Saturday, October 29, 2011

Campus Poetry

My first of 3 "gigs" on the Salt Modern Voices tour took place on Thursday night at the University of Warwick, with Clare Trevien and Emily Hasler. Claire and Emily are alumni of Warwick and were invited back by David Morley and George Ttoouli to give a workshop, and a reading, which is when I joined them. Warwick has a dedicated "writer's room" which gives a space for tutorials, readings, whatever - although the somewhat insular nature of universities means that it was a bit of a bugger to find for someone who'd not been there before! I'd made my way to Warwick from my parents in Staffordshire, taking two trains and a bus; and it all went smoothly until I found myself on the rainy campus searching for the building where the reading was taking place. Not finding an open entrance I saw some other people trying to get in, and asked them if they knew where the writer's room was... "You're Adrian..." said Emily, so I finally met my fellow SMV'ers.

We were joined in a reading by a current student, Ian Chung, which was a nice touch. Both Emily and Claire read "Leamington Spa" poems from their books - and it felt like I'd been invited into someone's home, rather than just a reading. I read a few poems from "Playing Solitaire for Money" and a couple of new ones. There were about a dozen of us, and I enjoyed meeting the students, as well as the other poets in the room. The Salt Modern Voices isn't necessarily a "school" or a "movement", just a series of books by promising poets who are quite varied in styles and influences, and it was good to add the two women's books to the selection I've already got.

The next reading I'm doing will be on 14th November at the Compass Pub, in Islington, 7 for 7.30pm.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sent to Coventry and Other Tall Tales

Just a quick roundup -:

This Thursday I'm reading with Robert Graham, Emily Hasler and Clare Trevien, all published in the Salt Modern Voices series as part of our mini-tour. The venue will be a new one to me; the Writers' Room at the University of Warwick. Home of the Warwick Review amongst other things, I'm looking forward to a change of scene.

I was away for much of Manchester Literature Festival but caught 3 things at the weekend. "The Mind Has Fuses" an intrigueing evening dedicated to B.S. Johnson (blogged about here), and Zhu Wen and his translator Julia Lovell in conversation with Ra Page (which I blog about for the festival here.) The 3rd event was a nice end of weekend literary quiz, where, despite leading at half way the team I was on got beaten to a pulp (fiction) by the juggernaut that was the librarians!

At the Zhu Wen event there was a Comma Press bookstall and I was pleased to pick up the long-awaited debut collection, "The War Tour" by Zoe Lambert, only sorry that I hadn't been to see her read from it. Luckily, I then bumped into her on the way to the quiz in the Cornerhouse so got it signed. The city's literary serendipity acting wonderfully!

Because I'm poetry-reading in the Midlands, I'm going to miss (again) tomorrow night's Bad Language, but for anyone not literatured-out its sure to be a good night, with a reading by Emma Jane Unsworth - from, she assured me, her next novel rather than current one.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Readable Barnes

I was away for this year's Booker and just managed to find BBC newsnight on the Tuesday night whilst in Eindhoven to hear that Julian Barnes, the thoroughbred in this year's race had won the prize. I've yet to read the short "Sense of an Ending" but intend to do so; and its definitely an overdue honour. Barnes is the most enigmatic of that generation of writers in some ways. Whereas Amis we know everything about, the arch-satirist, the political enfant terrible; and McEwan has built a solid and ever-expanding ouvre of middlebrow psychodramas; I'm not even sure most readers of my age and younger would even think of Barnes as a novelist these days. He's a man of letters; hardly ever out of the Guardian review, an obvious intellectual aesthete of the type we rarely get in Britain.

He was always preferred (or liked equally) in France to Britain, which is easy to forget now he's top of the literary tree - and, worth pointing out that his books have frequently been more experimental and playful than is usual amongst British novelists. I'd assumed he'd been writing ignored novels between his Booker shortlistings, but looking at his bibliography, we've barely had 2 novels a decade since his heyday of the 80s. From "Metroland" in 1980 to "Talking it Over" in 1991, he was one of our pre-eminent novelists. His range has always been impressive, no one book is much like another (except in the pairing of "Talking it Over" and its sequel "Love etc.") and I was introduced to his brilliant "A History of the World in 10 and a half chapters", one of the only books by his generation that seemed aware of the post-war European novel and its tricks and delights, by a very non-literary friend. For thoroughbred or not, Barnes has always been the most readable of literary novelists. His novels have always (in Chris Mullin's unfortunate phrase) "ripped along." For me "Talking it Over" is, along with "A History..." his best, a cleverly told relationship novel.

So, for all the discussions about readability and dumbing down that has accompanied this year's prize, its probably only right that the winner is a writer who is never high brow or low brow, an aesthete, a postmodern writer, who remains always a joy to read; and has criticised the Booker himself in the past for being "posh bingo."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Literati

It's that time of year when the press is full of literary intrigue and controversy, when writers are tense, and when too much wine is drunk as the world finds out who has won...this year's Manchester blog awards.(*) Sadly work commitments mean that I will be in Eindhoven rather than the Deaf Institute on the night, but I'm sure it will be a good evening for all who attend.

(*) yes, yes its also the Booker on Tuesday night, but that's boring. My money (having only read one of the shortlist) is on Carol Birch.

In other news I wasn't able to attend the Manchester Fiction Prize, but with the shortlist good enough to furnish both a winner and a runner-up I imagine there was much carousing amongst the "literati" on Friday night. (Though, in my experience half of the Manchester "literati", whoever that might be, don't drink, which has always been a bit of a disappointment!) You can find out about the winners and read the shortlisted entries from here. In a highly international shortlist (4 out of the 8 were American/Canadian)Krishan Coupland from Southamption won ahead of Preston's Richard Hirst.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Festival Time!

The Manchester Literature Festival begins today, with latest news via the blog or their Twitter. Its a packed programme, so go to either of those places for recommendations and reminders. Its all very respectable the first few days with establishment figures Colm Toibin, Alan Hollinghurst, Andrew Motion and Micheal Frayn, but lets its hair down a bit from next weekend. This handy one page Calendar is probably the best way to plan your campaign.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The waves come in, the waves go out

Literature sometimes feels like a tide. At one moment its lapping around your feet, another moment you're stuck in a thin sand, the water miles away. The waves come in, the waves come out. Literary reputation has something of that as well, and there's plenty of lapping at the shore at this time of year. This year's Booker is announced on the 18th October, so expect plenty of pieces in the papers trying to drum up interest in an other wise uninteresting year.

The Swedish Academy has given literary trainspotters another tick in the box, with the esteemed Swedish poet(the first for 40 years, so leave that controversy to rest), Tomas Tranströmer a respectfully applauded winner. Born in 1931, and still writing, despite being paralysed by a stroke, its not a name I'm familiar with. The poems sound interesting, if not what I usually read; Bloodaxe in the UK are the independent press that energetically publishes his work.

And Neil Astley from Bloodaxe gave an illuminating Q&A online at the Guardian for National Poetry Day (what do you mean, you missed it?). His answers are towards the end of the comments.

Its 20 years of the Forward Prize and there's a well-curated summary of that prize in the Guardian. It's consistent, at least, though reading the poems, and the commentaries one wouldn't think of British poetry as the broadest of churches. The natural world, the elegy, history...these are the pillars of contemporary British poetry (or at least its Forward winners.) Its a poetry of solidity, at its most solid in its immutable borderlands, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, to such an extent that you wonder what an English poet, without Celtic forbears or leanings, would actually sound like?

My own tide has been out for several weeks. Not written - or thought - a creative thing, and that makes me sad. But its a tide, remember, rather than a constant river. I perhaps need to remember what the sandbanks look like now and then.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Book Barge in Manchester

The Book Barge is in Manchester for a few days near the end of its summer tour, before returning to Staffordshire. It is what it says on the tin, a bookshop on a barge, and utterly lovely in every way. I went there after work with JT Welsch (he took the photos) and we bumped into Kate Feld there. Manchester's literary village at its very best! (Its moored until Tuesday over the bridge from what used to be Bar Ca in Castlefield, Paul Magrs is reading there on Sunday at 4pm.)