Archive for February, 2010

The Habit of Art

February 28, 2010

I don’t generally believe in adding footnotes to my poems, but this one might be incomprehensible to some people without an explanation.

For the past few months the National Theatre in London has been very successfully presenting a play by Alan Bennett, called The Habit of Art. This imagines a meeting between W.H. Auden and Benjamin Britten towards the end of their careers. Since it is by Bennett, it contains many good jokes, but I feel it does the poet a disservice.

Originally, I gather, the play was to have been a straight confrontation between the two men. Apparently the bosses at the National didn’t think this worked, so changes were made, to show Britten and Auden as characters in a play within the play. This allowed a lot more joking at the expense of Auden, who in his old age became repetitive, forgetful, and, according to Oxford gossip, smelly. Read the rest of this entry »

March Snakeskin is on its way

February 28, 2010

I’m not very consistent as an editor, and one of the things I keep changing my mind about is the size of issues. Should each issue be very small, a showcase for just a few jewels? Or should a magazine offer a huge and various spread, with poems of all sorts jostling side by side?

The March issue (which is nearly ready) is definitely of the latter sort. With Jessy’s excellent work issue taking the February slot, the Snakeskin inbox has been filling up for two months, and as an editor I’m spoilt for choice. So it’s a big issue, with eighteen poets (at the last count), and some terrific pieces.

The illustration, by the way, is a Red Snakeskin Discus Fish. I rather like him.

Spreading the word

February 21, 2010

An article by Jane Gardam  in Saturday’s Guardian describes the surreptitious spreading of poetry around Lympstone in Devon, rather in the manner of the Underground poet, mentioned here recently.

Random distribution of words is one way of trying to reach the audience of those who don’t normally read poetry – but surely there must be better ways. Any suggestions?

Ken Head’s website

February 16, 2010

Snakeskin poet Ken Head now has his own website, with samples of his work, and details of publications and readings. Find it at

Ken’s e-chapbook Long Shadows was included in Snakeskin 146.


February 10, 2010

About twenty years ago I wrote the words for Mr Scrooge, a song-cycle based on Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (with music by Steve Pogson). We originally wrote it for our school choir, and then it was accepted for publication by Boosey and Hawkes. Boosey’s added a German translation, and there have been many productions in German over the past decades, as well as ones in English.

Today, though, I was delighted to hear details of a translation into Catalan, by the Societat Coral Amics de la Unió. They performed a semi-staged version, with the younger members of the chorus dressed in ghostly white. Videos of the performance have been posted on YouTube. The one below shows the last two songs of the piece. In the first, Scrooge meets the Spirit of Christmas Future; in the second he wakes on Christmas morning. I think the choir present them rather well – and I feel quite immensely chuffed  to have my words (and Dickens’s) translated into a language that I don’t understand a single word of.

A Sigh of Relief

February 8, 2010

All is well now. I mentioned a while back that I’d had a major computer crash, and had lost some files. What I didn’t mention was the fact that I thought I may have lost touch with all the poetry submissions for March Snakeskin. But now, (thanks to the help of a uber-geek) my computer is up and running better than before, and all those poems are there safe and sound, ready to be sampled and  appreciated. And I have learnt some important lessons about backing up files regularly.

The WORK issue has arrived

February 1, 2010

February Snakeskin is now online, and it’s the special issue on the theme of WORK, guest-edited by Jessy Randall. I like the theme a lot; work takes up so much of our time (unless we’re very rich or very lazy) but does not make it often enough into our writing. Is this because (like Bruce Bentzman in this month’s soliloquy) many of us see our writing as a liberation from work, the free arena where we have no line manager constricting our expression? Yet isn’t that actually an important reason for letting our writing tackle the theme, to see what it makes of it.

As always, Jessy’s editing has been a model of efficiency, whereas here at Snakeskin Head Office things have been even more chaotic than usual, thanks to the refusal of my main desktop computer to run Windows™ properly, preferring to lapse into sudden blackouts, and totally refusing to behave. Luckily Jessy had sent her file of poems early, and most of the editing had been done before the crisis erupted. Even more luckily, I was able to keep the machine going long enough to do a complete back-up of all the Snakeskin files.

Some emails may have been lost, however. If you haven’t received an acknowledgement of poems sent recently, please do send them again. They may have been lost, at least temporarily.

But that’s enough of my troubles. Enjoy this month’s Snakeskin.

The Underground Poet

February 1, 2010

The Underground Poet is a possibly odd bloke, who leaves  his verses in carriages of the London Underground, to amuse, inspire or depress commuters.

You can read his work on his website.

This rather good poem is an example:

The Executioner Loves His Child

For Slavoj Žižek

I don’t like where I work or the commute,
My mother’s in decline and money’s tight.
But music, books and rolling fatherhood
Bring a rich inner life and private delight.

My friend says that is a story we tell
To account for our public selves, a screen
For us to hide behind and make two men:
One who we are, the other a machine.

“All inauthentic sentiment!”, he says,
“We are the aggregate of what we do!”
But still I love the music in my mind
And the private joy I share with you.

And so I sit as the train rolls in late
Sometimes a man, sometimes an aggregate.