Thursday, 4 October 2012

Debut collections - how soon is too soon?

I've been writing poetry for nearly 20 years. I've notched up a few prizes in that time, and had nearly 50 poems published. But one goal has consistently eluded me: finding a publisher for my first collection.

The vogue right now seems to be to encourage poets to get their debut collections out Really Early. Universities might be partly to blame for this. It's very common for students on those ubiquitous creative writing courses to be set the assignment of "putting together a poetry collection". And in many ways, creative writing courses are a great environment for hot-housing a debut collection. All that concentrated work in a short space of time, with professional feedback from the tutors, can give rise to really focused collections of poetry. And I suspect that the opportunities for networking with publishers and industry insiders play as big a part as the intensive tuition in hurrying these new writers into print.

But part of me can't help wondering if this trend means that some poets are being rushed into print too early – before they've really had a chance to develop their voice? Along with that comes another question: if publishers' lists are full up with early poets hawking their Creative Writing Degree assignments, how on earth can poets get a look in who have never done the obligatory writing degree, don't have the contacts, and have taken the long slow route towards maturing their poetry?

Regular followers of the Soapbox will know my theory that good poetry is like good malt whisky. You can't hurry it. Very few poems emerge from the creative process fully formed. Most need time for maturation. I still find myself tinkering with "old" poems months or even years after the first draft emerges onto the page. Publish too early, and the poem gets "set in stone." There's no opportunity to improve it, even if with the benefit of hindsight the piece is an immature work.

When I first started getting published, I bunged out a lot of work into the public domain in a short space of time. I had quite a few acceptances – and a couple of poems ended up being published, that didn't really deserve it. They may add to my CV, but I don't want them in a debut collection. If I'm honest, I'm probably a bit embarrassed by one or two of them.

I can't help wondering if the graduates of the Creative Writing Degrees and Arvon courses, proudly displaying their debut collections, will still feel as proud of their work in a few years' time?

I have to admit that part of me feels a bit, well, dirty for asking such a question. These people have accomplished what I've never managed to do; and all credit to them. Far be it from me to cast aspersions on their achievements. It sounds a bit too much like sour grapes.

On the other hand, I know at least one poet (whose work I really admire) who confesses that parts of her debut collection now make her cringe.

So how soon is too soon? Maybe there's no easy way of knowing. There are certainly poets who go to the opposite extreme and are never satisfied that what they've written is printworthy, or keep on re-working their poems until all the freshness has gone out of them. Maybe I'm one of those. And if that's the case, I could learn a lesson or two from the eager upstarts of the poetry world. Sometimes, I think, you've just got to take the risk.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam...

A couple of weeks ago a disconcertingly irate email popped into the inbox I run on behalf of a writers' group that I chair. The email had been sent by the organiser of a poetry competition based in another part of the UK. And I have to admit I was rather taken aback by it.

What had prompted this outpouring of vitriol, you may ask? Well, my feelings on poetry competitions are well known, and I have been heard to say quite scathing things about some of them. But this wasn't the reason for my correspondent's ire. After all, I occasionally judge poetry competitions myself. I know the trials and tribulations of the competition circuit, and I take my hat off to those dedicated folk who give up their time and energy in promoting their art.

Was he, by chance, a disgruntled poet whose work I'd slighted in a previous competition? No, that wasn’t it either. Besides, it's rare for work that comes in to any competition to get 'slighted'. Poetry competition judging is at least partly subjective. A piece that doesn't make the shortlist for me could still be a prize winner to a different judge, in a different competition.

No, the crime for which I was denounced was this: I had politely declined to forward an unsolicited email advertising this gentleman's competition. Apparently, to refuse to do so was (and I quote) "daft".

A part of me can understand this gentleman's frustration. Competition organisers put a lot of time and energy into promoting their competitions – and many do it for nothing. It's always heartening when someone offers to do that little bit extra to help you promote what you're doing. But what really irked me about this guy's response was that he seemed to think he had a right to DEMAND that I (and no doubt the many other organisers of writing groups to whom he'd sent the same email) drop everything and do as he asked. That I make no enquiries as to the bona fides of his email or of the competition. And that I blithely spam it out to everybody on my mailing list – many of whom would have no interest in it.

My writers' group, as I tried to explain, has a policy of not forwarding unsolicited email. This is purely a matter of 'netiquette'. I want to make sure that any emails which go out under the auspices of our group are actually useful to everyone in the group. The minute I start forwarding everything that comes to the group inbox, our own mail-outs get devalued, and people will stop reading them. I'd rather our members got one or two good emails a month, than five or six a day of dubious quality and questionable relevance.

Finally, and probably most importantly of all, I just don't have the time. Maintaining an internet presence on behalf of the group is a labour intensive operation. If I were to quality-control every unsolicited email that came in, earmark every one that looked genuine, and forward these to only those members of the group to whom they might be relevant, I'd be emailing all day. I'd have precious little time left for real-world tasks like earning a living – or even doing any writing of my own! Does this guy think I'm surgically attached to my computer keyboard, and have nothing better to do?

As a competition organiser, I've sent a few unsolicited emails, too. I've no idea how many of them were ever forwarded. Of course I'm grateful to those who took the trouble to look at what I'd sent, think about it, and considerately pass it on. But I equally respect the decisions of those who chose not to do so. I have never asked anyone to spam on my behalf. And I have never got personally abusive towards those who may not have replied to my emails, or not forwarded them. If you really want someone to be on your side and promote what you are doing, could I tentatively suggest that haranguing them by email and calling them daft is not the way to go?

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Review: "One of Many Knots" by Katie Metcalfe (Mudfog Press, 2010; ISBN 978-1-8995038-5-8)

Mudfog's slim, beautifully produced poetry pamphlets play a key role in promoting new voices from Teesside's thriving, but often unjustly overlooked, arts scene. Forward Prize-nominated Bob Beagrie and his long-time collaborator, Andy Willoughby, have done remarkable work as mentors to many of these new voices, and their influence is clear in a number of poems in this collection, both in subject matter and style. But that's not to belittle Katie Metcalfe's voice as a poet or her talent as a writer. She has already made her mark in the region as editor of the literary journal Beautiful Scruffiness, and was a published author when still in her teens.

What strikes me most about One of Many Knots is the visceral quality of the writing. These poems are gutsy, forthright, and unflinchingly face down the darker side of life. Bereavement and mental illness are recurring themes. This could easily have been a pretty depressing collection. But it isn't. It has energy to it; the poems are driven by a quiet, understated anger, an anger which elevates the bleaker poems and ultimately illuminates a path through the darkness.

The descriptive writing is direct, un-flowery (except for an occasional overdose of alliteration) and there is a sense that the poet is right in the middle of everything she describes, feeling and touching and tasting it:

"Come September, when the sun rises lower in the sky,
when the leaves fall red
and the ground is bruised with apples"
(from Open season wolf hunt);

"I met you in a phone booth in town.
You were scribbling cartoons on the inside
of a Rolo packet... liked Frisbee and we played
on the beach near the chemical industry.
You knew how to catch things and caught crayfish
in a hairnet"
(from After the hunger)

A strong sympathy for the sufferings of animals is shown in a clutch of poems – Open season wolf hunt, Monkey, Pig, One needs to be able to dream. These are not the most original poems in the collection, though Pig packs a strong satirical punch:

"We know you best in bits and pieces behind plastic sheets,
stickered with the date of your best before day,
years, years too early."

Peg Powler marries descriptive writing and social commentary with folklore, infusing the post-industrial wreckage of Teesside with an almost mythical quality:

"I dawdle where skivers gather to skim beer can ring-pulls...
...I wait for their flat faces to hover over the surface...
...Sometimes, they throw themselves in for me."

The middle section of the collection is a harrowing portrayal of the extremes of mental illness. The journey begins in D Day, quiet but unstoppable:

"People say it starts on a summer day,
when it's bright and it's lovely and it's fine...
when the house is warm
and making all the right sounds
and anything good can happen...
But then you lick your yoghurt lid
with too much umph
and cut your tongue
and that's it. You start in the middle
with everything from then."

The relationship between patient and counsellor is movingly explored in Security:

"I'd imagine what the wash room in your house was like,
wicker baskets, white sweaters, a carousel of colourful cotton skirts,
while you imitated my body language..."

Despite the glimmers of hope in this poem, its heartbreaking conclusion provides a chilling insight into the workings of the care system, the unintended effects it can have on those who are vulnerable, through no fault of their own:

"We'd sit in pockets of winter...
Eventually, you asked for change of air for both of us,
took down those stylish photo frames and didn't offer an address for security reasons."

Despite such setbacks, Metcalfe is determined not to leave her narrator – or her readers – in the darkness. The final poems in the collection – After the hunger, Curry Night and Through – each in their own way celebrate survival and starting again. These poems are infused with a joy in the small things of life which comes only from knowing what it is like to have those things taken away:

"I told you why my smile was still too big for my face
and you shrugged and kissed my wrists,
said 'I'll save my sympathy for the land.'
And you ran for the fun of it,
around the fire fed with driftwood..."
(from After the hunger)

"You patted my bum in the queue,
couldn't stop an invisible pencil
sketching a smile from ear lobe to scalp."
(from Curry Night)

In her book Anorexia: A Stranger in the Family, Metcalfe wrote about the effects of an eating disorder on her own health and on those closest to her. It is hugely to her credit that she has been able to use this experience to such powerful effect in her poetry. D Day, Security and (most especially) Inside should be required reading for sufferers, their families and the professionals who care for them:

"I ask if you took sugar in your tea,
if you did
would you mind not kissing me,
washing your hands before we hug.
Your arms pressurise like a brief squeeze on a blown egg...
...Wind flicks then chucks tears back into your face.
You lick them.
I tongue my top lip to try mine but
they’re not even salty."
(from Inside)

There are clear signs that One of Many Knots is a debut poetic work. A few of the poems are a little prosy, with just a few too many words; there is occasional over-use of alliteration. But Metcalfe is confident in her voice and sure of her subject matter. It is impossible to measure the value of writing which helps others to understand the life-shattering effects of mental illness and the brutal impact of the system in which patients find themselves. This is fearless, utterly truthful poetry, bleakly authentic yet still somehow hopeful – the rare sign of a poet who has something to say that actually matters, and deserves to make a tremendous impact saying it.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Review: Fosdyke and Me, and Other Poems, by John Gilham (Stairwell Books/Fighting Cock Press, 2010; ISBN 978-0-906744-33-8)

York poet John Gilham's Fosdyke stories are well known around the open mic nights and folk clubs of the city. They have been brought together in a collaborative venture by two of York's small presses, alongside a short compilation of the author's previously published poetry – much of it successfully placed in prestigious journals including Acumen and The North.

I hesitate to describe the ten Fosdyke tales as poems, because they're not really poems, except insofar as they have been laid out in an eye-catching, verse-like structure on the page. They could just as easily have been presented as prose without losing any of their impact. The tales have echoes of the Paddy Kelly sagas of Brian Jacques, relocated to West London and reshaped for a post-watershed audience.

Fosdyke, like Paddy Kelly, occupies a space somewhere between fiction and autobiography. His world is a vanished one: the world of Boys' Brigade football and church parades, Young Socialists dances and second-hand Hillmans. Fosdyke never wins a football match, never gets to second base with the local girls, and spends his life "wait[ing] for something to happen." Whether a real-life Fosdyke ever actually existed is immaterial; this hapless hero personifies the aspirations and failures of a generation.

We first meet the teenage Fosdyke and his biographer on the playing fields of West Middlesex, where they "paw the ground like nervous thoroughbreds" and "look threatening behind our NHS specs", though "our legs, I seem to remember, developed all the elegance of a new-born giraffe" (from Fosdyke and Me). They are life's underdogs, only really getting one moment in the spotlight – or rather on a soapbox at Speaker's Corner, surrounded by

"All the black power guys and the hell fire guys and not yet the women's lib guys cos this was the sixties;
And the Communists and the Nazis and the flat earth people and not yet the gay rights people cos this was the sixties;
And the CND people and Bertrand Russell (cos this was the sixties);
And an old woman with an umbrella who heckled everybody and waved it in your face and said we were rubbish."
(from Me and Fosdyke Do Poetry)

Subsequent poems take "Fosdyke and Me" on a road trip to the Costa Del Sol, through university and marriage and into middle age, "trying to sell things we had no faith in to someone who didn’t want to know" (Me and Fosdyke Go Repping).

This is effective, atmospheric writing. The greyness of a 1960s Britain where free speech and the sexual revolution have yet to arrive is beautifully evoked. There is poignancy in the failures of our heroes, and a delightful music to the narrator's long litanies of disappointment:

"That was the night we found out that this town had a policeman and he was very fat and very greasy and wore a moustache and dark glasses even at night,
That he kept an Alsatian and that they both hated the English"
(from Fosdyke and Me On Holiday).

There is a distinctly masculine tone to the whole Fosdyke cycle. Granted, the protagonists are hardly "alpha males". They spend their lives overshadowed by more powerful women – mothers, sisters, wives, Stella the waitress on the Stirling ring road who has sex with Fosdyke on Tuesdays. The female characters in the story are earthy, but unfathomable – a mystery to be worshipped at a distance, wooed with second-rate poetry, and eventually won round with promises of honeymoons in Filey. Fosdyke's frustrated romanticism is equal parts Roger McGough and Adrian Mole:

"For oh how we wanted to lie in bed with a girl on a sunny morning
And make poetry out of used tea-bags and last-night's stockings hanging over the radiator
Like all the other poets who wore long scarves and cord jackets and had girlfriends with long hair and short skirts to be their bed-sit Muse"
(from Me and Fosdyke Do Poetry)

But I have to confess that I have no idea how a female reader, approaching this collection for the first time, would respond to these poems.

The poems which make up the second half of the collection also have an element of nostalgia about them. These are poems of reminiscence. Their starting-point is the author's memories of a family growing up: the places where his children were born (Auden's Centenary), the beach where they learned to skim stones (Skimming), the butcher who supplied the family’s meat (Mr Hoffman). Or else they are wistful, gently surreal reflections on "what might have been": the train driver's admonition to "take all your longings with you" (Announcement), the debris remaining from the wedding reception that never was (the beautiful Packing Up).

But what makes these poems really noteworthy is the way the author connects the microcosm of domestic life with the global reality of a Europe discovering its freedom in the years following World War 2. Mr Hoffman, a beautifully constructed modern sonnet, is a perfect example. Its concluding lines are pure domesticity, yet there is an urgency about its call to reconciliation:

"So, to respect the enemy we beat,
we went to Mr Hoffman for our meat."

The sense of brotherhood between former enemies is a strong theme throughout the collection. In A Small Village in Germany, Gilham rediscovers family links "long sundered, / our fathers and grandfathers pitched against theirs / in trenches, or in Normandy..." Unexpected kinships are also found in an old army field hospital (Ghosts), in "the flatness, the dampness, the melancholy" of the Flemish landscape (Herring Bone), and at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC (The Family Name).

Gilham's reflections on the legacy of a war fought 70 years ago have an extraordinary contemporary resonance. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in Of Course, It Goes On, which for me is the high point of this collection. In the mundane little details of lives lived in defiance of tanks and terrorists, Gilham offers a timeless reflection in the tradition of the greatest war poetry:

"Out of the rubble we crawl with our violins,
our scraps of poetry, our cooking pots
and shopping bags; starting now
to rebuild what makes us human,
defying the teeth, the wolves of war."

This, declares Gilham, is "the affirmation: / this is how we say / that you who love war / cannot destroy us."

The stark difference between the Fosdyke cycle and the other poems in this collection make this book, for me, rather puzzling. The Fosdyke stories, by and large, are so utterly different to the more "poem-like" poems in style and subject matter that the two halves of the book sit rather uneasily together. I couldn't make up my mind whether this was a strength or a weakness of the collection. On the one hand, Fosdyke has an immediate accessibility which is likely to appeal to many who might be wary of shelling out for a conventional poetry collection. On the other, the quality of the poems in the second half of the book is such that I feel they really deserve a focus of their own.

The author provides a bridge, of sorts, in the mid-point of the collection with the very last piece in the Fosdyke cycle. A Dream of Fosdyke is a much more melancholy piece than its companions. It reads almost as a sort of inverse Dream of Gerontius:

"Poor Fosdyke, by whom I measured my own failures, precedes me now into the dark,
Already gone beyond the frustrations of consciousness..."

But there is light at the end of the tunnel:

"When I woke up I went down the pub with Fosdyke and we watched the 60th anniversary of Dunkirk, and Dad's Army, and England losing 5-nil to the Faeroe Islands on penalties.
We remembered how we won the 1966 World Cup,
And how we were in Soho after and we all loved the Germans and they loved us...
Then we sang and danced in Trafalgar Square until it got light and me and Fosdyke took the first tube home."

These glimpses of hope more than outweigh any rough edges around the earlier Fosdyke tales and make the whole collection a moving and compelling piece of work which repays reading again and again.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Too many poets?

"Too many protest singers, not enough protest songs," declared Edwyn Collins in the 90s. Sometimes, when I'm around other poets, I get the feeling I know what he meant.

Poets are all over the place. Just when you think it's safe, we'll leap out at you, thrust our verse into your defenceless cranium, and then expect you to buy the book. And long may it be so. This summer I had the privilege of taking part in the second Wirral Poetry Prom – a day-long festival of verse in which around 100 poets descended on the unsuspecting little coastal town of Hoylake, and wreaked what I can only describe as genteel verbal havoc.

It was the sort of day poets do best. At times gloriously shambolic, at times wondrous in the sheer concentration of talent in one tiny place. At times it moved me to tears or elevated me to the sort of highs that you can normally only get by risking a criminal record. At other times it made me sigh, groan or cringe. I began to understand what Goldsmith meant when he described poetry as the "source of all my bliss, and all my woe"!

I got to wondering about the collective noun for poets. Crows, after all, have splendid group names – a "parliament" of rooks, a "conspiracy" of ravens. Surely poets deserve the same? "Gaggle" springs immediately to mind, with its suggestions of disorder, noise and ruffled feathers. An "affectation" of poets has a certain something to it. A "transcendence" of poets? If only! An "anguish" of poets might be more apt – or a "delusion"? The list could go on.

In one sense, you can never have too many poets. Any human heart is capable of reaching those heights and depths of emotion that poetry is best suited to capturing. The more of us who try to preserve the memory of those moments, the better for the human race. But are there too many pedlars of poetry out there, and not enough who are interested in the wares that we're offering?

It's certainly a possibility. Literary journals are forever telling us that they get by on a shoestring budget, with a mere handful of subscribers – yet they all seem to be deluged with manuscripts from aspiring poets yearning for publication. The difficulty of getting any poem placed in the more respected journals is testimony to the volume of poetic matter that's being generated. A vast amount of good poetry is going to waste: never finding an outlet, denied the chance of reaching a wider audience. And that's a crying shame for our art.

The answer must surely be for poets to stop being so self-obsessed. We need to be more interested in each other's poetry, and less absorbed in our own. We need Poetry Proms, slams, open mic nights – the chance to get out into the world and discover that there are lots of poets out there and that some of them are Actually Pretty Good. We need to put our money where our mouths are – buy the journals and actually READ them – critique them if necessary – but above all enjoy them.

This is our art. Let's celebrate it in all its mad variety.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Poetry, art and science: complementary or contradictory?

I've never had a problem with the idea of science and art being compatible. Before my current role as writer-cum-law-student-cum-charity-worker I worked for a number of years as a research scientist, exploring the chemistry/biology interface and working on projects such as cancer drug discovery and global food security. A lot of my leisure time involves enjoying music, modern art, theatre and comedy as well as the literary arts, and I've never really seen a dividing line between these and what people tend to think of as "hard science". But a surprising number of people seem to be taken aback at my having interests on both sides of the arts/sciences "divide". People seem even more surprised at the idea of my having had a career, of sorts, in both.

In 2011 The Speakers' Corner (the spoken word night I co-run in York alongside Helen Sant and Joanna Ezekiel) featured for the first time in the programme for the York Science Festival. Our special guest was one of my modern literary heroes: the wonderful Diana Syder. Regular Soapbox readers will know just how in awe I am of this superb poet. As well as having four poetry collections under her belt, Diana holds a Public Awareness of Science award from the Institute of Physics and has been poet in residence in the Engineering department at Sheffield University. Her poetry is filled with wonder at the mysteries of the natural world and the achievements of science. When I first read her work, it seemed to encapsulate an excitement and joy which I could all too easily lose in the day-to-day grind of the research lab. She helped me see science through new eyes.

I was able to have a lengthy chat with Diana about the difficulties that people have in crossing the arts/science divide. One anecdote that came up concerned a cross-disciplinary festival at Cambridge University a few years ago. The idea of the festival was supposed to be that university staff could go and attend lectures and demonstrations given by experts from disciplines other than their own. The intention was to deepen the participants' knowledge and stimulate new ideas for interaction across the traditional dividing lines of academia. Apparently quite a number of scientists went to talks on fine art, literature, music and the humanities. Almost nobody from arts disciplines came to events organised by the scientists.

Did that mean scientists were more willing to step outside the boundaries of their disciplines than artists were? I'm not really sure. If anything, the result of our being in the Science Festival programme was the opposite: not a single new person came along to Speakers' Corner because of it. There was an excellent turn-out from our regulars, many of whom made a special effort to be there to hear Diana read her poetry. But there was precious little evidence of anyone from the scientific community "crossing the divide" and trying something new.

I have to admit that if my scientific training ever strays into my poetry, it does so unconsciously. A lot of what I write is inspired by imagery from the natural world - birds, wild plants, rock formations and sunsets - and although I don't exactly labour the point, I'm sure that my appreciation of the science as well as the aesthetics enhances the imagery in my poems. But I've almost never consciously chosen to write a piece inspired by my science. The nearest I ever got was a back-of-an-envelope love poem that went

"My love's like butyllithium.
I handle her with care.
I keep her under nitrogen
'cause she inflames in air"

which isn't likely to win me the Bridport Prize any time soon... I've had ideas for "sciencey" poems, to be sure, but they've rarely ventured any further than the idea stage. So to find a writer like Diana, for whom the link between the science and the art is so instinctive, is an absolute joy for me.

Is it really so difficult for artists and scientists to find inspiration in each other’s work? Or could we all benefit from a little exploration outside our usual field of expertise?

(A version of this article originally appeared in the Vitae Research Careers blog in March 2011)
(Special thanks to Diana Syder for the thumbnail image on this blog post - more can be found at

Friday, 20 April 2012

Poetry and war imagery: why what we call stuff matters

The Soapbox has been quiet for a little while, but there have been a good number of poetry-related debates raging on the Facebookosphere, and I think it's about time I went on record and made my views known about some of them. I'm going to start with one that has turned my blood cold just lately.

Back in the glory days of beat poetry and Greenwich Village, poetry was a politically conscious, socially aware movement. In the Vietnam War era it tended to champion the cause of pacifism. More recently we've seen the likes of Ayat al-Gormezi standing up for the rights of poets to non-violent freedom of speech. Poetry, like every social activity (and I *DO* believe poetry to be a social activity) has a political dimension to it.

So I have to confess that the recent proliferation of performance poetry events using overly warlike imagery has left a rather sour taste in my mouth.

The very worst one I've come across used to take place in Leeds until a couple of years ago. I'll grant you that there's a certain linguistic cleverness in the use of the word "Letterbomb" as the name of a poetry night. Poems are made up of letters, and all poets like to think that their words might have the potency to demolish strongholds. But just think about the implications of the word for a minute. A letterbomb is a terrorist device, right? - usually the province of the sort of right-wing extremists whose ideologies are making uncomfortable headlines in the news right now. Do poets really want to have their words associated with this kind of an image?

There's an even more dangerous subtlety about "Bang! said the gun". Billing itself as "Stand-up poetry for those who don't like poetry", this regular London performance night attracts some of the UK's top names in performance poetry. Ian McMillan, the good old Bard of Barnsley, describes it as "One of the best poetry nights in the country" and says that "the combination of excitement, enthusiasm and deep, deep concentration on the poems is a wonder to behold." Its impending launch in Manchester was the reason I ended up embroiled in a Facebook row over the event's choice of name, and found myself roundly derided for daring to suggest that it was at best a tasteless choice, at worst a potentially dangerous one.

I can't fault the aims of the event - particularly when it sets itself up as the antidote to all that stuff about thwarted love and daffodils that I regularly take issue with in this blog. The world needs more urban (and suburban, and rural) live poetry events to take our art away from those who would turn it into mere intellectualism. The programme for the London events is one to make a small provincial literary promoter like me green with envy; and I can only assume that those who have guest-featured there in the past have no qualms about what the event calls itself. So why does it make me so uneasy?

Maybe it's the feeling that the name is a sensationalist one. That, in trying to draw a "non-poety" crowd, it's going for the language of gangsta rap, as if to suggest that it has more in common with the streets of downtown Compton than the South Bank Poetry Library. If this is the case, then I think it's on dangerous territory. An event that's trying to INclude can unconsciously EXclude through the language it uses, the imagery it portrays. And you'd have thought that poets, of all people, would be the first to realise this.

Maybe, as one commentator suggested, I'm taking all this way too seriously. But I can't shake the feeling that there's a matter of principle at stake here. I'd prefer to stand alongside the pacifist poets, the ones who believe that the language we use should be an antidote to the violent culture all around us, not pandering to it. What we call stuff, matters. It says something about what we stand for, the values we hold dear, the culture and mindset we want to pass on to the next generation.

And I guess that's why I won't be guest-featuring at "Bang! said the gun" anytime soon.