Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Review of Taropoetics

I am delighted that Sarah Hymas has reviewed Taropoetics on her blog, Echo Soundings. Here's what she says:

I was drawn to Taropoetics by Anna McKerrow (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2010) because of the description of "an ongoing pschyopoetic landscape". For a lover of dreams (and occasional tarot card reader) this idea appealed enormously. It'd be like reading the cards, drawing narratives and dreaming all in one.

I had come across Knives, Forks and Spoons Press earlier this year through Adrian Slatcher's Extracts from Levona. A strange, oddly compelling book. It's a small press that specialises in 'linguistically innovative poetry'. You could argue that all poetry should be liguistically innovative, but let's not.

What you wouldn't argue is how gymnastically innovative Anna McKerrow's landscape is. The Tarot works to cycles and so it's apt her book works to the cycle of a year - weekly readings form the basis of the text. She spent another year collating the weekly pieces to produce the poems in the book.

Not that the pieces feel constricted by rewrites, deadened and deanimated by cutting and tinkering. They pulse on the page. Each respond to five randomly chosen tarot cards, and each create a bauble of shadowy images, filched from streets, the natural world, the body, art, religion and mythology in a bubbling chemistry. Together they make a crazy make-believe laboratory, full of vapours and coloured liquids I was a little wary of at first.

It took me a while to adjust to this world, to learn its language to get over the culture shock of unfamiliarity. I'm a lover of narratives. And this book, a cross between Jane Graverol and Carrie Ann Baade, requires a double take, a step back, a step forward.

Then a slow sinking under, a relaxation of comprehension and an open mind brings a different consciouness, a change of light:

"heart sink/barb cruel/soft eye risk/shadow sword stack cut/glass words/cut like a cat/thick pane/even the strongest men/soft spooled/fur will rip/dire musicality..."

Sensuous, edgy and funny. The path these poems take is narrow and foggy, in the sense that I didn't really know where I was going at any given point in them. This makes for a destablised read, but also a vital one, my senses fully alert as to what may rear up.

Because of the Tarot element, there is also a sense of the imperative:

"...buried skull/space waits to be filled/jewel cries victory/through rubble/ignore naysayers/their mouths are stopped up w/rocks/exploded/rare sunset..."

- a commanding overview, the seer remaining hidden behind the images. Again this distance is unnerving, but it somehow it feels safe enough (once I've accepted the jamming and spacing of punctation that inhabits this lawless landscape). Safe, if I am safe, that is. Reading and rereading the unpredictable scape made me feel exposed to suggestion, imagery and connections I don't normally make within my own life experiences. Stumbling between play and dance, I get the feeling Anna wants us to open new pathways. It is one of the roles of the Tarot.

Anna has managed to balance between the spiritual and domestic, the unsettling and safe, so keeping me reading through her year. As a lover of narrative I did feel the absence of shape to the book, but this is not a collection interested in creating form, this is an expansive book, its form is bound by our Gregorian calendar, but even that isn't evident, there is no neat seasonal references as we pass through the year. The expansiveness is generous in its welcoming spirit, calling you to enter.

Go on ....

Sunday, 19 December 2010

New Fairy Tales Issue 6

Rather belatedly, I admit, I need to tell you about the new issue of New Fairy Tales magazine – my second issue as Associate Editor for Poetry. The November issue was surprisingly easy to focus in terms of poetry – we were fortunate to have received a fantastic experimental fairy tale piece by Tim Mook Sang, a Canadian writer. You can check out Tim’s blog at Here’s an excerpt from the poem:


she lives the maiden in her bedroom the top of a tower sleeps & eats there hears
rain outside and counts the drops her parents own her say she cannot leave and
she cannot leave her parents who love her she says combing her hair soft like
velvet blonde like moonlight that stays soft in towers out of weather


she waits for me in her bedroom behind a shut door her father owns her says she
cannot leave and she cannot leave the burly father who needs her she says locked
in the room wrapped in blankets as soft as her skin but I slip under the door like
paper she is scared has never seen me before covers herself in blankets on her bed


she stands in water buckets and pales water to her ankles her mother owns her
says she cannot leave and she cannot leave her mother who shows her the future
in vanity mirrors she says standing in buckets eels swimming infinity around her
ankles she boards up her bedroom window plywood over glass sheets from her
bed she wraps around her torso I am not allowed to enter this room and water
sways against her ankles


she hears me outside her bedroom window boarded up inside she sees only
shadows on the ground I am throwing stones from a cairn to her window a bed of
lilies grows for her to sleep her parents say she does not listen but she hears the
stones clacking against her window

There are also a couple of great other poems by Ruby Ebrahim and David Morgan.

And here's a lovely video promo for the issue:

Friday, 3 December 2010

Sarah Hymas' Host

I have been very quiet, haven’t I? But I have been very busy. Very busy indeed, yes. So to bring you up to date with what I’ve been doing, here’s something I’ve been reading: Sarah Hymas’ book of poems, Host. Now, immediately, the title makes me think about alien beings and diseases. Tapeworms, that kind of thing. Admittedly, I have a sci-fi imagination. I’m thinking about Sigourney Weaver playing scarily focused basketball right now. But the idea of a benign or perhaps unconscious structure being inhabited by another organism – and their relationship – is the focus of this multi-layered work. In Host, humans are the gentle or intrusive organisms swarming on the surface of the earth; but also not alien, not foreign: made of it.

The first part of the book, Bedrock, contains a narrative series of poems voiced by members of the Kibby family. Their relationship to their host, in this case the Yorkshire landscape, is explored sensitively by a writer whose appreciation of the nuances of energy in the natural and physical world is highly attuned:

A forget-me-not envelope scents the dark ward
Of a hospital, as honeysuckle stolen from Scarborough.

He writes in soft leaden whispers, long-limbed
Like the wind, sculpting in my mind. (Postmarked Today, 1927)


Driving alongside the Nidd, I saw myself
become two rivers, split to navigate the island
of my dead father: one sky-silvered quick,
the trained son; the other muddied with cross-currents.
His chest, rising with grass and rocks,
prevented me from seeing where the two might meet. (Nidderdale, 1934)

The family’s physicality has also absorbed the stone and wind of their environment:

Harold’s sweat speckled resin-bright on his forehead (Suffrage, 1910)

However, I have to say that my favourite part of the book is the second half of the second section, Landfall. Less narrative and not seemingly linked, these poems, for me, have the most intense relationship to nature and landscape. Inspired by extreme environments and preoccupied with air, rock, moss and water, these lovely meditations capture a sensual depth that is relatively unusual to find. And there is a real meditative, spiritual tone here too – holy men that, now and again, appear in the Himalayas, offer silent wisdoms, but it is really the silent ecstatic communion with the skies and the mountains that holds the greatest sense of revelation:

A musical score turned sculptural; filling
and falling through air, ventilating my vertebrae.
I breathe in octaves.
Out in minor chords.

With this dawn they magnify,
unfold like the wings of a griffin,
breasted with lotus petal chain-mail.
Trumpets echo up wicket-thin terraces.
Glaciers steal breath
faster than a knotted plastic bag.

The Himalya crevasse my ribcage,
let in light, scalpeled by this altitude,
as I was, yesterday on the walk here;
will be, tomorrow.

Packed salt in tired muscle,
they turn sharp then blunt in a distant wind.
Everything else, behind and below, melts away,
flesh from bone.

(From Pelling)

These poems do not just host or reside; they make a connection, a highway of energy between the physical, the limits of the body and the indefinable other. The thing I like most about this collection is the so-much-more-than landscape they offer: more, they are a being-in-ness, being-of-ness, that I very much enjoy.

Host is published by Waterloo Press. Sarah’s blog is

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Review of Taropoetics

Hey y'all. I am pumped. Excited to tell you that my ex-tutor, digital poet John Sparrow has kindly reviewed my new book Taropoetics on his excellent Itchaway blog. However, for those if you too lazy to link to his site, I am very kindly reproducing the text here:

Before diving into the poem proper, it is worth drawing attention to the book’s introduction, which cites several poets as influential in the approach to writing these sequences. Though these form the basis of a more personally interpretive strategy, this is crucial to my understanding of the poems, being as I am a lover of procedural methods to produce unpredictable textual combinations. This is not to say that these poems cannot stand on their own merits, but that the poets McKerrow cites have very distinct methodological approaches which, for me, carry their own implications.

The poets mentioned — Hannah Weiner, John Cage, Jackson Mac Low — each employ conceptual or procedural frameworks for their texts. In the case of Weiner, the invasion of external stimuli — a case of the poet working with involuntary synaesthesia to produce a text. In the cases of Cage and Mac Low, the external is again vitally important as both a recognition of the influence of context in writing, but also as a tool for turning away from straightforward egocentric authority in the writing process. Both Mac Low and Cage have on occasion and to varying degrees allowed themselves to edit down the output produced by their procedures.

What McKerrow’s methodology shares with these processes is a welcoming of the external influences that are not merely influential but consequential — the use of outside systems that inform a new one. Using card combinations as stimuli for textual creation, and setting clear tasks across specific timeframes, the poems in Taropoetics come to form a whole sequence that simultaneously interacts with remapped systems and produce “fractured” narratives, whilst at the same time inviting the very linguistic frictions that allow for varied personal meaning-making. Like the card system that acts as a catalyst for her poems, McKerrow’s resultant texts are open to interpretation specifically in relation to the personal context in which they are uncovered. The systemic producing a radical personal.

If the methodology suggests the above assumptions, the texts themselves enact them. The poems are threaded with double meanings and the occasional subtle neologism. Whether planned or not, it becomes difficult not to see thematic relationships jumping across textual fragments. Perhaps the most successful moments for me are the completely shattering intrusions of mundane urgency that disrupt the momentum of imagery. For example, in poem 3, the majority of the language is disjointed in a way that encourages associative visual triggers. Phrases like “robotic feathers,” “sarcophagus glow,” “rage hopping,” “red knuckle bouquet,” — phrases that remind me of Maggie O’Sullivan’s short textual fragmentations — are suddenly undercut by the intrusion of the very real “dollar”. This is compounded by the following poem launching almost immediately into the everyday “regret cracked lino,” “regret” here being either the noun that cracked, or the verb, perhaps caught mid-sentence.

For me, these are the strongest moments of the work. Composed as they are through “techniques of automatic writing and trance,” the fragments — themselves broken up by the highly visible slash — become absorptive in their consistency of fragmentation, then at times suddenly take one of several turns in new directions and foreground once more the language in play. At other times, ambiguity of, for example, verb / noun creates complex and dense configurations that demand re-reading (“feet the callusy smell”). Articles, objects, are often sparsely contextualized within their fragments, encouraging an interpenetration across fragments, memories of fragments. Colours link dungeons to butterflies, chamber and hair. Language points to senses, whether through implied memory or an actual sense (smell, for example, seems to run throughout, explicitly and implicitly, with “coppery smell,” “smelt sweet,” “smell of caves,” even “clean sheets.”). Then suddenly, there is absolute clarity of voice and direction of object such that clarity itself seems absurd, unreal or simply brutal (“I’m doing this,” “all the work I do,” “fucking bitch.”).

I am again reminded of O’Sullivan in the way that these poems tread a delicate line between the intricate and fragile on the one hand and the brutal on the other. Sonically and thematically, condensed phrases are sometimes gentle on the ear, but just as likely to be cacophonous and jarring. As with the voice dichotomies, this is where the poems foreground their linguistic construction to me and open up the real joy of experiencing the text.

And Taropoetics is a joy to read. For me, this joy lies in the unpredictability but consistently forceful language throughout the book. Whether this is violently forceful or gently persuasive depends on which cards you are dealt.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

New Fairy Tales

The new issue of New Fairy Tales is now available to view and download free online here and it's super fantastic! This issue of the biannual ficton and poetry magazine features fairytale-inspired new work from poets Kelley Swain, Ryan Ormonde and Gaia Holmes, and fiction from Nicholas Royle, Emma Matthews and Rebecca Keller among others. Illustrations are by Faye Durston, Adam Clehers, Adam Corbett and Samatha Davey among a raft of amazingly talented artists. Just the contents page alone is fantastically beautiful! Really happy to be involved with the project - it's great. Here's a trailer for the new issue:

Monday, 24 May 2010


Great news! The Knives, Forks and Spoons press has agreed (very enthusiastically) to publish my poetic project Taropoetics.

Taropoetics is an investigation of the creation of poetic language utilising the techniques of automatic writing and trance. This was a durational work, lasting a year, which produced a collection of 52 poems, with one written a week between February 2009 and February 2010. Each poem was created as a trance-written response to five tarot cards shuffled and dealt at random. The free-written text was collated over a year and then edited to produce the poems in this book.

For the curious, an index of cards “read” in each poem is given at the end of the book. It is not necessary to understand the given meanings of tarot cards to read this work; merely to understand that the tarot is a series of 78 intensely-imaged pictures that are made to inspire original and creative imaginative and/or intuitive connections.

My hope with Taropoetics was to express an ongoing psychopoetic landscape, with an element of possible prophecy - a text that captured the weekly development of my own oblique and symbolic unconscious.

Taropoetics refers to the stream-of-consciousness methods employed in Hannah Weiner’s Clairvoyant Journal, and the aleatoric processes used in the compositions of John Cage or works such as Jackson MacLow’s The Marrying Maiden: A Play of Changes, which utilized a tarot-like "action pack" of 1,400 playing cards with a series of "commands", structured on the principle of the I Ching. It aimed to disassemble language and reassemble it in ways that would surprise both MacLow and his listeners or readers.

Taropoetics works on the principle that not only are there a vast number of possible combinations of 78 tarot cards that can be the basis of poetic inspiration, but that also, meaning is as dependent on the moment of dealing as the cards themselves; the moment of the psychic state and its bearing on interpretation is as important as the cards themselves.

Taropoetics takes a holistic approach both to the creation of text and the inclusion of the artist within the work. Like Weiner’s Clairvoyant Journal, there is a direct connection between the personal and the work. Recognising the tarot as a valid and rich system of signs that can be used to generate an avant-garde text that speaks to prophecy and the individual, personal (postmodern and fractured) “narrative” also seems relevant in today’s newly-revived new age culture, which is seeking answers to modern life in ancient traditions. I think there is also a close relationship between psychic/seer/sibyl and artist/writer/poet that this kind of work reminds us of – both are tasked with decoding the “truth”, if it exists, for society and self.

So that's what it is: copies available in a month or so; I will post links. Hurrah!

Thursday, 1 April 2010


Here's a pic of me reading at the Storytails event at the end of Feb - yes, that really is me!

My second book is done and currently waiting for a decision from Flambard as to whether they'd like to publish it. My editor likes it, which is good news.

I've been working on a fairy tale-inspired project with my illustrator friend Laura Daligan so watch this space for more about that. I hope to do some more work on it next week in Glastonbury when I spend a little creative/reflective time there. Can't wait! Very, very excited, and of course have to make a supreme effort to resist the retail opportunities there. I might re-read Dion Fortune's Glastonbury: Avalon of the Heart.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Lunar Baedeker

Lunar Baedeker
A silver Lucifer
cocaine in cornucopia

To some somnambulists
of adolescent thighs
in satirical draperies

Peris is livery
for posthumous parvenues

Delirious Avenues
with the chandelier souls
of infusoria
from Pharoah's tombstones

to mercurial doomsdays
Odious oasis
in furrowed phosphorous

the eye-white sky-light
white-light district
of lunar lusts

Stellectric signs


of ecstatic dust
and ashes whirl
from hallucinatory citadels
of shattered glass
into evacuate craters

A flock of dreams
browse on Necropolis

From the shores
of oval oceans
in the oxidized Orient

Onyx-eyed Odalisques
and ornithologists
observe the flight
of Eros obsolete

And "Immortality"
in the museums of the moon


Pocked with personification
the fossil virgin of the skies
waxes and wanes

- Mina Loy

Monday, 8 March 2010

Wham! Bam! Story! Slam!

Continuing my recent run of literary activity, this Wednesday 10th March I am reading at Nikesh Shukla's excellent short story event, Wham! Bam! Story! Slam! at the Free Word Centre in Farringdon. Come along! Also reading are Stuart Evers, Nirpal Singh Daliwal, Sophie Cameron and Nimer Rashed.

THEN after that, and looking ahead a bit, I am appearing at the Troubadour Cafe on Monday 10th May as part of the Coffee House Poetry at the Troubadour series of events (who wants to go out on a Monday night? But still...) along with several of my fellow Flambard authors for a lovely evening of err.....poetry reading. As well as me will be the lovely Kelley Swain, Rebecca Goss, Ellen Phethean, Cynthia Fuller, Nancy Mattson, Jackie Litherland and Wanda Barford.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Top Writing Tips in Woman's Own

Yes - the womens' glossy mag is mine today with the triumph of a small entry and photo of me in this week's Woman's Own. Page 21. In the interests of megalomania I am reproducing the page here.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


So the Storytails event went really well on Sunday and you can hear a podcast of the stories read as well as read the stories for yourself on the Storytails website. You can also download me reading my story "The True Story of Betty Rizzo" from iTunes - that Gabriella - she's a clever one. If you do listen, apologies for probably: mumbling, falling over my own sentences; breathing too hard. I was dealing with sitting on a twirly stool that wanted to go the opposite way to me for most of the reading.

The venue for Storytails, the Pangea Project in Stoke Newington, is really homey and warm: they also deliver breakfast in bed on the weekends to those lucky Stokey inhabitants that are nearby enough. Stories and breakfast all in one place! It's kind of amazing. My better half and I discussed reasons why there aren't similar establishments in Surrey. We came to no good conclusions.

I have also been in touch with the amazing illustrator Faye Durston who works on New Fairy Tales alongside Andy, Claire and me. Have a look at her beautiful drawings and paintings on her blog. Faye has her first book coming out with Macmillan soon.

Monday, 22 February 2010

New Fairy Tales

I am delighted to announce that I am now the Associate Poetry Editor for New Fairy Tales magazine - and excited to be working with Editor Claire Massey and fellow Associate Editor Andy Hedgecock, who also currently works on seminal British Sci-Fi mag Interzone. Check out Claire's blog The Fairy Tale Cupboard which is chock full of brilliant links, articles and thoughts on all things fairytaley.

I also attended Prof Ronald Hutton's talk on the history of the fairy tale in Britain last week at the Barbican which was a useful reminder of the social functions of fairy tales (to stop people from doing dangerous things or meeting dangerous people; to provide a framework that describes psychological and cultural events such as postnatal depression, or as a structure to frame the treatment of disablement, for instance) as well as the more supernatural explanations. The tone of his talk was very open and he at no point rubbished the idea of the faery as mere fantasy, acceding that there is too large a bank of strange experiences on the part of to many people for it to be dismissed out of hand. He made the interesting observation that we are the first culture not to have an explanation of fairy sightings / disturbances, regardless of what that theory might be: our common cultural approach seems to be dismissal. Like Dana Scully, I take the view that phenomenon exist, so dismissal is not an option. Most of the time there is probably an explanation - we just don't have the right frame of reference to address it properly. What we think of as science will doubtless catch up one day.

New Fairy Tales is now also accepting submissions of fiction, artwork and poetry, so if you would like your work to be considered for the May 2010 issue please visit the Submissions page of the New Fairy Tales site for more details.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The Studio of Paula Rego

A found/cutup poem "The Studio of Paula Rego" from my now-finished second book is now online at the excellent online magazine The Literateur.

Literateur = "One who is almost obnoxiously well acquainted with literature and takes care to frequently remind you of this fact".

(Cough) I'd never be so bold.

Seeing "arch-historian" Ronald Hutton at the Barbican on Thursday. Can't wait!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Taking a bite out of books

I've been working on a writing project called Bookbite recently, and am pleased to say that it has just launched its website, with a lovely printed book to accompany it soon. All glossy.

Bookbite is a project encouraging reading and writing in the over 60s, and I've produced some writing tips sections for it - getting started writing, writing a short story, writing your autobiography and setting up a writer's club. I'm really pleased to help such an impressive and wide reaching project. Encouraging anyone to write is very close to my heart, so it means a lot to me to be involved.

I'm also now talking to the Women in Publishing group on the 14th April - for more information about them, check out their website.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Burning reviews

Dee-lighted to see that George Szirtes has pasted my review of The Burning of the Books and other poems onto his website! V V V V V honoured.

I've also been asked to talk to the Women in Publishing Group in February, which is exciting, and a great opportunity for a bit of networking.

My good friend Gabriella Apicella is also starting a new storytelling event, Storytails, every month at the Pangea Project in Stoke Newington, with the first event being on Sunday 31st January. Featuring readings of short fictional stories from some professional, and some not-quite-so-professional writers, Storytails is open to all, and free to attend. For adults who miss being read to there awaits both sparkly new and solidly accomplished storytellers to share their unusual tales with you.

I'm not sure whether I can make the 31st but if not I plan to be reading a story at the February event, hopefully by a roaring fire and sitting in a rocking chair.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

T S Eliot shortlist review

I've just had a review of four of the shortlisted books for the TS Eliot Prize 2010 uploaded onto the Booktrust weblog: Take a look here.

I loved, in particular, George Szirtes' The Burning of the Books and other poems (Bloodaxe). From his poem "Consuming Passion":

Life is annotation. Hunger and annotation. It is knowledge
We hunger for, letters we drink, desire in our bloodstream
For the fat, visceral, blood-bound flesh of our books.