Back in 2010 I started off with the title Track for a multimedia M.A. that finally did not happen. However the seeds of some kind of project centred around the impact of the railway on the movement of people and ideas started then. This is now bearing fruit as a double project centred on my local history research in two cities close to my heart.
So now we have…
based around the recent Lost Nottingham poetry project and
Based around the concept of Backwaters and Branch Lines
Maybe two separate collections or two bound together in one ‘TRACK’ volume.
Last year I did a reading for Nottingham Poetry Festival in which I produced a small ‘polemical’ pamphlet called ‘Burning Books’.
The pamphlet was a one off and most of the poems after ‘outing’ in paper form were then hidden away as ‘too political’ for my readers by myself! I censored myself which crazy but shows the agonies of being in any way ‘political’ or writing from a stridently working-class viewpoint in the contemporary middle-class ring-fenced world of ‘proper poetry’.
It only now and post Kit de Waal’s article in the Guardian that I realise that in doing so I hiding from my true self.
So here again is the ‘real’ ‘Burning Books’ pre-edit and I stand by these poems…..a lot of pretentious middle-class ‘poets’ will hate it but frankly as I don’t spend much time listening to their whinging I don’t care. I will be ‘re-categorised’ as a ‘performance poet’ I expect and described as having a ‘chip on my shoulder’ which a frequent method of negating anything which threatens the middle class.
The following was written as a comment on facebook about the Tim Lott article on the Guardian published this week. This sparked some interesting comments on the notion and as Lott specifically flags up Sillitoe and this now a City of Literature I thought it might be worth expanding on.
The comments are more revealing than the article. I was born on a farm and moved to a council estate (lucky enough after sleeping on floors my family were rehoused) in 1966. I have always seen myself as working class and have written about it. I don’t think you lose that and I am not any less working class now than I was then. I do however from the age of 17 have many instances where I was told I was ‘rough’, uncultured, brash, awkward, not nice..by middle class people when it suited them. This usually occurred when I stood up on principal to being labelled or demeaned because of my background. I would be famous now if middle class because I would have learnt to keep my mouth shut and ‘do the right thing’. I never have and I never will and it has cost me jobs (the latest a case in point even academia is rife with classism) and affected my artistic production but it has never stopped me and never will. As my father said if a job’s worth doing it is worth doing well. I worked 8 years as a ‘minion’ (their words) at Oxford University in the same Colleges and system as Jeanette Winterson et al attended…..I could not be seen let alone heard during that time and that why I in Nottingham. If I stayed in Oxford I would be dead..literally.
There are some strange reactions in the comments including some vituperative remarks about Sillitoe himself which seem worth mentioning. He did in fact spend most of his life living in London but I don’t think that precludes him writing about the working class he came from. It would be like someone telling me I cannot write about Oxfordshire. More cutting was the accusation of demeaning the Radford area and its folk as villains which as I worked on Radford Road isn’t as far from the truth as it should be. In fact that road is statistically one of the highest reported crime areas in the country due to a high turn over of dwellers, students and a drug problem that has never gone away. Again attacking Sillitoe seems to be shooting the messenger and not addressing the problem something Nottingham good at.
Stanley Middleton isn’t mentioned which a shame as he probably wrote about the suburban aspirations of ‘decent folk’ ( i.e. people who work rather than the ‘working class’) just as well and lived all his life here but does that make him a better writer? As for modern day writers in Nottingham addressing ‘working class’ values it hard to say. David Belbin and John Harvey both address working-class story-lines but does that make their work ‘working class’ or them for that matter? Further more does it matter? Michael Eaton and Stephen Lowe both address working class subjects but I would never describe either as working class. As my dad would have said they wouldn’t know one end of a shovel from the other. Rosie Garner is definitely working class and lived all her life in Bestwood so I guess she would be happy with the label. Mulletproof Poet addresses his upbringing directly in his writing but aligns himself with The Sleaford Mods as much as Sillitoe. Nicola Monaghan in her original format ( she has since re-booted as a Horror Story/Thriller novelist Nikki Valentine but that another story) used working class to brand her first novel The Killing jar very successfully but having explored the hell of her estate upbringing (allegedly …I remain unconvinced there wasn’t a fair amount of decorative drugginess added to spice up the tale) she has not pushed that particular angle since. As an academic lecturer ( therefore now middle class according to some people’s logic) she now may find that to do so brings accusations of hypocrisy as many suggested in commenting on Lott’s original piece. To succeed then is to betray your background? That unjust in my opinion but unless a working class writer remains in poverty how do they avoid that catch 22. I am unemployed technically now but it not the same as being a 17 year old with no prospects. I am comfortable for the time being and can survive. Can I then say I still working class?
Which brings us to Nottingham’s most famous son..the rose with thorns. D.H.Lawrence. Definitely from the working class in Eastwood but hell bent on putting as much distance between himself and this ‘provincial’ city as he could. Never did any manual labour but wrote about it beautifully. Leant heavily towards right wing and fascist ideas after marrying into the Richtofen family. Treated badly certainly but no worse than others suspected of German allegiance and ended up a virtual exile because of it. A working class writer. Yes. A fascist. Yes. Uncomfortable truths abound. I do not buy into the ‘he was misunderstood’ approach. When he wrote his eulogy to Hitler he knew what he doing. A Moseleyite through and through.
WORKING CLASS HERO?
Can one be a truly ‘working class’ writer then? My opinion is yes one can.
Even in writing that line I baulked at using ‘one’ it reminds me of Oxford.
We carry our childhoods with us and we never lose them. they form our core values and our outlooks. I will never vote Conservative. I will never support fox-hunting. I do not like right wing people and neither did my family. My parents bought their council house off Thatcher because it was a good deal …did that make them any less working class? The estate I grew up on is unrecognisable now and a dormitory suburb for London with high prices and no community. That was part of the Thatcherite policy to enable purchase, profiteering and movement. Slum landlords have divided the small council houses into multiple occupation flats. The working class are still there but speak many languages, have no organisation to speak for them, and work horrendous shifts to pay sky-high rents for cramped rooms. That is what working class writing should tackle now. It is below the radar of old notions of working and class and some working class people are actively exploiting that underclass. Again an unfortunate truth.The exploitation of land and capital continues by whatever means allowed.
The white working class communal world I grew up in has been smashed but it does not mean I cannot write about it or posit it as an alternative to what we have now. That is not naive lefty fantasy – that is fact. That certain middle-class writers would rather avoid that unwelcome truth says more about the state of Britain now than what existed then. Sitting around in book groups reading Hilary Mantel and eating cake is very nice for the idle rich but how many question how or where their nice cheap Amazon paperbacks are printed or who actually prepared and served that delicious cake? Many hands hold up our middle and working-class lifestyles now. We are all beneficiaries of our comfortable western capitalism..all of them unseen hands….in foreign parts mostly. Cheap labour and exploitation is at the heart of all capitalist processes. Forget that and you have forgotten you are working class. Hands define manual labour. Hands also write. Some writers only know writing and have never encountered the other.
My definition of a ‘working class’ writer is anybody who has experience of both. Working and writing. These days the literary world is clogged up with people who know only one and lecture those who have experience of the other endlessly…
Tim Lott has ‘soft hands’ as my Dad would say….they be manager’s hands.
Released into the wild today as a downloadable pdf. The first of an irregular series of pdf pamphlets released as and when i feel like it.
Basically a resume and calling card showing the fairly small output of the last 15 years and hopefully leading to more poems in the future. I have already started on a sequence for the ‘Backwater’ volume so thought I had better clear this one up for once and all.
Here the Bio blurb so you get the picture..all offers of Penury Fighting to me asap 🙂
The Drifting Village – Press blurb stuff…
Shaun Belcher was born Oxford, England in 1959 and brought up on a down-land farm before moving to the small town of Didcot, near Oxford, England in 1966. He studied fine art at Hornsey College of Art, London from 1979–81. He began writing poetry in the 1980s and has subsequently been published in a number of small magazines and a poem used at title of the Shore Poets Anthology ‘The Ice Horses’ (Scottish Cultural Press 1996). A selection of poems was published as ‘Last Farmer’ in the Salt Modern Voices Series in 2010.
He now lives in Nottingham, England after two years in Edinburgh studying folk culture and several years in the city of expiring dreams otherwise known as Oxford.
He is currently working on a new volume of poems as part of a multidisciplinary art project called ‘Backwater’.
He has been involved in various literary projects including delivering creative writing workshops in Nottingham prison for the ‘Inside Out’ project and is a member of Nottingham Writer’s Studio.
After several years as an academic art lecturer he has returned to writing alongside his other artistic practices as this the fastest way to achieve total penury he knows.
Part of my new found ‘freedom’ is the ability to find bargains ( both cost me 50p which at 25p each makes it the cheapest pair of books I bought all week) and secondly having the time to actually read the damn things…
So not only are they like buses but I have read both ..the novel yesterday and the poems today although I did not read every poem to the end. I have not read anything else by Haddon which not surprising as he published oodles of kids books and just three ‘adult’ novels including this one…which more a crossover all ages job.
First impressions? Well very cleanly written and pacy as you would expect from a children’s writer. A couple of token f-words and one c word to I suppose tick the ‘adult’ box. The story is fairly innocuous ( will not spoil it ) but the dog stays dead. The interweaving of Conan Doyle and what seems like a Brian Cox series on the galaxies is deftly handled and the illustrations are amusing. As I am not a mathematician I did not check the sums at the end but the Aspergers trait of having to have it as an addendum was a nice touch as was the list of various locations ..Sunderland, Caracas, Swindon etc from throughout the novel a ice touch towards the end.
I enjoyed it but on reflection it did feel a bit like an exercise that pretty much wrote itself once the prescription written. It also felt like it owed a lot to Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole too……only with more facts. Whether it totally accurate re. Aspergers I not sure. It certainly reminded me of high end autism that I have worked with so giving the benefit of the doubt there.
It seems churlish but there were some bits I not so happy about although name-checking my home town as Didcot Parkway was a nice touch and puts Haddon in a small club of writers who have mentioned Didcot in their writing..which includes myself, Amy Clampitt, Marina Warner and Javier Marias..I kid you not…
( It is also 17 minutes on a Great Western 125 from Swindon to Didcot so full marks for accurate train spotting there Mr Haddon although I doubt you spent your weekends trainspotting on Didcot platform like me your family were probably in the Algarve.)
No what I felt a little uneasy with was the characterisation of the ‘adults’ i.e. they haven’t got any..character that is. The token ‘working-class’ father routine and ‘smelling’ was a little hard to believe. I was right.
A swift trawl of web soon established that Mr. Haddon has an MA in English Literature from Merton Oxford ( That means he got a B.A. they give you an MA automatically because they reckon it equivalent of other Unis BAs ..yeah bollocks) and previously at Uppingham Public School..so his experience of work probably from a bus window….like fellow Uppingham alumni like Stephen Fry , Rick Stein and Johhny Vaughan..a toff who also adopted the vowels of the poor for broadcasting…. we not talking heavy labour here. A smart move in career terms though for both.
So he is erudite, smart and lives in Oxford in a nice big house with his wife who a Fellow which in Oxford means silver spoon waiting ( I know I served there). In other words he hasn’t got a care in the world.
The novel is ok but the poetry is pitiful….a poor man’s Armitage. The Oxonian/Uppingham man comes to the fore so his first (and so far last) poetry tome includes various references to Greek Gods and Horace…as well as some utter bollocks disguised as prose poetry which gives Armitage’s recent explorations a run for its money in terms of lightweight and fatuous.
Sorry but if Poetry Review published this then it must have been because he so jolly nice and knew someone. It would not have been published in the real world but then Oxbridge publishing isn’t the real world. Their recent appointment as Professor of Poetry proves that.
So having trashed the poems what about the kid’s stuff..probably great..for kids…end of.
After this experience I have been reading C.K.Williams for some adult entertainment.
I have not posted in this writing blog for a while due to a full-time commitment to painting in preparation for the Lady Bay Arts show in West Bridgford on the weekend of 16th and 17th May.
The actual physical act of painting has made me look at my writing ‘block’ in a different way and also with the benefit of hindsight my writing ‘career’ post M.A. in Creative Writing. ‘Doing’ rather than ‘thinking about doing’ which my writing has been sabotaged by has become a useful tool. I painting again because ignoring theory and influences and simply engaging directly in practice as Picasso says:
“I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”
I am only able to paint like I am now because of time off on career break and I made the right decision in leaving writing behind for a while. At this point in my life and with seven years teaching in an art school and an MA in Fine Art recently completed my head was always in a ‘art’ place. Trying to drop all that and go down a writing MA route was a mistake but one I had to make to lay at least two ghosts.
1. My possible grandfather. If nothing else the MA course laid to rest that particular ghost. I feel free of that burden now. Having ‘revealed’ it I actually made it less not more important.
2. I have to ‘do’ a MA in Creative Writing to be a writer…complete tosh but sadly a attitude that all to prevalent in this city. I have met many people claiming to be writers with MAs and many without. In both cases I’d say about 10% are actually writers….about same quota goes for the rest of the arts. Postgraduate arts academic qualifications are mostly for people who want to impress their friends and a small percentage of students who want to work in academia.
So post ‘academic writing’ which is I reckon totally shot now what shall I do…
Good question I no idea…answers on a postcard please.
The only thing for certain is I will want to do it… if and when it starts again.
It could be songwriting, poetry…historical research..or music reviewing again which I always enjoyed.
As they say watch this space..literally all writing news will be posted here.
As Harland Howard said when songs rejected for the umpteenth time..
‘Always smile, shake their hands and walk away’…..:-)
Now I have always had a problem with being a ‘poet’.
I come from a straightforward working class council estate background and the only thing worse than being a poet there was becoming a ‘fine artist’ so I killed two birds in one bush there then with my double non-career. I remember digging up a Xmas Tree with my dad in my 30s and a farmer asked my dad what I did to which he replied ‘artist’. The farmer replied ‘Oh Aye they’re all dead or gay aren’t they’ which just about sums it all up….my dad said nowt….just dug up the tree.
So forgetting that I wasn’ t meant to be a poet but a bricklayer (my dad never got over that) I was introduced to poetry at my fine art course under ‘complementary studies’ and bought my first poetry books (Heaney and Hughes Faber paperbacks). I even witnessed a living poet when Adrian Henri came to give a talk, which was unforgettable, as we decamped from Alexandra Palace art school to the park outside and much wine was drunk.
A seed had been planted and suffering from London withdrawal symptoms and no job in 1982 I was back home and visited my local library. I came across the Donald Hall American Poetry anthology and another book with William Carlos Williams in and that was that I was hooked. What is more with no money and no studio making art was far away and here was something I could ‘have a go at’ with a pencil.
I then wrote poetry off and on until 2000 (most intensely in the years with no art studio) and then again briefly in 2006-7 which was the three poems published in Staple. However having finally put my art archive online I have realised that, a bit like songwriting, poetry filled in a gap when I not creating art which from Foundation Course in 1977 onwards until 1990 had been my main focus.
Which brings me to now and all that happened since last September. The coincidence of my first ever paid poetry commission and starting the Creative Writing M.A. was dysfunctionally apt….I immediately concentrated on the commission and I think did quite well in fulfilling that brief and promptly screwed up the M.A.
Well I say screwed up , other parties gave me a more than helping hand (not at Clifton nor anything to do with CW I may add) which may come out in due course depending on the probability of a lawsuit ensuing.
So here I am 56 years old. One small pamphlet to my name through Salt and wondering whether to carry on writing poetry. A strange place to be. I am doing the right things. Attending the writer’s studio poetry monthly session, Stanza meetings (last one excellent) and seeing live poets at Jazz and Poetry (D.A.Prince and Tony Roberts both excellent) and Totally Wired evenings (more for the student crowd but equally good readers).
But…….my mind at the moment firmly fixed on painting again for the first time in a very long time. What is more one of the reasons I gave up on CW M.A. was the feeling that the time off until June should be used in my studio whilst I have one. Too many times in my life I have not had the space to work in as a fine artist. For once I have chosen to use it whilst it there. Then the same day as I start drawing I write a poem….DOH. Not a poem in the way I have written before and whatever poetry I might write in the future will not be like the past.
The poet I was is buried along with the Salt pamphlet in my mother’s grave. I cannot go back. I cannot write like that any more.
The times they have changed. Whatever comes next is starting in the Iggy Pop poem below. I no idea if it will last this time. Maybe all along it was just a substitute for another art form..we’ll see 🙂
The images just a bit of my inner Mod coming out 😉
For a poetry workshop tonight I have selected four poems from across ‘Rhymin Simon’s’ illustrious career to see if Stannard was just a sour-puss and lo and behold this is what I found.
THE TYRE (from Cloudcookooland 1997)
A poem from his middle period I guess. Displays the usual ‘prosaic’ subject matter in first stanza, skips to ‘what might happen’ in stanza 2 and then drifts off into transcendental hogwash in the third stanza although I am sure there are readers who find it sublime. I don’t.
In fact I find the whole thing confected and unbelievable. He has obviously never done a labouring job or worked on a farm because his ‘tyre’ is made up. No farmer would leave an expensive bit of kit like that lying around and secondly it would if containing water be too heavy to lift. Anybody who close to the land would know that. Further there is no ‘real’ location nor identifiable others..in other words it fiction.
No this is a typical Armitage confection. Take an object and build a’narrative’ around it (like the penny.etc etc). This fitted in well with the Glyn Maxwell school of narrative poems that Poetry Review editor Peter Forbes (New Generation maestro and who put them both on the cover -see above) was engineering. Back in the late 1980s he came to a workshop I attended in Islington raving about Maxwell, himself and Byron as all parts of the new longer poem movement…Armitage fitted in well and indeed pretended to be Auden to Maxwell’s Isherwood.
Now this is where things get interesting. If one takes the poem and simply let the sense determine line-break we find a far shorter and far more conventional poem ‘chopped’ into a longer form. Stannard is spot on Armitage is obsessively iambic and 10 syllable to line then plods duly on. Here the original and my edited version.
Just how it came to rest where it rested,
miles out, miles from the last farmhouse even,
was a fair question. Dropped by hurricane
or aeroplane perhaps for some reason,
put down as a cairn or marker, then lost.
Tractor-size, six or seven feet across,
it was sloughed, unconscious, warm to the touch,
its gashed, rhinoceros, sea-lion skin
nursing a gallon of rain in its gut.
Lashed to the planet with grasses and roots,
it had to be cut. Stood up it was drunk
or slugged, wanted nothing more than to slump,
to spiral back to its circle of sleep,
dream another year in its nest of peat.
We bullied it over the moor, drove it,
pushed from the back or turned it from the side,
unspooling a thread in the shape and form
of its tread, in its length, and in its line,
rolled its weight through broken walls, felt the shock
when it met with stones, guided its sleepwalk
down to meadows, fields, onto level ground.
There and then we were one connected thing,
five of us, all hands steering a tall ship
or one hand fingering a coin or ring.
Just how it came to rest where it rested, miles out, miles from the last farmhouse even,
was a fair question. Dropped by hurricane or aeroplane perhaps for some reason,
put down as a cairn or marker, then lost. Tractor-size, six or seven feet across,
it was sloughed, unconscious, warm to the touch,
its gashed, rhinoceros, sea-lion skin nursing a gallon of rain in its gut.
Lashed to the planet with grasses and roots, it had to be cut. Stood up it was drunk
or slugged, wanted nothing more than to slump, to spiral back to its circle of sleep,
dream another year in its nest of peat.
We bullied it over the moor, drove it, pushed from the back or turned it from the side,
unspooling a thread in the shape and form of its tread, in its length, and in its line,
rolled its weight through broken walls, felt the shock when it met with stones, guided its sleepwalk down to meadows, fields, onto level ground. There and then we were one connected thing,
five of us, all hands steering a tall ship or one hand fingering a coin or ring.
It is a very dull iambic pentameter with very basic rhymes nothing more…and I think he got it from Auden…..it is ‘As I walked out one evening’…ba de dum ba de dum ba de dum ba de dum.
I have tried this with all four poems and it works on all.
He seems incapable of avoiding this constant beat…or using any other register.
Most worryingly even the mock Sonnets of Book of Matches which so beloved of our schools worksheeting teachers has exactly the same plodding inevitability. He himself did not claim they sonnets they just aped the 14 line length BUT…..they have nothing of a true sonnet about them at all…Wyatt would turn in his grave..there no subtlety here at all..Professor of Poetry? What for?
This is what the poem ‘POEM’ actually made of…..
Ba de dum ba de dum ba de dum ba de dum….
when he cannot find a full rhyme a half rhyme will do it seems……
And if it snowed and snow covered the drive he took a spade and tossed it to one side.
And always tucked his daughter up at night And slippered her the one time that she lied.
And every week he tipped up half his wage. And what he didn't spend each week he saved.
And praised his wife for every meal she made.And once, for laughing, punched her in the face.
And for his mum he hired a private nurse.And every Sunday taxied her to church.
And he blubbed when she went from bad to worse.And twice he lifted ten quid from her purse.
Here's how they rated him when they looked back: sometimes he did this, sometimes he did that.
Once you hear this dull rhythm it hard to get out of one’s mind which I think why Stone Stanzas so successful. Because he was working with a shorter line and one which had to be sculpted in stone which he could not drag on ad nauseum he had to change rhythm perhaps for the first time and break the Armitage Stomp….
From Stone Stanzas
The sky has delivered
its blank missive.
The moor in coma.
Snow, like water asleep,
a coded muteness
to baffle all noise,
to stall movement,
After testing his theory I can wholeheartedly agree with Martin Stannard that we have a leaden fairly unimaginative Poet Laureate elect on our hands but how he got to be in that position is far more about poetry and politics than any fault of the man himself.
He is a good performer, a very good and media savvy spokesman for poetry but as a poet…he just isn’t that good in my opinion and I think Stannard amidst the rancour has finally found him out which is what good criticism does it makes you look again.
'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:-)
As I have taken a break from ‘analysing’ myself in the modern educational manner I have turned to reading for some pleasure and first up this slight yet fairly amusing tome from a journo who hung around the sort of people I knew in London in early 2000s…
From living under Liam Watson (Toe-rag) to fetching up at Tapestry festival our lives almost intersect…I am almost sure I would have stood next to this geezer at a Come Down and Meet the Folks gig at some point. I remember Teddy Paige in Camden and Alan Tyler even wrote a song about him I think called ‘Ivanhoe’. I certainly saw him in jester costume but without sword as I recall.
As music editor and journo for various newspapers etc he had the C.V. that opened doors..even Davy Graham’s slightly bonkers one and this a fairly straightforward travelogue with added six-string footnotes. He tracks down some interesting teachers. It a shame he didn’t track down Jimmy Page himself but Jansch and Graham more esoteric and probably cheaper but not as cheap to interview as T. Model Ford which for me was high point of the tale.
Structurally the book well written, medical the facts correct ( in a wikipedia fashion at times) but for me the ending was a damp squib. If he really learnt guitar in six months and played such an effortlessly well received gig he either 1. Lying or 2. Deluded..or possibly both. It may be the truth but a disaster would have been far more in character with the shambles preceding and I did get the feeling that a very large lily was gilded several times over. Maybe an innate hankering after a real record deal ( he went on to launch a label) was actually to explain for the ‘happy’ ending.
Overall worth reading if have time and like I said amusing in parts.
I have waited 22 years to talk about this….there are many reasons for that.
I hope this page explains all of them and offends no-one but truth will always be stranger than fiction. I dedicate the page to Daisy and Ivo Belcher.
My poetry bookshelves..about half the collection built up over 25 years....
I am really struggling with the simplest thing. The first assignment for Creative Writing M.A. is straightforward enough :
Identify one writer whose work has been in some way influential to the development of your own creative writing practice. Discuss one or more pieces of their creative work, ask and/or their process, explaining what you have learned from it for your own writing. You may refer to extracts of your own writing (to be included in an appendix) but this will not be included in the word count and will not be assessed.
However it also states:
There will probably be many writers of many different genres who have influenced you, but rather than asking you to survey a broad range of writers, this assignment offers you the opportunity to think critically about a single author’s work, and to discuss, in depth, what you have learned from it for your own writing. This means thinking about the decisions the author made in constructing a particular text or texts, and reflecting on your own writing practice in light of this.
If I had two months instead of a week to finish this I would submit an honest essay which detailed all of the the range of influences which can be seen in list below. ( It wouldn’t get a good mark but I would find it more useful). This ties in with the annual most important book grid that I took from Andrew Taylor’s lecture.
Here in just about chronological order the writers who influenced me..mostly male and mostly poets. Those in bold the most important by far. Those in Blue the most significant per decade.
Which would mean Heaney/Murray/Sebald. They all deeply entwined with a notion of a ‘sense of place’ and quietly political which what I really influenced by. There something in this notion…but that another essay..not this one 🙁
William Carlos Williams
W.H.Auden Raymond Carver
Richard Price Les Murray Al Purdy
Canadian Prairie Poets
William Neill Norman McCaig Sorley Maclean Stewart Conn
Patrick Keiller Iain Sinclair
So there you go how do I choose from that list…..and should I?
I am 55 years old. I have written poetry since 1981. I have also written several thousand song lyrics which do not count for CW.
My ‘writing’, and here I am deconstructing the assignment deliberately , ground to a halt in 2007 just as I started teaching web design at Nottingham Trent University and ceased altogether in 2011. So being logical and as no poems written since 2011 at all until the Edwin Smith commission I should concentrate on the most recent ‘pamphlet collection’.
The assignment exercise as given draws on Dorothea Brande.
To read effectively it is necessary to learn to consider a book in the light of what it can teach you about the improvement of your own work.
(Brande states ‘a book’? I question this immediately can anybody learn anything from a single work or a single writer unless it The Bible ? I believe that writers should be magpies. There are certain core assumptions of modern day creative-writing that have become almost written in stone…this probably one of them. It links to the obsessive attention to process rather than inspiration that ALL creative-writing instruction displays these days. I have heard no mention of content at all apart from genre..surely all good writers cannot be separated from their content too? )
I will look at ‘Drifting Village’ in a new light then submit it for the Smith/Doorstep Pamphlet competition. Maybe I can narrow down to one writer to fulfill the ‘brief’.
The wonders of Poundland…..one of my favourite current book trawling locations where the cheap Wordsworth anthology above was available for yes a pound.
Today’s gem is a tale from 1895 by Arthur Machen who thanks to Wikipedia I now know has been an influence on a diverse range of writers including John Betjeman, Javier Marias, Iain Sinclair and Alan Moore!
Heavily indebted to both Conan-Doyle and Stevenson the tale is a galloping, coincidence led ambulation around Bloomsbury with a wealth of London detail ( explaining Sinclair and Ackroyd’s link to Machen) indeed the plot denouement depends on the criminal’s habit of walking the same route. One can feel Machen’s own interests in a proto-psychogeography here.
Once I got used to the use of the unlikeliest plot-forwarding coincidences which almost comical at times as Machen dispenses with what does not interest him. A sequence of a drunken woman depositing the key ‘mystic tablet’ into the investigator’s hands in a pub is by far the most ridiculous. One can still enjoy the chase and the atmospheric conclusion where the ‘supernatural’ finally intervenes. The devilish artifact ‘Pain of Goat’ referred to is actually a line from a sacred text to the Great God Pan and links to other stories by Machen a devout Christian by the way.
So if a fan of Sherlock Holmes or Stevenson…and leaning toward the macabre and supernatural Machen is your man. Not sure if I will be a major fan but there enough beautiful extraneous detail to prompt further investigation. For neo-gothic and fantasy types it essential. A cheap introduction thank you Poundland I shall be back especially as they had virtually the whole Wordsworth Supernatural series.
Will Self paraded his verbal skills with a reading at NTU on Saturday which proved that there is some content behind the bravado, solipism, debauchery and sheer profligacy. Looking at SELF’s career it hard to find an entry point such is the sheer weight of verbiage trundled ad nauseum across every promotional page available. The key to SELF is he a metropolitan journalist’s nark…forever providing copy whether the journos need it or not ( indeed his wife is a celebrated journalist which rather apt) although even she must tire of the SELF promotion.
The evening was a success and interviewer Georgina Lock who an able inquisitor stood up to the verbal battering-ram. SELF proved that his latest novel ‘Shark’ is an entertaining if rambling tale of drowning shark-food and the big theme of psychological trauma being associated with BIG events i.e. wars. A entertaining if not completely proven thesis based on what looked like a fair amount of internet-trawling and digging deep into R.D. Laing’s historical record. In case we missed these allusions Mr Self flagged them up for us and we mostly swallowed it apart from one punter doing an impression of Groucho era SELF who declared it all ‘horse manure’ which a little out of date surely shit would have done. I will definitely pick up a copy when it remaindered and top marks to the designers for wrapping it in a parody of a SELF cover from 1998. Lest we forget this is the second part of a very important trilogy which redefining modernism/postmodernism and the kitchen sink before the death of the novel in 2019 (SELF). As SELF said it the only trade he has banging out the old tome and full marks for keeping going young man..sorry middle aged man.
Now where this all gets truly unctuous is in his recent attack on Orwell….now I don’t give a shit for his arguments but I do disapprove of such obvious crap profile-raising being launched via the BBC which was the location of some of Mr Blair’s finest work. That and the weaselly way the tirade launched just in time for Xmas oh sorry just in time for the book launch tour before Xmas….it stinks like some of the dialogue did on Saturday but that another matter.
SELF isn’t the best novelist in Great Britain let alone Ireland but he is a master of SELF-seeking attention grabbing in that he a clear master. I came to Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying by chance through some separate research and remembered reading it fondly..
let Eric Blair have the last word…note to SELF…could do better….
Keep the Aspidistra Flying 1936 page 2.
But it was the snooty ‘cultured’ kind of books that he hated the worst. Books of criticism and belles-lettres. The kind of thing that those moneyed young beasts from Cambridge write almost in their sleep–and that Gordon himself might have written if he had had a little more money. Money and culture! In a country like England you can no more be cultured without money than you can join the Cavalry Club.
Coda: SELF grew up in Hampstead…did PPE at Oxford smashed out of his tree and got a third.. sailed back to fame in the environs of Greek Street and Fleet Street yup you got it..spoilt rich kid now lives in oppulant surroundings of Stockwell not Vauxhall as ‘downmarkedly’ claims but then as he said he lies a lot.
Recommend these annual issues all of which are available online.
They have a tendency to lean toward the Lad/Ladette market but contain some interesting works. Especially from the film/fiction crossover area. This year’s issue also contains Nabokov’s unpublished Lolita screenplay and an essential Robert McKee interview…interesting stuff.
Amongst the more than interesting is this short story with photographs by Martin Parr ( allegedly… I cannot see the Pigs Head being in his style maybe more a late editorial decision to ‘Horse’s Head the story which unnecessary).
John Romano is a scriptwriter for TV (Hill Street Blues to his credit) and film and has a resume that includes Lincoln Lawyer (with Michael Connolly) and is an ex English Professor (Columbia) with one academic tome on Charles Dickens and Realism to his name. So no slouch and boy can he write…
Originally from Newark N.J. he lives and breathes the classic New Jersey Crime Family story and the wealth of detail is such in this short that it hard to tell if memoir or fiction or a rich mixture of both. Nothing is forced in the telling it glides as smoothly as the battered lime-green Buick Riviera which literally delivers the body-punch of the story and then its knock-out blow. I can say no more without giving the game away but please read this story. I cannot find reference to any more fiction online or otherwise and I suspect J.R. has a novel up his sleeve somewhere. This is brilliant writing in anybody’s book and would be a more worthy winner of the BBC short prize than the whole shortlist. He is presently working on a film for TV on the American Taliban about John Walker LIndh that Steve Earle sung about on Jerusalem…should be some film.
This is classic american writing at its best. There is not a word out of place and small working-class folk tales assume a menacing import only to be turned literally upside down. If I ever write something worthwhile it would have to go some to equal this.
Romano’s daughter is also a novelist/painter…..so it’s a family affair.
Interesting exercise came out of class last night. Hard to recall some of this and I genuinely cannot remember reading anything but web design manuals and music magazines for at least five years at NTU…scary..
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:-)
Decided to concentrate on short stories to start with…my favourite poets Burnside and Carver both write short stories too….some of these I collected 20 years ago…about time I read them! Thanks to Jez Noond for some more recent additions to the que including Grace Paley and Amy Hempel.
Some obvious missing collections here..D.H.Lawrence..Richard Ford, Russell Banks, Steinbeck. This just the paperbacks.