Category: poets (Page 1 of 2)

Michael Longley and ‘The Fallow Period’

The Candlelight Master

Looking back at those difficult years now, do you feel that the silent
stretches were detrimental to your work?

If I hadn’t been fighting battles on other fronts, I might have been scribbling boring middle-aged verse – like MacNeice who twittered on for a decade until the miraculous final poems. It seems that the Muse favours the young and then, if you can weather the middle stretch’, the pensioners. Silence is part of the enterprise. Most poets write and publish far too much. They forget the agricultural good sense of the fallow period. The Muse despises whingers who bellyache aboutwriter’s block’ and related
ailments.

One of the best things ever said to me about poetry was John Hewitt’s off-
hand remark: `If you write poetry, it’s your own fault.’

JODY ALLEN RANDOLPH – Michael Longley in Conversation

This interview is taken from PN Review 160, Volume 31 Number 2, November – December 2004.

I was relieved to see that I not the only middle-aged poet who had a fallow period. Until now I thought my future was more akin to a Larkinesque slump as he detailed in the majestic yet sad refrain on this late poem…

THE WINTER PALACE

by Philip Larkin

Most people know more as they get older:
I give all that the cold shoulder.

I spent my second quarter-century
Losing what I had learnt at university.

And refusing to take in what had happened since.
Now I know none of the names in the public prints,

And am starting to give offence by forgetting faces
And swearing I’ve never been in certain places.

It will be worth it, if in the end I manage
To blank out whatever it is that is doing the damage.

Then there will be nothing I know.
My mind will fold into itself, like fields, like snow.

So maybe like Longley (still alive at 81!) the best is yet to come….or some is yet to come ….

https://www.irishnews.com/arts/2020/08/15/news/michael-longley-at-81-the-poetic-life-is-still-filled-with-excitement-and-surprise-2031662/

Michael Longley | Authors | The Soho Agency

Burning Books – hiding in plain view?

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.

Here a taste of what I talking about…

Proper Poetry

I used to write proper poetry

Not the really proper stuff

You know packed full of classical allusions

Or invented lives based on obscure photographs

No I gave up on proper poetry

Because it is so fucking boring

So I write an occasional diatribe

And raise two fingers to the academy

These are the times for less poets, less experts

Less academics and more UKIP candidates

When a military chaplain’s daughter from Wheatley

Is playing Joan of Arc in the Wars of Brexit

With only God and King Billy to save us.

 

Download as a pdf here

Burning-Books-Mini-Pamphlet

Substitute : New volume of poems 2018

Sometimes all it needs is a trigger and Kit de Waal’s excellent piece in the Guardian yesterday brought together a lot of things for me that been bubbling under the surface.

Her article ‘Make room for working-class writers‘ touched a nerve…..

read it here https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/10/kit-de-waal-where-are-all-the-working-class-writers-

Also she made a comment about how the Proper v Performance Poetry debate basically divides along class lines and that really rang true for me.

It is the reason I leapt to the defence of McNish and Tempest. Adrian Slatcher’s comments about the experience of being a working class writer also hit home.

In 2011 we were both published by SALT as Salt Modern Voices but throughout I felt an outsider at that particular party.

I was reading next to very affluent new poets from privileged backgrounds who frankly I had nothing in common with.

Most of the audience were from their background not mine and in a particularly depressing reading in Oxford I actually felt antagonism for raising my subject in their presence.

A mostly white female middle-class leftist audience did not like to hear about the destruction of the working class communities of Oxford which allowed them to enjoy their academic privileges.

Some inconvenient truths are not wanted even by allegedly left-leaning liberal elites.

Adrian’s very erudite piece on the subject here:

http://artoffiction.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/a-working-class-writer-is-something-to.html

Since then I have noticed that academic poetry and performance poetry have started to separate in a alarming way. This is an outcome of a deliberately devisive education policy by government that increasingly appears to be a ‘pay to play’ approach to education.

If your parents invest a £100 k plus (BA+MA+PHD fees)you will one day get the payback of an academic career before 30 in return . An American privatised model.

These factors stopped me writing..I gave up..I felt nobody cared..that there was no audience for what I did..and I was right….the middle-class ‘proper poetry’ area isn’t interested in me..isn’t interested in the truth of working class lives and experience as a subject.

PN Review and others are not interested in working class experience one iota.

You want to play in the Premiere League magazines better hide all that personal shit and start writing about your foreign holidays, how difficult it is being a middle class person post Brexit or at worst make up shit about Impressionist painter’s wives you have no knowledge about but it feels authentic enough to your equally pretentious and middle-class readers sitting in their sun lounges drinking martinis to swallow.

Poetry for me has always been a means of articulating my anger at the class system in the U.K.

It has always been polemical even when it appears to be purely personal. As Raymond Williams wrote about the Romantics ‘the personal is political’.

So I have the impetus and hopefully in a few weeks a book to go with it…..I feel that inspired. I have been silenced for too long.

I am coming off the subs bench……I may not make the first team but I will put in some hefty tackles especially on Simon Armitage …the David Beckham of poetry;-)

 

Blurred Fences – unpublished poem 1995 -‘Gay or Dead?’

A Christmas Poem in November?

I wrote this poem in 1995 and had omitted the key line about poets for fear of offending my father.

Now he has been gone 13 years so probably safe to reveal what the poem about.

After my father died in 2004 my mother confided to me that he had always ‘feared I was gay’ even when I spent seven years living with a Spanish woman…..such is the rural Oxfordshire psyche I suppose. Anyway here the finally rewritten (a couple of lines) poem about the trials of being a Berkshire Ruralist:-)

BLURRED FENCES

Wrestling with a young fir’s stubborn trunk

On an exposed north-facing hillside

Two weeks before Christmas, sleet, wind biting,

The spires of Oxford blurring in the storm

 

My father’s hands, hard, chapped, red-raw

Bend the tree over until the roots snap.

The red-faced farmer stands, biding his time

Then says ‘Poet is he.. they’re all gay or dead’

 

Silent we trudge back through rows of young firs

Past a tethered collie, collapsing tin sheds.

At the end of a gravel road worn to clay

We clamber inside my dad’s builder’s truck

 

In the cab, steamy with opened flasks

Radio Oxford blaring out the traffic report

He carefully shakes ice off his jacket

As I scrape frozen mud off my boots

 

Visiting for the day, not dressed for fields

My Levis are slaked with straw and muck.

He sets the windscreen wipers beating

And a ledge of ice builds up on the hood then melts.

 

Distances open up and close through low cloud

As cooling-tower steam collapses like a veil over our home-town

The Down-land swims like a saucer of cat’s milk in the rain

As I try and grip a hot mug of tea with cold hands.

 

Still silent my father sips his tea and stares

through the pine trees and away from the farm.

I feel awkward, pick at the flakes of ice on my sleeve

As the motor turns and we lurch down the track.

 

He has ten years more hard labour to do.

Excavating then replacing soil across this county.

I have ten years of unfulfilled promises and high hopes to go.

Before I crash back into these muddy fields and the land buries him.

 

Dedicated to Ivo Belcher 1932-2004 and the un-named Fat Farmer with the conservative views 🙂

Contemporary American Poetry – 55 years on

Picked this up in a second hand shop recently. Was first edition (1962) of a book I  had encountered in a travelling shelf of ‘American Poetry’ in my local Didcot library in 1981 when I had returned home after art college. It (in the flag cover version below) and a book of William Carlos Williams started me writing poetry. I had encountered Hughes and Heaney as contextual studies lectures at art college but these books started me writing.

I had always assumed that W.C.Williams in the book but I was mistaken it has Lowell and the full list below but NO WCW or Elliot or Frost because cut off is 20th century and all were born earlier. Lowell was born in 1917.

The second edition added a few new poets including Ginsberg and Plath as well as some now less well known people. There is an obvious male dominance..Levertov and Rich being notable exceptions but this is a product of the 1950s not today.  For a lone art student at the time this was still a wonderful introduction to people like Creeley, Snyder, Ashbery, O’Hara, Merrill and Snodgrass…

Here the  2nd edition.

The Drifting Village: Collected poems 2000-2015 released as pdf

DRIFT (1)

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.

 

contact info@shaunbelcher.com

 

This document is available under a Creative Commons All Rights reserved license at my Scribd profile here : https://www.scribd.com/user/32775973/Shaun-Belcher

 

Skeleton at the Plough…my Scottish Ghost.

skeleton

I took on this present nine month career break (ends Friday) in order to confront some ideas I had about myself. Number one was that I was a poet. Correct only in terms of the statement ‘I was’. However, despite the RIBA Edwin Smith commission, I am no nearer resurrecting that particular career than I was last September. In fact I probably further away than ever. At least I know why now.

An M.A. was not the answer and after much soul-searching I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that the reason is very much about who I was twenty years ago at the height of my written output and also what kind of a country I lived in. I started publishing poetry in 1992 and soon after in 1994 moved to Edinburgh. I had always taken a fairly political stance and my attitude matched in well with the proto-nationalist people I encountered in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. My strongest memory is of reading at a poetry event in Glasgow run by a Communist Pablo Neruda society and being booed when I mentioned I came from Oxford ( following an arse called Rupert who did a poem about the Royal Family I kid you not..maybe a satirist?). I lost my rag and told them there were two Oxfords the one they imagined and the one I lived in full of very poor ex-agricultural families herded into crumbling council estates. I ended up getting a ovation….especially when I read poems like ‘Severed Tongue’.

I and the audience were on the same wavelength.

I have ‘never’ felt that since. Leaving Scotland in Summer 1996 (because I simply could not get more than a few weeks temp work in banks) reluctantly myself and my Spanish partner at the time got the bus back south. There was also a good deal of Anti-English racism – I personally was shouted at in a bank canteen by a young man who told me to fuck off back to my ‘own country’. This racism did not come from nowhere however – most of the bank exploitation I temping in was done by ‘weekending’ rich Oxbridge types who saw managing Scots people like shooting grouse..a sport…hardly surprising the backlash hit those worse off than the worst off..

I also met some of the most inspiring writers I have ever met and walked some of the most inspirational landscapes. After living in Nottingham for 13 years I can honestly say that neither of those things have happened to me here. My writing career stayed in Scotland. It staggered on in Oxford but the sheer class-divide and absolute neglect of what I doing took its toll and it died in a Bear Pit in 1999. This came home to roost when watching the video I made for TV of ‘The Bear Pit’ from 1999 which in post below.

It wasn’t only the blood of bears that leaking into the Oxfordshire grass and clay it was my life as a writer…That poem was part of the final coherent sequence I wrote called ‘Skeleton at the Plough’ after a Roy Palmer folk book ‘The Painful Plough’ (see cover above’).

The Collection of 12 poems can be read here:

http://www.shaunbelcher.com/archive/art/radio.htm#plough

plough

The Broken Brush: Writing and Painting?

brush

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’…..:-)

Dead Cat Bounce

other

The photo above shows in their entirety the new  poetry books I  have aquired since the defining moment of the Salt pamphlet ‘Last Farmer’ in December 2010. The only other books missing are the Helen Mort Wordsworth trust pamphlet and my fellow Salt Modern Voices. I have separated them as I regard December 2010 as a break point between what I have done and what I might one day do. There is no specific intent in their collection. Indeed many are personal connections e.g. Rosie I have worked with and Tony Curtis I liaised with over a Ray Howard-Jones exhibition. Martin Malone I helped with web stuff on Interpreter’s House which I used to help run the web side of. Alan Baker is someone I got to know through the web but not met in person yet despite sharing this city:-)

December 2010 I was 51 years old and had stopped publishing in magazines (not through any great plan) around 1999 which about the same time the well of words dried up. There was a brief ‘dead cat bounce’ in 2006-7 when this blog originally started. Wayne Burrows selected three poems from those written then for an East Midlands issue of Staple and I was briefly an original member of the Nottingham Writer’s Studio.

From 2008 until September 2014 I neither read, thought about or had any contact with poets or poetry apart from the Salt Publication and subsequent Salt Modern Voices TOUR  in 2011. This felt like a dead poet reading as I read some poems that over 20 years old! I was also dealing with my mother’s serious illness so my thoughts not really on the task at hand.

This was of course the perfect preparation for an M.A. in Creative Writing! In fact signing on to the course was a deliberate act of  forcing myself to see what left in the tank..if anything and in that it was entirely successful. I had stopped serious painting years ago and had stopped writing but somehow I still believed I was a functioning poet and painter…I have smashed that idea once and for all now.

I thought I could pick up the past but the past didn’t agree. In fact when it came to writing an influences essay I floundered then I quit. I wrote the Edwin Smith commission poem during that first term with absolutely no influences at all. This is apparently not possible according to Creative Writing wisdom. Whatever influences can be detected are so buried even I was not aware of them!

So as I wrote in the previous post I raking over the ashes to see what might be left and what I might be doing in the future. I am sure that whatever I might do from now on is going to have be starting from scratch. If nothing else the career break has done its job…given me time to sort this out…no more delusions.This has led to some soul-searching and some interesting insights. Apologies for the naval-gazing but after all isn’t that what most poetry is these days?

 

NEW HORIZONS…..can the Dead cat be revived?

I have come to a couple of interesting conclusions and this goes hand in hand with my fine art painting career (non-career). When I seriously donned the ‘poet’ cap back in the early 1990’s I was heavily influenced by Raymond Carver and Simon Armitage and determined to produce a ‘democratic muse’ i.e. a poetry of simple expressions and familial history that anyone in my extended family back in Oxfordshire could read and by extension anybody could read. I held firmly to this through my extended stay in Edinburgh and some of that attitude I found mirrored in some contemporary Scottish poetry. I was heavily influenced whilst there by Stewart Conn, William Neill and Norman McCaig. Indeed I met and corresponded with the first two on a regular basis. Left-wing, working-class and place-centred it all fitted and was reinforced by a series of night-classes with Murdo MacDonald and Craig Cairns I attended at Edinburgh University. I felt part of the Scottish scene and felt supported as a poet in a way I have never felt since in Oxford or Nottingham. I think this is because I am a ‘class-based’ poet and that doesn’t go down well with certain elements in England. I am talking about the Oxbridge stranglehold on literary life that leads many to affect pseudo middle-class characteristics in both speech and thought. I ain’t like that my duck.

I also steered heavily towards figuration in my artworks from the mid 1980’s onwards too as the reality of grinding poverty hit home. The irony is that democratic poems and figurative art got me nowhere so I might as well have been an iconoclastic avant-guardist for all the good it did me. Which brings me to the point of this short essay.

My first encounter with poetry was American and Objectivist….through William Carlos Williams I discovered Tomlinson and Bunting and Pound. One of my favourite critics (still is) was Eric Mottram and I lapped up his conversations with Tomlinson. A very modernist and international outlook at a young age. The collected poems ‘Diesel on Gravel’ which collates the first ten years I re-read last night and it starts in an experimental WCW / Imagist / Pasternak vein and slowly adopts traditional forms before crashing through the Carver plain-speaking barrier around 1986. Then in the nineties I became more and more conservative to the point where Simon Smith accused me of being on an entirely different bus to himself.

I realise now that this went hand in hand with a lack of persistence in abstract painting too and a steer toward the graphic and familiar.

I am now at a point in my life where I can once more steer back into uncharted waters so to speak. I long ago gave up thinking that my art would make me a living which the most sensible thing I said since I walked away from my dad’s shovel. I can earn livings elsewhere like many a modernist.

So the image above is curious. I need to move forwards but not as randomly as above. I am beginning to sniff out a route. Alan Baker and Paul Sutton fit into a political/modernist/post-modernist area I interested in..a post OTHER anthology kind of sea Andrew Taylor also swims in.

Matt Merritt I found fascinating because he not embedded in academia. He also referred to Tomas Transformer who I hadn’t thought about since Edinburgh. I was heavily influenced by Robin Fulton and he had deep Scandinavian connections. These are the horizons I lost in Oxford. I ignored poetry and poetry ignored me in Oxford because it was locked behind steel wire and bricks. I once conned my way into a Les Murray reading inside a University building but I was treated like dog-mess on the pristine undergrad’s shoes. Being a University employee was to be a minion and one was always kept in one’s place…..always second in line basically.

Here are two of Fulton’s books and the Bloodaxe Transtromer collected collection translated by Fulton from 1987. I also include Nicholson’s majestic ‘Poem, Purpose and Place’ from my Scottish days too:-)

place

Substitute: My problem with poetry

who-substitute-poster

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 😉

45sub

« Older posts

© 2021

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑