Coales' Notes: Verse and worse

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The Independent Culture
MONDAY I'd hoped Silver would calm down over the weekend, but no. On to me again today - still wants revenge on every artist who agreed to be quoted in Lottie's article. I pointed out this would be counter-productive. I proposed - by way of some positive publicity - to try and bring forward our planned Poetry Everywhere (provisional title) scheme, which he liked.

Checking out potential young poets. The name of Iain Jeffcock much mentioned. 'With his first collection, Back / Slash, Jeffcock was instantly acclaimed for his 'vein of quietly poised sarcasm' and 'a uniquely self-regarding voice' . . .' Sounds the kind of thing.

THURSDAY To the Voice Box, to hear Jeffcock read. I think he probably is the kind of thing. I was struck by one title, which I felt we might use as a sort of slogan. He introduced it by saying: 'In the next poem, interestingly, I try to imagine myself being commercially exploited. Which, um, could happen. So - 'A Word In Your Mouth'.

'No pressure, I'm assured. Sign there. The voice, / it's great. A word, though, subject-matter-wise: / Can you do something just a bit less real? / (Keeping, of course, to your distinctive style.) / Be open to the customer. Try and catch / the mood. Don't draw the imagery so much / from violence; snooker, booze, and haute cuisine / are, we suggest, more in the clients' line.

'Words are being put into my mouth, I'm / swallowing them greedily, verbatim, / I'm swelling like a Strasbourg goose / going for bust, I'm picking up my cues / quicker than Hurricane Higgins off his head / On Special Brew. I trust I've caught the mood.'

Impressive pause. Then he added: 'I should say that I wrote that poem as a response to a newspaper article I read about a commercial arts organisation which is apparently notorious for its treatment of artists. Didn't actually say if they employed any poets.'

I caught up with him after the reading. I said that, by a remarkable coincidence, I represented the organisation he had referred to, and though he might have reservations, we could offer him an attractive arrangement.

He considered this. He said: 'I guess, historically, many poets have, if you like, benefited from, possibly, oppression.' I said, of course we couldn't promise to be quite up to Eastern Bloc standards, but we would certainly do our best.

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