valued much in the UK at the best of times compared to, for example, Italy.  I doubt I would have been as aware of this if I hadn’t been a parent.  And is the UK the only country in the world where it’s actually cool to be apathetic?  I think that’s because deliberate apathy is only a short step from helplessness.  Having a child means I can’t afford to be apathetic.
      
Could you name a few of your favourite books?  Why are they important to you?
     
I’ll stick to five, otherwise I could go on forever.  Tomorrow, I’d probably choose different books.  In no particular order:
    
Harmonium by Wallace Stevens:  His debut collection from 1921.  It’s like a foundation for me when I come to write. Nothing has been easily won or thoughtlessly written.  I return to this collection periodically to remind myself what poetry can be.
    
The Truth of Poetry by Michael Hamburger:  on one level, an international overview of 20th century poetry but, on another, an uncompromising and visionary view of what poetry has been and could be.  Warning: this book may change the way you see every poem you read or write.
    
Black Sea by Neal Ascherson:  ostensibly a chronicle of the history, culture and people of the Black Sea region, this fascinating book delves into deep questions of human identity.  Ascherson shows how past events in this region resonate powerfully in the present day.  It’s also terrific writing.
    
Jesus and Judaism by E.P. Sanders:  I appreciate heavyweight, well written, impeccably researched theology, and this is one of the most interesting books I’ve read.  The book questions and revises received opinion but, unlike populist books on Christianity, knows what it’s talking about.
     
Selected Poems by Michael Hofmann:  can’t recommend this book of poems enough.  One of the best poets of the 20th century’s tail-end?  I think so.
     
*
     
Read more about The Opposite of Cabbage.
    
Visit Rob’s blog, Surroundings.
    
If you haven’t been following Rob’s book tour and want to catch up on his interviews, do check out his previous hosts.  
    
Rob’s next tour stop is Nic Sebastian’s Very Like A Whale on
10 August 2009.  See you there.

Valeria Melchioretto’s The End of Limbo

  
   
Papal Blessings
Valeria Melchioretto
  
Airship Italia left Spitzbergen on 23rd of May, 1928
   
Hermetically-sealed matchboxes couldn’t save the holy mission,
sanctioned by Pope Pius XI to bless the very tip of the Pole.
One morning in May, the Zeppelin reached that point
where meridians touch like segments of a forbidden fruit.
The crew threw out a blessed crucifix, some coins and a flag.
It showered the snow below like a Pentecostal sacrament.
They dumped all that was sacred upon the melting desert.
 
On their way south the airship crashed. Mayday signals
came out of the blue, stirred only silence and vanished.
They thought to be prepared for anything but never used
their ice axes. The windproof-overalls were worn by the wind
and the life jackets saved no one’s life. The Finnish shoes
didn’t carry them to Finland. After the virtuous artefacts
fell out of the window they clearly said adieu to salvation.
  
 
  
from The End of Limbo (Salt Publishing, 2007)
  
Read more about Valeria and The End of Limbo here.
  
Read Angel Dahouk’s Poetry Society interview with Valeria.

Sheenagh Pugh’s ‘The Bereavement of the Lion-Keeper’

  
   
The Bereavement of the Lion-Keeper
Sheenagh Pugh
  
for Sheraq Omar
 
Who stayed, long after his pay stopped,
in the zoo with no visitors,
just keepers and captives, moth-eaten,
growing old together.
 
Who begged for meat in the market-place
as times grew hungrier,
and cut it up small to feed him,
since his teeth were gone.
 
Who could stroke his head, who knew
how it felt to plunge fingers
into rough glowing fur, who has heard
the deepest purr in the world.
 
Who curled close to him, wrapped in his warmth,
his pungent scent, as the bombs fell,
who has seen him asleep so often,
but never like this.
 
Who knew that elderly lions
were not immortal, that it was bound
to happen, that he died peacefully,
in the course of nature,
 
but who knows no way to let go
of love, to walk out of sunlight,
to be an old man in a city
without a lion.
 
 
 
from Later Selected Poems (Seren, 2009).
  
Read more about Sheenagh’s Later Selected Poems.
  
Visit Sheenagh’s website.