14 magazine

Mike Loveday has an MA in creative writing from Kingston University. The 14th and final issue of his poetry publication, 14 magazine, was published in November 2012. Today, he writes about the good, the bad and the ugly of eight years running a poetry magazine.

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At the end of November, 14 magazine published its final issue, and I must confess I have a small feeling of relief to be writing about it in the past tense.

Running a poetry magazine on my own for 8 years presented me with a number of challenges, and I have immense admiration for those independent editors who keep publications going for decades, through thick and thin.

I first had the idea of setting up a magazine as a little side project to indulge my interest in poetry. I had read and loved an anthology called 101 sonnets from Shakespeare to Heaney edited by the poet Don Paterson, and I wondered if there was a magazine devoted to the form. There wasn’t, I discovered, and I thought: what about setting one up? (Eventually the idea morphed into a magazine for 14-line poems, not just traditional sonnets).

So what was it like to run a poetry magazine, Sinéad Keegan asked me?

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Notes on Manhattan

Workshop last week with screenwriter and director Mark Norfolk, so it’s movies from me today. I feel I should pick a movie by my favourite director, Woody Allen. Manhattan is one of his best, but I’ve picked it largely because it’s got plenty of useful youtube clips available.

Here are some scribbles:

  • How to end a film brilliantly – The idea could have been swamped by clichés, but this scene of Allen trying to stop his ex-girlfriend from leaving is elevated by the pitch-perfect acting into something revelatory – Allen’s charming hesitancy, that combination of courage and shyness; the dove-tailing of Mariel Hemingway’s words with the sound-track; most especially the last, silent moments of Allen’s changing expressions… This is truly one of cinema’s most romantic films. Here’s that final scene:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x57-vdn908w&feature=related

  • It’s a cynic’s film, actually…. that final line: “You have to have a little faith in people” – isn’t it completely at odds with the story? The trigger for Diane Keaton chasing Woody Allen in the film is largely that her lover has spurned her. Allen only changes course to stop Hemingway leaving because Keaton has gone. Allen is all about the destinies of relationships being changed by tiny decisions, that could have gone either way, as if at the flick of a coin.
  • No, it’s a romantic’s film. The sweeping, swooning, lush Gershwin soundtrack. The moody black and white visuals.
  • Ok, a compromise. Perhaps the love affair is with the town, the architecture itself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHkLSi7oEuw&feature=related

  • Empty rooms – So many conversations happen off-screen, especially inside apartments, with characters moving from room to room and through hallways, past the view of stationary cameras. The device is a Woody Allen staple, used in virtually every movie from Annie Hall onwards.

In a similar style, there’s also a neat moment on a pier, Allen’s friends reading from his ex-wife’s book (Meryl Streep, sensational in an early role). As Streep’s words tear Allen’s reputation apart, the camera briefly looks out over wooden posts marking out territory in the empty, ramshackle harbour. I love the loneliness of the moment. (below, 40 seconds in)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ohw8jqyLPpU

  • Great bit of character writing – Mariel Hemingway as Allen’s 17-year old girlfriend – is she not in fact the most mature character on screen? The most patient, the most open, the least often dragged into petty or grand emotional deceptions?
  • Uncomfortable bit of character writing – Manhattan (1979) is the first of many movies where Allen writes his character into a plot where he is dating a young girl. This would be creepy enough, as he gets older and older. But then off-screen in 1997 he marries Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his long term partner Mia Farrow. The girl was 35 years his junior at the time. (Farrow had left Allen after finding nude photos taken by Allen of Soon-Yi as an 18-year old). Does real-life biography spoil this aspect of his movies in hindsight – or, after it’s been gossiped about in such depth, are we even bothered now?
  • Favourite visuals(1) the conversation between Allen and Keaton that takes place in silhouette in the planetarium. (below, poor quality, and not the whole clip – best I could find)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p52N81eX6To

  • (favourite comedy fragment – at the start of that last clip, with Allen and Keaton running in from the rain, the scrap of newspaper he is holding over his head to protect himself becomes farcically small, Allen still clinging).
  • Favourite visuals(2) the confrontation between Allen and his best friend Yale (Keaton’s ex) that takes place in a classroom, a skeleton standing next to Allen. Allen isn’t a director who is always thinking about imagery – he often emphasises dialogue, plot, character (at least when his career as an auteur gets going he does). But Manhattan (like his other black and white movies such as Broadway Danny Rose and Stardust Memories) is oriented towards the visuals.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeqbRbAyC4M&NR=1&feature=endscreen

  • Comedy moment #2: “my doctor told me it was the wrong kind”. Allen’s momentary pause afterwards is priceless.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQPu0KLJu1I&feature=related

  • Favourite relationship insight – Allen and Keaton, completely at odds with each other at first meeting when their partners are in tow. They’re so destined to get together. And so destined to fail afterwards.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L8FpnM0NlXk&feature=related

  • Life-affirming moment – Allen recites into a dictaphone his list of reasons why life is worth living, ending with his ex-girlfriend, and then realises how much he wants to get her back. (first two minutes of link below)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIugrczLUl0

  • Copy / Paste moment – running along the streets to go back to Tracy at the end of the movie. Reminds me of Billy Crystal doing the same in When Harry Met Sally. They’re both naff runners as well. At least Allen doesn’t try to be heroic – stopping with a stitch and looking around awkwardly for a taxi (same link, 3 minutes in. This link also has the full dialogue for the end scene of the movie, 5 minutes in)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIugrczLUl0

  • How to start a film brilliantly – We hear Allen drafting the opening of his book several times – first too corny, then too preachy, then too angry… A sly way to ask us: how much of our identity is self-narrated myth, and how much do we try to perfect our fictions? How much of our self-image is shaped by where we choose to live? Should we be living as cynics or romantics?

How much faith should we have in another person?

Here it is, complete with fireworks and Rhapsody in Blue:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0o6QKpNK9Cc

– Mike Loveday

Page vs. Stage

 

I often find myself wondering about the difference between “poems for the page” and “performance poetry”.

 

If you go to most “spoken word” performance poetry nights in London, the style of the poetry performed will often be closer to stand-up comedy or rap than it will be to a literary text. Poets will usually perform from memory, and will use gestures or be more obviously performative in their delivery. Whether as an audience member or performer, it involves stepping into a very different world from the world of the poetry which is successful on the literary scene. People like John Cooper Clarke can carve out entire careers as poets without needing books in print as support.

 

Is it possible to write poems which are successfully memorable in both page and stage environments? Here are some thoughts about what makes a poem work in performance.

 

(1)   accessibility – there is something about standing in front of a group of people that requires the poet to meet the audience more than half-way and read poems out that are accessible. It’s easier to wrestle your way into a difficult poem on the page when there is time to study, to go back to ponder phrases, to winkle out meanings. In a performance the poet has no such time and leisure in which to charm the audience. The recipient must glean enough satisfaction from the poem on first hearing. (Accessibility in this context tends to depend upon syntax, I think. The complexity of sentence structures, rather than the diction. You can get away with complex word choices in performance if the sentence structures are simple). Does this mean that the page poet cares less about how welcoming their poems are? No – there are simply different expectations about what is reasonable in terms of accessibility. Charles Simic has said of poems: ‘once you read one you have to go back and start reading it again. That’s what a poem does.’ A poem in performance doesn’t have this luxury.

(2)   immediate dramatic impact – similarly, because you only get one bite at the apple on stage, there must be an immediate dramatic pay-off in performance. The audience is paying for material that they can’t carry around with them in their pocket and refer to again, they can only carry a memory of its immediate impact.

(3)   pattern – a poem in performance benefits from some pattern or structure as a kind of scaffold for climbing inside the audience’s ear. The ear (which is naturally inclined to be lazy and must also try to recall 20 or 30 other poems performed only once that evening) suddenly wakes from slumber and pays attention if there is pattern. This means establishing some kind of terrain within the poem which becomes familiar – rhythms, sound effects, patterns of imagery or word choice, structural form. Good performance poetry is about establishing patterns, and possibly then disrupting them as part of the effect.

(4)   mood – Robert Frost said a good poem moves from delight towards wisdom. In a similar way, I’d argue the audience needs to have been charmed early on with entertaining material, before a poet risks their serious material. If they open with a serious, sober poem, the mood in the room shifts, it’s much harder for them to extract full value from light-hearted poems after that. If they read out material that makes the audience feel sad or morbid (an audience with little option but to stay in its seats and endure the poem – they can’t turn the page) it had better be good. That said, it does depend on the poems read out by the previous performer. Maybe the previous poet did all the necessary charming, and a shift in mood, opening with something poignant, becomes effective.

(5)   poems with background stories – a poem with a personal anecdote attached or interesting biographical context can come to life when performed. The story can draw out underappreciated aspects of a page poem. And it strengthens the link between the “I” in the poem and the real person on stage, giving poems greater emotional impact than they would have if read in isolation.

(6)   topicality –subject matter that’s been in the news recently can generate additional interest. When a group of people gather, somehow the collective consciousness in the room responds in a way that is greater than the sum of its parts, like laughing at a joke louder when others are around you laughing too.

(7)   diction – performed poems succeed by relying more on the natural language of verbal conversation. A tendency to use Latinate diction, high-falutin’ terms, or more ambitious /  ostentatious turns of phrase are harder to tolerate when heard live. Poems which unwittingly diverge from ordinary phrasing are harder to connect with live. This is different from poems which deliberately play with unusual or unnatural speech. (For similar reasons, poets are repeatedly advised to read their poems out loud as part of the editing process, to uncover awkward turns of phrase).

(8)   poems which suit the venue – poems that work well in a pub are unlikely to work well in a church or a library setting. If they are, the poet is probably onto something special.

 

I wonder if we can think of “Page vs. Stage” as similar to the difference between film actors and theatre actors. It’s possible for some people to be good at both types of work. But watching a movie (=reading a poetry book) people can revisit the subtle gestures, the tiny details, on second or third viewing. We therefore appreciate quieter methods. In theatre, the actor’s performance must have a visceral connection that hits the audience in the gut or the drama fails that night. More subtle gestures are less likely to be noticed.

 

If a poem like Homer’s Iliad can survive initially by recitation alone yet still succeed when scrutinized on the page, is that not the greatest achievement a poem can hope for? Ultimately, a good poem in either context still boils down to the same central contract with the reader: memorability. Don Paterson has said a poem “is no more or less than a little machine for remembering itself”, which I think is a memorably intricate way of reminding us that a poem is a device whose aim is to get into the bloodstream as permanently as possible.

 

What after all are the great poems of past centuries if they are not poems which are remembered?

 

– Mike Loveday

 

 

talking pictures

This week I’ve been thinking about poetry inspired by paintings, for two reasons.

1 – because I’ve been reading Nancy Gaffield’s amazing book of poems inspired by Hiroshige’s 19th Japanese woodcuts, Tokaido Road.

2 – because we had a class on Thursday with James Byrne (poet and editor of the Wolf magazine) on this topic, “ekphrastic” literature – written texts which repond to art (music, photos, movies, sculpture, paintings etc).

So here are some verbal doodles on this topic:

(a) writing a poem (I’ll say poem, but you can substitute prose here for the rest of this) which only describes the picture (or movie / sculpture / photo etc) faithfully is dead boring for the audience or reader.

(b) but! writing a poem which “only describes the picture faithfully” is fundamentally impossible. you have to be selective – you can’t capture everything that’s there, plus the subjective eye naturally interprets and has biases.

(c) It is however always fundamentally possible to remain dead boring even when being selective. A good poem responding to visual art has to be descriptive and then do something more. it has to go somewhere inspired, or set up an interesting relationship with the painting. otherwise people might just as well enjoy the artwork, there’s no need for the poem.

(d) the word “correspondence” seems relevant. the poem shouldn’t correspond to the artwork it’s describing (shouldn’t be its verbal equivalent). it should correspond with it (should be in some kind of written dialogue with it).

(e) sometimes what’s left out, what doesn’t get transferred from the artwork into the poem, can be the most interesting part of the poem.

(f) but how authentic does the description have to be, I wonder? is it ok to deliberately overlook something visually important? is it ok to invent things?

Here are some of the things we might consider when selecting material in response to a piece of visual artwork.

  • Would you want to say something that’s factually inaccurate – Look at the elephant in that Rothko abstract! That’s artistically insincere, surely?

(and yet, with a widely recognisable painting, the Mona Lisa say, one that doesn’t require reference to the picture for most readers, a poem that contains a “lie” might become the most important part of the poem, the key to making it work as a poem).

  • What about something that’s only arguably inaccurate – “Look at the pink elephant in the painting!”

(there really is an elephant, except the painter painted one that’s really white or pinky-white, not pink). Is that insincere or are we allowed some creative licence? (Maybe, because of subjectivity, there has to be some leeway. maybe the poet is colour blind. maybe the rest of us are colour blind). how does it matter to authenticity if two writers decide to interpret the same pink elephant differently? “Look at the embarrassed pink elephant!” vs. “Look at the nervous pink elephant!”

  • Do you want to make the picture come alive in words in a way that’s impossible in paintings?

See how the pink elephant’s legs move awkwardly as it runs!”
Is that somehow inauthentic if it’s a poem about a painting?

  • Do you want to imagine a backstory or wider social context?

the poor pink elephant, that wild species so endangered now because of pink elephant hunting, that its beautiful ivory is even more valuable”

  • Do you want to imagine an object or something that’s just off the edge of the picture, outside its frame?

Look! here comes the cash-strapped game hunter arriving with his pink elephant trap.

Look at the elephant calf, lagging behind, about to be caught!”

  • Or maybe write about something within the frame but not visible without a 360 degree view – i.e. there are several elephants facing away from the viewer, but you still want to say “Look at the elephant which has no tusks!”

Is that inauthentic?

There might be examples of greater or lesser authenticity: you might describe the elephant’s face that’s not visible and give a description of its trunk – we know it’s got to be there, but it’s not actually visible in the painting because of the angle. Is that somehow inauthentic too?

  • Lastly what about the writer themselves – how much of the “I” that’s looking and writing do you choose to put into the poem, explicitly? (at some level, even implicitly, the observing “eye” is always there)

How heavily do you feed in your personal reactions and beliefs about the artwork?

And / or do you springboard into a connected personal story, or reflection?

Do you use a (character/persona) “I” voice that’s commenting in a way that’s slightly different from your own personal beliefs?

Mike Loveday

Michael Loveday – ‘He Said / She said’

 

 

 

Michael Loveday

CONGRATULATIONS to Michael Loveday on the launch of his debut pamphlet, He Said / She Said’.

Michael studied English Literature at Merton College, Oxford.  He is editor-publisher of ’14’, an illustrated magazine devoted to sonnets,
ghost-sonnets and stranger fourteen-line poems. His poetry and prose appears
in many publications. His debut pamphlet, ‘
He Said/She Said’ was published
by HappenStance in July, 2011.

He is completing an MFA in Creative Writing at Kingston University.

Michael Loveday

‘He Said / She Said’
28 pages of poems

The pamphlet describes a faltering relationship between two people of different nationalities (Polish and British), and explores culture, language and otherness through that relationship. The sequence, like the title suggests, is about opposites (male / female, private / public, sameness / difference, remembering / forgetting), but the main emphasis of the pamphlet is about love and loss. And my grand theory is that maybe those two things – love and loss – aren’t opposites.

For more info on the pamphlet, and to purchase it online:
http://www.happenstancepress.co.uk/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage.tpl&product_id=130&category_id=23&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=54

The pamphlet was launched at the latest in the series of OXFAM Poetry Readings, hosted by Todd Swift, sponsored by Kingston Writing School, at OXFAM Books and Music, Marylebone High St. The event also featured Annie Freud, Ilya Kaminsky, Todd Colby, Khin Aung Aye (James Byrne translating).

The next OXFAM reading features Denise Riley, David Lehman, and Todd Swift, launching his new collection, England Is Mine.

 

 

 

 

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