Sunday, 25 November 2012

This is Not a Book Blog

You okay? You're okay, aren't you? I hate thinking of you not being okay. Here's a new post about some poetry. And an announcement that I have two readings in London coming up, largely to read from the new poetry collection. One is for Broadcast in the Betsey Trotwood, details HERE! The other is for Goldsmiths, details NOWHERE! I think it's probably just for Goldsmiths students. In the latter I'll read a bit from Holophin too. We're down to the last seven copies of Holophin, I have three of them and my mum is threatening to buy the last four in order to improve the eBay resale value.


Nobody with a pulse needs me to tell them to read Matthew Welton. I know this because whenever anyone asks me which poetry I've been enjoying recently and I say, among other names, "Matthew Welton," they say, "Well, obviously Matthew Welton," and roll their eyes like I just retweeted a major news story. What you may need telling is that Welton has a ltd edition chapbook out with F.U.N.E.X., a subsidiary of Eggbox Publishing. And also that it is one of my favourite things he has ever done. It is called Waffles.

You want me to tell you WHY I like it so much? What is this, a fucking A-level English exam?

Ok, first off Welton's sense of rhythm is so strong it's like Art Blakey is using your head as a bongo. This is the first time I have ever encountered an ear-worm in poetry: I read it once and its lines were already swirling around in my head for the rest of the day. It is the funniest, wisest, saddest portrayal of psychological dissonance this side of 19th century Russia. As with a lot of Welton's work, the process is telegraphed pretty clearly, but where most of us are happy to attempt a process, make ironic reference to that process and shove thre resulting pile of matchsticks to our editors with a desultory sneer, Welton builds a fleet of goddamn schooners. (Process in this case being a looping, reincorporating pattern of words and themes, the waffles acting as a grid, a licence to ruminate, a two-way symbol for meaning and meaninglessness). So basically it's like art, but GOOD.

It can be acquired from Eggbox TOTALLY JUST HERE YOU CLICK HERE AND YOU GO THERE OH WHAT A WORLD! I have no. 160 of 300, so hurry the hell up, y'hear?

And now a collection by a poet whose work you may not be familiar with yet (maybe I'll make this into another regular feature I do once and never return to again), but whose work I've been enjoying just as much these last few weeks, Neil Fraser Addison's Stealth. Exile. Inventory. This is another beautifully produced boutique publication, this time from OWT Press and you can try to acquire it FROM THIS PLACE! I think I'll just cite three bits I love from this substantial collection so as not to just type out the whole thing:

"Time is a thunderstorm of dunce caps, one season long."


"There is always somebody
appalled by death alone,
insisting on the clutter of damnation

as if it represented
full-employment for God..."


"Of course, what the world
                        needs now
is another pantheon of immortal hicks
slaying their every escape-route."


Okay, must go. There are piles of paper to file from the whole of this year and it's already drinking hot alcohol in public season again.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Everyone Gets Bupkiss

0.1 So I was visiting my folks and a good friend of the family dropped by, got given a copy of Holophin by my mum, admired the book and said, ‘So how much money did you have to pay to get that done then?’ I could have been (and would have been if I didn’t love this guy) mildly insulted at the implication that I had self-published a work through a vanity press, like an old man with his war memoir in the early 90s who loses his savings on the endeavor and has to keep 6,000 unedited, unsellable copies in his attic like a literalisation of unprocessed trauma in, oh, for goodness’ sake drop the extended metaphor. But: I’m a hypocrite who wants recognition from everyone but who doesn’t go on and on about his achievements absolutely all the time, more’s the pity as if I did  people would have a more accurate idea of what I am. Fact is, if you’re shifting a few hundred to a couple of thousand poetry books why would you expect a lovely friend of your family to be aware of your prior literary endeavours? You wouldn’t, is what. Now, I could also have felt hurt by the implication that I’d somehow magicked a private income which lasted beyond paying rent, bills and groceries to afford to have my own books printed to such a high standard as PitM achieves, thus making me a killer cocktail of delusional, entitled and privileged. But what can I say? I’m magnanimous enough only to whinge on a blog about it.

0.2 So I mumbled about how it was a London-based indie press (I may have said small, in italics) and that I didn’t have to pay anything. I could have gone on to say that the London-based press had also organised and paid for a launch event which was by far the most well-run, thoughtful, thoroughly promoted and advertised lit event I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with. And that, no, I didn’t pay for it out of my imaginary trust fund. PitM paid for it because they’re a business and they’re very good at what they do. Instead I muttered something further about acknowledging my mother as a distributor.

1.0 But it got me thinking about the implications of our current models of cultural distribution again, the fact that there are a whole lot of good writers, with small and large presses, and also plenty who are self-producing work of real quality but where, nevertheless, supply outstrips demand by several orders of magnitude. Ways of not being assholes to one another, is I guess what I’m interested in.

1.1. The very worst present you could ever give to anyone is a copy of your own book. I think I’ve even done this on two occasions in the last 15 years and would hereby like to offer the people I did this to a replacement present of some wine or a record they might like.

1.2 C.f. paragraph 2, that I mean to say I didn’t have to pay anything unless you count occasionally buying copies of the book myself to sell at readings, aside from the stack of complimentary copies PitM give to their authors. But I’m pretty sure even Maya Angelou has to buy copies of her own book if she wants to give a bunch of them away to friends and family. I’m assuming when she reads in public there’s a bookseller on hand to provide books to the audience because this even happens to me sometimes, including at the aforementioned launch. (NOTE: Sub, please check with Maya Angelou).  But the former is really just another way of getting the book out there, circumnavigating the internet. Once you’ve bought ten, you sell ten and then use the money to buy ten more and, perhaps, some beer and a pie. I guess one upshot of the wonderful increase in small-print-run technology is that there are plenty of publishing models which rely solely on the author buying their own books and foisting them on friends and family or some imaginary “community”. We can call this the Utopian Bullshit model of publishing [See 1.8].

1.3 That there is a kind of low-level “artist shaming” which even genuinely nice people like to indulge in, and that it has to do with pre-emptively keeping anyone who thinks of themselves as an artist or writer’s “feet on the ground” just in case they were going to swan around the place thinking they’re special.

1.4 Is “artist shaming” a peculiarly British thing? At least under Stalin you got to swan around thinking you were special for a year or two before they reinterpreted your work and called in the firing squad.

1.5 That I feel so uncomfortable with the whole thing that I even cringed to write “artist” (in inverted commas) in 1.3 as it feels like I’m making grandiose claims for myself. Which is my attempt to pre-emptively strike (via self-deprecation, in this case internal) against the well-meaning poltroon in 1.3. Why would you want to shame me? I already think I’m a charlatan! [lies on back to expose belly and whimpers.]

1.6 Treatment for a movie in which a war is fought using pre-emptive self-deprecation as the weapon.

1.7. There is no right of reply, a review is a review and you take it on the chin, even if you have kind of a weak chin, but there was a fairly trouncing review of Migraine Hotel in one of the major poetry reviews by a reasonably well-known poet a couple of years ago which has stuck with me. The reviewer quoted at length from my About the Author page. It was a silly About the Author page, which had actually been cribbed (in, I swear, a proofing error) from my first collection, the 2004 version of The Solex Brothers, without my realising it. It was a mistake: I hadn’t provided a new AtA, an old one was put in as a place-holder and we forgot to change it. Meaning that it was 5 years out of date in terms of content as well as register; in fact it didn’t even mention my previous collection being shortlisted for the Forward Prize, which, all dissembling aside, was clearly the foundation of my career, an accolade I was very fortunate to receive, and not something I’m falsely modest about. I’m not going to reprint it here because the whole thing is too irritating to me to this day; I’ll leave it at stating the AtA in the first run of Migraine Hotel was excessively self-deprecating and overly wordy in a manner I thought to be funny (a register I have come to call “fucking dickhead”). It’s hard to explain why I thought this was okay, especially if you’re younger than me and you’ve grown up in a country and a culture where literally everybody, from the fake Big Issue seller with his “last copy” to the local radio DJ, to your mum, to the member of parliament, to the meter reader, to the teacher, to the singer songwriter thinks they’re an edgy stand-up comedian. Post- Innocent Smoothies, jocular product descriptions and About the Author sections are the orthodoxy, are ubiquitous and are about as funny as a root canal. So it’s rare to open a book without finding:

Benjamin Something pokes honey badgers with spoons and when he is not doing this he can be found oscillating gently in a blanket of crepuscular mouthfaces. Prendergast! Prendergast! He works as a Cornetto for eleven burly Manchurians and is married to the fucking sea. Lick his knee and taste a whirlwind!

off the top of my head, but I want you to think back to 2004, when I was in my early twenties and there was no Twitter or Facebook and none of us had realised how mindlessly unfunny we were. Jocular About the Author sections, especially in the dangerously unselfconscious field of poetry, still seemed kind of edgy. (They weren’t, of course; I’m just asking you to accept that they seemed that way to me). So the critic quoted at length from my AtA and came to the conclusion that I was an evasive hypocrite who wanted admiration for my accolades which I didn’t even have the guts to mention at the same time as posing as someone who is above that kind of thing. Not content with spending 200 words of a 300 word review talking about the front papers, the critic also went in for a little am-psych: “Kennard clearly cares very deeply about his achievements [the AtA did mention the Eric Gregory Award and some other stuff], as well he might, but read between the lines: He wants us to think he doesn’t care about it.” (paraphrase – it’s not to hand), inviting the reader to come to their own conclusions about what an intolerable wanker I must be. Which, well, fair enough, but to this day, to this hour, my feeling is still: well, perhaps I do feel genuinely conflicted about the whole thing. Don’t you? Perhaps anyone halfway CROSSOUTnarcisisitc personality disorderCROSSOUT thoughtful would and ought to feel conflicted about it. And maybe what you’re responding to is your own disproportionate esteem for awards, etc.

1.8 Oh, yeah, so on the Utopian Bullshit model and why I’m being dismissive of it… What it is, see, is that it’s presented to us as  the ultimate democratisation of culture. Suddenly all of us can publish, and the books can look either equally lovely (courtesy of aforementioned small print-run tech) or equally neutral/crap (courtesy of eBooks). I want to argue the exact opposite for a couple of paragraphs, i.e. that the “studio” model we’re supposed to be celebrating the dissolution of in the name of egalitarianism, where a big publisher gives you some money and gets behind your book in terms of production, promotion and distribution, is actually a buttload more egalitarian. (Granted, this involves accepting that 75% of embittered whinging about trad publishing being a closed circle is what I just described it as, which it is.) And it is more equal. Because, showman or agoraphobic, you’d benefit from the same robust system of distribution and promotion. The really small-press model, you could argue, has its own negative equality – everyone gets bupkiss – but let’s return to our false dichotomy: two poets who don’t exist publish a collection with the same small press.

Subject A is a well-connected garrulous millionaire who lives in London; he buys 100,000 copies of his book and organises a tour in a hundred provincial theatres where he not only gives copies of the  book away for free, but gives people free booze too. National treasures write blurbs.

Subject B is a low-income socially awkward malcontent who lives in rural Wales miles from the nearest train station. He isn’t Welsh, which only adds to his problems. He can barely afford to buy a couple of copies of his own book, has no connections to organise readings or launches and/so although his work is exceptionally powerful and beautiful and formally interesting, nobody ever gets to hear about it.

I’m not even sure what I’m arguing here. Just that it would be nice if Subject B was able to exist as a writer too, and I’m not sure he is under the Utopian Bullshit model.

1.9 Oh, and please don’t contact me to discuss this: I’m absolutely not trying to start a dialogue and I genuinely have no interest whatsoever in your opinion.

2.0 Please buy my new collection of poetry A Lost Expression from Salt, available this week.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Monday, 3 September 2012

Free Holophin!

UPDATE: [To small dog in the doorway.] "The position has been filled."

This mercifully brief post will contain details of how you can win ONE FREE COPY of Holophin if you respond - through a single Tweet - to my request by 5pm today. Rules: if you already have Holophin, it is mean to enter this competition. If nobody responds I will burn one free copy of Holophin, making it a limited edition of 299 and thereby increasing its resale value.

I hate it when one side of my collar folds out over the collar of my jacket and simply won't tuck back in, like it thinks it's a tuft of hair on a 19th century schoolboy. I really, really hate it. Yeah, I know: starch. Thanks for caring. I'll let you know when I get back from the apothecary.

Holophin is officially available now from Penned in the Margins and I am avidly putting together a mix-tape for the launch party on Saturday (Sept 8th), which genuinely is in the place where they film Dragon's Den. Frankly I'm surprised you don't want to come along just to see the space. And Franklin, I'm surprised at your trying to make daily prayer constitutional - this is 1787, sir!

It is also the launch of Ross Sutherland's sophomore poetry collection Emergency Window, which I have and it's wonderful. Don't we both look windswept?

Oh, so, yeah, the giveaway. It relates to the mix-tape I'm making. So far I have selected songs which have some resonance with behaviour/sensory modification (Deerhoof's 'The Perfect Me', XTC's 'Senses Working Overtime'); dolphins (The Byrd's 'Dolphin's Smile'); parentage (The Dirty Projector's 'Offspring Are Blank') and some stuff to do with folk-tales and scary technology. So what I'm looking for is a suggestion of ONE SONG, via Tweet, which I can include on my Holophin mix-tape to be played on the night. And my favourite one will receive a pristine (or only very slightly damaged) copy of Holophin with FULL POSTAGE AND PACKING AND LUKE WALKING ALL THE WAY TO THE FUCKING POST-OFFICE absolutely gratis. I Tweet as @Lukekennard because I didn't notice you were supposed to come up with a swell pretend name.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Ha ha oh

At school everyone used to say, "Purple is the colour of sexual frustration. You are wearing purple, therefore you are sexually frustrated. Let us all laugh at a plight we will only ever come to understand twenty years into a chaste, joyless marriage we are keeping together for the sake of our kids. Ha ha oh."

My weird prose-poem-science-fiction novella, Holophin, is being published by Penned in the Margins on September 1st in a delightful hardback ltd edition. This isn't like those Kinder Surprise Teeny Terrapins ltd editions, which were limited to 1.6 billion per continent. This is a ltd edition of 300. And the 2nd edition will be GREY instead of purple, so everyone will know you are a slacker who couldn't get out of bed in time to catch the first edition, even though it took over a decade to sell out. But some time later it will be available as an E-Book, for those of you who enjoy dropping electronic devices on your upturned faces at night. Here is the catalogue blurb:

It is 2031 and the must-have gadget is the Holophin: a tiny, dolphin-shaped microprocessor which cures your worst impulses and phobias, comforts you in your grief or boredom and makes everything look much, much prettier.

Hatsuka and Max are students at the Takin International School, a learning institute so magnificent it produces Holophins as a by-product of its own projects. The billionth device has just been sold, but when Takin’s best students are stalked by a shady rival manufacturer, Holophin’s monopoly, and the narrative itself, begins to unravel – with unexpected consequences.

This hallucinatory and darkly funny sci-fi mystery is the debut novella by acclaimed poet Luke Kennard, a refracted meditation on identity, technology and the imagination.

So there. I always threatened to write a sci-fi story and now I have. There will be a big trendy London launch party where people have METAL HAIR and PHILANTHROPIC IDEAS directly proportional to their PRIVATE INCOMES and I highly recommend you attend. This will be on September 8th in the place where they film Dragons' Den - that great show about dragons who have a party but none of the other dragons turn up so they have to build a pirate ship and fire moonbeams in the dragons' eyes to make them bewitched and then they come to the party and the first dragons say aha! and breathe fire on them and make them into burnt dragons. I'll confirm.

In other news The Necropolis Boat was selected by the Poetry Book Society as their Autumn (I think - maybe Summer) Pamphlet Choice. This is an extraordinary turn of events and has caused me to rethink its position in my oeuvre, i.e. it is now the best thing I have ever written.

Claims Statements Were

--Claims statements were "experiment to see how quickly all followers could be lost on Twitter."

--Claims statements were "satire of own dearly held liberal ideals."

--Claims statements were "commentary on a hypothetical bid for notoriety in the form of said bid for notoriety."

--Claims statements were "control group in market research project bigger than any of us."

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Fame - Half Price!

What is the deal with having such soft feet? I wore some man-sandals when it was unseasonably hot out five days ago, walked a couple of hours total and the left one tore an absolute lesion in the top of my foot which didn't stop bleeding until yesterday, responded neither to bandages nor plasters, kept me awake at night by actually throbbing like, I don't know, a gunshot wound, and has left me walking around shoe and sockless with one trouser leg rolled up waiting for it to even start to heal. This is completely out of proportion when I only wore the sandals on a whim. I've written to my MP.

Anyway, this (left) is currently making me very happy: it is a fictionalised mention in Mark Haddon's new novel, The Red House. It is on p. 138 and the paragraph in question concerns a character who doesn't like contemporary poetry, especially free verse. She picks a book off the shelf at random and it is translated by me, which is not something I know how to do in real life - I'm generally too busy looking for my own name in print to master a second language - but it's pretty cool nonetheless. It could, of course, be the promising young Ohio basketball player Luke Kennard whose impending success I'm still trying to work out how to capitalise on. I had been planning to pick up The Red House anyway after reading a couple of reviews, but one of my MA students mentioned my mention to me so I ran straight to the campus bookshop to pick it up. The whole thing reminded me of my favourite scene in Martin Amis's The Information when Richard Tull anonymously sends Glyn Barrie a copy of the LA Times with a post-it attached reading "Glyn, something to interest you here - the price of fame?", knowing that Glyn will have to spend days sifting through the entire paper and all its supplements looking for his own name. (In a Road Runner / Wile E Coyote type twist, Glyn later tells Richard that he found the relevant mention within a few minutes).

Surely, surely this counts as some kind of Impact or Knowledge Transfer in the upcoming REF? Next week I am hoping to somehow turn up dead in a posthumous Roberto Bolano. He's the Tupac of contemporary literature in translation.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Prequel or Whatever

Holdfire Press Launch - Thursday May 31st - Including a New Pamphlet by Me

Elated to be reading at this on Thursday night (May 31st, 8pm). Holdfire are a brand new small press based in Liverpool and the editor, Michael Egan, has put together a really exciting first sequence of pamphlets. Also beautifully designed (see below) but not good for getting the hearth going (see bellow).

My pamphlet, The Necropolis Boat, takes place within one of the lines of a poem from Planet-Shaped Horse, so could be considered a sequel or prequel or whatever you call a follow-up sequence the narrative of which occurs within one of the lines from the preceding work. A nested sequel, is what I'm going to call it, I think. But you don't have to have read PSH to enjoy it! It stands alone! Like a man! On a jetty! On his own!

I hate the word jetty. I could have said anywhere and I went with jetty.

I may work out some kind of special offer whereby I sell PSH half-price if you purchase a copy of TNB. But really you should buy it directly from Holdfire, and in fact probably you should probably buy all of the other pamphlets too.

One day I'll write a third part and publish it with a different pamphlet press, thus atomising my already meagre readership across three small presses. But by this time I'll be really famous and a major publisher will write to me and say, 'Hey, why don't we put out all three of your pamphlets from the last decade as a lovely complete book? Maybe we could market it as a "novel in verse" which bizarrely seems to sell better than poetry collections, fuck knows why?' And I'll be all like, 'Oh, thank you major publisher, where do I sign?' And they'll be like 'PSYCH! I am your mum all along! Why have you not made more of your life?' And then the heat-death of the universe. Hope to see you there. I will be drunk.

Friday, 27 April 2012

What I Did On My Holiday pt. 1

Some fear death, some that there are people needlessly suffering in the world and yet others' fears are essentially unnameable. My principle fear is that I mightn't receive enough recognition for the things that I do. My principal fear, on the other hand, is a cold dread of head masters. So here is a limited series of blog entries linking to some stuff I've been involved in over the last year or so which I can't help but think you might have missed. Starting with some criticism.

Here's me on W. H. Auden's Age of Anxiety in Poetry London last Autumn.

This is me reviewing William Gibson's Zero History in The National.

And Teju Cole's Open City, also in The National.

And finally John Sayles' A Moment in the Sun and Chad Harbach's Art of Fielding

And at the top is me as a Card Fighter illustrated by the multi-talented, soon-to-be-immense poet, Jon Stone.

Wow - putting more than one image into a blog entry is no fun whatsoever! No wonder I don't do it more often.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Wait a Minute: That's Not the Wallet Inspector!

The night before last I fell for a phishing scam after a lifetime secretly thinking 'How could anyone, ever be stupid enough to fall for a phishing scam?' Well I fell for it: 1. Because I'd had a couple more glasses than I'd meant to of this really delicious Riesling; 2. The debit card attached to my iTunes account really is going to expire in three days time and by sheer smiling, damn-ed coincidence this was exactly what the scam-email told me; 3. The scam-email was, according to experts, "well designed"; 4. I opened the e-mail on my phone where the reduced email server didn't highlight it as suspicious and presented it in such a way as to be totally indistinguishable from an actual email from Apple (when I checked on the PC it was clearly, visibly a fake); 5. There's not really any other excuse - I know very well that no company ever, ever sends you an unsolicited email with a link that prompts you to enter your username and password, especially when that username and password are attached to your bank details, and it took me exactly 0.6 of a second to recall this, which happens to be exactly as long as it takes me to type my username and password. So I guess all I'm saying is if you're in the Balkans and you meet someone claiming to be me, tell him to give me my money back. And, if he's well turned out, ask him if he wouldn't mind selling a few poetry books. Yet to achieve much market penetration on that part of the globe.

Mean time, before flooding the market with new projects I thought I'd mention a couple of books I've enjoyed recently. It's kind of like doing the penance before committing the sin. The first two very recently. I've been hesitating to talk about other books (there are other books?) here because I don't want this to turn into a book reviewing blog. Mainly because I usually get paid for writing reviews and you can go whistle if you think I'm going to start undermining my own livelihood by giving it away. I need that money to pay for my evening class in How To Come Across Less Arrogant On-line. And also because I blurb a lot of books and once you've blurbed something ever speaking of it again is frowned upon. Like, you know, if someone you're in love with is going for a job interview and you're on the panel and you're like, I think we should give it to him/her because I'm in love with him/her, and your colleagues are all like, sharp-intake-of-breath. (I have, I'm proud to say, in seven years of blurbing, never used any bullshit formulations like "X is the only poet writing today you should bother with" or "Y is the defining poet of her generation" and if I ever do may I be hit by the taxi I'm hailing. I have, now that I think of it, used plenty of other bullshit formulations like "simultaneously BLANK and ANTI-BLANK", but what are you gonna do? Try to actually physically stop me from writing ever again by breaking my fingers? I'd like to see that! I don't think you'd even have the guts to be sarcastic to me face-to-face).

And also because, you know, where do you stop? Before you know it you're having to write about every book in the world or else risk looking disastrously narrow. I've seen it happen to better blogs than this. But yesterday I woke up thinking I'd really like to write some mini-reviews of things that I've enjoyed and maybe even make it into a regular feature of this blog. Once every fort-month, say.

When I was at primary school and had roughly six "friends" (as a child I was too solipsistic to even be that aware of other people's existence, let alone be friends with them) we were totally obsessed with ghosts. We used to sit on a particular bench in the playground and take turns trying to scare the hell out of each other. Every small town had at least eight video rental stores, VHS machines had just become affordable to the lower-middle classes, and if you were like me you spent a lot of your spare time in these stores, in my case renting The Naked Gun and Back to the Future movies over and over again for 50p a night. TNG films were 15-certificates, but my parents made a rare exception for them. You would also get to look at the covers of a hundred dodgy horror films (different in each shop, as if they had been made especially) and sometimes, at another kid's house, get to watch them and shore up some more material for the ghost story sessions. This possibly continued into secondary school, but by that point I had no friends whatsoever for about five years [violin] so I can't, with any accuracy, comment.

Bobby Parker's Comberton (knivesforksandspoons press, £7) is a bravura prose poem sequence exploring faith, sex, anti-faith, drugs and booze, love, mental disturbance, the supernatural and the face-down-on-the-pavement natural. I say "exploring", but that's one of those bullshit blurb formulations I reach for too often. What Parker does, with Dostoyevsky-level-darkness (and the same aching, face-in-hands laughter) is treat them as one and the same subject. Parker gets compared to Bukowski a lot and I think it's always well-meaning when people say that, but I think it's also because the interlocutor hasn't read an awful lot apart from Bukowski. If I had to pick something Comberton reminds me of on the surface it would be Joe Brainerd's I Remember... series, except with more of a narrative (and therefore more awesome). The recollections ("We went crazy for sticking crushed cans into the back wheels of our bicycles so they made a rasping sound close to a miniature motorbike as we rode them") have the same hallucinatory clarity.

But this is only half of it, and I don't have enough time to properly extend my thesis here (will do some day soon). In the flashbacks Parker's characters get beaten up by their siblings or parents, they punch each other in the stomach and drink beer, but the key thing is a total obsession (and a very familiar one) with transcendence. But transcendence via the nasty stuff, the Ouija boards and cruelty to animals, the ghost stories and strange rituals, the conviction that your room is haunted, the persistent nightmares that bleed into your daily life. Every page is beautifully crafted - every verset showcases how well this guy can write. The engagingly ugly stuff is undercut by the version-of-Parker-presented-to-us-in-the-poems's current life, with a wife and daughter. The attendant fierce protectivity, love and sadness depicted with unflinching intimacy. (E.g. the following middle-of-the-night breast-feeding scene: "'Don't tell me about your dreams,' my wife sighed sleepily, her head nodding forwards and backwards, in and out of the dark. 'Your dreams are messed up. They give me horrible nightmares.'")

I love Bobby Parker's writing. Ghost Towm Music was one of my favourite things of last year. He could easily have produced a second vol. in the projected trilogy which offered more of the same - an endlessly engaging mix-up of artifice, diary, fury, confessional, surrealism/cubism, art and photography. The post-it notes in Comberton are brilliantly funny, thought-provoking and sad ("WE WALKED AROUND AT NIGHT IN THE SUMMER LISTENING FOR COUPLES HAVING SEX WITH THEIR WINDOWS OPEN"), giving it something in common with the first. But it goes further. It's a collection of poems whose narrative outstrips most novels for depth, mystery and staying power.

Well, that wasn't really the half of what I wanted to say, nor one tenth as clear, but it'll do for now. And a giant tower of dissertations has just landed on my desk, so I'm going to have to write about the next two books later. Maybe about two weeks later, but here they are.

I read with Phil Brown last Saturday at Cheltenham. Il Avilit is his first full collection and it is beautiful. MORE TO FOLLOW.

Ameerah Arjanee was one of the winners of the 2010 Foyle Young Poets Prize when I judged it. She is an extraordinarily precocious talent and this is her first collection. I think at the moment it's only available in Mauritius. MORE TO FOLLOW.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Cassettes, Tori Amos and Cultural Consumption: Towards an Understanding of my Fetishisation of the Box-Set

I've been buying cassettes on eBay to play in my car. This is dumb when I could just buy one of those cassette-shaped adaptors to plug my iPod into my car stereo (Or a car with a CD player, you PLEB! - Wealthy Ed.), but:

1. Wires hanging around the gearstick! AAAAGH! [Crash! Tinkle!]

2. iPod sliding around on the dashboard or perched in the what-is-this-a-drinks-holder?-it's-not-even-round! where it falls out or in my lap so that it falls under my thigh and the wire connecting it to the car stereo unplugs and the OH MY GOD IS THAT LORRY OVERTAKING?!

3. Service and petrol stations seem to have stopped selling them [Possibly because see 1. and 2.]

4. There are albums I owned on cassette as a teenager which I never got around to buying on CD, and CDs are now obsolete and I've lost the cassettes, and sure, I could just dowload them onto my iThing (and being 31 I'm at exactly the generational cross-over point where that feels like buying nothing), but see points 1. and 2. again; what am I supposed to do? Listen through headphones in my car? What if there's an ambulance? What if someone else in the car wants to tell me something like 'JUUUUNNNNCTIOOOOOOOOOOONNNN! NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!' which is by no means rare.

5. In my experience the volume control between the music storage device and the car stereo is so wildly out of whack (because let's remember this is a headphone socket rather than a line-out, tech fans), that the music sounds kind of shitty anyway, all high end noise or hiss or bass throb, veering between inaudible and ear-splitting, and attempting to correct this is like working old shower controls, i.e. fiddling with the wibbly touch-screen volume control on the iThing and the rubbery nub on the car stereo and hitting the curb and careening into the central reservation.

6. If I have to put "Was trying to skip ahead to 'Starlings of the Slipstream'" on one more insurance form.


Anyway, this is a way too lengthy intro to a way too lengthy blog post. The cassettes I've just purchased for 49p and 68p, respectively, are REM's Green and Tori Amos's Boys for Pele. I love both of these records. Perhaps part of the reason I never bought them on CD is that they're permanently scored into my auditory centre and I can play them back in my head with halucinatory clarity. And the reason for that is because I listened to them on very heavy rotation, several times a night, on every childhood car journey or coach trip. I played them on my Panasonic double-tape deck at home and on my Sanyo persoal stereo on journeys. The headphones, you remember, on personal stereos were joined by a thin metal alice band, which had the dual benefit of keeping your flopppy fringe out of your bloodshot eyes. And the reason for that heavy rotation is that I was a kid, I was too lazy to get a proper Saturday job (the very thought of missing Muppet Babies and The Chart Show just to make a few measly quid was, and still is, anathema) and cassettes were expensive. Green and Boys for Pele were two of about 10 cassettes I collected over several years and I listened to those ten cassettes until I knew every backing vocal melody, every bridge section, impromptu clarinet solo and/or studio chatter backwards and forwards.

It probably makes sense, if I'm going to consider my present role as consumer, to go into the economics of it (but not in such a way that involves me doing one iota of research). In the 90s, cassette albums cost on average £13.99. i.e., although we're talking about almost two decades ago - not even factoring in inflation and the "hilarious" thing that's happened to house prices within that time - two decades! TWO! - music was way more expensive than it is now. (That's assuming you now elect to pay for music at all). I tended to spend my pocket money on a monthly computer magazine and sweets (I ate a lot of sweets, and computer magazines weren't cheap either), so my indolence combined with a chronic (lasting) inability to save money meant that getting a new cassette album was a Christmas and birthday type affair, and being a summer baby this meant every new cassette album had a six month induction period as my new record, played-to-heck-and-back-and-to-heck-again. Now what I want to suggest - regardless of whether you shared my musical taste - is that being drip-fed music by economic necessity was a good thing because it meant that I really, really appreciated the records I had. (N.B. It also gave me a life-long loyalty to those recording artists which includes slavishly buying all of their weak late stuff and listening to it about twice, however much my taste in music has broadened and deepened since). It meant I appreciated the songs in and of themselves with an attention to detail completely alien to me now, but also appreciated them as albums, as carefully sequenced collections of songs. Yeah, I know, shut up granddad - and hurry up or you'll be late for our trip to the electric lake to worship the giant robot.


Which brings me to my central thesis: I can't be bothered to actually look into it, but I'll wager that the main audience for DVD box-sets is late-twenty-to-thirtysomethings. And the reason for that is because we're completely astonished by them. When we grew up the only thing on TV was the X-Files, and if you were enough of a fan to want to own some of it, you had to spend £14.89 on a VHS tape of 2 EPISODES. And that was if you had an ID card to prove you were over 12, which I totally didn't. And it was also dependent on the video machine in your house not being on the fritz and chewing the tape up. To own a whole season of the X-Files would have cost £178.86. That you can now get whole seasons of much, much better shows for a tenner (which in early 90s money would have got you a jumbo size Yorkie bar) is something we'll never quite get over. I even buy box-sets of shows I know I'm going to hate.


Just holding the cassettes I bought on eBay is a total nostalgia fix in itself: the metallic grey wash that marks commercial releases from blank tapes, the way you have to wind the tape back in with a hexagonal pencil, the tiny floating sponge underneath the tape itself. Playing them in the car, though, was a revelation. Cassettes have a warm, bold sound which is perfect when competing with a car engine, a blow heater and the conversation of your passengers. Many's the time I've brought along a CD to play in someone-more-successful-than-me's car which I thought they might like, only to hear it reduced to thin, barely audible ear-gruel with all of the hooks and harmonies shaved off by background noise. And they're like, 'Nice record. Sounded kind of like nothing.' Cassettes are amazing and we should never have stopped making them. I'd be the first to admit that Boys for Pele isn't the best driving music. It's full of time-signature changes, volume fluctuations and shifts in style and delivery. Some of the songs are solo harpsichord, for the love of mike, but on cassette I catch every cherished, well-remembered note.

Including that jaw-droppingly wonderful moment in 'Mohammed My Friend' when she sings about getting a spot on a TV show and this saxophone breaks in for two bars, seamlessly weaving in and out of the gorgeous piano line and suddenly Wastelandish lyrics whilst simultaneously sounding like the tacky theme song of a daytime talkshow. There are about nineteen other utterly sublime bits like that, which are probably best recorded in another post.

Oh, I'm reading at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival this Saturday April 21st at 5pm and it has a kind of jukebox theme, which is kind of what made me write this in the first place. It is with the brilliant Phil Brown and Daniel Sluman, who will clearly blow me out of the water like so many rubber duckies. Details here:

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Audience Reports

# Sat there with tea towel over head during other readers' sets. Refused to face audience when his turn as "might spoil magic".
# Tried to sell six dozen 25g packets of Cutter's Choice imported from Turkey. Became demonstrative.
# Looked awkwardly at my mother whenever poem contained swear word.
# Repeatedly sniffed nosegay.
# Sang the line "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" in isolation one hundred and twenty times. Claimed 'secular ascetic practice'.
# Did not, as claimed, seek a theme and search for it in vain; did not even try.
# Took medication in public.
# Ate whole tray rice crispie squares.
# Introduced one poem by saying, 'Well, so this is... I usually think of something funny to say about this poem, but I haven't had the chance today because... So that's a bit awkward.'
# Claimed apostolic succession.