Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Stirling Running

The clocks went forward this morning so it's officially Spring. I wasn't sure whether my Blackberry would compensate or not, so when I was woken by the alarm at the newly reconfigured 7 am I made a mug of nescafe and went out for a run in Stirling - my last chance before the return to London. I really enjoyed it. Thankfully I seem to be at a level of fitness good enough not to struggle for quite a long time when out running so had a glorious forty five minutes, mostly following the road up from the Royal to the university and beyond. The mist was quite thick but I felt safe enough as there was some reasonably regular traffic and also other runners. I reluctantly turned around after twenty minutes but then couldn't help being diverted onto Stirling campus and ran alongside the loch for a few minutes. I stopped for just a couple of seconds (only!) and took these photos - they show the mysterious beauty of early morning nature well. I'm so pleased to be fit and well enough still to experience things like this. I'm lecturing on the pastoral in Poetic Forms and Genres tomorrow, which celebrates the idyllic romance of nature - but in a pretty artifical or nostalgic way. Running in conditions such as this morning give a much more raw and exhilarating edge to the connection.

The run, and the sense of completion and achievement from the conference, make for a nice morning, though I was sorry to miss Mass, especially as we're so close to Holy Week now. Never mind. To Edinburgh in the jovial company of a couple of other delegates and then the long train journey back to King's Cross which I mostly spent reading the Independent in its print format and drinking complimentary tea. How retro. More reviews of The Hunger Games which as a film is sounding less appealing by the paragraph. I'm making more of an effort to note down films we can catch up on via filmflex at home but didn't make much progress today. K sends me a photo of Donner and Blitzen curled up together on the bed and I look forward to getting home after a long enough run of days.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Iris Murdoch and Yellow Snails

Back late from another extremely long day at Stirling for the Book Cultures, Book Events Cultures. Today we were hearing papers presented in the Iris Murdoch Building  home of the Dementiant Centre. A monochrome photograph of Iris Murdoch is framed above the foyer of this building which sustains a strange kind of balance between the cheerful and the poignant. Obviously used frequently by groups of the elderly and particularly those dealing with Alzheimer’s or other dementias, rooms were clearly signed with pictures and colours – bright yellow toilet doors an example of this. Rooms were set out for professional or academic conferences while signed with pictures of multiple chairs and the moniker ‘room’. Colour photos, blown up to picture frame size, of the elderly, adorn the short hallway. The people photographed appear happy enough, many obviously enjoying human company and the small gestures of help such as a touch on the arm or a proffered cup of tea. Here we all gathered for coffee and sandwiches during lunch and the swift breaks between academic panels. Beyond the glass panels of the room was an attractive terraced garden with the most beautiful, though foggy today, view of the surrounding hills and trees. I took a stroll around and saw a fish pond mosaic inlaid into the stonework, and then, as though escaped from a nearby children’s playground, a large yellow snail, and a little further along, a big blue frog. I suppose the garden is used and enjoyed by the dementia patients and their relatives and carers. I pondered on how such a space does indeed echo the bright features of a playground, but with the quiet aura of a settled elderly person rather than the hectic discoveries of the young.

Some wonderful papers today. Most of the salient points are already out in the twittersphere as I saw several fierce tweeters at constant work throughout the panels – indeed I was sitting next to one @pressfuturist – my friend A. He’s changed too – never used to be such a prolific tweeter, although always very cyber-savvy. I’ve got lots of notes on most of the papers so may be blogging reflectively (how old fashioned) from the train tomorrow.

For now, as a contrast to the peace of the Iris Murdoch Building's Terrace garden, a delightfully apocalyptic quotation from an excellent paper given by PhD candidate Rebecca Bowd on the history of book auctions in eighteenth century Leeds. In the 1690s Ralph Thoresby kept a diary recounting some of his visits to an early Leeds book auction (the first ever book auction in England took place in London in 1676). ‘...rest of day at the auction, where in the evening had like to have been a dismal conclusion, but for the watchful providence of a merciful Saviour...the main beam breaking, gave so terrible a thunder-like crack, and the floor yielding below their feet, the people set up such a hideous noise, apprehending the fall of the whole house, at least the sinking of the room...’ Luckily Thoresby was able to escape intact and help one or two others as well.  Reading and browsing were clearly risky activities in those days.

We end the day being whisked swiftly from the Iris Murdoch Building to The Junk Rooms, a restaurant with a great atmosphere and food but rather slower service. It actually had something of the atmosphere of an old fashioned or second-hand bookstore itself with shelves of random volumes which provided good starting points for conversations – or indeed, useful objects to allow a pause from such conversations. While waiting for starter and mains and feeling increasingly faint with fatigue and hunger I was being asked by delegate S about my postgraduate work (so long ago I could barely remember the names of  novels I’d studied with such close attention in the British Museum/ British Library reading room (as it then was), but found myself recommending Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, a classic of writing-practice-as-meditation, and then, as the conversation moved on to gender and spirituality, Julian of Norwich’s Revelations – of course the first woman to write a book in English. ‘All Shall Be Well,’ I explain. S duly notes this in her notebook and smiles (we are all still half in conference mode). I feel suddenly emotional but don’t really know why; the day has gone perfectly well already and I am in good company. Perhaps it was this message of spiritual comfort that could have gone out to those at the collapsing book auction room in 1793, and should touch those in the antechambers of mental confusion, so very different from the clarity of insight and vision among this weekend’s conference delegates.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Book Cultures

The end of a very long but fascinating day of the ‘Book Cultures, Book Events’ conference. I’ve just returned extremely replete from the first of our conference dinners, which comprised three courses and a finale of ‘coffee and tablet’ – a description which caused much amusement among our table, but of course the ‘tablet’ in this context wasn’t a nurofen but a Scottish speciality which seemed to be mainly sugar with perhaps a malty sort of butter holding it all together.

I’m in a hotel a little walk away from the conference; a location I quite like as I can sometimes find such gatherings a little claustrophobic. Having said that, everyone has been very friendly – especially one of the organisers who helped me out enormously when I arrived early desperate to find a pc with powerpoint and an internet connection. The campus of Stirling reminded me of UEA – lots of green, a beautiful looking lake, bunnies (!) and buildings with all the usual campus services within walking distances from each other.

The conference itself has been interesting and thought provoking so far, in equal measure: how do book events reflect the anxieties and expectations of social groups and regional communities; how does a book become a symbolic token of belonging; how does a book spoken aloud forge connections between strangers; how does a book event look and act when removed from institutional location and tied in instead to mass media and celebrity culture? More on individual papers and thoughts in due course – suffice it to say I took plenty of notes – in a rather nice Paperchase A5 notebook complete with dividers and plastic pockets, which I now feel a need to fill.

I gave my own presentation today; the last of the final session before drinks reception and dinner. I hope it went ok: sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’re standing at the lectern and feeling that odd time-delay from the sound and gestures of your own performance. Anyway I talked about locations of encounter with the poetic text, the challenges and aims of The Facility (London Met’s Centre for Creative Practice as Research) and the example of our Human Folly event, which allowed us to juxtapose the wonderfully crafted and culturally engaged collection from guest speaker Andy Brown, The Fool and The Physician, with the raw, recursive loophole of a documentary about Leah Thorn’s prison inmate beginner poets. I talked about both poetic ‘texts’ being in the public domain (one as a book, the other as performed fragments of Susan’s documentary) and both being examples of work from a ‘restricted field’ (Andy Brown’s in the sense of Bourdieu’s restricted field principally of highly educated and creative peers, Leah’s prison poets literally restricted as to their whereabouts yet holding each group member in peer esteem) and celebrated the fact that at least for this one night of Human Folly, Leah’s prison inmates could enter the Academy with their work, courtesy of Susan’s film. 

So tempting to have a drink after all this – wine flowing freely at the reception, just as it was freely on offer during my indulgently first-class London-Stirling train journey yesterday. Still, I have managed to resist. I browsed all the campus shops earlier on and treated myself to some new multivitamins with Q10 and ginseng – would my twenty-year old self even want to recognise me? Browsing in the book shop I spotted a new book ‘why we run’ which explores the psychological aspects of extreme running – and I mean extreme – the author regularly runs ultras (double the length of a ‘normal’ marathon) and more. Now I am not that extreme, nor am I ever likely to be. Yet, I did find myself calculating whether I could possibly get a run in tomorrow, and whether there was a runnable path round the campus loch which might be worth an early morning circuit...  ‘Hmmm... You’ve changed,’ commented long term friend A, also presenting here, when I voiced this idea.

Well, if not running, then perhaps skating. Not in the sense of the weather taking a freezing turn for the worse; far from it, temperatures are moderate and the air is light and bright. But looking through my copy of Andy’s book I came across the wonderful unrhyming sonnet, ‘Clown School’ in which one of the lessons to learn is ‘to think of yourself as something you could skate on’. This is just a marvellous line – like a zen koan, I almost grasp its meaning and then it slides away again. Perhaps not to be too precious over oneself and one’s aims; to be unafraid to improvise, to skid, to skim, to be dizzy, to get into flow. But is the presumably frozen surface of the self indicative of a fragile state of the self? At any rate, one is still encouraged to launch out and skate. Good advice for creative thinkers, writers, conference goers, and those about to sleep after long packed days, and dream.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Book Cultures, Book Events

Excited to find my proposal for a paper/ presentation at this conference to be held at Stirling University has been accepted! Now to think about when I'm going to write it, given the conference is in March and I start lecturing again in two weeks time...

 Facilitating Creative Practice within the Academy

My paper explores the role of creative writing as research, performance and production within the remit of a multi-disciplinary centre for creative research and creative practice, The Facility, at London Metropolitan University. I will present the recent history of The Facility and take as case studies two events held this year with literature and/or the book as key component: the Facility Re-Launch (September 2011) and the Human Folly event (February 2012). 
Initially launched as a centre for practice-based research in the performing arts, The Facility hosted a number of events and seminars in which the role of practice-based research within the academy was discussed. Focus was given to the embodied arts such as dance and drama. However, shifts in thinking and in the University’s structuring in 2010-11 encouraged the Facility to widen its core remit to include visual and text based creative practice. As a published poet and  Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and English Literature, I was co-opted onto the steering committee in Septembet 2011, together with film-making academic Anne Robinson and original coordinator, dramatist Lucy Richardson. Our new mission is stated thus:
‘The Facility hopes to inspire, develop, investigate, support, fund, challenge, facilitate and archive the practice based/practice as research work developed at London Met, in its locale, nationally and internationally… It will support the practice as research work which is already happening within the university and attract and facilitate new work.’
And our principle aim, as well as establishing London Met as a centre for creative excellence, to ‘develop opportunities in which creative practitioners working in performance, image, text, sound, object and space may engage in productive dialogue, exchange ideas and work collaboratively on practice-led research projects’.
I will explore how, in the current academic year, these stated aims have allowed poetry, prose, and the promotion of new books (as in our guest speaker poet Andy Brown, presenting his new collection The Fool and The Physician this February) to become an integral part of creative research within the academy, and how location- and time-specific moments of sharing within the academic community (and interested others) are important not only to launch a new book as product, but to stimulate cross-disciplinary discussion over how creativity itself is research-worthy in terms of Higher Education’s remit (and funding). I hope to show how the production of new and valuable cultural capital is best facilitated by moments that combine both the ‘present’ of live utterance and the future stability of the published word. 

Friday, 20 January 2012

Human Folly at London Met

Space Poet has returned to her blog!

Welcome (back) world.

Let me begin by drawing your attention to a forthcoming event organised by The Facility, London Met’s excellent centre for creative practice as research. I’m on the steering committee now and am really looking forward to this evening. It’s free to attend and the readers and presenters are all excellent, not least our guest poet Andy Brown who will be talking about his new collection The Fool and the Physician.

I must stress that the title of this blog entry and of the forthcoming event has nothing to do with recent grim announcements concerning redundancies. Although of course one’s mind can all too easily stray towards such unintended allusions. I take no responsibility for that. The event itself will hopefully take our minds off such matters.

Monday, 23 August 2010


Dictionary.com's definition of anthology:
1630s, from L. anthologia, from Gk. anthologia "flower-gathering," from anthos "a flower" (anther) + logia "collection, collecting," from legein "gather". Modern sense (which emerged in Late Gk.) is metaphoric, "flowers" of verse, small poems by various writers gathered together.
Students often get confused by the difference between single-author poetry collections and often more substantial anthologies of contemporary poetry.  But 'small poems by various writers gathered together' has a certain resonance to it. It reminds me, in its cadence and final word, of Johnson's definition of metaphysical poetry as 'heterogenous ideas...yoked by violence together'. One expects both variety and a certain amount of surprise and discovery. Why small poems though? I suppose the dominance of the lyric poem is still an established fact in contemporary English language poetry, and has been for the last hundred years or so (still there are plenty of long poems and sequences to challenge this generalisation). Look through the Norton Anthology of Poetry to find plenty of long poems by the many poets writing pre-twentieth century. 

A reader new to poetry might think that there will automatically be a good variety in anthologies. But it's been interesting reviewing US and UK twentieth century 'gatherings', which is when the importance of the anthology really took precedent. No anthology is without its bias, even if it's the general lyric outlook of Palgrave's Golden Treasury which arguably started the vogue for anthologies towards the end of the nineteenth century.  On into the twentieth century traditional Georgian and modernist Imagist anthologies vied for supremacy, with (as far as I know) only D. H. Lawrence getting published in both camps. After the Second World War Robert Conquest's  edited New Lines, presenting the 'Movement' poets with their formal conservatism and deliberate turning away from visionary oratory (that was the realm of the 'New Apocalypse' of the forties, inspired by Dylan Thomas and others). Then A. Alvarez published The New Poetry twice - the second time foregrounding Plath, who had recently committed suicide. Alvarez was much more interested in potential, innovation, and the influence of the US poets. And so the story goes.

Peter Childs has quite a useful summary (more detailed than the above) in his introductory section of The Twentieth Century in Poetry. He goes up to the Bloodaxe volume also named The New Poetry, edited by Michael Hulse, David Kennedy and David Morley and claims it to be 'curiously homogenising in its introductory remarks, claiming a new cohesiveness and the end of 'British poetry's tribal divisions'. I remember this anthology's publication; I guess it was the first one I bought as a 'gathering' of 'contemporary poetry'; for interest and creative investment rather than study. I remember sitting  reading it in a Cambridge cafe and being quite excited to witness what felt like a poetic 'moment' of significance. I suppose that's what the publication of a substantial anthology does feel like. 

Childs concludes his survey by remarking that 'the clearest message...should be that anthologists have reacted against each other - that each widely accepted and adopted collection...has sought to challenge the view of poetry advocated by a previous editor.' Interestingly,  'New' remains the most common adjective in poetry anthologies, while 'influential twentieth-century anthologies have generally been those that choose a small selection of emergent poets and argue that they constitute a new generation or a shift in poetic sensibility' .

Perhaps two shifts could be noted in the early anthologies of the twenty-first century. But perhaps not - it's too early to tell, really. But it seems that the interest in and usefulness of the focused anthology is still strong: I'm interested in women poets so it's been great to have Deryn Rees-Jones' Bloodaxe anthology Modern Women Poets and even more interesting to have the contemporary take on modern experimental women writers in Carrie Etter's Infinite Difference: Other Poetries by UK Women Poets. In fact I'm really looking forward to the discussion at the South Bank Centre on women's poetry anthologies on September 1st next week.

But secondly, heralded possibly by the 1993 New Poetry claim to an end to tribal division, there is an interest less in spearheading a new movement or poetic grouping, more a sense of connections to be made within diversity. I know I'm hopping continents here, but I picked up a new Norton anthology in City Lights when we were in San Francisco last month: American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry where, as well as some lengthy representations of fantastic poets, there is a great emphasis on connection and (of course) hybridity rather than division, particularly the old binary division between traditional and experimental. Cole Swenson defines this new connectivity between old divisions as 'lines of pursuit that operate in a rhizomatic rather than arboreal fashion, leading ever outward':

'The rhizome is an appropriate model, not only for new Internet publications but for the current world of contemporary poetry as a whole. The two-camp model, with its parallel hierarchies, is increasingly giving way to a more laterally ordered network composed of nodes that branch outward toward smaller nodes, which themselves branch outward in an intricate and ever-changing structure of exchange and influence. Some nodes may be extremely experimental, and some extremely conservative, but many of them are true intersections of these extremes, so that the previous adjectives - well-made, decorous, traditional, formal, and refined, as well as spontaneous, immediate, bardic, irrational, translogical, open-ended, and ambiguous - all still apply, but in new combinations.' (Cole Swenson's introduction)

This sounds rather wonderful. Swenson cites multiculturalism, gender equality, and new technologies as all helping to develop this new sort of poetic connection. Again I think it is too early to tell whether this really is a shift towards generosity of readership and poetic community or some kind of new grouping, after all. 

Back in the UK, Identity Parade is a substantial anthology published by Bloodaxe this year. It really is substantial: 84 poets, and 'probably for the first time in any major poetry anthology, more women writers than men are featured'. I'm in it and absolutely delighted to be so. Of course many good poets who could be in it aren't, and there have been points of contention over some of the stipulated 'criteria'; but, ultimately editor Roddy Lumsden had to make his choices. His lucid and practical introduction (he discusses his own processes of choosing poets for the anthology) is quite humble in comparison with other anthology intros which serve more manifesto-like purposes. Lumsden presents 'the pluralist now' and is less concerned than Swenson to find optimistic lateral connections in the contemporary media age. Indeed, he is disinclined to find connections: 

'The predominant social and cultural phenomena of the 1990s and 2000s have been diversity and information overload. We no longer watch the same handful of television channels, hear the same limited news, listen to the same clutch of bands, visit predictable tourist destinations; in our trouser pockets, most of us carry the colossal almanac that is the internet... though critics and academics will seek - and find - traits and trends in the larger bodies of work represented here, this might well be the generation of poets least driven by movements, fashions, conceptual and stylistic sharing.' (Lumsden's introduction to Identity Parade)
Time will tell; a combination of both Swenson and Lumsden might be the best way to preface the contemporary poetry world. Is it a world, a forest, a matrix (a hall of mirrors?) : impossible to be honestly definitive of one's own time, but very much possible to engage with and enjoy it, however necessarily incomplete that engagement might be, however much of a work in progress.