Friday, 20 September 2013

Poetry Library Lock-in; reading anthologies

If you’ve ever fantasised about being locked in the British Museum after dark with the Benin Bronzes and Assyrian lion hunts, or bedding down on a satellite launch-pad at the Science Museum, this could be for you…

Instead of rockets or ancient sculpture there will be poetry books.  For five Monday evenings in a row, the London Poetry Library (never open on Mondays) will allow access to explorers – for the Poetry Library Lock-in.  The five lock-in guides are all regular library users: Claire Crowther, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Daljit Nagra, James Wilkes and me.  Themes will include the library’s audio collection, and using the library for researching magazines and publishers to progress one’s own poetry publication.

This forms part of the Poetry Library’s 60th birthday celebrations.  Because it’s open 6 days a week, and always just THERE, there’s a danger that Londoners may take the library for granted.  When it closed for ages during the Festival Hall refurbishment a few years ago, I missed it so badly that I’ll probably never do so again.  The birthday’s at the end of October; a big reading will include Tom Raworth, Brenda Shaughnessy and Kei Miller.… all of whom I discovered on the library’s shelves. 

My lock-in’s the first, on Monday 30 September, when we will discuss contemporary anthologies and the paths they can set us on; also, how anthology controversies can help orientate the reader in the world of new poetry, and/or mislead... and, either way, entertain.  

The best anthologies are a library in themselves, a starting-point for new discoveries and influences.  There will be a book hunt through the shelves, for anthologies to deepen our understanding of poetry trends and inspire new work.  We will share discoveries, so my hope is that everyone goes away with new ideas and perspectives, and reading trails to pursue. 

Lorraine Mariner, who is not only an acclaimed poet but also a librarian, will be there too.  She is going to find something from the Rare Books Room to show us. 

To prepare for this, I’ve been looking at the newer items in the library’s anthology collection.  It’s very diverse, with hundreds and hundreds of titles. 

Of course there are the recent British anthologies, such as Adventures in Form (ed. Tom Chivers) and Dear World & Everyone in it (ed. Nathan Hamilton) and Ten (ed. Evaristo & Nagra).   And there are various recent American ones, including Legitimate Dangers (ed. Dumanis & Marvin) and American Hybrid (ed. Swensen & St. John).  There are the annual Best American Poetry and, more recently, Best British Poetry series, and the occasional Carcanet New Poetries. 

Then there’s poetry translated, as in Bloodaxe’s compendium of contemporary Chinese poetry, Jade Ladder (ed. Herbert & Yang Lian), and various books from the excellent Arc, often with English and original language in parallel text.  And anthologies of sonnets, eco-poetry, experimental poetry (Conductors of Chaos (ed. Iain Sinclair), now 20 years old, gets my vote for best title); of birds, science, poems by women only (good corrective for the mostly-male anthologies of the past) or by British Black and Asian poets (ditto).  There’s at least one book of women’s experimental poetry, Out of Everywhere (ed. Maggie O’Sullivan), which is one of various books I first got out of the library and then decided I wanted, so bought.  And much more.

I’m compiling a reading list with my top 30+ titles (this is very subjective), and some nice links to online anthology controversies.  The commonest name in the list is Bloodaxe – their range of anthologies is awesome, from Dear World.. and Ten to Jade Ladder.  Bloodaxe publisher Neil Astley himself is an excellent anthologist whose popularity goes far wider than poetry circles, witness Staying Alive etc.  I think he has a gift for seeking out poetry that nurtures, in a making-truth-new sort of way.   

I’ve also been reflecting on how to read anthologies... not that there’s an ideal way, but I tend to keep them by me for weeks and weeks.  If I don’t know the context, opening a new one for the first time can be like entering a trackless forest, though one that the compiler at least thinks has clear boundaries.  There has to be a certain amount of trust in the anthologist, to invest the time in his/her/their construct, artificial as it is, in the first place; and there’s a lot of establishing landmarks to do, and blazing of trees, before a mental map, whether conscious or subconscious, can be formed.  Anthology introductions can range from excellent/enlightening to misleading/annoying; I mostly prefer to read them after I’ve read some of the poems.     

Back to the Lock-in.  I’m wondering whether I can stow away in the library for the other four sessions.  Practical details (not including how to stow away) can be found here, on the Poetry School website.  There are still some places. 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Free Verse Poetry Book Fair

Very quickly, just to demonstrate that this blog is at the beating heart of poetry, at least sometimes, here is a photo of my haul from last weekend’s poetry book fair.  Having an August birthday is an advantage. 

The two cut-off-corners magazines are from New York based Ugly Duckling Presse, whose table at the fair attracted a lot of interest.  Their formula is 6x6.  The honeycomb book is also from them and contains Jen Bervin’s Nets, in which she trawls Shakespeare’s sonnets.  I first came across some of the results in the Reality Street anthology of sonnets. 

How did I manage to get Kirsten Irving’s book, when Salt didn’t have a table, even though they haven’t stopped producing single-author collections quite yet?  From the author, who was at Sidekick Books with Jon Stone, another Salt poet... just two of the excellent list we are about to lose.  

Six [contemporary] Polish Poets are in a bilingual edition from Arc, one of a series: part of Arc’s excellent work on poetry translation. 

Things seemed to go very well, the hall was crowded, everyone was greeting everyone else, there are reports of publishers selling well, and CBe poetry fair super-hero Charles Boyle (blog link on right) says there were more people there this time.  My publisher HappenStance went home with a nearly empty suitcase.  Standing behind a stall while someone leafs through your own pamphlet (without knowing it’s you) is a strange experience.