There is a new book out with Waterloo press in Brighton - The Privilege of Rain by David Swann. It was launched last night at an intimate little theatre in the North Laines. Dave could have done with a larger venue, actually, for this book, because it is top quality and we were crammed in.
The book's a mixture of poems and prose which works very well, perfectly pitched - the poems pause you, keep you in the intensity of a thought and image, while the prose stretches you into reflection, conversation, the bigger environment that the work comes from. And that's the key - this is the result of a prison residency that Dave did for a year in Nottingham. Dave's now a lecturer at the University of Chichester and a thoroughly brilliant one at that - generous, dedicated, honest and charismatic.
So it was a good launch and one that also highlighted the richness of writing going on in Brighton right now. Squeezed around the table with me - Robert Dickinson who has a new novel and collection just out, Helen Oswald, whose new collection will be launched at the end of May at the Red Roaster. Naomi Foyle was compering.....and I was reminded of John O'Donoghue's brilliant collective name for what's going on in and around this city by the sea - he calls it the Beach Generation.
It's always rather dangerous doing a name check but here are some of us: Helen, Naomi and Robert of course, plus Lee Harwood, John McCullough, Catherine Smith, Janet Sutherland, Maria Jastrebska, Bernadette Cremin, Robert Hamberger John O'D himself, Lorna Thorpe, Ros Barber, Brendan Cleary, Hugh Dunkerley, Sarah Jackson, Tom Cunliffe and of course Grace Nichols and John Agard....and I'm sure I've missed some out. These are poets writing for the page, poets committed to the printed word and all that implies - rigorous editing, drafting, concern with form etc. etc.
There's a host of performers too that I wouldn't dream of trying to list for two reasons. One - they're essentially polarised into poets and MCs. If I had to choose, my sympathies there lean more towards the MCs, if only because my son's a rapper. And I have a problem with quite a lot of the performance poetry - it's either a carbon copy of what people THINK the beats were doing (and guys - Ginsberg did it best, he can't be copied....oh, and Patti Smith is a one off, too) or it's half-way towards stand-up comedy, half-way being the operative phrase. I used to defend performance poetry and try and resist the separation but two recent experiences have had me spitting blood.
At one of these I was a participant but left feeling like the aunt in the corner at the party, not quite sure why I'd been invited.
At another, all I could think of was WIGGER. White men have not yet earned the right to be satirically racist. When a man on a stage pretends to stick a bone through his nose and drones on in mock pidgin English about savages and penis size - apparently ironically - he's lucky his audience is too polite to drag him off stage. He was also lucky there wasn't a single black person in the audience. Bad move. Bad poetry. But he's apparently very popular.....now what does that say about standards?