I’ve done a very poor job of keeping this Tumblr updated for the last year. Here, however, is the culmination of two of the big projects I’ve been working on: the exhibition of pages from Aquanauts and Bad Kid Catullus, the first two titles in Sidekick’s Headbooks series: anthologies of visual and lyrical poetry mixed with collage, handy information and interactive/scrapbook pages.
The launch is tonight, from 6.30pm at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden. It’s a toga party with an added underwater twist – transmediations and versions of the poems of Catullus are on display on the ground floor, while below deck are the visual poems from Aquanauts, including an entire wall for our collaborative oarfish renga, which has been blown up to the size of a real-life oarfish.
There will, of course, be wine, grapes and honeycakes. We’re also taking custom orders for prints from the book, and selling copies. One final big blowout before I get my head down to prepare for 2018.
It’s Raymond Queneau versus the Skeletons! Three of my ‘Squelettes’ sequence are up at 3:AM Magazine. Any gamers out there will recognise Domino Hurley, Spinal and Undead Hero as the subjects of these short poems.
Background: my PhD explores the overall interplay between poetry and games. At the most basic level, I’m interested in the intermedial conversation – games that are aware of poems and poems that are aware of games, and talk to one another. In terms of my practical work, I’m contributing to this basic level of interaction by writing some short sequences that look in both directions: at other poets and poems, and at games and game culture.
These poems use the ‘quennet’ form that Raymond Queneau invented shortly before he died. It’s a very skeletal kind of poem – all pairs of words strung together, with sonic and semantic echoes as the ligaments. I mean, they basically look like the ribs, spine and hips. Queneau used the form to map out the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching; I’m using it for an exploration of the roles played by skeletons in a variety of computer games.
Cold Fire is a pamphlet of 18 poems based on different Bowie albums, published by The Rialto earlier this year. I supplied ‘The Hounds and their Half-Hound Master’, which riffs off Diamond Dogs – I won’t put the usual write-up here on my Tumblr, because I’ve actually written about it for The Rialto’s blog, where you can also find a recording of the poem in the style of ‘Future Legend’, the first track on the album.
Here’s an extract from the article, just in case you need a taster before you click the link:
Bowie as Actaeon Gone Wrong, and his dogpack made up of his choicest, bitingest words, roughly in the order they appear on the album. They’re his droogs, his boys, his girls and his selves, all leaping around him.
Work under my name has slipped inconspicuously into the latest issue of Poetry London. I say ‘under my name’ firstly because both poems are collages, assembled from the thieved morsels of other writers’ work, and secondly because I think of them as being written by The Salvor, one of the characters in the book I’m working on.
The Salvor is only interested in reforgery; he doesn’t even really believe it’s possible to write or speak with one’s own voice, except inasmuch as one’s own voice is a secret recipe whose ingredients are the fragments of other people’s voices. You might say that is indeed the case, and that his position isn’t remotely controversial.
Anyway, The Salvor’s section of the book consists entirely of poems collaged from old British comics. The ones appearing in Poetry London this summer are made from Misty, a spooky girls comic, and The Perishers, a strip which ran in The Mirror for 50-odd years.
I’ve published two poems in this series previously (just in case you want to collect them): ‘Mars 1988′, a collage from The Eagle, in issue 152 of The Rialto (now out of print but borrowable from The Poetry Library), and ‘2000AD’, a collage from,er, 2000AD, which was published in the anthology New Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins, 2012).
Additional note: this is the first time I’ve ever sent anything in to Poetry London! I have been published in two previous issues though, as a competition winner. If I keep it up, one day I might make cover star – hopefully before I lose half my face in a furnace accident or forget how to raise one eyebrow.
Carcass doesn’t want to have sex with me. Tonight I took off my clothes and put his scaled paw on my breast and he snatched it back with a high-pitched chitter. I tried pinching my nipples for him, swaying and rolling my hips a bit. He backed into a corner, muttering in his own language. As I reached down between my legs, he lunged forward and smashed my lamp, before springing from the window onto the next building, and away into the night.
I cried in the corner for a few minutes, wiping my nose on my dressing gown sleeve. Then I read a bit more of the book I found in his coat pocket. It’s in Carcassese, but I think I’m getting some of the phrasing. There are pictures of dead birds on most pages. I kept it so he’d have to come back.
‘Love Carcass: An Interspecies Erotic Memoir’ starts today! A poem-a-day Tumblr by my Sidekick cohort Kirsten Irving.
Just a note to say that as part of my ongoing attempts toward coherent self-organisation, I’m consolidating another Tumblr into this one and changing the title to ‘Share Your Toys’. This Tumblr will still keep an intermittent log of published work, but now there will be other posts as well.
‘Shock-construction’, a poem I wrote which should really have an exclamation mark in the title, has won second prize in The Elmet Trust Poetry Prize, judged by Steve Ely. You can read it, along with the first prize winner and other winners, on The Elmet Trust’s website, (I note that there’s an issue with the online formatting which means that the lineation of Penny Boxall’s winning poem hasn’t been faithfully replicated, although my poem is very simply structured and therefore unaffected). (“Actually, your poem is very affected, Jon. Ho ho ho.”)
As per the rules of the contest, the poem was in part inspired by Ted Hughes’ ‘The City’, which begins “Your poems are a dark city centre.” The other parts of its inspiration include the historical fact of shock-constructed cities in Soviet Russia, and an idle thought I had about whether there could ever be such a thing as a counterfeit book. But the whole thing is about judgement and the failure, or limitations, of judgement. Of course it is!
The second-placed poem: ‘Shock-construction’ seems to be a self-deprecating commentary on the humiliations and anxieties experienced by the aspiring writer, perhaps addressed to a publisher, editor or competition judge. As an entry to the Elmet Poetry Prize, this might be seen as ingratiating.
Ha! ‘Anxieties of an aspiring publisher’ might be closer to the mark when it comes to the contemplation on counterfeit books. You could also read the line about faked love as a dig at the emotional authenticity sought in poems, particularly competition-winning poems. I wonder if Steve Ely saw himself as the ‘you’ at the end of the poem, the film critic realising the screening is a con, realising that the medium itself is a con, and me as the poet-actor behind the silk screen of the paper, gooning for him, a desperately bad performance, daring him to get up and walk out and write a one-star review, so impertinently and gracelessly that he thinks, “Well, I won’t then. I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you second prize instead. Second prize, Stone! The one nobody remembers! And you won’t get to pretend to be the drop-out, the ne’er-do-well. You’ll have to make do as the not-quite-first-rate-but-A-for-effort student. Then just see how your little game works out for you.”
Eh, probably not.
This contest also reminded me, by the way, that I really am genuinely very fond of Ted Hughes’ work. Some time after I entered, I found an original copy of River, with Peter Keen’s photographs, at Snoopers’ Paradise in Brighton. It’s one of my very favourite books.
Here’s my (thumbed) copy of 154, published by Live Canon, whose poetry competition closes in *looks at calendar* three days’ time! Ah, so much to unravel! Live Canon are not actually a poetry publisher per se; they are an acting ensemble who perform poetry theatrically. Part of the prize for being shortlisted in their competition is to see your work performed by them live on-stage at the prizegiving ceremony. In fact, the prizegiving ceremony is essentially a public performance of top-rated poems with a winner crowned in the closing moments. I’ve attended twice, though I’ve never been shortlisted myself, and found it a refreshing alternative to poets performing their own work. There’s a strange, bubbly kind of curmudgeonliness directed by poets towards actors-reading-poetry, in part because it’s sometimes used as a cheap ploy for attention (“Say! That’s the Hound out of Game of Thrones reading Ted Hughes! Now I like Ted Hughes!”) at the cost of the integrity of the poem itself. When the Forward Prize readings in 2014 were staged with celebrity actors brought on to ham their way through the shortlisted poems, there was a sense in which the deserving poets were being denied their moment in the spotlight.
But outside of publicity stunts, there’s really no reason why we can’t have both variations. Actors-reading-poems doesn’t always work, but then, neither does poets-reading-poems.
Initially, Live Canon only published the competition shortlistees, I believe, in anthology form, but in the last year they’ve started producing unique collaborative book projects, usually linked to a seasonal event or time-appropriate theme. 154, for example, was published around the time of Shakespeare’s birthday, and paired with a day-long live performance of each of Shakespeare’s sonnets, followed by a contemporary reply or take on them by a modern poet, staged at the V&A. Needless to say, these were hugely varied and lots of fun.
I also contributed to their Christmas anthology, New Poems for Christmas, along with Kirsty. We sent them our ‘Stocking Filler’ poems from the previous year’s Sidekick advent calendar. So, uh, there’s a poem in there that adoringly compares a toy soldier to a dildo.
As with Laudanum (see previous post) and the Emma Press (see many previous posts), I feel really well vindicated by Live Canon’s enterprise and their efforts, because I’m all about the anthology/collaborative book form as a major form for poetry in the 21st century. I expect we’ll see the major presses start to take on the form with even more appetite over the next few years.
This is Asterism, edited by Tiffany Anne Tondut, who has modestly left her name off the cover. It’s ‘an anthology of poems inspired by punctuation’, and guess what? I made the team! (”I made the team” immediately in the running to be 2016′s most irritating euphemism for “Look, I got published again”). The poem of mine included is called ‘–’ and it’s about the dash. Not the hyphen (-), and not the em-dash (—), which I never use and which can, frankly, get fucked, but the good old en-dash dash,the single most useful tool in the transcript editor’s punctuation kit. When people write, they tend to write in grammatically sound sentences. When they speak, they speak in chopped up fragments of sentences. When you write down what people speak, you need your pal, the dash, to sew those fragments together.
(The dash is also a cause of some frustration to me as a web designer and occasional blogger
there’s no key for it on the keyboard, so you have a choice of either lazily employing the hyphen in its place or remembering to use special characters as you’re typing).
This is one of two posts I’m putting up today concerning relatively new small presses putting out anthologies. Laudanum, publishers of Asterism, are brand new. This is their first book. When Kirsty and I started Sidekick in 2009, the poetry small press scene (as we knew it) was all about single-author collections, and we felt we were making a kind of foolish, gung-ho stand in concentrating on collaborative works. Now you have the likes of the Emma Press, Live Canon and Laudanum on the scene, it’s like reinforcements have arrived. The thing about anthologies is that the small indie publisher loses two of its most important demographic pie-slices – the ecstatically proud friends and family of the author, and those who queue to buy the author’s book after a barnstorming live performance. An editor who produces a book simply does not have the same cache with his or her non-writerly acquaintances – it’s not ‘your’ book – and nobody does a gig in order to sell copies of the anthology they appear in.
All of which (segue incoming!) makes the launch event very important, so if you’re free tonight, Laudanum are launching Asterism, amid a flurry of readings and intoxication, at the Betsey Trotwood in Farringdon, London, from 7.30. You can hear my dash poem out loud and try to guess where the dashes are in it (hint: there are only two).