09 June 2021

A change to our schedules

This post, we take a break from writing to look at art, or maybe, more accurately, to look at writing looking at art. 

Mine and Jazmine Linklater's collaborative project, 900 – which we created to perform at the European Camarade as part of the 2019 European Poetry Festival (a year was skipped due to the pandemic, but it's back in Manchester this summer, hopefully at the shiny new Manchester Poetry Library, on 8 July) – has just been printed in PN Review. This work, partly explained by me in the contributors' notes to PNR259, stemmed from three dreams each, three cafe visits each and three trips each to art galleries, observing the goings-on therein for an hour from a fixed point. Swapping out verbs from one dream each (we condensed our three down then picked the most interesting), adjectives in the selected cafe pieces, and nouns between our two chosen galleries, you'd be hard-pushed to identify which places we'd been to – in effect, the whole thing became somewhat like a dream – the number 900 is significant in dream theory; the swapping is significant in Oulipo experimental writing exercises. For the record, my art palaces were Dulwich Picture Gallery, Manchester Art Gallery and The Whitworth, overlooking the park.

I've also been busy trying to reintegrate into normal life, which I've got to say is more tricky than I had anticipated. Still, I managed to catch the Brutal exhibition at Saul Hay Gallery before it finished, and, same day, my art immersion continued with a spin around Grayson's Art Club, with its inspiring, intriguing and sometimes eye-opening amalgamation of contributions from both celebrity invitees and viewers of the first series of the Channel 4 show. A week away in Cornwall involved a, er, potter round the Bernard Leach Pottery (due to Covid restrictions, only the shop was open at that point, but you take your kicks where you can get them, right?), a chat to a street artist painting a gable end with a mural of his ceramicist friend, another chat with the person running the New Craftsman Gallery, a quiet contemplation in Barbara Hepworth's studio and garden amid a downpour, a whirlwind tour of all the Hepworths we could lay our eyes on, and a trip to the newly extended Tate St Ives.

What a pleasant surprise to wander into the first gallery and be faced immediately with Joan Eardley's 'Salmon Net Posts'. I allude to the painting – all big, bold brush strokes of vibrant blues and whites and greens – in the poem I contributed to the anthology marking the Scottish artist's centenary year. By pure coincidence, I'd had the honour of reading the piece live from St Ives only the night before, 18 May, celebrating the date of Joan's birthday and the official launch of the project. Organised by Colin Herd and co-edited with Sam Small, the Eardley anthology, All Becomes Art, will be published by independent Glasgow house Speculative Books later in the year; the call for work is on and the deadline is 28 June. 'Place Setting (Catterline)' was my first piece of proper ekphrastic poetry in recent memory (I feel I've done some before, maybe as far back as during my first time round studying), and it was a really enjoyable and enriching experience – as I babbled at Sue, the Tate St Ives invigilator. Hopefully, she is now telling everyone who comes through the doors that it's Joan Eardley's centenary year. Here's a picture...

09 May 2021

Words, no pictures

Since last we spoke, dear reader, I've of course been to lots of events, including reading at Virtual Verbose, when Nicholas Royle and Naomi Booth headlined, and travelling far and wide from the comfort of my own home. 

I've been to a Poetry London shindig featuring Holly Pester (seen IRL some time back at Rory Cook's rather wonderful but short-lived Sunday soir salon Murmur), to a Glasgow hook-up with NYC-based Bernadette Mayer (fabulous, and a nice continual update on the snowfall in downtown), to Kendal Poetry Festival and the ever-brilliant Vahni Capildeo, to a Bad Betty launch, a Carcanet New Poetries VIII showcase, a "workshop" (more of a chat with Jerome de Groot, really) with Zaffar Kunial, to some StAnza stuff - a visual poetry talk with Chris McCabe and Astra Papachristodoulou, and the annual lecture, with Jacqueline Saphra, talking about her recent lockdown work - to Manchester's own No Matter, to another Live From The Butchery in Norfolk, featuring Jen Hadfield way up north in the Scottish islands, to an Arvon gig with Rebecca Watson (whose little scratch I'm about to embark upon reading), to a Welsh innovative poetry evening from Sheffield's Centre for Poetry and Poetics and Blackbox Manifold, featuring Lyndon Davies among others, to Poets & Players' first foray into the online event world (love their Reemergence prize winner Susan Shepherd's stuff), and to the Guillemot Press launch of Suzannah V Evans's new boatyard-based book Brightwork, also with a reading from Eleanor Rees, who spoke of the Red Rocks on the Wirral. How lovely!

My own Hilbre Island flash fiction found a home this month in the Irish e-zine Splonk (there's also an interview with a certain David Gaffney in there) and I've had some more pieces published, mostly poetry, which is all very exciting and encouraging. I have a piece in Poetry Scotland magazine, another (a 'Daily Permissible Exercises') with Osmosis Press and another pinned on the Litfest Places Of Poetry map here. Upcoming, my collaboration with Jazmine Linklater is coming out in the PN Review OuLiPo supplement, edited by Philip Terry, and I have a concrete poem in the Summer 2021 issue of Firmament from Sublunary Editions and an experimental piece in this week's instalment of PERVERSE. I'm reading next week at an event launching a Joan Eardley centenary anthology project organised by Colin Herd and Sam Small (more here) and on 8 July at this year's European Poetry Festival, organised by SJ Fowler, and for which I've arranged to hook up with Lydia Unsworth, whose recent lipograms I've been enjoying, along with loads of her previous work.

I've managed to do some more 'Daily Permissible Exercises', a year on from the first time, and I've written a few things for specific deadlines and invitations. Nonetheless, I've been feeling that I've not done enough writing (I suddenly got inundated with freelance work, including proofreading a book about French châteaux and writing copy for an annual report on climate change targets), but I aim to change that, having an upcoming rest from work for a week or perhaps a little longer booked into my diary. Phew. I'd fix the fonts in this post, but I have to go out and drink wine and show off my new haircut. I'm sorry.

17 February 2021

Onwards and upwards

Since my last missive, the UK has been in a prolonged lockdown starting midnight 4 November (a free-for-all on Christmas Day aside) and 2021 has got off to a somewhat bumpy start, with the sad passing of my lovely cat Pushkin, the founder of modern Russian literature, obvs, and featuring floods, pestilence and various other shitstorms demanding my weathering. Still, onwards and, hopefully, upwards - spring bulbs are starting to shake their sleepy heads and I just noticed the honeysuckle by the back door sending forth some new shoots and leaves. 

Event wise, I've had to duck out of a few I was hoping to go to, what with one thing or another, but before the festive period (or lack thereof), I did manage to visit Nottingham, where Lila Matsumoto hosted Samantha Walton (and her colleague Vicky Sparrow more recently welcomed Zarf's Callie Gardner live from Glasgow), and Sheffield, where Iris Colomb was the star of the show at the December outing for the Centre for Poetry & Poetics Safe Readings Series, hosted by Ágnes Lehóczky.

In the New Year, I listened as Lucy Burnett explained her new crossword book, out with Guillemot Press, and visual poet Derek Beaulieu and visual artist Rhys Farrell described their collaborative processes for Lens Flare, and I watched a bit of a showcase as Mau Baiocco, Kirsty Dunlop, Fred Spoliar and No Matter's Nell Osborne joined Maria Sledmere to celebrate her recent Guillemot launch alongside Kyle Lovell with his Broken Sleep Books Legitimate Snack pamphlet.

In sherry-drinking open season, I also did some readings, including on the open mic at prose poet extraordinaire Anne Caldwell's double book launch with Matthew Hedley Stoppard, hosted by Leeds Libraries, and at Rachel Davies' 4Word pamphlet launch, featuring Hilary Robinson, Kim Moore and others. I also had the absolute pleasure of collaborating with Andrea Mason for the most recent outing of The Other (pictured above), when writers swap work to read. Like me - so a very fortuitous pairing; thanks to the Fates! - Andrea is big on deploying constraints in her work and she sent me a piece made using the verbs from a source text to create her own work, which was published by Sublunary Editions. I'm super-pleased that Andrea is on the shortlist for The Manchester Writing Prize.

I'm still striving to develop my practice, so I've applied for a few things, not always successfully, but hey if you don't ask you don't get, and I've been putting my name down for various upcoming workshops and talks. I joined the audience for the Northern Writer Awards Roadshow looking at getting poetry published, hosted by Will Mackie, and featuring Uni of York's JT Welsch, writer Rommi Smith, Hannah Bannister of Peepal Tree Press and Jo Clement of The Butcher's Dog journal (above image). All very useful, especially as I make headway into the uncharted territory of getting my debut pamphlet out there...

02 November 2020

Eyes on the prize

I’ve been here, sitting on the sidelines, waiting in the wings, overflowing with updates to share on the blog – but I thought I’d hold out on posting until now, when the secrecy I’d been sworn to is finally allowed to be released into the wild. The exciting news I’ve been holding in for over a month is that one of my favourite recent pieces has been shortlisted in this year’s Bridport Prize - out of 1,722 flash fiction entries! The lovely email said “That puts you in the top 5% of the competition. Take a bow. Well done!”, after starting with the wonderful opening gambit of “It’s inspiring news” (far better than another recent missive that began “Your job” – more on that later). You can watch a great video of the “prize-giving ceremony” with films of the winners reading their work and the judges describing their process here and see the shortlists in each category – flash, short stories, poetry and novels – here.

I also heard through the grapevine (Twitter) that Confingo #14 is out this week. I’m proper chuffed to have what I’m calling a “triptych” (I’m currently working on the annual AIL Report all about artwork saved for the nation, so I can’t help myself!) of prose poems published therein. I’ve had quite a lot of flash fiction and short stories printed, and I’ve had poetry online, but I think this will be my first "proper" poetry in actual print since I was 12, when I won an engraved fountain pen in the WH Smith Young Writers' Competition. Yes, I still have the pen, in its presentation box; I’m not a monster. For the Confingo triplet, I even got paid – a crisp twenty pound note has just been popped through the letterbox and I’m considering sticking it on my bedroom wall to bring up in future talks, à la Armitage. 

The Confingo trio is from my debut pamphlet cache-cache, which was given an airing (well received, too, which is nice) at Paris Lit Up and which is looking for a home while I start thinking about my next, entitled Water Palaces & Chateaux d’Eau and drawing on my experience as Writer-in-Residence at Victoria Baths. In the meantime, I’ve been working on some other poems, have completed the rather good University of York online poetry course with FutureLearn, How To Read A Poem, and I’m about to make a start on Forward Prize-winning Maliker Booker’s Arvon five-day poetry writing challenge. 

Also coming up print-wise is mine and Jazmine Linklater’s European Poetry Festival collaboration, which will be featured in the forthcoming Oulipo supplement in PN Review – very exciting indeed! PN Review and Carcanet supremo Michael Schmidt is hosting an event at this year’s online Aldeburgh Poetry Festival (the Port anthology was launched there last year) featuring The Penguin Book of Oulipo editor Philip Terry – who’s also coming up at a special zimZalla event on Wednesday 18 November at 7pm alongside Sophie Herxheimer (loved her cutup stuff on New Boots & Pantisocracies, also featuring one of my cache-cache numbers, 'Guidance Avoidance'); zimZalla being the object publishing arm of Tom Jenks, who I was recently seen chatting to online alongside CD Rose at two Love Bites evenings – the first, David Collard’s salon series Leap In The Dark, and the second (below) as part of Altrincham Word Fest, for whom I also ran a flash fiction showcase event (above). And breathe. 

Jazz has just published a pamphlet, Figure A Motion, with Guillemot Press, and her launch with Chener Books is one of the many events I’ve been patronising, virtually of course. Since last we spoke, I’ve heard from The Mezzanine and Room Temperature (love those books, very infra-ordinary) author Nicholson Baker via a University of Glasgow livestream, I’ve been to the Winchester Poetry Prize-giving, hosted by Man Met's Andrew McMillan, and the aforementioned Forward Prizes, and I’ve attended the first event at the first online Manchester Literature Festival, when Daisy Johnson and Sophie Mackintosh chatted to the Centre For New Writing's Jeanette Winterson (one of my tutors when I was there). Just in the last week, I’ve been to a York Centre for Writing Poetry event featuring Vahni Capildeo (star of the How To Read A Poem course and Jazz’s mentor for Figure A Motion) and Rebecca Tamás reading from their work and chatting to Caleb Klaces, senior lecturer in Creative Writing and English Literature at York St John, the closing Altrincham Word Fest event, featuring The New Abject anthology from Manchester's Comma Press, with readings by Lara Williams and Sarah Schofield, and Live From The Butchery, an almost monthly event hosted from their home by Helen Ivory and Martin Figuera, and yesterday welcoming George Szirtes among others. Coming up, I’m looking forward to Rosie Garland’s Nine Arches Press launch – I’ll be putting something up about it shortly on the Creative Tourist Literature Guide

Of course, with the smooth comes the rough, and as October faded away, so too did my tenure as subeditor (and, previously, copywriter) at one of Manchester’s online platforms, the direct result of furlough reaching its zenith and the Government not deigning to announce an extension to the job retention scheme until 31 October. Ho-hum. Anyway, I’m not leaving it at that without some kind of recognition, nay celebration, of the absolutely amazing work I contributed, so here’s a rundown of a few of my favourite headlines I came up with… Caught in the muddle (for a story about a cocktail “mixologist”), Ace of bakes (Greggs pasties, obvs), Let’s get quizzical (pub quiz), One to relish (dirty burgers), The wurst that can happen (Oktoberfest), For cluck’s sake (chicken “event”), In cider dealing (no, not sure), Sweet cheeses (again, nope, give us a clue). Proof, I’m sure, that I can turn my hand to pretty much any topic. Also, I’m here all week…

05 August 2020

Nothing to see here

So (as current parlance dictates) this post jumps in where the last left off: with mention of writer and critic David Collard’s Leap In The Dark. Save the date! I’m one of the contributors to the 22 August episode, which is a Love Bites special, headed up by CD Rose and featuring readings from last year’s Dostoyevsky Wannabe-published Buzzcocks-inspired anthology of short stories and so on.


Thankfully, I’d already had the foresight to dip my toe into the in-the-ether reading arena – after watching and waving at a few “virtual” events, I put my name on the open mic list for the third outing of Flapjack’s Word Central Online on June 25, featuring Henry Normal as guest poet, then, a week later, A Lovely Word, which saw me head to Liverpool via the magic of t’interwebs. (Photographic evidence of my first attempt, kindly hosted by Tony Curry and Paul Neads, is below.)


Other exciting upcoming activities autumn-wise include the publication in PN Review (yikes!) of the collaboration me and Jazmine Linklater made for last year’s European Poetry Festival, and the publication of an article commissioned by Open Up magazine about my reading habits since being locked down or lockdowned, however we’re saying it.

If you can’t wait until September, then in June I was super excited to find a home both for one of my favourite flash fictions and for one of my brand-new poems, of which there is now a fair number. A pamphlet-sized number, in fact, so I’m currently exploring the possibility of getting a book made. I know, right? ‘The Wild’ was published by Ellipsis here, while ‘Guidance Avoidance’ made its way into the rather splendid Postcards From Malthusia project here, run by New Boots And Pantisocracies’ Bill Herbert (Newcastle University) and Andy Jackson (University of Dundee), who said: By Day 67, Sarah-Clare Conlon could declare all shall be surveilled, and all shall be surveilled, and all manner of fink shall be surveilled - and none of us could gainsay her.”


Continuing my self-imposed Continued Professional Development programme, I’ve signed up for another online poetry course, starting later in August. Called How To Read A Poem, it’s being run by the University of York – JT Welsch of that establishment also brought to my attention the York Festival of Ideas at the start of June, leading to me taking part in two fab workshops run by Leeds-based Found Fiction: Cutout Poetry (see one of my efforts below) and Blackout Poetry. Part of the same festival was a great online reading and short film event, called Words & Swords, which featured Mary Jean Chan – with a fencing demo to accompany her poems from latest collection Flèche – and the always amazing Vahni Capildeo (the latter streaming live from Trinidad, I think, complete with exotic bird sounds).

Other transatlantic treats came courtesy an afternoon showcase of “unconventional” (Wikipedia) Canadian Bill Bissett’s work – and the workings of his mind – hosted by the University of Glasgow’s Colin Herd. Colin has been inviting the great and the good to a Zoom room near you, and I’ve also since “watched again” Peter Gizzi read from his Carcanet collection Sky Burial in May.


Me old Verbose muckers Adam and Zoe and now Jake too have taken the monthly night online as Virtual Verbose – I’ve missed the first, with Tania Hershman, and the last, but I did catch the middle one with Reece Williams (of UNESCO Manchester City of Literature, among other things) and Phoebe Wagner (her pamphlet The Body You’re In is currently half price with Bad Betty Press). Meanwhile, brand-new events have been set up especially for All This – at the end of July, I dropped into East Anglia for the latest in the Live From The Butchery series of live online Sunday-afternoon poetry readings hosted by Martin Figura and Helen Ivory, run in association with Ink Sweat and Tears, and that month featuring Matthew Caley, Rachael Clyne and Ron Egatz, tuning in from Minneapolis.


There’s also been a whole host of books welcomed to the world online. Pleased to make it to Aaron Kent’s launch of Invisible Hand Press pamphlet Melatonin Spring Collection, with readings from Man Met’s Andrew McMillan and also Jennie Edgecombe, whose memorable elastic band piece I think I saw read at a PN Review launch at Castlefield Gallery, maybe last year? It’s a rhetorical question, don’t sweat it. Travelled without moving to Nottingham, where Alan Baker introduced new Leafe Press titles Museum of Lost and Broken Things by Lauren Terry and Reading Moby-Dick and Various Other Matters by Martin Stannard. Went to watery Sowerby Bridge (virtually) for the first online Puzzle Poets Live, with guest poet Sarah Wimbush, and joined Jo Bell on her Macclesfield Basin pontoon for a Poetry Society event called Into The Water.

Another Poetry Society shindig was the launch of the summer 2020 issue of The Poetry Review, with readings from Rachel Long, shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection 2020, Geoffrey Dearmer prize-winner Phoebe Stuckes, Moniza Alvi and Brooklyn-based D Nurkse. Closer to home, Manchester Libraries in partnership with Serpents Tail and And Other Stories put on a Writing The North special, with James Clarke (Manchester Writing School graduate) and Luke Brown (Centre for New Writing lecturer) reading excerpts of and chatting about their new novels – both second novels, both set in Lancashire (Rossendale and Fleetwood respectively). Into August, and Nine Arches Press showcased new anthology Primers Volume 5, with editor Jane Commane and mentor Jacqueline Saphra introducing three new voices: Krystelle Bamford, Claire Cox and Hannah Jane Walker.


Loads of festivals have gone online, so this year I’ve been to Hay for Ali Smith’s presentation The Beginning Of The And (I’ve also been to fancy lectures by Oxford Professor of Poetry Alice Oswald and the great Professor David Bellos, now of Princeton, but who was my tutor at Manchester when I was an undergrad a thousand million years ago, giving the annual WG Sebald Lecture for the British Centre For Literary Translation at UEA). Work in translation also featured at the Versopolis Readings and Conversation, hosted by Kim Moore (another Man Metter) at Ledbury Poetry Festival, and, also in the West Country (assuming Ledbury is classed as West Country), I made a whistle-stop at Bath for this year’s Flash Fiction Festival, clocking Carrie Etter, Kathy Fish and Meg Pokrass.


This week (technically it was last week, but I took a train trip to Shrewsbury for the first time in my life on the actual day, so caught up via YouTube), I headed across the Irish Sea for The John Hewitt Society’s Digital Festival Of Literature & Ideas and their Gallery Goes… event with readings from Gallery Press poets Tom French, Eiléan Ni Chuilleanáin and Vona Groarke, who taught me on my Masters at the University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing, along with new Associate Publisher of Manchester’s Carcanet Press, John McAuliffe (who I listened to talking to Jessica Smith in episode four of The Rylands Brief podcast. So modern).


So that’s it. As you were.