Saturday, December 06, 2014

Coleridge and the Daemonic Imagination - reviewed in The Year's Work in English Studies

Reviews can take some time to filter through in academe: even though Coleridge and the Daemonic Imagination was published three years ago, I'm posting one here that only came to my notice recently. It's from The Year's Work in English Studies 92 (2013) - a very useful guide to the latest scholarship (published by Oxford University Press):

'Gregory Leadbetter's Coleridge and the Daemonic Imagination offers a fascinating and compelling new reading of Coleridge's thought, with a particular emphasis on his poetry. His argument builds from a notebook entry which worries over the daemonic experiences Coleridge had. These were experiences of the "transnatural": that which permits the mind to foray into a world denied by traditional social and religious codes. The transnatural, Coleridge discovers, comes from within as a form of willed transition that permits an encounter with, simultaneously, shame and power. It is, for Leadbetter, a dilemma central to "the drama of human becoming" (p. 3). The openness of this position allows Leadbetter to offer us a Coleridge far more fluid in his religious and philosophical thinking than is common. Indeed, poetry and poetic possibility move to the centre of his thought: "Coleridge remained constitutionally open to experiences beyond his deliberate control" (p. 14). Leadbetter focuses especially on the 1790s and on Coleridge's three great poetic myths of daemonic imagination - Kubla Khan, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Christabel - but he also, pleasingly, encourages us to see this openness right across the span of Coleridge's career. The book offers startling reconsiderations of Coleridge's Unitarianism, his politics, and his relationship with Wordsworth. Wordsworth, for Leadbetter, recognized the same dilemmas, but was wary of Coleridge's freedom: nature becomes a "moral and epistemological norm" (p. 39) that Wordsworth clings to but Coleridge transgresses. The combination of activity and passivity in the daemonic makes clear the link with the Coleridgean imagination. Language is itself a "transnatural" agent in Kubla Khan's "self-risking poetics" (p. 185). The usual reading of Christabel has Christabel as innocent and opposed to the evil Geraldine. But just as the Ancient Mariner is a "transgressor without being evil" (p. 182), so Leadbetter finds in Christabel Coleridge exploring the possibility that the union with Geraldine, however troubling, was "an act and expression of [Christabel's] own spirit" (p. 203). Leadbetter writes fluidly and clearly, but his style also bristles with excitement. This is a thoughtful, imaginative, and often daring new account of the poet.'

Friday, September 19, 2014

Appearing at the Birmingham Literature Festival...

It's nearly October - which means that the excellent Birmingham Literature Festival is nearly with us (2-11 October 2014).

As ever, there are many mouthwatering events to attend, as you'll see from a glance through the programme - but I feel it's only right that I should draw your attention to two events with which I'm personally involved...

The first is Voices in Fiction, 7.30-8.45pm on Friday 3 October, where I have the pleasure of chairing a discussion with four fine writers: Kerry Hudson, Sathnam Sanghera, Lottie Moggach and Nikesh Shukla, each of whom will be reading from and speaking about their latest novels - and the art of fiction today.

The second is Soap City, 6-7pm on Friday 10 October, where this time I'll be joining a panel, chaired by the wonderful Helen Cross - also a Fellow of the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing at Birmingham City University - to discuss just what it is that has made Birmingham and the Midlands home to such a striking tradition of soap opera. We'll also be talking about what it's like to work on continuing series in television and radio. Mary Cutler will be representing The Archers and Crossroads; Tim Stimpson The Archers and Ambridge Extra; Claire Bennett Doctors - and I'll be recalling my time on Silver Street.

Just follow the links to book.

I hope to see you there...

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Doctor Who: Writing the Companions

Steven Moffat has come in for a lot of criticism since taking charge of Doctor Who – somewhat bafflingly, to my mind – but I’ve always admired his scriptwriting and I still do. Less given to sentimentality than Russell T. Davies, he has led the series with humour, verve and intelligence. The plots get a bit convoluted sometimes, but there are worse sins. Matt Smith did a fine job as the previous Doctor, but the excellent Peter Capaldi is – quite rightly – bringing a new edge to the role. Moffat’s priorities look good to me.

But – since its re-launch in 2005, the writing for Doctor Who has regularly gone wrong in one significant way: its handling of the companions.

After two episodes of Series 8, Danny Pink looks good, and I’m rather hoping that Journey Blue will not be abandoned by the Doctor after all. But Clara – ah, Clara…

Leaving aside the deeply misguided storyline in which the Doctor supposedly fell in love with Rose Tyler, (Davies, no!) the companions have too often been drained of their wonder at the Doctor's universe and installed with a whiny species of self-satisfied insolence, as if untouched by any sense of the mysteries they have been shown. They stay too much their same old selves, in the most extraordinary circumstances. To me, that's also unrealistic, in a damaging sense (and before anyone says, ‘Realistic? This is sci-fi!’ I would say that sci-fi especially demands psychological authenticity if it is to achieve narrative authenticity).

Dispiritingly, I suspect that this is because the writers intuitively perceive the offspring of contemporary society to be self-obsessed, lacking in humility and apparently incapable of having respect for anything they don't or can't be bothered to understand – and then write the characters accordingly. I have an awful feeling (oh say it ain’t so) that they are trying to write ‘normal’ characters, to which we, as members of that benighted society, can ‘relate’.

Don't do that. Neither children nor adults need it.

Clara has been a lost opportunity in this respect, because she was far and away the most promising companion since the re-launch. In effect, when they picked which Clara Oswald to settle on, they picked the wrong one. Her first incarnations were much more interesting: she was intelligent, with a mystery of her own. Now, despite her charms, of which there are many for sure, this ‘teacher’-variant is too often just another human arrogant enough to hold on to her seemingly uninterested attitude – long after the Doctor, I reckon, would have lost patience with it.

The Silurian Vastra, played by the wonderful Neve McIntosh, is a lively addition to the Whoniverse – as is/was the not-quite-human River Song: both Moffat creations.

For the Doctor’s regular companion(s), can’t we have more interesting humans, too? 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

CAST: The Poetry Business Book of New Contemporary Poets

A new book slips quietly into the world...

I'm delighted to have five poems in this excellent new anthology from Smith/Doorstop, which is edited by Simon Armitage, Joanna Gavins, Ann Sansom and Peter Sansom. Those poems include a mixture of published and unpublished work: 'Feather', 'The Body in the Well', 'The Chase', '6 June 1944' and 'Mouse'.

In the words of the Poetry Business website, it contains 'thirty-two of the brightest writing talents in one brilliantly-curated anthology', comprising a 'stimulating and hugely enjoyable survey of where poetry is now (or will be very soon)'. It's a pleasure to feature alongside Liz Berry, Niall Campbell, Kim Moore and the other fine poets in this book.

As soon as my own copy arrived, my next-door neighbour borrowed it and, as I haven't had it back yet, I think it's passed the pleasure test...

It is available now, but look out for launch events in due course.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Poem: 'Midsummer at Clent'

This poem was written a few years ago, after watching the sun go down on the summer solstice at Clent (pictured above, today). It was published in my pamphlet The Body in the Well (HappenStance, 2007).

Midsummer at Clent

The year was bleeding across the sky
and we were there, perhaps, to celebrate.
I had no voice to give, nothing left
to say anything close to the truth until
I saw the kestrel nailed to the air,
aimed at the sun, holding her zenith
taut on the giddy fulcrum of the earth.
Held up like a lens to a blinding eye,
her feathers suspended in amber.
She stayed near me, as if she were
a periscope over the false horizon.
She stayed until the breath of winter
blew out of the western grave,
freezing a word on the lips of my praise.

Friday, June 20, 2014

'Twice Upon a Time: Magic, Alchemy & the Transubstantiation of the Senses', 26-27 June 2014, School of Art, Birmingham City University

Twice Upon a Time: Magic, Alchemy and the transubstantiation of the Senses

I'm delighted to be 'poet in residence' at this fascinating conference, taking place 26-27 June 2014 at the School of Art, Margaret Street, Birmingham. 

It is hosted by my colleagues at the Centre for Fine Art Research, the School of Art, Birmingham City University.

I'll be reading a selection of my poems that touch upon the conference's themes, across several of Thursday's panels.

I can only be there on the Thursday - but Friday has a full schedule of papers too.

It promises to be a stimulating event...

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Wenlock Poetry Festival, 25-27 April 2014

It's a great pleasure to be reading at Wenlock Poetry Festival this year, where at 5.30pm on Saturday 26 April I'll be sharing the stand with David Morley (a happy reprise of our reading in Birmingham last October - but with some different poems...). You can purchase tickets for the event here.
We'll be reading outdoors, too - at Wenlock Priory (pictured above) - with two other writers chosen from among the participants in the Outdoors Writing Workshop that David will be running that morning (also at the Priory), which is sponsored by the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing, Birmingham City University.
The whole Festival will, as ever, be one of Britain's foremost celebrations of poetry. I'll be there all weekend.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Beats and Birmingham: Poets and the City, 5.30pm, Friday 28 March 2014, Cafe Mezzanine, Library of Birmingham


Beats and Birmingham: Poets and the City – feat. Bohdan Piasecki, Luke Kennard and others – with music from The Beat Generation Cut-up & Fold-in




Café Mezzanine, Library of Birmingham

5.30pm, Friday 28 March 2014

The Institute of Creative and Critical Writing warmly invite you to join us
for a blast of poetry and music – part of the Frontiers+ Festival 2014.

Bringing together the Beats, Birmingham and the poetry of city life, it will feature
poetry from Bohdan Piasecki and Luke Kennard, with Roy McFarlane (Birmingham
Poet Laureate 2010-11), Derek Littlewood, James Horrocks and Ben Titmus – performing both their own work and that of LeRoi Jones, Jackson Mac Low,
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and poets of Birmingham Louis MacNeice and Roy Fisher.

There will also be music from Simon King, Sid Peacock and Steve Tromans,
performing their new settings of Beat legends Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs
and Corso.

This event is FREE – no need to book.

I'll be hosting - and reading a little too.

We look forward to seeing you there…

Thursday, February 13, 2014

'Break, Blowe, Burn and Make Me New': John Donne and Benjamin Britten - Words into Music


You are warmly invited to join us for this special event next week, hosted by the Birmingham Conservatoire in collaboration with the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing, School of English:
'Break, Blowe, Burn and Make Me New': John Donne and Benjamin Britten - Words into Music
Recital Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire
£6.50 (£4 concessions)
18 Feb 2014 (7:30pm)
Booking Information
Tickets available on the door

James Geer tenor
Ronald Woodley piano
Kate Kennedy, David Roberts and Gregory Leadbetter speakers
Benjamin Britten The Holy Sonnets of John Donne, Op.35
Benjamin Britten’s settings of nine of the Holy Sonnets of John Donne are some of the most intense, thoughtful, and at times disturbing of all his songs. They were composed in the summer of 1945 in the immediate aftermath of visits to the newly liberated concentration camps while he was on tour in Germany with Yehudi Menuhin. This evening’s event in music, words and images will explore these profound works from the perspectives of poetry, interpretation, musical setting, and the composer’s life, with contributions from Britten literary specialist Dr Kate Kennedy (Girton College, Cambridge), and Professor David Roberts and Dr Gregory Leadbetter from the School of English.
The settings will be performed by James Geer, former Britten-Pears School Young Artist, with Professor Ronald Woodley from the Conservatoire’s Research Department.
We very much hope to see you there.
Dr Gregory Leadbetter
Director, Institute of Creative and Critical Writing
Director, MA in Writing
School of English
Birmingham City University
Birmingham B42 2SU