Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Saying no

Such a good book, the one I said no to at the weekend (I can’t do everything). A novel, a finely written one, of a kind I like, in which the relationships between a small group of characters are teased out and explored with a great deal of skill and wit and humanity; by a writer who's been published before, mainstream, and has won this award and been on that shortlist, and now no one wants to publish her . . .

Once upon a time they told you that if you want to be published you’d be better off writing fiction rather than fiction, because few publishers bother with poetry and the ones that do put out only so many titles a year and most of those places are booked up by the backlist poets they’re staying loyal to so the chances of getting onto their lists are minimal and, well, end of story.

I don’t believe in that story any more. I think that now, given the number of magazines and small presses dedicated to poetry rather than prose, and the subculture they’re part of, you have a better chance of seeing your work in print as a poet than as a fiction writer. It’s the novelists who are finding times hard.

I wonder how many months, years, it took to write that novel I said no to (and if they sent it to me, think of how many other people have said no to it before me). Poetry collections at least tend to be slimmer than novels, for which today I’m grateful, having toothache and a hangover and having just picked up the boxes of Voices over Water by D. Nurkse from the printer. This means that all the books listed on the website are now available to buy.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Paris (2): Shakespeare and Company

It’s a few steps back from the left bank of the Seine, a couple of stone’s throws from Notre Dame. The present Shakespeare & Company was founded in 1951 by George Whitman (now aged 96, and living adjacent to the store); it’s named after the bookshop opened in 1919 by Sylvia Beach (the original publisher of Ulysses, when it was banned in the US and the UK) and closed in 1941 during the German occupation of Paris. Sylvia is also, and not by accident, the name of George Whitman’s daughter, who now runs the store.

The photos above, taken (by Lauren Goldenberg) last Monday evening, show Sylvia and then, in the order they read, Beverley Bie Brahic (translator of the CBe edition of Francis Ponge, Unfinished Ode to Mud), Gabriel Josipovici (Only Joking) and Wiesiek Powaga (translator of Grabinski and Bursa).

There are some nights when, prompted by the mix of books, fellowship, wine, you think (next year Budapest/ Prague/ San Francisco? and what is going to happen to that vacant premises in the Goldhawk Road, the one with the split levels and the big slow ceiling fans that would make a great bookshop?): why not?

More photos here.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Paris (1)

Paris: they do things differently over there. On the very first metro I caught, the man standing next to me was reading Les Fleurs du Mal. There are more accordion-players (Alphonse, in Gabriel J’s Only Joking, would have company). There are a lot more independent bookshops: a thousand in Paris, and around 150 just in the district where Shakespeare & Co (above, with some tap-dancing going on in front of of the store) is located. (Compared to how many in London?) Which in turn enable small presses to get their books to more readers.

This doesn’t happen by accident. There are state subsidies; there are laws restricting discounting (to a maximum of something like 5%). The EU has a Common Agricultural Policy (whose aim, in the words of Wikipedia, is ‘to provide farmers with a reasonable standard of living, consumers with quality food at fair prices and to preserve rural heritage’). Please can we have a Common Bookstore Policy too?

I’ll post photos of the CBe reading at Sh & Co in the next day or so.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Local: a moveable feast

I wandered into The Travel Bookshop off Portobello Road yesterday with a copy of Days and Nights in W12 and they reckoned on taking three copies until a passing customer seized on the sample book and enthused – it brings to book the streets she walks every day – and they revised the order to ten copies.

Neither I nor Jack Robinson usually ventures far from W12. Except for the seaside, most of life is already here. The second photo shows a green parrot at my neighbour’s bird-feeder this morning. (And you don’t have to live in W12, or even W11 or any other postcode, to get something from this book; a cover quote from Gabriel Josipovici manages to include references to Sebald, Bernhard and Walter Benjamin in a single sentence). But tomorrow I and two, possibly three, of the CBe writers are off to experience a few days and nights in Paris, starting with a reading at the Shakespeare & Company bookstore.

Monday, 8 November 2010

CBe: the next books

Let me tell you about:

1 – Jack Robinson, Days and Nights in W12. Not officially published until early next year, but copies are printed and can be bought from the site – here. Déjà vu? This title was, yes, one of the first CBe titles three years ago. Here it is again, but with some of the original contents revised and more than 60 new pieces, so more than double the length. With a non-brown cover (110 pages have b/w photos, and the cover wanted one too). And a cover quote from Geoff Dyer: ‘Ingeniously observed, elliptical and funny. It’s like the best moments from a novel – minus the padding.’

2 – Tony Lurcock, Not So Barren or Uncultivated. This doesn’t fit the profile – for a start it’s non-fiction, a compilation of accounts of Finland written by British travellers between 1760 and 1830 – but there were never really any rules, and I can’t but warm to an author who admits in his acknowledgements that some of those who helped along the way have probably by now forgotten that they ever did so. Finland was hardly part of the Grand Tour, but to some was more interesting because of that. For more details and to buy, see here.

3 – D. Nurkse, Voices over Water. ‘A world-class poet,’ says Craig Raine, and he’s right, and if UK publishing was up to scratch you’d be buying his New & Selected, at the very least, from Faber or whoever. Meanwhile, here is the record of an archetypal passage from the Old World to the New, spoken by a woman and her husband who emigrate from Estonia to Canada in the early 20th century. Pascale Petit: ‘I can’t praise D. Nurkse’s poems enough. I go to them to hear “the still sad music of humanity” and to celebrate it. Voices over Water has haunting cadences; the silences are heart-stopping. The couple’s journey . . . is a mesmerising page-turner but I make myself slow down to savour each tender, precise pleasure.’ Officially published in January, but available from the website later this month.

Coming along, next April/May:

4 – Nancy Gaffield, Tokaido Road: a sequence of poems that respond to Hiroshige’s woodcut prints entitled Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido. From the draft blurb: ‘Submitting to the road and its relentless succession of departures and arrivals, the poems discover a freedom to move through and beyond the frames of time and location established by Hiroshige, not least in their voicing of moments of regret and longing, grief and desire.’ Todd McEwen: ‘The project deals most satisfyingly with a question raised by its own design: what happens to us when we look at art? The answer is, we start to make art.’

5 – Jonathan Barrow, The Queue. In February Cape will publish Andrew Barrow’s Animal Magic, a memoir of his brother Jonathan, who died aged 22 with his girlfriend in a car crash three days before their wedding. Behind that book is another one, a short novel written by Jonathan Barrow in the months before his death: the odyssey of one man and his dog through the strip clubs, prison cells, abattoirs, lunatic asylums and sewers of England, it’s a children’s book turned inside out that both offends every canon of good taste (from the draft blurb: ‘Bodily fluids flow profusely. Sexual malpractice is never more than a page away’) and remains, somehow, innocent. The Queue is that book.