Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Open Mic Disasters #3: The iPhone

By Frank Burton

If you’re going to read your poetry from an iPhone at an open mic, please bear in mind you're demonstrating that a piece of paper is better than a hand-held gadget, for the following reasons:

1. With a piece of paper, there’s no uncomfortable pause when you realise you’ve scrolled down too far, or the screen’s frozen, or you get a text message.

2. A piece of paper doesn’t automatically make you look pretentious. The audience usually have to wait until the poet opens his or her mouth to suss that one out.

3. A poem read aloud from an iPhone can only have one possible subtext. It doesn’t matter what the genre is – it could be a heartfelt tribute to a recently departed relative, or a playful John Hegley pastiche about a dog who wears glasses. The subtext is always the same – “Look at me! I’ve got an iPhone!”

4. Unless you charged your phone with a bicycle-powered dynamo, you’re not actually helping the environment.

5. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you’re breaking the first rule of all spoken word events … Turn your fucking phone off!


Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Of Montreal - Events Leading up to the Collapse of Detective Dullight

Some first class strangeness for you here ...

You may have guessed, this isn't the official video for this track. It's from the album, "Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: a Collection of Whimsical Verse" by Of Montreal.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Richard Britton Interview

Richard Britton in conversation with Frank Burton

Richard Britton's narrative poem, The Birth of Taliesin The Bard is available to download or read online for free at www.philistinepress.com.

What attracted you to this particular story?

The thing that really struck me about this story is the constant friction between beauty and brutality that it contains. The version by Lady Charlotte Guest in 1849 is quite formal and sedate and doesn't really bring this out, but even so it is still there in spirit, unstifled by Victorian morality. I wanted to draw out this gorgeous barbarism, with the sorcery, fierce emotions and bodily fluids.

I love the way a mother tries to defy nature with magic for the sake of her son and it's a really powerful concept - the purest and most essential form of love. In the end, nature regains control and the mother's wishes are granted but only on nature's terms.

Is narrative poetry a neglected form?

Yes it definitely is. Whilst I love the novel, I am exhausted by its predominance. It seems to have been made to be the definitive format for narrative to be presented in and the only way that narrative can be commercially successful. Yet, the narrative poem used to be really important. It was the father of the story and it was still highly influential when the later-Romantics were writing. It still has so much to offer.

I am not saying that narrative poems are better than novels, but they have a wealth of potential that is currently neglected. Look at Seamus Heaney's Beowulf. You can tell that not one word in that poem is idle and not a single syllable is wasted. Four lines of that poem contain as much information as a page of novel - it is so wonderfully concentrated but also economical. Heaney's language is so intense I can taste and breathe in every word of it - it makes my heart tingle.

Each time you read a narrative poem you get something very different. I worked on Taliesin the Bard for months and, whilst it could be read in half an hour, I have tried to design it so that it can be read over and over again with a different experience each time and I really hope the reader gets that sensation.

Do you consider yourself an old-fashioned poet?

I am not old-fashioned in the sense of being retrospective and nostalgia-fetishistic. I believe strongly in many of the values of the "Romantic" movement; Wordsworth and Colerdige's mixture of radical socialism and conservatism; republicanism; indivdual liberty etc. But I don't live in the past. I don't want to try and mimic their work like some pop-historical novelists try to write another Jane Austen novel. I want to take influence from what they did and see how far it can be taken forwards today. Many of the issues of the Romantic poets are still relevant today - if not more relevant. We live in a society that has been choked by extremes - social injustice to unbalanced emancipation, desperate poverty and excessive wealth, people trying to control how others think and feel, people who have huge power merely on account of the money or good looks they have rather than how skilled and responsible they are.

One of the reasons I wrote Taliesin the Bard is because I felt the story had something to reflect about the obsession of today's society with physical appearance and money. No wonder teenage girls and boys want to commit suicide. Hitler would be proud of the editors of some of the trashy celebrity and fashion magazines because they are fulfilling his desires... ideologically, he won World War II.

So, whilst I wouldn't class myself as "old-fashioned" (although some might think that), I am drawing from the wealth of probably the most radical and inventive poetic period in the past, but looking forwards and seeing how far I can take those ideas and innovate them.

Was there a lot of research involved in writing the book?

I read a few versions of this story and made sure I stayed as close to the plotline as I could. But I didn't make a forensic interpretation. My main concern has been to be faithful to the spirit and message of the story rather than the exact plot, although I don't think I really stray very far from that at all. In any case, there isn't a definitive original text.

I read an article on this poem in a book entitled Practical Celtic Magic by a pagan scholar called Murry Hope. That was probably the most useful commentary on this story as it was given a theological context. It provided me with the necessary interpretive material with which to write my version. I think one approaches a poetic adaptation differently to an academic paper. Too much research would stifle my poetic liberty but not enough research would reduce my poetic energy. I needed to strike a balance.

What advice would you give to new writers who are just starting out?

I think the best advice any writer can give to another less experienced writer is to write how they feel is true to them. By all means take advice on style and technique but the only real way to learn, in the case of poetry, is to read lots and lots of very different poets' work. As well as the greats, read some of the more obscure stuff as well. I've been reading Alexis Lykiard and Sarah Maguire recently. Reading stuff that's very different to what you write is often far more useful than reading stuff in a similar style - you get a great photographic negative to work from. I think there are some amazing poetry collections on Philistine Press and I would fully recommend this website as one place to look.

I would also say, don't neglect poetic traditions of rhyme and meter and stress in your practice. You may not use them all the time but the discipline they provide helps you with word economy and tightness. There is a lot of poetry out there that, in fact, is not poetry, but people's rambling and untidy thoughts. Don't fall into that trap. Some of the best punk artists could read and play music very well - often classically; the ones that could only play three chords on a guitar rarely made it past 1985! Real poetry should be as intricate and involved as chiselling a David out of a block of quarried marble.

How do you feel about internet publishing?

I think it is probably one of the best things that has happened to poetry since radio was invented. The publishing houses are very wary of touching poetry. Even very astoundingly good poets find it near impossible to get published by the big houses unless they are already very famous poets but to become famous you need to be published; it's like a circle you can never break into. When people do get published, it is usually small publishers who will do a test run of a hundred or so copies and do no promotion. Then, they get squeezed in between Pam Ayres and Carol Ann Duffys in small independent bookshops and forgotten about.

The great thing with internet publishing is that it provides a place where new poets can emerge and grow, with the same quality demands as paper press. Young people nowadays don't really go into bookshops and buy poetry books (as they don’t go into music shops and buy CDs) - but lots of them do read poetry. The internet is probably the best place for poetry at the moment and for a long time in the future.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Update to Submission Guidelines

Some Philistine Press news ...

We've updated our submission guidelines, because our poetry publishing schedule is sorted out for the time being. We're bringing out two more poetry ebooks in August, and then for the rest of the year we're going to be focusing on fiction. So, for the time being, we're not considering any poetry submissions. What we're looking for primarily at the moment is fiction - novels, novellas, short story collections.

View the full submission guidelines here.