29 May 2024

Critical mass

The first months of 2024 have seen me step out of my new comfort zone of writing poetry, and turn my hand to poetry criticism. If I didn't feel imposter syndrome before, imagine the fear in my eyes now. (The fear in my eyes above is that I am taking a selfie.)

First, I was invited to contribute to PN Review, and commissioned to review a couple of poetry collections, which was an honour, if somewhat daunting, although the comments back were on the whole pretty positive and the amends (well, really additions – expand on what you really think) were minimal. I subsequently found out that my contribution was "typically stylish and brilliant", which is nice, and that PNR (to his friends) "will be hoping to publish her work again in future". The issue in which my two reviews appear has just hit the shelves, and you can find out more here.

So in between the writing of the PN Review reviews and the feedback, I applied for a six-week workshop series facilitated by Manchester Poetry Library at Manchester Metropolitan University for a tight band of eight new and emerging critics – and subsequently became a member of The Critic Collective.

Over the course of my career writing and editing for magazines and newspapers and culture websites and wotnot, I've written my fair share of reviews and previews of different art forms (literature, theatre, dance, cinema, visual arts, and even pantos; oh yes I did!), but I thought it would be beneficial to get more of insight into the "art" of criticism.

The aim of these workshops was to challenge expectations about what criticism is and can do, and consider criticism as a creative practice – drawing on art-writing and performance criticism, as well as using poetry as part of reviewing writing, events, recordings and exhibitions. 

We looked at and discussed various examples and approaches, and were treated to workshops from three guests: writer, translator and former editor of Modern Poetry in Translation Khairani Barokka, TS Eliot and Forward Prize-shortlisted poet Kit Fan, and John McAuliffe, Professor of Poetry at the University of Manchester and co-director of the Centre of New Writing, and Associate Publisher of Carcanet Press and co-editor of PN Review.

The Critic Collective lives on, is the aim, and the culmination of the six weeks is the commission of a review from each of us who took part. I'm still gathering source material for my piece, having decided to review not only Jos Charles's collection a Year & other poems just out with Broken Sleep Books (whose "A Call To Arms" campaign you should totally support – browse the bookshop here), but also her brilliant reading (and chat with Manchester Writing School's Andrew McMillan, below, as part of the new and very welcome live series – keep your peelers peeled on Creative Tourist for regular updates) at the Poetry Library round the end of April, bookending her residency there. As such, there is more to be studied, and I'm just waiting on getting eyes on that.

07 May 2024

Magical surrealism

I've just had a "writing week" in Shropshire and picked up this book on Chagall in a charity bookshop on my travels, for the princely sum of £1.50, and since poured out 1,000 words in a sort of experimental style (not poetry nor prose) inspired by his “magical surrealism” and taking as its start (and end) point my encounter with the ceiling he painted in the main auditorium at the Opéra Garnier in Paris, which was unveiled 60 years ago to, of course, both acclaim and derision. 

It (the ceiling) has his signature flying folk and funny animals and embracing lovers and bright colours and circus motifs and also sights in my favourite city, including le Tour Eiffel and l’Arc de Triomphe and Sacre Coeur. I don't have a photo of the ceiling, I don't think, as when I visited it was all film, baby, and I was young and skint and couldn’t afford much in the way of development so didn’t take tons of pictures aside from my arty stuff (City & Guilds in photography, I’ll have you know).

I do remember snapping the other Paris opera, the one at Bastille, as I really liked the juxtaposition of old and new architecture, and Paris really was falling down in parts at that time (the 90s, since you're asking), but with these big shiny edifices plonked in the middle of the crumbling masonry. I'll have to dig out the photo; I feel it was in black and white for extra contrast.

My mum's just dropped off another Chagall book, so I'll be having a leaf through that when I get a chance. Right now, I'm trying to finish the latest novel in Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series, as it's due back at the library. He swore the Anna Madrigal one was the last, but then snuck this in ten years or so later. You'd have thought he might have been able to find a decent proofreader in all that time...