Monday, 1 September 2014

Poetry Profiles, 1: Edwin Morgan

In a bid to share my poetry preferences and spread the good word about some fine poets, living and dead, I have decided to publish a fortnightly Poet Profile.

Have a gander...

 Edwin Morgan

The background.
For anyone who knows me, this guy’s the obvious choice to begin my poet profiles (my PhD was on his sci-fi poetry). Edwin Morgan (1920-2010) was the Scots Makar until his death in 2010. He grew up in Glasgow, serving abroad in WW2, returning to teach at Glasgow University. For all the ins, outs and sideways of his life I’d recommend picking up “Beyond The Last Dragon:A Life of Edwin Morgan” by his great friend and biographer, James McGonigal.

Why this poet?
Morgan has to be one of the most exciting poets I’ve ever read. His poetry is diverse, funny and profound. He’s written poems about the Loch Ness Monster, Computer Christmas cards, space aliens, love, loss and liberty. He’s written sonnets, sound poems, colour poems, sci-fi poems, dialogue poems, concrete poems, one word poems, emergent poems... I could go on. In short: check him out.

A poem extract.
(from “The Loch Ness Monster’s Song" - LISTEN HERE)

Hnwhuffl hhnnwfl hnfl hfl?
Gdroblboblhobngbl gbl gl g g g g glbgl.
Drublhaflablhaflubhafgabhaflhafl fl fl –
gm grawwwww grf grawf awfgm graw gm.
Hovoplodok – doplodovok – plovodokot-doplodokosh?

A reading.
First, I have to express how much fun this poem is to read aloud. You’d be missing out (and partly missing the point) if you just read it in your head. Having taught this at secondary schools and universities, I know how much of a kick people get out of hearing it spoken with gusto. Give it a try, go on, now!

This is a sound poem, but the shape also adds to possible interpretations we might make. At first the poem looks like nonsense, but there are hints of intelligence in there. The monster asks questions, seeming to call out dinosaur-esque names: “Hovoplodok – doplodovok – plovodokot-doplodokosh?”

Now Morgan has discussed what’s “happening” in the poem, but to some degree that is irrelevant. The poem encourages you to make up your own stories, to build a narrative from mere sound. Take that idea  a step further and it starts to question the nature of language: isn’t the way we engage with the world also linguistically bound? And isn’t language simply an assortment of noises?

What’s the point then? Communication. Something ethereal is communicated through listening to the poem, whether it’s merely humour or something deeper. But the listener also begins to try to translate the poem. “What is the monster saying? What’s happening?” They become an active participant, decrypting the song and taking from it what they will. This was a major drive of Morgan’s work: communication is key, we need to work hard at understanding each other.

This is a great example, I think, of how a poem can work without the meaning of the words being the most important thing on the page. It shows us how poetry can be effective and affective without “understanding” ever being a part of the equation.

Go read...
Morgan has published SO many poems in books, magazines and so on. If you’re new to his work I highly recommend his Collected Poems, which gives a good sample of a wide range of his stuff. You can also listen to a few of his poems on the Poetry Archive. If he grabs your fancy, visit the Scottish PoetryLibrary in Edinburgh, the home of The Edwin Morgan Archive.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Data Dump Award

Hello old friend. Have you been for a dump? I have. A data dump, of course. A ho ho ho. And a poo.

Data Dump is a regular newsletter about science fiction music, poetry and more, lovingly produced by Steve Sneyd. This is the ninth year that he's run a Data Dump Award for sci-fi poetry published in the UK and I'm happy to report that my poem, "After the Moons" won a gold star and took 1st place.

But here is also the information for those fine sci-fi poets who came in 2nd and 3rd. In some cases you can click their names to visit their blogs, sales pages and so on. Enjoy

Russell Jones
"After the Moons"
from "Spaces of Their Own" (Stewed Rhubarb Press)

Joint 2nd
Andrew Darlington / JS MacLean
"Saturn Sigma Trojan Virus" / "Poetry is True Science Fiction"
Handshake 87 / Awen 82

Joint 3rd
Bryn Fortey / JC Hartley / Neil Wilgus
"Chaser and Chased" / "The Enigma Invasion" / "Yellow Dreams"
Bard 129 / Tiger Shark / Yellow Dreams

Russell Jones

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Reviews reviews reviews

Writers are egotistical beasts, always on about me me me. Well I'm the worst of them all. Just look at this blog, it's entirely posts ranting on about moi. Disgusting.

So, here are some reviews (which I wrote, yes me, Russell Jones) of OTHER PEOPLE'S POETRY. You can even check out the poets' blogs or sales pages (in most cases), if you're that kind of person. Follow the links, comment, fornicate -

Click the poet's name to see their blog.
Click the book title to see my review.

Opening the Ambulance Box: Andrew Phillips' The Ambulance Box” (2012)

A Home Run? Willis Barnstone’s Stickball on 88th Street“ , The Istanbul Review, Issue 1(2012)

Separating the Pieces: The Cento, A Collection of Collage Poems edited by Theresa Malphrus Welford”, The Istanbul Review, Issue 1 (2012)

Evenlode: Charles Bennett”, Elsewhere, (September 2013)

This is Yarrow: Tara Bergin”, Elsewhere (October 2013)

Muscovy: Matthew Francis”, Elsewhere (December 2013)

LeafGraffiti: Lucy Burnett”, Elsewhere (March 2014)

Locustand Marlin: JL Williams” (March 2014) 

ProfessorHeger's Daughter: Chrissie Gittins”, Elsewhere (April 2014)

Russell Jones

Saturday, 26 April 2014

"Our Terraced Hum"

Much good news on the poetry front lately (now to sort out the rest of my meager existence!). Prole Books have decided to publish my sonnet sequence, "Our Terraced Hum".

It's part of an anthology called "Caboodle", which includes work from 5 other superstars of poetry:
Karina Vidler, Kate Garrett, Angela Croft, Gill McEvoy and Rafael Miguel Montes.

Due out in December, no doubt I'll update you again so your life can be filled with the joys of the publication process. I know you love it, you filthy thing you.

Russell Jones

Friday, 11 April 2014

Best Scottish Poems 2013

If, like me, you are suspicious of good fortune, then you may wish to throw a black cat under a ladder. My poem "The Ant Swap" from my sci-fi poetry pamphlet, "Spaces of Their Own" (Stewed Rhubarb Press) has been chosen as one of the twenty Best Scottish Poems of 2013!

The list was chosen by David Robinson, the books editor for The Scotsman, who had this to say about my poem:

"I love the mind-bending imagination of this poem, which zooms down to an ant-level view of the world before racing up into ‘the heat of stars, the prized melting flesh of my cosmos’, all somehow seen through a transfer of consciousness between the ant and the poet. I love, too, the image of ‘a tongue’s first flirt with noise’ employed as part of that wished-for transfer, and the signs that it has somehow been achieved, as the poet feels, instead of thought, a sense of the ‘heat of sugar’ that has lured the ant towards the ‘prized melting flesh of roadkill’, and the ant is able to imagine some sort of blissful human nirvana. And all in ten lines, too!"

Read the poem (or listen to my mad face reading it) on the Scottish Poetry Library Website.

Also included is work from:
Patricia Ace, Jean Atkin, John Burnside, Niall Campbell, Angela Cleland, Anna Crowe, Andrew Greig, Diane Hendry, Bill Herbert, Kathleen Jamie, Rob MacKenzie, Kona Macphee, Jim Mainland, J.O. Morgan, Thereza Munoz, Donald S. Murray, Robin Robertson, Ian Stephens and Jennifer Lynn Williams


Russell Jones

Auld Reekie Readers

Far from stinking, Auld Reekie Readers is a group of readers and writers who meet up to share their work and listen to authors read.

As such I'll be talking about Edwin Morgan, sci-fi poetry, writing and editing, on Monday 14th April.

It's at the City Cafe in Edinburgh (EH1 1QR) and starts at 18:30.

Be there or be...somewhere else!

Russell Jones

Monday, 31 March 2014

Writing...and monkeys

Writing...and monkeys

This is a post about writing, and that mystical art of “process”. Essentially it's a bunch of blog posts from various writers – known and unknown – about why they do what they do, and how it is they go about doing it. It's not a book of hints on “how to be a writer” or a set of tricks to get you motivated, so far as I can tell, but a glimpse inside the private lives of the freaks and geeks amongst us, those people who sit on their lonesome and scribble down what the voices in their heads tell them to say...

I received this calling to write a post on “the writing process” from Pippa Goldschmidt, and as the tradition dictates I shall now tell you a little about her:

Pippa is a professional astronomer, which to me makes her incredibly cool before she's even opened her mouth or put pen to paper. She is also the author of The Falling Sky, a novel which has received great acclaim and which I ignorantly still need to read. But I do know this: it's about a female astronomer whose discovery could unravel current understandings of The Big Bang. She is also a fine poet and I included her work in Where Rockets Burn Through:Contemporary Science Fiction Poems from the UK. If you've an interest in science and fiction then she's a definite go-to contemporary writer. Go, go check out her work and ramblings, go now! You can check out her site here, which includes her own post about the way she goes about getting the good words down and chucking the bad ones out.

And so the nebula has been passed on to me. The task is to answer four questions, so here we go...

Question 1: What am I working on?

Back in January I was rowing in Ha Long Bay, in northern Vietnam. A guide told me that on occasion, if you were lucky, monkeys could be seen climbing and chatting among the rocks. Now, I love monkeys. I love them a degree further than is probably sane. I've visited a monkey temple in India, fed a baby monkey in Thailand, I even have a t-shirt proclaiming my monkey love. And yet no monkeys appeared on those rocks. Imagine, if you can, my despair. I longed for those monkeys to voyage down, if only I could call to them in a voice they could understand, they would surely not deny me the pleasure of their company...

That's the long route to saying this: I'm writing a novel about families who can communicate with animals.

I'm also still writing poetry and will shortly be editing my upcoming collection The Green Dress Whose Girl is Sleeping (due for publication with Freight Books in 2015) with editor Andrew Philip.

Question 2: How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I'm perhaps most well known for my work in the sub-genre of Science Fiction Poetry, having published two pamphlets of my own (“The Last Refuge” from Forest Publications in 2009, and “Spaces of Their Own” from Stewed Rhubarb Press in 2013) and edited a book of contemporary sci-fi poems from the UK (“Where Rockets Burn Through” from Penned in the Margins, 2013). The science fictional element seems to have the ability to draw in new audiences, primarily fans of SF, which I am very happy about because it gets non-poetry-readers a bit more interested in poetry, as well as breaking apart some of the snobbishness of poetry and genre.

So far as the novel goes, it's a young adult book (of which there be many) but aside from the story line I've been trying to challenge notions of gender, race and class by inverting them. It's also a book about politics and power, which are subjects I think we tend to – incorrectly – shy away from when giving books to young people. It will include lots of monkeys.

Question 3: Why do I write what I do?

This is a question my mum would ask me. In terms of poetry, I write to distill my thoughts and to see what language can do, how it can change my perception. I think there's something almost scientific about poetry, it's a process of discovery, of experimentation, of refining and refracting, and re-examining the results. What comes out isn't necessarily what went in, the conclusion isn't necessarily the aim. And that's good because it bends the box and slaps you around the face a bit.

My novel feels more like an escape, a world I'd like to visit (although probably not live in). It's a chance to explore my characters and see who they become, as arsey and artsy as that sounds. Perhaps they're imaginary friends; I want to help them out, to lead them down uncertain paths and see what's on the other side.

In all honesty there's a financial element to novel writing too. Poetry is a labour of love, I know I'll never make my fortune from it. More people are willing to pick up a novel and to pay for it.

Question 4: How does your writing process work?

I have two rules when writing: don't do it when drunk, and don't do it when overly emotional. I break them both.

A poem starts as a line in my head, I hear it first like a piece of music from a broken record that wants me to place the needle back on the groove. The poem grows from that line, I don't know what it is when I start it and it's not always clear by the end. Sometimes I am interested in the poem as an experiment. Hey what would happen if I wrote a bunch of one word poems, or a sequence of sonnets about sexbots? Sometimes it feels like more of an expulsion, to sweat something out and jar it. A nice jar of sweat. I try not to force out or overwork a poem, rather I just let them come as they will, sometimes a dozen in a day, other times nothing for months. I almost always work on a laptop: the appearance of the poem is very important to me and if I need to scratch things out with pen and paper its messiness would disturb me and throw me off the scent. Editing can take anywhere from minutes to months. In 2008 I started a poem that is just 25 words long, and I'm still not happy with it. That said, once I feel a poem is finished I don't like to touch it after about 5 years. That feels like I'm editing my old self, trying to pretend they didn't exist or that somehow the person I am now is a “better” poet, with more worthwhile things to say. And that seems very rude to Old-Me.

Writing a novel feels more planned out. Probably because I use a somewhat extensive plan. I know where things start, their potential endings, but not necessarily the finer details in between. The characters react and change, they think things over and respond. I can't plan that part of things because I don't know the characters well enough until they're faced with the dilemma, the romance, the massive murderous bear with platinum claws that chases after them. Redrafting prose is currently an enigma to me, although I imagine it will be copious.

If you've managed to get this far then well done! All that's left is to introduce the next writer, Colin McGuire. Colin has published a pamphlet of poems about sleep, "Everybody Lie Down and No One Gets Hurt" with Red Squirrel Press, and is well known around the Scottish spoken word scene. He has reached the finals of the BBC Poetry Slam and runs a regular poetry night in Edinburgh, called Talking Heids. He can be followed on his blog, here! A full length collection of Colin's work is due out this year.

Peace and monkeys be with you.