Friday, 28 June 2013

Different media, different reading techniques

While at university, I acted in a lot of student drama, learning how to project to an audience without overacting, and there's no doubt in my mind that the experience has held me in good stead when giving poetry readings.

What's more, drama was great fun, so I was delighted when a friend recently asked me to do a bit of acting over here in Spain for a short promotional film about local wines (I play a British wine critic!). Once we started work, the director immediately picked up on my stage experience and corrected it. He explained that the techniques we use on stage then seem histrionic on film. The latter medium requires more natural intimacy, addressing an individual rather than an audience.

These last few days, meanwhile, have seen me making recordings of some of my poems for an exciting new project (more on that in future posts!). While doing so and listened back to what I'd read, I realised that the above-mentioned difference between theatre and film also exists between reading to an audience or into a microphone. In the latter case, you have to imagine that you're in a one-on-one situation instead of in front of rows of people. Different media demand different reading techniques.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

How to end a poem?

Conventional wisdom would have it that practitioners of contemporary verse should end their poems in such a way that their writing opens out beyond the piece itself. In other words, the poem should finish by inviting its reader to take an onward journey.

In this context, we often forget that circular endings, ones that tie up loose ends and bring strands together, ones that satisfy in their neat perfection, are equally valid and can also surprise. They aren't necessarily in any way less ambitious for holding the reader within the poem. However, they are out of fashion.

I was consequently delighted to find that Frank Wood is adept at such endings. My review of his pamphlet, Racing the Stable Clock, is now up here at Sphinx, alongside pieces on the same collection by Gina Wilson and Rob A. Mackenzie. The latter's opinions very much coincide with mine, and we even chose similar quotes to illustrate our points!

Saturday, 15 June 2013


The wines that win awards aren't necessarily the ones that people enjoy drinking. The collections that win awards aren't necessarily the ones that people enjoy reading.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

From remembering to remembrance, Fiona Moore's The Only Reason for Time

At first reading, many of the poems in Fiona Moore's HappenStance pamphlet, The Only Reason for Time, might seem to be about her partner's death several years ago when in his late forties.

However, this collection doesn't explore death or even grief. Instead, it's a life-affirming record of the emergence from grief. By that, I don't mean the shedding of the past or any so-called rebirth. Instead, it's the portrayal of a process whereby the poet moves from remembering to remembrance. It's a treasuring of what has been experienced, enjoyed and suffered, a treasuring that enables us to carry on.

Let's take the example of one poem from the early part of Moore's pamphlet, titled The Shirt. It's full of images that impact on the reader:

"They must have had to work so hard to
save you there was no time to unbutton it.
An office shirt, because that's where
it happened. The thin stripes slashed through -
terrifying, unprecedented - a reminder
of everything I wanted to forget..."

Okay, so the first lines really strike home and are wonderfully written, but the core of this poem follows them - the shirt as reminder and memory. It ends with...

                            "...and from then on,
nothing happened that we would forget."

These days, funerals often seem to be termed "celebrations", as if there were some miraculous short cut through grief. Moore is only too aware that this isn't the case. The Only Reason for Time traces her route out of it, as in the poem On Dunwich Beach. It's ceremonial, like a rite. The protagonist reaches the shore, gets ready and swims. The end of each stanza is a staging post:

"...undressing for you...swimming for you...searching for you...dying for you...breathing for for you."

This poem encapsulates the process that I mentioned earlier on in my post - the emergence from grief. Verse has the capacity to transform, for example, remembering into remembrance, but it can only manage this in the hands of the ablest poets. In The Only Reason for Time, Fiona Moore demonstrates that she is among them. Her collection is a huge achievement. 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Rory Waterman's forthcoming first book

I was delighted to spot last week that Rory Waterman's first book, titled Tonight the Summer's Over, is finally available for pre-order from Carcanet Press here.

I really enjoyed the selection of Waterman's work that was included in the New Poetries V anthology, while his reading at Days of Roses event in London back in 2011 also etched several of his poems on my mind. This is one collection that will definitely be heading for my bedside table!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The sales of books at poetry readings

In a recent article about Salt's decision to drop single-author poetry collections, The Guardian gave the following statistics:

"Official figures from Nielsen BookScan show a sharp decline in the overall poetry market in the last year. There was growth of around 13% in 2009, when the market was worth £8.4m, followed by small declines in 2010 and 2011, and then a major drop of 18.5% volume and 15.9% value in 2012, when the overall value of the market fell to £6.7m."

I don't doubt these figures for a moment. However, they miss out the core of U.K. poetry - its readings. These are mainly run by commited volunteers, often poets themselves, and play a key role in introducing new poets to readers. As a consequence, they are the driving force behind many sales and are not included in Nielsen's statistics.

Let's take myself as an example: Buzzwords in Cheltenham last weekend was the latest in a number of readings that I given all around the country in the last two years. It went excellently - there was an attentive audience who encouraged me throughout and bought lots of my books (a dozen, in fact!). I was also delighted to meet Angela France, Alison Brackenbury and Stephen Payne at last.

The above event followed on from other lovely readings where I've been warmly welcomed:

Poetry at the... in Edinburgh (run by Rob MacKenzie)
Nightblue Fruit in Coventry (run by Antony Owen)
Shindig in Leicester (run by Nine Arches Press and Crystal Clear Creators)
Tongues & Grooves in Portsmouth (run by Maggie Sawkins)
Days of Roses in London (run by Declan Ryan)
Plus one-off readings in Nottingham (thanks to Robin Vaughan-Williams) and London (at the Poetry Book Fair)

I'm incredibly grateful to all these people for providing me with a platform to present my books. What's more, if Inventing Truth (my first HappenStance pamphlet) is almost sold out, that's in no small part down to these opportunities. I've sold books at every single event, thanks to member of each audience who love poetry.

In other words, there's a thriving live poetry scene out there beyond slams. Week after week, people turn out in numbers to hear poems being read, to encounter new poets and buy their books. This scene is growing, it's healthy, it's the heartbeat of U.K. poetry.