There will be the Edinburgh equivalent of the launch of my new book duringthe Edinburgh Festival Fringe in WordPower Bookshop West Nicolson Street Edinburgh on August 21stat 6.30.
My next reading though is at Achins Bookshop in Assynt, Sutherland on July 17th. Achins is describedhttp://www.scotbooks.freeuk.com/page2.html as “the most remote bookshop on mainland Britain”. I’m looking forward to this trip north to McCaig country.
Also two internal readings: the Scottish Universities International Summer School in Edinburgh on August 13th; the International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures on July 28th.For this last I am invited as part of the Irish diaspora as it were. I’m Scottish, but my father was from Dublin, my mother was Scottish but her mother was from near Newry.
So after 73 days, the Tamil people who have been permanently demonstrating, sometimes in their thousands, in Parliament Square outside the House of Commons in London—have finally abandoned their protest. One march attracted100.000 supporters. In their home country 20.000 are reported killed in the final Sri Lankan government shelling, and quarter of a million Tamils are noweffectively rounded up in concentration camps, with no access allowed by independent observers, andany aid workers who have expressed sympathy for the Tamil cause expelled.
Not a single shot of theLondon “street protest” that went on for over two months ever to my knowledge made it to the screens of the British Broadcasting Corporation.So much for the BBC and others who now feign wholehearted as-it-happens just freedomloving advocacy of street protest in Iran. Whatever the nature of the power struggle in Iran it is unfortunately evident—to the Tamils amongst others—that it depends on who you’re protesting against as to whether or not it is “taken up” for the UK daily news Tariff of Moral Outrage.
Tonight the so-called chief reporter for the BBC, John Simpson, was wheeled out as he always is when the BBC wants to indicate a matter to be of such major moral and political importance that we have to get the truth from the top man.There he was, breathlessly pouring his hot confidential truths into a roving camera. Just as he did during the Kosovo war and the bombing of Serbia in the nineties. That was when, with claim and counter-claim from both sides about fatalities and military progress, Simpson reported that Serbs claimed to have shot down a Nato plane. This Nato spokemen had denied; and turning to the camera, John Simpson solemnly said “Nato never lies.”
I’ll never forget that report. In fact, ever since I usually don’t think of him as “John Simpson” at all. I always think of him as “Mr Nato-Never-Lies”.
My author copies of outside the narrative have arrived. It's a fine chunky publication with good quality paper. WordPower will have a stall selling it at the reading in the Tron on Thursday 18th.
The book is selling at £9.95 which is a good price for its size and quality of production, with sewn binding. Details on the home page how to order it.
The new Edinburgh Review (Issue 126) has now been published, containing my essay “The Common Breath” as trailed here on March 18th. The issue also includes a new short story by James Kelman and an interview with Jen Hadfield.
I have agreed to give a talk at The Mitchell later this year on Saturday afternoon October 17th as part of this year’s Scottish Mental Health Foundation festival of arts and film. I have titledmy proposed talk “Language North-North-West: some thoughts on language in RD Laing, Beckett, court jesters and people who are not jesting.”
The venue and details of the event on June 18th has been changed. My reading and launch of Outside the Narrative will now take place in the Tron Theatre bar at 8.15. Admission is free.
Things went awry when the initial venue Sloans Bar reneged on a deal they have had with the poetry organisers Vital Synz for two years, giving them use of a large room. And I messed things up describing to friends and others the event as a "launch" when it was a long-arranged paid reading with admission charge.
No more. It's now a free reading in the Tron Theatre Bar, 8.15 on June 18th. I hope to have the book for anyone who wants it afterwards. It's coming out at £9.95.
My thanks to poet and organiser David Kinloch who has spent a hectic and no doubt draining three days trying to sort something out. It's sorted.
Inthe sixties I had an LP of Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra of 1928, with the CBC Symphony Orchestra under Robert Craft, Volume Two of a set that included Pelleas and Melisande and Verklaerte Nacht. The LP got lost in my various house movements. I’ve bought several performances of theVariations since, including a new one on Naxos by the now ageing Robert Craft. None seemed as good as the old LP performance in my memory.
But a couple of weeks ago the LP turned up on eBay and I bought it for £10. My memory was right, it’s a great performance, more rhythmic and punchy and exciting than any I’ve heard since, while retaining a sense of ongoing overall structure andintellectual argument. And a bonus: inside the record sleeve are printednotes which include Schoenberg’s dialogue with a pupil about the Variations, and containing this passage:
The conservatories, with their pervading influence, have long furnished—and in assembly line quantities—compositional diagrams which they take to be the forms of art; and their students, when they arrive at the age of production, model their compositions after these diagrams (or at least suppose they are doing so, for some of them have a guardian angel: talent). The aestheticians are happy because they have inspired these products, which are thus put on the market, but in reality all this has no existence in art, where every content produces its own form; and only a robot, a tool of the conservatory as it were, could deliberately check the expansion of form which every work of art tends to produce. To stop the creative processes like this is to systematise ugliness itself, and mediocrity, and banality.
Change the word “conservatories” to “creative writing departments”, and Schoenberg’s words still hold. In recent years as creative writing departments burgeoned in Britain and America, there was a central ideological conflict between the concept of providing a creative space where it could be allowable that “every content produces its own form”; as against a closed space in which “traditional genres and forms” were taught as necessary basis and precondition of any true artistic identity. Rule-based presuppositions about artistic production made it easier to “mark”, and accorded philosophically with containable conservative notions of specific canonical poetics. Society-wide, the “Quality Control” business model imposed on all public services foregrounded "efficiency" as a unit of cost with an integral chain of idealogical jargon-clusters such as "full economic costing", "visible outcome points", "targeted income generation" and so on. The number of creative writing classrooms to be washed by cleaners could bear relationship to the number of lines of poetry to be targeted for production in portfolio by students. The full economic costers sought refuge in maintaining that any conflict was between those with respect for history and rules and those too ignorant to know what these were. A creative writing course existed firstly to transfer knowledge of history and rules into a student who might one day possess sufficient of such to be accorded the status of literary artist, going on to produce marketable works within a specific artistic genre. Making one's resultant niche in the market would be what the Quality Control model calls "a good outcome indicator".|
The conflict I am describing here is just another facet of that battle in the universities I described in my first published essay "The Proof of the Mince Pie" published in 1973. I described it as thebattle between Being and Having.
It's still going on.
Professor Tom Leonard, The Old Man Under the Stairs.
Edizioni Kolibris of Bologna have been in touch hoping to publish a bilingual edition of my book access to the silence. The editorial director is the poet and translator Chiara de Luca, and I have received two books as example of Kolibris poetry productions.
The books I received from Kolibris were bilingual editions of Thomas Kinsella’s Notes from the Land of the Dead, and Chiara de Luca’s own The Corolla of Memory. This last has a sense of personal being-in-a-place speaking clearly and quietly in a reflective tone, with some fine images. It’s a book I’m happy to have irrespective of the publishing aspect.
So my dear nora it seems will at last be travelling across the Mediterraneanto a city where she can come down the stairs shopping bag in hand, into sunny streets.
Towards the end of April I mentioned here that I had added a link on my links page to Tamilnet. I did so as it was the only place I knew to get news from the Tamil side about the desperate situation of their people. Now that the carnage has come to an end, The Times of London has broken the ranks of silence to state that independent medical sources in the area told them they had informed the United Nations that "at least" twenty thousand civilians had been killed. That report was given the UN during the bombardment, and some time before it stopped.
Ban Ki Moon had nothing to say of such matters when he made his "official visit". Once again he shows himself in my opinion to be the most morally useless, hopelessly Nato-and-its-Allies biased UN secretary-general to date. No wonder he was the Bush government's approved candidate for the job. And another UN spokesman pipes up that the Tamils must be held responsible themselves for any Tamil deaths as their fighters were "using civilians as human shields". How familiar that tape-recorded phrase is becoming from people attempting to justify indiscriminate government onslaughts on civilian populations.
As Outside the Narrative (Poems 1965-2009) goes to press, WordPower have joined Etruscan Books as co-publisher. Thus my Collected Poems or at any rate all the ones I want to keep in a single volume, is to be published by the non-corporate amalgam of a formally progressive poetry publisher and an independent politically progressive bookshop. That’s fine by me.
I have dedicated the book to the various smallpress poet-publishers who have published my work since the beginning. The people and their presses are listed in the book’s dedication.
The link at the bottom of each website page for contacting me about readings or whatever has now been fixed.
Have completed an article for Glasgow University Guardian, the student newspaper. It will be out later this week. The article recalls my editing the university magazine forty years ago, and inserting photocopies ofSix Glasgow Poems into the pages of a new edition after the university printer refused to print them. The article goes on to talk about censorship and coverage of “the news” as something I have been differently engaged with over the years. Excerpt as follows:
“Managing the language environment” reminds me of a trip I made withmy wife and family to the then Soviet Union in 1989, a year before the Communist system was destined to collapse. We had a couple of days in Moscow, three days in what was then called Leningrad, and nine days in Yalta in the Ukraine. The airport used in the Ukraine was at Simferaporol—the place from where, about 84 years earlier, my wife’s Jewish forebears, on her mother’s side, had fled the pogroms. We didn’t get the chance to explore Simferaporol. But what I do mostly remember about that holiday, apart from a visit to Chekhov’s house, was my attempt in Leningrad to listen to the hotel radio. From one end of the radio wave band to the other there was only one station to be heard, which I gathered to be Radio Moscow. The rest of the band was silent, as creepy and eloquent a silence as one could ever hear.
How different in our own country. The airwaves awash with “rolling news”, the most popular radio stations interrupted every fifteen minutes by “news updates”. It is virtually impossible to get away from “the news”. Even standing in a bank or post office queue, a plasma screen as likely as not is likely to be bearing down on one with the rolling 24x7 output of Sky News, or BBC 24. And yet—what do I hear?
I hear silence.
Recently at a benefit for the displaced and injured in the bombing of Gaza this January, I told the audience it would be a more ethically appropriate and efficient way of finding outwhat was happening in the Middle East if one stuck one’s head in an aluminium bucket, than it would be if one listened to the BBC news. With one’s head in a bucket one would at least be aware that all one could hear was silence—whereas listening to “the” news, or reading our valiant Fourth Estate, the real silence about what was going on would be one of which the reader would be unaware—indeed presentation would be such as to obscure the fact that “silence” was the principle most relevant ingredient.
Tom McGrath who has just died was a friend and my first publisher. He published Six Glasgow Poems then a year later in 1970 he and his wife Maureen brought out A Priest Came on at Merkland Street. Meeting Tom had encouraged me to finish this “deliberately banal” monologue largely written when I was 21 or thereabouts. Some people including RD Laing told me years later it was still the work of mine they liked best. It was thanks to Tom I felt for a while to be part of an environment where it was worth finishing.
Philip Hobsbaum’s group in Glasgow was a place some of us met up years ago, but as I wrote elsewhere “The real "writing group" for me was the bunch of writers including myself that would meet in the poet and later playwright Tom McGrath’s house in Glasgow just to talk and smoke dope. We were on the same side of the world regarding poetry and its new excitements - and that side of the world tended to be on the other side of the Atlantic, which Philip’s group definitely wasn’t.”
Tom’s voice, gestures and laugh will stay in my head. His place was an oasis in my writing life for a couple of years. Looking back forty years at that which he understood, it remains so.
May 1st : The Disappointing News
A woman in a bright blue suit accosted me on Hillhead Street and asked would I like a leaflet of readings from Scripture. I replied No Thanks.
She said, “It will show you the path to Heaven.”
“I’m already there,” I replied.
She pulled a face and walked away.
I have added a link on the links page to the Tamil website as there is complete complicit silence on what is happening to the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, and this is the only place one can find the Tamil point of view.
Dumfries and Galloway Arts website have online the kinetic poem they commissioned from me last year "THE thisa" (First called Blessed Trinity Two as second in a series using the three words) athttp://texthouse.typepad.com/dgaakineticpoetry/files/the_a_this_no_cred.swf
The poem is set on a loop, though I would prefer it just to have froze for good after the fade-out of the main sentence This is the word that stands in lieu of the world, a person is always this.
Early in 2008 I made a slideshow video called "Occupation Times Three" composed mainly of images of Gaza and the West Bank. None of the images would have been found in the Western media. I added as audio commentary myself reading my poem "The Proxy Badge of Victimhood" three times, using the recording from the Cork 2005 festival linked on the "Online Poetry and Prose" page. The video sequence lasts justs over eight minutes.
"Occupation Times Three (2008)" can now be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQ7QLoTd4VU
I have fixed the link to the poem Epithalamium on the Online Poetry and Prose web page.
Have today returned amended proofs of Outside the Narrativeto Etruscan Books. So publication looks on course as expected for June.
Have added two poems, "the case for lower case" and "The Elect". Links to these are down the leftside Main Menu column once "Online Prose and Poetry" has been clicked.
Have added the Postscript to the Third Printing to "On the Mass Bombing of Iraq and Kuwait." This was the postscript of a few paragraphs added when AK Press brought out their third printing of the work in 1993. The postscript links modern Middle East foreign policy with the attack on the Pequot native American Indians of 1637.
After a break on being visited with streptococci I have returned to work on the site and added some articles as indicated on the home page. Have also slightly revised the notes to the six o'clock news poem.
At the moment the link to the poem "Epithalamium" works in the home page Main Menu column when "Online Poetry and Prose" is clicked, but not in the Online Poetry and Prose page itself.
I have been asked to write an article about "writing in the vernacular" for the next issue of "The New Shetlander", out May/June.
I have managed to get rid of the double spacing that had affected all the poems in the new site, getting them properly to single spacing. This should make them easier to read. I hope shortly to be able to replace some of the articles that have been on the site a long while by other ones, and give the site a bit of a contents refresh.
The magazine Markings is publishing with its next issue on May 28th a booklet of poems in memory of Adrian Mitchell who died in his seventies recently. I have contributed a poster poem.
Adrian as a young man reading To Whom it May Concern at the Albert Hall in 1965 can be seen athttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmMCObgu_jc or simply enter Adrian Mitchell in the YouTube search field
A new essay "The Common Breath" has been accepted for publication by the Edinburgh Review and should appear in its next issue.
The essay opens with the paragraph:-
"The politics of space on the page is a politics of democracy, of transference from world of text as “the” to that of reader-subject as “this”. It is the universalisation of the author-reader experience away from the world of passing-the-parcel to those fit to open the parcels of cultural referrents of supposedly universal value (which opening of parcels has been the industry of literary-academic exegesists this past hundred years); towards the structuring of a system of common breath, integer of the universal human."
The essay gives example of some poetry by Pound, cummings, Williams and finally Paul Blackburn, with passing reference to Charles Olson's essay of 1950 "Projective Verse."
The essay concludes with the paragraph:
"Yet when one looks at what Olson proclaimed in his essay, it is Paul Blackburn who most clearly subsequently carried on the principles in the succeeding twenty years.The centre of the argument, appropriately coming out of America, was a democratic one: a democracy of breath, actuated by eye and ear in the private agora of a page shared between reader and writer."
March 15th 2009
This is the new-look website which should make it easier for me to enter things directly. I intend this page to carry occasional news about readings and so on.
Regarding the forthcoming Outside the Narrative (Poems 1965-2008) which has been held up over Christmas it is now expected to be on sale before my reading in Glasgow on June 18th.