Monday, October 27, 2014

3 Stories

I've written more short stories during the last year than usual, so its probably not surprising that I've been more successful in getting them published - still, its still an unusual time to have three stories being published in quick succession

You can find new work by me in the following

Fugue - The Siren Anthology ed. Lucy Carroll - buy here

Confingo Magazine #2 - buy here

Black & Blue Writing - Revolution issue - buy here

All three stories are very different - but if you're looking for some exciting new fiction, each of these will offer much more than just my work.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Come and Hear Fugue

The first of the 3 publications I have stories in this Autumn, an anthology of new fiction called "Fugue" is being launched this coming Friday at the London Review Bookshop in central London.

I hope any London friends or literary types who are free on Friday might be able to come along to support this and hear several of the contributors, including myself, read from their stories.

If you want to attend please RSVP the editors at 

More details about the book at the Siren website 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

War, History and the Booker Prize

Fear that the Americans were coming would change the nature of the Booker prize proved unwarranted. For if their are three things that past Bookers have shown us, about this prize's distinct characteristics: it likes commonwealth writers; it likes historical novels; and its particularly susceptible to books about the first and second world war. Richard Flanagan's "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" based on his father's experience in building the Burma railway for the Japanese during the 2nd World War is therefore a quintessentially Booker novel. I've not read Flanagan's novel yet, though he seems to be a highly regarded writer (and here's another trope, like with Coetzee or Mantel, a well regarded novelist who ups his or her game can sometimes win the Booker as some kind of "promotion" - not necessarily a "lifetime service" award), but it made me wonder about the Booker and its relationship to historical novels, and particularly war novels.

The last three Booker winners are large historical novels, Flanagan following on from Catton's long shaggy dog story about gold mining in New Zealand and Mantel's 2nd Thomas Cromwell book. Both of those books seem to be about societies on the "cusp" and in many ways, at a time when we are seeing a rush into print by established authors of ever more dystopian fictions these could almost be seen as part of the same trend. That most un-Booker of novelists Martin Amis wrote something along the line about all novels being about "the millennium" at the time that his millennium novel "London Fields" came out; and - taking a cue from both the older statesmen who were old enough to remember the second world war and his own generation who briefly, if sometimes disastrously, wanted to change the world, Amis always seemed most comfortable when living under an existential threat.

I sometimes think that some novelists look back to history in two ways: both as a way of finding meaning in their own life, and secondly to give a gravitas to their story. After all, even an ostensibly non-war novel like "The Great Gatsby" is heavily defined by its place and time in the aftermath of the Great war, (which allows Gatsby to find both his fortune and his mystery.) Is it because Amis's generation and those younger than him are rarely likely to have fought in a war that they need to look for different archetypes? The recent Salinger biography (wrongly in my opinion) saw "Catcher in the Rye" through the funnel of Salinger's war time experiences. Heller and Mailer became great American novelists because of their wartime experiences.

The "West" (even those bits of the West transplanted to Tasmania where Flanagan lives) are no longer where the "action" is in 21st century life as we are seeing from the current news. There is still a desire, I think, to tell stories that deal with the larger issues, and yet for a western writer this can either mean appropriating someone else's story, or - perhaps not so problematically - finding those stories in history. Occasionally, such as in Kevin Powers' "The Yellow Birds" a writer is able to take his own story and make it real; yet more often these stories are not ours anymore.

Looking back over the history of the Booker prize, its "Commonwealth" make up was vital from the start, and if history had a place it was part of this ongoing narrative between Britain and empire, which by the mid 1970s had seen Farrel's "The Siege of Krishnapur" and Naipaul's "In a Free State" successful winners. Yet, as someone who was at school in the 1970s we hadn't yet succumbed to seeing the Second World War, at least, as history - it was often current affairs in some way - with"Dad's Army" on the television, a residual anti-German feeling from the older generation, and bombsites and munitions works still visible in towns and countryside. Those who had fought in either war tended to keep quiet about it and we were still visibly shaken by the long trauma of the western twentieth century - perpetuated in no small way by the Cold War and the Russian occupation of Eastern Europe which meant that talking about recent history was to risk breaking contemporary eggshells.

Early Bookers are full of obscure titles, but it seems that "Goshawk Squadron" by Derek Robinson (shortlisted in 1971) and Thomas Keneally's 1975 title "Gossip from the Forest" are both set around the First World War. Can "Schindler's Ark", Keneally's 1982 winner, that led to the film "Schindler's List" be really the first Booker shortlisted novel to be set during the second world war, or address the holocaust? A quick trawl through unfamiliar titles implies it might well have been. By the 1980s it was unlikely that a writer would have fought in the war, and memory was turning into history - 1979 had seen "Sophie's Choice" by William Styron also addressing similar territory to Keneally.

Since then however, the number of stories from both world wars have multiplied seemingly endlessly. Its interesting how relatively circumspect British writers have been - though more recently novels like A.L. Kennedy's careful "Day" come to mind - but it was probably Canada's Michael Ondaatjee and his 1992 winner "The English Patient" which really exemplifies the Booker war novel. Able to use the war as setting for a more poignant love story, it became a bestselling book and also a successful film. Since then we've had Pat Barker's first world war trilogy, with its Booker winner "The Ghost Road", "Atonement", McEwan's shortlisted novel with vivid scenes of the first world war, Barry's wonderful "A Long, Long Way" which tells the story of British soldiers returning to Ireland to find themselves caught in a civil war, Sarah Water's "The Night Watch" and now the Flanagan. I may have missed a few along the way.

Writers such as Anthony Burgess and Leslie Phillips wrote about their military service early in their careers, several American masterpieces came out of World War Two ("Catch 22", "Slaughterhouse 5" amongst them); survivors stories from Primo Levi and others have had a profound impact on later 20th century literature; and compelling narratives still emerge from both world wars (and increasingly the "smaller" wars that surrounded them). What was once experienced is now imagined or researched. In some ways, this has to be a good thing. Our best writers aren't necessarily the ones with the most direct experience. The essay from which this blog takes its name talks about this idea of authenticity - that you don't have to have lived in a barracks to write about it (Graham Greene, in "The End of the Affair" suggest that you might need to have slept with a soldier however).

The books that have retained their force tend to be those that are not just looking unflinchingly on conflict (after all in an age of electronic media, we can see the horror for ourselves, or a parallel genre of film making has given us its own series of masterpieces around conflict), but where a human story is played out. We long, I think, for heroes, especially those who do not think of themselves as such. More recently - and from the reviews of the Flanagan this comes into it - we are now seeing the post-traumatic-stress war novel, where it is the aftermath of that horror that is interesting the writer rather than the psychopathy of the novel. You see this in "Day," in David Rose's "Vault", in "The Yellow Birds," even in Anne Micheals' "Fugitive Pieces" and Bernard Schlink's "The Reader" and now perhaps in the Flanagan. This is another kind of untold story. For so many survivors of both world wars went to their graves without telling their story. The quiet dignity of the last Tommy, Harry Patch, is emblematic of that generation who gave all. The PTSD war novel - rife in the 1970s writings after Vietnam (think of Andre Dubus's short stories for instance) - seems to be a way of placing our postmodern knowledge of the psyche in a genuine cauldron of fire. In reviewing "The Yellow Birds" I was critical of Powers' tendency to describe in great beauty a scene that had nothing non-generic about it. The Flanagan book sounds both powerful history, and some kind of personal testimony (to his father who died shortly after he'd completed it, and whose story it takes from).

In a year when "the Americans are coming" and where there was a highly contemporary novel - Joshua Ferris - as well as a powerful piece of experimentation - Ali Smith - experience has, it seems triumphed. The best historical novels of the last few years - David Mitchell's "Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" or A.L. Kennedy's "Day" never made the shortlist. Flanagan is a writer in his fifties, his father fought in the second world war - for those of us even slightly younger it doesn't exercise quite the same unique pull, though the endless stories continue to pile up from a conflict that engulfed the world. The Booker has always been disposed to the grand narrative; it is drawn, as well to empire - a post-war Europe rarely interests it - yet I wonder if rather than being a sign of any particular trends, Flanagan's win is a neat bookend to a period that probably began with Keneally and "Schindler's Ark." There will, I am sure, be other war stories to be told, maybe even other war stories that win - but as even the second world war fades into history, and as the challenges of the 21st century become ever more crystallised (this year alone: Islamic State, Ukraine, Malaysian Airlines, Ebola, UKIP etc.) perhaps even the Booker will move away from these familiar narratives.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Diverse Writing

I think it was Eno, possibly in an interview but maybe in his book "A Year With Appendices" who made the distinction between two types of artists. Ones such as himself who were always trying different approaches, different pieces of work and ones like Joni Mitchell (I think he gave her as an example) who continue re-articulating the same deep track. One can argue about this of course (surely Joni's development of her songwriting from folk to pop to jazz shows a genuine diversity of practice, whilst Eno's reputation could arguably be said to rest on his electronic ambient soundscapes.)  There's some truth in it certainly: there are artists who continually explore a single (if not simple) idea such as James Turrell's light sculptures, and then others who turn to different modes and materials (think of Hirst or Emin's constant shifting of their mode, if not their method).

In writing I think its not so much that writers don't do different things, but that they become defined by some aspect of what they do, to the extent where it can be difficult for them to be noticed when do anything else. Yes, we might note Hilary Mantel's diverse portfolio of very different books before "Wolf Hall" but it will be interesting to see how, once she completes the Cromwell trilogy, a future non-historical novel might be received. Her success has come to define her, so that her French revolution novel can be included as example of her mastery of historical writing, whilst her other earlier novels (and her current book of short stories) may seem less vital as a result.

For short story writers - despite the diversity of the form - it seems even harder to slip out of what's expected. In an early Helen Simpson book there was a single fantastic story amongst the tales of middle class life; a perfectly good story I seem to remember, but its overshadowed by the majority of her work. Even young writers I know become easily defined by a particular theme - Zoe Lambert's war stories; or Adam Marek's quirky fantasies.

I've always been of the Eno school, shifting between different things, different aspects, even though I could draw some quite straight lines between my work - whether in poetry fiction or other forms. Yet as the majority of my work remains unpublished I'm not sure I have a particular persona to how my writing is perceived. By coincidence this autumn I've got three stories being published, and another couple of poems. For those who might think I generally write about an everyday contemporary life not unlike my own (which I sometimes do) the stories couldn't be more different - what they share is a sense of other place, of other lives, and hijack purportedly realist scenarios for something a little odder. I'll write more about them when they are published - but if you lined them up alongside my last published story - last year's "The Cat", and recent poems - I don't think there would be a sense of any coherence whatsoever. Even potential structural similarities seem redundant.

I don't think its that I'm particularly diverse, just that the ad hoc nature of my publications means that there's been little chance for anyone to see a coherence or a range to my work - which, just as I did in "ordering" my poetry collection a few years ago - is there, if not always obviously so.

Its the Booker Prize ceremony this evening - I'm out of the country so will be checking on the web when I get back from dinner - I don't think there's been a particular buzz about one book or other this year, despite this being the first year when American books are included, and the absence of too much historical fiction. Perhaps Ali Smith's is the one novel that I've heard people talk about, though not necessarily entirely complimentarily. It seems a list that has reverted to what some of those lists of the 80s were - full of solid potential. One will rise above the others of course. I'll be interested to see which way things go.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rediscovering Dylan Thomas

The Manchester Literature Festival is in full swing, but I'm away for most of it. Yesterday I looked at what was on and determined to go to something, decided on Peter Blake at the Martin Harris Centre, talking about his visual interpretation of Dylan Thomas's "Under Milk Wood". Its the 100th anniversary of Thomas's birth this year - he died so young, aged 39, in 1953, that its hardly imaginable that its only now. Peter Blake has been working on illustrating "Under Milk Wood" for nearly thirty years - a somewhat obsessional commitment from an artist who is himself in his 80s now. The in conversation took us through the history of "Under Milk Wood" and how even the earliest version of the text (bizarrely in an American woman's magazine) had accompanying illustrations. Thomas's "play for voices" was originally commissioned for radio, and despite a 1972 movie (and another in the works) it is a sound piece which remains so mesmerising, whether the classic Richard Burton version, or the more recent George Martin produced version. Yet unlike so many of today's contemporary "film" poems, the language is as rich as anything he wrote.

Thomas is one of those poets who is so familiar, and yet at the same time, that familiarity makes you sometimes not see him properly. A genuinely popular poet, then, and today, Blake made the point that "Under Milk Wood" was popular with his generation at art school. Listening to it again today, its a fascinating work, allusive, funny, rude, and charming all at once. It does seem sui generis, a tone poem for the senses. It comes out of modernist practice I think, (remember "The Wasteland" was originally called "He Does the Police in Different Voices" and Eliot had also written a number of pieces for "voice"), yet seems to anticipate both the pop art surrealism of the Goons and the elegiac English erotica of Dennis Potter. It was no surprise to find that it was Lennon who had Dylan Thomas on his list of famous faces for the Sgt. Pepper cover that Blake designed.

What was fascinating about hearing Blake talk about the book - as well as the slow process of its completion - is how Thomas's surreal imagination, and elegantly witty poetry was such a challenge to the artist. If some books are "unfilmable" this was a text that in some ways was "un-depictable" yet this appealed to Blake's maven-like sensibility. He divided the pictures into dreams, places and characters. The characters were pencil drawings, often taken from photographic archetypes (of Elizabeth Taylor for Myfanwy or anonymous pictures for the policeman or Nogood Boyo), whilst in the dreams and scenes he was able to create creative montages, sometimes literal interpretations of Thomas's work, other times more speculative.

For "Under Milk Wood" seems to be one of those pieces of work (and Thomas is one of those writers) which constantly finds new audiences. Watching the BBC drama "Dylan in New York" he is constantly referred to by his American backers as "the greatest living poet" and his posthumous reputation in the public imagination is both for his poetry and the life: the womaniser, the drinker, the poet figure of myth. Yet it is the work, then as now, which stands out. If there are moments in "Under Milk Wood" when "Ulysses" comes to mind, they are the only obvious reference points, its such a uniquely conceived piece of work, both in form and content. The whole piece feels like a dream - and we were shown a promotional video for the forthcoming new film adaption which seemed one part Terry Gilliam, one part Peter Greenaway. Yet at the heart of "Under Milk Wood" - a piece Thomas had been thinking of and part writing for years - is a beautifully observed nostalgia for a time and a place, and the richness of the human experience depicted within it, is what makes it such a well loved piece.

Thomas, I think, has never been exactly out of fashion - at least not with poets and readers - but the dry anecdotal poetry of the seventies, eighties and nineties meant that he didn't seem a particular influence. The prevailing greyness of English language poetry since "The Movement" was almost designed to be anti-Thomas, yet his reputation has outlived all of them, bar Larkin. Perhaps he is one of those artists who is so much of a one-off, that his work would always be very different than the prevailing trends. If we sometimes see him as a post-war poet, he published widely in the late thirties and forties as well. Most poets I know find something to like somewhere in Thomas, and he'll be one of the few 20th century poets that non-specialists will instantly recognise.

The Blake conversation was a fascinating insight into an artist responding to another artist. Is there a word for this kind of reverse ekphrasis? The anniversary this year has seen a number of Thomas related activities including an exhibition of Blake's "Under Milk Wood". Though he has finished both the exhibition and the book he admitted that he is till tinkering with some of the pictures, an obsession coming to an end, but not yet totally done with.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Censorship Today

I grew up in the censorship days. Mary Whitehouse strode the seventies like some cultural domestos, bleaching out any life from our culture. Then in the 80s we had Mike Read with his queasiness about the lyrics of "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (if only he'd shown the same queasiness about the behaviour of some of his fellow DJs....) and in the 90s Tipper Gore's PMRC and its attempts to ban Giger's poster for the Dead Kennedys, and the insistence on Parental Advisory stickers on LPs... and then there was that bizarre period of the first Gulf war where you could watch the soldiers on the TV news every night but Bomb the Bass was no longer allowable to be mentioned and Massive Attack had to lose the second word of their name. I would slip into my local record shop when nobody was looking and likely a teenager looking for jazz mags would say "have you got the new NWA LP?" which the shopkeeper would knowingly slip in brown paper bag from behind the counter.

This I felt was a war that for freedom of speech that bit by bit we were winning - that in a liberal democracy (despite our Tory leaders) history was on our side. Censorship was surely like a curtain in a Girly show, once it had revealed what was behind it, there was no pulling back the drape. Besides, there was a sea change in our behaviours - from what was public to what was private. The home VHS meant that whether it was a dirty film shipped illicitly from Amsterdam or an art house movie, it could be watched in private behind closed doors. Britain had always been behind America - we weren't a country at home with "Emmanuels" never mind "Deep Throats" - far more likely to titter at "Confessions of a Window Cleaner". Britains abroad might enthusiastically sunbathe topless, but the Brits behaving badly in Marbella and Magaluf was still to come. The Only Was is Essex, Big Brother and the like were a long way off, even if the working class male pinned Sam Fox's page three picture to the garage door instead of the artfully posed Pirelli calendars that adorned such places elsewhere in the world.

I was surprised to find out that Channel 4, that institution of cultural licentiousness (Michael Grade styled as "pornographer in chief" by the less frisky tabloids) was an invention of Thatcher's first term, the drive for free markets making her turn a blind eye (not for the first or last time) to what those markets might unleash. Indeed, its public-private nature meant Channel 4 was indeed taxpayer funded. Art or porn? Well, the private sector would come up with topless weather girls and the  Daily Sport, making art house movies a different kind of subversion.

In the anything goes of the internet - everything is "available" - whether pornography or bomb making instructions, meaning that for the first time limits on free speech or laws on censorship had to be drafted that saw people convicted for possession of images as well as the making of them. Yet there has always been a good reason why things in art are judged differently than things in life. Otherwise Sophie Hannah's bringing back to life of Hercule Poirot would see her banged up for the "murders" in her novels, rather than applauded for resurrecting Christie's inscrutable Belgian. Art is allowed to make things up, to say unpalatable truths, to be gristly in its depiction, to titillate, to terrify, to entertain through whatever means, to show what is beautiful and what is ugly, to illuminate not only our dreams but our nightmares. It was realism that scared the censors - whether a divorce in a Noel Coward play banned by the Lord Chancellor or a sex scene in a D.H. Lawrence novel that a judge might not want his servants to read. The innocent Alice in Lewis Carroll wasn't seen as a proxy for his interest in young girls, nor (until much later) was T.S. Eliot's anti-semitism much challenged even as they were opening the gates on Auschwitz.

So what a country or culture censors is not just (or mostly) about the what is banned but about the why? There's a strange move - coming from America, but heading our way - which insists almost on everyone's right to be offended, and for that offence to be listened to. Some of this, very unfortunately, is coming from the left, from oppressed groups, who see an opportunity to lift oppression through some kind of censorship. For people of my age and older it seems hard to reconcile a reduction in the language we use as being anything other than an oppression in itself; yet acknowledging that its better world that ethnic origin, for instance, is no longer turned into an everyday slang. What is more worrying is when what spills over from wanting mere good manners on a public forum such as Twitter or Facebook to demonstrations against particular artistic depictions. I grew up in an age when  I expected - even wanted - art to offend. Now we seem to have the worst of both worlds, an insouciance about commercial depictions of sex and violence, with ad agencies happy to push the envelope around what is acceptable, and a worry that anything in art that "triggers" a response from the audience is therefore an offence.

There's a bit in the West Wing where one of the staffers makes the point that he doesn't really know whether a particular piece of art is offensive or not, but he certainly knows that he shouldn't be the one making the judgement on that. History is full of banned works, and "bans" are rarely permanent (or if they are maybe the art has disappeared). The artistic establishment is often the first barrier to new art - and acts as a censor in terms of style and sensibility if not always in terms of taste. I cannot remember the last time I saw a show in a gallery which took a potshot at the commercial world for instance; there's not much biting of the hand that feeds going on these days.

But its in the wider context of anti-terror legislation, government cut backs and much else where art has to try even harder to be against the grain. We've a history of mainstream culture slamming the door on even its favoured sons and daughters: whether its the ending of Fatty Arbuckle's career or the aftermath of Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction. You'll look long and hard to find anything offensive in contemporary poetry, beyond the usual shoutyness at a slam, and there's even an annoyingly predictable benign liberalism about much contemporary art which though politically I might agree with, is disturbing in its singularity of the vision (or even the "version"). You could say that liberal art currently acts as an allowed and allowable safety valve against the mainstream. Oh, look, that nice Carol Ann Duffy is complaining about books being banned in prisons; oh, there's that sensible looking Ian McEwan writing a book mildly criticising Tony Blair. Art as visceral as "The Lonesome Death of Hatty Carroll" or "Piss Christ" is rarely to be found. Its why those of us in the west who immediately responded to Pussy Riot weren't bandwagon jumping, but recognising that it is universal, uninformed power such as exists in amorphous bodies like state and church which is the hardest to pillory through art. Pussy Riot were the canary in the coalmine of Putin's contemporary Russia, we felt. (And as an add-on, as gesture art goes, it was great).  There seemed genuine shock from certain quarters that "much loved" Hilary Mantel could write a story called "The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher." Of course in this internet age of thought-crime, had Thatcher still been alive, and had it have been someone with, say a Muslim name, writing this on an alt.lit. blog then he or she would probably answering police enquiries.

There's a history of authoritarian crackdown on contemporary art and yet we are seeing two things at present. Individual or community offence is being mobilised against art that doesn't agree with a particular line or point of view; and on the other hand a lumbering state apparatus which in the name of wars on terror and God knows what else, is quick to say a quick word in the ear of the sponsors. The BBC went from being scared to air a documentary about Jimmy Saville's child abuse offences, to wiping any re-broadcast of any Radio 1 DJ's "Top of the Pops" appearances once they'd had a conviction. I wonder to what extent you can write people out of history? Will in 50 years time there be a cult of Saville? One hopes not, but just as there were books published in the past which in retrospect (and probably at the time) have dubious references, they did exist, and tell us much more about that time than an airbrushed version of the same. If you want to see what the 70s was really like then an old episode of "Minder" with all its casual sexism and racism would probably be a better place to start than the airbrushed history books. (And part of that airbrushing works the other way. The joy of the recent film "Pride" was in the linkage it made between miners and the gay community both being equally victims of police state tactics under Thatcher. If we forget that there was racism in the 70s, then do we also forget that there was also "Rock Against Racism?" )

As a writer and creative you write what you want and need to write, but is there also a point where you self censor? On the odd occasion I've stuck my head above the parapet on social media it has been to defend free speech. Its hard though - because if you just say something when some idiot wears an anti-police t-shirt that is clearly offensive (but supporting their right to wear it), it appears you are on the side of the idiots. Yet it seems that social media (this blog included) gives people so much more access to writers, actors, musicians, that there is no longer the mystique there once was. And its not just mystique. One writes often from a persona, and that persona isn't always the nicest person in the room or the world. Yet as a person (as a writer), yes, I'm thin-skinned, I want to be liked. Art sometimes seems a strange thing to go the wall for compared with politics or other rights, but I think if we fail to understand the dynamics that see art being criticised we will miss them in the wider society.

Art remains our barometer, and as my grandad used to say, the glass is rising.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Where's the Poetry....?

I've been quite immersed in the poetry world the last few years. I think I decided to step back a little from it, or maybe it just happened. I read a few poems at the St. Ann's Book Fair in June, but that was about my only poetry "gig" this year. The last night I read at, I changed my mind at the last minute and read a short story.

And though I've not consciously stopped going to things I've had quite a busy time, and just haven't caught so much as I usually do. Looking at the list of Next Gen Poets, I'd read 6 or 7, and as the annual prize season comes round, books I really should have taken a look at, like Kei Miller and Liz Berry's which respectively won Forward best collection and best new collection last night, I've not got round to. I missed the very well attended Free Verse Book Fair in London as was travelling back from somewhere the day before.

Part of my disengaging is simply lack of time, but also the group I'd been involved with, North West Poets, after a couple of years of busy activity, has had a bit of a hiatus. Poetry might be there on every supermarket shelf, but if you don't go looking for it, its easy to miss. I realise that I usually buy more poetry collections than I've done this year as well. I think apart from Toby Martinez De La Rivaz's "Terror"  and Mark Burnhope's "Species" I've not picked anything up recently. I had a bit of flurry of subscribing to magazines, but some of those subscriptions have dropped off, or have proven a bit disappointing.

I guess poetry remains a bit of a maze - and after a couple of signature anthologies a few years ago -  things have reverted to type. Carol Ann Duffy is still poet laureate, Simon Armitage is still our best loved poet. John Cooper Clarke and Roger McGough are still national treasures. Poetry Review is as solidly predictable as ever.  I realise there's not one magazine that really does a good job at taking the temperature of contemporary poetry, though I think the Rialto, Oxford Poetry and the Wolf might manage it between them.

And I need to make more of an effort. Guess what, its  National Poetry Day tomorrow. There's a strange but potentially interesting event with Jeffrey Wainwright at Anthony Burgess tomorrow night.  A "poetry inquisition" - well there are some poets I'd like to see face an inquisition, the always erudite Wainwright is thankfully not one of them. (I wonder when words lose their impact - there was recent anger on Facebook about a "First Word War" poetry slam.... yet we can happily appropriate the Spanish Inquisition. We're some way off a Poetry Pogrom I hope, unless you count the last kerfuffle at the Poetry Society.)

Then this Saturday, two poets I do admire, Richard Barrett and visitor to the city Jonty Tiplady are performing at the always enjoyable Peter Barlow's Cigarette.