Tag Archives: arts

Building a nation of automatons


Nothing to see here, move along – Dad rant about education.
I read this letter to our Prime Minister, David Cameron, from a worried mum and it struck a chord with me.
 My gripe is not with my daughters’ school, nor their teachers, but with the with the government curriculum.
 I have the utmost respect for my daughters’ school, their teachers and the way they try to teach them.
I went to my kids’ bookshare this week. My eldest had four maths exercise books packed full. And half of one art book. Half. For almost a whole academic year.
I am not advocating that they spend all their time painting pretty pictures rather than doing maths. I am advocating that they learn creative thinking. How to solve problems laterally and creatively. To come up with solutions that they might not hitherto have dared to express, rather than regurgitate the obvious answers to facts such as 2+2=
There’s creativity in maths. Just look at fractals or architecture. Perspective/angles, shapes, fractions (composition).
Instead of asking kids what the speed of light is, (after the fact has been taught them), ask them how do they think they could travel as fast as the speed of light. I bet you’d get some fantastic answers. (Incorrect though, obviously.)
I want my children to question. And to offer up ideas as to the solution. This is how we will create the next generation of thinkers and leaders.
But perhaps we won’t. Because they probably won’t pass their sats.
Both of my children are creative. Both take singing lessons. One takes clarinet lessons and writes stories and makes her own books at home. They love reading and don’t have to be asked to do so. They both have a passion for animals and conservation. They both love to express themselves through art and sculpture. They love nature and history. And they both just got a distinction in their Musical Theatre grade 2 exam.
And they both love exploring what our wonderful world has to offer.
What they hate is: maths and English (yes, even though they love writing).
You know what I tell my daughter when she’s writing a story at home? Forget spelling, grammar and punctuation. Just get your thoughts and ideas down. We’ll get some gubbins [me] to put the apostrophes in later.
The first thing the government axes when times are tough are the arts. They are narrow-minded idiots. In my view, the arts are more important than maths. For those who haven’t seen it before, this is my mantra:
Without the arts, we wouldn’t have language or the written word. Without the arts, we have no culture. Without culture, we have no society. Without society, we have no civilisation. And without civilisation, we have anarchy.
Which, in itself, is paradoxical, because so many artists view themselves as rebels to society. To me, artists aren’t rebels, they are pioneers.
Perhaps, most importantly; without the Arts, where is the creativity that will solve the world’s problems going to come from? Including economic and scientific ones?
The government pontificates about building a nation of leaders through education. But, in reality, all they are creating are automatons who only know how to regurgitate answers to known facts. What they aren’t doing is educating children not just to answer questions, but to ask them.
This is the original letter from Beth Beynon courtesy of Andy White.
Dear Prime Minister,
Today my daughter got her Year 6 SATS results. Level 4 across the board which, my years of teaching experience tell me, is absolutely spot on for Year 6.
So can you tell me why she has spent today in tears? Why she’s lying on her bed sobbing, because she knows she’s not good enough?
There’s a part of me that barely has the energy to write this. To ask you why you insist on putting 10 and 11 year olds through a system that takes nothing of child development or good pedagogy in to account, or why you put relentless pressure on schools to up their expectations, so what was once seen as good progress is suddenly a failure. But why bother? Why bore you with analogies of weighing pigs that nobody fed? You won’t listen to highly qualified education experts, or even people who, you know, actually teach. So I’m under no illusion that you will listen to me.
I do however want to tell you what is happening in my house tonight.
My funny, intelligent, artistic daughter has received a message today.
She’s average.
The government has told her so.
And that’s not good enough.
The fact that she has rhythm in her soul, a stunning singing voice and takes people’s breath away when she dances, the fact that she thinks about the meaning of life and loves to ponder the great questions like why are we here and what our purpose could be, or the way she cared for her dying Grandmother – painting her toe nails and singing to her, the way she puts her younger sister into her own bed because she woke with a bad dream. These things that make the whole person that my daughter is. It’s all irrelevant.
She’s just average. And that’s not good enough. You’ve told her so.
Another one bites the dust.
Thing is Mr. Cameron, my daughter is wise to you. At eleven she has learned that SATS are just a game.
“I’ve not learnt anything this year Mummy,” she told me during the harrowing and stressful weeks leading up to the SATS “Just how to pass some stupid test for the stupid government”.
From the mouths of babes, Mr. Cameron, from the mouths of babes.
And so here we are. Your SATS results are in. You can number crunch to your heart’s content. You can order schools from best to worst, rank them, categorise them and make them work for you. Numbers are clever , aren’t they? Look what they did for bringing all those children out of poverty! Clever old you.
And meanwhile my daughter will go to sleep tonight despising a government that has squandered a year of her education so they can tell her she’s no more than average. And that it’s not good enough.
Oh, one more thing. She brought home her Grade Three ballet certificate today. She got a distinction.
But I don’t suppose you’re the slightest bit interested in that.

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If I can do it, it’s not art.


I went to visit my mate, Markham and his lovely wife, Sarah, in our nation’s fair capital last week. (That’s Londinium, if you don’t know where I live.)

Anyhoop, apart from drinking copious amounts of alcohol – as is our wont – and eating my own body weight in Rogan Josh, I took the liberty of culturising my soul by visiting a few galleries.

I managed to get to The National Portrait Gallery, The National Gallery and The Tate Modern.

I don’t know about you, but I always feel reinvigorated and inspired after a jaunt to a gallery. And, whilst Manchester has a fair few decent galleries, there’s nothing quite like a visit to a capital city to see the top-banana stuff.

The highlights for me, (apart from the boozing), were the BP Portrait Awards at the NPG. Some fantastically refreshing stuff on show. I even saw that portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge. (Or, Kate, as I prefer to call her.) I know she looks a tad tired in the piccie, but you have to admit, she’s still one of the most beautiful women in the world. (Up the republic!)

images

Did someone ask for a restorer?

Actually, I think it was this one.

Actually, I think it was this one.

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Jamie Routley

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John Devane

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Miseon Lee

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Geert Schless

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Antonio Laglia

Now, the National Gallery is pretty vast, and time was pressing, so I just visited a couple of rooms – mainly the 19th Century galleries, where I got see works by: Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, Cézanne, Picasso, Pissarro, Klimt, Vuillard, Degas, Sisley, Seurat, Gaugin and Matisse. My artistic soul was well and truly satiated. Here are a few highlights for your delectation.

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Morisot

Renoir

Renoir

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Degas

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Monet

Seurat

Seurat

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Picasso

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Monet

I also took a sneaky peek in a section where they had some medieval paintings of Anne Boleyn, King Dicky 3, Lizzie 1, and a whole host of others. It wasn’t so much the paintings that fascinated me, but being in the presence of work that was commissioned while these historic people were alive. (Or not, as the case may be.)

Buried under a bloody car park, indeed.

Buried under a bloody car park, indeed.

Anne_boleyn2

Last up, was The Tate Modern. And, whilst I’m all up for a bit of modern art, it was the ‘older’ fraternity that appealed to me the most – Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Miro, Giacometti, Picasso, Turner, Warhol, Hockney, Kandinsky et al.

turner-fighting-temeraire-ng524-r-towed-ship-sunset-twothird

Turner

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Bacon

But, I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed with the majority of the works. So much so, that I remarked to my mate, Markham, that – if I can do it, it’s not art.

Pause button by Rothco. I could do that.

Pause button by Rothco. I could do that.

Yves Klein. You're having a Turkish, mate.

Yves Klein. You’re having a Turkish, mate.

Pollock's.

Pollock’s.

Very graciously, he said that I should make a note of that remark because it was profound. (He always says nice things to me. That’s why he’s my mate.)

He also said that if I were to scrawl it on a piece of paper it would probably get hung in the gallery.

So, here we are. Profundity or Luddite. It’s your call.

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My other mate, Mike McGinn, is an artist based in Edinburgh. (I have a thing about friends who’s name begins with ‘M’ – sorry, Zebediah.) And I reckon his work should be in the Tate. It’s miles better than some of the stuff they have in there.

Don’t get me wrong, the Tate Modern is a fantastic art gallery and it has some wonderful works in its collection. Just not enough of it on show at this moment in time. Maybe I’m just a traditionalist.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By Mike McGinn

The other thing that gets my goat is Contemporary Art Photographers. Not all of them, mind. I love Cindy Sherman and Ansel Adams just to name a couple. But there are so many art photographers out there that are technically inept. They may have an eye for a composition and an idea, but too many of them lack the technical skills to make them good photographs. I’m talking mainly about lighting, contrast, colour and depth. It’s one thing to have a concept. Taking it to the next level and being able to bring that concept to life through technical wizardry, is what makes it art.

The key is: Know your medium – then surpass it.

I’ve had the good fortune to work with many brilliant commercial photographers over the past 30 years in the ad industry. And a great many of them would be (and are) better artists than those who ply their trade doing it. I suspect that the reason many of them aren’t famous is because they are tarnished by the word “commercial”.

FFS

Eggleston. Contemporary art? FFS.

Sri Lanka by DMC

Sri Lanka by DMC

Fishermen, Sri Lanka by DMC

Fishermen, Sri Lanka by DMC

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Le cadavre d’exquis, de l’amour – new poem


Le cadavre d’exquis, de l’amour.

Draguignan, 1999.

© David Milligan-Croft

Outside the vineyard,
Droplets of rain refresh us,
Along with the bottle of white wine,
On the wrought iron table.

There’s a sunflower between us
On the cover of your notebook;
We take it in turns
To write our exquisite corpse, of love.

Occasionally, we stop,
To exchange wine through baisers,
While the rain makes our words bleed,
Like your mascara at Nice airport.

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W.B. Yeats as you’ve never heard before…


Just a quickie today. I wanted to share this stunning musical version of W.B. Yeats’ poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree.

Sung by Angel Harrigan, it’s hauntingly seductive. Music by Roger Gregg, from the album, Serpent In The Bee-Loud Glade.

Brought to my attention by one of Ireland’s preeminent poets, Patrick Chapman. Have a sneaky listen to one of his poems here, too.

P.S. Apologies to my FB friends for whom I have already shared this.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

By W.B. Yeats

I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

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Let me fail in sunshine – new poem


Perhaps I could be accused of trying to solicit pathos. However, that was never my intention. I just like the image that it paints.

LET ME FAIL IN SUNSHINE.

© David Milligan-Croft

I was born for the sun.
To sit in creased, cream flannels,
Specks of red wine on a grubby white shirt,
Dusty feet, naked in espadrilles.

I could think in the sun.
Writing plays of heroes and lovers;
Perhaps my life story, (with an exaggeration or two),
Royalties and rights, money for jam.

I could dream in the sun.
A romance I made up, which lasted forever;
At home, she wore a floral dress, and carved words into paper,
Wherever that was.

I could fail in the sun.
Where tears of remorse dried in the mid-day haze;
Idle dreams floating like ice in a glass,
Slowly, slowly, slipping away.

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The University of Manchester – World Firsts


This is a series of World Firsts that The University of Manchester can lay claim to.

I was going to go for a ‘cleverer’ headline. Something along the lines of: Coming first is second nature. However, on reflection, because the achievements are so incredibly brilliant and interesting, I don’t think the headline needs to work that hard. What do you think?

Feel free to click on the images and download the jpgs to see their true colours and read the text. For some reason, the logo looks blue on here, but comes out fine when you save it to your desktop.

Marie Stopes, The University of Manchester, World Firsts,

Marie Stopes

Ernest Rutherford, The University of Manchester,

Ernest Rutherford

Christabel Pankhurst, The University of Manchester,

Christabel Pankhurst

ARTHUR-LEWIS

W. Arthur Lewis

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I have a dream too, you know.


True, it may not be as ambitious and world-changing as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s. But it’s a dream nonetheless.

To be honest, I wasn’t going to post about it until I felt I was in more of a position to realise this dream. But short of winning the Euro Millions Lottery, it aint going to happen without some serious philanthropic backer.

So, what is my dream?

Well, it’s to build a School of Arts for under-privileged kids.

Kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds in large inner-city estates. Kids who might not ordinarily get the opportunity to explore the more creative aspects of their nature.

What good would that do society? We’re in a depression, don’t you know!

Problems in every field of human endeavour are virtually always solved by creative thinking. Even the great Albert Einstein said so himself. Creativity allows us to look at problems from different angles and apply new thinking to solve problems.

Moreover, I don’t see it as a school that produces an unprecedented amount of artists. But an unprecedented amount of creative thinkers – whichever vocation they choose to pursue later in life. Whether it be mathematics, science, business, computers, product design, or economics.

And yes, a few more more artists too. And what’s wrong with that? Art is seen as a dirty word in this country. If I tell people I write poetry, they shift uneasily in their seats. If I said I write poetry in Ireland the response would be a polite smile and a nod toward the back of the queue.

Do you think the first rocket flight to the moon was dreamed up by a scientist?

Sure, scientists and engineers made it a reality. But it is creative people who come up with the ideas and the original solutions of how they can be achieved.

What will the kids do?

The school will develop and encourage creative thinking and self-expression.

It will foster, nurture and encourage exploration of the arts in all its many and varied forms including: painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, poetry, literature, screenplays, theatre, drama, dance, music, design, digital arts, film, photography, humanities, languages, and the classics.

Where is this school?

I quite fancy the idea of transforming a derelict Victorian mill. There’s something quite ironic about that. Though it certainly wouldn’t be a prerequisite. (Salts Mill in Bradford is a good example.)

Initially, an inner-city campus close to urban populations that have a high level of low socioeconomic families. Basically, anywhere across the Manchester – Huddersfield – Halifax – Leeds belt. It’s also sufficiently ‘central’ enough to accommodate children from further afield.

It would also be good to have a rural retreat – somewhere like the Lake District, Peak District or the Yorkshire Dales, where children can attend week-long courses/classes which double up as a holiday.

I would also like to open an international sister school in India or Sri Lanka where people from distinctly different cultures can share ideas. These schools could also participate in exchange programmes. (Then subsequently, even further afield: China, South America, South Asia.)

What about science subjects?

This school wouldn’t be a replacement for existing schools and their curricula – more of an extension to them.

Would it exclude people from non low socioeconomic backgrounds?

Not at all. But opportunities for middle-class families in other schools are much more accessible, regardless of ability.

Intake for low income kids would be based as much on desire and enthusiasm to participate rather than ability. There would be a limited number of places for more affluent children. Sort of like Eton – in reverse.

What kind of courses will it run?

Day-long workshops for visiting schools.

After-school classes.

Week-long courses. (Which would include accommodation for traveling students.)

Weekend classes.

Full-time sixth form courses. (A-levels.)

Masters and PhD courses.

What ages are we talking about?

Key Stage 2, up to, and including, sixth form.

Undergraduate, Masters and PhD courses.

What else does the school have?

Apart from studios and classrooms?

There’d be accommodation for students who are visiting from further afield.

Cafe / restaurant.

Gallery to promote and sell students’ work.

Gallery featuring independent contemporary and traditional art.

Masterclasses from guest lecturers.

State of the art library. (Both on and off-line.)

Book shop.

Art-house cinema.

Who will pay for it?

Well, that’s the biggest question of all.

A like-minded philanthropist would be nice.

Arts Council grant.

Lottery funding.

A percentage of Masters and PhD students’ tuition fees could go towards funding.

Sales from restaurant and galleries.

Fundraising / donations.

An Ideal World School of Arts.

Salts Mill, Bradford.

David Hockney at Salts Mill.

Salts Mill interior.

Studio space?

Any constructive criticism and advice about how to get something like this funded and off the ground would be greatly appreciated.

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The Boating Party – with Patrick Chapman


Renoir, luncheon of the boating party, 1881

Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1881. By Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

The Boating Party is a brand new feature on my blog. It’s a series of interviews with writers, artists, photographers, filmmakers and the like.

In times of economic hardship the Arts are usually the first things to be axed. But, in my view, the Arts are the most important aspect of our civilisation. Without the arts, we have no culture. Without culture, we have no society. Without society, we have no civilisation. And without civilisation, we have anarchy. Which, in itself, is paradoxical, because so many artists view themselves as rebels to society.

Artists aren’t rebels, they are pioneers.

And perhaps, most importantly; without the Arts, where’s the creativity that will solve the world’s problems? Including economic and scientific ones?

I hope a brief glimpse into their lives is as inspiring to you as it is to me.

First up, Irish writer, Patrick Chapman. Poet, screenwriter, short story writer and all round raconteur. Not only is Patrick a great friend, he’s been a constant source of encouragement and inspiration, for my own writing.

Patrick Chapman

Patrick Chapman

What’s your greatest personal or career achievement?

I hesitate to nominate a ‘greatest personal achievement’. As a person, I’m not entirely sure I’ve achieved anything apart from not dying. As a writer, I could nominate working with the Daleks on a Doctor Who audio play – but that’d be just the most fun. It’d have to be my New & Selected Poems, A Promiscuity of Spines, which spans 25 years of work. The book has an elegant cover art-directed by Vaughan Oliver, one of my design heroes. It was a pleasure to be able to commission him and find out that he’s a lovely bloke to work with.

What’s been your greatest sacrifice?

That’s difficult to say, as I live in the so-called First world. Someone takes away my iPad and I cite the Geneva Convention. You could say I’ve sacrificed having a regular life in order to be a writer – which to me isn’t a sacrifice.

To whom do you owe a debt of gratitude?

Too many people to list them all. There was Macdara Woods, a venerable Irish poet who, 25 years ago, gave me vital encouragement starting off. Before that, my teacher of English, Paddy Nangle, let me write short stories instead of essays.

Who and what inspire you?

People who don’t think they can write but who really can. I taught budding writers a couple of years ago and was struck by the quiet ones in the class – they hesitated and even resisted reading in front of the others but when they did, their work shone. Quiet geniuses inspire me. As for what rather than who? Everything and anything. I tend to get obsessed by a thought or an idea that won’t let go until I’ve wrestled it into a poem. Happiness, therefore, is a blank screen filled.

What was the last thing that inspired you?

It was Steven Shainberg’s film, Fur, which is an imaginary portrait of Diane Arbus. Not at all biographical in the conventional sense. Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr are both superb in it. The poster for Fur showed Downey without all the hair – for most of that film he looks like a Wookiee but the marketing department, presumably, didn’t want it to come across as a sequel to Beauty and the Beast.

What makes you unhappy?

Right now it’s the thought that we’re quite possibly heading into a world of six degrees of global warming. That’s not Earth, it’s Venus. Nobody in power wants to think about it and it’s almost too terrible to contemplate, so people carry on regardless.

What makes you smile?

Woody Allen when he’s on form. His early, funny ones still crack me up, especially Take the Money and Run, and Love & Death. Annie Hall and Manhattan are my two favourites. I also have a fondness for his darker films, such as Husbands and Wives and Deconstructing Harry. Cassandra’s Dream was terrible, however.

What are you reading?

The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch. I loved his earlier book, The Fabric of Reality, and this one is as good. I recently finished Wetlands by Charlotte Roche, which was a hoot, especially as I was about to undergo a colonoscopy shortly after reading it.

Who, or what, are you listening to?

Dark Wood, the new e.p. by my current favourite band Abagail Grey, plus the Go-Betweens compilation, Quiet Heart, the Pet Shop Boys album, Elysium, and the David Byrne and St. Vincent record, Love This Giant.

What’s your favourite film?

Blade Runner. For thirty years I’ve loved its melancholy and its pessimism and its art direction, and Sean Young with that hair and those shoulder pads. It’s such a poetic portrait of lost souls in hell, and it’s got a great soundtrack by Vangelis. It’s also Harrison Ford’s finest two hours on film.

What frightens you?

The future. I have no idea how to manipulate it so that I don’t end up dead within the next hundred years.

What can’t you live without?

Apart from the obvious – air, water, coffee, etc – it’s the ability to write. This is what keeps me going. Without writing, I don’t really exist.

What’s your motto?

“The world is not enough.” If it’s good enough for James Bond, it’s good enough for me.

If you could be anyone other than yourself, who would it be?

J.G. Ballard, for his vision but not necessarily for his demons, though the two are inextricable. He gave a very good answer to the Paris Review when asked about his writing schedule: “Two hours in the late morning, two in the early afternoon, followed by a walk along the river to think over the next day. Then at six, Scotch and soda, and oblivion.”

If you only had one year to live what would you do?
Ignore all the warnings.

Up whose arse would you like to stick a rocket, and why?

The Catholic Church. But that’s a lot of rockets and a lot of arses. It would be only part payback, and poetic justice, for their former practice of torturing infidels to death by shoving hot pokers up their bottoms. That said, let’s not even get started on the Catholic Church and bottoms.

Who would you like to be stuck in an elevator with?

Steven Moffat. He’s a writing hero, not just for Doctor Who and Sherlock. I loved Coupling and Jekyll as well. I assume from all of this, plus his former Twitter feed, that he’d be interesting company at close quarters. I’d just let him do all the talking, and would write everything down.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just put the New & Selected Poems to bed and am now turning to a collection of short stories, due out next year. Also, my physique. One of these projects is going better than the other.

Which six people would you invite to your boating party?

You know when you’ve just come down with a sudden, life-threatening illness in public and someone asks ‘Who’s your doctor?’ and you say ‘Tom Baker’? That’s how you know you’re a nerd. I’d ask Tom Baker first, not just because he was ‘my’ Doctor growing up but because I really enjoyed the tales of Soho in his autobiography – getting drunk with Francis Bacon – and his disturbing and brilliant book for children, The Boy Who Kicked Pigs. Jessica Hynes would be on the list too because I’ve admired her work since Spaced. Kate Bush, simply because she’s Kate Bush. Richard Dawkins, because he’s fascinating as a scientist, and I’m in his camp when it comes to religion. Alan Turing, just so I could tell him he’s been vindicated. And Douglas Adams, because he was very, very tall.

What question would you have liked me to ask?

Would you rather be happy than right?

I’d rather not be happy than wrong.

Thank you, Patrick.

Patrick Chapman

A Promiscuity of Spines by Patrick Chapman

Patrick Chapman was born in 1968 and lives in Dublin, Ireland. He is the author of six poetry collections, the latest of which, A Promiscuity of Spines: New & Selected Poems, is published on October 10th by Salmon Poetry. His other collections are Jazztown (1991), The New Pornography (1996), Breaking Hearts and Traffic Lights (2007), A Shopping Mall on Mars (2008), and The Darwin Vampires (2010). He has also written a book of stories, The Wow Signal (2007); an award-winning film, Burning the Bed; episodes of the Cbeebies series Garth & Bev; and a Doctor Who audio play, Fear of the Daleks. In 2010 his work was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Weblink.
http://www.salmonpoetry.com/

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