Monday, 17 December 2012


I just received a copy of the USA version of The Poets of La Sala Capizucchi, edited by Caterina Ricciardi, John Gery and Massimo Bacigalupo, UNO Press, 2011, The Ezra Pound Centre for Literature series number 3. This purple covered version from UNO Press is just the same as the Italian version published by Raffaelli, except that there are photos of the poets reading at La Sala Capizucchi, Rome, 2 July 2009 on pages 84-86. The contributors are: Maria Clelia Cardona, Luca Cesari, Mario Lunetta, Daniel Maria Mancini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Daniele Pieroni, Mario Quattrucci, Edoardo Sanguineti, Carlo Vita, Petr Mikes, Massimo Bacigalupo, Mary De Rachewiltz, John Gery, Tony Lopez, Biljana D. Obradovic, Wayne Pounds, Stephen Romer, Ron Smith and C. K. Stead. I put the notice here because the Italian version will probably be unobtainable in USA. UNO Press books are distributed by National Book Network in the USA.

Thursday, 6 December 2012


On Tuesday I travelled to Winchester and stayed the night at the Wykeham Arms very near the Cathedral. This post box is on the building and the old baker's sign (below) is along Canon Street nearby. On Wednesday I took part in the British Modernism Seminar: Three Poets on British Modernism at Winchester University, my first visit to Winchester, what a beautiful city that seems to have escaped WW2 bombing. Mark Rutter gave a paper 'David Jones: In Parenthesis and the Modern Illustrated Book'. Julian Stannard's paper was 'Basil Bunting: Chomei at Toyama, Redaction and Prefiguration'. Mine was 'Lee Harwood and Harry Guest: The Orient in Later Modernist English Poetry'. I had heard Julian's paper on Bunting at the Basil Bunting and Friends conference in Durham, but it was well worth hearing again. The account of Bunting's translation of an Italian source for Chomei, picking up on Buddhist ideas and connecting with Bunting's Quaker background and Pound's translation practice in Cathay was excellent. Mark Rutter's paper about David Jones started with a brief account of Blake's hand-printed word and image books, and looked in detail at Jones' illustrated manuscripts for In Parenthesis. None of the drawings from Jones' manuscript make it into the published book and indeed it would have been another kind of book if they had. The material is rich and the meaning of the book is certainly made differently and complemented by taking the manuscript pages into account. This is an obvious publishing project for someone who wants to develop the understanding and reception of Jones' work. We had a good discussion about the idea of Modernism in British poetry. I've recently had a proof of my paper from UNO Press, so I hope to see it published early in 2013.

Monday, 26 November 2012


I'm just back from a series of readings in USA. I went into New York on 31st October on a flight from Heathrow that I was expecting to be cancelled because of the aftermath of hurricane Sandy -- but the flight was fine and there were cabs running from JFK. I got to City Island late in the evening and everywhere was dark, no power, and trees on the roads, evidence of flooding everywhere. The next day I flew from La Guardia to Buffalo to begin readings. Steve McCaffery and Karen Mac Cormack picked me up at the airport and took me to the hotel. I had a great time in Buffalo, we had dinner with Yevtushenko which was a pleasure and turned out to be better than his stage act, really hammy. It was one of those readings that go on much too long, people were leaving, the show ended with him singing Lara's Song from Dr Zhivago out of tune, absolute self-indulgence. He certainly drew a crowd, filled an enormous venue, and got a long standing ovation.
     My first reading was in the back room at Rust Belt Books, downtown Buffalo, there was an art opening going on in the book shop when we arrived. I had a great welcome and a terrific audience in Buffalo. I got to visit the Allbright Knox museum for the first time, a huge and wonderful collection of modern art. Back in New York I got a chance to see my nephew Harry play soccer for a local Bronx team.
     At Philadelphia I read upstairs at Milano's Pizza with Rachel Blau DuPlessis. The series is run by CA Conrad making things happen in Philadelphia. I can't really imagine a more unlikely venue, but a great atmosphere and a brilliant audience including Ron Silliman and Krishna, Bob Perelman and I met Frank Sherwood who had seen a previous reading of mine at Kelly Writers' House. Rachel used the occasion to read the last section of her epic poem Drafts (she'd been saving it up to read at a Philadelphia venue). It was a real pleasure to read with Rachel and to spend time with her and Bob. We went out for dinner at a very good Italian restaurant in the city centre and the next night to Bob Perelman's and Francie Shaw's house to watch the US election results come in. Whilst in Philadelphia I saw Dancing Round the Bride, a show about the influence of Duchamp on John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. I hadn't seen Merce Cunningham dance before, even though I'd read about his work at Black Mountain College and his famous dance company. It was an education to see video made by Charles Atlas who was film maker in residence with the company.
     Next day Rachel and I travelled to New York on the Bolt bus and spent most of the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Whilst we were looking at the modern galleries, a blizzard was developing across the city and by the time we were ready to go downtown and get some dinner before the reading, the conditions were bad enough to make walking difficult and crossing roads treacherous, deep slush sometimes breaking through to unexpected pools of icy water at the kerbside.
     Our reading at the Poetry Project, St Mark's Church, was in a series organised by Stacy Szymaszek. Rachel was introduced by Rachel Levitsky and I was introduced by Arlo Quint.

I stayed in New York for a couple of days, met up with my old friend Peter Nicholls for lunch one day and then travelled on the Amtrack train to Providence, Rhode Island, where I stayed with Rosmarie and Keith Waldrop and read at Ada Books in a series Publicly Complex, organised by Kate Schapira. I read with Anne Gorick, Meg Fernandes, and Youmna Chlala. I was surprised to be put on with three other readers in a bookshop reading, but it worked really well; we had a great crowd and a terrific atmosphere for the readings. It was wonderful to spend some time with Rosmarie and Keith, really good and generous friends, and I also got to see an exhibition of Keith's collages at Po Gallery, 155 Westminster Street, Providence. In fact there were many more collages in the room I was sleeping in than in the gallery, but it was good to see them set out in a proper display.
     It was a long journey from Providence Rhode Island to Berkeley California via New York. When I got into the taxi at San Francisco airport it felt completely different, very warm speeding on a dark freeway along the bay shore. I stayed at the Hotel Durant right next to the Berkeley campus for a week, which was a pleasure. I was met for drinks by Lyn Hejinian, Geoffrey G. O'Brien and Keston Sutherland. I got to visit my cousin Roger Housden who lives in Larkspur in Marin County. I read in the Holloway Series on Tuesday 13th November with Daniel Benjamin who read a long poem about being a visiting student on a fellowship to Cambridge. I was introduced (thank you) by Jill Richards. It was a pleasure to meet Catherine Walsh a poet whose work I've know and read for some years, also to meet Cecil Giscombe, Robert Kaufman, Alan Bernheimer, Robert Hass, Dan Blanton, Eric Falci, and to see Kit Robinson, Jean Day, Charles Altieri, David Marriott and John Shoptaw, all of whom I'd met before. Later in the week I saw a terrific reading by Keston Sutherland and John Wilkinson and then on Friday 16th November we all took part in a colloquium Boundless Poetics. I know it was a whole committee of Berkeley people who organised these events but I'm especially grateful to Lyn Hejinian for including me and doing extra work to make it happen, what an amazing company is assembled there.


My poem 'Corneal Erosion' from False Memory has just been published in Polish in the journal Rita Baum, 25 (2012) 45-48, translated by Jakub Gluszak. It's a few years since I first heard from Jakub that he would like to translate something from False Memory and I'm really happy to see a copy of the journal. I wish I could read the article 'Maszyna Do Pisania' which seems to be about typewriter poems and conceptual art and includes stunning works by Zbigniew Makarewicz, Roman Gorzelski, Wojciech Sztukowski, Marzenna Kosinska, Marrianna Bocian and Stanislaw Drozdz.

Thursday, 11 October 2012


This summer and autumn I've been working on a commission for the Irwell Sculpture Trail that runs from Salford Quays to Bacup, through Bury and Rossendale, 33 miles long and over 70 works of sculpture. My work After is installed in Radcliffe, near the Metrolink Tram Station, on a footpath that leads to the Manchester, Bury and Bolton Canal, and on a bridge support along the canal towpath. There are three stone plaques each with an inscribed verse set into stone walls. The preparation of the stone and the lettering was carried out by Rossendale stonemason Ken Howe.
     This is a work that has been at the planning stage for a long time. After, also now known as The Scattered Poem is a 28 verse holocaust poem that was first published in 2000. It is a particularly abstract poem, composed using a text generation programme that was run many times to produce a vast text and the results edited down to a tiny fraction of the output. I wanted to set up a staged composition procedure that would include actions beyond my control. Of course I still needed to be responsible for the finished work and to make it my own by means of editing and refining the result. Mulling over the possibilities of the process, it gradually became clear to me that my ambition for this work just could not be fully realised on paper. It was a turning point for sure. What I now aim to do is to get verses and clusters of verses installed as far as possible from each other, so that the viewer sees only a fragment of the work. If you wanted to see more you'd have to travel, which would always put the work you'd already seen at a distance. In order to get this work established and located in different places I needed to have an example to show. To get it made I need to rely on describing the project and on photographs.
     So I've been working with Tony Trehy, director of the Irwell Sculpture Trail, and the stonemason Ken Howe, to find suitable sites and get three of the inscribed verses installed in Radcliffe. It's an interesting aspect of this kind of project that you need to collaborate to get it made and to make it visible. We still have quite a way to go. I'm hoping that we will have QR codes before too long, to add additional information. The stones are located on the Sculpture trail very near Brass Art's Falls the Shadow and Lawrence Weiner's Water Made It Wet.
     The title After comes from Theodor Adorno: 'Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben ist barbarisch' (To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric) from Prismen: Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft (1963). After was published in my book Devolution, Great Barrington, MA: The Figures, 2000, and in Poetry Review, 93, 3 (2003): 32-35. There is a related piece called 'Not Reading After' in Covers, Cambridge, UK: Salt, 2007, which is transcribed from a performance at Camden People's Theatre, curated by Chris Goode and also published in the journal Shearsman.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


High on the Downs: A Festschrift for Harry Guestedited by Tony Lopez and published by Shearsman books on Harry Guest's 80th birthday, was launched in Exeter at the Central Library on Monday 8th October, 7-9pm. The contributors are: Joan Bakewell, Michael Bakewell, Humphrey Burton, Jack Chalkley, Owen Davis, Peter Dent, William I Elliott, Peter Finch, Chris Finn, John Flower, John Ford, Peter France, John Greening, John Hall, Christopher Hampton, David Hare, Lee Harwood, Jeremy Hilton, Andrew Houwen, Peter Jay, Peter Josyph, philip kuhn, Ann Leaney, Tony Lopez, Rupert M Loydell, John Mingay, Bob Nash, William Oxley, Alasdair Paterson, Michael Power, Tim Rice, Anthony Rudolf, Lawrence Sail, Deniele Serafini, Martin Sorrell, Peter Southgate, Anne Stevenson, and Chris Ward.
     Harry Guest, born in Penarth in 1932, has had a long and distinguished career as a poet, translator and teacher. He began to be published in the 1960s and Arrangements (1968), was his first book with Anvil Press Poetry, the specialist poetry publishing house run by Peter Jay. He has published twelve collections of poetry and his collected poems A Puzzling Harvest (2002). He worked as a teacher at Felsted School and at Lancing College before taking up a lectureship at Yokohama National University in Japan. He returned to England in 1972 and was Head of French at Exeter School until his retirement in 1991. Apart from his many collections of poetry, he is well-known as a translator from the French, German and Japanese, and his published translations include Post-War Japanese Poetry (with Lynn Guest and Kajima Shozo, 1972), and Victor Hugo: The Distance, The Shadows (1981). He has also published three novels: Days (1978), Lost Pictures (1991), Time After Time (2005). His non fiction writing includes The Artist on the Artist (2000) and a Traveller's Literary Companion to Japan (1994).
     At the launch party there were short readings by the following contributors: Peter Dent, John Hall, Lee Harwood, Jeremy Hilton, Peter Jay, Ann Leaney, Alasdair Paterson, Lawrence Sail, Martin Sorrell, myself and Harry Guest. The title High on the Downs is from Harry Guest's Sixth Elegy; the book cover is based on the painting Harry Guest contemplating the visit to Montepulciano by Exeter artist Bob Nash.

We have lived elsewhere. How otherwise explain
the shock of recognition at the gap in the hedge,
that day high on the downs when the sun led you
to a place you knew though it was your first visit.
Harry Guest, 'The Sixth Elegy'


I've been involved in a whole series of quite different festivals this year, all of them worth doing and each having their own focus.
 I read at the Runnymede Festival London (8th-17th March), on a bill with Carol Watts, at the Centre for Creative Collaboration, Acton Street, London. This was organised by Robert Hampson and is a project growing out of his work with colleagues involved in the Poetic Practice MA at Royal Holloway University London. Some of the literary events take place in Runnymede and some in central London.
     Sounds New Festival at Canterbury in Kent is a music festival in the town that has a thread of poetry events. It is particularly strong on new music with premiere performances at all kinds of venues. I saw a performance of Common Objects by the Rhodri Davies Ensemble including some collaborative work with poets Patricia Debney and Nancy Gaffield. This was not the sort of event you come across in East Devon. I saw a terrific high energy percussion group called Powerplant, like nothing else I've seen. We saw a talk on British Poetry since 1950 by Michael Schmidt. Actually this was about a report produced for the Royal Society of Literature about contemporary poetry and the line was that it was a narrow report. My reading with Stephen Collis entitled Found Text was on the Campus of the University of Kent at Canterbury, 9th May, well attended and a very good audience. I was booked by Professor David Herd and had a great time in Canterbury. I went to see St Martin's, the oldest functioning church in the country but it was locked and I couldn't get inside. The graveyard was worth the walk.
     In June I was at the Hay Poetry Jamboree, which turned out to be nothing to do with the big Hay Literature Festival going on at the same time in a field just on the edge of town. The Poetry Jamboree, known as the Jam, was two and a bit days of solid readings with JP Ward, Andrea Brady, Jeremy Hilton, Waterloo Press readers, Caroline Goodwin, Harry Gilonis, Laurie Duggan, Philip Terry, Andrew Duncan, Harriet Tarlo, Peter Larkin, Nerys Williams, Anthony Mellors, Sophie Robinson, Jeff Hilson, Ulli Freer and me and others. I absolutely loved it, saw all the readings, and felt that I'd got a very particular and well curated view of what is happening in poetry. Many of us were put up in a couple of Crickhowell houses and had communal meals good company there later in the evenings when each day's programme was finished. The town of Hay is very attractive on a sunny day, it's great to visit the poetry bookshop that Alan Halsey used to run years ago, now run with equal flair and a great stock. I wished I'd had more time to spend with my old friend the poet and artist Allen Fisher who also attended the whole programme. Allen is co-patron of the Jam with USA's best known poetry critic Marjorie Perloff. These events were organised by John Goodby and Lyndon and Penny Davies and the readings took place in a nearly tumble down Methodist chapel very central in Hay. What an amazing concentrated fix of the real thing: a wonderful lineup and run on a shoestring with barely seedcorn funding from Literature Wales.
    It seemed that I was working for the b-side Multimedia Arts Festival right through the spring and summer but the Weymouth events were launched on 29th July and went on till 12 August. I've put some photos up in a previous post of my work Weymouth Sands that was shown on the Esplanade through the Olympic period. It was good to visit Weymouth for research and get to know the town a little, quite similar in many ways to Exmouth where I live. 31st July I did an artist's talk in the Sea View Restaurant upstairs at the Pier Bandstand on the Esplanade; it was that building, and the idea of the vanished pier that was the focus for my work in Weymouth.
     The Edinburgh International Book Festival was different in kind from the other Festivals. I travelled with Sara and stayed in Edinburgh for a few days and we went to see what we could of the Edinburgh Festivals, all going on at the same time, it seemed taking over the whole city. I read with Alan Gillis and Fiona Sampson on the 23rd August, a very good event, I hadn't seen Alan Gillis read before, whereas I've seen Fiona Sampson at a couple of other events; we did a launch together at the London Review Bookshop in 2007. The director of Edinburgh International Book Festival is Nick Barley. They really know how to look after their authors. I did an interview with Jennifer Williams for the Scottish Poetry Library. Whilst we were in Edinburgh we went to see a couple of exhibitions and the Julliard Dance company of New York and some rather tired and dreary comedy by Sean Hughes on the fringe. The dance performance by the Julliard Dance company was one of the best things I've ever seen on the stage. Three pieces in the programme, all of them very different and all stunning. It was very good to visit Edinburgh and to see our friends Randall Stevenson and Sarah Carpenter.
     We also went on a bus trip to Ian Hamilton Finlay's garden Little Sparta, that I last visited in the early 1980s. We saw a Finlay exhibition at the Ingleby Gallery in Edinburgh and then went from there in a minibus direct to Little Sparta. I don't think you could get there otherwise unless you hired a car, it's only a dozen miles or so to the south of Edinburgh, in the Pentland Hills, but you wouldn't get a bus to anywhere nearby. The garden is a converted hillside croft and has been developed to about three times the size it was when I was last there. It is a wonder of Scottish culture, one of the most ambitious artworks in Britain, a garden of poetry and philosophy. The works are mostly inscriptions located in devised garden settings, and the garden uses native plants to great effect. The various areas of the garden have very different characters, some opening out into lochans, moorland and hillside, others quite separately developed, with their own atmosphere: the Roman Garden, the Allotment, the Temple Pool Garden, the Woodland Garden, the Wild Garden, the Lochan Eck Garden, the English Parkland. Inscriptions and sculptures are everywhere, there are lots of works I hadn't seen before. The Little Sparta Trust website has lots of excellent photos gives a good sense of the garden. These two images of Ian Hamilton Finlay works (Man: A Passerby and 1942) were taken on that visit in July 2012 and are published here with the permission of the Estate of Ian Hamilton Finlay.


Monday, 30 July 2012


This is a shot of my commission Weymouth Sands for the B-Side Festival in Weymouth, timed to coincide with the Olympic Sailing events. This new text work is 51 screens of material collected in Weymouth, plus credits, shown on a solar powered traffic management sign supplied by Kelly Brothers Solar Signs. It is located on the northern end of the Esplanade that runs along Weymouth Beach, close to Brunswick Terrace, and it can be seen there until 12 August 2012.

Sunday, 29 July 2012


Earlier in July I attended the Basil Bunting conference: With Sleights Learned From Others: Basil Bunting and Friends, which took place at St John's College, Durham University, 4-5 July 2012. It's a long time since I was in Durham, 1981 I think, to visit Ric and Ann Caddel and stay over with them. This was a good two day conference, with some parallel sessions, and the standard of the papers I attended was very good on the whole. I particularly enjoyed seeing Harriet Tarlo give a talk on Bunting, Lorine Neidecker and Richard Caddel, establishing a tradition coming out of Objectivism of environmental poetics. The care for precise observation and the invention of appropriate form based on 'music' would be shared. I really enjoyed the paper and thought it gave a good introduction to the poetry of Neidecker and Caddel, which was the point, for Bunting readers.
     I saw Alex Pestell on Bunting's criticism of William Carlos Williams, Nicoletta Ascuito on Bunting's use of an Italian source for his poem 'Chomei at Toyama', and Philip Sidney on W.S. Graham's use of the frozen polar landscape. Don Share of Poetry Chicago gave the annual Basil Bunting Lecture, Bunting's Persia. That evening I gave a poetry reading with Tom Pickard and Amy Evans at the Williams Library in St Chad's College, which was packed. It was a pleasure to read four of Ric Caddel's shorter poems at the beginning of my set, to get him heard in Durham, though he was unable to be there in person. I hadn't seen Tom Pickard read before, his was an excellent set and it was good to see Amy Evans read again.
    Richard Parker's talk on Bunting, Zukofsky and Briggflatts was a high point of the conference for me. Louise Chamberlain gave an interesting account of Tom Pickard's career that connected somewhat with his earlier reading. Samuel Rogers was concerned with place and National or regional identity in the writings of various modernist poets. There was a very good poetry reading by Harriet Tarlo, Rory Waterman, Michael Zand, Dez Mendoza and Julian Stannard, all of it interesting. I was particularly amused by the lovely witty poems read by Julian Stannard.
    We had a showing of a wonderful film on Roy Fisher called Birmingham is What I Think With. This ambitious documentary presented Fisher's life and work, really integrating the piano playing and writing, and using the built environment, especially the way that the 19th century industrial landscape is still there. There was a touching meeting with a young Asian boy living in Fisher's old house and a stunt of walking the old front door of the house through the city. This was great fun and woven in with shots of Fisher reading his work and playing Jazz. I loved this brilliant and funny film. I thought it a very good introduction to Fisher's work and a fine response to Birmingham. It ought to be shown on TV. It was a real treat to see it at the conference.
    A very special talk by Colin Simms was personal memoir of Bunting, rant against the morals of certain University academics in botany fieldwork, and the captions accompanying some slides of Bunting's friends, which photos were sadly not available to be seen. Colin Simms finished with the reading of a very fine short memorial poem to Bunting, which was worth the wait.
    The final session included Bradford Haas on Joseph Macleod's The Ecliptic as a forerunner to Briggflatts, very usefully putting Macleod's work in front of Bunting readers. Also Annabel Haynes, the main conference organiser did a very good reading of Bunting's poetry based on pride in skilled labour, making connections with William Morris's socialism. Last was Julian Stannard's excellent paper on 'Chomei at Toyama', I learned a lot.
     I'm very grateful to the organisers for their splendid hospitality. I enjoyed staying in St John's college. I was able to visit my friend Ann Caddel for the first time in many years and I thoroughly enjoyed a couple of days focused on Bunting's poetry.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

SIECLE 21, number 20

I just got a copy of Siecle 21 number 20 with a section on contemporary English writing in translation edited by Vanessa Guignery and Marilyn Hacker. There are contributions from Carol Rumens, Julian Barnes, Hassan Abdurazzak, Jane Rogers, Michael Schmidt, Aamer Hussein, Caroline Bergvall, Tony Lopez, Mimi Khalvati, Seni Seneviratne, Carl Shuker, Paul Farley, George Szirtes, Romesh Gunesekera, Jeremy Reed, Fiona Sampson, Jeanette Winterson, Ruth Fainlight, Helen Simpson, James Byrne and Paul Farley with Michael S. Roberts.
     My two poems 'Abstract Expressionism' and 'The New State' are translated for the issue by the French poet Chantal Bizzini. These poems both appeared in Devolution (The Figures, 2000); 'Abstract Expressionism' appeared first in Stress Management (Boldface, 1994). Chantal Bizzini also translated my poem 'When You Wish ...' for Action Poetique number 165, 2001.
     Siecle 21 site is located here.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012


Runnymede Literary Festival 2012 runs from Thursday 8 March to Saturday 17 March.
Readers include Andrew Motion, Susanna Jones, Dominic McLoughlin, Kate Williams, John Kinsella, Amy Evans, Luke Roberts, Justin Katko, Jennifer Cooke and Tony Lopez.
The Runnymede Festival in London events are at the Centre for Creative Collaboration, 16 Acton Street, London, WC1X 9NG. Many of the events are free, check the programme.
Information about the festival and a complete pdf programme for download here.

Monday, 20 February 2012


25th February 2012, 4.30 - 7pm
+ a smorgasbord of found poetry by others
Keynes Library, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1


Andrew Duncan's book The Council of Heresy: A Primer of Poetry in a Balkanised Terrain was published in 2009 by Shearsman. This is a book about contemporary British poetry written by a poet and editor with a very developed and broad sense of what is going on. His experience as the publisher and editor of the magazine Angel Exhaust, his own writing practice, and his wide reading and general curiosity, qualify him as a guide to the scene. His critical work has been going on for some time now, a whole series of books is in progress. I have known about this for a while without really investigating properly and I can see from The Council of Heresy that it is an ambitious and entirely serious attempt to make sense of what is there in this important aspect of British culture. I had to read this book because it refers directly to my work. I'm very glad that I did read it and I'm grateful for his whole project.
     We take it for granted now in the world of Art that there is a whole range of different practices going on at the same time: that there is a very big difference between say the work we know as Brit Art and that of best known painters such as David Hockney and Lucian Freud, and then again the thousands of amateur painters who are concerned with rendering likenesses of pretty landscapes in watercolour. There are many aspects to this big change that is now well established by the existence of the multiple Tate museums: Tate Modern and Tate Britain, Tate St Ives and Tate Liverpool, and many high quality museums throughout the regions. You could tell this story in a number ways using key individuals or institutions, networks, prizes, galleries, art schools etc, but no-one would doubt that there has been a big change and that there is a variety of practices all contributing to this richness and complexity.
     It would be an over-simplification to say that in poetry the Sunday painters are in control. But it is almost true. The most ambitious and advanced poetry is largely unknown. The most praised, best known and most prominent tradition is backward looking and quite limited in scope. It is only relatively recently that the strangle hold of a small group of publishers to promote their own and drown out the opposition has been loosened somewhat. It is a failure of imagination and courage to praise the mediocre and to thus limit the possible. Consider the Arts Council funding a pamphlet series run by Faber in 2012. So Andrew Duncan's work is very useful in setting out a range, identifying different camps, and attempting to apply similar descriptive processes and criteria to different kinds of poetry. He writes to give readers a way into the Avant-Garde and to understand where the divided scene comes from. He investigates the influences of Kathleen Raine and Eric Mottram in the same chapter. He examines Peter Barry's account of the poetry wars in the 1970s. He gives space to unusually perceptive readings of Barry Macsweeney, Kelvin Corcoran and Maggie O'Sullivan. I haven't really been much interested in the careers of Kathleen Raine and Anthony Thwaite, but if Duncan finds something in them I think I ought to at least have a look. I find his writing radically uneven, his conclusions sometimes surprising and his sense of what is going on elsewhere (particularly in USA) very limited. But he is a very perceptive reader with insights you won't get anywhere else. This is a valuable book for anyone interested in what is happening in British poetry now and in the recent past; I plan to read the others and catch up.
     The cover of The Council of Heresy is based on a photo "A storm approaches Clavel Tower, Dorset" copyright 2006 by Blackbeck Photographic. You can find Andrew Duncan's author page at Shearsman Books here.

Sunday, 19 February 2012



On 13 February 2012 I saw a performance at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, by the great experimental theatre director Robert Wilson.

The wide stage was set out with four elements: a lectern, a big landscape-shaped drawing board, a large screen with projected image and a chair. When Robert Wilson came on to loud applause he just stood by the lectern without moving for quite some time, longer than at first seemed appropriate, gathering everyone's attention and then holding on for somewhat longer, building up tension and anticipation, making the audience wonder what he was up to, but none of us, I think, was in doubt that this man was taking his time in order to get our fixed and proper attention, to remind us we were at a performance. It was something to watch. He began to talk about what was the source of his work in the theatre. He briefly described his background and education (he grew up in Waco, Texas, and trained in Architecture at the Pratt Institute in New York) and he described two important meetings that had a profound effect on his career.
     The first one was a chance meeting in the street with a black 13 year old boy who was in trouble and just about to be arrested and taken away by the police. Wilson intervened and discovered that the boy was deaf and dumb, that he had got into trouble because of his disability. The boy was to be institutionalised. There was no facility for the boy's special educational needs. Wilson managed to adopt the boy legally through a court procedure, on the basis that it would cost the government a great deal to keep him in whatever institution he would be put in. Wilson worked with this boy in his early theatre productions, putting him onstage as an actor. It was the experience of communicating with this boy at first with movement and felt vibration that helped Wilson develop his radical ideas about theatre.
    Another meeting came about because Wilson was played a tape by one of his ex-professors of a young man with autistic disorder. The tape was a kind of fast-paced verbal performance based on variation and repetition of non-identical words and phrases. Wilson gave a version of this remarkable performance and told us how he met the young man, Christopher Knowles, and took him out of the institution that he was kept in to live with Robert Wilson. Wilson worked with Knowles in the theatre, taking his unusual ideas and verbal constructions, and working with them to make new theatre works, such as his world renowned opera with Philip Glass, Einstein on the Beach.
    Wilson talked a good deal about how he structured his theatrical work, separating out a framework of scenes through visual diagrams and identifying different structures in the very long works he is known for. He told us about a worldwide career in experimental theatre and said something about The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin and about A Letter for Queen Victoria and some other plays and operas. He drew diagrams on the large landscape white board with different coloured pens, taking time  to explain about the abstract patterns he visualised and planned with, and insisted on the prime importance of movement and timing in his theatre direction. Only after the movement and timing was established did he attend to the words of the script.
     For quite a long time he worked at the board, breaking off every so often to act out a movement or a bit of verbal construction. He tore off the paper sheet he was working with and started another. He talked about working with various composers and star actors and singers including Jessie Norman. He did a little piece about Jessie Norman and a 9/11 performance where she stood still on the stage and had great presence. And he acted out this having great presence by standing still on the stage and having great presence himself. Then he started to use the screen and projected images, calling for the light on the large board to be lowered and changing the images as he talked us through some of his design drawings and photos of productions. In many of them there was a chair on stage as an important prop, sometimes it was suspended in air, sometimes lowered on wires. The lit chair onstage became a kind of emblem of all the chairs he showed us in images of many productions. The theatricality of the event in terms of the use of the stage and lighting, the cut-down nature of the performance in front of us, the reference to other performances in the slides, the use of light and emotional intensity -- all of this was very powerful. It was a terrific experience in the theatre.
     I was really impressed by this performance. It is one of the best things I've ever seen in theatre. I was left with a sense of concern about the disadvantaged boys who in Wilson's account seemed to be the motivation for his work. He gave the impression that it was their different way of understanding that contributed to the vision of his theatrical work, that he couldn't have made the work in the way he did without them. I wondered about the power relations in those relationships, about a single man with the social advantage and confidence to adopt a disadvantaged boy. I wondered about the boys' development as they grew older. I wondered what they might be doing now. I don't think that it would be possible to work like that today in UK, though it certainly would be possible elsewhere. I can't imagine a single man being allowed to adopt a disabled child. I was also intrigued by the extent of the collaboration and the question of intellectual property in the work. I certainly would have asked questions about this had there been any time or framework for questions in that event.

Saturday, 11 February 2012


The Viewing Room is an exhibition at The Gallery, Plymouth College of Art, by The Library of Independent Exchange, Plymouth. The exhibition aims to explore the role of the book within contemporary creative practices. It's a really excellent display of different kinds of books and book works related to creative practice in the visual arts and it has a new wing for poetry. The library is based in Plymouth but doesn't currently have permanent premises. This is a superb developing resource for the city of Plymouth that should be supported by those who care about the interaction of art, design, writing and books. There is at present only a brief chance to look at an aspect of their work. Well done Christopher Green and Mark James, co-directors of the Library of Independent Exchange.
The exhibition runs from Monday 6th February to Friday 24th February.
Associated events are: A bookbinding masterclass, by Tom O'Reilly, Wednesday 15 February;
Writing for Liars, A free workshop led by poet, teacher and essayist John Hall, Wednesday 22 February 2-5pm;
Textually Active: Performative Presentations, Wednesday 22 February 5.30-7pm;
LIE Director's Desk, Free drop in session led by co-director Christopher Green, Friday 24 February 9-5pm.
Places for talks, events, workshops are limited and booking is essential. To book phone 01752 203 434 or email

Wednesday, 8 February 2012


My best known book False Memory has just been published in a new edition by Shearsman Books of Bristol. I'm really grateful to Tony Frazer for a great job on the production. The first version of this book was 6 out of the 11 poem sequences, published by Geoffrey Young's great USA press The Figures in 1996. Then Ken Edwards' Reality Street published Data Shadow in 2000. The complete book was first published by Salt in 2003. Now we have had the opportunity to make some minor corrections and include a new introduction that was specially written for this edition by Robert Hampson of Royal Holloway University of London. The cover photo of False Memory is 'Ancient, White Dwarf Stars in the Milky Way Galaxy', taken by Hubble Space Telescope, credit to NASA and H. Richer (UBC).


The Japanese Garden at Dartington is a fine place to sit and empty your mind. I'll be there for a lunchtime break each day this week.

Among those awarded Space residencies, I've met Emmalena Fredriksson, a Swedish dance artist who lives in Falmouth. She's working on a new performance called The Living. Also documentary photographer Alice Carfrae and theatre performers Viva Voce are working together on Tin Girls, a theatre piece about the lives of trafficked women. I already knew the excellent Plymouth writer and theatre maker Hannah Silver who is developing her 'political play on words' Opposition.

There is information about the residencies and sharing of new work here.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


February 5th to 9th I have a residency at Dartington Space studio 3, to work on a new performance based on Only More So. The book is non-narrative prose with no dialogue and not made for performance in any sense, so it's an interesting experiment. Each day I have the studio to myself and can get on with concentrated work. For a start I'm exploring memory as a theme in the book. I have various performance bookings through the year so it is a good opportunity to prepare in advance.


Only More So is just published by Shearsman Books of Bristol. We launched the book with a reading at the University of Notre Dame in London, 1 Suffolk Street, very near Trafalgar Square. THANKS to Notre Dame in London for providing the generous reception and the beautiful venue. It was a pleasure to read with my friend Peter Robinson who has been working for years in Japan before taking up a chair at Reading University. Peter read from his new book The Returning Sky, also published by Shearsman. The cover of Only More So is based on a photo Fimmvorduhals Iceland, 1997, copyright by John S. Webb.

Thursday, 5 January 2012


At the apex of modernism in the early twentieth century, Bury in Lancashire was the world centre of industrial paper manufacture. Works on Paper is a serial poem looking through the history and language of that technical innovation and place of trade. The poem was written in 2008, first performed at the Text Festival in 2009, and letterpress printed on 130 gsm Hahnemuhle old antique laid by Richard Parker in October and November 2011, limited to 100 copies at £4.
Works on Paper is Crater 15 published by Crater Press, London and Brighton.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


The Bury Poems was published in 2011 by Apple Pie Editions.

Works on Paper, Tony Lopez
6 Poems, Robert Grenier
Extract: Northern Soul, Ron Silliman
0, Geof Huth
Viaduct, Carol Watts
1 am made of desire, Philip Davenport
Stripped, Philip Davenport
Foody, Holly Pester
HEAP, Holly Pester
For The Bury Poems, Tony Trehy

Philip Davenport's Apple Pie Editions published this hardback collection of work related to a number of Bury Art Museum commissions set up by the Text Festival curator Tony Trehy. The book includes a good reproduction of one short sequence '6 Poems' of Robert Grenier's four-colour hand-drawn poems that are best presented as colour plates. If you haven't seen Grenier's colour work this is a useful point of reference. Ron Silliman's 'Extract: Northern Soul' is actually a tiny extract that was made into a neon poem exhibited at the Text Festival in 2011. It figures in the book as a series of 15 photographs by Philip Davenport of the neon manufacturing process including a double spread with the text. The neon is now installed in Bury tram station. I would have liked to see some more of the Silliman poem. Carol Watts contributes a sequence 'Viaduct' that is based on a fatal road accident near Bury in 1840 involving a horse. The poem uses contemporary sources and material from the Bury archives to dramatise a collision of mechanical industrial and animal worlds. The book also includes photos by Julia Grime and Steve Walton, and drawings by Darren Marsh.
    My poem sequence 'Works on Paper' is broken up arbitrarily and distributed through the book, out of the composed order, with one section used as a half-title and another as back cover copy.
    Ron Silliman's recent chapbook Wharf Hypothesis (published by Lines, NY) is a sort of 'Stranger in a Strange Land' poem describing a train journey in England taken at the time of the Text Festival 2009 and including the 2-3 lines turned into a neon mentioned above. I like the no-nonsense descriptions, Bury Market appears as "off-brand tack / in vast quantity" which it mostly is. The fresh food wouldn't look remarkable to an American, though you wouldn't find that selection of Lancashire produce anywhere else. It's good to read a poem you could argue with, that has a point of view. I'm looking forward to the rest of 'Northern Soul'.