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“”I think poetry has really rather connived at its own irrelevance and that shouldn’t happen,…”

"I think poetry has really rather connived at its own irrelevance and that shouldn’t happen, because it’s the most delightful thing," said Paxman. "It seems to me very often that poets now seem to be talking to other poets and that is not talking to people as a whole."

His words come as official figures show a decline in poetry sales. Five years ago, in 2009, sales of poetry stood at £8.4m. By 2013, they had fallen to £7.8m, according to Nielsen BookScan.

Michael Symmons Roberts, a poet who has both won and judged the Forward prize, said that Paxman’s proclamation was “not without foundation in terms of the symptoms – it would be stupid for poets to say poetry is as dominant as the novel” – but he disagreed with Paxman’s diagnosis.

"Poetry doesn’t have the currency in our culture that novels and films have – people who would be embarrassed not to have read the latest Julian Barnes or Martin Amis are not the slightest bit embarrassed not to have read the latest John Burnside or Carol Ann Duffy. But I don’t believe it’s quite good enough to say this is a problem of poets and poetry – it’s far more complex," said Roberts.



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Jeremy Paxman says poets must start engaging with ordinary people | Books | The Guardian

Paxman is also quoted as saying that poetry should “aim to engage with ordinary people much more”. Surely, the notion of whether poetry engages adequately with “ordinary people” depends on the poetry you’re actually considering? Maybe what’s required here is a spotlight on engaging, challenging work that engages with the kind of ordinary people Paxman is referring to? That such work exists is not the question, rather where it can be found, and how it is celebrated/valued, particularly in relation to other works. Which essentially reduces to the question: who determines what “poetry” is, or more accurately, who determines which (of the various different forms of) poetry receives accolades and prestige?

Jun 2

“The written word is weak. Many people prefer life to it. Life gets your blood going, and it smells…”

“The written word is weak. Many people prefer life to it. Life gets your blood going, and it smells good. Writing is mere writing, literature is mere. It appeals only to the subtlest senses—the imagination’s vision, and the imagination’s hearing—and the moral sense, and the intellect. This writing that you do, that so thrills you, that so rocks and exhilarates you, as if you were dancing next to the band, is barely audible to anyone else. The reader’s ear must adjust down from loud life to the subtle, imaginary sounds of the written word. An ordinary reader picking up a book can’t yet hear a thing; it will take half an hour to pick up the writing’s modulations, its ups and downs and louds and softs.”

- Annie Dillard (via John Estes)
May 31

“Nature is full of branches because if you want to be close to a lot of space with minimal increase…”

Nature is full of branches because if you want to be close to a lot of space with minimal increase in your own volume, your best bet is a structure that forks and sub-forks. This is how birds make wings: they send out a bone with a little quick tissue and feather roots, and from them grow rachis, and from them grow barbs, and from them grow barbules, and from them grow barbicels, between which the gaps are so small that air doesn’t bother trying to get through, and the bird has made something the shape of an airfoil without having to fill it with heavy meat. Branching is also how plants fill out their space in the air to collect sunlight and CO2, and underground to find solid nutrients. The structures of your nervous, respiratory, and circulatory systems are similarly manifold.

But the principle is deeper than life itself. It’s how rivers work: though we don’t ascribe intent, a river needs to approach every part of its basin in the sense that erosion will make it grow streams and rivulets until it does. It doesn’t even have to be water. Fluid dynamicists use the phrase viscous fingering to describe this kind of structure in their domain.

In fact, apparently in some sense it might be deeper than physics, because – assuming MLC is true – the Mandelbrot, a piece of abstract math, has some desire-less need to connect its infinite brood.



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Fractals and Stories via Charlie Lloyd aka @vruba

This isn’t “poetry”. And yet it is. New definition: poetry = an indeterminable number of ways to pay attention to and fall in love with the world and all it’s truths, half-truths and lies.

May 26

My Poems Avoid Higher Math: A Short Interview with Bob Hicok (via the Merrimack Review)

RC: What role should poetry play in everyday life?

BH: None. Should sounds like eating vegetables. I'm sorry— I sort of criticised your question there. But I don't like should. I'm guessing that your question has to do, in part, with poetry's diminished status in our culture. I certainly wish poetry still didn't seem so strange to people. Which is weird, given that, if people write, they're more likely to write poetry than anything else, in my experience. With that in mind, I think poetry is an every-day thing for many.
May 25

The winner of last night’s ZAP! Slam, São Paulo, as part…



The winner of last night’s ZAP! Slam, São Paulo, as part of the FLUPP literary festival. In the third and final round, he performed a piece that consisted of two and a half minutes of silence, and a line that said something about how we are all mute in some way or another. I didn’t get a precise translation. Take note: there’s an art to holding your ground against expectation for two and a half minutes when every other piece before yours has put forward some kind of passionate exclamation. He approached the mic and backed away, toyed with us just enough so we didn’t question that it was all leading to something, and finally delivered. In conversation after the set, he called it a Kamikaze slam poem. For sure… but what a way to kill a slam, to subvert the form… #vscocam

May 24

“The world of the interrupt and the distraction keep us busy. That of course does not mean we are…”

“The world of the interrupt and the distraction keep us busy. That of course does not mean we are productive. The basics are common sense but in a seductive trivia-driven world rarely common practise. Re-boot these practices: (1) Be proactive; choose what you are going to do against your true priorities (2) set your priorities against your personal compass of the key areas of your life: career/health/finance/relationships/fun and contribution.”

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Deep Dive Productivity 12: Brilliant at the Basics - Nicholas Bate

Nicholas Bate consistently brings the good. If I had a fantasy faculty for a professional development programme for creatives, he’d be a first draft pick every time.

May 24

“I contribute in a variety of ways (if we must derive value from the idea of contributions): I have a…”

“I contribute in a variety of ways (if we must derive value from the idea of contributions): I have a day job and I also write, edit and publish work as a poet. I do not moonlight as a poet. Poetry is a job like many others. In some ways, it is more difficult; it is self-created. I believe that a Poet is not merely one who writes poetry but one whose dedication to poetry fits into their private or public lifestyle, and one who advocates for poetry in a way they believe to be valuable and meaningful.”

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Dispelling the Myth of the Poet: Why All Writers Should Defend Their Craft | Lisa Marie Basile

Dear poet: read the linked article immediately. Dear people who aren’t poets: please do the same. It certainly reminds me of a few too many conversations I’ve experienced. “So you’re a poet, eh?” they say with the kind of casual sneer reserved for someone who’s said they’ve just seen a unicorn…

May 23

Gerhard Steidl | The Talks

Gerhard Steidl | The Talks:

jackharries:

Mr. Steidl, you scheduled this interview at 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning. Do you always work on weekends?

Yes on Saturdays and Sundays. Those are the only days in the week where I can work concentrated on concepts for books, I can do my drawings for book covers and book design. I don’t have to open my mouth, I am silent, I listen to the radio, classical music, and I do just what I want.

Do you ever take time off or is the printing process such a passion for you that you don’t need to?

I am of course not risking my health and my physical power just for printing jobs and without six and a half hours of sleep at night I am of no use the next day, but actually throughout the year I don’t need vacations or days off. I have the privilege that I spend the day doing whatever I want. That keeps you fresher. It is more a question of discipline and something that you have to learn. Since I have been working for 45 years, I have learned to be disciplined.

Read more.

May 22

Hvísl – Whispers of Iceland (by schundoe) An interactive Art…



Hvísl - Whispers of Iceland (by schundoe)

An interactive Art Book; by Bertrand Lanthiez & Chloé Curé

This, where text = poetry. Ambient supporting audio and imagery alongside. Could be rendered as an app, but the tactility of the book, the idea of book as artefact that offers unfussy multimedia interactivity… yes.

May 21

“Often my subjects are the simplest things in the world: joy, family, the weather, houses, streets….”

“Often my subjects are the simplest things in the world: joy, family, the weather, houses, streets. Nothing fancy. And when I sit down with these subjects my aim is clarity. I’m really trying to clear some of the muddle from my own brain — my brain being a very muddled place indeed. Sometimes I think my whole professional life has been based on this hunch I had, early on, that many people feel just as muddled as I do, and might be happy to tag along with me on this search for clarity, for precision. I love that aspect of writing. Nothing makes me happier than to hear a reader say: that’s just what I’ve always felt, but you said it clearly. I feel then that I’ve achieved something useful.”

- Zadie Smith— Storytelling Is A Magical, Ruthless Discipline (via TheLi.st
May 20

“English Literature A Level concentrates only on literature (the clue is in the title). The English…”

“English Literature A Level concentrates only on literature (the clue is in the title). The English Language and Literature A Level (as the title again suggests,) draws on ideas and methods from literary criticism and the study of language to analyse both literary and non-literary texts, spoken as well as written, and from an infinitely wider sphere of contexts. Digital forms of communication such as Twitter feeds and blogs are increasingly influential in the modern world; parliamentary discourse, of which select committee proceedings are a part, have played a role in our democracy for a good deal longer. Many university English courses already draw on material from a similarly wider variety of sources, and A Level syllabi that introduce students to the analysis of a broad range of communication types (written and spoken; formal and informal; contemporary and canonical) are welcomed by University English.”

- Letter to The Sunday Times in support of A Level English Language and Literature via English & Media Centre
May 19

“so you have to live the poem with your whole mind and body. This is why performance poetry has had…”

“so you have to live the poem with your whole mind and body. This is why performance poetry has had not one great heyday, but many. You pass a poem to the audience through the words as embodied – literally – by the rest of your human form. And the people listening and watching come back at you in an equally embodied way.”

- Why performance is the embodiment of poetry— Michael Rosen (via The Guardian)
May 14

“Whatever pain you suffer, after you have observed it, after you have imagined its shape and taste…”

“Whatever pain you suffer, after you have observed it, after you have imagined its shape and taste and texture, after you have hypothesized its cause, ask yourself, “Am I ready to let this go?” If you say yes, your pain will disappear. If it does not disappear, you have two options: 1) Call a doctor. 2) Ask yourself, “What does this pain want to teach me?” and then, “Am I willing to learn its lesson?””

- Cindy Clem— Darkly Devotions | [PANK]
May 13

“Most of the members are English students or graduates, but not exclusively so. For example, I’m…”

“Most of the members are English students or graduates, but not exclusively so. For example, I’m studying archaeology and write a lot of archaeology poems. There are also a lot of people who come from theatre backgrounds and are very performance-focused, while other members are more focused on being published. We cover a range of page and stage poetry and ultimately the group is about what you bring to it from your own background.”

- Want to know more about Burn After Reading? BAR Poet Greer Dewdney is interviewed by The Little Owl— Page vs Stage Poetry | The Little Owl
May 12

“This is a page-by-page interactive companion to Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed. Explore…”

“This is a page-by-page interactive companion to Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed. Explore 402 pages of unique digital interpretations inspired by the words found on each of the 402 pages of the novel itself.”

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The Echo Project

Mmm. Something to consider for the next collection?

May 12

“The Chatsfield is a digital, fictional luxury London hotel that his home to over 800 pieces of…”

“The Chatsfield is a digital, fictional luxury London hotel that his home to over 800 pieces of digital content that weave together the story lines of hotel staff and guests, with different characters communicating in different ways. Characters have their own video blogs, you can access their email inbox and follow them on Twitter. You can even email or call characters and be guaranteed a reply. Another interesting aspect is that the story will operate in real time, with the Hotel having it’s doors open for just the next three months. However readers will be able to piece the stories together at any point. In a bid to bolster the Chatsfield’s media presence, social interactions will be rewarded with extra content. It’s not linear storytelling and maybe starts blurring the lines between reality and fiction, but for the purist (of sorts) there are fifteen new ebook titles in the hotel’s library.”

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The Chatsfield | Mills & Boons enter the digital age with a new immersive transmedia piece of storytelling that asks the reader to piece together intertwining stories in a fictional hotel

Hm. Not so sure about the interface. Looks a bit mid-00s flat interactive multimedia environment for my tastes, though that’s perhaps unfair of me to say without having actually seen it pixel for pixel. Nonetheless, I’m interested in finding out more…

May 11

“As Johnson describes it, the spark file is “a single document where I keep all my hunches: ideas for…”

“As Johnson describes it, the spark file is “a single document where I keep all my hunches: ideas for articles, speeches, software features, startups, ways of framing a chapter I know I’m going to write, even whole books…. There’s no organizing principle to it, no taxonomy–just a chronological list of semi-random ideas that I’ve managed to capture before I forgot them.” The key to the effectiveness of this exercise, according to Johnson, is periodically reading the spark file from start to finish. “I end up seeing new connections that hadn’t occurred to me the first (or fifth) time around,” he writes. “Sure, I end up reading over many hunches that never went anywhere, but there are almost always little sparks that I’d forgotten that suddenly seem more promising. And it’s always encouraging to see the hunches that turned into fully-realized projects or even entire books.””

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Welcome to Sherwood | “Freedom begins between the ears.” – Edward Abbey

Yes. There’s a point at which tweaking your writing workflow moves away from productive adjustments and more into self-stimulating abstraction. After all, the simplest way to get writing done is take pen and paper, apply backside to seat and write. Right?

While that’s true, tools and methods can most definitely impact on your process in positive ways. It’s a bad habit of mine— constantly migrating through systems and apps— but it’s largely rewarding. Most recently, I’ve been writing in FoldingText (using pre-release v2 version of the app). As a tool, it lends itself to just about anything I do with text, whether that’s writing poems, drafting blog posts, capturing ideas for workshop plans, taking down minutes for meetings or managing projects. And because it works with plain text files, it’s infinitely portable. Although there’s no close equivalent for FoldingText for iOS, I can open the same files on my iPad or iPhone and still get writing/work done.

Sometimes it’s the simple things that make all the difference…

May 10

“It all comes back to that lack of understanding, really. They don’t understand how an education…”

“It all comes back to that lack of understanding, really. They don’t understand how an education different from their own could be as good – or better – for the young people of today. They don’t understand how contemporary texts they’ve never really engaged with could possibly stand up to a linguistic analysis worthy of A-Level study. They don’t understand how young people might learn from the words of people with similar origins to themselves, rather than by being indoctrinated by the status quo of white, male supremacy that has held such disproportionate power up until now.”

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Why the DfE is wrong to dismiss OCR’s new English A-Level as ‘rubbish’ | Sophie is…

Following up from yesterday’s frenetic buzz around the OCR / English and Media Centre’s proposed English Language and Literature A/AS level syllabus. It was reported that a senior DfE source denounced the syllabus as "rubbish in place of a proper A-level". Sophie B Lovett, quoted above, puts forward a solid defence…

May 8

“OCR and the English Media Centre say of their new syllabus: “It ranges from classics such as the…”

“OCR and the English Media Centre say of their new syllabus: “It ranges from classics such as the poems of Emily Dickinson and William Blake to memoirs like Twelve Years A Slave and contemporary works including the poetry of Jacob Sam-La Rose, Jez Butterworth’s stage play Jerusalem, fiction by Jhumpa Lahiri and Russell Brand’s evidence on drugs policy presented to the House of Commons.””

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Russell Brand and Dizzee Rascal to feature in new English language and literature A-level - People - News - The Independent

Woke up this morning to find Mention1 buzzing with notifications, all pointing towards a new A/AS level English Literature and Language syllabus, and the fact that my work has been included. Happy joy.2

This, at 6.30am, followed shortly after by an invitation to speak on a BBC London breakfast show just after 8. The interview was brief, and to be frank, I misread it. I was hoping I’d get an opportunity to mention some of the work that’s happening in the UK with poetry where it meets young people at the moment— I wanted to mention the Spoken Word Educators project at least. If I had time, I may have referenced the Barbican Young Poets, Burn After Reading, the Roundhouse Poets, Stratford East Young Poets (Kat Francois), the Spoke Word Cup (via Apples & Snakes), the Spoke Young Poet Laureate programme, the Upward Bound SLAM initiative, the Ark Academy SLAM programme; and further afield— Young Identity (Manchester), the Wordsmith Awards (Manchester), Leeds Young Authors, Write Down Speak Up (Birmingham), Mouthy Poets (Nottingham), BeatRoots (Birmingham) and all the other transformative youth-facing work that’s happening in Newcastle, Bristol, Cambridge, Southampton and across the country. I’d have celebrated how, while poetry seems to escape its niches and confines to enjoy a cyclical boost of appreciation and popularity in mainstream consciousness (every 5-7 years or so), it really does feel as if there’s some fantastic sustained work happening “on the ground” to ensure that a wider body of people will have a broader appreciation of the value and relevance of poetry in the future, and that while that’s not without it’s dangers (poetry vs spoken word: discuss), it’s largely a good thing. I would have probably referenced the work that’s happening in the US through programmes like Brave New Voices and how, while that kind of national youth poetry movement serves as an inspiration, we have a distinctly contemporary British voice (with all its constituent facets and identities rolled in) that we can claim as our own.

As it happened, I got to say a few words about how chuffed I am about being selected, and was asked to read a short poem, which I managed to get just over halfway through before it was time to move on to the next item. Hm.

Regardless, it was nice to be asked to say a few words, however short the time may have been. I’m still unsure as to exactly how I’m represented in the selected texts, whether it’s a poem, selection of poems or collection, and it appears that at the moment, the syllabus that’s being spoken of is still awaiting OFQUAL accreditation, due to be considered next month. Suffice to say, fingers crossed…


  1. I’ve got the Mention iPhone app, and it’s working better than Google Alerts. Highly recommended. 

  2. Yep. Checks iPhone first thing upon waking. Guilty as charged. 

May 7

(via Play ‘Minecraft’ creator Notch’s tiny…



(via Play ‘Minecraft’ creator Notch’s tiny despair simulator | The Verge)

"You will be born. You will grow up. You will love. You will lose. You will die. You won’t even really enjoy the process very much."

And I’m thinking of how this could be a poem in action… wherein the emotional freight is delivered through the interaction with the mechanisms of the experience…

May 5