Satire Saturday

On Saturday 5 December, I am joining authors Holly Hopkins, Anthony Howell and Courttia Newland for A Beast in View: an evening of satire in poetry and prose at The Room, London. Courttia posted on Facebook that it ‘Will be a great night of piss taking, promise!’

Courttia2015(1)Here’s the blurb:

A timely and unmissable evening of satire in poetry and prose at The Room, a space for the arts in Tottenham, featuring leading black British novelist Courttia Newland (pictured)—author of The Scholar, Society Within, The Gospel According to Cane, etc.—‘a truly gifted storyteller’ (Time Out)—and the 2011 Eric Gregory Award and 2014 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition-winning poet Holly Hopkins, who contributed to The Emma Press’s powerful Campaign in Poetry anthology earlier this year. Joining them are London author Tony White, best known for his novel Foxy-T—‘One of the best London novels you’ll ever get to read’ (Sunday Herald)—who will be reading satirical short The Holborn Cenotaph; and Theatre of Mistakes founder, the poet and novelist Anthony Howell, whose performance Table Moves at The Tate was described by Stewart Lee in the Observer as ‘The best performance I have ever seen’. Howell’s first collection of poems, Inside the Castle was published in 1969 and his latest, Silent Highway, is published by Anvil.

Anthony and I first discussed this event earlier in the year, after I read a piece of his—a satirical poem and accompanying note on the current unfashionableness of satire in poetry—on the Fortnightly Review.

I had already been working with the form for a while. First in 1999’s satirical stream of filth CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO, and more recently in my novel Shackleton’s Man Goes South which deployBuy Charlieunclenorfolktango from abebooksed a satirical reversal (‘world turned upside down’-style) of the Shackleton myth. More recently I have been including short story ‘The Holborn Cenotaph’ in my gigs. This is a Swiftian ‘modest proposal’ that was first written for a one-off event in the spectacular Gothic chapel at King’s College London in October 2014, but which since then seems to have taken on a life of its own.

12227193_10153347380532017_3616675729493079792_nAround the time of the Kings College event at which I launched ‘The Holborn Cenotaph’—perhaps earlier that same day—I saw actor and comedian Mark Gatiss on Twitter, bemoaning the ‘satire gap’ on TV. True enough, perhaps, although I disagree with the implicit suggestion that satire and TV impressionists are somehow synonymous. You’re looking in the wrong place, I thought to myself. Instead of looking for the new Mike Yarwood, look at Cassetteboy, whose satirical cut-up of David Cameron’s conference speech has had nearly 6.2m views on Youtube (not so different to the ratings for Coronation Street or EastEnders), or the incisive, screaming incredulity of The Artist Taxi Driver, here with yesterday’s brilliant Let’s Bomb Let’s Degrade Let’s Destroy Jeremy Corbyn:

More recently, discussing satire on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week, and rather more on point than Gatiss, was novelist Jonathan Coe, who said:

I think there’s an important difference which tends to get blurred between satire and political comedy […] we’d become, already we’d become too accustomed to just having a cosy giggle with our political masters in a way that was almost complicit. So, you know, I don’t have a problem with laughter, but there are different kinds of laughter: there is angry laughter and uncomfortable laughter, and I think that’s what satire is about.

Coe was on the show to plug his latest novel Number 11, which according to the discussion includes a satirical jab at the current London craze for lavishly extended basements. This proved not to be such a stretch, when a lovely Georgian house in South West London collapsed mid-renovation, with most news sources (and tweeters) citing a basement excavation as the likely cause. I think Coe could quite justifiably say, ‘I told you so.’

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 15.33.02

I’m really pleased that joining us for A Beast in View, will be 2011 Eric Gregory Award winner the poet Holly Hopkins, whose work I first came across in The Emma Press’s Campaign in Poetry anthology earlier this year. Holly’s contribution to the anthology got a good mention in Sabotage Reviews, who write:

Satire and animal allegory has long been associated with writing about politics; one only has to glance at a basic literary shelf housing Orwell or Swift. It is therefore apt that Campaign in Poetry opens with Holly Hopkins’ poem about bees. Only it is not about bees. It is titled ‘The General Election’, and it stings.

Holly in front of books(1)Also joining us is the brilliant Courttia Newland, whose work I have admired for some time now. We have been talking for a while about trying to do some gigs together. I get the impression that Courttia is as much an advocate of, and an enthusiast for the live reading as I am, although we haven’t appeared on a bill together for more than a decade.

It should be a good one. Do come along if you can.

I’ll be reading ‘The Holborn Cenotaph’ again on Saturday, and as is usual with readings of this story, I shall be giving away a small pamphlet edition of the full text. This emerged as a way of working at that first King’s College, London event, which was a panel discussion with the artists Stuart Brisley and Maya Balcioglu and the academic Dr Sanja Perovic, staged as part of King’s Arts & Humanities Festival 2014: Underground. ‘The Holborn Cenotaph’ is partly inspired by a work of Brisley and Balcioglu’s entitled The Cenotaph Project, and Stuart Brisley was a supporter of Piece of Paper Press in its earliest days in the mid-1990s. So when we came to plan that event together it seemed obvious that we should use the format to give away a text on the night. I have tried to -1maintain this ethos at all subsequent readings of the story. As a result, the Piece of Paper Press edition of ‘The Holborn Cenotaph’ is now in its fourth impression.

The title of our evening of satire in poetry and prose on Saturday comes from the poet Dryden, whom Anthony quotes in that Fortnightly Review article:

Since its heyday in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, satire as a poetic form seems to have fallen out of fashion. Of course, in other fields, there are still plenty of satirists. The satirical vein is still very much in circulation. But poetry itself, the principle organ of mockery in Roman times, appears to have lost sight of this cutting tool. While ranting has come into its own, there is not much in the way of satire. Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel is a satirical masterpiece in which the poet develops an extended metaphor replacing the events of his own time with an incident drawn from biblical history that comes alive thanks to his brilliant gift for portraiture. But imitating the achievements of the seventeenth century now would come over as a cliché. What does seem important to retain though is a sense of one’s subject. With satire, there is a beast in view …


with authors Holly Hopkins, Anthony Howell, Courttia Newland, Tony White
Poetry at The Room, 33 Holcombe Road, Tottenham Hale, N17 9AS
Saturday 5 December 2015
Starts: 7.30
£5 entry plus donation for refreshment



Forget ‘Black Friday’, Black November is the name of the climate change refugees’ liberation movement in my 2013 novel Shackleton’s Man Goes South.

Image: Royal Moroccan Police, courtesy of Ursula Biemann and Charles Heller, The Magheb Connection, 2006.

Image: Royal Moroccan Police, courtesy of Ursula Biemann and Charles Heller, The Magheb Connection, 2006.

The novel follows Emily and daughter Jenny, climate change refugees who arrive in South Georgia with trafficker Browning, en route to Antarctica and a reunion with husband John who has gone ahead to find work. Emily learns about Black November in a letter from John that has been smuggled from Antarctica back along the trafficking routes. ‘Sweetness, they force us to work every day,’ John writes,

They blackmail us with your lives. They think they can crush us, but we’re organised too. I know we’ll prevail by and by. Oh, Lord. I promise we’ll prevail by and by.

My darling, I have to write this quickly . . . Sweetheart, I think they may suspect . . . My darling, we’re going to proclaim a Jubilee! Remember Shackleton and his struggle to be free, and Isaiah 61 proclaiming liberty? A day of vengeance!

Patience Camp will be patient no more … Black November’s gonna be our Jubilee! Black November’s what we’ll call our Jubilee.


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‘It’s not often that fiction, a novel, genuinely manages to shock’—Read David Gullen’s review of Shackleton’s Man Goes South on Arcfinity

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(Foxy-T).S. Eliot

photo(5)Thanks to Sarah for this great photo taken during an interesting chat that I was privileged to have been a part of at Turner Contemporary, Margate on Saturday. Following my reading of ‘The Holborn Cenotaph’ earlier in the day, I took part in this conversation with Iain Sinclair and Simon Smith, in which we traced literary routes between Cannon Street Road, London E1, and Margate sands—via ‘The Holborn Cenotaph’, and the chronicler of the Kentish underground David Seabrook. This was all part of the Venice Agendas 15 event at Turner Contemporary that was put on in partnership with Work in Progress and the Waugh Office. A great day.

The next outing for satirical short ‘The Holborn Cenotaph’ is as part of A Beast in View: an evening of satire in poetry and prose on Saturday 5 December at The Room, London. I will be reading alongside some great writers, namely Courttia Newland, Holly Hopkins and The Room’s host Anthony Howell. It should be a good one. Do come along if you fancy ;)


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At the Science Museum, new video

If you didn’t get a chance to see the exhibition at the Science Museum that accompanied their publication of my climate change novel Shackleton’s Man Goes South—and which closed in April 2015 after an amazing two-year run—here’s a short video doc in which I talk about some of the background to the novel and demonstrate the unique touchscreen ebook dispenser that we developed especially for the project.


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‘High-Lands’ was a short story commissioned for radio, and broadcast live—with soundscape accompaniment by Johny Brown of Band of Holy Joy—from the Outlandia tree house in Glen Nevis in Scotland as part of the Remote Performances project by London Fieldworks and Resonance 104.4FM. The story has now been published in Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture (edited by Bruce Gilchrist, Jo Joelson and Tracey Warr) published by Ashgate.

Signing up to my free invite and mailing list means that you will hear about special projects like this in advance and get invites to gigs and book launches around the country ;)


More events listings, plus a word about bookings

New and a Q: Video page

A new page on this website gathers video of various live appearances/readings and the short docs made about particular books and projects such as Missorts, Dicky Star and the Garden Rule, Shackleton’s Man Goes South​, etc. There’s more to come, including a short video doc of the Shackleton’s Man Goes South exhibition at the Science Museum, which ran for two years from April 2013 to April 2015.

These may be books you haven’t read yet, projects you haven’t seen, but as ever I’d love to hear what friends think ;)

So to my question:

Q. which kinds of book/author videos do you prefer, and which do you think give you a better flavour, the live videos or the short documentaries? I’m interested because these are increasingly—with book trailers of course—part of how we all work these days.


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‘Small publishers …’

Michael Caines has written a nice post for the TLS blog about Joanna Walsh’s “Shklovsky’s Zoo” and Piece of Paper Press—as well as some other artists’ book miniatures:

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 08.36.59Take a piece of A4 paper. Fold it in half (reducing it to A5 size), then twice more (A6; A7). A little more unfolding and refolding, interrupted by one snip of the scissors, and there you have it – a booklet of eight pages. Stitch it and trim the edges. Now all you have to do is cover it with suitable words and pictures … I read the A7-sized Shklovsky’s Zoo by Joanna Walsh (published earlier this year by Tony White’s deliberately lo-fi and generous-spirited Piece of Paper Press) as a complimentary complement: it’s not about reading the book itself but trying to get hold of a copy, as well as a writing residency, Kafka, the narrator coming adrift (a relationship has ended, and the fellow writing residents aren’t exactly her cup of tea). Or it’s about those things and it’s not … That seems like plenty to find tucked away in a few pages made from a single sheet of paper.

Launch of “Shklovsky’s Zoo” at bookartbookshop, London, July 2015

Launch of “Shklovsky’s Zoo” at bookartbookshop, London, July 2015


Read Michael Caines’, ‘Small Publishers, Smaller Books’, on the TLS Blog

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