Archive for March, 2011

‘The Mermaid & The Sailors’: my debut pamphlet NOW ON SALE!

Monday, March 28th, 2011

The Mermaid and the Sailors cover

It’s been three years in the making — I’ve been a total perfectionist, and more latterly, a total idiot, about releasing it, and as a result, I’ve been nagged, mocked and nagged some more about it. But after much blood, sweat, tears and nerves, it’s here: my debut poetry pamphlet, The Mermaid and the Sailors.

There’s nothing worse than talking about your own creative output, so I won’t. If you want to know what kind of book it is, check out the stuff that some very fine people have said about it, below. All I will tell you is this: I currently have only a very few copies available, so if you want one and you don’t want to have to wait, get in there. It’s four quid, plus postage, and if you’re in the UK, you’ll get it first class — hopefully within a couple of days of ordering it. If you want it signed, or if you’d like a personal message, leave a note as you pay, and I’ll sign it. Finally, I’ll say: please buy it. I’m on an unfunded PhD programme, and… well, you can imagine.

Oh yes… if you’d like a copy for reviewing purposes, drop me a line with details to claire@onenightstanzas.com. Please note that review copies will be sent out at my publisher’s discretion so a) you’re not guaranteed to get one and b) it may take a little while, because it’s not coming direct from me. If you want one yesterday, buy a copy!

CLICK THE BUTTON TO BUY THE MERMAID AND THE SAILORS HERE!


Praise for “The Mermaid and the Sailors”:

‘Claire Askew’s verse can be enjoyed for its playfulness and sharp wit. More rarely, it can also be treasured for its sureness of voice, its rich linguistic texture and deep emotional core. Rooted in the everyday, she has an ability to make the ordinary startling. Often funny, frequently startling in her imagery, she is adept at giving us the surprises, anxieties and estrangements of the modern world. But a series of poems about grandparents, of vividly rendered domestic interiors and Northern landscapes, also haunt with their poignant sense of belonging and loss. The Mermaid and the Sailors offers a procession of poems that have been honed with precision and skill, but which are effortlessly entertaining, echoing in the mind long after one has read them. This generous debut pamphlet confirms that Claire Askew is one of the most distinctive young poets to emerge in Britain in recent years.’

ALAN GILLIS

‘These finely tuned poems, studded with arresting and memorable images, often resonate with loss and longing, absences and distances, yet many are shot through with a wry and sometimes very dark humour which unsettles even as it delights. People’s inner lives come alive in these poised and telling narratives. Claire Askew is a fresh and highly distinctive new voice.’

BRIAN McCABE

‘Askew’s debut pamphlet displays great assurance. Her poems impact immediately, offering brief yet memorable vignettes of quiet lives and moments … one senses a major talent emergent in The Mermaid and the Sailors.’

ROBERT ALAN JAMIESON

‘Claire Askew is a young poet at once cosmopolitan and distinctively northern, with a fine ear for the aptly-placed colloquialism, the unusual word. A skilful and understated user of form, at times she is painterly, allowing sequences of images to play out like stills from a lost reel of footage, and at other times joyously musical, creating an interplay of word-sounds whose sheer energy draws the reader onward. “The Mermaid and the Sailors” is a welcome first publication from a sparky new writer.’

KONA MACPHEE

‘Askew writes with haunting precision, bringing to life the magic and wonder of the things we ordinarily overlook or take for granted. These are poems to savor, poems of electrifying intimacy and startling beauty.’

SAM MEEKINGS

CONVINCED?


Any questions? Want to let me know what you thought of it? I’d love to hear from you! Email claire@onenightstanzas.com

Cover image: Miriam Parker // Cover design: Leon Crosby (leon.a.crosby@gmail.com) // Editor: Kevin Cadwallender // Publisher: Red Squirrel Press

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Starving hysterical naked: my thoughts on the HOWL movie

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Howl
If you’ve spent any time at all at this blog, you will know I am a super-massive Allen Ginsberg fan. I first discovered the great man’s work in my third year as an undergrad English Lit student (I know, it took me long enough), and within months had voraciously read enough of his poetry to know that this was what I wanted to write my undergraduate dissertation about. After much deliberation, I decided to focus on the ‘Howl’ obscenity trial, and its still-ongoing repurcussions — at the time, there was much talk of whether or not ‘Howl’ was “a useful text”. My essay discussed whether or not it was, in fact, useful back in 1956, and more importantly, whether or not, and in what ways, it could be seen as useful now.

I was unfortunately limited to a paltry 6,000 words for my undergraduate dissertation — the shortest word limit for such a piece of work that I have ever heard of, in fact. But I was so fascinated by Ginsberg that I read, and have continued to read, far more about his life and works than was necessary for the completion of my essay. I remain fascinated by Ginsberg’s mother, Naomi, who suffered with crippling mental health issues and was institutionalised on and off throughout her life (when he was twelve, young Allen checked his mother into a mental hospital himself following an embarrassing scene in a chemist store; by the time Allen was 21, his father Louis had abandoned Naomi and Allen was forced to sign papers admitting her for full-frontal lobotomy). I made a trip to San Francisco and spent time in North Beach, encountering Lawrence Ferlinghetti, visiting the Beat Museum and hanging out in as many of Ginsberg’s haunts as I could track down. I continue to read everything I can about the great man, as well as collecting Ginsberg memorabilia — I’d rank my signed copies of ‘Howl and Other Poems’ and ‘Wichita Vortex Sutra’ above any of my other possessions, I think.

So when I heard that there was to be a Hollywood film about Allen Ginsberg — and specifically, about the very subject of my dissertation — I was enormously excited. I was also terrified. What if it got things wrong? What if it gave ‘Howl’ the horrible Hollywood treatment and totally warped everything? What if the person they cast as AG gave a dreadful, untrue performance? What if it sucked?

Needless to say, by the time I rocked up to the Filmhouse to buy my ticket on Friday night — the film’s first ever Edinburgh screening — I was a bag of nervous excitement. By now, I’d heard so much hype about the movie. I’d seen the trailer, and clips of James Franco’s performance as Ginsberg, which got me very excited. Franco, it seemed, was a great choice — it was clear from the snippets I saw that he’d totally nailed Ginsberg’s voice (to quote Jack Lemmon, “nobody talks like that”), surely the trickiest part of the role. However, I’d also read a whole plethora of reviews of the movie, and critics seemed to be less than enamoured with it. Reviewers seemed to be queuing up to slag off the animated sequences of the film; others apparently found the whole thing rather tedious or pointless. Mark Kermode, reviewing the movie for the BBC’s ‘Culture Show,’ charitably noted that “someone writing on a typewriter for hours” is difficult to make into “something interesting.” Overall, ‘Howl’ seemed to be receiving a resounding three out of five stars.

However, I needn’t have worried. For me, the film was absolutely, utterly perfect. The only things I can find to criticise are so totally minor that it’s almost ridiculous to even mention them — James Franco’s beard in the 1957 ‘interview’ scenes is rather obviously fake, for example, and some of the music in the animated sections is a little Royksopp-esque, which doesn’t always sit well with the period jazz of the live-action scenes. Otherwise, the movie far surpassed all my most optimistic expectations. It really is bloody brilliant.

I can see why critics don’t get it. What I’d failed to acknowledge as I read reviews of the movie in the Guardian’s film blog and elsewhere was this: probably none of these film critics are Allen Ginsberg enthusiasts. Sure, some will have a working knowledge of who the guy was, one or two may even have read some of his stuff. Chances are, many will be acquainted with him solely thanks to his Wikipedia article. It’s unlikely that many of them really know what the guy was all about. And in that case, I can totally see why they didn’t get it.
This is most definitely a movie for fans — perhaps not just Ginsberg obsessives like myself, but certainly Beat Generation fans. The film kind of assumes that you know the basic Beat story — Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Neal and Carolyn Cassady all feature, but none of them speak throughout the movie. Names that only a fan would know are mentioned briefly in passing — for example, at one point Ginsberg mentions Lucien (Carr, one of the “founder members” of the Beat Generation) — and there are little nods and hints at all sorts of cool stuff that a non-aficionado might miss. For example, the scene that shows Allen sharing a camp bed with Neal Cassady is a close filmic adaptation of the poem “Many Loves,’ a poetic recollection of the event written by Ginsberg in August 1956. So many of the scenes in the film looked familiar, because they were designed to mimic real photos taken of (and by) Ginsberg at the time. Finally, much of the dialogue is lifted verbatim from interviews given by Ginsberg, from his Journals: Early Fifties Early Sixties, and from the obscenity trial’s court transcripts. Something I couldn’t get over was the total lack of Hollywood-treatment. The film is an astonishingly accurate record.

And James Franco is a triumph. He truly captures the highly complex animal that was Allen Ginsberg. He is at once arrogant and bashful, at once flippant and sincere, at once tortured and carefree. As I mentioned earlier, his command of Ginsberg’s vocal tone and intonation is masterful — I grinned from ear to ear the first time he said the word ‘poetry’, using AG’s classic pronounciation: poet-ree. The performance really shines in the Six Gallery scenes — it is clear that Franco has studied the film and audio recordings from this event in depth, and that he took delight in re-enacting them. The moment in the 1957 interview when Franco’s Ginsberg is asked to speak about his mother’s illness had me in bits; the final scene, in which Franco/Ginsberg (he really does become AG) recites ‘Footnote to Howl,’ was just brilliant. And I loved the animation, too. It was utterly, utterly strange — dark, silly, surreal. But it really fit, not only with the poetry, but with the bigger ideas behind it. This is the depiction of a long, deep, dangerous and self-destructive drug trip; it is also a mental institution hallucination. It’s damn weird, but that’s surely a necessity. It works.

This film took all my most hopeful expectations and hit them for six. It really is fantastic — and although I’m in no real place to speculate, I’m going to say it anyway: I think Ginsberg would have bloody loved it. Sure, he never much liked to be in the spotlight — in an ideal world he would probably have preferred a movie about Cassady or Kerouac or Burroughs in which he was only a minor character (as the first Beat to gain widespread notoriety in the mid 1950s — pretty much as a result of the ‘Howl’ trial — Ginsberg threw far more of his energy into using his fame to throw opportunities in the direction of his fellow Beats than he ever did into promoting himself). But I think he’d have approved of this movie’s warmth, its wackiness and it’s honesty. I certainly did. Go and see it already.

(Photo)

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this collection zine-making workshop: the results

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Anyone who’s been reading this blog for any amount of time will know that I am a huge fangirl of zines. From late 2007 to early 2010 I ran my own, Read This Magazine (currently in the process of being dismantled in order to make way for something new, by the way); I am a follower/subscriber of many other small independent literary zines (including The Letter Killeth — see work by Chris Lindores in their latest! — and Words Dance) and will always encourage others to follow my lead. About eighteen months ago I was gifted a huge stack of vintage music fanzines by local Edinburgh zinester and blogger, Nine. All of this somehow led to me leading a zine-making workshop at Tollcross Community Centre on behalf of this collection on Tuesday night.

I just want to say a huge thanks to everyone who came along — not least my sister and Lovely Boyfriend who didn’t have a great deal of choice in the matter. Thanks also to Sean Cartwright, Sue Steele, Julie Logan and Dave Forbes for your attendance and enthusiasm, and thanks of course to Stefanie Tan and everyone at TCC for the inspiration/organisation side of things.

Overall, the workshop was a massive success. I introduced six total zine virgins to a brand new artform, and we created seven beautiful Xeroxed and hand-bound creations to promote poetry, crafting, recycling and counter culture. It was such a success I might even run more! Give me a shout — poetry@thiscollection.org — if you’d be interested in such a thing. Some photos and a fab timelapse from the evening below…

Zinesters
Assembled zinesters: Steve, Dave, Sue, Julie, Sean, Stefa, Helen and myself.

Organ: Issue 42
Sean checks out some old 90s music fanzines for inspiration.

Zinesteristas
The cutting and sticking begins!

Steve's zine
Steve, aka Lovely Boyfriend, working on some (rather fabulous) blackout poems

My zine
My zine coming together — this collection needs you!

Dave's zine
Dave’s finished zine — complete with glitter!

Print media is dead: long live zines!

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