Thursday 30 September 2010


Get a dog, my sons insisted when I quit the 9-to-5 office routine some time ago. They cajoled, tempted, made rash promises, and I resisted. Now there is the blue dog of The Bow-Shop, which is boisterous and inquisitive and straining to be let off the lead. (And you don’t even have to feed it: it’s free.)

The new issue asks whether Dante is really about to be banned in Italy and whether poetry competitions are a scam; it discusses Empresses of Ice Cream and the factory-farming of poetry; it has writing by Christopher Middleton, John Hartley Williams and many more. It also happens to include new work by two CBe writers (Beverley Bie Brahic – translations of Yves Bonnefoy and of work by Francis Ponge not included in the CBe selection – and Christopher Reid) and extensive selections from two books that CBe will be publishing in the coming months.

Friday 24 September 2010

‘one dicey London lunchdate’

There’s a piece in this week’s Spectator by Ariane Banks on how Christopher Reid’s ‘slim and diffident volume [The Song of Lunch], published by the tiny literary press CB Editions, will be transposed to prime-time TV on National Poetry Day (7 October), with a cast that most writers would kill for.’ Tom Sutcliffe and his crew will will chatting about the BBC adaptation of Lunch at 7.15 tomorrow, Saturday, on Radio 4. There’s an item on the back page of the TLS mentioning the publication of Gabriel Josipovici’s Only Joking by ‘the enterprising Shepherd’s Bush publishing firm CB editions’ and giving my address – if I’m out when you ring the bell, I’ll be back after lunch.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Lunch times 2

Choose. On the right is the cover of the forthcoming Faber edition of Christopher Reid’s The Song of Lunch, taken from amazon, and it features Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson looking – well, looking as if they are staring at a man with a camera and getting rather bored while he fiddles with his settings. That’s the one you’ll be stuck with if you don’t order the CBe edition within the next couple of weeks or so.

Preferably from the website. Other selling avenues are more of an obstacle course. I sent 50 copies of Lunch up to Edinburgh for Christopher’s reading at the festival last month; then they couldn’t find them – no, wait, they did find them, and rushed them to the venue, but only after most of the audience had gone home. The books are now stuck in an Edinburgh warehouse; a man will let me know ‘when they surface’ and send them back, but most likely not until after the Faber edition comes out and I’m not allowed to sell them. And today I got an email from someone who had ordered the CBe edition from her library – the library told her it hadn’t been published.

The same correspondent told me to look in the current Vogue. A tiny mention: ‘Highbrow affairs of the heart . . . a dramatic re-enactment of Christopher Reid’s nostalgic break-up poem, The Song of Lunch (BBC2 October)’. Browsing in the local newsagent’s, I had to look hard for that. It’s buried among hundreds of glossy women with wonderful bodies in expensive clothes ('Cheryl wears silk chiffon dress, £5,100, Dior'), nearly all of them looking not just bored but sulky. Come on, I kept muttering. Say cheese.

Monday 13 September 2010

Wondrous strange

More column-inches on Josipovici: see, for example, Mark Thwaite on ReadySteadyBook, or the New Statesman review of What Ever Happened to Modernism? In several of the other pieces, two things strike me as odd. The first is trivial: while Josipovici is routinely described as a ‘professor’, Martin Amis isn’t – even though he is a professor, at Manchester University. The second thing is the number of literary journalists who make a rhetorical point of admitting that they’ve never read any of Josipovici’s books. Philip Hensher, novelist and critic (and creative-writing teacher) in the Telegraph: ‘Josipovici has written fiction himself, though I confess I had not heard of any of it.’ Ian Jack, author and former editor of Granta, in the Guardian: ‘Before this summer I had never heard of him. Had you?’

Well, yes, I had. And another man, not a dedicated reader of contemporary fiction, who came round here a couple of weeks ago; he asked what CBe was publishing next and I mentioned Josipovici, and he immediately remembered the first Josipovici story he’d read (in Penguin Modern Stories 12, 1972), and then others; him too.

There seems to be a cosy assumption here that because these writers, at the heart of the literary/publishing world, have never heard of Josipovici, no one else can can possibly know about him either. (I’m reminded of Robert McCrum last year, when Herta Muller won the Nobel Prize, admitting that he had ‘never read a word she’s written’ and had been ‘frantically searching the web to find out things’.) Fortunately the world is bigger and more various than most folk in the lit establishment imagine. It includes people whose reading choices are not determined by what the Sunday papers recommend; it may even include people who haven’t heard of Philip Hensher or Ian Jack.

Sunday 12 September 2010


Cows at the farm where the Dovedale arts festival was held over the weekend. Well-nourished, happy cows. Like them, I’m not too interested in choice (99 TV channels, this school/hospital or that one or another, lit festivals that feel like Clapham Junction at rush hour), I simply want what’s on offer to be good of its kind. Before Christopher Reid’s reading there was, for example, a talk on the city of Stoke that was funny, eloquent, knowledgeable, passionate, and when I’m chopped up for kebab meat and eaten I’ll taste all the better for it.

Thursday 9 September 2010

Cooked books

Here they are, the two autumn CBe books, Gabriel Josipovici’s Only Joking and Fergus Allen’s Before Troy. Not officially published until late next month, a date picked out of a hat, but they can be bought from the website NOW.

And – reminder – if you want Christopher Reid’s The Song of Lunch in its original CBe edition, which will go out of print when Faber take over the book next month, click on that one too.

Sales pitch over. Maybe it’s the weather (damp), maybe it’s that I’m tired – no, it isn’t those things, this happens every time – but when I collected the finished books there was a sense of anticlimax. All that thrill, work, fun, talk, could-do-this-or-could-do-that, for this? This small brown thing in a box, this one of a multitude in an age of digital reproduction? The journey not the arrival, I know. And because I’ve tasted the text so often while helping to cook these books it’s hard now to taste them afresh, with innocence. That is your privilege. Over to you.

That said, and having just come back from taking the above photo in the kitchen, I’m still indecently proud to be publishing these books. Josipovici, often type-cast as an ‘academic’, a word with derogatory overtones of cerebral dryness, is in fact as intelligently playful as you can get; he’s a liberating writer. The poems of Fergus Allen, who is 89 this year, marry an openness to experience, wonder, distress, to an uncanny precision of diction and form.

Thursday 2 September 2010


for late posting of a few books ordered: I'm in the middle of nowhere right now, calling by a net cafe. Back in the queue at the post office next week.