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From The Bath Hotel, Sheffield, to the Albion Beatnik, Oxford

I’ve put in some miles this week. On Tuesday I was in Sheffield’s lovely Bath Hotel, a public house with a beautiful backroom bar that felt like a front room.

Bath Hotel

This was the best kind of poetry event, with a host of poets gathering to read and listen in intimate and elegant surroundings. The hat was passed to cover the expenses of guest poets Jo Bell, Maria Taylor and me, and the audience was full of friends I’d got to know over the years, including John Foggin, Liz Cashden, Linda Gould, Julie Mellor and Joe Caldwell. I’ve been a fan of Maria Taylor’s for years, and as well as a wealth of poems from around the room it was great to hear both her and Jo read.

On Friday I drove down to Oxford for the launch of Martin Malone’s Shoestring Press collection ‘Cur’.
Martin is co-editor with Charles Lauder  of the Interpreter’s House poetry magazine, and you can read an interview with him about his editorship and poetry in a previous post on this blog,

The launch took place at the fabulous Albion Beatnik Bookshop.

Albion

I used to visit my girlfriend in Oxford in the 1980’s. She was a student at the Polytechnic, and I’d arrive by National Express Coach and later by rusty and unreliable 1967 MG Midget. In her second year she lived above a bakers in Cowley road. The room had a damp patch on the wall that she covered with a poster of Jim Morrison. There was a two-bar electric heater and the bakers would start making noise at about 5am. There is a poem about all this in my pamphlet ‘Gopagilla’.   Once or twice I went busking in town with my guitar. Anyway, I was feeling slightly nostalgic about all this as I wandered past the Eagle and Child and down to the bookshop. I like to arrive early to most things if I can. I popped in and bought a Les Murray selected, bumping into the poet Jamie Mckendrick in the process and having a chat about translation and living in Italy. I’ve been referring to Jamie’s  Faber book of 20th-Century poems recently so it was interesting to talk to him about that and about his experience of living in Naples. I showed him a picture I’d purchased in the Ashmolean Museum earlier and he recognised the rooftops.

(c) The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Then I left Jamie and Dennis (the owner of the Beatnik) in peace and wandered back into town where I fortuitously bumped into Sigfried Baber, poet and friend of Martin’s who had traveled up from Bath to attend the launch and read one or two poems of his own. Also reading at the event were Hilda Sheenan, Joesephine Corcoran, Robin Houghton and Keith Hutson. It was great to absorb the unique atmosphere of the Albion and have a chat before the event in which all Martin’s invited guests read two or three poems. I chose to read ‘Wilfred Owen’s last letter’ from my collection ‘The Sun Bathers’, as Martin is currently working on a PHD related to the Great war poets.

After superb readings from Josephine, Robin, Hilda, Siegfried and Keith (the later two both featured poets on this blog) Martin thanked us all for coming and read ten poems from ‘Cur’.

I’d seen and heard Martin read before so I knew his new book would be good. But this morning, waking early and taking an hour or so to read some of it I found I was unprepared for how good it is. Writing reviews is time-consuming and hard work and it’s getting late so I won’t attempt a mini-review at the moment as I’d want to do justice to this fine and very varied collection. I will say that it is full of brave, naked expressions of love and affection (‘Like I was your Girlfriend’) wonderfuly elegant love poems (‘Spoil’) and many witty and politically and historically based poems as well as poems about music and art, all laced with easily worn learning and touches of endering self-effacment. I have asked Martin if I could post a poem or two and he kindly agreed so here are a couple of my favourites.

Egging

The hedgerow was Dad’s cashpoint; from it
he’d casually withdraw the small currencies
of wonder: my first finch egg, sheep skulls,
an old wren’s nest, the dunnock’s four way
clutch of blue.
Slum-cleared city kid,
he had ranged the estate margins into edgelands
to forage new-found greenery: suck marrow
from deciduous bones, lap time like stolen cream.
What he really handed me was some final flourish
of golden-summer cliché, out-of-step with these times.
No point, then, but the passing on of breakable things.

Piazza     

after Giacometi

Seven AM in Piazza Plebescito,
not the human figure but long shadows
cast in this bronze light of April morning.
Freeze the frame. Bookshop owner opening
up on Piazza Dante, the Crib Street
assistant with her new lover to meet,
a Mergellina fisherman dropping
off fresh vongole, the Vomero lawyer
and Caremar sailor bound for Ischia:
ghosts of the unreal city, thin as nails.

He’d make your head look like the blade of a knife.

‘Cur ‘ is available from Shoestring Press.

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Siegfried Baber, featured poet

Sieg

Siegfried Baber was born in Barnstaple, Devon in 1989. Since graduating from Bath Spa University with a degree in Creative Writing, he lives and works in the city as a freelance writer, and as a barman in Bath’s finest pub, The Star Inn. His work has featured in various publications including Under the Radar, The Interpreter’s House, Butcher’s Dog Magazine and as part of the Bath Literature Festival.

I was lucky enough to catch Siegfried at a reading in Lewes which featured Martin Malone, Helen Fletcher and Peter Kenny (whose work I was pleased to share in my last post,) where he had stepped in at very short notice to fill in for a poet who had been unable to attend.  You can read more about that evening and the new and the very lovely pamphlets available from Telltale Press here.

cover-cartoonkid-FINAL-190x300

Siegfried read from his new pamphlet, ‘When Love Came To The Cartoon Kid’ , which I can highly recommend, along with Peter Kenny’s ‘The Nightwork’ and Robin Houghton’s ‘The Great Vowel Shift’. All three are available from Telltale Press here.

I was impressed both by the quality of his work and by Siegfried’s assured delivery. After reading the pamphlet, I asked Sieg for the three poems bellow. For those who are a bit slow on the uptake, as I was on first reading, LHO is Lee Harvey Oswald, and there is another poem featuring Oswald entitled ‘Three Shots’ which bookends the pamphlet.  I’d buy the pamphlet on the strength of his poem ‘Rabbit’ alone, which includes detail of skinning the said creature during Siegfried’s childhood on his father’s farm, and features the unforgettable lines ‘ After yanking it free from those overalls of brown fur,/ I was faced, for the first time,/ with that compact machinery of muscle/ spread out cold on yesterday’s paper.’
Between the two Oswald poems you will find a wide variety of subjects are covered in sure-footed and surprising poems from a young poet whose
work  we will surely be seeing much more of in the very near future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,  Siegfried Baber.

For LHO

Instead of some rifle, superimposed,
you hold a prism of light in your hands –
this glittering bottle of Coca-Cola,
now obliterated by sunshine, pressed
ice-cold against your forehead.
On the street below, the President’s
motorcade crawls harmlessly out of view.
The Sun is the yawn of a great cat.
Fifty years from now, you doubt
anyone will remember this afternoon
or the rainbows you cast on the wall.


Shit-Street Nativity

Onstage, three chairs –
Mary in a blue shell-suit,
cradling her swollen
stomach, mascara running
down both cheeks;

Gabriel, stuck in the middle,
dressed to the nines
in his white linen suit,
trim, slim, glowing
and showing-off
his angelic smile;

then poor Joseph,
demanding a DNA test,
slouched in shorts
and sandals, fingers
shot through with splinters,
wine-stains on his vest.

And in the audience, everywhere,
is God rolling a fag,
wearing a baseball cap,
head back and laughing.

The tattoo on his neck:
World’s Best Dad.

A Few Phobias

Fear of reading the Post-It note on my desk
and your handwriting, strong, cool and clear.

Fear of this half-empty flat, swallowed by space,
with missing chairs, no television, and the cutlery

left hugging itself in the drawer. Or worse,
months from now, fear of finding your books

lost between mine. That favourite dress
clinging to my clothes like gossamer.

 

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Interview with Martin Malone, poet and editor.

I’m pleased to be able to publish the first in a series of interviews with poets who are also editors. I thought it would be doubly interesting to ask people who wear two hats about their experience of editing and how it might impact upon their writing.

martin_malone

Martin Malone is a UK based poet whose work has won prizes including the Wivenhoe  Prize, the Straid Poetry Award and the Mirehouse Poetry Prize. His second collection, Cur, is due from Shoestring Press in October. Martin is currently undertaking practice-led research for a Ph.D in Poetry at Sheffield University and is editor of The Interpreter’s House poetry journal.

Hi Martin. thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions. I’d like to ask you about your editorship of the Interpreter’s House. You’ve done a great job of modernising the magazine in terms of its appearance and the giving it a stronger internet presence. Your acceptance and even rejection letters are mentioned in glowing terms on social media due to their often encouraging nature.   Of course the old Interpreter’s House had an established reputation for quality of design and content, but I’d like to congratulate you on keeping these qualities while moving things forward.

Ta very much Roy. Truthfully, we were passed on a fine magazine with a sound infrastructure but no digital footprint. Much of the headway we’ve made, then, was merely capitalising upon a bit of an open goal in this respect.  I can’t praise enough the founding editor, Merryn Williams, and my predecessor, Simon Curtis, for handing on to us such a lovely magazine in the first place. Maybe we’ve just reaped a generational benefit somewhat. However, I’m delighted to hear that people have ‘got’ where it is we’re coming from with regard to the way we hope to conduct ourselves. You can’t always get it right and mistakes are made but, overall, we simply try to treat people with respect and sensitivity. It’s not complicated. And we’re only temporary custodians of the magazine, after all. We ignore the fact, but humanity is a commonwealth and we do well to remember that.

I wonder if you’ve found the editorship to be beneficial to your own poetry and if so in what way.

Hm. I’m struggling to think of many tangible benefits to my own writing, if I’m honest. That’s not being grumpy it’s just the way it is. The editorship benefits me indirectly in other ways, I suppose. With over a thousand poems per issue to read, editing benefits your reading whilst stealing time from your writing. No complaints: the gig was a genuine attempt to give something back to the poetry community. I cite the great poet Jazzy B at this point: “Be objective, be selective, be an asset to the collective”: a perfect mantra for editors everywhere. Ultimately, I try to keep my editorship of TIH and my poetorship of Martin Malone as separate as possible, for ethical reasons more than anything else.

I know that you are studying for a PHD and have other commitments. How do you manage to keep all these balls in the air?

I’m not sure I do. Not sure at all, Roy. For much of the time I wander round in a state of mild to extreme panic  that I’ve set myself an impossible equation of time and space. However, I am someone who may function more productively as a busy man.  I guess there’ll be a reckoning when I graduate on time or not. I do know that putting together and locking down a new issue is absolutely compulsive and has taken precious time away from my Ph.D. But there are always subsidiary benefits to these things and nothing is wasted in the grand scheme of things. I know I am grateful to my Deputy Editor, Charles Lauder, for taking some of the weight from my shoulders; particularly of late, when we’ve become victims of our own success to some extent. The thought of doing everything on my own these days is inconceivable and, anyway, I like working as part of a team.

Do you time aside for the different tasks?

I guess I do, though I’m not particularly methodical on a day-to-day basis. Because of wee Fionn, I‘ve re-orientated my working week to mean Thursday through Sunday, with other days being the hold-steady ones. If I can attend to stuff whilst being mauled and snottered on, I do it: things like magazine record-keeping and admin (which is surprisingly time-consuming), online MOOCs that are relevant to my research, snatches of reading and editing etc. You’ll notice I’ve not put ‘writing’ there. I do have my very first Arvon week coming up, however. There I shall sup the tears of angels and glut my heart on ichor.

Any advice for would be editors?

Advice for would-be editors would be to not do it. And, if after deciding that, you still do it then you’ve got yourself an editorship. I took on the gig for 5 years – sometimes wish I’d said three – and I think that’s about right at one journal. Otherwise, it becomes too much a part of you, as an individual, and the publication struggles to grow as a result. I’m actually looking forward to handing TIH on to the next custodian(s) to see where they’ll take it (NOTE: the privately-educated and Oxbridge graduates need not apply, UK culture suffers from an overabundance of you already). Also I’m looking forward to having the chance to simply look back over my 15 issues, as a punter rather than someone fretting over it all.

My niece is studying at Oxford but she wasn’t privately educated so maybe you could make an exception if she was interested.  Where do you find the beautiful covers?

TIH cover

The beautiful covers are entirely the work of Jenn Shaw who has a great eye and knows where to look for good artists. It is she who should get the credit for this. We started off with the punchy print graphic approach and after a few issues decided that this would be the overall design aesthetic.

TIH cover 2

I’ve always wanted to produce something that is beautiful and objectively desirable in itself; something collectible and an artwork when assembled together. We’re hoping to hold an exhibition of all the cover artists at the end of my tenure: find a gallery somewhere and celebrate their very great contribution to the project. I confess, after reading my way through everything and assembling each issue’s writing, my big thrill is when the printer proof arrives and I get to see the artwork.

Could you tell me a little about your new collection?

‘Cur’ is what American college bands would call my ‘sophomore’ effort. In some ways, it is Part 2 of ‘The Waiting Hillside’ but hopefully more sharply-written. I’m a great believer in being true to the arc of time which produced a particular phase of writing, and not being afraid to stand by that. I like to encounter artists who are uneven and follow their own blues; rather than sitting and sitting on stuff with one eye on the career-defining statement or prize-winning tome. I’ve nothing against folks who do, mind. Good luck to them. But there’s something a bit sterile about the exercise. As the long-forgotten post-Augustan satirist Charles Churchill said of Pope: “E’en excellence unvaried, tedious grows.” It’s why my brain acknowledges the superiority of Echo & The Bunnymen’s recorded output but my heart loves Pete Wylie’s flawed genius more. I’ve gotten off the point haven’t I?

I think you may have honed it a little. The point that is.  Where was I-  oh yes, what are the main themes of your collection ? Sex and death?  

Love and loss, love and loss, love and loss. With lots of sex, art and landscapes, then an unexpected child to close. Fairly standard stuff.

How does it differ from your first book?

Better sex, bigger losses, bigger gains. I guess it’s more out in the world than the first book. I’d not been writing poetry for long when ‘The Waiting Hillside’ came out, so whatever good energies flow through that book are less tutored than those I hope are being channelled through ‘Cur’. As I say, it’s a sort of Part 2 in that there’s still a lot of ‘I’ in it. The wonderful thing about my current work-in-progress, however, is that there is very little me in it, which is very liberating. But ‘Cur’ is a point on a growth curve that I stand by and know will remain a personal favourite.

It’s good to hear that you are moving on but seem happy with what you have captured. It seems to me that might possibly the best way for any artist to feel.

What attracted you to Shoestring Press as a publisher?

I trust John Lucas implicitly. He is one of the genuine forces of light and a deep but un-showy intellect on a British poetry scene which surprises me, at times, with its lack of those qualities. John’s sort of what I hope to represent in the long-term. It helps that Shoestring is a rightfully respected imprint and does its business on the shake of a hand. I like that a lot. Also, Roy, when I saw the lovely artefact that is your own first collection, I knew that I’d have another beautifully-produced book. That too, is important.

I think you’ve just articulated exactly how I feel about John Lucas and Shoestring.  How have you found the editorial process?

Good moment to ask, since I got home from a hard week yesterday to find John’s unflinching (and, frankly, illegible) pencilization* of my manuscript. From what I’ve so far managed to decipher, I’ve been utterly shocked by just how random and sloppy one can be over a body of work with which one has become, perhaps, over-familiar. John suggestions are sharp-eyed, shrewd and carry the heft of his knowledge and experience. This is no place for an over-abundance of personal ego at this stage, not if you’re serious about your writing. Every writer should love being edited and I’m no exception.

In general, the editorial stage is one of my favourite moments; since a new pair of eyes can utterly revivify your own take on a manuscript: poems you’d thought grown cold can be suddenly brought back to life in strange and fascinating ways by the lightest of editorial touches. A single new, dropped or changed word can virtually create a whole new poem. As a rule I’ve always cut it 80:20 in favour of adopting whatever changes a good editor suggests. And it never results in anything less than a better poem or manuscript. I was lucky enough to have Paul Batchelor edit my first collection and I saw then how important the process is. So, I’m already enjoying working my way through John’s suggested ch-ch-ch-changes as I turn and face the strain.

*A sort of constructive assassination by fault-finding and suggestion.

I’m a big fan of Paul Batchelor’s work. I have to agree with your comments on John’s style and your attitude to the process is close to my own.  It’s good to hear such a  positive take on being edited. When is the collection due?   

I learn that it’s to come out in October. Get in!

Thank you Martin. May your time run wild in a million streets and may none of them be dead ends.

 

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A few thoughts on a Thursday evening

I’ve just dispatched some poems for consideration by the editors of a poetry magazine. After six years of doing this, I still find the process of submitting poems exciting.  I’m not a gambling man, but I think the buzz of putting one’s poems ‘out there’ might be similar to the experience of laying down a bet. Unlike gambling, there is really nothing to lose. Indeed, I’m sometimes quite glad when poems are returned- I get another go!

A friend of mine has just had some work accepted by a really good poetry magazine. After an initial (and ridiculous) pang of envy I was able to be genuinely pleased for him. This is because a) he is a lovely bloke and b) because his work is startlingly individualistic and as fresh as wet paint. James Giddings work was featured on this blog a while ago, and I’m pleased that he is sending work out and that editors are beginning to notice his obvious talent.

I’m also delighted to announce a new series of interviews that will be posted on here soon. The last batch was a year or so ago, and included Ian Parks, Matt Merritt,  Jodie Hollander, Maria Taylor and Kim Moore. The new series will begin with Martin Malone, editor of The Interpreter’s House. Martin’s second collection will soon be published by the excellent Shoestring Press.

You may have noticed that Leicester is in the news. Robin Houghton recently featured the city in the first of a series of articles about regional poetry scenes, continuing with Cumbria. Robin’s articles are well researched and definitely worth a look.

Finally, one of my own poems was recently published by The Morning Star. If you go to their webpage you can also read work by Leicester poet and reviewer, Emma Lee.