It slipped my mind to mention this, but over the last year or so I have written a number of reviews for the excellent online theatre magazine Exeunt.

So far I have covered classical experiments, perambulatory music, spoken word and poetry-inspired theatre…

Click here to read the latest, my take on a Spitalfields Festival walking tour, Flow Forms, or check all my reviews here.

Underneath the shimmering steel and glass of Spitalfields Market, East London, two metres below surface level, a small group of urban explorers is gathered in the ruins of a medieval charnel house: a repository for bones that was once attached to the great Priory of St Mary Spital. This subterranean space – intimate enough to be a shrine – is surrounded by thick sandstone walls and the stumps of decorated columns. There is a strong smell of smoke or, maybe, of incense. Fine pebbles underfoot give it the impression of a beach, somewhere that might just vanish on the next tide. You could squeeze a volleyball court in here, I think.


That an Horse hath no gall

stubbs cobb

A horse in a field is worth two in the hand          Applejack is a reliable and hard-working pony, although headstrong about doing things on her own[1]          take horses for an example, if you look closely you notice that all horses have exactly the same face[2]          Glueing coconuts to your dogs feet so people think you have a horse[3]

Hi-yo, Silver!           Next to the running horse pub on Davies street in london under an orange cone I left a signed ten pound note[4]          A galloping horse gathers no moss          crushed white chalk[5]          a glittering glass eye, formed from bottles pressed neck-first into the ground[6]          they also create snowflakes and rainbows in special factories[7]

A horse in need is a horse indeed          hooded and faceless, mounted on a huge snarling black horse with insane eyes![8]           Swing Bill 9-1, Stewarts House 9-1, Barrel of Laughs 11-2[9]          Cannon to the right of them, Cannon to the left of them[10]          Black horse hooves… snarling horse mouths… a fleeting black cowl[11]          A horse paints a thousand words          Enfants, faites manger vos chevaux de guerre[12]          the Earth ponies who are seen bucking trees and hauling heavy ploughs[13]


Good horses make good neighbours          Eddy Waller […] once told of Lane making unpublicized visits to children’s hospitals[16]          (on an unidentified horse)[17]           a little sticky in the early stages[18]                      Cannon to the left of them[19]                    they soar among the clouds, they rain down jellybeans          We had to wear knee-high rubber boots          IT`S NO USE. THERE`S NOTHING I CAN DO ANYMORE. EXCEPT BEAR IT. I WISH I DEAD. DEAD HORSE DON`T SUFFER.[20]           I fucking told you horses are ignorant cunts[21]            A horse walks into a bar

An Englishman, an Irishman and a horse walk into a bar            I know a horse from a handsaw                 a large, odd-toed ungulate mammal          The horse orders a drink          and a packet of dry roasted peanuts          by means of optically stimulated luminescence dating[22]          During the Iron Pony Competition, she resorts to using her wings in many of the contests, which Applejack regards as cheating since she does not have wings herself[23]          DEAD HORSE DON’T SUFFER          they rain down jellybeans          Useless horse![24]           on a horse![25]           never got a Charlie horse[26]          Chaucer loved this kinda stuff          overbearing horses          they have a special magic only humans can access[27]

Once a horse, always a horse          Once upon a horse

[1] My Little Pony, http://mlp.wikia.com/wiki/Applejack

[2] Abigail Oborne, ‘Portraits of a seaside town no.3’

[3] @iSpeakComedy, 11.11.11

[4] @flea333, 10.11.11

[5] Uffington

[6] Cherhill

[9] Cheltenham, 13.10 11.11.11

[10] Alfred, Lord Tennyson, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’

[12] Prosper Mérimée, Lokis: Le manuscrit du Professeur Wittembach, http://www.pitbook.com/textes/pdf/lokis.pdf

[15] Ibid

[17] Ibid

[19] Alfred, Lord Tennyson, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’

[24] @IleKara, 11.11.11

[25] @_Hollymd_ 11.11.11

[26] @JuiceCOURTuree 11.11.11

Dark Islands Mood Board

I have started compiling my second collection, provisionally entitled Dark Islands. As part of the process (and, frankly, to make it a bit more fun) I’ve decided to share a few images that I think reflect the mood(s) – and in some instances subject matter – of the book.

If I were to list the concerns of the poems, I would say, in no particular order: magic, landscape, protest, the city, imprisonment, observation, media, darkness/light, dreaming, islands, the future…

I hope this is a book you would like to read!

Dear World & Everyone In It

Delighted to have four poems in a new anthology from Bloodaxe Books, launched last night at the Poetry Library, followed by a session of hard-drinking around Waterloo from which I am still recovering. Edited by Nathan Hamilton, Dear World & Everyone In It is described as

the first British anthology to attempt to define a generation through a properly representative cross-section of work and a fully collaborative editorial process […] this anthology represents more effectively and appropriately a new generational mood – hybrid, playful, collaborative, ambitious, inclusive, cooperative.

I’ve not got my copy yet, but the list of contributors is extremely wide-ranging. I’m looking forward to discovering some new voices.

You can buy it direct from the publishers here.

Poetry and the boundaries of plagiarism

I’m fascinated by this recent story. Christian Ward, a 32-year old poet from London with whom I’ve communicated occasionally on social networking, has been found to have plagiarised a poem by Helen Mort (whom I also know – in the real world). Christian’s poem, ‘The Deer’, won a local poetry competition in Devon, where the story was broken on 5th January. Save a few words, it’s identical to Helen’s poem of the same title.

Today a statement, by way of apology, has appeared from Ward. It’s not exactly unequivocal though, and that’s what interests me.

I was working on a poem about my childhood experiences in Exmoor and was careless. I used Helen Mort’s poem as a model for my own but rushed and ended up submitting a draft that wasn’t entirely my own work.

I had no intention of deliberately plagiarising her work. That is the truth.

It’s that phrase ‘I used Helen Mort’s poem as a model for my own’ which I find so intriguing. He seems to think that’s a fair explanation, that this mode of working is acceptable. But for me, this raises two questions. Firstly, what does using a poem as a model really mean in practice? Do you start with a source text and then start make edits to it? Do you just copy the theme, or the movement of ideas, or the formal techniques? Secondly, at what point in this process does the text become your own?

Perhaps we’ll never know with this work, because Ward claims he ‘rushed and ended up submitting a draft’. Is there another draft, where we might discover how he has transformed Helen’s text into something original of his own? I’d be fascinated to read it!

The wider debate that this minor scandal might provoke is where artistic inspiration and/or appropriation becomes plagiarism. Which in turn asks us to consider what can and cannot be owned by an individual author or creative artist.

Of course this debate is as old as writing itself. TS Eliot had something to say about it:

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.

In the past, perhaps poets were less desperate for the original, the authentically inspired, and more content to situate their work in a dynamic with the past. Only two of Shakespeare‘s 37 plays have original plots. At the end of Troilus & Criseyde, Chaucer commends his work to ‘subgit be to alle poesye; / And kis the steppes, wher-as thou seest pace / Virgile, Ovyde, Omer, Lucan, and Stace.’

David Shields, in his provocative book Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, argues for a mash-up culture where everything is remixed, appropriated, open source. This is a somewhat radical position, but also one which has its roots in the Dadaist practice of collage.

Only recently, I published an anthology of poems that included a collage piece by Jon Stone. Jon had collaged reviews by the sci-fi critic David Langford, which caused some embarassment when David came to review the book for The Telegraph. In this instance, the problem – in my opinion (I have no idea about the legal status) – was not one of plagiarism, because the collage process had created a text that was utterly different in its appearance and effects, but of etiquette: Jon had simply forgotten to credit his source.

So perhaps we might say there is: deliberate plagiarism, accidental plagiarism (e.g. Ward, if we believe him – he has also confessed to plagiarising a Tim Dooley poem), deliberate appropriation (e.g. Stone), and finally accidental appropriation.

However we define it, I can’t help feel that Christian Ward’s misdemeanour is a symptom of a wider problem in British poetry: the dominance of creative writing courses, competitions, workshops, and their cumulative dissemination of a derivative and usually conservative poetic. Editors like me often complain of reading lots of poems that sound the same, that share a similar form, tone, turn of phrase, even subject matter. But isn’t cliche just a collectively agreed definition of plagiarism? Ward’s mistake wasn’t sending the wrong draft of his poem – it was thinking that ‘working from a model’ was a process that would lead to anything worth reading in the first place.

An artist’s depiction of the poet