Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Tribune Set To Close After 75 Years Of Publication

Historic journal may have struggled with modernity, but is the Old Left now an ‘irrelevance’?

Tribune, the flagship left-wing journal whose editors have included the likes of Aneurin Bevan, Paul Anderson and Michael Foot, is fighting for it’s life as a recent “cash injection” has failed to increase circulation. Staff at the weekly title are preparing for it’s imminent closure unless last-minute financial backing can be found. The paper has reportedly struggled with the advent of online content and, unlike political magazines such as The Spectator and The New Statesman, has failed to attract a wealthy backer to keep its profile distinct over the last twenty years.

It seems rather sad in a way that a publication with such a long history, of whatever political leaning, is falling by the way-side at a time when a robust opposition should be forming on the Left in Britain. Perhaps though, despite a Centre-Right coalition in power and political gains from the SNP and BNP across the UK (indicative of a shift to the right in harsh economic times?), the old Social Democratic Left is becoming a shadow of an age past?

Tribune is perhaps most famous for George Orwell’s ‘As I Please’ column, (that is certainly where Alhimself first discovered it) when Orwell was Literary Editor there in 1943. The paper has been in circulation for some 75 years and was founded with a staunch anti-fascist bent. Some of Orwell’s finest essays, including Confessions of a Book Reviewer and Books vs Cigarettes first appeared in the paper.

Following the Second World War, with Bevan still involved, the paper become associated with the “Bevanite” branch of the Labour movement and regarded it as the flagship journal of the “soft left”. According to The Guardian, it was selling around 6,000 copies a week by the 1980s (historically not a time of rampant Leftism) and remained around that circulation for the next decade, but since then it has sold far, far less and in recent years has struggled. Yesterday’s Radio 4 Today programme shed some light on the reasons for the closure, where Lord Michael Dobbs argued that the Left was “irrelevant” these days. Whatever the case, it’s seems sad that a journal with Tribune’s publication history should fade into the twilight when online journalism is taking such strides in bringing political debate forward.

Tribune Publications is intending to establish and maintain a web-site which will run automatic feeds from other left-of-centre internet sites but the six full-time and part-time staff will lose their jobs. The company is currently owned by Kevin McGrath, a former Labour Party candidate for the European elections in 2009. He bought the paper a couple of years ago from a consortium of trade unions. According to the Press Gazette, the holding company filed for bankruptcy in December 2008 and it was McGrath who saved them from liquidation at that time. McGrath has stated that the staff are free to carry on with the publication, and that:

“If they wish to continue to run Tribune as a co-operative, [I am] prepared to transfer the company and the archive of 75 years editions to them free of any historical debt.”

It is believed the staff are now considering such an option but with a deadline set for today, October the 28th.


The West Port Book Festival: Day One – Douglas Dunn

Edinburgh Books seemed far from cramped as the smiles of hearty Westportians filled the shelves, and spaces between, for this the first event of the four-day festival. Douglas Dunn was in fine form, reading from new work and old. He opened with a muse on the nature of discovering new cities, claiming he had been lost in almost every capital city in Europe. Even Florence apparently, which is very small. In ‘Bon Voyage’, Dunn decribes a place where “Tourism is not forbidden, merely discouraged” and the feeling that the next few days might see myself, and others, get lost in the West Port is something I can’t escape.

Dunn perfomed work exploring his childhood in a world where the writing of poetry was unknown. He conjured questions for the audience on the nature of reputation, of Philip Larkin’s disdain for new poets who “couldn’t even scan”. He tells us that “ambition determines you, then trips over itself”, sage advice from this grand master of the poetic form. When he tells us “I don’t know all the answers, I just know where to find them”, he is explaining the hunger that from his youth has informed his work. He wants to give us this advice almost reluctantly. You cannot deny, however, the belief that he is worth listening to. Listen we did, with only the faint squeak of a blowing fan in motion and the silent rumbling of nodding heads and smiles spreading.

In his poem ‘Chaplin’ he takes us back to the cinemas of his youth in Renfrew and Paisley, where he would watch Charlie Chaplin perform his “pathos in rhapsody”. Telling us of his hero: “What is love? your movies seem to say…uttered in silver light but never spoken.” Dunn’s childhood film houses have “chewing gummed floors” and his voice carries the weight of generations of observing and understanding the world around him. Incidentally, he explains to us, this poem was approved by the Chaplin Foundation in Paris, a capital city that always concerns itself with reputations.

He finished with ‘Thursday’, a piece of work on the boredom he accused himself of eliciting in lectures. Thursday had for him been a day with too many seminars and tutorials at St Andrews University where he was a professor. He is professorial in his ability to captivate you, to make the images appear in your mind, to soothe, and to inform. Douglas Dunn is a wonderful poet, both on the page and in person. A fine start to this literary celebration.

The West Port Book Festival: Day One – We have lift off!

With elder statesman Douglas Dunn about to kick things off at Edinburgh Books, the Third Annual West Port Book Festival has arrived! With 2010’s line-up seeing the wonderful Kei Miller, Ken MacLeod, Miriam Gamble, Michael Scott, Roger Rees and many others take to the nooks and crannies of Edinburgh’s West Port this is something to get really excited about.

I’m also delighted to see that Friday night finishes off with an abandoned film spectacle courtesy of Screen Bandita, while Jay Bernard will be on hand to provide poetry. After seeing her first hand at StAnza this year, I’m excited about that prospect. Jay is a London poet, based in Oxford and I recently enjoyed reading her collection ‘Your Sign is Cuckoo, Girl’.

The Westport is always an assorted affair though. Film and poetry give way to this year’s Broons Appreciation evening on the 26th (with attached whisky tasting).You always get a certain level of well-informed magic from the team at this festival and I’ve been lucky enough to make it to both previous years. They are dedicated to their craft at the West Port, and Scottish literature is particularly celebrated. Little touches, like the tasting comes courtesy of W.M. Cadenhead, Grandpaw Broons’ favourite whisky shop, is just one of those splendid little details.

If you survive the ‘water of life’ on Saturday night, Sunday afternoon promises one of my most-anticipated literary delicacies with a whole afternoon of the Classics. Don’t expect the usual dryness here. The West Port is a young team who recruit invigorating elders and talented striplings alike. This is still a weekend in the famed ‘Pubic Triangle’ after all, and the passion and cheer that spark up this festival will be in full force. Ronan Sheehan and Mia Gallagher will be exploring The Irish Catullus at 4.45 which I am particularly looking forward to.

All in all, I challenge you not to be captivated by this wistful little celebration of books and trinkets. You will make friends and discover gems, and as a Southsider myself I will be blogging all the goings on right here.

For more information, the web-site is a cornucopia of information about the West Port and off-festival news from its team; including podcasts.

The West Port Book Festival runs from Thursday 24th to Sunday 27th of June.

Alhimself on the BBC Book Cafe

My stumbling, hoarse tones can be discovered on this weeks’ BBC Book Cafe for anyone interested. I was reviewing Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s ‘Prince of Mist’.

StAnza 2010 – Jamaican Jet-set and Jay Barnard

Sitting quietly in the Byre Theatre which is now becoming less and less quiet as the last show comes out. Had a lovely chat with Jay Barnard this evening about her role as Artist in Residence. Sitting back and taking stock is sage advice, too much wading in last night has taken its toll on me know, and my eye-lids weigh heavy.  Check out the StAnza podcasts here for more from the festival.

Kei Miller this afternoon was truly electric. His new collection fuses imagery of light and dark with the constant smile of his Jamaican accent. I was going to use the word lilt, but I realised the connotation would not sit appropriately.

I hope to catch up with Tom Pow and give him at least one fact about Milosz that might amuse him. Here’s hoping…

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StAnza 2010 – Heaney by the Sea

What transpired with Seamus Heaney last night at the Byre Theatre is the stuff my memoirs will be made of. Without giving it too much gravitas, the performance of the twinkly-eyed man from across the water was simply electric. I spoke to him briefly afterwards with a kind of fan-boy incoherence, both apologising for and simultaneously indulging in rhetoric about how big a fan I was. This man is poetry as far as I am concerned. I know I have been conditioned by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, but conditioning or not, that poppy bruise made me aware of the existence of something extraordinary. It was poetry.

I don’t think I rambled that much to the big fella’ but it can’t have been far off. He signed something for me, a collection I guess, but I wasn’t really paying attention to the book. He is a lovely man, and signed for hundreds of people while no one really listened to the slots at the open mic.

Ryan Van Winkle arrived yesterday and we engaged in a succession of grand statements, mostly involving our athletic prowess and tan spray. I think if Ryan were to lose the beard and get contact lenses, he would resemble a kind of Spanish-language Bruce Campbell. He seemed less convinced. Ryan read along with the jazz band, I had to make do with the low-volume microphone. He’s in a different league really. A proper poet.

We drank until the bar closed and then I headed off to the student union to see how the final night of electioneering was going. If I wasn’t a bad house guest before, I most definately am now…

(The poem I read last night is called, I think, pixels)

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StAnza 2010 – Paddy’s Day Opening and Beat Poetry Thursday

An unintentional, though appropriate, link to my last post; Guinness. Sank a few last night after filling up on white wine and the odd drop of uisce beatha. A fantastic opening night featuring poetry from Jamaican Kei Miller, who agrees with me on some crucial Facebook discussion points. Kei is in the opening night podcast, which can be found here. I also met the lively Jay Barnard, who is this year’s artist in residence.

A thoroughly enjoyable event this afternoon, on the first full day of events at StAnza 10, with Colin Will discussing Gregory Corso and Matthew Sweeney talking translation and Georg Trakl.

The big difference with StAnza compared to some other festivals is that the poets have little place to hide. They don’t seem to want to either. There is a pervasive sense of calmness and community. Douglas Dunn sits comfortably next to me while I, star-struck, mumble to someone about his Elegies. I couldn’t help grinning wildly when Seamus Heaney was pointed out to me. The man translated Beowulf, brilliantly, he is very close to demi-god status. We all idle along side-by-side, I feel awkward every time my head suggests I ask for an autograph.

There are no minders and if there are agents they keep a low profile. They are not sheperded into a specific author’s area, they are happy to mingle. It is never more than ten minutes to walk to the next event. The wind and the rain haven’t really got serious so far either. I met a man sitting in a cardboard box asking people to donate poems. Odd; but charming none-the-less. Tonight Heaney is on stage at 8pm, then there is an open mic and afterwards I will probably sip a few more Guinness.

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