Wednesday, 30 November 2016






Friday, 25 November 2016


Mark Ford - world-renowned poet (Faber), editor (Ashbery), critic, and professor (UCL), has been reading a stellar group of poets, and will be sending his judge's report to us next week.... get ready for the announcement of the winner NEXT WEEK. Here is a list of the brilliant shortlist OF TEN BRILLIANT UK/IRISH POETS 35 YEARS OR UNDER:
Niall Bourke is from Kilkenny, in Ireland, but now lives in London. He teaches English Literature at St Michael’s College in Bermondsey and in 2015 he finished an MA in creative writing and teaching at Goldsmiths University of London. He writes both poetry and prose and has been published in a number of journals and magazines in the UK and Ireland, including; The Galway Review,  Southbank Poetry, Magma, Three Drops From A Cauldron, Prole, Holdfast Magazine and Ink Sweat and Tears. In 2015 he was longlisted for The Short Story competition and has been twice shortlisted for the Over The Edge New Writer Of The Year Award (for both poetry and fiction). He has also been shortlisted The 2015 Costa Short Story Award and The 2016 Bare Fiction Poetry Prize and has had poems selected for the Eyewear Best New British and Irish Poetry Anthology 2015 and 2016.
Jenna Clake is studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham. Her research focuses on the feminine and feminist Absurd in twenty-first century British and American poetry. She is also the Poetry and Arts Editor for the Birmingham Journal of Literature and Language. Her poetry has appeared in Poems in WhichThe BohemythQueen Mob’s Teahouse and more. 
Tom Clucas completed his D.Phil. in English at the University of Oxford, where he won the Lord Alfred Douglas, Graham Midgley Memorial, Eugene Lee-Hamilton, and English Poem on a Sacred Subject prizes for poetry. Most recently, he has published poems in the Oxford Magazine, the Literateur, and Mistress Quickly's Bed, as well as a range of articles on British poetry in academic journals. He currently runs the St Edmund Hall Writers' Directory and Forum, and has given numerous poetry readings in England and Germany.
Patrick Davidson Roberts was born in 1987 and grew up in the North-East of England; in Sunderland and Durham. In 2014 he was awarded a PhD in the poetry of Philip Larkin and others. He established The Next Review, a bi-monthly print magazine of poetry and criticism, in 2013 and is its editor. He is a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Roehampton's Poetry Centre, and a contributing editor to The Poetry Archive. His poetry and criticism has been published widely both in print and online. He lives and works in London.
Afshan D'souza-Lodhi writes plays, prose, performance pieces and poetry. She runs the Women in the Spotlight programme - a BAME/LBT woman's writing for performance programme at Commonword/Cultureword. She has performed and written pieces for Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Z-Arts, The Southbank Centre, The International Poetry Festival, Ilkley Literature Festival, Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester, Manchester Literature Festival and Contact. Catch her on twitter @ashlodhi on her website, one she hardly ever updates 
Maker, worker, writer, Ben Gwalchmai has worked with international opera and theatre companies, written for national newspapers and international journals, had several fiction and non-fiction publications as editor and writer, produced innovative pervasive media projects, and has won awards for his work. His satirical novel, Purefinder, is available in all good bookstores and online.

Anna Mace was born in Devon and is a writer and poet.  Having studied Fine Art in Oxford, Anna Mace is keen to merge the boundaries between text, art, science and performance, experimenting with different creative media and seeking to engage with a broad audience.  Inspiration comes from modernist, symbolism and experimental poetry traditions.  Between writing she works as a teacher and has lived abroad in Asia and Europe but now resides in Bristol, UK.  This year she is involved in a number of projects including: writing poetry alongside fellow poet Steven Fowler for the bookart edition two and three, Revolve:R (collective of 30 international and UK based artists).    Revolve:R has held exhibitions (2014) nationally and internationally and will be exhibiting work from its current edition (including her poetry) in 2017.  Her poem 'Elements: 79' inspired Rammatik (Film and Media winners 2014), to create a video work entitled Eclipse (2015, music composition Thomas Garside).  The UK based, installation filmmakers OneFiveWest created a short film in response to her poem entitled, Not I  and Maria Anastasiou to create the film,  Gravity, to her poem, 'The Earth Hums Mohini'.
David Spittle has recently completed a PhD on the poetry of John Ashbery and Surrealism. He has published reviews in Hix Eros and PN Review. David’s poetry has been published in Blackbox Manifold, Datableed, The Literateur, 3am, Shadowtrain, Butcher’s Dog, and has been translated into French courtesy of Black Herald Press. In addition to poetry, he has written the libretti to three operas, performed at various venues around Cardiff and at Hammersmith Studios in London. In 2014 David was commissioned to write a song cycle for the Bergen National Opera, which has since been performed internationally. He blogs at
Jacqueline Thompson is from Arbroath in Scotland and recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing at The University of Edinburgh. Her poems have appeared in The Scotsman, New Writing Scotland, Gutter, For A’ That (Dundee University Press), In On the Tide (Appletree Writers Press), Double Bill (Red Squirrel Press) and From Arthur’s Seat (Egg Box Publishing). Her work will appear in Poetry Ireland Review in December. She was shortlisted for the Grierson Verse Prize 2013 and the Westport Arts Festival Poetry Prize 2016.
Alex Wylie grew up on the Fylde coast, Lancashire, and now teaches modern literature at Queen’s University Belfast. In 2011, he was included in Carcanet’s New Poetries V, and has published widely in journals and anthologies in the UK and Ireland. As well as writing poetry, he is also a critic, and has recently published critical work in such journals as Essays in Criticism, Cambridge Quarterly, English, Literary Imagination, and PN Review.



Wednesday, 16 November 2016


Ironically, "Make America Great Again" will mark the end of American Exceptionalism. 


President Obama gave a press conference at the White House on Monday, November 14, before leaving for a series of state visits overseas. His intelligence and grasp of the minute details of governance only highlighted the fact that Donald Trump is going to look like a complete buffoon at his first news conference. Maybe he'll get impeached for mental incompetence. 

Growing up in the years following World War II, one of the persistent questions that was always just below the surface was, "How could good people allow the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust to happen?" Well, now we know. There's not a lot you can do to stop it. Not everyone is enlightened, and sometimes the mob underbelly wins. I hate to sound defeatist, but all I can come up with is that Germany survived it. It took a generation or two, but Germany's still here, and better than ever. Better than us, in terms of education at least. It's gonna suck. People are going to die. People have already died. From the Emanuel 9 to the 49 at the Pulse nightclub, and all the black men killed by the police in between. Hopefully it won't be six million, but make no mistake, this is exactly how it happened before. Hitler was popularly elected. It is only a matter of time before a picture leaks of a Confederate battle flag being displayed at the White House. Steve Bannon may not survive the scrutiny, but there are going to be plenty of people who would like to mark their territory. 

I can't even. With a Republican president and the Republicans in control of both the Senate and House, they are going to have a free-for-all and enact all the batshit extremist policies they have been wanting to enact for decades. Already Trump has appointed a climate-change denier as head of the EPA. It's just going to be a mess. The only hope is that even Republicans will see how crazy it is and we'll elect a Democrat in 2020. I don't even want to talk about who right now. That's what got us in trouble this time, having a presumptive nominee for eight years. Let's see who does the best job in congress pushing back against the madness, and nominate her. 

Ironically, "Make America Great Again" will mark the end of American Exceptionalism. We will cease to be the leader of the world. Our universities will probably begin to suffer as the best students from around the world (who, admit it, are the best students at our research universities) will be afraid to come here. Our leadership vacuum will lead to political instability around the world to the extent that some other nation is going to have to step in and be the voice of reason. The scary thing is, policy and administration discord aside, our military is still wrapped around the globe like no other country's. What do we do with that? 

I woke up again this morning just about ready to smile because I'm awesome and I live in an awesome town and have an awesome job and have awesome friends like you, but that all lasted for about 15 nanoseconds before I reminded myself that I now live under a fascist regime that isn't going anywhere for at least four years. Now I know how intellectuals in Nazi Germany felt. Resigned and grateful that they were not Jewish (those who were not Jewish). I'm a white male. I'll be fine. And Jews will probably be fine this time around as well. But Muslims and blacks are rightfully scared for their lives. There is going to be a new, American Kristallnacht in our future. And it will go down in history. And America will not be the same. America is already not the same. Rachel Maddow said it best on the night of the election: "If you're a Muslim-American right now, I think that tonight has to feel not just like a seismic political event but like a seismic event about what America means."  

JFK famously said, "The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war." That is the United States that I grew up in. I took it for granted that we were the good in the world. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney negated that. The other thing you could always say about the United States--what Rachel is talking about when she refers to "what America means"--is that we were open to immigrants. America wasn't so much a place as an idea: the idea of freedom. We no longer represent that idea. We're just a bunch of pigs, and now we have a pig for our president. 

I'm just going to try to continue to be nice to the people I interact with daily. Beyond that, I don't think there's a whole lot I can do. The forces of history are too strong. 

Ned Hartley

Ned Hartley is an independent scholar, writer and musician living in Staunton, Virginia. He was educated at the University of Virginia.

Saturday, 12 November 2016


There was never a time when I did not know about Leonard Cohen.  I was born in 1966, and he had been famous (in Canada) as one of our best poets even before then; by 1967, he was world-famous, arguably Canada's most-beloved figure ever on the world stage, and he kept on being so, up until his death yesterday. My mother was a huge fan, and his music and poetry (less so his prose) was always in my childhood.

Since I was born in Montreal (as was he), and shared his passion for debating and writing (less so, strumming guitars), he was never far from my thought - indeed, as a teenager trying to write poetry, and wondering if such a role was feasible for a Montrealer, Cohen showed the way (along with Irving Layton, and Louis Dudek, his mentors, later both mine as well). Mostly, like most Canadian poets, my affections were of the love-hate kind. He was the absentee father, who rarely did or said anything to promote younger poets from his homeland, even while laying the ground for their muted successes - no one was as famous as he, and his very presence always somewhat invalidated the idea that "lousy little poets" could in fact compete with a major recording artist's career of movie star girlfriends, and homes in LA.

But Cohen was a driving influence in my life - I honeymooned on Hydra, and I lived for a decade around the corner from his apartment (flat) in the same district of Montreal, off The Main.  I ate in the same delis, and drank in some of the same clubs and cafes.  I knew many of his closest friends, and some of his lovers; oddly, I never met the man myself. I could have on many occasions, but somehow never did. He was often at the same restaurants or parties within minutes of my arriving, just disappeared.

I did write to him and receive a kind message once; and I also published some of his poetry. At various times, in various reviews I wrote, I adopted, suitably, various positions on his work and career, and ultimate canonical status. It is my opinion that Montreal Jewish Anglophone modernist poetry and prose is the greatest single contribution Canada has ever made to global culture - starting with AM Klein, who is Canada's major English-language poet. Cohen was influenced by this rich, intelligent tradition, and took it to heart; he never sought to move beyond its tents or styles, albeit later in song.

Cohen is a master lyricist - and a master of the lyric poem. He was always a neo-formalist, fond of rhyme and the well-turned couplet and quatrain. He clearly was more influenced by Blake and Auden, than by Eliot. Although his fusion of sexual and religious energies is akin to that of Dylan Thomas, or Donne, his language was always lucid. He was rarely if ever complex; and he was witty; you suspect he read Larkin.

Cohen is not a lightweight poet - he is one of Canada's best. But as a singer-songwriter, infused with an awareness of poetry, he is second only to Bob Dylan, and, with Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Jim Morrison, Morrissey, Elvis Costello, and Springsteen and John Lennon, one of a handful of poet-writers to charm their way into the great tower of song. However, his mastery of a personal style in terms of dress, simple production values, and focus on wisdom and wry satire, made him as a sum larger than his parts - and he became Canada's finest export.

Cohen is universally admired by younger musicians, and by many poets. Only in certain grumpy and austerely fastidious poetry circles, in arrogant academia, have I encountered limited love for the man's work.

I suspect Cohen was a charming, funny, and pleasant man to work with - but he was not a creator of movements. It may be he was often humbled, depressive, and aware of his many intellectual limitations, and so refrained from doing more. I wonder if his being by-passed by the Nobel was a final cruel blow. It is arguable he was the more literary singer-songwriter, and the poetic equal of Bob Dylan.

The death of Cohen is a tragedy for the cultured world that could always look forward to another bleak, deeply-humane and humorous take on the human condition. His life was stylish, enigmatic, nomadic, and somewhat mysterious.  Cohen was both an everyman, and an elitist. This was his ultimate recipe - you could imagine seeing him in the café near you - but you also knew his dining companion would be more intriguing than yours... I once saw him dining with the PM of Canada, Trudeau senior... himself aware of life's bounty.

His songs will last, because they are rather artfully produced to sound timelessly minimalist. His message was barely hopeful, but limned with the need for a spiritual post-carnal dialogue, and this sort of secular drive for transcendence in a breaking world, gnostic and subdued, may be the only post-Holocaust sublime he felt was possible. We can surely use such hopeful pessimism more than ever today.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016


The old adage that history repeats, the second time as farce, almost rhymes with this nasty nightmarish moment, the election of President Trump by a whitelash landslide, except the American Caligula now in our midst - the most dangerous and dishonest person to be democratically elected to such a powerful leadership role since WW2 - is no farcical figure.
Comedians might wryly note that Donald J Trump is very presidential - he has the moral compass of Nixon, the sexual ethics of Bill Clinton, the intelligence of George W Bush, the cultural sophistication of Reagan, the political experience of Eisenhower, and the family-decency of Kennedy - but this approach lacks depth or clarity.  There has actually never been a president like Trump before. There may never be a presidency, again, after him.
There are two ways to treat this most horrible of events - and one is with cautious optimism; however, since this blog correctly predicted that Trump would win, we also wish to err on the side of cautious pessimism.  There is very little in the Trump resume to suggest any other way. It is possible, of course, that, like last night's muted acceptance speech, he can now moderate his Barnum-like excesses, and prove to be a capable, even strong, manager and CEO of America Ltd.
Trump, however, ran a campaign marked by too many evils to be let off that lightly.  We need not repeat his offenses here - but it is alleged he is a child rapist; a serial sexual offender; a sociopath; a bully; a cruel and vengeful man; a selfish egomaniac; a cheat and liar; and arguably, a hate-monger and exhorter to violence. He has flirted with the far-right, and white supremacist symbols.
His win was obvious to anyone who understands the Nixon silent majority plan to recruit a block of white, male, working class, bigoted, and angry voters; Pat Buchanan and his pitchfork revolution wanted to do this decades before; Newt Gingrich tapped this same vein. Reagan, also. As we have seen, there is a slim majority of adult Americans who apparently want a racist, woman-hating bully in power. So, after America's mostly noble experiments, we now see the American soul yearns like the Russian peasant for a potent father-figure, a Tsar.
Trump ran openly as a father figure - as a potent male - and did not hide his belligerent, highly-sexed, driven Darwinian aspects. He is the Uber-American. And the people who voted for him in droves knew this yesterday, and they cheered. Tragically, a relatively good woman, Mrs Clinton, has been defeated. She was no saint, but she was smart, capable, and has spent her entire life trying to improve life for many, especially children, and women. She is too complex and ambitious to be considered a likeable person - which was her downfall - but buried depths of racism and woman-hate drove the attacks upon her.
Anyone who does not see this as the worst moment in the history of the West since the death of Kennedy, or Dr King, about 50 years ago - or even since 1933 - is being naïve.
The new Republican army has all three power levers in the US government now, and can destroy environmental laws, stack the Supreme Court with bigots, tear down all the fine achievements of the Obama years; cause wars, religious and civil strife; stoke racism; and permit other tyrannies to prosper, unchecked. The level of spiritual and intellectual poverty on display in this election is actually vomit-inducing.
It is true that such anger and ignorance can only be bred in swamps of neglect; and that the establishment has much to answer for, as with Brexit. But now, the UK and America are under the sway of populist anti-rational movements, and worse is yet to come.
I fear for all those decent Americans - a majority of women, Hispanic, African-American, and Millennial, voters - who hoped to follow the decency of the Obama terms with a reasonably sane President.  Washington, DC is now Berlin, just before the night of the long knives.  What purges to come, what intolerance, what walls, what wars, what blood running in the streets? Shame on all who did this.

Friday, 4 November 2016



Britain - long admired as the home of parliamentary democracy, has a history of great struggle with those who would seek to limit the powers of parliament to control royal prerogatives... it just usually isn't the government doing so. However, after three law lords ruled - correctly, in the opinion of this blog - that Article 50 (that most famous of articles) cannot be triggered by PM May without the express approval of a parliamentary vote - the PM vows to contest the ruling.

In short - she seeks to short-circuit the sovereignty of the elected MPS who represent the good people of the UK.

The right-wing, pro-Brexit, often borderline racist/fascist media in the UK (they know who they are) have naturally claimed three pudgy white bewigged toffs have in their posh arrogance hijacked the "will of the British people" - except, the Brexit referendum was a) not legally binding and b) was never described as such a powerful instrument as to represent "the will of the people" to the extent of being able to over-ride the laws of the land.

Basically, what we have is a power struggle between a minority in the Tory party who want a hard Brexit, and the parliament, who wants a say in this most momentous of matters... they do not seek to block Brexit (though they ought to) but merely to, as the duly-elected representatives of the British public, determine the shape of the negotiations to come, and the form it shall take.

Since Brexit was, above all else, about "taking back sovereignty" it is a supreme irony - lost on many sadly - that the current Brexiteers, drunk on their stale beer and gross plans - are apparently the first to try to lay siege to that sovereignty; and yes, hijack it. This is a coup in all but name.

Thursday, 3 November 2016



According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win the Presidency, somehow, and this will be a disaster for mankind; or he will lose, but very closely, perhaps even winning the popular vote, and will raise a huge fuss, and this will be a serious problem, but one more easily contained.

Yet either way, the fact that the world has a 33% chance of being at the mercy of a shrewd, crude, woman-hating power-mad egomaniacal madman, who will have access to the nuclear football, is hardly reassuring. America's tragedy of the moment is, its constitution did not allow a third term for the uniquely charming, capable, decent, rational, calm, intelligent, witty, kind, and serious, Mr Obama, one of the great people of our time.


A WORK IN PROGRESS... I am writing this first part on the eve of New Year's Eve day - and as new remembrances come to me, I may well...