Interesting Conversation in the Cameo Cafe

A good friend I had tea with recently distrusts what she calls the cult of personality in writing. This came up in a discussion about why you might choose to publish pseudonymously, perhaps using many different names even, as a way of stopping people identifying the words written down with something approximating a celebrity persona.

Let’s call the friend Dee.

I can’t claim to represent what Dee actually thinks in detail, because I’m not sure I got to the bottom of her position. It made me think though, and I pondered in a sci-fi way the idea that brains are kind of microchips in a loosely connected machine, responding to the world around their particular brain cluster. If a poet stands proudly behind something they’ve written, is that a bit like them taking credit for something less tangible, like a moment in human thought? If you imagine writers as flocks of birds, say, does it make sense to identify and hail the first one who turned left or right in a given direction change?

Dee also raised the issue of people’s desire to pigeonhole a writer’s output. I think that’s fair to say that people do do that. At the moment, the poet William Letford is enjoying a bit of publicity as a ‘roofer poet’. People think about how his, on the face of it, alternative route to being a published poet might be traceable in his writing.

As I say, people do like to pigeonhole that way, but I think what I would argue against my friend Dee, is that the presented persona of a writer, or of any artist, is basically only Marketing. I think myth-building and hyping can get you as a reader to the words, but that if the ‘product’ isn’t any good, you’re not going to be reading much beyond the end of the commercial. I could say flippantly that an example of the advert being way better than the product was Push-pops, which always dribbled sticky saliva over my hands – I’ll never forget the ad though.

Dee mentioned Edwin Morgan as someone who managed to change tack a lot in the sort of poetry he wrote, despite always writing under his own name. We posited that Morgan’s variousness had almost become the thing that people expected of him as a writer, his experimentation with form.

If an artist is inconsistent, I find it hard to really feel trust in the ultimate quality of any of their work. I realise this is some sort of aesthetic position I’m taking and I’m also aware that I probably would dislike myself as an artist for that very reason, but I do like to see a joined-up-ness in someone’s oeuvre. It might not mean them literally doing what looks like the same thing; I’m happy with an artist whose work looks as different as Morgan’s but that demonstrates to me the line of thought that I think needs to be there to make each work, even seen in isolation, convincing.

Martin Creed is an artist who has rejected the idea that each new work by an artist is in some way a response to their dissatisfaction with their last effort. I can see the shifting between ways of working and materials in his work as related to the ambition to escape that lineage, but at the same time all of his pieces feel unified to me because of the singleness of his vision and mind. You see his preoccupations with number and increment recur in elegant illustrations of these thoughts. Benjamin Britten is another person I would cite as having an apparently wide-ranging set of, in his case, compositions that hang together, or as in Muriel Spark’s writing, foreground different aspects of the artists’ technique, ambition and style. I feel the same way about the Pet Shop Boys, for that matter.

Dee isn’t alone in wondering if it’s possible to lose a link between even a nicely varied output and a personality. She enjoys writing under pseudonyms herself and thinks of her works as experiments in language.

My instinct is to object to this anonymity, but in trying to work out whether my objections were rooted in vanity, I noticed that a lot of the language I could use in defence is rooted in the idea of the artists’ body being somehow important. I think that’s maybe interesting: phrases like ‘it’s got guts’, ‘ballsy’ or even ways of speaking that invoke more abstract physicality, like the idea of ‘weighty’ writing, or a ‘finely wrought’ poem.

I have an opposite urge to Dee’s to collate all of my experience somehow under one heading. I think that this urge to assimilate in an artist can be held in check by rigorous self-questioning which asks whether you are repeating yourself too much and similarly whether you are only producing what you think is acceptable to your audience, or which fits with their expectations.

i.e. I think if you don’t believe in the public myth of your golden arse too much, you won’t disappear up it.

Here are some fish to feed. Not birds changing directions, but there are similar dynamics at play, and it’s fun! If you got through that, you deserve some fun!

What a week!

I don’t normally have weeks like this. In fact, I only realised tonight when my friend the poet (and actual person) Jow Walton pointed it out, that I seem to be having a lot of creative outputs in a short space of time. I need to just congratulate myself for a moment, so please indulge me.

Notable Successes (ha!):

1) Reading at Electra Mass. Went down well I think. Lovely crowd, brilliant other readers, general japes. Tick!

2) Being the featured ‘friend’ in The Scottish Poetry Library’s guest column in their poetry reader and being told by them that they thought it was good. It came out this week and Robyn Marsack the SPL director tells me that August Kleinzhaler‘s book of poems was taken out today and I’d plugged it in my column, so I feel good about that.

3) This coming night having the Eye Ball Gritty collaboration with Zoe Fothergill getting a public outing in the Members’ Show at Embassy Gallery.

4) The new edition of Scree Magazine came out this week and features one of my poems on page 14. It’s a beautiful issue with a colour cover by marvellously talented Rachel Caunt, who loves kaleidoscopes.


Gloat over. Normal service will be resumed next post.

Eye Ball Gritty at the Embassy Members’ Show

So, while this is posting, I’m quite possibly reading my poems live in an Edinburgh pub, as plugged a couple of posts ago – such is the joy of the scheduled post on WordPress. But, hot on the heels of that, there’s another artistic venture of mine about to pop-up in another Edinburgh venue. On Friday night, the Members’ Show at Edinburgh’s committee-run ‘Embassy Gallery’  opens and it includes a piece from the collaboration that I’m doing with Zoe Fothergill (see links page on this blog).

I’ll blog more about this later, but the project is working with different sorts of stereo viewer and looks at a sort of fetishisation of viewing that’s bound up in their existence. We’re currently waiting for some actually Viewmaster reels to come back from America with our combination of image and texts printed on to them by a company there. I think they more regularly make viewing reels from wedding photos etc, so this is probably a bit leftfield for them?!

Here’s one of the slides from one of the reels.


This text captures some of the fun we’re having with a ‘naughty pleasure’ angle. This technology was used by early photographers to show titillating images, and we wanted to capture some of that vibe.

You might be able to see this as a stereo image on your computer if you practise going cross-eyed. Try to do it so that you can see 3 images, and the one in the middle will be in stereo. But be careful now! I don’t want you to get eye-strain over this.

At the Embassy show, we’ll be projecting a reel’s worth of images (7) oscillating between the left and the right eye photos.


I went to the Sco Natio Gallery o Mo Art today. Ok, it wasn’t today, it was Monday (I wrote this in advance) and I actually went to the  Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, but the way they’d lined up all the ‘O’s on their branding amused me. I wonder if the ‘Oooo’ is the noise you’re meant to make as you go round the exhibits…

And well you might! The buildings and their parks alone never fail to impress and currently the Sculpture Show they’ve got on, nicely puts a focus on the works out in the grounds.

I currently work for another gallery in Edinburgh. Being back soundly in a visual arts environment is one of the drivers of my cultural traffic at the moment. I’m really enjoying re-immersing myself in (capital ‘A’) Art language, after being more in film and performance environments for a number of years.

One thing that today really came out, because of the excellent curation and the text in the galleries, was the way in which each art form is dancing the same social reality of its time, and that the innovations of form and technique can be put into the background once there’s been a bit of water under the bridge, so that you can see what really belongs together, and what’s being said.

There was one room in particular that lit this clearly for me, ‘Geometry of Fear’ I think it was called. It showcased work made by artists emerging in the 1950s and how their gaunt, scratched, scrambled figures seemed to speak of the fear of living in the shadow of the atomic bomb and imagined nuclear apocalypse with the memories of the atrocities of WW2 still fresh. I got a real jolt out of artists I hadn’t really cracked before, like Paolozzi.

I’d recommend seeing the show if you get the chance. It’s interesting and comprehensive on the different movements in sculpture – for example, discussing whether there could even be such a thing as Impressionist Sculpture given the insistent solidity of the form. There’s a brilliant surprise in the second room on your right (approached through the Ron Mueck), but maybe I won’t say what it was and spoil it 😉

Oooo! And they had this painting by John Maxwell on display that I’ve been wanting to see in real life for years. It was my desktop on my old computer.

excerpt: [Closing in on] onesome

Seeing as the very kind cb53 has asked for a show of what I’ll be reading at my thing on Thursday, here’s an excerpt from one of the poems. Hope you like it. I think it gives a good representation of the sorts of patterning in my writing at the moment, amongst other things!


a A close closing, up

close, close-to, close to its

Close, Closes up, closed, closed up


Swansong, shut, shut up, she fades







*           *           *


Swansung she fed

she bled she bladed


An amaranthine customer

faded, evaded,


Herbs of death,

Prophet of dissemblance

brings the close.


*           *           *


Swansong she feeds

she bred. She bade

Come hither

a newling




thither Her hitherto

Henceforth invaded

-sumed shun, disbanded


Closed, closed up, used up, gone


forring you, you


*           *           *

I’m doing a reading (so I am) on Thurs 26 Jan

the poster for the reading as a word doc download. (haven’t worked out how to make it just show….)

That there’s the (somewhat sinister) poster for a reading I’m taking part in this coming Thursday. Mind you, it’s in the Canon’s Gait pub on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile which is generally quite a witchy place. I’ll be reading only for five minutes because there are so many people on the bill.

I haven’t done many of these affairs and am still trying to work out if I like ‘the poetry reading’ as a way of presenting what I write. I figure I’ll try doing a few to find out what I get from it. One thing that does worry me, I guess, is that I might skew the work to fit the context. I mean, the event’s happening in a bar. What if I feel like I have do my poetry like stand-up comedy or something? The guys running it are quite comfortable in those environments but I think my training as a composer makes me hanker after a concert hall where you can hear a pin drop, sometimes. Mind you, the stuff I did with my band required more work getting the audience’s attention, which never seemed that hard.

Ok, I admit it, I’m fighting my inner exhibitionist!


This is doubtless a convoluted way of posting links, but I’m struggling to find a way of making a column in this theme. And I like this theme!

Excuse over. I thought I’d use this post as an updatable list of pages relevant to the blog, and I’ll link to it from the top menu.

To start with:

The Scottish Poetry Library!  (wonderful resource for my life in Edinburgh)

Zoe Fothergill (a visual artist I’ve collaborated with. This project, Eye Ball Gritty, is ongoing.)

Andrew Gannon (an artist I know from Edinburgh and whose work I like. I’ve even been roped into some of his performance work. Nearly literally!)

Colin Herd (poet I admire and who is part of the Poetry in Progress group in Edinburgh that I belong to. He’s published some of my work in his print magazine anything anymore anywhere)

Sita Calvert-Ennals (theatre director with whom Leiza and I worked on the Gimme the Beat Girls project. Bristol/Cardiff based)

Gob Squad (amazing performance company based in Berlin that I did a workshop with at….)

Arnolfini (the Bristol multi-arts venue, that supported a lot of my creative life in Bristol, hosting a performance of my show with Leiza McLeod, Gimme the Beat Girls)

InBetween Time Productions (led by the inspiring Helen Cole, Live Art programmer)

Brenda Knight (who’s an inspiring author researching women Beat authors amongst many other things)

and if we’re going way back, Winchester Cathedral (where I sang during my gap year).

Contemporary Music Making for All (ran a great summer school which helped me to get into a broader range of music-making)

and I was led into this by John Woolrich (the fascinating composer and my sometime teacher)

Calum Roger – academic, poet and mischief maker based in Glasgow

Scree Magazine – delighting homespun Edinburgh poetry zine inspired by 60’s handpresses run by Lila Matsumoto. I’ve had the pleasure of inclusion.

Jow Walton’s mind-bending cornucopia has a lot to answer for here at Sad Press too. Delve in an hope hopelessly to re-emerge intact. He’s got a new book out too called Invocation.

Note (trying to be) concerning the name of the blog

The new toilet rolls my parents brought round (long story) have a bubble on them saying ‘longer length’. I thought poets didn’t work in marketing?


Anyway, anyway, anyway, I thought I’d have a stab at explaining why I called this blog permanent positions. So I’m listening to Louis Andriessen‘s ‘Hout’ as I write this. The link there is to a piece called ‘Worker’s Union’. And this is all pertinent because? Because for one, I trained as a composer – did a music degree at Cambridge graduating 2001. One of the things I want to do in the blog is understand how my journeys through different art-forms have been probably heading in the same direction (the direction of developing cultural thought?), though at different speeds. I wanted to show the (im)permanency of any (im)positions.

I remember being introduced to Andriessen’s music on a summer school for teenage composers back in, like, ’96, by a composer called Steve Martland. I remember getting a kick out of the driving energy of Andriessen, but not necessarily loving it overall. The politics certainly passed me by. I seem to have spent a lot of time avoiding explicit political expressions.

I read a poem to my collaborator Leiza McLeod yesterday and she said it sounded like the most political thing she’d heard me write. She made the comment in the context that I used to try to prevent the songs our band in Bristol (Cheap Bent Electrode) did from being too political because I wasn’t comfortable with it. She’s right though, what I’ve just written is a bit political – it even had ‘manifesto’ in the title. I think I’m starting to get a sense of my political compass, finally, and funnily enough, I’ve probably found it through poetry, which I might at one point naively have thought was less prone to politics. (Believe me, I don’t think that now – there are so many Marxist poets in my world!)

Of course, I’m now understanding that the politics might have been embedded in the music I was listening to back in 1996. Was I deaf to them? I think I was a bit. I probably thought of the Andriessen piece as a bit like a noisy crowd of football fans passing me in the street (I might be back-projecting). Well, I probably thought of it as ‘other’, just filtering it out. If someone asked me to pick out a piece of music I’d composed at uni, I’d probably say the best things were delicate little trio pieces with the ghost of a folk tradition in them. There are so many ways that I can now relate that to how I might have been understanding my own personal perspective at the time, though I suspect I really didn’t half understand what I was communicating.

Now that I’m perhaps more savvy on political implications of creative output, I’m interested to see how I take that knowledge back into my process/intentions.



The end of The Anthologist did itself proud by the way. The plot gave me what I needed remarkably neatly. I think Joe Dunthorne in his review in Psychologies got Louise Gluck mixed up with Louise Bogan, because Gluck wasn’t in it. There’s a Bogan line quoted in the book which goes:

At midnight tears

Run into your ears.

and that was me, happily, and well past midnight, as I read the last chapters. It’s a great book. And I take back what I said about Stephen Fry a bit, because this book doesn’t necessarily agree with the perspective of its narrator, and you can empathise with the character without needing to agree (which I don’t much) with his theories on poetry.

about to finish The Anthologist

So, I’m putting off going to read the last 30 pages of Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist (mentioned in last blog post) in my bed. I’m also putting off eating the last of a delicious carbonara I cooked myself. With all this delay from desired outcomes I’m being, in fact, a little like the narrative hero of the novel, Paul Chowder, who procrastinates like a very talented bastard of a procrastinator indeed.

My general thought is that I’ve kind of loved it, though I think I’d have liked it more if it hadn’t been so like Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled, which has a lot of the same jokes, ones which somehow don’t quite convince you to want to take in the laborious point of metre they’re illustrating. Stephen Fry’s book doesn’t pretend it’s anything other than amusing pedagogy though, and it’s more of a problem for Nicholson Baker’s book that it sometimes seems to neglect any consistent delivery of plot or drama. But really though, I’ve kind of loved it. It’s great at getting across the dissipated nature of day-to-day drip-drip creative effort mixed with slow life and this line

‘Chitle chirtle. Chirtle. Chirtle. Nice chirpin’ there, Mister Birdie! Good one. I like what you did there. That’s good! Funky bitch! Love your work!’

has been one of several that have made me laugh, as they say, out loud.

I’m writing an article on an Emily Dickinson poem – ‘Proud of my broken heart, since thou didst break it’. It’s been one of my obsessions for a while now and has caused me a few actual real sleepless nights this week as I’ve been nutting it with my head, trying to get at what it’s getting at. Anyway, I think I might have broken through a non-comprehension barrier and I’m feeling completely subsumed into the poem. I’m really living with it. I’m feeling great about that. Would like to get it published in a magazine, so I’ll let you know if that happens, dear blog!

The -gist of it

Picked up copy of Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist today after reading it recommended in Psychologies Magazine (unexpectedly) by poet Joe Dunthorne (one of the Faber new poets). Judging by the fact its publishers have devoted 3 extra pages in the front of the book to ‘additional praise’, I’m hoping I might be in for a wonderful read. That, and the subject matter of a crisis-confident poet trying to weigh up whether he’s the man to write a definitive introduction to a new anthology, are definitely pluses for this particular anthology lover. We’ll see.

Today’s been a good creative day all-in-all. In freak new year’s behaviour, got up two hours early for work and wrote. That was primarily because it was School of Poets at the Scottish Poetry Library tonight and I wanted to try out my new three-silly-pillars style poems (first time I’ve tried to articulate what they are. Hmmm. Will revisit) in the read-round at the end. Good news, they enjoyed ‘a brilliant character dies early on’ and a wee extract from my Venice cemetery sequence too.

It was good to read ‘a brilliant character dies early on’ in front of an audience before doing it on the 26th Jan at Electra Mass. Thanks Zorras myspace for the handy link. The chaps behind it aren’t big on web publicising….