I have a new poem published in Some Cannot Be Caught: The Emma Press Book of Beasts, edited by Anja Konig and Liane Strauss. It’s a semi-concrete poem called ‘Documentary on the Pangolin’ and – with apologies to those who don’t like hints as to how a poem should be read – I’m afraid I wrote most of this with the voice of David Attenborough in my head.
Jon Stone, author of the poem ‘Documentary of the Pangolin’, replied instantly with “a fox”, explaining that he too is “scrawny, crepuscular, an occasional nuisance, and an inveterate rummager.” He added, “I like travelling between the gaps in the figurative hedges, and I often find myself sniffing around on other people’s lawns. Humans make me uneasy, but I hang around in close proximity to them anyway.”
They did ask me another question, which was left out of the version published on the blog: Do you think humans have anything to learn from this animal/animals in general?
After some thought, I typed back:
From the fox specifically? We could learn how to live alongside our enemies.
I’m reading at Soho Poetry Nights this Friday, 29th June, in a double-act with Abigail Parry (we’re reading from each other’s books) and alongside Sarah Fletcher and Ana Hassan. The event kicks off at 7.30 at Library Club, 121 St Martin’s Lane, and there are open mic slots!
Graham Linehan (Father Ted, Black Books) has been pinning his colours to the mast for some time when it comes to trans rights, ie. he is not entirely on board. A major plank of his argument seems to be that the logic of “a woman is someone who identifies as a woman” is circular.
But language has always evolved in part through circular reasoning. We call something ‘X’ because it seems very similar to another thing we call ‘X’. The definition applied afterwards is never absolute, never perfect, and the more a word encompasses, the less likely it is that its meaning is fixed to one particular feature, let alone a concrete feature. The word ‘woman’ has a sprawl of associations, and it’s not surprising that during a period of societal change, we should have to have a serious think about what it means to all of us going forward. Nor is it surprising that for different people it is strongly associated with different sets of experiences, or aspects of their identity.
Obviously, there’s a lot more to this subject, but for now I think the point about language is self-contained, and in itself defeats the complaint that as a matter of logic women cannot self-identify.
Two upcoming events: I’m co-hosting an A-Z of Villainy this Friday, from 7pm at the Betsey Trotwood in Farringdon. It’s a simple premise: writers reading pieces inspired by villains. 26 writers, 26 villains. Some of the writers may or may not be undercover villains themselves, and liable to hatch a scheme in the midst of proceedings. If no one else does, I will. If I can think of something dastardly enough.
I’m co-hosting this event with Kate Potts and Holly Hopkins, and contributing writers include Will Harris, Astra Papachristodoulou, Theophilus Kwek, Nisha Ramayya and Rishi Dastidar.
Then on Friday I’ll be in Hay-on-Wye with my Sidekick co-editor Kirsten Irving and two Sidekick poets, Abigail Parry and Clive Birnie. The fabulous Poetry Bookshop have invited us to host an interactive poetry performance linked to our interactive handbook, Aquanauts. We’re bringing party bags.
Sidekick Books, the small press publisher I co-run with Kirsten Irving, has been shortlisted in the Most Innovative Publisher category. We publish exclusively collaborative books – sometimes team-ups between writers and artists, sometimes multi-author anthologies that might mix poetry with visual art, essays or comics. But our major claim to innovation of late is publishing the Headbooks series: interactive handbooks that fuse scrapbooking, game and activity pages with visual poetry, factual content, collages and calligrams.
The first book in the series, Aquanauts, is also shortlisted this year for Best Anthology. I spent a large-ish chunk of 2017 soliciting work for this book from some of the finest poets and experimental writers I know, editing it, designing it, creating the cover artwork (see above), choosing the right printer, organising a semi-immersive/immersible launch party and gently sliding the finished book under the noses of bookshop owners, so I’m immensely pleased that it’s made the shortlist.
If you own or have seen a copy and think it does the trick, please consider heading over to the Saboteur Awards website to vote for it, and for Sidekick. Equally, if you have any familiarity with and interest in the half-underground world of British poetry, head on over and vote for the best in any of the fields. Make the process as democratic as possible.
Belatedly drawing attention to the newest issue of Eborakon, published by the University of York, a handsomely produced, neat little poetry journal that also includes visual art and reviews. The editors have included a poem of mine entitled ‘Terminal Ballistics’. It’s one of the poems I salvaged from my years working as a transcript editor in London courts and arbitration centres, and takes its cue in particular from a case concerning naval ordnance. Terminal ballistics (or ‘wound ballistics’) is the study of the behaviour of projectile weapons when they meet their target. I noted down as many pieces of terminology as I could from the experts in the case and substituted them in to lines from various poems of love and tenderness. So it’s a love-hate song of sorts.
The photograph above was taken in Hunstanton on the West Norfolk coast, while waiting for the bus, shortly after having met the dedicated squad of axolotls pictured below.
The visuals are an impeccable homage to Dadaist art by way of Jan Švankmajer. The whole game is an unsettlingly animated interactive collage (…)
boiled down to a murky, minimalist colour palette.
Beckett is far more stripped down than any of the aforementioned games – progress is mostly linear, people are represented by symbols (a bottlecap, a typewriter, a toy soldier) and voices by cycling sound samples (coughing, scissor snips, jangling coins).
It disrupts its own narrative with perspectival and chronological jumps, switches between two-dimensional and three-dimensional space, and extends the symbolic reach of its game-world so as to thoroughly blur the line between expressionism and interactive simulation.
If visual poetry is ‘the word made flesh’, to borrow Willard Bohn’s Biblical metaphor, then this is flesh that creeps and crawls (…)
Broadcasting on all channels! The next collaborative interactive experimental Headbook I’ll be editing and publishing with Kirsten Irving will be No, Robot, No! We’ve been looking for proposals from writers and artists as to how they would fill 3-5 pages of this book, and the deadline for proposals is midnight this coming Monday. Full details of the call for submissions here. Please share with anyone you know you may be interested.
School of Forgery is out in paperback, after being out of print for nearly half a decade. I’ve written a new version of the blurb for my website, and it goes like this:
School of Forgery is handily divided into two sections: Originals and Fakes. It’s possible, however, that there might have been some cross-contamination between the two. One or more of the translations of classical and contemporary Japanese poets in the Fakes section may, in fact, be made up. Some lines from the autobiography of Harpo Marx could somehow have found their way into the tale of the bandit Goemon. There are rumours that the liars, hoaxers and plagiarists who are both subject matter and tour guides in the first part have infiltrated the ranks of the dashing heroes and agents of the second. Some of these poems even steal, shamelessly, from each other.
Innocent believers in literary authenticity are advised to take especial care. This work may be, in its entirety, nothing more than a fabrication.
OK, something for International Women’s Day. Here’s the first handwritten draft of ‘Jun the Swan’, which was published as part of the Tatsunoko sequence in School of Forgery. I wanted to write something about Jun because she’s the archetype – and possibly the prototype – of the lone woman on a superhero team. The team in question being Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, a Japanese animation from 1972 that was dubbed and released in English-speaking countries as Battle of the Planets in 1978.
Being the sole female protagonist, Jun is treated rather poorly by her costume designers and animators – clad in pink, and saddled with the swan persona where Ken, Joe and Ryu (the other adults on the team) get to be an eagle, condor and owl respectively. No talons for you, Jun! And of course, she’s in the miniest of miniskirts, so flashes her pants whenever she hoofs a villain.
But there’s more to her than that. As well as being the team’s electronics and demolitions expert (ie. the Donatello of the outfit), she’s a small business owner, successfully running a café and somehow raising her adopted brother Jinpei at the same time (they’re both orphans). Plus, she’s an outrageously skilled biker. In one episode, ‘Bird Missile of Bitterness’, she clearly fancies her old biker friend, Koji, but rightly suspects him of being a wrong’n and insists on blowing him up herself to save the team.
So anyway, I tried to write about someone steely, brilliant and daring, with dreams and appetites, who’s somehow got lumbered with being the girl of the group, and with all the attendant impositions.