Friday, 25 February 2011

Out to lunch (back in April)

The more time (unpaid) I devote to CBe, the more time (paid) I have to give to the other work that keeps the whole boat afloat – an equation that’s bad for my sleep patterns and squeezes out any scribbling of my own. So I’m taking a break, off for a month to an island – this one, above, though not quite as sunny as it looks: current temperatures are sub-zero – courtesy of the Baltic Centre for Writers and Translators.

And there is no Plan B. Which is to say that while I’m away, although the home premises will be fully occupied and guarded by ferocious hounds of Baskerville (and Goudy, Garamond, Helvetica, etc), there’ll be no one to put books in envelopes and lick stamps, so anyone ordering from the website will have to wait for their books until I’m back in early April. Apologies for inconvenience. (During this period the books may still be ordered, of course, from bookshops, which are supplied by Central Books, or online from the Book Depository.)

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


Plumbers do turn up: on Monday morning I faced up to the fact that this house is disintegrating around me, and by lunchtime there was a plumber in the kitchen ripping out the kitchen sink and replacing taps and a glazier replacing a window broken about three months ago.

Books turn up too, eventually: a package containing copies of Ponge, Unfinished Ode to Mud, mailed to the US on 17 January at a cost of around £25, has just arrived at its destination.

Yesterday evening the Rack Press launched its new set of four pamphlets, including Christopher Reid’s Airs and Ditties of No Man’s Land, which is being set to music by Colin Matthews and will be performed at the the BBC Proms this summer. Christopher has recently published with Areté, CBe, Ondt & Gracehoper and Faber; he is leading his future bibliographer a merry dance. The other Rack Press pamphlets are by Roísín Tierney, Angela Topping and Nicholas Murray (‘a scathing verse broadside against the coalition government’).

The spring CBe books – Nancy Gaffield’s Tokaido Road and Jonathan Barrow’s The Queue – are printed, and will be available from the website in April. Nancy will be reading at the British Council in Tokyo on 9 April.

The new Hammersmith & Fulham News has a piece on Days and Nights in W12 which goes some way towards clearing up the mystery of the single shoes on page 80: ‘The single shoe (often spotted on a bus shelter roof) is a west London street sign indicating a drug dealer is operating in the immediate area.’

In defiance, even denial of cuts and slashes, here are three new presses that will be publishing their first books this year: Notting Hill Editions, And Other Stories (mostly work in translation), Istros Books (translations from Eastern Europe). CBe will be typesetting for all three.

Monday, 14 February 2011

14 February

Valentine's day, so appropriate that there should be not one but two wild cockatoos at the bird-feeder in the next door's garden. Five minutes later, a third joins in.

A novel, ‘if that’s quite the word for it’

David Markson’s This Is Not a Novel was talked about on this morning’s Start the Week by David Shields and Andrew Motion, the latter calling it ‘a tremendous palate cleanser’. A friend phoned to say she’s been waiting for two weeks for Daunts in Marylebone High St to get hold of the book; you’d get it quicker from the CBe website – but click the button now rather than later, because later this month I’m going out to lunch and won’t be back for a month (more on this later).

Lots of review coverage for Andrew Barrow’s Animal Magic (Jonathan Cape) – ‘this strange and unnerving book’: Daisy Goodwin, Sunday Times; ‘a book unlike anything I have ever read’: Elizabeth Day, Observer; also in the Independent on Sunday, Spectator, Telegraph. Given that Andrew Barrow quotes extensively in Animal Magic from Jonathan Barrow’s The Queue, the reviews function as previews for that: ‘darkly comic, treading a thin line between brilliance and total barminess’ (Observer); ‘a wild picaresque fantasy, erotically polymorphous’ (IoS). The Queue will be available from CBe in April/May.

Friday, 11 February 2011

A ghost in Cambridge

Back from Cambridge, St John’s College, where last night I read with Sarah Howe (Gregory Award; tall-lighthouse) and Dan Burt (Lintott Press/Carcanet). (Several decades ago, from Philadelphia and from the wrong side of the tracks, Dan wrote a letter to Cambridge, enclosing something he’d written on The Waste Land; Hugh Sykes Davies – see here – liked it, and he was in; those were the days.) Poems, wine, good talk. The welcome surprise presence of Jane Monson, who first got in touch when CBe published the Francis Ponge book, who last year published her own prose poems (Speaking without Tongues, Cinnamon) and who is editing a prose-poems anthology out later this year.

And, discomfortingly, the ghost of myself around every corner. I was an undergraduate there; for various reasons, those were not the happiest three years of my life; this was my first return visit (it’s less than a hour on the train) in nearly forty years. I did a lot of solitary cycling around the flat countryside; I left my bike in the college basement in 1972, and now it’s gone. I did a lot of solitary reading of European lit; a contemporary, now a medievalist at the college, still has an ancient Penguin Classics Chekhov in which there’s a scrap of paper on which I’ve copied out certain lines. What will survive of us is bookmarks.

Later in the 70s I did have some happy years, in Egypt. Most of the present population of Egypt weren’t even born then, but tonight I guess they’re happy too, and I’m thrilled for them.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011


A couple of weeks back, when poets were in the newspapers for winning prizes on every street corner, Conor wanted me to write about that Guardian piece that ended with: ‘Poetry rocks.’ I don’t need to; we’re over that now, and 99.8 per cent of the population are getting on with their lives, happily or miserably, without feeling any need to read poetry, and 99.8 per cent of poets are checking their sales figures and wondering where this rocking is going on. The attention is nice, but it’s not the business of poetry to rock. Whatever that business is, it’s something more against the grain. What grated in that piece was the triumphalism.

But here’s something about prizes, anyway. You never quite get a photo of the bashful winner holding up a vastly oversized cheque, as for pools and lottery winners. They draw back from that; a slim envelope is handed over and hurriedly pocketed; it doesn’t do to rub in the money aspect, because this is supposed to be about the honour of winning and the quality of the work. (Money and poetry is always awkward. I seem to recall Don Paterson being asked what he was going to do with his prize money and him saying – or was this DBC Pierre? or both? – he was going to pay off some debts; and someone else saying she was going to buy new curtains.) The point being this: if the cash is secondary to the honour, then let them come up with something a lot more original as the prize. Last night I had a dream in which a friend won a poetry prize, and the prize was this: meeting the Pope and rearranging the furniture in the Vatican.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Bookshop matters (2)

The Travel Bookshop this time, Notting Hill. Happy. I was taking in a re-order of Days and Nights in W12, and a couple of Not So Barrens, and it’s long and narrow and the further you go in the better it gets: this afternoon, cake (with icing) and champagne (Saara’s birthday, sometime recently), and Hermione Cameron, local author, who in March will be walking to Monte Carlo (700 miles; she’s already walked to Paris) because (a) this is a fine thing to do and (b) it could buy a lifeboat (see here to donate). Bookshops, this kind, are not just places to buy books (though it does help).

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Bookshop matters

This is the Albion Beatnik bookstore in Walton Street, Oxford. All independent bookshops are different (that’s the point). This one: the beats, jazz, lots of US books, good second-hand selection, tea/coffee, sofa; and, just in case you thought you’d got this one labelled, a better selection of modern writing than you’d find in any equivalent-size chainstore, including much in translation. I left some CBe books there in December, got a cheque yesterday and a covering letter telling me that the Francis Ponge book ‘flew out’, as did the translations from the Polish writers Andrzej Bursa and Stefan Grabinski. There are readers.

An idea I noticed on the website of a US publisher (Ugly Duckling Presse): partner bookstores. A number of independent bookstores, all interested in the kind of work a particular press publishes, commit to stocking all that press’s new titles (maybe some backlist too), presumably in return for a higher-than-normal trade discount. There’s something in there for everyone; it seems to me an obvious and simple idea; just a pity that right now I haven’t got the time or energy to get buzzing.

On the website page for Natural Mechanical, there’s now a link to a Poetry Trust podcast in which J. O. Morgan talks about the writing of the book and the experience of winning the Aldeburgh Prize (‘I was suddenly in this world of poets’).