Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Trashed Organ ‒ 30th November

I'm reading next week on a great bill of poets and musicians at the brilliant Trashed Organ at The Bridge hotel in Newcastle. Grab a pint of real ale, plonk yourself on a chair and prepare to be entertained. I'll be doing a set comprising 75% new material, too!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Assimilate before you disseminate

[...] arriving at that crucial recognition and fostering of a new voice in poetry is something which can only be achieved in private, in isolation, though much reading, much writing and much thought. You have to read all the other poets, but then you have not only to absorb those influences but to assimilate them and eventually find yourself writing poetry which is distinctively and recognisable yours, unlike anyone else’s.
‒ Neil Astley

The above is an excerpt from an online Guardian dialogue between Neil Astley, editor of Bloodaxe Books, and his reader (and would-be writer) ship. The questions and Neil’s answers are insightful, lucid and, above all, loaded with the level of passion that one expects led to him being credited with giving the public ‘as wide a range as possible of contemporary poetry by all kinds of writers’.

What struck me about the particular quote above, indeed throughout his answers, was quite how valuably Astley regards patience. I think I know what he means: a year ago I was advised to send my collection to a publisher after making some general corrections and doing a bit of trimming. I didn’t take the advice and I’m glad of that. I know the collection isn’t ready, and I know one of the reasons for that, and it’s a simple one: I can’t pin down precisely what it is I’m trying to say; I haven’t, in Astley’s terms, fully assimilated the style and technique of my contemporaries and began to produce wholly original, distinctive, Jake Campbell poetry.

One of the ways I aim to remedy that next year is by sticking to the advice above and reading more of the greats as well as those new writers whom presses such as Bloodaxe and others are putting out there now. It’s time to make a Christmas book list.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Taking Stock

November: a strange time of year, I always find. Not quite Christmas; not the height of winter (but dark and cold enough to feel like it); not quite the end of the year. But a time, nonetheless, where we – certainly I – start looking back over the past 11 months, looking forward to the next 12.

As a writer, this year has been the most successful to date. I graduated from my Creative Writing MA in Chester Cathedral in March. The Distinction, which I received in large part because of doing very well on my final Writing Project, was the icing on the cake. I felt vindicated; as if I’d made up for what I know now was a pretty shoddy undergraduate dissertation in 2009. A great day and a fantastic start to the year. Half way through my MA, I began to notice that I was starting to think of myself far more as a writer than a student. This is surely the best praise I can give the course...

Or, at least until what happened next. I am loathed to hammer home this next point for fear of inadvertently slipping into complacency or smugness. I know, in the grand-scheme of the writing, publishing and reading world, I am still only on the first rung of the ladder, but winning the Andrew Waterhouse Award from New Writing North in July certainly compounded that feeling I’d started to experience on the MA: that I’m a writer and I can make this successful as well as enjoyable. It felt fantastic to be recognised amongst some other great writers – some of whom have gone on to become good friends. The award is both a privilege and a responsibility, though, and I will endeavour to live up to some of the fantastic poets who’ve won the award in the past.

In the past few months I’ve been doing quite a bit with Red Squirrel Press and it is with great pleasure that I can confirm they’ll be putting out my debut pamphlet of poems in May next year. I intend to blog thoroughly about the pamphlet once some final details have been sealed, but for now I am still slightly buzzing that I’ll be able to have physical, published copies of a collection of some of my ‘finished’ poems to sell and promote at readings.

On a related note, one such reading in which I will be doing just that is at Zest! in Chester on May the 21st next year. Zest! has become a bit of an institution on the Cheshire literature scene and I am thrilled that I’ve been accepted as a guest reader there. The first time I read poetry in public was as a slightly over-eager 18 year old, back in March 2007, at their first event in Alexander’s Jazz bar. To return to the stage, with published poems, will be brilliant.

The writing year starts to wind down for me after the final reading I plan to do: Trashed Organ at The Bridge Hotel on November 30th, with Sean O’Brien, Degna Stone and Andrew Sclater. The event's organisers, John, Melanie and Rob, have welcomed me three times this year alongside some incredibly inspiring literary and musical talents, and I look forward to working with them more next year.

Recently I’ve started a Christmas temp job in Waterstone’s and I’ve experienced the rekindling of a desire to read about thirty different books simultaneously. I’d already been thinking about literary resolutions, but thanks to the job, I’ve now found even more things I’d like to read. I’ll blog about these bookish resolutions later, as well as some other exciting things, but for now, it’s time to start taking stock of 2011, an excellent year and hopefully one which will provide the foundations for more writing, better writing and greater success next year.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Snip, snip

I attended the Northern leg of the Poetry Book Society benefit reading in Manchester on Friday night. The reading, which follows the ‘Poetry Cuts’ benefit in London in the summer, drew together some of the North’s finest writers in a ‘one-off, another-on’ mini poetry marathon to try and save the ailing PBS, who’ve recently had their Arts Council funding withdrawn. Or, if you prefer to be more brutal, who’ve been shafted by wider, symptomatic effects: namely, the coalition government taking the scissors to just about everything prefixed by £s that contain cultural or civic importance.

But this isn’t a political blog and I’m not here to clobber Cameron or crack Clegg one. It’s interesting and rather sobering that in times of crisis we often see the best of human endeavour. Manchester’s PBS benefit was a pristine example – only when the axe is prised to fall do we see such inventiveness and inspiration. I’ve only been following the world of poetry ‘seriously’ for two years or so, but besides at well-established festivals (which I’m yet to attend), I’ve never known it feasible to be able to hop on a train to somewhere else in ‘The North’, pay only ten pounds and hear readings from 16 of the country’s most popular poets.

As a young writer who’s just getting involved in the world of poetry, I found the evening bizarrely anachronistic. I just couldn’t get the nagging thought out of my head that perhaps more could have been done. I don’t just mean by the PBS, but by the poets themselves, as well as other, similar organisations. Why not a North Eastern PBS benefit, for example? Pleasant as the evening was, I’m sure many others, with many other readers, could have been organised in lecture theatres up and down the land. Am I being naive and blasé about this? Perhaps. But why was there not a Newcastle benefit; a Liverpool whip-round; a Leeds fund-raiser? Some might say that they did as much as they could, that (re)joining the PBS and attending the event is making good from a dismal situation, but I disagree. I’ll confess that attending the Manchester benefit was a ‘two birds, one stone’ situation for me: I hopped on another train after the gig and spent the rest of the weekend with my girlfriend. Many from Newcastle and other parts of ‘The North’ (and what about the rest of the UK?), will have been unable to attend simply because of geography. Okay, I’m sure people will have donated online, but that’s missing my point: where are these special poetry readings the rest of the time; the ones that save the cash under the mattress for uncertain days?

I don’t know. I probably am too misguided about how these organisations work. I’m not stupid, though and I remain an optimist: they could certainly continue on far less or no funding – they’d have to ditch the pitch-perfect microphones and the glitzy music halls, and I’m sure a few of the nation’s finest would have to have their aptitude measured more in bums on seats than zeros on cheques – but the PBS could survive and thrive. I’m biased, of course. I hope it does survive; which writer doesn’t want to be (re)commended by a prestigious book club? But it’s true – the PBS probably won’t survive merely on its ardent followers digging deep. Organisations like this are vital – and I should make this clear here if nowhere else in this blog, I fully support their work – but their survival, and that of similar establishments, will be decided by their ability and willingness to evolve and make concessions.