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Archive for October, 2014

English Magic

imageThe last couple of weeks have been all about art.  To start with, there was a weekend in Kent, wandering round a Folkstone Triennial sluiced bright with rain, and then going to Jeremy Deller’s fabulous English Magic exhibition in Margate. Deller is one of my favourite artists and If I tell you the exhibition involves Stonehenge, birds of prey, Bowie, David Kelly, William Morris and silk banners that show tax avoidance schemes, you can probably get a sense of how much I enjoyed it. There were free posters to take away too.

Then, last weekend, we went to Frieze. It’s a brilliant, weird experience – the sheer numbers of famous paintings in the Masters tent (and the fascinating price-tags), the oligarch spotting, the new commissions (including one in London Zoo). The best bit is actually probably the free sculpture park – I loved the Kusama pumpkin and Schütte’s lurid pink sausage, and Gruff loved running round the dinosaur roaring at his friends.

I’ve also been to see the Tracey Emin at the White Cube, and then, on my birthday, Amselm Kiefer at the Royal Academy, which was very moving. Interestingly, poets talk so much about Ekphrasis but he seems to practise the other way, with many many of his paintings inspired by poems, most disturbingly Celan’s Death Fugue with the ‘Black milk of morning’ and awful golden hair. It’s definitely made me want to read more Celan (what’s the best translation??)

Talking of Ekphrasis, it’s never been something I’ve practised much – I suppose for me there’s something so wonderful about the self-sufficiency of a poem – although I do adore some Ekphrastic poems: Auden’s Musee des Beaux Arts, obviously, and Szymborska’s Vermeer.  However, I’ve really enjoyed a recent commission to write ten poems about architectural details for the book Look Up London which is out this month, edited by Adrian Searle and David Barbour and published by Freight. It’s a very lovely photography book, full of interesting facts about the city’s buildings, and I immersed myself in London’s history and folklore for the first time, to put together a sequence that draws on Blake, Victoriana and nursery rhymes. (My favourite discovery was a ghost near Pie Lane called ‘Scratching Fanny’.)

Anyway, do take a look, lovely Christmas present for someone etc!

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A Very Poetic Week

Just a quick blog to share a few links, as last week was a blur of poetry. On Monday I started my online Poetry of Parenthood course (given added drama by the fact one of the students gave birth during the week and we kept getting updates.) Then on Wednesday I headed up to Manchester to judge the International Poetry Prize with Adam O’Riordan and Adam Horovitz – the very brilliant shortlisted poets are listed here.

On Thursday I was in The Guardian offices recording this podcast with Tom Chivers, talking about Next Gen – it’s worth listening to for a really wonderful interview with Kei Miller, who I was extremely pleased won the Forward Prize along with Liz Berry (commiserations to Jack Underwood though, who would have won the poem category easily if I’d been judging with ‘Thank You for Your Email‘). The Forwards were held in memory of Dannie Abse this year, and I recommend reading Katy Evans-Bush’s tribute.

Afterwards it was off to the Southbank to watch a brilliant set from Emily Berry, have beers with Tim Wells (I kept asking for white wine, but Tim refused to hear), and watch a memorial reading for Michael Donaghy – a reminder of just how perfect his poems are. There were so many lovely poets I haven’t seen for ages, it was one of those nights where you get carried away and fall asleep on a nightbus (well, I do).

And then on Saturday I was back at the Southbank again, to run a poetry workshop for their YA mini-fest, and watch my friend Luke Wright supporting John Cooper Clarke in the enormous main auditorium. Just going back stage was pretty thrilling, and felt a very cool end to my week.

While I’m at it too, a couple of other links to share – The Idler have gone online, and I wrote a piece for them about Ovid, Feminism and Literary Transvestism. And my Arvon mentees are running a very nice little tanka project over October called Octanka.  You know how I like haiku, and I think these are beautiful – do follow on Twitter at #Octanka.

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