Wednesday, 19 February 2014


   Great to see Jessica Thom in the Evening Standard last Friday:


   Last year I read Thom's wonderful Welcome to Biscuit Land: A Year in the Life of Touretteshero (Souvenir Press, 2012), a compelling diary of the experiences of a young woman who not only - difficultly enough - lives with Tourettes Syndrome but also goes out of her way to enlighten and demystify the condition to others, both through her proactive presence in our community and through her website/blog: http://www.touretteshero.com/. Her use of the masked persona Touretteshero is at once a comic debunking of taking herself too seriously and a symbolic representation of the courageous struggle for disability rights which individuals like Jessica are obliged to mount in a Coalition-lead UK where the status of vulnerable adults and children is - due to the pernicious decimation of public funding and disability benefits in the name of a spurious Austerity - steadily worsening.
    Welcome to Biscuit Land is written from a mature and generous perspective that is able to balance the considerable hardship of living with Tourettes against a talent for casting events in a humorous or ironic light. Disquieting episodes of Jessica being verbally abused or misunderstood while out in public (even by the police or London Transport staff) are contrasted with incidents of her being helped or supported by sympathetic strangers, as well as on other occasions by her loyal network of friends and family. 
      Much of the comedy of the book derives from the surreal verbal juxtapositions thrown out by Jessica's tics, only a small proportion of which - contrary to popular fallacy - contain obscenities. (Stephen Fry, in his Introduction, apprises us of the fact that "not more than 10% of Touretters evince coprolalia"). Indeed, as a poet, it's these bizarre, spontaneous utterances of Jessica's that seem most fascinating since many of them could indeed be lines from contemporary poems: 'Paint your bumblebee (with ink made of tortoise spit'); 'Capital letters talk to themselves at night'; 'Take a picture of your mum's best friend wintering in Lebanon, naked in the bath'. They are like Johnson's famous definition of the Metaphysicals' style: "the most heterogenous ideas yoked by violence together", simultaneously imaginative and lexically estranged. As Jessica says, "All these unconnected things get jumbled round and spat out again. They' re often random but they're rarely incoherent."
    What's interesting is the uncontrollable, spontaneous oral aspect of these ejaculations, as though the link between brain and mouth has somehow short-circuited. Fry posits that the role of these outbursts for Touretters is similar to that of sudden swearing for the rest of us (and this is why coprolalia is sometimes encountered): as a kind of safety-valve for anxiety or build-ups of mental stress, an ultimately "analgesic" effect linked to " a region of the brain deeper within the primal emotional wiring of the basal ganglia". 
     Would it be inconceivable to suggest that poetry (often unconscious or involuntary yet compulsive in its inception too) and the verbal tics of Tourettes originate from the same neural impulses within this deeper, non-rational, more primal zone of the brain but whereas the tics have the explosive power to erupt immediately, the language of poems emerge through a much slower and more zigzagging route which includes both left and right hemispheres, emotion and reason in hesitant collaboration? Might what used to be called "inspiration"( in ancient times believed to be a divine afflatus) - ie. the moment when an image or alluring cluster of words which might kickstart a poem "comes to us" apparently from nowhere - derive from a similar synaptic (mis)firing, a discharge of taboo linguistic energies which manage (as Ted Hughes says) "to outwit (one's) own inner police system"?
    You can sample some Tourettespoetry on the website where there is a brilliant section of 'Tics' which you can compare and rate. 'If you count to four backwards you make Time stand still'. Genius.

Monday, 10 February 2014

JHW Biblio

  As a follow-up to the interview with John Hartley Williams which I posted last year, here is a complete bibliography of his work in poetry and prose. Look out for a new collection, The Golden Age of Smoking, later this year.


Forthcoming: The Golden Age of Smoking, Shoestring Press, 2014

A Dream of Kos, Hans van Eijk at the Bonnefant Press, 2013

Death Comes For The Poets (a satirical novel, with Matthew Sweeney), Muswell Press, London 2012

Assault on the Clouds. Shoestring Press, Nottingham 2012

Pistol Sonnets, (reissue), Salt 2012

Hex Wheels. Hans van Eijk at the Bonnefant Press, 2011

Less of That W Or I'll Z You! Surrealist Editions, Leeds, 2011

A Poetry Inferno. Eyelet Press, Nottingham, 2011

Outpost Theatre. Hans van Eijk at the Bonnefant Press, 2009

Café des Artistes. Jonathan Cape, 2009

The Ship. Salt Publishing, 2007

Blues. Jonathan Cape, 2004.

Teach Yourself Poetry Writing (Third edition, with Matthew Sweeney). Hodder & Stoughton, 2008

North Sea Improvisation, a Fotopoem. Aark Arts, 2003.

Mystery in Spiderville. Jonathan Cape, 2002 (Revised edition: Vintage, 2003).

Spending Time with Walter. Jonathan Cape, 2001.

Canada. Bloodaxe Books, 1997.

Teach Yourself Poetry Writing (with Matthew Sweeney). Hodder, 1996.

Ignoble Sentiments. Arc Press, July 1995.

Double. Bloodaxe Books, 1994.

Cornerless People. Bloodaxe Books, 1990.

Bright River Yonder. Bloodaxe Books, 1987.

Hidden Identities. Chatto & Windus, 1982.



Answering Back. Macmillan, 2007

In the Criminal's Cabinet. Nth Position, 2004

A Manifesto: Strong Words. Bloodaxe Books, 2000

Last Words: New Poetry for the New Century. Picador, 1999.

The Firebox. Poetry in Britain and Ireland after 1945. Picador, 1998.

The Long, Pale Corridor, eds. Judy Benson and Agneta Falk. Bloodaxe Books, 1996.

Emergency Kit. Faber and Faber, 1996.

Klaonica: Poems for Bosnia, ed. Ken Smith. The Independent in conjunction with

Bloodaxe Books, 1993.

Poetry With An Edge 2, ed. Neil Astley. Bloodaxe Books, 1993.

The New Poetry, eds. Hulse, Kennedy, Morley. Bloodaxe Books, 1993.

Poetry With An Edge, ed. Neil Astley. Bloodaxe Books, 1988.



Censored Poems. Translations of Marin Sorescu. Bloodaxe Books, 2001.

The Scar in the Stone. Contemporary Poems from Bosnia, ed. Chris Agee. Bloodaxe Books, 1998. (Contributing translator)



Numerous reviews, essays and contributions to the following publications:         

Times Literary Supplement, The London Review of Books, The Independent, The Guardian, The London Magazine, Grand Street, Poetry International, Fulcrum, New Writing (Vintage),The Observer, The New Statesman, Poetry Review, The Literary Review, The Edinburgh Review, Poetry Book Society Anthologies, Angel Exhaust, Agenda, Ambit, Poetry London, Thumbscrew, The Rialto, Stand, Staple, Thames Poetry, Foolscap, The Wide Skirt, New Welsh Review, Poetry Wales, Ramraid Extraordinaire, Dog, Upstart!, The Devil, Staple, Sunk Island Review, P.N.Review, HQ Quarterly, The Wolf, The Warwick Review, Boomerang - also internet publications such as Poetry Daily (US), www.nthposition.com, The Bow Wow Shop etc



2004                TS Eliot Prize finalist (for Blues)

2004                Poetry Book Society Recommendation (for Blues)

1999                Keats-Shelley Memorial Prize

1997                TS Eliot Prize finalist (for Canada)

1997                Poetry Book Society Choice (for Canada)

1987                Poetry Book Society Recommendation (for Bright River Yonder)

1983                First Prize, Arvon Foundation Poetry Competition