Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Gathering - Anne Enright

Just a few thoughts on this novel that really impressed me, the author of which was recommended to me by Ailsa Cox.

A few years ago, the most disturbing book I'd read was Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho. This was striking in a plottish way and, though you might want to argue that contentually  it was gratuitous, I see it as a structural archetype. The alternation between droning, asymptotic capitalism and rampant, relentless 'masculsim' [and it could be argued that it's not much of an alternation] is, well, powerful... provoking. Then I read Conrad Williams' Head Injuries, based on Nicholas Royle's advice. This is a different kettle of fish, bit more supernatural, but I found it even more disturbing. The magical potency of William's descriptions really brought the unreal to life, made me sick with anticipation and imagination [and you might say that it being set in my home town of Morecambe might make it an easier goal, but I believe I can separate my emotional vulnerability from my appraisal of authorial mastery]. Then I read The Gathering.

Enright's use of language is possibly the most disturbing, and potent, I think I've ever read, on many linguistic levels. Whether it's intentionally ambiguous sentences, odd commas, a clunky 'straight pun', jarring descriptions or insertion of song/quote/foreign language or whatever else: the effect at times, on purely language-based grounds, was really disconcerting. I felt it was the duty of all literature, especially of this calibre, to be so unsettling. It also displayed elements of the supernatural, plus a focus on the darkness of life, not just death but certain 'comedies of life' ["...five quid for a brandy in your mourning coffee..."] and the battle between truth, life and memory.

One thing I kept thinking was how great it would be as an example of literature to study. Well, maybe that's not the right thing to say necessarily, but what I mean is that it's such an example of literariness. And I'll be the first to admit that there were certain elements that left me behind in terms of their intellectualism, you know, some of the sentences had me re-read them a few times and still not quite get what was meant. But that's not a bad thing for me. It's the mix of general poeticness, of dialect, of the overall defamiliarization/terror of the words in short or long combinations that makes this novel so powerful, and a couple of 'eh?' moments didn't derail my overall understanding or enjoyment.

There's so many ways I want to praise it, and some of them are so contradictory; its lightness of touch versus its macabre close-up dissection of certain scenes; its narrator - unreliable to the point of admitting how hopeless she is at remembering whilst being so honest as to give us no choice but to like/sympathise/trust; perhaps the best observations of humanity I've ever seen [have NEVER read men written as they are in this book, and again, there's a grimly humorous total truth in her words] mixed with some speculative musings, thereby contrasting assuredness with doubt; some of the realest, most natural feelings, thoughts, reactions mixing with the surreal, the artful and the supernatural [i.e. physically manifested ghosts].

I really was so ravenous when I read it. I chowed down nearly half of it in one go which, for me, is a lot in one sitting. I'm not an entirely 'natural' reader, in the sense I just sit down and easily get through it all. The descriptions of place were enchanting - not quite in the way the Montalbano series is painted in vivid pastel, but more in the slight dourness of an inexperienced tourism office - and I have to give special mention to the way she deals with airports. Ah, just read it to find out what I mean. And the difficulty of ending such a 'journey' is inevitable, yet Enright handles this so well too.

If you've read it, I'd love to know what you think. I know it's won awards, but what do you think? Even as I'm writing about it months after I experienced it first, there's a vibrant lingering. If I wasn't reading other things, I'd be tempted to read it again. Anyway, check it out if you want. It's great.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Corbyn News: An interview with Jeremy Corbyn

Corbyn News: An interview with Jeremy Corbyn: Owen Jones meets Jeremy Corbyn again 'I am very optimistic'  HELP US HELP CORBYN AND DONATE AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE THA...

Haiku a Day - Just A Few Lines

I know I said I wasn't going to write a load of posts about my latest 'annual project' [this year I'm writing a haiku a day. Last year was ‘a line a day’, the year before that 'diary a day'], but I don't think one update will tip anyone over whatever edge they may be on. After all, we have knocked through, rather inelegantly, into the second half of the year already, so it’s the perfect time for a neurotic person to take stock.

I'm still finding that there are some days I don't bother with the regime, and there has been a recent stretch of just over a fortnight where I was behind. Every time I fail and I write about it, I hope that putting my finger on the faults will stop them happening again. That's not happened! The greater wisdom, though, is to accept upsets are inevitable, and, though I wish I wrote 'perfectly' [both in the act of doing and in the words themselves], I have to realise that's just silly isn't it? Suffering comes from wanting things that are impossible, and wanting to change things that are inevitable. So there.

What I'm finding quite exciting is my engagement with 'haikuism', that is, what is a haiku, what are they to me, what makes a good/bad one etc. To me, a haiku isn't strictly the strict 5-7-5. I have tried to write at least one of these a day, before usually going on to do more in a less restrained and, hopefully, more intra-natural way, whether it be traditional or more 'pop-y'. After all, as Kerouac said in American Haikus [1959], it's unusual to think that the structure used in one language should be the same in a different one. Then you have the considerations of nature that are usually found in the traditional ones. I can see their original function, but first off they strike me like rhymes - clich├ęs, wastes of space on the page... Secondly, nature isn't always natural in our lives today. When writing about a street fight, it may be lit more by streetlight than the moon. And maybe the colour of blood is more intriguing than the yellow buzz of halogen. And that's it, you know, I never believe you have to stick to this or that rule. You do what's right for the work. I remember having a conversation about this with someone who said, “'Yeah but it's good to follow the restrictions,” to which I say “It can be” [and we need look no further than OULIPO to make this point]. I mean, hey, sometimes you express something great in fewer syllables. Is that not worth applauding? Since the whole essence of haiku is to be essential, why stick more syllables in just to conform?

The other thing I was on about was what makes a good/bad one. The bad ones I've written are those where, put simply, there's no movement in it, no soul or energy or life or whatever you want to call it – it’s been bent by human hand, not living as if created cosmically. They're just 'this stuff happened, line break, this stuff, line break and this is the end'. Maybe that's over-simplistic, but here's a bad example of mine, from April 2nd:

Red Men keeping lead
'gainst Spurs, what a great result!
then Lovren gifts Kane...

As you can see, it's just exposition. No 'heart' or 'soul', really. I mean, there is a bit of humour. The exclamation mark suggests a finality that is ruined by the curt last line. But it's not good. Here's one of my favourite all time ones by Jack Cain:

What do you think of that? I think it’s really evocative. It's not just the image that is there in my head, as if I was already thinking about it without reading anything, or maybe even feeling like I'm there, but it's also the 'emotional connotation'. I always got the sense of the loneliness in the room, and it made me feel melancholy. Have I just missed something? Or [this has just come to me] has someone walked out on me? Anyway, that's great in my view. And here's one of my own that I think has turned out alright, just to balance things a little:

ocean's opposite sides:
pensioner waves, baby guggs
and bus rolls on

If you were to ask me about the effect of this year's 'project', I wouldn't speak about it too highly, but there are lots of little positives. It gets you to put pen to paper, it gets you to engage with your surroundings, it has a 'no pressure' [or little pressure, at least] thing about it, y'know, 'ah it's only three lines', which makes it accessible. And you learn a disproportionately great amount about poetry in general from those three lines [although I'm saying that having written hundreds of them...]. You can learn about sounds and rhythm, wordplay [linked heavily with where you 'turn' and also line breaks in general, but also ambiguous words/synonyms], form [more through the restrictions rather than the freedoms, i.e. you might think how you'd do it without the 5-7-5 syllables, or even if there's any point to it, y'know. It's like the mind examines the poetics of it once you're down in the rabbit hole] and, perhaps above all, focusses on the hygiene of what you're doing, the weight of each word, how it holds up after cutting out this and that.

So these aren’t earth-shattering revelations, but I remember the point where I'd written a few and thought 'hey lots of these are shit. All I'm doing is writing, essentially, diary-tic exposition, but breaking the line after five syllables, then after the next seven. It's not haiku, it's practically prose'. And then I started to bring it back to the basics, and asked myself 'what's the image, how's the mood and where's the opportunity for play'? Also, I found that I was beginning with this scene-setting [expositional] line every time, and actually, if I swapped the final line [which was often explanatory/illuminating] for the first, more curiosity was created. It wasn't clear what was going on, you know, there was an ethereality to it, a gas to walk through to try and feel through. And what I found then was that I sometimes wanted to delete the clunky line, and write something that didn't make everything so obvious. Not necessarily intentionally ambiguous, but just shining a light on part of the memory of what I was writing about, giving a fuller flavour of the situation I was in.

Again, it sounds basic, but sometimes I get so far down the road with, say, visual poetry, which, without going into detail, has different focusses than, say, lyric poetry [sorry for the simplicity of this...], that I get amazed all over again at the foundations of another genre. The unifying experience of most poetry I’ve worked on is how you can treat language like a material. Cut it another way, drape it over the back of a chair while you move the rest of it about, then stick it back together in a different order. What I'd like to do is move more towards the 'modern style', where small, mundane things take on an effortless gravity. It's just really cool. The last example of mine [above...] was a bit too self-consciously grand in theme. But we'll see what happens. I'm getting light headed here... Better lie down…

Monday, 18 July 2016

Pages: The Wolf 33: EUOIA poem and review of History or S...

Pages: The Wolf 33: EUOIA poem and review of History or S...: See here for details of The Wolf 33, which contains a poem by Eua Ionnou, the European Union Of Imaginary Authors poet Kelvin Corcoran and...

Thursday, 14 July 2016

No More Mr Passive Guy

What a month... When I first heard that we were leaving the EU, I was shocked. In fact, I thought the website I was using to check the results hadn't updated itself properly and was stuck on a non-final result. But I'm not so much here to talk about that on its own. After shock came the thought that, while the country might not be going in my preferred direction, we may get to a reasonable destination, possibly even better than the one we're in in some areas. Then came all the backtracking by Brexit politicians, the resigning of our Prime Minister, the this and the that, and all the while the same old Corbyn-bashing was going on in the media and within the Labour party itself. But I'm not sad, or despondent, because there's hope.
   In the run up to the referendum I was completely convinced [as I was with the Scottish one] that fear of change [i.e. fear of losing the positives of the status quo] would loom larger in the voting public's mind than the sketchily articulated 'benefits' [or ’not-promised promises’, or 'implied wonders' as they were this time], and common sense would prevail with a remain vote. Obviously that didn't happen, and it's partly my fault. Yes I voted, and I'm sure you can guess which way, but I didn't agitate. I didn't engage people in discussion, by which I mean people on the street, outside of social media. I think it’s good form to keep politics out of my work, but I could've at least started conversations about it with customers. It might not have changed any votes, but I could've gained a sense of what people's reasons were for voting, and maybe agreed with/refuted them on a number of  wider platforms. But I'm not going to dwell on that, because there's hope.

   Recently I took action. We can’t change the past but we can have an impact on the future by doing something in the present. I would normally shy away from 'nailing my colours to the mast', but those quiet days are coming to an end. Because inaction, shyness and coyness are not powerful tools in this world - a world where simple lies and deceptions are enough to trick the majority of voters - because assumptions do not help overturn prejudice and narrow self-interest, because, I hope, that if we believe and act soon enough, there is chance for us all: because of this I have joined Momentum. Together we are in a better position to change things positively, and now I can try and be part of that.
   I’d appreciate you taking the time to look at their aims too, and then deciding whether you think joining would be right for you.

Time to keep Corbyn!
M x

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Breaking the Silence: Parts I and II

Breaking the Silence: Part I - What's Passed is the Past

This very blog post is breaking a personal silence. Not something I consciously decided to bring about or enforce, but a silence that has gone on for a long time, and something that has gone against my principles, vis trying to be a hardworking writer who makes his own luck.

Breaking the Silence: Part II - Look to the Future

The previous part is not particularly apt, in the sense that words on the page aren't noisy [though my tapping on the keyboard has produced some volume]. Part II, though, is about a more literal breaking of my hiatus [very well timed, I must say]. This is all thanks to The Other Room, Manchester's primary destination for Experimental Poetry. I will have the pleasure of reading with Sam Riviere and Sarah Kelly. I can't believe I'm there at all, let alone with two such bright lights. I know I'm very lucky.

I will be breaking the silence on the 23rd of June at the Castle Hotel, Oldham Street, Manchester, M2 4PD

Anyway, be nice to see you there. If not, maybe buy these folks' books. And if I get owt published, you can buy mine too :P

Peace, love and light.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Line a Day 2015 - The Final Word[s]

I've only recently realised that I didn't 'wrap up' my last 'year project', which was essentially writing a sentence a day. I called it 'Line a Day 2015', which soon became a bit of a joke because the sentences were often longer than a line, but I digress... I suppose the fact that there was no real impetus to blather on even more about this simple discipline is telling, i.e. there's no big story here. But at least that means there's not gonna be a shedload more rubbish to read for you, dear human.

So I wrote these three-hundred and sixty-five sentences throughout the year. Some were poetic and imagistic, some were merely straight diary-tic style. Sometimes I yearned to break lines like mad and make the form something special, whereas other times the content got the boring shape it deserved. Most of the time, I used punctuation like Scarface uses coke. A chaos of commas.

I don't know... It was fun-ish. Really I wanted to foster a sense of hygiene, summing up entire days in one 'breath' [again, not strictly true as it turns out, but I'm trying to be romantic], and basically training the eye and the mind to work more like a venus fly-trap - waiting long periods inactive before SNAPPING on something that sustains. And when I say 'inactive', I don't mean I wasn't doing anything else, I just mean in terms of my 'centring project', if I can be call it that. Either way, I failed. I didn't even hit on the rigid habit that I wanted. I had periods of a week and longer where I left my entries unfilled, and caused plenty of other headaches along the way, and to top it all, I don't believe I've enhanced my technical ability that much more. But hey, it was better than doing nothing.

I'm in the process of typing it all up now. I envisaged trying to get it published somewhere, the aim being to show a poet's year, unadulterated, in its naked journalic persona. Of course, there are temptations to edit on levels of lexis, sentence, form, structure [inter month, inter year etc], but that's not what happens with our diaries, is it? Anyways, watch this space if you got time to spare and an appetite for disappointment [in which I am a specialist :-) ].

By the way, and this'll be my only Blogtastic word on this until the end of the year [and maybe not even then...]; this year, I'll be doing a haiku diary. Not necessarily just one a day, but as many as I can, again with possibility to publish, but I'm not bothered. Will have to see what the quality and radicality is like. And no, before you ask, they won't necessarily be 5-7-5s. I want to do at least one of those a day, but in general I favour the Kerouacian 'pop', which lets the snapshotting mind breathe and dwell on the beauty of imagery more naturally. Form can be tinkered with and 'metre' can be negotiated, and that's always good.

Anyways, have a happy future full of peace, light and love,

M x