Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Great Week for Literature

The lit season is coming to a climax... actually, it never really stops does it, but probably slows down a bit in the summer as the literati head on holiday. So April and May are periods of Peak Lit. This week's crazy...

Tonight its Bad Language at the Castle - always a good night if you're in town and like your literature washed down with some decent ale. Ex-Tindal Street's Luke Brown is the headliner so see for yourself whether his novel "My Biggest Lie" is a "delicate delineation of grief and loss" (Jenn Ashworth in the Guardian) or has "multiple flaws", (Max Dunbar in 3AM Magazine).

Tomorrow its the literary equivalent of the homecoming gig, when Emma Jane Unsworth's second novel "Animals" is launched with a cast of thousands (well, a few) at Waterstones. I so wanted to be at this, but something's come up and it's going to be a squeeze to make it, but don't let that stop you.

Then Friday its the launch of the latest instalment of the inestimably good Bury Text Festival. The arts on for a few weeks but there's a whole range of readings all day Saturday and Sunday, so do get on that tram and get along to one of Greater Manchester's gems of a festival.

Its a couple of weeks off, but it looks like another work trip means I'll miss the launch of Michael Schmidt's "sequel" to his monumental "Lives of the Poets", "The Novel: a biography" at Anthony Burgess on Wednesday 15th May. More known for his poetry knowledge, I studied my M.A. in novel writing under him back in the day, and he brings an equal fervour to great prose. This book's been a long time in the pipeline and I'm sure it will be a fantastic event for all literature lovers.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Welcome to the Age of Meta-

The financial crash of 2008 would, in a sane world, have been the last time that reality would have been obscured by the smoke and mirrors of an antique religion - in this case late capitalism. All those AAA rated securities had behind them something "real", a mortgage, a promise, however tenuous this was. Yet our addiction, it seems is not any Maslow hierarchy of real needs, but a complex patterning of systems that are, at best, signifiers of the real, and at worst, nonsensical replacements for it.

The information age is already dead, so welcome to the age of Meta-, where it is the descriptive signifier, rather than the thing itself that matters. Yes, we always knew a note or a coin was a "promise" rather than an actual thing; yet we are sophisticated enough to take that - as long as its not a forgery - as the best way of exchanging value. For most of us, the money in our pocket - in our accounts - is as real as the things we can buy with it.

Yet the world has long gone beyond even tenuous links between the signifier and the signified. When the NSA collects our phone conversations, it is not what we say that is inherently value, but who we say it to and when - the metadata. "The Wire" looks positively quaint now, with its pagers and mobile phones, and long range cameras providing a "proof" of drug exchange; even "virtual real estate" like that we had in "Second Life" seems reassuringly solid compared to the mathematical extrapolation of  "currency mining" in Bitcoin. This week we heard that the Gherkin, London's new skyline centrepiece has gone into administration. It won't affect the building or its tenants or even the desire of architects and property developers to redraw London's skyline with many less impressive towers, yet it's a perfect example of the age of Meta-. Here's a building built specifically for its anchor tenant, the previously anonymous Swiss/Re insurance company, that was then sold on at a profit to a number of speculators, who, because their debt was priced in Swiss Francs, which have now gone astronomical, have found their "asset" unaffordable. The normal world - you build something, you inhabit it, you own it - that's not enough in the age of meta-.

But it wasn't the only example this week. David Moyes was sacked as Manchester United manager. "Football manager gets sacked" is hardly news. Yet it was the 24 hours leading up to this sacking that even the BBC, still supposedly a news station, where the news took hold after several Sunday papers lead on it. Here's a thing; if the Man United board hadn't been about to sack Moyes on Monday (and maybe they did hope to keep him till the end of the season), in the age of meta- it was already more "real" than the reality itself - a man doing a professional job in a game that always has, whichever you cut it, exactly the same numbers of winners and losers each season. So, just as it had been for the  politician Maria Miller a few weeks before, the speculation was showcased as news, and then the news itself - the sacking, the resignation - comes afterwards. What is "real" about any of this? An amply rewarded Moyes wakes up on whichever morning it was, and he doesn't go into work, he sits at home, his bank account several million pounds richer, his reputation (surely the original currency of the age of meta-) worth far less. All around the country you'll find people in jobs or applying for benefits also spending all their energies dealing with the exigencies of the age of meta-, where the "disability" that a person has, for instance, doesn't change, merely the coding of it. In the public sector, the coalition's cuts are still going on - arts organisations and councils continually spending time when they should be doing something, instead dealing with the meta- age.

And it gets worse. Is there anything more meta- in 2014 than the awarding of Sainthood to two dead Popes? What strange rituals have survived the enlightenment to such an extent that a flesh and blood man, who died within recent memory, is canonised as a result of "verified" miracles. If all awards are essentially a layer of meta- recognition, Sainthood, must be the most meta- of all.

Our house prices earn more whilst we go out to work than we earn whilst at work - our daily lives are now punctuated by Buzzfeed quizzes and "15 best" lists - and even an exaltation of the physical, the buying of vinyl on record store day, can seem another triumph of the meta- for these artefacts are not for playing, so much as possessing, the songs may as well be unplayable in those grooves as long as the cellophane that wraps them is unbroken.

I've often read about the distinction between the "real" world and the "virtual" world, but now we have this "meta-" world that is, to all intents and purposes, more real than either. The old philosopher's problem of a tree crashing in the forest - ("does it make a sound?") - has become our new normal. It would have surely been enough for me to not write these few hundred words, but simply to talk about it, as if I had done so.

For in the age of meta- nothing exists unless it is tagged, linked, reflected on. Like a never-played b-side on an old 45, it exists, for it was written and recorded, but it hardly exists at all.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus

Whereas we would once find in American fiction a tacit celebration of America, however multifarious, however broken and flawed, more recently - and often enough to be more than just a trend - we have seen writers perching their narratives on the edge of the contemporary, at the point of breakdown, whether in the earthquake zone of LA in A.M. Homes' "This Book Can Save Your Life", the timewarped alternate histories of Roth's "The Plot Against America" and King's "11.22.63", or the post-apocalypse depicted in Cormac McCarthy's future frontier novel "The Road." To this list we can now add Ben Marcus's "The Flame Alphabet."

A suburban couple are packing to leave their house and possessions behind them, not only that, but their teenage daughter, Esther, will also be left behind. For she is the carrier of the contagion that is steadily killing them. In a brilliantly original conceit, the words of teenagers and children are killing their parents. "At first we thought we were bitten," begins our narrator, as he describes the steady sickening of his wife Claire, and then himself. It becomes clear over time that it is their teenagers who are killing them. In recognition of generation gaps everywhere, Esther's hatred for her parents' ministrations and care for her, is accentuated into something toxic so that when she blasts at them, they are made physically ill. This state of affairs, means that the sullen, unresponsive teenager becomes isolated from them, yet so great their love for her is that they keep pushing her, only for a torrent of words to come close to killing them.

Yet such a conceit, occasionally funny, but more often portrayed with a great sense of malevolence by Marcus - you can almost feel the palpable tension in their home, as they try and navigate this new state of toxicity - is not enough in what is a substantial novel. For the couple are followers of a secret religion. They are "forest Jews" who worship in private, each couple given their own "Jew hole", a secret place in the forest where they can "listen" to prayers and incantations through some antique orange-wired phone system. Common to readers of his short stories, this warping of a familiar world is part of Marcus's stock-in-trade. He is far less interested in describing the practicalities of a world that is otherwise the one we know, with cars, houses and canned food - and much more interested in creating a warped layer within it. 

One feels that there are probably numerous subtexts - beyond the obvious ones of subjugation and anti-Semitism - in this hidden Jewish religion relating to the nature of the Jewish religion, and its embodiment in the Torah, the word of God. I'm not knowledgeable enough about Judaism to be sure - but its not really that necessary - for this secret language, where the listeners become "conduits" to a private messaging channel, which in the slightly steampunky descriptions feels like a combination of CB radio and secret "numbers stations". Yet this is a fixed line network, that we begin to think only exists through the self-deceptions of its few adherents.

As the language plague spreads, and becomes more dangerous, there's a worry that its only the Jewish children who are spreading it, but it becomes more widespread, so that the children have to be quarantined in the city's where they live, and the adults are kept out by loudspeakers blasting out children reading Aesop's fables.  Yet it is not so easy to leave a child. Addicted to the secrecies of their religion our narrator begins various "smallwork" to protect him and his family. Here the similarities with "The Road" are quite acute, this is a man who will do everything he can, however misguided, to protect what he loves. A stranger appears in his life, the red-headed Murphy, a non-Jew who appears over-fascinated in this private religion and particular in the "listener", a personal receiver that each worshipper has as a conduit to scripture. As the plague grows, it begins to be discussed in the media. "Experts" look to find cures to see how it travels to understand how to protect against it. There is a chorus of philosophers, a man called Burke, a man called LeBov, the Rabbi Thompson, and then, making himself known to our narrator, Murphy, a red-haired stranger who appears overly interested in him, his family, and his attempts at self preservation.

There's something compelling about these layers of mystery in the first section of the novel. There's a genuine sense of dread, as the everyday certainties of life get pulled apart not just by the plague but by the rumous attached to its spreading. Bit by bit we see that normal society is a construct that can be pulled apart, even as much as dragging parents from their children, who are left to run feral in noisy gangs, before they too, at a certain shift into adulthood, will begin to feel the language toxic.

In the 2nd part of the novel, our narrator escapes, but it is a futile escape - too late for Claire who is too weak by this stage - and with no real sense of where he's going he gets bundled into Forsythe, the experimental research facility where they are researching language - for now it is not just children, but language in all its forms that is toxic. In a fiendishly imagined lab of silence, he comes up with new versions of old languages that are then tested on unwitting volunteers. Its seems language, meaning, even the symbols - the alphabet - are equally toxic. As soon as we understand, we suffer. As Claire is brought to the laboratory, he begins to understand his own role here - that he is seen as someone who may have some knowledge of a cure. Murphy and LeBov turn out to be the same person. The secrets of the Jewish communication are seen as somehow necessary in finding a solution, even as they look to discover a diabolical serum that can allow conversation of some sort.

This long second section is perhaps less successful than the opening. Marcus's world is so skewed that its hard to retain a sustained imaginative understanding of it. Our narrator is unreliable, scheming, kept going by irrational thoughts and surreptitious plans about bringing his family back together. Whilst Murphy/LeBov seems almost a cartoon villain, a creature of an undeclared establishment who is doing what is necessary. It perhaps lacks some of the narrative coherence of the best SF but instead has a complex, multi-layered patterning about the world. I'm reminded of that other brilliant but flawed future-society that has developed a new language, Will Self's "Book of Dave" where the central conceit is so brilliant, but, like in "The Flame Alphabet", it is sometimes hard to truly imagine the strange world that the books exists in - so little is explained, even though our narrator tries to explain where he can, he is also coming from a position of ignorance.

When Claire comes into Forsythe, we can see that the possibility of the redemption - of the family getting back together again may be the conclusion of this strange, unsettling book - but Marcus seems less interested in this kind of narrative tidiness. Our characters are adrift in a madness of their own - pumped up by adherence to a scripture, that we're never entirely sure if its not they themselves who are making up, and sharing across the underground network. The novel seems to be setting up that without language all the things we take for granted - love, family, sex - become almost impossibly devoid of meaning. The scientists in Forsythe tap each other on the shoulder as a prelude to unemotional sex. Our self-preservation as a species sees many willing volunteers come into the facility to be "test subjects" lured, perhaps, by the sense of a possible reunion with their children. This muteness, like the "Blindness" in that Saramago novel, creates a bleak feral society. There's a touch of the generic in this - which goes back to the laboratories in books like "A Clockwork Orange" and "1984" and surely has at least some of its potency in our knowledge of Mengele's labs. There's little explicit in this book that can describe motive - like "The Road" or "Blindness" this is a fallen world without cause - in this there are devils and angels, yet seen through one man's perspective we can only imagine some kind of pre-science world of superstition.

For the language plague creates the same myths and uncertainties and fears as the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s or the black death - and our solutions, even in an age of science, are as likely to be anecdotal or based on faith as on any real evidence. As our narrator escapes - his captives apparently placing too much faith in his secret language, when it proves no more rewarding than any other "cure", we expect perhaps some kind of epiphant. But Esther, who in the early pages of the novel is a brilliant creation, becomes only a chimera in this language-free world. How can love survive without words?

"The Flame Alphabet" is ultimately a powerful, yet frustrating novel of complex ideas, that themselves are never over-explained, but leave the reader wondering what he might have missed - whilst as the same time enjoying the genuine strangeness of Marcus's imagined world. There are no convenient answers, and like the man determined to protect his son on "The Road", this desire to bring back a family which is almost severed beyond repair leaves us saddened, wondering at the toxicity, not just of language, but of the ideas and thoughts that sustain it.

P.S. Having just read Nicholas Lezard's review in the Guardian from when it came out, I think he gets a bit to the heart of the book's strange beauty, which my more literal reading above skirted round a little.

Monday, April 21, 2014

I can be a Science Fiction Writer If I want to

Like my reading, my writing began with Science Fiction. There was nothing to be written about the bog standard comprehensive I went to, the small dormitory village where I lived, the unexceptional nature of my family and friends, even my own solipsistic uniqueness. There were, however, robots, and spaceships, and quite soon after fantastic scenarios that can only be described as SF (though later, some people would prefer "fiction", yeah, right.)

So my first stories were almost all SF ones, yet though I enjoyed the odd space opera (Hello Blakes 7, and later Battlestar Galactica), perhaps the grounded-to-earth SF of the 3rd Doctor Who or "Quatermass" were more my thing. Looking back, I was writing a kind of cyberpunk before I'd read William Gibson (and when I read  "Neuromancer" I was disappointed, though I came round by "Count Zero"), but hardly surprising given my diet of William Burroughs, Douglas Adams, George Orwell, "Blade Runner", the Jerry Cornelius novels Iand "Howard the Duck." So, over the years I've written quite a number of stories that can only be classed as SF, and quite a number, as well, that though not in anyway futuristic, are steeped enough in that genre's willingness to bend the present, might as well be.

Yet I've never had a straight SF story published. Over the years I've sent a few things to Interzone, and maybe other magazines that have come up. Its not that I'm over literary, but that I'm probably over literary for the straight SF magazine, where anything that hints at the literary tends to get sniffed out pretty quickly. I'm often reading on SF blogs a distaste for mainstream writers who "write SF" as a one off, but either get it wrong, or just use its tropes (e.g. "Children of Men", "Never Let Me Go"), but it strikes me its a 2-way street. When I write an SF story, I don't think "ooo, I'm writing speculative fiction" or "fantasy" or "slipstream" or whatever, I just think, "good, some proper SF." I would love to see a book in the Soviet yellow of those old Gollancz, or with a pulp drawing like a NEL paperback.  And yes, I read a little SF now and then, usually, it has to be said when the tedious lack of ideas of so much contemporary fiction gets on my nerves, and yes, I wince at the casual sexism that still seems to be at home in any future sex scene or the clunky writing that often comes with even well-acclaimed fantasists. And yes, I don't really get SF's grubby younger brother (sister?) "fantasy." A post-punk dislike for progressive rock's obsession with stairways to heaven etc. means I've never read Tolkein, and probably never will. (Though  I loved the Narnia books as a kid, so maybe its just something I grew out of.)

I've often read SF writers say that they choose to write in the genre as it gives them more options about talking about the contemporary world, which I understand, but I wonder why then you would "only" write in that genre? To be honest, most of my recent stories are hard to  categorise, and one that I thought was going to be an SF story (its about surveillance culture and piecing together what happened to a disappeared child from the available footage) turned out to require a more realist take. Similar, a story I've coming out later in this year could be classed as speculative or slipstream, but I really don't know whether or not it is. Writing about the internet and new technology often puts my stories in a day after tomorrow which may or may not be  SF.

Who knows? I can be a Science Fiction writer if I want to... yet getting these things published might be another issue. We seem to increasingly want a sort of pluralistic world, whether its in poetry between the experimental and mainstream, or in fiction between genre and general fiction. Readers are apparently not able to pick up the nuances or the differences - though a few writers, the late Iain Banks (through the ruse of the M. pseudonym), China Mieville, and Margaret Attwood for instance seem to be able to skip across borders very like the detective in Mieville's "The City and the City." So I had a dream the other night which I thought would make a good story. It's essentially an earthbound adventure story, as close to Edgar Rice Burroughs as J.G. Ballard, but with elements of both, and yet, eight thousand words in, I realise in my head I think of it as an SF story - though so far there's not a single element that could definitely be construed that way. And "construed" is a good word, because I guess I'm writing it to be as interesting as I can - and that means taking the best bits from adventure/thriller fiction, but with the best ideas from SF, and, I hope something of the literary skills of my general fiction. Lets see how it goes. I suspect I won't try and sell it as an SF story, but who knows?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter Things

I don't seem to have had much to write about recently. I'm sure there's plenty of literary debates going on, but with limited time to read, I've not a lot to say about stuff. Last week I made it to see one of my favourite writers, Ben Marcus, the American "experimentalist", who read at the Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester. I was asked to blog about it for the Manchester Literature Festival blog, so you'll find my piece there. I'm currently reading his excellent novel "The Flame Alphabet" which I'm sure I'll blog about here when the time comes. Not many writers who make me starstruck, but he's one, and interesting, as he was talking I realised that part of it was some kind of shared concerns and consciousness - after all we were born in the same year. Yet isn't that weird that you can feel that with someone from the US? I wonder if our English-speaking culture creates a shared understanding as well as a shared culture. I think the key thing may be that the cultural signifiers are often the same. Its like when you meet someone your age who was into similar music to you; there's an identification wherever you came from. More interesting for me, as a writer, is where I think I was when he had his experimental breakthrough novel "The Age of Wire and String" in the late 1990s. I had been trying to writing something - anything - and part of that had been to take on more conventional styles than some of the stuff I had been writing; I felt like I had to get someone to listen to me, and the easiest way was to write in a familiar language. Marcus offered an unfamiliar language, and part of me has always responded to that. Anyway, that's digressing a bit - my MLF piece describes his point of view a bit more in detail.


Over Christmas I spent a while sending out stuff and in dribs and drabs it comes back. But a couple of things got published. As well as three poems in "Bare Fiction",  I was very pleased to have a non-lyrical piece of art/music published online in "Verse Kraken." Actual proof of my cross-disciplinary work, I think.


There sometimes seems to be a writing event every night, and a writer on every corner, and blogger Simon Savidge addresses this in a new posting for "Fiction Uncovered." "Some authors had been trying for several years, some for several decades" he writes, about the annual selling show that is the London Book Fair. It's strange in some ways, that we should think of this of as in any way odd. For surely the best writing is a compulsion whether or not it finds an early audience or a publisher. I've seen writers have early success that has then seen them give up at the first hurdle. I guess I've always seen writing as much about exploration of process as end result, though I'm always intent on "finishing" whatever it is I'm working on. Seems that these are the only bits I have any control over. The "getting published" is out of my control (not to say, we can't make it easier for ourselves.)


My other obsession is, of course, music, and tomorrow is "Record Store Day" when men of a certain age (not only men, and not only of a certain age) queue for several hours to buy an overpriced piece of vinyl of an album they already own in three different formats, and which they will never listen to. It is of course, brilliant that this is the case. Though I can't help notice that there seems a lack of "specials" (other than special formats) this year, and prices have crept up. Piccadilly Records in Manchester is one of the most popular destinations in the country and so "getting there early probably means four hours before it opens. On past experience, and with nothing specific I want, I'll head down mid afternoon and pick up any dregs. Not quite true that there's nothing I want. I'd be tempted by the Psychic TV live reissues, a few of the 10" and 12"s on offer and also by a couple of 7" boxsets by Dinosaur Jr. and Dead Kennedys - I suspect that most of these might go really quickly, so unless I get sleepless at 4 in the morning, I'll just have to give it a miss.


Everything seems late this year - Easter, spring, my hayfever - which means that there's probably lots piling up in the next few weeks. I'm looking forward to the next Other Room even though its a while away - featuring Leanne Bridgewater, Agnes Lehoczky, both of whom are brilliant live, amongst others on 4th June. With no Manchester International Festival this year, (its bi-annual) there is, I think an opportunity for that June/July period to be filled with the unexpected, and I hope promoters and festivals and organisations take hold of it - as I somehow expect next year's MIF, coming as it will after the General Election, might be a massive event. With my art-loving hat on I have to mention the next Castlefield Gallery show curated by Bob and Roberta Smith which features art by "offenders"  - an oft-overlooked outsider art community, that its great to see in the gallery. The show is intrigueingly titled "Snail Porridge." And at the start of May - May 1st to be precise - Emma Jane Unsworth launches her 2nd novel "Animals" at Waterstones, with, no doubt, a large % of the Manchester literature scene in attendance.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

April is the Coolest Month

I've been in Barcelona for much of the last week - and that was immediately after this year's typically excellent FutureEverything festival in Manchester. The two cities have a lot in common, or at least a lot of connections between them - but I wasn't quite expecting Thursday's torrential rain to be one of them!

Much as I enjoyed the visit, it was for work, and I didn't find time to read, write or listen to anything all week, so I need a bit of a cultural top-up now I'm back. Its 20 years since Kurt Cobain died and since "Definitely Maybe" by Oasis.  I was pretty established in Manchester by 1994, and had moved into a decent sized flat in West Didsbury after 18 months in Eccles. Here I recorded a new cassette "Seventy Mauve", which at the age of 27, was probably me at one of my musical peaks. (The last seven tracks of my 90s compilation "Nineties Sell Thru" are taken from it.) Nirvana and Oasis seem to owe something to each other. For a start they both achieved the seemingly impossible - breaking out from, respectively the American hardcore, and UK indie scenes into becoming briefly, the biggest bands around. The massive sales of "Nevermind" saw Nirvana retreat into the more left-field sounds of "In Utero", and - we know now - dissolution and heroine. "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?"  - Oasis's 2nd album - is still one of the top 5 bestselling albums in the UK of all time; and led to cocaine, excess and declining artistic returns. There the similarities stop of course; for Oasis wanted to "Live Forever" whilst Cobain wrote a song called "I Hate Myself and I want to die." This is not just a difference between American and European sensibilities, or a tale of two working class heroes - rather, in some ways, I suspect the commercial success of grunge paved the way somehow for a British rock band like Oasis. Both bands, remember, were purveyors of rock classicism, but for Nirvana is was Boston and Sabbath, whilst for Oasis is was Slade and the Beatles. Post-Morning Glory Oasis were as relevant I guess as the Foo Fighters were after Nirvana died, retaining a large part of the audience, but losing a large part of the point.

Anyway, I was reading about Oasis on the flight over and will probably come back to them in a bit. Culturally Nirvana remain the bigger draw, not least because of that violent ending (after all the antagonistic Burnage brothers are still both with us, thankfully), and I notice that the winner of this year's Sunday Times short story prize is for a story entitled "Nirvana" by Adam Johnson, whilst the bookshops are full of a novel called "In Bloom" by Matthew Crow.

My Nirvana shelf now runs to 10 CDs, which isn't bad for a band who only lasted for 3 albums. Like all great rock bands I don't listen to them with nostalgia, but as if they were minted yesterday. The same applies to Oasis's first couple of years, but less so to the "Britpop" phenomenon that came in its wake. If we are nostalgic now for Sleeper, Ash and Supergrass its probably because "rock music" has pretty much died as a vital charting phenomenon in the years since, caught between reality TV, autotune and protools, and R&B.

Literature seems a little less allied to fashions, though I'm curious at how easy it is for an individual writer - particularly like me, one who is not in any way part of the industry - to be curiously always separate from the fashion. So its been particularly pleasing that a couple of seeds I sowed in the early part of the year have borne fruit. I have 3 poems alongside a somewhat stellar line up in the 2nd issue of poetry/plays/fiction magazine "Bare Fiction" (available mail order or from Foyles, Charing Cross Road.) Very pleasing to be alongside writers of the calibre and originality of Hannah Silva, Ira Lightman, Isobel Dixon and others. And I've also got a piece of "hybrid art" (it contains no words, so I hesitate to call it poetry!) in issue 2 of "Verse Kraken" a wonderfully clever online magazine which uses "spurs" to encourage new, original work; again I'm alongside quite a few artists/writers whose work I admire.

I'm back in Manchester, and leafing through my Facebook events (funny how we still using the page metaphor), I see that this Friday is Ben Marcus, the American experimental prose writer, at the Anthony Burgess Foundation.  I'd recommend to anyone interested in the cutting edge of American fiction to come along. The following day is the Manchester print fair, a regular event in the calendar now, which celebrates print in this age of the virtual. Go in the afternoon so you can stay around for a one-off poetry event - No Spy Zone - poets responding to the NSA/GCHQ surveillance. The glacial pace of the poetry world means that poets are sometimes seen as apolitical, yet it was Carol Ann Duffy joining other writers outside Pentonville Prison recently that got the national media interested in the ban on books in prisons; and it is local poets who are able to respond quickly and imaginatively to our new surveillance culture. You probably won't find much evidence of it in Poetry Review, or on Front Row, of course, but I'm increasingly of the view that the commodising of art culture is part of the problem. D.I.Y. is not just out of necessity, but a preferred mode of operation.

See you all there.