Thursday, March 21, 2013

Brighton festival fringe substitutes gin for poetry

It is bizarre indeed that the year Brighton festival has a poet, Michael Rosen, as its artistic director, his chosen art form is conspicuous in its absence.

Several years ago, the festival's attitude to poetry became clear when it changed 'Literature' to 'Books and debate' so it could squeeze events incompatible with the big money-making slots (dance, music, comedy) into an anything-goes slush category that covered journalists interviewing journalists, film and so on.

This year the Slush Pile features 28 events,  two of them poetry: Modern Poetry in Translation on Saturday 4 May, guaranteed to be brilliant because of the actual appearance of world-class poets Susan Wicks and Valerie Rouzeau and The Poetry Army, a dramatisation of Heathcote Williams' new work The Poetry Army. In terms of the appearance on stage of real poets, that's ONE poetry event.

What of the Fringe then? Surely that will take risks, if risk is what poetry has become synonymous with?

At least the Fringe calls it literature, but hijacked by Hendricks Gin, the category takes bizarre twists and turns - an applied social science annual public lecture is billed as 'spoken word', as is 'ask a philospher'. Hendricks' irritating sponsorship manifests itself as a 'carnival of knowledge'.

Like the main festival, it also contains two poetry events - one is a night of dead poets' nonsense (no risk of upsetting the applecart with live poets) and New Writing South makes a valiant attempt by combining poetry with Caribbean food and an open mic. Sound familiar?

So that's it. Two, of course, makes the pain easier to bear. No-one is being tokenistic with two. And the tags are entertaining. Other than 'spoken word', the reader of the Fringe brochure is directed to 'funny' or 'interactive' and unsurprisingly given the sponsor there are five 'tasting' events in literature.

Perhaps I should repeat that. FIVE TASTING EVENTS.  Featuring cocktails, not poets. No forget poetry....this year Brighton festival shoves poetry aside in favour of gin.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Woman's Head as Jug

Cover painting The Five Sisters
of Suduireaut by Jane Fordham
It was slightly unexpected. In my mind, Woman's Head as Jug was never going to be finished. It stretched out in front of me, way into the long hot summer of 2013, the hottest on record, through long days on the allotment and evenings on the beach. I anticipated it becoming a great companion, a place to put surprises.
But it's going to be published in September and it sits alongside some wonderful writers on Arc's forthcoming titles list: Michael Hulse, CK Stead, Birhan Keskin, Krystyna Milobedska, Cheran and Ivana Milankova - poets from New Zealand, Poland, Turkey, Serbia and Sri Lanka.
It's a real honour to be part of Arc's list and to be part of Arc, in fact, kept going by the sheer energy of Tony Ward and Angela Jarman and now boosted by the presence of poets Sarah Hymas, who's marketing the books and John Wedgwood Clarke, UK and Ireland editor. John Kinsella, another fine poet from Australia, is international editor and Jean Boase Bier is series editor of the impressive poetry in translation series: Visible Poets.
So in the last couple of weeks I've been looking at page proofs, berating myself for not doing enough networking because I really have very few contacts to pass on to Sarah and becoming anxious about handing it over, finally, letting it go.
The book began several years ago when Jane Fordham asked me for my opinion on the order of a series of her monoprints for an exhibition in France. I was so overwhelmed by them that I asked if I could have copies to write from. For months we swapped lines and eventually shuffled everything until I had the poem, Forest Choir.
And in the meantime, on the subject of letting go, in the time the book's taken to write, one child has left home for university and another finishes college this summer. The book marks big change.