Thursday 31 December 2009

99 not out

Having said below that I was tired of lists of poetry books chosen by poets, which suggest (surely wrongly) that poets exist on an exclusive diet of poetry, I don’t mind that in the Morning Star George Szirtes chooses J. O. Morgan’s Natural Mechanical as one of his favourite poetry books of 2009. I don’t mind at all.

Ninety-nine posts for the year is a good number to go out on. Happy New Year.

Thursday 24 December 2009


The honours board: 2009 Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and shortlist, 2009 Forward Prize, for the first CBe poetry book; shortlist, 2009 Popescu Prize, for the first CBe poetry in translation; 2008 McKitterick Prize for the first CBe fiction.

The prosecution: Pretty prizes, huh. How many books have you sold?

The defence: Prizes are about the books being read by people who are in a position to announce to others that the books are worth reading. Such attention is everything. Does a book exist if no one knows it exists? And I’m glad for the authors who receive recognition, confirmation. Apart from that, prizes are like school speech-days at the end of term; they ignore the oddballs at the back of the class and have no influence on my own choice of reading. Sales: more than last year, but for a more specific answer you’ll have to ask again at the end of March when I do the adding up.

Favourite colour: Blue. Sometimes pink. Do not read anything into this.

Good guys: Chris, printer man down the road who cuts a good deal and looked after my cats in the summer even after he got sideswiped by a forklift truck; Wendy Toole, proofreader and ‘professional director of development’ at the SFEP when she’s in the mood; Shona Andrew (, cover designer of the books that aren’t brown but that’s the least of it. There are many others – booksellers, editors, readers – and easily the best part of this madness has been these people.

Bad guys: No actual names, because it’s the attitudes they represent rather than they themselves that irritate me, but one of them just might be the ‘pin-up boy of independent publishing’ (quote from online interview of a year of so back) and another a broadsheet panjandrum I’ve mentioned before: one might have thought reading the necessary first base for opinionating, but no.

The weather: cold. Rain coming in from the south.

Why? John Self’s Asylum offered a generous possible reason a month or so back: ‘Thank heavens for CB editions and their like: perhaps these are the places where everything worthwhile, however long forgotten, is preserved and recorded.’ But that’s not it; the books are good things to put into the world but as a record they are more transient than an online archive. It is, rather, more like serious play plus a dose of megalomania.

Wish-list: More time. Two crates of French wine from the man who deals in the next street. A better defence lawyer. Something written in invisible ink.

Civilisation-as-we-know-it: Earlier this year Philip Roth gave the literary novel another 25 years, then reconsidered: ‘I was being optimistic about 25 years really. I think it’s going to be cultic. I think always people will be reading them but it will be a small group of people. Maybe more people than now read Latin poetry, but somewhere in that range.’ Writing is no longer central; poetry, arguably, already is cultic. But pointless to moan; for small-scale outfits such as CBe, a base of around the number of present-day Latin-readers will do nicely, as long as they are regular readers.

Leftover turkey
: peel meat off carcase in strips, fry to almost crispness, mix in serving dish with hot cooked rice, splash liberally with soy sauce, add lots of sliced cucumber round the edge. Very basic, but Boxing Day is hardly a time for culinary sophistication.

The next titles: David Markson in February. In May, short stories (‘shrewdly observed, wickedly funny,’ says Salley Vickers) by Marjorie Ann Watts. In the autumn, a short novel by Gabriel Josipovici. Meanwhile, Happy Christmas to anyone dropping by.

Wednesday 16 December 2009


And J. O. Morgan’s Natural Mechanical gets a recommendation from the Scottish Poetry Library . (And someone walked into a bookshop on Monday and asked for 30 copies of the book.)

‘Everything only connected by “and” and “and”’ (Elizabeth Bishop, ‘Over 2000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance’). I’m wearying of all the lists (and they’ll keep on coming for another two weeks). In particular I’m wearying of the lists of poetry-books-of-the-year recommended by poets – they feel ghetto-ish, they give the impression that poets are an isolated sub-species who read nothing else except books by other poets. (Is this true? Most of the world thinks so. But surely not.) (Above photo courtesy Ron C.)

Friday 11 December 2009

[K]night Crew

Nicholas Tucker, in a round-up review in today’s Independent: ‘Night Crew (CB editions, £7.99) is a fine but bleak updating of the King Arthur legend . . . cleverly worked out and compassionate.’

‘Did you mean Knight Crew?’ as google might ask. He did. Homophones, always a slip waiting to happen: Suns and Lovers, A Tail of Two Cities, A Farewell to Alms, The Blue Flour, Peyton Plaice. Clever things, perfectly disguised to get through the spell-check barriers.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

An outing

C and I went to Canterbury yesterday. In and around the cathedral the few clerics, striding from one chapel to another as if they really did have somewhere to get to, were outnumbered by the yellow-jacketed, hard-hatted building workers engaged in restoration and generally propping up the whole edifice, their progress slowed by health-&-safety regulations and (I’m guessing) uncertain funding. Not many visitors on this cold December afternoon, and the silence in the crypt was the silence of the tomb.

There was generous hospitality and the best soup I've had for a long time. In the evening we read poems to an attentive audience of mostly writing students and told scary seasonal tales about the state of publishing – which could have gone on and on, but were cut short by the arrival of the poker players who had booked the room from 8 o’clock. However good your hand, and however good you are at bluffing, you do also need a slice or two of luck.

Saturday 5 December 2009

Bursa: Dostoyevsky meets Joe Orton

Andrzej Bursa, Killing Auntie and other work, reviewed in yesterday’s Independent by Boyd Tonkin:

'From the admirable CB Editions comes a delightful discovery. Dead at 25 in 1957, the Polish postwar firebrand Andrzej Bursa acquired a reputation as a quick-burning, existentially tormented rebel: a literary James Dean of the Stalinist era.
‘This selection of his quirky, darkly witty work – poems, fables, above all the titular novella – does indeed summon the shades of Beckett or Kafka from time to time. Everyday life slips into scenes of fantasy or horror, as when the local Party sacrifices children to a dragon, “an old, blind, mouldy beast” that still tears them apart.
‘Yet Bursa’s dark humour and deadpan satire – finely captured here by translator Wiesiek Powaga – keep utter bleakness at bay. Some will think of Dostoyevsky when it comes to the snuffed-out relative in the novella; read to the end, and you hear something like Joe Orton's wicked cackle too.’

Buy from the website here.

Friday 4 December 2009

Knight Crew, Brighton

What does a publisher actually do? The skills required, as any clued-up careers adviser knows, include the ability to heat up mulled wine in a microwave oven and then decant it – without flooding the staff kitchen – into those giant thermoses which are trolleyed into executive meetings for the coffee break.

Also, ideally, enough nous to get the flash working properly when taking photos, which in my case I didn’t have. But you can just make out through the murk, I hope, the Knight Crew hoodies, and we did sell books, and Nicky Singer spoke inspiringly and movingly about how the book came to be written.

Huge thanks again to the Jubilee Library in Brighton, which stepped in to host the event last night after Borders went into freefall.