Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Best things of 2010

OK, please bear in mind this isn't supposed to be a definitive "best things of the year" list. This has been cobbled together off the top of my head (as I suspect is the case with most of these things). Just thought I'd mention a few things I've enjoyed in 2010 ...


Gil Scott Heron's great comeback record:

Gil Scott Heron - Me and the Devil by treylord

Grinderman's second album …

And my personal favourite tune of the year …

Find more artists like Planet Creature at Myspace Music


Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge

The Collings and Herrin Podcast / As it Occurs to Me

Curb Your Enthusiasm Series 7

Online literature (apart from Philistine Press)

My favourite literature sites at the moment are: - updated every day with a wide variety of literary and cultural stuff. - an exceptional poetry blog, with a new anthology colleting together the best of 2009-10. - the best of the poetry podcasts, alongside

Plus three great champions of the short story:

And a mystery blog tucked away in some obscure part of the Guardian website called "A Brief Survey of the Short Story." This guide to classic short story writers is virtually impossible to find if you don't have the direct link, so here it is -

Literary reference of the year ...

I almost managed to get through the whole of 2010 without mentioning that 2010 was the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. We're now so far into the future we've gone past one sci-fi novel and onto the next.

Merry Christmas, Happy new year. See you in 2011.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Open Mic Disasters #4: Forgetting the Words

By Frank Burton

Forgetting the words can of course be disastrous for any performer, but for the performance poet it can literally mean the end of the show. If you fluff your lines as an actor in the theatre, you've usually got other people on stage to help you blag your way through it. If you're a singer, you've got the music to fall back on. Poets just have uncomfortable silence.

This doesn't mean you can't recover. If you make a joke out of it as you scramble around for the notebook in your pocket, you can almost make the cock-up seem deliberate.

Or you can improvise. The audience doesn't know what you're going to say, so why not talk bollocks into the microphone, adding a few meaningful pauses here and there? (A lot of poets just do that anyway.)

Personally, I think reciting from memory is the best way of delivering poetry to a live audience. Every poet should give it a go, even the ones who say "I could never do that." But you need to be fully prepared. You need to be able to let the lines flow right out of you without having to stop and think. (It doesn't always work. If nerves get the better of you, you'll see all those faces staring back at you and the whole thing disappears. That's when the notebook in your pocket comes in handy.)

I just have one piece of advice for anyone thinking of performing their poetry from memory at an open mic for the first time: don't have a drink. You may think it cures your stage fright, and maybe it does, but it doesn't do the memory any good. I went to Poetry Unplugged in London a year or so ago, and planned to perform a couple of poems I'd recited elsewhere several times before, so didn't take the time to rehearse anything in my head, had a few drinks and stepped up to the microphone, where I immediately forgot who I was, what I was doing - everything. Luckily about ten seconds later, I managed to pull myself together, but it was an uncomfortable ten seconds. I may have said "OK, what am I doing?" a couple of times but hopefully this was assumed to be part of the routine.

I suppose the reason why a lot of poets prefer to read from the page rather than deliver from memory is that if you get the words wrong, the poem won't be as good. There's a simple solution to that: don't get the words wrong. If you're properly prepared, hopefully that's not going to happen. And if you slip up, it's not the end of the world. The worst thing that could happen is that you'll look like a bit of a dick.

I don't know about you, but that happens to me all the time.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Interview - Tom Hamilton

Tom Hamilton in conversation with Frank Burton

Tom's novella The Darkened Corner can be read online or downloaded for free at

I understand the writing of The Darkened Corner involved one of every writer's worst nightmares. What happened?

I usually write out the first draft longhand in a college ruled notebook. Not really taking the time to think about errors or sentence structure or anything which will slow down the flow. Like Hemingway said: "The only stipulation for the first draft is that you get it all down." Then I wait a few weeks to divorce myself emotionally from the text. After that I'll hunt through several notebooks and read excerpts of mostly terrible ideas until I find a draft which I think is interesting enough to transfer onto the computer screen.

I painstakingly copied out the first draft of the 'The Darkened Corner' since this is the period in the process where I slow it down and try to work on things like pace and time line. I think of myself as a sculptor, knocking off the rough edges of the story with a chisel. Once I have the whole second draft inside the computer, I will endlessly comb over it to try and eliminate errors and to give the flow of the prose a more poetic tone. Describing this process does not mean that I feel I've succeeded in any way. Only the reader, and not the person who would like to call themselves an artist, can attest to the quality of the manuscript.

Anyway once I'd completed the second draft (which could really be dozens of drafts), disaster struck. I opened the file one day to find nothing but an endless blizzard where my novella had been. I don't know much about computers. I don't know if I erased it myself somehow or if some weird glitch just sucked into cyberspace forever. In any event it was gone. I was so pissed off at this point that I just decided to consult the notebook draft, which by now looked like something a second grader had scribbled out, and start again. I do believe that in some ways the novella was better off for it, since I thought of some things which I probably never would have just combing through the lost draft. However I would love to take just one look at the lost draft, since I know there is something in there that the story could have used.

How closely does your first draft resemble the finished novella? Was the structure the same at the beginning?

The first draft was an incomprehensible mess, like all my first drafts, so I wasn´t really too worried about it. I just try to keep in mind that I don´t have to show it to anyone until it´s ready, which could theoretically be never. Indeed there are some first drafts that I never so much as scrapped as much I did just left them to rot forever. The first draft of 'The Darkened Corner' I obviously thought had some bright spots or I never would have put it up on the board. Sometimes I´m surprised to find that very little changes are necessary, but most instances I end up adding a lot of phrases, descriptions and what I like to feel are poetic images. Of course I try and polish it as much as possible.

The structure was probably a little different. A couple of the mini chapters were added later and one at the last minute. I did have a couple of alternate scenes, which I hated even more than usual and decided to leave out. At one point I was going to try and keep the flashbacks chapters even with the current chapters until I realized that whole novella is basically a flashback. I do like to make the structure interesting without confusing the reader too much or to the point where they want to stop reading.

Is any of the book based on your own experience?

Some of it is. I like to think of the phrase: A poet tells the truth even when he lies. I realize that this is prose not poetry but the result I´m looking for is the same. If it helps the story to lie or embellish it some you're going to have to do it. Unfortunately when I was growing up I was privy to these types of scams. Travellers have zero education and only the means they create for themselves. Fortunately for myself and many other travellers (not to mention the public at large)we are now running legit businesses. But that doesn´t make for a very interesting novella.

Is it autobiographical? Somewhat, but not entirely. My father was nowhere near as harsh as the '´Da' in the story, although I do remember scenes which were similar to the second chapter. I´ve never tried my hand at a suicide attempt like the protagonist, but I felt pretty low at times. I just felt like the suicide scene would let the reader know just how far the narrator had fallen. There is no real life Katie Rose as she´s more a manifestation of lots of women. I felt that the narrator needed a tragic angel just to make his life all the more miserable. Telling my real life story might be too boring. The story might be too boring anyway, I don´t know. It´s the writers job to try and keep the reader reading, and that means fictionalizing large portions of the story then that´s why they call it fiction.

Bukowski said that the most common mistake young writers make is thinking that their lives are going to sound interesting to everyone. Most people don´t care about other people´s lives. They just want to be entertained. I find it hard to write something that I just think is entertaining. My number one goal as writer: what I´m really shooting for is resonance. The elusive power to make the reader remember the story for days ,weeks or years afterword.

Do you think some Irish Travellers might be angry about your portrayal of con-artists in the Traveller community?

I doubt that there are many travellers who will even know about the novella. Hard as it is to believe many travellers can't read at all or at least very little. Even if some do find the site and read it, I doubt that they would take offense to the con artist scenes; as some may have experience in this field. I'd be more afraid of travellers taking some sort of moral high ground. The traveller community is a lot more like Ireland, perhaps a hundred years ago than it is like modern America . The women probably wouldn't appreciate some of the curse words or the sexual situations. No one, of course, will understand or believe that the persona is not me. "I am not I" as Evelyn Waugh once said. But if you're attempting to be a real writer, and be real I mean someone who is willing to tell what is worse than the truth, than I don't think that you can consider what anybody else thinks about the work, at least while you're writing it. If I left out stuff that might offend travellers, or feminists or American Indians or anybody else, I wouldn't have any material left. Besides, good people are always going to say good things and a prick is a prick, North, South, East or West. I'm definitely not afraid of criticism. I try not to say much in advance of a story, I want to see it fly or flounder on its own.

Besides, portraying a traveller in a fictitious light is no different than having a black man in a story rob a liquor store. It doesn't mean that every black person is an armed robber. It may be an unfair stereotype, but there is no NAACP for travellers so I guess I'll just have to be as honest as I can. I will say this: about a dozen or so years ago when my poetry chapbook was selected for publication, a lot of travellers found about it and many read the angst-ridden and mostly awful poems. I expected to be ridiculed and jeered over this and I'm sure I probably was in some instances behind my back. But many travellers also came up to me and praised the collection. Some of the last people that I would have ever expected. I don't think I can fully convey to you haw far out it is for a traveller to be writing short stories and poems, especially in the eyes of other travellers, but I'm much to old to worry about shit like this. If I want to be a true artist I have no choice but to say this is who I am.

Do you intend to go on to write more novellas, or novels?

I've actually written three novels, although they're definitely not ready for prime time. I have printed out rough drafts of them which are currently rotting away in my desk drawer. It would take some tremendous concentration to complete one of these works and to do it the right way. Maybe more than is currently available to me. After all I've got three kids running around here and a wife who beats me the hell out of me every other day. Sometimes I fantasize about going to a writer's retreat so I could finish the novels in peace and quiet. Maybe get something done in a couple of weeks instead of dragging it out for months. But then I think that I'm really not interested in what other writers have to say. Unless of course Kafka comes back from the grave. I mean I've seen some talentless people discussing pedestrian manuscripts and doling out worthless advice. Then I think that maybe I'd just be better off in a room by myself for a couple of weeks and I really could focus on the books and finish one. Then I remember that I am not doing this for a living nor am I famous and therefore I don't feel I have the right to dedicate all of my time to the craft. Besides I would miss my kids too much.

I don't start out with a predestined word count. The story will dictate to me in how many words it needs to be told. If I can think of something which I feel will give the story more power I'll include it no matter how many words it takes. This may be a weakness on my part as I am always reluctant to leave anything out and maybe some stuff needs to be cut. But sometimes it's hard for me to kill my darlings. I do intend to keep writing novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories, plays, articles and even a poem if I ever get the hankering back. I am strictly writing as a hobby. I don't have any illusions about being on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

Who are your influences?

I like Brett Easton Ellis, Nabokov, Vonegutt, Orwell, W. Summerset Maugham, Paul Auster, Plath, Larry Brown and William S. Burroughs.

Poetry I like Simic, Pope, Whitman, Plath and Rimbaud.

I think reading is essential for any young writer but I try not to write like anybody else. I think everyone has to write from the ground up, that's ground zero, or sometimes ground sub-zero. And every one's got one million words of pure D shit that they have to get out of their system before they can even be a competent writer, never mind good or great. I used to try and write obscure stories in a sort of imitation of Burrough's style. But I soon passed through that phase as part of the one million words of pure D shit clause. Writing like your idols can be fun, but it doesn't mean you're making any progress. Even though I think just the act of writing in its self is progress. The only way we're going to get better at it is just to keep at it. I don't think that young writers should try and compare themselves or compete with people in their workshops or other peers. I think we have to try and write alongside the greatest writers of all time, no matter how unattainable that goal.

I actually knew Larry Brown. I did a job for him on his Mississippi homestead when my wife and I lived in Memphis. I had no idea that he was the author of 'Father and Son, Big Bad Love' and other classics until I got talking to him. We corresponded until he died of a sudden heart attack. He used to critique some of my poems and he thought that they were pretty good. I had to stop writing poetry however as the demand to say something in a different way at a high level became too great for me. Now I just try to say what I mean while occasionally using poetry as a prose device. I think poetry, however, teaches you how to write. How to use the rhythm of the metrics to make a good flow. It teaches you the beat of the language, even if you're writing blank verse or just ordinary prose. You may learn more from studying the lives and quotes of your favourite authors than by trying to write like them.

It could be argued that novellas or short novels are the ideal form of fiction for an online audience - more substantial than short stories, but still short enough to be read in one sitting. Longer books have the potential to lose the reader halfway through, because on the internet your audience is more likely to be distracted by other things. Do you agree?

I think it depends on who´s reading it. I´m ashamed to say that my attention span is not very long. Yet whether I´m reading something online or or in book form I´ll keep reading if its good enough. Some people prefer books as I think that´s what they´re used to. Curling up in bed with a good book. I like the computer screen because you can see it easily even in a dark room without disturbing anyone else. I like to go back sometimes and read Orwell´s novels online, and it does give you a somewhat different perspective when the work isn´t chopped into pages. But there´s always the temptation to surf the web.

Everything nowadays seems like it has to be so instant. Modern writers are advised to chop up their prose into smaller paragraphs just so as not to put too big a burden on the reader. Writers have to make their own choice. Some may insist with sticking to longer paragraphs. But what good is it if it´s art and no one stays with it long enough to read it all.

How do you feel about internet publishing?

Internet publishing is fine as long as no one gets screwed over. By that I mean there are some cyber versions of the vanity press where writers have to pay for their own copies or what have you. But it's probably just as easy to get bilked in print, if not easier, as it is on the net. Some writers feel that they have not achieved success until they have a jacketed book inside Barnes and Nobel or Borders. I might even be one of those writers but what the hell am I going to do with myself in the meantime? I do like to see my stories posted on the net, especially when the publisher takes the time to make a nice presentation like you guys did at Philistine. Besides if someone in the small press runs two hundred print copies of say your poetry chapbook, there's little chance that anyone will get to see it to read it. And I'd be willing to bet that in fifty years from now my small press first edition will not be worth as much as Jack Kerouac's. If you have a story on the net, however, anyone who searches for your name will see it and it will probably be up there for years, not just moulding in a basement somewhere.

New Album Release

"Hint" by Randy Thurman is Philistine's first full-length album release.

I want to describe what it sounds like, but that's impossible, so you'll have to listen to it instead.

Randy Thurman - Hint by philistinepress

Unheard Music

OK, here's a short list of some unheard musicians that have come my way recently.

Planet Creature - really good songs - nothing musch else to be said here.

Joe Innes - dark, funny, cool.

Mr Vladimir - good name, good sounds.

One band who I've noticed have been appearing in all the right places at the moment is Chad Valley (aka Hugo Manuel). He's in danger of becoming as trendy as Mumford and Sons, which would mean he has no place on a list of "unheard musicians," but let's not split hairs. He's pretty good, so good luck to him.

Finally, take a listen to this great piece of old-school-meets-new-school (or something) by the misleadingly-named Gospel UK:

D.I.F.F.I.C.U.L.T.Y. by Gospel UK

More at Soundcloud.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Interview with Johanna Harness

by Frank Burton

As promised a while ago, here is an interview with Johanna Harness, creator of the #amwriting hashtag, and recipient of the Christopher Al-Azwad Prize.

More information about this project here

Information about the Christopher Al-Azwad Prize here

Are you surprised by the success of #amwriting? Did you expect it to win awards?

I've been constantly surprised and amazed by the success of #amwriting. The writers using the hashtag are unstoppable, creative, supportive--I could go on and on. It really never occurred to me that there could be awards attached to starting this. It fills a need and that makes me very happy. The rest is all a bonus.

Does the #amwriting community actively promote itself, or is this something that happens naturally?

When writers use the hashtag, everyone in their following list sees the tag and word spreads. It's a very organic process. Once in a while a member will see an opportunity to promote the group and everyone jumps in, but even those moments are pretty spontaneous.

Can Tweeting get in the way of writing?

If writers are looking for ways not to write, anything can be used for an excuse. The great thing about #amwriting is the excitement everyone shows for the craft. It's difficult to read through the stream of posts without wanting to jump into writing. The writers who post there have fun and their enthusiasm spreads.

#amwriting is a great way of information-sharing between writers. Are there any particularly useful things you've learnt from using it?

One of the best things I've learned is that everyone gets frustrated at times. The words don't flow one day or the revision is much more complicated than imagined. It's enormously reassuring to know that this is part of the writing process and others experience these same things.

Would you recommend #amwriting to writers who want to promote their work, or is it not used for that?

Promotion flows naturally from the community of writers. We know each other, support each other, and want each other to succeed. If someone starts using the tag for promotion, but they never write with us, they're not going to find much help from the group.

How do you feel about writers creating fiction and poetry through Twitter?

I love pushing the boundaries of creative expression and greatly admire writers who are able to embrace new forms. Twitter is a fun part of this.

Would you be concerned if someone used the #amwriting hashtag incorrectly? Or as a means of insulting other writers?

The users of #amwriting are very tech-savvy. When we do have spammers or offensive posters, those users get blocked and reported by 200-300 people and their account disappears. Good energy attracts good energy and I have faith in that, but my faith is helped along by good filters.

What are you writing at the moment?

Right now I'm working on an anthology of short stories featuring my young adult character, Claire Morgane. The stories all take place either before or within the first three chapters of the first Claire novel and I'm publishing a new one on my website every Friday ( Unlike serial novels, the stories are created to stand alone and can be read in any order. My goal is to introduce readers to Claire's world and keep posting stories while I'm working on additional novels.

Friday, 19 November 2010


My nomination for the greatest work of animation ever produced.

New Novella - The Darkened Corner by Tom Hamilton

Our new novella, online as of today, is The Darkened Corner by Tom Hamilton, available to read online or download for free from

The Darkened Corner covers seventeen years in the life of a traveller, conman, self-hater and hard-drinker, and his continuing obsession with his childhood crush, Katie Rose. Tom Hamilton's fragmented story is delivered in short, sharp bursts of prose.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Adam Buxton does NWA - Help The Police

Hidden poem

On the subject of hidden tracks, I thought I'd mention that one of the poetry collections on the Philistine Press website features a "hidden poem." I can't tell you which collection it is, or where it's hidden. I've already said too much.

I just wanted to point this out, because we may well be the first publisher to release a hidden poem. I've not heard of anyone else hiding a poem in a collection before. Maybe they have and it's all a secret.

Until someone corrects me, I will continue to claim that we're breaking new ground with our mystery hidden poem thing.

By the way, if anyone is able to identify the hidden poem, there's a prize.

(Small print: 1. This isn't available to the poet who hid the poem in the first place. 2. The prize is hidden.)

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Gallstones by Rob Sherman

Last week, Rob Sherman contacted me recently with an “extra bit” for his and Sarah Ogilvie’s poetry and art collection, Valve Works. It’s a short story called Gallstones.

I don’t want to go over the top or anything, but I thought it was astonishingly good.

I wasn’t sure about adding it to the collection, however. Firstly, it would be quite time consuming updating the PDF, the online version, the Smashwords version and the Google Books version. Secondly, it’s not a poem, so it doesn’t quite fit in.

So instead we’ve published it on the website as an accompaniment to the collection – the literary equivalent of a DVD extra or a hidden track. The only difference between this and a hidden track is that it’s not very well hidden – it’s advertised on the home page of the website with the words “New short story by Rob Sherman”.

Well, we wouldn’t want anyone to miss it.

Read Gallstones here.

Read Valve Works here.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

New review

Jay McLeod's The Rupublic of Naught has been reviewed in Neon Magazine.

I think the reviewer liked it. Jay has been in touch to say he likes the review, so all is good.

Read the review here.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

By the way, I'm still alive

Just thought I'd mention that I'm still alive. Haven't had much time to post things on here recently, as I've been doing lots of editing and writing.

So, while we're here, here's a few things that have come my way recently ...

Anastomoo magazine - including a selection of handwritten poems.

Notes from the Underground - including a short story by Philistine author, Clare Fisher.

Fifty Two Stories - another good fiction site

and another one - Mudlicious Press

Monday, 1 November 2010

Interview with Clare Fisher

Clare Fisher in conversation with Frank Burton

Clare's novella The Hole in the Wall can be read online or downloaded for free from

Some novellas are expanded short stories. Others are condensed novels. Is The Hole in the Wall one of these two options, or was it always intended be a novella?

When I started writing it I had no idea how long it was going to be. The idea came to me whilst I was delirious from tiredness, on the tube going home from work. When I finished Caroline's narrative, I knew there had to be different points of view as well, although I had a feeling there wasn't enough for a full novel.

Is it your ultimate aim to be a novelist, or are you happier with shorter works?

If I'm honest, yes. I enjoy writing shorter pieces but - and the same goes for when I read them - I never feel quite satisfied. If the story's really good, I want more. I want something big. Writing something that sustains your own and your reader's attention for the length of a novel is a challenge I would like to undertake, however impossible and suicidal it may seem!

Who are your influences?

I have always enjoyed novels with multiple first-person narratives. I read The English Passengers by Matthew Neale and Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible when I was a young teenager. I think these were unconscious influences - although I didn't realise it until I began to think about your question. More generally, I enjoy writing that is quite direct and paired-down, often in first person; influences in this vein include Douglas Coupland and Banana Yoshimoto. I could go on; I have been influenced by everything that I read and really connect with, even if it is only in a small way.

One of the impressive things about The Hole in the Wall is your ability to adopt a range of voices - male, female, children, adults - people from different backgrounds. Was this a difficult thing to achieve?

I didn't find it a particularly hard thing to achieve. Voice is one of the aspects of writing I have always found most interesting, both in my own work and in others'. I am also an extremely nosy person, and spend too much time wondering what's going on in other peoples' heads... I have always been fascinated by the way people furnish their worlds using language that is particular to them; that is something I was hoping to explore in this piece.

Do you have a favourite character in The Hole in The Wall?

I think it would either be Treasure, for her wacko imagination and relentless optimism, or perhaps her gran, who we never hear from directly but who is a ghostly presence holding the whole thing together.

Caroline and Michael probably represent a lot of couples in Britain today. Do you sympathise with them, or are you satirising them for their hypocrisy?

I would say both. When I write, I have to find a place in my characters that I sympathise with, no matter how ridiculous or distasteful they are; if I don't, all that comes across is bitterness and hate, which I don't think is particularly fun to write, or to read.

So, when you're writing, do you put yourself directly in the character's shoes, or are you able to remain detached from them?

I do what I can to become my characters whilst I'm writing. When things are going really well, their thoughts and feelings come without me having to do anything; when I find myself thinking, that's my thought not theirs, I know I'm stuck. I need to be free of self-consciousness when I write.

Do you have a particular way of getting rid of your self-consciousness?

Practise helps, but the main thing is to feel a certain love and enthusiasm for what I'm writing.

Finally, how do you feel about internet publishing?

Well, it's given me a lot of opportunities to get my stuff out there that I wouldn't have had otherwise, so I'm all for it!

Friday, 22 October 2010

A Halloween Reading

Hey everyone! Happy Halloween!!!

I just wanted to swing by and note that the Science Fiction Poetry Association (S.F.P.A.) has uploaded some poetry for their annual Halloween Poetry Reading series. I provided a reading of "The Revolutionary Behind the Tavern" from Isotropes: A Collection of Speculative Haibun as my contribution. Here's the link: Feel free to spread the word.



Tuesday, 5 October 2010

New ebook - The Hole in the Wall by Clare Fisher

Our first fiction ebook has arrived …

The Hole in The Wall, a novella by Clare Fisher

Told from the point of view of five contrasting narrators, The Hole in The Wall is a funny, touching and satirical tale of suburban disharmony.

This is the first of a number of fiction releases from Philistine Press over the next few months.

Read it or download it here.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Not on Facebook, Still on Twitter

To paraphrase the Philistine poet, Mr If, we're "not on Facebook, still on Twitter."

I set up a Facebook page for Philistine Press a few months ago, but haven't done much with it, and I'm sorry to say I've now closed it down.

There are a few reasons for this:

1. I didn't really like it. I've never really liked social networking sites anyway - I just set this one up as a means of helping to promote Philistine Press. There seem to be a lot of unnecessary restrictions on there - they wouldn't even let me call myself FJ Riley, because you're not allowed to have initials in your name!

2. I haven't had much chance to update the page. Believe it or not, folks, despite my immense writing talents, I'm still working in my day job. The office where I work recently blocked employees from using Facebook while at work, so I haven't really had chance to update the page. It's like an unwanted child - I'd rather get rid of it altogether than have a page sitting there with no one looking after it.

3. Frank Burton informs me that according to the web stats, the majority of the traffic directed to the Philistine Press site doesn't come from social networking sites. I'm pretty pleased about that. We only have a few followers on Twitter, but it's better to have lots of people visiting the Philistine Press site rather than loads of followers on Twitter who don't necessarily visit the site on a regular basis (or, indeed, at all).

I was running a feature on the Facebook page called "Extract of the Moment," which featured selected poems and extracts from Philistine ebooks on a semi-regular basis. Seen as we're no longer on Facebook, I'm going to transfer that feature to this blog. Watch out for that, lit lovers!

If anyone else wants to start up a Facebook page, that would be great - perhaps you'll have more success than I did. I'd say I'd be happy to be a fan of it, but as I mentioned, I'm no longer on Facebook. So, that's that.

FJ Riley

Monday, 13 September 2010

Tom Duckworth Interview

Tom Duckworth in conversation with Frank Burton.

Tom Duckworth's poetry collection, Happy Fat Children and Protein Enhancers is available to read online or download for free at

What's the appeal of anagrams for you?

I’m fascinated by the butterfly effect and how one event leads to the unfolding of several others (I think the film Sliding Doors perfectly explains what I would try and describe here). With that in mind I thought about it in the context of just letters and words. I’m quite into the idea of somehow capturing a single moment where a collection of words has come together for some reason. I thought to myself, 'why not try and create a poem to mark out the event of all these letters appearing together'. It then seemed fitting that the poem should only contain the letters that were present at the time and so my collection of anagram poems began.

I did expand by using groups of words that didn’t necessarily appear together in a captured photograph, but words that somehow share a common link with one another. I also figured that perhaps more people would be able to connect with the poems if they were familiar with the words or letters they were built from.

How do you put the poems together? Do you work them out on paper, or do you cut and paste on a computer?

I find when working on paper I can think a lot quicker and I'm not always in reach of a computer when I've had the time to write - however I am somewhat of an unorganised mess at times and frequently sheets of paper disappear from where I DEFINITELY left them (probably left them, maybe)... I really should buy a book of blank paper perhaps or something that I can't lose easily.

So more often than not I do cut and paste on a computer. It does have it's benefits, for instance it's easy for me to can keep track of the whole writing process in a chronological order and I can retrace my thinking if parts need changing, without getting all muddled up. And this, retracing my steps, turns out to be quite important for me when it comes to finishing a poem.

Do you use any computer programs or online tools to create anagrams?

Yes, occasionally I’ve cheated a little. I have a programme that lets you input some text and it counts the number of times each letter occurs. So I use this to split up the original text to get an idea of the distribution of letters available. I wouldn't say that’s the cheating part but the next bits are...

There is a particular online scrabble solver that I’ve occasionally used for inspiration lets say. So you can put in, I think up to 12 or so letters, and it will display all the possible words you can create from them. This is good because I often come across new interesting words here, I check out their meanings and if I like them and they seem fitting for the poem I will try to squeeze them in somehow.

When finishing off a poem I rarely get lucky where everything fits without much of a problem, most often I end up with a few useless letters that just can’t be added in anywhere. In these cases I’ll usually have to pick my least favourite phrase in the poem or sometimes change the grammatical tense of a word to free up more or different letters and see if I can combine them with those left out to make something new, exciting but importantly, uses all of them. So depending on how lazy, frustrated or desperate I’m feeling I sometimes use an anagram solver programme to help with this final tweaking as it spots things I’d most likely miss.

You've said that your work is more like a series of mathematical problems rather than poems. Are you influenced by other poets?

I quite like the work of Tim Key, I enjoy his style of writing and the performances he gives of his poems. But I wouldn't say I've read an awful lot of poetry by any particular poet or writer so I guess my influences are a whole bunch of people when if asked I'd struggle to remember any of their names.

You're also influenced by the (very funny) comedian Demetri Martin. Is there a direct link between his work and yours?

I'd say so yes. The first poem I wrote was based on something he created. Demetri wrote down all the words from a bottle of beer and then re-arranged them into something other than the slogan, drinking instructions and whatever else you usually find printed on a typical beer bottle. I was captivated by this view of the world as I had never seen anything like it before so I tried it myself but simply changed the product from beer to a packet of crisps. For me the inspiration for the format of my poems, being anagrams or rearrangements, came from Demetri Martin but the words themselves, ones that I see within a bunch of letters is very much personal and unique to me. I think then the way they become arranged giving the overall feel of the poems perhaps comes from subtle influences based upon other poetry I've read but I'm not sure if it reflects anyone specific.

Finally, how do you feel about internet publishing?

I love it. Online publishing is great. I spend probably 2/11th of my working day on the internet exploring for anything to distract me from actually doing any work, so having people to fuel my idleness with their interesting articles, poetry, anything really is fantastic for me (especially if the stuff is available for free, it's so much easier and more inviting that way). But with regards to publishing my own stuff, i don't think many people would read it if it wasn't published online.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Philistine Press - The First Six Months

by Frank Burton

Philistine Press was launched on 3rd March 2010. 6 months and 10 ebooks later, here are some thoughts on how it’s been going …

The idea for Philistine came about after I published my novella, About Someone, on my own website, The book was pretty much written in one weekend, and was an experimental writing exercise more than anything else – it certainly wasn’t intended for publication originally. When I decided to publish it myself online, it felt like a small act of rebellion against the publishing industry. (It's not the best thing I've ever written, and it won't be online forever - I'll be removing it from the site in a few months to make room for bigger and better things - so take a look while you still can.)

This sense of rebelliousness was the driving force behind Philistine Press. For the first six months of being online, the subtitle beneath the Philistine Press heading on the website was “What are you rebelling against?” – a famous cinematic line, often attributed to the James Dean film, Rebel Without a Cause, although the question was actually directed at Marlon Brando’s character, Johnny, in The Wild One. I’m sure I’m not the only person who finds Johnny’s reply, “Whaddaya got?” slightly unsatisfying. I’m more interested in the question, “What are you rebelling against?” Writers should ask themselves that question more often.

It was never my intention for Philistine Press to focus purely on rebellious writers (whatever “rebellious” means), although I’m happy to say all of our authors arguably fall into that category in one way or another.

So, has Philistine stuck to its initial aims so far?

Firstly, the aim was to publish a variety of ebooks, mainly focussing on poetry and fiction. Well, we’ve not published any fiction yet, but we have a novella, a novel and a short story collection due out later on this year, so that’s that one covered. The original aim was to bring out two ebooks a month, which we started off doing, but haven’t necessarily got the time or the resources to keep it up. With 11 releases in 6 months (10 ebooks and 1 EP), I don’t think anyone can criticise us for not publishing enough.

Secondly, I was particularly interested in publishing contemporary works that are no longer available in print. There aren’t enough publishers out there who are doing that. Often authors resort to self-publishing their out-of-print books because other publishers aren’t interested, regardless of how good the books are. For some reason, Philistine haven’t had a great response on calls for out-of-print books. Our only release of this kind is Andy Hopkins’ excellent Dark Horse Pictures. I haven’t given up on this idea, and maybe next year we’ll see some more previously-print-published titles appearing on the site. Fingers crossed on that one.

The main aim, however, was a simple one: publish some great ebooks. Well, I’m biased, obviously, but I think we’ve passed that one with flying colours. The submissions we’ve received have certainly exceeded my expectations (having heard stories from other editors, I was half-expecting everything we received to be total rubbish). Sorry to go all Oscar’s-acceptance-speech on you, but I genuinely can’t believe my luck.

A few projects have mysteriously slipped through my fingers. On occasions an author will email me with an interesting proposal. I’ll email them back asking for the full manuscript and then never hear from them again. Perhaps some of these missed opportunities will return in due course, or perhaps they’ve vanished forever.

So, as far as the next six months are concerned, our aims are …

1. More of the same.

2. Fiction, fiction, fiction – coming soon.

3. Multiple formats – our books are available as PDF files and as online text at the moment. Formats such as .mobi for the Kindle and LRF for the Sony ebook reader should help our authors reach a wider readership.

Incidentally, our subtitle has now been changed from "What are you rebelling against?" to the rather more straightforward "Non-profit digital publishing." It's not the catchiest tag-line ever, but it's important that anyone who visits the site for the first time knows what we're all about - digital publishing, not motivated by profit, but by the desire to do something fucking great.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Jay McLeod Interview

Jay McLeod in conversation with Frank Burton.

Jay McLeod's poetry collection, The Republic of Naught, can be read online or downloaded for free at

Would you describe the voice in your poems as yourself, or are you speaking through an invented persona?

I would say there is a minimum of artifice to what I write. I write because I need to. A persona would get in the way of that. The creative energy required to create and maintain a persona would detract from the contents of the poems - i.e. the images and events, etc would not be as fully realized because the focus would be inward (on the persona) rather than outward, or on the subject of the poem. I see the poems as largely independent of me. When writing I try to help them along as best as I can, and not get too much in their way.

The poems aren’t necessarily factual or drawn from my own experience, but speak to the kinds of things I wonder about or am concerned about. I’ve got some poems about murder told from the point of view of the killer. I have never killed anybody (yet!) but curiosity causes me to write about it. The voice is mine, but the perspective isn’t - nor could it be.

I see the poems as an extension of my “natural” being. The “me” that works my job is not discrete from the “me” that does housework or interacts with neighbours or writes poetry. If anything, these activities (and attendant states of being) all feed into one another.

To put it another way: it’s all part of the same cloth.

Who are your influences?

The writing I like tends to be of a populist sensibility. I generally go for stuff that is accessible to the general reader / or listener. The following list is in no particular order:

1. Alden Nowlan: an excellent mid-late 20th Century poet from Atlantic Canada.
2. Leonard Cohen: some of his poetry from the sixties and seventies is absolutely deranged.
3. Paul Westerberg: The Replacements are the best rock band ever. PW writes funny, clever, heart-felt, neurotic, realistic lyrics like nobody else.
4. Frankie Stubbs: Leatherface (from Sunderland, UK) is the best rock band you’ve never heard. See the above comments about PW. I can’t overstate how much I enjoy listening to this music / and the lyrics are killer.
5. Dylan Thomas: I haven’t actually read that many of his poems, but the ones I have blown me away.
6. TS Eliot / and the Imagists, generally.
7. Chaucer: I go for the characterization and the comedy.
8. Dostoyevsky: He didn’t write poetry (that I know of) but still.
9. Emily Dickinson: Of course.
10. Bukowski: gruff and heartfelt and cynical and madly prolific. My style is probably more directly indebted to Hank than to any other writer.

How political is your work?

Not very. I think of politics as being a sport for privileged middle-aged people - or for the “activist class”. I vote in nearly every election but I have no allegiance to any particular party or movement. I believe people should be good to each other, and I think that comes through in my writing. What is the opposite of a political agenda? That is what I have.

There seems to be a lot of anger in this collection, but there is also a lot of humour. Did you make a conscious decision to combine these two elements in your poetry?

There is very little to my writing which I decide on consciously. I pick a subject or a line or an image that I find compelling and go from there. The tone of a finished poem might be funny or angry or both. I try not to over-think it. It’s the same kind of thing with a lot of punk music. Nearly everybody I hung around with as a teenager and a younger adult played (or still plays) in a rock band. And of course a lot of it comes from working at jobs you don’t necessarily enjoy when you are younger - and hanging out in apartments and bars after work and the kinds of conversations you have with friends who are doing the same kinds of things you are. It’s angry: like “wow, my day at work sucked so hard” / “this job is demeaning and killing me one day at a time”, but also there are many good, funny moments in there. Funny things happen at work and shows and people’s apartments. Slaughterhouse Five and Trainspotting were two of my favourite novels when I was eighteen or nineteen - and have a similar anger-humour ratio. All of these things informed the kind of writing I did when I was 26 or 27 years old (when I wrote most of the poems in Republic). There’s black humour everywhere.

How well does Adriano Zanni's cover image of the white flag represent the collection?

First of all, I like the picture a lot. It has a kind of timeless quality to it. The blank flag is a screen-within-a-screen: many things could be projected onto that white space. In fact, it isn’t necessarily a flag at all. I think the poems in Republic can be taken in the same way. There are character sketches, one-liners, observations on popular culture, and some throw-away literary references. It’s a grab-bag of words, images, and ideas. It could be crap or it could be brilliant or it could be just kind of “meh”.

When I was sixteen I woke up every morning listening to “Fuck School” and “Kids Don’t Follow” off the Replacements' Stink. Now that I’m in my thirties, I find myself listening to All Shook Down. It’s all one body of work, but the emphasis is different.

A lot of the characters in Republic are kind of down-at-heels, but I don’t think of any of them as being defeated. Each of the poems presents a snapshot of a certain time, or mode of existence for the character(s). The flag on the cover of the collection isn’t necessarily required to mean “surrender” or “defeat”. It speaks only to a moment - and whatever the person seeing it understands it to mean.

I said just a minute ago that I like the “screen within a screen” on the cover of Republic. Chances are you will read it on a computer. So really, the flag becomes a “screen-within-a-screen-within-a-screen”. It’s like one of those Russian dolls. It’s post-modern as hell. It encourages a maximum of engagement with the text.

Finally, how do you feel about internet publishing?

I can’t possibly see how it is a bad thing. The publishing industry is currently going through the same thing the music and movie industries have been experiencing the past decade. Books and reading are less popular as entertainment than music and movies, so it’s taken longer to happen. As happened when the music industry went online, the only people moaning about the shift to internet-based publishing seem to be those (established) publishers and writers with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

Internet publishing is good for the environment (saves trees, gas, electricity, etc). It also frees publishers from making decisions based solely on what they think will make money. I guarantee no “traditional” book publisher would have touched Republic. Publishers such as Philistine Press have the opportunity to work on projects which speak directly to their “artistic sensibilities”.

Readers and new writers (like me) have everything to gain from the paradigm shift. The fact that somebody in America or the UK or India or China or Greenland can download my book blows me away.

E-publishing will lead to a greater penetration of literacy among the general public. High literacy rates are directly tied to positive economic and social outcomes. As IT infrastructure becomes more readily available in developing countries, literacy will spread further and help give voice to those who have traditionally been disenfranchised due to remote geography or low socio-economic status.

So: regarding internet publishing: it is all pros and no cons.

New reviews from decomP magazine

Not one, but four Philistine poets get a favourable mention here from decomP magazine ...

decomP's Philistine Press Round-up

Nice one Andy Hopkins, Richard Britton, Rob Sherman & Sarah Ogilvie, and Mr If.

Christopher Al-Aswad Prize

Philistine Press were longlisted for this prize, and we'll be happy to help promote the work of the winner when this is announced in October.

Take a look at this:

Christopher Al-Aswad Prize

Monday, 23 August 2010

Mumdance - Smasher

Great piece of music here ...

Also see Mumdance's Last FM page

The Millenium Trilogy

By FJ Riley

I’m currently part way through Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy – specifically, I’m a third of the way through the second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire. Of course you know what it’s called, because of course you’ve already read it, like everyone else on the planet. You probably enjoyed it as well.

I was trying to work out what the appeal of the books are. I don’t usually read thrillers. I don’t find them thrilling. I’m not sure why I’m particularly thrilled by this one, considering that I guessed the "big twist" in the first book a few pages in, but for some reason I just can’t stop reading. I’ll probably have the whole trilogy polished off by the end of next week.

I was going to tell you what I think about it, but what could I possibly say that hasn’t already been said? In any case, having already read it, I’m sure you’ll have formed your own opinion.

What a pisser it must be for Larsson though eh? Unpublished in his own lifetime, and then as soon as he’s gone, he’s a publishing phenomenon. It’s a good job there’s no God, or an afterlife. There’s nothing more irritating than missing out on a successful publishing venture. Trust me on that – it happens to me all the time. (Apart from my work with Philistine Press, of course, which has brought me much joy. No, really, it has.)

I’d be tempted to say the Millennium Trilogy would have been less successful if the author wasn’t dead, but I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s done so well because it appeals to pretty much everyone who reads books. It appeals to people who like intelligent fiction, and people who like trashy thrillers. It appeals to people who are interested in politics, and equally to people who aren’t. Also, crucially, it appeals to both men and women.

Even better than that, the mass appeal of it doesn’t appear to have been intentional. It just happens to tick a lot of boxes. It's difficult to think of a reason why a series of books such as this shouldn't be a massive success. It's particularly refreshing to see a series of uncompromisingly left-wing works of fiction occupying positions one, two and three in the bestseller lists. It's equally refreshing to note that they were translated from Swedish, considering the distinct lack of translated works on British and American bookshelves. Hopefully this will open the door for more of the same.

I’d like to replicate Larsson's formula somehow, but in my own genre. I know us cool kids in the underground digital publishing world like to think of ourselves as above such things, but secretly we all want to be multi-millionaires. Don’t try to deny it.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Two New Collections from Philistine Press

Two new collections from Philistine Press, available to read online or download for free at

The Republic of Naught by Jay McLeod

Jay McLeod writes sharp, funny, angry poems about the struggle to resist conformity while working through a string of dead end jobs.

Sample poem:

Don’t Work

There’s no jobs in this town

You need a degree
Just to get past

The line cooks are bilingual
The sous-chefs have PhDs

There’s no employment in this city

Check the human resources:
Answering phones is available
So is light clerical

You’d also do well
To play the slots
Until hitting the jackpot
Performing stunts for passersby
On King St
Or racing your shitbox down Queen
Until you get to
Indianapolis or Monte Carlo

The local hiring firms
And temp agencies
Have their work cut out for them

I’m going to stand here
Passing out
My phone number
Until the mayor or manager or major himself
To ask if I can start
At anything
This coming Monday

Read more here.

Happy Fat Children and Protein Enhancers by Tom Duckworth

Composed mainly of anagrams and rearrangements of words, Tom Duckworth's Happy Fat Children and Protein Enhancers creates witty, eccentric poetry out of road signs, bank notes and crisp packets. The author describes his poems as "mathematical problems to which I have found a particular solution for."

Sample poem:

Cut-out hero

The queen stares! Across checked land,
Religious service rechristened at her side

Castles, limbs of stone, advance
soon shatter to ruled ruins

Sixteen hooves fight,
clash, rider spirit fiery

Royalty rooting sacrifice,
cop out & plot over coco

Read more poems, and the explanations about where they come from here.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Lemonade Kangaroo feat. Frank Burton - new track available to download

I hope you enjoy this - the strange and brilliant music of Lemonade Kangaroo, featuring vocals by me, Frank Burton. The track is called "Character". It's sampled from a spoken word track I recorded a few years ago called "Office Prick".

Character - Ft. Frank Burton by lemonadekangaroo

To download this track for free, or to find out more about Lemonade Kangaroo, visit

My website is

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Rob Sherman Interview and Review (and the meaning of the term "cutting edge")

A big thanks to Dan Holloway for the following review of Rob Sherman's Valve Works in PANK Magazine:

Valve Works Review.

Dan raises a fair point about Philistine claiming to be "cutting edge," which I must admit to having done on a few occasions when we first started out - even though I fully acknowledge that the term "cutting edge" means very little to me, and I'm not 100% sure what it even means. In the review, Dan praises Philistine for publishing quality work, but says the books we publish aren't necessarily cutting edge. It's a fair cop.

I'm going to avoid using the term in the future. I suppose it's difficult to find concise ways of describing what we do, especially when we're pretty eclectic. Actually, eclectic is a good word. I'll start using that more.

Dan also reviewed Rob on his blog, which you can read here:

Rob Sherman Interview

Rob Sherman's Valve Works can be read online or downloaded as a PDF here.

Dan Holloway's website is

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Matt Dalby - Sound Poet

Just a quick one ...

I want to draw your attention to my favourite person on Twitter - this is worth reading whether you're on Twitter or not. There's nothing I can really say to prepare you for it.

Also, here's the link to Matt Dalby's blog.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Loudon Wainwright - A Father and Son

I'm sharing this because I like this song, and because I like the comment someone left on You Tube describing Rufus Wainwright as "the guy who sang Hallelujah on the Shrek soundtrack." Someone should add that to Rufus's Wikipedia entry.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Moxie Mezcal's Guerrilla Fiction Manifesto

Philistine Press don't have a manifesto, but we can strongly relate to this one. This was put together by the underground writer, Moxie Mezcal, and I highly reccommend you check out Moxie's website,


1. Guerrilla fiction is defined by independent, artist-driven production and distribution of literary works.

2. Guerrilla fiction is based on the belief that the traditional model of book publishing only benefits one person – some guy in New York making money off other people’s creativity – at the expense of both artist and audience.

3. Guerrilla fiction is possible because the tools for creating and sharing art are widely available to anyone with access to a computer and an internet connection.

4. Guerrilla fiction favors the electronic distribution of literature as an environmentally-responsible alternative to traditional publishers’ slavish devotion to paper.

5. Guerrilla fiction favors cheap, zine-style photocopies over more wasteful formats favored by traditional publishers. Guerrilla fiction believes that neither the artist nor the audience is served well when works are released only as expensive hardcovers.

6. Guerrilla fiction favors the promotion of art through direct connection between the artist and audience – using web sites, social networks, community involvement, word of mouth, and face-to-face human interaction.

7. Guerrilla fiction makes the distribution of art an extension of the interpersonal relationship between the artist and the audience, rather than the commercial relationship between the publisher and the consumer.

8. Guerrilla fiction believes that getting art to the audience is more important than getting money to the artist.

9. Guerrilla fiction keeps all rights in the hands of the artist.

10.Guerrilla fiction does not need to be sanctioned or validated.

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

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.

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 ...


During my visit in China,□ i find a company which sell cheap and good quality products.

so i bring some products to my country and i agree with them to promote their products.

if you need to buy some products, v

you can look at this [web si te : ] H

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.

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."