Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Caboodle Reviews

A little more than a month since its publication, Caboodle (a 6 poet, 6 pamphlet collection from Prole Books) has received a few reviews! 

It's an eclectic anthology, full of misery and life and hope and despair. Check out what a few reviewers have said, and buy a copy here:

"a collection of poets for everybody [...] gives you a hunger to read more poetry"
 Melanie Hayden-Williams, Black Hearted Love
Read the review here

"A rewarding anthology"
- Becky Varley Winter, Sabotage Reviews
Read the review here

"a first class introduction to some of the best English language poetry that is being written today"
- David Sabacchi

"desperate, desolate, disheartening, frightening."
- Dr Jacques Coulardeau
Read the review here

Russell Jones

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Happy International Women's Day

I've met some women before, once whilst trekking the mountains of Peru. They were interesting creatures, despite popular historic belief. Intelligent, funny, and great Sherpas. Another time I was in a shop, and I think there was a woman in there too, but it's hard to tell for sure. If you believe the rumours, they're already among us, living, working, giving birth, not giving birth. The mind boggles!

It's International Women's Day today, and it's about time you paid some proper attention and admiration for the XX chromosome humanoids (and XYs who feel a bit more XX) who live, work and thrive among us all. Gender inequality is rife in every culture, so shut your fat yap for a moment and read a little about this HUGE issue here. (I don't vouch for any of the statistics, but I hope you're shocked and sickened, really. It's one website of many.)

Aside from current inequalities, women have largely been forgotten and dismissed throughout history.  Times, they are a-changin', but not enough.

If you think feminism is unnecessary or that "it's all okay now", that gender inequality is some fusty old issue that's only relevant abroad, I'm sorry to report that you are a moron. But it's okay, because you can become a non-moron simply by finding out more, and supporting equality in all its guises. There are WAY too many avenues to discuss around feminism and gender issues, so I leave it in your soon-to-be capable hands.

With this in mind, I decided to read a little around some famous women scientists who have changed the world as we know it, and yet if you ask most people they'll have no idea who they are. Detestable species that we are. Women scientist have often been left out of the text books, even when I was a kiddy (which, believe it or not, wasn't that long ago). Frequently, their vital research has been omitted, or their names simply removed from their work to be replaced by white men with big beards.

These poems are pretty fresh from my fingers, but I will be reading them as part of the Dunbar Science Festival, since I'm taking part in Rally and Broad's multi-genre event: Celebrate Women in Science! 

Women around the world: thanks! You've been great.


Françoise Barré-Sinoussi – Virologist

Tonight, I hold the world to me,
that peppered babe. It is terminally sick,
one fist grinding against another,
two bullets cracking as they fly. Its skin
squirms at our acquired deficiencies.

Our only hope seems to be understanding,
to see the virus in all our blood, to catch it
and anesthetise. How many patients
does it take to screw in a light bulb?
How many volts does it take to stop the pulse?
Our sin drones on through the centuries
and we continue to whisper:  
we’re doing it for their own good.

The pillars of heaven have never stood
so slant, the gates have been bent out of shape,
and the holiest of us sit in white robes and hoods
like spermatozoa looking for the golden egg.

Virologist Françoise Barré-Sinoussi (b1947) studied the role of retroviruses in cancer. In 1982 she identified HIV as the cause of AIDS, for which she was awarded a Nobel Prize. In 2009 she took on Pope Benedict XVI, angered by his assertion that condoms are ineffective in tackling AIDS. She is hotly tipped to assume the role as the next president of the International AIDS Society.

Lise Meitner – The Atomic Woman

Quite the calculus! The energy it took

to break the atom and be forgotten.

No bell, no chime to wake the ghosts

of Japan’s mushroomed cities. We might say

it’s a charm not to be remembered

as midnight’s mother, a monster,

to let a committee pass you over.

You must have split; the atom

of any lifetime is never whole,

it cannot be halved without decay.

Now, on our screens, in our comic books

your work makes heroes and villains

of us, and we can’t help seeing

 – as if blinking through microscopes –

the smaller pictures.

Lise Meitner (1878 – 1968): calculated the energy released when uranium atoms were split, and named the phenomenon “nuclear fission.” The discovery—which eventually led to the atomic bomb – won her male colleague Otto Hahn the Nobel Prize in 1944. In 1945 Meitner said: “You must not blame the scientists for the use to which war technicians have put their discoveries.”

Mary Anning – Fossil Hunter

They say that first bolt made you brighter, a crack
of the sky to whip you into shape, a flash
to bring you to life, like the bride of Frankenstein.

It couldn’t have been intuition or a searching mind,
but the will of God that made a woman work.
You brushed the charge aside, tore up the ground

with hammer and chisel, petticoat pulled up,
dug your feet wide in the Lyme Regis dirt
to find more than you came for. Mary, holiest

by name, whose hands excavated the earth
we saunter on, who showed us the very nature
of our fossilisation, who lightning never struck.

Mary Anning (1799 – 1847) -  The greatest fossil hunter ever known. Her discoveries were some of the most significant geological finds of all time, providing evidence that was central to the development of new ideas about the history of the Earth. Her genius was said to have come from being struck by lightning as a child.

Monday, 2 February 2015

The anti-hermit

I've spent a good few months whittling at my novels lately, in dark and lonely rooms. But here comes poetry to the rescue, pulling me out of the pits and into the public during February and March.

I'll be giving a few readings, so come join us for gin and verse...and more gin.

Until Only The Mountain Remains: Part 2
February 6th, Talbot Rice Gallery (Edinburgh) from 7pm (I think)
Following the success of a series of academic discussions, Part 2 consists of readings of creative works inspired by the art work of Christopher Orr. I'll be reading a short story about taxidermy. Other readers include Jane S. F. Angel, Beth Cochrane, J. C. Robertson, Daniel Shand, Joan Lennon, Petra Reid, Alexandra Gushurst-Moore, Nancy Somerville, Brian Bourner, Marianne MacRae, Carol Farrelly, Jane McKie, Simon Marshall, LesleyMay Miller, Aileen Robinson, Allyson Stack, Marjorie Lotfi Gill, Dilys Rose, Esteban Moreaux and David Simpson.

Caboodle Launch
February 19th, Fat Cat (Sheffield) from 7pm
A six-poet, six-pamphlet collection called Caboodle (from Prole Books) takes its first steps into the world. Come listen to some poems, featuring Karina Vidler, Angela Croft, Kate Garrett and me. There's also (all going well) going to be a Caboodle-themed gin for folks to try.

Blind Poetics
March 9th, Blind Poet (Edinburgh) from 8pm (I think)
A regular round-up of poetry in Edinburgh. Join us at The Blind Poet to hear poetry spewing from various mouths. Open mic to follow 'headliners', hosted by Alec Beattie and/or Roddie Shippin.

Rally & Broad at the Dunbar Science Festival
March 13th, Dunmuir Hotel (Dunbar) from 8:30pm
The talent duo, Rachel McCrum and Jenny Lindsay, bring their ratpack of artists along, including singer - songwriter Kirsty Law; science writer and performer Emily Dodd, and the surreal musical
stylings of Zara Gladman (Dr) & the Wee Terrors. I shall be reading a bit of sci-fi poetry with these good people!

Russell Jones

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Write Now!

A short and salty post: are you a writer in Edinburgh (or near by and willing to travel in)? If so check out the art work of Christopher Orr.

The Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh is looking for writers who wish to respond to Orr's paintings. For more information drop me a quick email at Now, away with you, orr else!

Russell Jones

Friday, 24 October 2014

Two Plugs are Better than One!

Right, you lily livered scallywags, what have you asked Santa Claus for? Go on, tell me, I won't let him in on the secret that you've been incredibly naughty. And at your age!

Well there's no chance you're getting those things, not now. Instead you ought to buy these two books. Several copies of each, some for yourself, some for your loved ones, some for your enemies. They feature a hoard of fine poems from upstanding people unlike yourself.

Be the First to Like This: New Scottish Poetry
Vagabond Press
Edited by Colin Waters
This collection is awash with fine poems from almost 40 of Scotland's versifiers. It includes work from Claire Askew, Colin McGuire, Michael Pederson, Aiko Harman, William Letford...the list goes on. 3 poems per poet, giving a nice feel for what they're all about. I've also a few ditties in there.

Double Bill
Red Squirrel Press
Edited by Andy Jackson
This collection takes inspiration from popular culture such as music, TV and the BIG screen. It makes strange links between its sources, comparing Judge Judy with Judge Dredd, among others. MANY poems and poets including Ryan Van Winkle, JL Williams, Sally Evans, Andy Jackson, WN Herbert, Chrissy Williams...the list never ends.

Buy them NOW. Or I'm telling Santa and he won't be happy. Ho. Ho. Ho.

Russell Jones

Monday, 13 October 2014

Poet Profile: Paul Farley

Paul Farley

The background.
Paul Farley grew up in Liverpool and studied painting in Chelsea. He’s won (or been shortlisted) for a sack full of prizes including the TS Eliot award. As well as publishing poetry on the page he’s been a big name on the radio waves, broadcasting poetry and drama. Check out a fuller list here. 

Why this poet?
Paul was my poetry tutor back in the days when I was a teeny weeny undergrad at Lancaster University. At the time I don’t think I realised just how great a poet he was. We’d go to the pub, he’d recite dirty limericks and tell us horrifying and hilarious stories. His poetry has an awesome musical quality to it which comes through on the page, but hearing it is even better. His book titles remind me of Stereophonics songs for some reason, which is no bad thing: “The Boy from the Chemist is Here to See You” and “Tramp in Flames” for example. His poetic voice is unique and full of charisma, and his poems expertly capture a sense of time and place, tackling difficult issues with a combination of subtlety and flamboyance.

A poem extract
(from “Tramp in Flames”, in the collection “Tramp in Flames” Picador, 2006)

Some similes act like heat shields for re-entry
to reality: a tramp in flames on the floor.
We can say Flame on! to invoke the Human Torch
From the Fantastic Four. We can switch to art

my uncle said the burning bodies rose
like Draculas from their boxes.
                                                But his layers
burn brightly and the salts locked in his hems
give off the colours of a Roman candle


in the middle of the city he was born in,
and the bin bags melt and fuse him to the pavement
and a pool forms like the way he wet himself
sat on the school floor forty years before,
and then the hand goes up. The hand goes up.

A reading
That same old issue, of course – this is just an extract, albeit about half the poem.

Farley is a master of “turning the line”, which is to say that the lines shift meaning depending on how you read them. Any line in his poems stands well on its own, but then look what happens when you read the line before it, or the one after: it changes subtly but significantly. Let’s look at an example...

Some similes act like heat shields for re-entry
to reality: a tramp in flames on the floor.
We can say Flame on! to invoke the Human Torch

Taken on its own “to reality: a tramp in flames on the floor.” hits hard. The narrator instructs us of the reality of a man burning in the streets. It’s almost dismissive; this person is “a tramp”, somehow not a human or fully formed character. We learn nothing of him until the end, only his title of “tramp”.

Now attach the first line to it ("Some similes act like heat shields for re-entry to reality: a tramp in flames on the floor.") Suddenly we’re in a kind of literary outer space in which similes protect us from the reality of a burning man. It’s completely true, think about how we talk about death. We rarely say, “I’m sorry x person is dead.” We say “he’s passed on”, “he’s no longer with us”. It’s a simile for death but we use it to soften the blow, as a heat shield against the fire of reality, which is too hot to handle.

And then join the last line to the second (to reality: a tramp in flames on the floor. We can say Flame on! to invoke the Human Torch). It’s a cruel joke, isn’t it? The narrator suddenly moves away from reality, perhaps because they can’t take the image, and they turn it into a bit of a joke by comparing the man to the Human Torch from Marvel comic books.

What is it saying then? We placate ourselves and ignore the cruel reality of what is happening. Later the poem refers to “the city he was born in” and the tramp’s life at school when he’s (we assume) asking for help: “and then the hand goes up. The hand goes up.” Even here, Farley’s challenging how we read the line. “The hand goes up” in class to ask for help, and he stresses it again (The hand goes up.) to show the LACK of help. Is this poem really about someone burning? Well, it could have happened or simply be imagined. But it seems to be suggesting that we, as individuals and a society, find reasons to ignore social inequalities and those who need help, not only when they’re adults but also throughout their lives. Choosing ignorance is what causes the problem, the burning.

This is only my take on the poem, of course, but I strongly encourage anyone to take a look at this poem for themselves. “Turning the line” (I’ve just made that up by the way, I’m sure it has a proper name) is something Farley is a master of, but his poems have such a powerful voice that frequently capture time and location so brilliantly. Reading him is a masterclass in impactful and thoughtful verse.

Go read...

The Ice Age (Picador, 2002).
Tramp in Flames (Picador, 2006).
The Dark Film (Picador, 2012). - this one was shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize
Listen to Farley’s poem, “Treacle”, here.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

A filthy sonnet

There ain't much poetry on this poetry blog, so here's a sonnet from my upcoming collection "Our Terraced Hum" (part of a 5 poet anthology called "Caboodle", from Prole Books, 2014). This poem will also feature in my first full collection, "The Green Dress Whose Girl is Sleeping" (Freight Books, 2015). 

Get messy.

Basement Beneath the Corner Shop

He’s made himself the castle of his dreams:
the landfill lord, a tin can Midas
moated by nine months of debris. He beams
in the grit of his homemade fortress
because nothing outside can finger through
the pizza-box walls cracked by arrow loops,
his cardboard curtain. The hullaballoo 
of reality is cut by his coup 
d'état, cartons stacked, wrappers tacked, intact
in the order of chaos. Passersby
gleer in, hands fanned over their eyes, retract,
shake their faces at the teem of house flies.
They mark him the idol of their own disgust
when in public but, privately, they lust.

Russell Jones