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
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)
Tamar Yoseloff was born in the US in 1965. Since moving to London in 1987, she has been the organiser of the Terrible Beauty reading series at the Troubadour Coffee House, Reviews Editor of Poetry London magazine, and from 2000 to 2007, Programme Coordinator for The Poetry School. She currently works as a freelance tutor in creative writing.
A pamphlet collection (Fun House, Slow Dancer Press, 1994) was followed by her first full collection, Sweetheart (Slow Dancer Press, 1998), which was a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation and the winner of the Aldeburgh Festival Prize. She received a New Writers’ Award from London Arts (now Arts Council England, London) for a manuscript in progress, which was eventually published as her second collection, Barnard’s Star (Enitharmon Press, 2004) Her most recent book, Fetch, was published by Salt in April 2007, as well as a collaborative book with the artist Linda Karshan, published by Pratt Contemporary Art. She was the editor of A Room to Live In: A Kettle’s Yard Anthology, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge (Salt, 2007) and the Poetry Editor of Art World magazine from 2007 to 2009. Her upcoming collection with Salt, The City with Horns, will feature a sequence of poems inspired by the life and work of the American abstract artist, Jackson Pollock.
She holds a MPhil in Writing from the University of Glamorgan, and a PhD in Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University. She teaches for a number of institutions, including Birkbeck, Spread the Word and the Poetry School. In 2005 she was Writer in Residence at Magdalene College, Cambridge, as part of their Year in Literature Festival. She divides her time between London and Suffolk, and has recently completed her first novel.
“Though she holds life precious, she is not precious herself: alert to Tommy Cooper, paper cups, biros, belisha beacons … Seduction, sharp edges, high seriousness, satire – this book has them all … Fetch, her sensitive, sassy third collection, is her best yet.”
– Anne Berkeley, Seam
“These are dark poems in the best sense of the word, edgy, unnerving, but glittering, too. Tamar Yoseloff can make a visit to the dentist or a lamb curry sexy and sinister. I’ve followed her career from the beginning; Fetch is her most ambitious book yet, and her best.”
– Matthew Francis
“These compressed and vivid poems have a mind and a music all their own. Tamar Yoseloff is emerging as one of the best poets of her generation.”
– Thomas Lux
“Tamar Yoseloff’s Fetch is a delicate book of haunting strength, of strangeness uncontained. These poems are irresistible.”
– Alison Brackenbury
“If I had any chance of recovery, this passion would kill me . . .
I have coals of fire in my breast.”
Our bodies, ignited by touch; however light,
flesh can singe with pleasure, the heart
can burn itself to cinder.
We leave relics in the sheets,
our sweat and skin, what’s dead of us.
In the half dark I listen
for the shuttle of my heart.
Blood wells up through a cut
to taste the world.
I am a vessel, open
to your body. If only you could
move through me, enter
the spleen, the coiled intestine.
You are already in
my eye, my brain.
Fire takes the manshape
like a lover: the clumsy arsonist,
the heroic father, the monk
in saffron robes. No matter
what they believed,
how they lived, in the end
reduced to this: a ribcage
forged in flame, curving
like the branches of a tree.
In the story my mother read me,
the tin soldier burned for love,
reduced to a molten heart,
the dancer’s tinsel rose
shrivelled to a dark fist.
I longed for the happy ending.
Strange shapes would form
in darkness as I lay in my bed
at night, wondering
what it was like to die.
I found a bird’s skull in the yard,
ran my finger over the beak,
the eyeless hole,
the smooth cranium,
then buried it in the ground.
A man stands before a wall
of fire, holding a cross
on a chain against his heart.
His likeness is on ivory
and although so small,
I think I see the flicker
in his eyes as he beholds
the woman who held
this image to her heart
four hundred years ago.
To think of the flame
he burned for her
snuffed out, four hundred
years in his grave, his love
reduced from flesh to bone
to soot; but flesh remains
in memory, the feel of her skin
beneath his fingers, like fine clay.
Coal and ironstone, silica, bole,
sea earth, marl, the soil yields
hard treasures, breaks down matter.
In the hill top cemetery the graves
fall in on themselves,
marble crumbles to dust,
loved ones tumble
into each others arms, their bones
knit and form a whole.
Gold fillings, titanium,
a wedding ring, calcium.
What doesn’t burn
is sifted out. A light package
without heavy limbs
and troublesome heart.
When I die, scatter my ash
on water, so I curl the waves
on a cloud of dust,
each particle of me alive
to sunlight, floating,
a little boat of myself.
Published in Fetch (Salt, 2007) and based on the work of
the potter Julian Stair
Gold leaf, cadmium, ochre, saffron—
indelible once set on vellum.
The monks ground azurite and lapis
for perfect blue, took care
to cleanse their hands of poison
that made words sacred.
We place our fingers against
each other’s lips, a vow of silence,
sense the touch mark even after.
I am brimming with words
but none can hold that moment
when our faces, edged in gold
glinted in the water’s mirror,
the invisible sun within us—
so I let them fly, lead white
against a white sky.
Portrait of a Couple Looking at a Turner Landscape
They stand, not quite touching,
before a world after storm.
There are drops of moisture in her hair,
in his scarf
the colour of a gentler sea, his eyes,
while trains depart every minute, steaming
into the future, where the hills
vast plains of emerald and gold
(she undressed for him, slowly,
her skin like cloud under dark layers)
after rooms of Rubens and Fragonard, flesh dead
against old brocade
(their flesh alive in the white sheets).
There are trains departing.
When they part
it will be night, outside a theatre, near the station,
and the sky will be blown with stars,
too dim to see in the glare of neon.
They will stand on concrete and asphalt,
the innocent shining sands
lost. The world tilts to meet her face,
he holds her face close
and something closes in on them,
the weight of silence in the street,
the winter horizon, bright, huge,
the moment before
the sky opens and it pours.
The Venetian Mirror
“When I first hung it in our bedroom we could not sleep all night,
it was like having the moon for company, so bright it shone ”
Silver has its day, recedes
to reveal the surface beneath
its own Dorian moment.
It reflects back what we have
not been able to understand,
an abundance lost, just hinted
in the etched leaves, tendrils lacing
the frame. What’s inside is
rust, a pox on a lovely face,
still we trade its dimensions
for our own: dumbstruck, vain.
The basilica behind a slick
of rain, gold diminished
to dun. The colour of nothing.
The bulk of it jagged
on the darkening sky.
The end of day, odic light
illuminates a shrivelled rose;
all the sadness we contain
in this drop of rain, its
The ghost hulk of the palazzo
leans into the canal. Narcissus crazed.
Tarnished jewels, pink marble
dulled to flesh. Shiver of a ballroom
out of season, sliver of broken
glass, the first glistening of frost,
as the campana strikes,
mourns itself in echo.
‘The Venetian Mirror’ is featured in Identity Parade
Visit Tamar’s website.
Andrew Philip was born in Aberdeen in 1975. He lived in Berlin for a short spell in the 1990s before studying linguistics at Edinburgh University. The Ambulance Box, his first book of poems, is published by Salt. It was shortlisted for the first book category in the 2010 Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Awards and for the 2009 Aldeburgh First Collection Prize.
“The Ambulance Box is a timely reminder of the range and power of the lyric. This is a powerful debut, and Andrew Philip’s is a significant new voice.”
– Michael Symmons Roberts
“Andrew Philip is part of a significant group of younger Scottish poets. This is poetry which achieves its ambitions nimbly and without fuss. In doing so it talks, quietly but urgently, to us all.”
– W.N. Herbert
“It is rare to encounter a voice of this kind in which a burnished clarity of utterance seems the only conceivable response to life experienced as a profound yet daily miracle.”
– David Kinloch
“‘This dove is here for the duration.’ With precision and delicacy, Andrew Philip explores what it means to live by faith in a ruptured world.”
– Lorraine Marriner
“The Ambulance Box delights readers with a dance through images and words that express powerful visionary and and spiritual experiences … [and] encourage us to explore the visual and linguistic connections that link art with faith and uncertainty; art with loss and discovery; and art with the artist.”
– Rosie Shepherd, Magma
The Invention of Zero
What like was it
this abundant world
where nothing was not—
no neat ring
shackling us to absence,
no way not
to count or be counted—
filled without this
empty nest of a number
perched in the mind,
its wide white oblivion;
and could we,
given the state of our knowledge,
live with the lack of it
unable to quantify
in the wild, the exhaustion
of our reserves,
the number and intensity
of cries in the night?
for Aidan Michael Philip
this is the arm that held you
this is the hand that cradled your cold feet
these are the ears that heard you
whimper and cough throughout your brush with light
this is the chest that warmed you
these are the eyes that caught your glimpse of life
this is the man you fathered —
his voided love, his writhen pride and grief
Order The Ambulance Box from Salt.
Visit Andrew’s website and blog here.
Listen to Andrew reading four poems at PoetCasting.
Tony Williams’ first collection The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street is published by Salt. He grew up in Matlock, Derbyshire and now lives in Sheffield, UK. He has published poems in a range of print and online journals including the TLS, Poetry London, Shearsman, Rialto, The London Magazine, nthposition and Shadow Train. He works as a graphic designer and teaches at Sheffield Hallam, Salford and the Open Universities.
Praise for The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street:
‘from all our cultural loam and junk, Williams has made real magic’
Frances Leviston, the Guardian
‘voice with a unique lyric heft, its subtle praise-making poised between pity and dislocation’
W N Herbert
‘very, very likeable’
Matt Nunn, Under the Radar
‘An inventive, incisive first book’
Ben Wilkinson, Times Literary Supplement
A cock-pheasant on the steaming muckheap:
Prospero admiring all. Those deep inks,
the bludgeoned, sexual midnight and a pope’s
vermillion, are his interiors. He stands,
coat-tails trembling in the breeze, and smokes
and gazes out across the wooded sea.
Mock-Tudor dragonfly, he delays his flit.
Behind him are the lit boxes of his ease,
where guests and sisters sit and wait.
His mind is gaslight. His gaze travels over
the flocked regimental walls, the farm’s brickwork:
it seems as if he is about to speak.
The meal is ended. Watching the evening droop,
he hears the clearing of the plates, the tinkle
of a pianola, stubs his Rey del Mundo
in a jardinière, and puffs his breast.
A cloud-mass dulls the sheen of his regalia.
He shivers: his island has grown suddenly cold.
A Missing Person
Where else do people start to look
for their loved ones but in themselves?
The nip to the shops, the route to town,
a place they stop with the wheelie bin
and just look and think of somewhere else—
the rhododendrons in the park,
the alley where you might have been
wherever you were going, why,
and who to meet; and then they think
of the jeans you might have worn, the pink
T-shirt and what its slogan, I
Don’t Know You, quite what that might mean,
and while they’re rummaging upstairs
to see what’s dirty and what’s clean,
which of your things are indispensable
and still there, they start to wonder where
you’d go if you were you. Or run,
according to the sort of trouble
you were in. And then they think
obscurely of the hardware shop
whose awning shades the silent street
below the town hall’s hulk of soot,
grandfatherly advice, the stink
of metalwork and rubber clips,
and how from there a path might drop
between a graveyard and a gritstone wall
towards the centre of the place,
the domes of cobbles on the slope
pressing their feet, an infant school’s
high hubbub out proclaiming peace.
A laughter in the local accent
floats across the pond. They sit
till nightfall at the swings’ stilled
pendulums, watching a face concealed
by sky and mortar, stone and light.
I’m here, you say. The town. I’m found.
from The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street (Salt, 2009)
Order The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street.
Visit Tony’s blog.
Visit Tony’s website.
Angela Topping draws her inspiration for her children’s poems from her bookish childhood full of make-believe and fairy stories, her work with children, both as a poet-in-schools and an English teacher, and as a mother of two lovely daughters, now grown up. The New Generation (Salt, 2010) is her first collection for children, however, she is the author of three poetry collections for adults. She is also known for her educational resources, critical books and as a reviewer.
“A lively collection that will capture the interest and imagination of young readers.”
– John Foster
“To quote one of her poems “It’s kids stuff – but I like it”. Except it isn’t just for kids. Rich in language, tone, style and voice, the variety of subjects that matter ensure that adults and children alike will find much to delight in.”
– Paul Cookson
“Among the whimsy that sometimes passes for children’s poetry, Angela Topping’s new book stands out. It is witty and technically inventive. Like most of the best poetry, it stands at a slight angle to the world.”
– Fred Sedgwick
My Auntie Jane is a funny old stick:
She’s been alive for ever.
She likes to wear a long black dress,
a hat with a raven’s feather.
Her skin is pale like marble,
her teeth are gleaming white,
her eyes are hard to fathom
She’ll go out only at night.
She chooses crimson lipstick,
pointed shoes upon her feet,
her hair is swept up high.
I’ve never seen her eat.
I’m not allowed to visit her
without my mum and dad:
she has some quaint old habits:
my friends think she is mad.
Her house is quaintly spooky.
It’s old fashioned, dark and cold.
She hugs me very tightly,
I can’t escape her hold.
She always keeps the curtains drawn
and does not like the light,
there’s not a mirror to be seen
for she claims she looks a sight.
She tells me how she loves me
She’ll eat me up, she cries,
What pointed teeth my auntie has
What terrifying eyes!
My parents say it’s time to go
And wrap me in my coat
They take such special care to tie
my scarf around my throat.
They say Aunt Jane’s eccentric
and is better left alone
with her spooky castle of a house,
her bed carved out of stone.
He was a tall black Arab,
She was five years old,
the first black person
she had ever seen.
It was love at first sight.
He was big and gentle,
sat her on his knee,
called her a little lady,
taught her strange new facts.
His list of continents began with Africa.
They were always together.
In his home he was a teacher.
She loved his beautiful skin,
his soft curly hair.
Now she knew the world differently.
Walking in the garden
she only reached his knee,
Her small hand resting
in his huge strong fist.
He sent her postcards for years.
Only later did she know
how her father had
defended him from
people in the street.
How could anyone not love
Nasr Hassan Abbas?
His very name was a poem.
A shelter from any storm.
Now she knew the world differently.
from The New Generation (Salt,2010)
Visit Salt Kids, the home for children’s poetry.
Visit Angela’s Salt author page.
Visit Angela’s blog.
Visit Angela’s website.
Mark Granier was born in London but moved to Dublin in 1960, where he has been living ever since. He has published two collections with Salmon Poetry, Airborne (2001) and The Sky Road (2007). He was awarded the Vincent Buckley Poetry Prize in 2004 and has received two Arts Council bursaries, in 2002 and 2008.
“In Mark Granier’s new book, Fade Street, he continues to demonstrate the artist’s eye for the nuances of light that made his earlier work so luminously successful. A determined craftsman, he nevertheless collects the delicate and fleeting moment as surely as history’s long views. He shows the development of a true poet with the promise of more wonders to come, his is a talent to enjoy now and keep watching.”
– Ian Duhig
The lowest branch a bar to help you climb
into the V, then heave through the square hole
in the floor: a nest of plywood, forgotten doors
my cousin banged together one day, for years
cradled in our tallest apple tree. That’s me
on the roof’s warped sheet of corrugated iron,
standing under the sun, staring away
over neighboring trees, roofs, fields, to make out
Howth Head’s cagy embrace, and just below it,
a stubborn flake of ultramarine. I grip
bendy branches: knuckly, sap-green cookers
(too bitter to sink your teeth in, too many to harvest)
and throw my weight from one foot to the other
till the whole shapeless vessel creaks and sways.
At The Butcher’s In Colmenar
A framed, blown-up photograph hangs on the wall:
the t-shirted butcher’s son and his wife, on their honeymoon
in Manhattan, the towers in the background, the date:
September 10, 2001.
Behind the counter, a steel door opens: a glimpse
of pale waxy carcasses, smell so thick I could colour it
black-red: the colour of history. Outside, I breathe
warm streets, damp from a recent shower.
An old man swings past on crutches. What do I know
about history? Dawdling under a nearby orange tree –
its perfect glimmering system – I think
of reaching to pluck one.
On An Empty Can
Rolling In The Night
A Week After Your Death
i.m. Anthony Glavin
Something scratches and scrapes
a hole in my dreamscape,
like one of your once-in-a-black-moon
distress calls to summon
a human voice. What wakes me now
is a mouthful of wind, a hollow
with nothing to tell, old friend,
unless your ghost can bend
its will, rewire the silence,
kick some kind of sense
(hard love that had no use
for the easeful half-truths)
into a can’s life-in-death rattle
that cannot, should not, be still.
Remember the hour
when a real foot stands on real earth – it leaves the print
of a centaur,
a whiff of horse-sweat and wild mint.
You might start there.
from Fade Street (Salt Publishing, 2010)
Visit Mark’s Salt author page.
Order Fade Street through Salt, Amazon or the Book Depository.
Visit Mark’s blog, The Lightbox.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
Getting involved with fundraising
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.
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.
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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.
Spring the Life Fandango
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.
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.