Category: books (Page 2 of 3)

Simon Armitage: Who’s he kidding?

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'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.

Review available here: Martin Stannard Review

Me and Simon Armitage

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:-)

 

 

Guitar Man – Will Hodgkinson

guitar

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.

First Assignment – Influence?

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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.

http://www.shaunbelcher.com/writing/?p=803

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 🙁

1980s

Seamus Heaney
William Carlos Williams
W.H.Auden
Raymond Carver
Ted Hughes
Tony Harrison
Philip Larkin
Thomas Hardy

1990s
Maura Dooley
Simon Armitage
Giles Goodland
Richard Price
Les Murray
Al Purdy
Canadian Prairie Poets
William Neill
Norman McCaig
Sorley Maclean
Stewart Conn
Tess Gallagher
Charles Tomlinson

2000s

W.G.Sebald
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’.

‘Drifting Village’ poems 2001-2014.

village

 

 

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’.

 

Farm-Hand’s Radio – Complete available as pdf

I found that the auto-print facility in google chrome means I can create a full pfd of the collection to share. Not formatted to avoid page breaks but all of it is there .

It is also available online at this URL:

http://www.shaunbelcher.com/writing/?page_id=117

flin

 

Farm-Hand’s Radio Complete PDF

also available at Scribd:

Daily Short: Arthur Machen – The Red Hand and Poundland

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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!

The tale ‘The Red Hand’ attracted me because of its title and because Arthur Machen featured in the current British Library exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’.

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.

Here Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian on the man: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jan/10/arthur-machen-white-people-review

There is also a good article in The Quietus here:

http://thequietus.com/articles/08758-leave-the-capitol-the-weird-tales-of-arthur-machen

 

On a final note Mark E. Smith of The Fall a huge fan and apparently peppers his lyrics with obscure Machen references so now you know:-)

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/life-lessons-mark-e-smith-on-bullying-the-occult-and-why-stalin-had-the-right-idea-6260036.html

Keeping the Aspidistra Flying – Self Promotion

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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.

 

Daily Short: John Romano – King of the Wild Frontier

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Available online here:
http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/king-of-the-wild-frontier-0000346-v21n6

I recently picked up the Fiction issue of Vice magazine. http://www.vice.com/magazine/21/6

v21n6-cover-72

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.

 

This is how ya do it.

For a fascinating insight into the literary qualities at work in American TV go here: http://web.mit.edu/comm-forum/forums/art_of_prime_time.html

http://videolectures.net/mitworld_romano_ptt/

Creative Writing reading list…


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:-)

bookseisner

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