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Simon Barraclough
London, UK
Poet, writer, Italophile, cinephile, fledgling trumpeter
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A couple of years ago, after reading some Eliot and watching some Jacques Tati, I thought it would be a smashing idea to write a parodic blend of the two and it started thus: The Hulot Men Mistah Hulot—lui mort. We are the Hulot men We are the French men Smoking together Pipe bowls filled with straw. but it didn't get much further, thankfully. But another entanglement of poetry and Tati has come together in this image of Monsieur Hulot's brother-in-law's swanky new car in Mon Oncle: for the cover of Heather Phillipson's new book is inspired by this vehicle. Regardez-vous: and this cover has already had an article devoted to it in Art Review (one of the perks of being a practising artist as well as a poet). The reason I mention all this is that last night was the London launch of Instant-flex 718 (Bloodaxe) at the Art Review Bar just off Old Street ('Silicone Roundabout' as almost nobody calls it) and the great and the good (although I prefer the term 'the out and the about') gathered to start up this gorgeously hued vehicle and drive it away. The first words I heard out of Heather Phillipson's mouth, back in 2007, were: The only men it's safe for me to love are dead – O'Hara, Stevens, Berryman. when I read with her at The Poetry Café in Covent Garden and I became a fan at that moment. These are the opening two lines from 'Devoted, Hopelessly', which appears in the book. By the way, the title refers to the type of glue used to bind the book. I could talk about how the title and some of the poems inside speak of the materiality of language as used by the poet. But I won't. What I will say is that this debut collection contains many hilarious, touching, surprising, and intriguing poems with wonderful titles like 'German Phenomenology Makes Me Want to Strip and Run through North London', 'Red Slugs in Every Irrelevant Direction', You're an Architect and I Want to Make Dinner for You' and 'Actually I'm Simply Trying to Find My Dressing Gown Sash'. I like a launch to be more of a party than a reading and Heather chose to read a single poem, pushing the needle of the 'launchometer' almost as far away from the 'reading' end of the 'party – reading' scale as it is possible to do. But she left us wanting more, which is always a good thing. Another good thing is that four of us peeled off to eat fish and chips at Kennedy's on Whitecross Street, which is worth a visit if you're ever out East. So. As Monsieur Hulot departs at the end of Mon Oncle to allow his nephew to bond with his formerly stuffy father, Monsieur Arpel, so must I depart at the end of my week as guest blogger. It's been a pleasure and there were many other things I wanted to write about, like... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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"Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?" That is the question. Yes, Heidegger, that's a pretty good originary question. I might go further back and ask why is there matter at all? But an originary question one gets asked a lot is "What first got you into poetry?" and variations thereof. I had two 'big bangs' or inflations, or 'mini-bangs'. One courtesy of Auden when I was about 13 but one much earlier, when I was about seven years old, courtesy of Miss Campbell and Beowulf. Ah, Miss Campbell, exotic and intoxicating on so many levels: a substitute teacher (a fresh face), an energetically tousled redhead, a lover of poetry, and a Canadian. In Huddersfield, at the start of the 70s – man's footprints freshly planted on the Moon – Miss Campbell was a sign of futurity and opportunity for me. When the time came for her to leave ahead of our seemingly endless six-week summer holidays, she chose to leave us with two things on that poignant Friday afternoon: proper fresh popcorn and Beowulf. Having only eaten pre-packaged, sweet soggy cardboard like Butterkist, I'd never seen popcorn made like this. I didn't know you could make it. Actual, neutron star-dense kernels of real corn. Hot oil. A sealed pan. A hail storm within the pan, and then an overflow of bright white and yellow corn-novae. Miraculous. But more so after butter and salt were added. From that day on my tooth became a savoury tooth and has remained so. And, as we munched, she turned herself into live cinema by reading a modern translation of Beowulf to us. Terrifying. Suspenseful. Gory. Electrifying. I've no idea which translation she read to us. Look at how many there are: Annotated List of Beowulf Translations but it made me realise how exciting, troubling, suspenseful and entertaining poetry could be. Not that it always is. And not that is should be or has to be. But it was a great start for a seven-year old. Years later I relished Seamus Heaney's 1999 version, which translates "Hwæt!" as "So." which is exactly how my Irish aunties begin every new story: "So." So, I'd like to mention that there is a brand new translation missing from the list above, by Meghan Purvis. It begins, as playfully and colloquially as Heaney, with: Stop me if you've heard this one before: the lands up north, hoar-bent, frost-locked, need deeper plows to dig them. Here is one. I haven't ventured much further than this yet but I'm on my way, with my popcorn, and memories of Miss Campbell. Beowulf by Meghan Purvis from Penned in the Margins, London Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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There's only one reason to go to Piccadilly Circus: to visit Waterstones' magnificent flagship store. Okay, the cocktails at The Criterion are good also. Plus the ICA is nearby. Oh, and it's not far from Cicchetti's either. But remember that this part of London recently replaced the Swiss Centre cinema with M&M's World. I don't really even know what that is. I know that the vicinity smells of sickly sweet chocolate and the edifice pummels the retina with primary colours but I tend to scurry on by. Anyway, I went to Waterstones last night to see Kathryn Maris, Katha Pollitt and Carol Rumens read from their new and recent books published by Welsh publisher Seren (the editor in chief, Amy Wack, was in town to introduce the three). It's an odd thing writing up a reading. You're tempted to switch to 'book review' mode but then you'd be kind of reviewing people, which, until Google Glass makes it the norm for us to give each other 'star-ratings' as we walk down the street, doesn't feel right to me. Plus, compared to reading poems on the page, a live reading has so many additional variables. Like tone of voice, length of intros, particular words that are explained and over which the poet stumbles when they come around in the text; and perhaps one of the poets might knock over a glass of water just before reading a poem about a washer woman. I'm not saying these things happened last night, but they might have. Anyway, the large and appreciative audience was treated to three readings of great style, wit, emotion and skill. I have all kinds of rules and pet peeves about poetry readings but two halves of ten minutes from each poet worked very well. Certain themes recurred, including ironic, not-entirely-ironic, and rather political takes on Bible stories and experiments with the linguistic style of the King James Bible. There were poignant reflections on age and youth and the changing relations and attitudes between both, often within the same body. There was also a palpable, creative, tension between American and UK tendencies, especially regarding form. The three poets almost described a smooth spectrum from Rumens's frequent use of form, to Maris's increasing use of form, to Pollitt's occasional use of form. Some discussion followed about these technical matters in the Q&A but no firm conclusions were drawn. Needless to say, I wrote down many choice lines and phrases in my notebook but I'm not sure they will work that well out of context (a bit like the way lines from poems posted as tweets often don't work) but I can recommend the poets' respective books: God Loves You by Kathryn Maris The Mind-Body Problem by Katha Pollitt De Chirico's Threads by Carol Rumens I also learned that 'Seren' means 'star' in Welsh. I should have known that, but it was pleasant to learn. I will leave you with one complete poem, from God Loves You. A domani. This is a... Continue reading
Posted May 8, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Yesterday was a Bank Holiday in the UK. This is a day we occasionally grant to our banks so that they can take a breather from refusing to lend to businesses, insisting on unnecessary payment protection schemes, finding ways to turn public bailout money into private bonuses, and so on. They need to replenish their batteries. And the rest of us need to go have lunch in cafés attached to museums and galleries. For a freelancer, depending on one's success or commitment, either every day is a Bank Holiday or Bank Holidays remain something that only other people enjoy. I must confess, I bunked off and practised my F major scale. I also had time to reflect on a recent event I organised for the BFI (British Film Institute). The BFI has a generous and welcoming attitude to poets and it enjoys exploring the links between poetry and cinema. Over the last few years I've been involved in their poetry/film crossover event 'O Dreamland', which invited poets to write about their digital archive (The Mediatheque); I launched my collaborative Hitchcock homage Psycho Poetica at the BFI in 2010; and last year Isobel Dixon, Chris McCabe and I premiered The Debris Field there. This year I was asked to organise something for their recent epic Pasolini retrospective and I considered various approaches. I thought of poetically 're-staging' Theorem using six poets playing each of the main characters, and I also toyed with comparing the 'swinging Sixties' of Pasolini, Antonioni and Bertolucci. But in the end I took my lead from Pier Paolo himself and his love of the literary portmanteau movie, so I suggested A New Decameron: ten films, ten poets, ten film clips, one evening of poetic and filmic enthusiasm. I asked nine other poets and writers to join me: Jane Draycott, Charles Lambert, Glyn Maxwell, John McCullough, Valeria Melchioretto, Luca Paci, Cristina Viti, Stephen Watts and Chrissy Williams. We were also lucky enough to have Rosa Mucignat of King's College London reading some of Pasolini's poetry in the Friulian language, with translations by Cristina Viti. The sold-out show was funny, moving and powerful by turns and I wanted to give you a little taster by posting Chrissy Williams's poem and a film clip here. Chrissy freely admits to being obsessed with Pasolini's clownish muse, the great Ninetto Davoli. I'm currently talking to the BFI and the poets about getting all the work online in the near future. First a small sample of the irrepressible Davoli from Chrissy's chosen film The Canterbury Tales. And now her poem. Ninarieddo for Davoli in The Canterbury Tales "col tuo sorriso, fulmineo e buffo" — Pasolini "My only enemy is time" — Chaplin I step to the screen with your face so big, a kiss with my arms reached up would wrap around me whole. Slip tongue, slip lip to the camera. I fell in love with a face once until it swallowed me. And all him loved that looked upon his face That... Continue reading
Posted May 7, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Huffy Henry blogged the day (Berryman) I used to write a blog, five years ago, called Fallout. After a year or so, we fell out. Comes over one an absolute necessity to blog (D.H. Lawrence) I have a new blog called Mo’ Worse Blues but so far has only one entry announcing that more entries will follow soon. That’s been up for about a month. I will attend to it soon, I will. For a long time I used to blog early (Proust) But it will have to wait till after my vacation here; my week away in a blog cabin. Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own blog, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these entries must show. (Dickens) Thinking of cabins and woods, while I neglect my own blog and set up here I feel a little like a cuckoo – albeit a (so far) welcome and cordially invited cuckoo – typing its way out of the shell. Soul, wilt though blog again? (Dickinson) I’m already perched quite high (here’s a photo of yesterday’s sunset, looking over The City) but the view from the eyrie can seem dismal at times. Nations disintegrate; those who ‘do not wish to get embroiled in the conflict’ deliberately embroil themselves in the conflict; our party of power, which I detest, is compelled to ape a smaller, similarly detestable party in an effort to cling to its pseudo-mandate; buildings are collapsing around our desire for cheap produce; the British 1970s and 80s are under arrest for unspeakable acts; and poachers have picked Mozambique clean of its glorious rhinos. But fretting in public like this makes me feel faintly absurd, like Proust’s Madame de Guermantes: “I supposed that, since she was always dabbling in politics, she intended to show that she was afraid of war, as one day when she had appeared at the dinner table so pensive, barely replying in monosyllables, upon somebody's inquiring timidly what was the cause of her anxiety, she had answered with a grave air: ‘I am anxious about China.’” (The Fugitive) So instead I will focus on cuckooness for now. First, a cuckoo that speaks with the voice of Ted Hughes (with perhaps a touch of Al Pacino doing Shakespeare): Hooha! Hooha! Dizzying Milkymaids with innuendo... O Orphan of orphans! O moon-witted Ill-bred dud-hawk! Cavorting on pylons, you and your witch moll! (From A Primer of Birds, 1981) And one of Scottish poet Richard Price’s many wonderful birds, this one flying in a prose poem pattern: Cuckoo It’s an uplifting call and when you hear it spring is coming, sure enough, resurrection, promise kept. But I’m not comfortable. That’s no life for her and it’s no life for anyone else mixed up in the whole business. The parents think the chick is just like them, and it’s a hero when it gets bigger. Then it’s all me me me, eating its brothers out of home and house, breaking its... Continue reading
Posted May 6, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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May 4, 2013