Very Language

…Such word.

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During a conflab with my good buddy and sounding board the other night we got onto the notion of trigger warnings and ableist speech came up. What we were discussing was their practicality. Now before I get every hardcore right wing or left wing political activist/commentator leaping all over me, we were not questioning their merit we were discussing their practicality. Every day a new issue is brought up (almost exclusively on the internet) about these two practices that requires a furthering of their reach. My argument is that anything can be a trigger and almost anyone (that isn’t a white male, ‘playing life on easy mode’) can have discriminative language used against them. So whilst correctly identifying someone’s choice of sex/gender/partnership and sensitively considering the impact of your topic on someone’s mental health is noble and ultimately the decent thing, language and active discussion on almost any topic becomes somewhat over burdened. The problem being that when talking about anything there would have to be drawn out parenthesise, asides, footnotes or explanations for any nouns or adjectives. This can kill a discussion stone dead and is actively inhibitive of necessary arguments that need to be made to further the cause of the topics that necessitate trigger warnings and ableist/gender language.

I am well aware of this being an unpopular view. The journalist Helen Lewis was drummed off Twitter for saying much the same thing but to be honest that’s not really what I want to talk about. I wanted to talk about language’s continued evolution and how it is being forced to evolve quicker thanks to modern technology.

First and foremost, I write poetry and prose so words are close to my heart. I am biased but you would be a fool to ignore the fact that human’s ability to speak (in whatever language) along with our awareness of mortality is pretty much what defines us as a species. Without language we would not be where we are. We are almost entirely made of language. Every language the world over be it French, Cantonese, Finnish, Spanish, Russian, English or any of the multitude of other languages we have on earth, have developed and evolved over the centuries. I recently read Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ which is over 2000 years old and am currently reading Anne Carson’s ‘Red Doc>’ published last year and the leap from translation of an ancient text to modern speech and syntax is staggering. Obviously Art of War is a modern translation but the context is that much more different when Sun Tzu wrote it and let us be clear – this is the whole thrust of my argument – Words have definitions, context gives meaning.

Picking someone up on a (perhaps admittedly poor choice of) word I feel is counter productive, in the same way I want to smash grammar nazis heads in with a fucking rock. The sanctity of language is something humans defend with their last breath WITHOUT the need for its policing. We need language and we need to be understood, even the most wilfully illiterate troll needs his words to get his asinine and prejudiced view across. As such I really feel the aggressive nature with which a misspelled or mistyped word or a poorly chosen word is used and the user actively eviscerated, helps no one. If the speech they are trying to make is generally for the good I’d rather take the whole than the pieces. Details can be deceiving and often a case of not seeing the woods for the trees.

Nietzsche once wrote “I’m afraid we cannot give up God as we still have grammar”. I only heard this quote last week and it struck a deep chord. What (it is my understanding) Nietzsche meant by this is the fact we still use phrases like “It is raining” or “They wouldn’t let it happen”. The ‘It’ and the ‘They’ are non-specific references to some form of linguistic deity. So “God”, in some form resides with in our language. NOW; Due to the world becoming more secular in general and with the advent of the internet (originally a platform for discussion without militant censorship) being an ideal place to foster this notion it seems this particular hiding place for The Man Upstairs is finally being over turned. What do I mean? Ladies and gentleman, I give you: Doge

In the world of the internet Doge is not the first trend of his kind to come along, who can haz forgets LOL Cats? But Doge to me is an indicative point of reference for the use of humour (its always humour that makes the most progressive ideas popular) to disassemble our language. I hate the word “Meme” because its origins lie with someone I detest but seeing as that is how they self-identify I shall use the term: Memes have always deliberately used language badly to make the funnies and give all the lols. To the point where I actually said the word “Obvs” out loud in conversation the other day in an entirely un-ironic way. This is not new.

“He’s going to bring up Poetry again isn’t he?” YES I BLOODY WELL AM.

Modernism is a good place to start when considering how forcefully it tried to “Make It New!” as Ezra Pound once said. James Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake are exemplars of a case to be made for the deliberate and systematic destruction of syntax and words being used incorrectly or at least strangely. These are traditionally seen as being the ‘outsiders’ though, not mass consumed literature or art like Memes and such. Yet for the last 15 years read any self-confessed ‘Literary Fiction’ *spits* and you’ll see the same attempts to reappraise language, Cormac McCarthy being a prime candidate. ‘No Country for Old Men’ and ‘The Road’ are sparse, practically barren texts with barely any punctuation beyond a full stop and the odd comma. But for me it always comes down to poetry. Poetry has been doing this since it started being composed and language used in such a way. I remembered a poem by Robert Herrick the other day from the 17th century called ‘Dreams’:

“Here we are all, day by day; by night we’re hurled

By dreams, each one, into a several world.”

Firstly, what a fabulous poem. He wipes the floor with a lot of other poems about dreams in two lines of pentameter. Secondly, check out that last phrase: “A several world”. “A many Cat” “Very Dog” “Such Piglet” “So Poem”. Poetry was body slamming linguists and grammarists from day one. It is where language goes when it wants to cut loose or breed and that fundamentally is the problem with the world’s dogged adherence to by turns ye olde grammar or “must-include-everyone-and-everything” language.

Language is its own thing, whatever language that may be. Like water it finds its quickest path and goes that way weather we build a dam or not. It is a living breathing, creature that grows limbs and shoots lazers from its eyes and has an Adamantium skeleton. Which is why getting on your high horse and berating others for the “your/you’re” SIN seems almost tragically quaint. You can beat the irony drum as much as you like too but bad grammar and silly linguistics are everywhere. It is almost the sole mode of communication on some websites. Use “Meme Speech”, as some nitwits pejoratively refer to it, on Twitter or anywhere on the web and expect a flood of very reply, so response. In many ways, language itself is God. It is our creator and we are at its beck and call all the time. Fascinating then, that so many religions have been built around it. I should stress I am no christian and do not have any fealty to any faith yet nor do I, or would ever, pronounce myself as Atheist. There are just as many churches and doctrines with that particular faith as any that adhere to a deity. Equally words being that which I hope to make a career out of, I most certainly do not feel the need to be its staunch defender. Language doesn’t need my, your or anybody’s help to develop and accommodate new ideas of gender, ableism, race or trauma.

The difference comes with our intent and that is the context in which it is said. If you have an hour these guys make the point but funnier and more in depth than I do but to put it succinctly: If you are talking about a topic in its defence and either through ignorance or poor choice of humour use language someone deems insulting, rude, insensitive or triggering then I’m probably not going to call you on it A) Because millions of people are lurking in wait to do it instead but B) Because the chances are I’ll agree with your argument and want other people to hear it, poorly phrased syntax and all.

We do not own language, it owns us. It shapes and defines us as our identities shift and as our “isms” become more abstract and psychological and so language will move to accommodate. The internet, text talk and literature are actively trying to dismantle preconceived notions of the English language and are transmuting it as I write. Trying to rigidly enforce a set of archaic rules on a system that is already being collapsed so that minorities or the well being of others can be better met seems counter productive as whatever happens with language in the generations to come will be designed around our new method of thinking and broader inclusivity. The language of the 20th century will be as unrecognisable then as Chaucerian English is now.

God may be in the grammar but the Devil is certainly in the detail.

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Collected Unconscious

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One of my favourite quotes I like to think back to when I realise I’m wasting my time writing poems no one will ever read was said by Sigmund Freud: “Everywhere I go I find a poet has been there before me”. What he means by this (I suppose) is that any discovery he makes he will find examples of it in literature from previous times. His preoccupation with Hamlet and Shakespeare is well documented. The fact most poetry is continually reassessed is evidence of the truth of his statement. A curious thing is why this might be the case.

An oft repeated phrase from me regarding poetry, when asked, is that Poetry itself is a method of failure. By this I mean poetry continually tries to give voice and form through language to the ineffable. Ultimately a successful poem will always fail to achieve this but come very close. Poetry is always at the avant garde of language, most of the great neologists were poets and phrases we quote and aphorisms we spout are often written by poets of yesteryear (Shakespeare mostly). Poetry is also a method of compression. William Goldman in his book “Which Lie Did I Tell” speaks insightfully, especially for a non-Poet, about poetry being a method of compression; Meaning that a poem’s narrative and meaning should not be able to be expressed to the same extent in less words, i.e. you cannot condense a poem. Yet despite all this and the fact that on initial reading a poem can be indecipherable, we will still revel in it and take something away from it. Well, those who like poetry do anyway… TS Eliot after reading Dante’s Inferno in its original Italian claimed “it communicated before it was understood”. This is tricky to believe but I do feel that poetry is more often than not part of an innate human gene that poets tap into and that we can all feel even if we don’t immediately understand it.

The reason I have come to this rather wild and unfounded conclusion is because I have recently got into a poet called Louis MacNeice. I say “got into”, I mean he has fast become my favourite poet of the 20th century. He is the only poet I have bought the collected works of and it was largely for this post. Reading basically all of the man’s output I noticed something rather interesting that I agree is nothing more than wild speculation and ghost connections but that may be of interest the bored nonetheless.

I posit that Louis MacNeice in his poetic output predicted the internet before his death in 1963.

I’ll let you gather up your socks that have just BLOWN OFF after that statement and then elucidate:

Whether or not you believe in a collective unconscious within the human race its pretty obvious that humanity does certain things at the same time that become a trend and there are definite societal “moods”. Traditionally at a time of great societal stress too. Say A World War for instance. MacNeice’s Autumn Journal is a poetic tour-de-force that is a magical and biting appraisal of Britain about to move in to the throes of World War II. He captures the zeitgeist brilliantly and you can practically smell the tension in the air as Europe begins to crumple. In his poems, particularly his last collection The Burning Perch written in the early 60’s, he shows an aptitude for understanding the cultural sways throughout the country (and in many ways, the world). He was also a television producer for the BBC and understanding your audience is undoubtedly a key component to that job. So having a finger on the pulse and being able to express this at a close and personal level to his reader and adding texture by being intensely specific in his imagery, MacNeice is clearly pressing forward using poetry.

He can clearly see the need society has for a closer communication, seeing the arrival of telephones in most houses as he did and living through a war that was essentially all about communication. The inception and development of computers was also no doubt apparent in his mind, what with Bletchley Park being a hub of technological development and our needs for better decryption and encryption equipment. Predictions of the future were also a constant throughout the 20th century, since Jules Verne and HG Wells began their adventures into science fiction there have been predictions of video phones and powerful computer brains until they became a reality. But it is MacNeice’s specificity that astounds with regards to the internet. Peculiar turns of phrase in some poems could now be viewed as everyday day speech despite using (at the time) very alien imagery. What do I mean? Examples:

I cannot reproduce whole poems unfortunately but I heartily recommend picking up any of MacNeice’s work and most of his collections are available online. I am referencing the collected poems for this article.

One of the theories of societal changes brought about by the internet is one of ‘Plurality’, which means the fact or state of being plural i.e. among a large number. Looking at mainly Facebook and Twitter we can see this idea in its basic form: Many existing as a hive. All knowledge, history and information about one another shared. Opinions, hopes and fears all broadcast moment to moment through 140 characters or less. In this realm of 1s and 0s we traffic in personalities and indentities at the blink of an eye the whole of human life as a plural, a group, rather than as individual. The societies and civilisations of various social networking sites have developed in very quick time and with them have brought their ‘Discontents’ as, again, Freud put it. MacNeice was already on this theory with his poem ‘Plurality’ way back in 1941. MacNeice is already resisting our urge to combine into a homogeneous collective that we seem to have arrived at in Facebook et al: “The smug philosophers lie who say the world is one” he begins, going on “postulating a dumb static identity/ of essence and existence which could not fuse without/ banishing to a distance belief with doubt/ action along with error, growth along with gaps”. He condemns the constant need for a “history” or perhaps as we would have it now a “Feed”: “a man is what it is because/ it is something that began and not what it was,/ yet is itself throughout, fluttering and unfurled,/ … the row of noughts where time is done”. The whole poem reads like an angry poet being published in the Guardian today railing against the tidal wave of modern social media. Its quite long sadly or I would type it up here but I recommend you read it in its entirety.

Another interesting piece of prediction is in his collection Springboard from 1941 in his poems The Trolls and Troll’s Courtship: “they don’t know what they are doing,/ all they can do is stutter and lurch, riding their hobby, grinding/ their hobnails into our bodies, into our brains,” or “a wrong – in the end – assumption.” Troll’s Courtship is even funnier: “I have knocked down houses and stamped my feet on people’s heart,” or  “my curses and my boasts are merely a waste of breath,/ my lusts and loneliness grunt and heave/ and blunder round among ruins that I leave” and my personal favourite “Utter negation in positive form,/ … Of dissolution and the constant pyre/ of all desirable things – that is what I desire”. I think, all in all, that is what most people define as an online ‘Troll’, isn’t it?

Or how about his poem Budgie from his last collection The Burning Perch published in 1963 which contains the alarmingly prescient line: “I Twitter Am – and peeps like a television/ actor admiring himself in the monitor.” Not to mention the hilarious mention of “A barrage of Angry Birds” in Autumn Journal XIV. But most profound perhaps his line in Autumn Journal XXIII “Humanity being more than a mechanism”.

This is a small selection, I could go on a lot longer. Reading MacNeice is like reading a poet who has written most of this today or is still writing. The very definition of being ahead of your time is that your work remains current in the future. Every form of art has this. The great painters, thinkers, artists, filmmakers, photographers, architects, writers, musicians all are referred to as ‘Poets’ if they are felt to have hit a nail on the head or are clearly portraying something not yet understood. MacNeice seems to accomplish this on a page by page basis while still referring directly to current events at the time of his writing them. All of the above quotes are taken out of context and bent to fit my means. Plurality is about Theorists and Newspapers, the Troll poems are about a bombing raid he lived through, Budgie is about preening celebrity (that one’s pretty dead on actually) and Autumn Journal is an up to the minute commentary of life in Britain during the settlement in Munich and the slow defeat in Spain but nonetheless the similarities ARE there. In an admittedly abstract form, I confess. What this could show is how language is updated to suit our times and our needs in the way TS Elliot speaks of history aligning with current art and culture as opposed to us aligning with history, but I prefer to subscribe to the idea that perhaps humans plot a course for ourselves. A course that the more attentive can perceive.

MacNeice wrote a poem called Babel referring to the Tower of Babel and the scattering of the populace by speaking in tongues. Its another classic and contains the refrain: “Can’t we ever, my love, speak the same language?” The fact seems to be: We all still do. The world has never been so connected. You are reading this very post in our own newly formed Tower of Babel but unlike an outdated and supposedly saintly scripture would have it I don’t see this as a bad thing. And apparently neither did MacNeice. We are a society of people, a mob of individuals that struggles to find common aims or enough space, we are justly saddened when this power is abused or misused but when suddenly a good cause goes “viral” within the close confines of this tower we are amazed at the results. A friend was seeking a Kidney through Vine and due to the mass communication it created she was able to gain the possibility of helping her husband where once little hope had been.

The internet is merely an extension of Humanity’s recognition of ourselves in others and our desire to communicate these individual expressions to others through a variety of mediums as we have always done, most notably and, in my opinion most successfully, in poetry.

“Have we no aims in common?”

P.S. If you liked this post please checkout my own sonnet sequence available for free over at theanatomy.co.uk

Upon I Cut

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On the 29th April (a week today) I will be publishing a sequence of sonnets online for free at www.theanatomy.co.uk. I have been updating the temp page with videos of me reading some of the sonnets to whet people’s appetites and have basically set up the whole thing on my own. I had a bit of help from friends but all the programming, layout, editing, writing, testing, was done by me. Its been quite a bit of effort setting up the site and making the videos with no aim of reward. What I’m saying is; it would be really great if you could all be really nice and at least grace it with a tab in your browser at least once.

So what is it?

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After my last three poetry pamphlets which I had printed at my own expense and (due to my own lack of publicity) no one took any notice of, I decided three was enough.However over Christmas I had one of my notebooks with me and due to it being rather a quite one I ended up filling the whole thing with a poem per page in the space of about 2 weeks. Initially I had no plans for it as a sequence but when I noticed the first three I’d written were all sonnets I decided to make them all sonnets and slowly a theme began to emerge. Its a fairly loose theme but it basically became what could be perceived as my psychological make up. The memories, thoughts, feelings and associations I make. Due to this it felt like something of a dissection of my personality. An anatomy, as t’were. The word Anatomy is from the Greek ἀνατέμνω – anatemnō – literally “Upon I cut”. I also tried to vary the format of the sonnet form as much as I could because to be blunt, I don’t have the skills to have as wide and varied a vocabulary and as original imagery as the giants of the form do to keep it interesting. This basically meant I pushed the rules of a sonnet as far as they will go. Many purists (if any were to ever read it) may say a lot of these do not count as sonnets. That’s their problem. By and large I stick to the old rule of 14 lines and a ‘Turn’ at around line 8. As such, it became an Anatomy of the sonnet form itself in some regards. Some may decree this sacrilege from someone who is not a ‘great’ of poetry but I say the best way to know your limits is to test them. It could ultimately be unsuccessful and dreadful, I don’t know, one of the main reasons I am not charging for it.

Sonnets have a very long and boring history that is well documented elsewhere and that I can’t be bothered to go into here. Some of the best examples and explanations can be found in the wonderful collection ‘101 Sonnets’ by Don Patterson. To be honest though, the man who made them what they are today is the daddy himself. Shakespeare’s sequence of 154 is the gold standard for sonnets – and pretty much all poetry for me – and there are many volumes dedicated to the study of them, my personal favourite is by… you guessed it, Don Patterson. Sadly few of us living mortals can attain the dizzy heights of these marvels of literature but there have been other poets who have penned autonomous sequences of sonnets too: Edmund Spenser, Michael Drayton, WH Auden, Pablo Neruda but the most influential for my particular sequence was the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. His sonnet sequence entitled ‘Orpheus’ was written in something ludicrous like 5 days and whose topics vary wildly but tend to centre around prayers to or tales of “the God with the lyre”. This sequence is highly regarded and there are numerous excellent translations but what really opened my eyes was when I read a ‘version’ of it written by the now ubiquitous poet in this post, yes Don bloody Patterson. Versions are different to translations, the idea being you take the essence of a poem and translate that instead, not the words. The subtlety of poetry lies in a familiarity with language, its nuances and connotations, something that a translator can rarely crowbar into another shape without losing something of its initial sense. Patterson’s version is a fantastic sister piece to the original but even then Rilke’s is still the superior and eye wideningly pretty. Read it, please.

So there is something of a heritage in the sonnet form and to be honest it doesn’t need updating to my ears as it is supremely useful in forcing you to wrench out what you want to say, yet small and digestible enough to be swallowed in one go. My sequence is modest in comparison to the greats that have gone before and, as I said, I doubt it is on a par but it was an attempt to get “raw meat” on the table on my part. What I loved about Rilke’s sequence is that he did it so fast, the editing and self-expurgation would have been practically non-existant or at least not as thorough as most poets like to think of themselves. It meant Rilke’s heart and mind is there, raw and bleeding, imperfect yet dazzling in every poem. I don’t claim my own is even close to this as I don’t have the skill he had but I do like to think its a first trembling step in that direction.

People might ask why I feel the need to publish everything I write. I would ask why you don’t feel the need to publish everything you write. Getting something finished and ready to your standard and then showing to others so it can be judged by their’s is probably the quickest and best way to learn I know of. There is no point spending years over something only for it to get lambasted as soon as its released anyway. Don’t torture yourself over whether people will like it or not and don’t let the idiot snobs tell you something that only took a couple months isn’t as good as something that took ten years. The reverse is almost always true. The Beatles made 14 albums in 7 years and every song of theirs is of a higher quality than most. I don’t know where the modern need to stagger everything out comes from. I realise time and patience will raise the quality but only to a certain degree. If you have anything you’ve been sitting on that you made that is finished but you don’t think is good enough, get it out anyway. You’ll learn more from that than you will just staring at it and asking friends what they think when all they will do is tell you how great it is no matter what the quality. Create, release, learn, move on.

Hopefully there will be a poem in The Anatomy for everyone but try reading all of it too. Even if you don’t like poetry I hope you can at least enjoy the site. Take a look at the videos in the meantime and I’ll hopefully see you all there on the 29th.

 

Giant

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

– Isoroku Yamamoto

I promised there would be a third. This is largely due to the fact this was written before the second one…

I speak of course of my third, and final, poetry pamphlet. I made my first back in 2010 in response to the pretty dire turn of events after the joke that was the general election. Bile duly spilled, I wanted to write something less reactionary and more considered. The idea for Giant was inspired by a track of the same name by one of my favourite bands the Bad Plus (you can listen to it here). I say ‘idea’, more of the mood. This track in particular has a connection to a certain point in my life defined by a relationship at the time. It is a very important piece of music to me. The plot for the now pamphlet, such as it is, came about as I was listening to this whilst walking through my old hometown in the winter. The town was empty and quiet. From there I originally intended the story to be a screenplay with almost no dialogue but considering I had two other screenplays that will probably never get made I liked the idea too much to just let it disappear in my pile of “to do’s”. As such I decided to make a poem out of it. I also liked the idea of a poem about a “real” giant. I initially tried to argue it was one or the other but at the suggestion of my then girlfriend I decided to write both. Happily they both coincided with one another’s themes and overall mood. As such, I decided to make them separate poems but in the same story.

I wrote them both over the course of three evenings with the particular track played on a loop, much to my then girlfriend’s annoyance no doubt. The poem/s are written in what is known as Heroic Verse. If you think you don’t know it, you do. Translations of The Illiad, The Odyssey, The Canterbury Tales, Paradise Lost and many other ‘Epic’ poems are all written in this style. It is basically defined as unbroken couplets of iambic pentametric verse, its name comes, ordinarily, from its subject matter i.e. Heros and their doings. Heroic verse is intimidating. It is a long block of text that is normally pretty dense due to the poets need for interesting, multi-syllable words. Most ‘Epic’ poems are tricky to read and fairly hard to untangle for this reason but are immensely rewarding when you do. Ironically all the meter and so on is designed to make it easier to read, giving it rhythm and bounce. A lot of the time this verse will rhyme, I took a leaf out of Milton’s book and decided to leave it Blank i.e. Unrhymed. HOWEVER. The story the poem tells is odd, faltering and (hopefully) dreamlike and as such I have done as much as possible, and as subtly as I can, to break up these conventions. I deliberately have used several instances of internal rhyme spread over three or four lines to break up the couplets as well as pretty strong alliteration to jar in the middle of lines.

Fun Fact: Neuroscience has settled on what humans define as ‘A Moment’ – that which we call upon as a specific memory of an event, etc – as 7 seconds. A line of Iambic Pentametric verse, strangely enough, takes roughly this length of time to read. We utilise rhymes as an echo of a previous moment so as to tap into our memory or nostalgia for a previous moment. Stretching this band of time by placing the rhyme just out of sight of its 7 second predecessor should instead create discomfort in a more de ja vu effect. Furthermore, by placing hard consonants in succession K’s, G’s and the like, you halt a specific flow created by liquid vowels causing a typically 7 second memory to elongate perhaps to the point where the beginning of the line drops out of the moment. This is particularly effective if you are using enjambement from the previous line as this further muddies the memory of the previous line…

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Sorry I’ll stop with the nerdy, techy bollocks now.

Fact is, this poem went through a lot of revisions and was quite a bit of work. It is a very technical piece of work on a purely structural level but also on an intuitive level. The pamphlet in its entirety is actually a metaphor within a metaphor within a metaphor. As usual with most of what I write I have no idea whether it is any good or not. I am proud of it however.

The pamphlets themselves were printed where I live right here in Manchester by Marc the Printers who have done a bang up job. They’re definitely the prettiest of the three pamphlets I’ve made. And less than half the price of the other two for the same amount and better paper! Bargain! Needless to say the papers and inks are all recycled and environmentally friendly. The cover/s are based on the classic Russian Propaganda posters from the second world war which, whilst evil and wrong, are still gorgeous works of art. I refined them to a similar standard of three colours inspired by the beautiful alternative posters to Black Swan posters. The design, layouts,  typesetting and proofing is all my own so I accept all responsibility for any errors in the printing or production. I have already spotted one or two but ultimately there are no ‘Deal Breakers’ I don’t think.

The pamphlet will be Launched sometime this month. I don’t know where or when but it will happen. I am selling this one. My previous two were free to anyone who wants them and still are but I am unemployed and need the money now so these are available for the princely sum of £3 each, which I think is more than fair. There is hopefully enough inside to reward repeated reads.

I would like to thank people who will never read this blog for the influence and assistance in getting this written and made: Alex Herod, The Bad Plus, Don Patterson John Milton, Homer, Alan Moore, Alex Proyas and Dark City, Michael Rosen, Roald Dahl but most of all to the man who will read this blog; Joel Swann, without whom I’d never have got this printed and who encouraged an uneducated simpleton to pretend what he wrote was worth reading. Thanks Joel.

Follow my Twitter feed for updates and info on the launch but in the meantime, Happy National Poetry Day for Thursday and I hope to see you soon and enjoy my little story.

Progressive Prosody not Posey Poesy

So yesterday was National Poetry Day. This delighted me as there was a lot of interesting stuff about it in various medias and people actually dared to voice an opinion on it. However my ire was somewhat fanned today when I read an article by a Jane Simons of the Daily Mirror (I am NOT a regular reader, a colleague buys it at lunch) and a few comments on the radio were somewhat less than encouraging of Poetry in general. The article in question was regarding the dramatisation of Christopher Reid’s poem The Song of Lunch (which, incidentally, is wonderful). Ms. Simons states in the introduction that “if your instinctive gut reaction to poetry is boredom or fear, then relax. You probably wouldn’t even realise that it was a poem at all if I hadn’t told you,” This, though moronic is, I suppose, fair – most people would . She did however end it by making the idiotic, asinine and frankly ignorant statement; “Poetry that’s modern, relevant, witty and absorbing? Who’d have thought it?” If you had ever read any poetry written in the last 20 years, love, MOST PEOPLE!

Flash back a few days – The Forward Poetry Prize has been heating up for a few weeks and finally the winners are announced. And who should win the coveted ‘Best Collection’? Seamus – fucking – Heaney. Let me state here and now if I could write like Heaney I would die happy. The man is undoubtedly a real talent in literature and is justly deserves his Nobel prize. HOWEVER, I do have a problem with people who win the Whitbread Prize for a translation, a good translation but nonetheless not an original work, of the most boring tale in history and writers who release a lavish, Faber-published, hard-backed collection the same weekend the shortlist is announced. I often describe films released near awards season as Oscar Bait and this is much the same. An ‘elder statesmen’ releases a collection just before the most prestigious award for poetry is announced? Convenient. And sure enough, guess who bloody wins? No, not the wonderfully, visceral, modern, bleak, haunting and fascinating Robin Robertson for the Wrecking Light. Or the abrasive, feminine, lyrical, barb-tongued Jo Shapcott or the moving Through the Square Window by Sinead Morrissey. No, it’s the guy who has won everything except the Forward and decides he wants that one this year so knocks out a collection. How were they NOT going to give it to him?

And this is my point.

I am a fairly recent convert to Poetry, yet I now fly the flag, wave the banner and wear the armband. I am fully prepared to admit 3 years ago I would spit contempt on Poetry and most of its practitioners and do you know why? For the reasons cited above. Because modern society seems diametrically opposed to the whole notion of current, interesting, fun, exciting, contemporary and GOOD Poetry. Especially English society. Ireland, Scotland and Wales tend to have a fine lyrical tradition bred into the schools, England gives you a dry functional appraisal and tells you to read Heaney. Or whatever. Again I will say Seamus is not a bad writer by any stretch, great in fact but you are not going to sell an art form to a newbie by going “Here’s Death of a Naturalist and Electric Light. That’s 20th century poetry. Enjoy.” I got into Poetry because my friend (currently studying literature for a PhD) and another friend, hooked me up with the good shit and sent me on an upward spiral of appreciation. I continue to read and learn more about this fascinating and enjoyable art form every day and as most of you know I even write my own. However, the preconception is that there are only two types of poetry lovers; teenage girls reading Sylvia Plath and stuffy pretentious older types who sit down with Keats of an evening. WRONG!

Poetry could not be more contemporary. Don’t believe me? Find some Don Patterson, Luke Kennard, Matthew Welton, Jo Shapcott or Jack Underwood collections and tell me they are not slap bang in the middle of now. Poetry is even more exciting than most of the detritus published in the mainstream today. Quality control is much higher with poetry collections or pamphlets. You get more bang for your buck too. Poems can be revisited yet tell whole stories and are so dense it takes a life time to decipher, you get 50 to 80 poems in one collection too and the publishing/printing quality is almost uniformly sumptuous and beautiful. Poetry jacket design and page layout is almost always stylish and contemporary. The subjects tackled are mostly current, in the collection Rain by Don Patterson he uses a very modern form to express his love for a modern electronica band and their software they use.

It is the kind of idiocy and ignorance typified by Jane Simons in the media or ‘commentators’ in general, that disabuse the belief that poetry is for everyone and anyone not just stuffy tweed wearing old pensioners, in-the-closet gay men or angsty teenagers. Poems and Poetry are as important, relevant, contemporary and enjoyable an art form as any today it’s just the good stuff is buried and the less relevant and stereotypically ‘Poetic’ stuff is lauded above the rest. There is a poet in everyone and there is a poet publishing out there for everyone you just have to look and looking is so much fun.

So, Happy National Poetry Day for yesterday and if you need suggestions for where to start looking, check this out.

“Poetry is nearer to vital truth than History” Plato said. And it’s true. No matter when you’re alive.