Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Moving House (8)

One last push and I am there.

I'm knackered. Been cleaning this place in an effort to recover the deposit I put down three years ago one rainy morning in my landlord's office outside Northampton, but I'm reaching the point where I don't care anymore. I'm a slob, kiddies; it's driving me nuts--ripping a hole in my brain--trying to look at this place the way a pristine, upright ex-Army man like my landlord would look at it. Let him keep the money if he worries about dust gremlins between the floorboards. He'll probably keep it anyway.

I've been pretty melancholy (my worst vice) for a few weeks as the moment of the move approached--been thinking about all the good things that happened here, what I gained and then lost between moving in and moving out. The memories are so good, so real, so close. But fuck it, they are memories.

What happens in the future is what happens; but dwelling on the past is pointless and masochistic. I've had some of the highest times of my life between these walls, as well as some of the lowest. Maybe I'll have a few high times in the new place as well. I have never liked the poignantly tragic, defeated odour that affirmations like that give off, but that's how it is. Life marches on, and if you're lucky and you can find enough arse in your britches to deal with the dead and the living, some of what you experience can be pretty damn nice.

That's enough time standing over the grave of the past looking in it for answers.

A few emails to write, then I'm unplugging the computer and packing it for the move.

I expect to be back online in a couple of days. Check back Friday or Saturday. In the meantime why don't you visit Norbert Blei's site (www.norbertblei.com ) if you haven't done so before, and acquaint yourself with the work of America's greatest living writer. It'll stimulate your mind and your spirit in a way that I never could.

Monday, February 26, 2007

"It's Strange"

It's strange. I stayed a child until I was 37, 38 years old. Full of innocent hope and post-pubescent anguish. Lived in the same place for 30 of those years, did very little except write poetry that nobody wanted to publish.

Then the person I lived with went crazy, I fell in love, moved house, changed jobs, had a breakdown, recovered, changed jobs again, lost her love, changed jobs again. And now I'm about to move for a second time.

After such a slow start, the last four or five years have been bloody exhausting. I'm 42 and I feel like I'm 108.


Tom Blessing. Knee Deep in Freezing Water http://tblessing.blogspot.com . Look at it this morning. Write better poetry this afternoon.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


My OPEN LETTER TO WATERSTONE'S, published here a while ago, will be reappearing shortly with a new introduction at Theron and Todd Moore's seriously excellent St. Vitus site (http://www.saintvituspress.com ). I mention this as an excuse to plug one of the best poetry magazines on the net or anywhere--one of those (along with my Beatnik and Brian Fuggett's Zygote in my Coffee) that people should check out first before they start complaining that small press publishing and writing has been in a moribund condition ever since Bukowski kicked the bucket. It's actually really healthy, and I'm thrilled to have a minor role on the scene.

Anyway, have a look at St.Vitus. You NEED it in your life, people.

Moving House (7)

We're nearly there. And I can't tell you (well, I can), how fed up I am of the whole moving process, which has consumed my life for the last two weeks. I am fed up of packing boxes, fed up of talking to removal men, fed up of talking to estate agents, fed up of worrying whether I'm going to have enough money for the next month after the move has finished eating 90% of my wages, fed up of cleaning this place in a vain attempt to get my deposit back from my present landlord, fed up of waking up every morning wondering how close I am now to the day of the move. It was frightening when I first heard I had to get out, then it was exciting when I found somewhere, now even the fear and the stress associated with the upheaval are stupefyingly boring. I feel like Bob Dylan in the penultimate sequence of the Scorcese movie, when he's being interviewed by a journalist in a hotel room and he's rocking back and forth in repressed irritation, distress, neurasthenia, loneliness, misanthropy, massaging his temples, talking over the bemused and rather nervous interviewer: "I don't want to go Italy no more. I just want to go home. You know what home is??"

Except it sometimes feels like my home is in a place that isn't there anymore, among people who disappeared a long time ago.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Kingsley Amis

I must be getting old. Or I'm growing up (at 42?) I used to think Kingsley Amis was some sort of literary Anti-Christ, representing everything that was old and stolid and Establishment and boring in the world of writing. I had arrived at this conclusion without ever reading a word he'd written, but I'd seen an interview with him on tv; and I'd occasionally paused to disapprove of his poetry selections in the newspaper column he had for a while. I am a man who likes to do my research before offering a categorical opinion.

Now, though, I think Amis is fantastic. Novels like Lucky Jim and One Fat Englishman and Jake's Thing are confirmed favourites of mine. Incompatible with my minor status as a champion of lost geniuses and unappreciated new stars on the alternative side of the writing game? I don't really care, to be honest. I just do what I do, with no conscious calaculation involved. If people like it, fantastic.

The correspondence of Kingsley Amis is some of the best and funniest I've ever read, especially his 1940s letters to Philip Larkin, who went on to become probably the most influential poet (though not the best, by a long chalk), of the post-War generations in the UK. In Amis' book we don't have Larkin's answers, but we don't really want them; Amis provides a rich enough feast of scatological humour and scandalously judgemental, snobbish , politically incorrect (and very funny), one-liners for a second course (provided by Larkin's letters, if you get the way I'm stretching the metaphor), to be unnecessary.

Just two examples:


I also read some american short stories, and think on the hole that american men should stick to making noises with musical instruments.

I don't know how well the humour travels, but to me, as a grumpy middle-class Englishman, it's hysterical. I have to be careful where I read the book because it makes me laugh out loud.

And, I have to point out, the English is beautiful. Perhaps, like I said, I'm getting old, but it seems to me people don't care enough about that sort of thing anymore.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Tony Blair (part one)

I belong to an old, good British tradition. The one that says you vote for one political party, always, regardless of what's going on, regardless of who's presently in charge of it; you do that because the party you have chosen, or the party that was chosen for you, by birth, represents your core beliefs, your values, the way you feel about yourself and your country. According to the rules of that old tradition you don't sell your vote to the party that promises you the best advantage; to do so would be a form of prostitution--you'd be selling out yourself and everything that made you who you are. We're told that the tradition has all but died in England, though it seems to have clung on with admirable fierceness in Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

You can see the proof of the expiry of the tradition in the success of David "Call Me Dave" Cameron's Conservative Party in the polls. A lot of people who voted Labour last year now appear to be seriously considering a switch to the Conservatives because the Cameron PR machine, which is really the Tony Blair publicity machine Mark II, has convinced them he's not a ravening maniac like Margaret Thatcher. That a Britain under Cameron would be nice, with social tolerance abounding and a damn good environmental footprint as well. He may not have explained how he's going to pay for any of this, or what he thinks about old Tory bogeymen like trade unions or homosexuality; but what the hell, he seems charming enough, for a big-faced old Etonian.

Even if Cameron's promises were all true, which I seriously doubt, and it turned out he was as lovely to the unions as he has promised to be to everybody else, I could no more vote Conservative than I could dig one of my own eyes out with a desert spoon. It would just seem wrong. That's the tradition. I am Labour: my vote is as much an expression of me as what I eat, the music I listen to, the content of my dreams.

* * * * *

But voters are not only responding, when they consider electing David Cameron, to the sociological change of increased social mobility (not proven, I think), and loss of class identification among the younger generations. It isn't just that Cameron is buying their vote by promising a better deal. The gradual attrition of 10 years as Prime Minister and the Iraq War and subsequent Occupation have done as much to take the gleam from Tony Blair's crown for the electorate. Where once he was regarded as an arrogant, power-crazed but fundamentally good man who was undoing all the wrongs of the Thatcher and Major years--albeit in a sometimes unprincipled fashion--he's viewed now, especially by those sickened by the War, as an arrogant and spectacularly ineffectual man who went to war on a lie, dragged there by an American president with the brains of a common house fly, and is too proud now to admit that it was all a ghastly mistake. A lot of people hold this view so strongly they will hear no good about him. They just want him to go, and yesterday wouldn't be quickly enough.

But--and you may stone me if you wish--I think the present characterisation of Blair is an unfair one. And allowing ourselves to see his government (Brown will be implicated in this, when the leadership election comes), as the government that drew us into the Vietnam of our generation, and did nothing else worth remembering, may usher in a leader (in Cameron), whose Britain we are all struggling to get out of, in a couple of years' time. A Tory is a Tory is a Tory, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, and the last time they were in control this country was a terrible place to be.

My views on the War are well-known. It was a mistake, on Blair's part, albeit one made in understandable circumstances. 9/11 had happened, remember? The terrorists were plotting attacks on London too: cynics may be partly right in saying that Blair's immediate and apparently unconditional support of George Bush turned the attention of the terrorists to London, but it may equally have been a consequence of decades of sanctions against Iraq, other aspects of foreign policy by successive governments, including Thatcher's, fostering the view--widespread among even moderate Muslims--that Western countries are anti-Islamic. The terrorists may just have wanted to attack London because it is an international centre of finance.

There was also the matter of the WMDs, so contentious today because of the "dodgy dossier", the outing and subsequent "suicide" of David Kelly, and the fact that there were no WMDs. Did Blair know there were no weapons? I doubt it. I am not deliberately paraphrasing Mark Anthony's ironic speech in Julius Caesar when I say Blair is an honourable man; I really believe he is, within the perameters of what one can reasonably expect of a barrister and a politician.

But, you will say, the dossier was "sexed-up". Details were massaged to make the Iraq situation seem more desperate so that parliament would be convinced an invasion was justified. Yes, and given Blair's history in the matter of the best-possible presentation of facts and events--spin, as it used to be known--I can believe without any doubt at all that he was happy for the dossier to be made more colourful so that it would have the desired impact. But he wouldn't have approved of any sexing-up if he'd known that the fundamental premise of the dossier was wrong. Quite apart from Blair being a man of principle, what kind of jackass would tell such a fantastic lie when inside of a couple of months he knew he would be found out and look a complete, lying fool whose judgement and integrity nobody could have any confidence in anymore?

I mean, other than George W. Bush, of course.

to be continued

Why I Won't Be Joining The ULA After All

For those of you I have told otherwise, I won't be joining the Underground Literary Alliance. There was some kind of vague talk in the ranks that I would, though I was never really sure what was happening, but yesterday I withdrew my candidacy for membership.

Big loss to the ULA, right?

I am not much of a joiner. Should've known that all along. But observing the way the organisation works from the inside, or nearly from the inside, I've realised it's just not a gang I want to run with.

As Burt Reynolds says in his great lost classic Hustle, "Sometimes you can't tell the Christians from the lions."

Thursday, February 22, 2007


When the bloke from the removal firm came the other day to give me a quote for shifting my furniture and possessions to Earls Barton, he looked everything over and commented: "You travel light, don't you?"

The same day I heard an interview on the radio with the French translator of the Dalai Lama. He was being quizzed about the Buddhist concept of renunciation. He likened life to an uphill climb with a rucksack on your back. Half the contents of the rucksack are your provisions, the other half are rocks; and the higher you climb, the harder the rocks make your journey. Renunciation is simply a matter of stopping for a moment, and emptying your rucksack of its rocks.

My rocks are all in my head. So how do you put that down?

I'm Sorry, Did I Hear You Correctly????!!!!!!!! (2)

by Martin Hodder

You know, it is not surprising that there is such a (as you put it) Saint Thatcher mood just now. The British media, the majority of which is Right Wing, or extremely Right Wing, have always loved Thatcher because she embodies the spirit of the Aristocratic founders of our newspapers, people who treated their employees and readers with utter contempt and were viciously ruthless in their dealings with others, both privately and in business.

Thatcher made this the official policy of Government, and in so doing put at severe risk the democratic processes that had put her there in the first place. This ruthlessness and callous disregard of the individual, especially those who were from the "lower classes" she and her cohorts so despised, in turn permeated right through the management of British industry.

At one point in the 1980s I had risen through the ranks of magazine publishing, through hard work, very long hours and perhaps a little talent, to Director level with what was then Britain's biggest publishing company. Then ruthlessness cut in, and those above me and, indeed, at my own level, began demanding the wholsesale closure of publications that were not performing at a satisfactory level. In each case they were making a profit, but not enough, ran the "argument".

Hundreds of hard-working people from editorial, advertising and production departments were to be axed through no fault of their own. Well, I tried making a stand against this and was told I was clearly not "hard enough for this kind of work". So I was fired, with no compensation or redundancy. Just fired. And they got away with it because employment legislation totally favoured the firers - because of Thatcher's policies. I was a scapegoat because I stood against those policies, and in short order was followed by the hundreds I had tried to protect.

That woman did untold damage to Great Britain, the British people (the working people, that is) and to Britain's standing in the international community. She set worker against worker, she destroyed our once massive coal industry (which we will surely need again one day) and she very nearly drestroyed that Holy Grail of Great Britain, the National Health Service. If she had been given more time, I have no doubt she would have privatised the NHS.

Tony Blair and his colleagues get no recognition for having to attempt to right Thatcher's wrongs. Yet this is what they have tried to do. Decades of under-investment in the NHS have had to be rectified and, given time, will bear fruit - which, actually, is already happening. They are trying to ease the shortage of "social housing", a problem created by Thatcher, but it's a slow process. I could go on and on but, in short, the damage done by Thatcher will perhaps never be fully rectified.

Instead of glorifying her, and erecting yet more statues, it would be more fitting to create a Chamber of Thatcher's Horrors. Fat chance of that though.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I'm Sorry, Did I Hear You Correctly????!!!!!!!!

I have just been listening to a discussion on Newsnight, the BBC current affairs programme, in which the consensus seemed to be that Margaret Thatcher was coming to be regarded by analysts and historians as a great prime minister. As memory of the deep divisions of the period fade, so the suits on tv were saying, we were starting to realise how she turned an archaic and failing society into a thriving, modern democracy of which we can all be proud. The pain that she caused, it was felt, was necessary.

I have never been closer to throwing a steel-toe-capped boot at the television. But the last time I slung a boot, on one of the occasions when my lover dumped me (remember, she got four goes, I only got one), I put a hole in the back of my guitar and I've regretted that ever since.

I don't think I could even begin, tonight, to explain to those with short memories what an absolute unmitigated f****** disaster Margaret Thatcher was for this country, all the people that she crapped all over, all the lives she destroyed. And moreover, what a nasty, bigoted, superficial, STUPID little island hell England became while she and her minions had control. You think this is rhetoric? Cast your minds back, if you were there.

I would rather Tony Blair came to be regarded as a peacemaker, historically, than surrender to the lie that Thatcher was anything other than a malevolent witch who wrecked lives.

But perhaps I'm being unfair. I mean, at least we get to choose between 150 types of mobile phone that we can't afford thanks to the deregulation of telecommunications. At least we get to wait an extra hour for buses with ever-increasing fares since transport was opened up to the markets. At least we have access to hundreds of new television channels that show nothing worth urinating over in our new modern Thatcherite democracy, as opposed to the three or four we had to put up with in the dark days of the Seventies. At least our children get to leave universities saddled with huge debts thanks to the ingenious abolition of student grants. At least as workers we get to work increasingly long hours under increasingly autocratic employers with no right of redress because Margaret took the visionary step of breaking the backs of the unions.Without Saint Thatcher we never would have experienced any of those wonderful social benefits.

Basil Bunting described the 80s as "a terrible decade to have lived through." Who are you going to believe, him or her?

Iraq: Is It Really Nearly Over?

Tony Blair always said that British troops would only leave "when the job was done." A cynic, which of course I am not, might suggest that what he meant was when his job was done. Can it be a coincidence that the announcement of large scale British troop withdrawals from Iraq will mean, according to the news tonight, over 2000 troops will have left by the time Mr. Blair leaves office at the end of the summer? so that the last memory connecting Blair to the Iraq War will be of a prime minister who had done the job in Iraq well enough to feel confident of a huge downscaling of British forces there?

Blair is certainly suggesting that things are under sufficient control in Basra for the Iraqis to assume responsibility for policing the violent civil war we have helped create, though that is not what analysts are reporting.

But whatever the reasons for the withdrawal, we are coming home, in fairly large numbers, just as the American Government sends in its much-trumpeted and much-maligned surge of troops further north in Iraq. And what will happen then? Some speculation has it that without the British presence the situation will deteriorate, leaving a bloodbath that will stain the already-dirty British conscience for generations. Perhaps. Perhaps, equally, we need to stop being colonialist and anti-Islamist and have confidence in the government we installed there to handle its own internal problems, though we played a large part in creating them. Sometimes when you make a pig's ear of something, the most honourable thing you can do is stand back and let somebody else sort out the mess.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


It's been a strange week. Off work to fit my annual leave in before April 1st, a house move to prepare for, and absolutely no money to spend on anything else, including transport out of the village. So I've been stuck staring at four walls that aren't going to be mine in a couple of weeks, taking walks down to sainsbury's--the supermarket at the end of the village--cleaning the house bit by bit in a vain attempt to recover my deposit when I leave, and trying to stay mentally alert enough to read instead of falling asleep with the tv on. (Yes, I could be taking walks in the back country around here, finding inspiration in nature as I do in the summer months, but it's COLD right now people, and for the last three days it's been raining as well. Do you think Edward Abbey would have been such a keen wilderness lover if it was 6 degrees c. at the the height of the day in the Arizona desert?)

I've always been intrigued by the experience of Kerouac, Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen as fire lookouts in the Cascade mountains in the 1950s--alone for 60 days with only a radio for communication with the outside world; always thought I'd like to try it to see what came up poetically and spiritually. But you know what? It would kill me, like it killed Jack (Whalen and Snyder appeared to gain something from it--Gary's famous poem written on Sourdough Mountain expresses incredible contentment: drinking cold snow water from a tin cup/ looking down for miles through high still air.)

I need to have other people around me, so that I can feel discomfited by their intrusion into my space. Alone all the demons crowd in on me. And I got demons that could make your worst ones look like mewing pussycats, baby.

It's like the folksinger says, Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Kurt (2)

Course, I don't know music the way I know poetry. The bands I'm thinking of are all signed to mainstream record labels, so there's going to be an element of watering down in their work, of some smart-arse at the label or some coke-addled producer influencing the band to go in a particular direction, so they can guarantee sales that will ensure nice profits over and above recording costs and everybody's fat salaries. It happened with Nirvana too: by all accounts their album "In Utero" was vastly better before it was finished (why did Kurt agree to detrimental changes if he was so hardcore? on the documentary they said he "gave up", which given the passive nature of the man and the heroin habit that drove him has some credibility.) I know of fifty men and women who are creating great poetry today in almost complete obscurity; and maybe ten among them whom, with the perspective of time, we'll realise were as good as anything that has been thrown up since Ginsberg finished writing "Kaddish". So it's probably not any different with music. I just don't know the bands because I'm too busy chasing after obscurity in the literary world.


There was an interesting documentary about Kurt Cobain's last days on the BBC yesterday. Reminded me how much I liked Nirvana, back then--I haven't listened to them for a long time. It also helped me figure out why I'm not inspired by any of the current crop of pop-rock bands, though I can see how good a lot of them are ( British music is in fantastic shape right now.) It's because they're just not serious. They're clever, they're amusing, they're cute, but they're not coming at it from a hard place like Cobain was. I don't see anybody who's bringing the word up from their boots.
Like I said somewhere else, I write because I have to. I like to see the same in the other artists I give my time to.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


I write only what I like. Whatever passes through my head when I sit down to write. I don't think about what's new or old, hip or unhip, 'me' or 'not me' (since there's no 'me' anyway--ask Buddha).Writing isn't entertainment, as far as I'm concerned, it's personal confession to the moon, 'one man's fist raised against the lightning clouds,' it's 'they'll shit on you anyway, so have your say first,' it's the pyrrhic victory of the utterly defeated, it's CRAFT, kiddies, contesting with yourself to wring the most music and harmony (even if it's a harmony of ugliness), from whatever lines have welled up in your brain. I write because I have no choice; if I don't everything feels disconnected and rotten. I write because I'm in a contest with my own mediocrity to lay something down I can be halfway proud of.I write because, like Hemingway says, I want to find 'one true sentence' that will somehow ennoble me and make sense of this bleeding tragedy of life. My models in all this are John Coltrane playing with his back to the crowd at Ronnie Scott's and then leaving without saying a word, Bob Dylan responding to the accusing cry of 'Judas!' by exhorting his band to 'play fucking loud!' As a human being and as an artist I shift so rapidly from one pole to another all I tend to leave behind me is disappointment.Well, serves you right, if all you want is to see yourself reflected, buy a mirror. You are probably going to hate half of what you read on these pages. (bh)

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Someone I know told me that I looked and dressed like 'a psychotic geography teacher.' It may be so. The truth is, I've never cared very much about clothes, and it bothers me to see fashion becoming more and more important, especially on the counter-cultural/ alternative side. There are people I know who are well out on the alternative limb, at least in one sense, and they spend hundreds of pounds a year on alternative fashions to signal their outsider status to the world.

That's just capitalism with cooler outfits, isn't it? Don't they still 'have' you, if you have to consume in order to pursue your lifestyle?

So what kind of rebellion are we actually running, if we're running one? Is it one of style? There is something to be said for the pursuit of style, since all forms of excellence are difficult to attain and contradict the conformist impulse, in a way. But my rebellion (again, if that's what I'm doing), is an internal one; it's about reinventing the mind and the spirit so that you can be liberated from the outmoded forms, the useless old bullshit, that society sets you up to live and die in the service of. What was it Dylan said? 'I refuse to be fitted for such a shallow grave.'

Some Thoughts on George Bush, Co-Opted

Last comes the Age of Iron.
And the day of Evil dawns.
Go up like a mist--a morning sigh off a graveyard.
Ted Hughes, "Tales from Ovid"

When a country is in disorder, there will be praise of loyal ministers.
Lao Tzu "Tao Te Ching"

Democracy? Bah! When I hear that word I reach for my feather boa.
Allen Ginsberg

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Epater Le Bourgeois, And Other Dinner Party Games

Turned on the radio a moment ago, Radio Four, because I needed some background noise while cleaning three years of grime from my window frames, and here's Grayson Perry again, the sculptor--second or third time on the BBC in as many days--talking, again, about cross-dressing.

Yes, that's right, you remember him now; he's the bloke who made the "provocative" gesture of dressing in women's clothes to go and receive the Turner Prize (or whichever parade of Establishment mediocrities it was.) Well, as I recall, he dressed like Alice-in-Wonderland, or Little Bo Beep. Oh ho, you arty little tike you.

Now, old Grayson is a genuine cross-dresser, and there's nothing wrong with that. A man who hasn't put women's clothes on at least once in his life has no sense of adventure, as far as I'm concerned. But when he wears costumes, rather than clothes--which he appears to do--he resembles a pantomime dame most of the time--he reveals what his real intent is, at least in his public appearances. Epater le bourgeois, right Gray old chap? It's an old artistic tradition, after all.

Except knocking the bourgeois just doesn't work anymore, and it certainly doesn't prove that you are on the edge artistically. Why? Because the bourgeois hegemony has broken down; they don't set the standard for behaviour in society anymore. They might still have their own restrictive conventions, but nobody else adheres to them or gives them any credence. The only people who want to knock the bourgeois are bourgeois, and the only people who get a kick out of watching it are bourgeois. To the rest of us a cross-dresser receiving a prize for middling sculptures, and then being interviewed by Melvin Bragg as if he were daring, or even interesting, just demonstrates how clueless and irrelevant and removed from the real cultural vortex everybody involved must be.

We all knew that about the art world, of course.

But I do long for the day when I switch on my radio and hear the BBC talking to someone who's actually taking sculpture, or painting, or writing, or poetry, somewhere that it needs to go. This danger they parade in front of us is all so disappointingly safe.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

haiku for feb 14

another lousy poem
about broken love--
poet on valentine's day.

no love for valentine's day--
the poet needs to write
the last one from his head.

their shades play rummy
by the open fire.
he sits in the dark, remembering.

every inch of the house
got imprinted by a scene with her
this keyboard even, her playing 'wolfenstein'.

her on the landing
in long coat and a basque--
shy grin counters sluttish pose.

her trying to get out
in a blazing fight, the front door
not opening because the bolt was on.

four times, four times
she ended it, and he went back--
he once, and it was over.

sitting now drinking spanish wine
surrounded by bags and boxes--
he's moving house next week.

another step away from her.
they'd said they'd live together one day
grow old in a country pile.

he sits and drinks.
he sits and drinks and writes--
thoughts of her spin round his cloudy head.

he's bugged she could forget him
when he's still in love
poor poet, such an ego!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


The biography of Ezra Pound becomes almost too depressing to read when we reach WWII--Pound's broadcasts from Rome, and his subsequent arrest and trial on charges of treason. It's tragic that such brilliance, such 'furious motion' (to steal Dylan Thomas' phrase), should degrade into the appalling crudity of Pound's attacks on the Jews, and his ravings on the role of international finance in the War ( despite their rabid, hectoring tone, his comments on finance might have some truth if you excise the anti-Semitic element from them and analyse the ideas themselves.)

Was this insanity? Of course not. Pound was never crazy. He was insanely arrogant, though, and probably a misanthrope--but if hating humanity is a sign of mental illness half the population are mad. At the time of the War and the Rome broadcasts I think he was suffering from the very modern ailment of stress, and mental exhaustion; he'd been running too fast for too long and now he was in the middle of a maelstrom, and too caught up in the pace of things to realise that he wasn't handling the pressure. And Pound was a man of books. He'd built his universe from the writing that inspired him. Even his invective--though, as I've indicated, colossaly crude--had precedents in Dante. It's just that Dante spilled out his venom more poetically.

The trial that resulted in Pound's twelve-year incarceration at St. Elizabeth's was a classic piece of State revenge against somebody who had dared (albeit in a frequently disgusting way) to challenge it during a time of War. They would have killed him if he'd been an ordinary man, but because he was an internationally celebrated literary figure, with Hemingway and Robert Frost pleading on his behalf, they fitted him up for Crazy. But was he crazy to believe the War was being run for the benefit of international financiers? Primacy of cart and horse are difficult to determine in these cases, but look at Iraq and tell me nobody made money out of it. And was Pound crazy to believe that Mussolini and the Fascists would construct a more civilised society that Roosevelt and Churchill? Naive, perhaps, but crazy? What kind of shape is British society in today, after sixty more years of our sainted democracy?

(Relax, boys and girls, I ain't advocating Fascism. I don't believe in political solutions at all anymore, though I still lean instinctively towards the Left when it comes to social organisation. But democracy as a system is hardly beyond criticism. Perhaps if we actually had real democracy it would be?)

Moving House (6)

I move to the new place on March 1st. I am not working until then--I had a lot of annual leave still to take--but all my money (and then a little more) is tied up in the move, so I can't afford to do anything. Well, nothing that involves £££. So what am I doing? Sitting around the house, and getting up periodically to put things in boxes, and to clean.

I'm cleaning for two reasons: 1) because I vaguely hope to recover my deposit when I leave (that £475 could come in handy), and 2) because it would be rude to leave the house looking like a bomb site. But I'm afraid it still won't look great. I'm tackling the place every day, but every time I clean one area, I notice another that looks even worse. Maybe if I'd paid more attention to domestic tasks over the last three years it would be a little easier now.

Anyone who thinks a housewife has it easy compared to a husband who goes out to work every day ought to try managing a home without help. It's a test of strength, endurance, observation, mental resilience; and it's really hard to do it well.

I'm going out now to seek distraction in the noise and hustle of the Sainsbury's down the hill. It's a shame these days of peace and quiet domestic activity have to end.

Monday, February 12, 2007

For George On The Occasion Of The End

George. Hey George. Old buddy. When exactly was it you had Armaggedon scheduled for? What date is it going to start? Because that's obviously the plan. You gave the game away with the press conference about Iran funding the civil war in Iraq. Global conflagration, like it says in that Bible by your bed. Which is fine. World had to end someday, and who better to end it than a good Christian like yourself? But I don't want to be doing something lame when it comes, like working, or sleeping in the bus station waiting for a bus. I want to watch the whole fantastic End beginning, just so I can say (in the little time we all have left) that I was there. So when's it all kick off, George? Come on, don't pretend you haven't set the date.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sir Arthur Just Ain't Good Enough For Tess

Apparently Tessa Jowell, or her underlings at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, don't think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was an important enough writer to warrant the upgrading of his country mansion's listed status. Acting on advice from English Heritage that the creator of my mother's hero Sherlock Holmes "cannot be said to be an author of the standing of...Charles Dickens or Jane Austen," the Department has turned down the application from the Victorian Society to have Undershaw elevated to Grade I listed status as a means of protecting it against future development, and securing funding for its preservation.

My God, can these idiots get anything right? The newspapers today are condemning English Heritage and the Government for their snobbery, but in one sense it's quite the reverse; Ms. Jowell's Solomon-like judgement actually gives off a pungent odour of philistinism. Conan Doyle may not be a writer of the Dickensian order, though personally I don't like Dickens and believe strongly that his social impact blinds people to his shortcomings as a writer. But is any British author better known in the world than Conan Doyle, with the obvious exception of Shakespeare? Sherlock Holmes defines our country in a way that is simultaneously more quaint, and yet hipper, than any character Dickens ever produced: Oliver Twist was really just a poster boy for British Socialism.

How perfectly in keeping with the general intellectual and cultural crudity of New Labour's agenda since 1997 it would be to watch the home where Holmes was conceived be redeveloped into executive flats because Labour wasn't clever enough to manouevre in its defence. But who on earth could we have voted for back then who would have looked at such issues any differently? And who now?

The Real Menace

The real menace in this country isn't drugs, it's vocational education.

What's This?

What's this? David Cameron smoked weed at school? Burn him, before he takes us all to Hell!

Saturday, February 10, 2007


this will go out today to the two or three waterstone's branches in my area

Dear Sir/ Madam,

I am writing to you in the interests of friendship and brotherhood--we all play our part in the literary and intellectual life of the country in different ways--to let you know about some writers and poets whose works you should be stocking in your bookshop.

There is a remarkable, dynamic global poetry scene today, which the authors I want to bring to your attention are a vital part of, and along with major publishing houses and mainstream media, the bookshops (by no means only Waterstone's), are ignoring it completely. Can this be right?

Yes, a few large publishers have a regular output of new poets, and to your credit, you do stock some of them from time to time. But they do not represent any of the contemporary schools, or bring anything to the table that hasn't been there since the first books of Ted Hughes; they are seen, perhaps a little unfairly, but they are seen nevertheless, as men and women who have come up through the mainstream, with their publishing contracts being more of a reward for knowing and serving the interests and the egos of the "right" people rather than for their poetry talents.

I appreciate that a bookshop is a business, and that if you don't make a profit you won't be able to pay your staff or keep the shop open; and a High Street needs at least one bookshop, even if it is understocked. And though I don't know how it all works, I would imagine that doing business with the major publishers is good business. I am not suggesting that you cut your ties with them. Nor am I suggesting that you stop selling all these new waves and new generations of polite and well-fed men and women referred to in the paragraph above. They have to make a living also--though I might (rather cheaply) suggest that reviewing their friends' works forever in the Observer or on Radio Four ought to be enough to put food on the table.

But don't you, if only in the interest of not misrepresenting yourselves, but also as one of the last bastions of intelligent life on the High Street, have some degree of responsibility for selling works that accurately reflect what's happening in the literary world now? Can it be right that none of the best living poets are currently available for purchase in your shops?

You mustn't sell your customers short. Author recognition may be a key factor in prompting somebody to buy a book, but could it be possible that curiosity might inspire a purchase also? Could it be possible, also, that your customers might already know some of the authors I am going to list for you below, and are waiting with credit card poised for a bookshop to have the courage to stock them? I know I'd pay good money for them, and I am an occasional Waterstone's customer (though I come into the shop less and less because I can't find what I'm looking for in there.)

And so to the list. Twenty living writers and poets whose works I haven't seen in any Waterstone's branch anywhere in the country, but whom, I would politely suggest, you should be stocking as important young/ old heroes and innovators of the contemporary literary scene. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will serve as an aperitif for the amazing feast that waits for anybody with the courage and the imagination to investigate it.

I can put you in touch with most of these authors if you wish to contact them.


in no specific order of talent

Norbert Blei
t.kilgore splake
Glenn Cooper
Paul Skyrm
Sharon Auberle
Todd Moore
Ralph Murre
Wild Bill Blackolive
Charles Plymell
Delphine Lecompte
John Dorsey
Ronald Baatz
Wred Fright
King Wenclas
Warren Dean Fulton
Pat King
Brenda Williams
Gerald Nicosia

I hope you will give some consideration to the points I've made and consider, either individually or as a company, investigating some of the authors listed. They have contributed to a general renaissance in world literature such as we haven't seen in at least five decades, and it is a crime their works aren't available for the reading public to enjoy.

Yours in hope of more enlightened times ahead,

Bruce Hodder

Poet, Critic, Founder Blue Fred Press.


I have been conversing, in the comments section beneath "I Know, I Know, I Know", with Australian uber-poet Glenn Cooper about bookshops. He works in one. I occasionally visit one when I'm cold and I have a few moments to spare. But I don't go in often; and I never go in with the expectation of finding something good to read, unless I'm on Charing Cross Road in London(and even then I don't hold my breath.)
Why? Listen, most of the readers who pass through these pages are in the writing/ publishing game in one way or another. We all know poets, even if we never write a line ourselves. And consequently we all know that there is a remarkable, dynamic, global poetry scene that is just not being represented in the bookshops--maybe it is in other countries, but it certainly isn't in the UK. It makes me sick, sending and receiving emails from poets like Glenn and then going into a bookshop and seeing the same old stuff, year after year after year, with a notable shrinkage of the more esoteric or hip writing from the past as well--e.e.cummings is everywhere, but can you find Bunting or Hart Crane? or Harry Fainlight? The bigger presses occasionally throw out supposed new waves or next generations of poetry stars, but when you read 'em it's the same post-Ted Hughes/ post-Douglas Dunn lifeless, boring old verse; I've read hundreds of these books, albeit from the Library, but I can't remember one poem or the name of one author from the bunch--they are as substantial as an uninteresting rumour half-heard by a deaf man in a noisy crowd.
It's time something was done about it!
So my plan this weekend is to write a letter to Waterstone's, my local coffee franchise--uh, bookshop chain--alerting them to the existence of a living poetry scene, naming twenty authors whose works should be on their shelves, and offering to put the bookshop managers in touch with the poets. I'll publish the letter when I write it and post any response I get from them.

This righteous action probably won't change anything, since local managers have to work within company policy, I presume, and the bookshop chains are megaliths who exist--like Tesco or Costa Coffee--to make ££££. These places will probably always be repositories for horrible, bland poetry shunted in by the publishing houses with the biggest financial clout. But at least we'll be smuggling the names of some of the world's finest living poets through their doors at last. And we'll have a little fun at the expense of the Big Boys.

The Twenty, of course, will be my list, skewed to suit my taste. But most of you will agree with some of it.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Duck, Time's Winged Chariot Is Going To Hit You

If you can't make a living doing the thing you love, you've got to trade in your time and intelligence doing something else. That's just how it is. But Lord do I resent it sometimes, coming home from work like the human equivalent of a burnt match, no light left and certainly no hope of writing a decent poem. Suppose Buddha was wrong and this is the only life you get. Are we using our brief time here on Earth with due acknowledgement of its brevity?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I Know, I Know, I Know...

I know, I know, I know.

I've been feeling really disloyal to this page, which was the first of my many internet pages, leaving it unattended for such a long time. It used to be that I made a couple of entries here a day--though sometimes I wrote a little too readily back then, and should have practised a little more self-censorship.

But I've not been flirting with another woman, so to speak. In fact, I've been doing very little, except working. Getting up in the frozen dark of pre-dawn, trundling off twelve miles on the bus, shooting my wad (again, so to speak) for 8 or 12 hours depending on my shift, trying to do a decent job in exchange for my wage, coming home again to drink wine and go to sleep early for the next early rise.

I've written a couple of poems (posted on my MySpace page), but nothing stellar. I come damn near sometimes to forgetting I am a poet--which perhaps says more about me and my lack of dedication than the circumstances I'm in. To remind myself I read Ezra Pound on the bus in the morning. Nobody lived with a more single-minded purpose than old Ezra.

Anyway, the business of looking for a new place to live is out of the way, and I've got three weeks holiday coming up after three o'clock tomorrow, with nothing much to do except make the final preparations for my move on March 1st; so maybe the Poet will have a chance to stake his ground again in that extra breathing space I'll have.

We'll see, as your parents used to say when you suggested something they didn't want to do.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Moving House (5)

I got home today to find an email from the Estate Agent saying I had passed my credit check. The flat in Earls Barton is mine! What a relief. Now I can sit back and relax for a while, stop buying the newspaper to scour the property to let pages, stop calling in at Estate Agents in town to pick up lettings lists, stop making phone calls to arrange viewings, stop going to viewings, stop entertaining nightmare fantasies in which everything goes wrong and the bottom falls out of my world, leaving me homeless, sleeping in shop doorways.

You can call me neurotic, but for the last month every time I've passed the homeless guy who sleeps on the town square I've felt like he was keeping the spot warm for me.


The scholarship/ journalism (if those aren't incompatible disciplines), side of Blue Fred Press is really taking hold now. I've got the Philip Whalen site, the new Ezra Pound site, and the beatnik, which is publishing work by some significant figures in post-War American literature. (Truly, that's not just arrogant publisher talk designed to beef up support for something useless. If you go to the site you can read Gerald Nicosia, Jonah Raskin, Neeli Cherkovski, Charles Plymell, and soon Jerry Kamstra as well.)

But the more successful I become at this, the more I have to deal with stuff that really has nothing to do with poetry. Such as literary estates. I can't tell you how much I dislike dealing with them. The authors listed in the final sentence of the previous paragraph are a delight: unpretentious, with an ear to the streets and unspoiled by the success they've had. But the estates of some of the others? Ahh, give me strength!

Perhaps this is just the reality. Perhaps this is the truth of the literary life--or any walk of life. People have to make a living; and someone has to keep and nurture the memory of dead poets so that succeeding generations can take the same pleasure in them that we have taken. But I think memories are safest in the hands of those who cherish the departed, not those who know how to do business with them. When I have someone telling me I need permission from them before I reproduce a favourite author's words--not the words of the person creating the obstruction, mind you-- on a page that is designed to celebrate their life, I have a strong compulsion just to fold the page and forget about it. This is supposed to be about the poetry, after all.

But then, that purist, determinedly small press, mind might be the reason I have to quit this little rant of mine now and go to work for eight hours doing something that has nothing to do with writing and saps my creative juices like a trepanning without anaesthetic.