RIP Maya Angelou #StillIRise

Aren’t we lucky to have had Maya Angelou in our midst, blessing us with her poetry, her life…what a trove she leaves us with.

So Long and thanks for the Owl

I’ve met some lovely, talented people at university this year. Here is one of them. Nikki Dekker is a gifted poet, translator, writer and thinker, and also made me a wonderful wol for my birthday. She’s finished her year at university in the UK and has just returned to her native Netherlands. Check out her blog and the films she has made with the Philosophy Now team.

Alice Oswald withdraws from TS Eliot Poetry Prize

Alice Oswald has withdrawn her name from this year’s shortlist for the TS Eliot prize for poetry.

After losing its Arts Council funding this year, the Poetry Book Society, which manages the prestigious prize, announced a three year sponsorship from Aurum Funds, a private investment company, to cover the costs.

Oswald told The Bookseller: “I’m uncomfortable about the fact that Aurum Funds, an investment company which exclusively manages funds of hedge funds, is sponsoring the administration of the Eliot Prize; I think poetry should be questioning not endorsing such institutions and for that reason I’m withdrawing from the shortlist.”

See the article in today’s Independent here for more information. It will be interesting to see if anyone else withdraws- I have a feeling they might…

The Case For Children’s Poetry

I was lucky enough to see the legendary Michael Rosen perform at the South Bank on National Poetry Day, to the squeals and shouts of delight of the children sat on the floor at the very front of the stage in the Royal Festival Hall.

He was followed by the rainbow-drop-multi-sensory-poetry-experience that is Laura Dockrill, who had them shouting “Pain Au Chocolat”, with exaggerated and exuberant enunciation. Her cheery persona, spot on vernacular, combined with bewitching poems  – the one about a boy going to live with his Nan was so evocative you could smell it- is perfect for engaging kids in the possibilities of poetry.

I may be doing a poetry workshop with my son’s class and this gave me plenty to think about. I will have to do some serious work on how to perform to and pitch poetry at a group of four and five year olds, and how best to facilitate some fun with words. I hope it goes ahead- it will be a great opportunity.

Although I haven’t written poetry for children (yet), Sam and I enjoy playing with language and making up rhymes and poems, songs, and silly phrases which make us laugh on a daily basis. His Granddad recently taught him all about limericks and they spent an afternoon constructing a great one between them.

So I was really pleased to see this article pop up as a link on someone’s Twitterfeed (apologies, I can’t remember whose) which is  a piece written by Morag Styles, who may be the only Professor of Children’s Poetry around. I have borrowed the title for this post, I hope she doesn’t mind… The Case For Children’s Poetry can be read here.

Poetry in the News

Here are two stories in yesterday’s G2 section of the Guardian newspaper.

The first is an interview with the remarkable Alice Oswald, whose obsession with Homer’s Iliad she has now rewritten as  ‘Memorial’,  and is published by Faber. Read the full interview here.

Sam Leith’s piece on Winning Words,   a poetry project connected to next year’s Olympics is here.

On the Winning Words web site, under the ‘Simple Suggesions’ tab, it suggests you can “bring poetry to life in your day to day life with very little trouble at all.. and maximum results!

Why not try one of the following….

  • Bake a poetry cake! Create your own words in icing
  • Write a poem in the sand next time you’re at the beach – see how long it lasts before the waves wash it away
  • Create a poetry trail in the forest – use twigs and rocks to spell out the words of your favourite poem, or write your own •Make your very own poetry t-shirt with fabric pens or iron-on transfers.”

There are many other suggestions and interesting ideas and projects to experience and be involved in.

I will be going back at regular intervals to see what’s going on and will report back.

“London: City of Surveillance” Iain Sinclair in conversation

“Surveillance abuses the past while fragmenting the present.” 150,000 cameras watch London, at all heights, all angles. “The city is eyes, the city is an organic identity watching itself”, according to Iain Sinclair. Sinclair, psychogeographer, poet and writer is in conversation with Sebastian Groes at Roehampton University, discussing the poetics of surveillance culture, March 2011.

Sinclair jokes that he started to plan what he would talk about during this conversation the night before on the bus, to laughs of recognition from the audience. He decided to start by counting the number of CCTV cameras he could see from the window he was looking out of on the top deck of the bus which was travelling from Hoxton to The Strand. Approximately 50-60 yards down the road he counted camera number 17 by the sign of a pub, ‘The William Blake’, close to Bunhill Fields where the infamous triumvirate of non-conformists Blake, Defoe and Bunyan are buried, outsiders, outside of the City. By the time he reached The Strand he had counted 76 cameras, which he says are “redundant – like mantraps in a museum”.

Surveillance did not begin with CCTV cameras – the City had its reliable surveillance as far back as Elizabethan times in the form of the Church, where one could be fined for not attending. Sinclair investigated the old Eastern Bloc card index file technology, the everyone-watching-everyone-else surveillance culture in one of his lesser known novels, Radon Daughters. Sinclair says this was the first book of his that William Gibson read, Gibson being the writer credited with coining the term “cyberspace”.

He was also involved in the Congress on the Dialectics of Liberation conference held in 1967 at the Roundhouse in Camden, London. He says that two of the main strands of discussion at the time were the eco catastrophe of the melting polar ice caps, and surveillance, public versus private and in the context at the time of suspicion about the American military spying on the general public. Sinclair describes this as a “meeting of the tribes”, where these strands of thought, then groundbreaking, were taken to heart by the counterculture, as expressed in the work of Charles Olson in poems such as Polis is Eyes and in the work of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, amongst others.

Ginsberg thought that this idea of everything being pushed out into the open, no more secrets, would give rise to a more compassionate and tolerant civilisation, forced to acknowledge and accept everything normally swept under the carpet in polite society.  In a world of reality TV, Facebook and Twitter has this been achieved? Or have we ended up with something different instead?

Sinclair is no doubt where this is going and what is going to happen next: “London ceases to exist…it becomes virtual”. We are now living in a “post-surveillance age with no obvious CCTV cameras”. This is the age of intelligent buildings, with one building in particular singled out as an example of this in his book London Orbital, the Siebel building in Egham: “Siebel, recognised at once, was the future. Post-surveillance. A discretion so absolute, so understated, that criminality and vandalism were impossible concepts. Siebel was the visible manifestation of Ballard’s coming Mediparc psychopathology: intelligent buildings for soberly dressed, quiet, indecently healthy people…Siebel immortals float through a chlorine-glass tank. Doing nothing.”

Iain Sinclair’s latest book, “Ghost Milk: Calling Time on the Grand Project” is published by Penguin in July 2011