Sunday 28 October 2012

Tom Duddy in Smiths Knoll

Smiths Knoll, a long-running U.K.-based poetry magazine, has bitten the dust, and Issue 50 will be the final one. As a sample of its contents, the editor have posted a poem by Tom Duddy on their website. The Reception is one of Duddy's last poems before his death earlier this year - it's an excellent piece, packed with exquisite observations, and you can read it here. His forthcoming posthumous collection from HappenStance Press promises much!

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Cashing in...poetry prizes in Spain

I've previously mentioned that a vast amount of poetry funding in Spain gets pushed into prizes that are run by local councils, building societies, regional governments, charities, etc. Instead of backing local groups, events and magazines, organisations tend to crave the publicity of handing out a prize that's worth a lot of cash.

The following is just a small sample of the poetry prizes that are on offer in Spain, together with their first prizes. Bear in mind that these are generally for full collections rather than single poems. I've compiled this list over the last hour via the internet, only including first prizes of 5,000€ or more, but I could have gone on all night and not reached the end! What's more, it's based on the most recent available info - austerity is even biting in these circles to a limited extent and thus affecting funding.

This list just goes to show how deeply the culture of prize-winning is engrained in Spanish poetic culture - if you don't win a prize, your manuscript is liable not to see the light of day. With a deep breath, here goes:

Premio Miguel Hernández-Comunidad Valenciana12,000€

Premio Rubén Darío de Poesía en Castellano, 18,000€
Premio Emilio Alarcos de Poesía, 7,000€
Premio Internacional de Poesía Claudio Rodríguez, 6,000€
Premio Ciudad de Cáceres, 6,000 €
Premio Nacional de Poesía Joven “Félix Grande” 6,000€
Premio de Poesía Federico García Lorca, 30,000€
Premio "Antonio Machado en Baeza", 6,000€
Premio Unicaja de Poesía, 7,000€
Premio 'José Hierro' de Poesía, 15,000€
Premio de Poesía Manuel Alcántara 6,000€
Premio de Poesía Ciudad de Pamplona 5,000€
Premio de Poesía Ciudad de Irún, 15,000€
Premio Internacional de Poesía Odón Betanzos, 6,000€
Premio Iberoamericano de Poesía "Hermanos Machado", 8,000€
Premio de Poesía Blas de Otero, 8,000€
Premio de Poesía Rafael Morales, 12,000€
Certamen de Poesía Villa de Aoiz, 6,000€
Premio Unicaja de Poesía, 10,000€
Premio de poesía Ricardo Molina, 12,000€
Premio Internacional de Poesía Generación del 27, 20,000€
Premio internacional de poesía Jaime Gil de Biedma,10,000€
Premio de Poesía Juan Ramón Jiménez,12,000€
Premio de Poesía de la Fundación Ecoem 6,000€
Premio de Poesía Mérida, 9,000€
Premio Nacional Poesía Joven “Miguel Hernández” 20,000€
Premio Loewe de Poesía, 20,000€
Premio Ciudad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 6,000€
Premio Emilio Alarcos de poesía,18,000€
Premio Internacional de Poesía “Hermanos Argensola”, 6,000€
Premio de Poesía Antonio Gala, 9,000€
Certamen Internacional de Poesía Ciudad de Torrevieja, 18,000€
Premio 'Ciudad de Salamanca' de Poesía,9,000€
Premio de Poesía Ciudad de Córdoba "Ricardo Molina",12,000€
Premio de Poesía en Castellano “Vicente Gaos”, 6,000€

As mentioned above, this is just a partial snapshot - there are far more out there. Now that's a lot of money that could have been used in so many other ways!

Monday 22 October 2012

A first review for Tasting Notes

I'm delighted to report that John Field has posted the first review of Tasting Notes on his Poor Rude Lines blog. It's extremely generous, as in the following extract:

"These poems, deceptively restrained in ambition, pack a punch nevertheless. In performance they read well but are doubly rewarding on the page."

You can read the review in full here.

Moreover, Field also highlights the ongoing offer that combines the book with the wine it evokes. You can find links to Bat and Bottle's webshop just to the right of this post. Why not give someone a book of poetry and a bottle/case of wine that illuminate each other? The package makes an ideal present!

Saturday 20 October 2012

Autumn in the vineyards

As soon as the grapes are picked, each vine sends a message out that kills off its leaves, turning them russet in a matter of a few days. The clay soil of Tierra de Barros is covered by row after endless rolling row of these vines right now, all combined with dusks that turn a more purple hue with every night that passes. On such evenings I love heading out to the mountains and looking down on the vineyards, on the shades of gorgeous autumn. New England, eat your heart out!

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Review: La Cuadratura del Plato, by Mónica Doña

I do feel I have to start the review of this excellent collection, titled La Cuadratura del Plato (El Páramo, 2011), with a spot of background information that should serve as a practical illustration of the points I made in my post a couple of weeks ago about poetry funding in Spain, all this without wanting to knock the book in question in any way.

Mónica Doña's manuscript won Córdoba County Council's annual poetry prize, for which she was awarded 6000€ of public money. This is far from being one of the largest prize funds in Iberia. Her book was then (eventually) published by the officially backed regional publishing house with beautiful production values and not a price to be seen on it. In other words, there's no real target commercial audience at all or any promotional marketing.

There are definitely better ways of using public funding to support poetry and help it reach more people. However, in this case I'm delighted that at least the cash has given Mónica Doña's poetry a chance to find a readership. I was drawn to Doña's work because it refuses to be pigeonholed into typical Spanish "schools". What's more, she approaches life so as to understand it, rather than being drawn into esoteric codes. The first section in the book, titled Objetos, draws on everyday items, concentrating on their implicit emotional content, as in Navaja:

"Corta el hombre su pan a rebanadas
y luego las reparte.
Rebanadas de pan, todas iguales.
El hombre y su navaja
saben medir el hambre."

"The man cuts his bread into slices
and then hands them out.
Slices of bread, all the same.
The man and his knife
can measure hunger."

The second section of the book, meanwhile, titled La Cuadratura del Plato, is charged with the bottled-up emotion of a repressed childhood in Francoist Spain, homing in on the humdrum once more in order to accentuate its impact. Doña evokes a double life: the social containts of the family are contrasted with the world of her imagination, ending up in a reconciliation of the two selves in adulthood:

"Se cuadra ante la luna del armario
y le dice a su doble:
No te duermas, hermana,
que otra vez empezamos desde cero."

She squares up to the mirror on the wardrobe
and says to her double:
"Don't fall asleep, sister,
we're starting again from scratch.""

The collection's third and final section, Cine en Casa, moves on to the difficulties of adult life and offers us cinematographic vignettes of troubled contemporary family relationships (more troubles!). Despite the delicate nature of her material, Dona actually manages to bring a wry smile to this reader's lips on a regular basis, as in Dígaselo con Flores (Say it with Flowers):

"...encargaste en la tienda de flores
dos decenas de rosas.
Como si fueran huevos
para nutrir desprisa a una familia
desganada y perpleja..."

" ordered at the florist's
two dozen roses.
As if they were eggs
to nourish a family
that's off its food and perplexed..."

The aesthetics of this verse might not seem so unexpected to a British reader. Nevertheless, they are unusual in the context of contemporary Spanish poetry. Mónica Doña's La Cuadratura del Plato is fierecly ambitious without feeling the need for obstrusive posturing. It's been a pleasant surprise for me and I applaud it.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Joshua Mehigan in Poetry magazine

I was intrigued to read Joshua Mehigan's work in the latest issue of Poetry magazine (you can read three pieces here), the outstanding American journal. His new poems startle me in they way they take on board the influence of Philip Larkin, that most English of poets, and successfully incorporate it into an American aesthetic.

I'm very much looking forward to his new collection, titled Accepting the Disaster, which will be coming out in 2013.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Poetry funding in Spain

Living in a foreign country has provided me with an extra perspective, the chance to compare and contrast. Some aspects of U.K. life now seem tattier, others seem better. Take poetry funding, for instance.

In the U.K. we tend to complain about the distribution of funding among publishers, mags, events and festivals,and those complaints are often justified. However, the grass is sometimes actually weedier elsewhere, as in Iberia.

There are many excellent poetic ventures in Spain, but a vast amount of funding gets pushed into prizes that are run by local councils. Instead of backing local groups, events and magazines, mayors tend to crave the publicity of handing out a prize that's worth a lot of cash. Doing so also involves far less work than getting their hands dirty with bits and pieces that might make a difference.

The best prizes offer publication, often with an offically-run regional publishing board who don't exactly push sales. Others are worse. A few years ago I was a member of the judging panel for one such local poetry prize over here. At the final meeting I was asked to cast my vote, at which point I tried and failed to explain to the incredulous mayor that I couldn't bring myself to do so: the winner would get 1000€ and no publication. As a prize-winner, his manuscript would be ineligible for any other prize or magazine publication. In other words, by choosing a winning piece I would be condemning the text to oblivion. Cash in exchange for destroying art. The saddest aspect is that umpteen poets submitted their work in the full knowledge of how the system functioned.

In summary, maybe we aren't quite so badly off after all back in the U.K....?!

Monday 8 October 2012

Review: Spring Journal, by Dan Wyke

At first sight, Dan Wyke's pamphlet, Spring Journal (Rack Press, 2012), seems a seismic shift away from his previous writing, as in Waiting for the Sky to Fall, his first full collection from Waterloo Press. Instead of individual, bite-sized poems, we encounter a coherent long piece that knits the whole chapbook together. However, a closer look demonstrates that Wyke is not breaking from his previous work in Spring Journal. Instead, he is using its epigrammic qualities to bring together a series of shorter snippets, snapshots and extracts to create a cumulative collage effect that is sustained successfully throughout the pamphlet.

Wyke's use of titbit followed by titbit is married to the form of the "journal" of the title. It also enables him to draw implicit comparisons and contrasts via juxtaposition. In other words, misery is found alongside pleasure. "Today, I will get nothing done" is followed by "This, too, I love." Wyke thus achieves a mirroring of changes of mood from day to day and even within days.

He has always been highly skilled at picking out details to convey the significance of the everyday. Spring Journal is no different, as in the following example:

"End of May Day, back door and windows wide open...
I can smell the blossom on the lilac bush,
mint in a terracotta pot, barbecue smoke:
the moment and memory collide in the taste of cold beer
and the scent of after-sun on my hot face."

The humdrum is lifted beyond the mere detail of its listing. Senses lead to thought.

The coherent and cohesive nature of Spring Journal allows Wyke to explore in depth themes that have popped up elsewhere in his poetry. For example, there's the attempt at a Buddist reconciliation with self, as in...

" I am trying to sit closer to myself."

All this is tied in with moments in which he's "trying" but doesn't quite make it (a key facet of human experience, captured wonderfully by Wyke), falling to his own frustrations:

"What I am unable to say
                                       I mean most of all."

Key themes in this book are key themes in life: joy and misery, and the inevitably impossible attempt to express them, as in the final stanza of Spring Journal, where Wyke captures that tension so well:

"Monday morning: viral, unresponsive; my life is passing.
The sky is blue, unfathomably beautiful. A toddler in a pushchair
titlts back his head and lets out long,loud vowel sounds.
His mother does not understand and tries to stop him.

This is excellent stuff, especially in the context of what comes before. Spring Journal is a satisfying read in any season.

Saturday 6 October 2012

Andrew Graves' Citizen Kaned

My review of Andrew Graves' pamphlet, Citizen Kaned (Crystal Clear Creators, 2012), is now up at Sphinx. You can read it here in the now-established format of three juxtaposed pieces about the same chapbook. Page vs performance is an implicit issue throughout. Fresh perspectives are found on an old debate as the reviewers discuss to what extent Graves achieves a balance between the two.

Thank you

I'd like to thank all the people who made it along to my readings last week in Coventry and Uppingham. You all contributed to making the evenings so enjoyable. Special thanks are particularly due to Antony Owen for organising Nightblue Fruit and to Matt Merritt for helping me out with all the two-voiced poems in Uppingham. As the latter mentions in his kind review on Polyolbion, it was a pretty unusual poetry reading!

The Coventry event was held at a lovely venue (Taylor John's house) at the city's Canal Basin. It showed off much of what's so special about the U.K.'s thriving live poetry scene: everyone engaged throughout the open mic slots, before giving me a great welcome for my reading. I even sold a good number of books!

As for Uppingham, it was lovely to combine poetry with wine in such an unpretentious way. Ben and Emma from Bat and Bottle Wine Merchants provided the ideal platform and audience. All of them were so open to the poems in spite of not being regular readers of verse! I was delighted to discover "in situ" that Tasting Notes does hit the mark in this respect. Its aim is to be accessible without being facile, to engage with people and surprise them. Suffice to say, the after-event wine tasting also went on well into the night!