Saturday, 20 December 2014


In Gap yesterday there were some OK jumpers, except that were so many of them they were nothing. Second-hand shops and charity shops, on the other hand: there’s only one of each item, and often that’s one too many but one is exactly the number I’m looking for.

Portobello Road, this afternoon. Paprika from Garcia, and then the stall with those disposable plastic black pepper (& pepper-&-chilli, & ‘Himalayan salt’) grinders, a quid each. (Why, other than those, do you have spend an avalanche of money to get a pepper grinder that actually carries on working after a refill or two? Or am I doing something wrong?) Then the Oxfam bookshop. A Gerald Murnane novel (previous owner, a library in Massachusetts). A 1957 New Directions edition of Kenneth Patchen selected poems. Above, one of the poems. Previous owner, according to the fly-leaf: ‘George Buchanan, September 1959’. This was surely the Irish-born poet, 1904–89. His daughter lives opposite me; she and her husband host excellent parties.

£4 for both. Here’s another from the Patchen:

Back to Buchanan. The opening lines of his book Minute-Book of a City (Carcanet, 1972), pure shopping: ‘Does multiplicity undermine / the story? Does an overbreeding / in fiction make cardboard figures?’ Much of it is angry, and brilliant. ‘Absence of ideas in the Cabinet. Dust fell / from the ceiling in slow shower. They rang and sent / for another basket of statistics. Could no one find / the document which would increase the amount of hope?’

‘The number of the killed / was a minor consideration. They were thoughts / in the thinking of a High Command / accustomed to shoots on the moors.’

‘No doffing of the cap and saying “sir” to the universe. / The state of mind in which we pray is both / the prayer and the answer to the prayer.’

‘A suitable marriage. They speak about problems / of the State at breakfast. He does well at the office, / is sure of promotion. They laugh at the wit / of a neighbour who comes to dine. Afterwards / they lie asleep in twin beds. Occasionally / flushed with wine they speak of a thing / called “personal relationship”.’

‘The animals are herded slowly from green fields / to be eaten by gentlemen in restaurants.’ Here’s a last Kenneth Patchen scan, a vegetarian gentleman one (but not before remarking that Rosemary Tonks is not the only good poet from the 60s, 70s who went AWOL; she managed her own disappearance, others have had that done to them):

Friday, 19 December 2014

A big quiz and a little one

Here is this year’s TLS Christmas quiz – compiled, as it has been for many years, ‘by Tony Lurcock of Oxford’, who happens to be a CBe author. A while back he sent me a manuscript whose preface hooked me with this sentence: ‘It is by no means necessary to read the introduction to enjoy the contents of the book, nor need the book be read chronologically, in full, or indeed at all.’ And so we embarked on a series of compilations of writing by British travellers in Finland, introduced and with linking commentary by Tony Lurcock: Not So Barren or Uncultivated, 1760–1830 (‘Impeccably researched, written in an accessible, lively and lucid style, with useful appendices, notes, and bibliography, this is a gem of a book which will delight the scholar and the general reader alike’: Mara Kalnins, Notes and Queries), No Particular Hurry, 1830–1917 (‘[Lurcock’s] occasional rather caustic observations make his commentary at least as entertaining as the travellers he quotes’: Yvonne Hoffmann, Vasabladet), and a 1917–1941 book to follow.

Among the answers to the TLS quiz is one CBe book. No further clues.

I read last week that Wallace Stevens’s notebooks contain around 350 titles (‘Still Life with Aspirin’, ‘All about the Bride’s Grandparents’, ‘The Alp at the End of the Street’ …) for poems that he never got round to writing. Here are the titles of three books that fictional characters consider writing but don’t. Name the character, the the title of the actual book/story they are in, and author of that book.
1) History of the Suburbs
2) A Short Wait for the Butcher
3) This Is Piccadilly

And (relatively easy one) which dog declared: ‘I simply have to knock off that essay on Sassoon’?

Monday, 15 December 2014

'when I put it down I couldn't stop wondering how a person could kill it so hard'

Four writers nominating three CBe titles (The Notebook, The Absent Therapist, At Maldon) in the TLS ‘Books of the Year’ issue was, to put it mildly, a nice surprise.

May-Lan Tan’s Things to Make and Break, as well as being shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, has been gathering mentions on end-of-year lists in more fugitive places, so here’s a round-up of some links with thanks to, in the UK, Claire Trevien (scroll down) and Kirsten Irving; and, in the US, Tobias Carroll and Sean H. Doyle at Volume 1 Brooklyn and Rachael Lee Nelson on the Shabby Doll House blog; and Time Out New York for listing May-Lan Tan’s chapbook Girly.

Update: plus the London Review Bookshop's 'Pick of the Year'. Plus Joanna Walsh (@readwomen2014) on le blog of Shakespeare and Company ('a transglobal, and very contemporary, neon scream of slick limbs in illicit embraces'). Plus 'Best books of 2014' in Civilian.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014


There’s something horrible – crime scene-ish – about the CIA-related memos with bits blacked out. Someone with something to hide has violated the text. Here’s a page from Tony White’s Shackleton’s Man Goes South (Science Museum, 2013) in which he reworks this kind of thing as part of a novel:

Text that would allow us the full import is concealed, and the result is a piece of writing that suggests, teases, frustrates. The reader has to work hard, without getting anywhere. The same thing happens with ancient texts that survive only as fragments: with these, the concealment is not deliberate, but the reading experience can be similar. Earlier this year I bought a book of translations of Ancient Egyptian texts in translation (The Tale of Sinuhe and other Ancient Egyptian poems, Oxford World Classics) precisely because I found the layout of text on some of the pages – half-lines, phrases, single words, separated by white spaces – both visually and mentally compelling.

What will survive of us is fragments, if that. Here’s a piece of Sappho discovered in 2005:

For the text written clearly in Greek, and for Anne Carson’s translation of fragment 58 – both previous and new fragments – and her comments, see here. A reworking – translation into Greek? – by Anne Carson of some of the redacted CIA stuff would be something.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Finsbury Park

Last night Dan O’Brien won the Troubadour International Poetry Prize for a new poem from the continuing War Reporter series. Back home, emails included one from a website buyer to whom I’d managed to send the WRONG BOOKS (3 x May-Lan Tan, instead of 3 x Marjorie Ann Watts); and another from someone wondering if I could edit, design, set, proofread, and have printed and delivered a playscript/threatre programme in time for the opening of the production in two weeks. The wrong-books problem needed acting on: the May-Lan Tan books are out at the warehouse, I have only a handful here (but it’s well in stock at Foyles, Charing X Road), and the printer told me last week he had RUN OUT OF PAPER. The play thing: well, I’m busy, and I’d never heard of the play or the theatre, but the email made the whole project sound impossible enough to be worth a go.

This morning, to somewhere near Finsbury Park to swap the right books for the wrong books. Close to the Tube station I found myself standing outside the theatre I’d never heard of, the one where the play opens in two weeks’ time; and taking a call from the printer, who tells me the new printing of the May-Lan Tan book will be ready tomorrow morning.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Guardian First Book Award: the morning after

How can you possibly enjoy not winning something so much? (Is it allowed?) Several reasons, these among them. May-Lan Tan’s Things to Make and Break being on the shortlist in the first place, exceeding all realistic expectations by far. The winner, Colin Barrett, for Young Skins, being himself such a terrific writer. The company, the people in the room, and in particular the presence among them of so many readers – members of the reading groups from around the country who had read, discussed, taken to heart, all of the books on the shortlist, and whose meetings with the authors were, I think, something special for both parties.

And the morning after – today – the TLS, the Books of the Year issue, in which four critics choose three CBe titles:

Thomas Ad├Ęs: ‘I was gripped and awed by Will Eaves's The Absent Therapist (CB editions), touching, addictive and unlike any other book.’

Beverley Bie Brahic: ‘Agota Kristof's The Notebook (translated by Alan Sheridan, CB editions). It embarrasses me to say I’d never heard of The Notebook until its reissue, along with Nina Bogin's translation of The Illiterate, Kristof's memoir. The Notebook is a great book, in the absolute.’

Eimear McBride: ‘CB editions’ reissue of the much neglected The Notebook by Agota Kristof is the book I have not been able to stop thinking about all year.’

Ferdinand Mount: ‘At Maldon (CB editions), J. O. Morgan's version of the Old English poem The Battle of Maldon, has all the clash and clang of War Music, and the same odd modernism to bring you up short – bin-liners, cricket balls, umbrellas. My ears are still singing with the gurgle of Saxon blood. Morgan is a worthy inheritor of Logue’s broadsword.’

Oh, and David Collard’s review of Things to Make and Break. You’ll have to buy the issue for the whole review, because I’m too tired to tap it out, but this bit for free: ‘That May-Lan Tan was recently shortlisted for the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award is surprising. She does not write badly about sex – she writes very well about bad sex, which is not the same thing. And not only bad sex – it’s sometimes disturbing, sometimes funny, always refreshingly explicit and, in one episode, spell-bindingly weird and transgressive. And she writes in character, often with quite dazzling ventriloquial skill.’

Friday, 21 November 2014

Covers that got away

A little problem with information is how it gets channelled. Saying something on one of the social media sites is making that something public – but not to everyone. Some people learn about CBe news here; some on Facebook, some on Twitter, some from the newsletters; there is overlap, but less than you might think. And X and Y, bless them, never go online at all, so I still write the occasional letter or postcard.

Apologies if you’ve already seen this – and I do know, oh yes, how irritating it is to be told the same thing again and again – but for the very specific blog readership a link to an Independent blog piece posted today about CBe book covers, with reference to May-Lan Tan’s Things to Make and Break, is here. With pictures of how the book might have looked but doesn’t.

(By the way, both the Jennie Walker who wrote 24 for 3, first published by CBe and the only book I know of that has a puff quote from Mick Jagger ('Very original ... I loved it'; which itself is hardly original, but we can live with this), and the Jack Robinson who wrote Days and Nights in W12 are me. I lost track of who knew this and who didn’t; I started assuming this was common knowledge, and I was wrong. Everyone knows different things, or knows the same things differently; or doesn’t know, and that’s fine too.)