Monday 30 December 2013

‘I would like to thank . . .’

One does – doesn’t one? – say thank you. One has been well brought up. After Christmas, especially. (The speed at which my brother and I, when small, tore open wrapping paper was restricted only by my mother’s handwriting of the tally: Uncle Bill, Airfix model; Aunty Nesta, book token; Cousin John, fountain pen. And on Boxing Day or the day after, the writing of thank-you letters – short, formulaic [see above], but they may actually have been my first written compositions.) Especially, too, when one wins an Oscar or publishes a book.

The acknowledgements pages of a book can be odd and revealing things. They include, first, persons or organisations the author is obliged to thank: publishers or literary estates that have given permission for previously published material to be quoted, or funding bodies that have given grants. Poetry books and story collections usually list the magazines in which individual poems or stories included in the present book have been previously printed, but I doubt these lists (which can go on and on, and even more so in US books, which often also list the titles of the particular poems which appeared in each magazine) are strictly necessary (who cares?) – they are etiquette, and also a form of advertising: look, I’ve had a poem in the TLS, you should take me seriously. They are lists of little badges.

And then – rarely for poetry but sometimes for fiction and almost always for non-fiction – the personal acknowledgements to people who have read and commented on early drafts, provided letters of introduction, etc. (If it’s a long book, the words ‘the late’ occasionally appear before names.) There’s room here for some flavour, some spice: in a CBe book published last year, X is thanked ‘for editing out most of my favourite parts in the Introduction’, and Y ‘for explaining when ladies are women’. Also, because the ways in which books get written change over time, a book can often be dated to a rough decade by its personal acknowledgements. Some novelists now thank workshop groups or writing circles and name their members. A decade or so ago, a conspicuous number of male non-fiction writers appeared unable to perform such mundane tasks as filing their research notes, compiling a basic index or even typing up their own manuscripts: others, usually women (and often wives, presumably unpaid), were thanked for undertaking these chores. (A number of these writers, I suspect, also didn’t cook, drive or do the shopping. They were writers.)

Agents and editors are often thanked, and I’m not sure about this. When I worked as a desk editor at Faber and an author included my name in their draft acknowledgements I’d usually delete it – it’s my job, I explained, and I get paid for this; save your thanks for the people who have given time or expertise freely, without expecting reward. Sometimes, this was a way of keeping my name out of a book that I didn’t in fact like and didn’t want to be publicly associated with. But generally I’d hold to that. Besides, if agent and editor, why not everyone else involved in the making of the book? – post-room staff, receptionist, office cleaners … So that you’d end up with something like the rolling list of credits at the end of a film (gaffer, grip, best boy). (There is, by the way, a nice credit at the end of My Own Private Idaho: ‘Additional dialogue: William Shakespeare’.) Best keep it short: the longer the acknowledgements go on, the more self-congratulatory they come to seem.

I apologise to anyone I’ve left out. Any errors are entirely my own responsibility. The socks were just what I’ve always wanted.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Just one book

Not ten books, as a current meme(?) calls for, but one: James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941). (Impossible to choose a favourite book? Not always. I was asked to suggest one by someone I was having coffee with a few months ago, just as as we were getting up to leave – and this came into my head, and we needed to sit down again and talk about it, and I stand by it.) If there wasn’t the Bible and you had to invent one, this for me would be very much it. It includes riffs, narratives, lists (exhaustive inventories of clothes, animals, tools, furniture, among them), photographs (Walker Evans), transcripts, impassioned essays on the ethics of journalism, work & economics, aesthetics, vernacular architecture, education, language; the occasional poem; and passages that are a form of prayer. It is also a coming-of-age book (Agee was in his twenties) that refuses to come of age: it is fuelled throughout by rage (at how the world works; at himself) and by love. ‘What, what is it has happened? What has been happening that we are living the way we are?’

‘The nominal subject is North American cotton tenantry as examined in the daily living of three representative white tenant families’ (Preface). In the summer of 1936 Agee and Walker were commissioned by Fortune magazine to write a piece on sharecroppers (tenant farmers who pay their landlords a share of the crops on their land) in Alabama. Agee is, to say the least, conflicted: ‘It seems to me curious, not to say obscene and thoroughly terrifying, that it could occur to an association of human beings drawn together through need and chance and for profit into a company, an organ of journalism, to pry intimately into the lives of an undefended and appallingly damaged group of human beings, an ignorant and helpless rural family, for the purpose of parading the nakedness, disadvantage and humiliation of these lives before another group of human beings, in the name of science, of “honest journalism” (whatever that paradox may mean), of humanity, of social fearlessness, for money, and for a reputation for crusading …' But he writes (even though ‘I’m not capable of it; and if I were, you would not go near it all. For if you did, you could hardly bear to live’), and result is this book, a book that ‘is a book only by necessity’.

There’s a late section (‘Inductions’, pages 361 to 407 at the core of it in my 1988 Picador edition; I don’t know about about the current Penguin Modern Classics edition, though that one does have a fine intro by Blake Morrison) that I go back to most years, in which after having met the people he’s going to write about he drives away into an intensity of aloneness – heat, sexual longing and frustration, death-wish, ‘I could my foot to the floor right now and when it had built up every possible speed I could twist the car off the road, if possible into a good-sized oak, and the chances are I would kill myself, and I don’t care much about doing that either’ – and then he drives back, to the house of one of the families he has met (‘its side porch and all the the filthy lard cans and the hard dirt scattered with hen turds; nobody there’) and then the children suddenly materialise, ‘feet on the running-board and quick bodies clamped close against the hot flank of the car, panting with the grinning look of dogs, their eyes looking straight, hard, and happy into mine. (Jesus, what could I ever do for you that would be enough.)’

Walker Evans, in a 1960 foreword (included in most editions of the book, I think; Agee himself died in 1955, in his forties), recalls Agee: ‘His hands were large, long, bony, light, and uncared for. His gestures were one of the memorable things about him. He seemed to model, fight, and stroke his phrases as he talked. The talk, in the end, was his distinguishing feature. He talked his prose, Agee prose. It was hardly a twentieth-century syle; it had Elizabethan colors. Yet it had extraordinarily knowledgeable contemporary content. It rolled just as it reads; but he made it sound natural – something just there in the air like any other part of the world. How he did this, no one knows.’ And: ‘His Christianity – if an outsider may speak of it – was a punctured and residual remnant, but it was still a naked, root emotion. It was an ex-Church, or non-Church matter, and it was hardly in evidence. All you saw of it was an ingrained courtesy, an uncourtly courtesy, that emanated from him towards everyone, perhaps excepting the smugly rich, the pretentiously genteel, and the police.’

The original text that Agee submitted to Fortune magazine, lost for decades, was published in the US this year (Cotton Tenants: Three Farmers, The Baffler/Melville House). From the introductory part: ‘a human being whose life is nurtured in an advantage which has accrued from the disadvantage of other human beings, and who prefers that this should remain as it is, is a human being by definition only, having much more in common with the bedbug, the tapeworm, the cancer, and the scavengers of the deep sea’. That Fortune, a business magazine, didn’t print it is hardly surprising.

A review (in NYRB) by Ian Frazier of Cotton Tenants adds some background and perspective. ‘The reason he left out black tenants from the main part of his story was simple: Fortune had no interest in them. Black people in poverty weren’t news.’ He adds information from And Their Children After Them, a 1990 book whose authors followed up survivors and descendants of the families that Agee came to know. He notes that Cotton Tenants is a like a dam from which Famous Men (with all its ‘confessions, declarations of love, passionate divagations and occasional incoherencies’) burst: ‘Freed from a magazine article’s bounds, the energy that Agee aims at his target often goes flying off into space; but when it strikes something real – the way a breeze moves through trees at the edge of a cotton field, the looks men give to a woman of bad reputation in a general store – the energy is so abundant that every tiny pixel blooms.’ He writes that ‘if Famous Men is sometimes not a good book or a sensible book, it is also, inescapably, a great book’.

Friday 13 December 2013

Two blue burger vans

There’s a symmetry here: the first van (run by two women) is along the road from the printer in Acton, west London; the second (run by two men) is along the road from Central Books, the distributor, in Hackney Wick, east London. I sampled both today. From west to east, if I’m taking no more than two boxes of books – which slot into the blue case in the second photo – I go by Overground rail.

One of the reasons that CBe has kept going for six years is my stubborn, quite possibly childish insistence on doing myself everything that I can do, including the trekking of boxes – which may not be the most efficient way of doing things, and is also one of the reasons why I’m tiring, and need to step back and have a think about this.

Meanwhile, a rather boring update on the blog post dated 25 November, about permissions. (Which had three times as many viewings as any other post on the blog, which itself is depressing: it suggests that the only surefire way to get attention is to be shouty and aggressive). Faber have confirmed they’ll make corrections in any reprint, and have paid the invoice, so back to sweetness and light. Bath Festivals: two weeks after my email to them, which I posted here, their Chief Executive replied to say that I had given a ‘misleading picture’; that their staff salaries have reduced ‘in real terms, as we have not been able to pay cost of living increases for most of the last five years’; and that ‘The reason we are not paying fees on this poetry reading project is that it is a free event so we make no money from it at all’. To which I replied that I still believe that arts organisations in receipt of large amounts of public funding, and with a large budget for admin staff costs, should not be asking writers, artists, performers, publishers, to ‘waive any fees usually applicable’; and mentioned a recent poetry festival that offered a dozen events free to the public but did not see this as a valid reason for not paying the writers involved; and said that although I’d like the material in question to be included in their project I can’t agree to this if Bath Festivals is unwilling to offer an appropriate fee. And there, I assume, the story ends.

Monday 9 December 2013

Books of the year: one more list

Preamble: the one different thing about this gathering is that the recommendations come from people who don’t get asked by the broadsheets but whose replies I was truly interested in. In the mix: some writers/readers, some booksellers, some publishers. All quite random (I sent off invitations to contribute one hour after thinking of the idea), though I tried to keep m/f, and interests in poetry/fiction, in rough balance. It’s not intended as an ‘alternative’ list, whatever that might be, nor was I asking for ‘best’ books – simply books that people have enjoyed, that they’d like to recommend, that may have flown under the radar of general attention. The very few rules: publishers were asked to steer clear of books they had published themselves; books published by CBe were not eligible; recommendations didn’t have to be for books published this year, or in the UK.

Astrid Alben (poet, editor, translator): My favourite book this year was The Notebook by Agota Kristof. First published in 1986, this almost-forgotten masterpiece is narrated by a set of preadolescent twins sent to a remote village for the duration of World War II. The story is stark, brutal and devoid of sentiment. The style is stark, brutal and devoid of sentiment. It reads like a goshawk examining the open wound on its prey. This is what makes it a masterpiece: aesthetics and ethics come before beauty and morality; style is inseparable from content. The Notebook is so good I shouldn’t even be sharing it with you. (Ed.: this doesn’t quite break rule 2, because The Notebook is not yet a CBe book; but it soon will be.)

Charles Boyle (CB editions): The Complete Fiction of W. M. Spackman (Dalkey Archive). Rarely is reading so much fun. Mimi turns to her lover in bed and he’s looking a little grumpy so she teases him by saying ‘Oh god you look like that phrase Charles said your grandfather says is the style most novelists write their novels in: “Henry shook his head thoughtfully”.’ They do indeed write in that plodding style, those ‘most novelists’; Spackman doesn’t.

David Collard (writer/researcher; blogs at Salvete): Eimear McBride's A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, published by Galley Beggar Press. Winner of the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize earlier this year, this is an astonishing first novel by a writer who has created a new form of prose from scratch. A harsh, spartan, rich and intensely moving account of a nameless protagonist's growth to maturity in rural Ireland, it's a book I've now re-read twice with increasing wonder and respect. Look out for McBride – she's a fully-formed talent.

Ken Edwards (writer and musician; runs Reality Street): Three books I discovered this year:
Miquel Bauça, The Siege in the Room (Dalkey Archive) – ‘three novellas’ it says here, actually three inspired rants by this Catalan writer who died in 2005.
William H. Gass, Omensetter’s Luck (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics) – I had Gass down as a perceptive theorist, but neglected to read his novels until now – my mistake. This account of the small-town conflict between an imperturbable innocent and a demented preacher is a classic.
Georges Simenon, Banana Tourist – yes, and I finally got round to reading Simenon. The Maigret books are entertaining, but best are his ‘romans durs’, of which this Conradian tragedy of a young man who flees to Tahiti is a particularly fine example.

Gareth Evans (writer, editor, curator): The emergence of new small presses committed to the book as artefact has provided an enduring excitement this year. While remarkably savvy about the role of the internet in promotion and distribution, they share a profound commitment to all aspects of the material process, from design to paper and binding, while also relaying an enthusiasm to circulate often overlooked or obscured texts. The activities of both Corbel Stone Press and Test Centre across all forms (journal, book, chapbook, pamphlet, vinyl, cd, cassette …) have been a particular pleasure; the former passionately concerned with the arts and ethics of place, the latter re-energising the countercultural nexus around Iain Sinclair, Chris Petit, Stewart Home and others (they have put out a sizeable majority of the 18 publications Sinclair has released this year).
In the same vein, a delight to find Ken Worpole and Jason Orton’s important text / image collaboration The New English Landscape (Field Station), Vagabond Witness (Zero), Paul Gordon’s beautifully written advocacy of the life and work of the great Victor Serge, and the wondrous book-length concertina poem / portrait collaboration Correspondences by Anne Michaels and painter Bernice Eisenstein (Bloomsbury; pictured above); striking evidence that mainstream publishers have not abandoned the making of remarkable books when the situation demands – impossible to imagine this working on Kindle.

Katy Evans-Bush (writer, blogs at Baroque in Hackney): Kate Clanchy, Meeting the English (Picador): lusciously satirical, funny and moving. In the boiling summer of 1989, an impoverished, laconic, and brilliant Scottish boy is a carer for a Hampstead literary lion who's had a stroke.
Steve Ely, Oswald's Book of Hours (Smokestack): in which time, language and the folk history of the North of England are tumbled together. An utterly gripping and very masculine book. This is the first time I've seen a poet make plausible – and readable – use of Anglo Saxon!
David Kynaston, Austerity Britain (Bloomsbury): a big, fat, solid, teeming book of social history, published in 2008 and more prescient than Kynaston could have dreamed. The story of Year Dot. Lifeline reading.

Lorna Scott Fox (translator, editor and journalist): Two women’s books delighted me this year. Susana Medina’s Red Tales/Cuentos Rojos (Araña): as sexy as it is brainy. And funny. Nine tumbling imaginations of hunger, flux, and estrangement – and the fetishism of the ordinary – that you can also savour in the original Spanish. Full of contrasting reticence, Chloe Aridjis’s Asunder (Mariner): its mysterious knitting of quietude and potential explosiveness in the life of a solitary museum guard builds echoes upon echoes. Two utterly different female voices, yet both fragmented, interior and speculative; both an antidote to the plot-driven realism of much writing in English these days.

Naomi Foyle (writer): First up, two new poetry collections to sing about, both tackling, in their inimitable ways, work, love, psychogeography and the process of aging irascibly. In Woman’s Head as Jug (Arc) Jackie Wills fixes a sorceress’s eye on home, hot flashes, and Brighton history; with a steady hand she crafts poem-spells from garden dirt, iron, rat fur and bone. In The Wolf Inside (Hearing Eye) Donald Gardner prances a high wire between butoh and bathos, Amsterdam and London, late Yeats and the dark urban forest of late capitalism: all with the air of the eternal child peeking out from behind the final curtain. For those who haven't read it, I must also say I was glued to The Gulag Archipelago (abridged version, Harvill Press, 1985) this summer. Furious, absurdist, deeply compassionate, Alexander Solzhenitsyn's 'Experiment in Literary Investigation' is no mere essential historical tome, but a vital key to the human heart – and Putin's neo-Stalinist agenda.

Muna Khogali (bookseller, Book and Kitchen): This book was hard to get but we reviewed it for our African Reading Group that is held in the bookshop once a month: Andrew Eseimokumo Oki’s Bonfires of the Gods (Griots Lounge). A debut novel by a very talented young Nigerian writer and refreshingly not yet another novel from the diaspora but one of the crop of homegrown Nigerian writers. This is a really raw story of war and love. What elevates it is the superb use of tone and diction. Highly recommended.

Sophie Lewis (translator from French and Editor at Large at And Other Stories): L'homme qui savait la langue des serpents by Andrus Kivirähk (Editions Attila, 2013, translated into French by Jean-Pierre Minaudier; English, roughly: 'The Man Who Spoke Snakish'). This Estonian novel has shaken up my ideas about what books do today. It tells the story of the last Estonian to learn 'snakish', to live by choice in the forest and consort with snakes, rather than moving to the village and adopting the Christian God. More than simply dramatising an era's ending, Kivirähk both creates a vivid old world and shows the pain of its sliding, merging into and crumbling beneath the habits and mores of a new one. More than this, he sustains a biting satire on all ideas of golden ages, mistaken nostalgias for older ways and beliefs, and the damage such wishful fabrications can wreak. The book gently built into something so close to a novel-length allegory while still absorbing me as a novel that I was shocked. And rival languages at the crux of it too. Also, the translator's postface is an invaluable explanation of the Estonian context.

Ira Lightman (writer): This year I enjoyed Letting Go by Angela Topping (Mother’s Milk Books) for flights of word music and whimsical playfulness just where I didn't expect it in some very earnest and plain poetry of love and ageing and the work of supporting people; Ian McMillan's Ah've Soiled Ma Breeks! (The Poetry Business) for a narrative plainness again with some unexpected imaginative privacy and strangeness to it; and Gregory Woods’s The District Commissioner's Dreams (Carcanet, 2002), again for plainness and great chopping line breaks and sculpted verses of joyous un-PC acceptance of sex just as it comes and kicks against public policy, like the Latin poets at their most crisp.

Jonathan Main (bookseller, The Bookseller Crow): After much thought the two novels that I have enjoyed the most this year are: All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld (Cape) and Pacific by Tom Drury (Grove Press).

Steve Mitchelmore (Britain's first book blogger): Miguel de Beistegui's Proust as Philosopher (Routledge) and T. J. Clark's Picasso and Truth (Princeton) changed for good my relation to both writing and the visual arts, which is not a common occurrence. Both are sensitive to the spirit and detail of the works themselves while also maintaining a focus on the philosophical horizon. Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle: Book Two / A Man in Love (Vintage) does this for life itself and suggests why critical writing – even in the guise of autobiography – appears to me the most vital genre.

Stefan Tobler (publisher at And Other Stories): ‘Strange Tracks’, Modern Poetry in Translation, no. 1 2013, the first under Sasha Dugdale's editorship, for introducing me to Toon Tellegen's poetry, especially 'An Essay'. I'm looking forward to these poems appearing in a new Carcanet collection soon. And there's a great interview with Tellegen and his translator Judith Wilkinson.
Two other books I'd mention, of many that have been extraordinary reading this year: Bluets by Maggie Nelson (Wave Books) and Selbstporträt mit Zwerg by Volker Sielaff (Lux Books). A US and a German import. Both very much of import, it feels to me.

David Winters (co-editor in chief, 3:AM Magazine): Jason Schwartz’s John the Posthumous (OR Books) was perhaps the most pioneering work of English-language fiction published this year. Simon Jarvis’s latest long poem, Night Office (Enitharmon), was characteristically dense and difficult, but deeply rewarding. Two recent reprints of neglected yet seminal short story collections – Dawn Raffel’s In the Year of Long Division (Dzanc) and Gary Lutz’s Partial List of People to Bleach (Future Tense) merit special attention. In translation, László Krasznahorkai’s Seiobo There Below (New Directions) was a landmark that I wish I’d had the time (and courage) to review.

Meike Ziervogel (writer and publisher, Peirene Press): Hill of Doors by Robin Robertson (Picador) – a stunning poetry collection by one of the best living poets. The brutish, the human and the divine. If you only read one book over Christmas, it should be this one.
The Space of Literature by Maurice Blanchot (University of Nebraska Press) – anyone interested in the art and mystery of reading and writing, should go on a journey of discovery with this book.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (Penguin Classics) – On the surface this classic novella might be about colonialism. But ultimately it's about the dark and haunting power of language.

Monday 2 December 2013

War Reporter: ‘like’?

Odd, that ‘like’ button on Facebook. Does one ‘like’ Titus Andronicus? And if so, what exactly is it that one is liking?

Peter Blegvad, one of the three judges who awarded Dan O’Brien’s War Reporter this year’s Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, described his experience of reading the book thus: ‘It was painful, I didn’t like it, but I sensed it was probably crucial.’ Thomas E. Ricks, in a US blog post on the book today, writes: ‘This is a book you read because you have to, not because you want. Even as I settled down in the living room to read this, I began to find reasons not to – I disliked the cover, even more the blurbs. (I mean, invoking Wallace Stevens?) By the time I got to the title page, I felt a little antsy and didn’t know why. I think I probably was a bit scared, unconsciously, of what I was getting into. I have worked hard to leave all that behind and I now lead a peaceful life. Even my dreams are pretty good nowadays.’

Ricks is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has reported on US military activities in Somalia, Haiti, Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq. He knows war photographers: ‘some of the scariest people I’ve ever met … These sometimes are people who have grown too comfortable with looking violent death in the face, at some cost to their souls.’ About the book, he has a caveat: ‘Not all the poems are good, or are even poetry.’ Some lines describing Canadian peacekeepers torturing a captured youth felt, he says, ‘more like a human rights report than a poem’. But this was after he’d pushed through his antsiness and started reading, and ‘Soon I thought, this might be the best book ever written about war photography.’

Not ‘book of poems’, just ‘book’. War Reporter is in the ‘best books of 2013’ list picked by the staff of the US magazine Slate: ‘War Reporter is visceral, disturbing, at times consoling, and always honest. O’Brien’s work is an incredible achievement. Anyone who cares about how we go to war – and how we return – must read it.’ This is their politics and foreign affairs editor choosing, not their literary editor.

The poems tumble, surge, they have momentum. ‘Meditative’ is not their way. (For the Guardian review, see here.) Yet I know someone who’s had the book for months and still hasn’t finished it: one poem at a time, then do something else before coming back.

The stage version of the material from which this book is made, Dan O’Brien’s The Body of an American, inaugural winner of winner of the Edward M. Kennedy Prize and winner of the 2013 PEN Award for Drama, will be on at the Gate Theatre, London, from 16 January to 8 February. More details and booking info here.

CBe: next

Details of the four new CBe titles for February and March 2014 – May-Lan Tan, Things to Make and Break; Will Eaves, The Absent Therapist; Agota Kristof’s memoir The Illiterate (trans. Nina Bogin) and a re-issue of her novel The Notebook (trans. Alan Sheridan) – are now on the website, where the books can be pre-ordered. Click the links and see.

At present, there are no new titles planned for after March. The website will stay live, orders will be fulfilled and emails replied to, titles in print will continue to be sold – bless Inpress, bless Central Books – and please do carry on buying these books. But as for more of them, it’s time for a break.

After six years – November 2007 to now – there are 33 titles in print (plus one now with Faber and one with Bloomsbury). The extras have included bookish events in many places (from the now-gone Colony Room in Soho to Shakespeare & Co in Paris), and the pop-up shop last July, and the setting up in 2011 of the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair (which looks set to be an annual event). But here I am now in a classic bind that will be familiar to many others – more work than I handle solo with due competence, no money to pay anyone else (let alone myself).

Possibly, CBe will get back on track, but with some reconfiguring. Entering Year 7 of this thing, I wonder if I’m simply having a seven-year itch. The break in itself is not a bad thing: small presses come and go, it’s a thing that they do.

Meanwhile, huge thanks to the readers and buyers of the books; and for the record, here’s the list, year by year. That I’m as proud to have published Erik Houston’s novel (2007) or Andrew Elliott’s poetry (2013) as any of the books that have attracted more attention and sales goes, I hope, without saying.

Stefan Grabinski, In Sarah’s House, trans. Wiesiek Powaga
Erik Houston, The White Room (out of print)
Jack Robinson, Days and Nights in W12 (1st edition; out of print)
Jennie Walker, 24 for 3 (McKitterick Prize; now published by Bloomsbury)

Gert Hofmann, Lichtenberg & The Little Flower Girl (trans. Michael Hofmann)
Greg Loftin, Saxon: the screenplay
Francis Ponge, Unfinished Ode to Mud, trans. Beverley Bie Brahic (shortlisted for Popescu Prize for European Poetry in Translation)
Elise Valmorbida, The TV President

Andrzej Bursa, Killing Auntie and other work, trans. Wiesiek Powaga
J. O. Morgan, Natural Mechanical (Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, shortlisted for Forward First Collection Prize, PBS Recommendation)
Christopher Reid, The Song of Lunch (filmed by the BBC with Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman; now published by Faber)
Jack Robinson, Recessional (out of print)
Nicky Singer, Knight Crew (staged as a youth opera at Glyndebourne)

Fergus Allen, Before Troy
Gabriel Josipovici, Only Joking
Tony Lurcock, Not So Barren or Uncultivated: British Travellers in Finland 1760–1830
David Markson, This Is Not a Novel
Marjorie Ann Watts, Are they funny, are they dead?

Jonathan Barrow, The Queue
Nancy Gaffield, Tokaido Road (Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, shortlisted for Forward First Collection Prize, PBS Recommendation)
J. O. Morgan, Long Cuts (shortlisted for Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Poetry Award)
D. Nurkse, Voices over Water (shortlisted for Forward Prize)
Jack Robinson, Days and Nights in W12 (new edition)

Apollinaire, The Little Auto, trans. Beverley Bie Brahic (shortlisted for NCBA Award)
Beverley Bie Brahic, White Sheets (shortlisted for Forward Prize)
Joaquin Giannuzzi, A Complicated Mammal, trans. Richard Gwyn
Miha Mazzini, The German Lottery, trans. Urska Zupanec (IMPAC Dublin longlist, 2014)
Dai Vaughan, Sister of the Artist

The Palm Beach Effect: Reflections on Michael Hofmann, ed. André Naffis-Sahely and Julian Stannard
Fergus Allen, New & Selected Poems
Alba Arikha, Soon
Andrew Elliott, Mortality Rate
Tony Lurcock, No Particular Hurry: British Travellers in Finland 1830–1917
Todd McEwen, The Five Simple Machines
J. O. Morgan, At Maldon
D. Nurkse, A Night in Brooklyn
Dan O’Brien, War Reporter (Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, shortlisted for Forward First Collection Prize)

Will Eaves, The Absent Therapist
Agota Kristof, The Illiterate, trans. Nina Bogin
Agota Kristof, The Notebook, trans. Alan Sheridan
May-Lan Tan, Things to Make and Break

Monday 25 November 2013

Letter to a lit festival admin person

Dear [X]

1914: Poetry Remembers (Faber & Faber) – Public Reading Project

[Y] at Faber has forwarded your request for permission for a reading of Guillaume Apollinaire, ‘The Little Auto’, in Beverley Bie Brahic’s translation, at the above event in the forthcoming Bath Literature Festival.

I replied to [Y] to say that after the invoice for permission for the poem to appear in the Faber anthology has been paid (its due date is tomorrow, and no sign of it yet); and after a copy of the book as requested with the permission invoice has been received (it was published a month ago); and after Faber have confirmed that in any reprint or paperback edition the mis-spelt name of the translator will be corrected, and her name will be removed from under another poem that she did not translate, and the publication details of the book in which the translation originally appeared will be listed (at present there is no mention) – then we can talk about further permissions.

Until all that is sorted, I can’t give any further permission through Faber.

If, however, Bath Festivals is dealing directly with myself, and my dealings with Faber are not relevant, we can move on.

I find it odd that you suggest I ‘waive any fees usually applicable’. What do you mean by ‘usually’? Bath Festivals, the organisation from which you write and a registered charity, received in 2012 (the last publicly available accounts) £190,200 from ACE and £245,00 from Bath & NE Somerset Councils; and had £406,530 staff costs (for 14 employees; average, just over £29,000 each), plus £9,515 ‘staff expenses’; total income, £1,203,981. CB editions, from whom you are requesting permission, receives no public funding for its publishing; has no employees; and makes an annual loss, even though all editing, design, typesetting, marketing and time are given freely, not costed against income. Neither does the translator of the poem you request permission for make an income from that work, yet, beyond a very few coffees or beers above the £200 advance from CBe. This is how things get done, how a large amount of the material on which literary festivals depend gets produced. I and a co-organiser have put on an annual book fair for poetry presses in London for three years (50 publishers at each of the last two events) without any payment at all. We did it for the enjoyment, and have no regrets, which is how I publish also, but to have this work taken advantage of by other arts organisations that are in receipt of large amounts of public money – no.

So, £300 for the permission. Negotiable. We can talk, and I hope we will. Which will go to publisher/translator 50/50. More, if you like; that is, if you think that the existence of certain small presses putting out what is worth putting out is something needing support rather than being something to be exploited. I think the public reading idea is lovely. I think the Bath Literature Festival is a fine thing. I resent the assumption that, in times of cutting corners, rather than the admin, payment for the people who write, translate, publish, provide the material on which festivals depend, is the corner to be cut.

With all best wishes

Friday 22 November 2013

My reading list, c.1963

A snapshot from almost exactly fifty years ago: the above is a list of forty books that I read when I was eleven or twelve. I found it in a shoe box after my mother died in 2004. I’ve written here about this list before, but then I put it in a safe place and lost it; now I’ve found it again, disguised as a bookmark, so it gets another airing.

War and animals (especially dogs, wolves), mostly. Except for Shakespeare, no poetry (maybe poems didn’t count as ‘books’). C. S. Forester scores four, ‘+ 6 others’ (I’d already read the earlier books in the Hornblower series). John Buchan scores three, also Jack London, Conan Doyle; H. G. Wells scores two, as also Rider Haggard and Dickens. Shakespeare scores three but I think that was cheating, we probably did them in the classroom, reading aloud, the next boy along (it was an all-boys school) picking up whenever a new character entered, some giggling if that character was female). One each from Victor Hugo, Kipling, Walter Scott, RLS, Alistair MacLean, Hammond Innes. (Though I recall another year when, laid up with mumps, I read fourteen Hammond Inneses in a row.) A few predictable singles: Spencer-Chapman, The Jungle is Neutral; Lew Wallace, Ben Hur. The Lion is by Joseph Kessel, who also wrote Belle de Jour.

There are just two women writers on the list, Baroness Orczy and Rosemary Sutcliff. And only one book, I think, that was specifically written for children (Sutcliff’s Eagle of the Ninth). ‘Young adults’ hadn’t yet been invented. Nor, of course, had PlayStations and Xboxes, which left a lot of time to fill.

Monday 4 November 2013

the coloured books

Sometimes (not often, for me; but still, sometimes) only a big book will do, by a writer long dead. Other times a slim book, as contemporary as they come. Times, even (lunchtimes, perhaps), a magazine. And then there are these slippy things – barely books, not pamphlets – that would fit snug in a shirt pocket, that you could slide under a closed door in a draughty house, even though each – with 48 pages: enough for a spine – is more substantial than it appears.

Now they are seven. And as well as continuing to be available separately, they now come as a boxed set – that is, they have a place to stay warm and safe, rather than getting muddled with last week’s newspapers or falling off the edge of the table and vanishing through cracks between the floorboards. All by Judy Kravis:

tell the bees (2007): a diary, March to September, of the year JK quit academe (‘Well, the affiliation with groves had me for a while. But the groves turned out to be treeless, the shade was battleship grey’) and started bee-keeping. Weather, music (‘Scarce sun despite dramatic sunset yesterday. Tadpoles waiting in the pond. Beethoven wild in the early trios’), dreams, cooking, shopping (‘Did you know your shoe shelves had slipped? I asked the woman behind the counter. It’s Monday, she said, smiling’), last essay-marking (‘Some sludge. Some wild flings in the direction of Ionesco. Some wikipedia. Some toothache’), blackberrying, neighbours (‘he’s a chancer, he’s like a lighthouse in a bog, bright but useless’), cutting back bracken (‘It leaves your forearms tingling later in the day’).

bunch of monads (2007): ‘One packed universe after another, tiny separate adventures, a high-end hum, intermittent, like morse code. Another breathless diary zone, in poem form. A monad is the simplest knowable unit of life. Like atoms, only bigger and older.’ A poem per less-than-a-page, hand-carved, finely balanced, yet full of distances. ‘A bedrock sort of life / should be fond, sturdy / undeniable and full / of fissures’.

the pataphysics of making bread (2009): diary, September 2005 to September 2009 with gaps of many weeks, centred on the ‘kneading parlour’. It’s physical, repetitive work: ‘The whack of dough on marble, the fold and push again and again. How you know when it’s dry enough but still moist, the proverbial earlobe consistency, or your three loaves have had maybe twenty minutes kneading and that could be enough. The notion of enough and how it doesn’t rhyme with dough. This is what start’s a baker’s day.’ As JK kneads she listens to the radio (Woman’s Hour, Desert Island Discs, Yesterday in Parliament), observes the weather, mulls over an email from the wandering Rafferty (‘There’s a special terror to being ill in a foreign language’). Surrender to the rituals, followed by the recording of this: ‘now the elasticity has settled into bread, and the smallest additions – salt, molasses, kefir, a little milk, pumpkin seeds – have distributed themselves. Writing down the process has brought it forward in my mind; I know it as I didn’t before, wordlessly, biblically.’

how to write round things (2010): ‘This habit of knowing my life by the days I / write and losing it by the days that get / away, hearts full, pulse / racing’ – more brief poems, discovering their own processes and rhythms but open to those of, say, overheard speech. counting your chickens: ’between the mist on the frost, first / and the trees behind smoke, later’.

local: three stories (2011): what it says on the tin, and if they feel like offcuts from a documentary of daily life I’d still say that the shaping and phrasing and the whole way of telling make them stories. The longest is the first, ‘Where the market place begins’: ‘I go down to the market place to stand in the current of human life, to sell eggs, to see what I see. To shed my solitude. For a solitary I’m talkative. Anything can set it off. A fish mouth, a gust of wind.’ Shopping, gossip, characters (‘Dutch is a genial hairy man; he likes people to linger’); the context of the ‘downturn’ is in there, the place now ‘a modern desert town’ after the Celtic Tiger years (when ‘Housing went up faster than a wartime cemetery’), but ‘I prefer egg boxes to soap boxes’. The middle story has a lot of gooseberries in it (Anna Karenina, I suddenly recall, includes scenes of jam-making). The third one is about horses and judges, with a side helping of opera.

strangeness (2011): odd little things, centred on the pages both horizontally and vertically, as if there was a fixed point around which everything coheres. Fat chance. ‘You think it’s a slope / but it’s vertical and as you start to / climb the vertical inverts and / you have the opposite of / handholds, footholds / and hope. // You mean I live here?’ The symmetry of these ‘elementary tales’ (they put me in mind of egg-timers) is unsettling rather than calmative. Often deeply funny: ‘Take a run at it. / Go visit Z. / Every tale has a Z. / His heart is so open / he’s easy to stab.’

flashes and floaters (2012): flash fiction, prose poems? I’ll pass; I find both terms awkward. Short (though as long as a page and a half) monologues or paragraphs of observation/ reflection that drift and snag (‘A certain bluntness can be unnerving in the land of proviso’) and pick up speed again. I like these a lot. (A number of them are uncannily similar in form to the bits & bobs, passages in a variety of voices, that make up Will Eaves’ The Absent Therapist, coming from CBe next February.)

That’s their nesting box up on the left. 7 x 48 = 336 pages, each to be taken slowly. You can get them from Road Books, run by Judy Kravis and her partner from a place that may or may not exist (Garravagh, Inniscarra) in County Cork, Ireland. Possibly also from Bookartbookshop in London N1. Road Books do other books too, and artists’ books, and 3-D objects.

I like, of course, the modesty of the coloured books: presentation and size and the lower-case titles all of a piece, and their not making any claim on me. I like the way JK seems to find a new form and then play with it, finding out what it can absorb, what butts up against it. The books are various but there’s a coherent aesthetic behind them all, which may be just a posh way of saying that I like the author’s turns of phrase and the cast of her mind.

Saturday 2 November 2013

As a man grows older

It’s unseasonably warm, no? Yesterday we were sitting at one of the café’s outside tables for around an hour and a half, talking, in the early evening. There were noticeably more holes in the talk than I seem to remember there used to be – little holes where the names of people should have been, or the titles of books or films, but they’d slipped from my mind. So this itself for a while became the subject, and I wanted to use that word that relates to the condition towards which all things tend, oh, you know that word, I know it, but – no, not erosion, not degeneration. Not decrepitude. Not unravelling. We talked about thesauruses. X said she preferred a physical book because there’s always another word, in the next column or on the opposite page, that distracts her, and she likes that distraction, to the point where she may forget what word she was looking for in the first place. I use an an online thesaurus. We drifted onto online things and I began telling about the occasion last year on which I was talking to Y and Z approached us, and it was clear that he was expecting me to introduce him to Y but I couldn’t because, though I know Y, I’d forgotten his name, so I smiled at Z but carried on talking with Y – which Z, justifiably, considered rude, and told me so later in an online message. And as I began this story I suddenly realised that not only did I still not remember Y’s name, but now I’d also forgotten Z’s name, which I certainly did know at the time of which I was speaking. Again, that word – begins with e, I said; e, n, d – ‘Entropy!’ said X. God, the relief. The photo above is of Italo Svevo, author of As a Man Grows Older. For a number of years he lived in Charlton, south-east London.

Friday 1 November 2013

Reviews round-up

Above, multiplying crushed beer cans. Yesterday I heard someone on radio quote Richard Burton on critics: ‘eunuchs at the orgy’. Irrelevancies over, a little flurry of newsprint:

In this week’s TLS, John Greening on J. O. Morgan’s At Maldon: ‘The energy never flags, and there is considerable intensity of language … many passages where the combined forces of old and new are exhilaratingly persuasive.’

In yesterday’s Morning Star, Andy Croft on Dan O’Brien’s War Reporter: ‘It is partly a book about modern war, partly a book about the responsibility of news-media in making sense of the atrocities and absurdities of wars waged in our name. The book compels the reader to watch the poet watching the photographer watching what no one should ever see … Above all, it is a book about the terrible responsibility of the war photographer.’

In The North, Edmund Prestwich on Beverley Bie Brahic’s White Sheets: ‘She shares [Elizabeth] Bishop’s flair for presenting the mind in the act of thinking by verbalising the subtle evolutions of though, the false trials and associative leaps through which it reacts to the world.’

In tomorrow’s Daily Telegraph, a short piece on Alba Arikha, author of Soon, with a photograph of the author aged four in company with Samuel Beckett: ‘When I was born he bought me the most elegant pram and the largest teddy bear in Paris, according to my mother.’ On Wednesday, 13 November, from 7 pm. Alba Arikha will be reading, singing too, at Book & Kitchen, 31 All Saints Road, London W11 1HE.

Thursday 31 October 2013

Small rant about money

A new arts/money story broke today: spending on the arts is £69 per person in London, £4.58 in the regions. The Guardian report comes with a photo of some dancers on trapezes slung from the Millennium Bridge. I don’t think most people care, except to think it’s too much. I don’t think the people giving out the money care, except to worry that this could be, and will be, seen as unfair.

Stendhal in 1835: ‘To give any attention to money matters was deemed supremely low and contemptible in my family. To talk about money was somehow infra dig, money was a sad necessity, as it were, and its role alas indispensable, like that of the privy, but it was never to be spoken of.’ It’s the kind of attitude you can afford if there’s some of it around, and a privy too, and jobs to be had. Stendhal got a clerking job in the war office in Paris, coming in from the provinces, then some other jobs. At one point, when he was a sort of junior consul in Italy, sending reports back in code to his employers, he managed to include the key to the code in the same envelope, so I don’t expect he was very good at investments or even filing his tax returns. He didn’t make much of an income from his writing (he claimed that On Love sold 17 copies in its first 11 years in print, or maybe vice versa). But he went to the opera and could continue to affect an indifference: ‘The sight of a large sum of gold awakens no other thought in me than the bother of keeping it safe from thieves.’ I do warm to him.

‘Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington. / Don’t put your daughter on the stage. / The profession is overcrowded, / And the struggle’s pretty tough, / And admitting the fact / She’s burning to act, / That isn’t quite enough.’ Noel Coward. This is basically what my Uncle Bill told my mother (I was there, I heard it) when she told him I was going to study English at university: ‘And where’s that going to get him?’ Doubtless there are many other uncles saying the same thing when they hear that their nephews and nieces are are signing up to Creative Writing courses. The uncles have a point; the nephews and nieces used to have the advantage of being young, but I doubt that’s any longer an advantage, given the course fees and the debts incurred. It used to be that you weren’t locked into debt until you bought your home; the bar has now been moved back, earlier.

Writing and money are always on-off, and mostly off.

Recently I engaged (not sure why; but everyone has something to say about money or sex) in an online discussion with David Rose, who after various entanglements with the Arts Council had concluded that there is no argument at all – rational, moral, whatever – to be made for state support of the arts. If take-away chicken outlets or manufacturers of window blinds are not eligible for state support, why should poets be? Seriously. Literature makes no one a better person, nor is that its aim. It doesn’t have an aim; a goal neither, no measurable outcome at all. (An output, maybe; unless I’ve got my jargon mixed up.) It doesn’t, in any way beyond the individual that anyone wants to measure these things, make the slightest difference. For the vast majority of tax-payers the arts are simply not on the score card. Cut the funding entirely and people will still write, still publish. ACE (Arts Council England) has recently been pushing (again) the economic argument, trumpeting income against investment, but really this applies only to theatre, opera, the big players. ACE’s money is chanelled through the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Investment-to-income profit I can see the point of, but if that’s how they want to play it the investment should come from a tourism ministry, not a culture ministry. (‘Media’ is so undefinable as to be unarguable with. ‘Sport’ is not exactly poor. The whole department is a random catch-all; you might as well add in the arms industry, in which bow-and-arrow manufacturers may be finding it tough, despite their maintenance of traditional skills. Accuracy, for one.)

Within ACE, the funding allocated to literature (as compared to the other arts) is chickenfeed, is disposal of the petty cash. The disposal of that petty cash appears (though it is argued about by competent people who are paid and well qualified to argue each case) pretty random. (See here for the most recent listing of Grants for the Arts literature grants; click on artform, move to the literature tab, you do have to work for this). ACE operates from within the government, which in turn operates from within the given financial structure, which is largely based on locking people into debt. (Yesterday afternoon I waited at a bus stop that displayed a bank’s mortgage ad: the banks have been making hay for generations from the fact that the UK is a property owning rather renting little island, and they wanted yet more hay and they fucked up, us too, and it’s still going on.)

When I said above that the public funders don’t care, I don’t mean they don’t care about diversity and the regions and disability and access, I mean they don’t care about literature. What’s in place at present is just lip-service. It’s to get the Guardian constituency on board. Does any career politician seriously aspire to the status of arts minister? It’s like being on probation, we’ll see how you do in a position where you can’t do any damage. If any political party took literature seriously, it would have a return to the the National Book Agreement as part of its manifesto. (A return to the NBA, or a revised version, would restrict discounting; enable more independent booksellers to survive; benefit small presses; have a more rooted and lasting effect on what is written, published and read than any tossing of a few thousand pounds to this writer, that publisher). France does this, Germany does this. It hardly wins votes, it won’t happen. Just as they don’t care, really, about education: deal with the charity status of the so-called ‘public’ schools for a start (for non-UK readers: for public read private; it was genius marketing to get those words switched). Or housing: that the average asking price for a house in London is £544,000, and the adult minimum wage is £6.31 per hour (£2.65 is the apprentice rate), and ‘One in five workers in the UK is paid less than required for a basic standard of living’ (BBC reporting research for KPMG, 29 October: one in five), is madness. Of a kind that appears to be normalised, but it’s still madness.

The bus I was waiting for yesterday afternoon was to take me home after reading to the ex-bookseller I’ve written about previously, the one who ran a tiny shop in Notting Hill for 44 years and then had a stroke. I read two chapters of a book she’d been given by a friend, a book first published in the late 1940s and recently re-issued and that was finely written, I enjoyed reading it, but which seemed to be about the servant problem – all the maids have scarpered – and we agreed that next time a different book. To pay for her continued care, her deceased husband’s book collection is coming up for sale at Christie’s on 15 November. The lots include ‘Booth, Charles (1840-1916). Life and Labour of the People in London. London: Macmillan, 1902-1910. 19 volumes, 8° (209 x 135mm). Map volume containing 5 folding maps in two pockets. (A little foxing.) Contemporary parchment, gilt spines (soiled).’ And a first edition of Marx’s Das Kapital, estimated at £10–15,000.

Saturday 26 October 2013

CBe 2013 9 / J. O. Morgan, At Maldon

This much is fact: in the summer of 991 an army of Anglo-Saxons, commanded by Earl Byrhtnoth, engaged a Viking raiding party beside the River Blackwater near Maldon in Essex, and was defeated. A poem recounting the battle was composed in the east of England in the 10th century or (the scholars dispute) in the west of England in the 11th century. The beginning and end went missing. The only known manuscript of the surviving 325 lines was destroyed in a fire in 1731. A transcript made in the 1720s got lost, then was found in the Bodleian Library in the 1930s.

I suspect most reporting of war is like this: a muddle, with unreliable sources and things getting lost and no one really knowing. (Why, one wonders, was the original poem even written? Battle poems are generally written by the victors; this one recounts a defeat.)

Here are the last six lines of the original poem:

Swa hi æþelgares bearn ealle bylde,
Godric to guþe. Oft he gar forlet,
wælspere windan on þa wicingas,
swa he on þam folce fyrmest eode,
heow and hynde, oðþæt he on hilde gecranc.
Næs þæt na se Godric þe ða guðe forbeah

Here are the last six lines of a modern English text on the Battle of Maldon website:

And thus them all did Aethelgar's son urge,
Even Godric, to the battle – oft he cast a spear,
A spear of slaughter to go upon the Vikings,
As he 'mid the folk foremost went,
Smote and struck down till he sank down in the fight.
He was not that Godric who left the battle.

(As befits the confusion of battle, there was an earlier Godric. That one fled and survived; this one stayed and died. Perhaps, as Helena Nelson suggested in a earlier blog post, there are always two Godrics.)

Here are the final lines of Morgan’s At Maldon:

As he is buried under bodies newly dead,
and hears the rumour of the fight above,
the rhythm of hit after hit,
as calm, as constant, as familiar
as the soft wet tap of rain upon a roof.

Though it follows the narrative pattern of the original poem, Morgan’s At Maldon is clearly not a translation in the way of, say, Armitage’s The Death of King Arthur. In the blurb, we went back and forth between the verbs ‘re-imagine’ and ‘re-interpret’. A new character makes a brief appearance: a farm boy digging for whelks in the estuary mud, looking up and seeing advancing ships ‘with wide white handkerchief sails’. In among the imagery: bin liners, a petri dish. A Viking, before the battle, demanding tribute from the Anglo-Saxons, offers ‘a great investment opportunity’. There’s a flash forward to the elderly Godric, the one who survives, reminiscing to his grandchildren in a nursing home (‘And the nurse brings his food tray, / empties the bedpan, changes the sheets’). Think, if you like, Christopher Logue. But Morgan is entirely his own man.

To hear a podcast, courtesy of the Scottish Poetry Library, of Morgan talking about At Maldon (and his Natural Mechanical, which was the first book of original poetry published by CBe and won the 2009 Aldeburgh First Collection Prize), click here.

Friday 25 October 2013

CBe 2103 8 / Fergus Allen, New & Selected Poems

The risk of leaving it late to ‘emerge’, as they say, as a poet – Fergus Allen published his first collection at the age of 72 – is that there may not be much time left to enjoy post-emergence. The advantage is that you’ve been around a bit – which in Fergus’s case includes much travel, as well as careers in civil engineering and the civil service – so you may well have something to write about; you’re also likely to have read many more books by many more writers than the average twenty-something. That is to say, you have something to contribute.

Fergus Allen is now 92. The poems in his New & Selected Poems have been chosen from five previous collections (three with Faber, one with Dedalus in Ireland, one with CBe); the ‘New’ refers to a dozen poems written since his last collection. The book has a Foreword by Christopher Reid, Fergus’s first editor at Faber. You can hear Fergus Allen reading on the Poetry Archive.

The manner of Fergus Allen’s poetry is one thing: sharp, precision-engineered, no wastage. Opening the book at random, some openings: ‘When the car gave up the ghost outside Lahore / It would have been around a hundred and twenty / In the shade, had there been any shade’; ‘Nobody warned me that life would contain / Swearing and scenes of violence and nudity’; ‘After the earthquake we decided to redecorate Hell’; ‘Annie’s pubic hair was beyond a joke’. But also inviting: Allen writes out of a conviction that if he has the affrontery to detain the reader, then he has a responsibility to offer at least enough enjoyment, pleasure in the text, call it what you will, to keep the reader reading. This is the job. Which doesn’t of course mean talking down; he does assume the reader’s intelligence.

The matter is something else. For all the apparent suaveness of their phrasing, there is horror here, and unknowing, and intimations of apocalypse (‘A sort of non-existence came my way / when I was walking up through Morrab Gardens …’). Thom Gunn once said something – I can’t find the reference – about if you’re writing about the big and uncontainable things, then you need to be tight and close and maybe even very formal. Allen’s poems strike me as deeply civilised, by which I mean they are continuously aware of the fragility of so-called civilisation. His interests in myth, in folklore, in nature, in history, are not decorative. In sex too: the light and winning eroticism of a number of the poems glides over a wonder and strangeness: see the late ‘Lovers’ for sex + death + a typical Allen interpolation of the word ‘xylophone’. It’s noticeable how many of the personae are female (‘Portrait of a Woman from the Fayum’ one of my favourites; also the later ‘Lord Gregory’s Mother’).

Born and educated in Ireland, Fergus Allen moved to England in, I think, his early twenties. Anglo-Irish, a mixed blessing: I suspect the Irish have him down as English, the English as Irish. He’s not young, but neither (except in the tedious terms of years, one upon another) is he old. He is not on most readers’ map. Many of the poems haunt me, which is why this book.

Friday 18 October 2013

Cover boy

The cover boy on the new issue of the Warwick Review is Dan O’Brien, author of the Aldeburgh and Forward shortlisted War Reporter. There’s a review of the book inside, plus two new poems by O’Brien in which the war reporter (Paul Watson) is in Syria. Also a fine review of D. Nurkse’s A Night in Brooklyn. And much more (194 pages) – it’s a shame this magazine doesn’t have a wider circulation.

I was reading the magazine yesterday lunchtime in Queen’s Park, where I’d gone to look over my poems and notes before a recording session for the Poetry Archive. Not exactly rehearsing – I don’t know how to do that: either it’s the thing, or it isn’t. Assuming the recording was going to be presented as continuous, I’d arranged the poems in a specific running order, balancing off-page life progress with on-page echoes back and forth, most of which had only become apparent to me when I started choosing. It held together, just about. But in the park I didn’t look at the linking of poems, I read the magazine instead.

This turned out to be the right thing to have done. John, in the studio, immediately relaxed me by saying that any intros to the poems shouldn’t use words like ‘next’ or ‘another’ because the poems would be offered as randomly accessible, not in sequence. As you would, perhaps, browse a book. So the pattern according to which I’d actually chosen many of the was rendered null. Fine. I read. Midway through one of the poems a friend called me on my mobile, which I’d forgotten to switch off. They’ll probably edit that bit out.

Monday 14 October 2013

Trains & dreams & battles

A few nights ago I dreamt I was being stalked by a horse ... Sexual unfulfilment, according to Dr Jung, I’m told, but he probably said that about everything: rabbits, teacakes, you name it. I can’t prove him wrong.

Last night, after reading Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, I had a train dream. I and my dead friend Alan, despite actually living on the station, missed the direct train from Africa to Scarborough and had to hang around for the 17.11 to Birmingham – which arrived at the opposite platform, so we had to scramble over the tracks and then somehow up a very steep hill, me carrying four suitcases because I’d somehow thought I still had plenty of time to pack properly. This was actually a repeat of a dream I’d had before, though on the previous occasion it had gone on longer: a crammed train to Birmingham, standing room only, then hanging around for the Scarborough connection, though once we were on that train the countryside was beautiful.

One of the very few stories I have of my father (who died 57 years ago): too early for his train from Leeds to Glasgow, he boarded the wrong train and found himself in Sheffield.

Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is wonderful: the life, in parts, of a man who in the early 20th century works in the woods, felling trees for the expansion of the railway; who loses his wife and child in a forest fire; who howls with the wolves; who dies in his sleep in his cabin in the 1960s; told in 128 pages. For me, his The Name of the World is even better: set in present-day academia, this also centres on a man living through his grief for his dead wife and child, and is also around 128 pages long. Granier in Train Dreams is an uneducated man; Mike in The Name of the World teaches in a university, and has also worked as a speech-writer in Washington – he is, that’s to say, part of the grown-up world for whom talk about dreams is tedious. He says as much: ‘I think to recount your dreams is to bore the entire world, and I don’t normally even trouble myself to recollect mine.’ And then he does proceed to recount a dream, one in which ‘My shame was like a child’s’ and from which ‘I woke up sweating and chilled with panic.’ There are not-quite dreams throughout (‘Everything occurred despite its complete impossibility’). The final paragraph, in which he tells of flying in the Gulf War ‘above blazing tank battles in the desert in the night, through black smoke overclouding a world pocked by burning wells like flickering signals of distress, of helplessness’, is both dream and not-dream.

The photos above and below were taken from a train last week up to Edinburgh, my longest train journey for years, on the stretch just south and north of the border where the track runs along the coast. I came back on the night train: sleeping when the train was moving, waking every time it jolted to a stop. I went up for J. O. Morgan reading with Ishbel McFarlane from his new CBe book, At Maldon, and Nell Nelson from HappenStance was there too and I will here shamelessly and gratuitously direct you to her blog, because she liked what she heard: ‘Their style was restrained, their voices hardly raised – and yet the drama of the thing was palpable. They were telling a great story, and creating that hush of expectation only true storytellers can evoke. Battles? It didn’t matter what the topic was, I would have listened.’ And she liked what she read, on the way home (on a train): ‘This is a glorious piece of writing.’ She researched the original Anglo-Saxon poem, and ‘it took me a while to work out how all this fitted together’, not least because there are two characters named Godric. She felt that perhaps this was key: ‘Some say Godric fled. Some say he fought to the death. Maybe there are always two Godrics. There was fighting, there was valour and stupidity and pragmatism and grace and blood. There was, and is, a terrific story here, fabulously well told.’

Sunday 13 October 2013

Traffic congestion

These are the poetry books that CBe has published this year (also the book on Michael Hofmann and two other prose books).

Five males and one female isn’t good, but I’m not especially worried; I do believe I’m gender-neutral in what I take on; with the four books CBe will publish early next year, three women, one man. More interesting, to me, is that half of the books are by writers already on the list (Allen, Morgan, Nurkse). Two of the books (O’Brien, Arikha) are by writers publishing poetry for the first time (though both have written in other genres). One (Elliott) is by a poet who has published before with Blackstaff in Northern Ireland.

For all publishers, loyalty to the continuing work of writers on the so-called backlist and openness to work by new writers pitch against each other, in competition for the available space. There are several established poets, I think, who are writing at a faster rate than their publishers are able to publish. Queues build up.

Nine books from CBe this year – a ridiculous number – was based on a very rash assumption that I’d get some ACE funding for a marketing/sales person, which didn’t happen. I’m not too unhappy about that, because the ‘grow-&-expand’ model, which seems to be the default model that all parties assume and expect, doesn’t have to be – does it? – the only one. But six years in, there is this problem: that the authors I’ve already published are more than capable of filling every slot. Answers on a postcard, please.

Thursday 3 October 2013

Forward Prizes: and another thing

Full marks to Susannah Herbert for getting the Forward Prizes for poetry talked about and for trying out something new and, not least, for engaging personally in the to-and-fro: the Forward Foundation is clearly not a faceless bureaucracy. And congratulations to the winners. Obviously I was rooting for Dan O’Brien in the First Collection category, but he didn’t come out of that day badly: on the evening of the Forward do his partner gave birth to their first child, so the date is marked for the rest of his, his partner’s and his child’s lives.

Most of the talk about the Forward has been about the decision to have actors read the poems, and I’m finding it all a bit tedious. And sometimes annoying: to suggest that poets ‘can't survive these days without … constantly giving readings’ (quote from one of the threads) is simply wrong: there are a thousand other things poets can do to make an income. Besides which, most poetry publishers continue to publish poets who give no readings at all – because they’re dead, or they live in Ulan Bator, or they simply don’t want to.

Here’s another issue that’s surely just as worth attending to as the poets/actors debate. Over in the fiction room, they’re getting worked up about the opening up of the Man Booker prize to English-language novels by writers who don’t happen to be from the UK, the Commonwealth and Ireland: there’s worry that the Americans (whose own Pulitzers are for themselves only) will simply walk over everyone else. In the poetry room, both the Forward and the T. S. Eliot prizes have always been open to Americans. There’s an argument perhaps worth making for heading in the opposite direction to the Booker and having one of these two prizes restricted to UK/Commonwealth/Irish writers. Little Englandism? The new Goldsmiths Prize (‘to reward fiction that breaks the mould or opens up new possibilities for the novel form’) is open only to UK or Irish writers, but that’s a very fine shortlist they’ve come up with.

Sunday 29 September 2013

Book-buying: my own habits, for better or worse

Ross Bradshaw of Five Leaves is opening a new bookshop in Nottingham. Brave, foolhardy, generous man: I wish him all the good fortune going. Here, a brief and incomplete survey of my own book-buying habits.

Hardbacks (new ones), no. They are not of my social class; they probably have servants. They are like SUVs or top-of-the-range Audis or BMWs and prompt a similar mild form of class hatred: if I am in slow-moving traffic and one of those cars is trying to filter in from the left, I will not let them in; an old car, on the other hand – I have a particular soft spot for 1980s (I think) Saabs – I will invariably wave in. (I am, by the way, the cause of accidents waiting to happen: I will happily stop and wave through a 1980s Saab that wants to turn right in front of me, thereby placing it on a collision course with a motorbike speeding up on my outside or a bike on my inside.)

A slightly odd consequence of not buying hardbacks is that when, for example, a new James Salter novel comes out, I know what what I will be reading a year from now. (The gap between hardback and paperback is now rarely as long as that, but the point still holds.)

I buy more from second-hand bookshops than I do from shops selling new books. One reason is that by the time I get round to wanting to read certain books, they are no longer in stock in the regular shops: try looking for a book published a year ago, less, in Waterstones. (One of the joys of John Sandoe’s, by contrast, is that they do keep in stock many titles that other shops will have returned to make way for the new ones. Even better news: John Sandoe’s is expanding into the next-door premises.)

The range of books on the shelves of a decent second-hand bookshop is also more eclectic, eccentric even, than the range in regular bookshops, which is essential for making discoveries (e.g., on my Desert Island bookshelf, Gianni Celati, Edgardo Cozarinsky, Lê Thi Diem Thúy, many others; and Lydia Davis years before she became flavour of the month).

The other reason I favour second-hand shops, of course, is that the books are cheaper. But this is not always an economy: I’ll often buy three books from a second-hand shop because I’m quite interested in them (and end up not reading two of them) rather than one new book that I’m really interested in.

Obligation. If I’ve had a merry conversation with a bookseller, I do feel under some obligation to buy something before leaving. Otherwise he/she has given up half an hour of their working day for no financial recompense at all. A token of respect for the place and for the trade.

A sense of being put under obligation may be behind my not attending many readings (the other reason, as mentioned in a recent post, being that I don’t generally enjoy readings anyway). At readings, books are usually for sale. Buying a copy may be considered a second – in addition to simply turning up – means of expressing support for the author, especially if I’ve had a free glass of wine or two … But there is this frequent difficulty, that liking a person doesn’t necessarily correlate with liking what they write.

I don’t – though there are exceptions to this, there must be – buy a book because I’ve read a good review it. Does anyone? Apparently yes. I do buy because of word-of-mouth, personal recommendations.

Impulse buying. I do this quite often. (See second-hand bookshops, above.) Browsing, I’ll pick a book from the poetry shelves, for example, and buy on the strength of the most wonderful poem on page 57. This invariably (I exaggerate) turns out to be only poem I like in the whole book. If I’m in a buoyant and relaxed mood, I’ll buy a book that in a more humdrum mood I’d have passed on. I’ll buy a book that puts me in mind of someone I like, and give it to them. I also buy magazines on impulse: because there are one-and-a-half items on the contents page I want to read, or because it contains a stunning photograph of some yaks in Mongolia I suddenly decide I cannot live without.

Online: Amazon no, Abe Books and the Book Depository yes. I know this doesn’t make watertight sense, given that the two latter are in fact owned by the former, but still.

Given the choice between a US and a British edition of a book, I’ll usually buy the US edition, even if it costs a bit more. Because they’re nicer.

I don’t think I’d ever buy a book with a film tie-in cover. Or with a cover featuring a swastika, a leprechaun, a very cute animal, etc; or with a sticker that I can’t peel off. Nor any of the Faber Finds books (first series; they have now moved on, thank god, from that hideous design and font). Nor a book with a foreword by the Duke of Edinburgh, Jeremy Clarkson or Theresa May. Nor any book published by the Church of Scientology (even though it might be very finely designed; but it wouldn’t be). Nor a book whose text is too black, smudged, cramped or otherwise wholly reader-unfriendly (even if I actually want to read that book). I’m picky. I’m sensitive.

Swapping – not exactly book buying, but maybe here’s the place to say that if you want one of the books I publish, or even have written, please do not offer to swap one of your own books for it rather than buying outright. A refusal may cause offence. I may even prefer to give you the book. Though I'd rather you bought it.

Saturday 28 September 2013

Vikings: the boat, the battle, the book, the show

The above shows the 1,000-year-old remains of a Viking ship fitted to a steel frame that recreates the ship’s original length of 37 metres. It will be coming to the British Museum’s forthcoming Vikings exhibition. The ship was a ‘troop carrier’, says Gareth Williams, curator at the BM; it carried 100 warriors, and ‘there are records in the annals of fleets of hundreds of ships, so you could be talking about an army of up to 10,000 men suddenly landing on your coast, highly trained, fit, capable of moving very fast on water or land.’

Mr Williams is excited. ‘It's essentially an enormous Meccano set which can be put together … As you might expect of a Scandinavian-designed ship, it comes flat-packed.’ The exhibition will also include skeletons excavated from a mass grave in Dorset and coins, arm bands, etc, found in a field near Harrogate in 2007. The Vikings’ ‘most favourite means of expressing power and wealth and status was basically bling,’ says Mr Williams in a BBC report.

I’ve a feeling that Gareth Williams might enjoy At Maldon, J. O. Morgan’s version of the Anglo-Saxon poem recording a 10th-century battle between a Viking raiding party and a rag-tag army of Anglo-Saxons. Morgan’s poem retains the narrative structure of the surviving section of the poem but doesn’t shy away from present-day imagery and vocabulary. A Viking spokesman attempts negotiation: ‘Our land expands, we’d like/ to cut you in upon the deal. This is/ a great investment opportunity’. After diplomacy fails, both sides prepare for conflict: ‘It begins with crows,/ black flecks against the blue,/ like bits of bin-liner flapping in the wind … It begins with an increase in noise,/ as at the start of an orchesteral interval:/ the slow surge of coughing and audience chatter …’ Battle is engaged, weapons find their targets: ‘How grapeskin splits/ with such little force;/ its dark flesh bulging/ outward through the tears.’ There are changes of perspective: a survivor of the battle is questioned by his grandchildren years later (‘And the nurse brings his food tray,/ empties the bedpan, changes the sheets’); a farm boy wanders alone at low tide (‘washing the whelks, wetting the bag,/ rubbing out the crust of mud built up between his toes’).

Click here to order the book from the website. Morgan will be reading from At Maldon at Looking Glass Books, Edinburgh EH3 9GG, on Tuesday, 8 October at 6.30 p.m.: all welcome. For the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum you’ll have to wait until March next year.

Saturday 21 September 2013

A walk in east London

Today I was reading Robert Walser, The Walk and other stories, and I went for a walk in east London. I took my camera – last week I started taking photos of words fading, breaking up, which is what they do if they’re not constantly written and read afresh. The ones here, a small selection, are of company names and shop fascia boards.

People spent their working lives in these places; many probably spent more time in these places than they did with their families. The disappearing words on the walls and fascia boards are like eroded names on gravestones. I thought of my father, who worked from the age of fourteen for Sloan & Davidson, ‘architectural ironfounders’. His father, or perhaps grandfather – I’m groping about in the mist here – founded the company. My father became a director; there’s a photo of him on page 34 of Recessional (out of print, but you can download a pdf of the whole book from this page of the CBe website) presenting a clock to a foundry worker for 25 years’ loyal service, clocking in, clocking out. (The man in the driving mirror on the home page of the website is also my father, by the way.) He died at the age of 51 of lung cancer, probably brought on by the stuff in the air that he breathed every day in the foundry.

I finished my walk at Old Street and got on the tube and carried on reading Walser (‘What kind of people am I thinking of, as I say this? Of me, of you, of all our theatrical little dominations, of the freedoms that are none, of the unfreedoms that are not taken seriously, of these destroyers who never pass up a chance for a joke, of the people who are desolate?’). Walser spent the last two decades of his life in a mental hospital; he died in 1956, the same year as my father.

When I got home I googled Sloan & Davidson. They made, among other things, cast iron drainpipes; then plastic arrived, and the company eventually vanished. But not quite: it is still an an active but ‘non-trading’ company; its last reported accounts, submitted to Companies House on 31/3/2012, report ‘assets’ and ‘net worth’ of £2. Below is a photo of a Sloan & Davidson pavement grating, followed by a a photo taken in 1968 that shows the foundry in the background. For sale on Amazon is a 1925 hardback Sloan & Davidson catalogue – ‘237 pages of detailed line drawings of sanitaryware of the time (cast iron pipes, gutters, rain-water heads, manhole covers); enclosed price-list pamphlets dated 1937 with enclosed letters dated 1949’ – and I am sorely tempted.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

I don’t enjoy poetry readings

That sounds like an arrogant generalisation, and it’s true there have been exceptions (though the only one that comes immediately to mind is Brodsky reading in Russian – no, reciting – at the ICA some decades back, when Nicky Singer – author, incidentally, of a woefully underselling CBe book – was running the events programme there), but on the whole it holds good. I become impatient with even the short readings that are often a feature of book launches: they’re the necessary bit of suffering I must endure in order to enjoy all the more the drink and the chat. To look, listen and get a fix on the words, all at the same time, I find impossible. I much prefer the printed page, where the roles are clear: the writer writes and I read, at my own pace.

Given that perfomance poetry and public readings of page poetry are far more prominent features of the poetry scene than they used to be, and that it’s generally accepted that for a poetry book to sell the poet needs to do readings, then as a publisher my lack of interest in readings would seem to be a disadvantage. Availability for readings hasn’t, I now notice, been a factor in choosing who to publish. Of the twelve poets published by CBe, three are both dead and foreign; three are based in the US; one is aged 92; one will read in public if pressed but is hardly keen; one not only refuses all invitations to read but won’t even be photographed.* That leaves Alba Arikha, who may or not read at the party for her book at Daunts in Holland Park next Tuesday, the 17th; Nancy Gaffield, who will be reading in Canterbury next Saturday; and J. O. Morgan.

Morgan reads well, I’m told by those who’ve heard him. But not often: the only readings I know of were at the West Port festival in Edinburgh, in Bridlington, and at Aldeburgh (his Natural Mechanical won the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize). (I actually set off to hear him read at Aldeburgh myself, but got distracted by a Bonfire Night party en route.) CBe is about to publish Morgan’s new book, At Maldon, a version/account/reinterpretation of the surviving fragment of the Anglo-Saxon poem known as ‘The Battle of Maldon’. There’ll be an event for the book at the Looking Glass bookshop in Edinburgh on 8 October, and for that occasion he’s planning to put on, with an actor, ‘a shared reading, or voiced performance, or staged split-narration, or whatever it is; that idea came out during composition, due to how the narrative lines would often seem to vie with each other’. I’m intrigued; I’ll be going up to Edinburgh myself for this.

Kevin Crossley-Holland, offering a generous recommendation for At Maldon, referred to Christopher Logue. I know Morgan admires Logue’s renderings (in War Music and other books) of Homer, and it’s possible that At Maldon wouldn’t have been written as it is without Logue having written as he did, but Morgan is entirely his own man: the book is very far from being sub-Logue. And now of course I remember one more poetry reading that I did enjoy: Logue reading from Kings with the actor Alan Howard.

Logue and Howard performed War Music and Kings around fifty times. The spell of their ‘readings’ was cast not just by the words but by contrast of their voices and temperaments. This morning I found a fine piece on the net in which they talk about each other. Howard on Logue: ‘Christopher really hates moving; he’s happy sitting behind the table. But he can never understand why I should be nervous. I say, all actors are nervous. He's very good if I lose the lines, which sometimes I’ve been known to do – I knit away in the same rhythm until I get back on line again. Christopher follows the text in his book. But sometimes he gets so caught up in it that he loses his way and forgets what page he’s on. I notice sometimes he has to knit as well, even though it's his own text … He has this amazing ebulliance and is quite loud – which I like because it can free me up a bit. His enthusiasm is very catching, but he can get terribly down as well. He has a mercurial temperament: he goes wild very quickly if he decides something is wrong and can be extremely rebarbative. But he’s also got that rare quality of being able to be extremely rude, coruscatingly rude, without an ounce of malice. I find it funny. And if he’s proven wrong, he’ll always write letters of apology to everybody.’ Logue on Howard: ‘Mild disagreements have occurred all the time – if they didn't there would be something wrong. I always want the untheatrical thing, the news-reporter-weather-forecaster voice; Alan’s tendency is to give it the rhetorical Shakespearian voice. He gets rather nervous about putting over another point of view. He starts to pace around, lighting cigarettes. Or else he’ll insist upon something completely irrelevant, like a certain kind of coat he must have on.’ I think I might have enjoyed the rehearsals even more than the actual performance.

* This Bartleby-ishness has been, I think, a bar to sales. Reviews: a few paragraphs in a group review in Poetry London, and an online review promised in the Boston Review (US). One short poem (odd choice) among the ‘Highly Commended Poems’ in the about-to-be-published Forward Book of Poetry 2014. But I’m still deeply pleased to have published Andrew Elliott’s Mortality Rate, and I’ll defend to the limits of CBe’s overdraft the poet’s right to remain invisible.

Monday 9 September 2013

The Poetry Book Fair: the day after the day after

It was good. (This is a personal post and not the official line: I’m in there, one of the people responsible, but the main nitty-gritty is by now being done by Chrissy Williams, with this year Joey Connolly picking up the slack and more; and we haven’t yet met up for retrospect. Not that there is an official line anyway, which would imply an unofficial one. Though we don’t have to, we tend to agree.)

Here are some photos of last Saturday: the hall overall and closer in, the pub afterwards.

Most importantly, the number of people who came in through the door was up on last year. I think 697 was the number on the clicker at the end of the day – an exact number but I wouldn’t claim absolute accuracy. Last year’s figure (around 400) was compromised by the fact that there were two entrances to the main fair: through the front and through the café at the side. This year, though we had a volunteer with the clicker on the main entrance to the building throughout the day, there were changeovers, there were probably people going out and coming back in, there is (a saving grace) human error.

There are more photos on the Free Verse Facebook page, but I’m posting the above ones here because there are some people who read this blog but have nothing to do with Facebook, and vice versa – just as there are people who follow performance poetry but not page poetry, and vice versa, and trying to reach or cater for everyone isn’t easy. Even within the main hall of the book fair, I’m sure that some of the poetry on display appealed (or didn’t) to different groups of readers. Some of the enthusiastic responses to the book fair, online and in person, have used the word ‘community’ – but it’s a very diverse one, made up of groups that differ widely in their interests and loyalties.

This year the extension of the readings programme into the nearby pub, after the fair itself had closed, reflected, I think, the increased emphasis on performance and live readings in recent years. At the talking-about stage, I was sceptical – would anyone turn up? People did; it worked. Because the pub doesn’t usually open on Saturdays, we had to pay a deposit in case the bar takings were below what they required; I needn’t have worried about that one either. Though I do still think that the point of the whole thing is to be a book fair, with readings as an add-on (rather than, say, a readings festival with some books for sale).

The new venue for this year accommodated all the presses in a single ground-floor hall (which was what many people said they wanted, after last year’s event on two floors). The downside was that no one had room to stretch their legs. (And those proliferating roller banners were a nuisance.) But the relation between size of place and number of people largely determines the atmosphere of any event: it’s important that the event feels busy, even if actual numbers are not high. And jostle encourages intimacy.

Meeting and talking were as important elements as buying and selling. This is why, I think (from anecdotal evidence; we’ll get some hard figures later), sales from many of the small presses were higher than from the two tables displaying Faber, Bloodaxe and Carcanet books. The latter tables were heroically manned by Ian West of Faber Factory Plus, which is essentially a sales outfit; behind every other table were the people who had chosen, edited, designed, lived with the books they were presenting.

Ron Costley – retired text-design maestro at Faber, designer of Alan Ross’s London Magzine in the 1960s and of the London Magazine Editions on which CBe is modelled – travelled into the fair from Suffolk, his first time in London for many months. And there was Jeremy Robson, who decades ago knew well and published Vernon Scannell, about whom we talked; Robson’s own new collection will be published by Andy Croft’s Smokestack. The show goes on. If you came to the book fair and have any comments or suggestions, clicking here will take you to a brief online visitor survey.