Poetic puffs ... perverse pleasures ... publishers' notes

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The Independent Online
POETS! Poets! Everywhere you look! Turning up on Radio 1, making documentaries for the BBC, reviewing, signing, reading. Well not poets, exactly. One poet, to be precise: Simon Armitage. He's everywhere. Is he good? Sort of. Why him, though? Is it his good-bloke bluffness, his flat, Northern no-nonsense voice, his get-it-in-one poems, his piquant other life as a probation officer? But despite all this success, his bright new projects have a way of petering out. His stint as editor of a poetry slot on the Guardian lasted nanoseconds. Still, Chatto & Windus reckoned they'd got a coup when they appointed him as their poetry editor, with a brief to truffle up new talent. Alas, Simon's career in publishing was equally unimpressive; in his brief term of office he brought the grand total of three poets on board, one of whom was his old mucker from hometown Huddersfield, Milner Chase. Since Armitage's departure, Chatto has had no poetry editor at all, and the princely total of two collections are scheduled for July-December this year. One source at Chatto admitted that this amounts to "fizzling poetry out". Chatto seems to think that Armitage will still be working for them as a freelance editor; Armitage, contacted in Yorkshire, thinks otherwise. "I told them they should be doing more than four books a year," he said forcefully. "Simon was unable to continue due to his other commitments. He's become more and more famous," said Chatto's Jonathan Burnham soothingly. "We're not phasing out poetry; we'll continue to publish anything we think is worthy, whether it's two, four or eight books a year." And is Simon still doing the probation work? Nah, phased out long ago. Other commitments.

n ANNE RICE. Remember her? Yes you do, creepy American writer, penned Interview with the Vampire, violently objected to Tom Cruise being cast as Lestat, then abjectly apologised on seeing the film. Yes, that one. Well, Anne Rice has a husband, Stan Rice. A poet, as it happens, and rather a rotten one. Anne Rice sells squillions for Chatto & Windus (them again!), vastly popular Gothic shockers featuring witches, ghouls and waifs in velvet dresses. Stan Rice, on whom the character of hunky Lestat was based, is best known in this country through the good offices of his wife, who obligingly leaves chunks of his oeuvre littered around her own bestsellers. Why do I mention this? Because by a coincidence which will no doubt delight the couple, his is one of the two collections in the post-Armitage Chatto poetry list.

WHAT will you be doing over the bank holiday weekend? In the village of Combe Martin, Devon, they'll be winding up the traditional hunt for the Earl of Rhone. Run to ground in Lady's Wood, he'll then be marched off and thrown into the sea. Cheeses are being rolled down hills in Brockworth, Gloucestershire; the HMS Sultan Window Ladder Display Team (don't ask me) is performing at the Melton Show, Melton Mowbray, but for me it was a toss-up between genteel literary ligging at the Hay Festival or a trip to Amsterdam for Europerve 5. Europerve is an annual weekend bash for lovers of constrictive shiny clothing. I have sent a little man off in my stead. He'll be the one in rubber chaps, g-string, corset and zip-up mask specially adapted with a tube to drink lager through. How, I inquire, does he get this stuff through customs? Easy-peasy getting into Holland, apparently. On the way back, the trick is to wear the same socks the whole weekend (oh, fond childhood memories of Wellingtons!) and place them ostentatiously at the top of the bag. One whiff is generally enough to deter HM Customs.

n THE Hay Festival box office records a curious telephone conversation with a man who had bought tickets for several events but was having trouble finding Hay-on-Wye on his map. Establishing that the map in question was the London Tube map, they gently pointed out, "It's a village in Wales". Pause. "Is that near Heathrow?"

NEXT week sees the start of the John Bunyan festival in his home-town, Bedford. Not a lot of spring-time laughs to be gleaned from that particular author, one suspects, but the festival organisers think differently. There's a 17th-century "fayre" in the town centre, with lots of people dressing up, stalls, jugglers, mummers and so forth. There's a Civil War Skirmish on Town Bridge, the John Bunyan Town Crier Competition in Harpur Street, and a battle re-enactment in Bedford Park. Reflecting that the battles fought by the author of Grace Abounding tended to be spiritual ones, I inquire delicately whether there's anything more cerebral on offer. "Oh yes. We're having an illustrated talk on 17th-century beer." There's a bit of spiritual refreshment, too, in the form of Terry Waite. Details 01234-221754.

n WHAT exactly is a Drag King? A club promoter, Peter Paul Hartnett, is so keen on the idea that he's created a new club-night, Naive ("For Bright-Eyed Boys and Bushy-Tailed Girls") round the concept. Sounds rather like the Tufty club, doesn't it? Taking as his rallying cry, "Honey, you don't have to be the sex it says on your birth certificate," he aims to attract "man-dragsters, blurrers and gender-blenders" on Thursdays at Maximus in London's Leicester Square. So who exactly is behind this venture? "Oh, just a bunch of disco sodomites who think women have the right to be camp, too," he says blithely. But hang on, won't it just be a sea of pin-stripe? "Oooh, no, we've got some skinhead girl-boys coming, some rockabillies ..." Jewel, who'll be on the door, will be wearing a suit and stubble - that's yesterday's head-shavings applied with Pritt Stick - "plus I've got some longer pieces of hair that I've cut off my friends, to use as a beard. I'm quite a collector of hair". Style tip: on no account use Copydex, says Jewel. "It's awful; it rips your real hair out."

SOMEHOW I think FLIP (Fun Lovers In Publishing - no, honestly!) is more my scene. Nigel Browning wants to put some buzz back into this legendarily sociable but now cowering industry. "No one gets promoted, budgets are down, lunches are out, the trade press is full of gloom, the glamour's gone, someone got the sack yesterday, in the sack is the only way to get on - it's no fun!" howls Browning. "No one dares go for a drink after work in case people think they're plotting. Where's the bitching gone? Where can you gossip?" To remedy this shattering malaise, FLIP was born. An inaugural wine bar session in central London is planned for June. Browning promises no joining fee, no committees, boring speeches or seminars. "The world of publishing has been waiting for FLIP. Mwah! Mwah! See you there!"

n NOW they knew how to have fun in those days. Richard Neville's Hippie Hippie Shake ("The Dreams, the Trips, the Trials, the Love-ins, the Screw- Ups ... the Sixties") caused a furore when the Standard invited columnists, including, infamously, Suzanne Moore, to comment on a reference to Germaine Greer's hysterectomy. Now an urgent erratum slip is being inserted: "The author, Richard Neville, has misremembered this conversation: Germaine Greer has had a natural menopause and is still in possession of her uterus." Phew! Sorted!

Charles Nevin is on holiday.

WHEN Attitude magazine illustrated an article on the New Labour with Tony Blair shimmying in satin, John Prescott as a leather boy, Gordon Brown as a muscle Mary ("Consider the whole package!") and Margaret Beckett a tattooed lesbian (above), the year-old fashion and lifestyle magazine got an unexpected boost of interest from the tabloid press. Once upon a time there was i-D, Blitz and The Face, but the latest cutting-edge style magazine is a semi-obscure glossy aimed at the gay market. Old- style men's mags were always terrified of looking too queer but Attitude managed to reverse the popular wisdom that a hint of pink would send big- time advertisers screaming. Rather than the usual bespectacled Calvin Klein yuppies, immaculate in suits or posing sternly in noli-me-tangere white briefs, Attitude's fashion team fielded androgynous twins, hustlers, hitch-hikers, gay clones, Burlington Berties and Greek Gods pouting and giggling across ravishingly photographed spreads. Since the speedy demise of its only rival, Phase, it has been the only 100 per cent "out" men's mag. Says its Danish fashion editor, Gitte Meldgaard - responsible among other things for a spread where models posed bollock-naked except for their aftershave - "Before we came on the scene, it was taboo for a male model to wear lipstick; now Steven Meisel's doing it for his next campaign. Things like Uomo Vogue are getting much more camp." Devoted fans of the mag include Jean-Paul Gaultier and Dolce & Gabbana, regular advertisers along with big-money accounts such as DKNY, Armani and Klein himself. It's not all chest-waxes and Versace knickers, though. The magazine has just had a typographical nightmare revamp with butch capital letters bellowing off every page, but "What's He Like?" (egotistical stars explain themselves), "It's a Queer World" (cultural commentator Mark Simpson explores the twilight land of the heterosexual) and interviews where straight male stars are informed how much the journalist fancies them still make irresistible reading.