POETRY READING & BOOK LAUNCH
STANZA, St Andrews
Thu 15 March | 11.30am-12.30pm | Border Crossings
Fri 16 March | 10.00-11.00am | Poetry Breakfast: Watch This Space
Recent big news is the development of a new website for The Dark Horse, complete with an online subscription facility which I hope will help increase subscriptions. Most people these days can't be bothered to write cheques. The latest issue, number 24, is at the printer and will be available soon. The new site will also have, I hope, a blog for all things Horse and editorial.
My long poem, 'Light Up Lanarkshire', written about my mining grandfather, appeared in the autumn 2009 edition of The Hudson Review in New York.
Reprint of'Nothing But Heather!': Scottish Nature in Poems, Photographs and Prose
This book, written when I was living in Hugh MacDiarmid's cottage, Brownsbank, between 1997 and 1999, is the only volume of poetry apart from anthologies ever published by Luath Press which has sold out. Out of print since around 2003, it was reprinted, with some minor corrections, in September 2008 with a launch to correspond with my exhibition of nature photography at the 2008 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. (See below.)
Readings and Events
Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, 7-9th November 2008.
Reading at The Bakehouse, 6th December 2008.
Monday, 29 December, 2008, 5.15-6.30pm, Hilton San Francisco, Room 649:
Aves and other personal projects
Poet-editors can often find their poetry sidelined as a result of their editing work, so I am always pleased to get a new book in print: it helps validate what I consider my central identity, without which my editing would feel, to me at least, a very unrooted affair. Aves has already been reviewed favourably in The TLS, and at this writing an eight page consideration by the American poet-critic Ann Stapleton is forthcoming in the autumn issue of the English magazine The Reader. Aves is the first publication Essence Press has issued with a spine, and Julie Johnstone tells me, jocularly, "You are my best-selling author!"
Another project ongoing is a photographic and writing venture for Aberdeen Central Libraries about any aspect of Aberdeen, 'the granite city', that I choose. The project, to result in a publication I'll design and typeset, is in its early stages, but will involve several visits to Aberdeen over the coming nine months or so. The result will be published sometime next year.
Lastly, having just returned from an astonishing twelve days on Eigg in the Inner Hebrides, I've been writing a sequence of brief poems to go along with images taken during my stay. These I intend to issue in short-run (10 copies or so) limited editions to be given to friends as gifts. Anyone interested in viewing images taken on this fabulous island can see them here.
The Horse website hosted by STAR
Please note that this website is, at present, owing to administrative problems within this organisation, only functioning as an archive for the Horse. All subscription information on it is out of date. For current subscription information, please refer to the latest issue on the banner link above.
The Dark Horse 21
The projected publication date for issue 21 is late December 2007. Its planned contents include a feisty reconsideration of Robert Garioch's work by Sean Haldane, Eva Salzman's account of the life and work of her recently deceased friend and colleague, the American poet Sarah Hannah, and an essay-review by Diana Hendry on the life of the great, neglected American poet, Edwin Arlington Robinson.
Assuming I can set it up in time, I'll be interviewing the English poet-critic and small publisher John Lucas, who is seventy this year.
Marcia Menter will contribute an essay on the American poet Jack Gilbert. Gilbert, only recently available here in a Bloodaxe selection which will form the basis for Marcia's piece, has a cult following among aficionados in the US but seems little known on this side of the Atlantic. I had never heard of him until Bloodaxe sent me a review copy. He seems a superb writer unafraid to address the reader directly on big themes and, that unusual thing these days, is capable of being moving.
Owing to the new submission procedures, our turnaround times for submissions have improved dramatically, with most of our responses now within ten weeks, many of them much sooner. Further, after a few years of irregular publication intervals, since issue 18 we have got the magazine back on a regular publication schedule. This has had numerous beneficial results, increasing not only quantities of submissions but also the general profile of the magazine and, as a result, subscriptions.
Getting good criticism and reviewing for a 'little' magazine
This is one of the most difficult aspects of editing The Dark Horse. As an editor, I don't want prose which is either infected with the aridities of the academy or the over-simplifyings of popular journalism; finding writers who can achieve an authoritative balance and be—that rarest thing!—still readable is difficult. For the record, I want, ideally, lively authoritative prose which is unafraid to be bold, passionate or personal in writing about poets or poetry. Prose, in other words, which doesn't turn the live coal of poetry into so much ash.
If, as Ezra Pound asserted, poetry is an art originally intended to "gladden the hearts of men [and, presumably, of women]" the last thing prose about it should be is dutiful or tedious. At the same time, one wants to avoid the rank anti-intellectualism prevalent in British, if not in American, cultural life. The trick as an editor is in differentiating intellectually demanding prose from obscurantist and humdrum writing. Here's to those writers who give the renewing impression of a whole person responding wholeheartedly to whatever texts are their subject. A wonderful writer such as the late Ian Hamilton, God rest him, comes to mind.
Recent publicity for the Horse
We were the featured magazine for the summer 2007 edition of Poetry News, the newsletter of The Poetry Society.
The Horse also reached the dizzy heights of James Campbell's quirky, likeable "NB" column in The Times Literary Supplement for 26 January 2007. Read Campbell's comments on issue 19, and the Horse in general, here.
New colour subscription leaflet and A Little History of the magazine
After ten years of making little photocopied A5 subscription leaflets from my desktop, I decided it was finally time to have a professionally printed job, designed by me. Accompanying it is a small format booklet with my essay about the origins of and motivations behind the magazine. At present this is going out in mailings and as handouts—Jennifer Goodrich and I dispensed several hundred along with the new leaflets at the West Chester poetry conference in June.
News about The Dark Horse 19
Much has been happening Horse-wise, recently: we've appointed Marcia Menter as our American Reviews Editor, and her professionalism and energy are already being reflected in the review features planned for Horse 19. The magazine has moved to a full colour cover, and each issue's will be individually designed from now on, while retaining the distinctive trademark Horse logo.
The new editorial and submissions procedures are in place and, though it may take a little while for their effects to filter through, they should substantially improve turnaround and publication schedules. (At the minute we are on schedule for a November publication of issue 19.) For more information, please see the relevant links.
As I write, I'm recently returned from a two day visit to Edinburgh, where I conducted a lively and at times touching interview with Stewart Conn, the capital's first makar and a poet widely respected for his artistic integrity and the gravely graceful note struck by his poetry. Conn will be 70 in November. The critic Alasdair Macrae will be contributing a piece on the man and his work.
Those who read Anne Stevenson's Scottish anthology review in Horse 18 with, as one reader told me she had, "sharp intakes of breath", will look forward to Stevenson's authoritative account of Alice Quinn's controversial selection of Elizabeth Bishop's unpublished writings, Edgar Allan Poe and the Duke-box.
The Ohio-based poet-critic Ann Stapleton will be examining the bright minimalism of Samuel Menashe, and there will be two reviews of David Lehman's recent, massive edition of The Oxford Book of American Poetry , one each by an American and a British critic. The new anthology succeeds, in one sense, Richard Ellmann's particular and weighty 1976 selection The New Oxford Book of American Verse, a landmark introduction to those such as myself coming of age in the early 1980s.
Ellmann's anthology itself succeeded F. O. Matthieson's The Oxford Book of American Verse, which now appears almost dainty in comparison to the most recent volume. Is each anthology's successively heavier weight and larger format indicative of the increasing bulk of top-notch American verse, or simply of looser standards or more catholic tastes on the part of its editors? Read our reviews to help you make up your mind.
Other features in the new issue will be a review-essay on The Collected Poems of Norman MacCaig, a Scottish poet, contemporary and friend of Hugh MacDiarmid, hugely popular in his lifetime. We will look at his reputation a decade after his death.
And, not to forget the living, of course, there will be reviews by our American Assistant Editor Jennifer Goodrich of first and second books respectively by American poets Leslie Monsour and A. E. Stallings, as well as new poetry from Wyatt Prunty, Ben Mazer, Wilmer Mills, and Diana Hendry, among others.
Dark Horse 18
For those with submissions outstanding, I have almost worked through the dwindling backlog, so expect news of work submitted soon. Meantime, preparation for the new issue is well in hand and, enough good poems permitting, I hope to have it ready for press sometime in December. Anne's Stevenson's forthright review of The Edinburgh Book of Twentieth Century Scottish Poetry takes no hostages; the spiky Stevenson herself is astutely reviewed by the New York writer Marcia Menter; John Lucas has contributed a substantial overview of the works of the American poet, Louis Simpson; and Helena Nelson gives astute close readings to the work of Vermonter Jay Parini and Alan Dixon. And there will be the usual surprises.
New procedure for international submissions to the magazine
To save postage, time, and general faffing with envelopes, with the agreement of the U.S. Assistant Editor Jennifer Goodrich, and assuming potential contributors are also agreeable, I have decided to respond as a matter of course to international submissions by e-mail. Potential U.S. contributors should still send work to Jennifer Goodrich, who will forward it. This new arrangement should substantially cut down waiting times for American and other international contributors. Unused submissions will simply be recycled. Poets who still wish work returned must include adequate IRCs and return envelope.
Sphinx and HappenStance Press
Sphinx is a new pamphlet for reviewing pamphlets, set up by the redoubtable Helena Nelson of Fife, a fine poet and a judicious critic who regularly contributes to The Dark Horse.The review is part of HappenStance Press, which, like its older counterpart, James Robertson's Kettillonia Press, will specialise in publishing poetry pamphlets. Sphinx aims to be more than a pamphlet review, however, and will feature profiles of pamphlet publishers, poems selected from pamphlets, and general items of interest to the pamphleteer. It is tastefully designed, a refreshing change from many small publications. The tone of the reviews, as expected from the first editorial's mission statement, "to celebrate, promote and evaluate poetry in chapbook form", is primarily one of advocacy, a risky strategy in that it can result in an anodyne blandness. For whatever reason, it always seems much easier to be interesting when critical, as witness the spiky reviewing of American critics such as Randall Jarrell and William Logan. A predominantly flinty attitude on the part of a reviewer also makes it more likely that his or her praise will be taken seriously instead of being lost in the general flood of happy encomia which the sub-culture of poetry generates. Nonetheless, HappenStance is a vigorous new venture, and is already stirring things up with big turn outs for its pamphlet launches, and there is always the chance it could turn up some gems. Long live the pamphlet! Long live the little publishers!
The Edinburgh Book of Twentieth Century Scottish Poetry
This substantial addition to the range of current Scottish anthologies was launched recently in Glasgow: a choice of location to offset the east coast bias for such volumes, which are frequently edited by east coast figures. The anthology is a handsome 420 page hardback, notable at times for its quirky, unexpected, but by no means undeserving inclusions. All the major names are represented, but there are many surprises, too, including such overlooked figures as the remarkable Dumfries poet, Kirkpatrick Dobie and, again from Dumfries, Hugh McMillan. There are also surprising omissions, such as G. F. Dutton. The editors, their foreword indicates, have refreshingly reinstated that subjective absolute, delight, in justification of their choices. They 'prefer the immediate and unpretentious to the grandiloquent. They also share a respect for craftsmanship and deft use of language, even if the old disciplines of rhyme and rhythm no longer hold automatic sway.' Watch out for a review in The Dark Horse 18.
Philip died on 28 June 2005. As of this writing (3 July), only one obituary of him has appeared, in The Daily Telegraph; a fair part of it seemed to consist of matter gleaned from my interview with Professor Hobsbaum in The Dark Horse of summer 2003. Two journalists who edit the "diary" page of the Herald, and who are renowned, of course, for their interest in literature, were themselves "reminded of the time" Philip first met Alasdair Gray in Glasgow: again this appeared to have been gleaned, almost verbatim, and without acknowledgement, from the Horse interview. Still, to be the only source for recent in-depth information on so substantial a figure as Philip Hobsbaum is no mean thing for a little magazine.
Philip was a figure too large to demean with flattery. I will miss him, but the memories are vivid and full of thrawn affection. He used to pull my leg when I would moan to him about my relationship problems: "But really, Gerry, how can you possibly expect a woman to be interested in you? You have no means, no property, not even a degree!" This was outrageous, of course, but said in such a way as to prompt amusement, even in me. Somewhere in the centre of that remark was the core of my friendship with him: his mix of affection, sardonic scepticism, gaiety and simple relish in other people.
On a cheerier note, the new Dark Horse has just appeared. It was delayed by seven months, owing to some unavoidable upheavals in my private life, but is now back on track. The next issue should be available before Christmas. Among some of the books I have lined up for review are the new Collecteds of Norman MacCaig, George Mackay Brown, and Anne Stevenson. The review I had intended of W. S. Graham's Collected for this current issue seems to have been jinxed; one author who'd promised a Graham essay was unable to produce any prose at all on the poet; the reviewer of the Collected went silent on me and finally returned the book, and its accompanying volume of essays; other poets I have approached have turned down my request for a review. Graham is too "difficult", it seems; not a poet to be reviewed lightly. But I shall live in hope.
More personally, a 36 page book which resulted from an educational project called Dynamite!, instigated and overseen by the Glasgow-based artist Rachel Mimiec, and investigating Alfred Nobel's connection with the Ardeer dynamite factory on the Ayrshire coast, is about to be published in a limited edition of 200 copies. A substantial part of it consists of a long poem I wrote about Nobel and the Ardeer factory, which was visible to me every day from my secondary school as an adolescent. The factory has long since been dismantled. At one point, it employed 13,000 people.
is now available. Among its eleven tracks are four of my poems put to music: 'Madame Fi Fi's Farewell', 'Shore Crab', 'The Thought of Snow', and 'The Nature of Burns'; the remaining tracks consist of William Soutar's immortal 'The Tryst', 'The Hedgehog Song', based on a poem by the Ayrshire poet J. A. Begg, and five of Neil Thomson's own songs. The instruments are bouzouki, guitar, harmonica, and voice. To purchase it, click on the CD cover.