Friday, 30 January 2009

Poet Laureate

Wendy Cope has questioned the role of poet laureate, saying it's the duty of all poets to comment/reflect on national events (read a fraction more here). She's calling for it to be scrapped. While one hand I agree. On the other I wonder if there's an opportunity here.

So far the role has gone to the 'establishment'. The past three laureates: while middle class males: Betjeman, Hughes and Motion. This time round there's talk of a woman being put forward. Two before Cope had her public say. A step, yes. But how about going a little further? How about readdressing the bias? As Bernardine Evaristo discussed in a previous post there is a stifling monoculture of published poets in this country. Maybe it's time for a reappraisal of what the point of the role is. Maybe it's more than a job of advocacy (one Motion has brought into the role). It should reflect what poetry can be so brilliant at: shining a light on a unspoken truth. Transparency.

There should be a decent salary attached, an open invitation to apply and a cross-cultural selection committee.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

boat update

The boat is now out of the water, which means we can get on with the serious jobs-to-do list of servicing winches, repair the sails, fixing gelcoat cracks, eating big breakfasts and spending far too long in the chandlery looking at all the nuts, washers, shackles and other shiny stuff that is really expensive. We actually spent so long in there on Sunday, trying to find a supplier for a new water tank, that the guy offered us a cup of coffee. Nice people.

The boat yard is only a twenty minute cycle form home, so I'm hoping that it'll be easy enough to nip down every so often to take apart the winches, clean them of all grease and grit to slather them up in grease again. It took just over two hours to tackle the first one. I'm not counting the half hour spent unbolting the five nuts that seemingly attached it to the deck to find that wasn't the way to get intside it. I had to remove the circlip from the top (a flat keyring type thing). Then I was away. The winch (what you use to wind ropes round) is a stainless steel canister about 10 cm across,30 cm high and contains all these things

and some of these

So my anxiety when I had it in pieces was not so much degreasing it and then regreasing it, but putting it all back together again in the right order, so it would look like this

and rotate correctly so the rope will slide around it. Of course I kept this worry to myself and worked quietly and greasily until two hours later it did.

Only another five to go.

And this is the easy bit.

What is looming on my internal horizon is the time when I'm on the boat and it's in the water and there are other people on it who expect me to calmly and confidently tell them at the right time how to wrap ropes around these winches, pull on them, cleat them off so the sail is nicely filled with wind and we glide across sea in full control of where we're going. And nobody loses a finger in the process.

Monday, 19 January 2009

first sightings

Spotted my first snowdrop yesterday between hail blizzards up in the Howgills. Always a fabulous sight - they're so sturdy for such little plants (so much more so than crocii), and of course the first squeak of spring, more tentative than the daff. What adds to their value is their short life when cut. Like something out of a fairy tale. You know the moral on possession.

I was in the florist on Saturday chatting about origins of his flowers and he told me he gets his snowdrops from a woman who goes out and about the locality. Gardens were mentioned in a vague sort of way. People love them apparently, pay loads for a small bunch yet they only last a few days before they wilt. While I'm lover of half dead flowers in my vase (honestly - the brown tips of petals is strangely comforting), the thought of floppy snowdrops when their embedded ones are so pert and fleshy ... well, it's The Little Mermaid all over again, isn't it?

Friday, 16 January 2009

perfect forms

It seems ages since I've had a pile of short stories/novel extracts to read through for the next Flax anthology - the last time was for the poster commissions. I approach the pile tentatively. It could contain absolutely anything, which is, of course, potentially thrilling. The flip side is the fear of wading through story after story of half-formed ideas, or cliche-ridden writing that blunts my brain. As with most worries (according to my mother at least), this generally fails to materialise. What I love about the fiction submissions is that what I read is usually highly polished, considered work, clearly written by people with a passion for the form. And what a form. Chekhov claimed short stories should be like a 'shot of vodka'. Ali Smith reckoned they could take the shirts off our backs. Raymond Carver, according to this, had a thing about doughnuts and we all know how heralded he is in the art.

So, by all accounts by the end of the afternoon, I should be wandering around half-naked, sugary-lipped and pissed. yeah yeah. Thank you.

Friday, 9 January 2009

spotlight on sunday

I'm running a workshop for Spotlight this Sunday on performance techniques, which I'm really looking forward to. Although I will have to tap into my head "I must be nice and gentle with people. I must be kind and hold no resentments to these people" in the hours leading up to it. Since I realised as I started the planning for it that I wanted to spend as much of the time on stage etiquette as delivery techniques. And this has come out of much time spent feeling impotent on the sidelines without a huge shepherd's crook to yank off those very naughty overrunners who still read for ten or fifteen minutes when they've been asked for five minutes.

I'm also aware I mustn't just direct people to the rather useful pitstop of top tips on performing I compiled for litfest a couple of years ago - it's in the projects section of the website. Although I am most definitely going to relish us all pretending we're Jim Davidson delivering our work to a deaf audience. It's happening in the Gregson Centre in Lancaster if you fancy a long coffee in the bar below to earwig on the results ...