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Where are we now?

August 14, 2015

So…I’ve been in email contact with the poet Jim Burns for the last couple of months (google Jim Burns poet). He’s a poet I’d ‘discovered’ in an old book from 1974 and had always liked. The internet enabled me to track down some of his books and discover that the poems I’d read weren’t a fluke and that he was a great poet. At the launch of my chapbook “Gorged On Light” (available from Red Squirrel) I got chatting to Tom Kelly, another good poet, about poets we thought deserved to be better known. I mentioned Charles Tomlinson, who is a consistently great poet – go check him out too – and Tom said Jim Burns, which got me in a tizz cos no one in my immediate circle had heard of him – well, I used a poem of his:

Easter In Stockport

I am sitting in a comfortable high-rise flat
overlooking the industrial wasteland of Stockport
(Wasteland! This is going to be very poetic!)
and the past comes quietly creeping in on me
like a smooth grey smog from the factories.
Easter in New York, April in Paris,
why do they bring this Spring feeling
when I know I don’t want to be anywhere else?
Irene is in the kitchen, cooking breakfast.
Isn’t it romantic? And last night we made love
for the second time! You would be surprised
at what happens in those high-rise flats.
But here they come again. Old poems, old songs,
memories flooding in as the lock-gates open.
I see her face before me, half-hidden behind
a boiled egg and the morning paper. My mood
is swimming in a coffee cup. The radio is
pumping out another old song, but I can’t place it,
and some lines from a poem slip through my mind
like shadowy ships sliding into the ‘Frisco fog
in a flickering Forties mystery movie.
We ought to be high on a windy hill, the sky
is up above the roof. The smoke from a cigarette
curls between us. A photograph of a French poet,
ash-heavy cigarette dangling from his lips
snaps up on the screen. Easter in New York.
“The girl with paper roses on her straw hat.
They sing through eternity who sing like that.”
The Belle of New York? Old films, old poems,
old songs, memories. Irene rustles the paper,
clinks a tea-spoon against the sugar-bowl.
The weak sun starts to climb high into a sky
of shifting clouds. Notes drift up from the street.
Easter eases in like a slowly-melting chocolate egg.

In my very first workshop, so at least a few more people know who he is now. Well, Tom had his address, which he mailed me. I then sent a short letter Jim, which I hope wasn’t too star-struck, along with a copy of The Black Light Engine Room. I was hoping the delish cover (by my delish Other Half – see earlier post) & excellent writing inside, would win him over & he’d send me some poems. Which he did. That I published in issue 12. Which made me very happy indeed.

Yeah, yeah, you’re thinking? And? Well, as well as being a poet Jim also has out a number of books of essays, which – truth to tell – I was a bit dubious about – Poets and essays, especially about poetry – see Bloodaxe’s ‘Angry Words’ – rarely work for me. Now this book Radicals, Beats & Beboppers (http://www.pennilesspress.co.uk/books/radicals.htm) was, as the title no doubt gives away, mostly about Americans. The Beats don’t interest me that much, and I really just don’t like Jazz etc. So I put it in the bathroom & read a bit each time I went to sit on the pot. Brilliant! Each article – and I read them all – was written for a magazine, so there’s no long meandering passages, or pointless ephemera. True, so of the subjects were a trifle obscure, but that’s the beauty of these, and his other books of essays – which I’m reading now. He’s a bit of an expert on the Beats, as well as a lifelong Jazz etc, and that’s where his heart, mostly, lies. I wrote again, and asked – without wanting to sound cheeky – if he hoped someone would write something similar about him, and in his reply he made out a small list of things he’d done and been involved, including this:  http://bluefredpress.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/classic-books-revisited-children-of.html, which I’d had on my shelf for over a decade & not realised he was in it! It was then that I realised how little I knew about poetry in this country, the history of small magazines in particular. Which is something I’m remedying at the moment.

Being in touch with someone so knowledgeable is great, as on top of getting more of his essays – I’m reading his 1st collection on my trips to the loo – he’s mentioned a few books to check out, the first of which was Cusp by Geraldine Monk (http://www.shearsman.com/ws-shop/category/1108-monk-geraldine/product/4087-geraldine-monk-cusp-recollections-of-poetry-in-transition) which has an interview with Jim, and a whole load of people I’d never heard of, talking about running small poetry mags/presses. There was quite a well respected magazine based in Hartlepool of all places! Its been very interesting, reading about their struggles – the old days before email and mobile phones! But more than anything its given me a boost personally, as I totally struggle with the whole what’s the point? thing when it comes to the mag/press. Well, I struggle with the whole what’s the point? with a lot of things I do, but the mag especially. That crisis of confidence is over now, which is nice. When I mentioned how ignorant I was Jim pointed me towards “British Poetry 1964-1984” by Martin Booth, which I’ve just started reading. I’ve also been jotting down some questions to ask Jim, which – hopefully – won’t make me sound like a total idiot, and we can feature in a future iss of the mag. Anyhoo…thanks for reading…

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