Excellent Review of Blue Diode Press’ ‘Spark’ Collection

‘Spark: Poetry And Art Inspired By The Novels Of Muriel Spark’ Edited By Rob A. Mackenzie & Louise Peterkin

The 2018 centenary year of Muriel Spark’s birth brought her considerable attention. In addition to a number of other new works inspired by Spark’s writing is this welcome collection from Blue Diode Press. The arrangement of the book into a chronological two-poets-per-novel scheme is particularly effective, enabling the reader to easily compare the varying approaches to the inspiration of Spark’s twenty-two novels. The range and depth of the collection means there are too many excellent poems to go into here – rather, those cited are representative of particular approaches, and are discussed as illustrative of such.

The first two poets take contrasting approaches to the source material. W. N. Herbert’s ‘The Muriels’ mines The Comforters to construct a comic but regretful narrative where all the female characters are named ‘Muriel’. Herbert relies on Spark’s novel as a point of departure to deftly outline the aftermath of a love affair (or ‘The Aberration in Aberfeldy’), as ‘not a passion but the furor of its passing’, a delightfully Sparkian phrase. In creating a story that expands beyond that of the book, Herbert nevertheless succeeds in capturing the novel’s anarchic narrative spirit.

In contrast to Herbert, Polly Atkin’s wonderful ‘Paper Pellets on a Saucer’ remains mostly within the novel’s narrative scope, only departing it to illustrate the questions of authorship and structure at the very core (and paradoxically at the very limits) of the novel, in the familiar-sounding lines:

The Typing Ghost has not recorded any lively details about this
poem.
The reason is The Typing Ghost doesn’t know how to describe this
poem.
I have an independent life.

Atkins takes the source text and successfully recomposes the way in which the novel questions its own construction, in a poem that also self-referentially questions the location of its own narrative position; it is skilfully managed.

Such narratorial positioning is intriguing to follow throughout the collection. For many this takes the form of inhabiting a Spark character or position within the novel of choice, and then writing outwardly from there. Others instead opt to position their narrators in the common space shared by the reader – on the outside, looking in to these novels – and write from there.

The cover of the book talks of an ‘extraordinary cacophony of voices’, and this verbal dissonance is captured by a number of the poets giving voice to secondary characters. In Loitering With Intent, Fleur Talbot states ‘I don’t go in for motives’, and in many cases neither does Spark, often presenting only the external speech of her characters. This leaves fertile ground for these poets to create inner lives for characters who reveal little or no such interiority in the original works.

Lisa Kelly’s ‘Pisseur de Copie’ is a case in point, joyously revealing the internal machinations of Hector Bartlett in a wonderfully designed inversion of narrative power. The ‘pisseur’ is afforded the main portion of the poem’s text, in which he reveals himself over and over as deaf to the words of Mrs Hawkins. Her replies take the form of footnotes, a brilliantly conceived and delivered structural ploy, denying Bartlett that which he most wants: the opportunity of engaging Mrs Hawkins in direct dialogue. By thus removing her from the main body of the poem, Kelly paradoxically (re)establishes Mrs Hawkins position of dominance over Bartlett by making her absence a presence, and through her repeated assertion of the title in answer to Bartlett’s questions.

Via Bartlett’s ironic self-revelation the poem exposes his oblivious motivations; despite his seeming not to have heard the ‘pisseur’ insult, he is deluded to the point of referring to it as the ‘term of endearment you insisted upon’. When he asks: ‘Do you think calling someone a bad name / can be a curse Nancy? Curse their career?’, it presents him as without self-reflection, and capable of greater folly and arrogance than even the novel suggests. It also challenges the idea that he did not hear the insult in the first place. Mrs Hawkins refrain-like repetition in the footnotes displays her frustration, but is by contrast restrained and to the point, precisely what Hector in his prose, and his speech, is not.

Amongst a number of contenders (particularly Not To Disturb), The Public Image is perhaps Spark’s most trenchant satire of fame, media, celebrity, and the effects felt by those in the centre – and on the periphery – of its spotlight. As with many Spark novels, it is also a searing depiction of the brittleness of the male ego when confronted with female success, which is the underpinning for Rishi Dastidar’s incisive ‘A Man of Theory on the Via Publica’. Brief couplets such as ‘“Annabel & Frederick” – / it never sounded right’, and ‘All drama is sharp. You got / stuck on the pointy end of hers’, ridicule Frederick with excoriating comic effect.

Where Dastidar’s narrator addresses Frederick, Andy Jackson’s ‘Lady Tiger’ speaks directly to Annabel, encapsulating the many dualities and seeming contradictions of Spark’s work:

You cultivate the tiger in your eyes,
encourage the paradox of abandon
and fidelity, often in a single glance,
recognising that in art there are no lies,
only misinterpretations.

But Jackson then moves outside of the novel’s action to cite ‘a superinjunction on this poem’, with Annabel’s lawyers attempting to keep secret ‘the untruths you would see preserved’. The implication is that these untruths – Annabel’s public image – may well be the source of her ‘paradox of abandon and fidelity’, and the poem’s closing lines bring this contradictory, cyclical effect into sharp focus, with Annabel now ‘conspicuous in an age / where only the famous can truly disappear.’

The side-by-side placing of these two poems – one focusing on Annabel, the other Frederick – creates a chiaroscuro effect, illuminating and satirising our contemporary culture’s fascination and desire for fame by placing it alongside our shadowy appetite for gossip, and our complicity in the ensuing squalid spectacle. As Rishi Dastidar’s narrator asks: ‘Who needs a doctor or a best friend / when you can have a press officer?’ Addressed to Frederick, one cannot help but read these lines as directed also at our contemporary culture, and our role within it.

Dzifa Benson’s ‘Comme il Faut’ is full of wonderfully Sparkian phrases, with the students at College Sunrise categorised as ‘inmates of one state or another / and a blank set of careless intentions.’ The poem remains close to the tone and events of the novel, acknowledging the fragile mental condition of the protagonists through a repeated prison metaphor. And while it hints at aspects of the book’s comic elements, the overwhelming sense of the poem is one of pitch-perfect jaded isolation.

The closing poem of the collection, Matthew Caley’s ‘The Fern’, breaks free of the boundaries of the novel, taking the book’s opening line ‘You begin, by setting your scene –’ as a refrain on which to construct a shadowy meditation on lost innocence. It captures the novel’s ominous, voyeuristic sense of claustrophobia, of layers of looking, watching, spying and obsession, but untethers this from the comic tones of Nina’s comme il faut lessons, leaving a malevolent presence in danger of discovery, but for the noise of ‘a twig-crack / that might make him turn’. It is a bold finishing poem – reminding us of the malign undertones beneath the comic surfaces of Spark’s novels, re-emphasising The Finishing School’s concerns with jealousy and voyeurism, and magnifying them into the threat of something much worse.

Caley’s poem goes beyond the novel into another narrative space, in contrast to Benson’s ‘Comme il Faut’ which remains within the parameters of Spark’s original narrative. Yet both poems are intensely effective – illustrating that adherence to Spark’s original is neither a guarantee nor a requirement for success. As a result, the poems can be read with no knowledge of the novels, and the collection is all the better for it. Indeed, the other works here offer a coherent yet expansive take on the novels of Spark, full of the humour and jarringly effective imagery at which Spark herself specialised, where the absurd and surreal elements found in the Sparkian everyday are placed in close proximity with the numinous, and its often implied evocation of spiritual otherworldliness.

Blue Diode’s collection is an overwhelming success. In some cases the poems stay closer to the spirit of Spark’s firework intelligence the further behind they leave literal allusions to her novels. As a result, this is both a collection one can dip into, but also one which wonderfully complements the trajectory of Spark’s career. One imagines this is just as Spark would have liked it.

Spark: Poetry and Art Inspired by the Novels of Muriel Spark edited by Rob A. Mackenzie and Louise Peterkin is published by Blue Diode Publishing, 2018.

Flaming June…’A Map Towards Fluency’ on the LRB’s Bestseller List!

Very happy to be on this lovely list of books. Thanks to the London Review Bookshop for being such a wonderful bookseller, venue and supporter of poets and authors. Really is a beautiful place to hang out, sort of bookshop heaven.

Our Current Bestsellers

This week’s bestsellers.

Deaf Republic

Deaf Republic

Ilya Kaminsky

From the publisher:

When soldiers breaking up a protest kill a deaf boy, Petya, the gunshot becomes the last thing the citizens hear – all have gone deaf, and their dissent becomes coordinated …

£10.99

A Map Towards Fluency

A Map Towards Fluency

Lisa Kelly

From the publisher:

A Map Towards Fluency, Lisa Kelly’s first collection, considers words, the power they impart, the power their absence withholds.

Surge

Surge

Jay Bernard

From the publisher:

Winner of the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry 2018Jay Bernard’s extraordinary debut is a fearlessly original exploration of the black British archive: an enquiry …

£10.00

Heartburn

Heartburn

Nora Ephron, introduction by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron

Gayle recommends:

Finally I have something to recommend when people ask for a funny book! Heartburn is properly hilarious, like a 200 page stand up set, except kinder, and with more food.

Stalingrad

Stalingrad

Vasily Grossman, translated by Robert Chandler

From the publisher:

Stalingrad is the prequel to Life and Fate, one of the twentieth century’s greatest novels. The battle for Stalingrad – a maelstrom of violence and firepower – will …

£25.00

Notes to Self

Notes to Self

Emilie Pine

From the publisher:

THE EXTRAORDINARY #1 BESTSELLER – a word-of-mouth literary phenomenon ‘Do not read this book in public: it will make you cry’ Anne Enright ‘Unsparing, formidable, …

Review | A Map Towards Fluency & A Few Interiors

A Map Towards FluencyLisa Kelly, Carcanet Press, 2019, pp.112, £8.99
A Few InteriorsRowland Bagnell, Carcanet Press, 2019, pp.64, £8.99

——Carcanet’s latest publications include the innovative poetry of Lisa Kelly and Rowland Bagnall in their respective collections, A Map Towards Fluency and A Few Interiors. Kelly is deaf in her left ear, and some of the most compelling pieces are in “Orientation”, the third section of her book. The poems focus on the experiences of partial deafness, from being criticized for bad hearing, to celebrating the vibrant personalities of a group of sign language speakers. Bagnall’s collection meanwhile features a range of places, films, and art. His narrators often stand before famous paintings, and in “Ode on a Han Dynasty Urn” he uses the URL for the first photograph in Ai Weiwei’s “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn” as an epigraph. The poem itself consists of one stanza of prose poetry, then two stanzas with some, and then more, words missing from the first, to mimic the shattering of the urn.

——Both poets also blend their cultural knowledge with their extensive understanding of the poetic form. The results are affecting: Kelly’s “Corona/Cuts” has repetitive lines stylistically inspired by John Donne:

—————————The globes four corners
a dream. Sons walk the next street, foreigners.

A dream, sons walk the next street, foreigners
share conversation, customs, cares, break bread

——These lines promise unity, and the healing that comes from awareness of others. The next stanza undoes this with quotes from a Guardian article in which teens give their reasons for carrying knives:

To protect myself against my father.
My dad was stabbed to death when I was three.
I will stab them first.

——Family structures are undermined and destroyed, leaving no hope for peace between different communities. Kelly’s repetitive structure becomes a reflection of the claustrophobia of lives affected by knife violence.

——Rowland also makes brilliant use of his sources. “Tangerine” borrows lines from Frank O’Hara’s “Why I Am Not a Painter” about the passage of time for artists, and describes the characters’ plans for the future in the last shot of The Graduate: “brief // and out of focus”. The references reveal the narrator’s wandering consciousness, and they mimic the narrator’s isolation from a significant other at the poem’s conclusion:

you are here
but now you’re going and the days go by
and I am on my own and

——These last lines borrow from the “going” repeated in O’Hara’s poem, but the incomplete sentence reminds us that this poem is more than an allusion. Bagnall’s narrator is ongoing in spite of the weight of cultural references.

——Kelly and Bagnall’s poems are informed and thematically complex, but they are also fascinated by language itself. The last stanza of “Corona/Cuts” is a list of slang terms for knife, and the narrator of “Tangerine” makes a list of words that come to mind in the supermarket. Kelly and Bagnall’s appreciation of words ensures their poetry is not all dedicated to high culture; they also discuss themes as universal as breakups. Kelly’s “Life Model” explores self-love after a boyfriend’s judgement, and Bagnall’s “Sonnet” slowly admits the stagnation of a relationship. These are poets who love every aspect of writing poetry: the language which forms it, the literature which precedes it, the art which inspires it, and the lives which make it personal and accessible.

Words by Emma Deshpande.

Go here to buy A Few Interiors.
Go here to buy A Map Towards Fluency.


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PN Review Summer Launch at Castlefield Gallery by Sarah-Clare Conlon, Literature Editor, creativetourist.com

PN Review Summer Launch at Castlefield Gallery, Castlefield, 24 July 2019, free entry – Find Out More

It was mooted as a bi-annual affair, and here we are popping the third launch of revered poetry and criticism magazine PN Reviewinto our diaries. The latest event – held against the backdrop of Castlefield Gallery’s Everything I Have Is Yours exhibition – gives you the chance to get hold of the July-August 2019 issue; number 248 of the long-running publication.

Having started life as Poetry Nation back in 1973, the tome is still going strong under the editorship of Michael Schmidt (also the founder and editorial and managing director of Manchester-based poetry publishing house Carcanet Press), appearing bi-monthly brimming with news, articles, interviews, features, translations, reviews and letters, and, of course poems.

Last year’s PN Review launch saw the performance of newly commissioned Yorkshire Sculpture Park-inspired pieces by the nation’s new Poet Laureate Simon Armitage. This time, the summer launch will feature readings from recent PN Review contributors Joe Carrick-Varty, Andy Croft, Jennifer Edgecombe, Lisa Kelly, Stav Poleg and John Wilkinson.

Last year’s PN Review launch saw the performance of newly commissioned Yorkshire Sculpture Park-inspired pieces by the nation’s new Poet Laureate Simon Armitage.

Joe Carrick-Varty won the 2018 New Poets Prize and his debut pamphlet Somewhere Far was published by The Poetry Business in June. Andy Croft has written and edited many books, and his own collections of poetry include Letters to Randall Swingler, out with Shoestring Press, and, forthcoming, The Sailors of Ulm. He curates the T-junction international poetry festival in Middlesbrough, runs the Ripon Poetry Festival and edits Smokestack Books. Jennifer Edgecombe grew up in Cornwall and now lives on the Kent coast. As well as in PN Review and elsewhere, her poems and reviews have appeared in AmbitCaught By the River and Lighthouse.

Lisa Kelly is half-Danish and half-deaf. She is the Chair of Magma Poetry and co-edited issue 63, The Conversation Issue, and issue 69, The Deaf Issue. She is a regular host of poetry evenings and a creative writing teacher at the Torriano Meeting House in London, and her pamphlets are Bloodhound (Hearing Eye, 2012) and Philip Levine’s Good Ear (Stonewood Press, 2018). She is a freelance journalist specialising in technology, and her first full collection, A Map Towards Fluency, is out this month.

Also on the editorial board of Magma Poetry is Stav Poleg, whose poetry has been published on both sides of the Atlantic, including in The New YorkerKenyon ReviewPoetry London and Poetry Ireland Review. She teaches at the Poetry School in London, and her debut pamphlet, Lights, Camera, was published in 2017, with her first full-length poetry collection ready to go. Her graphic-novel installation, Dear Penelope: Variations on an August Morning, created with artist Laura Gressani, was acquired by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

John Wilkinson has published extensively and his most recent collection, My Reef My Manifest Array, came out earlier this year with Carcanet, while his Salt Publishing book of 2014, Selected Poems: Schedule of Unrest, pulls together pieces from his collections of poetry published between 1974 and 2008. He was born in London and grew up on the Cornish coast and on Dartmoor, but has lived in the States since 2005 and is a Professor in the Department of English and Director of Creative Writing at the University of Chicago.

The event is free, although you are encouraged to sign up via Eventbrite, and refreshments will be served from 6.30pm.

Doors and refreshments 6.30pm. Tickets are free, but you can reserve your place via Eventbrite.

PN Review Summer Launch at Castlefield Gallery, Castlefield

24 July 2019
Free entry

‘Ladybird’ on London Review Bookshop website

lrb - ladybird

EVENT: We’re celebrating Carcanet’s New Poetries VII with a reunion event at the Bookshop on Tuesday 18 June, featuring poets Zohar AtkinsRowland BagnallIsabel GalleymoreLisa Kelly and Phoebe PowerBook tickets here. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be featuring a poem from the collection by each of the poets who’ll be reading – check back regularly for the next one.

Ladybird

Every autumn I forget they do this,
until they do –
hard-faced carapaces,
little mechanical legs across my bedroom ceiling
insinuating into warm gaps,

congregating under cornices,
black-eyed blotches staring me down.

Ladybird, ladybird fly away home
Your house is on fire, and your children are gone

Occasionally, a maverick, lured by the mellow glow
of the bedside light, will lift its elytra,
like the doors on a Lamborghini
to reveal filmy black wings,

and fly towards my open mouth.

Ladybird, lazy bird fly out of bed
Your home is infested …

but I shrink back from scooping its crunchiness
into tissue, messing
with its reflex bleeding, yellow toxins oozing
out of its exoskeleton.

All except one and that’s little Ann

(The receptionist had a tattoo on her arm.
In its freckled baby belly, Always in my heart)

New Poetries VII’ is published by Carcanet, price £14.99. Zohar Atkins, Rowland Bagnall, Isabel Galleymore, Lisa Kelly and Phoebe Power will be reading from the collection at the Bookshop on Tuesday 18 June. Book tickets here.

PN Review Summer Launch 24 July at the Castlefield Gallery, Manchester

PN Review summer launch

Please join us for the Summer Launch of PN Review, with readings from contributors John Wilkinson, Lisa Kelly, Joe Carrick-Varty, Jennifer Edgecombe, Stav Poleg and Andy Croft.

Tickets can be booked here

Date And Time

Wed, 24 Jul 2019, 18:30

 

This event is free & refreshments will be served.

Location

Castlefield Gallery, 2 Hewitt Street, 30 Cross Street, Manchester, M15 4GB

John Wilkinson was born in London and grew up on the Cornish coast and on Dartmoor. After university at Cambridge he trained as a psychiatric nurse and worked in mental health services and public health in the West Midlands, South Wales and London’s East End. In 2005 he moved to the United States and has held academic positions at the University of Notre Dame and at the University of Chicago where he is currently a Professor in the Department of English and Director of Creative Writing. Wilkinson has held Fulbright and National Humanities Center fellowships. His extensive publications include Selected Poems (Schedule of Unrest, 2014), and his most recent collection, My Reef My Manifest Array (2019).

Lisa Kelly is half-Danish and half-deaf. She is the Chair of Magma Poetryand co-edited issue 63, The Conversation Issue; and issue 69, The Deaf Issue. She is a regular host of poetry evenings at the Torriano Meeting House, London, and has an MA in Creative Writing with Distinction from Lancaster University. Her pamphlets are Bloodhound (Hearing Eye, 2012) and Philip Levine’s Good Ear (Stonewood Press, 2018). She is currently a freelance journalist specialising in technology, and has worked as an actress, life model, Consumer Champion, waitress, sales assistant and envelope stuffer. She teaches creative writing and poetry in performance at the Torriano Meeting House. Her first full collection, A Map Towards Fluency, is published in June.

Jennifer Edgecombe grew up in Cornwall and now lives on the Kent coast. Her poems and reviews have appeared in Ambit, Caught By the River, Lighthouse, PN Review and elsewhere.

Stav Poleg‘s poetry has been published on both sides of the Atlantic, including in The New Yorker, Kenyon Review, Poetry London and Poetry Ireland Review. Her debut pamphlet, Lights, Camera, was published in 2017. She has recently completed work on the manuscript of her first full-length poetry collection. Her graphic-novel installation, Dear Penelope: Variations on an August Morning, created with artist Laura Gressani, was acquired by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. She serves on the editorial board of Magma Poetry and teaches at the Poetry School, London.

Joe Carrick-Varty won the 2018 New Poets Prize and his debut pamphlet Somewhere Far was published by The Poetry Business in June of this year.

Andy Croft has written and edited many books, including Red Letter Days, Comrade Heart, A Weapon in the Struggle, Red Sky at Night (with Adrian Mitchell) and After the Party. His books of poetry include Ghost Writer, 1948 (with Martin Rowson), Three Men on the Metro (with WN Herbert and Paul Summers) A Modern Don Juan (with NS Thompson et al), Letters to Randall Swingler and The Sailors of Ulm (forthcoming). He curates the T-junction international poetry festival in Middlesbrough, runs the Ripon Poetry Festival and edits Smokestack Books.

The event will begin at 18:30, refreshments will be provided and copies of PN Review available to buy. Tickets are free but please reserve them here. There is also a Facebook event. For any enquiries about the event please email jazmine@carcanet.co.uk.

Launch of issue one of Finished Creatures at the Crown Tavern

It was a special evening celebrating the launch of the beautifully produced Finished Creatures, issue one, at the Crown Tavern upstairs in the Apollo Room.

Publisher and editor, Jan Heritage, has done a marvellous job getting so many wonderful poems inside its stunning covers. Poets include Paul Stephenson, Susannah Hart, Philip Gross, L Kiew, Cheryl Moskowitz, and many more.

I am delighted to have two poems in and my second IKEA poem making an appearance! I’ve got a pamphlet’s worth but don’t think IKEA will be sponsoring me anytime soon…

Here’s a pic of Richard Price on the mic, reading his very moving poem, ‘The air that he breathes’.

The crowd was big and beautiful! Just how we like it…

finished creatures