Monday, 30 September 2013

Spleen by Charles Baudelaire (1857)


February, peeved at Paris, pours
a gloomy torrent on the pale lessees
of the graveyard next door and a mortal chill
on tenants of the foggy suburbs too.

The tiles afford no comfort to my cat
that cannot keep its mangy body still;
the soul of some old poet haunts the drains
and howls as if a ghost could hate the cold.

A churchbell grieves, a log in the fireplace smokes
and hums falsetto to the clock's catarrh,
while in a filthy reeking deck of cards

inherited from a dropsical old maid,
the dapper Knave of Hearts and the Queen of Spades
grimly disinter their love affairs.


More than if I had lived a thousand years!

No chest of drawers crammed with documents,
love-letters, wedding-invitations, wills,
a lock of someone's hair rolled up in a deed,
hides so many secrets as my brain.
This branching catacombs, this pyramid
contains more corpses than the potter's field:
I am a graveyard that the moon abhors,
where long worms like regrets come out to feed
most ravenously on my dearest dead.
I am an old boudoir where a rack of gowns,
perfumed by withered roses, rots to dust;
where only faint pastels and pale Bouchers
inhale the scent of long-unstoppered flasks.

Nothing is slower than the limping days
when under the heavy weather of the years
Boredom, the fruit of glum indifference,
gains the dimension of eternity . . .
Hereafter, mortal clay, you are no more
than a rock encircled by a nameless dread,
an ancient sphinx omitted from the map,
forgotten by the world, and whose fierce moods
sing only to the rays of setting suns.


I'm like the king of a rainy country, rich
but helpless, decrepit though still a young man
who scorns his fawning tutors, wastes his time
on dogs and other animals, and has no fun;
nothing distracts him, neither hawk nor hound
nor subjects starving at the palace gate.
His favorite fool's obscenities fall flat
--the royal invalid is not amused--
and ladies in waiting for a princely nod
no longer dress indecently enough
to win a smile from this young skeleton.
The bed of state becomes a stately tomb.
The alchemist who brews him gold has failed
to purge the impure substance from his soul,
and baths of blood, Rome's legacy recalled
by certain barons in their failing days,
are useless to revive this sickly flesh
through which no blood but brackish Lethe seeps.


When skies are low and heavy as a lid
over the mind tormented by disgust,
and hidden in the gloom the sun pours down
on us a daylight dingier than the dark;

when earth becomes a trickling dungeon where
Trust like a bat keeps lunging through the air,
beating tentative wings along the walls
and bumping its head against the rotten beams;

when rain falls straight from unrelenting clouds,
forging the bars of some enormous jail,
and silent hordes of obscene spiders spin
their webs across the basements of our brains;

then all at once the raging bells break loose,
hurling to heaven their awful caterwaul,
like homeless ghosts with no one left to haunt
whimpering their endless grievances.

--And giant hearses, without dirge or drums,
parade at half-step in my soul, where Hope,
defeated, weeps, and the oppressor Dread
plants his black flag on my assenting skull.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Pablo Saborío

Prolific artist and writer, Pablo Saborío's website, Nihilistic Poetry, contains lots of very good stuff, including this:

Monday, 23 September 2013

Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape by John Ashbery (1966)

The first of the undecoded messages read: "Popeye sits 
   in thunder,
Unthought of. From that shoebox of an apartment,
From livid curtain's hue, a tangram emerges: a country."
Meanwhile the Sea Hag was relaxing on a green couch: "How 
To spend one's vacation en la casa de Popeye," she 
Her cleft chin's solitary hair. She remembered spinach

And was going to ask Wimpy if he had bought any spinach.
"M'love," he intercepted, "the plains are decked out 
   in thunder
Today, and it shall be as you wish." He scratched
The part of his head under his hat. The apartment
Seemed to grow smaller. "But what if no pleasant
Inspiration plunge us now to the stars? For this is my 

Suddenly they remembered how it was cheaper in the country.
Wimpy was thoughtfully cutting open a number 2 can of spinach
When the door opened and Swee'pea crept in. "How pleasant!"
But Swee'pea looked morose. A note was pinned to his bib. 
And tears are unavailing," it read. "Henceforth shall
   Popeye's apartment
Be but remembered space, toxic or salubrious, whole or 

Olive came hurtling through the window; its geraniums scratched
Her long thigh. "I have news!" she gasped. "Popeye, forced as 
   you know to flee the country
One musty gusty evening, by the schemes of his wizened, 
   duplicate father, jealous of the apartment
And all that it contains, myself and spinach
In particular, heaves bolts of loving thunder
At his own astonished becoming, rupturing the pleasant

Arpeggio of our years. No more shall pleasant
Rays of the sun refresh your sense of growing old, nor the 
Tree-trunks and mossy foliage, only immaculate darkness and 
She grabbed Swee'pea. "I'm taking the brat to the country."
"But you can't do that--he hasn't even finished his spinach,"
Urged the Sea Hag, looking fearfully around at the apartment.

But Olive was already out of earshot. Now the apartment
Succumbed to a strange new hush. "Actually it's quite pleasant
Here," thought the Sea Hag. "If this is all we need fear from 
Then I don't mind so much. Perhaps we could invite Alice the Goon 
   over"--she scratched
One dug pensively--"but Wimpy is such a country
Bumpkin, always burping like that." Minute at first, the thunder

Soon filled the apartment. It was domestic thunder,
The color of spinach. Popeye chuckled and scratched
His balls: it sure was pleasant to spend a day in the country. 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

JG Ballard

Interesting JG Ballard story here

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The accidental photo

Not sure where I was when this was taken but it looks groovy... 

Monday, 9 September 2013

"Identity" - an introduction to Dead Letter Office by Anonymous

(First published as part of the Edinburgh Ebook Festival 2013.

Speaking as both a reader and an editor, I’m interested in literature that demands my attention early on. This probably means I’m missing out on a few slow-burning classics, so apologies to any authors who I’ve made a hasty decision to reject.

With the poetry collection, Dead Letter Office, I was hooked as soon as I read the opening line: “There’s a mallard and his mate outside my window.”  This one simple statement encapsulates everything that follows. This is the story of a rejected lover, looking out of their window, viewing the world outside in contrast to their own isolation.

When Dead Letter Office landed in my inbox, I half-expected something along the same lines as Exiled on Main Street, the poetry collection we published by the same author in 2012.  In a way, I was surprised at the contrast between the two books.  Exiled on Main Street is much broader in tone, with the poet adopting a range of angry, disillusioned voices.  Dead Letter Office is gentler and bleaker, with a single voice dwelling on the mistakes of their past.

Perhaps writing anonymously makes it easier for a writer to flip from one personality to another.  The lack of an identity as an author means each individual piece of work has an identity of its own.   

Non-profit publishing seems to be the perfect outlet for anonymous authors.  It’s obvious why mainstream publishers aren’t keen on the idea.  How many copies would Dan Brown’s latest novel have sold if the publishers failed to include the author’s name on the cover?  (I was going to say JK Rowling but thought better of it.)

Writing anonymously allows the writer to step completely outside of themselves, and perhaps write more freely as a result.  For one thing, you can experiment with radical ideas without worrying about what kind of backlash you’ll receive.  In the case of the anonymous authors of the manifesto Things That Don’t Exist, which we published last year, the authors state: “This manifesto was composed by a group of individuals who wish to remain anonymous on the grounds that their ideas are more important than their identities.” 

Appropriately enough, anonymity is a central theme in Dead Letter Office.  The book tells a tale of lost love, through a series of unsent letters written by a nameless narrator to a nameless recipient.  The following short poem sums the collection up well:  

Unsent Letter #3

Dear ,

Sometimes I no longer believe you are real; this letter
will sit in the dead letter office, unopened and unread
until one rainy day, a bored employee will wonder who
it was meant for. They will open it, read it aloud; create
their own narrative. I wonder will they be able to see
the curve of your hand, the spot on your wrist I used
to kiss; the freckle on your rib. On my window ledge,
a petal, used to be a rose. It is a stamp that has fallen
off an envelope; one more letter unable to be delivered.


One of the great things about poetry is that it allows you to tell a story without the necessity of a beginning, middle or end.  Each poem in Dead Letter Office focuses on a different aspect of the relationship between our two unnamed lovers, and a different aspect of the narrator’s sorrow.  Once the bigger picture has been established at the end of the collection, you may find yourself returning to the beginning in order to pick up bits you may have missed first time round.  It’s that kind of book. 

Download it for free from  You won’t be disappointed.

Frank Burton 

"Seriously" - an introduction to Pervert by Mr If

(First published as part of the Edinburgh Ebook Festival 2013.) 

In the third part of Mr If’s Entertainment Trilogy, the legendary author’s tales of sexual excess are drawn to an extraordinary conclusion. No spoilers here, but it’s not quite the ending any of us were expecting.

Skint, rejected and desperate, our pseudonymous protagonist embarks on a trek across small-town England, on what turns out to be a tough mission to cure his “adultery addiction”.

Pervert works perfectly well as a stand-alone piece, so if you’re happy to dive straight into part three of the trilogy, you’ll quickly receive an insight into Mr If’s mind – what makes him tick, what makes him sick, and what makes him, by his own reckoning, a bit of a prick. At times he’s despicable, at others he’s the voice of reason. He’s as enigmatic as he is brutally honest. He manages to leap from nihilism to humanism in the same breath. It’s difficult to think of a more captivating narrator.

Pervert differs from Mr If’s previous two books in that he’s ditched poetry in favour of prose. The switch has granted him the opportunity to strip his work of anything resembling “proper” literature.

Many readers will be put off by the explicit content, and no doubt by some of the author’s opinions. It’s clear from the memorable first line onwards that Mr If doesn’t write books for the easily offended.

Like the author’s debut collection, Entertainment, Pervert is a story about a series of sexual encounters. What’s important to note is that at no point does the narrative cross the line into porn or erotica. The sexual act itself is rarely even described aside from the occasional comic flourish (“My cock had already popped up its head up like an over-attentive waiter”). The account isn’t about the sex itself but the author’s interaction with the people he’s doing it with.

For those who like this sort of thing, Pervert is a very funny book. It’s easy to imagine Mr If as a character from a comic strip in the pages of Viz.

As with Viz, there’s an undercurrent of tragedy to Mr If’s crudeness. The author is at his best when he’s being serious. The book’s penultimate chapter includes a poem called “All My Friends Are Arseholes” – a bluntly-written attack on middle-class complacency, which ends with the lines:

The question is,
If all my friends are arseholes,
What does that make me?

Elsewhere, in a rant on marriage and monogamy, the author concludes:

“It’s not the couples themselves who benefit from marriage – it’s people like me, leeching off other people’s misery, sucking out every last drop of love. Without marriage, people like me would be forced to start being nice to people.”

Any attack on an institution, whether it’s literature itself in Entertainment, the military in Violence is the Answer or marriage in Pervert, are accompanied by flashes of self-loathing.

You may not be entirely convinced by the author’s claims that his work is autobiographical (including the book’s alarming ending), but for me, Mr If writes with a great deal of conviction, which makes the story all the more “real”.

In many ways, it doesn’t matter what’s true and what’s not. This is the stuff of legend, and legends can only be taken seriously to a certain degree.

I recommend taking this book seriously. I may get shot down in flames for saying so, but I believe this is an important book, and I hope that one day Mr If will be a recognisable name among book-lovers everywhere (even if he has no desire to be so).

Love it or hate it, this unconventional author’s work is more than just “entertainment”.

Anyway, you can be the judge. It’s a free download, so no excuses for ignoring it. Trust me – it’s unignorable. 

Download Pervert alongside lots of other free ebooks at

Frank Burton 

Edinburgh Ebook Festival 2013 - our contribution

We launched two ebooks as part of the Edinburgh Ebook Festival 2013, Pervert by Mr If and Dead Letter Office by Anonymous.
I'm reproducing our three blog posts which appeared on their website, starting with my introduction to Philistine Press and our two books... 

A couple of decades ago, giving thousands of books away for free would have been completely unthinkable for the vast majority of the population. The considerable expense would put off even the most well-meaning of philanthropists. Nowadays, e-publishing allows us to give thousands of books away for free at virtually zero cost. What’s more, anyone who has internet access can do it.

Non-profit publishing is yet to be huge, and yet to be taken seriously by its critics, but I wouldn’t be surprised if over the next few years, many more writers begin to consider the possibility of giving their work away for free. At present, there are only a handful of non-profit e-publishers. It’s only a matter of time before more small presses have the same idea – particularly the ones that don’t make a profit in the first place. 

With so much hype about the potential fortune that can be made through e-publishing, it’s unsurprising that so many small presses have chosen not to go non-profit. With the potential for your books to be purchased by millions of readers throughout the world without printing and distribution costs, it makes perfectly good sense to charge readers money, even if it’s just a token amount. However, in such a crowded marketplace, the chances of a small press or self-published author making millions through e-publishing remain slim. 

Is it better to make a relatively tiny amount of money from a book which is read by a handful of people, or to make zero pounds and zero pence, but reach an audience of thousands? I know which one I’d choose, because I’ve chosen it. I’m a non-profit publisher, and proud of it.

The two ebooks Philistine Press are launching as part of the Edinburgh Ebook Festival – Pervert by Mr If, and Dead Letter Office by Anonymous – are fine examples of the beauty of non-profit literature.

Pervert is a work of confessional prose, which is – or at least claims to be – a factual account of a short, explosive period in the author’s life. Mr If writes with no regard for the sensitivity of his readers, and with no fear of being censored.  This is the third book we’ve published by Mr If (it’s part three of the Entertainment Trilogy, and apparently the last book he’s ever going to write). We’ve had a great response to his first two books, despite – or, perhaps, because of – the author’s complete lack of subtlety. There are no metaphors, no hidden meanings, no ambiguities, and no apology for their absence. When Mr If says he wants to have sex with his mother, he genuinely means he wants to have sex with his mother. This would be a difficult book to sell to a mainstream publisher. Mr If isn’t interested in being mainstream, and makes every effort not to be.

Mr If may have a secret identity, but at the very least, we know he’s a "Mr". The author of the sublime poetry collection, Dead Letter Office is so anonymous that even I don’t know whether the person I’ve been corresponding with is male or female. With "Anonymous," it’s all about the work, not the author.  Dead Letter Office and the author’s previous collection, Exiled on Main Street, which we published in 2012, are accompanied by the message:

“You are encouraged to use this work in any way you see fit. Steal it, borrow it, take parts and make something new, rearrange it, riff on it, send it out over the internet, blog it, post it on telephone poles, throw it away. There is no copyright, no expectation of credit. Poetry should be free.”

As much as I admire this approach, speaking as a writer, I’m somewhat less revolutionary. I wouldn’t want anyone to rip off what I’ve written, alter it and pass it off as their own work. I’d imagine the majority of writers wouldn’t. 

But, as Pervert and Dead Letter Office demonstrate, non-profit literature isn’t about the majority. It’s there as an alternative. It may be revolutionary, but its intention isn’t to destroy the industry. It’s there to provide an alternative which didn’t exist until relatively recently. It’s for people who can’t find anything on the bestseller lists that appeals to them. It’s there who wouldn’t ordinarily read books. Above all, it’s there for anyone who loves literature.   

I can’t claim to be purist when it comes to being non-profit. I’d never advise anyone to firmly commit themselves to one form of publishing or another. My short story collection, A History of Sarcasm (Dog Horn 2009), and my forthcoming novel, Winter is Better Than Summer (Aqueous Books 2014) are both paid-for titles. I published my novel, The Prodigals, through Philistine Press in 2011 because the opportunity was too good to miss. My advice to writers is, take whatever opportunities are available to you.  If a print publisher wants to sign you up, go for it. The opportunity to self-publish your work online is always there, and in many cases it’s a better option than going through a conventional publisher. Make your choices wisely. Dismissing the idea of non-profit publishing altogether means there’s one less option on the table. 

One final word on the subject: not making money means not having to worry about how many books you’re going to sell. It offers authors the freedom to take more risks. You can say whatever you want in whatever way you want. Readers should take note as well as writers. The highly-recommended self-published writer pixelnyx ( is a prime example of an unrestricted author. 

Of course, an author’s work doesn’t have to be controversial, experimental or “cutting edge”. A good book is a good book, whether it’s free or not. If it’s available for anyone in the world with a computer to read or download without paying for it, all the better.       

If you’re interested in finding out more about Philistine Press, visit for lots of free stuff.

Feel free to get in touch at Our next wave of submissions begins in January 2014. 

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Guitar by Federico García Lorca

The weeping of the guitar
The goblets of dawn
are smashed.
The weeping of the guitar
to silence it.
to silence it.
It weeps monotonously
as water weeps
as the wind weeps
over snowfields.
to silence it.
It weeps for distant
Hot southern sands
yearning for white camellias.
Weeps arrow without target
evening without morning
and the first dead bird
on the branch.
Oh, guitar!
Heart mortally wounded
by five swords.