The Blog’s The Thing

I haven’t written in a few days, much as I’m trying to make this a regular practice. My reasons are these: on Wednesday evening I was in 14 Hour, which I wrote about in an earlier post.

Thanks, Jody, for putting this on! It was a chill atmosphere with some really good readings. I took a step away from the science poems to read a few new poems, and it was a good place to try them out. I also wonder if I will ever recite any of my poems from memory, as many of the talented speakers did.

moonrat's blog pic

My other reason for not writing is my discovery (ooh! I’m a little slow on the uptake here, forgive me,) of various blogs, which, when you begin reading…you find you are still reading hours later (be warned.) Here are a few that I highly recommend you check out if you are so inclined to write, and if you ever want to be published…these reflect my interests and most blogs also have links on the side to other blogs, so who knows where it will take you?

Editorial Anonymous, BookEnds, LLC., Nathan Bransford-Literary Agent,

Mysterious Matters (10 things your writing should not be, or it will fail),

Editorial Ass (short for Editorial Assistant)…I can and probably will add to this list…many of these, particularly Editorial Anonymous, have me snorting/chuckling aloud and glad I’m working from home…Particularly the “Slush and Punishment” posts, which serve to make me feel positive about my own competence and writing ability, as opposed to so much of the talk out there which is often discouraging–or disgruntled! Ah, welcome to the world of writing.

Poetry Unplugged, Part II

On Tuesday night I returned to the Poetry Cafe for my second experience of Poetry Unplugged, hosted by the boisterous and talented poet Niall O’Sullivan. I must say he does a great job keeping things moving, keeping the audience amused, and putting out small fires (in the sense of occasional flaring tempers) as they arise.

The Poetry Cafe
The Poetry Cafe

(As a brief side note, as far as I know, Niall hasn’t had to put out any real fires, as apparently happened once or twice in the time of the first Poetry Unplugged host, John Citizen, who references some zen-guys setting the basement alight awhile back and wanting karma to “sort it out.” Hear the story on the podcast.)

There were a good thirty or more people there, the basement was packed, and the readings were very good quality. It’s very interesting to see the variation in audience/reading and I think it’s great that Poetry Unplugged welcomes newcomers and “old hats” alike, with equal warmth and gusto. “Poetry Unplugged virgins” (those who have never read at the Poetry Cafe before, no matter where they have or haven’t read otherwise) get special cheers & applause.

This time I read second to last, due to the approximate process of pulling names out of a hat (or close to it,) and, probably due to having spent the past week reading the aforementioned Melville: His World and Work, I chose to read a selection of “whale” poems.

Yes, poems about whales-or cetaceans as they are more technically called. This included a poem about Ahab that did not make it into the Darwin’s Microscope manuscript, mostly because the Darwin’s Microscope manuscript focuses on- surprise- Darwin, and I didn’t want to muck up the issue. Now that I’ve thrown a poem referencing Emily Dickinson into the book, though…well, hopefully it was a good choice.

a sperm whale, like Moby-Dick
a sperm whale, like Moby-Dick

The reading went very well, so well, in fact, that Niall, who records the poetry evenings for selected use in a podcast that can be found on the Poetry Society website, asked to briefly interview me so as to use the poems in the next podcast. Thank you, Niall! And it was good talking with you about Daniel Dennett & paleoanthropology.

On this note, I must apologize for blathering on about poetry whilst never actually posting any. At first I had some up that I removed as I was concerned about copy-write with my publisher, Flambard Press, but they are pretty chill, so here’s the above-mentioned poem on Ahab and the one referencing Emily Dickinson.

(I also feel obliged to pedantically point out that the first poem is supposed to be in couplets but wordpress doesn’t seem to agree with me on the matter.)


Ahab to Fedallah

I will go to the sea

without coffin, without ceremony.

Every day I sit on deck, watching her.

She gives nothing: lies silent, flat.

Should I pull myself over? Wait?

It will be days, weeks,

until they drop me in with more care

than I would care to use myself.

The surface is so dark, I can’t see

what is beneath. But I know.

Will the cold lull me to sleep

before my lungs fill?

That part—

needing a breath,

inhaling water, not air,

suffocating, body seizing,

gasping, sinking, light

overhead growing smaller,

dark swallowing me,

a pain I cannot imagine,

while I can do nothing but sink—

that part keeps me from jumping.

I would rather float

to a cold, peaceful sleep.

But with this ivory leg,

I will sink instantly.


Deprived of its Medium

(Poem integrating lines from E. Dickinson, ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’)

Hope is the thing with feathers

Bird in a bell jar

That perches in the soul,


and sings the tune without the words,

proves the ether

and never stops at all

runs out.

“The Dog Ate It”

On Backing Up Your Work

Surely we have all been guilty of the dreaded folly: not backing up our writing. Dum dum dum. In today’s technological age, of course, we have little excuse, whether we have two hard-drives (thank goodness my husband is a tech geek!) or simply email our manuscript to ourselves.

Still, somehow, in uni, I had a professor who somehow lost an entire book manuscript. We theorized that for the remainder of the semester, our gaunt-looking prof. had more than coffee in her opaque thermos.


However, I’ve just come across an anecdote that should put all of you non-savers to shame. I don’t want to hear you whining if your computer crashes and your latest poem disappears into internet-ether. Why?

I’m currently reading Melville: His World & Work by Andrew Delbanco, and in Chapter 3 he describes a man Melville knew who lost his one and only poetry manuscript in what must be the most unfortunate manner I’ve yet heard of:

“And there was a fellow New Yorker named Ephraim Curtiss Hine” (already unlucky, then,) “– probably the model for another recluse whom Melville, in White-Jacket, called Lemsford–who snatched every moment he could to write poetry.”

(In 1848, Hine’s The Haunted Barque was privately printed in Auburn, NY…is the title a reference to what happened to his original m.s.?)

“Fearful that his poems would be disposed of in one of the bouts of sweeping and scrubbing at which the crew was periodically set to work, Hine stuffed his manuscript for safekeeping into a ships’s cannon by ramming it in with the “tompion,” a sort of plunger kept in place in the barrel to keep out the sea spray. When the ship fired a volley in return to a salute from a shore battery somewhere off South America, he arrived too late at the sheltering gun to save his work-in-progress, which had been blown out to sea in shreds.

ship cannon
ship cannon

“Jack Chase, whose name Melville retained in White-Jacket, consoled him with words that were later to register on Melville, whose own publishing career was to have its share of misfortunes:

‘Never mind, my boy, no printer could do the business for you better. That’s the way to publish…fire it right into ’em; every canto a twenty-four-pound shot; hull the blockheads, whether they will or no. And mind you,…when your shot does the most execution, you hear the least from the foe. A killed man cannot even lisp.'”

Jack Chase has a good, although cynical, attitude about the whole thing!

Moral: Don’t whine about losing your writing because at least it wasn’t blown out of a cannon.

14 Hour @ The Poetry Cafe

I recently wrote about my first experience at The Poetry Cafe, where I read and networked with some nice writerly-minded chaps, including Jody, who runs an event called 14 Hour. It’s a freestyle arty event, mostly ‘performance poetry’ with some music mixed in…from the looks of it, 14 Hour gets together various artists at various venues and just kind of lets it happen- like a chemistry experiment.

I’ve been invited to read at the next 14 Hour- at The Poetry Cafe. The Poetry Cafe is at 22 Betterton St, Covent Garden. The event will be at 7pm on the 27th Aug, and it’s free to get in. You can get food and/or drink at the Cafe upstairs and then come down for some poetry, music, etc!

I think it’s going to be really fun & interesting; I’m really pleased to be part of this. I’m going to poach Jody’s description from the Facebook link in case you can’t get to it (only people who are on Facebook can get to it…)

14 Hour @ The Poetry Cafe:

Featuring: Inua Ellams + Anne Brechin + Kelley Swain + Nick Potamitis + Claudia Grant + Vintage Poison

Guest host for the evening, Inua Ellams recently took his one-person production The 14th Tale to Battersea Arts Centre: “a scratch performance of a long narrative. In his typical, free flowing, beautiful, lyrical style, it tells the hilarious exploits of a natural born mischief-maker, growing from the clay streets of Nigeria to rooftops in Dublin, finally to London.”

Described by one admirer as “the fizzing starlet” of the poetry scene, Anne Brechin returns to the 14 Hour fold with her expertly delivered poems on love and city alienation.

In her many-splendored career, Claudia Grant has worked in theatre, film and TV. Teacher by day, actress by night, she is now trying her hand at showcasing new writers’ work encompassing poetry, drama and prose.

the vibe

Nick Potamitis has taught Film Studies at various institutions and writes on the history of Greek cinema. He is a printmaker and one of the co-editors of Perdika Press. His work was recently included in the Openned Anthology.

New to London readings, Kelley Swain recently moved to London from the States. Her book, Darwin’s Microscope, will come out in 2009 with Flambard Press. Her young adult fiction novel, Martin Baudelaire and the Great Spoon Adventure, requires a publisher still.

Representing cult underground publishers Vintage Poison, Kevin Reindhardt, Ray Diamond and Toby Davies will be causing general unrest.

I have to admit I’m quite curious about this “Vintage Poison” character and the “general unrest” he (she?) will be causing.

I have to take a moment to say I’m not a performance poet, at least according to a loose definition claiming that performance poetry is somehow different from your “average(?)” or “classical(?)” poetry reading. There’s no good way to distinguish because it seems that it will just wind people up…I think of performance poetry as people who are doing more acting/singing/rapping sort of stuff than reading words from a page.

It is definitely a situation of ‘one is not better than the other, they are just different.’ You can have good and bad performance poetry just as you can have good and bad “regular” poetry.

I think there’s a very good opportunity here to learn some tricks of the trade in terms of delivering words to an audience. I was initially a bit anxious about not being a performance poet in this crowd, however, Jody did invite me after hearing me read at Open Mic Night, so I’ll do my thing, and I think all of us together will be quite a mix- and I think that’s the point of 14 Hour!

Cambridge Science & Literature Reading Group

I just heard from my friend Melanie Keene at the Cambridge Sci-Lit Reading Group– they have invited me to do a reading once Darwin’s Microscope is out! Of course I’m very happy to do a reading and I love that I’ll be involved in more than one event at Cambridge, where Darwin himself was a student.

I consider myself a member of the group, though due to life events (such as getting married!) I haven’t been able to attend since last autumn.

Darwin College, Cambridge

That said, this is a fantastic little group of very intellectual people who have a wonderful mixture of knowledge and who love to share.

I enjoyed every meeting we had (and the pub discussions after!) and was very sorry to miss their poetry-and-science themed term this spring, which, I think it is safe to say, was sparked by my own poet-mindedness.

I was sorry to miss Katy Price’s workshop, as I’d had the pleasure of meeting the professor at the Popular Science Day event at Imperial College, London.

Suffice to say I want to get involved again with the Cambridge Sci-Lit Reading Group, and not just because it is held at the aptly named Darwin College.

Here’s a taste of our Christmas Party (2007)…ok, we were being a little Darwin-tastic here…

Here I meet Darwin
Here I meet Darwin

Discovering “Smoke: A London Peculiar”

Hooray for Smoke: A London Peculiar! For only £2.90 I spent a sublimely entertained hour or two reaffirming my love for London. I also wished, just a little bit, that my writing contained the humour gene, but sigh, I must be satisfied with the other components at which I tend to have more success.

Smoke, Issue 12
Smoke, Issue 12
I found Nicky Kemp’s contributions particularly amusing, smattered throughout the mag, tucked here and there…we’ve all been that evesdropper. Example:
0816, Thursday, Clapham Junction:
Girl (searching in her bag): Shit, I think I’ve left my mobile phone at home. (pause) Oh, yeah, no, you’re right, I am on it to you. Blimey, I’m losing it. Did I tell you I walked into a lamp post yesterday?
(Woman hiding behind her Metro on the 0816: Nicky Kemp)
Cara McVean’s short story, “Sleeping With the Man on the Train” was a humorous and light-hearted story about the daily grind and odd intimacy.
I totally fell asleep on the train to Edinburgh and, much as I tried to lean against the window (I’d requested a table seat, pretty much because they are more roomy and comfortable and easier to write at, but you sacrifice some personal space- meaning I shared with a few others-) anyway, my head kept lolling towards the guy sitting next to me. Fortunately it wasn’t as dramatic as McVean’s story, where the innocent commuter girl, intent on reading her novels, repeatedly cozies up to a fellow commuter in her daily snooze- however, I snapped awake before cuddling to the stranger and I don’t think I was guilty of drooling. Who knows?
I won’t cover all the little delicacies in Issue 12 of “Smoke,” but I will point out that I love every little thing included, from the pigeon pictures to “London’s Campest Statues,” which, this time, hails the Statue of James II in Trafalgar Square. It is camp, isn’t it? Fabulous.
I’m creeped out and completely entranced by the elaborate and mystical description of the N50 bus- Dubbed “Bus of the Month”. It seems to share the qualities of Harry Potter’s “Night Bus,” and come on, we all want to ride that, don’t we?
Photo from Smoke, Issue 12
Photo from Smoke, Issue 12
A quote:
“Smoke isn’t a political magazine. And not just because a magazine that appears only every four months- and sometimes achieves that only by not writing the months in the correct order- really shouldn’t be attempting an Election Special. Smoke is, we like to say, a love letter to London. Ah, London: with all your moods, your inconsistencies, your complete failure to ever do what you promised- as long as you can still set our hearts racing with an unexpected glance on the escalator, we’ll forgive you anything. Won’t we?
-Matt Haynes, Intro to Smoke #12

A love letter to London? This is one I plan to keep reading!

And Matt, for the record, I totally agree with your sentiments regarding Tess of the d’Urbervilles- I wrote an essay on Paganism in Tess, and I am a “bookish intellectual type” (I hope,) so don’t despair, we aren’t all stuffy old buggers! Hardy is not a “misanthropic old gloombucket” to all of us. Meanwhile I enjoyed the rest of “The Piper at the New Cross Gate of Dawn,” not just the Hardy bits.

One final question- perhaps covered in the first issues of Smoke, the lot of which (available individually or as a group) I plan to ask for as a Christmas gift- Why does Smoke begin with Issue 3? Where are Issues 1 & 2? Am I being too literal here? (Answers found in above link.)

The Festival- Darwin, Cambridge, 2009

I’m thrilled to say that I’ve been invited to be part of “The Festival,” more specifically the huge Darwin 2009 celebratory festival happening at Cambridge next summer. As I’ve mentioned, I’m trying to get involved with the “Darwin” events coming up in order to promote Darwin’s Microscope and also simply because it’s my cup of tea. I got in touch with Rebecca Stott, who kindly read my poetry and consulted her co-organizers, and I’ve been invited to be on a “poetry panel” with Ruth Padel. I’m a wee bit anxious! Padel is a famous poet and the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin himself. But I’m also honoured.

Cambridge, bikes
Cambridge, bikes

Funnily enough, at the moment I’ve honestly been reading Voodo Shop and Rembrandt Would Have Loved You, both books of poetry by Padel, and Darwin and the Barnacle, by Rebecca Stott. I got them out of the library when I first emailed Rebecca Stott- I swear I’ve read her book before, when I read so many Darwin-related books my senior year at uni- but I’d prefer to brush up. Padel’s poems are seriously good, though her fame probably vouches for that already!

Dr. John Holmes, my friend and a Lecturer at the University of Reading, had recommended I read some of Padel’s work. Little did I know that she’d be on the panel -and John himself will be the orchestrator! Things are coming together…

Interesting to mention, one of the older and perhaps wackier gentlemen I met at the ‘Poetry Unplugged’ evening said that my timing with the Darwin book was ‘opportunistic.’ As if that is a bad thing. I just think it is a combination of luck and smarts- luck that I wrote the manuscript before I realized the big Darwin events were happening (believe it or not) and luck that a publisher was smart enough to recognize the good timing and wants to publish me in time to take advantage of it.

Suffice to say, I would have written the poems anyway. It was one of the most intellectually fulfilling years of my life thus far, though I do hope to carry on in that vein!

‘In that vein’ being poetry, though from what I hear, Ruth Padel’s got a new poetry book coming out called Darwin: A Biography in Poems, and Dorothy Sutton’s got a new poetry book coming out called Darwin’s Scope! I do wonder how poor ol’ Charles would feel about all of this. Also, I hope I’m not grouped in the lump of ‘opportunistic’ writers taking advantage of the great man and using his name…but ah, so be it, if it be so. I know where I’m coming from.