Rod Mengham and Marc Atkins

CWRS at Studio 3

CRWS Studio 3

This week’s Creative Writing Reading Series took place in Studio 3 in the Jarman Building. This was our first time in this venue and thanks, along with  a plug, are owed to Katy McGown. The thanks are for her organisation and hospitality on behalf of the School of Arts, and the plug for the ‘In Conversation’ event at the gallery on the 8th of December, with a feast of art and mince pies promised. Bookings can be made here.

In addition to the our immersion in the Stuckism exhibition in Studio 3, we were treated to film, poetry and prose from our guests this week, multimedia polymaths Rod Mengham and Marc Atkins.

Mengham Atkins banner

Rod Mengham is on the academic staff in the Faculty of English at Jesus College, Cambridge. He is the author of numerous books on Henry Green, Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and contemporary fiction, including The Writing of Iain Sinclair (in Contemporary British Fiction,Polity Press, which he edited). He has published several volumes of poetry, including Still Moving Veer, 2014, for which Marc Atkins produced photographs.

Marc Atkins is an author of poetry, including the two volumes Logic of the Stairwell and The Prism Wall, he has published several albums of photography, including Liquid City, with Iain Sinclair. Atkins trained in Fine Art and his website has exhibitions of his  work, links to his films and a full bibliography.

Rather than describe the texts, there are links below to recordings of the readings from the evening. Below these, there are links to the short films that Atkins and Mengham produced.



Listen to Rod Mengham reading from his work on our Soundcloud page.


Listen to Marc Atkins reading from his work on our Soundcloud page.



Click on either image to be taken to Vimeo, where the videos can be viewed in full.

Filmstrip 2Filmstrip 1



Summer Reading Series: Tony Frazer

Debney & Frazer

Patricia Debney; Tony Frazer

Back to Keynes SCR for two events last week, and a familiar face on both evenings. On Tuesday, Nancy Gaffield launched her stunning new collection of poetry Continental Drift, published by Shearsman Books and sold, hot from the press, by the publisher. On Wednesday, the man who is Shearsman was in the chair himself, the first of the Summer Reading Series industry professionals.

Tony Frazer has spent 30 years in the poetry publishing business, and runs one of the UK’s longest surviving small poetry presses. After an initial foray into magazine publishing, and the inevitable folding of that early venture, Frazer found that the submissions still kept coming. ‘It seemed wrong to send these things back’, so while the steam was up he created a modest publication, printing ‘some 100 copies’ which were ‘passed from hand to hand’. A cult following of sorts was established – ‘a virtuous circle of readers’ – and Frazer sensed there was a market. Publishing poetry was never going to make money, of course (‘I had a job for that’), but it was a hobby that took on increasing significance, and eventually began to pay for itself.

Working abroad seemed to help. ‘I was based in Hong Kong,’ Frazer said, ‘and people would get requests from me and think – who is this guy over there? – and then they would send me poems.’ Rather than being away from the centre of literary activity, Frazer was documenting it, creating it. ‘I asked people for poems and I got them: Roy Fisher, Robert Bly – even Doris Lessing sent me something.’

Publications came and went. Frazer collaborated with friends for a while, but discovered that co-editing wasn’t for him. Rather than producing a magazine that published ’everybody’s second choice’, Frazer decided to go alone, setting up Shearsman in the early 90s, where he could publish what he wanted and practice his preferred ‘benign despotism’. Like most small press offerings of the time, Shearsman Magazine ran as a quarterly pamphlet for several years before the hike in postage costs caused Frazer to rethink. ‘So many presses gave up’, but doing the sums, Frazer realised that Shearsman could continue to produce a biannual book at a lower cost. Chapbooks and occasional collections followed, ‘because people kept sending in good manuscripts’, but Frazer was beginning to run out of money. Then digital publishing changed the face of small publishing. ‘Suddenly there was no need to produce copies which were destined to remain in boxes in the garage.’ No master copy, no typesetting, no minimum print run – print on demand was a financial salvation. ‘Finally Shearsman started making money. It had never happened before!’

Patricia Debney, interviewing Frazer, asked why he kept going. ‘It’s difficult to get off the carousel once you are on it’, he said. ‘I’ll keep going for another eight years or so.’ And then? ‘A long established press is interested in ‘buying’ Shearsman.’

For now, would-be contributors to the Shearsman stable have only one person to please. So what does Frazer look for? ‘It’s hard to say’, he claimed – although it is clear that anyone submitting work should study the guidelines on his website, and stick to the two annual ‘reading windows’ when sending in writing. What about personal taste? Shearsman is known to have experimental leanings, but Frazer considers it ‘a broad church’. It’s about the eye, and the ear. ‘Some stuff comes in that defies all strictures and if it still works, it’s in.’

If those readers brave enough to start the evening were listening, publication surely beckons. Moyra Tourlamain is already set to publish her collection The Book of Hours of Kitty Power with Verisimilitude later this summer (see Kent Review and previous blog for a sneak preview), and she enjoyed a stint of recognition as the Canterbury Poet of the Year in 2010. Less familiar with the travails of public reading, Jan Mowbray delivered a confident rendition from her series of poems produced this year, including some metronomic lines with ticking syllables ‘like a skein of birds’ (and not a single nervous quiver). Ben Porter read from his series ‘Greyhound Gallop’: pacy, racing lines that landed with the quick grace of forepaws on dirt track. Perhaps bravest of all was Claudia Orduz-Landinez, who had read her poems in Spanish before, but never in English. After embracing the teaching of Simon Smith and the realisation that ‘all writing is nonsense’, putting two languages together posed no problem. The resulting poems not only straddled cultures but seemed to envelope them in each other, a double helix of meanings that made absolute sense, and yet none at all.

A high bar has been set for the term.

More words from the wise over the next few weeks: literary agents, publishers and dauntless postgrad readers every Wednesday at 6pm in Keynes SCR. Keep on coming.




Students in print

The new term is swiftly upon us, a summer that will see many Kent Creative Writing projects come to fruition.

The Reading Series will welcome professionals from the publishing industry over the coming weeks. Students will be able to share their work, receive advice and get questions answered. And many of them will already have something in print to share and celebrate.


The Book Project is a hugely popular module with Creative Writing undergraduates at Kent. An intensive course run by Simon Smith, it gets students writing new work with ambitious scope, building up a body of pieces or a novel that acts not only as a portfolio but a finished, saleable product. Students visit the Poetry Library in London and look at artists’ books in the Templeman. After a period of writing, planning and workshops, each student produces a finished book that is printed, glossily bound and ready for sale. A reading and launch is held. Participants get a true taste of the gigging writer’s life: deadlines, jacket designs, nerves, a live audience, applause. Selling and signing books. Exhaustion and elation.

What do they make of the process? I asked Joe Hill, whose experience with publishing his first poetry collection through the project may have given him the live reading bug. He found the module useful and informative. ‘While it’s been great on the creative writing side, it’s been equally useful to know about self-publication and the like.’ There’s a distinct camaraderie to the Book Project too – the students are in this together, facing similar challenges rather than bowing their heads over solitary desks or fire-fighting those editorial deadlines alone. ‘Like so many of the creative writing modules, you really get to know your fellow students well on a personal level.’ And what about the launch itself? ‘The reading was nerve-racking,’ Hill admits, ‘but really gratifying as a book-end (no pun intended) to the module.’

MA students have been getting their teeth into the magazine industry with a module run by Dragan Todorovich. Well versed in this medium, Todorovich has organised his team of students to work to professional industry standards. ‘I have organised the whole process to resemble editorial work in a proper magazine.’ There are five students in the group, each taking a clear role as well as forming the magazine’s editorial board. ‘This approach is working very well’ Todorovich says, with the team steering away from traditional forms of print-on-demand and opting for a magazine in a box.

Box[ed.] is in its final production stages now. As well as writing their own creative pieces during the term, the students have been active in advertising the magazine and seeking submissions, reviewing proposed pieces, working on design and production costs, building an online presence and keeping a journal of the whole experience. Editor-in-Chief, Jane Summerfield, has been keen to keep up the pace. Her task has included a firm grip on editorial meetings – ‘cutting down the chat’ – and reducing over 70 submissions to a final list for publication. The team has met regularly and reported back to Todorovich through weekly seminars, combining editorial with workshops of their own writing. ‘We informed our leader about our progress with the magazine and about the submissions we had,’ Summerfield states. After weeks of planning and work, the project started to come together and seem real. The boxes arrived, ready to be filled with the final selection of new writing. ‘It felt like a proud moment, as if we had all overcome another challenge with the project.’ Choosing the pieces wasn’t easy. ‘The process was heavy, and challenging people’s opinions was a tough action as Editor in Chief. Ultimately I made the call on pieces with a mixed reaction.’ But rejection from the magazine isn’t the end point. Summerfield has made a point of writing to all hopefuls, successful or otherwise, and asking them to keep in touch. The team is working on new projects and there will be further openings for student writers. ‘One of which is the new website, where we hope to have a writer’s spotlight and sub-sections of writing. An online presence is important.’

Find that presence at and keep up to date with publication and launch news.

More student work can be found in the new anthology Kent Review. Volume 1 of this biennial series will be launched on May 14th. It’s a book of some 30 selections, showcasing pieces from current and recent Creative Writing postgrads. Amy Sackville, one of the book’s creators, is justly proud. ‘The book itself is looking beautiful, with an elegant, contemporary design befitting the brilliant work within.’ And the work itself? Expect short pieces and extracts from novels in progress on diverse topics, ‘bees, bikes, ghosts, happiness and jazz…short stories that will make you think and leave you moved, unsettled, and possibly disturbed; poetry full of flair and flex, pushing at the boundaries of what text can do, and exploring the spaces left behind and between words.’

Kent Review 1 will be distributed to publishers, agents and the media, highlighting the writers and their potential. Celebrate the launch with staff and students at Waterstones, Rose Lane, Canterbury on 14th May, 6.30pm. The book will be available to buy at £7.99 at the event, from the Centre for Creative Writing and from Blackwell’s bookshop on campus.

See you at a reading soon.



Spring Reading Series: Open Mic

A change to the line-up of the last Spring Reading Series from a poetry double-bill to – well, a slightly different poetry double-bill, with side dishes. As Jane Monson was unable to join us, Patricia Debney joined forces with fellow Kent poet and tutor Nancy Gaffield, followed by an open mic featuring staff and students.

The premium spots of the evening gave us five minutes apiece of poised, polished poetry Patricia Debneyfrom experienced readers. Debney began, offering a change from her prose poetry (as seen in collections How to be a Dragonfly and, more recently, Littoral) with some works from her ‘newish collection’ Baby. Here were open planes of poems, free verse forms with the odd catch and hook of internal rhyme and assonance. Within each frame, microcosms of emotional relationships and the hovering presences of parental figures. ‘I can’t see your face’, we were warned, ‘it is some kind of horror space’. Seeing and not seeing: vastness and minutiae. The ‘I’ of the poems charted ‘water of biblical proportions’ and the rolling fog that ‘settles into valleys’, obscuring the view through a windscreen. Under the same scrutiny came a litany of material objects, ‘coral, gold pendants needing chains, kaftans’, the stuff of tasteful but empty riches that prove ‘hard to live with’. And as if a piece of trumpery can pass judgement on its wearer, the ‘single eye’ of a silver pearl ring ‘stares right at me…until it closes’.

Gaffield’s recent experiments have been with mathematical poems, employing geometry and the Golden Ratio. Working with the Fibonacci sequence has produced syllabic verse reflecting structure in sound as well as providing ‘attraction of form’ on the page.Nancy Gaffield Gaffield has been working on a sequence of these with fellow poet David Herd for performance at the forthcoming ‘Sounds New Poetry’ festival (see below), ‘but I’m saving these’… Instead we were given a poem inspired by Da Vicni’s Vitruvian Man, exploring the ‘harmony of symmetry’, while other pieces expressed and reflected upon sound and form. These were poems full of atmospheric landscapes, plays of light and natural forces. Wild weather and the wilful elements are not to be shifted with ‘soft syllables’ or ‘antiphonal phrases’. Even the laws of language and abstract mathematics are no match for a proper Kentish flood.

After our scheduled readers, MC Ben Hickman opened the floor to those brave / foolish enough to sign up on the door, whether they had planned to or not. The rules were clear – one poem or one page of prose. Offerings could be rough and raw works in progress or finely tuned and edited finished pieces.

There were plenty of takers.

First up was MA creative writing student Jane Summerfield, whose poem ‘Batteries Included’ – relating the exploits of a hormonal slumber party – has been created under the supervision of Gaffield.  Tutor & PhD poet Kat Peddie followed with a two-line poem in honour of the lost word ‘owhere’ (inspired by Gaffield’s recent pamphlet of the same name), committed to memory but jotted down ‘just in case’. Neelam Saredia, a final year CW undergrad, performed a memorised poem ‘Dress Sense’, a dress rehearsal of sorts for the Gulbenkian Poetry Slam (with prompt notes, ditto). In the only prose offering, I slipped in a page from my recently finished novel Eden (thanks for the cheers at this announcement). Tutor Juha Virtanen gave us another paperless piece, a word explosion extracted from a long sound poem, read from the screen of his phone. Geography and otherness peeped through the poems ‘My Friend from China’, read by Edward Greenward, and an extract from Sam O’Hana’s long poem, also written under Gaffield’s supervision. O’Hana was followed by three fellow final year CW undergrads: Tom Cox, who read his prose poem ‘Citizen’s Advice’, featuring cannibalistic chickens and chronic dissatisfaction; Joe Hill, whose joyfully silly and poignant ‘Much Against Everyone’s Advice’ chronicled a life of bad decisions and loss of body parts, and James Richardson, who gamely read a poem of muddy sinking and slippage, fresh from the clay of a recent seminar, which he titled on the spot ‘Already Stuck’.

after the open micAfter the readings and the consumption of all remaining wine, the talk and drinking moved downstairs to the Keynes bar, where the evening was balmy enough for us to sit outside and pretend it was already Summer Term.

This may mark the end of the Spring Reading series, but there is plenty more to come. Next term the Centre for Creative Writing will host a series of evenings with publishing professionals and readings from MA students. Many staff (as seen and heard above and elsewhere) will appear at the ‘Sounds New Poetry’ festival in May: for more details see the listings at . Some of Kent’s dedicated CW students, led by organiser Sam O’Hana (also see above), will be hosting the UK’s first Creative Writing Undergraduate Conference, ‘Vox’. The programme will run during the exciting ‘Full English’ literary festival taking place at Kent this June. Undergraduate creative writers from all universities are encouraged to submit proposals to ‘Vox’: the deadline for abstracts is 15th April 2014. For more details and the call for papers see .

Look out for a last spring blog celebrating our students in print, a final flourish over the Easter vacation…




Writers, don’t get too comfortable.

We like to ensure that Kent writing students don’t get too comfortable sitting at their desks. Sometimes they need to take a pair of scissors to their text. Sometimes they get to finish each other’s sentences.  Sometimes we make them walk around in the rain.

Reading Week can mean a lot of silent cramming: reading, essay deadlines, project planning. So in the run-up, it’s good to stretch the legs a little and make some noise.

Here’s how my undergrad seminar group coped when we took a circuitous stroll to the campus labyrinth.

9.30am: Rain check. The slopes of Eliot footpath muddy but passable. The labyrinth lightly littered with sticks. Walking and kicking them aside attracts the attention of a muddy-footed terrier, two excitable children and two women in wellies and macs. One is, I realise, a local poet. We talk about the labyrinth as a place to escape, think, write. The children jump, hop, skip to the centre. The sky is clear. The dog dances with twigs.

10.00am: The rain starts.

11.00am: Seminar on postmodernity and the novel. We negotiate a path through the texts of Lyotard, Jameson and Baudrillard. We talk about smashing through the Spectacle, consider conspiracy theories, the reflective surfaces of White Noise and the fragmented maze of meaning in Pynchon’s prose.

12 noon: Workshop. Students present their ideas for writing manifestoes. What should writing do? There are rants, metaphors and playful typography. The drizzle continues. I propose the labyrinth. Several students whinny nervously.

labyrinth walk

labyrinth walk

1.30pm: The labyrinth. (Light) rain. I offer encouragement: this is a place for emptying the head, focussing ideas. It’s not a race, I say. Think Sebald, I tell them. Think Borges. The students jump, hop, skip and slide to the centre. Some mime a minotaur. They clutch damp notebooks. One of them actually writes things down.

2.00pm: Rain stops. The students squelch away, some smiling. Some grumbling. Maybe, just maybe, they will remember this.

Using the labyrinth for creative writing: three ways in

1)      The nugget. Before you walk, focus on one nugget to write about. Maybe you want to brainstorm a setting or character, or you are into a text and a question needs answering. Walk into the centre, thinking about your nugget. When you arrive, stop, get out your notebook, write your ideas down. Walk back out the way you came: your notes will echo in your head. Sit down when you return to the beginning: keep writing. It’s miraculous, but it works.

2)      The hiatus. Take a piece of text – a short passage of prose or poetry – and read the text to yourself as you walk. Whenever the path changes direction, stop and mark that point in the text. When you have finished the walk, use those marks to rework your text. Turn them into line breaks, or end points for cut-ups. Make them peaks and troughs. Let the labyrinth reshape predictable sentence constructions.

3)      The stream. Freewrite as you walk. Avoid all punctuation. Stop when you get to the centre. Walk back again, reading the text to yourself. Use twists and coils in the path as moments to pause, punctuate and edit.


Poets on the new undergraduate Innovative and Avant Garde Poetries module got to grips with sound and concrete poems this week. Here’s a glimpse of what they’ve been up to.

Do try this at home (though you may want to wait until the house is empty)

1)      Take a poem or piece of text. Choose one sentence that sticks out for you. What happens when you break that sentence down into its component sounds? What happens when you rearrange those sounds? What happens when you repeat some of them, or omit some of them? Write / compose a poem making use of these sounds.

2)      Choose just one letter of the alphabet and write down, for three minutes, a list of words that explicitly incorporate that word in all its phonetic guises (eg. for C, cat, cheetah, ceiling, chaise-longue etc). What happens when you break these words down into their component parts? Compose a poem that seeks to explore that letter of the alphabet in all its sonic possibilities.

3)      Sound and Performance Poetry Warm Up – begin to create a performance poem:

–  Using the recording device on a laptop, phone or other piece of equipment, make a recording of one of your shortest poems or a verse of a poem that you have written.

–  Read it a second time into the microphone in one of the following ways: shouting, whispering with your eyes open or closed, singing. Try to ‘lose yourself’ in this process. (Improvise on your original poem at this point if you wish to).

–  Select one word from your poem and reproduce its individual component parts – vowels and consonants; stretched, percussively or other. Experiment with the pace or musical tempo of your delivery by doing this either in slow motion or in very rapidly repeating sounds.

–  Aim for a recording length between 30 seconds and 3 minutes.

–  Email the resultant sound clip to yourself or to a friend. Errors are fine and there is no need to re-do the entire clip unless you wish to. Feel free to add any additional sounds that you feel contribute to your poem or to the experience of performing and hearing it.


For now, heads down and get those essays finished. But when the deadlines are over, get moving. Take your notebook out walking. Take it to dinner. At least buy it coffee somewhere: it will pay you back.

Don’t forget the next evening of the Spring Reading Series: Janice Pariat, Keynes SCR, Wednesday 5th March, 6pm.

Happy writing.


Many thanks to the students of my EN679 seminar group for being (reasonably) game, and to Nell Perry and Amy Evans for their inspiring poetry exercises.


Spring Reading Series: In Protest

Another packed room for Wednesday’s reading, and a subtle shift in demographic. Alongside students, staff and alumni of the School of English: law students, social scientists and human rights activists. What had they come to witness? The radicalising power of poetry.

editor and poets gathering; familiar School of English faces await the reading

editor and poets gathering; familiar School of English faces await the reading

As every Creative Writing undergrad at Kent will know, poetry is potentially dangerous. It can expose, persuade, exploit. It makes the reader see the world differently. It can shake things up. Here was an audience keen to see the process at work. In Protest: 150 poems for human rights is a new anthology produced by the University of London’s Human Rights Consortium and Keats House Poets. The evening’s readers were contributors to the anthology, an experiment, according to one of its editors Laila Sumpton, born of modest aspirations. Putting out a call for poems of exile and protest ‘to create a pamphlet’, the editors were overwhelmed by more than 600 poems. The resulting publication was launched in October last year and features work from established and emerging poets. Sumpton explained how the book – divided into themes such as ‘land’, ‘sentenced’ and ‘expression’ – seeks to ‘rethink the frame of human rights poetry’ and ‘find new directions and ways in’ to the subject.

First to read was Alia’ Afif Kawalit, a PhD research student at Kent and tutor in the School of English. An Arab and English speaker, Kawalit’s poem ‘Turning a Blind Eye’ explored the discrepancies between media reports of violent clashes close to her homeland, Jordan.

Rooney and Kawalit beneath T.S. Eliot's youthful gaze

Rooney and Kawalit beneath T.S. Eliot’s youthful gaze

Sharing a mango with an Indian friend, notions of hospitality are set against the poet’s fears for the future. Imported fruit, like imported journalism, can lose its authentic taste. In ‘Dry Times’, the Arab upheavals (Kawalit shuns the term ‘Arab Spring’, another appropriation) crash into consciousness, where ‘little dreams wake…like whistling bullets’.

These were subtle poems whose power lay in expressive imagery rather than tub-thumping remonstration. Hubert Moore followed with poems of contrast, stating that poetry alone can present unlikely associations to its readers ‘with a straight face’. His poem ‘At the Approach of Dieback’ brought together diseased ash trees and the ‘slippered voice’ of a refugee’s aging parent speaking from afar. Similarly, ‘V Formation’ linked the image of a flock of flying geese with the ‘eleven locked doors’ between the poet ‘and the detainees’.

Kate Adams, an East Kent poet and Kent Refugee Help volunteer, brought personal and professional experiences to the reading. Her poem ‘Five Broken Cameras’, written following the death of a friend and fellow caseworker, set ‘sleet on the streets’ of Britain against ‘blood in the dust’ of Palestine. ‘Maybe the Rain’, another poem drenched in relentless island weather, spoke in broken English to mirror, as Adams put it, ‘the fractured, fragmented world of the refugee experience’.  Speaking directly from this experience was former detainee Ruhul, who Adams first met in the Dover centre. Ruhul shared a single, highly personal work written while in detention. A poem of apology and separation, the poet addressed his children with a string of ‘I’m sorry that’s, a reminder of some of the less publicised consequences of detention.

Last to read was the School’s Professor Caroline Rooney, an arts activist whose self-proclaimed ‘soap-box poems’ presented sharp images of war and protest. These are, said Rooney, ‘poems that won’t stay on the page’. Here were lines which – as dangerous poetry should – climbed in to the audience and slapped them around. We were drily warned that ‘stapling the mouths, not feeding them’ does not make good government. Bombed-out buildings lay open ‘like abstract paintings’. Here were the specifics of attack, the sim cards saved in shoes, the eggs thrown at embassy buildings, the flotilla of aid ships raided en route to Gaza.

the debate continues

the debate continues

Can poems be a force for social change, a tool for campaigning? Kawalit and Rooney cited the orphic quality of poetry, its authentic voice and its transformative power.  Adams and Moore spoke of raising awareness and reaching those otherwise ‘cold’ to the issues. The debate continued beyond the reading, but Ruhul summed it up: voices shout and journalists create headlines, but ‘a book is always there’.


In Protest: 150 poems for human rights is published by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.

Next in the series, an eclectic evening with writers Maria McCarthy, Maggie Harris and Maggie Drury. Wednesday 12th February, 6pm.

See you there.



Spring Reading Series: Simon Smith

Seats and floor space were at a premium in Eliot SCR on Wednesday evening as the centre’s own Simon Smith launched his new collection, 11781 W. Sunset Boulevard.

Simon Smith

Simon Smith reading from 11781 W. Sunset Boulevard

Patricia Debney introduced Smith. ‘He lives, breathes, reads and writes poetry like no one else I have ever known’, she said, and praised his ‘always evolving poems’, each work seeming to ‘start afresh’.

Smith explained how the book, in two distinct parts, contains poems ‘about transport, rather than transfiguration’. A modest claim typical of Smith, though it was apparent as the evening went on that change and movement in these poems was about more than the mechanics of wheels and engines.

The collection’s title, 11781 W. Sunset Boulevard, is the address of the Getty Institute’s Accommodation in LA, which Smith visited in 2011 when his wife was a Getty Scholar. What first appears to be a rather static title for such a restless collection – a place fixed down by numbers, a point on a map – quickly gathers meaning. This address is more than a destination. It becomes the centre point of a frenzy of writing: 17 poems in 10 days, according to Smith. It is a springboard for departure, back into the poems of Kent and London in the second half of the book. And it is here that Smith spent a day with the archives of poet and translator Paul Blackburn, a catalyst for his current work on Blackburn and an experience explored in the breathless poem ‘11/1/11’.

Smith’s reading began with the first poem in the collection, a response, he said, to his hatred of flying. Written on the plane, ‘Ode: Sat Nav Narrative on Flying into LAX’ builds up details like dabs in a pointillist painting. Here are times, speeds and distances, precisely measured: ‘450 m.p.h. of ground speed dip down at / James Bay distance to LA 2513 miles local / time at present position 12.30p.m.’ Against this catalogue of control the poet’s eyes are ‘gritty-tired, / dogged, filled with the hours bursting / the grit full hours’. A curl of hair acts as a bookmark. The earth curves. Thoughts of home are suspended at 38,000 feet, where ‘everything’s made to look smaller’. Still, but hurtling forward: ‘now / is the moment for change & everything shifts forward next’.

And everything did shift forward. Smith gave us poems of the moment, postcards of fleetingly glimpsed places, impressionistic brushes with found text, street signs, song lyrics, news stations. Smith delivered them baldly, lines running together, taking us from the convoys of ‘muscle cars’ and motorcades past Pacific Coast palm trees and onto the plane home, a ‘long haul long hop deep breath’ of experience. ‘All these things really happened’ Smith explained, making the collection ‘almost like a diary’.

When the plane touched down, we were back in home territory, with part two of the book, ‘Gravesend’. Here was Smith’s ‘A Theory for a Materialist Poetics’, a poem detailing ‘experience crammed in as far as the eye can see’. Smith’s South East is a landscape of train stations, sweet wrappers and Paul Weller lyrics: washing on the line, brambles and railway sidings, a barely concealed threat of malice. ‘We don’t stop at Deptford. No one dare.’ ‘This is Dartford. This is Dartford. Heed the warning.’ Between the PVC and ice-cream van jingles, glimpses of Catullus, Dickens, Henry VIII. And through these detailed despatches recording the ‘ring-pull moment of chance’, the voice of the poet: clear, insightful, and always ‘in pin-sharp form’.


Simon signing books; some familiar faces from the Centre for Creative Writing

There were many questions, not least from poets in the audience. From Smith’s answers, a piece of distilled advice to keep in any writer’s pocket: ‘If you think it’s a poem, it’s probably not. If you think it’s not, it probably is.’

11781 W. Sunset Boulevard is published by Shearsman.


Next up, readings from the anthology In Protest: 150 poems for human rights, featuring poets Kate Adams, Alia’ Afif Kawalit, Hubert Moore and Caroline Rooney. Eliot SCR, 6pm, Wednesday 5th February.

Until then.



Simon Smith is a senior lecturer in Creative Writing at Kent. His previous poetry collections are Fifteen Exits (Waterloo Press) and Reverdy Road, Mercury and London Bridge (published by Salt). His forthcoming The Books of Catullus will be published by Carcanet.


Spring Reading Series: Outcrop

The Spring Reading Series began on Wednesday 22nd January with three poets from the recent anthology Outcrop: Radical Australian Poetry of Land.

So, what was radical about it?

Michael Farrell; David Herd introducing

Michael Farrell; David Herd introducing

Michael Farrell set an offbeat tone with his first poem, a continuous rendering of the line ‘baa baa black sheep’. Eyes on the page, he actually appeared to be reading. How many times had he said it? 30? 50? The audience stiffened, the air drew tight. A mischievous glint appeared in the poet’s eye; he looked up for a second. Listeners gave a titter of relief. Then the line again, over and over, beyond discomfort and into hypnosis. 100 times? 400? As the glaze set in there was a sudden shift, a prompt line, and voices in the audience called out answering stanzas.

Suddenly we knew where we were. Sort of.

The sounds of a jazz band tuning up hovered in the room above. Farrell and the readers who followed embraced the challenge; foot-stamping glee club choruses were answered with sonorous lines and heightened voices. Farrell gave us phrases in backwards Latin, Spanish and Italian. The devil emerged on horseback in urban Sydney ‘like Voss’ from the desert. ‘You can’t drink paranoia’, we were assured. The Earth said: ‘let’s get a coffee in that little Italian café we know… the Sistine Chapel.’ Ears caught fire. The glee club showaddywaddied approval.

Next up was Claire Potter, whose organic poems wreathed their way through the room.

Claire Potter

Claire Potter

Potter’s stunning lines showed how assonance and alliteration can woo the ears of an audience, and the distant stride piano evaporated. Phrases such as ‘a ribbon of tea coils into my cup’ and ‘a simmering of sound’ hung in the air long after the reading was over. There was flora and fauna, a blending of ‘plant into night, night into plant’. ‘So yes’, Potter declared, in lines from her poem ‘Misreading’: ‘I pushed her flat into the dirt of this difficult country; and it is true that I write as I read – mistaking wreaths for wraiths, spires for spines, girls for orchids.’

Laurie Duggan took the stage next. Now based in Kent, Duggan is a familiar face on the UK poetry circuit. He began with a section of a long poem in the anthology, ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’. (Droll eye-roll to Gershwin fans and singing ceiling.) Written in his thirties, reading the poem was, Duggan said, like reading out his teenage diaries. Undaunted, he delivered a litany of interior details: crazed paintings, the green glaze of an overflowing ashtray, frozen figures in old

Laurie Duggan

Laurie Duggan

photographs, broken typewriters. This was a very different landscape, and Duggan gave us every inch of it, a flâneur collating threads of worn upholstery and old magazines. ‘I would like to write poems like Edward Hopper paintings’ he read, ‘but the eye doesn’t work like that’. Duggan followed with a couple of newer poems not in the anthology, one of which name-checked John James at last year’s Veg Box reading.

So, what was radical about it? Australians in the audience had plenty to say. The poets seemed less concerned with radicality, although Farrell pointed out that ‘radical’ is a problematic term. ‘Putting the land first is a difficult thing in a nation that is all about using the land,’ he claimed. And with a timely cymbal crash, the show was over.


Outcrop: Radical Australian Poetry of Land is published by Black Rider Press.

Next in the series, Kent’s own Frank O’Hara: Simon Smith reads from his new poetry collection 11781 W. Sunset Boulevard, published this month by Shearsman. Wednesday 29th January, 6pm, Eliot SCR.

See you there.



Michael Farrell’s books include Open Sesame, published by Giramondo in 2013. He won the prestigious Peter Porter Poetry Prize in 2010. Farrell is currently Visiting Fellow in the Centre for Modern Poetry at the University of Kent.

Claire Potter’s collection Swallow was published by Five Islands Press in October 2010.

Laurie Duggan’s latest book of poetry is The Pursuit of Happiness, published by Shearsman in 2012.


Tuesday Reading Series: Tony Frazer/ ZONE event

Juha reading and Simon Smith into it.

Juha reading behind a flower and Simon Smith really into it.

So, Tony Frazer from Shearsman Books came to give a talk at Kent for one of the Tuesday Reading Series which was awesome. He talked about how he set up Shearsman and offered advice to those interested in starting a similar endeavour. Also, Natalie Bradbeer’s poetry reading was great as always.

Apart from that, what really stood out this week was the ZONE event in the veg box café. ZONE is a Kent-based poetry collective and they organised an event that lasted two days called the San Francisco Renaissance. During the day they had conferences and in the evening there were live performances. The one that stood out for me was Juha Virtanen’s. I think he’s crazy. Before he reads he sits down on the pavement alone and smokes in silence. Then when he performs he’s so so loud and so fast. I’m not sure if the papers he carries have any writing on them because I do not believe anyone can read that fast. Plus, if they were all white A4s, then it would confirm my suspicions about him being absolutely crazy. The fire alarm went off during his reading because someone burnt some toast or something, and there were people going into the kitchen and standing on tables and waving their hands to a machine that simply does not understand human gestures. And Juha kept reading and it was amazing. He got so many claps you couldn’t even hear the alarm. But then we had to leave until it was over.

I also very much enjoyed readings by Simon Smith and Tim Atkins, as well as Natalie Bradbeer’s Lorca translations. Find them all and read them.

Next week it’s the last Tuesday Reading Series event before the summer break. There’s a literary agent from RCW coming to give a talk after a few readings by students.

See you there!