Thursday, November 26, 2009

A novel and a long poem

Just a quick post to mention two things I've read this week:

Elizabeth Baines's short novel Too Many Magpies, about – well, about parenthood, the environment, magic, science, adultery... It's a moving, and in places actually upsetting book (it turns out I'm a sucker for parental anxiety storylines).

And last night I read Harriet Tarlo's landscape poem 'Brancepeth Beck', from her book Nab, an enjoyed it a lot. It's a sort of landscape poetry which I don't know very well – like a series of scenes rather than a developing progression (like the landscape itself, then). Very pleasing stuff.

There's more to say about both of these pieces, but marking calls...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

...and here's me talking about my book...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

'Real Magic'

Frances Leviston reviews my book in the Guardian.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Housman, Berryman

OK, here's the Housman I promised. I was reading A Shropshire Lad the other night. It's easy to think you have Housman's measure and not read him. And then you do read him, and you think that yes, you pretty much had his measure, but it's a fairly wonderful measure for all that. In amongst the macabre pieces about young love and death there's one, poem XXVI, which does something a bit more special. The poem which follows it is the famous one beginning 'Is my team ploughing,/That I was used to drive' where the living boy is sleeping with his dead friend's sweetheart. And I have nothing against these beautiful, simple lyrics (I don't even wish to condemn them with faint praise, as I appear to be doing). But the poem before is more complicated, for the way it is not simply a ghost story, but a kind of hypothetical ghost story in which the dead sweetheart inhabits another possible world, or rather in which the ghost is seduced by an idea which cannot be true. It's so difficult to specify in prose, but in the poem it is clear and, yes, beautiful:

....Along the field as we came by
A year ago, my love and I,
The aspen over stile and stone
Was talking to itself alone.
‘Oh who are these that kiss and pass?
A country lover and his lass;
Two lovers looking to be wed;
And time shall put them both to bed,
But she shall lie with earth above,
And he beside another love.’

....And sure enough beneath the tree
There walks another love with me,
And overhead the aspen heaves
Its rainy-sounding silver leaves;
And I spell nothing in their stir,
But now perhaps they speak to her,
And plain for her to understand
They talk about a time at hand
When I shall sleep with clover clad,
And she beside another lad.

Meanwhile Katy Evans-Baroque links to that brilliant clip of John Berryman reading Dream Song 29. Of course the most striking thing is how drunk Berryman seems, though apparently he wasn't [EDIT: oh, I don't know - was he?] was. But what makes me really marvel is the way that in spite of or even because of the poet's manner, the reading shows off the poem to great advantage. Although it seems garbled and confusing, I find it actually brings to life the poem's logic – for example, the absolute rightness of 'an odour, a chime', which on paper (heh) both seem vague and arbitrary. It's a wonderful poem. Must read more Berryman.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Quick post not about AE Housman

There's a Housman poem I want to post here, if out of copyright, and marvel at, but haven't got it to hand; in the meantime two bits of self-promotion jollity:

The latest issue of Sphinx is out, containing, I think, four reviews by me of pamphlets by Rose Cook, Mike Barlow, Maggie O'Dwyer and Michael Pedersen. The Cook reviwe is online here.

And Rob Mackenzie is kind enough to recommend my book as a Christmas present. Remember you get free UK postage on all Salt books till Christmas; find Salt on Twitter for even more discounts.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Free shipping on all Salt books till Christmas

It does exactly what it says on the tin - so go and help yourself to some great books of poetry and fiction. The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street (which, by all accounts, will be reviewed in the Guardian this Saturday) would make a smashing present for, well, pretty much anyone...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Vicars to the death

Over the last few days I've been browsing in Francis Kilvert's A Wiltshire Diary. Kilvert was a clergyman's son (and clergyman himself) who kept a diary up until his death (which occurred shortly after his honeymoon, at the age of 38). It's a wonderful book, in the strict senses that Kilvert himself is clearly full of wonder (for instance, he thinks it worthy to note down the fact that a neighbour has a caged linnet)*, and that it makes me wonder, too. The entry after the one about the linnet describes a 'horrible dream':

It was one of those curious things, a dream within a dream, like a picture within a picture. I dreamt I dreamt that Mr and Mrs Venables tried to murder me. We were all together in a small room and they were both trying to poison me, but I was aware of their intention and baffled them repeatedly. At length, Mr Venables put me off my guard, came round fondling me, and suddenly clapping his hand on my neck behind said, 'It's of no use, Mr Kilvert. You're done for.' I felt the poison beginning to work and burn in my neck...

This dream within a dream excited me to such a state of fury, that in the outer dream I determined to murder Mr Venables. Accordingly I lay in wait for him with a pickaxe on the Vicarage lawn at Clyro, hewed and immense and hideous hole through his head, and kicked his face till it was so horribly mutilated, crushed and disfigured as to be past recognition. Then the spirit of the dream changed. Mrs Venables became her old natural self again. 'Wasn't it enough,' she said, looking at me reproachfully, 'that you should have hewed that hole through his head, but you must go and kick his face so that I don't know him again?' At this moment, Mr Bevan, the Vicar of Hay, came in. 'Well,' he said to me, 'you have done it now. You have made a pretty mess of it.'

It's strange, and somehow surprising, though it should be the least surprising thing in the world, to find that the Victorians had weird dreams too. In fact, now that it's been brought to my attention, I can't help thinking that of course they probably had much weirder ones than ours.

* Just found this quote to support my claim here: '"Why do I keep this voluminous journal?" Francis Kilvert asked himself. "Partly because life appears to me such a curious and wonderful thing that it almost seems a pity that even such a humble and uneventful life as mine should pass all together away without some such record as this..."'

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Reading and reading

I read at Keele University on Monday night, to a small but packed (no spare seats!) room of creative writers. I enjoyed it a lot – a keen, relaxed, clever, normal bunch of people, so an ideal audience. I read two chunks of 15 minutes, and they laughed in all the right places. Then on to the bar for drinks, and discussions of writing, creative writing as a discipline, football, Sebald (fisticuffs over Austerlitz), and the aquarium-cum-hologram gallery in Matlock Bath. And now they'll never have me back, because like a later and less aristocratic Edward de Goncourt, I've blabbed all our secrets.

Jim Sheard put me up for the night, and in the morning sent me on my way with a 24-hour lend of Jean Sprackland's Hard Water. Jim's praised Sprackland's work to me before, but I've never got round to reading her in earnest. I zipped through Hard Water on the train from Stoke to Sheffield. It's fantastic - here's a link to the title poem, read by Sprackland.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Carol Rumens, 'The Hebrew Class'

I'm fairly sure I must have read this poem before, but can't remember doing so. I like it a lot – for its clarity of the expression, and the light touch that disguises the fact that it is a 'political' poem. (Not sure the blog at the link has permissio to reprint, though.)

This setting to music of it is, well, not to my taste: