Another year has gone by and I am (and you are) one year closer to death.
Speaking purely in terms of my poetry “career”, what do I have to show for it?
(You may write your own blog post about what you have to show for it; but do continue reading mine first, please.)
I didn’t publish my second book. But then, I didn’t really plan or expect to. Looking back, I’m not sure why. It was readyish – as ready as the first book had been when I published that – way back in January. But looking at that earlier blog post now, it’s changed quite a bit. Nine of those poems are no longer in it. Nine new ones are. At least four others have been changed beyond recognition. The order is completely different too.
Leaving aside the ongoing saga of Volume 2 for a while, what else have I been up to? Well, in roughly chronological order:
Making a call for collaborators on future video work, and then not acting on the numerous responses. Thanks if you replied. I am still up for doing this, and actually I’m ready now (in that I have something resembling a reliable Volume 2 folio). And I was nowhere near ready then. But it’s fallen down my list of priorities, so I’m unlikely to chase anyone about it soon. I suspect if something is meant to happen, it will. Organically. Like the decline of all life as we know it. Or something cheerier…
My work was reviewed for the first time in print, in the New Welsh Review. The review was considerably more negative than the only previous review for my book, which was already pretty negative. Faced with negativity, it’s very tempting to respond to reviews – or indeed to review them – but I’ve been a reviewer (of music and wine, professionally), so I have some understanding of how this goes. And that living well is the best revenge. And that revenge is best served late. And that, if I’m honest, I was totally asking for a bad review with the press release; so, fantasies of literary spats notwithstanding, revenge isn’t really relevant here.
I wrote a fair few poems and entered a fair few competitions (at least one a month I think). While I remain quids out for that, I was lucky enough (and I know luck is a big part of it) to end up on two shortlists for two major (by which I mean four-figure top prize fund) international competitions: Live Canon and Poetic Republic.
I was shortlisted by Glyn Maxwell for last year’s Live Canon prize (for “John Simpson’s burka“) and he picked another of my poems this year: “Sonnets from the corners of the map”. I might post it here come some rainy day, but for now you can piece it together from Facebook/Twitter image posts or buy the (excellent) Live Canon anthology where it sits very smugly among some great work by some poets known and some unknown (to me). I’m tempted to go into detail about my poem but now’s not the time. I’ll just let you know that part 3/4 is going down well with the Circassian diasporan community on Facebook. Which goes some way to balancing out those bad reviews and the complete lack of willingness by local bookshops to stock my wares!
The Live Canon event thing was great. I had family there to support. The ensemble performed every poem from the collection with fantastic theatrical aplomb. Hearing my scribblings brought to life by two great actors was utterly surreal, and so, so much better than having to dither through it myself would have been. It made the journey to Greenwich well worth it.
And, yeah, Poetic Republic. If anything, this is a bigger deal for me. No offence to Glyn Maxwell; he’s been very kind; and this year I’ve enjoyed his book On Poetry immensely, his compendium One Thousand Nights and Counting very much, and his Live Canon remote poetry course hugely. (Running out of adverbs here.) But the Poetic Republic prize is judged and awarded by EVERY SINGLE entrant. And that is both a fantastic idea, and if you’re lucky enough (yeah, it’s still mostly luck) to be shortlisted through such a process, a massive buzz. You get comments galore if you make it through to the third round (I counted 90-odd, and read them all, aloud, to my wife, while she was driving on the M4), and, which is probably more important, you get to read and judge poems along the way, whether you end up getting through or not. (I know this because I entered the short-story sister prize and didn’t make the short list for that.) I guess any competition you ever get recognized in is going to suddenly appear great to you, but I’ve entered this on and off since its first incarnation as the MAG poetry prize about 4 years ago. So I’m dead chuffed that ‘Kuzka’s mother’ made it in. One day I hope to win it. You can buy this one here in ebook form.
There was one other shortlist. A filmed shed-performance of my favourite poem from book # 1, “The box”, made it onto a digital slam thing. Details here. It was a popularity contest, and I’m as likely to win a bronze medal in figure skating, or an MBE for my outstanding charity work. But it was nice for that poem in particular to get a bit of recognition, because it got singled out as “poor” in one of the reviews. And it isn’t poor. It’s brilliant.
What else have I been up to? Not performing live. Finishing my epic 33-video series from “Mistaken for art or rubbish”. Some are spot on. Some are miles off. All I’m weirdly proud of. You should roll up two or three massive spliffs and watch the lot on your own. Maybe pause to make some tea and go to the loo a few times.
And there was the interview videos: Velky on Velky. Who could forget those? Who could remember those? Who could watch all three of those, totalling the approximate length of an average feature film? Watch five minutes and you’ll get the idea. If you’re one of the five or so people that’s actually read the book all the way through you might actually find it interesting as well as just daft. I’d probably suggest mushrooms for this. Maybe LSD, but I’ve never tried it, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable prescribing it.
Oh yeah; and I decided my regular poems were a bit too accessible and poemy, so I started the National Anthems Project blog to catalogue my sonnet-form and oil-paint explorations into themes of statelessness, nationality and identity. Yet to be knighted for this, weirdly.
Some of these have been recited (not performed; that would be inappropriate) on-site. I’m not going to be all completist about this, but I hope to do a few more before I’m dead.
And the blog? Well… it’s still going, but it’ll ebb and flow depending on Has Doubts commitments. And, you know, life, work, kids, etc.
I think that’s about it. You know. So, reverse order: read out some revolutionary poems in Tenerife, Christiania and Bornholm. Blogged about nationalism. Got shortlisted in a couple of competitions and didn’t in lots of others. Agonized about my second book, which probably even fewer people will read than the first. Filmed myself pretending to talk to myself. Filmed myself pretending to talk to you. Wrote some poems. Got a bad review in a Welsh periodical.
2014 is probably the biggest year in my poetry “career” so far. But it won’t take that much beating to make 2015 bigger.
More on that when I have more on that,