Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Field Recording, Maria Jastrzebska

Posted 01 Nov 2010 — by Dan
Category Books

The worst thing you can do living in a city is lose your curiosity for what it is happening in it. You discover a bunch of things that you like – a pub, a restaurant, a cinema, a record shop – and rely upon them to keep you entertained, even if other things are going on elsewhere that are worthy of your attention. A couple of weeks ago I was at a loose end and did something I do comparitively rarely, which is open up my browser on the internet and search randomly for something happening, right then. I immediately found a poetry reading at a shop just round the corner. Here’s a brief recording of Maria Jastrzebska, the poet in question, reading at Pen To Paper in Brighton’s North Laine.


at least one thoughtful letter

Posted 02 Feb 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Books, Music

Over on the Faber & Faber blog, The Thought Fox, Faber’s Editorial Director, Lee Blackstone, has penned a rather curious, slightly sweet and more than a little embarrasing open letter to Morrissey, in which he asks Moz to consider f&f as the publisher for his much-rumoured memoirs. Its high-level of obsequious fawning demands attention.

Dear Morrissey,

In the hope that you might consider bringing your much-rumoured memoir to The House of Eliot, I am posting this letter on the Faber website. Forlorn as this hope may be, I can only fantasise that at least you might read my letter through and consider the pleasures and prestige of being an author at Faber, the last great family-owned independent publishing house in the western hemisphere.

I have been trying to persuade you of the virtues and wisdom of this for some years now. You probably won’t remember. We even corresponded at one point via a friend of yours, an author of mine, most famous for his biography of Roxy Music which ends just as the band are getting together. You see, we love the perverse and the contrary at Faber. And we also like to think we are the custodians of twentieth-century Modernist poetry. In fact we are. Our shelves groan and bulge and spill over under the weight of Ezra, Larkin, Hughes and Heaney. And that’s just the surface; deep as it may seem. We feel very strongly that you belong in this company. To me (and to many of my colleagues) you are already in this company. It would be the fulfilment of my most pressing and persistent publishing dream to see that ‘ff’ sewn into the spine of your Life. Just any other publisher won’t do. You deserve Faber and the love we can give you. History demands it; destiny commands it.


I don’t really get it. Morrissey has already created his great work – the lyrics he wrote in the 1980s. If Faber really feel that his work belongs in the company of Ezra Pound and Philip Larkin, they should just ask him if they can publish his best lyrics in their poetry imprint.

janet waking

Posted 01 Feb 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Books

Yikes, I’ve been really terrible at blogging this last week, and after such a productive first few weeks of January, too. Here’s a poem to tide you over – I’ll be back shortly.

Janet Waking
by John Crowe Ransom

Beautifully Janet slept
Till it was deeply morning. She woke then
And thought about her dainty-feathered hen,
To see how it had kept.

One kiss she gave her mother,
Only a small one gave she to her daddy
Who would have kissed each curl of his shining baby;
No kiss at all for her brother.

“Old Chucky, Old Chucky!” she cried,
Running on little pink feet upon the grass
To Chucky’s house, and listening. But alas,
Her Chucky had died.

It was a transmogrifying bee
Came droning down on Chucky’s old bald head
And sat and put the poison. It scarcely bled,
But how exceedingly

And purply did the knot
Swell with the venom and communicate
Its rigour! Now the poor comb stood up straight
But Chucky did not.

So there was Janet
Kneeling on the wet grass, crying her brown hen
(Translated far beyond the daughters of men)
To rise and walk upon it.

And weeping fast as she had breath
Janet implored us, “Wake her from her sleep!”
And would not be instructed in how deep
Was the forgetful kingdom of death.

Simon Armitage

Posted 18 Jan 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Books

When I was a teenager I used to listen religiously to Mark Radcliffe’s Radio 1 show, and I remember being staggered and delighted that he regularly found time to include poetry in his format, and wish I still had all the tapes I used to make of Simon Armitage reading his own, and others’ poetry. I vividly remember an occasion where he read the poems of Charles Simic, and think it was a real turning point in my developing love of literature.

Here’s Simon Armitage reading ‘Snow Joke’ back in 1991. If anyone knows of an audio archive of his poetry, please do let me know.

i have a cold

Posted 11 Jun 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Daft

Disclaimer: I’m not that ill at all. But I wrote the following so that I could spare my friends from having to hear me whinge.

I have a heavy head, which
aches with the weight of my eyelids.
I hate my cold.
I shuffle to the door, peer outside,
and offer it a walk.
It declines.

I venture an experimental cough,
wondering if it’s got to my chest,
timber creaking,
bending my lungs and my ribcage.
Calculating aspirin doses,
mineral water.

I remember when having a cold
conferred luxury, back home.
Swaddled, indulged,
my discomfort traded for blackcurrant juice
and videos.

So I offer to wrap my cold up warm, console it.
It glances ruefully at cracks in the window sill.
Then I call it names.
Alone in my flat, swearing.

It lets me get a bit of sleep in the afternoon.
But I wake up dry mouthed, bruised,
sorry for myself.

Then, pretending I’m friends with it,
I take my cold to a pub, buy a beer
and try to leave it at the bar,
tip-toeing away on peanut shells.

I concentrate.
I click my neck.
I close my eyes.
I wait for it to pass.

zipless poetry

Posted 12 Apr 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Books

The other night I dropped by McNally Jackson, a really lovely independent bookstore in New York’s SoHo, to see Erica Jong read from her new collection of poems, Love Comes First. I’m a huge fan of Jong’s brilliant, fabulously rude ‘Fear of Flying’, so it was great to see her talk and a pleasure to hear her witty and wise poetry, which is simultaneously accessible and thought-provoking, as you’d expect from a writer of Jong’s stature. That’s not to say, however, that I’d swap her prose for her poems. I’ve spent much of my time in the US reading the poems of John Ashbery, and Jong is not in the same class. But that’s a mean observation to make, and perhaps an unworthy comment. What’s more important is that I really enjoyed Jong’s reading, and am very glad I caught it.

jonathan is…

Posted 12 May 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Daft, Observations

I arrived in Lisbon today for another work conference, faintly piqued to be leaving behind a somewhat warmer Britain, which seems profoundly counter-intuitive. But it’s lovely here, the sky pastel blue and the countryside peppered with terracotta and army green. Portugese driving, meanwhile, is as colourful as ever – my taxi driver at the airport (having informed me that my journey would cost 50,000 Euros!) veered off into busy traffic and left me sweating and swearing as we rushed West past kilometres of fading high rises, building sites and narrow, beautiful crevices of exposed rock, which intersect stunning villages as incongrously as a railway line in an English town.

My hotel is almost exactly like every hotel I’ve ever stayed around the Meditteranean, which is exactly as it should be, for I feel instantly relaxed and at home – although of course work starts tomorrow morning, bah. I’ve just thrown myself into the heated indoor pool and lurched from shelf to shelf, hanging my arms over the divide which separates the warmed water from the cold pool outside. And now I’m sitting in the hotel bar drinking a beer and wondering what to do for dinner. So that’s where we are.

Apologies if this post has read like a long facebook status update.


Around the pool the white hotel
looks like a series of shoe boxes lined up
in a Habitat shop window.
It is so staggeringly uniform
that the hanging of towels from balcony rails
is strictly prohibited. Anyone who breaks the rule
is forced to wear water wings and is
banished to the children’s pool
for the rest of the holiday.

dajit nagra, look we have coming to dover review

Posted 25 Feb 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Books, Reviews

I don’t read very much poetry. When I do, I tend to either grind my teeth in concentration or whoop with pleasure; either is fine with me. Difficult poetry burns at my temple but gives me little head-spins of delight, semi-translated insights. When it’s good, that is. Daljit Nagra’s much praised collection Look We Have Coming to Dover! is certainly that – a rich and heady concoction of complex constructions and tangy, noun-heavy vocabulary.

I don’t understand all of it, by any means, but I think I know what it’s about and find it fascinating and funny; the drama of being Indian in England, good and bad, the contradictions, the triumphs and the shaming defeats, big or small. The language is plain exquisite (there’s a contradiction), swelling with Nagra’s “Punglish”, which darts from evocation of sugary pomegranate to evocation of sugar-puff. There’s lots of food. In ‘Karela!’ (lots of exclamation marks, too, this is not poetry for whispering), the narrator tries to cook a dish from his past and fails. “My body craves / taste of home but is scolded / by shame of blood-desertion”.

In ‘Parade’s End’ the narrator’s Dad parks his newly-sprayed “Granada, champagne gold / by our superstore on Blackstock Road”, and heads inside to find “council mums at our meat-display” decrying “darkies from down south” and their “flash caahs!”. It’s believable stuff. When the day is done they return to encounter the sight of “the car-skin pucker, bubbling smarts / of acid”. Nagra writes:

In the unstoppable pub-roar
from the John O’Gaunt across the forecourt,
we returned to the shop, lifted a shutter,
queued at the sink, walked down again.
Three of us, each carrying pans of cold-water.
Then we swept away the bonnet-leaves
from gold to the brown of our former colour.

Nagra’s writing is full of small humiliations suffered at the hands of the Daily Mail mentality. But his characters come out fighting, too, and then some. “Vy giv my boy dis freebie of a silky blue GCSE antology”, one voice demands, with it’s Part Two which consists of;

us as a bunch of Gunga Dins ju group, ‘Poems
from Udder Cultures
and Traditions’. ‘Udder’
is all
vee are to yoo, to dis country –
‘Udder?’ To my son’s kabbadi posseee, alll
yor poets are ‘Udder’!

Before one thinks of pigeonholing Nagra’s extraordinary voice, he takes the time to pull off a series of varied literary tricks. ‘Sajid Naqvi’ is a sober, clear-eyed description of a funeral which fails to sum up the man, and ‘On the Birth of a Daughter’ a beautiful description of just that. The haunting, Pinter-esque ‘X’, meanwhile, is just a series of furious, semi-articulate punches:

u hook my arms
u hood my head
u lose my legs

& still u say
I say u harm

There are several poems in Look We Have Coming to Dover which I can’t decipher, and plenty more which I need to re-read. Despite the unfamiliar language, however, it’s really vibrant, addictive stuff, and makes me swear I’ll follow contemporary poetry a bit more closely, if this is the kind of thing I’ll find. The closing ‘Singh Song!’ – which is romantic, lustful, hilarious – might just be the greatest thing I’ve read all year, a bawdy tale set “in di worst Indian shop / On di whole Indian road”, where the narrator keeps locking the door and nipping upstairs:

cos up di stairs is my newly bride
vee share in chapatti
vee share in di chutney
after vee hav made luv
like vee rowing through Putney.

Look We Have Coming to Dover is bursting with life – a magnificent celebration of language, multiculturism, sex and humanity. Here are the final lines of that poem.

Late in di midnight hour
ven yoo shoppers are wrap up quiet
ven di precinct is concrete-cool
vee cum down whispering stairs
and sit on my silver stool,
from behind di chocolate bars
vee stare past di half price window signs
at di beaches ov di UK in di brightey moon –

from di stool each night she say,
How much do yoo charge for dat moon baby?

from di stool each night I say,
Is half di cost ov yoo baby,

from di stool each night she say,
How much does dat come to baby?

from di stool each night I say,
Is priceless baby –

Here’s the whole poem.

a kingsley amis poem

Posted 19 Nov 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Uncategorized


Between the Gardening and the Cookery
Comes the brief Poetry shelf;
By the Nonesuch Donne, a thin anthology
Offers itself.

Critical, and with nothing else to do,
I scan the Contents page,
Relieved to find the names are mostly new;
No one my age.

Like all strangers, they divide by sex:
Landscape Near Parma
Interests a man, so does The Double Vortex,
So does Rilke and Buddha.

“I travel, you see”, “I think” and “I can read”
These titles seem to say;
But I Remember You, Love is my Creed,
Poem for J.,

The ladies’ choice, discountenance my patter
For several seconds;
From somewhere in this (as in any) matter
A moral beckons.

Should poets bicycle-pump the human heart
Or squash it flat?
Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart;
Girls aren’t like that.

We men have got love well weighed up; our stuff
Can get by without it.
Women don’t seem to think that’s good enough;
They write about it.

And the awful way their poems lay them open
Just doesn’t strike them.
Women are really much nicer than men:
No wonder we like them.

Deciding this, we can forget those times
We stay up half the night
Chock-full of love, crammed with bright thoughts, names, rhymes,
And couldn’t write.

fifty years since Ginsberg’s Howl.

Posted 03 Oct 2005 — by Jonathan
Category Books

It’s 50 years since Howl and I wanna go to San Francisco.

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at
dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient
heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the
machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high
sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
contemplating jazz”


“Veterans of the original recital, which saw the poet sing his lines like a synagogue cantor as his confidence grew, while Kerouac chanted “Go, go, go” from the front row of the audience, still recall a sense of taking part in history. The feeling that youth and nonconformity were at last striking back engulfed the Bay area, then the US and much of the western world.”

“I saw the best meals of my generation
destroyed by the madness of my brother.
My soul carved in slices
by spikey-haired demons.”


Howl for Now is at the Clothworkers’ Centenary Concert Hall, Leeds University, at 6.30pm on Friday. Free tickets, first come, first served. Email: [email protected]

Things tell less and less

Posted 15 May 2004 — by Jonathan
Category Books

The Guardian writes today that a previously unseen Kingsley Amis poem has been discovered by his biographer, Zachary Leader. It’s reproduced below.


Things tell less and less:
The news impersonal
And from afar; no book
Worth wrenching off the shelf.
Liquor brings dizziness
And food discomfort; all
Music sounds thin and tired,
And what picture could earn a look?
The self drowses in the self
Beyond hope of a visitor.
Desire and those desired
Fade, and no matter:
Memories in decay
Annihilate the day.

There once was an answer:
Up at the stroke of seven,
A turn round the garden
(Breathing deep and slow),
Then work, never mind what,
How small, provided that
It serves another’s good

But once is long ago
And, tell me, how could
Such an answer be less than wrong,
Be right all along?

Vain echoes, desist

The Guardian suggests, rightly, I think, that it is a suitable companion poem to Larkin’s magnificent Aubade, which you can read here, if you are minded to do so.