Monday, 27 September 2010

Rice Planting Songs #29 -35

Maybe you thought I'd given up on rice planting songs. Have no fear - one case gave me the opportunity to string five together, and then last week was quiet, meaning I only had to write two.

Rice Planting Songs #29-33
Dragon Shipping 13.09.10-17.09.10

More urgent matters:
undercuts, countless welding
defects and spatters,

defects in casting,
paint applied over dust and
grit after blasting,

grit in the engine,
stiffeners missing, large pits
ground into the skin,

ground, warped inserts, bent
plates, deep wounds and whole sections
out of alignment,

outsized panelling,
glaring gaps - and that's just his
written opening.

Rice Planting Song #34
Fusion 20.09.10

Twins in matching suits -
whether or not they're fraudsters
they're sure in cahoots.

Rice Planting Song #35
Exception Var 24.09.10

Short, savage cloudburst
followed by judgment dry as
a book's skin of dust.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Poetry Whinge-Bastards

Perhaps you recognise some of these characters?

MR. A hasn't so much as glanced at a poetry book since English classes. He learned to appreciate some of those poets (ah, Philip Larkin!) but since no one has taught him to appreciate any others since then, and since he's incapable of getting to grips with anything without the guidance of an authority figure or received opinion, he lives by the creed that nothing beyond what he was taught can possibly be of import or interest. After all, if Simon Armitage (who?) or Paul Muldoon (que?) were any good, surely Jeremy Clarkson would have said so.

MR. B has a vague awareness that some black youths - probably the same ones who ride around on BMX bikes, right? - read something called 'slam poetry', and is under the impression that this is what's become of the whole scene, thanks to a succession of politically correct governments showering these drug dealing, ghetto-blasting street urchins with free cash. He knows that slam poetry kind of sounds a bit like hip hop and isn't sure why anyone even makes a distinction - after all, it's all about uzis and bitches, isn't it? Edgar Allen Wordsworth and T. S. Betjeman must be turning in their graves at what's become of their art!

MR. C doesn't really like any poetry, or read any, but is firmly of the opinion that British poetry has gone to the dogs since the poets 'stopped rhyming'. The fact that poets still rhyme all the time is irrelevant - after all, it's not as if he could identify a sonnet, or even a couplet, that didn't start 'O!' or contain three words with an extra 'e' on the end. Any poetry that doesn't lend itself to being read out in an RP accent by a bellowing thespian might as well be cut up prose.

You can see examples of these and more in the comments section of this Guardian article, which is about the new Bloodaxe anthology, Ten. After you've skimmed through them, it's worth reading W. N. Herbert's excellent response. Both follow these comments by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt regarding Arts Council funding:

"The debate has got to move on from the kind of box-ticking targets approach that says that in return for your grant from the Arts Council, you will get so many people from particular ethnic or social backgrounds."

Now, I do think there are flaws in the Arts Council's current approach. It's not right, for instance, that the three main UK poetry publishers are handed huge amounts of money each year to publish the same lists while publishers that regularly take on new poets - poets that need much heavier promotion for their books to break even - seemingly have to fight for the scraps.

But the phrase 'box ticking' is, in this instance and nearly every other instance it's used, a shorthand for positive discrimination, ie. making an effort to make sure Britain's cultural and ethnic minorities are proportionally represented in a particular area, rather than sitting back and leaving it entirely up to them to beat the odds and right the imbalance that sees white, middle class males dominate almost every area of eminence in this country through a self-sustaining system of covert cultural protectionism and ignorance. So whenever box-ticking or positive discrimination is mentioned - let alone defended - it seems to draw in a bitter, bigoted crowd, spouting off about this supposed onslaught of free passes handed to ethnic minorities (but which, strangely, never seem to be reflected in who actually gets all the powerful jobs).

Since the article is also about poetry - something else that the same people purposefully avoid understanding or engaging with sensibly because of their own profound sense of inadequacy - the idiocy attraction is squared. Hence the arrival of the rogues gallery listed above and what Herbert rightly dubs "a kind of hyper-philistinism".

I'd like to make it clear at this point that Kirsty and I have never even applied for Arts Council funding, and run all our projects off the back of the jobs we do full time. Part of me does feel that anyone should be able to do this, but on the other hand, I can't deny that it hobbles us somewhat. We can't pay contributors. We haven't been able to set any production/release dates in stone (because you just don't know how much work will get in the way). We can't afford to hire any help with basic admin tasks. We can only afford minimal promotion/publicity (which, ironically, on a large scale, adds to the ignorance which sees people making such ludicrous statements as "the last `modern` poet who was of any worth was Larkin", because our chances of getting our work noticed by such closet dwellers is nil).  That the Arts Council exists at all, of course, is testament to the fact that our society recognises that art makes a serious positive social contribution without being a viable business. It takes a special kind of pigheadedness to insist that art is only worthwhile if it makes money, or that the sort that doesn't make money is in no way held back by its practitioners having to find some other means of income. The principle, if not the reality, of an Arts Council is sound, and the same can be said of positive discrimination.

I'd also like to make clear that there's nothing wrong with not liking or understanding poetry. We can fail to understand it in the same way people fail to understand, say, computer games, or astrophysics, or maritime law. We all have our areas of ignorance that we're entirely comfortable with. You don't need to have a grasp of everything. It's not even possible.

But what typifies the kind of comments you'll find on that Guardian thread is a self-centeredness bordering on solipsism - the assumption that: "If I don't understand something, it's not worth understanding. If I haven't heard of something, it can't possibly be noteworthy." I can't put it better than Herbert:

"Whether it’s rhyming in poetry, dressing nicely for the theatre, clapping or not clapping at the right moment in the concert hall, or knowing what you like when confronted by ‘modern’ art (anything in the last hundred years being out of bounds), this is all about behaviour and not content, about etiquette masquerading as principle, about received opinion over original thinking."

Contempt for poetry hides behind the idea of elitism - that poets are writing for an exclusive circle, not for 'everybody'. In reality, such contempt is grounded in the very elitism it claims to abhor - demanding that every poet (every artist even) write for the small group of 'normal' people represented by that commentator, entirely hateful of the idea of a panoply of different poetries writing for a panoply of different audiences. It's no wonder such comments go hand-in-hand with the uninformed assumption that a book of poets from a variety of ethnic backgrounds will have some kind of 'hip hop' flavour.

Incidentally, the thread also introduced me to MR D, who seems to think that poets can't possibly need money because all they need is a paper, a pen and a photocopier, who doesn't realise that the only reason he knows about the existence of Chewits, Bosch dishwashers and The Last Airbender is because someone paid hundreds of thousands of pounds on advertising campaigns. Heaven forbid he should learn about ten young, talented and dedicated poets the same way.

Now, this is, of course, just another rant, and doesn't go as far as suggesting what we might usefully do about it (which Herbert does do). But I find myself at something of a loss because I honestly think that many of those involved in poetry already are doing everything they can to make it as open, as multifarious and as accessible as possible. The variety is there. The attitude is there. I guess, therefore, the only change I might have to suggest to anyone who's with me on this is: we don't always have to be such good eggs about it. Sometimes maybe it's worth stopping by on an internet site to call one of these characters out on their stupidity. I like that poets and creative people are, you know, nice, but I also like seeing someone stick it to a total arse. In moderation, of course, but I actually think we could use a bit more of that right now - someone to do for poetry what Richard Dawkins did for atheism. No?

Saturday, 18 September 2010

New Fuselit Site!

It could probably use a few improvements still, but the new Fuselit site is finally up! The new look will aid in a smooth transition towards supplying an e-copy of the magazine alongside the printed version. These will start with issue 17, Contraption, but I'm also putting one together of our first issue, Demo.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Camden School of Enlightenment

Have I mentioned this yet? Tomorrow (technically today - Tuesday!) is the first Camden School of Enlightenment event, hosted by Mike West (freshly interviewed here) and I'll be doing a short talk about (and deconstructing) 80s cartoon The Mysterious Cities of Gold. I'm armed with illustrations, a CD of music from the show and some specially printed booklets to give away at the end, as well as all the crazed insight and anecdotal information you would expect of, say, an obsessive fan. I might even throw in a choice quote from Volpone to make it more literary.

Facebook event here. It's a free event and it kicks off at 8.00pm at the Camden Head, 100 Camden High Street, NW1 0LU (not the Islington Camden Head!)

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Children's Drawings

Hopefully this'll be the last polemical post for a while but I'm not really satisfied that I really got at the heart of what's bugging me over the course of the last two, even through my extended discussion with Luke Wright on the tail end of the 'Poetry/Popularity' one. In fact, I think I went off in completely the wrong direction from the get-go - it's funny how that can happen when you try to analyse your own emotions.

At the root of it, I'm frustrated - as, I think, many people involved in poetry are - with a world that struggles to acknowledge what I do as a relevant (or even interesting) art. I'm frustrated that I can't talk in much depth about what I do because most people don't have enough of a grasp on the fundamentals to follow what I'm saying. It's like the cliche of the scientist who can't convey the importance of his latest findings to anyone outside his field - except that art is supposed to be communicative. I get frustrated with knowing that if I show what I do to people, there's a fair chance they'll react with the same pained indulgence as a parent does to a child's drawing.

"That's lovely, dear. What is it?"

Or rather: "What is it about?"

I get frustrated with the not uncommon opinion that this is the poet's fault for 'obfuscating' (ie. not pandering to a lowest common denominator, ie. not repeating hoary old sentiments, ie. not slavishly imitating older, more accepted styles, ie. being individualistic and interesting).

Now, I don't say the media has any duty to change this state of affairs. But it does bug me that when they actually do discuss poetry, they convey a very limited awareness as if it were the result of considered journalistic investigation and insight. Luke Wright argues that people aren't stupid and are fully aware of the different choices of poetry that exist. I just don't share his confidence. I think there must be huge numbers of people who inherit their general cultural awareness from newspaper reports and, in practice if not in theory, put a certain amount of trust in newspapers to accurately report on what's 'happening'.

For these people, poetry is little more than a few older guys releasing 'serious' books every now and then (inevitably reviewed in a fawning and over-elaborate fashion), a couple of prize shortlists featuring said books, and then the 'youth' movement of poets like Wright, his Aisle 16 fellows, Kate Tempest, Polar Bear et al, who, while by no means identical in style, do represent a very narrow band when set against the full range of what's being attempted.

What about the dozens of diverse poets (younger and older) represented by publishers like Salt, Donut, penned in the margins, Eggbox, Nine Arches, Happenstance, pighog, Templar and many more? What about live projects like Roddy Lumsden's Broadcast series of events, continuously uncovering new poets, or Todd Swift's Oxfam fundraising series, The Cellar, Days of Roses, Clinic Presents, or the dozens of other shows (and festivals!) up and down the country? What about Jack Underwood and Sam Riviere's Stop Sharpening Your Knives anthology series, or the consistent and diverse output from Silkworms Ink? And much more besides that hasn't occurred to me as of this moment.

Maybe some of these have earned mentions in the national press and I've missed them. Maybe my failure to scan the papers every day means I've come by a skewed vision, but it feels all they have time for is that end of the poetry scale that ensconses its poetry within the general field of live performance. Wright calls this 'blurring the boundaries' but while that might be a fitting label, it's stylistically shrewd rather than ambitious - giving the press and the crowd a comedy/improv/cabaret lens through which to view the poetry.

So to the poor Guardian blogger who called Tim Clare a 'bona fide poet'. Two things here: I mistakenly focused in on the word 'poet' instead of the phrase 'bona fide', which is what really irked me, because it suggests primacy. Secondly, I'm only honing in on this as symptomatic of a trend, rather than being any kind of outrage in itself.

I know 'bona fide' doesn't strictly mean 'first and foremost', but in the context of the article, I thought this was its clear implication. And what I should have argued from the start is that Clare is not, 'first and foremost', a poet. He's actually a poet, performer, musician, comedian, non-fiction writer and novelist who fuses different elements of each in his writing and stage shows. In this respect, he simply isn't an example of "a poet trying their hand at comedy" - the words used in the article.

Bear in mind that this was an article about a festival where Richard Tyrone Jones' Utter! series boasted performances from a range of 'first and foremost' poets (Tyrone Jones himself having programmed the schedule while still recovering from a serious heart condition). The journalist couldn't find space for even a cursory mention of any of these shows, instead reporting with surprise that Tim can employ very basic poetic technique without people throwing rotten fruit at him:

"As does the blank verse he manages to slip in between the standup. "If I said we were poets and young, would you hate us?" he demands in one outburst, only for comedy fans who might have cried "Yes!" at the start of the hour to applaud loudly and queue up to shake his hand."

Yay, great. The 'comedy fans' like poets ... as long as they only 'slip' the poetry 'in between the standup'. What a shift in standards!

Now, Luke has, with reason, taken me to task for laying into Tim here, when he's supposed to be my friend. I can only say that I take no pleasure in sticking the knife in at all in this case, but when one of your friends gets a huge scoop of bangers and mash while the rest are sitting around the table with empty plates, I think it's fair to say that congratulatory sentiment is sometimes difficult to muster. If it helps, Tim, this is probably my default reaction to any positive piece I read about poetry in the national media these days ("Why are they only talking about him/her?")

(I also realise, just in case this is what everyone's thinking, that this whole post could be construed as being in the vein of Morrissey's 'We Hate it When Our Friends Become Successful' - "You see, it should've been me" - but come on, I didn't have a show at Edinburgh, I've not got a book out yet and we're already stressed by orders for Fuselit exceeding the speed with which we can produce it.)

Final point, I think, and probably the most difficult to make without sounding partial: it would be one thing if my complaint was simply about over-emphasis on one area of poetry at the expense of all else. But it's not just that. Tim, Kate Tempest, Jack Stannard, Polar Bear - successful performers all, poets all. But none of them has half of the genuine poetic talent of, for example, James Midgley and James Brookes, both of whom won Eric Gregory awards straight out of University and are still in their early twenties. Brookes, who has a nearly book-sized pamphlet out, has earned a couple of sentences in the TLS. Midgley, who until recently ran an ambitious poetry journal and is plugged into a genuinely international poetry scene, hasn't been noted by any journalist, to my knowledge.

Yeah, sure, these are mates of mine, but I was struck by their output before I'd even exchanged words with them. I defy anyone to put a segment of their work alongside that of the aforementioned performance-orientated poets and tell me it's the latter who have made a string of words look more beautiful and striking and charged with meaning.

I could use a number of other examples, who could probably, in their turn, each nominate another set of poets. It's a fairly normal view to take, I think, even if most people keep it closer to their chests than I do. And I'd like to think this really isn't about knocking poets I don't like or telling them to get off the lawn but asking why so many others who do fine work, who are pushing the boundaries, can apparently be pigeon-holed in the 'obfuscating oldies' category or ignored altogether, while those whose poetic skills are, in many cases, far more rough around the edges, are picked up on more readily.

I guess there's no way to make this case without inviting distaste for my negativity. But I have this need to get it out of my system right now, whereupon business on this blog will, we can only hope, return to normal.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

On Poetry and Popularity

"I am the world's last bona fide poet
I am proper and serious, original, true:
I can express myself much better than you!
but when I get on the bar to speak to you
nobody listens."

An esteemed figure

I often find myself on the wrong side of popular, often mean-spirited myths, unable to appreciate the humour of a barb because it's err... wrong. Caligula never made his horse into a senator, for instance. There is no erection in The Little Mermaid - that's the priest's knee. People don't slit their wrists to Leonard Cohen. And on a more general level, comic book readers aren't all reclusive single men. Most of the ones I know are married.

Then there's poetry, with its supposed deliberate impenetrability and distance from real life. Poetry readers, you see, are all poets, and they're only poets because they want to express themselves or play intellectual games, and that's why no one likes them, you see, because they're all so self-absorbed. Ironically, in its occasional coverage of the resurgence of poetry, the media does what it can to reinforce that myth. So do (see above quote) some poets. The line goes like this: "Poetry was boring and was inpenetrable, but now there's this young fella who, if you squint hard, is more like a white rapper or a comedian. You like rappers and comedians, don't you? So that means now you can like poetry. Just, you know, try to forget it's poetry."

And to be fair, there are people like me who back them up (see my last long post) by saying, "Yeah, you're right - it's not poetry."

And then there are another group who've got it all the other way round: "Poetry actually used to be accessible and meaningful. But then they dropped rhyming or invented modernism or started rapping, or something like that, and now it's all posturing."

There are various iterations in between too, all of which make the same mistake in assuming that something unfamiliar and misunderstood must be that way by design, and it has nothing to do with, say, your own lack of exposure and consequent distrust, or the absence of an instruction manual.

Poetry (or contemporary poetry)'s bad reputation is, in fact, a self-sustaining myth, viewed under any objective criteria. I say this with some certainty because I used to be in the gang that mocked it and know the mistakes I was making then. My generation were taught very little contemporary poetry up until the age of 16, so when I went on to study Bloodaxe's The New Poetry at A Level, I thought most of it was tedious. I mean, for a start, hardly any of it was written in regular meter, which I had been led to believe was the point. It was only when I read Glyn Maxwell's 'Love Made Yeah' that I found something I just, well, liked. I didn't know why. I just thought it was cool.

After that, I did start trying to write poems myself. But I was already writing fiction and songs, and taking A Level art, so it's not as if I'd just happened on this easy way of expressing myself. And I didn't start writing poetry with serious intent until I'd read a lot more and had come to realise that it's probably the most versatile, pure, open-to-anyone artform that exists today. My conversion to 'serious poet' away from all other ambitions makes absolutely no sense except on this basis - adulation came easy when I came up with half-baked songs or barely-competent drawings, and most of my creative writing degree was geared towards prose, while my improvement as a poet has gone virtually unnoticed by anyone outside of the poetry world.

What was wrong with me in the first place then? Why didn't I always like poetry? Well, partly because unlike fiction, film, pop and visual art, I wasn't surrounded by it as I was growing up. We acquire the skill to interpret all these (sometimes difficult) media at a young age, and take for granted that we know how to approach them when we're adults (when in fact, the idea of sitting for three hours in a dark room trying to follow the ring-couriering activities of hairy children from a non-existent world is theoretically torturous).

I had to be given ample chances to find something that rang true with me before I found my way into poetry. It only happened because I took A Level English. I'm not at all surprised that so many people still view it the way I did before then.

But there's another reason why poetry is miscast as an elite and decrepit villain, and that is really, I think, to do with its inherent virtues. I described it above as an 'open-to-anyone' artform, and by that I mean that it serves as the communication line between all that is weird, dark, secretive, different in humanity as well as the stuff it's 'OK' to talk about. There's no real demographic, no clearly defined sub-genres and that means that its readers find it hard to avoid being confronted with other people's thoughts - or rather, other people's ways of thinking - and the inherent challenges therein. Since it's not an obviously public art that operates according to etiquette, poetry is a world where individualistic tendencies thrive, rather than social ones. And I think the truth is that a lot of people find that quite threatening. Moreover, the forces in our lives that tell us what is popular are deterred from putting poetry in the 'hot' column because of its subsequent resistance to broad generalisations

It's interesting to read reviews - or to generally stay alive to people's views - and truly get a picture of how little consistency there is in what is thought to be too esoteric or obscure. There are areas of commonality in our culture, of course, but these are, by their nature, riddled with banality, all the more for being cynically exploited by anyone aiming for an immediate connection with people (think advertising). Outside of these shallow pools is where 99% of everything lies, but poetry is the only art that, for me, regularly admits that.

In a sense, this is why, to use Tim Clare's expression, I argued in favour of 'ring-fencing' the term 'poetry' so that populist poetry comes under a different heading. Populism shores up a person's private sense of stability by reinforcing what they already think they know, putting them in a room with a bunch of other people who think they know the same thing. My own experience of poetry - the poetry I turned to in favour of fiction, art and song-writing - is that it does the opposite. I mean, I see it essentially as an anti-tyrannical force, which is why, when I 'get on the bar to speak to you/nobody listens' - because certain kinds of tyranny are comforting, and certain kinds of freedom are 'difficult'.

All of this, of course, is not seeking to ignore the fact that there are plenty of poets whose work is accessible, or rhyming, or centered around 'normal' life, and who go down well with crowds, in themselves puncturing the myth of impenetrability. They just happen to come within a huge range of approaches, or 'ways of thinking' which only in its entirety reflects the breadth of human feeling.

The Last Barman Poet

Ross Sutherland of Aisle 16 and Homework is running a blog asking for new versions/remixes/interpretations of Tom Cruise's 'I am the world's last barman poet' speech from the movie Cocktail. There have been some inventive and clever contributions from various poets. I had a crack at it myself.

More fun than mine though is Luke Wright's contribution, which is a scathing response to my 'Dancing/Stamping' post (I did predict in the second paragraph that people would call me elitist, and ha, it is so!) It's inspired me to post something new later today.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Rice Planting Song #26

I was planning to write a long follow-up to the 'Dancing and Stamping Out Flames' post today, but on the way back from work I mentally edited it down more and more until there was nothing left. So all I've got is another bloody rice planting song.

Rice Planting Song #28
Templeton Strategic Emerging Markets Fund 08.09.10

Beyond zopiclone,
lavender, malt drink - the long
morning's steady drone

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Return of the Rice Planting Songs

August was far too short. Back to work means back to trying to write a haiku/senryu-type thing every day. Here are the first two of the new term:

Rice Planting Song #24
Templeton Strategic Emerging Markets Fund 06.09.10

London's autumn moan
through the walls, like a gagged man.
"Well, shall we begin?"

Rice Planting Song #25
Templeton Strategic Emerging Markets Fund 07.09.10

Enough time to drink
cold water like it's whisky.
Glass and bottle clink.

Regarding the new Fuselit site, it's structurally all in place. Kirsty wants it to be more colourful though (it is rather bare), which means I'm been racking my brains for visual ideas for a huge new logo. Hmm.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Dancing and Stamping Out Fires

I have to admit to a near splutter of indignation the other day when I read a Guardian article describing my old UEA mate Tim Clare as a 'bona fide poet'. Tim is a talented writer, a natural showman and probably as fine a crafter of comic verse as there ever could be, but one thing he definitely isn't is a bona fide poet, and to my mind he's implicitly admitted this in the past when describing himself with the qualifier of 'stand-up' (ie. 'Tim Clare, stand-up poet').

Why bring this up here and now? Because when I narrowly avoided that indignant splutter, I knew I had to justify it to myself and in justifying it, I went through a process of reasoning that touched on the old dispute of page poetry versus performance poetry - is there any true divide? - and came close to a new understanding of what it is about poetry that makes it, in my opinion, poetry. I'm well, aware, for instance, that a typical reaction to my above cavilling over terms is to think of me as elitist, or of mistaking personal taste for objective criticism. There is a line of thinking that says that popular peddlers of rhyming verse are sniffed at by 'proper' poets merely because they are more successful, with a more obvious talent for engaging the general public, which, it is argued, should be poetry's job above all else.

While there may be some truth in this, I think there is a clear distinction to be drawn between Clare (and, for that matter, his close friend Luke Wright) and another Tim, Tim Turnbull, who has been said to bridge the divide between stage and page and thereby disprove it. At this year's Edinburgh festival, Clare was one of a number of poet-performers who offered to write a poem on any subject within a short time (ten minutes, I think) for anyone who asked. The result would always have been as much a Clare poem as anything he performed over the festival. Why? Because Clare's art is 100% style. On more than one occasion in the past, he has responded to the classic problem of 'style or substance' by suggesting that he sees no distinction, or, more accurately, that a style with enough verve is all the substance one needs. He has honed his style performing to crowds for years, dropping jokes from pieces if the audience didn't laugh. He has done it all for you, his audience, so that you may enjoy his work and not find it difficult or dull or distasteful.

A Turnbull poem, on the other hand - and this goes, to some extent, to what I think defines 'bone fide' poetry - is a Turnbull poem because of its precise mixture of style and subject matter. Turnbull would have difficulty, I think, producing a poem on a requested subject within ten minutes that wouldn't be a hollow parody of his real work. He has specific concerns which are balanced - I would think evenly - with his desire to please an audience. A poet can be forgiven for lacking in either polish or pith, but not for lacking either entirely. However deludedly, a poet labours under the belief that they have something that must be conveyed whether the world wants to hear it or not - and if this causes a ruckus, all the better. This is not necessarily one big idea or argument per poem and it is not necessarily easily parsed from the style aspect - in fact, you could argue that the aim of poetry is to make style and substance, in this respect, inseparable and that any big idea or argument that could exist as completely outside of the poem isn't worth writing a poem about.

Somewhat ironically, it's the precise, difficult, out-of-touch page poets who are derided for 'showing off'. An audience who lacks the will or ability to properly digest their work explains to itself the apparent inpenetrability by thinking it must be some sort of oneupmanship game not intended for their eyes and ears - something like a group of guitarists performing increasingly long and fiddly solos. But as that comparator demonstrates, a general audience actually has a preference for showing off. Pop stars, comedians and all manner of performers all earn their pay from showing you they can do one thing better than everyone else. We don't mind that it's meaningless or insubstantial as long as they impress us with difficult tricks or sheer exhuberance. Without their 'presence' on the stage or as a recording - without their ego - we are nowhere near as interested. Stand-up does not transfer to the page.

Poems, meanwhile, exist without their author and without fashion accessories  - everything that is important about them is within the poetry itself. What is actually so offensive about supposedly 'difficult' poetry (and there are, in fact, hugely varying degrees of difficulty in contemporary poetry) is that it presumes to have something important to say, and the human mind in search of escape and entertainment baulks at the idea of having to take something seriously.

Tim Clare the poet would not want you to have to struggle in this manner with his pieces. He is therefore - and I don't mean this pejoratively - Pam Ayres for a modern, edgier generation. I would go so far as to say that he has consciously molded himself into that very thing. I am not, I have to emphasise, making the argument that this is an invalid or lesser form; it is just different. I also note that Clare's talents, possibly unlike Ayres', extend well beyond the ability to compose the verse he performs.

For some people, it might be good enough to have one term, 'poetry', that covers all wordplay or short poetical text, however frivolous, serious or other. For me, though, the distinction I'm drawing here is as important as one between dancing and stamping out fires. Maybe it's wrong to take the term 'poetry' for the latter; perhaps what's needed instead is more clearly defined subgenres of poetry. What's not satisfactory, to my mind, is when the media talks about the return of poetry or the issue of poetry as if the success of the Wright/Clare model signals some kind of change in attitude towards my kind of poetry. There may well be change on that front, but not because these two and others are continuing the fine tradition of Pam Ayres, John Cooper Clarke, Murray Lachlan Young et al in using verse as a delivery tool for light entertainment.

Now I really must have some breakfast.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Fuselit is 5!

As of this month, Fuselit is five years old. Thanks so much to all the people who came to our birthday/Jack launch last night and helped eat the cake! It was absolutely ram-packed and the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. All of the readings went down a treat and lots of people bought a copy of Jack. The only negative is that now we only have six fully made-up copies left to send to contributors and subscribers! So I've been to the print shop today (my last day of a summer break from regular work) and ran off more pages so we can get cracking on more copies. I'm also making great progress on a new Fuselit website that will sit better with an upcoming shift in the format of the journal. Stay tuned!