Tuesday, 28 July 2015
The dark clouds are drawing in. I've been gargling with milk and bleach and fish sauce to prepare for my biggest book event to date...
Yes, in September, my full poetry collection, "The Green Dress Whose Girl is Sleeping" will be launched by Freight Books!
As such, I'm on the hunt for a few opportunities to read from the book. If you run a poetry/spoken word event, or know of one which you think I should read at, please get in touch! (details on my contact tab)
You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll soil yourself...
Tuesday, 23 June 2015
To celebrate the launch of issue 1 of Shoreline of Infinity (a new science fiction magazine from Scotland), we're having a party!
2nd July, from 7:30
Paradise Palms, Edinburgh
We've got sci-fi music from Painted Ocean
SF poetry from Ryan Van Winkle and Claire Askew
A short story performance by Debbie Cannon
Hosted by my grumpy self, but I'll be on good form because we're having sci-fi cocktails, book sales, art work on display and much more!
Everyone is welcome, and if you fancy dressing up as your favourite sci-fi character nobody is going to stop you!
It's been quiet here at Jones HQ. I've been collecting nuts with the squirrels, and helping out with Shoreline of Infinity - a brand new sci-fi magazine from Scotland!
Well, issue 1 of Shoreline of Infinity is OUT NOW! At well over 100 pages, it's a steal for just £2.95 (or £12.50 for the first 5 issues as they're released). Get it for your electric booky thing (Kindle or e-reader) here!
Issue 1 includes SF short stories; an interview with Charles Stross; first in a regular column by Steve Green; a story competition; SF Caledonia, with a science fiction story from John Buchan; and reviews of SF books.
Thursday, 14 May 2015
We all know that poets spend most of their time alone, sobbing in the darkness. Sometimes they read poems too, whilst not begging people to take notice of them and their genius. On occasion, during particularly troubled times, they also read novels and other things like cereal boxes and shampoo instructions.
With that in mind (and because I occasionally write and read prose), here's a book review of something known, in the non-poetry world, as a Fiction Book. Enjoy it, you filthy mongrels. And dry up those tears, they're wetting up the place!
Book Review – The Importance of Manners
By H.G. Watt
The short: 4 helpless, xenophobic cruise passengers embark on a misadventure when their African tour goes off-piste. This novel is full of sharp insight into the way we all perceive the world and other people, with awkward laughs aplenty.
The long: What happens when a zealous nun, a hand model, a pompous toff and a man who hears a voice in his head, go on a cruise? Well, for a start: they don’t hold back, and they don’t get on. But at least they’re trying to be polite about it.
H.G. Watt’s “The Importance of Manners” explores the inner and outer worlds of four pretty unlikable characters as they move from luxury cruise liner, to dodgy canoe rides and snake infested pits in a pseudo-Conrad-esque Africa.
This is a quick read, but with surprising depth. Each character feels explored, and whilst their behaviour and monologues are sometimes extreme or shocking, they also ring true of the way that humans are quick to judge different cultures, not quite realising their own peculiarities. In tight confines, a simple meal turns into a cultural and racial espionage:
“’Who are you?’ Percy asked, thoroughly annoyed. He hated the very American tradition of bothering people during a meal. Even if he had been enjoying his food, the vulgar interruption by the yellowish-skinned waiter had definitely ruined it for him.”
If you find that offensive, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
The novel functions cleverly, switching between the various perspectives of the passengers as they fumble through events, with an omnipotent (and self-referential) narrator at the helm. There are literary allusions here too, though I’ll leave you to collect them for yourselves. We are made aware of the construct of the novel – as artefact rather than reality – and this effectually softens the blow of the various xenophobic, racist or otherwise-inappropriate responses of the passengers, as though Watt is laughing along with us, nudging us with her elbow, winking and whispering, “Hey, this isn’t real by the way.”
The switching of perspectives (whilst also seeing what ‘really’ happens from the narrator) also serves another purpose: it questions the nature of truth and perception. If I was chained to a radiator and forced to answer the question, “What is this book about?” I’d probably say: “The way we make our own realities” and then wet my pants. It would be too simple to look at “The Importance of Manners” on the surface alone, its verbose, pompous characters and xenophobic overtones. Beneath all that is a serious message about the way we treat other people and the way we interpret the world. Each of us is full of perceptual bias, some of it racist (like it or not), and Watt isn’t afraid to show us that.
This is a relatively quick read, partly because the book isn’t a long one but also because Watt’s language is fluid and approachable. Its depth comes from the presentation and exploration of its ideas. That isn’t to say the book is without its own poetry:
“THE END IS NIGH
It wasn’t just ridiculous, it was a lie. The end wasn’t coming, it had arrived a long time ago. And the people who still walked the earth? They were all just clinging to the edge of the toilet bowl, like a particularly sticky s**t while the deluge fought to wash them away.”
Yes, there’s poetry in swearing and poo, I don’t care what you say.
“The Importance of Manners” encourages you to challenge your own pre-conceptions, pointing out the hypocrisy of us all. It’s also funny, and that’s not to be underestimated. A roar of a novel, with something serious to say. Go read it, now, you f***ing idiot. Love you long time, from Whitie.
Wednesday, 22 April 2015
The Devil’s Tattoo
By Brett Evans
Published by Indigo Dreams, 2015
£6 (+ p/p), 30 pages
before taking another step,
look down. Look long and hardat your reflection on the water,then deeper to namethe fish that ripples through your core,to spy what lieshalf-buried in the shale.And through all this, clenched in the fist
like a fretting butterfly, the desire
to be dry.
- From “Stepping Stone”
I read this collection in bed, curtains blotting out the spring light, and think there are probably few better places to read it other than, probably, sat in a pub. A dark pub at that, and hopefully next door to a grungy tattoo parlour. Brett Evans’ The Devil’s Tattoo must be one of the darkest, troubled and most honest collections of poetry I’ve read in recent years. I use the word “honest” with sufficient hesitation, because it’s one of those now-vacuous pop words used in poetry reviews, but here it is sincere.
This isn’t a collection to warm the cockles on a lonely night, but to send you reaching for the shot glass. This isn’t an elaborate collection full of experimentation or linguistic gymnastics; reading it can feel like taking a rough tumble and a crack to the ribs, though. It won’t let you off easily, and I like that.
I began this review with a quote from “Stepping Stones”, a poem which was at first seemingly innocuous , but which I feel encapsulates so much of the vavoom behind the collection as a whole. We are asked to be cautious (“before you take another step”) to look down at ourselves, beyond the surface (“look down. Look long and hard / at your reflection on the water, / then deeper”) to face the startled, slithering beast within (“the fish that ripples through your core.”) Who can’t help but be set back and saddened by the final lines, as the narrator – as if in confessional – begs for release (in this case, I assume, from alcohol addiction) as so many have: “like a fretting butterfly, the desire / to be dry.”
We might be persuaded into thinking that this is a book about escape, a desire to get away. I wouldn’t be entirely against that notion. Certainly there are longings for change; physical, emotional, sexual, social and otherwise. The poems become a self portrait as the narrator project themselves onto the page, often in a less-than-flattering manner:
I dreamt I was in bed with Ma Rainey -
both of us being fat and ugly, glutted...
she knew she was the most beautiful of ugly things.
- - From “In Bed with Ma Rainey”
And again in “Anticipating Pints of Stout”:
The snow settles on my shoulders;
this long, dark coat hugging my corpulent carcass
There’s something immediately disarming about a poem which sets out with a description so visceral and near-monstrous, and through that device (I think it acts as that, and it is used quite frequently) the poet/narrator arouses both compassion and understanding in the reader. We are on their side because they are ugly, imperfect, and all too human. The poet is therefore cast as fragile and worthwhile, rather than self-deluded in their tinfoil tower.
Poets also become the focus of The Devil’s Tattoo, and the choice of object becomes a mirror for the narrator’s ambition. In “Reading Sean O’Brien in the Bath” we see that same self-flagellation at play:
On the first floor of an ex-council house
this fat, pink alchie reads O'Brien in the bath.
At his shoulder the pint glass of cider mocks
his sweating face.
The poem is about the worry of wasted years, but also the feeling of inability which follows. Poetry embodies an attempt for self-renewal or improvement which the narrator cannot emotionally or physically attain as he is forced out of his reading to empty his bladder:
our hero wakes to the fact
that something is amiss; had he hauled his bulk
out from the tub just to take a piss?
But there’s uncertainty in that final question, as though to ask us: ‘Is this finally the day he’ll make that change? Perhaps he’s going for a jog and a smoothie.’ Hope, yes, but a hope that’s never verified. A similar pulling-short occurs in “Portrait of Dylan Thomas, oil on canvas by Augustus John”, which I encourage you to seek out (google will get the job done here!) In the portrait, Thomas’ expression is slightly gaunt, innocence and wisdom lurking in his off-side glare. The narrator in this poem feels his/her own sexual desire lurking, but also a desire to heal the writer’s pain:
Those two red, too red lips that had mothered vowels and spatconsonants; those ‘hold that pose while the artist fucksyour wife-to-be’ eyes, of course, betray no surprise....And so it is those lips I wish to kiss to stop you cursing,
that face I’d slap to turn those brimming eyes away.
The end of the poem raises the question as to the usefulness of art and love. These serve no great ‘practical’ purpose, not like building a wall or planting a tree, and yet those disparate, ungraspable parts of life are what make it worth living, if we can get them:
Still, now’s far too late to curl a finger through one red ringlet,pull you to my chest and whisper There, there, boy.
Lovers don’t matter anymore than artists. Or poets.
Sometimes art cannot quench pain, and this is all too apparent, yet language may act as an anaesthetic. The music of Evans’ verse is vibrant and alluring, though he might be writing about piss-filled back alleys or toilets laden with vomit. This is a realm of dark days and nights, smokeless pubs and half empty pint glasses, but the rhythm and rhyme of each verse is bouncy, bold and carefully crafted, reminiscent of blues music in which sorrow became voiced through beat and breath, music and the shared experiences it provides its never-to-meet listeners. This is best seen in Evans’ sonnets, which use the traditional, often romanticised form, to explore darker elements. In “Teaching Jesus to Dance” the narrator gives Christ a few tips on how to fight dirty:
It’s hard, you said, when the Devil’s on your back;you climb up his gnarled sequioa spine...sink your teeth into that toughest cutof meat: the neck. He’ll writhe, so grasp your pint,employ your weight till the bastard breaks; enough
of this should see his hooves are shorn, have bled.
Even the holiest is reduced to having to punch their way to victory in a world where “good” doesn’t mean “right” or “worthy”. Evans’ form is appropriate to the biblical ideology, however inverse, and yet completely modern and vibrant in approach. The rhythm of the sonnet purposefully undermines the more serious aspects of the verse, here and elsewhere, suggesting that life’s a bit of a game whilst also camouflaging the despair that’s inherited and inherent in life.
That’s what I mean when I sincerely say that this collection is honest. It’s not afraid of truth, or at least a version of truth, even if that honesty feels altogether too cruel. In “Like Louis Armstrong Practically Rewrote Stardust” (the poem which contains the book’s title line) Evans’ predicts my pseudo-psychoanalytic waffle, addressing the potential conclusion that ‘poetry is the release of the dark spirits’:
I'm grabbing the standard by the balls;the familiar must become unfamiliar.No wondering why I've spent the lonely nightsdreaming of a song: too many days conductedbeating the Devil’s tattoo on the bars. I'm taking
control of this tune now.
Like any construction, poetry is an attempt to regulate those things we cannot control. Too fat? Write a poem. Too drunk? Write a poem. Can’t get laid? Write a poem. It’s pointing the stick back at us and saying, ‘Hey, go hit yourself with it.’ The Devil’s Tattoo is, I believe, the curse of introspection and addiction. We are our own worst enemies, pitiable and worthwhile at the same time, in the same bag of blood and skin. Poetry might just be able to share that darkness, either to deepen it or wash it away with light, but for now the devil is in charge.
Coming to the end of this review I realise I’ve not said a great deal about how “good” the poetry is. I hope this is self evident, but for those of you looking for a sound bite: it’s very good indeed. There were two or three poems which I felt were out of place, though strong in their own rights (namely, “Triolet to a Barmaid” and “Song for Swinging Drunkards”, and one of your imagining for good measure) and they fit thematically. There are poems about Wild West movies and those which blitz childhood with war, which I didn’t mention. These bookend the collection very well to invite a reading with regards to the nature of man’s inhumanity to man, as well as our trivialisation of pain and suffering as entertainment, and I would have been happy to read more of them. As is to be expected, I didn’t love every poem in this book. However, I massively enjoyed reading and rereading the vast majority.
This is Brett Evans’ debut collection, and I look forward to reading his next instalment. If you find yourself alone one night, glass in hand, you’d do a lot worse than to mark yourself with The Devil’s Tattoo.
Saturday, 18 April 2015
Here's a poem to make your ears bleed. It's a science fiction sound poem (with concrete influences, yah yah don't ya know) from my collection Spaces of Their Own.
Hark! The birth and end of the universe, at once!
Listen to "Star" on youtube
Sunday, 12 April 2015
Here I am reading 3 of my poems, filmed by Stewart Ennis for Vagabond Voices, who published Be the First To Like This (a very grand collection of Scottish poetry, edited by Colin Waters of the Scottish Poetry Library). Enjoy.
After the Moons
The Flat Opposite