Sunday 28 June 2009

Suburbia's poetic connotations

This article from Friday's Guardian might be slightly frothy and slanted towards fiction, but it does hint at an issue that's significant to me: the attitude contemporary U.K. poetry holds towards suburbia.

Bearing in mind that millions of us have been brought up in or live in such surroundings, why do so few British poets now write about them or set their work in them? I'm convinced suburbia is dodged through fear of negative connotations and labelling such as "banal", "unimaginative" or "Larkinesque".

Suburbia forms a key part of my poetic imagination, just as it has throughout my life. I try to unravel its intricacies and the way it's evolving. Here's to playing with those connotations and challenging them!

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Sian Hughes - a question

Sian Hughes' first collection, The Missing, is exceptionally good. I'll review it in the near future. Sian won the Arvon prize with her poem, The Send-Off, which is included in the book. Both in terms of the award and the subject matter, that's an excellent marketing hook. Her use of language is innovative yet accessible, her subject matter hugely relevant to our lives. Etc, etc...

My post asks the following question: why wasn't she picked up by one of the big guns of the publishing world?

Let's get one point clear - Salt are great; in fact, this is one key example of how important they are in contemporary U.K. poetry publishing, because I wouldn't be sat here enjoying The Missing if it weren't for them. No, my amazement is at encountering a superb poet with wide appeal who can't have slipped under the radar in the context of her Arvon win yet wasn't picked up by one of the top outfits. Incomprehensible.

Sunday 21 June 2009

The U.K. magazine scene and book publishers

It seems incongruous to be writing this post in 40ºC heat down here in deepest Extremadura, but I read a remark recently from a U.K. publisher to the effect that he believes the U.K. magazine scene feels tired at the moment, mags not being the mark of quality they should be or think that they are. He went on to indicate that an impressive track record in such publications often puts him off rather than encourages him when looking at new poets.

Is he right? I do think certain mags follow a style I don't enjoy, but then a good few book publishers' lists also leave me cold. Some publishers may argue that the U.K. magazine scene is encouraging a generic, limited style. However, the same could be said of mentoring, workshopping and Creative Writing courses.

In fact, I'm convinced that the last few years have seen the emergence of exciting journals for poetry in the U.K., both online and in print, although there does seem to be something of a divorce between magazine and book publishers. This can't be a positive phenomenon.

These new outlets (and some of the evolving older mags) are providing a showcase for talent beyond the "scene". They become a springboard for the poets they publish - finding our niche via a wide range of magazines refines our individuality rather than dulling it. I firmly believe mags can and should regain their role as the main source for book publishers' lists.

Thursday 18 June 2009

Under The Radar Issue Three

The third issue of Under The Radar arrived last week and I was pleased to see one of my poems had been included.

The flagship magazine for Nine Arches Press, Under The Radar specialises in poetry. Its cover is always arresting, with Jane Commane's excellent photos featuring heavily. As for the poems themselves, there's something of a transatlantic feel to this issue, although my personal favourites came from closer to home: Marilyn Ricci's three pieces stand out, especially "The Sound Of My Voice", in which an extreme situation is portrayed and intensified via the accumulation of detail.

Nine Arches Press are working on a number of interesting projects. Under The Radar, pamphlets and full collections are all on their agenda for the coming months and years. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on their development.

Saturday 6 June 2009

Travel and inspiration

There's an interesting thread going on at the moment over at the Poets on Fire Forum, discussing "Travel and Inspiration". Most participants seem to be concentrating on the writing that arises directly from a trip, while my angle is more that travel gives us a counterpoint to home, especially if we immerse ourselves in a new society. In other words a trip often leads us to write with a different perspective about where we've set out from.

Tobias Hill might have written well about his time in Japan, but I would argue that his travels more than anything strengthened his vision of London, as has been shown by his later collections. Going back to myself, I do write about Spain, but home is still the U.K.. My view of British society has certainly been sharpened by my time on the Iberian peninsula and by visits to many other countries such as Japan, South Korea, Russia and the U.S. on work (in another life I'm the export manager for an Extremaduran winery), especially those occasions when I've become involved in local life rather than just attending a trade fair.

On this same theme, I'm off back to the U.K. myself for a few days next week. Once more, travel and inspiration...?

Monday 1 June 2009


Any U.K. poetry fan already knows what I'm on about and that's quite an achievement in itself - not many other book titles are as renowned on the contemporary scene. For once, this was a collection that surpassed its publisher's blurb.

My intention here is not so much to go over the old ground of Simon Armitage's inventive use of language, catchy rhythms and universal to specific to universal treatment of his subject matter. Nor is it to focus on how Zoom! influenced me in my early twenties. Instead, the point of this post is simply that I have never so been hooked by anything else Armitage has subsequently written. By this, I don't mean that I haven't admired his later work and seen advances in erudition and wizardry, but that Zoom! is special.

I wonder whether Armitage's unique value as a poet was his youthful freshness, vigour, immediacy and rough edges. I thus also wonder whether Zoom! is always going to be his stand-out collection, no matter what he writes in the future. If so, he's still made an incredible contribution to U.K. poetry.

Maybe, just maybe, Armitage shares something with a number of popular musicians - they can never recapture the spirit of their first album. That record eventually takes on emblematic status; Zoom! is also on its way to doing so.