Saturday, 30 May 2009

Breathing, Walcott and Padel maybe Eating a Metaphorical Hamster

I spent some time at the Salt office this week recording poems for Poetcasting, an online archive of poets reading their work that is going from strength to strength. Recording anything always makes me start to wonder about how a poet reads to an audience.There are some that go for the grey armchair approach, no emoting, just let the words do the work. I noted on Newsnight Review last night that Simon Armitage, in reaction to the more in your face poetry performance approach, expressed the concern that sometimes the poet’s persona becomes more important than the poem and that the poem itself should contain all the drama necessary to sustain the listener’s interest. I tend to agree that in the end it is the poem that matters, no amount of dramatic egging of the poem pudding and posturing can in the end continue to sustain a bad poem and make it a poem that people want to read and re-read. If the total package of the poem and performer are an essential part of the experience of the words then in some ways perhaps it teeters on the edge of dramatic monologue, albeit packed full of rhythm, rhyme and metaphor. However I am all for anything which gets people interested in language and words in any shape or form.

Poems for the page and poems for performance are not mutually exclusive but all poets who do readings know that there are some poems you may not choose to do in a reading because they are better read on the page. AP ( the poetcaster) and I came to the conclusion that we both favour a poet who reads with some passion for their own words, if the poet does not show some desire to communicate this with an audience you tend to feel a little cheated. Mono-tonal, grey armchair delivery, feels a bit like wearing dark glasses to look at a Jackson Pollock, you may discern pattern and shapes and rhythms but the whole vibrancy and texture of colour is lost. You don’t have to ham it up to allow some colour and tone to thread through a reading.

In recordings of course we all start to hear the myriad of voice tics and bad habits. I don’t breathe enough and if not careful I end up feeling like Houdini submerged under water trying to get out of the strait-jacket of a stanza so I can gulp in some air. I have resorted to sometimes putting in breathing marks to make sure I don’t reach the end of a line tailing off because way back I forgot to take some oxygen on board. Breathing I have discovered is not the natural activity it is cracked up to be, I have been told breathing out is the key, shove it all out and the body will automatically take it all in. ‘We don’t breathe out enough’ I once heard an Alexander Technique teacher say, ‘stick to breathing out effectively and life will fall into place’. I can’t say that breathing out has been a life changing event, I sigh a lot but that isn’t the same, more a deep inhalation and a lingering exhalation.

I expect Ruth Padel and the wise men of Oxford have been sighing a great deal this week. Such a storm in a poetry teacup but the media love a good sexual slur in what they obviously regard as ‘the posh world ’plus a ‘caught you telling slight porkies’ moment. The ‘I know absolutely nothing’ approach Padel gave at first was revealed to be more of a ‘Well I do know a little about two e mails I sent in all innocence to a couple of journalists, inferring that there might be something in Walcott’s past that might make good copy.’ Any campaign that followed was not down to her. I am flummoxed, why she should have even bothered to point out something that was in the public domain anyway, any decent journalist could, with a few Google searches, have uncovered this same information. Perhaps the worry was that the election of a Professor of Poetry at Oxford was so stultifyingly boring and way off the media’s radar that no one would be bothered to cover it in any depth, it certainly wasn’t headline material but it is obviously amazingly important to those who would like to become it. I am not saying that sexual harassment of students is not an issue but I am not inclined to join the conspiracy theory some allude to, which states that any women candidate for this job would have been pillared for something. I think if a male candidate had done exactly what Ruth Padel had done he would be in the same position and it would not have been treated in some secret male Masonic way and swept under the carpet.

Who ever knows about motives, I like Ruth Padel, she would have done the job well; I like Derek Walcott’s work, he would have done the job well, now we are waiting to see if anyone will do the job well. It may be that poets are busy examining all the expenses they have claimed in the past few years as tax deductible or how they have spent their Arts Council grants as they think this may be up for public scrutiny, should they put their hat in the Oxford ring. How public money is spent is still big news at the moment. Sex and ill gotten gains have always made good copy and taking this particular lens and applying it to the poetry world could certainly throw up a few titbits but who would really be interested other than other poets. Poet spends a few quid of an Art Council grant on paying electric bill or feeding goldfish is hardly likely to shift many newspapers.

The one thing that irks me about this business is that people I know who are not that interested in poetry are just mildly amused by what they see as a slight spat between poets who they do not know and the discombobulation of Oxford academia. It confirms their belief that modern poetry is marginal and up its own posh posterior. I feel a little sorry that perhaps Ruth Padel, who is a fine poet, may be seen for a number of years as the woman who had to step down from the Oxford Chair. It’s a bit like Freddie Starr never living down the headline about eating someone’s hamster. Freddie may have been a consummate entertainer, a singer and comedian but in the public’s mind he ate that hamster (although actually he didn’t). I never thought at the start of this post I would be comparing the resignation from an Oxford Professorial Chair in Poetry to a mythical consumed hamster but then that’s what a blathering blog can do to you.

I’ve a poem in the online American based magazine Pirene’s Fountain this issue. There is a great poem there by Mark Doty, which really deserves a read. It’s an interesting magazine, with some good poems in it, enjoy.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Salt Publishing, Being Zorro and Exploding Ornamental Duck Houses

So Salt Publishing has its back to the wall and the firing squad is already checking that the safety catch is off on their rifles but the blindfold has not yet been placed over its eyes to consign it to the dark and the presiding officer has not raised his arm. There is still time for the poetry reader, like Zorro, to appear on the walls of the oppressors fort, swirling his cape and brandishing his credit card.
With just one swipe the firing squad could be sent scurrying to the barrack room to cower, the evil Don, could be defeated and you dear reader could emerge a hero because there isn’t just one of you but hundreds and each small act of heroism of purchase, when financial times are hard for everyone, can create something powerful and real.

I think I was brought up on a diet of American TV hero serials where right always triumphs in the end. Of course some may say it is it right that an independent press of quality like Salt should collapse because the market is always right, it weeds out those that have no right to survive. If the product is not being bought then this is a hint that the product is either trying to find a niche in an already saturated market or is not able to hold its own against other products. Poetry and short stories is a product, there is no way you can get round the fact that the work of the writer does inevitably come down to something that you have to market and sell. Small independent presses are vitally important as they are the real risk takers, the people that on a tight budget are willing to gamble on and nurture new talent. The ‘big boys’ take on so few new poets amidst a growing pool of up and coming talent that it is inevitable that if these smaller publishers bite the dust that pool of poets with real talent will grow bigger and bigger. One could argue that real super talent will always get published in the end or that other means of finding and reading new poets and writers such as on the internet, self publishing and co-operative presses etc will take up the slack. Maybe, it is certainly the case that the poetry world has to become less snobby about online publishing but the joy of a real book, holding it, savouring it, reading and re-reading it is not just an experience for the real bibliophile but is an experience many want to retain. Being published, someone saying, ‘I want to help more people read your work’, is a gift beyond the price of rubies to a writer, it validates what you do and who you are in a profound way. It also ensures that as a poetry reader I can have access to poets whose work I may never have read and which has been a valuable part of my life.

BBC 2 kicked off a poetry season with a programme that asked whether poetry matters, of course modern poets will say it does, the people who read it regularly will say it does, some will say that old dead poets matter and as for modern poetry they can take it or leave it, there will be some who were never turned on to it at school and who in fact had terrible experiences of poetry at school who will say it’s not important in the great scheme of things or to their lives. Asking if poetry matters feels a bit like asking whether being able to swim matters; ultimately it may only really matter if you are about to drown but it can be a huge pleasure and also great fun and one day it could just stop the waves closing over your head and help you strike for some distant shore. Poetry of course doesn’t necessarily bring comfort and aid it can offer you a challenge, a wake –up call, something to exercise the mind, a raft of questions.

And here is something of what poetry can do to speak of something that matters and make it matter just a little more perhaps to someone listening.

Being a bit of a sci-fi fans I keep thinking of the final scene at the end of the film V for Vendetta when thousands of people, all dressed as the anti-government hero V, march through London and watch as Parliament is blwn up. Fantasy drivel maybe but I still have faith in the power of ordinary people to bring about change if they care enough, but then as I say I am a romantic. Although as an aside, who would have guessed it would be The Daily Telegraph, the most staid of papers that would send a few fireworks whizzing through The Houses of Parliament, and put a rocket under the odd ornamental duck house.

Go and browse the Salt website, I’m there and I make no bones about having a vested interest but even if they didn’t publish me I have read poets they have published for years and thus I feel a real affection for it as a press. When Jen and Chris say times are hard you can be assured that they are the first to tighten their own belts and suffer financially, no plasma TVs or duck houses for them. There are also scores of poets and short story writers there that deserve to be read, even if you don’t fancy my book, something may float your boat. One book is what they ask you to buy, the price of a cheap round for four people in the pub, can’t be a bad exchange and you get to be Zorro into the bargain.

There's a piece about me on the Peony Moon blog this week on Wednesday I go on local radio to strut my stuff, who knows if someone listening might decide that poetry might matter, just a bit, well enough not to turn the radio off.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Huts, Sea, Help and Me in Rhyme with Symmons Roberts, Beer and Freud

I thought I'd count you down into the blog in beach huts on the coast at Wells in Norfolk (currently being sold at around £69,000 I spotted in one estate agents window..the credit crunch doesn't seem to have effected huts yet). My Wells reading seemed to go down well. Dean Parkin was a real star and managed to get the audience saying ‘bubble wrap’, which is always an icebreaker, especially on a beautiful Sunday morning when you feel that perhaps all of us should be off with our buckets and spades, paddling, crab catching or making small effigies of Coleridge or Keats in sand and sea shells. Dame Gillian Beer gave a fantastic lecture entitled ‘Why we can’t do without rhyme’. It was, as is usual from her, well thought through, full of examples to back up what she was saying and very wry at times. You can tell she has an enormous depth of knowledge and experience to draw on. As she was one of the people that helped to found the T S Eliot prize and has been a judge on many prestigious literary panels such as The Booker, the Orange Prize etc you feel in a safe pair of hands but also you know she is open to the new and always looking to be surprised. Rhyme seems to be almost hardwired into many western languages but as she pointed out is not used in poetry in many other languages; Korean for instance has no concept of rhyme. It is still that expectation of a familiar sound that the best poets can play with so skilfully, sometimes coming up with something unexpected or slightly subversive. She quoted from Tony Harrison who is one of the best modern poets who uses rhyme almost exclusively. In V the rhyme of anchor and wanker was, at the time it was written ,considered rather shocking and off course you have to hear the northern accent to appreciate fuck and book. She went onto talk about rap being based on the strong association between rhythm and rhyme. She unfortunately didn’t give us a few Puff Daddy lyrics, which would have been a You Tube moment.
I am never surprised by how much children, even very young children, in this country at least, take to rhyme like small ducklings to water and throw themselves into predicting the rhyme with abandon. Is this because they grow up hearing Nursery rhymes in the infancy? I have seen children who have not had such experiences and who have very limited vocabulary still able to predict that the end line rhyme with shoe is likely to be pooh, especially in the context and picture clues of small nappiless babies or recalcitrant cats. There is something satisfying about the lean of one sound towards another similar sound even if it’s only a half rhyme or the use of a run of the same vowel sounds. I know a child at the moment, who is getting enormous enjoyment out of learning Hairy McClary, the rhyming book off by heart. I think rhyme is a strange linguistic security especially for a child. In a chaotic world where there is little we can influence, the sound of rhyme , especially linked with repetition, has a soothing effect, it gives you some solid platform to stand on, it gives you the power to predict and successful prediction makes you feel just a little less fear that chaos is hanging just round the corner. I am sure there are more erudite ways to explain it in the adult psyche and experience of the auditory world but maybe some of those childhood neural/auditory pathways, so well trodden or enjoyed as a child might nudge us towards gaining satisfaction from a rhyme. Rhyme can be a dreadful experience of course, a perpetual waiting for the other shoe to drop. ‘How’s he going to rhyme ‘position’ you say to yourself, arms folded leaning back in your seat like a snooker spectator waiting to see if someone can pot the black whilst getting a kiss of the brown at the same time …oh there it goes derision…you can sometimes almost shoot them down like paired tin ducks at a fairground stall…linguistic Sudoku…enough of the analogies… shoes/snooker/ducks and numbers) . However at it’s best, its very best it can weave a poem so full of resonance and sound that it is as if the sound is as important as the meaning of the word, which it is of course.

Michael Symmons Roberts and Annie Freud gave good readings, I particularly like the poems from Symmons new book The Half Healed, I heard him read from his previous collection Corpus at Aldeburgh and he goes from strength to strength. He works with a composer on opera libretti and also writes for radio so he does have an amazing ear for the sound of words.

I went to hear some fantastic new younger poets from Cambridge on the Saturday night and despite the late hour all three of them kept me not only awake but attentive as they all had such strong and individual voices. Helen Mort, Ian Cartland and Benjamin Morris...these are names that are to be noted and if you have the opportunity to hear them read go along, you won't be diappointed. Helen Mort is developing a one woman show called A Pint for the Ghost which should start touring at the end of the year so look out for that one.

I stayed at a lovely mad B and B, with bird twitchers, nuns, horsey women in jodhpurs and uncles of the bride. I sat on the sand dunes and watched the sea and walked through pine forests where I sat and carefully arranged pine cones to make the word HELP. It was a personal experience what can I say, a moment of pleasure shared with no-one except the two squirrels who watched from a near-by tree and you all know how I feel about squirrels since my experience of the psycho squirrel from hell in America.

If you don't believe me, it was very much like this one.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Poetry Next The Sea, Roadside Rabbits, Social Networks and Flu

I am off to Wells in Norfolk tomorrow to read at the Poetry-Next-The–Sea Festival with Dean Parkin on the Sunday
but I am hoping to enjoy a quick stroll along Holkham beach, the weather forecast says it might be a bit breezy , which might translate to gale force on the Norfolk coast. Last year I had the cobwebs blown out of me courtesy of a brisk walk through the marshes, I think I rely on the sea wind factor there to clear all the synaptic pathways. Wind , in the fens, is of course a thing of beauty it hurtles in from the Urals and manages to twist trees into convoluted shapes that usual pass for a petrified Golem if you happen to come across them on a moonlit night walk.

I have taken to walking at night, it has its own pleasures not least of which are rabbits. Just off the busy A14 there are grass verges that at night seems to contain the full cast of Watership Down plus a very healthy fan base. They eat oblivious to the traffic and I can’t help thinking that the lead content in the grass they seem to enjoy may actually be dulling their brains such that they are not actually oblivious, more totally spaced out. I expect someone has done some research somewhere on the effects of dual carriageway feeding on the lead levels in rabbits. I can’t believe someone with bio credentials hasn’t driven by the motorway verge rabbits and thought, ‘They look like very stupid rabbits could this be why they are happy eating beside a motorway or is the reverse true; because they eat exhaust fume polluted grass has that made them stupid enough to remain here’. I once lived next to a man who used to place his son in his baby car seat on the driveway next to him as he constantly tinkered with and revved up his car, if car fumes can make rabbits more stupid what could it do to children? Of course this may have been an early instance of father/son bonding and the child may have grown up to be a mechanical genius. If Mozart’s father could teach his son to play the piano from three years old why shouldn’t another father introduce his toddler to the delights of the internal combustion engine and the smell of exhaust?

I watched a fascinating programme about the new science/maths of networking which makes sense of the six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon Game. Apparently we are nearly all only six people away from every one else. A man has studied the maths of the internet links and that too proves this but also shows that some points are important hubs and connect to more things. They are using this theory to draw up models of how disease or computer virus’ can spread. Once enough hub type people or places are infected then it’s good night Vienna for stopping the spread of something. I once did one of those network things on Facebook which connects up all the people you have accepted as friends. The hub analogy seemed to hold for that, some people knew only two or three others whereas others were positively overwhelmed with connections. Hub people are influential people, I was not a hub person thank god, the responsibility would weigh too heavy, all those people to connect and weave together.
Here is the technical terms used in social network analysis, I have just substituted the word person for the word node( Ithink that is maths speak for a point but I could stand correctedon that by anyone out there with A level maths). I found it strangely compulsive reading once I had done that mind trick and I kept applying it to all my friends, acquaintances and those ‘I once met them briefly at a party ten years ago’ people.

The extent to which a person lies between other people in the network. This measure takes into account the connectivity of the person's neighbors, giving a higher value for people who bridge clusters. The measure reflects the number of people who a person is connecting indirectly through their direct links.

An edge is said to be a bridge if deleting it would cause its endpoints to lie in different places.

This measure gives a rough indication of the social power of a person based on how well they "connect" the network. "Betweenness", "Closeness", and "Degree" are all measures of centrality.

The difference between the number of links for each person divided by maximum possible sum of differences. A centralised network will have many of its links dispersed around one or a few people, while a decentralized network is one in which there is little variation between the number of links each person possesses.

The degree an individual is near all other individuals in a network (directly or indirectly). It reflects the ability to access information through the grapevine of network members. Thus, closeness is the inverse of the sum of the shortest distances between each individual and every other person in the network.

Clustering coefficient
A measure of the likelihood that two associates of a person are associates themselves. A higher clustering coefficient indicates a greater 'cliquishness'.

The degree to which people are connected directly to each other by cohesive bonds. Groups are identified as ‘cliques’ if every individual is directly tied to every other individual, ‘social circles’ if there is less stringency of direct contact, which is imprecise, or as structurally cohesive blocks if precision is wanted.[18]

The count of the number of ties to other people in the network. This may also be known as the "geodesic distance"..

(Individual-level) Density
The degree a respondent's ties know one another/ proportion of ties among an individual's nominees. Network or global-level density is the proportion of ties in a network relative to the total number possible (sparse versus dense networks).

Flow betweenness centrality
The degree that a person contributes to the sum of maximum flow between all pairs of people (but not that person).

Eigenvector centrality
A measure of the importance of a person in a network. It assigns relative scores to all people in the network based on the principle that connections to people having a high score contribute more to the score of the person in question.

Local Bridge
An edge is a local bridge if its endpoints share no common neighbors. Unlike a bridge, a local bridge is contained in a cycle.

Path Length
The distances between pairs of people in the network. Average path-length is the average of these distances between all pairs of people.

Prestige is the term used to describe a person’s centrality. "Degree Prestige", "Proximity Prestige", and "Status Prestige" are all measures of Prestige.

The degree an individual’s network reaches out into the network and provides novel information and influence.

The degree any member of a network can reach other members of the network.

Structural cohesion
The minimum number of members who, if removed from a group, would disconnect the group.

Structural equivalence
Refers to the extent to which people have a common set of linkages to other people in the system. The people don’t need to have any ties to each other to be structurally equivalent.

Structural hole
Static holes that can be strategically filled by connecting one or more links to link together other points. Linked to ideas of social capital: if you link to two people who are not linked you can control their communication.

No wonder I’m no good at networking if this is what is involved but I suppose if pushed I would admit to wanting to be involved in a network that has a bit of ‘radiality’ and I’d like to contribute to the flow of inbetweenness centrality now and then.

There must be a found poem somewhere in the above.

Social networking also means that once the swine flu hits someone who is a hub or of high ‘Prestige’ (in the social networking analysis sense) then we might as well throw away the masks and climb in bed together, especially all those group with a high social cohesion ( or cliques). A poetry festival should be a fertile ground for flu all that cheek kissing, hugging and general networking.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

A Season of Small Insanities

So the poetry collection is out and available from Salt and Amazon; all I have to do now is publicise it, sell it and get the readings. This involves a great deal of buttock clenching moments on my part as proactive self publicity or networking is not my forte. I have this image of myself as one of those old stereo type spivs who sidled up to people in pubs in a long overcoat which he whips open to reveal row upon row of watches pinned in the lining whilst muttering out of the corner of his mouth, “Want to buy a watch gov?” I could adapt a coat to carry paperbacks and try the sidling up business, “Want to buy some poetry, gov?”

I could try the ‘well good work will sell itself’ approach and indeed works of genius might by word of mouth perhaps but real life isn’t like that. I also feel this added responsibility not to let my publisher down. Salt is an independent publisher, run by a husband and wife team who have virtually sold their souls and their children’s financial future to the devil in order to promote new poets and new short story writers. If the books they bravely choose to publish sell well they might get to sleep more easily at night. So I am managing to do the deft mind-speak trick of telling myself any self publicity is not me being a ‘show-off’. I come from that breed of working class stock that thinks talking about your achievements or wanting acknowledgement from others of your achievements counts as showing-off, this was an attitude sewn into your genes from birth. Nowadays of course, showing –off is regarded as allowing children the opportunity to validate their self esteem and celebrate their achievements.

One boy the other week proudly showed me his, ‘I am brilliant’ sticker which he told me he had been given for sitting on the carpet and not poking anyone for a whole story. Wonderful I tell him, “I get five minutes on the computer for every sticker I get but if I’m too good I’d be on the computer all the time but I’m supposed to get good just because that’s meant to make me feel better before that happens.” Here was a boy of shrewd intelligence who had already worked out that external validation only works so far and after that it’s every man and his internalised validation for himself. Selling your poetry , novel or any creative work feels a bit like shopping around for external validation, the equivalent of getting a sticker from the teacher, if people buy it then I have done well, if not, well I haven’t. A healthy level of self –esteem should of course remain if absolutely no-one wants to buy it, other than kind friends and relatives and people in the same town who are just nosy and want to find out about the inner life of the woman who they happen to know from years of just existing in a small town together. However poetry as product is so intimately bound to the poet as person that perhaps it is difficult to separate the experience of one from the other. There is a dark niggle at the back of my head that says, ‘Well if you don’t try too hard to publicise it etc then its lack of sales can be put down as my failure to do the promotional stuff rather than any failure on the poetry’s part’. I am a marketing man’s nightmare, I am the stuff of which returns from bookshops is cobbled.

My mother was always of the ‘Well as long as you did your best.’ school of comfort after exams, driving tests, job interviews, any situation where you or what you produce felt on trial. If you feel you didn’t do your best Part II of the comfort response kicked in. ‘Well you’ll know better next time,” thus turning a potential no win situation into a learning one. Every poem I write that gets published may on reflection have been better written, one changed word, a moved comma even, could improve on it but then the comfort statement Part II takes over and I may not make the same mistake again. I also rely on a healthy ego to ensure that I still publish and make further mistakes I can learn from rather than stop trying to publish altogether so I can never make any mistakes in public.

Other poet friend tells me they too have had the strange feeling that kicks in after post publication euphoria has dissipated. One poet told me that suddenly he looked at his collection and realised that these poems now took on a life of their own, went out into a world in which he had no control and became something of themselves once they were inside the cover of a book. ‘It’s as if I didn’t write them’ is a phrase uttered by three or four poets I have asked about this post publication feeling. ‘I’ve got them out of my head, onto a page, out in the world and now I can get on with new poems and the old ones just have to fend for themselves,’ is what one poet told me. It’s interesting when discussing this with poets that often the poem was referred to in some way as a child or some sort of young, something you give birth to, nurture, take care of, introduce to the world and then you let it go out and become something apart from you, although within it , it contains all the history and experiences you impressed onto it when it was growing. One poet even found herself reading a poem at a festival from her collection that she had no sense of ever having written and began to worry that in fact she had read it somewhere, ingested it and then perhaps later reproduced it unknowingly from somewhere deep in her memory as her own work. ‘I don’t remember writing this’ is I have found when I asked quite a common experience. Perhaps creative people have a capacity to let go that amounts to block out at times so that new creative work can find room to grow. Perhaps there is a creative dissociative state that can sometimes occur but then for every poet who may experience this there are probably two that can recall not only writing the poem but what clothes they were wearing and what they had for tea on the day they finished every poem they have ever written. It would be interesting to do a straw poll though and find out if feeling you haven’t written the poem that has your name on it in the book is common or just strange isolated incidents amongst poets I happen to know, which might say more about me and my circle of poets I come across that poets in generals.

So my collection is out, I am up for promoting it and available for; interviews, publicity shots kissing babies, newspapers, radio, TV, blogs, festivals (hippy, musical, literary or unspecified), reading to poetry societies, WIs, readers groups, church groups, Wicca bar-b-cues , hustings, race meetings ( horse or dog), christenings, weddings, any small gathering where a poet might come in useful, bookshops ( independent , dependent , chain, second-hand ), hen nights, pub quizzes ( what is the next line of this poem written by me etc?), virtual forums, real forums, chat-rooms, quiet rooms and waiting rooms, residencies in places, trains, prisons, museums, shops, motor-way services, zoos, breweries, hockey clubs and rugby clubs, all night petrol stations and market stalls.I have taken the oath of the media whore on the address book of Max Clifford( I swear to uphold the right to self promotion in all forms of media outlet). I am steeled to ask, beg and generally crawl for readings to anyone that has a reading in their gift. I will become hardened to the not today thank you's or sorry we have already got an old woman poet booked we are looking for a young bloke poet at the moment.A sensitive poet may suffer death by a thousand cuts but I shall carry sticking plasters around at all times and be prepared, like the ex Brownie I am. I shall not mind people in the town coming up to me and asking whether the poem about buying the vibrator is true, I shall own the poem about the sex chat-line worker to relatives who thought I was doing home piece work in the eighties.I will fight them on the ....hang on wrong speech....cut the Churchillian background music please.

I have been taking part in the Like Starlings website project that pairs up poets and asks them to respond to each other poems with new poems. I have been paired with the Tall Lighthouse Poet Heather Taylor. You can see the series of six poems we have completed here . There are some other very interesting pairings of poets on the site so do have a browse there sometime.

It is a mixed week for women poets. There is the death of U A Fanthorpe, who’s work I much admired for its humanity and perceptiveness about how we tick She was fifty when her first collection was published so she was the living example of the fact that the late starter doesn’t have to be the also ran. Carol Ann Duffy confirmed as the Poet Laureate, first woman, the week-end broadsheets are full of her, interviews, comments etc. Strange job really to promote poetry as if great poems themselves are not enough but of course they aren’t, we need a face to fit the art to, a person to attach to it and look to as being a shining beacon of what poetry is worth in a society. Even the ancients created the concept of the Muses to personify various art-forms so a Laureate doesn’t seem a bad idea, especially if they are persuasive, articulate, media friendly, street smart, committee smart and have a vision of what poetry can offer society. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Carol Ann has a vision and the drive. Perhaps she can be the new Captain of the Poetry Enterprise Ship that will boldly go where no poetry has gone before, Warp Factor 9, “Make it so, Ms Duffy, make it so.”