On Doing the Wrong Thing

Of course it is all subjective, but you know when you’ve done the wrong thing.
I’m on LinkedIn. There are several writers forums. I joined one and started a discussion claiming I was looking for a rhyme for orange, in order to complete a poem for my second book. It was truly a case of a hot afternoon, nothing to do and the devil making work.
The comments I got back were a hilarious mix of the truly helpful and supportive, to the sniffy, Oxford-Don-ish decrying of the end of poetry. After 200 or so comments I posted that orange was too hard to rhyme, and that I would be changing my tack and replacing it with banana, and that I was looking for rhymes which would imbue my poem with foreboding.
Now, one of the nicer commentators enjoyed the mischief but did nudge me to feeling guilty. Was I taking the piss? Kind of. It was probably the wrong thing to do.

Commit the crime, expect punishment.

Commit the crime, expect punishment.

But I once went on a seminar with Michael Laskey and Peter Sansom where we were invited to choose and advocate for a favourite first collection of poems. I chose Bonobos, Chris Preddle; I cant recall many others, except Ed Reiss chose a similarly “uneven” writer. Though Preddle is anything but lacking in skill and intelligence. The outcome of the conversation was circling on how a certain energy comes from writers who take chances, who get things “wrong” , whatever that means. Clearly this needs further discussion: what the meaning is is that you know there are more “even” books written. This is not necessarily positive. In fact, I would argue, the opposite.

Wrong could mean many things. Out of prevailing style, at odds with the familiar. I very much like Joey Connolly’s comments in his Poetry Review article about “flawlessness” as a criticism being levelled at some. What a delicious concept. So counter-intuitive for many. So humane. Orange rhymes with banana. Wrongly. Wonderfully.

A banorange. Common in Wiltshire.

Posted in autopsy, Banorange, Chris Preddle, commentary, creative writing, Ed Reiss, Michael Laskey, mistakes, modern poetry, poetry, Publishing, respect, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Looking Forward

So one of my poems was Highly Commended in the Forward prize this year, and will be published in the Anthology. Of course, I’m very pleased. When this kind of recognition occurs, it is very exciting. Quite overwhelming. But then it feels like Pooh sticks. It is as if I can see the event drifting away from me. Which of course is exactly what is happening.

Fantastic. Dangerous.

Fantastic. Dangerous.

I have a great book of quotes in which I found the truism that two awful events that can befall a person are to never achieve one’s dreams, or to achieve them. I haven’t; but the lesson from mini-triumphs such as this is that I’d best set my sights high. Better to be worst among the best, than the other way round.
And did you see what the Wimbledon Tennis heroes see as they walk onto central court: above the entrance is the Kipling If quote about triumph and disaster.

N.B. I am well aware this is a disingenuous post, and that I protest too much. I’m having the best of both worlds: bragging and disclaiming. Cake saved plus eaten. Defence as attack. But it’s simultaneously honest: god it hurts when you start writing and all these plaudits are being shared but everyone but yourself. I guess I’m hoping those in need of the thought that not winning any of these does not mean one is not good. Then, you will say, look at the blurb about yourself, on your own blog site. I know. What a ham. A hypocrite. MMMM. Life’s complicated.

PPS. The most recent Poetry Society magazine has the most brilliantly curmudgeonly article about the Forward Prize that has to be read. If nothing else, it has one slapped in the face with the realisation that the day after winning the most notable prizes, the poet must get up and get writing once again. The only work that matters.

Posted in competition, creative writing, grime, poetry, Publishing, success, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

On Other Poets

Philip Guston left NY for the ‘burbs because he just couldn’t take the networking.

3 am. Unused to friendship.

3 am. Unused to friendship.

My friends are friends first, and if they happen to be artists, then so be it. But it is important you don’t get these things confused. Work hard to understand if you like a person. Don’t let art get in the mix. It so happens some of my friends are artists. But we have life in common, then art.

And what if your friends create art you don’t like? It’s like them having children you cant stand. I think I am at war with all writers. This has to do with the dysfunction of why I write. The impossible aim is to be better that other writers – without understanding what “better” means.

God it hurts when someone writes well. Though this is mitigated by them either being dead or having one foot in the grave.

I have one or two writing friends, but it has always been a mistake to talk writing when we meet. Far better to discuss something in life and to boozily form opinions and attitudes. I wouldn’t want a proper conversation about, say a poem of mine, or theirs. Horrors! To reflect soberly, or take and weigh a judgment or criticism just doesn’t bear thinking about. My poems are conversations with myself, triangulated between a viciously complex network of viewpoints and influences; made-up rules and the black-hole-suck of perceived artistic disasters.

And what do you imagine might happen if you achieve success with your art? Imagine the bitterness that will be projected at you. Get and bend the corrugated iron roof for your artistic Anderson shelter and take cover. Sharpen your pencil. Punch your keyboard. Never meet your heroes. Invent other ways to praise.

Posted in contemporary art, creative writing, fine art, modern art, Philip Guston, poetry, Publishing, time, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

On How One’s Friends Reflect You

Just crystal clear.

Just crystal clear.

I’ve been reading Milosz’s Roadside Dog on the tube/on the bus/train, and realising this man is my friend. This is the reason for books: they hold the best parts (hopefully) of those minds you may never meet. Milosz’s writing does this marvellous thing; distilling experience (vast) and reflecting with humanity on humanity.

Due to work, I’ve been reflecting a lot on leaders and leading. It’s a viciously complex library in the human experience. I’m finding that I sich zwischen zwei Stühle setzen: there’s something about most leaders that seems wanting, and yet there are jobs I simply can’t turn away from.

Leaders in poetry include Robert Hass. I was sent the way of Milosz recently via his recommendation in the anthology, Now and Then. Again, hugely generous in its signposting on hitherto unknowns (for me). These include Joseph Stroud, well-known in the US.

I won’t go to the summarise-able, biog quirks that are so infectious and play with my mind – but go straight to the writing. The collected and new anthology of Stroud’s begins with a sequence of 6 lined poems which talk of literature and art and living. Here is a poem in entirety.

After the Opera

Coming out of the theatre surrounded by people
in elegant clothes, jewelry, all the arias finished, no one
able to hold the music inside for long, soon enough
it’s gone, and it’s night in the city, it’s all neon and noise,
the woman you’re with stops to adjust her shoe, leans
her body against yours for a moment, balancing.

I love poems which sound and bounce, but admire and live for poems which pick up a theme of thinking: for me, the conundrum of how art is like vitamin C in the body, easily flushed out, needing constantly to be refreshed, returns frequently. I find myself in line with this poet’s concerns, and in awe of the directness of communication he achieves; truly a skill not praised enough.

” I put the shell down and wait for the snail
to emerge. I have much to learn of patience.”

So do I.

Posted in autopsy, commentary, contemporary art, creative writing, leadership, poetry, Uncategorized, work | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On How the Devil Poetry Endures


In an interview with poet Mark Wunderlich published in the Cortland Review, Doty was asked why he thought poetry endured as an art form. He answered: “My guess is that somehow poetry is a vessel for the expression of subjectivity unlike any other; a good poem bears the stamp of individual character in a way that seems to usher us into the unmistakably idiosyncratic perceptual style of the writer. I think we’re hungry for singularity, for those aspects of self that aren’t commodifiable, can’t be marketed. In an age marked by homogenization, by the manipulation of desire on a global level…poetry may represent the resolutely specific experience. The dominant art forms of our day—film, video, architecture—are collaborative arts; they require a team of makers. Poems are always made alone, somewhere out on the edge of things, and if they succeed they are saturated with the texture of the uniquely felt life.”