Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Lengthening Winter

Happy to leave work today and find not only that the bastard ice has melted (thus rendering my hilly walk home a pleasurable one in which I can let my thoughts wander, as opposed to this morning, when I shuffled like some early-to-rise madman with my eyes glued to the treacherous pavements, only occasionally lifting my head to watch the bloke in front march then wobble then flail with desperation), but also, on arrival home, to find that this week's TLS had fallen onto my doormat, and includes two of my poetry reviews, on Carrie Etter's The Tethers, and Lorraine Mariner's Furniture. The issue (no. 5575; February 5 2010) also contains, among other things, two new poems from Simon Armitage, which like all of the recent poems of his which I've spotted here and there (Rialto, Poetry London, and in the excellent online poetry journal Blackbox Manifold), seem to be something of a departure from his characteristic style. Worth checking out.

Raw Light, the Guardian, and death by junk food

For those wanting an introduction to a selection of contemporary poets whose work you might've not come across before, you could do much worse than checking out Jane Holland's Raw Light blog, which is currently enjoying a 'Short Season of Other Poets'.

So far, poems from debut collections by Katy-Evans Bush, Matt Merritt, Angela France and Rob Mackenzie have been featured, a pretty eclectic selection in which you'll no doubt find something of interest. I hear that Claire Crowther, among others, is due to be featured before Raw Light resumes usual service, and at the moment, a poem from the sparks is also up there. Why not wander across, then, before you head out and enjoy a sunny Sunday afternoon?

Also worth a look this weekend for those who haven't spotted them already is Sean O'Brien's review of George Szirtes' New and Collected Poems in the Guardian and, though I'm a week or so late to flag this up, a thoughtful and interesting blog post by Adam O'Riordan on his time spent collecting together the late poet Michael Donaghy's critical prose work.

On a pretty repulsive and totally unrelated note, there's also this website that a friend sent me the link to earlier in the week. Apologies in advance. Though come to think of it, I'm pretty sure that cupcake used to be on the dessert menu at Fatty Arbuckles - and whatever happened to that franchise?

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

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Monday, 28 January 2013

Just One Book - Salt Publishing

As those of you who read other poetry & literary blogs and/or drop into UK poetry forums will know, the enterprising poetry publishers Salt have hit hard times. Partly due to discontinued grants from Arts Council England and the current economic downturn, this is particularly depressing as Salt have always been committed to building a poetry press eventually capable of sustaining itself, something it has worked towards by seeking out and publishing some of the most impressive new poets to emerge in the UK in recent years (Rob A Mackenzie, Julia Bird, Luke Kennard, Mark Waldron and Katy Evans-Bush, to name but a few) as well as more established writers including Jane Holland, Tim Dooley and Tobias Hill. It also has what promise to be strong first collections on the horizon from Abi Curtis, Tom Chivers and Tony Williams.

To help save Salt, then, please consider the following:


1. Please buy just one book, right now. We don't mind from where, you can buy it from us or from Amazon, your local shop or megastore, online or offline. If you buy just one book now, you'll help to save Salt. Timing is absolutely everything here. We need cash now to stay afloat. If you love literature, help keep it alive. All it takes is just one book sale. Go to our online store and help us keep going.

2. Share this note on your profile. Tell your friends. If we can spread the word about our cash crisis, we can hopefully find more sales and save our literary publishing. Remember it's just one book, that's all it takes to save us. Please do it now.

With my best wishes to everyone
Salt Publishing

It would be a great loss to UK poetry if Salt were to fold. I've just ordered a copy of Tim Dooley's Keeping Time, and would urge anyone who reads and values contemporary poetry to buy a title or two from their list - I'd recommend Rob A Mackenzie's The Opposite of Cabbage and Mark Waldron's The Brand New Dark, my reviews of which are forthcoming in Magma and the TLS respectively.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

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Friday, 25 January 2013

Faber New Poets

At the start of this year a new Arts Council-funded initiative was announced - the prestigious poetry press Faber were to release a series of pamphlets by young poets, influenced by the continuing success of tall-lighthouse's Pilot series, edited by Roddy Lumsden.

Like the Pilot series, each poet receives editorial input and a pamphlet of their poems is published, but the Faber scheme also offers some financial help for the poets.

Now, the first pamphlets in the series are scheduled to be published in early October of this year. And the selected poets - Fiona Benson (pamphlet cover pictured above), Heather Phillipson, Toby Martinez de las Rivas and Jack Underwood - seem to represent a fair cross-section of the type of poetry emerging from this new generation of poets; unusual, edgy, contemporary and occasionally free-wheeling... hard to say anything substantial here without going into great detail (and even that would only be based on the handful of poems I've seen by these poets in magazines). Needless to say, they promise to make for interesting reading alongside the Pilot series, and will be worth checking out.

2010 will see the next four poets in the Faber series also published - Joe Dunthorne, Annie Katchinska, Sam Riviere and Tom Warner. Of these, I'll be especially interested to see Sam Riviere's pamphlet, particularly if it includes poems as strong as his second place winner in the 2008 Poetry London competition.

Where the Pilot scheme is concerned, talented young poets Charlotte Runcie and Richard O'Brien (both editors of the fine Pomegranate magazine) are also due launch their pamphlets in October, following on from the March launch of Amy Key's instead of stars and Sarah Howe's a certain chinese encyclopaedia. In related news, I'll also be reading at a tall-lighthouse event, "tall reflections", in Cambridge on the 15th September, along with Alan Buckley and invited guest readers. Do come along if you're able.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Maurice Riordan

Just a quick heads up to those interested - I notice that Faber poet Maurice Riordan's entry on the PoetCasting audio site is now online, including readings of his poems 'Fish', 'Silenus' and the excellent 'Southpaw'. Well worth checking out.

The recording was made on the same afternoon as my own, and along with another Sheffield poet, Chris Jones, whose readings are also now on the site - of the four poems featured, I'd recommend 'Work' in particular. Jones will also be reading at the Oxfam Poetry Night taking place at the Oxfam Bookshop on West St, Sheffield, alongside myself, Helen Mort and Frances Leviston.

Adam O'Riordan, In the Flesh

This year looks like it’s shaping up to be an interesting one for new British poetry. There are several exciting debuts that have recently been released or are shortly forthcoming, not least Sam Willetts’s New Light for the Old Dark, which I mentioned here a couple of months back, Miriam Gamble’s The Squirrels are Dead, a first book of rhythmically taut poems that, if the stuff of hers I’ve spotted in magazines and elsewhere is anything to go by, will include lyrics and narratives from animal and curiously alien perspectives, and, of course, Dan Wyke’s long awaited debut with Waterloo, whose subtly suggestive poems address the domestic, familial and everyday with knowing insight.

One book I’m particularly looking forward to, though, is the first full collection from Adam O’Riordan. Titled In the Flesh and due to appear from Chatto & Windus this July, it follows on from a pamphlet, Queen of the Cotton Cities, published by tall-lighthouse in 2007 as one of the first in its acclaimed Pilot series, and winner of an Eric Gregory Award. A short volume of only sixteen poems, this pamphlet was the first introduction readers got to O’Riordan’s work, but it leaves a lasting impression: lyrical, thematically wide-ranging and Donaghy-like in its formal panache, the poems combine dazzling metaphor and simile with sudden shifts in perspective and detailed, provocative contemplation.

Having read an early proof, I’d certainly say that In the Flesh builds on this early promise, including many new longer poems and a sequence of sonnets, ‘Home’, which imagine episodes from the lives of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, inspired by O’Riordan’s time as the Wordsworth Trust’s Poet-in-Residence at Dove Cottage. On the strength of the collection taken as a whole, I’m even inclined - for once - to agree with the publisher’s hype, which describes O’Riordan’s poems as “confident, seductive, and thrillingly assured […] seeking familiarity in a world of ‘false trails and disappearing acts’ […] in language both clear-eyed and sensuous”. Adding to that list of superlatives, I’d also call his stuff jaunty, vibrant, and satisfyingly disorienting: take vignette ‘NGC3949’, below, as an example of his ability to marry incongruous subjects in atmospheric and convincing conceits. And since it's often interesting to hear a writer's own thoughts about their work, as well as a bit of background, Adam answers a couple of questions below.


is a galaxy in Ursa Major whose formation mirrors, almost exactly, that of our own.

Back from the perforated dark and growing distance,
Hubble’s milky image brings us to ourselves.

The echo pitched up from the moss-wet well:
a lover’s shape, that indelible stain on the iris.

(Years down the line, you swear blind
the cut and sway of a dark form is her.

Neon dazzles the rain-slicked street
as you wave away the cab and push

back down through the crowd into the bar,
pilot charting the wrong star by candlelight,

leagues off course, the face, of course, is another’s.)
In this spiral galaxy the arms embrace the core.

Not her – or your idea of her – and never will be.
It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is.

© Adam O'Riordan, reproduced by permission of the poet

BW: One of the first things readers will notice about In the Flesh is a strong sense of place threaded through the collection: Manchester, the Lake District, specific locations such as a college window in Cambridge or an escalator in Paris. Can you tell us a little about your background, upbringing, and what we might call your 'imaginative hinterland', and how you see these as contributing to your writing?

AOR: I was born in Didsbury in South Manchester.

My father’s family were from Scotland. His father was a third generation Irish immigrant and the third generation in public service, in his a case as a career naval officer. His mother from Fife, what you might call, haute-bourgeoisie. She was a descendant of Sir Michael Nairn, the linoleum manufacturer who took his father’s floor-cloth business and industrialized the process.

My mother’s family were a mix English, Scottish, and Irish. Her father’s family had come down from Aberdeen where they worked in the fisheries to work in the newly built Trafford Park, the world’s first planned industrial estate. Family legend has it they sailed down on board a fishing boat during the herring famine.

My father worked in Trade Union education, in fact he met my mother when they both at the same college. They were both active in the Labour party and for a period my mother ran the office of our local MP.

I was the first generation on my father’s side to go to a State school, but the fourth or fifth to go to Oxbridge.

I suppose these factors made me acutely aware of class and identity but also the fluidity of both. Leaving me feeling not particularly at home, or too uncomfortable, in any.

I remember my father telling me about an exercise called ‘Dig Where You Stand’ from a book of the same name by a Swedish historian Sven Lindqvist which encouraged workers to re-discover their history.

My poem ‘A Trade Union College’ from the ‘Vanishing Points’ sequence recalls a story my father told me about teaching a group of shop stewards as a young man and carrying out the exercise. Part way through he realized that the college they were in had once been a rather grand private house and was the place his mother was born. Though apparently they didn’t give him too hard a time about it.

The other poems in the sequence looks at similar themes – flux and change and forgetting of identity. The poem ‘A Wedding Letter’ takes a note written by the son of my last Gaelic speaking ancestor on the night of his daughter’s wedding in 1906. He describes in a wonderfully Edwardian way how she ‘would carry her hospitality to extravagance’ and ‘never spoke English with any satisfaction’.

It occurred to me in reading the letter that once it was lost or forgotten that the woman (my great great great grandmother) would vanish. It was that chilling sense of erasure coupled with the privilege of being perhaps one of the last to catch a glimpse of her in that description.

BW: That title, In the Flesh, captures well the blurrings between the sensual and the violent, the physically beautiful and the rawly animal, which much of your work centres on. Do you see this as an especially contemporary concern?

AOR: I think it’s always been there. Certainly in the lines and traditions I respect and have learned from: think of Yeats’s Leda and the Swan with that ‘’sudden blow / the great wings beating still’.

I always loved that line in Romeo and Juliet where Mercutio, in a lovely coupling of the two, describes Tybalt as ‘the very butcher of a silk button’.

I remember when I was in residence at The Wordsworth Trust showing my collection in progress to Pamela Woof, the president of the Trust and academic. She wrote a note to me talking about ‘the nearness of violence to beauty, of beauty to the vulnerable’ which I think captures it.

I struggled with the title for a long time. I wanted something that suggests not just the blurrings of sensual and violent you mention but also a sense of presence and absence and the familia. I think ‘In the Flesh’ ties it all together quite well.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

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Saturday, 19 January 2013


News just in: the shortlist for the Iota International Poetry Competition 2010 has just been announced, judged this year by the talented - and typically stylishly turned-out - poet Tim Turnbull. And amongst some familiar names - Martyn Crucefix, Mick Wood, Matthew Caley and Christopher North - I'm chuffed to see a poem of my own shortlisted.

The full list of prizes, shortlisted poets and poems is below; the winners will be announced at an awards event at the University of Gloucestershire on April 19th.

1st Prize £2,000
2nd Prize £1,000
3rd Prize £500
10 Supplementary Prizes of £50

(in no particular order)

"Here is The News" by Carol Beadle

"A truck called 'Perseverence' ", by Martyn Crucefix

"Look Who's Shunting The Nuclear Train", by Mick Wood

"Playtime", by Maeve Henry

"Los Angeles", by Matthew Caley

"The embolism suffered by Edward's father (during a sudden cold
snap)", by Rosie Sheppard

"Doors", by Kevin Russell-Pavier

"In the Gardens of Titans", by Clint Frakes

"Everyone Matters", by Jamie Walsh

"Untitled", by Pat Cash

"Where the Bull Got In", by Kate Miller

"New Flat", by Ben Wilkinson

"Eurythmy Artiste with Toque", by Christopher North


Everything Changes But the Avant-Garde

from an interview with Michael Donaghy by Conor O'Callaghan, 1997

CO'C: On a topical point, Allen Ginsberg died recently. He was somebody who made a career out of opposition to mainstream poetry as embodied by Hecht and Wilbur. How do you value his work?

MD: It's possible now, in American schools, to take an exam on Allen Ginsberg and fail it. There's a market for being opposed to mainstream culture. I don't want to say anything about poor Ginsberg now that he's dead, but there was a time when he'd shock everybody at poetry readings by taking off his clothes and running around the stage. Towards the end of his life, he would sit there quietly in his tweed suit, while people would give lectures on his work. Early on he liked to give the impression that poems like Howl were written rapidly in a fever of Beat improv, when in fact they were carefully worked out in successive drafts. And I have no problem with any of this, my only problem is with the self-delusion involved when artists/writers/poets believe they are opposed to mainstream culture and they are just playing their part. That romantic idea, as it stands, began with advertising. 'Throw that away, and buy this. That is the old style, this is the new style.' That's consumerism. You can't be an oppositional poet unless you abandon the concept of the avant-garde.

interview excerpt from The Shape of the Dance: Essays, Interviews and Digressions,
a collection of prose by the late Michael Donaghy.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Robin Vaughan-Williams: The Manager

Managers, offices, the daily grind, rows of computer screens, crap coffee machines ... a fair number of contemporary poets have been swift to pen their thoughts on the typical working conditions of modern life, but a new pamphlet I recently received, The Manager, is, I think, a novel and original take on the 9-5 world that most of us inhabit. As its title suggests, it centres on the shifting persona of "the manager", in a sequence that moves from the serious to the irreverant and from the depressing to the uplifting with surprising ease. A few excerpts to pique your interest:

The manager has proverbs on the wall about being a good man
and he reads them at times of intense isolation

when his office has become a cell
and the laughter in the next room is a barrier

he has not the skill to clear.
(Manager #1: Mantra)

The manager burns, he burns
with the heat of an example
others will follow: a new kind of leader.
(Manager #5: Health & Safety Incident)

The manager's eyes are not his own.
He has seen more than one man can bear.
He has seen the high street of humanity,
the bargain hunters, shop lifters,
just looking, and disfigured returns -
receipt or no receipt, that's policy.
(Manager #8: The Manager's Eyes)

Doesn't he realise how vulnerable I am?
I'm a sensitive person.
'I'm a poet,' I say.
'You can't fire me,
I'll put you in a poem.'

'Not a very well known poet,' he says
and fires me anyway.
(Manager #10: Fired!)

Thought-provoking and entertaining, it's a pamphlet that's consistently effective and insightful but at the same time understated, and which doesn't take itself too seriously. Well worth getting a copy, available from HappenStance press at £4, which isn't much more than that extra pint down the pub on a Friday.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Battles and Bat for Lashes

I sometimes think that there isn't much worth discovering where new music's concerned: the wave of schmindie, bland acoustic wielders and post-Britpop guitar music that remains so popular little more than dull variances on old sounds. But then I realise that it's usually because I'm not looking hard enough, and beyond the blander end of the most heavily advertised and marketed music released each year (which, admittedly, isn't all bad), there's still some great stuff being made.

Two bands I'd recommend at the moment are Bat for Lashes and Battles. I've mentioned the former here before, the work of singer-songwriter and visual artist, Natasha Khan, and whose first album, Fur and Gold, narrowly missed out on winning the 2007 Mercury Prize. That album was a glittering, brooding and dreamlike-voyage into the unknown; a slice of glittering and gorgeous art-rock that bears partial comparison to Bjork, Kate Bush, and to Khan's talented contemporary, Patrick Wolf. To my mind, her latest album, Two Suns, continues with similar soundscapes, but hangs together as a work in its own right, telling haunting tales of lost loves whilst, in certain parts, adopting an alter-ego to add another dimension to Khan's lyrics. I'd recommend giving it a listen, with single 'Daniel' and a few other tracks on her MySpace page, here.

Battles possess a different sound all together. There debut album Mirrored, released a few years back, is a 21st century prog-album in the best sense: a sprawling mixture of epic drums, solo-driven, spidery guitars, electronica and bizarre vocals which holds together surprisingly well, and manages, for the most part, to avoid sounding self-indulgent or pretentious. I first saw single 'Atlas' performed a year or so ago, on Jools Holland's Later..., and was halfway to dismissing them, but the song grows on you after a few listens and before long, you're hooked. Check it out here if you're interested. You don't have to be a Yes fan, honest.

Mick Imlah

Talented poet, journalist and TLS Poetry Editor Mick Imlah has died, aged 52, of motor neurone disease. I never had the privilege of meeting Mick, though I will always be grateful for his publishing a handful of my poems, and later, reviews, the first at a time when I had no real biog note to speak of or much of a publication record. His encouragement helped immeasurably, and I am sure that many, many other poets have received similar help and encouragement from Mick along the way, during his 17 years at the TLS - Carrie Etter and David Wheatley two such writers.

This is a huge loss for the world of poetry, as indeed for the world of journalism and literary criticism. It seems odd that, only last week, I completed a critical perspective of his poetry for the British Council's Contemporary Writers website, and had been in touch over a review I recently finished for the TLS. The perspective of his work has now been duly edited and will appear along with his forthcoming profile on the site - one of many appraisals of his work and life which I expect to appear over the coming months.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Hotel Dusk

I’m not much of a video game player these days, but like many others, I had a handheld Nintendo GameBoy as a kid and I always enjoyed playing adventure role-playing games, namely the excellent The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the original GameBoy console.

It was this that prompted me to fork out for the GameBoy’s successor, the Nintendo DS, back in 2006: I’d randomly heard that later that year another game in the hugely successful Zelda series was to be released, and a childish and nostalgic excitement briefly gripped me. (Ten years after its release, Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64 is still considered by many as one the greatest games ever made). After several delays, then, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass eventually appeared in late '07, and I duly bought it, became quickly engrossed in its excellent gameplay and storyline, and after completing it, let the DS sit around gathering dust for the whole of last year.

That is, until I received a game as an unusual gift for Christmas which I’d spotted months ago but never bothered buying: Hotel Dusk – Room 215. As Phantom Hourglass demonstrated to me, the DS is almost the perfect console for an adventure game with a good plot, given both its duel screens (one of them a touchscreen which you use to control the action with a stylus) and its clamshell design, which makes the gaming experience akin to holding a book sideways. In Hotel Dusk, however, a small video game developer called Cing have produced something which has had me strangely hooked unlike any game I’ve played before.

Set in 1970s America, the game centres around Kyle Hyde: an ex-cop turned salesman trying to track down a missing friend who betrayed him. The game opens with clues that lead you to an eerie, old hotel which is rumoured to have a strange room where wishes are granted. Playing as Hyde, your role is to unravel the mystery of the hotel and Hyde’s missing cop partner, Bradley.

What makes it so engrossing, enjoyable and playable, however, is the aesthetics and feel of the thing, the believable and complex plot, and the brilliantly scrupulous attention to detail. Holding the DS sideways – a feature unique to this game which actually makes playing it feel like reading an interactive novel – is more than just a novelty, and the dialogue in the game not only conjures believable and well-crafted characters, but is matched with altering facial expressions, gestures and movements which add colour and depth to the storyline. The aesthetic feel and design of the game itself is modelled on that of many graphic novels: think Sin City but sketchier and less extravagant, the artwork rougher round the edges to add a sense of movement and fluidity. In fact, I since found out the distinctive animation technique used in the game is called rotoscoping: perhaps most famously used (and most similarly to Hotel Dusk) in the video to A-ha’s hit single ‘Take On Me’.

This, combined with plenty of (sometimes quite demanding) puzzle solving, touches of humour in dialogue in which you make decisions to effect the progression of the story, and a plot which ends with a satisfying and largely credible conclusion makes for an excellent game, and one which those who enjoy a good story and have little experience of gaming can take pleasure in as much as the more accomplished player. It won’t be to everyone’s liking given its relative lack of involvement compared to more rapid and eventful games (the plot is essentially the game itself), but as the many positive online reviews of the game testify to, many will enjoy its unique charm and visual expressiveness. And if you’re one of those with a DS who uses it for nothing more than that brain training stuff, you could do much worse than pick up a copy of Hotel Dusk to enjoy what I reckon the console was pretty much made for.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

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Monday, 7 January 2013

Poetry Feature: 'The Hush of the Very Good' by Todd Boss

I first came across the American poet Todd Boss in Poetry magazine, where a number of his poems have appeared in recent years, and instantly enjoyed his demotic, witty and deftly musical style. I was chuffed, then, to receive his first collection Yellowrocket as a present recently, which at over a 100 pages is a lengthy and rewarding read. His poems - charting the recurrent themes of landscapes, language, kids, love and marriage with intelligence, subtlety, real feeling and humour - bring to mind the likes of Frost and Auden, but also bear comparison to more contemporary poets such as Armitage, Kleinzahler, and, at times, the late Michael Donaghy. He is definitely a poet worthy of your attention, and a friendly chap too, as he recently kindly granted me permission to reprint his poem 'The Hush of the Very Good' here on the Wasteland. If you enjoy it, I really encourage you to buy Yellowrocket - published by W.W. Norton you can find it here, and Boss's website with recordings of him reading his work is here.

The Hush of the Very Good

You can tell by how he lists
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxto let her
kiss him, that the getting, as he gets it,
is good.
xxxxxxxxxIt’s good in the sweetly salty,
deeply thirsty way that a sea-fogged
rain is good after a summer-long bout
of inland drought.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxAnd you know it
when you see it, don’t you? How it
drenches what’s dry, how the having
of it quenches.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxThere is a grassy inlet
where your ocean meets your land, a slip
that needs a certain kind of vessel,
when that shapely skiff skims in at last,
trimmed bright, mast lightly flagging
left and right,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxthen the long, lush reeds
of your longing part, and soft against
the hull of that bent wood almost im-
perceptibly brushes a luscious hush
the heart heeds helplessly—
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe hush
of the very good.

poem by Todd Boss
from Yellowrocket (W.W. Norton, 2008)
first published in Poetry, February 2007

Poetry Feature: Carrie Etter's The Tethers

Blurb writers often describe debut poetry collections as "long-awaited", but I can honestly say that I've been looking forward to Carrie Etter's first collection for a good while, having enjoyed many of her poems in magazines, not least the TLS.

And now I happily find that Etter's first book, The Tethers, is to be published later this month by Seren. Having already attracted praise from the likes of Glyn Maxwell and Robert Crawford, it promises to be a highly distinctive and original collection of poems, partly given Etter's fertile imagination, but also her background as an American-born poet who has lived in the UK for many years, drawing on poetic traditions from both sides of the Atlantic.

I'm delighted, then, to feature The Tethers here on the Wasteland, and include a poem from its pages below. I hope the collection attracts the prize shortlistings it will no doubt deserve, and would encourage readers who enjoy witty, sophisticated and thought-provoking poetry to visit the Seren publishing website, Etter's own blog, and check out the collection on Amazon. Enjoy.

The Review

So at Starbuck’s you stood in line
behind The Review’s assistant managing editor?
A skinny cappuccino? Were you close enough
to detect her brand of shampoo?
There is no need to name The Review:
it is the one that, when mentioned, inclines all bystanders
toward its vocalization until they ascertain
the nature of the allusion and proceed accordingly.
If you are an author whose work appears in the current issue,
at least two well-scented women will brush your arm “inadvertently”
and one man will strive to prolong your stay in his presence
with a look of surpassing interest.
Publication in a past issue creates a circle
of brightened eyes, however nonchalant some try to act,
and a member of the opposite sex will ask
what you’re having and bring you another
whatever the volume in your present glass.
If The Review has never accepted your work
and you live in the same city as its offices,
once a month you will find yourself unaccountably
walking past the building’s reflective panels and steel yourself
to look only ahead until you reach the end of the street,
but alas! you glance in The Review’s direction to see
an image of yourself that seems disparagingly untrue.
Some neglected authors cannot stop thinking of The Review:
they can recount the highlights of senior editors’ résumés,
and a simple “Sorry” handwritten on the rejection slip
gives them days of delight, even though they suspect
a mere intern has so condescended. A mere intern!
No one at The Review is mere. The janitor may know
whose manuscript lingers on whose desk.
The Review’s aura has an impressive breadth.
Even I feel giddy from speaking so long of it.

poem by Carrie Etter
from The Tethers (Seren, 2009)
republished with permission of the author
first published in the Times Literary Supplement

Sunday, 6 January 2013

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Saturday, 5 January 2013

Blackbox Manifold and Ink, Sweat & Tears

The fifth issue of literary ezine Blackbox Manifold has just been published, and well worth reading it is too; the usual mix of big names and new voices and poems of all styles, subjects and schools. And so you can read new work from George Szirtes, Sharon Olds, Vidyan Ravinthiran, Carolyn Hart and Susan Wicks, among others. I've a couple of poems included, too. There are also reviews by Vahni Capildeo, an exciting young poet in her own right (check out her stuff in Roddy Lumsden's recent generational anthology, Identity Parade), and by Adam Piette, co-founder and editor of the magazine.

Also worth checking out is the prose and poetry forum Ink, Sweat & Tears, which features a new poem, piece of prose writing or visual artwork almost every day. Recent highlights include Helen Mort's 'The Lovesick', which somehow manages to conjure genuine emotion from a Carry On scene, Helen Ivory's amusing account of her time at Latitude Festival, and Dan Wyke's atmospheric 'Saturday Night in St Ives'. Yesterday, my short version of Eugenio Montale's 'Il Balcone' also appeared there: an absolutely beautiful short poem in the original Italian I'm told. I at least hope I've captured its general feel. In any case, do drop in on the zine's site from time to time: there's sure to be plenty more fascinating stuff added in the future.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Poetry Feature: Conor O'Callaghan

Conor O’Callaghan, an Irish writer born in Newry in 1968, is one of those poets who critics may lazily – albeit quite rightly – describe as ‘one of the best of his generation’, though he actually seems to fall on the cusp of two generations. Or at least has fallen short, despite having appeared in seminal Irish anthologies, of major British anthologies and promotions – too young for the New Poetry and the PBS’s New Generation campaign; inexplicably missing from the Next Gen and falling short of the cut-off point of Roddy Lumsden’s forthcoming Identity Parade – as inadequate as these may ultimately be at fully checking the pulse, let alone establishing the hierarchy of the literature of a given period (history will do that), they still (usually quite rightly) cement reputations, develop readerships, and give a representative flavour of poetry at the time. This isn’t to badmouth these publications or promotions, but to note that given the inevitable parameters, some genuinely talented and worthy writers often get sidelined or miss out through nothing more than plain bad luck.

This aside, I hope I’m right in reckoning that O’Callaghan’s work will stand the test of time. I can only reach for the usual platitudes in urging you to hunt down copies of his three collections published by Gallery Press to date – The History of Rain (1993) and Seatown (1999), collected together in Seatown and Earlier Poems (2000); and the excellent Fiction, published in 2005 – showcasing the development of an exciting and original poetic voice sounding itself out in poems that are engaged and engaging, witty, smart and sharp, but above all, driven by an energetic music that is as capable of challenging and amusing as it is of moving the reader.

In his review of Seatown in the Times Literary Supplement, Stephen Knight pointed to James Fenton, Robert Frost and Philip Larkin as pronounced influences in O’Callaghan’s work, and for those who are fans of any of these major voices in post-war poetry, you won’t be disappointed by his poems. But at the same time, quite rightly, Knight states that ‘despite the presence of these pungent voices, O’Callaghan’s poetry is marvellously his own’. This is largely to do with the knowingness of the poems, which amounts to more than the winks, nudges, sarcasm and irony that crop up in much contemporary verse. Instead, particularly in Fiction, O’Callaghan’s poetry combines the suggestive, deliberative and symbolic capabilities of verse with the inventive, imaginative qualities most readily associated with fictional prose, often to startling effect. This includes the likes of ‘Out-takes’, exploring the sounds left behind from a recording session (‘leftovers from a cleaned up / final version’; suggesting our polished, distorted view of ourselves); ‘Reception’, where the poet remembers an event from his childhood which turns out to be a story he was told ‘over a glass of ropey Chianti’; ‘Hello’, a sequence of poems exploring the invention of that phrase for ‘the blower, / since some kind of formula / for an opening exchange / had to be agreed upon / to get the ball rolling’; and the excellent vignette ‘The Narrator’, who ‘during the break in chapter / gets up to stretch beneath a skylight’, a theme returned to in ‘The Present Writer’, who ‘gets a kick / inhabiting the third person, as if talking across himself / or forever clapping his own exit from the wings’.

In short, O’Callaghan stuff is the business and deserves a wide readership. And needless to say, his next collection will be well worth waiting for. In the meantime, though, do check out the three poems of his which appear in this month’s issue of Poetry magazine, and the comic ‘The Modern Pastoral Elegy’ in that magazine’s archive. And rather than my blathering on any further here, I’ll let the poetry speak for itself – below is ‘Coventry’, the sonnet that opens Fiction, first published in the TLS.


On a night as clear and warm as tonight,
in 1941, a stray German squadron
with a war to win and a radar on the blink
mistook the quays of neutral Seatown
for the lights of greater Coventry.

On a night as clear and warm as tonight –
when she has gone into an almighty huff
and taken the chat over heaven-knows-what
(or something of nothing with a bit of fluff)
and my lot once again is the box-room futon,
the guest duvet –
                                  I am inclined to think
perhaps the Luftwaffe after all were spot on,
and would give my eye-teeth for butterfly bombs
to fall into this silence I have been sent to.

poem by Conor O’Callaghan
republished with permission of the author
first published in the Times Literary Supplement, 20 October 2000
from Fiction (Gallery Press, 2005)

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Give a little Latitude

Yup, it's that time of year again... When those festival goers amongst us with exceptional taste head out to the Suffolk countryside, ready to enjoy three days of the best music, poetry, literature, film, cabaret and comedy this country - and beyond - has to offer.

And this year's Latitude Festival, due to take place from Thursday 17th to Sunday 2oth July - as impossible a feat as it may sound - promises to be even better than last time around. Regular Wasteland readers (Hello? Hello...?) will recall that I reviewed the festival for the organisers last year, as part of a team writing reviews, round-ups, features and interviews that were posted on the festival's website throughout the weekend. Back then we were treated to the likes of CSS, Rodrigo Y Gabriela, Patrick Wolf, Bat for Lashes and Canadian alt-rock giants Arcade Fire on the music bill, as well as top comedians including Bill Bailey, Russell Howard and Michael McIntyre, not to mention excellent writers and literary performers including Simon Armitage, John Hegley, Roger McGough and the indefatigable compere skills of stand-up poet Luke Wright. It was an excellent weekend thanks to the performers above and a whole load more, as well as Latitude's ethos of good quality food, drink and facilities and a relaxing, fun environment (including those trademark multi-coloured sheep). Those who want a taster of what was on offer, then, should head to the old site and check out the articles here.

But this year... well, there's familiar faces and a whole load more. You'd be forgiven for thinking that in reviewing the festival I might have a vested interest in promoting it, but having been to a good number of the major festivals in this country, Latitude was - honestly - a breath of fresh air last year. So much on offer and so much of it totally unmissable. Unlike many festivals where the headliners are almost always the highlight of the weekend (i.e. you get exactly what you pay for), Latitude's highlights came in all shapes and sizes (i.e. I never thought I'd enjoy a bizarre five-piece guitar cabaret outfit called the Bikini Beach Band launching into a chilled, Beach Boys-esque cover of grunge classic 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' as much as Arcade Fire finishing their set with the brilliant 'Rebellion (Lies)').

So this time around there's the likes of Franz Ferdinand, The Mars Volta, Foals, Sigur Ros, Elbow, Seasick Steve and Interpol on the music side of things, Ros Noble, Bill Bailey, Omid Djalili, Frankie Boyle and Stewart Lee among the comedians, and Carol Ann Duffy, Tim Turnbull, Daljit Nagra, Iain Banks and Irvine Welsh performing on the literary and stand-up poetry arenas. No wonder I'm really looking forward to reviewing it again. Do keep your eyes peeled for articles as they go up throughout the weekend on the festival's new website. And enjoy the festival if you managed to get tickets before they sold out!