Thursday, 26 August 2010

Flipping Knickers!

Ta Dah!

The next Flax anthology is shaping up very nicely - so much so that with the stunning cover image (thanks once again to Jonathan Bean) we've nailed that elusive title. Always one of the trickest elements of the production process once we have the writers and work in place. And invariably we go through some really bad ones - the penultimate suggestion for this anthology could have been a Bond film title I was told ... not entirely the tone we were looking for.

And so chocka with some familair names and less so - all providing strong and expansive work - we're delighted to be working with Rebecca Irvine Bilkau, David Tait, Michael Crowley, Ron Scowcroft and Jim Turner.

They'll be be launching the anthology, ahem - I mean, An Elastic Sky, Flax022 on Saturday 16th October, 5pm in the Storey Auditorium, complete with some films inspired by some of the poems.

It's going to be a goodie

On Brennan and Kinsey

Guest reviewing elsewhere on a blog about books (try saying that after a chilled Rioja)

Friday, 20 August 2010


I'm absorbed in my favourite period at Litfest over the next few weeks: anthologising and editing. We have finally made the choice of who will be in the anthology but not quite which of their poems.

My chief approach as editor is of cutting: both of the poems we select from original submissions, and of lines in those poems. I have a story about this, that when I heard made me feel quite benign in the scheme of things. Robert Crawford's latest book is called Full Volume. Because he had intended it to be a big fat volume of poems. His editor saw it differently. And now the volume comes from the potency of the poems' voice left in the book rather than their weight. Back to that old adage: less is more.

It is a tricky balance to strike - the poems are not mine, and nor do I want them to be. My intent as editor is to set a varied selection of work to rub up against each other, so illuminating the different voices that carry the reader through idiosyncratic landscapes and experiences. But I'd say a good editor enables the work to become more individual, more true to the writer's voice. Letting their light shine. And this means going back again and again to the poems themselves, and keeping myself out of them - asking how they stand alone, in sequence with each other and within the anthology as a whole. So it's a case of wood trees wood trees perspective. A merry dance in and out of the light.

And while I'm dancing (hopefully with the writers as fine partners) I'm also storing up images and ideas for the title and overall design of the piece. So far all our anthologies are pdfs and so allowed a lovely scape of images through the text, hopefully enhancing the onscreen reading experience, as well as exploring the underlying themes that hold the anthology together. The hardest decision is the title of the anthology and we normally have to go through a whole bunch of really bad ones before landing on the one that fits perfectly: in tone, image and poetry. Right now we have a sheaf of paper with a host of scribbled ideas - the bad ones that miraculously should transform into the all singing all dancing ONE in the next few days.

Wish them luck!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Brou Ha Ha

Sunday I was in Crosby for its annual Brou Ha Ha, organised by Southport Arts. A summertime park arts in the afternoon type event.

I only found out earlier in the week that the audience was expected to be 'milling'. I should have checked that one out sooner. A milling audience is not necessarily going to be drawn to a bunch of poems. Especially when that audience is predominantly children.

See how much they're enjoying Mr Clown and his balloon act. My anxiety increases. I remind myself that in the booking I'd said my work is suitable for 14+, and try to ignore the average age of the current audience as 6+. All the same scan the contents list at the front of my book in case I'd forgotten I'd written some Roald Dahlesque funnies. Nope. Just a lot of religious stuff from lay preachers. I scan my set list instead. There are some funny ones, some peculiarities and some more straight forward narratives. Have faith, have faith, I mantra.

I'm aided by the MC who, when introduced to me says (in comforting Australian accent), "You mean the Sarah Hymas?" I am startled and probably look it. He goes on - "I Wish You Love is incredible, and I've seen your book. Oh wow... Oh great. I'm so looking forward to this."

But he is way way above the average age. The sock puppets are a resounding success. As is the drumming workshop and then I'm introduced. The MC resumes his enthusiasm and gives me probably the best and most sincere intro I've ever had.

And the audience applauds. So I do my stuff: funnies, fantasies, stories, weird ones, rolling along, focusing on those people (mainly adults) who are listening - or at least looking - and there are a few. Someone's even videoing me. Or maybe they're just watching the recording they made of the sock puppets. A few more kids come forward to sit at the front of the grassy auditorium just as I launch into Cold-Molded Wood, probably my favourite poem for performance. Which I love to end on - a sprawling ocean-going narrative that stops short of Coleridge but epic in its own way.

And the audience applauds. Again. And I sell a book (to an adult) and am asked for my leaflets (by children). So am heartened. Perhaps my poems can transcend, perhaps the movement, and rising and falling of voice can pull all ages in. But on the way home can't help thinking it would have been just the occasion for Mr Puppet and his unwritten show. Next year ...

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Dog Days

I don't know when the dustpan and brush were invented (answers below, please), but definitely before hoovers there were dogs.
Before hot water bottles.

For those two reasons alone, disregarding their ability to keep watch, be trained, their conversational habits, smiley mouths and loyalty, dogs would make fantastic crew.

Given my preference of sailing as one of three I'd pick Snoopy and Mutley as skipper and first mate.

I'd navigate.

There'd be a fair bit of derring-do, but we'd ride it and survive, maybe even get a few laughs, and not be particularly preoccupied by bravery or risk-taking.

I don't consider myself particularly brave. If a risk seems too great, I won't take it. Bravery requires a swallowing of fear.

And this is what I was faced with on the Isle of Man: no Snoopy, no Mutley, no crew whatsoever. I wasn't about to solo sail up and around Scotland. Considering the other option: stay at Peel on the west coast for the two weeks -

There were still risks to weigh up:
Aggressive gulls on deserted beaches
Excessive fish and chip shops
Preponderance of folk music
Marina chat
Turning into a disused railway spotting anorak

Offset by the comforts:
No tides
Reliance on a good knot

Friday, 13 August 2010

Trevor Matthews

Sad news. Trevor Matthews, who Flax published in West Coast, North Hill, died last week.

His work was recommended to me by Mike Barlow and I immediately wanted to read more. As I did I decided he'd be a great contributor to the three poet book we were planning at the time.

As fellow poet Jane Routh says:

"As a writer he was gifted with something to say and the musical and linguistically ability to get it just right. He was overly modest about his own poetry, and I think you can hear this its quiet, poised and considered tone.

Thank goodness for the selection of his poems Flax published. Here is my warm-hearted and tender friend in 'My Empty Valentine'; here is his quiet wit and wry humour (‘September Harvest’); his careful observation, penetrating intelligence and sense of beauty. And here too, I see now, is a sense of premonition in poems about ageing and death.

'Lovely' is the title of a poem Trevor wrote recently (about meeting an aphasic); and that word becomes the implied answer to its last stanza:

And that is how it ends,
him gone, the river still speaking,
light leaving the fells,
the drift and shuffle of shadows,
and me wondering
if my language were taken
which one word might I hope to keep?

Trevor’s been a lovely friend with whom to share the pleasures of poetry. He read widely, delighting in language: we had many good talks about books. He recommendations were always apt."

Working with Trevor, as his editor, was a pleasure I won't forget. He was generous in his knowledge, open to debate about his writing and eager to support all we did to promote his work: recording Handing Down for Youtube and reading at the many events I arranged around the county. He was patient in the midst of my often over-enthusiasm and quietly adamant in the face of disagreement. Perhaps this was down to his long experience as a paediatrician. His passion for poetry, his and others, illuminated his work and I think his life.

If you would like to make a donation in memory of Trevor to his favourite charities: Water Aid and Smile Train.


The shelf held so many files, some of them labelled
Finance, or Gardening, or Income Tax
but the one that made me smile
was just called ‘Interesting Things’.

Afterwards I opened it, and there were
cuttings from newspapers, pictures,
little objects, stones, dried seed cases,
pages from guide books and obituaries,

things he would have looked into,
examined again, given the time;
at the end I found one, the black ink fresh
the last and lightest box of all

that read, ‘Still More Interesting Things’.

Trevor Matthews. 8 April 1934 - 3 August 2010

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Breaking News: Mr Puppet has Hair Transplant!

Yes, it's true.

Mr Puppet has ventured into the world of Robert Plant/Miss Haversham/Cher with his new hair-do.

When asked what the inspiration was, he said, "I was looking for an updated Stig of the Dump feel, a Robinson Crusoe with some glamour."

So, what's next for our unpredictable hero?

"Plastic shorts. Not Bruno-style, although I liked his braces ..."

We're on the edge of our seats ...