Saturday, December 16, 2017

John Burnside / From the Chinese

From the Chinese 

by John Burnside

Turn of the year

and a white Christmas turning to slush
on my neighbours’ fields

crows on the high road,

the yard streaked with coal dust
and gritting,

geraniums turning to mush

in the tubs and baskets.
I walk to the end of the road

to ease my sciatica:
ditch water, gorse bones; how did I get so cold

so quickly?
Thaw in the hedge

and the old gods return to the land
as buzzard and pink-footed goose and that

daylong, perpetual scrape

of winter forage;
but this is the time of year

when nothing to see
gives way to the hare in flight, the enormous

beauty of it stark against the mud

and thawglass on the track, before
it darts away, across the open fields

and leaves me dumbstruck, ready to be persuaded.
from Black Cat Bone (London: Cape Poetry, 2011)

Burnside, JohnJohn Burnside is a prolific writer: over a dozen collections of poems, half a dozen works of fiction, several memoirs… and the way they pour out is also typical of a single Burnside poem, which poet-critic Fiona Sampson has suggested ’resemble ragas more than traditional Western forms. Their organic shapes seem generated by their material, and by the running line of phrase leading to phrase…’. The poems have strong details yet blurred outlines: the country Burnside inhabits – his native Fife, the frozen north Europe he frequently explores – is often rain-swept, seen through mist, under cloud, under water.
In such landscapes, what is insubstantial becomes haunting, and unfinished stories, elusive memories, are revisited. There is an unhoused soul in this poetry, testing all sorts of boundaries. There are also birds, feral animals, and plant life: Burnside’s deep awareness of the natural world and human despoilation is key to his writing. In this poem, from a collection that won both the T.S. Eliot and the Forward prizes, there is just a hint at the end that he might believe in the possibility of the beautiful changes that spring could bring.

by Robyn Marsack

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Selena Gomez / Good For You

Selena Gomez

Good For You

Monday, December 11, 2017

Portrait of the artist / Lemn Sissay / 'An artist doesn't need to suffer to create'

Portrait of the artist

Lemn Sissay


'An artist doesn't need to suffer to create. But if he doesn't create, he will suffer'

Interview by Natalie Hanman
Tuesday 27 February 2007 09.58 GMT

What got you started?
TS Eliot's Macavity: The Mystery Cat.
What was your big breakthrough?
"Big breakthrough" in poetry is an oxymoron. But, at a push, I would say it was a book called Tender Fingers in a Clenched Fist, published in 1988.
Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?
If I was born an artist, as we all are, where is the sacrifice? The question could be, "What art has been sacrificed for us?"
Is your work fashionable?
Depends who you ask. I ask no one, not even myself. Fashion comes and goes; the work stands alone, as it should.
If someone read one of your poems in 1,000 years' time, what would it tell them about the year 2006?
That art is the most futuristic expression of all.
What's your favourite film and why?
The City of Lost Children, because it's unexplainable. I grew up in institutional homes for children and saw things I could never explain - it was this city of lost children.
Does an artist need to suffer to create?
No. But if he doesn't create, he will suffer.

 'My work is closer to me than family' ... Lemn Sissay.
Photograph by David Sillitoe for the Guardian

What's your favourite museum and why?
Robben Island in South Africa. It is known as a "living museum" - the power of the exhibits causes tears.
What cultural form leaves you cold or confused?
More often than not, television.
What cultural tip would you give to a tourist about Britain's arts scene?
Contact Theatre in Manchester.
What's the greatest threat to art today?
Advertising. It's also, possibly, art's greatest gift.
Would you rather be in the audience or on the stage?
I once saw this graffiti: "If all the world's a stage, where does the audience sit?" The answer is simple: the audience is part of the set.
What advice would you give a young writer just starting out?
Do not think that you cannot be a lawyer and a poet, a doctor and a poet, a builder and a poet. Stay at school, finish university; go out and experience life to the fullest, and write poems to the fullest.
Who would you most like to work with?
The Wailers, Nitin Sawhney or Sal Ferreras. A composer talented enough to allow instinct and anarchy, and embrace form.
Do you enjoy working alone?
I never work alone. My work is closer to me than family.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?

A Polish television producer at the Workers Film Association in Manchester once said as a goodbye: "Take it easy, but take it all." It sounds like two simple requests.

In short
Born: Wigan, 1967.
Career: Sissay is the author of four poetry collections, including Rebel Without Applause and The Emperor's Watchmaker. He is writer-in-residence for 2007 at the South Bank in London, and is currently a judge for the John Llewellyn Rhys prize.
High point: "I'm not even there. The journey is all, and I love it."
Low point: "A jazz series I did on TV. I was invincible until then."

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Portrait of the artist / Alice Oswald / 'As a child, I wrote in a little notebook I hid in a bush'

Two-thirds of the way through a poem, I enter a moment of absolute despair' ...
Alice Oswald. Photograph: Pako Mera

Portrait of the artist

Alice Oswald


'As a child, I wrote in a little notebook I hid in a bush. It was 20 years before I went public'

What got you started?
At eight, I made a commitment to poetry. Until then, I thought I'd be a policeman. But I went a whole night without sleeping and the next day the world had changed. It needed a different language.
How do you write?

What does it mean to be a poet today?
To be a poet is as serious, long-term and natural as the effort to be the best human you can be. To express something well is not a question of having a top-class education and understanding poetic forms: rather, it's a question of paying attention.
Which artists do you most admire?
At the moment, I am fixed on Milton, but I always think Beckett is interesting. He's a pinhole writer: he created a darkroom of language through which, despite himself, light passes. And there's Samuel Johnson. I am slowly reading his dictionary.
Does poetry have a place in the modern world?
I don't think you should compromise what you need to say to scoop an audience. But I do work on projects to bring poetry into people's lives. I'm working on a 12-hour reading of Paradise Lost with the communities near where I live in Devon. We will perform all 12 books in Totnes next summer.
Where does a poem start?
The rhythm is always first.
How do you deal with distractions?
It's impossible to combine work and motherhood – I have three children, aged 9, 13 and 16 – but poetry starts from impossibility rather than possibility. I set up a bookstand next to the cooker so I can read as I cook. My cooking has always been terrible: it's worse now.
What music is important to you?
I work a lot with musicians, and I'm interested in how music sets up expectations and either meets or doesn't meet them. Poetry is a slightly different kind of music, beautifully limited.
Are there any songwriters who have influenced you?
I like Patti Smith's lyrics, and sometimes think I could be influenced by them. But she has a kind of cool that's beyond me.
What is your greatest ambition?
It's only ever to complete the next poem. When you start working you get drawn into the big human questions: how to live.

In short

Born: Reading, 1966.
Has written six collections of poetry. Her most recent, Memorial, reworks Homer's Iliad. Her first collection, The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile (1996), won the Forward poetry prize for best first collection. In 2002, she won the TS Eliot for Dart, about the river in Devon.
High point:
"The period of excitement before writing a poem, when you sense something whole is in your head."
Low point:
"There are always technical low points: two-thirds of the way through a poem, I enter a moment of absolute despair."

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Portrait of the artist / John Cooper Clarke / At heart, I'm just a frustrated playboy

Portrait of the artist

John Cooper Clarke


'Johnny Depp owes me – he pinched my whole look in Edward Scissorhands'

Interview by Laura Barnett
Tuesday 21 May 2013 17.12 BST

How did you get into writing poetry?
At primary school. I had a great enthusiasm for it, as did everybody in my class. We were taught poetry Michael Gove-style – we learned it off by heart. Never did me any harm.
What was your big breakthrough?
Punk rock, I guess: playing those venues [he toured with bands such as the Sex Pistols and the Clash]. Before that, I had a residency at a cabaret club in Manchester called Mr Smiths. I already looked like a punk – short hair, suits with narrow lapels – at a time when even your uncle had shoulder-length hair and flares. So I fit right in.
How has the performance-poetry scene changed since you started out?
The fact there's a scene at all is a pretty big change. There wasn't when I started out – not in Manchester, anyway. I'd just do a couple of area-specific poems, a couple of gags, then introduce the main act.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
"Find a poet whose style you like, emulate that style, then deal with things that you know about – don't waste your time looking for your own style." I wish I could remember who told me that, because I'd like to congraulate him. I've emulated all the old guys – TennysonAlexander Pope.
Complete this sentence: At heart, I'm just a frustrated …
Do you suffer for your art?
No. Although getting it right is a kind of suffering. Every masterpiece is on top of a pile of crap.

What one song would work as the soundtrack to your life?
That's Heaven to Me by Sam Cooke. It's almost secular, but it has the deep feeling of the finest sacred music. All the best musicians started out in church; Jesus invented rock'n'roll.
What's the greatest threat to the arts today?
The greatest threat to any artist is surrounding themselves with people who love everything they do. You need somebody to say, "I wouldn't do that one if I were you, Johnny."
Is there an art form you don't relate to?
I could say opera, ballet and classical music, but really I only ever come across them by accident. Whenever I hear someone from the pop world choose a classical record on Desert Island Discs, I always think: "You lying bastard."
Who would play you in the film of your life?
Johnny Depp. He owes me one after Edward Scissorhands: he pinched my whole look. I looked exactly like that when the film came out – apart from the hands, of course.
Is there anything about your career you regret?
Loads. Anybody my age who doesn't regret anything has had a crap life.
If you could send a message back to your critics, what would it be?
What's not to like?

In short

Born: Salford, 1949.
Career: Came to fame during the punk rock era of the 1970s, when he earned the nickname "the bard of Salford". Has released four albums, and his 1983 poetry collection Ten Years In an Open Necked Shirt was recently reissued by Vintage. Performs at Field Day in Victoria Park, London, on Sunday, then tours; see
High point: "Now. My stuff's never been better, and it's never been better received."
Low point: "The 80s were a lost decade."