Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Premiership.

I read with interest the interview with Alex Poots, director of Manchester International Festival, in Creative Times, the regular CIDS publication. It's a difficult brief, a festival of new commissions, with an international profile, and perhaps one should just let him get on with it for the first year - since if its a success it will inevitably grow - however, since it's a difficult brief with a £5 million budget, £2 million of it from the City, I think Manchester creative's should be able to have an opinion, if not - as seems likely - be involved. His main argument seems to be that by bringing world renowned figures to the city for the first time, the connections can be made on that "networking" level, which will, at some distant point, bear fruit. Now, no doubt a few individuals will benefit from this - after all the arts is an "international" market - and I'm hoping that we get an opportunity to see some of those artists who usually visit only London or Edinburgh; but I've a real concern that this is the same argument about the Premiership. Being the "best league in the world" will be good for all. Yet, just as Arsenal have made the Champions League final without an English player or manager, maybe this international elite will simply squeeze out funding and opportunities for locally based innovators. I would hope the legacy of this - as with so many things - would be that if (and it could be a big "if") an artist or scene of international importance - whether in art, literature, theatre, music or whatever - develops in Manchester in the next few years that those international tastemakers who've never previously been to the city will see about making their own way here, rather than as special guests. Perhaps it depends where you're coming from in terms of culture. There are certain "international markets" in the arts - visual arts, theatre, dance, films etc. - so that Damon Albarn would have put on the Gorrilaz show anywhere that gave him the opportunity (and presumably the budget) - yet I don't think it gives the city any more opportunities. Yes, like with the BBC move, or with "Alfie" being filmed in the Northern Quarter, there's a spin off in terms of jobs; but if Manchester's great advantage is that you can be creative in a supportive environment, without having to go to the "big city" at the first opportunity, then there has to be a point when local talent takes centre stage. Despite its flaws, the highly enjoyable Manchester Passion, mostly saw a benefit in pulling in local artists - Denise Johnson rather than some TV talent show flavour of the month, for instance. I'm sure the Gorrilaz show was a wonderful event; albeit a typically safe one - after all they are currently one of the biggest artists in the world; lets hope that the festival proper pulls in some more edgy coups. Remember, a sold out match at Old Trafford may give great entertainment to those who can afford it, but it doesn't offer much opportunity to a promising young footballer on United's youth scheme. But lets play a bit of fantasy arts festival and see who I'd like to see being commissioned to perform or do some new work in Manchester: Liz Phair, Neil Young, Eno, Jeff Koons, Francis Ford Coppolla, Gilbert & George, Harmony Korine, Tony Kaye, Michel Houellebecq, Genesis P. Orridge, Roman Polanski, Philip Roth, Michael Winterbottom, A.M. Homes, McSweeney's, Captain Beefheart, N*E*R*D, Jose Saramago, a revival of "I Am Kurious Oranj" by Michael Clarke and the Fall, Bridget Riley, Gillian Wearing, John Adams, David Thewliss, Marie Darrieussecq, David Mitchell, Greg Sage, Mantronix...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Hello Children Everywhere

It always seemed slightly more than coincidence that the BBC programme Hello Children Everywhere should share the intials with Here Comes Everbody, from "Finnegan's Wake", but who knows? I'm trying to grasp with various things at the moment that don't particularly make sense, like a puzzle that you can't quite put together. Music is there, as is poetry, and fiction, but so too is the internet. I'm beginning to think there is a paradigm shift, and its happening kind of without our permission, but with our agreement, if that makes sense. Listening to Hoodlum Tribe on internet radio tonight, I wondered why I'd ever listen to anything else. I was in a taxi this afternoon and the boorish driver was listening to Radio 2 with the always abysmal Steve Wright still taking his silver shilling from the poor licence payers. He played Jaki Graham's forgotten, and forgettable "Round and Round" followed by the Who's eminent, incendiary, but clearly ancient, "My Generation", and I just had to wonder what was the audience? Where was the thought? Who had died? The whole process was bizarre. Perhaps a radio show is just a string of missed opportunities thrown together. How do these things stack up? Well...given the new digital multiplex future you can have a choice - the you've got to keep my interested to keep me listening approach of Hoodlum Tribe, or the we'll play any old shit the bastards have vaguely heard of approach of Steve Wright. Clearly Jaki Graham was an immunisation shot for the Who record that followed. It is with this in mind, that at the weekend I spent rather too much time putting my own teenage rock and roll (or to be truthful, synth and roll) musings on the web for the first time. For post-Adrian succour try Verberate's latest poet of the month, Lucy Burnett. I particularly like the apple poem. Five a day you see. Five a day.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Midlist Lists

Waterstones is promoting the midlist - i.e. those worthy books that don't sell all at once, but drip, drip over the years. Oddly enough, the celebrity list is even more interesting - or at least, the books and writers on it were mostly unknown to me. On Waterstones' list, there's one perennial favourite, Slaughterhouse 5 by Vonnegut, (had it gone so out of fashion that it has to now be rediscovered?) and one book, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, which has been lauded so much on its rediscovery that its surely escaped obscurity forever. All lists require that one adds to them - and there are 2 books I read over 15 years ago that I'd still recommend, one sad, one funny. The sad one is "Mars" by Fritz Zorn, apparently not his real name, and it reads like an autobiography - its about a man who gets cancer, but because of how he lives his life. It was a Picador I picked up as a gloomy undergraduate, and reading this life of someone to whom nothing ever happens - except this terrible fate - its horribly addictive in the right mood. Far funnier, is a book that you can often see in secondhand bookshops, "Boy Wonder" by James Robert Baker. Told as a Citizen Kane style series of interviews it tells the story of a maverick film mogul, the gloriously named Shark Trager. Superb stuff.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Odds and ends

The Tart of Fiction gives a good and eloquent take on the Short story contest that I mentioned previously. I hope its not a one-off post, but another addition to the literary bloggers scene. She, (I'm assuming), will probably be equally angry about the UEA's "New Writing Partnership", another scheme to "help" new writers. I use the word "help" advisedly here. It costs £15 to enter, but clearly anybody who cares about short fiction would have set word limit higher than a paltry 3000 words. Yes, of course, there are good short stories under that length, but "Hills Like White Elephants" apart, there's not that many. I've often wondered why it is we are given a choice between a marathon (a novel - if you want to get published) and a sprint (if you want to win one of these spurious prizes.) You're excluding a lot of good middle distance runners there - "The Great Gatsby", "The Quantity Theory of Insanity", "A Rose for Emily", "Winesburg, Ohio," "The Dead", most of Borges, "Brokeback Mountain." I could go on. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to enter to get on their "mentoring" scheme, a well worked extract, or a story cut short at the neck? I think, going back to the Tart of Fiction, that the BBC/Radio 4 etc., like Nesta, "Save our Short Story", and all these other "well meaning" schemes have nothing to do with literature, and a lot to do with self-aggrandisement. Radio 4 likes news items, it likes traditional fiction - it has no interest in literature; and that, I'm afraid is what all of these initiatives are like; they have no interest in literature. Anyone who has ever gone for some of the BBC's northern exposure initiatives knows that you're given a straitjacket every time you want to enter - and next year its a totally different one. Good writing requires commitment, and commitment to the form as well as anything else. There's always the sneaking suspicion that the novelist slumming it as a short story writer thinks its a little extra earner between novels, a bit like driving a taxi on weekends to make ends meet. Those of us who like the short story - and, yes, even write them - have to just continue with them. Literature is what happens when the official version is looking elsewhere. I couldn't get published in Loot these days, but for those with a more optimistic bent, the links on the left of this page are a good place to start. Which neatly brings us to this following Monday's Verberate, where an alumni of Lamport Court, (with a fine, long short story called "The Quarry"), Max Dunbar will be amongst the readers. I'm also looking forward to Thursday and a 2-country internet broadcast simulcast thingy, debating "alternative media as social space."

Thursday, April 20, 2006

First Influence

I may have touched on this before, but I wonder to what extent one is influenced by early exposure to art; and to what extent those early - first - influences stay with you. Last week at work, I decided to find an Easter poem to show people, and remembered George Herbert's Easter Wings. It's not the greatest poem in the world, but it was appropriate, and with its "shape", that of an angels' wings, and the lines reducing and expanding with the poet's mood, I feel it's an early "concrete poem." But the Metaphysicals, Herbert, Donne and Marvell, were foisted on me at 'O' Level, along with Macbeth and Pride and Prejudice. In their own way, they've all remained touchstones in some ways. I guess, left to my own devices, I may have found Shakespeare, but I wonder if I'd have found Donne, and "Pride and Prejudice" might have come too late. Then for A level it was more Shakespeare (Hamlet and Othello), Waiting for Godot, the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Wuthering Heights. For non-American English literature I couldn't have had a better base; or so it seems. Othello, Wuthering Heights, P&P and Coleridge appealed - and still appeal - to my romantic nature, whilst the metaphysicals and Godot have a clarity about them, and a sense of the existential that is equally important to me; and I'd put Eliot alongside the metaphysicals there. Perhaps all great literature will have this effect but I think they were more close to my psyche than, say, Trollope, Dickens, King Lear and Tennyson might have been. So which came first, my sensibility or my set text list? Perhaps its just coincidence. From Godot I developed an appreciation of the minimalist, and the unsaid, rather than an appreciation of Beckett; whilst I've not read Coleridge or Austen that widely since. But these texts are lodestones - one s that I came across before I was 18, and have perhaps defined, to some extent what I want from literature. There have been others since - the Americans in particular - and George as well as T.S. Eliot, Borges, Calvino et al; but, having tentatively written a number of poems in the last week, and seeing that yes, they are romantic, and yes, metaphysical, it makes me wonder whether nature or nurture has most effect on my art. You do tend to study English exams at a particularly susceptible age.

London Hipsters

My friends at Scarecrow, 3AM et al will no doubt be devastated that the Guardian took notice of their little soiree last week in Fitzrovia, but probably relieved its in the online blog, not the paper proper. Nobody reads these blog things anyway, do they? Lee Rourke read at the one-and-only literary night that I organised, Wrote 4 Luck, back in Manchester in 1998, and I've already eulogised about his ace "Being Lee Rourke is Boring" story, but a "cherub had fluttered in from the 40s", he'll like that.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Private Investigations

I don't read alot of crime fiction but enjoy a few authors; one of whom is Sara Paretsky. I just read her first novel "Indemnity Only", having picked up a 2nd hand copy recently - its been a few years since I read one of her books, but V.I. Warshawski, her female Polish Private investigator based in Chicago is always compelling. Considering this was the first book, its interesting how little back story there is - though this is expanded in future novels - but also, how many of the signature ideas of her books are already there. Most compelling, of course, is that crime fiction is about the only place where a writer can finger big business and contemporary issues; though last night I caught BBC News 24's Hard Talk, and an interview with Jay McInerney. Despite being an open, willing interviewee, it was frustrating - going over his first book, Bright Lights, Big City again and the "image" that was in this book (though how anyone could ever read that and not see its more satire than lifestyle choice escapes me), and then jumping forward to his latest post-9/11 novel. That this revisits characters from what is probably his best book, "Brightness Falls", was not even alluded to. Missed opportunities.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Hacienda Classics

The release of a 3-CD "Hacienda Classics" compilation reminded me that I wrote a poem with that same name back in the day. Only 4 tracks in common, I'm afraid, though mine was more a chronological history of house (as well as supposed to make some sense as a poem.)

Hacienda Classics

Jack Your Body, No Way Back,
House Nation, Jack The Groove,

Beat Dis! Rok Da House,
Put The Needle On The Record,

Pump Up The Volume,
You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone,

Let's Get Brutal! Let It Roll,
Tired Of Getting Pushed Around,

We Call It Acieed! Big Fun,
Touch Me, Ride On Time,

Sure Beats Workin', Wait!
Respect, Finally, Promised Land,

I'm Talking With Myself,
Justified & Ancient,

An Ever Growing Globe
That Rules The Ultraverse,

French Kiss, Tricky Disco,
Charly Says....Pong!

I Got The Power,
You Got The Love,

Open up! Out Of Space,
Waterfall, Get up!

(Before The Night Is Over)
Things Can Only Get Better,

Satan, Firestarter,
Leave Home, Son Of A Gun,

Feel The Sunshine!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Poetry eMotion

My friends at Verberate have taken my live recording of the other week and put it on their website as "featured writer" for which I'm humbly grateful. A few remarks... I was horribly nervous when I did the reading, and felt I'd chosen the wrong poems for the occasion; but I did know they were poems I could read without fumbling too much, and I hope I did that. Listening to them, as well, I realise both my strengths and limitations. As a poet, my "unit of measurement" seems to be the sentence, and that's not what most poetry works with - its more rhythm, phrase, stanza etc. I think, equally humbly, this is why I've never been quite "got" by any poetry establishment going. It's a little about voice, I guess - not the way you write, or speak so much as how you sound in your head - your own emotional/literary connection with the world. My sort of poetry is attempting to be something that it's not; and really it should be something that it is. Also, my poetry, being essentially narrative (all those 4 poems have some narrative to them), has to take that fact into account. The question: what is poetry? comes into this. In this weeks Guardian we had Jackie Kay writing about her father; as did, in a very different way, John Burnside recently; and choosing prose - an article, a memoir - to do this. And then we have Robert Potts talking about literary magazines, particularly the online Jacket; yet not really acknowledging how closed these particular shops are as well. I'm interested, and intrigued by all this. Poetry requires, like anything else, some degree of success; so a poet like Alice Oswald, who, to be frank, was never mentioned in any dispatches until "Dart" was so successful, can have her own poetic "land grab." In other words, its only at the point that you are asked to write about poetry for the Guardian, or collected in some Bloodaxe anthology, or play that particular game, that you are officially "poetry." On the other hand, there's the whole performance poetry thing which gets along very well in its own world, thank you, but requires a certain "balls" to do it, and do it well. Who knows where all this leads to? If I get asked to read my poetry I will; and then, maybe, we'll see if I'm a poet - until then, I'm not sure; maybe I just write a different kind of prose. I'm trying to work out these contradictions. In the mean time, my muse is somewhat silent. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Usual Suspects

I'd forgotten Nesta's short story prize almost as soon as it was announced, because it seemed to be offering nothing more than a "beauty contest" for established prom queens, and so, it seems, that has come to pass, with William Trevor, James Lasdun, Rose Tremain and Michael Faber on the 5 person shortlist. I'm sure they're all fine, and good luck to Rana Dasgupta in such distinguished company. The reason I lost interest as soon as the prize was announced was because it wasn't clear what "record of publication" actually meant - and whether publication in such a small magazine as our own would count. I hardly want to bother mentioning the prize really. I'm impressed that they got such a distinguished list from 1400 entries or so; I wonder if they were anonymously judged? I like James Lasdun's fiction, and he's a writer's writer more than a popular success, so I guess it would be good if he gained a little popularity out of it. Certainly at least 4 of those 5 writers could ring up the editor of Granta any day of the week and get a story placed there; and probably anywhere else as well; so I'm not sure that the prize actually "helps" the short story. I just hope the stories are good.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Cast not the first stone

A contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? doesn't know the answer to "which British writer won the 2005 Nobel prize for literature". I can understand Splinters gloat, but I think we should be more humble. The reason Pinter's known as a name outside literary circles is that he has a certain "celebrity"status, at least partly because of his political profile. I can't name any of the other Nobel winners from 2005, British or otherwise, and whereas you can at least go and read a novel or a poem, it's hard to get to see most plays, or playwrights, unless you're in London, doing your English A Levels, or obsessed with the medium. I saw my first Pinter at the Edinburgh festival a couple of years ago, and have seen only The Birthday Party, and Betrayal on television. In fact, there are very few playwrights, Shakespeare aside, that I've seen produced more than 2 or 3 times. I'd like to see more, but however hard I try, I tend to go to three or four productions a yaer, regardless - mixture of time, money, location and - perhaps critically - other people to go with. I'll see the usual collection of Manchester writers at a poetry reading or a book launch, but never at the theatre. It's the 50th anniversary of Osborne's "Look Back in Anger" - again, I only saw it on television, and didn't much like the casual misanthropy. The ubiquitous Mark Lawson makes the point that it is oft mentioned but not oft revived. Osborne, of course, also became a celebrity playwright, it must be all that hanging around with beautiful actresses that does it; right, where's my 3rd act gone to?