Monday, 26 April 2010

A New Rhythm

I've been having lots of fun in anticipation of Host coming out in the summer - making short slides shows to accompany some of the poems so I can post them here. My enthusiasm was whetted during the project with Maya. Although I knew I had neither the skills nor equipment to make anything like that film (which we're planning to show around the same time as Host coming out), so went for the very very simple approach of photo montage.

As a obsessive collaborator I enlisted the help of various friends - which makes it seem far more like play than work. Which of course it is. Despite it being mainly focused around the computer. For the most part they took the photos, sometimes with my help, sometimes not, but always as some kind of response to the poem.

I'm going to post the films once a fortnight, starting next week, but as a taster, here are some stills from them ...

Echo Sounding

Wonder Child

Lost Keys


There are some more in the making, possibly, I'm told, which I have not yet seen, so that's exciting too.

I have so enjoyed the restriction of using the stills - it forces a thorough attention to the rhythm of the montage as well as demanding a rethink to each sequence so that they are as different as the poems. And of course the joy in steering away from the completely obvious visual interpretation of the words, to create an alternative richness to the work. I'm not about the abandon the delight of words, but boy have I found something else to explore.

So big thanks so far to: Johnny B (for telling me of the existence of Microsoft Movie Maker in the first place), Martin C (for the props that made a dream a reality), Sheila Doll (for taking a zillion photos), Jo (for deft key action), DB (for on-location adventure and series consultation) and Elizabeth and Jonathan at Making Time (for dangling an as-yet unseen carrot).

If there's anyone else out there interested in making a 'film' with me do get in touch. It could be great fun.

Friday, 23 April 2010

An altogether different book

Nicholas Royle is coming to Lancaster (with Tom Fletcher) in a couple of weeks, and so in anticipation I read Antwerp, his most recent novel, published by Serpent's Tail. And it really tested me as reader.

I'm not used to reading thrillers, and the demands they make on your patience are quite extraordinary. There were times I found I couldn't keep up with my excitement/plot greed.

There are several narrative devices, which at times become very short and rapid-fire in delivery, switching between unnamed misfit, his persuer, and obsessive film-maker, who are all connected by a series of murders, and the Belgian director Harry Kumel. And when they became compressed like this I couldn't stop, could barely slow down, for the tension.

It is the extraordinary detailed interventions of Kumel's films that managed to put my brakes on so I didn't gallump my way through without fully appreciating the characters, the city, the language - favourite sentence, describing a city view (paraphrased, I'm afraid): "He got an impression, and it was more Van Gogh than Monet". And there are tons of these quick fire quips that ensure I rolled the pace, the energy that rises from the pavements and people of the city, around in my head before falling through the next anxious-ridden chapter.

So, while the story is a gruesome one of serial murders, Royle doesn't go into the same blanching detail that spoilt The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for me. The horror is brilliantly counterbalanced by the humour in the language, and, perhaps more so, by Royle's love of visual art - through the Kumel films, the photography of Henk Van Rensbergen, and the paintings of Paul Delvaux. I felt these not only added a context to the novel, nor introduced me to new work (although they did), they also got me thinking (again) about the relevance of art to the everyday, to the formulation of our emotions, and the acts that follow.

I am very much looking foward to hearing what Nicholas will read in May, assured that whatever he chooses, it'll be rich in cultural context, wide ranging in social reference and relevance and, probably, a little bit funny.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Gorgeous Books

The Bronte Parsonage has just sent through the new arts programme and in it I spotted the work of Su Blackwell. The fiddledeeness of it makes my head spin, but what accomplishment. She's showing her work there from the end of August to end of Novemeber, so am hoping to get over to see it.

She's not the only interesting artist in the programme. They're really wide-ranging, including writers from Katrina Naomi to Kate Mosse. All of providing an excellent excuse to oo and ahh at the minisculeness of the sisters' gloves and the massiveness of Keeper (Emily's lurcher) ...

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Conversation with Andrew Forster

Yep, it's time again for another Parky rip-off. This time with Andrew Forster, poet and Literature officer of The Wordsworth Trust.

He has just published his second collection of poetry, Territory, with Flambard. His first was Fear of Thunder.

SH Territory has a wonderfully wide notion of territory, opening with a social historical perspective, looking at the mining history of Leadhills. How much do you see the role of poet as historian? What obligation do you feel to make social observations?

AF I don't really think of the poet as a historian as such. For me, in this book, it was about engaging with particular places. History is always going to be a part of that, but in a place like Leadhills the history is still very visible. The name of the village alone parades its history, the cottages are still much the same on the outside as they would have been when the miners' lived there, and the landscape still contains the legacy of leadmining in both the remains of the mine workings and the fenced enclosures I refer to in 'Shafts'. The history is very much a part of the place.

The same is true of the poems set in Galloway and Cumbria, where the landscape was very much shaped by its history.

In a poem like 'The Cinema Organ' I play with the idea of the past still being there even though it's no longer visibile, but if you 've had a relationship with somewhere that changes you can't help having a sense of how it used to be. I don't see this as nostalgia, it's just about catching the whole spirit of the place.

The question of obligation to make social observations is a tricky one. I wouldn't say I felt it as an obligation but I do engage in the world and my work wouldn't feel really complete if it didn't have that social dimension. It's just the way I see it. There some wonderful poets whose work is very insular but still has the power to touch people - John Berryman springs to mind - but my work, at the moment, tends towards the outward-looking.

SH You say, "at the moment". How much do you have a clear sense of where you'd like your writing to develop?

AF I'm open to possibility really, but I think it's important not to close off potentail avenues. The Territory project has been going on now for some time. While not being totally rigid it did dictate the broad type of poem that was going to be a part of it. There's something both restrictive and comforting about that at the same time. Finishing the project gives both a sense of freedom and a sense of loss. I do have a couple of ideas for longer projects that may or may not materialise, but for now I'm just writing poems with no greater agenda, and seeing what happens.

SH Many of the poems use striking, bold language. What do you think this says about your approach to your subject matter?

AF I think that the language in my poems is very much at the service of the subjects. I'm trying to capture something that I can see and feel around me, which isn't to say that I'm not tuned in to the sound and rhythm and other qualities of the language, because I am very aware of all those things, but it's the subject matter that's leading the poems. When I say, in 'Shafts' that 'the fences are rings of strange celebrants/ linking hands, refusing to disappear', for example, I'm making use of imagery but I'm using it to capture the atmosphere and qualities of what I'm writing about, rather than letting imagery lead the poem.The Canadian poet Don McKay talks about 'the moment of poetic attention that is pre-language' and it's that I'm trying to capture.

SH I was reminded of many other poems as I read the book, including ones by Frost, Hughes, and Duffy. How much of a dialogue are you having with previous poets (consciously or unconsciously)?

AF I think every poet is constantly in dialogue with other poets. Sometimes this is simply a single poem which has triggered something in us and sets the process going, sometimes it's something about a poet's approach that resonates with us. I'm aware of the influence of Elizabeth Bishop in my poems. The way she looks so closely at something that it begins to resonate in all kinds of ways is something that has always struck a chord with me.

In Territory, there are two particular books that I'm conscious of having a dialogue with. James Lasdun's Landscape with Chainsaws and Kathleen Jamie's The Tree House. Territory was in progress before I came across either of them, but they both, in different ways, helped me sharpen my ideas and better articulate what I was trying to do. The Lasdun is about picking out a life in harsh conditions, and though his life in the wilderness of upstate New York is infinitely more marginal than mine was in Leadhills, there are things in common. Despite the fact I drove to work every day it is a very remote place, 1500 feet up in the hills of South West Scotland, and daily life felt like it was very much on the edge of things.

My dialogue with the Kathleen Jamie collection was of a different kind. Although it is a themed collection addressing nature in the same way as mine is, there is very little of the personal in her book, and the poems seem to be deliberately removed from specific locations in order to make them universal. My poems deliberately set out to capture the spirit of particular places, and to explore my relationship with them. I don't think there's a right or wrong here, it's just a difference in approach.

SH: How much do you think poetry is in danger of being trapped in a dialogue with itself rather than speaking to a wider world? I know some of youd work is on the school curriculum. How has this affected you writing?

AF I don't think the two things are mutually exclusive. For me that dialogue is about helping find ways of both approaching and framing the subject, and crafting poems that have resonance for readers.

The GCSE inclusion hasn't affected my writing at all. It remains to be seen whether it will in the longer term but I don't think so. Interestingly, when the exam board first contacted me they said that they thought my work would really resonate with teenagers because the subjects were universal and the poems were really accessible.

I've done very little schools work and I've nenver really thought of myself as a writer for teenagers, but clarity and accessibility are very inmportant to me. I want the poems to have enough substance that they bear repeated reading, but I also want them to yield that meaning to their readership.

SH Terrority feels like a clear progression from the childhood themes in The Fear of Thunder. How aware of this were you? How deliberate do you think it was?

AF The main difference is in the way the books arose. Like many first collections, Fear of Thunder was a selection of poems written over a considerable period of time. It was structured into themed sections, giving the impression of narrative, but it wasn't written like that. Territory, in contrast, took on the shape of a book fairly early on.

I've always written about nature and landscape, and the final section of Fear of Thunder contains poems about places, but when I moved to Leadhills in late 2001 I started engaging with the landscape in a much more systematic way. I had initially thought about including some of the Leadhills poems as a seperate section in Fear of Thunder but I held them back, feeling that they were different in a way I couldn't really articulate at the time. A few years later, when Fear of Thunder was due to be published, I started thinking of a new project and began to revisit the Leadhills work in a more deliberate fashion.

In terms of stylistic developments, I think Territory is much tighter. I think of the poems as both containing more of me and less of me at the same time. There's much less scene-setting, less context, but I think the level of engagement is deeper.

SH There are many poems about animals throughout the book. These are wonderfully documentry, avoiding mythologising the creatures. The creatures seem to occupy the borderlines that mark territories. How much were you looking for this in your encournters? Did the animal poems become a project?

AF I think that the animals create the borderlines to some extent in that they make us question the whole notion of our territory. You can see this with the poems about animals that very obviously 'intrude', the mouse, the damselflies, the rabbits and others, but I think it's there in the other encounters too. I did become influenced to some extent by current thinking about ecology, and started to question the way we meet these creatures.

It's not just about geographical borderlines, though, and I do touch on mythology in a few cases. 'The Hare' for example, is a real hare but the poem explores its symbolic qualities as well as its physical ones. 'Encounter' itself, where the speaker doesn't recognise a muntjack deer, laments the lack of mythology to some extent.

These poems did become a project wihin a project, and it relates back to yuor ealrier question about dialogue with other poets. I began to explore the possibilties of differet kinds of 'animal encounter poem', from the stricly documentary to the ones that start to take us into more imaginative realms. I wanted to explore the nature of animal encounters, to try and get close to what it is that happens to us when we have an encounter with an animal.

SH Thank you, Andy.

A couple of Andrew's poems feature on the Poetry Channel, Radnoti's Notebook and Woman Sewing. He also has a Facebook fan club. And both his books are available from Impress

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Gale Force

I spent most of the Easter weekend fixing up the boat with the intention of taking it up to Piel Island to check everything was put back in the right place. Fortunately this isn't a picture of what the boat looks like after the winter.

We'd had a bit a of a leak, however, not a good thing for a boat, especially since the trail of water ended in the batteries. Fortunately (I can't take the credit here) Anni (one of the co-owners) glummed up all the possible pin-sized holes and tah dah! No more puddles, as yet. But it's an old boat, it sits on the water, it rains a lot where we live and sail. There'll be more.

Despite being safely on the water, I do feel out of my depth when it comes to many of the jobs - electrics particularly are not my bag. I mean, just look at all those wires. Gulp.

Luckily, again, I co-own the boat and that means we pool resources. So my day before the hoped-for sail was spent reattaching sails, scrubbing decks, shackling life-lines back to the deck and tying lots of knots. I like tying knots. Essential mechanisms that can be totally relied upon, all made out of a few twists in a piece of string. A bit like punctuation.

Anyway, as this blog's title suggests Gales were forecast and we didn't go out. And while there was the inevitable disappointment, since despite wind it was a gorgeous weekend, I also felt a little like I'd just written a crappy few lines that didn't end up in a poem.

Nothing is wasted. The preparation all adds towards development. Despite not going out, I've gained a familiarity with the engine that I hadn't had previously. I understand what the tubestack in the heat exchanger now looks like, what it does and so one more piece of the jigsaw that is the engine has been put into place.

And then the wind adds a further metaphor. Too much wind = too many ideas. Is this why I've not settled well into the last couple of ideas I've sat down to? I think I've finally emerged from that post-book completition calm and am now howling (force 11) with ideas I want to execute, and of course I can't think through, dig in, and write down all those ideas any quicker than I can - which is generally quick slowly, despite how many are piling up, or how fast more are popping up.

I need hunker down while the headgale swirls around me, focus on the quiet below, trust the knots and slowly slowly let the poem come. If it means I don't get all the ideas down that has to be okay. At least I know what the tubestack looks like.