A New Kind of Street Ballad

So, I didn’t quite make the Michael Marks Award. That honour rightly goes to Selima Hill for her outstanding Flarestack pamphlet.

Any (mild) disappointment was erased by the privilege of hearing an exhilirating, learned and empassioned speech by Ali Smith. She was one of three judges, alongside Jo Shapcott and Richard Price. A speech so good it was republished in yesterday’s Guardian. If you’ll forgive the egotism, here’s the bit that concerns my pamphlet:

Tom Chivers’s The Terrors (Nine Arches Press) is a prose-poetry fusion of 18th-century London and online modernity. Questioning notions of freedom and imprisonment, it fuses the inmates of Newgate prison with the inmates of contemporary online chatrooms. It makes for a new kind of street ballad.

I’m well proud of that last line especially. Thanks, Ali.

Had I won I would have thanked publicly the brilliant Jane Commane and Matt Nunn of Nine Arches Press. I may even have revealed how the publication came about. I sent one or two early poems from the sequence to my friend George. He then forwarded them, without my knowledge or blessing, to Jane. A few days later, she emailed me with the opening line (I may be paraphrasing), Thank you for your submission…

So basically without George it never would have happened. You should check out Nine Arches anyway. They do good work.

Oh, the photo at the top shows a contestant attempting escape from the Big Brother house. I’ve run out of images of Newgate Prison to illustrate The Terrors, but the pamphlet does begin with a quote about Big Brother and celebrity. You can order it here, or drop me a line and I’ll send you a signed copy.


Michael Marks Award

I had some good news of late. My sequence of ‘imagined emails’ The Terrors has been shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award for Poetry Pamphlets.

Here’s the full shortlist:

  • The Terrors Tom Chivers (Nine Arches Press)
  • The Titanic Café closes its doors and hits the rocks, David Hart (Nine Arches Press)
  • Advice on Wearing Animal Prints, Selima Hill (Flarestack Poets)
  • Devorgilla’s Bridge, Hugh McMillan (Roncadora Press)
  • The Reluctant Vegetarian, Richard Moorhead (Oystercatcher Press)
  • ballast: a remix, Nii Ayikwei Parkes (tall-lighthouse)

I’m especially pleased for my publisher Nine Arches Press, who have two titles on the list. Good work Jane and Matt!

There’s a separate award for publishers of pamphlets – an enlightened idea.

  • HappenStance Press
  • Oystercatcher Press
  • Templar Poetry
  • Veer

If you’d like to come and hear all the shortlisted poets reading their work, you can. The British Library is hosting the Award ceremony on Wednesday 16th June.

Tickets are a snip at £6/4 and can be booked online.

Hack Writing

Tony Williams has reviewed The Terrors on his poetry blog. He describes it as an ‘exuberant, coherent and original pamphlet’. I’m really pleased that readers have responded so positively and creatively to this little sequence – opening up new avenues of thought, responding liberally to the material I set down.

I believe Jane at Nine Arches has done a reprint, so you can still get hold of a copy at five pounds.

The Terrors – OUT NOW

the-terrors-cover-in-colour-copyMy pamphlet The Terrors was launched last night at The Market Trader, Middlesex Street and is now available to purchase from my terrific publishers Nine Arches Press for £5. (Go, do it now!)

The Terrors is a sequence of imagined emails to inmates at Newgate Prison in the eighteenth century. It’s been described by Iain Sinclair as ‘Dark London history, dredged and interrogated’ and by Gists & Piths as ‘a truly remarkable sequence, alive to the possibilities of what language can do, totally confident in its creation of a hyperreality where past and present mingle and bleed into one another.’

ALSO I will be reading at East Words at Museum of Docklands on Thursday 2 April, from 6-9pm. Other readers include Tim Wells and Siddartha Bose. East Words is a great night run by Christopher Horton and Richard Tyrone Jones. And it’s free entry. Details here and on Facebook here.

Gravestones & duffil coats


The Terrors, my sequence of Newgate e-missives, has been completed and sent to the publisher, Nine Arches. It’ll be launched on March 29th. Artist Emma Robertson (who is, amongst other things, behind Littlest Birds) has created some beautiful line-drawings to illustrate the pamphlet. See above.

Also, writer/filmmaker Iain Sinclair has read the sequence and endorses it thus:

Dark London history, dredged and interrogated, spits and fizzes with corrosive wit. Language-receipts sustain the necessary illusion. IT MATTERS. It matters: the weight and pace of delivery, the balance of breath. Tom Chivers understands the risks he risks, the play in a taught rope.

Emails to Newgate Gaol (4)

From: Tom Chivers
Sent: 2 September 2008 14:20
To: The Waltham Blacks

To Whom It May Concern

Learn me the vulgar science of bruising. Unteach me honesty. Forget Tyburn. Instruct me how to steal a red or fallow deer, to rob a warren like a grave; appear in Death’s black garb in any given chase or park, open heath, common or down. Like Edward Elliot I am very young in years. I wish to see two countrymen buried up to their chins (to speak in the old style). Just say the word and I will burn this hovel, cock and mow. Do not ask me my name. Wake up. Wake up and stare into a blaze of hellish light. Or stay there, Wildman, tongue-tied friend, with your Pinks and Blacks, and listen to this lesson of mammal and man.