Category: nottingham writers studio

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

Let’s go to Sacramento…Diesel on Gravel again

OK so this is news that stays news as they say…

In 1963-4 Raymond Carver left the Iowa Writers Workshop..he drove to Sacramento. I have just metaphorically done the same only I don’t have a car and cannot drive (his was a battered Chevrolet not a Cadillac by the way).

I hinted at this news in previous posts but now as the paperwork almost complete I can say it.

I have left the NTU Creative Writing course. I completed one term.

The previous Fine Art M.A.was too recently completed. Too many personal politics and career questions clouded my decision-making (a hangover from various complications within the School of Art and Design). Most of all I simply couldn’t face yet more modern educational tick-boxing (we call it learning outcome grids, I know I have written and marked hundreds of them) when all I wanted to do was write and make stuff. I didn’t feel like I had left work at all and I was paying for it.  Not a good feeling. I really enjoyed David Belbin’s rigorous ‘prose poem’ classes and most of the core lectures.

I simply made a mistake by pursuing yet another M.A. within my own institution but this decision was shaped by practicalities and mostly financial considerations to do with travel. I originally looked at Sheffield University and Hallam and even Lincoln. I didn’t consider Nottingham University because I felt that would be undermining NTU to go there.

In the end I simply didn’t feel comfortable in a class mostly 30 years younger to be honest. I was swimming upstream in muddy water from the get-go a bit like one of Carver’s fish ( see a poem below written in 1989 before most in class were born!). I wish all the class and their tutors every success and look forward to the Anthology launch:-)

The experience has helped me determine that I am not an ‘academic’ poet. Never was and never will be. I may be an academic art researcher we shall see.

I now attend monthly poetry sessions at the Nottingham Writers Studio and feel far more relaxed and creative. In all other respects things have been going very well and I could not be happier.

I intend to create as much ‘stuff’ as possible in the next few months I have left on ‘career break’ before returning to NTU SAD in July 2015.

There more than one way to catch a fish after all…

The image above is a cover of a self-made booklet of poems I made in 1990 when working at The London Poetry Library it is in their collection it is titled ‘Diesel on Gravel’

diesel

Its title and its contents reflect my discovery of Carver in 1985 through his book ‘Fires’. It contains a poem ‘Searching for a tomb’ which relates directly to the A.E.Coppard story told in another post here
http://www.shaunbelcher.com/writing/?p=1071
Neither of us knew who that particular fish was then…

The one thing I have done properly whilst on the course, even if it made for a ‘bad’ essay, was excavating and confronting the Coppard ‘legacy’ if there is one. It was good for me to do it. I finally discovered new facts about him and read his work properly. That ghost is now laid to rest somewhere in an Oxfordshire graveyard.

Time to move on…

Which wraps everything up nicely.

Here the poem:

 

Searching for a tomb 1989

Sun shone warm on the bonnet
as we pulled up the gravel drive.
The old rectory stood deserted.
The congregation had been dwindling
these five years and twenty.

My father’s wellington’s flap
as he strides off through the wet grass.
I have a photo of him
sitting in his stepfather’s arms
holding a team of horses
pulling a plough aged about ten.

Here we are
Two figures caught in the open.
Standing in a churchyard.
Little Wittenham, Oxfordshire
On a frosty November evening.

My father is circling the headstones
and green iron crosses, looking.

A flock of doves twist and jink
in the blue air above us.

We stare down like two men on a bridge.
Staring into clear and shallow sunlit water
searching for the shadow of a fish.

The father he has never seen.
The grandfather I will never meet.

 

 

How to stop being a poet.

poetry


For my creative writing course I have to produce an ‘Influence’ essay by next Monday and it proving to be a really hard call for me. Not because the essay in itself difficult (see previous post) but because it like a blood-letting leach to a sick patient in terms of the whys and wherefores of why I stopped reading and writing poetry.

I stopped reading poetry in 2002 when I moved to Nottingham. I was concentrating on writing song lyrics from then until the release of the Moon Over the Downs in 2003 which based on the relaunched Americana fanzine Flyinshoes which I launched and edited from 1999 until 2004.

I also did not have my poetry collection with me until 2004 as it was stored at my parents because of a lack of room in my seedy one bed flat. I had written a few ‘post-break-up’ poems in 2002 following the end of a 7 year relationship with a Spanish woman and a couple of poems which simple therapy when I found myself in a dark place like ‘Greyhound in frost’ (Full original title “On Regarding a Distant Prospect of Oxford with Greyhound in Foreground on a Frosty Morning” )which I submitted in annoyance to The Guardian in 2004 just to show certain people that I could actually write. That Ruth Fainlight chose it (Alan Sillitoe’s wife) lent the whole thing a certain irony.

The complete lack of help at that time from the ‘great and the good’here in Nottingham was a major factor with various local writer attitudes being along the lines of ‘you’re from Oxford therefore posh’ typical and similar to some attitudes I encountered in Scotland too.I was told by a local poet that the only way I would ‘get on’ was to kow-tow and help at events by moving chairs…I said fuck off. A lot of these provincial attitudes have disappeared in last ten years thank god and the Nottingham Writer’s Studio is a far more open organisation than it was to start with. I helped the then fledgling Writer’s Studio get off the ground by setting up a WordPress…which surprise surprise brought in enough initial members to keep it going ( I knew this the rest of the founders seemed oblivious to the web and were too focused on their own careers).

I gave up on writing in 2004 and trained as a teacher ironically specialising at first in ‘Basic Skills’ i.e. maths and english. Then freelanced web work, then in 2007 started as a web lecturer at NTU School of Art and Design. That was good for art but my poetry was irrelevant to most there and still is. The Head of Art research stood up and managed to forget exactly what subject it was I had been published for in 2010 which about sums it up…announcing this to the entire School was a bonus. Thanks.

The only support I ever received from Nottingham from 2001-2011 was in 2007 when Wayne Burrows asked for some poems for an East Midlands edition of Staple.

I also joined the ‘Inside Out’ group of poets working in prisons which was fabulous but didn’t help me write at all. I was just surviving on ‘drip-down’ from various arts council funded initiatives and a little freelance work. This lack of interest in my writing came after a miserable few years being a minion employed by Oxford University where the lack of interest from the ‘literati’ was deafening and this fateful combination almost finished off all ideas of me being a poet. Through the Oxford years ( Full story HERE) I kept going as a writer through the support of Richard Price and Southfields alone nobody in Oxford cared less frankly .The divide between ‘Town and Gown’ was and is healthy.

I eventually stopped writing poetry altogether with just an occasional poem leaking out haphazardly. I also stopped reading poetry completely. Job done…or so I thought….again ironically the rest of my life finally got on track. I met (Gun Chimes) then married Emma in 2010 and finally had a mortgage after a lifetime of poverty and substandard poor accommodation. So life was better and no poems to worry about.

Then in 2010 I asked Chris Emery at Salt about P.O.D. (print on demand) as I knew he was interested in the subject as I tried to pull an art project together for my then just starting M.A. in Fine Art at NTU SAD. To my surprise Chris Emery said send me some poems and this resulted in the publication of the’Last Farmer’ pamphlet. A pamphlet consisting mostly of published works and the majority of those from the period 1992-2000. Poems I had written almost 20 years before! I must have been the only poet doing a tour to support a book who no longer read or wrote poetry…..it was strange. An experience made doubly strange by the fact I was also dealing with my mother’s final phase cancer treatment. Another overwhelming reason for moving away from poetry that based in my case very closely on my family and local Oxfordshire history was the death of my father from pancreatic cancer in 2004 and my mother in 2010. I had other more important things to deal with.

So that’s how you do it..stop writing poetry.

Move to another city…live in poverty…lose both parents to cancer…
stop writing..stop reading….

then give up entirely ….simples..

 I covered all of this in a post in 2012 after a serious illness.

CODA

Ten years later try and get back to where you should have been all along by enrolling on a Creative Writing Course.

Starting  again ……painful but the only way.

Influences……fucking hell do you think a writer has any influence compared to the above ….NO or MAYBE YES but again it ain’t the story anybody expecting.

Watch this space….

 

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