I have some personal news: I am leaving Salt today and will be taking up a new role as Director of Operations at the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham on the 1st of July 2019.
It’s been an extraordinary twenty years for me. I have been incredibly lucky to work with gifted writers from around the world, from Australia to the USA, from South Africa to Great Britain, and to have launched so many careers and seen over 1,000 books launched into the world.
I have also had many wonderful colleagues, collaborators and competitors over the years and I am sincerely grateful to them for putting up with me.
I shall be supporting the Salt team during the transition, helping on the development, design and production of the 2020 list, but my day to day work at Salt has now ended.
I wish everyone associated with Salt continuing success.
Very pleased to have a new poem in New Welsh Reader 115. You can discover the full contents here — very pleased to see Ben Wilkinson in here.
I'm seriously pleased to have a new poem in CŌNFINGŌ MAGAZINE — a beautifully produced journal from my home town of Manchester. I'm even more pleased to say I share the pages with my friend and co-worker, Nicholas Royle.
You can also find works by Roeloff Bakker, Zena Barrie, Peter Bradshaw, Richard, Conning, Alison Criddle, Shiv Dawson, Mike Fox, Andrew Hook, Jo Howard, Tom Jenks, Sarah Longlands, Megan Powell, Charlie Sangster, Lee Stannard and David Wheldon.
I have two new poems, ‘Nights Again’ and ‘Fat Days’ in Transom Issue 11 — many thanks to the editors Kiki and Dan. Hope you enjoy them — and especially hope you enjoy the rest of the issue where you will find work by Abi Pollokoff, Carson Sawyer, Conyer Clayton, Christopher Merrill, Wang Changling, trans. Daniel Bosch, Paul Griner, Adam Day, Cheryl Clark Vermeulen, Rachel Abramowitz, Stephen Frech, Kim Parko, Megan Leonard and John Zedolik.
DOOR INTO THE LIGHT
Heaney’s book, of course, chooses a different title for its mystery and (self) revelation, for comfort, and what we might call ‘knowableness’: locus and a smidgen of hocus pocus. It's a book that positions that great writer before he sets out, away from the merely familiar Wohnlichkeit, into the savage politics of his time. Yet it's 1983 not 1969, and I'm reading Heaney’s book sitting in a dirty bedroom in Leeds. I have my own savage times to deal with back there. Someone wants to destroy society. Actually, everyone wants to destroy society. It’s an age that has many parallels with 2017. Marxism on the streets and a decaying regime in power desperate for its hierarchies to prevail or perhaps merely persevere.
Anyway, downstairs, with its cabbage smell seeping into our crappy Victorian terrace from the allotments next door, there are a million woodlice scurrying across the blackened cellar kitchen lino, waiting for me and my housemate to come a-stamping.
Nothing surprising in this glimpse of student life, except that this idea of the younger me reading poetry is a tiny personal explosion of social mobility. Something art offered and which nowadays has been replaced by massive personal debt. Later that week, I shall be walking into Leeds town centre to find some second-hand Beckett, Endgame probably — I have it here on the shelves beside me now. I'd have read it listening to Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances, borrowed from Leeds music library. For a working class kid from Manchester, I wonder what had happened to me at that point. Poetry, music, theatre — how did that young lad gain access to that sort of stuff? — ah, Art school.
Art is the enemy of borders, now there’s something banal and wonky. What I think I mean by this is, once you dip your toe in to the world of culture, the world’s comic order shifts outwards, ripples don’t come back. I don't know any successful art that puts you in your place, even if it deals ‘in place’ — the very naming of something is a dispossession, a dis-location, a loss of sorts, inside the fabric of its reception. All attempts at positioning in art have the opposite effect, for the reader isn’t there, but elsewhere.
For Heaney’s immediate audience, his recounting of rural life was no doubt familiar, but like Virgil's Eclogues, that very picture of the tools of the trade, the seasons and the seasons' work, lies in contrast to a world of conflict. The bucolic winsomeness is enabled by permanent bloody war, just out of sight, at our boundaries; truly a measure of our own times: the veil of freedom concealing from us the real nature of the world. Things break in. Doubts creep in. The boundary moves. The boundary fractures.
Still, back there in 1983, that young art student has escaped from one life’s expectations. Why bother reminiscing? Well, in our new world, the one we’re building right now, inside our incoherent passion for national divestment, for dis-integration, we are imagining a new locus, and those powers shaken free from the moderation of the centre are intent on managing the nuclear force of our revolution. And it is a revolution. We need to make sure that the new walls we choose to live inside, the ones we want to erect to keep our world in order, are ones we want to be constrained by. What keeps people out, locks people in. The familiarity of the dark can be a comfort, but a door into the light involves uncomfortable transformation.
And that, my friends, is 600 words.
Imagine a piece of literary theatre that takes over a pier and a seaside town and converts it into a Gothic sea fantasy for one day.
The Pavilion Theatre on Cromer’s Edwardian pier is the perfect venue for a piece of literary theatre, but it can be intensely difficult to draw in crowds from North Norfolk with its ageing population, disparate audiences and, of course, erratic weather. I've been imagining a very different, collaborative approach.
The idea of Cromer Gothica is to create more than a seated literary festival, but a one-off piece of literary theatre, with multiple events, surreal ceremonies and literary experiences, music, dance and story booths, set pieces on stage, as well as readings held together with a Master of Ceremonies and his Black Shucks, dogs that help move the audience from one tale to another, from one space to another.
Immersive and cinematic, an auditorium filled with Victorian music hall sounds, projections and sound sculptures. All gathered together around poetry and stories informed by the ideas of sinister storms, hell hounds, the edges of the world, mad seas, sailors and wrecks and ghosts. Lost buildings, lost worlds. Crazy Victoriana. Giant dolls in crimplene skirts and perambulators filled with wolves. Stilt walking dogs. Incantations. Secret gatherings. Pirates and monsters.
The event could draw together companies from around Norfolk: Writers’ Centre Norwich, Norwich Arts Centre, Sheringham Little Theatre have all expressed support, and would be joined by publishers: Ambit, Salt, Unthank to name a few from the region, as well as a gothic bookshop run by Norwich independent bookseller, The Book Hive, held in the foyer of the pier.
The idea would be to draw a creative team from the theatre and other performing communities, and to agree a narrative architecture for the day’s events. A production team would prepare the show and draw upon the existing services in the region. I imagine the events taking their cues from the work of the Wild Workz Theatre Company, that was led by the late great Bill Mitchell — could we invite them to help coordinate the event?
I’m also envisaging that the event will draw upon Norwich’s theatre goers and literary enthusiasts, and may even take over the train station in Norwich to usher in people attending the day’s events and, once in North Norfolk, escorting them from Cromer station to the pier in a kind of Pied Piper carnival walk.
There may be events on the sea front and, as the day comes to an end, a beach party for the writers and participants to celebrate the literature of Norfolk.
There would be one ticket price for the day and people can pick and choose from a Devil’s Menu which events they wanted to attend.
That's what I'm imagining.
It was an open day at Mannington Hall today, the home of Robert Walpole, 10th Baron Walpole. It's a family home and alongside seventeenth- and eighteenth-century portraits, hung in the wood-panelled rooms, there are mantelpieces filled with recent family photos, too. Snaps. Wedding photos. Children smiling. It's a fourteenth-century house with substantial add-ons (you can't quite call them extensions). Outside one lounge of sagging sofas and a serious plaster ceiling, there were ranks of CDs: classical composers alphabetised, English church music and, the entire CD collection of This Sceptred Isle, the 90 part history of the British Empire from the BBC. It is a charming, intimate hall, lived in, slightly fusty — looking through some French windows you see the moat (it has one). What struck me was the sense of another England, a continuous, untouched, living stem of something planted in the 1400s. Perhaps the things central to the Tory core of small C conservatism: preservation, continuity, religious and royal bedrock. For the first time, I really could see it. See it in the gardens. In the children's clubs they run. The Observer’s Guides to Weather, Insects, Birds tucked away in the shelves. It was another England that occupied the one I was standing in. Something forever separate from me and millions like me, parallel, absolute and other.
Over the past fortnight, the poet and novelist Richard Lambert and I have been collaborating for European Poetry Night, an event run by Steven J Fowler and his Enemies Project on behalf of the International Literature Showcase that was held on May 4th 2017 at Dragon's Hall, Writers' Centre Norwich.
It was a terrific evening of readings and performances, each pair of writers bringing something unique to the occasion: fairy tale, rumbustious parody, experimental dialogue, children's stories — even the vague threat of being eaten.
So excited to have two new poems coming in Transom Journal. ‘Fat Days’ and ‘Nights Again’ will be published in issue 11. They're taken from a sequence I've been writing for around six months that were influenced by Parquet Courts and Bob Hicok and insomnia — you heard it here first, folks. Huge thanks for Kiki and Dan for taking the poems. I'll share link once the issue goes live.
Grey night seas turn black
making tired blood, making bone
from stars. Old crab light,
the smart shore, pours and claws free.
The chiffon surf is sightless.