Tag Archives: Salt Modern Poets

John McCullough’s The Frost Fairs

John McCullough © Morgan Case

  
 
John McCullough’s poetry has appeared in publications including London Magazine, The Guardian, The Rialto, Poetry London and Magma. He teaches creative writing at the Open University and the University of Sussex. His first collection is The Frost Fairs (Salt, 2011).
 
 
 

  
 
 
The Frost Fairs is a compassionate book with a global and historical scope, tackling science and city life from a range of surreal yet poignant angles. It explores love in many forms, from modern transatlantic relationships to hidden gay and cross-gendered lives from the past. The pieces travel from ancient Alexandria to twenty-first century bars and council estates, behind everything the vastness of the sea and sky. The array of voices here is striking: taxi drivers report their most outlandish fares and hermaphrodite statues flirt with observers; abandoned lovers watch frost fairs melting on the Thames and drag queens revel in the freedoms afforded by the Blitz.
 
Formally deft and carefully crafted, this diverse range of poems uses language that is always musical and alive. Surprise and the uncanny are cherished as ways of returning to us the strange leaps and enduring power of our deepest yearnings. In this collection, longing and losing condition all we see and hear, making the impossible suddenly plausible. Whether exploring Brighton seascapes or questions of empire, there is always in McCullough’s writing an openness to seeing the world from an alternative point of view. At once bold and haunting, The Frost Fairs opens the door to a new country in the reader’s imagination in its exploration of the possibilities of the human heart.
 
 
 
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“In this immensely enjoyable collection there is an immediacy and tenderness that is outstanding. These vivid moving poems have such a sharp eye for those telling daily details, the particulars. All of this, plus their humour, creates poems that are so solidly tangible and believable. The title The Frost Fairs tells it all. The vulnerability and changeableness that threads our lives, the shifting ice below our feet.”
 
– Lee Harwood 
 
 
  
“John McCullough’s poems are never far from wonderful. He shows a lovely mixture of ease and energy, so that there’s a feeling of improvisation even in closed forms. Unpredictable, tender, resourceful – why shouldn’t Wallace Stevens hold hands with Tintin?”
 
– Adam Mars-Jones
 
 
 
“John McCullough is a poet for whom language is a flexible gift. He can be formal and controlled, colloquial and intimate, sensuous and saucy. He enjoys risk-taking in his work, forging unusual juxtapositions of images and ideas, and it’s this playfulness and humour which makes his work, like a stiff sea breeze suddenly hitting you in the face, so refreshing and invigorating.”
 
– Catherine Smith
  
 
 
“I’ve been reading John McCullough’s poems for several years and never saw him as ‘promising’, rather, as a verbal magician who had already performed, with a sureness and brio anyone might envy. The startling range of subjects can be partly accounted for by his ability to enter the imaginations of personae from odd walks of life or curious moments in history. He is even able to work out what Michel Foucault’s spoons might have thought about their owner! In poem after poem one senses the encroachment of an exalted vision held at bay by this poet’s commitment to conversational tone and offhand irony. I don’t want to round up the usual superlatives, but I do urge you to read this landmark first volume.”
  
– Alfred Corn
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Motile
 
What sticks is the hum
of the fridge in your basement,
a plane ticket lying flat on one chair.
The way, fag in hand, you order me to stop smoking:
you’ll damage your cilia
 
and you conjure those tiny threads stroking together,
pushing wayward particles where they belong.
You drain a glass of vodka,
write my name in your diary on the page
where you’ll wake in a new country.
 
You keep your promise:
two hours and twenty dollars on a dodgy line
from a city without Marmite
where you tussle with silverfish
and baseball shirt slang.
 
O much assailed friend,
in these fathomless times
I walk down to the ocean at night
to set my hand on its skin
and my mind on rowing, rowing, rowing.
 
 
 
*
  
   
 
Night Writing
 
In humid months, at the estate’s unwatched edge,
the boys gather for an after-hours cigarette
 
before trashing field gates. All boast Reeboks, earrings,
their honed geezer-laughs rev-revving
 
with the engines of graffiti-tagged bangers.
Customized stereos thump out speed garage,
 
the race kicking off in a blizzard of chalk dust,
their bouncing charge towards a crooked iron post.
 
Death and dew ponds can’t stop them while they swerve
past quivering teasel, conquer the bone ridge’s turn,
 
skeins of wool lifting from gorse as banners
for the night’s whooping, fist-raising winners.
 
Further off, the crews unite for a slow drift, melt into hills
but leave the empty sky with headlamp trails:
 
blazing ghosts still performing their necessary work,
still scribbling their names on the dark. 
 
 
 
*

 
 
The Disappearance of St Anthony’s Church
 
Hard to tell exactly when it vanished –
local rumour says late or early summer.
They stole the thing discreetly, brick by brick,
an anti-miracle. Curt officials blame
the village but no infidel’s been punished,
the two best clues a chisel by a tomb,
a distant maze of tyre marks from a truck –
though some insist that these came later.
 
They left behind foundations, one unwanted wall
and a different view of pines, the snaking river.
Next spring the first grass sprouted in the nave,
the chancel’s earth disturbed only by lovers
and the odd partridge hunting for snails
or a place to rest in silence for a while.
 
 
 
from The Frost Fairs (Salt, 2011).
 
Order The Frost Fairs here.
 
Visit John’s website.
 
 
 
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Launches
 
 
Brighton launch

 
Date: Wednesday, 27 April 2011
 
Time: 20h00 – 23h00
 
Venue: The Red Roaster, 1D St James Street, Brighton
 
There will be readings by John and guest poet Lisa Handy.

This event is part of the e.g. poetry series. Entry is £5/£4 conc. 
 
 
 
London launch
 
Date: Tuesday, 17 May 2011
 
Time: 20h00 – 23h00
 
Venue: The Phoenix Artist Bar, Phoenix St (Off Charing Cross Road)
 
There will be readings by John and guest poet Sophie Mayer, author of The Private Parts of Girls (Salt, 2011).
 
Entry is free.

Looking forward

  
 
Here are a few anthologies and collections that I’m looking forward to reading in 2011.
 
What should I add to my list?
  
 
Being Human, edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe)
 
Catulla et al, Tiffany Atkinson (Bloodaxe)
 
Neptune Blue, Simon Barraclough (Salt)
 
The Tempest Prognosticator, Isobel Dixon (Salt)
 
Egg Printing Explained, Katy Evans-Bush (Salt)
 
Occasional China, Gaia Holmes (Comma Press)
 
Rubber Orchestras, Anthony Joseph (Salt)
 
The Book of Men, Dorianne Laux (W W Norton)
 
The Best British Poetry 2011, edited by Roddy Lumsden (Salt)
 
The Frost Fairs, John McCullough (Salt)
 
The Exile’s House, Ian Parks (Waterloo Press)
 
Emporium, Ian Pindar (Carcanet)
 
Changeling, Clare Pollard (Bloodaxe)
 
Breaking Silence, Jacob Sam-La Rose (Bloodaxe)
 
The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions, Jacqueline Saphra
(Flipped Eye)
 
The Itchy Sea, Mark Waldron (Salt)
 
Confer, Ahren Warner (Bloodaxe)
 
Electric Shadow, Heidi Williamson (Bloodaxe)
 
House of Tongues, Susan Wicks (Bloodaxe)
 
The City with Horns, Tamar Yoseloff (Salt)
 
 
 

Cocktail hour with Liz Gallagher

Liz Gallagher by Vladi Valido

     
Liz Gallagher was born and brought up in Donegal, Ireland. She has been living in Gran Canary Island for the past 14 years. She has an Education degree and a Computer Science degree. She is at present doing research for her doctoral studies. She began writing about five years ago and has won a variety of awards in both Ireland and the US: Inclusion in the Best New Poets 2007 Anthology (Meridian Press, Virginia University), First Prize in The Listowel Writers’ Single Poem Competition 2009 and she was selected by Poetry Ireland for their 2009 Introductions Series in recognition of her status as an emerging poet.
     

The Wrong Miracle (Salt Modern Poets, 2009)

       
Liz, welcome to Johannesburg and cocktail hour at peony moon.  It’s been a heady experience following The Maximus Miracle Tour.
         
I hope something on the menu tickles your taste buds.  We have Absinthe, Acapulco Sunrises, Alabama Slammers, Alchemist’s Punch, Banshees, Barry Whites, Bitches Brew, Fuzzy Navels, Beijing Mules, Blueberry Martinis, Screwdrivers, Sex on the Beach, Singapore Slings and, of course, Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters.
         
Hi Michelle, it is wonderful to be here in South Africa.  It’s my first time and I know it will be an experience to remember.  Thanks so much for having me and for preparing such an interesting cocktail menu.  Some of these drinks are just too irresistible, so I shan’t even try.  Thanks, Michelle, all of my cocktails I love shaken but not stirred.
       
     

A favourite 'living on the edge' house along Las Palmas promenade

    
I see you have your photo album tucked under your arm.  Tell me something about your life in the Canary Islands.
        
Well, we live in the country in a protected valley.  We have a little tumbledown farm that we are looking after and renovating very slowly!  We both work as English Teachers in the Aula de Idiomas in Las Palmas University in the afternoons which is nice as we avoid all rush hour traffic to the city.  The light and spring-like weather practically all the time make it a very pleasant place to live.  The Canarian people are very sociable and outgoing and thus there are always things happening on the island from WOMAD  to the Las Palmas International Film Festival and of course there are always local festivals of song and dance to celebrate grape picking, olive picking, almond picking, water festivals, mud festivals … literally you name it, and they have a festival for it.
       
It is nice having the mornings free as I either write or study for an hour or two and then go to the farm with our dogs.  The quietness and sense of calm in the country contrasts with the very energetic busy atmosphere of the villages and cities.  All in all, it is a nice place to live in and it lends itself very well to hibernating and escaping the world which suits me fine, at times. I feel very lucky to be here and remind myself not to take it for granted.
      
      

Man Imitating Nature

     
Would you describe your writing process, Liz.
    
I usually write early in the morning and quite often take part in daily writing challenges with fellow poets to help get motivated.  I normally get inspired by a line or phrase and go where that takes me.  I sometimes write in white text into the screen for a timed period of maybe anything from ten minutes to 30 minutes.  This usually takes the form of what I like to call ‘mental-rioting’ as explained in TFE’s interview:
     
“The idea of writing in white font is to temporarily avoid Ms. Inner Critic who is usually on 24/7 duty casting an eye on what has been written, she will have her time to do that in the next re-drafting stage but for the tentative beginnings of a poem, I like to give free reign to whatever is in my head.  The first draft usually contains the absolute bones of where the poem is going and where it has landed.  I usually leave the first draft aside for a few weeks and then return to it to view it anew.  My revision usually deals with cutting excess and such like and tweaking here and there by substituting words and phrases but the basic thought and sentiment of the poem remain the same.”
     
     

The Three Wise Men on Canteras Beach, Las Palmas

      
The royalties from The Wrong Miracle sales are going to Sands (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity).  Tell me about the support services Sands offers to those affected by the death of a baby.  How can people get involved?
     
Sands have a website here.  There are so many different ways to support Sands.  On their website, they outline some very practical ways, and they say the following:
     
“The death of a baby is a devastating experience.  The effects of grief can be overwhelming, and in the early hours and days parents can be left feeling dazed, disorientated, isolated and exhausted.  It can be hard to take in information, to make decisions or to imagine how you are going to cope.  At Sands there are people who understand what it’s like because many of us have been through this experience ourselves, and we are here to offer support and information when you need it.
     
Early moments of loss  There are choices you can make about what happens to your baby and to you in the early hours and days of their death.  These decisions, whether they involve keeping momentos of your baby or decisions about naming your baby, can have an impact on how you will feel about this time in years to come.  You may want to talk to someone or read about the feelings of other parents who have been through the same experience.
     
Important practical information   There are some things that you may have to do after your baby dies including registering your baby’s death and deciding about a post mortem and funeral. In this section we also include information about your post-natal check as well as any benefits you may be eligible for.
     
A bereavement journey  We understand that the death of a baby is not a one-off event but an emotional journey, that affects every aspect of your life. In this section we look at issues such as going home and back to work, thinking about a new baby, and remembering your baby in the years to come.
     
Family and friends  As well as supporting mothers and fathers, we are also here to help other members of your family, especially other children you may have and grandparents. Many people may be touched by your baby’s death, whether they be close friends or relations, and all are welcome to contact us for support and information.
     
Second trimester loss  Your baby may have died during its 2nd trimester. The death of a baby can happen to any one of us at any stage and Sands aims to provide support no matter what your situation.
    
Talk to someone  You may want to talk to someone who can listen to how you feel or can help you think through what you want to do.  You can do this by calling our national helpline or by exchanging experiences via our forum.  It may help to hear the stories of other bereaved parents in our personal experiences section, from our list of publications, or indeed from the various articles and media which have covered the issue of baby loss. We have a network of over 90 local groups around the UK and you may want to find out whether there is one close to you, or indeed you may prefer to find other support links – listed here in alphabetical order.”
      
Michelle, you asked how people can become involved. Here are a few of the ways:
    
Becoming a member
Donating
Getting involved with fundraising
Raising awareness
    
Thanks very much for asking about Sands, Michelle.  It’s great to have an opportunity to highlight what they do. 
   
Thanks also for being a great hostess and having me on your blog.  The cocktails added to the festive spirit.  I’ll be taking note of a few of the recipes to host a similar occasion when I get back to the Canaries.  I have enjoyed the experience.  Happy Festive Season to you and yours, Michelle, and lots of best wishes for the New Year.
      
Thank you for your whirlwind visit, Liz.  All the best for the rest of The Maximus Miracle Tour and I look forward to keeping in touch next year.
    
   

Cacti burst

Cocktails and Miracles

   
   
Make a date to join the charming Liz Gallagher, author of The Wrong Miracle (Salt Modern Poets, 2009), for cocktail hour (or the whole day) on 17 December 2009.
 
The Maximus Miracle Tour is now well under way. If you need to catch up with what’s been happening, here are Liz’s tour dates and hosts:
   
28 October 2009 – Event Museum, Arlene Ang
5 November 2009 – The Art of Breathing, Brenda Nixon
12 November 2009 – Women Rule Writer, Nuala Ní Chonchúir
19 November 2009 – The People’s Lost Republic of EEjit
3 December 2009 – More about the Song, Rambling with Rachel Fox
10 December 2009 – Savvy Verse & Wit, Serena M. Agusto-Cox
14 December 2009 – Savvy Verse & Wit, Serene M. Agusto-Cox II
17 December 2009 – Cocktails at peony moon
2 January 2010 – Theory of Iconic Realism, Jeanne Iris Lakatos
11 January 2010 – The Truth about Lies, Jim Murdoch
     
Liz will be chatting about her life in the Canary Islands and her writing process. She’ll also tell us a little more about Sands: Stillbirth & neonatal death charity, the organisation which is receiving the royalties from sales of The Wrong Miracle.
  
In the meantime, here’s what people having been saying about
The Wrong Miracle:
    
“Liz Gallagher’s poems seize us from the first line and tug us along, startled and exhilarated by the tumbling originality of her words.”
– Laurie Smith, Magma
    
“Whether about an untranslated paragraph on shooting ducks or breakfast cereals, Picasso and a sexual snap, Liz Gallagher’s poems are proof that everyday movements generate power and magic. The Wrong Miracle is the work of a master illusionist – a fusion of the surreal and the domestic, the strategic and the spontaneous – where perception is challenged and subtly reinvented.”
– Arlene Ang, The Pedestal Magazine
   
“These are poems that may surprise: sprinkled with humour and vivid word pictures. The verbal twists take you by a friendly matter-of-fact hand to show you other truths. Liz Gallagher owns a true poet’s eye for detail paired with a flair for oddly compelling juxtaposition. Her poetry wants to show you this other thing it has found, like a cat displaying its catch. (as in her poem) ‘Just look what the cat dragged in’.”
– Barry Harris, Tipton Poetry Journal
   
“Long lines with suprising phrases and rushing, tumbling images mark the narrative trend of Liz Gallagher’s poetry. The poems lean into the strength of these narratives, rely upon the poet’s willing experimentation with varietal voice, and in so doing, create a distinctive diction – one with instrospective vision that bubbles out of earthy perception, like a choice mineral spring.”
– Eve Anthony Hanninen, poet, writer, artist & editor
of The Centrifugal Eye
   
*
   
Liz blogs at Musings.
  
Order your copy of The Wrong Miracle here.

Some Favourite Poetry Collections of 2009: Part One

 
  
I hope you will enjoy these recommendations and consider buying a few collections, pamphlets and anthologies published this year by a range of presses. A huge thank you to the poets who gave me their choices for the year.
  
What’s your favourite volume of 2009? Feel free to include your recommendations in the comments section.
 
 
Moniza Alvi
 
Natural Mechanical by J O Morgan (CB Editions)
Cold Spring in Winter by Valérie Rouzeau, translated by
Susan Wicks (Arc Publications)
Continental Shelf by Fred D’Aguiar (Carcanet Press)
  
 
Ian Duhig
 
Rain by Don Paterson (Faber & Faber)
Grain by John Glenday (Picador)
Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century, edited by
Clare Pollard & James Byrne (Bloodaxe Books)
  
 
Sheenagh Pugh
  
How to Fall by Karen Annesen (Salt Modern Poets)
The Men from Praga by Anne Berkeley (Salt Modern Poets)
A Village Life by Louise Glück (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
  
 
Dorianne Laux
  
End of the West by Michael Dickman (Copper Canyon Press)
Cradle Song by Stacey Lynn Brown (C&R Press)
Snowbound House by Shane Seely (Anhinga Press)
  
 
Alison Brackenbury
 
Rain by Don Paterson (Faber & Faber)
Nothing Like Love by Jenny Joseph (Enitharmon Press)
Samuel Menashe: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books)
 
 
Clare Pollard
  
Caligula on Ice and Other Poems by Tim Turnbull (Donut Press)
Third Wish Wasted by Roddy Lumsden (Bloodaxe Books)
Farewell My Lovely by Polly Clark (Bloodaxe Books)
  
 
Tamar Yoseloff
  
The Men from Praga by Anne Berkeley (Salt Modern Poets)
How to Fall by Karen Annesen (Salt Modern Poets)
Beneath the Rime by Siriol Troup (Shearsman Books)
The Clockwork Gift by Claire Crowther (Shearsman Books)
  
 
Annie Freud
  
Rain by Don Paterson (Faber & Faber)
Furniture by Lorraine Mariner (Picador)
Faber New Poets: Heather Phillipson (Faber & Faber)
  
 
John Wilkinson
  
Stress Position by Keston Sutherland (Barque Press)
Weak Link by Rob Halpern (Slack Buddha Press)
Clampdown by Jennifer Moxley (Flood Editions)
  
 
Marilyn Kallet
 
Practical Water by Brenda Hillman (Wesleyan Poetry)
Warhorses by Yusef Komunyakaa (Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
paperback)
Sassing by Karen Head (WordTech Communications)