WE'VE BEEN GETTING quite high winds hurtling down our west-east canal lately, and I've taken to closing the shutters at night so as to be able to tilt the balcony window and let in some nocturnal air without risking its hinges. It was not, then, until pushing back those shutters this morning - and push was the word - that I found we'd had a couple of inches of settled snow overnight. I know snow's no big deal in England where you've been cheerfully smashing into one another on the B-roads for a couple of weeks now; weather warnings persistently in place, in the pompous jargon of the weathermen. But here the white powder's rarer, and pretties everything up of course, papering over the grime, making a place already given to timelessness look like a Christmas card from any decade you like. Where I am, we mercifully don't get many tourists, so it was all children skidding to school hand-in-hand with solicitous dads (lads take, lasses collect) and dogs, not strong on memory, leaping and barking as if they've never before seen the stuff.We are a little out of time in other ways here too: folks, foreign residents included, tend to know each other within a sestiere - when I need to be somewhere punctually, I have to leave the house fifteen minutes early to allow for the necessary social exchanges; the newspapers, with unblushingly cheerful racism, refer to the (numerous) Chinese as "gli occhi di mandorla" ('the almond-eyed'); the dustbinmen still come every day - yes, you filthy Anglo-Saxons, every day (except Sunday); wine can be bought sfuso (from the tap, bring your own bottle) for €2.50 a litre, from five different outlets a few minutes' walk away (the Venetians are proverbial in the rest of Italy for their thirst). Really all we lack for is poetry, and you may think, in these days of excess, that's not wholly to be lamented. For all the painting and music, indigenous literature has never been the Venetian forte. There's Goldoni of course, but practically all the famous poets associated with the city have been visitors, from Petrarch through to Goethe, Pound and Brodsky. I believe Craig Raine lurks, at least intermittently, down at the other end of town. One Bartolomeo Dotti, murdered near Sant'Angelo in 1713 for his satires on those in high places, is of some interest, but even he was born in Brescia. The top wholly DOC bard is undoubtedly the highly talented - and still quite readable - cortigiana, Veronica Franco (1546-1591) - so posh a hooker was she, in fact, that when Henri III was recalled from the throne of Poland to that of France on the unexpected death of his brother Charles IX in 1574, and stopped off to be fêted in Venice along the way, part of the fêting was a night with Veronica. This might actually have been a bit of a chore for the essentially gay king, but she was, after all, a pro, and the young couple, none the worse for wear, exchanged gallant epistolary verses afterwards.


SENT BY Matthew Stewart's (Rogue Strands) list of best 2016 poetry blogs to Dave Coates' Dave Poems, I find a 'statistical study' of the relative percentage presence of female and 'people of colour' poetry reviewers in leading magazines. A little surprising perhaps to find women reviewers lingering at around 40%, given that, say, the poet laureates of England and Scotland - and, until very recently Wales - and at least 50% of the recent winners of the T.S.Eliot and Forward prizes are/were female.  Personally I seem to be reading more new she poets than he poets recently, though I confess I don't normally notice the sex of a reviewer. Besides, 40%, if still 'not good enough', is a lot better than many other lines of work, and surely trending upwards. Also trending sharply upwards, according to Coates' own researches, are the number of volumes published by 'poets of colour', but his figures for this category are vitiated by the absence of any definition of whom it might embrace, and the percentage of eligible candidates in the population at large. Is Jacky Kay a 'poet of colour'? Sarah Howe?? There may also be some quite interesting cultural factors at work. It seems to me, purely as-it-were anecdotally, that poets/reviewers of Caribbean origin are more numerous, in relation to percentage of UK resident population, than those of Indian/Pakistani extraction. Might not the parental/cultural pressures that drive many of the latter category into the sciences rather than the arts have something to do with it? Of course we know that a scientific or medical background is no bar to writing poetry, but you would perhaps expect more poetry reviewers to be arts than science graduates. Anyway, all this is a perfectly proper topic of research and discussion, but pursuing Dave Coates (of whom I confess I had not previously heard) around the web, I find an interview in which he opines "it's concerning so few poets of colour or LGBT poets . . . make it onto the big five poetry lists (Fiona Moore's research is vital on this point)". Actually, 'Fiona Moore's research' only applies to the first group, and it's the second that intrigues me. How does he know? Even in these brazen days, not everyone brandishes their sexuality. Suppose what he claims is true, would it be 'concerning'? It's hard to believe anti-gay prejudice is strong in the arts world. For how many decades have talent-strapped straights been bemoaning the opposite? And despite the amount of newspaper column inches they occupy, transgenderers form too statistically negligible a percentage of the population for their absence or presence in such a minority activity as poetry to be measurable. I suspect that Dave is just striking a pose here, though I fear he may not be alone on his plinth. How far should we take this? Are ugly people maybe under-represented on the big lists? Should there be quotas? Short people? Short-sighted people? . . .



 An ugly person


I HAVE JUST FINISHED two translations on 'early modern' (remember when that period was dear old comfortable tudorsandstuarts?) Jesuits: 4,000 and 3,000 words respectively, accomplished on two consecutive weekend days (what happened to the Sabbath?) to the best of my ability. And I mean that last bit, the reason it might be in doubt being that these were part of an ongoing work for which I have already been paid en bloc some time ago. So the incentive was somewhat lacking. But precisely because of that, suspicious of myself, I gave it my all. I wonder if schoolteachers don't sometime lean over backwards to be more than fair to an objectionable child, or rather to a child that they personally find particularly objectionable. Let's call this 'counter-motivation'. Where am I going with it? Well, to the Vatican. I remember reading a while back something about Pius XII, probably in the TLS, perhaps a review of John Cornwell's Hitler's Pope (the title is all the gist you need), where the author - either of the book or the review - triumphantly cited some presumed evidence of Pacelli's antisemitism as proof of his acting antisemitically. I am not saying, incidentally, that he did not: merely that his personal antisemitism - if such it was - wouldn't prove it. I think this principle, or counter-principle, may be of wider application than one might think. All I mean, I suppose, is that some of us, some of the time, may clock our faults and try to counteract them.  


WITH THE POLITICAL WORLD so topsy-turvy it must be a good thing that the Poles in their wisdom have elected Jesus Christ King of Poland. The Polish monarchy (which previously came to an end with the abdication of Stanislaw II in 1795) was already elective, so there are no plausible pretenders about to claim that their noses have been disjointed. Jesus's mater could be a little put out though, having herself been Queen of Poland since 1656 - and we know what happened in analogous circumstances in Thebes. No doubt after so long she will be happy to sit back with a stiff drink and settle for Queenmumship. Rather confusingly the Virgin is also one of the no less than five patron saints of the (former) republic, although to be fair Saint Stanislaus Kostka and Saint Andrew are in some way subordinate. Still, her fellow top patrons St Adalbert and St Stanislaus of Szczepanów


(uptown Szczepanów)

must be quite in a tizzy about precedence on social occasions, as normally you would imagine a patron saint to be over and above, and before and so on, a mere king. One supposes that new Acts of Parliament will all have to be ratified by JC, which may create a bit of a backlog. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I wonder whether Jesus and his new subjects have properly thought this through - we can't assume that he was all unknowing, as he isn't, I think, unknowing of nowt, doctrinally. Perhaps he was happy to go along with it in the excitement of the moment, Dad having the Jews and all, so why not? Which only leaves the Holy Spirit out in the cold. We wait in wonder.



I AM CURRENTLY TRANSLATING some 'poetry', really as bad as any I have come across, for a reputable publisher. I would like to copy some of it out here for you all to see, but that might involve a breach of professional etiquette, or the secrets of the confessional. In any case you won't have to look far for more of the same. How have we come to this pass, when really any passage, however ghastly, of solipsistic prose can get chopped up into five-word lines and called poetry? It's the sort of thing that drives you into the arms of formalism - at least a well-made vacuous sonnet is well-made, may resemble, even, a sonnet. Free-flowing, self-indulgent vacuity is just that, but persists like a dog's fart - you have to get up and go into another room to clear your head of it. I get the impression that things may be changing a bit at the top, a degree of (self-)discipline creeping back in, but let's not cheer too soon. After all, some of us thought the visual arts had bottomed out with the Royal Academy's infantile Sensation exhibition - would you believe that was nearly 20 years ago? And have we turned the corner? (cf. Anish Kapoor's Shooting into the Corner, aka Pissing against the Wall, "a work of extraordinary complexity and drama" cannoning crap from one room of the same gallery to another, 2008). And now, the Queen of Confessionalism. Me Me Me incarnate, Sharon Olds, has won the Wallace Stevens Award: "By writing with such candour and clarity, Olds has granted younger poets - especially women - permission to speak", as if reticence had been, hitherto, pervasive. Come on Fido, you and I could both do with a walk . . .


MOST THINGS GET revived sooner or later and I wonder if it's time the paraclausithyron came round again. This doorstop lament was a staple of Greek and Latin polite, or even impolite, verse and the troubadours (according to Wikipedia, who knows most, if not all, things) were also fond of the motif. I can't think of any modern examples, except in songs - the Wik draws our attention to Dylan's Temporary Like Achilles (from Blonde on Blonde - "You know I want your lovin' / Honey, why are you so hard?") but not to Jim Reeves's I Won't Come In While He's There. My mother, a Gentleman Jim fan, thought this was rather feeble and the rebuffed lover should have gone in "and punched 'him' on the nose", though to be fair Jim croons "I won't bother to ring your doorbell, / I'm not sure just how much I can bear. / I might do something I'll be sorry for later / So I won't come in while he's there." But it may be that ma had put her finger on the problem: hanging round in lachrymose fashion by a closed door (in Bob's case "your second door" - he seems to have got through the first) is too lacking in cool for today's butch versifier, or his-or-her self-image. Perhaps the paradigmatic example is Propertius I,16 - which is mostly spoken by the door, which the lover then addresses in the following terms

ianua vel domina penitus crudelior ipsa,
quid mihi tam duris clausa taces foribus?
cur numquam reserata meos admittis amores,
nescia furtivas reddere mota vices?
nullane finis erit nostro concessa dolori,
turpis et in tepido limine somnus erit? . . .

This is not one of the ones Ez had a go at, so here's the mildly strange diction of my great uncle Jack:

'Door more inly cruel than thy very mistress, why art thou closed so soon and confrontest me with the dumb barrier of thine unkind portals? Why art thou never unlocked to give passage to my love, but knowest not how to feel and deliver my stealthy supplications? Shall no term ever be granted to my pain? Shall my rest be a scandalous sleep on the lukewarm threshold? I lie there and the midnights are sorry for me, the full stars are sorry for me, and the air blowing chill on me with the morning frost; Thou only hast no pity for the pains that hurt men, and I get no sympathetic answer from thy silent hinges.'

And so on - you get the idea: no nose-bashing there.

Here's my own, rather free, take on semi-butch, or perhaps just petulant, Callimachus:



after Callimachus


You're up there, all right, Poppy - I'd know

even without your thin curtain light-show -

in your big pink ear-muffs and your phone set

to 'vibrate' (not the only thing, I'll bet):

Oh, I do hope you'll sleep just as well

as Old Faithful here, leaning on your bell

- under a sub-zero moon, not that you'd care . . .


Your days are counted, Poppy: there's grey hair

starting through the off-blond, strawberry-blond,

whatever was last Tuesday's tint. Look beyond

your next makeover: you've got what, five years more?

You'd better get mending those fences before

your saggy arse invites my feet,

your messages, delete, delete, delete.



SOMETIMES IT APPEARS that everyone is dropping off their perches. It's probably just that when you get to my age the people one generation ahead that you have read or watched or listened to all your life are coming to the end of their appointed span and you notice their exits that much more readily. And now Umberto Eco. In my bookselling days I used to run across him quite often - he was a great bibliophile and rarely missed, if in the vicinity, the monthly fair on the second Sunday of the month in Milan, where I would exhibit my own modest wares. I had spent a very happy month in 1988, when still in England and living alone, returning every evening to my Clapham eyrie and working my way with the help of a fat dictionary (my Italian was ropier then) through Il Pendolo di Foucault, just published. I subsequently reviewed the English version, I forget for whom, which was not one of William Weaver's better efforts (though UE had claimed to find his translation of The Name of the Rose "better than the original"), pages where I had laughed out loud seeming leaden in his version.. The word was that by then Weaver had a sort of sweatshop of translators working for him and merely adjusted here and there - I have no idea if there is any truth in this, but Calvino's much earlier Le città invisibili (1972, Invisible Cities, trans Weaver, 1974) also loses, I think, much of its brilliance in English. Right up until the end of his life Eco wrote a column, 'La bustina di Minerva', for the weekly magazine L'Espresso which used to make waiting in waiting rooms (even for chemotherapy) worthwhile. I have it on good authority that at least one of his girlfriends called him "Um".




IT MAY SEEM AN ODD way of carrying on to suddenly start plugging a book four years after the event, a prize-winning one to boot, so nothing hidden-gemmy about it, then or now, but Lime Green Chair is one of those collections that stays with you, and only improves with re-reading. The Ozzie poet Chris Andrews' second collection first attracted (if that's the word) my attention when hammering eight other finalists for the 2011/2012 Anthony Hecht Prize, including my own effort (which was to become The - ungarlanded - Sadness of Animals). It would have been nice to think that Mark Strand, the judge, was having a senior moment, but, alas, from what I know of my own, and what I have seen of the other contestants' submissions, Lime Green Chair was the deserving winner. One might, I suppose, criticise a certain saminess in Andrews's relentless use of his 13 line/8 line formula (broken only by a 20-odd page section of mainly longer poems in the middle), but it works, so what's to jib at? Chris Wallace-Crabbe, in his bit of blurb on the back cover, opines that the "thirteen-eight stanza form . . mockingly subverts centuries of the sonnet in English", though it's hard to see how: would 12/9 have been more, or less, mocking and subversive? An English reviewer, in the TLS I think, also hauled in the sonnet, claiming to find a volta between the two sections. Well, sometimes there is, sometimes there isn't. At times in fact Andrews just careers right over the gap like a slick hurdler, at others the break could as easily come a line or two earlier or later. Curiously the poet's first book Cut Lunch (also 'award-winning' as it happens) again featured a set scheme, in that case 5/5/5: clearly he's at home in a fixed but roomy structure. I use 'careers' advisedly - there is a terrific careering, almost breathtaking quality to these poems, a piling up of instances and contrasts that never allows you to coast along. I have posted a couple of complete poems in the Others' Words page, but in the meantime here's a compliment and a half to a girl:

Next year it will be twenty years already.

You've probably forgotten most of the times

you made all the difference (if you ever knew)

by not being otherwise than as you are:

a perfect stranger to dinginess. You were

the barefoot breeze all along the branching path,

the breathable light and the ocean-washed air.

It was you. I knew it. I had no idea.


HARDLY WAS THE INK dry on the foregoing when my perusal of two-year-old TLSs before finally discarding them came up with an In Brief review by one Lesley Downer: "In Narratives of Sorrow and Dignity," she writes, "Bardwell L. Smith examines the way the Japanese deal with death and mourning, particularly the death of aborted foetuses. These are topics that Westerners tend to avoid, treating grief as an illness to be "cured" by counselling." Quite a lot of hogwash in two sentences. Of course doctors in the west do not on the whole try to cure illnesses with counselling, nor do 'Westerners' treat grief as an illness. Grief counselling is by no means widely accepted even in the west, where many believe it to be harmful, and in any case it's a recent fad and can hardly be held to be generally representative of western culture.Here in wise Venice the authorities lay on free vaporetti on November 2nd , La Festa dei Morti, so that the citizenry can go in large numbers to San Michele and commune with their departed. No counselling.



MOST OF US I IMAGINE have sentence openings that get our hackles up: "I'm like you . . ." followed by some lunatic opinion is certainly one, but at least it's restricted to conversations, often enough, mercifully, one-to-one. But 'live' or in print, the one that really gets me is "We in the West . . ." inevitably the prelude to some actual or implied comparison to the Wise East, in which, obviously, the Occident comes out worst. Rarely does this opinion come from some profound scholar who has exhausted the resources of the enfeebled western tradition and been forced to seek illumination elsewhere. The usual suspect you would expect to be some vegetarian devotee of crystals and 'alternative' medicine who might hazard, if asked, that William of Ockham was the second guitarist of a passé folk ensemble, but quite respectable journalists in the posh papers have fallen too. An especial favourite of the latter category is "We in the West do not know how to deal with death", never backed by any sort of argument demonstrating that this is so. Undoubtedly, in the wise East, inadequate medicine and higher murder rates (particularly of men on women), make for an increased familiarity with premature exits, and a consequent degree of shoulder-shrugging acceptance. If that's wisdom, you can keep it, but on a more sophisticated level, the great western Christian literature on death, from Bede's sparrow, through the medieval mystics, via the incomparable beauty and simplicity of the Book of Common Prayer's Order for the Burial of the Dead to such classics as Jeremy Taylor's Rules and Exercises for Holy Dying is surely a more dignified corpus than, say, that anthology of the higher tosh, The Tibetan Book of the Dead. If we take it as given that the Tibetan monks really had no more idea than their yaks what happens to us after death, this work must stand or fall as literature: I confess that my Tibetan is not fluent, but the Italian translation we have for some reason in the house is stodgy, repetitive and without linguistic distinction. It beggars belief that the 60s acid-heads who swore by the Book can actually have waded through much of it: the amount of drugs required to make this dense porridge palatable would surely make you pass out first. Presumably this is what happened.


EVIDENTLY I'm not cut out for the blogging life: three posts for the whole of 2015 - this will make a scarcely-better four if I finish it before midnight. If only my energies had been directed at turning out deathless verses instead, but after a decent beginning the year went quiet there too. No reason to suppose anyone wants to see me striking poses over atrocities and I'm too far out from the rough-and-tumble to have anything informed to say about 'the poetry scene', other than it seems to be dividing into two quite separate scenes, the lively beer-fuelled open mic (that spelling gives me the heebie-jeebies, for some reason, but I can see that 'mike' would be illogical) or performance scene, and the study-bound, book enclosed, TLS-reviewed 'traditional' (for want of a better word) one. Of course there's a degree of overlap - most poets of any stripe will read their work out loud, if asked, and 'performance poets' are certainly not averse to seeing their stuff in print, though in both cases the results can be disappointing. Poetry of any subtlety cannot usually be grasped on a single reading and the approximately rhymed and breathlessly delivered lyrics that go down so well in back-bar, or on ambitious stage with fife and drums as may be, can look like poor doggerel on the page. But it may well be that one feeds into the other to their mutual advantage - or disadvantage, even.

Disappointing to find the poetry correspondents of the posh dailies edging in so timidly, if at all, to the year-end Best Of lists. Here are my three, in what seems to have been a goodish year, though the official prizes were not chucked where I would have chucked them, but nothing new about that.

Clive James - Sentenced to Life (Picador)

Kim Moore - The Art of Falling (Seren)

Peter Porter - Chorale at the Crossing (Picador)

The last of these has just squeezed in, relatively untrumpeted, at the eleventh hour, well, mid-November to be precise, and is perhaps one for the fans, though by no means barrel-scrapings (PP died nearly six years ago now). As always with Porter, despite the opening poem's disclaimer

In this new book, no reaching for Last Things,

Not Nature's, God's, or History's armature,

Just kitchen, garden, bedroom splinterings!

you'll need to have Wikipedia to hand, unless you're as fearsomely erudite as he was, but why not widen your mind while reading?

Nice to be able to insert, between the two Australians, the much younger Kim Moore, whose first full collection this is. She will need, moving on, to get shot of the wolves, and cut down on the repetition poems ("And in that year . . .// And in that year . . .), of which there are far too many - not weak individually, but coming to seem a tad formulaic over the course of the volume - but it's a thoroughly assured collection: you can't really call it promising, as so much of the promise is already realised. One from the past, one on the cusp (Hang on in there Clive!) and one for the future. And a fine New Year to you all.




AFTER MY LAST post you might think I would be well advised to steer clear of contests. Things got off to a bad start with my Derby tip Hans Holbein trying to break the world land speed record over the first four furlongs and predictably dying a death in the straight. Then Armitage got the professorship (I had expected - though not wanted - Soyinka). Here at least it was good to see Alicia Stallings fail by only a whisker to grab second place (ditch the initials A.E.!). Finally the Venetians elected the 'maverick' (they always are, aren't they?) entrepreneur Luigi Brugnaro as our new mayor, apparently along the same questionable line of reasoning that got Berlusconi into power: "He's made himself rich: maybe he'll do the same for us" - as if that were how the rich behave. Although declaring himself unaffiliated politically, his support came, of course, from the right-wing parties. He was no doubt also helped by the ridiculous Cinque Stelle 'movement', having done quite well, though eliminated, in the first round, sulking at home rather than turning out to vote for the centre-left Casson in the run-off.

None the less I can't quite bear to keep my trap shut on the UK Labour Party leadership contest (no tips, I promise). Selfishly, I am inclined to favour Andy Burnham, who served as a special advisor to the one cultured Culture Minister, Chris Smith, before entering the Commons, and even filled the post himself, albeit for only a year and a half, in his seamless rise through the ranks. But that apart, even this disenthralled old versifier, who thought himself more or less unshockable, has been taken aback by the pervasiveness, even among leftish commentators, of the notion that privileging the traditional principles of your party over the naked pursuit of power by bending in any direction to seduce the floating voter is risibly out of touch, not to say infantile. I don't know how likely Jeremy Corbyn is to turn up at a poetry reading, or whether he would be any fun to have a pint with (I fear he may not drink, or anyway not enough) but he is clearly an estimable and upright cove - who might not even seem an entirely unattractive alternative to Boris's buffoonery after another five years of Conservatism.                  19.7.2015


ELECTIONS, ELECTIONS. I happened by chance to be in England for the vote but had, as an Italian resident these past 12 years or so, made no arrangements to participate and was only a spectator therefore. Interesting this phenomenon of 'shy Toryism' - no new thing of course: how often did you come across proud Thatcherites? Here too, boastful Berluscites have always been thin on the ground. There is undoubtedly not so much a leftish consensus in the arts, but more an assumption. Actually I know quite a number of intellectual types, poets even among them, who I suspect of being at least slightly right-of-centre, but few of them flaunt it.

Back here we have the Venice mayoral election, expected to be a facile victory for the anti-corruption magistrate Felice Casson. Given that his predecessor had his hands in the capacious flood-barrier till, Casson's track record is doubtless no bad thing.

And then - in rising order of importance! - the Oxford professorship. Personally I would like to see Alicia Stallings crowned, but think it pretty unlikely. She probably lags behind Armitage and Soyinka on name recognition, and her sex-neutral choice of publishing as A E, rather than Alicia (Elsbeth), may well stymie those who might have backed her on the simple grounds of about-time-we-had-a-woman. When you actually had to turn up in Oxford to vote, strong local academic support was a sine qua non (hence possibly Christopher Ricks's victory over the metropolitan Peter Porter in 2004), but now that it's all online, like most of the world's activities - you can lead a pretty full life without having to leave the house these days - the dynamic may change entirely. My guess is that this will favour Soyinka, but how hands-on will he be? Hard to imagine him sitting (like Auden) in the Cadena Cafe of an afternoon to help tyros with their verses. Mildly hard to imagine many wanting him to - it was surely the plays rather than the relatively undistinguished poems that got him his Nobel.

Finally, next Saturday is the Derby, often referred to now as 'the Epsom Derby' as if it had nothing over the myriad counterfeits. Despite his own connections' apparent lack of enthusiasm, I would hazard that Hans Holbein at 12-1 is a pretty sound each-way punt. 3-1 a place looks generous to me and he'll be galloping on, like Kim Moore (a propos of whose Art of Falling I hope to be posting shortly), when many of his rivals run out of puff.


Kim Moore                                              Hans Holbein



GOOD POETS' BAD POEMS. Before I'd ever seen anything of my own in print - not that much, even now - I used to wonder why good poets, or poets whose work I liked - published so much indifferent work. Of course I knew even then that none of us can be at our best (wherever that may take us) all of the time, or even much of the time. One of the more absurd facets of literary 'scholarship' is the argument, rehearsed every time a new fragment of Wordsworth, or Blake or, surprisingly often, the Big Shake is supposedly unearthed from some country house archive where it has slumbered for centuries among the pudding recipes, that the lines in question cannot have come from the great man's quill because they are not brilliant enough, as if William or William or William never nodded.

 None the less, it is one thing to write below par, another to publish. Actually the more eminent the poet the more likely it is that indifferent work will get out, as even editors lose their nerve for saying "Come off it, Bill" (This was particularly evident, moving over to prose for a moment, in the later work of Ms Murdoch, who apparently didn't take kindly in her eminence to "Come off it, Iris"). None the less, the work of tyro poets, who especially need every blow to land, is also inclined to be pretty hit and miss. One might wonder whether they just can't tell the difference, and no doubt it's true that when you know what every golden line was meant to mean it's easier have a higher opinion of it than will another coming to it cold, and I suppose the same may hold, if more loosely, if you are given to 'workshopping' or sharing your work in progress in some way: familiarity breeds content, or at least consent. Moral: you should always have someone outside your bed or crochet group capable of saying "Come off it, Phil".

But even allowing for the above, how few collections are even, say, two thirds top notch? Well, OK, I'll give you Harmonium). I suppose in part it's like mothers loving their however-unpromising offspring, in spite of all, because of in-spite-of-all. Flipping through my own work with as hard an eye as I can muster, some babies, even to me, are less lovely than their siblings, but I know what it cost to get them there, I'm still in love with lines 3 to 5, I'm still in love with their subject, or object . . . And then there are those you struggled so long with, honing and burnishing, until, quite suddenly, you have pushed them over the hill and are already yards below the summit and falling and can't for the life of you find your way back. There's nothing for it but to leave them be, and of course you couldn't bear to discard them entirely (as perhaps for the reader's sake you should) because you still remember how passionately you felt about them just before their wings began to smoke. And there are those that are talismans of their place or occasion of begetting . . .

I could probably carry on for a paragraph or two digging out such excuses (the deadlines! the deadlines!). I'm sure you have many more of your own. Sadly, they have one thing in common: they're all from you to you, and won't really hack it with your lecteurs however conniving and hypocrites. What's to be done? Shall we just say that an over-rich meal sickens the appetite. We need some muted colours the better to show off our winners in all their startling raiment . . .

And they're not that dull, the poor ducklings, are they? Are they?




TIME ONCE MORE to have a bit of a clear-out of old TLSs and I can't resist running through them again before discarding. Books of the Year 2012 is where I'm at, and John Ashbery is recommending two "British poets, each highly experimental" - Mark Ford and Oli Hazzard. Rings a bell, I thought, and turned to the recent November 28th issue featuring 2014's Books of the Year, where John Ashbery is promoting Mark Ford and "a younger British experimental poet" - you guessed: Oli Hazzard. And there are those who think that loyalty is in short supply these days. Just to make things cosier, we learn from the Carcanet webside that Hazzard "is currently researching John Ashbery's poetry at the University of Oxford". Ford of course "studied for his doctorate at Oxford University on the poetry of John Ashbery" says Wikipedia, adding helpfully: "Helen Vendler [no less] compared him with [yes, I'm afraid so] . . . John Ashbery".

 Nothing underhand or untoward about this of course. Endearing even that the Master should stoop to praise his acolytes, fearless of any imputation of displaced self-regard. Log-rolling is in any case as much part and parcel of the literary world as of any other. It has always rather amused me to spot examples of the pervasive practice whereby X publishes Y and Y publishes X (Mr Rialto and Ms Happenstance for example), presumably to sidestep the awful stigma of self-publication.

Many years ago I went to a multi-poet reading in a West End pub, as part of a group of friends and family cheering on Michael Glover. It gradually became apparent that more or less the entire audience was made up of such support groups, some of whom shamelessly made their exit as soon as their boy (or girl) had paraded what there was of his-or-her talent. About halfway through a panicky youth came running up to our table and begged us to stay to the end "because I'm reading last and haven't got any mates". Needless to say we were happy to oblige - I forget if he justified the wait.

In this business it's devil take the mateless.



I SUPPOSE WE HAVE ALL, or many of us, written unkind reviews in our time. "No Regard for Money is an astonishing title. Money is all these people have. Money is who they are" "All custard and no curry . . ." are uncomfortably remembered ringing condemnations that echo down the years from my youthful assessments of books about horse racing. Nowadays such reviews as I turn in tend to be about books of verse and I would rather not write at all about those I don't like if they are the work of poets as little known as myself, toiling up the lower slopes of recognition, though I'm still happy to kick the shins of the eminent if I think they are being lazily praised elsewhere for their more humdrum efforts, or, more radically, don't deserve their eminence.

 The most damning essay comment of a favourite Latin master in my formative years was a little gravestone he would draw at the end of your paper, bearing the inscription "He tried to be funny". Humour, as well as needing to be humorous, ought to spring from good humour, I feel; where it's tinged with bile, it leaves a sour taste. Just recently I have been thinking of that Latin master, having for some reason been drawn back to Horace, a particular favourite of his, and the other day came across Harry Eyres's book Horace and Me, describing his own rapprochement with the great Roman. Fortunately I had read the book before stumbling across Peter Conrad's overtly bilious Observer review. The very first words "Harry and Horry have been chums for yonks" give you the tone, and the next four "They bonded at Eton . ." reveal the source of the animus. It is odd to find an academic who arrived on England's green and pleasant shores with a top-persons' Rhodes Scholarship and has taught for most of his life at Christ Church, one of the poshest Oxford colleges, harbouring such a visceral hatred of toffs, or perhaps that very familiarity has bred contempt, as with A.J.P. Taylor's impish claim that the preponderance of tailors among the early communists may have derived from their professional intimacy with the suit-wearing classes.

Conrad rehearses his Harry and Horry joke, hardly a belly-laugh first time round, again and again, like a desperate comedian who knows he's losing his audience. Clive James he is not. And where humour fails him he stoops to dishonesty. Here is the second half of a particularly noxious paragraph:

Horace modestly made do with a home brew concocted from local Sabine vines; Eyres is a certified wine snob who, when paternal connections got him a job as an appraiser at Christie's, catalogued some bottles being auctioned at the behest of the needy Princess Margaret as "a medley of old bin-ends". Who after all were these jumped-up Hanoverians? Eyres himself, he informs us, is a scion of "the Catholic aristocracy".

It would be quite hard to pack so much misdirection into five lines if you were doing it as an exercise. Horace was rather proud of his estate's Sabine vin ordinaire, but elsewhere shows he appreciates fine wines too ('home brew' and 'concocted' are of course intended to make the poet sound more a man of the people, fooling around with barrels in the garage). Eyres is a 'wine snob' in the same sense that Conrad is a literature snob: he knows his stuff and is a professional wine writer, but throughout his book he also shows a ready enjoyment of local wines drunk locally. "Paternal connections got him a job . . . at Christie's" chooses not to mention that Philip Eyres was a wine merchant who had taken young Harry with him on wine tasting trips since he was a teenager, or that a slightly older Harry twice "managed to win the individual prize in the Oxford versus Cambridge blind-tasting competition, the so-called bibbers' boat race", or that before being taken on by Christie's he was already working as wine controller at the Tate Gallery restaurant. What Eyres actually says about 'paternal connections' is "my father got wind of a possible job as a junior expert at Christie's wine department", a post for which he was clearly more than qualified, but Conrad wants to give us the impression, no, actually states (on what grounds?) that he was privileged into it. Finally the nonsense about "jumped-up Hanoverians" depends on the lie that follows it. Eyres actually says "The blood of true-blue Catholicism ran nowhere in my veins" (his mother was a convert and his father non-practising C of E) and elsewhere puts himself on "the rung the Old Etonian socialist writer George Orwell identified with comic precision as lower-upper-middle class", not a towering height from which to look down on the House of Hanover. The Observer in fact had to retract this silly slur, along with another more distasteful one, on Conrad's behalf.

Dishonesty and mendacity are not obvious qualifications for poetry reviewing but Conrad doesn't have much of an ear either, it would appear. He laments, not unreasonably, that "it's hard to judge the claims Eyres makes for the Latin poems, because our access to them is through his own slangy translations", leaving it unclear whether the original Latin (readily available on the internet of course) would have been a huge help to the learned Tasmanian. But when he takes issue with Harry's "What beautiful boy drenched / in Pour Homme . . ." for the opening of Odes 1.5 - 'Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa / perfusus liquidis urget odoribus'- seeming to prefer Milton's pedestrian "What slender youth, bedewed with liquid odours" it's presumably just that literature snob poking through.


Dr Bean



ON THIS DAY when the Scots peer into the abyss and either plunge in or leap back from it, hard not to be thinking about nationality and belonging. It is something of a commonplace to say that the English have a less robust sense of Englishness than in days of yore. We (generalisations of this kind tend to begin 'we') certainly no longer profess the slightly aggressive/defensive Fortress Island, Hearts of Oak attitude that saw off tangible invasion threats from the Duke of Medina Sidonia and Napoleon Bonaparte and resurfaced to an extent in the Second World War. The bonhomous-to-a-fault figure of John Bull, portly, rubicund, plucky when roused, but happier with a pork pie and a pint of wallop than a musket, has also marched into history. So what have we now? The ersatz media-stoked lets-all-get-behind sleek Lord Coe and Team GB is not especially enticing to those of us indifferent to team sports. I (to drop the 'we') actually quite enjoy a good game of international football if that's what's on the menu in a friend's house (no telly in ours) and the beers are cold, but I'm inclined to root for the team playing with the most flamboyance and flair, regardless of who they are and who they are facing. It also doesn't help those of us living in 'Abroad', that the pan-European paradigmatic image of the travelling Englishman is no longer the haughty milord with his insufferable wife and careful French, but the even less attractive monoglot shirtless vomiter or vomitress of the blighted resorts of Corfu and Spain.

 What of attachment to a plot of earth, terra, terroir? When I see how literally grounded the magnificent edifice of Seamus Heaney's work is in Mossbawn-and-all that, not just the landscape and flora and fauna, the relished names of towns and villages, the people, but the actual soil of the country round Lough Neagh, I am abashed. I cannot even say I am envious, having nothing of the kind in my life which would help me to identify with it. I was brought up in Kent, 'the garden of England', an over-tidy county of hops and apples and converted oast houses, but neither of my parents came from round there, and I grew no roots. If anything the North Norfolk coast, where we spent our summer holidays, comes closer to being a place of the heart: Nelson country - his father was rector of nearby Burnham Thorpe - and all the pubs are called 'The Hero', 'The Victory', 'The Admiral Nelson'. But though we were no doubt as happy there as Virginia Woolf at St.Ives, I've no great desire to go back, more than to Burgundy, say, or Paris, or various addresses in south-west France, where I've never lived for more than ten days at a stretch, but always felt at home. At least half of my adult life has been spent in Italy, as much by accident as by design, where I could say like Byron in a letter to the Pisan authorities, threatening to withdraw his custom, as it were, I am "content where I am, but able to live in another country". I speak (accented) Italian and read it comfortably, and French more or less, and my Polish compagna and I speak Italian at home (her English is improving, my Polish, not), but my intellectual life is lived perforce in English - as others in the business will know, a translator's battles are primarily with his or her own language.

Patrick McGuinness, in a brief blurb to my book, says I'm a "mix of Englishness and jaded Europeanism" - the Englishness, as I've said, is really no more than what I carry with me; as to the Europeanism, I might take exception to 'jaded' - I don't feel jaded, from 'jade (2)' 'an old or worn-out horse' - but here I am, cropping the thin Veneto grass, where it can be found not tarred over, and vaguely wishing it were French. Not much of a grounding for a cathedral of great work, you might think. Seamus had it easy.


JUST BACK HOME after a spell in Mestre's swish Ospedale all'Angelo, all steel and glass and trees in the huge atrium (but no Wifi), after some spectacularly gruesome haemorrhaging three weeks ago exactly. A curious experience, losing masses of blood: twice in the hospital I had precipitous dives in blood pressure, my vision seeming to be veiled in white gauze, scurrying nurses whacking up something strong and intravenous (the first time I confess I thought I was on the way out), and of course bag after bag of strangers' blood, so that I'm now practically more them than me - will it affect how I write? If so, let it be for the better: surely I deserve a break. Every morning up to eight surgeons would file into the room and line up along the wall. Usually only the senior present would speak, and being the senior, sometimes without a firm grasp of my particular case, one, resembling the young Riccardo Muti, haranguing me about my future cancer check-up programme, which, while doubtless important, wasn't uppermost on my mind right then. It took them about a week to staunch the flow, by which time I'd shed another stone to go with the one I'd lost while unwell at home for the previous couple of months. A very wispy waif emerges from the shower now to confront himself in the bathroom mirror, all skinny about the upper arms and shoulders: I could be a poster for a Feed Hungry Poets campaign. None of the white coats made any bones about the radiotherapy I had received in that very hospital being very likely the cause of my parlous state. The cure kills. I hadn't been very keen on the idea myself, nor had it been envisaged in England, where my original tumour was removed, but I didn't want to be the arrogant foreigner saying "We do it this way" and failed to ring the surgeon in Hampshire to get his reasons for not recommending it, which might have strengthened my hand. So, a bit of diffidence and the lack of a telephone call, and the rest of my life is blighted to an extent yet to be revealed. On such small things . . .

 Do I stick pins in a small wax model of the oncologist? No, one has to imagine she was doing her best, as she saw it. And after all I'm still here. For the time being.

I'll try to post something merrier next time.



YOU COULDN'T MAKE IT UP. It has emerged from an ownership dispute over one of Damien Hirst's 'spot paintings', that these great masterpieces are valueless without an accompanying certificate. Well, there's a thing. Or rather, here's the thing - a handsome certificate, a tad more interesting as an artwork than the mildly decorative wrapping-paper pattern it certifies, one might think.



Surely this is the way forward for England's Greatest Living Artist and his discerning collectors. Why bother with the daub when you can have the certificate? The original owner of the disputed piece, Jamie Ritblat, on whose walls the coloured balls were painstakingly etched by Hirst's tireless assistants, at the behest, and expense, of his parents, 'well-known patrons of the arts', Sir John and Lady Ritblat, has himself declared that, certificateless, it is no more than a "valueless bunch of multi-coloured spots". Far be it from me to disagree.

But this is a principle that could profitably be extended - to all artists. Instead of having to drum up large sums of money, public and private, to save great masterpieces for the nation, their certificates could be freely exported to adorn the walls of costive millionaires in far-flung places, while the dreary old pictures remained on public display. Of course, Rembrandt, say, does not enjoy the alert protection of Science Ltd, Hirst's certificate-emitters, but doubtless flame-guarding committees could be set up, chaired by Philip Mould, in most cases.

From a "valueless bunch of multi-coloured" acorns, great oaks may grow. Nice for Mr Hirst, too, to make a lasting contribution to British art.


ANY OF YOU WHO HAVE NOT READ "How Anne Sexton won the Pulitzer Prize" on the Poetry Foundation website, ought not to miss it. At the very least it will provide reassurance or, as it may be, hope, to those of you who feel you should have won, or should soon win, a major prize. The story is well and succinctly told there by David Trinidad, but, very briefly, two of the judges, Phyllis McGinley and Louis Simpson, strongly felt the 1967 award should go posthumously to Theodore Roethke for his Collected Poems. That might have been the end of it, but the third judge, Richard Eberhart, thought it should go instead to a living poet who could benefit from it, and dug his toes in (this proviso, though not in the rules, also did for Sylvia Plath's Ariel). After much toing and froing the three judges drew up a list of their top five candidates. Anne Sexton's was the only name on all three lists, though last on two of them (McGinley had her second), and she duly got the award. To the extent that the Pulitzer Prize was career-making for Sexton, Eberhart's generosity of spirit was thus justified, but she has to go down as something of a lucky winner.

Of course, we have all long known or suspected that there is a lottery element in prize-giving. A friend of mine was a Booker judge some years back and she told me how a too-early too-strong move of support for one title in her year caused a sort of backlash and, amid scenes reminiscent of Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men, the prize went at the eleventh hour to a book that everyone had liked up to a point but was no-one's first choice.

I have wondered for some years (since reviewing an Italian translation) how Carol Ann Duffy's Rapture, surely the worst book ever written by a good poet, came to win the 2005 T.S.Eliot prize. And it's not just a poor book - "Not quite one of your best, dear" - but an absolute stinker, a sickly love story that reads at times like Barbara Cartland versified - the word 'swoon' appears without apparent jocosity at least twice. It could be taught on Creative Writing courses as an example of How Not To. The judges that year were David Constantine (chair), Kate Clanchy and Jane Draycott, none, so far as I know, prone to excesses of alcoholism or inexplicable fugues. Nor was the list a feeble one: among the nine finalists was David Harsent's Legion, already the winner of the Forward Prize and shortlisted for the Whitbread (although it did not in the event win the latter, possibly the judges thought that for all its merits this was not a three-prize book), Alice Oswald's Woods etc (she was perhaps compromised by having taken the award only three years earlier with Dart), Helen Farish's Intimates, winner of the Forward Best First Collection Prize, and collections by Polly Clark, Pascale Petit, John Stammers, and Gerald Woodward. Pointless to ask how many of these were indisputably better than Rapture - all books are better than Rapture. I have kept for last Sinéad Morrissey's The State of the Prisons (Carcanet), the stand-out candidate (if you accept the caveats re Harsent and Oswald) - so much so that the mystery is more 'why not Morrissey?' than 'why Duffy'. Ms Morrissey had already been shortlisted for her previous collection Between Here and There and would be again for her next Through the Square Window, finally winning the Prize in 2013 with Parallax. She ought to have been a shoo-in.

So, what happened? Surely there is no significance in Constantine having recently left Carcanet for Comma (at whose instance I do not know), or in Clanchy sharing a publisher with Duffy? I would rather take the positive line: a total impasse (à la Pulitzer) being broken by "Oh well then, let's give it to Carol: she's been going through a hard time lately". But it would be nice to know. If Constantine, Clanchy and Draycott still feel that delicacy binds them to silence, a decade on, will they at least write up their deliberations for posterity?



I CAN'T EVEN REMEMBER, conveniently no doubt, if I resolved to do, or refrain from doing, anything at the last turn of the year. It's usually something along the lines of sending more (or any) stuff off to competitions, or magazines that pay (if there are such, other than Poetry) - which really comes down to writing more, as most of either demand exclusivity, at least for a month or few. If that was my ambition last January, I have failed miserably: I find the 2013 folder, on rien ne va plus, contains at most eight publishable new poems, one réchauffé old one and two translations. One of these last and two of the original poems did go to competitions, to resounding silence, though a lone survivor's still out there. It won't do, says my inner schoolmaster, swishing the legendary White Cane, must try harder. So there you have it: same again, will try harder, aim say at not less than one a month (not counting translations), which would just about make a book every five years or so (more would be irresponsible in a crowded world). What else? Try to think of something to say here more often, again once a month at least. No point making behavioural promises: most of the sins I might commit are off the table just at the moment. But I do mean to have a Shelley year. The house where I am staying, for reasons of hospital adjacency, with my ancient ma, contains, bookwise, only bindings-by-the-yard that my late father bought, so far as I can tell regardless of content, but they do include a beautiful set of the 1880 eight-volume Buxton Forman Works of PBS in Verse and Prose. What better incentive to full immersion? In fact, as I am less than half way through Richard Burton's massive life of Basil Bunting (A Strong Song Tows Us, 527pp + notes), with all the sending back to the poems that doing it justice entails, it will have to be a Bunting year as well. An interesting head-to-head, don't you think? Here's an opening moany skirmish:


There was a Poet whose untimely tomb

No human hands with pious reverence reared,

But the charmed eddies of autumnal winds

Built o'er his mouldering bones a pyramid

Of mouldering leaves in the waste wilderness: -

A lovely youth, - no mourning maiden decked

With weeping flowers, or votive cypress wreath,

The lone couch of his everlasting sleep: -

Gentle, and brave, and generous, - no lorn bard

Breathed o'er his dark fate one melodious sigh:

He lived, he died, he sung, in solitude.

Strangers have wept to hear his passionate notes,

And virgins, as unknown he past, have pined

And wasted for fond love of his wild eyes.

The fire of those soft orbs has ceased to burn,

And Silence, too enamoured of that voice,

Locks its mute music in her rugged cell.


Poet appointed dare not decline

to walk among the bogus, nothing to authenticate

the mission imposed, despised

by toadies, confidence men, kept boys,

shopped and jailed, cleaned out by whores,

touching acquaintance for food and tobacco.

Secret, solitary, a spy, he gauges

lines of a Flemish horse

hauling beer, the angle, obtuse,

a slut's blouse draws on her chest,

counts beat against beat, bus conductor

against engine against wheels against

the pedal, Tottenham Court Road, decodes

thunder, scans

porridge bubbling, pipes clanking, feels

Buddha's basalt cheek

but cannot name the ratio of its curves

to the half-pint

left breast of a girl who bared it in Kleinfeldt's.

He lies with one to long for another,

sick, self maimed, self hating,

obstinate, mating

beauty with squalor to beget lines still-born.


Scotswood 1, Horsham 0


THE VENICE FILM FESTIVAL has brought its annual orgy of cinema-going: seven films this week (I realise that's nothing compared to the pros, but I'm supposed to be enjoying myself) and none, so far, that I'd queue to see again, unless they be Jordi Torrent's La Redempció dels Peixos, not least on the grounds that it contains my whole celluloid career (a non-speaking 30 seconds), and perhaps John Krokidas's Kill Your Darlings, about the early days of the Beats, specifically Burroughs, Ginsberg, and Kerouac, at Columbia. I confess to never having been a Beatist, finding the épater-ing of the borgeoisie finally tiresome, or at least insufficient, and Howl absurdly overrated (is there any reason, for example, to suppose that Ginsberg was sufficiently eclectic and well-informed to be able to identify the 'best minds' of his generation? That 'dawn' too is a lazy poeticism not saved by 'negro streets' . . . and I haven't exhausted the weaknesses of the opening sentence). Besides, the revision-denying 'first thought, best thought' is not, to my mind, a reliable artistic maxim. None the less the film is interesting in its portrayal of the importance of Lucien Carr (the original dedicatee of Howl), the enabler who brought the three together, though his own brilliance proved ephemeral. One could assemble a collection of these characters thought by their contemporaries (for a while) to be 'the brightest and the best' - Harold Acton at Oxford in the twenties is another that springs to mind, not that his later histories were negligible, though his poetry was dire. Carr dropped out of the scene after his imprisonment for the killing of his stalker and/or lover, David Kammerer, in circumstances that will never be fully clarified (the film even-handedly takes only a semi-exculpatory line). Rather to my surprise it was Burroughs that emerged as the most impressive figure, whether by his own merits or those of his portrayal by Ben Foster or by the directorial helping hand of Krokidas, I do not know, but I will revisit his life-and-works to find out. His singleminded commitment to futility (mainly in the form of 'junk') was in the end more convincing than the posturing of Ginsberg and Kerouac. Of course Burroughs was no stranger himself to killing. He was later to claim, in fact, that his accidental 'William Tell' shooting of Joan Vollmer was what drove him to write. I don't think this quite works historically, but our own myths no more need to be true to be useful than those of the Greeks.


Burroughs, Carr, Ginsberg



THE SADNESS OF ANIMALS has finally garnered a UK review (there was one some time ago in an Italian mag), not unfavourable, from Rob Mackenzie in the current (Summer 2013) number of the Poetry Review. No complaints, but I'm curious about RMcK's second sentence, which begins: "Readers who demand narrative arc or thematic unity may feel disappointed . ." Leaving aside that 'demand' (Who do they think they are?), does anyone, any reader or casual passer-by idly soiling the pages at the poetry counter, desire, even faintly, let alone demand 'narrative arc or thematic unity'? This 'arc' business is a very recent invention, presumably emanating from the Creative Writing courses, in that it is something that can, one would imagine, be taught, unlike, perhaps. other skills, more vital to poetry. Has it so soon become something the reader expects, demands? Kay Ryan has a piece on the Poetry Foundation sìte "I go to AWP" (Association of Writers and Writing Programs, who hold a peripatetic annual conference where Creative Imparters gather), in which she pokes a little mild fun at the concept:


There's lots of relaxed book chat. Major talks about not yet feeling he has an arc for his new book. (What is an arc? Dorianne explains that this is a term current in creative writing circles and refers to a shape the whole book of poems should ideally have, like a narrative arc, as I understand it, and forgive me if I have this wrong.) Already it is coming to me why I don't have more of this camaraderie; just the thought of vogue shapes for poetry books oppresses like cathedral tunes.

   I think, speaking purely for myself, I am actually opposed to themed books, which surely militate against surprise. There is something rather limiting and depressing about "all these poems were written during Jim's residency at Regina Coeli and speak with the voices of the mafiosi he worked with there". Nothing wrong with a clutch of gangsta ghazals, but a whole book of them? I prefer to have no idea what the turned page may bring. And it seems to be the case, from the correspondence of the big hitters of the 20th century, that they just stacked up poems of any shape or size until they had enough for a book. I suppose the Dream Songs could be a counter example, but aren't all the voices Berryman's? Of course. a theme is not essential to an arc, which might be more in the nature of a 'vogue shape', as Ryan has it (What does she mean, though, by 'cathedral tunes'? The phrase brings to my mind a candlelit Nunc Dimittis rather than anything more oppressive). My own shaping is likely to be limited to keeping a distance between similar thoughts or turns of phrase, starting on a strong note - always supposing we are capable of recognising that any of our babies are less robust than their siblings - and not ending on a whimper. As to others' procedures, I rarely, if ever, read a book of poetry sequentially, so their careful arcing is likely to be lost on me.

Rob MacKenzie's own most recent publication is Fleck and the Bank (Salt) which treats entirely of one Fleck, in Customer Service at an unnamed (so far as I remember) bank, so he may be parti pris, but to be fair, the sentence I quoted at the outset continues "but I don't see any reason why a poetry book can't simply be a 'best of . . .'.

Nor do I.


I SEE THAT John Burnside's T.S.Eliot Prize was only five postings ago, and here we are again. Still, no point shouting if you have nothing to shout about. This time around it's Sharon Olds who trousers the cash. No one could say she hasn't written some memorable poems in her time, especially if sex and body fluids are your thing ('unflinching' and 'visceral' being the usual line of review adjectives). She has, more or less single-handedly, kept the confessional mode respectable over the last couple of decades, long after what one might have hoped was its sell-by date, not that others haven't been at it, but she is a better poet than they are. My own preferred candidate, Kathleen Jamie, remains a bridesmaid for the fourth time. You do sometimes wonder, ungallantly - well, maybe you don't, but I do - whether extraneous factors might sometimes weigh with the judges, such as that it might be thought necessary for the prize's status that it be given quite regularly to a poet with a big international reputation, so as not to seem parochial. On the other hand Derek Walcott was the laureate only two years back, so that oughtn't to have been a pressing consideration quite so soon: we must assume that the judges simply thought Olds's the best collection. Most of the poems in
Stag's Leap, she has said, were written fifteen years ago, viscerally and unflinchingly, in the turmoil of the break-up of her marriage, but kept back out of consideration for the children of that union. We have been here before, of course: the 1998 winner, Ted Hughes's grossly hyped Birthday Letters was a similarly delayed reaction, at least as far as publication was concerned. Better than either in my unhumble opinion (though to be fair, I've only perused bits and pieces of Stag's Leap, and my half-read Birthday Letters is probably still behind the chest of drawers in Battersea where I threw it all those years ago) was George Macbeth's visceral but flinching letting-off-steam Anatomy of a Divorce (1988), written after Lisa St Aubin de Teran had bolted, not for the first or the last time. Macbeth's poetry generally suffers from an excess of blood and bone which doesn't always seemed to be backed with enough real, or convincingly counterfeited, emotion, but this time the bitterness was there all right, and it shows. Copies can be obtained at low prices here and there on the net.


Recommended: Kathleen Jamie - The Overhaul (Picador); George Macbeth - Anatomy of a Divorce (Huthinson: out of print but around secondhand)

Dissed: Ted Hughes - Birthday Letters (Faber - and all good charity shops)

Take-it-or-leave-it: Sharon Olds - Stag's Leap (Cape)



THE SOLEMN AND SALUTARY year-end exercise of 'numbering the dead'. Wikipedia has a useful facility listing the deaths by month: naturally these are the Wikidead, those who for some reason or other are in Wikipedia in the first place - with the exception of a few who have achieved a sad and transitory fame by the fact of their dying: 12-year-old Tia Sharp, for example, apparently murdered by her grandmother's (formerly mother's) lover, a creature lower than the cockroaches underserving of even the trivial memorial of being named here. Of course the Wikidead include a touching excess of dim and forgotten sportspersons, but other categories are surprisingly salient: 'voice actors' repeatedly caught my eye; you would have thought that the very nature of their calling would virtually preclude celebrity, but perhaps they have a champion at the central office of the Voice Actors Association (if such there be), tirelessly putting up Wikipages for them. Their presumably physically undemanding choice of career does on the whole appear to have procured for them a satisfying longevity. Not so, pornographic movie 'stars', who seem to drop, or leap, off their perches early; unprotected sex with every shape and phylum would go, one imagines, with the territory - be, indeed, the territory. The surprise is rather that they were Wikied in the first place. A large proportion of the prematurely reaped (incidentally themselves a very small minority in these medicined times) have gone via the route of good old-fashioned car-crashes, or in the faintly odd Wikiformulation 'traffic collisions'. Causes of death are by no means always given, which is a pity, as poignant or interesting stories are suggested by, say, the Norwegian mathematician drowned at 74, the Princess falling from a window, the journalist into a ravine. Some names induce a jolt of regret, followed by a mild wonder that they were still with us: Leonard Rosoman, for example, whose dustjackets were so much a feature, even emblem, of was it the sixties?

 Sad to see that none of the (wide) coverage of Maurice Sendak's demise saw fit to mention his work with Randall Jarrell (The Bat Poet in particular). But so to the poets: the myth of early romantic death is no doubt founded on that clutch of nineteenth century early-exiters Keats, Shelley and Byron, and enjoyed a comeback with the premature retirements imposed by the First World War (and to a much lesser extent, the Second) or sought by the drunkards of the subsequent decades, but was never the norm: Wordsworth after all was born well before the first group, and comfortably outlived them. Tennyson made it into his eighties, Browning nearly as far . . . Early this year we lost both Adrienne Rich and Wyslawa Szymborska (the first six months were also a risky time to be a Polish bishop), and both had had a good innings (Rich, aetas 82, Szymborska 88). Rich's poetry to my mind deteriorated as her commitment grew. The to-have volume is Collected Early Poems 1950-1970; there is nothing of the quality of, say, 'Mourning Picture', in her later stuff, which often veered towards rather self-righteous-sounding prose chopped up to look like poetry. Szymborska is always fun to read, sharp and whimsical and witty, though I think her best friends would not describe her as mistress of the singing line. My Polish is crap, but I can just about pronounce it, haltingly, and I find that soundwise Milosz, for one, has her beat.

  For some reason, though, the death that saddened me most this year was Whitney Houston's, the wasteful cliché of the drugs and the abusive husband being so evitable in her case: by no means the poor waif from the wrong side of the tracks, she was born into a showbiz family and should have been up to riding the perils of fame. In fact she was apparently quite the 'good girl' on the circuit until, quite suddenly, it all went wrong: beautiful, talented, immensely successful, and drowned, out of her brain, in a hotel bath, at 48. RIP.



waiting for the first woman to love.
The sea is a beautiful fleshly woman
waiting for the first man so that together
they can change into a poem full of blood
spilling onto the whiteness of a sheet.


You might things could get no worse, but I click on another little upside-down bishop, and find:

i write to the beat drums of runaway slaves
engrave in the ecthings of oaktrees
so even when time pass we last like classic oldies
weathering the elements
i write for the essence of soul
for the old
cuz experience is wisdom and wisdom is gold
i write for the gorillas in the congos
for the nomads in the jungles following the rythm of the bongos

I am playing with the Guardian's 'interactive map' of Simon Armitage's great international jamboree 'Poetry Parnassus', 145 poets from as many nations piping their stuff week-long at the Southbank Centre. One might hope that something is being lost in translation, but the second piece seems to have been written in English, or some remote cousin of it. No doubt the pleasing 'ecthings' is just a typo, but I prefer to think of it as I hybrid neologism along the lines of eccrisis: expulsion of waste or abnormal matter (Greek ekkrisis, secretion, from ek, out, and crisis, separation). Who knows by what criteria the bards were selected, though you pray it's not merit: if all this waste or abnormal matter represents the acme of international achievement, poetry might profitably fold its wings and regroup for a decade. But perhaps 'international' is the key word here (the accompanying anthology is titled 'The World Record: International Voices from Poetry Parnassus', edited by Neil Astley and Anna Selby, published by Bloodaxe Books and Southbank Centre at £10 - but wait for the tsunami of discarded copies to hit the charity shops in time for Christmas). International voices are high on earnestness, low on humour and given to repetition. In translation at least, chopped prose rules. Many worthy actions, frequently involving the dead, are performed in the first person and the present tense. No one seems very happy with their lot, in spite of being flown to London at the taxpayer's expense. But I don't want to be too Eeyoreish about all this: surely a good time was had by all, and if you persist with the interactivity the odd nugget or ecthing does emerge. Here is Brazil's Paolo Henriques Britto:

Quasi Sonnet

There is nothing that leads to nothing.
Even to sit in a room, quiet and nude
as Blaise Pascal, will have some effect

on Tanzania maybe, or on New Guinea,
just as the beating wings of a lepidopter -
according to the proverb about butterflies in Peru -

could incite a tidal wave in Shanghai,
or knock down an Iraqi helicopter.

And so we become ourselves, hypocrite lecteur,
at the very least accomplices, you and I.

Translated from the Portuguese by Idra Novey


FOR THE LAST THREE WEEKS, exactly today, I've been on the shortlist of a prestigious competition. We are not allowed to know the identity of the judge, lest we kidnap his-or-her children or send ingratiating magnums of Veuve Cliquot, according to bent, so we have no means of assessing our chance. All I know is that there are eight others out there picking their cuticles and checking their emails a little too often. Probably like me they are feigning insouciance. Probably they too resolved to tell nobody and ended up confiding in almost everybody - "Your love is a secret all over the block" in Leonard Cohen's memorable words. Would it change anything, anyway? I could certainly find a use for the cash just now, but that apart, just how important is publication by a known house, the cachet 'award-winning'? Quite helpful I would imagine, but most no doubt depends on what you make of it. Just as the top jockeys get the best rides, which helps them to remain top jockeys, so the famous bards sell the most books, which helps them to remain famous bards. To break into that charmed circle you need at the very least luck with reviews and a punishing schedule of public appearances (always assuming anyone wants you to make any). I have this vision of hundreds, thousands, of indistinct scurrying creatures pushing and clambering over one another in the dark cave of oblivion, struggling up towards a pinprick of light. Many are called but very, very few are chosen. And some of the chosen are rotten poets anyway, swollen boils waiting only for the lancing of history, the Hirsts of verse. Quite possibly too some of the motionless corpses trampled by the straining horde are forever-to-be-unrecognised Shelleys. I have a small circle (ten I would guess, at most) of assiduous readers who are really, keenly, interested in what I do. And I enjoy it myself, I have to confess. Shouldn't that be enough? It is enough. It is not enough . . . 7.04.2012


SO, WITH THE HANDING OVER of the T.S.Eliot Prize to John Burnside, all the fuss and pother is over. The winner immediately endeared himself to the teeming poetry public by stating 1) that his own animus was rather directed against financial institutions that don't support the arts than those that do, and 2) that he could do with the money to replace the roof on his studio, which a gale had run off with. John Kinsella would probably have bought a vegan hot dog van for the St Paul's protestors. Did they have a point, the squeamish pair of flouncer-outers? Who can tell? An unusual aspect of their protest was that they could adduce no reason for it. Alice Oswald first tried "Hedge funds are not obliged to be transparent, so there is little one can find out about their practices". She must have recognized this was a bit feeble, so she had another go: "It [Aurum] doesn't, according to its website, have an ethical policy." Of course, Aurum's website says nothing of the kind. It just lacks a pious mission statement. So does this one. Kinsella at least came up with the memorable "Hedge-funds are at the very pointy end of capitalism", which got one wondering exactly what-shaped instrument capitalism might be, in the Kinsella world view. My own world view is that poets, unless themselves of the cloth, should keep off preaching. Do poets as a species have a superior 'ethical profile' to hedge-fund managers? All those condom-shy Romantic inseminators, Dylan the shirt-stealer, Freddie Prokosch's rather endearing faking of his own Butterfly Books, any amount of day-to-day cliquey log-rolling, some quite recent events. . .? Hush. 




SOME MALIGN GREMLIN, or maybe a thief in the English or Italian postal service earning a fat black market living recycling poetry magazines, is thwarting me of my copies (one as contributor, one as subscriber) of New Walk 3. Of course I am interested in seeing what contemporary poetic gems the editors, Rory Waterman & Nick Everett, mistakenly believe superior to whatever it was of mine they last rejected, but what I am really anxious to peruse is my own extensive interview with Patrick McGuinness. Why? If I want to reread it, I can open my computer at any hour of the day or night. But there is something specifically satisfying in seeing your own words in print, there's no denying it. Perhaps this is what makes folk write to the newspapers, however inadvisedly (see below). I can even trawl quite a distinct pleasure from (occasionally) rereading the glossy articles I used to write, in another life, for The British Racehorse - the typescripts, had I kept them, would not be at all the same thing. It has always seemed to me that 'Why do I publish?' is an altogether different question from 'Why do I write?' though they are often confused. Some poets are, or appear to be, serenely indifferent to publication - John Ashbery, in the introduction to his recent translation of Illuminations notes Rimbaud's 'casual attitude' towards that now acknowledged masterpiece seeing the illumination of day. I have put the former question to fellow scribblers on occasion, but have never really had a satisfactory answer. One rather stuffily, even huffily, replied, "Well, actually, I feel I have something to say". Surely not. Or rather, if so, poetry would be an extraordinarily inefficient way of disseminating it (alas). Is it that the (illusory? - at best chancy) permanence of print is our tiny fingerhold on the cliff of immortality, our feet swinging out over the bottomless pit of merited oblivion, in this faithless age? As long as there's a mouldering bound volume of The British Racehorse from the 1970s still not 'de-accessioned' from some library somewhere, I'm not, not quite, dead and gone? Perhaps I can get Rory and Nick to do a survey . . . (Subscriptions to New Walk from ) 8.11.2011


NOT FAMILIAR ENOUGH with the corridors of power at Caesura House to have a view on the bust-up at the Poetry Society, but isn't it curious how governing organisations, composed of non-participants, sooner or later go to the bad? - football associations, Olympic committees, Fédération Internationale des Echecs (though to be fair to that KGB office-boy Florencio Campomanes, he was no mean player himself, honourably defeated by many famous names, before waking to the higher attractions of graft). . . And you can see how irksome it must be to have to deal with the little people who actually do the stuff, those pesky ivory-pushers and poets with their tiny needs and gripes. 'I control a budget,' you can hear being muttered into expensive office equipment, 'many times what you'll earn in all your born days. I can't spend my time listening to your whining on about travel expenses and who pays for the brandies after dinner'. 'If they can get computers to play world-class chess, surely they can get them to write poems. It can't be that hard - look at the people who do it'. 'And at the end of it all, what? A brass clock and, well, all right, quite sensible pension arrangements (predisposed by myself: no one else would have thought of muggins) while some ghastly little unwashed alcoholic gets a full-page obituary in the Times. . .' 14.09.2011



ONE OF THE MINOR pleasures of my life is rereading the TLS two years or so down the line. I keep back numbers in a box by my desk and every now and then fish a few out from the bottom of the pile to relive old debates or see how many of the books reviewed in the language of the Second Coming have finished in the interim on the remainder tables. I am now at November 2008, which saw a notably ill-judged attack on W.H.Auden and John Ashbery by Jascha Kessler. Mr Kessler's grudge, honed over the decades, is that he (or another of the original shortlist) was cheated of winning the Yale Younger Poets competition by Auden's helping Ashbery to 'run on the inside track'. Ashbery's contained reply in the next issue begins 'Jascha Kessler's letter about W.H.Auden and the Yale Younger Poets Series is seriously delusional'. Ashbery is referring to matters of fact, misrepresented in Kessler's original letter, but of course Kessler is seriously deluded in another sense: he thinks that BUT FOR this malign blow HE WOULD BE ASHBERY, garlanded with fame and prizes, and presumably that Ashbery would be relegated as he is to the shadows of poesy, without so much as a Wikipedia page to his name. Funnily enough, I have come across the same butforist delusion once before, and again involving Auden. Back in the seventies in Florence I bumped into one Joseph Macleod, whose beef (at fate rather than the presumed manoeuvres of the homintern) was that his The Ecliptic was published by Faber and Faber in 1930 at much the same time as Auden's Poems, incidentally in the identical red-ruled pale blue covers. He too believed that BUT FOR this cruel coincidence towering fame would have been his. As it happens, faithful accolytes have provided Mr Macleod (who died in 1984) with a fulsome Wikipedia page, on which the following evidence of his prowess is proudly displayed:

Moonpoison, mullock of sacrifice,

Suffuses the veins of the eyes

Till the retina, mooncoloured,

Sees the sideways motion of the cretin crab

Hued thus like a tortoise askew in the glaucous moonscape

A flat hot boulder it

Lividly in the midst of the Doldrums


The lunatic unable to bear the silent course of constellations

Mad and stark naked


The obol on an eyeball of a man dead from elephantiasis


All three across heaven with a rocking motion.

Joseph Macleod, from 'The Ecliptic' Faber & Faber 1930.

Auden's 'Poems' kicks off with 'Paid on Both Sides: A Charade' which is followed by 30 untitled roman-numbered poems, including 'It was Easter as I walked in the public gardens', & 'This lunar beauty Has no history' & 'Taller today, we remember similar evenings, & 'Consider this and in our time'. . .

Mr Kessler is more than welcome to send me some examples of his own skill to set alongside 'Some Trees'. 15.06.2011


I AM CURRENTLY engaged in a project to get poems into the advertising spaces on the vaporetti here in the watery city, along the lines of the hugely successful 'Poems on the Underground' in London and elsewhere. Why does one want to do this sort of thing? We are inclined, if asked, to say something about trying to 'make poetry more a part of daily life' and it's true that poets do tend to hanker after some imagined Golden Age when wooers slipped their intendeds a sonnet rather than a date rape cocktail, and the king's men conversed naturally in courtly couplets. It is, I suppose, depressing how large a part of the poetry public are producers as well as consumers, or consumers only because producers - an obligatory quid pro quo. One doesn't expect biographies to be read chiefly by biographers, still less novels by novelists, but you can be pretty sure that half or more of the audience at any poetry event will have something tenderly inept in a lined notebook back home, or, worse, in that shoulder-bag . . . So: 'Poesie sul vaporetto'. Will it 'make poetry more part of daily life'? Well, yes, in an absolutely literal sense. Increase poetry sales? Possibly. Be a showcase for my own huge talent? No - if only because I don't appear ever to have written anything as short as eight lines long, our limit for legibility in the spaces available. Some of these and similar weighty questions will be answered in due course on the website which right now contains little more than a picture of a vaporetto, but I'm working on that too.



I GET THE FEELING that the waves of trend are rolling in the Formalists' direction. I've no strong views on the matter myself, other than that pendulums will swing and this one had perhaps swung far enough the other way. Jarrell had it right, as far as I'm concerned: 'It can rhyme if it wants to'. At school, as it happens, I had a great facility for tum-ti-tum-ti-tum-tum, could practically converse in rhyming couplets, and even now could write my emails in alcaics if need be - DEAR GEORGE a LONG TIME / LONG beyond ALL exCUSE JANE HOPES the NEW YEAR / BRING AnatOLE and BRUCE BACK HOME and TALL TREE DRIVE be ONCE MORE FAmily HOLiday ZONE (and NO DOGS!) - which goes to show that Latin metres should be applied sparingly. But here in front of me I have the Able Muse Anthology, which declares itself 'The best of the first decade' of the online metrical mag, with a foreword by Timothy Steele, the 'captain, my captain' of New Form. It also contains an interview with the well-tempered Steele, conducted in then-what-didst-thou-o-great-one style by Kevin Durkin. Re the Master's 'Fae', the fawning Kevin opines in his intro 'Re-reading this poem at home . . . I realized with pleasure that Steele had captured quite a lot about life in Los Angeles in just twenty-one flawless lines of verse'. Here are all flawless 21 of them:


I bring Fae flowers. When I cross the street,

She meets and gives me lemons from her tree.

As if competitors in a Grand Prix,

The cars that speed past threaten to defeat

The sharing of our gardens and our labors.

Their automotive moral seems to be

That hell-for-leather traffic makes good neighbours.


Ten years a widow, standing at her gate,

She speaks of friends, her cat's trip to the vet,

A grandchild's struggle with the alphabet.

I conversationally reciprocate

With talk of work at school, not deep, not meaty.

Before I leave we study and regret

Her alley's newest samples of graffiti.


Then back across with caution: to enjoy

Fae's lemons, it's essential I survive

Lemons that fellow Angelenos drive.

She's eighty-two; at forty, I'm a boy.

She waves goodbye to me with her bouquet.

This place was beanfields back in '35

When she moved with her husband to L.A.


I'm happy to acknowledge this is a pretty good poem, but 'flawless', Kevin? There are two very bad lines (3 & 11, the latter particularly hideous and clearly dragged in solely for the metrical scheme: 'I talk of work at school . . ,' would be more natural), and one clunking Redundant Second Adjective (the bane of formal verse) in l.12. The nod to Frost in line 7 is harmless but hardly warrants 'The allusion certainly wasn't hard to detect, but how cleverly it had been deployed' - all it does is say 'I've read Frost'; nothing in 'Mending Wall' is of relevance here. 'She meets and gives me lemons' is an inelegant solecism. Finally (and this, I confess, is nitpicky) the comma at the end of line 8 lets in the ludicrous possibility that poor Fae has been standing ten years at her gate. As I say, by no means a bad poem, which closes well, but if this is the pinnacle of New Formality, the O'Harans won't be running scared. 30.3.2011

DO YOU REMEMBER how 'Three Dimensional Chess', during its brief vogue, was not on the whole played by great eggheads who had exhausted the possibilities of the regular game? Those who can, do; those who can't, experiment. 18.10.2010

THE LATEST ISSUE of the online poetry magazine The Bow-Wow Shop (no.6: ), hosts a debate, or the rudiments of a shouting match, on the merits of competitions. The fellow who has done best by them, James Sutherland-Smith, thinks they are quite a good thing. Others, less prized, prize them less. One contributor thinks a straightjacket of 42 lines or fewer an infringement of the Rights of Man, another is worried that not enough lolly is thrown at very short poems. Judith Palmer, representing the Poetry Society, which runs the National Poetry Competition, comes on at the close like Graham Chapman winding up a Monty Python sketch, the only sober woman at drinking-up time, a glass of clear Malvern Water after some pretty muddy ales. Notwithstanding my own lamentable record (from relatively few attempts), it seems to me churlish to deny that competitions are Ladders and not Snakes, and therefore to be welcomed. Needless to say there are beardy-weirdies of both sexes ready to opine that 'experimental' work goes too generally ungarlanded and that more, or all, contests ought to be judged by J.H.Prynne. Prynne's own efforts read to me like relatively standard stuff with half the nouns and adjectives replaced, following some arcane numerical grid, by others chosen by a pin from the dictionary, but for all I know he reads Keats at home. Revolutionaries, if such he be, often have quite homely tastes at twilight. None the less I would guess that sooner or later some Saatchi of vers libre will modestly, or more probably immodestly, fund a Turner Prize of poetry and wondrous things will be illumined by it. In the meantime, that most judges are inclined to reward what most readers find rewarding, is hardly cause to cry scandal.


COMING UP FOR A MONTH since I wrote the last lyric I was happy with. The fear of drying up I know to be widely shared by poets - though not by all: I have a friend who (like Auden) goes to his desk every morning come what may, and stays there until lunchtime. What emerges of course may not be verse, or publishable, but the effort has been made. Others of us, more of the standing-around-waiting-for-lightning-to-strike tendency, have honed various strategies for nudging Fulgora's beefy arm. 

Hugo Williams in one of his Freelance columns described having recourse to rewriting in different words the last decent thing he'd done, which led to a whole suite of 'variations on a theme by HW'. Free translation can take you after repeated revision to something unrecognisably far from the original: Robert Lowell claimed in a letter 'I began 'Skunk Hour' as a loose rendering of Holderin's 'Brot', and heaping on the Maine scenery', not a connection that leaps to mind on reading his poem, or Holderin's. You can see both John Tranter and I taking considerable liberties with one of Callimachus's Epigrams on the Translation page. In a like vein Hugh Tolhurst has done things with Catullus, and Dan Chiasson with Horace, which would have startled the Romans. Tranter has also written pieces with line endings or beginnings lifted from others' poems; his riff on Dover Beach, 'Grover Leach', being a particularly choice example. Another trick quite widely employed (including, once, by me) is 'Poem Beginning with a Line by..'. Here is the aforementioned Dan Chiasson's  'Poem Beginning with a Line from Frost'

as if regret were in it and were sacred

as if regret itself were a river and want


that was the source of the river flowed

through the river, more and more the more


the river thickened towards the boring lake

where what stirred once went terribly quiet.


This is indistinguishable from happiness.

This standing water was a mindful current once.


Once was a mindful current: now leaden, still;

it is ourselves we most resemble, now. Now


the maples that had been nowhere gather. When

we look down what we look down on is our own.



TO WHICH I MIGHT ADD this bracing thought from Jim Behrle: Ultimately, you are responsible for your own obscurity as an artist, and you have only yourself to blame if no one knows who you are.



ALL DAY OUTSIDE MY WINDOW I hear the sandolista hawking his rides: 'Nice gondola tour! Only way to see the small canals!' And I like to imagine a world where the poets too go about touting their product with half-truths (half-truths because his boat is, in fact, a sandolo, and if it is true that some things can be seen only, or at least best, from the water, it's also the case that small canals have a habit of being traversed by small bridges, with obligatory artist and easel). 'Sad and angry consolations!' (GH), 'Hotline to the emotions!' (AM), 'Rubbish bins and rawl-plugs!' (AB), 'Easier than the Times crossword, and more melodic!' - not so much a half-truth that, as a whole truth in (possibly) half the cases. Never has it been easier (or cheaper) to produce a physical book(let) - I could do a fair job, with a nice bit of hand-stitching, without leaving this room - and the presses are legion. But getting folk to buy the stuff? Or read it even... Joseph Rykwert told me a nice story about Sacha Guitry taking to a dinner an inscribed copy of his latest play as a present for his hosts, only to find it a few weeks later at a bouquiniste along the Seine. Invited back to the same house, he took it again, adding 'J'insiste' to the inscription. Insistons.    2.8.2010

'this room'

MORE OF SAME. It didn't really require the silly antics of Paula Claire to reduce the Oxford shoo-in to a bathetic farce, but we got them anyway. This soi-disant poetess objected to being described on some candidates' list as a 'performer and artist', for all that her own website - - offers no support for the supposition that she can write poems. There seem to be exhibitionists beyond numbering out there who think that standing on their heads and chanting the Bible backwards is 'pushing back the boundaries of poetry', or some such guff. But calling all colours red is not brave and adventurous, it just means the rest of us have to think up new words for redness. It may well be of course that flouncing out of the contest was no more than a cynical manoeuvre to extract more flattering publicity from a débacle than could be milked from coming seventh of six. Either way, it's a pity for those of us who would have liked to have cheered, say (at random), Sharon Olds or Marilyn Hacker up the finishing straight, to have had to watch the Sisters disgrace themselves twice in a twelvemonth, in the same race.   14.7.2010

HELLFIRE FOGY bags Oxford chair! Why? Well the short answer is that none of the other candidates was plausible, but where was, say, John Fuller? Michael Schmidt? Any number of Americans?


Hellfire Fogy in the wild Posted @ 21:14:35 on 12 July 2010