All entries for June 2010

June 18, 2010

Review of New Zealand Poetry on Eyewear, and a Note about Shyness, Awkwardness and Poetry.

Writing about web page

Todd Swift’s blog Eyewear , has just published my review of a new Carcanet anthology, Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets. It’s a great anthology and it is good to see New Zealand poetry being taken seriously. The editors, Andrew Johnstone and Robyn Marsack, have done an excellent job.

One thing that I particularly liked about the anthology was that each selection of poems by a particular writer was prefaced by a statement of poetics. Reading through these, I was particularly moved by the poet Bill Manhire and his comments about awkwardness, shyness and poetry. Here is what he says:

Shyness and awkwardness, especially awkwardness, can give a poem peculiar worth – so that the apparently finished thing thrives inside its own sense of incompleness, keeping faith with the clumsy world it came from. Awkwardness guarantees a kind of authenticity. The stumble, like the presence of bad special effects in a movie, makes us feel human.

I find this comment heartening, because (believe it or not!) in some ways I am an extremely shy person, but perhaps shyness need not be an obstacle but a help, at least in writing poetry. Shyness or awkwardness makes us more human than slick operators. Perhaps it works too against the kind of celebrity culture that dominates in the media. It reminds me of the singer Madeleine Peyroux who I saw being interviewed once on some BBC talkshow. I had to laugh, because Peyroux hardly spoke; she was altogether shy, awakward, self-conscious and completely refreshing!

Launching the First Issue of Polarity.

Writing about web page

I recently became a contributing editor on the new magazine Polarity. The mission statement says:

Polarity Magazine UK sets out to fill a hole in the soul of today’s culture-kestrels. Sitting somewhere between McSweeney’s magazines (The Believer, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern) and that dark blend of European surrealism forefronted by Georges Bataille (Documents, Story of the Eye), Polarity aims to tickle its readers’ hearts, minds and rude bits, with a selection of visual art, poetry, prose and articles. Appearing three times a year, or as often as we can manage, each issue will be organised around two falsely polarised concepts, forming an artefactual expansion of the metaphorical substance of each.

The first ever issue (on the theme of Death vs. Taxes) is out this month and I have had a sneak peek! I can tell you that it looks mind-blowing, so if you can, try to make the launches. There is one on Thursday June 24th, at the Writers’ Room, Milburn House, University of Warwick, and another at the Slaughtered Lamb Pub in London on Sunday 27th June.

Here’s the official blurb about the launches from the editors, George Ttoouli, James Brookes and Neeral Bhatt:

Death Wrestling Taxes in a Bathful of Eels

We’ve updated the “website” with some sample content from issue 1. And please do spread the word if you like what you see, we’d be very much appreciative of your support.

Issue 1 Launch details below. The first issue comes with a free pamphlet titled A System of Taxation Upon the Internal Mind, or Pulling Britain Out of Recession: A White Paper on Thought Taxes and will cost you one crumpled note of the ten pound variety.

Polarity Magazine London Launch
Sunday, 27 June 2010 6pm-8pm
The Slaughtered Lamb Pub
34-35 Great Sutton Street

To the tune of coffins opening like red briefcases, we are proud to present the first issue of Polarity: Death vs. Taxes, for all your morbid and economic needs. Solutions to the current recession, and mortality, included.

Tickets to this underworld do not exist, yet passengers are advised to arrive promptly, 6pm, to ensure they do not miss the boatman. Bring thy pennies, for the ferry has an onboard bar. Passage is free for a limited period, though the dead may expect a levy of £10 to acquire the limited edition manual to the underworld and its economy. This is of course why the birds have fallen frozen from the branches of the money tree to claim their passage. A free copy of a government proposal for a System of Taxation Upon Thoughts will be provided with your manual, subject to economic flow.

Onboard entertainment may or may not include poetry, stories, music (piped from the living, dead, and those in debt), as well as a sneak preview of material from the future musical warzone of issue 2: Arms vs. Song.

Dress code: birdmasks optional.
(Slaughtered Lambs are purely metaphorical, the underworld is strictly Pythagorean.)

Performing on the night…

Music from Peter Blegvad, singer-songwriter and cult comic strip artist. See Leviathan and Amateur Enterprises .

Poet Carol Watts will be reading .

As will poet Charlotte Newman. Other guests TBC, but maybe Frank Key , and some stand-up comedy to close. And some exclusive preview material of the bonus CD coming with Issue 2: Arms vs. Song.


Polarity Magazine Coventry Launch
Thursday, 24 June 2010, 6pm-10pm
Writers’ Room
Milburn House, Milburn House Road
University of Warwick
Coventry, CV4 7AL

A BYOB end of year party, with launches, guest readers and musicians, and open mic slots. Bring instruments, bring poems, flash fictions and bottles.

Performing on the night…

- Arrive prompt to catch Kit a.k.a Amanda Hopkins, with a short set from her new album, ‘The View from Here’.
- Readings from Issue 1: Michael Wilson, Jessica Vickerage, Ivan Juritz, and anyone else who turns up.
- Readings by two WWP graduates, now published poets: James Brookes (Eric Gregory Award 2009) and Simon Turner (second collection, Difficult Second Album published by Nine Arches Press)
- And a showcase of work by this year’s creative writing students, including the MA in Writing cohort. Open mic slots available, so bring something to share, 3-5min, any genre.
- And music from Conrad Bird as well.


Hope to see you at one of the events, but if you can’t make it and would like a copy of the magazine, you can post a cheque (payable to ‘Polarity Magazine UK’) for £10 (free p&p to mailing list – put a note on the back of the cheque) to:
49 St Michael’s Road, Coventry, CV2 4EL. Or keep an eye on our website for online payment details.

And the drawbridge raises like an imitation-leather hardback, once again.

George, James & Neeral

Polarity Issue 1

June 15, 2010

Interesting Questions about New Zealand Poets and Identity.

I recently finished writing a review for Todd Swift’s Eyewear of Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets: An Anthology edited by Andrew Johnston and Robyn Marsack. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the anthology and I sympathised with some of the problems that New Zealand poetry has faced, its literary tradition being like so many others, overshadowed by English Literature. Reading around the subject, I came across Eileen Duggan and I was interested to read her take on New Zealand’s situation. Duggan, talking about the reception of texts produced by New Zealanders, says: ‘The books are hallmarked as failures or successes before they reach us. Occasionally some daring Colonial wets a dissenting pen but in the majority of instances the overseas verdict is accepted’ (1994: 120). The devaluing of New Zealand literature is reflected by the poet Fiona Farrell, who comments that ‘There were no New Zealand poems in childhood’ (Farrell in Johnstone and Marsack 2009: 143).

To make matters worse, Nina Nola has described the New Zealand literary mainstream as ‘predominantly white, Anglo-Celtic, male New Zealand voices’ (2000: 204) One of the main tensions in New Zealand literature seems to be the binary between Māori writers and Pākehā writers (New Zealanders of European descent), though, as Nina Nola points out, not all of New Zealand’s cultural identities fit this binary:

The polarisation of debates between competing bicultural and multicultural ideologies in New Zealand in the 1990s is predicated on the dynamics of Maori sovereignty, and the success of reparations claims. In order to shift the balance of power in both the political and cultural spheres from the domain of British-descendent colonisers towards that of the tangata whenua, the nation’s energy seems to be directed towards one goal: a fully functioning biculturalism. Biculturalism is envisaged by policy makers as a partnership between the country’s first inhabitants – the first migrants, Maori – and Pakeha. The constitution of this group ‘Pakeha’ is open to debate; but it is highly pertinent to this study that European migrants from countries other than Britain, such as the Dalmatians and the Danes, do not in general feel that the term, or the bicultural partnering it describes, includes them. Other migrants such as Asians and Pacific Islanders … are still further removed from being represented in the bicultural mode. A prescriptive, rather than a descriptive definition, official biculturalism in New Zealand marginalizes the ethnic groups who do not see themselves represented under the umbrella term ‘Pakeha’, while at the same time presupposing a homogenous ‘British’ culture as the binary opposite to Maori. (Nola 2000: 207)

Duggan, Eileen (1994) ‘New Zealand Poetry’, Selected Poems, Wellington: Victoria University Press, 120-121.
Johnstone, Andrew and Robyn Marsack (eds) (2009) Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets: An Anthology, Manchester: Carcanet.
Nola, Nina (2000)‘Exploring Disallowed Territory: Introducing the multicultural subject into New Zealand literature’ in John Docker and Gerhard Fischer (eds) Race, Colour and Identity in Australia and New Zealand, Sydney: UNSW Press, p. 203-217.

June 14, 2010

Fatima Al Matar's The Heart and the Subsidiary.

The poet, Fatima Al Matar, recently sent me a copy of her debut poetry collection The Heart and the Subsidiary, which is published by Authorhouse . Fatima Al Matar is originally from Kuwait (born 1980) and studied law at Kuwait University. More recently, in 2005, she moved to the UK where she is completing a PhD in Economic Law at University of Warwick. She lives in Coventry where she has been mentored by the Coventry poet Fred Holland, who has written extensively on Philip Larkin.

As a researcher in the field of violence against women, I was particularly impressed by Fatima Al Matar’s poems about abuse. For example, in ‘The Box’, the cardboard box stands in for a relationship, signalling another layer of meaning to the man’s actions:

when he no longer needed the box
he took a blade
and swiftly slit
down the corners,
with zero resistance
the exhausted sides

Al Matar also writes more directly about abuse in ‘Happiness’, recounting the story of a fellow law student who was tortured by Iraqi soldiers during the 1990 invasion. The poem records a horrifying litany of torture – physical and sexual, too shocking to recount here, but ends by highlighting how such crimes are forgotten and ignored:

they twist in agony
when governments
kiss, hold hands
‘The war is behind us’,
they murmur cowardly.
you’ll never have to relive the
None of us survived the war
the way you did.

Al Matar’s final comment suggests a note of ambiguity. The torture of women in Kuwait has been hushed up, but would the act of reliving the pain merely be a second violation? What is clear is that the women victims of torture have borne their suffering for the whole society, but receive no thanks for doing so.

Al Matar’s subject matter is not all so bleak, however, and she writes earnestly about a variety of subjects including motherhood and love. Her poetry is direct and honest and the narration is wry and likeable.

June 12, 2010

Jen Hadfield: Links.

I am currently writing up a profile of the poet, Jen Hadfield, for the American series, British Contemporary Writers. I met Jen some years ago, when we both won an Eric Gregory Award in the same year, and I am really pleased to be writing up a substantial piece of writing on her poetry. I am compiling these web-links for convenience.

Contemporary Writer Profile
Poetry International Web Profile
Rogue Seeds, Jen Hadfield’s Blog
Scottish Book Trust Profile
Scottish Poetry Library Profile
Shetland Library Profile
The Poetry Archive Profile

Articles about Jen Hadfield
A Jaunty Voice From the Isles
Roddy Lumsden Recommends Jen Hadfield

Articles by Jen Hadfield
From My Vow
The Urge to Make

In The Scotsman
On Abe Books
On Our Sweet Old Etcetera
On the Arts and Ecology website

Reviews of Alamanacs
Sarah Crown for The Guardian
By The New Review
Jeffrey Side on his blog Raw Light

Reviews of Nigh – No – Place
Hannah Brooks-Motl for The Contemporary Poetry Review
Jane Commane for Salt
Francis Leviston for The Guardian
Stephen Knight for The Independent
Adam Piette for Blackbox Manifold

Poems Online
XXI The World
Alamanac Number 2
A Very Circular Song
Ghosty’s Almanac
Hey Hey Mr Blue
In the Same Way
Ladies and Gentlemen This is a Horse as Magritte Might Paint Him
Lucky Seven
Melodeon on the Road Home
Naming the Mythic Man
No Snow Fell on Eden
Other Household Gods
Southport Air Show
Strath Ossian
Ten-minute Break Haiku
The Gannet and the Skerryman
Thou Shalt Want Want Want
Thrimicile – Ibster
the poems ‘Hey Hey Mr Blue’, ‘Paternoster’ and ‘Five Thirty Sixish’ on Limelight


Also see this podcast on the Scottish Poetry Library website

There’s a MP3 file at this link of Hadfield reading her poem ‘Self-portrait as a Fortune Telling Miracle Fish’ too

Hadfield’s Art
Notes on Collaboration with artist Douglas Robertson
Our Lady of Isbister Exhibition and Poem

Online workshop on Anti-Praise Poems

June 11, 2010

Alan Moore at the Magus Conference at University of Northampton.

Writing about web page

Here is some footage of Alan Moore from the recent Magus conference:

There is more footage on YouTube if you search for “Alan Moore” and “Magus”.

June 02, 2010

Debating Anonymity for Rape Defendants: Reponse to Comments on the Letter to my MP.

Follow-up to Letter to Chris White, MP for Leamington, on the law to give anonymity to rape defendants from The Midnight Heart

OK, I have a few points. (I would note though in passing that Karl, the person who took issue with my letter, has some awful misconceptions about what feminism is.)

1. Rapists tend to be men
If you want to get down to it, what I research is sexual violence, which is something that tends to happen to women more. As Mollie Whalen writes:

The vast majority of the entire range of sexually violent acts on our society is perpetrated by adult heterosexual males on females of all races, social classes, ages, and sexualities. The second highest incidence of sexual violence is perpetrated by adult heterosexual males on other males – either adult gay male or male children. (p. 137 in Counseling to End Violence Against Women)

Given this fact, I see no problem in researching this area specifically in relation to women, though actually I do include male survivors and child survivors of sexual violence in my research too. I’m afraid that it is simply not correct to say that ‘Men are the primary victims of all violence from men & women alike’, and it is certainly not accurate to suggest that feminists are only interested in women’s rights. You suggest that in seeking to prevent anonymity for rape defendants, I am seeking a situation where ‘women benefit over men’, but I would point out that denying this kind of anonymity would also benefit male survivors of rape.

2. Clarification of Conviction Rates
The conviction rate for rape cases is around 6%. This figure has not been made up – it comes from a respected Home Office report titled ‘A Gap or a Chasm? Attrition in Reported Rape Cases’ by Liz Kelly, Jo Lovett and Linda Regan. This is what it says:

Home Office figures show an ongoing decline in the conviction rate for reported rape cases, putting it at an all-time low of 5.6 per cent in 2002. This year-on-year increase in attrition represents a justice gap that the government has pledged to address. (p. 10)

The debate regarding the 6% figure emerged because Baroness Stern pointed out that after a rapist is charged, 60% are convicted, but it is important to note that many simply are never charged with the crime. Kelly, Lovett and Regan admit this saying:

All UK studies of attrition in rape cases concur that the highest proportion of cases is lost at the earliest stages, with between half and two-thirds dropping out at the investigative stage, and withdrawal by complainants one of the most important elements. (p. 12)

This simply doesn’t happen with other kinds of crimes and it is just not good enough, especially when the large majority of rape cases go unreported. The reason for having a special method for looking at rape conviction rates is precisely because it is a crime that so often goes unreported in a way that does not apply to other crimes like assault, burglary etc.

3. Clarification of Rates of False Allegations

Feminist researchers do include false rape allegations in their research. Kelly, Lovett and Regan who wrote ‘A Gap or a Chasm? Attrition in Reported Rape’ write the following:

There are false allegations, and possibly slightly more than some researchers and support agencies have suggested. However, at maximum they constitute nine per cent and probably closer to three per cent of all reported cases. (p. 99)

This is what Baroness Stern described too: the “one in ten” figure reported by the newspapers, but remember that this means that 90% of women are telling the truth. I would also add that these figures are not very different from the rates of false allegations for other crimes, but with no other crime is there so much focus on whether the victim is telling the truth or not.

4. Widespread Mistrust of Women Reporting Rape

I’m afraid that there is widespread mistrust of women reporting a rape. In a British poll conducted by Amnesty International in 2006, substantial numbers of respondents blamed the survivor for her own rape if she was drunk (37%), if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing (26%), or if she had many sexual partners (22%). Juries are also less likely to find a rapist guilty in cases where the assailant is known to the woman, where a weapon has not used or where the rape survivor has not sustained incapacitating physical injury. All of these responses reveal the power of rape myths surrounding women’s consent to sexual acts and these myths are reflected in the media.

5. Why Women Need the Opportunity to Come Forward While a Case is Being Held

Prosecution of rape cases often depends on the ability of the rape survivor to testify in a convincing manner. This can be extremely difficult, however, in the face of hostile defence legal strategies like “whacking”, where the defence lawyer seeks to intimidate and humiliate the survivor in order to discredit her (or him). If more victims of a rapist that is being tried come forward during the case, there is a greater chance that the jury will believe the rape survivor’s story. If the defendant has anonymity, it’s possible that his name will never be broadcast. Would John Worboys, “the black cab rapist”, or others like him, have been convicted as a serial rapist if so many courageous women survivors had not come forward after reading about him in the news?

6. There Should Either Be Anonymity for All or for None – Not Just for Rape Defendants

My final point would be to ask you why rape defendants in particular need anonymity. If defendants are going to be given anonymity, then it should apply to all defendants – murder defendants, GBH defendants, burglary defendants etc. But hardly anyone is suggesting that. The fact is that there is a huge paranoia about false rape allegations to the extent that defendants of rape are being given special privileges. You say that you would not want to see your son’s life destroyed by a rape allegation, but equally, I would not want a daughter’s or a son’s rapist to go unpunished.

June 01, 2010

Letter to Chris White, MP for Leamington, on the law to give anonymity to rape defendants

Writing about web page

Dear Chris White,

You are now my MP and I have a problem which I would like some help with. I am an academic researching in the field of violence against women and I am strongly opposed to the proposed move to give anonymity to rape defendants.

Rape conviction rates are still under 10% and most rapists “get away” with their crimes. The failure to properly prosecute rape cases and convict rapists tends to be attributed to two factors: the prevalence of “rape myths” in public opinion and the judicial system; and the intimidating tactics of defence teams in rape cases which refocus the attention of the judge and jury on the moral fibre of the rape survivor rather than the rapist. Juries can be influenced too by their perception of the victim’s character, behaviour and possible drug or alcohol use. In a British poll conducted by Amnesty International in 2006, substantial numbers of respondents blamed the survivor for her own rape if she was drunk (37%), if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing (26%), or if she had many sexual partners (22%). Juries are more likely to find a rapist guilty in cases where the assailant is a stranger, where a weapon is used or where the rape survivor has sustained physical injury. All of these responses reveal the power of rape myths surrounding women’s consent to sexual acts.

Passing a law to give rape defendants anonymity would boost the widely held belief that most women who report rape are lying. Such a law cannot be defended either with an argument about false accusations of rape, because the latest research on false rape allegations has found that the figures are around the same as with other crimes, but no one is suggesting that all defendants have anonymity.In addition, in the UK, if a woman is found to have made a malicious accusation of rape, she loses the right to anonymity and media coverage of false allegations far outweighs reports of men arrested for rape. Finally, I would suggest that in recent cases of serial rapists, the publication of rape defendants’ names has encouraged other rape survivors (who previously were too ashamed or frightened) to come forward (e.g. the John Worboys case ).

I hope that these facts clarify matters. In addition, as my MP, I hope that you will represent my view and refuse to pass this retrograde law, which only compounds the problems that already exist in trying and convicting rapists.


Dr. Zoë Brigley Thompson


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“Zona de plagas donde la dormida come / lentamente / su corazón de medianoche” – Alejandra Pizarnik

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