My Literary Top 10
Best short story I’ve ever read
'The Scarlatti Tilt' by Richard Brautigan (from 'Revenge of the Lawn', 1963). In two succinct sentences it encapsulates all the elements of a great piece of fiction including plot, motive, suspense, character, development and style. A lesson for all writers, including poets.
Book I finished reading but wanted my time back afterwards
In Search Of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, the dithering, rambling, rich old man of modernism in need of an editor.
What I would blush to be seen reading on the tube
Poems on the Underground posters. It is less embarrassing to be seen writing down the numbers of the advertisements for impotency clinics. But even this is less embarrassing than editing your own work on the tube, you can almost feel the derision — ‘Oh my god, he is writing…poetry.’ I have taken to using a red pen and pretending to be a teacher.
Best 'film of the book' I've seen
The only book to film conversion I can think of that comes close to succeeding is David Cronenburg’s Naked Lunch. Taking William S Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch as a starting point, it adds biographical elements to produce a completely new work. In doing so it comes closer to the essence of the original. But Cronenburg’s take on Ballard’s Crash must be one of the worst.
Hardest working poet I know: John Hegley
It is easy to dismiss the work of John Hegley as comic nonsense verse, but his ceaseless activity (10 books to his name in print, regular appearances on radio and TV, in schools, bookshops, theatres and pubs throughout the UK and elsewhere) upholds his reputation as our most popular 'popular poet'. Although his work is considered by many, including himself, to be ‘a way into proper poetry’, under all the carefully constructed persona are moments of pure poetic tenderness written with a simplicity that is a hard skill to master. I have immense respect for anyone who works this hard and still has the passion to pursue poetry as a consumer in those rare moments when they are not working.
Most embarrassing author photo
Running a weekly spoken word venue I see hundreds of publicity photos; only a tenth convey something about the poet/performer/author. One poet uses a photo of herself as a twentysomething model. She is now a chainsmoking fiftysomething. Audiences have been heard to mutter: ‘Ah bless her, she couldn't make it and sent her mum instead.’
Famous author who winds me up
All poets are idiots, but some are more idiotic than others. We no longer believe a poet’s role is to be a portal into elemental truths about existence, but we still expect anyone who advocates certain values as a key element of their work to actually uphold those values. A contemporary troubadour known for promoting free speech and socialism always demands a fixed fee up front in cash, plus 100% of book and CD sales. Yes, revolution begins at home.
My favourite bookshop
Since London lost Compendium Books to the highstreetization of Camden the best shops for slightly obscure books is online. Atlas Press (www.atlaspress.co.uk) is currently reprinting English translations of the work by The OuLiPo, Alfred Jarry and Raymond Roussel to name only three. Marketplace on Amazon.co.uk can be an easy, speedy and relatively cheap way of obtaining out of print books.
Author I’d like to see win more awards:
John Cooper Clarke
Punk Laureate, Bard of Salford — call him what you will, this man is responsible for writing the ‘waste land’ of 70s Britain. He is immensely intelligent, still undeniably cool (despite appearing on a series of Sugar Puff™ commercials), and almost single-handedly responsible for kicking poetry out the folk circuit into the realms of punk and stand up comedy. But due to ownership of rights ‘technicalities’ his only book is the now out of print 10 Years In An Open Necked Shirt (1983). There is twenty years of unread writings by this man — I’m not sure if it’s awards he needs or a decent lawyer and we’d all be better off.
Author I’d like to see beaten with a stick, then never again
The woman responsible for ruining my life with that monstrous Harry Potter creation. I cannot leave my house without being recognised in the street, usually by six year olds shouting ‘Mum, mum, mummy, mummy, muuuummmm, muuummmmm, MUM. Isn’t that Harry Potter when he's about twenty-something recovering from a heroin addiction?’ Six year olds I can just about cope with, but it is the middle aged men, who are big enough to know better, going out their way to say ‘Harry Potter, are you Harry Potter’ — that I find weird. OK, I’ve got my big stick ready, where is she?