ON POETRY, WRITING AND RANDOM CULTURAL MATTERS

Monday, 28 July 2014

Tattoos at Quai de Branly

Oh, what a pity! This exhibition misses the opportunity for narrative by a French mile.

There are so many stories of the whys and wherefores of tattoos, but here the overwhelming impression is one of simple voyeurism. There is no discourse to be had, what a shame.

Otherwise, if you don't know anything about the multi-cultural and historic practice of tattooing, it's worth a look.

Having spent a good part of the last three years researching tattoos, talking to people about their ink and writing a whole book of poems on the subject, there wasn't anything I hadn't seen before or didn't know about, and indeed, there were a few things missing.

Still if you want to see what Zombie boy looks like covered in make up to hide his tattoos, off you go.

Best things - mummified arm from Peru (left) and the film of the community activity that is getting a tattoo in Samoa - it takes at east five people, including someone to hold your hand.

No queues. Plenty of aficionados to stare at and not talk to as well.


Monday, 14 July 2014

How to handle rejection

It's not you, it's the work, stupid.

Unless...it is you, in which case NEVER submit to them again, NOT EVER, not even if they grovel.

If you can wallpaper your apartment with rejection letters and are still upset about it every time, here's my top ten tips for coping with editors and publishers whilst retaining dignity and sanity:

1. Stonk around the room, pull the blade from your heart, curse and shake your fists at the sky, but recall that no-one has died. Cathartic moment over, then

2. Grow the hide of a rhino, a ducks back etc. Get tough and get going on sending your work somewhere else.

3. Remind yourself you are not telepathic. You cannot know what the editor was looking for in advance, so it may have been nothing more than the subject matter that was wrong. It will find the right home eventually.

4. Remember we don't all have the same taste in style, tone, form etc., and this includes editors. Your narrative is someone else's nightmare. There are people who like narrative elsewhere.

5. Edit yourself. Look critically at what you submitted, polish, rewrite and send it out again.

6. Expect nothing and you won't be disappointed, and that includes any advice about your work. If anyone bothers (and generally they don't) to offer suggestions for improvement when replying, look at these generously, they are meant kindly.

7. Don't write back. NOT EVER. The editors are not entering into correspondence, they are simply saying thanks but no. They don't want to receive comments on how they can improve their abilities as editors, or hear excuses or opinions on their parentage.

8. Be patient. Eventually you will get into the magazine of your dreams. It may take many, many tries. My record was over seventy poems in ten years and the magazine has ceased to exist without ever taking one poem from me. Oh dear, but meh.

9.  If the editors asked to see more of your work in the future, send them some. They are not winding you up and do not do this for people from whom they do not wish to hear.

10. Remember it's not you, it's the work, stupid. Never take it personally.

If you can't do these things then, perhaps seeking publication is not for you. Here, have a tissue.



Tuesday, 1 July 2014

How not to organise a poetry reading

Reflect on this
At the risk of getting totally bossy in my old age, here's a follow up to my last post on how not to give a poetry reading. I've organised a few in my time, but I've also been to and read at some truly appalling events that should go down in the annals of ineptitude.

I am not talking about the wonderful chaos of Paris Lit Up Open Mic, where anything goes as us three hosts try to herd the cats every week. No, I mean the more serious end of the scale.

Here's my top ten what not to dos and why, if you want to help your guest readers and the cause of poetry:

1. Do not start late. Start on time - your audience are there, waiting. Don't keep them twiddling their thumbs or they will walk out and probably not come back. This rule applies everywhere except Paris (and probably Italy for all I know), in which case do not start on time or your poet's friends will not hear her read, as like everyone else they will be twenty minutes late.

2. Don't choose a bar, quiet or otherwise. Bars are places where people go to socialise. They are noisy and bar staff do their jobs, making coffee, putting ice in glasses and pulling pints and chatting to their punters. Poets do not like shouting over this, let alone competing with those who come to the bar to drink and talk to their friends.

3. Do not choose a room above a bar, quiet or otherwise. See 2. above, because no matter how apparently silent you think it is on the afternoon you go to look at it, the bar noise will seep upstairs and ruin the reading. Plus the audience will be up and down, in and out, buying drinks and ignoring the poets. That said poets and their audiences are a thirsty lot, so you do need to provide access to drinks at some point if you want them to stay.

4. Don't expect poets to lose their voices. Provide a microphone and most importantly, a microphone stand. Poets are not circus performers and cannot juggle books, papers and a mic. Provide something for them to put their books on too. Music stands are as cheap as chips - buy one.

5. Do not ignore your poets. Introduce them to the audience, but try not to make them sound like they are wannabe Nobel prize nominees (unless they are) by reeling off dull lists of all the book titles they've published, awards they have won and where they went to junior school. Reading out their bios is deeply sleep inducing and they can readily be found on line. Stick to the recent and the latest book being plugged and some engaging nugget about them.

6. Don't let readings run on. Tell your poets how long you want them to read for and ask them to stick to it. You might need to re-emphasise this on the night. Only the crazies and self-indulgent will disrespect you on this. If they do, short of dragging them bodily from the stage,  you need to find a  polite and seamless way of asking them to stop.

7. Do not ignore your poets, again. The chances are they are reading for you for free in order to be able to sell their books. Help them in this endeavour by pointing out the book stall and have prices clearly on display and someone to whom cash can be given. You wouldn't believe the number of readings I've been to where no-one can tell me how to buy the book. I have no idea what I have missed. Oh, and beer and books are not good table-fellows.

8. Don't sit back and relax. If you are organising the reading, organise it. You will probably not have time to socialise yourself or listen much to the poetry, your job is to make sure everything is all right on the night. You are directing and producing a performance.

9. Do not ignore your poets, again. Tell them they read well and thank them for coming. even if they were awful and you never want to see them more. The poetry world is a small one and you cannot know who they know or with whom they might be able to put you in touch. Plus we are meant to be  nice people, aren't we?

10. Don't end late. End on time. Your audience need to be encouraged to buy books, drinks, etc. and not have to rush off home before the last metro.

Bon courage.