Thursday, 22 May 2014

Where Have You Been?


Festschrifts and translations of Gottfried Benn are all well and good, but I can't help thinking this absence in my life isn't going to be filled until Michael Hofmann publishes another collection of his own poetry. In the meantime, here's this appropriately titled book of essays to look forward to. Published by Norton later this year, it looks like being a reprint of his prose selection 'Behind the Lines' (Faber, 2001) for a U.S. readership. The original volume didn't go to a second edition, and with the spread of Hofmania in the U.K. in recent years, it's been difficult to get hold of a copy at a reasonable price. In a way its publication is reassuring since it means Hofmann hasn't yet completely 'done a Rimbaud', but his long poetic silence, if not a repudiation of poetry, still haunts and fascinates other poets in equal measure.

Readers of Hofmann's poetry naturally hope he will publish more again one day. Dig a bit further, especially among poets, and it's possible to detect that Hofmann's apparent estrangement from his muse has an unsettling effect; as though there is something frightening about contemplating the possibility of a life without writing poetry. Without poetry, some poets fear they will be overcome by 'a deluge of nothing'. Others simply cannot believe that writing poetry might not represent the be all and end all in a person's life; that someone might not be able to explore their full potential only by writing poetry. But what of the man? Unless you happen to be speaking to someone who knows him, rarely is any attempt made to empathize with Hofmann's circumstances. Again, it's as if it is impossible to imagine that he may have discovered other, necessary ways of being, or a more satisfying way of living than writing poetry.

Who knows? He may surprise us all some day by publishing a backlog of poems, or simply carry on what looks like a commitment to translate the entire oeuvre of Joseph Roth. Either way, I'm grateful for the poems we have. I'd feel excited at the prospect of new work, of course, but in no way could I begrudge someone for acceding to whatever changes it was necessary for them to make or adapt to in their life. On the contrary, just as his poetry has been influential to so many poets, his not-writing might also inspire if it encourages us to question our lives, to ask of ourselves - of the person we think we are: where have you been?



Monday, 19 May 2014

Blog Tour

Blog Tour

Nick Murray - poet, biographer, founding editor of Rack Press and publisher of my last pamphlet 'Spring Journal' - kindly asked if I wanted to participate in a blog tour by answering these questions. My first thought was not really, but like most poets I couldn't resist a turn in the spotlight.

1. What are you working on?

In Iron Age settlements, bards stayed up all night making merry and spent the daytime napping beside a fire while the rest of the tribe went off hunting and gathering. Thank goodness for Ocado, I think, as I pop an ibuprofen with my coffee and watch my family remount the treadmill each morning.

My work ethic was shaped by the Counter-Reformation and involves growing a beard, a demand for more consumer products, and whiling away afternoons at the theatre or cinema. When I lived in Rome, I used to see Nanni Moretti sheltering from the afternoon heat at the Nuovo Sacher cinema in Trastevere. He owns it now, so watching matinees was clearly a positive career move. Growing up in Surrey, I spent many afternoons holed up within the velvet sanctum of the Cranleigh Regal. On two occasions, I sat behind Eric Clapton who is the only person to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times.

At the moment I'm concentrating on building a private counselling practice. As a sometimes writer of poems, and a non-professional one at that, I feel unburdened by the need to always have a literary project on the go. I suppose you could say I'm working on assembling another collection, but only in the way people using Twitter can be said to be at work. As models of practice, W.C.W. and Jean Follain are close to my heart. Rimbaud's presence/absence is never entirely out of the picture.

I imagine novelists feel supported by the structure of the novel they're writing, however vaguely it's plotted. Though reassuring, such a way of working seems counter-productive to me. I prefer the freedom to sit in a near-empty cinema, eating popcorn and gazing at the screen until I'm the embodiment of awareness, attending to whatever passes across it. Outdoors, I look and look, collecting images, feeling uplifted despite the evidence. I won't know what I'm working on until the next poem breaks cover and surprises me. I last wrote a poem 26 days ago. I'll probably write another one.

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?

The plagiarism goes undetected.

The serious answer: probably insufficiently.

3. Why do you write what you do?

Because I feel ground down, reduced, and in need of a release from whatever oppressive forces, personal and political, are at work in my life - including our enslavement to causality and explanation.

Be that as it may, here's the romantic explanation. The signal to write is compelling; poetry arrives like the emergency services with a defibrillator to revive the ailing heart.

But most of the time it doesn't. The imagination stews, a daube of undifferentiated thought. Or sits cross-legged on a stinky mat, half-convinced (hoping?) that 'The poem is already written, / but the page is blank.'

Also creative individuals are afforded a special status I haven't quite cured myself of the need for.

As for the language of my poems, their forms and preoccupations, these are simply the result of who I happen to be and the life I've lived. Most likely, all my poems are just the wringings-out of a sponge that has absorbed the work of other, superior poets.

4. How does your writing process work?

I am the world's most uncreative person. Left to its own devices, my mind atrophies. I point at flowers and make perfectly banal observations. Without others I have no language. However, if I'm reading someone else's poems, that's another thing all together. If I read, I write. Simple as that.

When I stopped smoking almost ten years ago I sacrificed a fairly disciplined writing habit. Or at least the habit of sitting still in one place with a pencil in my hand. Then my wife and I had a daughter which further affected the amount of time I have to write and the forms my poems end up taking. Now the moments I find most conducive to writing are in the gaps between other commitments; unexpected moments like waiting at the dentist's, being in a meeting, travelling on public transport.

I tend to write most when I'm on a train, homeward-bound, in the late afternoon. Then, I'll jot down a few lines or, if I'm lucky, a first draft on whatever's to hand - I gave up the encumbrance of carrying a notebook some time ago - and finish it off on my laptop the same evening. Once engaged, I love the intensity of writing a poem - the rhythms and images pulled together by some centrifugal force; a line scanning; the sense of play and element of puzzle-solving involved. Afterwards, I can see it was the self-forgetfulness that helped bring the poem into existence, and which felt so good. Other times, the poem accretes slowly, line by line, maturing in the darkness of an old folder.

It always comes to an end too soon. I write mostly short poems. I think of them as commemorating the creative impetus itself, and I dislike trying to extend it beyond its natural life. It might also be to do with the fact that I start losing control of my material after about 30 lines. If it was a respected enough form in the UK, I would happily write only haiku.

Poems will sit on my hard drive until it becomes important to me for someone else to think I'm still a poet. I know I'm at a low point when I discover motivation. Then, I'll send them off. If they're accepted, I make sure I let myself feel pleased. When a complimentary copy of a magazine arrives, I store it in an old banana box without reading my own contribution.


Next stop on the Blog Tour: Carrie Etter and Charley Barnes.


Saturday, 29 December 2012

Reading List 2012

January

The Haiku Anthology, ed. Cor Van Den Heuvel (contd; reread)
The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa, ed. Robert Hass
Not In These Shoes, Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch (reread)
The Dog in the Sky, Helen Ivory
A Halfway House, Neil Powell
Selected Poems, Christopher Reid
Katerina Brac, Christopher Reid (reread)
Black Cat Bone, John Burnside

February

Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney, ed. Dennis O’Driscoll
View with A Grain of Sand: Selected Poems, Wislawa Szymborska (reread)
Zone Journals, Charles Wright (reread)
The Water Table, Philip Gross
For and After, Christopher Reid
Death of a Naturalist, Seamus Heaney (reread)
Door into the Dark, Seamus Heaney (reread)
Wintering Out, Seamus Heaney (reread)
North, Seamus Heaney (reread)
Field Work, Seamus Heaney (reread)
Station Island, Seamus Heaney (reread)
The Haw Lantern, Seamus Heaney (reread)
Seeing Things, Seamus Heaney (reread)

March

Seeing Things, Seamus Heaney (contd; reread)
The Spirit Level, Seamus Heaney (reread)
Electric Light, Seamus Heaney (reread)
District and Circle, Seamus Heaney (reread)
Human Chain, Seamus Heaney (reread)
Domestic Violence, Eavan Boland
Second Space, Czeslaw Milosz
Black Cat Bone, John Burnside (reread)
The Really Short Poems, A. R. Ammons
This, Czeslaw Milosz
The Monster Loves His Labyrinth: Notebooks, Charles Simic
Poetry Review (Spring 2012), ed. Fiona Sampson 

April

The Monster Loves His Labyrinth: Notebooks, Charles Simic (re-read)
Sidereal, Rachael Boast (x2)
The Dark Film, Paul Farley (x2)
Nights in the Iron Hotel, Michael Hofmann

May

Nothing Special: Living Zen, Charlotte Joko Beck
Small Hours, Lachlan Mackinnon
Poems: Eugenio Montale, ed. Harry Thomas, trans. various (re-read)
Notebooks, Anton Chekhov
Acrimony, Michael Hofmann (re-read)
Corona, Corona, Michael Hofmann (re-read)
Approximately Nowhere, Michael Hofmann (re-read)
The Eternal Ones of the Dreams: Selected Poems 1990-2010, James Tate

June

Modern European Poetry, ed. & trans. various (Bantam)
The Second Life of Art: Selected Essays of Eugenio Montale, ed. & trans. J. Galassi
Satires and Epistles, Horace and Persius, trans. Niall Rudd
The Faber Book of 20th-Century Italian Poems, ed. Jamie McKendrick, trans. various (re-read)
Selected Poems, Franco Fortini, trans. Paul Lawton
130 Poems, Jean Follain, trans. Christopher Middleton (x2)
Selected Poems, Attilio Bertolucci, trans. Charles Tomlinson
Poetry Review (Summer 2012), ed. George Szirtes

July

Songbook: The Selected Poems of Umberto Saba, trans. Leonard Nathan
Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry, Robert Hass
Yet There Is Music: 1939-1948, Vladimir Holan, trans. Josef Tomas (unreadable)
130 Poems, Jean Follain, trans. Christopher Middleton (re-read)
The Haiku Anthology, ed. Cor Van Den Heuvel (re-read)
The Shuttered Eye, Julia Copus

August

The World’s Two Smallest Humans, Julia Copus
The Haiku Anthology, ed. Cor Van Den Heuvel (contd; re-read)
Grace, Esther Morgan
In the Flesh, Adam O’Riordan
Portrait of my Lover as a Horse, Selima Hill
Collected Poems, R. F. Langley
Farmers Cross, Bernard O’Donoghue
Six Children, Mark Ford
What the Water Gave Me, Pascale Petit
Taller When Prone, Les Murray
Maggot, Paul Muldoon

September

Across the Land and the Water: Selected Poems, 1964-2001, W. G. Sebald
The Faber Book of 20th Century German Poems, ed. The Hofmeister
Lucky Day, Richard Price
Passing Through: The Later Poems: New and Selected, Stanley Kunitz
The Best American Poetry 1990, ed. Jorie Graham

October

New and Selected Poems, Michael Ryan
PLACE, Jorie Graham
Poetry Review (Autumn 2012), ed. Charles Boyle
Out There, Jamie McKendrick
November, Sean O’Brien
How Snow Falls, Craig Raine
The Best American Poetry 2009, ed. David Wagoner

November

They Came to See a Poet: Selected Poems, Tadeusz Rozewicz, trans. A. Czerniaweski
Straw for the Fire: from the Notebooks of Theodore Roethke, ed. David Wagoner
The Snow Watcher, Chase Twichell
Experience: A Memoir, Martin Amis

December

Collected Poems, Jane Kenyon (re-read)
The Best American Poetry 1995, ed. Richard Howard
Astonishment, Anne Stevenson
Poetry Review (Winter 2012), ed. Bernardine Evaristo 

Sunday, 21 October 2012

New Next Generation Poet


At the age of just five, Arlo Giovanni Butler (A.G., as his friends call him) is the youngest of the New Next Generation Poets. Butler won the National Poetry Competition while many of his contemporaries were still struggling with phonemes and secured a publisher for his first collection before finishing prep school.

After graduating from UEA at the age of eight, he relocated to East London where he established the capital's premier spoken word club night which attracts edgy outsiders, hip mainstreamers and not a few bebrogued hangers-on who, when their friends aren't looking, will passionately explain that poetry is cool because it is 'free from the logic of capital'. Comparisons with the New York School of poets aren't entirely undeserved since, in the words of another commentator, 'they sometimes seem only interested in each other.'

Once active online, Butler explains he stopped engaging with social networking systems after winning the T.S.Eliot prize for his second collection because his life was becoming 'info-saturated'. He hopes, however, that fans of his work will tolerate his recent excursus into musical composition, working in collaboration with the American minimalist maestro Steve Reich whose post-tonal style Butler says he fell in love with the first time he heard it inside his mother's womb.

Ladbrokes has given the young wordsmith odds of 10/1 to win the Nobel prize for literature before his twenty-first birthday. His third collection is due out from Faber on Monday.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Reviews of 'Spring Journal'

Two more reviews: David Morley in the current issue of Poetry Review (ed. Charles Boyle) and Matthew Stewart at Rogue Strands.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

'Waiting for the Sky to Fall' Reviewed


Really pleased to discover my first collection with Waterloo Press 'Waiting for the Sky to Fall' has received another enthusiastic review, this time by Steve Spence in Stride Magazine (click to link). Copies are still available from the Waterloo Press website.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Quote for the Day: Seidel

'I will say that learning how to write has to do in part with learning how to accede to yourself and your object, instead of writing what you think you ought to write, or what at that point in time the world thinks poetry is about. Or what you think you ought to be about. The moment comes, if it ever comes, when you have enough strength to give way, to give in to being who you are, to give in to your themes. Giving in to your obsessions, giving in to the things that you will be writing about over and over. And sometimes the things you’ll be writing about over and over are things that some people don’t find very nice.'

Frederick Seidel, Paris Review Interview No. 95