Thursday, 30 June 2011


Had a very useful letter of rejection from Poetry London today. Those who routinely submit to poetry journals will be familiar with the dreaded printed slip. I'm taking it as a positive thing, then, that this slip (which, coincidentally, did have printed on it 'apologies that we are unable to offer personal responses') did indeed have a personal message from the editor, making a brief suggestion as to how I might overcome one of the poems weaknesses. Given the stature of PL, I take some consolation from a personal response because the editors must receive hundreds, if not thousands of submissions for each issue and mine got a constructive response. So, I'll edit the poems and I'll send them out again.

I remember two pieces of anecdotal evidence to do with dealing with submissions, both those that succeed and, more often, those that don't, from Gill McEvoy and Rebecca Goss: the former told an audience at an open-floor that you just keep checking the door mat; keep sending the work out there and the latter, Goss, told our Creative Writing seminar that it took about ten years of submitting and resubmitting to countless journals before she'd gotten the deal for her first collection. I think her general rule was that if a poem came back a fourth time, she knew there definitely was something wrong with it. Given that this is the first time this batch of four poems have been rejected, though, I think I'll stick at them, with only the slight tinkering that I've just been kindly suggested.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Automatic Transmission ('cause I'm in a state of literary grogginess)

I’ve stalled. No, it seems worse: I’ve done the Capital W writer’s equivalent of not realising the car was running on fumes, only for it to die suddenly, forcing me to pull into a bus lane to await a sympathetic father with a jerry can and some words of advice.

Or, in more plain terms, I’ve reached that point where I’m not writing. I would say that to compensate, I’m reading loads, but beyond enjoying the new issue of The Rialto and David Tait’s pamphlet, Love’s Loose Ends, I’m not reading anything.

Obviously this is natural and will invariably sort itself out.

That’s what I hope. It’s been a year since seminars for my Creative Writing Masters finished. It’s tough to remain critical when so few situations arise in which to do so. I did actually lie before, though: I have written three new poems this month. Two of them were genuine newies, the other was an old one which I’ve cannibalised (heavily edited, butchered parts from other poems and grafted them into this one, generally made better by removal of confounding metaphors such as this, etc.) I’ll debut them at Trashed Organ in July, an event which always inspires so much that I sit on the Metro home, half-cut, scribbling ardently into my journal.

This is another one of those blogs which resembles the chaotic structure of my head. Sorry. I’m currently waiting on return correspondence from four non-specific writing organisations; a time of limbo which is bad enough when only waiting on one reply, which is now four times more limbo-ish and, inevitably, a large part of the reason I feel unable to move forward in my writing. God, this is cryptic isn’t it?
There will be news shortly, people. (Wherein ‘people’ denotes my future self, laughing at this for the sake of posterity in approximately one month.)

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

*Cryptic Review Alert*

In The Canal, Lee Rourke’s curiously haunting novel, we follow the ‘events’ of an unnamed male protagonist as he ‘falls in love’ with an unnamed female ‘sociopath’. I have put those terms in quotes because, frankly, this is not a book where a lot happens; this is not the type of love story we’re exposed to in popular culture; these aren’t the types of characters who one ends up having an absolute loving or loathing for – our views on them fluctuate, and by the end of the novel, we don’t know what’s right or wrong, or whether, more importantly, one side of right isn’t just the underbelly of another side of wrong, and vice versa.

I don’t want to go into detail about the plot, nor do I wish to thoroughly analyse what might be best described as controversial ideas. I don’t think it matters whether we empathise with a man who has quit his job to more fervently pursue the interests of a woman who fantasises about suicide-bombers. Nor do I wish to be as bold as to say that a man who spends more time watching Jumbo Jets circle Heathrow airport is infinitely more interesting than the office drones across the water to him. But that’s what this book is about: I’ve told you bits about it, I’ve imparted some subjective opinions. Now I think you should go and read it, as if society told you it’s what’s expected, as if following online recommendations – as I did – is the best way to expand your cultural horizons.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Writing Round the Toon

Last night I went to the Launch of Write Around The Toon, an ongoing, participatory event dubbed ‘a self-guided creative-writing tour of Newcastle-Gateshead, resulting from a series of short writing-residencies in cultural venues across the region.’

Bizarrely, the event slipped under my radar somewhat and I only decided to go at the last minute thanks to heavy promotion on Facebook. I’m glad I did. The premise, as surmised above, is a simple one, but its intentions, I hope, will be more far-reaching.

(Pretty much) everyone (in the North East) will be familiar with several of the venues ‒ from the Sage to the Baltic and the Life Science Centre and Hancock, these are venues that are now utterly synonymous with the cultural and architectural fabric of the region. This being the case, one might question why writing residencies in them were necessary. Well, I think what W.A.T.T has shown is that while we know these places exist, we don’t often spend a great deal of time in them; don’t bother questioning their history and indeed their worth within a culture of cutbacks and belt-tightening. Some of the lesser-known venues, such as Seven Stories and Bessie Surtee’s House, will have invariably been thrilled to have publicity. I’d be willing to bet that over half the people living in Tyne and Wear are not aware that we have an amazing, interactive centre for children’s literature (Seven Stories) just a mile out of Newcastle City Centre, for instance.

Not that publicity is what this event was solely about. Art is often contextual. Consider Alison Summers’s inventive story about a seamstress in the Theatre Royal who fell in love with a visiting actor. When we go to see a show at places like this, our experience is almost always transitory; the production or event has been packaged into a three hour drug, the effects of which temporarily remove us from our daily lives. Who hasn’t left a play or a film and spent the first few minutes back on the streets feeling slightly awkward, like reality hasn’t quite came back into focus?

This, I believe, is where the residencies and the work produced by them come to life. They bridge that gap between our conscious decision to pay money to be entertained by crafted artworks in what are themselves meticulously crafted and engineered spaces, in order that we might briefly consider our own place and power within a terribly confusing world, and our suspicion that the rest of the time, these places are just eating up public money. It’s a peep behind the curtain, a lifting of the bonnet on our cultural spaces so that we might spy inside and think, ‘ah, so it is a bit more complex.’

As a writer, it was interesting to read some of the participants’ blogs and subsequent pieces of creative writing. Kachi A Ozumba noted the difficulty of having to re-see the spaces in which one has become accustomed to, quoting Andrew Motion: ‘if you are going to write about what’s familiar to you, I think really you need to take your eyes out and give them a good wash and put them back in again before you start, so that you’re always seeing the familiar as a strange thing.’ Kachi, deliberating a starting point for his residency in the City Library, goes on to note that ‘the writing exercise had to be one that was sociable.’ There’s the buzz-word, sociable. What these residencies have shown is that writing, indeed Art, is at its most engaging when it requires people to talk, makes them notice these institutions which have been plonked on their doorstep by abstract forces from an Elitist Arts Order. People often tell me that The Sage is full of pompous bollocks. Yes, some of the art in there has certainly been controversial, difficult, strange, but for all of its presuppositions, it ‒ and venues like it ‒ are crucial in maintaining that dialogue, that conversation which says this is our city, let us always question it, challenge it, be tuned in to the minute frequencies of its development.