Thursday 31 December 2015

For Love of 2015

I've had an extraordinary year. The only diminishment to the pleasure has been the inability to share any of it with my parents, especially my mother, my best friend, who I often used to speak to in my thoughts.

The first spectacular was the shortlisting of Imagined Sons for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry by The Poetry Society--or, more specifically, the judges, Julia Copus, Kei Miller and Grayson Perry. For a manuscript first completed in 2006, honed nearly until publication in 2014, I was honoured and thrilled to receive national recognition.

Not long after the shortlisting, Susannah Herbert phoned to ask if I'd serve as a judge for the Forward Prizes in Poetry. The work proved exceptionally heavy--180 books, 225 poems (or thereabouts)--with a quick turnaround before the shortlist meeting. It was a treat to work with A.L. Kennedy, Emma Harding, Warsan Shire and Colette Bryce, and I learned so much about the way poetry collections operate, about the way they achieve integrity and excellence.

With the Forward prizegiving and celebration on 30 September and the new academic year commencing at the same time, I felt overwhelmed and delighted with my year in poetry. At the end of October I attended one of the most personally gratifying events of the year, with the launch of my late friend Linda Lamus's collection, A Crater the Size of Calcutta. Many publishers didn't want to touch a posthumous book by an unknown poet, but Mulfran Press took it on and produced a beautiful volume. The launch of the book in Bristol, with ten people who loved her reading a poem each, was perfect.

Yet there was more, relevant to my position teaching at Bath Spa University. To my delight, I received some teaching relief for the upcoming academic year, so while I'd be coordinating four modules, teaching PhD and undergraduate students doing independent studies, doing the usual load of moderation of marking for my own and other modules, and running the weekly first-year plenary series, I would not be teaching directly any individual modules and so not doing any large loads of marking. Instead of working five days a week for Bath Spa (I'm on a .7 contract, which means just under three-quarters' time), I would be working 2-3 days, so I'd have 4-5 days a week for my writing. Wa-hey! Further recognition came in December, with promotion to Reader in Creative Writing at Bath Spa.

I've had a splendid few months using the extra time the university's given me. I've been writing as much as possible, researching (this is the first book of poetry I've worked on that involved extensive research), and reading widely and voraciously. Thanks to my friends, colleagues, students and readers for your encouragement and support--I'm so grateful.

Here's to 2016!

Wednesday 30 December 2015

Seizing: Places by Hélène Dorion, translated by Patrick McGuinness (Arc, 2012), first selection

Here is my first selection (of two) of favourite passages from Canadian poet Hélène Dorion's Seizing: Places. Thanks to Patrick McGuinness for the translation (and presumably for bringing it to a UK audience) and to Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese for recommending the book to me.

...the emptiness heavy on your shoulder....


              Look only at the room
where your life echoes.


...soon you confuse your shadows
with your body's signs of life.


All around you the season
circles, like the sky's bones
like the days' cold marrow


...the pain death spreads
along the immaculate corridors.


                                              Above the town
the sky walked its greys.


...the sea contemplates the island....


A century dispersed--the image takes shape--
in the barking carhorns
hear the scraping of oars, see
the city is waking.

from "Seizing: Cities"

Only a few marks of other lives
are left on the edge of the days, those faces 
the darkness has stopped burying.


The present catches up with what he remembers.


Dark, naked
in the century's boneyard
the tide swells.


You fix your eyes on the borderless window
pierced by the road
imagine the hill it explores
like a language, like a face.

from "Seizing: Shadows"

The wind. --And you're falling
through the landscape:
the silent wave
closes around your steps, your hands.

Far off the burned-out day
tilts. The birds tear up 
the sky as they come
to meet you.


There's no journey you return from
without your life, from its
far-off bank, coming closer.


Some shadow in the voice
like a little sand
running. You throw back
your head: do you see

time sinking
behind your words, do you see
the patient downpour?


Arrows plunge
into the water
and the water trembles
--the wound

on the lake's back
obscures the night
that tried to fall.


Tonight, the moon
slices the lake, digs
a sheer well of silence
on the horizon.


What shadow
undoes the dawn
hour by hour?
What fragmented

word is piecing itself together
time after time?



so many skies
sloping down to your mouth?


Is it the sea
or the island--
that your gaze dismantled?


You chew over
the scraps of silence
the earth left unburned.

from "Seizing: Mirrors"

Saturday 26 December 2015

Bahia Palace, second selection

Trev and I experienced ceiling awe so often in Marrakech that at one point, shortly after we walked into such a room, he said, "Ceiling alert." It became our code for another stunning ceiling. 

If we'd included "door alert", we'd have been saying it all the time in Marrakech!

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Majorelle Garden, Marrakech

French painter Jacques Majorelle created this wonderful garden, and in 1980 Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé bought it to protect it from destruction. You can learn more from the website here

Sunday 20 December 2015

Street cats of Marrakech, first selection

Cats are everywhere in Marrakech and seem to belong to streets and businesses rather than people's homes. A few were in too sad condition to photograph, though.

Saturday 19 December 2015

A blurb for Hometown (V. Press, 2016) from David Gaffney

I'm so looking forward to the publication of my first pamphlet/chapbook of flash fictions from V. Press in 2016, Hometown. As I've admired David Gaffney's short-short stories for some years, I asked him if he'd provide a blurb for the collection, if he liked it. Here's what he sent: "Etter's stories climb into your head and reboot it from the inside, from the squealingly joyous to the darkly sad, some with gear changes that fling you backwards in your seat, some told in voices so strong you could lean against them, and then some fragile, as if the page held nothing but the faint impression of a delicate and long-dead insect. I can't wait for more."

Tuesday 15 December 2015

El Badi Palace, Marrakech

The palace is ruins. The story behind it is here:

Storks make their nest along the top of the walls. They make the most unusual (to me) sound, a kind of clicking that at a distance can sound mechanical.

Sunday 13 December 2015

Dar Si Said Museum, Marrakech: second selection

As the caption says, an ancient mousetrap!

That flash in the middle is me. 

Doors upon doors

The courtyard (with Trevor)

Saturday 12 December 2015

Dar Si Said Museum, Marrakech: The Ceilings

This decorative arts museum's highlight was its wonderfully detailed ceilings in room after room. The admission price is one I'd wish on many an American and British museum to increase access: a mere 10 dirhams, 70 pence, a dollar. And there's much more than these pictures show, some of which will follow in a future post or two.