All 18 entries tagged Warwick Prize For Writing

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October 28, 2009

New Works

I have two new pamphlets out over the next month.cover

The Rose of the Moon was one of the Templar Poetry Prize winners and will be launched at the Derwent Poetry Festival at Matlock over the weekend of 21st - 22nd November. I like this short book a lot. It’s vigorous and pounds with duende. You may have seen most of the poems in recent issues of Poetry Review and the current issue of PN Review carries a 420-line poem called ‘Hedgehurst’.

The other pamphlet is a quite different creature – a limited edition called The Night of the Day.

I’m sitting in front of a box of books right now. It contains fifty copies of The Night of the Day as a silver litho-print, the handwork of the genius Jane Commane of Nine Arches Press.

It is a beautiful book, and I like the contents too. They are dangerous, more personal and darker in tone. The book also contains a recently-written and therefore unpublished long sequence, written while in the midst of illness. It’s not a personal poem by any means, but I do look on it as going way out on a limb in terms of voice and technique.

This is what the publisher says about the book which will be launched in part at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival on 7th November; then there’s a local launch at Wilde’s Bar in Leamington at 7.30 p.m. on 16th November; a London launch on 29th November at The Bell in Aldgate; and then at Cheltenham’s ‘Buzzwords’ on 6th December.

THE NIGHT OF THE DAY

David Morley

The Night of the Day is remarkable for the skill and grace with which it travels through the difficult territories that map a journey from darkness towards light. In this movement from out of the shadows, it engages with tricks of the light, vanishings, illusions, magic and bitter realities, whilst using the terrain of language that each necessitates.

From the brutally austere language that depicts a child’s experience of violence that opens this short collection, the poems move thematically into the natural world and the darting, shifting vocabularies of memory, friendship and loss. The Night of the Day keeps a solid and determined pace, which ultimately brings us under the canvas of the big top and into the lives of the travelling circus people, in their own words, their own voices, an undertow of threat and prejudice forever shadowing their footsteps on the road.

Available as a standard edition (£5) and also a limited number of fifty, with special silver litho-print covers, which will be signed and numbered by David Morley. These are £7 and can be reserved, so please email us to order in advance.

By post:

Nine Arches Press

Great Central Studios

92 Lower Hillmorton Road

Rugby

Warwickshire

CV21 3TF

UNITED KINGDOM

Email enquiries about the press and publications to:

mail at ninearchespress dot com

Launched November 2009

ISBN: 978-0-9560559-7-2

The Night of the Day is a special-edition Nine Arches Press pamphlet.


August 07, 2009

All the Twenty–Ones: The Wolf, Poetry Review and Aldeburgh Poetry Festival

Writing about web page http://www.thepoetrytrust.org/news/21st-aldeburgh-poetry-festival-programme-now-available/

A lot of 21-themed happenings are happening. Yesterday I returned from the Poetry Society in London havingWolf by Thomas Roche at Flickr howled my poems to help launch the 21st issue of "The Wolf", a wonderful and truly international magazine of contemporary poetry edited by James Byrne.

James Byrne is the real thing - an incisive, classy editor who is also a wonderfully-gifted poet; and it was an honour to read alongside two other poets I admire - Paul Stubbs and Valeria Melchioretto.

I felt a bit of a popinjay - because as I began reading, jolly music started to rise from the streets and pubs outside; so I changed my set of poems to chime better with those noises off.

Showmanship of this type is something I always feel guilty about after the event, but sometimes it's necessary for the moment and in the moment.

The new "Poetry Review" is striking as it builds to Volume 100. The editor Fiona Sampson has kindly given a good home to another of my long poems (long poems are tricky to publish and I've been lucky so far).

This one's written in an invented 'coming of age' stanza of 21 lines (there are six pages of them). The poem's called 'The Circling Game'. It's another Romany tale, utterly subverted, and goes to one or two dark places before - yes, I was as surprised as anybody else - closing with what can only be described as a happy if nervy ending.

The UK's leading annual international celebration of contemporary poetry has revealed its programme. The Aldeburgh Festival's 21st birthday will be an inspiring weekend of readings, discussions, workshops, craft talks, exhibitions, open mic plus Wonderful Beast theatre company’s celebration of Adrian Mitchell and so much more. Full programme, illustrated by my pal and esteemed Warwick colleague Peter Blegvad, is available here

I'm delighted to be doing several things for the festival this year - a day-long 'Workshop of the World; a blind criticism with the excellent Pascale Petit; a reading in the Jubilee Hall with Maureen Duffy and Ciaran Berry at which I'll be reading from and launching a new pamphlet from Nine Arches Press called 'The Night of the Day'; a craft talk about the poetry and birdsong in which I'll be mixing and matching a lot of bird calls with the music of poems; and an exchange with the brilliant Richard Price about 'What is Worth Preserving in Poetry' (any comments appreciated on what is worth preserving are welcome and will be credited!).

A festival such as Aldeburgh is more than the sum of its events. I'll be looking forward to meeting a lot of oldBoat at Aldeburgh by James Clay Flickr friends among the poets and the audience. I am a great fan of Britten, bookshops and bleak beaches.

There's a magical fish and chip shop in town and I intend to attempt to host a poets' picnic on the beach or, if it rains, the Larkinesque beach shelters.

Anybody who reads this blog and wants to meet up for this informal, non-ticketed and bring-your-own-chips attempted picnic event, let me know. Audience or programmed poets both.

I'm sure Benjamin Britten and George Crabbe would have approved. Maybe not Peter Grimes though.


July 29, 2009

‘Papusza’ and ‘The Library beneath the Harp’

I have just completed a series of poems and songs written from the point of view of the Romani poet ‘Papusza’ [image right]. The poet Bronisława Wajs (1908-1987) was known by her RomaniPapusza name Papusza which means ‘doll’.

She grew up on the road in Poland within her kumpania or band of families. She was literate and learned to read and write by trading food for lessons.

Her reading and writing was frowned upon and whenever she was found reading she was beaten and the book destroyed. She was married at fifteen to a much older and revered harpist Dionízy Wajs.

Unhappy in marriage she took to singing as an outlet for her frustrations with her husband often accompanying her on harp. She then began to compose her own poems and songs.

When the Second World War broke out, and Roma were being murdered in Poland both by the German Nazis and the Ukrainian fascists, they gave up their carts and horses but not their harps.

With heavy harps on their backs, they looked for hiding places in the woods. 35,000 Roma out of 50,000 were murdered during the war in Poland. The Wajs clan hid in the forest in Volyň, hungry, cold and terrified.

A horrible experience inspired Papusza to write her longest poem "Ratfale jasfa – so pal sasendyr pšegijam upre Volyň 43 a 44 berša" ("Bloody tears – what we endured from German soldiers in Volyň in '43 and '44”), parts of which are used in my poem ‘The Library Beneath the Harp’.

In 1949 Papusza was heard by the Polish poet Jerzy Ficowski who recognized her talent. Ficowski published several of her poems in a magazine called Problemy along with an anti-nomadic interview with Polish poet Julian Tuwim.

Ficowski became an adviser on “The Gypsy Question”, and used Papusza's poems to make his case against nomadism. This led to the forced settlement of the Roma all over Poland in 1950 known variously as ‘Action C’ or “The Great Halt”.

The Roma community began to regard Papusza as a traitor, threatening her and calling her names. Papusza maintained that Ficowski had exploited her work and had taken it out of context.

Her appeals were ignored and the Baro Shero (Big head, an elder in the Roma community) declared her “unclean”. She was banished from the Roma world, and even Ficowski broke contact with her.

Afterward, she spent eight months in a mental asylum and then the next thirty-four years of her life alone and isolated.

Her tribe laid a curse on Papusza’s poems and upon anybody using or performing her work. My sequence of songs called ‘The Library beneath the Harp’ partly borrows and reshapes some of Papusza’s introductory autobiography from the Songs of Papusza as well as three of her poems.

The title of the poem was found among the opening chapter to Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and their Journey by Isobel Fonseca. I am very grateful to Dan Allum of The Romany Theatre Company for introducing me to the story of Papusza which, I am sure you will agree, is fascinating as well as disturbing.


July 13, 2009

The Rose of the Moon

Writing about web page http://www.templarpoetry.co.uk/News.html

The Moon

Templar Poetry is delighted to announce the winners of the 2009 Templar Poetry Pamphlet Prizes. The full results, including the anthology poets, and other new titles will be placed on the Templar Poetry Website on Sunday 12th July. The publication of all new pamphlets and collection will be celebrated at the Derwent Poetry Festival in late autumn.

Nuala Ni Choncuir: 'Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car'

Paul Maddern: Kelpdings

David Morley: The Rose of the Moon

Dawn Wood: Connoiseur


June 16, 2009

The Romany Theatre Company

Writing about web page http://www.romanytheatrecompany.com/index.htm

Late last week I travelled down to Devon to read at The Arvon Foundation. I was a guest of the Romany Theatre Company, a remarkable organisation whose excellent work can be discovered at the website above.

Lively, intelligent and incredibly talented, the company and the course's participants – all travellers –Dan Allum RTC were welcoming and challenging, in the best kind of way. I haven’t felt so home among people, apart from my own family, for some years. In terms of manners, enthusiasm and honesty they refreshed my currently eclipsed spirits.

Never have I been better tested in questions following a reading, nor better rewarded in songs and music afterwards. Yet we were all in bed by midnight and up for a read-through next day in the barn of all my new circus poems, a series of dramatic monologues finished very recently.

As the persona passed from one voice to another, rooks started landing on the slate roof in numbers, clattering and cawing so hard you almost couldn’t hear the poem above the natural summoning.

It reminded me of a moment in a poem of mine called ‘Skeleton Bride’ (in a recent Poetry Review) in which the teller of the tale is interrupted by the ‘gossip’ of the trees. The fact that the teller of the tale is finally revealed to be a campfire might provide a reason for the interruptions by these Ent-like elms and oaks. This is a short excerpt:

Light up, phabaràv, kindle the kind wood

for the rose of the moon is opened; the camp

nested in darkness; our dogs snore in their heap.

Prala, you are chilled. Seal your eyes when you will.

Those lamenting tents might then fall silent.

Our women are waiting on your rule of sleep.

Here, take my blanket stitched with flame.

Weave what warmth you can from what I say.

Keep listening, more like overhearing I know.

Don’t heed the wind’s gossip in the trees. Those elms

lie. Oaks over-elaborate. I have coppiced them all

for my word fires. Here is an ember to light you.

I very strongly recommend the work of the Romany Theatre Company. The photograph above is of the writer Dan Allum (in the barn at Arvon) who hosted me. He’d be the first to also state that the company is a collective venture and adventure. Certainly I’d jump at the chance to work with them again.

From their website:

The Romany Theatre Company creates rich, powerful and inspirational theatre and radio productions. RTC's work is rooted in Romany people, their culture and the centuries-old struggle for equality, with a strong emphasis on challenging negative views of Romany people and the lives they lead.

Through the accredited learning programmes, RTC are equally committed to empowering young Romany people by involving them in theatre and radio performance, increasing their knowledge and awareness of their own culture, so creating pride in their heritage and a willingness to celebrate their identity. RTC is working towards setting up a production company with a Media & Arts Academy linked to it.

RTC's aim is to encourage Romany people to reach out and break down the barriers of ignorance and fear by engaging and educating the general public, and moving towards a positive relationship of confidence, trust and community cohesion.

History of the Company from their website:

RTC are the only Romany theatre company in the UK.

  • Set up in 2002 by Romany people and is run by Romany people.
  • Became a registered charity in April 2003.
  • RTC works with Romany people, non-Romanies and other ethnic minorities.
  • Produced a video, Best Days Of Our Lives in November 2003.
  • Won a national award of excellence 2003.
  • Video/seminar. A Gypsy's Wish (video) opened at UGC cinema in Ipswich, Suffolk to a packed house and headlined at ten high profile seminars. Short-listed for Institute of Public Relations award 2004.
  • First theatrical production, The Boy's Grave ran at the Sir John Mills Theatre in Ipswich IpArt festival in July 2004.
  • A new show, Our Big Land went on a mini tour in 2005 and was received with wide acclaim. A soundtrack CD of the show was also produced.
  • Killimengro (meaning 'dancer' in Romani), a show featuring music, drama and dance and partly performed in Romani language, toured East Anglia in June 2006 and went national to Leeds, Wales, Cornwall and Doncaster in 2006-2007.
  • Romano Drom was a documentary about the changing lives Romany people in East Anglia over the years and ran as radio series 2007. It may be nominated for an award in 2008.
  • A company member will join the Channel 4’s diversity programme September 2008.
  • Atching Tan – BBC radio drama series begins broadcasting in October 2008 on eight local radio stations in the East with two follow up series in 2009-2010

RTC will bring a whole new audience to theatre, that is Romany people.


June 04, 2009

Armstrong's Poetic Blunder on the Moon: from the BBC

Neil Armstrong missed out an "a" and did not say "one small step for a man" when he set foot on the Moon in 1969, a linguistic analysis has confirmed.

The researchers show for the first time that he intended to say "a man" and that the "a" may have been lost because he was under pressure.

They say that although the phrase was not strictly correct, it was poetic.

And in its rhythm and the symmetry of its delivery, it perfectly captured the mood of an epic moment in history.

There is also new evidence that his inspirational first words were spoken completely spontaneously - rather than being pre-scripted for him by Nasa or by the White House.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

In the recording of Neil Armstrong's iconic phrase he says: "One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind". However, "man" and "mankind" mean much the same thing in this context.

But on returning to Earth, he explained that he thought he had said "one small step for a man".

Explanations offered for the discrepancy are that perhaps transmission static wiped out the "a" or that Commander Armstrong's Ohio accent meant that his "a's" were spoken softly.

In 2006, an analysis by an Australian entrepreneur added credence to these explanations - as it found there was a gap for the "a". However, subsequent analyses disputed this conclusion.

To settle the argument, Dr Chris Riley, author of the new Haynes book Apollo 11, An Owner's Manual, and forensic linguist John Olsson carried out the most detailed analysis yet of Neil Armstrong's speech patterns.

Neil Armstrong (Nasa)
Mr Armstrong said he thought he had said "one small step for a man"

They are presenting the research at the Cheltenham Science Festival this week.

"For me that phrase is of great significance," said Dr Riley.

"It has been an important part of my life and those words sum up much of the optimism of the later part of the 20th Century."

Using archive material of Neil Armstrong speaking, recorded throughout and after the mission, Riley and Olsson also studied the best recordings of the Apollo 11 mission audio ever released by Nasa.

They have been taken from the original magnetic tape recordings made at Johnson Space Center, Houston, which have recently been re-digitised to make uncompressed, higher-fidelity audio recordings.

These are discernibly clearer than earlier, more heavily compressed recordings used by the Australian investigation.

These clearer recordings indicate that there was not room for an "a". A voice print spectrograph clearly shows the "r" in "for" and "m" in "man" running into each other.

The researchers say the Australian analysis may not have picked up the fact that Armstrong drawled the word "for" so that it sounded like "ferr" and mistook the softly spoken "r's" for a gap.

"It's perfectly clear that there was absolutely no room for the word 'a'," Mr Olsson explained.

"Eagle" (Nasa)
The "Eagle" made its historic descent to the Moon on 20 July 1969


Riley and Olsson also concluded that Commander Armstrong and his family members do pronounce the word "a" in a discernible way.

And based on broadcasts from Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin from the surface of the Moon, it is clear that the word "a" was easily transmitted to Earth without being obliterated.

But their analysis of the intonation of the phrase strongly suggests Commander Armstrong had intended to say "a man". There is a rising pitch in the word "man" and a falling pitch when he says "mankind".

According to Mr Olsson: "This indicates that he’s doing what we all do in our speech, he was contrasting using speech - indicating that he knows the difference between man and mankind and that he meant man as in 'a man' not 'humanity'."

There has also been speculation that Neil Armstrong was reading from a pre-prepared script penned for him by another party. According to Mr Olsson, that is not borne out by Armstrong's body language and speech patterns.

Neil Armstrong during Apollo 11 mission (Nasa)
This is one of the few images of Armstrong on the Moon


"When you look at the pictures, you see that he's moving as he is speaking. He says his first word 'that's' at the moment he puts his foot on the ground. When he says 'one giant leap for mankind', he moves his body," he said.

"As well as this, there is no linking conjunction such as 'and' or 'but' between the two parts of the sentence. So it's for all those reasons that we think this is a completely spontaneous speech."

It may well have been that spontaneity that led to Armstrong's slight mistake. But according to Mr Olsson - Armstrong may have subconsciously drawn from his poetic instincts to utter a phrase that, far from being incorrect - was perfect for the moment.

"When you look at the whole expression there's a symmetry about this. If you put the word 'a' in, it would totally alter the poetic balance of the expression," he explained.

This makes Dr Riley feel that the research has made a positive contribution to the story of the Apollo mission.

"I’m pleased we've been able to contribute in this way and have hopefully drawn a line under the whole thing as a celebration of Neil and everyone involved with Apollo, rather than this constant little niggling criticism," he said.




May 26, 2009

Saving Salt

Grains

From Chris Hamilton-Emery of Salt Publishing

As many of you will know, Jen and I have been struggling to keep Salt moving since June last year when the economic downturn began to affect our press. Our three year funding ends this year: we've £4,000 due from Arts Council England in a final payment, but cannot apply through Grants for the Arts for further funding for Salt's operations. Spring sales were down nearly 80% on the previous year, and despite April's much improved trading, the past twelve months has left us with a budget deficit of over £55,000. It's proving to be a very big hole and we're having to take some drastic measures to save our business.

Here's how you can help us to save Salt and all our work with hundreds of authors around the world.

JUST ONE BOOK

1. Please buy just one book, right now. We don't mind from where, you can buy it from us or from Amazon, your local shop or megastore, online or offline. If you buy just one book now, you'll help to save Salt. Timing is absolutely everything here. We need cash now to stay afloat. If you love literature, help keep it alive. All it takes is just one book sale. Go to our online store and help us keep going.

UK and International
http://www.saltpublishing.com/shop/index.php

USA
http://www.saltpublishing.com/shop-us/index.php



2. Share this note on your Facebook or MySpace profile. Tell your friends. If we can spread the word about our cash crisis, we can hopefully find more sales and save our literary publishing. Remember it's just one book, that's all it takes to save us. Please do it now.

With my best wishes to everyone
Chris Hamilton-Emery
Director
Salt Publishing
http://www.saltpublishing.com

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May 12, 2009

Jonathan Bate’s “Long View”

I am both a scientist and a poet and have enjoyed employment in both fields. Given recent risible comments by ministersJonathan Bate on the economic value of Humanities subjects (as opposed to some outdated and false notion of ‘hard’ sciences), and given the likely cuts to be made within UK universities, it seems a good time to reprint what I consider a wise,  interesting - and quietlly revolutionary - essay by my colleague Jonathan Bate (pictured right). To give you a flavour of the invigorating areas that Bate addresses, read this to whet your appetite:

‘Imagine a civil servant responsible for the distribution of the research budget. Imagine them saying ‘I don’t lose any sleep at night over the spending of taxpayers’ money on medical research, but I do lose sleep over the spending of it on humanities research; I like riding my horse, but I don’t expect the taxpayer to pay for me to do so.’ Imagine, then, that you have the ear of that civil servant, or for that matter the minister to whom they report, for a few sentences. What will you say to help them to rest more easily at night on this matter of the taxpayer and humanities research?’

The Long View

Jonathan Bate

ON ‘VALUE’

There is a simple answer to the question ‘what is the value of research in the humanities?’ It is that research in the humanities is the only activity that can establish the meaning of such a question.

What do we mean by ‘value’, by ‘research’ and by ‘the humanities’? These are questions that can only be answered by means of the tools of the disciplines of the humanities. They are questions of semantics and interpretation. And they require philosophical and historical understanding. Language, history, philosophy: the humanities.

By the same account, a further value of research in the humanities is that it is the only activity that can answer the question ‘what is the value of research in the sciences?’ It is generally assumed that the value of research in the sciences is to advance knowledge so as to improve the quality of human life. The value of medical research is to cure disease, relieve suffering and lengthen life. Among the potential values of research in climatology, biochemistry, physical engineering and several other scientific disciplines might be the discovery of various means to fix an array of environmental problems. But questions such as why we should value long life and what ethical obligations we might have to future generations, to other species or indeed to the planet itself are ‘humanities’ questions, only answerable from within the framework of

disciplines that are attentive to language, history and philosophy. In act two scene two of Shakespeare’s rigorously intellectual (and wildly bawdy) tragedy Troilus and Cressida, the Trojan lords debate as to whether it is worth fighting a war for the sake of the beautiful Helen. Hector proposes that ‘she is not worth what she doth cost / The keeping.’ ‘What’s aught but as ’tis valued?’ asks Troilus in reply. ‘Value’ here is initially conceived in economic terms. According to the Oxford English Dictionary – an essential product of humanities research – the primary meaning of the word value is ‘That amount of some commodity, medium of exchange, etc., which is considered to be an equivalent for something else; a fair or adequate equivalent or return. [As in the] phr[ase] value for money (freq[uently] attrib[uted, used metaphorically]).’

Value, then, as a term referring to a commodity, a medium of exchange, something quantifiable. An interpretation in terms of the market, of ‘economic impact’.

Hector, though, comes back with a counter-argument that shifts the meaning of the term:

But value dwells not in particular will:

It holds his estimate and dignity

As well wherein ’tis precious of itself

As in the prizer. ’Tis mad idolatry

To make the service greater than the god.

The word ‘value’ must now be understood in the light of another of its definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary: ‘The relative status of a thing, or the estimate in which it is held, according to its real or supposed worth, usefulness, or importance. In Philos[ophy] and Social Sciences, regarded esp[ecially] in relation to an individual or group; gen[erally] in pl[ural], the principles or standards of a person or society, the personal or societal judgement of what is valuable and important in life.’ The relativism of Troilus (things only have value in so far as they are valued by particular people who prize them) is replaced by the proposition that there can be essential values, that a thing might be intrinsically valuable (‘precious of itself’). As the dictionary definition reminds us, this essentialism may eventually have to be dissolved into another relativism: ‘society’ will make judgements as to ‘what is valuable and important in life’. We need historians and anthropologists and researchers in comparative literature to show us how different societies have different values. Shakespeare, following Montaigne, was very interested in the idea that what one society regards as the product of ‘nature’, another society will regard as mere ‘custom’. In a world of globalised communication, international exchange and migratory labour, this knowledge of difference is especially important.

But every society has gods of one kind and another. In response to the commodified understanding of value with which he and Troilus began, Hector reminds us that it is mad idolatry to make the service greater than the god. This is as if to say: a merely economic understanding of value makes the service – the instrumentality – greater than the thing served, the real value. The value of humanities research is to identify the nature of the god.

In the arena of higher education, the relationship between the service and the god appears to be changing. Universities had their origins in the service of first the church (the centrality of theology in the medieval curriculum) and then the state (the idea extending from Tudor reforms to the last days of the British Empire that one of the primary functions of universities was to form the minds of civil administrators). But for Cardinal Newman, the idea of the university was premised upon a god: the university was ‘a place of teaching universal knowledge’. Historically, the idea of ‘education’, deriving from ‘educere’, the Latin for ‘to lead out’, is intimately bound to the notion of character formation. The model for the university tutorial is the classical sage –

Plato in his academy or Epicurus in his garden – in dialogue with his pupils, imparting wisdom by example and through training in the art of argument. The platonic university is a place where young people learn to think. Their starting point must be the art of thinking disinterestedly, not instrumentally.

The Victorians were the first generation in this country to believe that the state had a role to play in education. They created a government department to oversee the process. Whilst the main educational business of nineteenthcentury politicians and civil servants was the provision of universal school education, they also initiated processes that led to the reform of Oxford and Cambridge, and the growth of civic universities elsewhere, especially in the north (though, interestingly, the running in this latter regard was made within local, not national government – a model worth pondering in the context of the various other kinds of devolution that are reshaping our society today).

Ours is an interesting moment for the idea of the university not least because one of prime minister Gordon Brown’s first actions on taking office in 2007 was to abolish the Department of Education that the Victorians had invented. If only rhetorically, this was a bold move: is there any other modern state that lacks a department of education? Given Mr Brown’s own upbringing as a son of the manse, a sometime student rector of an ancient university and a thoughtful reader of the moral philosophy of Adam Smith, this symbolic rejection of the classical notion of ‘educere’ was also a little surprising. Structure and nomenclature are inevitably formative of content: the creation of the new Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (‘DIUS’) implies that universities are now to be regarded not as the ‘higher’ end of the educational process that begins in primary school (or before), but as servants of ‘the innovation and skills agenda’. Crudely put, academic research must pay its way by generating real returns in the wider economy.

The big new idea is ‘knowledge transfer’. This is defined on the DIUS website as ‘improving exploitation of the research base to meet national economic and public service objectives,’ to be achieved by means of ‘people and knowledge flow,’ together with ‘commercialisation, including Intellectual Property exploitation and entrepreneurial activities.’ These ambitions do sound very much like the service becoming greater than the god: the predominant language (‘exploitation’, ‘economic’, ‘commercialisation’, ‘entrepreneurial’) is that of the commodity and the marketplace.

But even in the hard sciences, the relationship between original research and commercial exploitation is usually indirect and long-term. More than half a century passed between Arthur C. Clarke’s visionary conception of the communication potential of orbital satellites and the massive economic impact of the manufacture and sale of GPS devices to individual motorists. Medical research, too, has a long history of vast sums of money being spent on journeys up blind alleys, with new breakthroughs often coming by chance in quite unexpected places. Cyclosporin, the immunosuppressive agent that revolutionized organ transplantation, was discovered as part of a general screening programme, not through a funded research project specifically addressing the problem of graft rejection. Medical history is full of stories of this kind.

Government and its officers have a prime duty to account for the expenditure of taxpayers’ money, but in measuring the value of research a much more subtle style of accountancy is required. There is something especially inappropriate about the attempt to quantify the ‘value’ and ‘impact’ of work in the humanities in economic terms, since the very nature of the humanities is to address the messy, debatable and unquantifiable but essentially human dimensions of life – such as history, beauty, imagination, faith, truth, goodness, justice and freedom. The only test of a philosophical argument, an historical hypothesis or an aesthetic judgement is time. A long period of time, not the duration of a government spending review. One phrase in the DIUS definition of ‘knowledge transfer’ stands out: ‘exploitation of the research base to meet national economic and public service objectives’. Public service, a concept most often used in relation to the charter of the BBC (‘public service broadcasting’), comes from a different lexicon to that of economic objectives and commercial exploitation. It actually takes us back to some of the historical functions of the university. Like the BBC, the universities are in the business of educere as a public service. In this regard, their most significant form of ‘knowledge transfer’ goes under another name: teaching.

The value of humanities teaching at university level is not in doubt (one hopes). The question, then, is to ask what kind of public service is provided by humanities research. The obvious answer is that it feeds into teaching: in good universities, research questions emerge through teaching and new hypotheses are tested out on students. An artificial barrier between research and teaching in the provision of government funding for universities – exacerbated by the impact of the ‘Research Assessment Exercise’ – has obscured this obvious answer. The division is sometimes justified on the grounds that the university teacher needs only ‘scholarship’, not new ‘research’, but such a distinction between scholarship and research simply does not hold water in any humanities discipline. To take an example from my own discipline, English Literature: to teach a literary work well at university level, one requires a good text of that work; the establishment and creation of such texts through the discipline of textual bibliography is a highly advanced, technical and timeconsuming form of research (my new recension of the text of Shakespeare’s complete works required more than fifteen person years’ research time); the resulting product cannot be described as ‘merely a textbook’ in the way that synthesis of existing scientific or medical knowledge into a textbook for students could be described as ‘scholarship’ rather than ‘research’.

The primary impact of humanities research will always be within the educational system – which now means the global educational market. The universities that promote the best research and scholarship in the humanities will attract graduate students from around the world, thus greatly stimulating the economy and increasing our international competitiveness. The universities that build research into the undergraduate ‘learning experience’ will produce the most able students, who will bring their ‘innovation’ and ‘skills’ to every sector of the economy.

These are important truths that need constant reaffirmation. But other kinds of answer are also needed to the question of the value of humanities research of the kind that is funded by Research Councils UK. I polled a random sample of colleagues with a hypothetical question (developing the art of posing hypothetical questions is, of course, another of the values of the humanities):

Imagine a civil servant responsible for the distribution of the research budget. Imagine them saying ‘I don’t lose any sleep at night over the spending of taxpayers’ money on medical research, but I do lose sleep over the spending of it on humanities research; I like riding my horse, but I don’t expect the taxpayer to pay for me to do so.’ Imagine, then, that you have the ear of that civil servant, or for that matter the minister to whom they report, for a few sentences. What will you say to help them to rest more easily at night on this matter of the taxpayer and humanities research?

Here are the – representative – replies of six colleagues:

(i) Britain is a major world centre of publishing and intellectual life. Research in humanities makes possible the intellectual property and the cultural institutions that sustain this position. Without British humanities academics there would be no Oxford English Dictionary, no Macmillan Dictionary of Art, no Grove Dictionary of Music, no Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, no Oxford Classical Texts, all of which are sold on to the world and whose publication in turn guarantees Britain’s place as a world intellectual centre. Furthermore, humanities research provides an infrastructure that maintains Britain’s place as an intellectual and cultural centre, a place of publishing and reviewing, which enriches the work of our composers, artists, playwrights and novelists, whilst attracting creators from other countries and cultures to live here. We abandon this at our peril.

(ii) To a person dying from cancer, the ‘cure for cancer’ is abstract and meaningless. It will only come after they are dead. What is needed by a dying person, beside the palliative medical care that is now available, are resources for working through their grief and anger and fear. Recent research in ‘bibliotherapy’ suggests that reading – reading in groups in particular – provides an extremely effective (and cost effective) resource for this purpose.

That is hardly surprising. The links between poetry and mental health have long been established. After all, William Wordsworth was the effective inventor of cognitive behavioural therapy (an initiative that the government are now fully behind funding because it’s cheap, easy to train people up to practice, and has immediate, if not long-lasting effects). This is the sort of area which the research councils should be funding under their theme of ‘Ageing research: lifelong health and wellbeing.’

(iii) I see that one of the research councils’ strategic priorities is ‘global security’. If George W. Bush’s and Tony Blair’s security and strategic advisors had been educated in the historical research of Erez Manela, the world would be a less dangerous place. See Pankaj Mishra’s review of Manela’s The Wilsonian Moment (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n04/mish01_.html).

(iv) Humanities research engenders and fosters critical thinking, which is indispensable to innovative work in any field whatsoever.

(v) If the civil servant’s horse riding were of a standard to make her a potential Olympic competitor, wouldn’t the taxpayer be content to fund her? National prestige need not be confined to sport: what is the objection to funding the research that allows our best historians and literary scholars and classicists and philosophers to be the Olympians of their disciplines?

(vi) A great deal of humanities research has to do with the question of how we have come to be who we are and what we might come to be as a community in the future – locally, nationally, and globally. Given the emphasis on ‘Britishness’ and questions over cultural identity that are continually being asked, I’m surprised that this isn’t one of the research councils’ key themes. These all seem to me very good answers, and the rest of this essay could easily be devoted to any one of them. To illustrate the possibilities, I shall pursue the final response. In doing so, I will give an example of humanities research in action – in an area that seems far distant from contemporary society but that actually has great contemporary resonance.

ESSENTIALLY BRITISH’? A CASE-STUDY

On 20 February 2008, Gordon Brown said in his speech on ‘Managed Migration and Earned Citizenship’:

Citizenship is not an abstract concept, or just access to a passport. I believe it is – and must be seen as – founded on shared values that define the character of our country. Indeed, building our secure and prosperous future as a nation will benefit from not just common values we share but a strong sense of national purpose. And for that to happen we need to be forthright – and yes confident – about what brings us together not only as inhabitants of these islands but as citizens of this society. Indeed there is a real danger that while other countries gain from having a clear definition of their destiny in a fast changing global economy, we may lose out if we prove slow to express and live up to the British values that can move us to act together. So the surest foundation upon which we can advance socially, culturally and economically in this century is to be far more explicit about the ties – indeed the shared values – that make us more than a collection of people but a country. This is not jingoism, but practical, rational and purposeful – and therefore, I would argue, an essentially British form of patriotism.

I would suggest that humanities research alone has the capacity to test the meaning and validity of this claim. Consider for a moment, Brown’s resonant closing phrase ‘an essentially British form of patriotism’. Humanities research is where we need to go in order to find out whether there is or was or could be such a thing. My own research suggests that there is in fact an interesting relationship between the origin of the idea of us as ‘British’ and the origin of the idea of ‘patriotism’. Here is a summary report of my findings.

The Reformation in religion, and more particularly Henry VIII’s break from Rome, was decisive in shaping the modern English, and then British, state and, at the same time, the idea of love of one’s country (‘patriotism’). The culture of England was until the early sixteenth century always implicitly part of something larger: the culture of Catholic Europe. After 1536-39, when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and proclaimed the supremacy of the English crown and the independence of the English church, it became necessary to forge a new kind of national culture.

A key work in this project was a huge book called Britannia, by William Camden, antiquarian and second master at Westminster School. Published in Latin in 1586, it went through six editions by 1607, and was translated into English by Philemon Holland in 1610. Dedicated to William Cecil, Baron Burghley, Lord Treasurer and chief minister to Queen Elizabeth, Camden’s weighty book began with a history of early Britain, then proceeded to a county-by-county guide to the topography, history and antiquities of the nation. Britannia was an attempt to write the nation into being. Britain is proclaimed as a chosen land, symbolically set apart from the European main.

The opening of Camden’s text implies that Britain is one nation, if with several names, played off against ‘the continent of Europe’. But his title-page presents a more complicated picture. Holland translated it as follows: Britain, or a Chorographicall Description of the most flourishing Kingdomes, England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the Ilands adjoyning, out of the depth of Antiquitie (‘chorographical’ means ‘the writing of regions’, as opposed to ‘geography’, the writing of the whole earth). The county-by-county survey begins with Cornwall in the extreme south-west, goes across to Kent in the extreme southeast, then criss-crosses northward until it reaches Cheshire, at which point Camden writes, ‘I Thinke it now my best way, before I treat of the other parts of England, to digresse a while and turne a little aside toward Wales, called in Latin Cambria, or Wallia, where the ancient Britans have yet their seat and abode’. Wales is thus subsumed into England, though with the recognition on the one hand that it is marginal – you must turn a little aside to acknowledge it – and on the other hand that it is special, since the Celtic or ancient British heritage remains unusually alive there. The latter acknowledgment might look to a Welshman like condescension masked as flattery.

From Wales, Camden proceeds through the northernmost counties of England and into Scotland, which he says that he will willingly enter into, ‘but withall lightly passe over’, since he does not know its customs well and will not presume to trespass upon them. His text passes it over in a score of leaves, whereas it has dwelt in England for hundreds of pages. Camden quotes an apt Greek proverb, ‘Art thou a stranger? Be no Medler’. One senses that Camden is a little uneasy about subsuming the Scots into his treatment of England-asimplicitly- Britain, as he had subsumed the Welsh. His task became much easier after King James united the thrones of Scotland and England in 1603. Holland’s 1610 translation proceeds with a passage that Camden added to his 1607 edition:

Certes, I assure my selfe that I shall bee easily pardoned in this point, the people them selves are so courtuous and well meaning, and the happinesse of these daies so rare and admirable, since that by a divine and heavenly opportunity is now fallen into our laps, which wee hardly ever hoped, and our Ancestours so often and so earnestly wished: Namely, that Britaine so many ages disjoigned in it selfe and unsociable, should all throughout like one uniforme City, under one most sacred and happie Monarch, the founder of perpetuall peace, by a blessed Union bee conjoyned in one entire bodie.

Because Scotland has a court, unlike Wales, it is thought of as a place of courtesy. The joining of the two courts is conceived as a knitting together of the body-politic. King James is then praised for bringing a long history of ‘dismale DISCORD’, which has set the two ‘otherwise invincible’ nations at long debate, to ‘sweet CONCORD’, so that ‘Wee all one nation are this day’.

The lifetime of Queen Elizabeth was a unique period for England, lying between the schism from Rome and the union with Scotland. The special conditions of the period 1533-1603 gave birth to a recognizably modern sense of the nation. It is no coincidence that in the late sixteenth century the term ‘the nation’ took on the meaning of ‘the collectivity of the people’ and the word ‘national’ enters the language, as did the grammatically absolute usage of ‘country’ as a personification of the native land – as in Shakespeare’s ‘Forgive me, country, and sweet countrymen’ (Henry VI Part One). In 1615, Camden dedicated his Annals of Queen Elizabeth’s reign to ‘God, my country, and posterity’ (‘DEO, PATRIAE, ET POSTERIS’). Such a trinity would have been inconceivable a century earlier. Nor is it coincidental that in the 1560s Laurence Nowell applied to Cecil for aid in mapping the entire realm, county-by-county; in the next decade Christopher Saxton completed the first comprehensive Atlas of England and Wales. The Elizabethans did not only ‘discover’ new worlds across the ocean:

they also discovered England. And, despite – or because of – a succession of rebellions and the constant persecution of Roman Catholic recusants, they unified England. By the end of the sixteenth century, the government’s administrative machinery had put in place a nationwide network of civic and legal officers ultimately answerable to the crown, while the ecclesiastical settlement had established the supremacy of Anglicanism. Most importantly for our purposes, a national culture had come to full flower, thanks in large measure to the educational advances effected by the grammar schools, the translation into English of the foundation texts of Western culture (the Bible, Homer, and the major authors of classical Rome), the writing of national history, the increased availability of books of all kinds, and, for Londoners at least, the completely new cultural arena of the public playhouse. Anticipations of some of these individual factors may be found in earlier periods, but it is their concatenation in the aftermath of the break from Rome that marks the distinctively Elizabethan image of the nation.

Wales was absent from Camden’s title-page because it was regarded as part of England; in 1536 Henry VIII had given royal assent to a bill formally uniting the two countries. Scotland, as we have seen, was deferred to as a separate nation. Ireland represented more of a problem. It had its distinctive topography and its independent history, which Camden duly and indeed respectfully recorded, but since Henry II’s conquest in 1172 it had been under the rule and power of England. Camden, with his immense reverence for Christian learning, was fascinated by the figure of St Patrick and the Irish monastic tradition that extended back to the fifth century. He even suggested that the English Saxons learned literacy from the Irish. This led him, in a fascinating sentence added to Britannia’s sixth edition, to formulate and resolve a paradox:

And no cause have we to mervaile, that Ireland which now for the most part is rude, half-barbarous, and altogether voide of any polite and exquisite literature, was full of so devout, godly and good wits in that age, wherin good letters throughout all Christiendome lay neglected and half buried; seeing, that the Divine providence of that most gratious and almighty ruler of the world, soweth the seeds and bringeth forth the plantes of Sanctity and good arts, one whiles in one nation and other whiles in another, as it were in garden beds and borders, and that in sundry ages: which being removed and translated hither and thither, may by a new grouth come up one under another, prosper, and be preserved to his owne glory, and the good ofmankind. (Holland, translation of Camden’s ‘Ireland’)

Camden’s expectation was clearly that a reader might well marvel at the transformation of Ireland from centre of erudition and holiness to cultural and moral desert. His explanation for the change relied on a providential and cyclical view of history, in thorough accordance with the Elizabethan theory of the translation of empire and learning (translatio imperii et studii) in which England was regarded as the nation chosen by God to succeed Greece and Rome as the pre-eminent home of world power and high culture – and indeed to exceed the ancients, since imperial glory and ‘good arts’ were combined with Christian ‘Sanctity’. The providential explanation diverts the reader from another possibility: namely that all traces of high culture have been extinguished from Ireland because it has been so long subjugated to England, that it is the English who have made the Irish ‘rude’ and ‘half-barbarous’.

Between 1586, when Britannia was first published, and 1607, when this passage was added, Tyrone’s rebellions had been suppressed and the English crown’s stranglehold on Ireland tightened. Though strangers in Ireland, the English did not hesitate to meddle. You can only invent a nation by positing its other, by creating an outside, by denominating and demonizing aliens. Ireland, Catholic Spain, the Ottoman empire, Italy – paradoxically regarded as the source of both artistic sophistication and machiavellian decadence – and the New World served the Elizabethans well in this respect.

At first sight, the above piece of research may appear antiquarian, parochial, even pedantic. An examination of the textual changes between the Elizabethan and Jacobean versions of Camden’s Britannia does not sound like the kind of thing that has ‘relevance’ to the early twenty-first debate about ‘earned citizenship’ and ‘national identity’. But it is precisely in Camden’s negotiations of the relationship between ‘England’ and ‘Britain’, between service to God and love of ‘patria’, that modern notions of citizenship, patriotism and national identity begin to emerge. The ‘British question’, as historians call it, has been the focus of much of the most innovative and provocative historical and literary-historical research in the last twenty years – the line of distinguished work extends from Hugh Kearney’s The British Isles: A History of Four Nations (1989) to John Kerrigan’s Archipelagic English (2008). The fostering and dissemination of that research, through teaching, through books aimed at a wide intelligent readership, through broadcasting and – why not? – even through seminars for the education of politicians and civil servants can play a major role in raising the level of debate about nation and devolution, arrival and belonging.

BENTHAM v COLERIDGE

Humanities research is about taking the long view. That is why it is difficult to justify in the language of immediate accountability. This essay has taken the long view of the question of what we mean by ‘value’, the long view of the function of the university and the long view of the peculiarity of English/British national identity. It will end by taking the long view of the debate about the role of quantifiable (‘economic’) measures of the public utility of humanities research.

One of the values of humanities research is that it teaches us that all controversies have historical precedents – the lessons of which we are very good at ignoring. The debate between those who look for ‘economic impact’ and those who appeal to the pursuit of knowledge as a civilizing virtue replicates a dichotomy identified by John Stuart Mill in the early Victorian era, in his pair of essays on Jeremy Bentham (1838) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1840).

Mill contends that Bentham and Coleridge are the two ‘great seminal minds’ of the age. Britain, he proposes, is indebted to them ‘not only for the greater part of the important ideas which have been thrown into circulation among its thinking men in their time, but for a revolution in its general modes of thought and investigation’. Bentham and Coleridge, he argues, were destined to renew a lesson given to mankind by every age, and always disregarded — to show that speculative philosophy, which to the superficial appears a thing so remote from the business of life and the outward interests of men, is in reality the thing on earth which most influences them, and in the long run overbears every other influence save those which it must itself obey. The writers of whom we speak have never been read by the multitude; except for the more slight of their works, their readers have been few: but they have been the teachers of the teachers; there is hardly to be found in England an individual of any importance in the world of mind, who (whatever opinions he may have afterwards adopted) did not first learn to think from one of these two.

To effect a revolution in ‘general modes of thought’; to inhabit a realm (‘speculative philosophy’) that seems utterly remote from ‘the business of life’ and yet to influence society more than anyone else; to be ‘the teachers of the teachers’; to be the figures from whom all serious minds ‘learn to think’: even if these claims were to be greatly diluted, the implication would still be that the intellectual work of Bentham and Coleridge was of extraordinary value to society, even though its direct impact (in terms of the number of people who read their major books) was minimal. Their importance is in itself is a salutary warning against the short view of our question.

What, then, were their great innovations? Bentham, says Mill, was ‘the great critical thinker of his age and country’, ‘the great questioner of things established’. He was the iconoclast who was no respecter of institutions and traditions. A latter-day Benthamite might well say: why should we fund research in the humanities just because we have funded it in the past? Bentham, continues Mill, ‘introduced into morals and politics those habits of thought and modes of investigation, which are essential to the idea of science’. A latter-day Benthamite might very well say: prove the value of what you do by quantifying it. Be precise, be empirical, do not rely on windy rhetoric. Give me a metric.

Famously, Bentham’s utilitarian principle was ‘the greatest happiness of the  greatest number’. If push-pin (a children’s game) gives happiness to more people than poetry, then push-pin is more valuable than poetry. ‘Quantity of pleasure being equal, push-pin is as good as poetry.’ In this view, quantity – or, as we would now say, ‘access’ or ‘inclusion’ – trumps intellectual athleticism and aesthetic value. By this logic, government might well find itself subsidising access to push-pin’s modern equivalents – computer games – and leaving poetry to the mercy of the market. Mill admires the modernity and the democracy of Bentham’s utilitarian position, but deplores its lack of imagination: ‘He committed the mistake of supposing that the business part of human affairs was the whole of them.’ Bentham failed to take into account other aspects under which human activities should be judged – the moral, the aesthetic and the sympathetic (a modern term for the latter might be ‘the socially cohesive’). Bentham must therefore be balanced against Coleridge.

Whereas Bentham began by asking of every received opinion ‘is it true?’, Coleridge began by asking ‘What is the meaning of it?’ How can society foster those dimensions of human life that Benthamite utilitarianism cannot account for – the ethical, the beautiful, the cohesive force? Through the creation, Coleridge suggests, ‘of an endowed class, for the cultivation of learning, and for diffusing its results among the community’. Mill describes how in his treatise On the Constitution of Church and State, Coleridge (who was actually developing an idea first put forward in Germany by Friedrich Schiller) proposed that there should be what he termed a ‘nationalty’ or ‘national property’ in the form of a fund – derived from taxation – dedicated to ‘the advancement of knowledge, and the civilization of the community’. This national fund should support and maintain what he called a clerisy, a kind of secular clergy, with the following duties:

A certain smaller number were to remain at the fountain-heads of the humanities, in cultivating and enlarging the knowledge already possessed, and in watching over the interests of physical and moral science; being likewise the instructors of such as constituted, or were to constitute, the remaining more numerous classes of the order. The members of this latter and far more numerous body were to be distributed throughout the country, so as not to leave even the smallest integral part or division without a resident guide, guardian, and instructor; the objects and final intention of the whole order being these – to preserve the stores and to guard the treasures of past civilization, and thus to bind the present with the past; to perfect and add to the same, and thus to connect the present with the future; but especially to diffuse through the whole community, and to every native entitled to its laws and rights, that quantity and quality of knowledge which was indispensable both for the understanding of those rights, and for the performance of the duties correspondent; finally, to secure for the nation, if not a superiority over the neighbouring states, yet an equality at least, in that character of general civilization, which equally with, or rather more than, fleets, armies, and revenue, forms the ground of its defensive and offensive power.

Researchers and teachers in the humanities are of value to the state if and when they fulfil the function of the Coleridgean clerisy. They must remember, though, that they are a form of ‘national property’: their work must be for the benefit not of themselves but of the entire nation. Reading Coleridge’s definition of the clerisy in the light of twenty-first century debates about research funding, what is most striking is the huge emphasis that he places on what is now called ‘dissemination’. The results of our research must be ‘distributed throughout the country, so as not to leave even the smallest integral part or division without a resident guide, guardian, and instructor’.

The investment must be large, the responsibility – the public duty – placed upon the latter-day clerisy is heavy, but in the ‘knowledge economy’ and faced with the global insecurity of the twenty-first century, the return on the investment is potentially vast. Even more than in Coleridge’s day, the work of the clerisy in binding past, present and future, in yoking inheritance to aspiration and tradition to innovation, and in maintaining the understanding of ‘those rights’ and ‘correspondent duties’ that are at the core of national identity, can play a major role in ‘securing for the nation’ that ‘character of general civilization, which equally with, or rather more than, fleets, armies, and revenue, forms the ground of its defensive and offensive power’.


April 06, 2009

The Campaign for Real Letters

Writing about web page http://postletters.org/

Philip Cowell is a young and talented writer who works for the Arvon Foundation. Philip attended a poetry andUse or Lose myth workshop I did for Arvon at Compton Verney last summer.

Philip is also leading up a campaign to promote letter writing.  I am a fairly keen e-phile, what with my podcasts, I-casts, I-U-Tunes recordings, blog, web-based poems and website.

BUT I do not think we need neglect the letter as a form or the book as a medium. Surely they all work together?

I support Philip's campaign strongly. Here's what his website (link above) states:

Join the campaign to promote letter writing! We promote letter writing as a pleasure that improves you, the community and the whole world. We use Web 2.0 technology to encourage pre-Web activity.

Post Letters is a UK-based, worldwide movement to encourage, promote and take delight in the activity of writing letters and sending post. Both a call to action and a description of our time, Post Letters needs your help.

We bring people together to think about Post in the Twenty First Century, organise letter readings and writings, present you with new ideas for your post, commission artists and writers to produce new mail art, produce Post Events and much more besides.

You can get involved too! Email your name and address to Philip at post.more.letters @ gmail.com and you will receive a free piece of post made by Post Letter maker-volunteers to challenge and delight you.

So, I got involved (you should too). To support the campaign for real letters, I wrote Philip a letter as follows:

Dear Philip,

Once, on a long walk in the Gloucestershire countryside near his home, my early mentor, the poet Charles Tomlinson, once said to me that every poem - at its best - is a love poem. How about that? I was naturally unsettled by this statement, since the poems I was writing then were rather dark and singular, and so I asked him to expand.

Charles argued that poetry is an extreme act of attention (sensual, linguistic, intellectual, etc.) on the part of both the writer and reader - in the same way that love demands attention to make love live and last. Therefore, every poem is a love poem. ‘If the poem is any good, you mean?’ I asked. ‘Of course’, said Charles, ‘but that would go for love also’.

I took this idea away with me and thought about it for twenty years. I guess part of the argument here is that when we stop paying attention to the world we do ourselves great harm. It is like a slow suicide of thought with the senses. And then you asked me what I thought of letters…

Here’s my answer or answers. Every letter, at its very best, is a love letter pace Tomlinson. To paraphrase Ben Jonson, language most shows a person, and a letter in which language and attention possess linked force creates a document that asks the reader or recipient to raise their own level of being, to allow themselves (if you like) to be ‘loved’. It also allows the writer of the letter to be ‘shown’ more clearly.

Can one replicate this within a text or e-mail? I suppose one could, but it is not the culture of a text or e-mail to be attentively crafted in this way. This is not to say that texts or e-mails are lesser forms of communication. I would argue that text allows a great deal of room for play-in-language. It’s a ‘sandpit’ form. E-mails are so closely associated with the world of work, for the rapid transmission of information, that writing one with linguistic passion and attention might strike the recipient as a little creepy.

I have recently been involved with creating new forms of ecological media for poetry in natural spaces. It’s been called ‘slow poetry’, for the same reasons of ‘slow food’ and the entire ‘slow’ movement. It’s about local sourcing, paying close attention, taking your time and enjoying yourself. I think the ‘slow’ movement should adopt your campaign for letter writing.

Letters are most definitely a ‘slow’ art form, not just in how they are written, but how they are sent (all those stamps, envelopes and post office queues); how they are transported (those lit trains at night); how they are delivered (rise, you postal workers at dawn); and how they are read (preferably over a slow breakfast and, oh, the slow pleasure of slicing open an envelope with your name written in ink – in ink! – upon it). These are slow pleasures.

Now I think about this I have come to the opinion that the political wing of your movement for the writing of letters ought to adopt extreme action and guerilla tactics. For example, I think you should take a bold step to re-introduce the writing of verse letters, e.g.

Dear Philip,

writing this prose will be

time spent off from poetry.

I agree with you

that there should be

a League for Letters.

The age makes free

with language, sure,

but language evolves

for language is rich.

It’s not what we say

but the means by which.

Which, of course, is neither entirely true nor untrue, and a bit Poohish. But it was fun while it lasted, and more fun than an e-mail. Oh, and then the ‘salutations’ side to the close of a letter that must never be undervalued….

And with that, let me bid you goodbye, wishing you, Arvon, and the League for Letters all my warmest wishes,

Yours truly, & etc.,

David Morley.


March 10, 2009

Is Poetry the Cornerstone of Civillisation?

Writing about web page http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/poetry/article5853129.ece

Poetry is the Cornerstone of Civilisation

poetry?

A.A. Gill argued this proposition in The Times on March 8th. There is much to debate with here, but also (let’s not always be assassinating ourselves for painful pleasure) there is much to applaud, explore and even cheer. What do you think of the piece?

Gill writes: One of the most satisfying things about words is their black-and-whiteness, the neat, austere simplicity of their process. Letters on a page are so direct, so literal. The connection between writer and reader is intimate, personal and immediate: a moment of thought held, suspended, in a few marks, then reinvigorated. It has remained the same since cuneiform was pressed into wet clay with a reed. Words on a page have no backstage, no sleight of hand, nowhere to hide the workings. Words are what they say they are. You read a sentence and you can see how it was made; you can trace the thought. You know how it’s done — just as long as it’s prose.

With poetry, however, the rules don’t apply. It’s a fish of a very different colour. On the face of it, it looks the same; the letters, the words, are familiar. But it isn’t what it appears. By some internal magic, poetry hovers above the page, over the words. It happens outside the black-and-white lines, as if the writing were clairvoyant, calling spirit meanings, voices from beyond.

Here we are, about to appoint a new poet laureate. And poets are ducking for cover, hands over their faces, Birkenstocks flapping, sidling out of the limelight like stage managers suddenly asked to audition for Hamlet. There are those who ask if we really need a poet laureate at all, paid with a butt of sack, clasped to the heraldic bosom of the Establishment, forced to be toasted at all those plastic dinners and stand in receiving lines, expected to trot out easily yapped pompty-pom doggerel for royal births, the Olympics and the launch of nuclear submarines. The poet laureate is an Aunt Sally, to be shied at by all the couplets of philistinism and ponce-bashing that the press like to indulge in.

Yet poets are not naturally showmen. Poetry is by nature and convention a secret art. Poems are coded messages for your eyes only, left under pillows, behind whisky bottles, tied to roses, written in water. There are no regular poetry reviews in cultural magazines, or poetry programmes on the telly. Nobody is televising their awards live. Poets fall a long way behind actors and musicians, artists and novelists, for celebrity. I expect Seamus Heaney and Wendy Cope could stroll hand in hand through most branches of Waterstone’s unmolested. Poems sell few and far, for little or less.

This reticence, this unfashionable shyness, belies the truth of verse: that most of us are gaffed, flayed, stitched up and stuffed by poems. We’re marked out and buoyed up by them. Even if we haven’t read a new one for a decade, still there are verses that are the most precious and dear cultural amulets we own, hidden in the dead letter boxes of our hearts. Ask anyone what’s right at the centre of their personal culture and it will be poetry. Snatches, lines of verse, we take them to our end. A poem is a thing that transcends its construction.

I write about 1,500 words a day, every day. I organise them with as much care as I can manage, I handle them with respect and pleasure, I enjoy their weight and effervescence, I pile them up and lay them in patterns. I love them with a gay abandon and defer to them with a lion-tamer’s wariness. They are the tools of my trade. I reckon I can make a craftsmanlike job of most wordy things, from a shopping list to a eulogy. But I have no idea, not the faintest inkling, of how a poem is made. Of course, I’ve tried. I’ve chopped the lines out. I’ve counted the syllables and I’ve counted them back again. I’ve stretched internal rhymes and made silk similes of sow’s metaphors, but it’s not poetry. It remains resolutely page-bound: prosaic, poetish pastiche.

The hardest thing after writing poetry is writing about poetry, as you must already have noticed. It makes the author sound either pretentiously airy-fairy or thuggish. For a start, nobody really even knows what poetry is; or, rather, nobody seems able to define satisfactorily what poetry is. It effortlessly jumps the fences put up to corral and protect it. The OED offers “imaginative or creative literature in general, fable, fiction”, which doesn’t begin to cover it, then begs the question by offering, “the art or mark of a poet”. And again, “composition in verse, or some comparable patterned arrangement of language”. The word “poet” got its first recorded use in

English in the 14th century with Chaucer. It came from the Norman French and, before that, Latin and Greek for “the maker”. People have written books defining what poetry is and isn’t, but they only tell you the mechanics. It’s like eviscerating a swallow to understand flight. I asked an editor what poetry was. She said: “It’s that which can’t be edited.”

You couldn’t make a poem from any of those descriptions, yet poetry is as plain and recognisable as a motorway sign. You know poetry the instant you see it; the first line tells you. Yet it has no rules. It can rhyme or not. It can have as many rhythms as a Brazilian ballroom, lines of any length, as much or as little punctuation as it feels like. But poems can also be as rigorous as mathematics and as capricious as 16-year-olds. Poetry exists outside grammar and convention, and it can tie itself in more manners and etiquette than a Japanese dominatrix, but it is unequivocally real and solid, the most monumentally profound and intimately touching declaration in the world, and it can have any number of subtly different meanings. Indeed, it can have no logical meaning at all, yet still be beautiful and touching and disturbing. A woman once wrote to Dylan Thomas saying that she loved his poetry, but was worried that her understanding of it was not what he’d intended. Thomas replied that a poem was like a city: it had many entrances. Poetry is the apex of culture, the spire of civilisations. It is the scalpel of emotion and the anvil of thought. It whispers and it bellows the unsayable with mere words.

How does it manage that? You can’t teach being a poet, you can’t train to be one. I was once a judge in a poetry competition, and I can’t tell you how many people who aren’t poets write it. I have yet to hear a convincing explanation of where poetry comes from and how it arrives, but I do know it is the highest calling of a cerebral, emotional, aesthetic existence. Poetry, along with dancing and drumming, is probably the most ancient of all our arts. There was rhythm and rhyme before written language. Its meter resonates from our own heartbeats to make stories. Before somebody wrote down Homer’s Iliad, it was memorised and repeated. Poems lit up the memory of our collective past, told us who we were and where we came from, and they still do.

People who never read poetry still reach for it at the precipitous points of their lives. At moments of great happiness and terrible sadness, those emotional places where prose is leaden with its own wordiness, only poetry will do. There will invariably be verse at funerals and weddings, at war memorials and the desperate pleading for love. There is poetry for the unrequited and the inconsolable, for the ecstatic and the erotic. There is always poetry. We tell poems to God and call them prayers. The more I write prose, the more I read poetry. The more poetry I read, the greater and deeper its mystery, why it works in such fantastic profusion, from Victorian rumpty-tumpty epics to haiku. (Which, incidentally, I’ve never got the point of. Aren’t they just limericks that don’t make you laugh?)

When I was 15, I went on a family holiday to Mallorca. Walking on the olive steps in Deia, we met a stranger in a black toreador’s hat with silver and turquoise rings on his long fingers, and a torrent of white hair. He had Geronimo’s profile. He said hello. That night, he came for dinner at our pension.

He shook my hand. It was Robert Graves. I was thunderstruck with awe. He was everything I wanted a poet to be.

A few years later, at the dregs of a garden party in All Souls, Oxford, there was a sudden thunderstorm and a man in horn-rimmed glasses, a scruffy overcoat and a forgettable hat asked me if I’d like to share his umbrella. We were walking the same way. He wanted to know which college I was at. I said I wasn’t from round there; I was at the Slade, in London. We went into the chapel in Magdalen and walked in silence. I asked him quietly what he did. He said: “I’m the librarian at Hull.” And he, too, was exactly what I wanted a poet to look like.

In my life, we have had a particularly rich period of poets: Auden, Graves, Masefield, Larkin, Thomas, Day-Lewis, Spender, Betjeman, Heaney, Hughes, Logue, the recently deceased Adrian Mitchell. They have written between the lines on every facet of our lives, from the landscape to Edwardian plumbing. The poetry of our times is a fairer record of our concerns and hopes and our collective life than film or television or painting. Now we’re talking about a new poet laureate, perhaps getting rid of the post altogether, making it a quango, a teaching job for encouraging lyricism among the depraved and deprived. And that would be a terrible waste, to discard this post through a cool, cultural reticence, a liberal embarrassment.

The role goes back, in one form or another, 10,000 years in England, to before English was a language. There have been some very good poets and some excruciatingly bad ones. The people who have turned it down are as illustrious as those who have taken it up. But there never has been a time, since the distant campfires of our ancestors, when we haven’t needed a poet. A laureate stands as a lightning rod for us all. The point is not necessarily their poetry; dirge or doggerel, it’s all poetry. It maintains a connection with the lyrical beat at the heart of the tribe.

Sounds Familiar........

.......But do you know the second line? And the title of the poem?

“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone”

“Do not despair / for Johnny-head-in-air”

“April is the cruellest month”

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

“O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms”

“They f*** you up, your mum and dad”

“I must down to the seas again”

“Had we but world enough, and time”

“And did those feet in ancient time”

“Four and twenty virgins came down from Inverness”

“The boy stood on the burning deck”

“O Rose, thou art sick!”

“She walks in beauty, like the night”

“Do not go gentle into that good night”


Is Poetry the Cornerstone of Civillisation?

Writing about web page http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/poetry/article5853129.ece

Poetry is the Cornerstone of Civilsation

A.A. Gill argued this proposition in The Times on March 8th. There is much to debate with here, but also (let’s not always be assassinating ourselves for painful pleasure) there is much to applaud, explore and even cheer. What do you think of the piece?

Gill writes: "One of the most satisfying things about words is their black-and-whiteness, the neat, austere simplicity of their process. Letters on a page are so direct, so literal. The connection between writer and reader is intimate, personal and immediate: a moment of thought held, suspended, in a few marks, then reinvigorated. It has remained the same since cuneiform was pressed into wet clay with a reed. Words on a page have no backstage, no sleight of hand, nowhere to hide the workings. Words are what they say they are. You read a sentence and you can see how it was made; you can trace the thought. You know how it’s done — just as long as it’s prose.

With poetry, however, the rules don’t apply. It’s a fish of a very different colour. On the face of it, it looks the same; the letters, the words, are familiar. But it isn’t what it appears. By some internal magic, poetry hovers above the page, over the words. It happens outside the black-and-white lines, as if the writing were clairvoyant, calling spirit meanings, voices from beyond.

Here we are, about to appoint a new poet laureate. And poets are ducking for cover, hands over their faces, Birkenstocks flapping, sidling out of the limelight like stage managers suddenly asked to audition for Hamlet. There are those who ask if we really need a poet laureate at all, paid with a butt of sack, clasped to the heraldic bosom of the Establishment, forced to be toasted at all those plastic dinners and stand in receiving lines, expected to trot out easily yapped pompty-pom doggerel for royal births, the Olympics and the launch of nuclear submarines. The poet laureate is an Aunt Sally, to be shied at by all the couplets of philistinism and ponce-bashing that the press like to indulge in.

Yet poets are not naturally showmen. Poetry is by nature and convention a secret art. Poems are coded messages for your eyes only, left under pillows, behind whisky bottles, tied to roses, written in water. There are no regular poetry reviews in cultural magazines, or poetry programmes on the telly. Nobody is televising their awards live. Poets fall a long way behind actors and musicians, artists and novelists, for celebrity. I expect Seamus Heaney and Wendy Cope could stroll hand in hand through most branches of Waterstone’s unmolested. Poems sell few and far, for little or less.

This reticence, this unfashionable shyness, belies the truth of verse: that most of us are gaffed, flayed, stitched up and stuffed by poems. We’re marked out and buoyed up by them. Even if we haven’t read a new one for a decade, still there are verses that are the most precious and dear cultural amulets we own, hidden in the dead letter boxes of our hearts. Ask anyone what’s right at the centre of their personal culture and it will be poetry. Snatches, lines of verse, we take them to our end. A poem is a thing that transcends its construction.

I write about 1,500 words a day, every day. I organise them with as much care as I can manage, I handle them with respect and pleasure, I enjoy their weight and effervescence, I pile them up and lay them in patterns. I love them with a gay abandon and defer to them with a lion-tamer’s wariness. They are the tools of my trade. I reckon I can make a craftsmanlike job of most wordy things, from a shopping list to a eulogy. But I have no idea, not the faintest inkling, of how a poem is made. Of course, I’ve tried. I’ve chopped the lines out. I’ve counted the syllables and I’ve counted them back again. I’ve stretched internal rhymes and made silk similes of sow’s metaphors, but it’s not poetry. It remains resolutely page-bound: prosaic, poetish pastiche.

The hardest thing after writing poetry is writing about poetry, as you must already have noticed. It makes the author sound either pretentiously airy-fairy or thuggish. For a start, nobody really even knows what poetry is; or, rather, nobody seems able to define satisfactorily what poetry is. It effortlessly jumps the fences put up to corral and protect it. The OED offers “imaginative or creative literature in general, fable, fiction”, which doesn’t begin to cover it, then begs the question by offering, “the art or mark of a poet”. And again, “composition in verse, or some comparable patterned arrangement of language”. The word “poet” got its first recorded use in

English in the 14th century with Chaucer. It came from the Norman French and, before that, Latin and Greek for “the maker”. People have written books defining what poetry is and isn’t, but they only tell you the mechanics. It’s like eviscerating a swallow to understand flight. I asked an editor what poetry was. She said: “It’s that which can’t be edited.”

You couldn’t make a poem from any of those descriptions, yet poetry is as plain and recognisable as a motorway sign. You know poetry the instant you see it; the first line tells you. Yet it has no rules. It can rhyme or not. It can have as many rhythms as a Brazilian ballroom, lines of any length, as much or as little punctuation as it feels like. But poems can also be as rigorous as mathematics and as capricious as 16-year-olds. Poetry exists outside grammar and convention, and it can tie itself in more manners and etiquette than a Japanese dominatrix, but it is unequivocally real and solid, the most monumentally profound and intimately touching declaration in the world, and it can have any number of subtly different meanings. Indeed, it can have no logical meaning at all, yet still be beautiful and touching and disturbing. A woman once wrote to Dylan Thomas saying that she loved his poetry, but was worried that her understanding of it was not what he’d intended. Thomas replied that a poem was like a city: it had many entrances. Poetry is the apex of culture, the spire of civilisations. It is the scalpel of emotion and the anvil of thought. It whispers and it bellows the unsayable with mere words.

How does it manage that? You can’t teach being a poet, you can’t train to be one. I was once a judge in a poetry competition, and I can’t tell you how many people who aren’t poets write it. I have yet to hear a convincing explanation of where poetry comes from and how it arrives, but I do know it is the highest calling of a cerebral, emotional, aesthetic existence. Poetry, along with dancing and drumming, is probably the most ancient of all our arts. There was rhythm and rhyme before written language. Its meter resonates from our own heartbeats to make stories. Before somebody wrote down Homer’s Iliad, it was memorised and repeated. Poems lit up the memory of our collective past, told us who we were and where we came from, and they still do.

People who never read poetry still reach for it at the precipitous points of their lives. At moments of great happiness and terrible sadness, those emotional places where prose is leaden with its own wordiness, only poetry will do. There will invariably be verse at funerals and weddings, at war memorials and the desperate pleading for love. There is poetry for the unrequited and the inconsolable, for the ecstatic and the erotic. There is always poetry. We tell poems to God and call them prayers. The more I write prose, the more I read poetry. The more poetry I read, the greater and deeper its mystery, why it works in such fantastic profusion, from Victorian rumpty-tumpty epics to haiku. (Which, incidentally, I’ve never got the point of. Aren’t they just limericks that don’t make you laugh?)

When I was 15, I went on a family holiday to Mallorca. Walking on the olive steps in Deia, we met a stranger in a black toreador’s hat with silver and turquoise rings on his long fingers, and a torrent of white hair. He had Geronimo’s profile. He said hello. That night, he came for dinner at our pension.

He shook my hand. It was Robert Graves. I was thunderstruck with awe. He was everything I wanted a poet to be.

A few years later, at the dregs of a garden party in All Souls, Oxford, there was a sudden thunderstorm and a man in horn-rimmed glasses, a scruffy overcoat and a forgettable hat asked me if I’d like to share his umbrella. We were walking the same way. He wanted to know which college I was at. I said I wasn’t from round there; I was at the Slade, in London. We went into the chapel in Magdalen and walked in silence. I asked him quietly what he did. He said: “I’m the librarian at Hull.” And he, too, was exactly what I wanted a poet to look like.

In my life, we have had a particularly rich period of poets: Auden, Graves, Masefield, Larkin, Thomas, Day-Lewis, Spender, Betjeman, Heaney, Hughes, Logue, the recently deceased Adrian Mitchell. They have written between the lines on every facet of our lives, from the landscape to Edwardian plumbing. The poetry of our times is a fairer record of our concerns and hopes and our collective life than film or television or painting. Now we’re talking about a new poet laureate, perhaps getting rid of the post altogether, making it a quango, a teaching job for encouraging lyricism among the depraved and deprived. And that would be a terrible waste, to discard this post through a cool, cultural reticence, a liberal embarrassment.

The role goes back, in one form or another, 10,000 years in England, to before English was a language. There have been some very good poets and some excruciatingly bad ones. The people who have turned it down are as illustrious as those who have taken it up. But there never has been a time, since the distant campfires of our ancestors, when we haven’t needed a poet. A laureate stands as a lightning rod for us all. The point is not necessarily their poetry; dirge or doggerel, it’s all poetry. It maintains a connection with the lyrical beat at the heart of the tribe.

Sounds Familiar........

.......But do you know the second line? And the title of the poem?

“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone”

“Do not despair / for Johnny-head-in-air”

“April is the cruellest month”

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

“O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms”

“They f*** you up, your mum and dad”

“I must down to the seas again”

“Had we but world enough, and time”

“And did those feet in ancient time”

“Four and twenty virgins came down from Inverness”

“The boy stood on the burning deck”

“O Rose, thou art sick!”

“She walks in beauty, like the night”

“Do not go gentle into that good night”


February 27, 2009

Maureen Freely's Guardian Blog on the Warwick Prize for Writing

The complex problems of judging the Warwick prize

Picking a winner for the inaugural Warwick prize for writing has been exhilarating, but not a little tricky

TS Eliot sets out one of his plays in the form of a diagram

Complex maths ... TS Eliot sets out one of his plays in the form of a diagram. Photograph: Bettmann/CORBIS

We had a longlista shortlist, and five judges to decide the winner. But these were just about the only concessions to convention; from the outset, the Warwick prize for writing wanted to be different from other literary prizes. Instead of seeking out a corporate sponsor, it drew the prize money (a sizeable purse – £50,000) from its own funds. Instead of relying on selectors or setting quotas for publishers, it called upon suggestions from staff members – anyone working at Warwick, no matter what their position, could nominate a book. The original pool was read and whittled down by filter groups, again drawn from the Warwick community.

Books could belong to any category – fiction, non-fiction, drama, poetry, to name a few – so long as they had been published in English, on paper or on the internet, within a two-year period. They had to address a general audience, speaking in some way to the theme of complexity. This daring deployment of a four-syllable word caused many foreheads to furrow. What did we take it to mean?

Well, the short answer is that we took it to mean something else for each new book we read, and during each new conversation we had about a book as it travelled from longlist to shortlist and beyond. Our brief was to track what David Morley, the architect of the prize, calls the "moving edge" of contemporary writing. Although he and I have worked together for more than 12 years now, I'm not sure I ever knew what he meant. So I wrote to ask him. Just a moment ago, I got his answer:

"If we accept that writing makes you think, and that the formation of knowledge depends partly on the complex and often playful process of writing, then what role does the process of writing perform on that very edge of 'not knowing' and 'knowing': a place of creativity, energy and adventure?"

Hmm. That's a pretty sharp edge he's drawn there. I'm not quite sure how to respond. What I can say, though, is that when I think back on the 20 books I read for this year's prize, I believe I've had a glimpse of what one community of readers was reading and, even more importantly, the ideas they were puzzling over as they struggled to make sense of the world. This being a university community, it is perhaps not surprising that so many of the books draw upon fields of knowledge that are properly understood only by small groups of scholars or experts. What did surprise me was to read so many books that managed to break through that barrier, giving complexity a shape and a narrative, and never succumbing to oversimplification.

Quite a few of the best books were very long. They were not just long: they demanded slow and careful reading. There were times – as with Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise – when I felt as if I was crawling over a century of music with a laser, seeing how each note connected to the next. While reading Mad, Bad, and Sad, Lisa Appignanesi's brilliant (and yes, complex) history of mind doctors and their female patients, I was continually reminded of the many polemics that preceded it, and endlessly appreciative of her humane understanding of mental illness, its sufferers, and those who have (with wildly mixed results) sought to help them.

When we were discussing Montano's Malady by Enrique Vila-Matas, whose silver-tongued narrator suffers from "literature sickness", seeing allusions, resonances and subversions everywhere, I had to admit that I saw myself. When we turned to Stuart A Kauffman's The Reinvention of the Sacred, which, while accepting the laws of physics, refutes reductionism and argues for a new theory of the universe that explains emergence, I was glad that one of our number was a scientist. When we set Francisco Goldman's The Art of Political Murder alongside Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, it seemed as if both were inspired attempts to illuminate the long, dark history of backroom deals that have brought us to the sorry state we're in today. The former focuses on a political assassination in Guatemala and its aftermath. The latter spans 50 years and covers the globe. How interesting, then, to see how many of the bad guys in these books were trained at the same schools.

If we had been confined to the usual categories, we would have been measuring the books up to some definition of a form. What qualities are most important in a novel? How does Collection X raise the poetry stakes? What does literary non-fiction look like? When does a biography read more like fiction? As a longtime sufferer of literature sickness, I have to admit that these questions consume me, too. But what a refreshing change it made to read 20 books for their ideas, and to track the ways in which the very act of writing changed them.


February 25, 2009

Outstanding 'complexity' wins Naomi Klein £50,000 inaugural Warwick prize

Outstanding 'complexity' wins Naomi Klein £50,000 inaugural Warwick prize

Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

The complexity of Naomi Klein's portrayal of the rise of disaster capitalism, The Shock Doctrine, has won its author the inaugural £50,000 Warwick prize for writing.

The biennial prize, run by Warwick University, is promising to be one of the most unusual prizes on the books calendar, not least because it will tackle a different theme every two years, with "complexity" chosen as its initial focus. Chair of judges and author of "weird fiction" China Miéville praised The Shock Doctrine as a "brilliant, provocative, outstandingly written investigation into some of the great outrages of our time" which has "started many debates, and will start many more". The book charts Klein's four-year investigation into moments of collective crisis, such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, dubbing the ways in which they are exploited by global corporations "disaster capitalism".

"At a time when the news out of the publishing industry is usually so bleak it's thrilling to be part of a bold new prize supporting writing, especially alongside such an exciting array of other books," Klein said on learning of her win. She beat an extremely diverse shortlist which ranged from scientific theory to Spanish fiction to take the award, seeing off strong competition from Mad, Bad and Sad, Lisa Appignanesi's intricate study of the relationship between women and mental illness, and Alex Ross's Guardian first book award-winning history of 20th-century music, The Rest is Noise. Francisco Goldman's investigation into the murder of Guatemalan bishop Juan Gerardi, The Art of Political Murder, Stuart A Kauffman's Reinventing the Sacred and the solitary novel on the shortlist, Enrique Vila-Matas's study of an obsessive writer, Montano's Malady, completed the line-up.

The prize has self-consciously set out to break fresh ground as a prize, seeking not only to explore different themes, but also to explore "how writing evolves" and pick out its "moving edge". Miéville commented: "Of course, that could mean anything and nothing, but because it's a prize that's deliberately interdisciplinary and 'inter-formal', you do end up picking up a sort of gestalt of the set of concerns that are flying around in the zeitgeist, and the different but overlapping ways it gets expressed.

"A lot of people were very sceptical, asking how you can possibly compare, say, poetry and science writing, like apples and oranges. But actually it was very interesting to see how so many writers on the shortlist were thinking about political corruption and corporate greed. It would be ludicrous to say 'I now know where the moving edge of literature is', but I think we have been left with a sense of how people are striving to push writing forward. At the risk of sounding very woolly, it was very liberating just to throw all these books in the air and consider them first of all as writing."

On this year's shortlist, Miéville added that Klein's book scored outstandingly – in a strong field – for the chord it struck with this year's theme. "We kept coming back to the Klein book not just for its prescience and passion, but because of the 'systematicity' with which it builds a very sophisticated argument into a book that is both accessible and – odd though it sounds of such an angry work – beautiful."

"[The theme] was the big difficulty with this prize, but also what makes it interesting," said Miéville's fellow judge, Warwick mathematician professor Ian Stewart, whose task it was to evaluate the quality of the science in the titles submitted. "There was an enormous diversity of work submitted - at the longlist stage we were looking at fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Trying to select in some sense the best writing from that ... well, everyone understands there's no such thing, but you can make the case that some are better than others."

Stewart said that each judge - journalist Maya Jaggi, novelist Maureen Freely and blogger Stephen Mitchelmore alongside Miéville and him - came to the table "with their own feelings about what aspects of complexity were important". Two books - both non-fiction - emerged as potential winners, and in the end "a very strong consensus" was reached in favour of Klein's entry.

"Towards the end we were looking for what constituted good writing. It's got to be well-informed, but it's also got to tell a compelling story so the reader doesn't struggle to keep up, without being dumbed down," Stewart said. "Complexity is a pretty vague statement, but we wanted a theme partly because it gives you something to discuss."

As well as her £50,000 prize, Klein also wins the opportunity to take up a short placement at the university, which vice-chancellor Nigel Thrift urged her to take up.

The theme for the 2011 prize was also announced last night, with £50,000 available to the best book on the theme of colour.


February 16, 2009

A Continuing Debate: "Poetry is Beautiful, But Science is What Matters

Part of the debate "Poetry is beautiful, but science is what matters"

Opposer: Dr Peter McDonald

Many scientists are productively interested in consciousness, and poets too have found the subject compelling. In poetry, consciousness can't be prised apart from language. Here is Wordsworth:

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.


Not too deep for words, notice, and not too deep for precisely these words. Beautiful? Yes, but to Professor Atkins merely so, for 'the human heart' is to him simply a 'code for consciousness'. Easily so, too, for to him 'poetry is verbally beautiful regardless of its intent'.

These lines must therefore be 'beautiful' too:

But oh! it turn'd poor Strephon's Bowels,
When he beheld and smelt the Towels,
Begumm'd, bematter'd, and beslim'd
With Dirt, and Sweat, and Ear-Wax grim'd.


That's Swift, in his way as interested as Wordsworth in 'the human heart'. The lines are written with a certain intent – but for Professor Atkins that doesn't matter: for him they are beautiful whatever their intent, because they are poetry: and poetry, which he is so careful not to 'denigrate' (does he mean that he could, if he cared to?) doesn’t really matter. Not, anyhow, in comparison to what he calls 'science'.

Yet how poetic this 'science' sounds: it gives 'free flight' to 'unfettered brains', it is 'the fruit of the tree of human endeavour', and it comes through the Renaissance and the Enlightenment as a 'child' and an 'apotheosis'. Heady stuff. But talk of unfettered grey matter is fraught with dangers and comic pitfalls, none of them science's fault.

Such flights of fancy expose the places where language trips us up. Just as science has revealed more about the universe and the conditions of our existence, poetry has repeatedly cleansed the language, and works continually against its contamination. Language matters because we matter – to ourselves, and to each other. In this, our standards are humanly conceived, and have a way of disregarding declarations of their own insignificance. Coleridge called words – including 'the best words' – 'LIVING POWERS, by which the things of most importance to mankind are actuated, combined, and humanized.'

Poetry teaches us to be careful about language, and careful with it. I'll end with Swift again, on heady stuff:

Nor be the Handkerchiefs forgot
All varnish'd o'er with Snuff and Snot.


Anyone certain that poetry is only good for putting a shine on things should reflect on what these lines do to the idea of beautiful matter.


February 12, 2009

Poetry is beautiful, but science is what matters

Writing about web page http://www.ox.ac.uk/oxford_debates/hilary_2009_poetry_and_science/mod_intro.html

Oxfordbryant

A fascinating Oxford debate is unfolding online at the website above on the subject 'Poetry is beautiful, but science is what matters'. This is a subject close to my heart (and head, as in 'gun to the head'). The moderator, Professor Sally Shuttleworth, opened with the following:

This debate takes place fifty years after C. P. Snow's famous lecture in 1959 on 'The Two Cultures', and the fierce quarrel with the literary critic F. R. Leavis which then ensued. The clash between Snow and Leavis was itself, however, a reprise of the battle in the nineteenth century between T. H. Huxley, that great defender of Darwin, and the poet, Matthew Arnold (to whom we owe the phrase the 'dreaming spires' of Oxford). History keeps repeating itself, and although the terms of the debate shift, there remains an underlying question: how should we educate our young? It is probable that this question is intensified in England because of an education system which until recently forced a stark choice between 'arts' and 'science' at the tender age of 16, thus reinforcing institutionally the notion that there are two separate, and even opposing, cultures or bodies of knowledge.

Much has changed since the 1950s. Scholars now highlight the creativity and imaginative force of science, but also the ways in which it can intersect with, and draw upon, contemporary culture.   Artists and poets are now routinely placed in science departments, working alongside scientists to capture in poetic or artistic form the processes of science. The new Biochemistry building at Oxford is a triumphant expression of this union, with the art of biochemistry captured in the fabric of the building. As we celebrate Darwin's achievements this year, we do well to reflect that the success of the Origin owed much to the rhetoric of its author. Peter Atkins' vision of the grandeur of science draws on the poetry of Darwin's conclusion: 'There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.'

Professor Peter Atkins is proposer for the debate while the excellent Peter McDonald is the opposer.

Proposer. Opposer, Proposer. Opposer. Let’s call the whole thing on.

McDonald argues - elegantly - that:

Science can explain definitively what it sets out to explain; but there is a danger in taking this for the whole picture, and relegating everything else to the realm of the inessential – so that poetry is very nice, perhaps, but not what matters.  Such confidence comes from too much contact with progress. Although the sciences don't really progress in straight lines – ways forward can become dead-ends, and unlikely tangents can turn out to be main routes into new knowledge – in the relatively few years since scientists have called themselves scientists, they have agreed that progress in their fields of knowledge depends on what can be proven: you have to establish something before using it to establish something else. 

Poetry isn't like this. For a start, poetry doesn't progress. What a poem proves is never conclusive, and everything a good poem has to offer isn't revealed at once. The composition of a poem is a leap in the dark, an act of complete imaginative risk. Not experiment, risk: and what is at risk is the language itself, which unsuccessful or dishonest writing debases, and good writing preserves and invigorates. A healthy language, capable of precision and complexity in answering to human expression and experience, and able to bear the weight of its past while bringing responsiveness and self-correcting clarity to bear on the future, matters intensely to any society. 

This should prove a timely and interesting set of statements.


February 04, 2009

Poetry Pamphlets Gain Recognition Through Intelligent New Award

The Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets Launched

British Library and the Poetry Book Society to celebrate the vital role of the pamphlet form in connecting poets with their audiences.

A major new award for UK poets and their publishers is launched today by the British Library, in partnership with the Poetry Book Society and with the generous support of the Michael Marks Charitable Trust.  The first UK Poetry Pamphlet Awards will highlight the importance of the pamphlet form in introducing new poetry to readers and the continuing vibrancy of the print pamphlet in the internet age.

Books of 36 pages or less are where new poetry often first meets its audience – slim volumes allow readers to savour a concentrated gathering or carefully paced sequence of poems. Poetry pamphlets can be exquisitely designed, with striking visual qualities that form a strong part of the meaning of the book as a whole. Small press publishers have been at the forefront of developing new audiences for poetry through such attractive and innovative publications.

The Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets will offer two awards of £5,000 for the following categories:

  • Poetry Award - for an outstanding work of poetry published in pamphlet form in the UK during 2008
  • Publishers' Award - for an outstanding UK publisher of poetry in pamphlet form, on the basis of their publishing programme in 2008.

The awards will be judged by poet and performer Ian McMillan (Chair), poet and author Jackie Kay and Richard Price, poet and Head of Modern British Collections at the British Library.

Closing date for submissions is 20 March 2009, with the winners to be announced at a celebratory event to be held at the British Library on 24th June. For details on entering see: www.poetrybookshoponline.com/pamphlets or contact the Poetry Book Society, which will administer the awards, on +44[0]20 7833 9247.

Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney said, "These inspired awards recognise that the pamphlet has a fundamental importance in literary culture far exceeding anything suggested by the dictionary - 'a brief publication, generally having a paper cover". For many of the best poets now writing it was not only their first means of distribution but the first ratification of their gift."

Richard Price, the British Library's Head of Modern British Collections, said: "The pamphlet is often the place where the poet can make the fullest impact on the reader, whether it's a well-judged showcase of a new poet's range or the powerful concentrate of a themed sequence. The form embraces all traditions: Philip Larkin, Bob Cobbing, Ted Hughes, J H Prynne, Carol Ann Duffy, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Penelope Shuttle, Tom Leonard, Kathleen Jamie, Simon Armitage and Daljit Nagra have all used the short form with aplomb.

"The current boom in performance poetry - as with the revival of the live music scene - provides poets with the opportunity to make a direct connection with their audience and the pamphlet is very often what audience members will physically take away from that experience. Far from making pamphlets obsolete, the internet has provided a limitless shop window for a new generation of small presses and micropublishers, and these awards are an opportunity for us to celebrate the finest examples of this continuing tradition."

The UK Poetry Pamphlet Awards are funded by the Michael Marks Charitable Trust, which was established in 1966 by the late Lord Marks second Baron of Broughton in order to support Culture and the Environment.

Marina, Lady Marks said, "These awards for Pamphlet Poetry are part of our commitment to promote the value of cultural creativity. Since its inception in the 12th century the pamphlet's great strength and social significance has lain in its ability to address and influence both elite and popular culture. The pamphlet was the medium which spread creative political, philosophical, scientific and artistic thinking of some of the most influential people and movements in England and across the world."

She added, "We hope that these awards will motivate poets and visual artists to create objects of singular beauty to delight, educate, inspire and uplift the reader. In making these awards possible we are delighted to collaborate with the British Library and the Poetry Book Society."

For further information and interviews, please contact Ben Sanderson, British Library Press Office, tel: +44[0]1937 546126, email: ben.sanderson@bl.uk

For enquiries and submission guidelines, please contact Hilary Davidson, Awards Administrator or Chris Holifield at the Poetry Book Society, Fourth Floor, 2 Tavistock Place, London, WC1H 9RA | Tel: 020 7833 9247 | Email: pamphlets@poetrybooks.co.uk | Online submission forms at http://www.poetrybookshoponline.com/pamphlets

NOTES FOR EDITORS

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation. It includes: books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Further information is available on the Library's website at www.bl.uk.

The Poetry Book Society was set up by T S Eliot and friends in 1953 to support the sales of poetry books. The Poet Selectors choose the best new poetry book of the quarter as the Choice, which is sent to members. There is also a quarterly Pamphlet Choice. It also awards the annual T S Eliot Prize, and runs the Children's Poetry Bookshelf (which holds an annual international children's poetry competition) and an online poetry bookshop, www.poetrybookshoponline.com.

Ian McMillan is one of the UK's best known poets and performers, appearing regularly on television and radio and hosting weekly hit radio show, The Verb. He is the author of eight poetry collections and his latest book is a verse autobiography, Talking Myself Home. His website is www.ian-mcmillan.co.uk.

Jackie Kay is a poet and novelist. Her Darling, New and Selected Poems is published by Bloodaxe and was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University. Her most recent book of short stories, Wish I was Here, won the Decibel British Book Award.

Richard Price is the Head of Modern British Collections at the British Library and an acclaimed poet and performer. As a curator and co-founder of a small press he has a wide knowledge of UK poetry pamphlets. His most recent poetry collections are Greenfields and Lucky Day. Hispoetry website is www.hydrohotel.net.

January 26, 2009

Coastlines and Presidents

Coastline at dawn, Turkey

I was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s “Front Row” about the Warwick Prize for Writing. Follow this link to listen to the debate that ensued with the excellent Kirsty Lang. It’s up there until Friday 30th January.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00gqy2j

While being interviewed I began to realise how personal this debate was, how much my own life had been affected at important times by the kindness of any writing award, how ‘confirming and encouraging’ those moments were.

Yet, when compared to the act of writing, such matters – matters like publication also – are less important. They occur after the excitement of discovery. Making your way towards then reaching the newly visible coastline of an undiscovered world  - that is where the process of writing is at its most joyful. What's wrong with that?

During this debate I was taken to task by Andrew Martin about how such prizes can be seen as exercises in marketing. My point was that the University of Warwick is not trying to sell you coffee (Costa Prize) or broadband (Orange Prize). With this new prize the university is not ‘selling’ you anything except perhaps an ideal, knowledge, love of learning, and a quest to stay on the moving edge of writing.

This is why my heart’s in this project. The Warwick Prize has a lot more to do with the act of writing, with finding those invisible coastlines.

Erica Wagner, Literary Editor of The Times, wrote a column last Saturday in which she picked up on how the Warwick Prize defies category-based genres. She writes as follows and makes an interesting comparison between the prize and the recent US elections:

This week I had the privilege of a couple of hours' chat with Doris Lessing; an extraordinary experience, truly. I was struck that when I asked her if she had any favourites among her own books, she chose The Sirian Experiments and The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five. Now, these are part of the sequence known as Canopus in Argos: Archives. Perhaps some will be shocked at her choice. Part of that shock may simply stem from the fact that these books are “space fiction”, as Lessing herself has described them, and in speaking to me she conceded that many readers dismiss them on that basis alone.

It is interesting, isn't it, this need to categorise things - books, people, events. It's fair to say that we couldn't do entirely without categories: no categories at all and a file drawer would be a terrifying place.

But books don't need to get stuck into file drawers; and neither do writers. That's why I've admired The Warwick Prize for Writing since it was launched last year - the shortlist was announced on Friday. It's a prize for a book in any genre or form, as long as it's an “excellent and substantial” piece of writing - and written in English. Bravo! After all, until quite recently some folks would have said that only a certain sort of person could be, let's say, President of the United States. How useful does that certainty look this week?


January 23, 2009

£50000 Warwick Prize for Writing announces inaugural shortlist

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/prizeforwriting/

The Warwick Prize for Writing today announced its first ever shortlist last night in London. The unique prize, open to all genres and nationalities, reveals an eclectic shortlist of six international titles.

Prize logo

Exciting times! This year’s prize theme of ‘complexity’ is interpreted differently by all six shortlisted writers, all experts in their diverse fields. Themes range from global political corruption, female psychology, 20th century music, scientific theories on religion to a Spanish literary fiction puzzle.

The six shortlisted titles chosen from a longlist of 20 are:

Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800

Lisa Appignanesi

Virago

Non-Fiction

The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed Bishop Gerardi?

Francisco Goldman

Atlantic Books

Non-Fiction

Reinventing the Sacred

Stuart A Kauffman

Perseus - Basic Books

Non-Fiction

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Naomi Klein

Penguin

Non-Fiction

The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the 20th Century

Alex Ross

4th Estate,

Harper Collins

Non-Fiction

Montano's Malady

Enrique Vila-Matas (translator: Jonathan Dunne)

New Directions

Fiction

The judging panel includes journalist Maya Jaggi; novelist, translator and academic Maureen Freely; Britain’s first book blogger Stephen Mitchelmore and University of Warwick mathematician Professor Ian Stewart.

The winner will be announced on 24 February 2009 at the University of Warwick.

To find out more visit www.warwick.ac.uk/go/prizeforwriting

The 2009 Warwick Prize for Writing Shortlist:

  • Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 by Lisa Appignanesi (Virago)

About the Book

Lisa Appignanesi’s brilliantly researched study of the relationship between women, mental illness and the mind doctors - one of the few to look at the full range of the ‘psy’ professions - reveals why this subject is so complex and fascinating.  Using riveting documented cases - from the depression suffered by Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath to the mental anguish and addictions of iconic beauties, Zelda Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe, Appignanesi explores how the treatment of women has contributed hugely to the growth of understanding in the profession.

About the Author

Lisa Appignanesi is a novelist, writer and broadcaster. She is President of English PEN, the founding centre of the world association of writers.

Previous writing includes the novel The Memory Man (Arcadia), the psychological thrillers Paris Requiem, Sanctuary, The Dead of Winter (Bantam) as well as The Things we do for Love, A Good Women, Dreams of Innocence and Memory and Desire (Harper Collins).

Her non-fiction includes the much praised family memoir, Losing the Dead (Chatto/Vintage). She has also written a life of Simone de Beauvoir, (Haus 2005) and is co-author of the classic study, Freud’s Women with John Forrester (3rd edition, Phoenix, 2005). A former university lecturer and Deputy Director of London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, she co-edited The Rushdie File and initiated and edited the important Documents series.

  • The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed Bishop Gerardi? by Francisco Goldman (Atlantic Books)

About the Book

The Art of Political Murder is the first non-fiction book from acclaimed novelist Francisco Goldman and is the story of the seven-year investigation into the murder of a Guatemalan Bishop.

Bishop Juan Gerardi, Guatemala’s leading human rights activist, was bludgeoned to death in the garage of his parish house on the evening of Sunday 26 April 1998. This took place just two days after the presentation of a groundbreaking church-sponsored report implicating the military in the murders and disappearances of some two hundred thousand civilians. Known in Guatemala as “The Crime of the Century,” the case confounded observers and generated extraordinary controversy. For seven years, Francisco Goldman has closely followed the efforts to uncover the truth; the killing or forced exile of multiple witnesses, judges, and prosecutors; the brave struggle of the church’s legal team; and the efforts of one courageous prosecutor to solve the case and bring the killers to justice.

About the Author

Francisco Goldman’s first novel, The Long Night of White Chickens, won the Sue Kaufman Prize for first fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The Ordinary Seaman, his second novel, was a finalist for the International IMPAC-Dublin Literary Award. Both novels were finalists for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Goldman’s novel The Divine Husband was published by Atlantic Books in 2006. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s, New York Times Magazine, and New York Review of Books. The Art of Political Murder (Atlantic 2008) is his latest book and won the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction 2008.

  • Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason and Religion by Stuart A. Kauffman (Perseus – Basic Books)

About the Book

Kauffman shows why reductionism is an inadequate theory to explain the infinite possibilities of the evolution of the biosphere, human economic life, and human history. Instead, he offers a radical new worldview: the natural universe contains a ceaseless creativity that simply can’t be predicted. It is this creativity in the cosmos – not a supernatural “Creator God” – that should be viewed as divine.

With examples ranging from DNA and cell differentiation to Darwinian preadaptation, consciousness, and human technological advances, he argues that not everything that happens in the universe is governed by natural laws.

According to Kauffman, we do not lack sufficient knowledge or wisdom to predict the future evolution of the biosphere, economy, or human culture. Rather, it is that these things are inherently beyond prediction.

About the Author

Stuart A. Kauffman is well-known for his research in theoretical biology and as a pioneer in the field of complexity theory. He is the founding director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics, and a professor at the University of Calgary. During the 1990s he rose to prominence through his key role at the Santa Fe Institute, where he is currently External Professor. His previous books include The Origins of Order, Investigations, and At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. He lives in Calgary, Canada.

  • The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein (Penguin)

About the Book

Based on breakthrough historical research and four years of on-the-ground reporting, Naomi Klein explores the theory that our world is increasingly in thrall to a little understood ideology that is conquering the globe by systematically exploiting moments of disaster and trauma. This is the shock doctrine.

Using detailed case studies from around the world, Klein explores how the shock doctrine uses moments of collective crisis – 9/11, the tsunami, Hurricane Katrina or the Falklands war for example – to usher in radical social and economic change beneficial to Wild West corporations when people are traumatised: effectively, when they are in a state of shock. Klein coins this phenomenon disaster capitalism.

About the Author

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist, author and filmmaker. Her first book, the international bestseller No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, was translated into 28 languages and called “a movement bible” by The New York Times. She writes an internationally syndicated column for The Nation and The Guardian and reported from Iraq for Harper’s magazine. In 2004, she released The Take, a feature documentary about Argentina’s occupied factories, co-produced with director Avi Lewis. She is a former Miliband Fellow at the London School of Economics and holds an honorary Doctor of Civil Laws from the University of King’s College, Nova Scotia.

  • The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross (4th Estate, Harper Collins)

About the Book

In The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross, music critic to the New Yorker, gives us a riveting tour of the wild landscape of twentieth-century classical music with portraits of individuals, cultures and nations that reveal the predicament of the individual composer in a century of noise.

In the crashing finale, Ross combines his themes of musical politics, political music and the predicament of the solitary voice with an examination of progressive pop artists such as The Velvet Underground and Brian Eno, demonstrating how classical and modern traditions have been re-invented in the digital era, and showing what the future holds for music and its relationship to a chaotic world.

About the Author

Alex Ross has been the music critic of The New Yorker magazine since 1996. His work has also appeared in The New Republic, Slate, and the London Review of Books. He has been featured in Best American Essays, Da Capo Best Music Writing, and Studio A: The Bob Dylan Reader. He has received two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards for music criticism and a Holtzbrinck fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin.

  • Montano's Malady by Enrique Vila-Matas, translator Jonathan Dunne (New Directions)

About the Book

A traveling obsessive writer, coming to terms with a life of loss and pain, overstimulates himself on his favourite writers to the point that fiction and reality become indistinguishable.

In Enrique Vila-Matas prize-winning novel, Montano’s Malady, we encounter a cornucopia of writing styles by Jose, a writer obsessively searching for the ‘golden mean’ between the fictive and the actual. Utilizing the novel, the diary, the memoir, and philosophical musings juxtaposed within and throughout the voices of Cervantes, Sterne, Kafka, Walser, Bolano, and Sebald to create an orchestrated cacophony of literature, Jose guides the reader as they journey to European cities and South American ports.

About the Author

Enrique Vila-Matas was born in Barcelona in 1948. He studied law and journalism, and in 1968 became a columnist for the magazine Film Framesr. In 1971, he performed military service in Melilla, where in the back of a military grocer's shop he wrote his first book, Women in the Mirror Contemplating the Landscape.

He is a Knight of the Legion of Honor from France and has been awarded many literary prizes including the prize city of Barcelona and the Romulo Gallegos (2001), the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger and Fernando Aguirre-Libralire (2002) and the prize of Critics Circle Chile (2003). In September 2007 he won the literary prize Elsa Morante Scrittori del Mondo, which rewards "to an important foreign author."

Enrique Vila-Matas’ work has been translated so far into 29 languages.

About the Translator

Jonathan Dunne has translated Bartleby & Co. and Montano’s Malady, by Enrique Vila-Matas, as well as a number of other books from Spanish, Catalan, Galician, and Bulgarian. His work has been nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Weidenfeld Translation Prize.

                                                                                              



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