Thursday, 27 May 2010

The Wrong T-shirt

By FJ Riley

I saw a man in the street the other day with a t-shirt saying "God is not a celebrity." I've been thinking about this, and the t-shirt was wrong. Let's consider the evidence:

1. God is really famous.

2. His son got famous just by being His son (and often hogs the limelight).

3. He's got a bestselling book out.

What more do you want?

Two New Releases - Poetry and Humour

Two new releases from Philistine Press...

Entertainment by Mr If

Welcome to the entertaining world of poet, enigma and serial adulterer, Mr If. You've never read anything like this before. You never will again.

Sample poem:

Not on Facebook, not on Twitter

Not on Facebook,

Not on Twitter,

Haven’t got a computer,

Haven’t got a phone,

That’s not what I do for entertainment.

Don’t go to pubs,

Don’t go to clubs,

Don’t go to restaurants,

Don’t go the cinema,

Or the theatre,

Or to gigs.

Perhaps in another life, I would like to do these things,

But that’s not what I do for entertainment.

Not on Facebook,

Not on Twitter,

Sometimes I send emails from the library,

But rarely check for replies.

Don’t read books,

Don’t read newspapers,

Don’t read magazines,

I try to stay away from TV as much as possible.

I listen to music,

It soothes me.

Music helps to pass the time,

It’s always around, in the background, like distant voices,

But that’s not what I do for entertainment.

Not on Facebook,

Not on Twitter,

I don’t download pornography,

Or watch videos of people being tortured and killed,

Like some people do.

Don’t drink alcohol,

Don’t take drugs,

Don’t binge on burgers,

Don’t go to the gym,

Don’t play or watch sports,

Don’t go to church,

Don’t go to any classes,

I try to learn as little as possible in life.

Not on Facebook,

Not on Twitter,

I write poems in a dusty old notebook,

Like the screaming Luddite that I am,

And I don’t care if no one ever reads them.

I write them for my own entertainment,

Not for yours, fucker.

Read more here (but be warned, it's not for kids).

Secondly, our first humour release ...

Not a Lot of People Know That by David Hailwood and FJ Riley

Not a Lot of People Know That is a book of facts. Not a lot of people know these facts. David Hailwood and FJ Riley know them. Not a lof of people know who David Hailwood and FJ Riley are, but with facts as accurate as these, they soon will.

Some sample facts ...

The very first advertising agency was started in 1807. It folded a week later, due to poor advertising.


At least 46% of suicide bombings are misinterpreted cases of spontaneous human combustion.


Paracetamol is a placebo. It is a completely useless substance with no pain relieving properties. Your headache was cured by psychological suggestion only.

The same applies to penicillin, and all vaccinations.


The most elaborate signature of all time belonged to Ernest Wheelhouse of Rotterdam. The surface area of Wheelhouse’s signature was twenty-six square feet, and often took several days to complete.

Wheelhouse is also credited with having invented those large novelty cheques used in charity telethons.


Fire was not invented until 1857. Before that, people had to make do with electric lights.


The Amazon contains at least five lost tribes of television documentary crews, three of which were originally sent in to document the lives of the other two.


The first surgeon ever to be simultaneously charged with both “gross malpractice” and “graffiti” is a Mr Igor Skelton of Berlin, who in 1995, was found guilty of inscribing messages on patients’ internal organs. Skelton’s numerous acts of vandalism are alleged to have taken place over the course of fifteen years, during which time he created many secret inscriptions, mainly intended as insults against various colleagues.

Skelton was eventually found guilty after a former patient’s kidney was donated to medical research. On the kidney’s arrival at a nearby institute, students were horrified to discover the words “Doctor Heinz is a knob, 100% true” written across the organ.

In a public statement shortly after the event, Doctor Heinz, M.D. categorically stated that he was "not a knob."

Monday, 24 May 2010

What Is Poetry?

“Poets are soldiers that liberate words from the steadfast possession of definition.” - Eli Khamarov

What is poetry?

What is the purpose of poetry? Is it to enlighten? To entertain? To sound pretty when spoken aloud? To maintain a cadence? To paint portraits with words? To capture the breadth of the heart and the soul and the mind contained within the boundaries of a single moment?

The answer may depend on how you define poetry. This is subjective. Take, for example, Aram Saroyan’s controversial minimalist poem, “lightght.” That’s not the title by the way, that’s the entire poem. It is one (misspelled) word on a blank sheet of paper. (I hope this doesn’t violate copyright infringement, but I know of no way to reference the poem without reproducing it.) Does this meet the definition of poetry?

Per Random House, the answer is most likely “No.” Random House Dictionary’s main definition for poetry is “the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.” Most formal definitions of poetry indicate it must be written with meter; in verses, typically involving various rhyme schemes. But these defining characteristics are not set in stone and they change depending on format (haiku, for example, should not rhyme), and in the end, poetry is in the eye of the beholder.

Editor George Plimpton liked Saroyan’s poem “lightght” enough to include it in The American Literary Anthology a year after it was first published in The Chicago Review. Saroyan’s minimalist poetry found an audience to embrace it, and his audience considered it poetry. It was relevant, and it spoke to the poets of his generation. Yet, to this day, many would disagree that these two syllables constitute poetry.

When working as a student teacher with a high school English department, I was assigned to teach seniors on the cusp of graduation a unit involving Shakespeare. Shakespeare is poetry, right? He’s the English go-to poet when most people think of the subject. It is nearly impossible to receive an American education without being exposed to The Bard and his many sonnets.

And yet, according to most of the students I worked with, he was mostly irrelevant. His words stirred up more dread than passion. No matter how much I or others love Shakespeare, his poetry does not speak to all audiences the same way.

This is not to say that words have lost their power since Shakespeare’s day. The kids I was working with would still recite and quote poetry; they just didn’t realize they were doing so. To those kids Tupac was their poet laureate. Kanye West was their Bard. Lyrics would be written out in the borders of their notebooks. These students would emulate rappers and come up with their own rhymes. I’d even play along sometimes. While other teachers and purists may roll their eyes, I found it encouraging as a poet: words still speak – only the poets have changed with the times (as well they should).

I could identify with the kids I taught (granted, there wasn’t all that big an age difference at the time). During my flannel soaked teenage years (or should I say “soaked flannel” – it was far too hot and humid to wear grunge style clothes in rural Alabama), Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain were my poet laureates. Yes, the music was important, but it was the words that really struck a chord with me. I learned more about evaluating and deciphering poetry through trying to make sense out of Pixies albums than I did in most of my college classes. Those words were relevant. They spoke to me. But were they poetry?

This brings me back to my original question: What is poetry?

My best answer: Whatever the heck the audience says it is.

Reverse Intertextuality

Currently reading The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, and started noticing parallels to The Big Lebowski. Chandler's novel is obviously the chicken that came before the egg, but because I saw the Coen Brothers film first, in my mind, The Big Sleep seems to be paying homage to the Coens.

There is probably an academic term for this experience - something like "reverse intertextuality." If there is no such term, it looks like I just invented it.

I'd better copyright this now.

© Frank Burton 2010

Two new reviews

Two new reviews have just come in from decomP MagazinE

Review of TJ McIntyre's Isotropes

Review of Kenneth Pobo's Fitting Parts

Read the books at

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Open Mic Disasters of Our Time (no.2)

I thought I'd follow on Frank's occasional series on poetry crimes that irk us all. Here's my irkiest irk: at a recital or open mic when the poet takes ten minutes to introduce a twenty second poem.

My God it's painful. I have endured poets, particularly the pretentious variety, gush forth for up to twenty minutes on a wide Saragasso Sea of subjects in a rambling introduction: from Fraser's Golden Bough, to a blow-by-blow description of last week's edition of Deal or No Deal (no, really; I mean it), onto a cringe-worthy account of their dismissal for incompetence and then a thorough exposition of what their poem is about and how clever it is that it is written in terza rima.

If a poem needs a ten minute intro just to mean something then there is something is wrong. Good poetry communicates before it is understood, as Eliot said. A poem wouldn't shuffle nervously onto the stage, stare at its feet and mumble some apologies for taking up our time; neither should we. Oh, and whilst I'm at it, please: no more terza rima!

Hi All,
Just testing the waters and seeing if I got through. Thoughts on Du Fu: some friends just got to see his cottage in China. Reminded me how much poetry is either written in or about exile. Thanks, Frank, for publishing my Fitting Parts chapbook. Thanks to anyone who gave it a read, too.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Andy Hopkins Interview

Andy Hopkins in conversation with Frank Burton

Andy Hopkins' poetry collection, Dark Horse Pictures, and the Ash Pony You Climb EP can be downloaded for free from

Music and poetry - which did you get into first?

It was music first, but I was always more interested in words; I always thought that bad lyrics are pretty unforgiveable, which makes it so funny that so many supposedly iconic songs have risible words. I'd been in a band for a few years when I discovered Flying Saucer Attack, dada art and T.S. Eliot; I can still remember the baffled looks on my bandmates teenage faces as I tried to combine these influences in rock. I've been lucky to work with some patient and dynamic people since then, but from then on, it was mainly poetry that held my interest.

"Dark Horse Pictures" - can you explain the title?

Actually, it was a 'found' phrase; I used to do a lot of things by cutting up existing texts, or mixing and matching lines of my work with non-fiction texts. It created quite a number of allegories and metaphors that I used later. The phrase never left me, even though the original piece it was written for waslong since binned. The phrase/metaphor gathered together and unlocked a cluster of ideas that I've often been obsessed by: identity, control and manipulation of the past at a micro and macro level, erasure, surface/reality. The image on the cover of the collection was a picture of my mother's father - a man who I never really knew; that sense of isolation from others, or from the past, or from your own memories has always been interesting to me. Also, the idea of being dragged into a picture or mirror is something of a recurring fear that I had as a child (and one that was brought back by seeing a Stubbs horse picture in London some years ago); the idea of being forgotten or erased is something that haunts many people - whether that's romantically or politically.

What kind of response did you get from Dark Horse Pictures when it was first published?

On launch night it sold out! I had to give my copies back to the publisher to sell! After that, I'm not sure. It was Selkirk Lapwing's biggest selling title. However, I actually stopped writing after it came out, and have only just started again; I lost touch with the whole process. It is so difficult to judge 'work'; you feel it to be good (or you wouldn't do it, right?), you get a good reception when you air it live, and yet you never believe the good things people say or write about it. You're somehow waiting for a celestial moderator to come and give it the seal of canonical approval. That knock on the door doesn't come. There are a hundred, maybe a thousand, writers out there in a limbo where they are desperate for meaningful criticism and feedback for their fledgling publication career.

Do you think there'll be a different reaction to the collection now that it's being published online?

It feels completely different. The e-publishing definitely allows for immediate feedback from a huge variety of geographical locations. I suppose, as a writer, you cherish 'reaction' of any kind. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, you want your poetry to be communicated, so that it can 'communicate before it is understood'. E-publishing does that reaching out. We control the means of production; which is a good thing, with murky edges. The ultimate question is that with so much 'production', are enough people 'consuming'? I'd like to weigh up the answer to that. It is an honour to have the collection reissued by Philistine Press.

Is your poetry influenced by music?

The short answer is yes; however, I think to a less extent now than it was three years ago. Things like the trochees of 'Ending Chairs' and the phrasing of the poem 'Dark Horse Pictures' started life as parts of songs, but I learned to keep the two processes separate. Looking back I think I've incoporated far more poetic ideas into music, than the other way around. Having said that, all good writers steal ideas from music and art. I wouldn't write like I do without purloining stylistic bits from Bach (repetition and counterpoint), New Model Army (morality and post-Marxism), Charles Mingus (the way it's cool to be complex), David Bowie (dadaist ideas) and some folk singers from the sixties and seventies.

Do you consider yourself to me an experimental writer?

I would like to say so; I think it's often up to a reader how innovative they think you are. There's nothing more pretentious than a person claiming to be a ground-breaker, when they are purely retreading familiar paths in cliched ways. There's always a balance between what is accessible and what is thrillingly original. I would like not to be thought of as 'difficult'! But I would like to push the reader with form, structure and language. Poetry should be more like a cryptic crossword than the junior jumble wordsearch.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Two New Releases from Andy Hopkins

Two new releases are now up on the website - both by the multi-talented Andy Hopkins.

First of all, there's the poetry collection, "Dark Horse Pictures."

Originally published by Selkirk Lapwing Press in 2007, Andy Hopkins' acclaimed poetry collection is a deep, dark labyrinth of language.

Next we have the Ash Pony You Climb EP - our first music release.

Sample poem:

Dark Horse Pictures

Some day soon you’ll find me in a picture.

Lost for words in a dark horse picture.

Caught on film in the collage of your memory.

A stolen,

still, black and white reminder.

With peel away names and scratch away faces,

a grazing herd of dark horse pictures

is flash bleached against your skyline. I

saw I was ambushed in your landscape I

heard I was airbrushed from your photo I

thought I was glued into the margin I

feel I was ripped out of the canvas I’m

anonymous I

have no eyes I

have no laughter I

have no memory I

am immaterial history

in exposed films with startled faces

I look just like a dark horse picture.

Black and then white and then gone.

Black and then white and then

Blackandthenwhiteandthen gone.

Read more here

You can listen to the Ash Pony You Climb EP on, or indeed, right here:

Monday, 10 May 2010

When The Sun Rose Up This Morning

Just found this great live version of Herman Dune's "When The Sun Rose Up This Morning." I can't stop listening to the non-live version of this at the moment. Joy to the world.

Frank Burton

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Nostradamus Award 1968

By Annette Greenaway

Listening to the beats and the bass on this record, you could be mistaken for assuming it was recorded last week by some freaky teen on a laptop, rather than by Silver Apples in 1968.

That's right - this was recorded in 1968. Nineteen sixty eight. Forty two years ago.

It's a small point, but my friend Steve often claims that breakbeats were invented by James Brown, and first used in 1970 on Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine. This is two years earlier. In your face, Steve-o!

Annette Greenaway's poetry collection, "Big Fish Little Fish Cardboard Box" can be read online or downloaded for free from

Hanif Kureishi - continued

It's just occurred to me watching the Hanif Kureishi video from my previous post that writers like Kureishi, who make a good living from selling books tend to have a much smaller internet presence than writers like myself, who hardly make anything. If you're unpublished, or have a couple of small-press publications out there, you're more likely to have your own blog, your own website, or social networking stuff promoting your writing. You're also more likely to give your work away for free so as many people as possible can read it.

Kureishi says he's concerned about writers making a living in the internet age. He has a point. It's surely no coincidence that Kureishi's own website hasn't been updated for nine years. Take a look at, which is still advertising the release of Kureishi's "new book," Gabriel's Gift (published in 2001).

Frank Burton

Hanif Kureishi

New interview with Hanif Kureishi on the Guardian website here:

Hanif Kureshi interview

This is classic Kureishi - funny, spiky and wise, but annoying at the same time because you know a lot of his one-liners are going to end up getting quoted out of context.

I suspect that's exactly what he intended, though.

Frank Burton

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

TJ McIntyre Interview

TJ McIntyre in conversation with Frank Burton.

TJ McIntyre's Isotropes: A Collection of Speculative Haibun can be read online or downloaded for free from

Let's start off with an obvious question ... What attracted you to the Haibun form?

Back when I was eleven or twelve years old, I remember a school project that involved writing poems in various formats. I immediately fell in love with haiku and tanka and wrote them frequently, often in the margins of my notebooks when I should have been listening to the teacher. Over the last couple of years, I have been publishing some of these from time to time on my blog and on Twitter just for fun. Eventually, I started to write and submit these for various markets, notably Scifaikuest which is pretty well known for publishing speculative haiku and tanka -- they also publish haibuns.

Until reading Scifaikuest, I was not really familiar with the haibun form. Once I read a few, they immediately clicked with me. I've always loved writing flash fiction, and the haibun merges aspects of flash ficiton with haiku. I wrote "Promethean Petri Dish," sold it to Scifaikuest, decided I wanted to write some other haibuns exploring various tropes of genre fiction, and began writing this collection.

My haibuns in this collection may not be traditionally "correct" as far as purists of the form go -- typically a haibun is simply a single block of prose followed by a single haiku. To fully flesh out these stories (and I thought it was important to create fully formed stories for this project), I would often write several versus -- so to speak -- surrounded by either haiku or tanka as a kind of chorus, depending on what I wanted to say, and how I wanted it to sound. I'd mix up haiku and tanka for emphasis. I've never really been a stickler for the rules when it comes to writing, especially in poetry. I think it is important to study and understand form, of course, but only as form relates to function, and sometimes it is more functional to bend the form to fit your purpose, in my opinion.

Do you have a favourite genre?

That's a tough question. I really read across the board and do not restrict myself to any particular genre.

As a child I enjoyed fairy tales and myths. As a young adult I typically read horror, fantasy, and science fiction. I also enjoyed a good mystery or crime novel. During college, my interests leaned towards more formal literary and philosophical texts. Now, I just read whatever I feel like and try to mix it up from time to time.

Do you consider yourself a literary writer?

Not to get into semantics, but that depends on how you define "literary.' If we are talking in terms of the main definition of the word ("of, or relating to or having the characteristics of humane learning or literature" per Merriam-Webster), than yes, I do consider myself literary. I think all writers are literary.

Now, if we are talking in terms of "literary" as used to define the genre of writing found on particular shelves in your local bookstore, that's another matter entirely. My answer has to be "yes and no." As far as my own writing goes, I don't confine myself to any particular genre, but with that said, I do prefer writing stories with some speculative element whether it be a fantasy, science fiction, bizarro, horror, or something closer to magic realism. I also enjoy writing completely realistic fiction sometimes, but I don't always want to confine myself to the rules of this world. We all confine ourselves to the limits of our physical existence enough in real life, don't we? And writing, like reading, is an escape for me. Besides, the tropes of speculative fiction offer so many great tools that writers can use to express themselves in so many different ways. Another planet or an imaginary world is just a reflection of our own, after all, and you can't really understand how you look to others without some kind of reflection.

Who are your influences?

I have so many influences, far too many to list. I've always loved studying religions and mythologies, everything from The Bible to Gilgamesh to Native American and Icelandic folklore. I enjoy people who play with language and form; people like e.e. cummings, James Joyce, and Ken Kesey. I enjoy classic weird stories. Some of the more contemporary authors I enjoy include Ray Bradbury, Gene Wolfe, Ursula Le Guin, Stephen King, and Daniel Wallace.

Could you see yourself becoming a mainstream writer like Stephen King?

Okay, let's be honest, who wouldn't absolutely love to have that guy's sales and the opportunity to write for such a large audience? The man lives a charmed life; one that he worked very hard to achieve and maintain for all these years through (mostly) consistent output.

As for me, I just take my writing one day and one project at a time. Sure, I dream big (what writer doesn't), but I keep in mind the importance of enjoying even the most minor of victories in my writing life.

How do you feel about internet publishing?

I LOVE internet publishing! It is amazing to have the capability to post a link on a blog or social networking site so that anyone who is interested simply has to click a button to bring up my stories and/or poems. I think having stories and poems available to read for free online is a great way to attract and retain readers. Publishing online, I have the ability to connect with a worldwide audience that may not have been there for me using the more traditional methods of print publishing.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Ether Books

Lots of predictions have been made about short stories and poetry breaking into the mainstream through digital downloads and iPhone apps. This hasn't happened yet, but Ether Books might be the company to do it. Good luck to them.

Ether Books Guardian Story

Ether Books website.