Monday, 28 June 2010

Rob Sherman Interview

Rob Sherman in conversation with Frank Burton

Rob Sherman's poetry collection, Valve Works, can be read online or downloaded for free at

So, Valve Works is themed around the human body. What made you choose this particular theme?

A lot of what I write is bodily; I have not worked out whether this is puerile fascination or genuine interest, but pretty much everything I write, music, prose or poetry, has some element of biology, specifically human biology, within it. The idea, I guess, is to exalt the body, to render it religious; it has both horrific and beatific applications, and poetic language seemed the ideal medium for what is really an ode to health, unhealth, and anatomy. We all have parts of ourselves that we try to conceal, or change, and, while I may not be happy with my own body, it at least deserves an airing once in a while!

Is your poetry influenced by music?

I think it would be very hard not to be influenced by music, especially for a modern poet; they sort of feed off each other. Some songs I write become poems, or vice versa, and a lot of my favourite artists place an emphasis on spoken rhythm or lyric; any old-school hip-hop or rap artist you care to mention takes great pride in the musicality of their language. Even less rhythmic poems, such as "Eyes", would work set to music. It is something I often think about doing; paired music and poetry, as they should be, on a single recording.

Were the poems in Valve Works written with performance in mind?

Not really. Some of them do work better when spoken - again, "Eyes" is an example of this - though I have never really been at home performing my poetry as "poetry". Whether that is because spoken word and performance poetry have become creative pursuits in their own right, or because of my own reluctance, I'm not sure. I did have some poetry read in Plymouth as part of the Barbican's "Voice Cafe" piece. Then again, with the involvement of music, I think I would be happy to read poetry. It's a strange system in my head.

Do you think the internet has had a big impact on the poetry scene?

I think so, definitely. I think the internet is far too ubiquitous for artists to ignore. Poetry hasn't had a good decade in the public eye; declining sales, waning interest. As with music, the internet allows poets to compare notes and promote their work with much greater frequency and ease. I have read quite a few interesting essays on releasing one's stuff for free, and it seems to really work; that is what I liked about Philistine. People do not go out and buy poetry anymore; though this is not irreparable, to gain a respectful audience you have to willing to broadcast your material for free. This is, really, how it has always been done; the only difference now is that it is done digitally, rather than from a box in the town square.

Which writers are you influenced by?

It's a mixed bag, as I think it should be with anyone. I adore graphic novels, so there's Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis and Jim Woodring, who is a god, amongst many others. In fiction, Italo Calvino, Philip K. Dick, Marcel Schwob and Ted Hughes are some of those that I am reading currently. Ted Hughes, especially, had a big part to play in Valve Works, particularly his "Crow" poems; he's so wonderfully strange, and adores the grosser aspects of anatomy, just as I do! But it ranges; subjects more than writers tend to grab me. Architecture, chemistry, history, etymology, they all seep into projects without much coercion.

Is the human body a work of art?

I guess so. It's a machine, it's a function, but it's fascinated us since we thought to pick at our nails or slap our stomachs. A machine can be a work of art; it's not perfect, but the more we learn about it the less it needs to be. The functions it performs are so mind-boggling, at least to me, that they become almost religious, or magical; the liver might as well exist in a fantastical, sonnet-like setting, as how it processes alcohol or regulates toxicity I don't know. How we don't just sink into ourselves, I don't know. It's a piece of art and artifice that I don't understand, and that makes it all the more impressive. It's described using those wonderful words only found in medical dictionaries; they may as well be sorcerer’s grimoires. Yes, the body is art, if only because it scares the hell out of me.

Andy Hopkins on Sundown Lounge

The title poem from Andy Hopkins' Dark Horse Pictures is featured in the current edition (episode #219) of Larry Winfield's excellent Sundown Lounge podcast.

This week's show has a "London" theme, and for a moment I thought Larry was going to do that American thing of assuming everyone in England is a cockney - although thankfully he acknowledges that Andy lives in Carlile - 300 miles north of London.

Great show as usual. Good to have one of the Philistines on there.

Listen to it here

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Unconvincing Spam Message

Just thought I'd share this - it made me smile when it came through today ...


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If you are interested in their products, you can contact their online service workers to get the detail information.


Monday, 21 June 2010

Two New Collections

Two extraordinary new poetry collections from Philistine Press …

Valve Works by Rob Sherman

Taking the human body as its theme, Valve Works mixes poetry, art and science with originality and style.

Sample poem:


A sac-like enlargement of the alimentary canal.

Random House Dictionary

The greatest democracy curls beneath my lungs.

It greets the heavy politics of bread

And the haemorrhaged logic of satsuma

Equally and with aplomb.

The cardia opens like a crab's jaw

And the forum within bubbles and shifts

To the offbeat of burp and spew.

Debate is done amongst hydrogen

And then, at the Pyloric door

The terraces of dark, the country, the scent of glue.

Read more here.

The Birth of Taliesin The Bard by Richard Britton

Based on the mythical tale from the Welsh Mabinogion, Richard Britton's rich gothic tale breathes new life into the neglected form of narrative poetry.

The book begins like this …

Keridwen laboured as if her womb was filled
With stones fired in the acidic larva
That gored its path to fathom valleys
Between the star-threatening peaks
Of Snowdonia, in sleepless prehistory,
As time cut its cord from its creator.
Tegid Voel, her lord, glanced once only
At the wretched bundle, the love
For which had stemmed her bitter blood,
And then left the room to take wine.

Continue reading here

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Tiefschwarz - The Whistler

My favourite tune at the moment - "The Whistler" by Tiefschwarz. There's something joyful about this.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Poems on the Underground

This may mean nothing to anyone who doesn't live or work in London, but the current series of Poems on the Underground is surprisingly good.

I don't mean to be insulting to a worthwhile venture, but as a poetry fan I've always been slightly disappointed with their obvious selections of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats etc.

(If you don't know what Poems on the Underground is, imagine you're in London, and you're on the Tube, and you look up above the heads of the people sitting opposite you, and in between the Underground map and an advert for car insurance, there's a poem. It's as simple as that.)

Currently the poems are themes around music, and the selection includes this one by DH Lawrence:


Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

D. H. Lawrence

(More info can be found at the Transport for London website.)

Friday, 4 June 2010

"FUQ - Frequently Unanswered Quetions" - An Unofficial Introduction to "Entertainment" by Mr If

By Frank Burton

Characteristically, Mr If has chosen not to be interviewed about his new collection, Entertainment. I use the word “characteristically,” although I must confess that I have never met Mr If, and in fact, have no idea of his real identity. The collection ends with a piece called “A Note to My Readers” in which Mr If playfully suggests that he is in fact a mainstream poet writing under a different name – “Andrew Motion, perhaps, or Michael Rosen.” We can only assume this is a joke.

If I were to interview Mr If, I would ask him how much of Entertainment is a joke, and how much of it is serious? Are all these stories of his prolific sexual encounters with his friends’ wives and husbands actually true? Does Mr If mean everything he says, or does he make certain statements for comedic, or – dare I say it – artistic effect? For example, how much irony is there in his claim to be the worst poet in the world, whose sole aim is to “make bad poetry into an art form”?

Perhaps it is up to the reader to decide. Certainly many readers will consider Mr If a bad poet – perhaps not even a poet at all. I very much doubt that Mr If – whoever he is – would care about such a reaction. If there is one thing we can be reasonably certain of it’s that Mr If really doesn’t care what other people think (although he obviously cares enough to conceal his identity). In Mr If’s words,

You might think it’s flimsy, and a load of bollocks,
But it’s the best I can do,
And I think it’s quite good,
So fuck you.

I’m quoting out of context here. In a way, any quote from Mr If is a quote out of context, because he will openly contradict himself, often within the same poem or prose piece. At one point, he says, “I refuse to believe that I am a bad person”. Elsewhere he calls himself “A cunt and a hypocrite.”

Some people will hate this book. Why did I agree to publish it in the first place? My answer is that I believe Entertainment is a genuinely great piece of literature. Mr If would probably scoff at me for saying so, but beneath the fuck yous, he writes about identity, sexuality, morality and the concept of literature itself in a massively intelligent way. And crucially, there is no one else quite like him. Whoever he is, this man must be listened to.

Entertainment by Mr If can be downloaded for free or read online on the Philistine Press website.