Saturday, 21 May 2011

A Trip to Newcastle

A typical Newcastle panorama.
Earlier this week I stepped away from the hectic publishing whirlwind for a small holiday in Newcastle, and thought I'd do a quick post about it, just to add a bit of contrast to the blog (traditionally not a source of interesting travel anecdotes).  I was mainly there to see musical hero Sufjan Stevens (previously featured in the final video on this post), but also for a general poke around this city of noble literary tradition; as you'll hear later on, I got my chance to see some of that up close.

Sufjan was ably supported by his own band member, DM Stith, who of course has been profiled by Cora on this very blog in days gone really is a small world, isn't it.  He seemed to have a good night, I enjoyed his set and heard the people sat around me afterwards muttering things like: 'Wasn't he good?'  'Oh yes, so glad we came early, wouldn't have wanted to miss that.'  This was despite the venue's tannoy introducing the concert as 'Sufjan Stevens supported by...uh...DJ...Smith.'  Of the two names, his is probably the easier to pronounce, I'd have thought.

The venue was the incredible Sage (see picture above - it's the shell-like building on the left), and the show more than lived up to the grandeur and spectacle of the building.  Sufjan expertly captured the spirit of his latest album, just upping the ante a bit to make it intensely thrilling; an engrossing and dangerously arty couple of hours.  One of the things that impressed me was the 'duelling drumkits', one at either side of the stage, facing inwards (so looking at each other), an idea not used to make more noise, but to produce intricate and carefully planned rhythms... I was scrutinising the behaviour of the drummers regularly during the night.  The noise quotient was mostly provided by the trombone section, who were absolutely devastating, making their proclamations (possibly the most memorable bit of the album) with almost physical force.

Cue tickertape, near the end of Sufjan's show.
Basically, spectacle is the word... I struggled to engage my senses and brain sufficiently to take it all in, and make the most of this twice-a-decade chance to see Suf.  But I did okay.  And fortunately, other attendees took videos... you can see one of the quietest songs of the night here, from a very interesting angle, and head here for a short look at the climax of the evening, the end of the thirty-minute long 'Impossible Soul', with ticker-tape pouring down and some very odd costumes.

That was Monday.  The next day (before I went home...I did say it was a short holiday) I was determined to find a literary landmark, and with no street vendors selling 'maps to poet's homes' (though the city is full of them), I ended up at the Literary and Philosophical Society - my first visit.  My suspicions that this would be exactly my kind of place were proved accurate... I've never seen so many poetry books, old and new, in one place - if you have, let me know and I'll go there next!  The people also seemed infinitely agreeable; I overheard a bloke tell his friend a joke where the punchline was: 'and then he says, "have we met?  My name's Rilke"' at which they both guffawed.  On leaving, the friend said: 'well, tara then old boy, see you anon.'  I wish I could get away with speaking like that.

After a quick read of Bertolt Brecht's Collected Poems (I'm into him at the moment... I opened the book onto a poem where he reckons Los Angeles is full of 'houses built for happy people, therefore standing empty / even when lived in') I headed to some sort of refreshment hatch, where I met a very nice woman with the classic Geordie accent who sold me, without question, the best glass of orange juice I've ever had.  I went back to see if she'd fill up my water bottle for the train - not only did she provide this service, she slipped a large bar of chocolate into my bag, winked, and said: 'have this for the journey, pet...on the house.  Remember us next time you're in town.'  I certainly will!  She also asked me 'what the deal was' with 'that Lady Gaga' - I forget how we got onto that topic, but I didn't have any insight for her.

That about concludes my travel report.  If you're the sort of person who likes photographs, there's a decent selection of snaps from the trip on facebook - otherwise, stay tuned to the blog for some decent book-related posts later this week, not least of which a report from James Mcloughlin's launch on Wednesday 25th.  Don't just read the report though - try and get there, it's going to be fantastic.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Adam Gnade: An American Voice

More and more American art is becoming obsessed with identity. We seem to be having a difficult time lately understanding exactly what it is that makes us us, what sets our stars and stripes apart. When I first came across Adam Gnade's work, I felt a major sense of relief (not only as an American, but as a human being as well) because his art brings this struggle with identity to the surface, laying it out unashamedly for all to see. Whether it’s via his writing or his music, he's blazing a trail in sole search of the self, taking a cerebral road trip through the American landscape with reckless, fulfilled abandonment. He chronicles it all—the drugs, the sex and loneliness, the rock and roll—all the while maintaining a genuine, gritty honesty. There is no sugar to make the medicine go down. He kicks his head back and swallows the good, the bad and the ugly, never bothering to stop for air—all the while making me 100% proud to be American (whatever that may mean).

*Adam Gnade's work is released by an independent publisher/record label called Punch Drunk Press, which you can follow here.

Monday, 9 May 2011

A Poem from Peter Bain

I've recently been exchanging emails with a gentleman named Peter Bain, who appears to have a talent for writing poems 'to order'; reacting to events in the lives of his friends and colleagues, or in the season of his favourite football team Hibernian FC.  He was wondering how he could take this talent further; I advised he write about local news stories and attempt to sell his work to the papers.  I was most amused by the eventual reply, which was as follows:

Hi Jamie,

Thank your for taking the time to peruse
I’ll take your advice and report on the news
That’s local of course and I’ll look out events
If I fail to make cash we’ll be living in tents

First problem I have will be picking the paper
That thinks I am serious, not having a caper
It should reach lots of readers but like a wee laugh
When reporting on articles and making them daft

Next problem I have will be doing something straight
Do we live in all seriousness and is that my fate?
I have tried it a little and it has been a while
I can do it, I know, though it’s not quite my style

So thank you again for your good sound advice
Your comments were positive and especially nice
If occasion occurs, if you need the odd line
Call me, I’ll get them, but remember - they’re mine.

Readers in the Edinburgh area, be on the look out!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Valley Press Live - Summer 2011

Felix Hodcroft doin' his thing, 2010
It has become apparent that the VP website is sorely missing a page listing forthcoming live events (and there are a few other issues - but hey, you only find out by using the thing.)  With plenty of stuff coming up in the next couple of months, I've started (and will regularly update) this post, your guide to them all at-a-glance.  Updated: 11th May.


Wednesday 25th - Book Launch
9pm till late, 'Clock Cafe', Headingley,
Leeds, LS6 2AS

James Mcloughlin will launch his first poetry collection Encore in a venue described on Google Maps as follows: 'Very stylish. Huge amount of clocks on the wall.'  So, come for the great poetry, stay for the timepieces.  RSVP on Facebook, why don't you?


Friday 3rd - Poetry Workshop
7-9pm, 'Fruit', Hull, HU1 1TU

Part of the Merge Arts Festival, who describe the event as follows: 'A chance to work on a poem of your own with local poet and publisher Jamie McGarry, as well as enjoy a lively, informal discussion on the craft of poetry with like-minded people. Book your place, then send your poem to Merge on so it can be considered by Jamie beforehand. Only twelve places are available; book now to avoid disappointment!'  For more details and a map, see the Merge site here.

Saturday 11th - 'The Ruby Slippers' Book Launch
7.30pm, 'The Poetry Cafe', London, WC2H 9BX

Helen Burke introduces her long-awaited first collection, in what should be the biggest Valley Press-related event ever held.  Key features of the evening include a reading from Helen, a musical interlude, and you paying a £4 entry fee (it'll be worth it).

Thursday 23rd - The Hull Scarborough Line
7pm, 'Fudge', Hull, HU5 3QP

Felix Hodcroft and Sue Wilsea return with their outstanding double-act - a mixture of poetry and prose, worked up into a peerless spectacle of literary performance.  There will also be an open-mic spot to show off your own wares (should you have any).  Contact Fudge for tickets on 01482 441019; the last event was sold-out, so don't delay!


Saturday 9th - The Hull Scarborough Line
7pm, 'Cafe Venus', Scarborough, YO11 2LW

As befitting their title, the dynamic literary duo will reprise their performance in Scarborough - in the town's finest vegetarian restaurant, no less.  Tickets are £8, with food and drink included.  Call in at the cafe to book.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Under 25? Short-story writer? Valley Press needs you!

Note: The submissions process below is now closed. The collection of short stories was eventually published in November 2012, titled 'Front Lines' - read more here.

In an attempt to break into the exciting, lucrative world of prose anthologies, Valley Press will be publishing a collection of short stories in early 2012, edited by Dan Formby, student of English & Creative Writing and our appointed expert in the form.  The 'angle' is that all the pieces will be from young writers, ideally aged 25 or less (though there is a bit of leeway; we're not age fascists!)  Try and keep them less than 3000 words; other than that, they can be on any subject, they can even be philosophical non-fiction essays if that's your thing.  More than anything, we're looking to represent a generation - according to Dan, a disaffected one, cut-off from society and probably a bit moody (angry young men/women welcome; pick a machine and rage against it.)

We know many of the angry young people are busy with university finals at the moment; so you've got until the 31st July 2011 to get your submissions in.  We'd also appreciate ideas for the title; 'Generation Z' is one suggestion, but you can come up with something less obvious and more interesting.  Best of luck!