Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Privilege of Rain

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 what does that say about standards?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Two weeks left of the Surrey fellowship

I have two weeks to go at Surrey University and I'll be sad to leave my glorious, light-filled eyrie on the third floor of the library. I look over rooftops, down past the Senate building to the Surrey hills and layers of trees. It's felt like a very private year, so close to clouds and air conditioning vents, aerials and ladders.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Unknown woman poet wins prize

Eleanor Ross Taylor apparently doesn't do readings, her work's been out of print for years but at 90 she's been recognised by the American Poetry Foundation and given the Ruth Lilly Award. I'll be buying her book.....she writes about my life in a way that feeels uncannily accurate. Reading her work on the web gave me the same shiver as when I discovered Selima Hill and Edna St Vincent Millay.

This is what Kevin Prufer writes on the US National Book Critics blog:

'Her speakers are most often mothers and wives thinking about their grown children, the complexities of marriage, and (increasingly in the later poems) their responsibilities to the dead and their own impending demise.'

Here are some tasters of her work:

from The Diary (Captive Voices: New and Selected Poems 1960 - 2008, Louisiana State University Press)

Contrary to belief, the word diary
means undivulged; clues trail
the pages and the trail breaks off,
scent's lost. Wandering is
the only way out of this place.

And you can read the next poem, Woman as Artist, at

I’m mother.
I hunt alone.
There is no bone
Too dry for me, mother...

And another woman writer who deserves much more recognition is Stevie Davies, based in south Wales. Her latest novel, Into Suez is published by Parthian. It's one of the best contemporary novels I've read - it has an international sweep, it's honest, brave and emotionally wrenching. The plot is incredible and the characters walk off the street they are so real. It questions so much about world politics and modern life that I was bowled over by how she knitted it all together. This novel must be read and should win prizes.