My first poems from 1981-1985 after art college. Some were published in the first volume of a’The New Magazine’ then just started by Gerard Woodward who went on to be a well known poet and novelist.
Unsure of my writing I used the ‘David Bell’ alter ego.
32 poems including the sequence ‘The New Country’ from 1985.
1981-5 never shown these to anyone since. Post art college first poems..reading Pasternak and Heaney…Bunting and W.C.Williams…and a hefty bit of John Masefield and Edward Thomas..love poems to a non-existent mythical England…32 poems including the mad The Moon Over Henley my version of Bunting and T.S. Elliot..I kid you not…with some Echo and The Bunnymen in there too:-)
32 poems because same number as Hughes ‘Hawk in th Rain’…along with Heaney a major influence the only four poetry books I owned at art college were Heaney’s ‘ Death of a Naturalist’, Hughes’ book and Sylvia Plath’s’Colossus’ and Thom Gunn ‘Sense of Movement’ .not a bad start:-).
Having self-published the latest pamphlet in an intentionally ongoing series ( I aim to publish a ’round-up’ pamphlet twice a year from now on) here some author’s notes on the poems.
The latest is ‘Burning Books’ Horseshoe Press Pamphlet No. 2 and I thought I’d try and describe what influenced the poems and what I think I doing which invariably different to what the reader imputes.
Burning Books and Buying Time ..education, morals, politics..everything can be bought these days. I am literally buying time at present using up savings before the next employment…..if there is a next one…
The Dance of Debt
The dance of debt been going on since time immemorial but never has it been such a mantra from the ruling classes..
Things are not getting any better no matter how many J.K.Rowling novels we burn….
Iggy Pop in a sideboard
True story on Foundation Art at Oxford Polytechnic I suddenly had enough money to buy my third ever vinyl album. The first was an MFP Oliver the musical soundtrack. The second was Alice Cooper’s Bilion Dollar babies then this. The copy I purchased was so warped it kept skidding when played on the Dansette tweed record player kept in my parent’s sideboard. I returned it to Woolworths and traded it for a flat copy of XTC’s White Music. I heard just enough of The Passenger to ‘get it’ and the details about Berlin are fantasy thoughts prompted by a documentary and footage shown after Bowie’s death.
Just for fun completely random stuff which has overtones of suicide airline pilots from the news owing something to Prynne and Oliver but not sure what. I never been a strident modernist in that vain and frankly get bored with poetry that needs decyphering or pretends to be something it isn’t. The factionalism of contemporary poetry means that if you go down that road you will have a loyal and small audience and not much else. It a good route for academics. A love of Bob Cobbing helps..the poetic equivalent of trainspotting.
London Calling (45)
Start of a series of Vinyl 45 related poems. Short and lyrical …that’s it with overtones of political comment just like the original songs.
Working on a Building of love (45)
See above any link to Corbyn is purely coincidental and anyway I ditched Labour for the Greens.
A Poundland sonnet
Both these ‘sonnets’ written pre-election. Angry squibs. Didn’t help the shits won anyway.
A Wreckless scheme
A retort to the great God Armitage’s dull work in the field. Armitage is like New Labour very successfull and very dull.
Edwin Smith – Catching Light
A commission, a PAID commission no less, for R.I.B.A. Now online at RIBA website too. Loved it as gave free rein to my retro-technology obsessions. Each verse dedicated to a particular camera Smith used at different times in his life. Lead to some interesting places which will explore further like Zeppelins over Wembley, 1930s Camden, Orwell and Fascism.
The description of the down-land cottage all true. My dad was a farm labourer in early 1960s. We were so poor he bred rabbits to sell. The memory of Matilda comes from school history lessons. Matilda fled Oxford and was given refuge at Wallingford (my school’s location) Castle. Her action changed history and ensured that the Plantagenet line was in power later. No Matilda no QEII..which despite all the 90th Birthday celebrations might have been a good thing..in fact how about no Royals at all? Personal note I fled Oxford too but on a London bound overcrowded National Express coach. Not quite as romantic…
The selling of England by the Pound was most brutal in the destruction of William Morris’s original company. Rover was the biggest employer when I a child now it the University. They let it rust….
Postcard to Okinawa
I hate acronyms especially nasty little ones that belittle the working class which most of them seem to be funnily enough…
The Oxford Professor of Poverty
Dedicated to Simon Armitage who has hoovered up everything I could ever aspire too with some of the dullest poetry I ever read.
Success in Britain is never offending anybody…and toeing the line forever…..New Labour through and through. His first book is where it ended for me…
Self-explanatory. Whilst writing I referred to Edwin Muir.
I was also was reading Cesar Vallejo in great translations published by Richard Price ( a proper poet) at Southfields.
Awfully Middle Class
Again says it on the tin. A classist rant and I aint apologising. If you are going to publish boring self-referential holiday snaps about reading Dante on the beach then be prepared for a slagging..naming no names..
Self-explanatory but I lost count of the number of times privileged i.e. wealthy middle class people have told me that life is what you make it, you make your own luck, you only have yourself to blame etc etc. BULLSHIT..this country is totally controlled and run by money and the class system has become MORE not less embedded in my lifetime. I would not have had a decent education in post Thatcher Britain because that is how the Middle Class voted and would like it to stay…if you poor you don’t get in the door…
SHORT STORY: THE LEASH
About the only thing I got out of my brief tenure on a creative writing course at NTU. Heavily influenced by David Belbin’s particularly rigorous copy-editing. He would make a great editor. It a parody of a Scottish Working Class realist story from mid 1980s. Not bad for a first attempt. More James Kelman than Irvine Welsh thank god …
The full story and a ‘contextual document’ about influences we had to submit alongside it are available on the blog here:
Too much thinking fucks you up
Too much time slips through the cracks
Worrying about the rain, the funerals
The way the poplar trees creak in the wind
And all along the drip of ice melting off
The corrugated asbestos roof a metronome
The beat of a disillusioned parade
Spinning through a muddied field outside Berlin
The piano disintegrating under the 400 blows
Of a clown and Judy Garland’s axes
Through the wires and chords
The splinters of a life fading away
I was 17, Lust for Life, in a rack at Woolworth
I bought it although it was so warped it didn’t play
Spinning on a tweed covered second-hand record player
Hidden inside a wooden sideboard it rattled the china
The Passenger woozy and stumbling into a Motown beat
The future on a plate, disintegrating in the shooting match.
Finally like a chord wrenched from a broken piano a new poem. I think. I not sure any more if I actually am a poet. Whether poetry even worth writing in the U.K. at this time as it seems to me to have become a sport for the white middle-classes and to be slowly suffocating in academic rules and careerism. I always felt distanced from anything remotely resembling a British novelist scene. That to me was pure drawing-room from the get go with a few notable exceptions e.g. Ballard, Sinclair etc but most of what I see paraded in Waterstones fiction section I’d rather see pulped to be honest. Apart from helping second-incomers pay off their mortgages or buy a nice cottage in Cornwall I don’t see the point. Now poetry has gone the same way…
The poetry I felt part of has disappeared under the weight of participants..many good and talented ..but for me hugely boring. I felt attracted to iconoclasts and outsiders…politically motivated poets of region. I don’t see that any more in fact I see careerist tick-boxing on a scale that would make a fine-artist with a wad of ACE forms blush…..so what has happened…is it the internet? The everybody can do it mentality when patently most cannot..sorry that not CW PC speak but I don’t buy into the revise enough times you will get it right school. In fact I increasingly believe in less revision is better.
I may be wrong but if so why do I feel so miserable whenever I see yet another worthy but dull white middle-class poet read?
As a counter-blast here a poem about smashing pianos and other things….
First version hand-written in one go whilst listening to music. Second as written directly to facebook ( a well known literary outlet) and finally posted here and removed from facebook.
Not the way you told to do it in a CW class maybe ..well fuck it it’s the only way I can write. It may be rubbish who knows. It’s this or nothing…and I mean nothing…I that far away from writing right now.
Smashing Pianos is how I feel.
In fact looking at the poem again ( It was deliberately written in a semi-trance whilst thinking about other things to try and unlock something other than bland formal concision). I realise it all about the sentiments above.
It is about the futility of being a ‘working-class’ poet in a middle-class scene. A real working-class council-estate chavvy poet. The kind of poet some younger middle-class poets have been attacking lately for ‘parading’ their working-classness for fuck’s sake as part of the attacks on David Harsent and Simon Armitage. Yes being brought up poor is now a stigma in poetry circles…..that subject is no longer required..in fact we have all moved on..gender politics, feminism, animal liberation they fine ..but male, left-wing class-based politics that not allowed any more…it so 2oth century darling.
That’s fine if we in turn are allowed to point out the dire middle-classness of poems about Daddy’s Bermudan holiday or how wonderful France is…or is that somehow OK? Is it also a fact that a majority of white middle class poets under 30 choose poetry as a life vocation or profession, a bit like being an architect, and can only afford to study and crawl up the academic league ladder of riches and fame because of money made from Thatcher’s Britain?Is part of being a citizen of Cameron’s state being allowed to say what one likes if one has money only?
Julie Walters said recently that there would be no working class RADA actors soon…the same applies to all the visual arts and poetry too. The marginal and the poor are being squeezed to the edge of everything…taking away a voice is the first step in eradicating a ‘problem’…….ask Tony Harrison..he quoted Arthur Scargill’s father in ‘The School of Eloquence’ from V…..nothing changed but the hands on the dictionary….
The epigraph to Tony Harrison’s long poem v. is a quote from Arthur Scargill, the miners’ leader:
‘My father still reads the dictionary every day. He says your life depends on your power to master words.’
'The Martian Owl' Photo Credit: Paul Wolfgang Webster
This post brings together some thoughts I posted online today in response to the attention being given a negative review posted on the Stride website by poet and critic Martin Stannard of the newly published ‘Paper Aeroplane: Selected Poems 1989-2014.
I had been writing quite experimental poetry through the 1980’s since art college most obviously influenced by William Carlos Williams and Boris Pasternak. Like my abstract painting it was not ‘user friendly’ and nor was I.
Then in 1986 I discovered Raymond Carver’s effortless and readable poems and he became my biggest influence. I also read Simon Armitage’s Slow Dancer pamphlet not because I had heard of him but because I was interested in anything John Harvey published. He was the man after all that had published a Slow Dancer with Carver’s photo on the cover that led to me submitting to him.
I liked that pamphlet and also read his first Bloodaxe book ‘Zoom’. Rather than feeling overawed by Armitage’s talent for a winning and entertaining line I actually found it inspiring that someone from ‘my background’ and using day to day sayings and colloquialisms could garner so much attention. I may subconsciously have been thinking of that first pamphlet ‘The Walking Horses’ when I wrote ‘The Ice Horses’ although to me Carver was far more important. So in those days I was a fan not a detractor.
Ironically I then read on the same bill at the Rising Sun Institute in Reading in 1992.
I don’t remember anything much apart from Simon Armitage’s awful Hawaiian shirt and his asking the arts officer to pay him quickly as he had a mortgage. That struck me because I was unemployed and living with my parents and nowhere near mortgage land. He was a different animal to me even then.
Since then Armitage has simply been there all this time but not on my shelves.
I therefore have no real contemporary knowledge of his work to draw on.
Since the early 1990s I have never managed to earn a living from poetry or any art form. Armitage must be one of the few poets in England that has been that successful that he could probably live off his poetry alone. That may well be the source of the antagonism that he provokes from other poets but jealousy is not criticism.
Martin Stannard Review – The Hand Grenade
Which nearly 23 years later brings us to Stannard’s review and to the traditional first go at the tome to be judged by..The Selected. 1989-2014 covers everything from his first Bloodaxe book ‘Zoom’ to now. Because of the kerfuffle I feel inspired to buy it despite the cover.I have only my memories of those early works and an awareness of his very public profile to go on so this not another review.
I think the only things I have read by him since the 1990s would be the Vinyl Collecting pieces from The Observer he did for a while which were a bit nondescript and I do own the ‘Gig’ book but never felt inspired to read it as it looked to me to be a bit of vanity publishing.
I have never had an opinion about his career other than he got lucky hit the moment just like some other lucky working-class bleeders (Damien Hirst) and once ‘famous’ he never lost the right to churn out books. I have read reviews over the years and watched his reputation rise and fall, never dipping below hugely admired as far as I can tell. I may have missed more critical opinions as I have not been focusing on poetry.
I was surprised then today by the venom attaching itself on facebook to a ‘negative’ review of Rhymin Simon and have reacted. The surprise the more heartfelt because I don’t think I have ever read a negative review of the man. Which shows how deeply embedded in ‘National Treasure’ territory he has become. Like Ian McMillan they are cheeky chappy working class media ‘poets’ but does that mean because popular they beyond criticism?
In my opinion Martin Stannard makes a hash of his critique because he adds so much personal detail he manages to throw himself on his own grenade. If one ignores the 23 years of rightful indignation ( which I admit I have sympathy for) that the rewards of poetry are thin and get spread even thinner when dumped on a lucky few there is some very good and insightful and damaging points being made. That is what criticism should do. Criticise…
Stannard is not a fan and to be fair appears never to have bought into the work.
To paraphrase Stannard he says that Armitage has played a one-card poetry trick for almost 25 years. In the rare case where he tries something else like ‘Stone Stanzas’ he reveals a depth mostly missing from his O Level syllabus grist. Stannard has analysed his line and thinks it is repetitive in the extreme being almost solely based on a 10 syllable metronomic beat. To me this element of the review is good closely read ‘criticism’ from Stannard and personal opinion has nothing to do with it. According to Stannard there is little or no real adventure over his career and when he attempted prose-poetry it was a mistake. For someone held up as the Professor of Creative Writing at Sheffield University (a post he given I presume because of his published work not his academic status) this is a very harsh criticism but Stannard needs to rewrite or write again with a cooler head to make this criticism stick.
I say respect Armitage’s early originality and the good stuff including the Stone Stanzas. Let us recognise his faltering middle years if that true and make any real criticism coherent and less personal. Including from myself! I will try and review the book objectively if I get hold of a copy.
I do think British poetry needs more than a cheeky grin and admirable technique and that my personal opinion and it can apply to other ‘media’ poets too like Ian McMillan……for me it needs grit and experiment too. Peter Reading and Ken Smith where are you when we need you most?
As for lovely northerners I will stick with Basil Bunting and he didn’t do cuddly:-)
A strange one this and no mistake. Mark Strand who had arisen as poet in Sarah Jackson’s lecture is now discovered lurking in Shapard and Thomas’s 1986 anthology of the then recently termed,’Sudden fiction’ which now typically called ‘Flash Fiction’.
The anthology I picked up in 1989 when fairly obsessed with post BASS* 1986 American Literature and many of the same individuals such as Carver, Barthelme, Coover, Wolff, Paley are present here
Dog Life is a slight, amusing yet somehow ephemeral take on male fidelity (I presume unless one meant to read the protagonist’s confessions as surreal realism and he actually was a dog). The male in bed (echoes of David Belbin’s Games in Bed here!) confesses that he formally a dog with dog-like instincts ….it hard not to read the list of conquests as anything other than male boasting and the female’s reaction of going back to sleep and forgetting about it just about sums up the tale.
Strand in this period up to 1985 had stopped writing poetry for ten years and the collection evidences a talent somewhat at sea by this example. Amusing but hardly on a par with his deep and melancholic poetry. He didn’t produce another volume of short stories nor a novel but did complete some children’s fiction and art criticism before returning to poetry in 1990. His comment in a interesting group of afterwords by the authors is oblique and not entirely convincing. He speaks of sudden fiction as ‘runtish’ which maybe sums up his feelings for it. I was no more convinced by his afterword than his story.
Far more significant is the development post 1986 (with the undoubted extra boost of the internet) of Sudden Fiction into Flash Fiction and the ensuing ‘movement’. A quick web search on ‘flash fiction’ shows that what was a curiosity in 1986 has bloomed into a veritable sea of algae with ‘Flash Fiction Day’, Competitions and even its own Wikipedia definition.
For what it’s worth it really isn’t anything more than very short pieces…rather than normal short stories. In my opinion it isn’t really a container for prose-poems that separate but can overlap if a poet feels it fits the term.
For me I come back to runtish….do I want to be a runt?
*Also the BASS (Best American Short Stories) 1986 edition edited by Carver probably a better place to look for where the entire short story was at this point.
There have been three Monday lectures on the course and two of them have been by poets and in addition a first Poetry tutorial session with Rory Waterman ( I have since requested changing to part-time so that will be last Poetry session until next year). I have had a hefty poetic boot up the arse so to speak which just as well as rest of this first year will be dedicated mostly to short stories in David Belbin’s fiction class:-)
Sarah Jackson’s session was interesting although it did seem to focus on the psychological aspect of writing with Freud mentioned several times. I enjoyed reading Mark Strand again and have realised that as well as the volume ‘Darker’ I have a ‘Selected Poems’ by him.
Rory Waterman’s first session was interesting with a focus on a 12 line poem. Mine so old it was virtually redundant to workshop but an interesting experience.
For my influential single volume of poetry I selected Raymond Carver’s Fires and Carver will probably be my selected writer to focus on in the Theory and Practice assignment due 1st December unless some new revelation occurs.
Finally Andrew Taylor gave this week’s lecture on ‘Literary Influence’ which was very interesting even if he did insist on attacking us with J.H.Prynne’s obscurantisms 🙂
I hadn’t read Prynne..I’d purchased and shelved in the ‘outside my comfort zone’ section alongside Reading, Olsen, Zukovsky, Harwood, McDiarmid and White…i.e. read at a later date…in my case very much later. But I am perservering so that at least if I reject the Cambridge School a second time it with some insight rather than just blind prejudice. On first read through I can see the debt to McDiarmid (archaic glacial verbiage) and the Objectivists clarity of language and layout BUT…and it is a big BUT…I still do not warm to it. Never have…something academic and stoney at its (mostly white middle class male ) heart. I always felt it was poetry like trainspotting. The plethora of footnotes and referencing ( I almost include Geoffrey Hill here too) I find too self-referential ..too clubby and knowing in a way. As if it designed to be obscure to preserve its integrity which a concept I simply do not buy into. Like Cobbing and the Concrete poets I suspect that half of it good half of it nonsense obscured by clouds. Prepared to persevere though.
Thursday was the induction day at Clifton. Rory Waterman, David Belbin, Georgina Lock and Andrew Taylor introduced themselves to the students and the course structure was laid out. I was impressed with the layout and I have quite a lot of work to do…deadlines are good as I would default to laziness if did not have them!
We got a sense of the interests of the tutors and there was some joking about the similarities and differences especially in ‘poetics’. I immediately had a sense that a lot had happened in poetry since my extended ‘absence’ especially in academic poetry so when given a reading list and an empty library (all the students off being ‘welcomed’)I set about rounding up a few books and also finding out a couple I had heard about but not purchased like the Ludwig and Fietz ‘Non-Metropolitan perspectives’. I also came across the Hazel Smith (Australian) book which seemed to do a good job of exploring all the new’territories’ whether I wished to visit or not.
Finally I spent so much time delving through the shelves (ex-librarian syndrome) that I completely forgot to go to the social and missed the wine…and the social…oh well there plenty of events coming up to meet people.
Here what I snaffled up and hopefully I will have got through the ‘creative writing’ histories by first Poetry session on 5th October. Oh the How Novelists Work (Maura Dooley ed.) is my own copy rest in Library I also came away with the Eisner book as found a Graphic Novel section:-)
This was the project I did not complete and show at Lincoln because I became so disillusioned with the course. Instead I showed the ‘Suit of Nettles’ PR show cop-out..to fill the space as I felt this project was too complicated for what was basically a craft show….
The basic premise is as follows and over the next few weeks I shall start filling in the journeys week by week…
Every journey to Lincoln is annotated in a sketchbook. Informed by a reading of a single chapter from W.G.Sebald’s book ‘Rings of Saturn’. Thoughts and observations are written down as they occur with no linear logic.