My dear friend Christian Stretton (artist, librarian, dad!) went to see author Jonathan Franzen in Manchester last week (3rd October). He reports back:

When Jonathan Franzen appears behind the lectern at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester, he stops and stands amidst all the applause with a confused look on his face. Franzen is caught in a moment of time directly between the generous media coverage of his new book Freedom being recalled for pulping, and the equally extensive column inches devoted to the spectacles snatch which will occur tomorrow night.

This pregnant pause though is not due to his being at the centre of a media whirlwind. Instead, his confusion is brought about by the nature of the lectern which he stands behind. In fact, the lectern is an improvised ‘customer comments’ box and, as such, is much too short for his tall frame, and has no place on which he can rest his book. He wrestles the box onto the stage, and then shuffles it around, before looking up and grinning, as if noticing us for the first time.

If you were aware of Franzen’s work only through the copious articles and reviews which he garners, it would be easy to hate him. But to read his books, and to see him speaking confidently, openly about his writing, is another matter. Seeing him here tonight as a vulnerable, all too human writer, a gulf appears evident.

There are many questions tonight (from Dave Haslam) about Franzen’s media presence: he shifts uncomfortably in his seat when asked about the ‘Great American Novelist’ label, talks about the ‘unreality’ of these promotion tours, and even mentions Oprah. But these are not his most interesting (or revealing) answers. Only when Haslam gets down to the writing do we find Franzen exposed. When asked if he reveals his own political beliefs even when writing in character, his articulate response explains how he has many differing opinions in his head, each held to be true at the same time, and the characters that he creates are a way of resolving these differences.

Haslam clearly admires Franzen, and so his line of questioning is unlikely to provoke. Nevertheless, when he asks about Franzen’s own teenage years, the audience note a small crumble in the time it takes for Franzen to compose his answer. ‘At the start of the tour, I said I wasn’t going to talk about the meaning of the title,’ he begins, tantalisingly. The ‘Freedom’ of the title, he goes on to explain, is more about his own personal freedom from his past. This book, it seems, was his release; a way of breaking from his adolescent self. ‘I feel like I was an adolescent until about two years ago’ he smirks (Franzen is 52 years old).

There is no question, Franzen presents himself well. By his own admission, he is unafraid of public speaking, so doesn’t really see the polarity of his writing life, compared to his promotional life. By the end of the evening, we are all charmed by his answers. Yet, for all his success, I feel sympathy for a gentle, fragile man with a talent for constructing a good sentence, caught in the eye of a storm that he seems incapable of creating himself, and unlikely to enjoy.

As I leave, he shakes my hand. A confident American handshake with good eye contact. He seems to have enjoyed tonight, for all its unreality.

Via the Manchester Evening News:

Work will begin early next year on the £2.5m restoration of one of English literature's most significant landmarks.

Number 84 Plymouth Grove in Ardwick is the house where Elizabeth Gaskell wrote many of her novels, including Cranford and Wives and Daughters.

Historians have been working and fundraising for the last decade to preserve the house and Manchester council has granted planning permission for the work to begin.

Janet Allan, chairman of the Manchester Historic Buildings Trust, which now owns the house, said: "It still has its original features, including ceiling cornices, doors and windows.

"It is a beautiful building and among the homes of women writers, only the houses of the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen rival Plymouth Grove in importance." (More...)

Tomorrow is National Poetry Day. I suggest you all stay at home and read Wallace Stevens.

If you do happen to venture out into the mean streets tomorrow and are anywhere near Manchester then you should know that Clarity or Death!, a new collection of poems by Geoffrey Hill-expert Jeffrey Wainwright (author of the excellent and very useful introduction to poetry Poetry: the Basics and the very fine Acceptable Words: Essays on the Poetry of Geoffrey Hill), is being launched, Thursday 9th October at 6.30pm, in Lecture Theatre 7, Geoffrey Manton Building, Manchester Metropolitan University. (The event is free, introduced by our pal Michael Schmidt, but for more information please email:

This coming Thursday on Radio 4:

Screenwriter Kay Mellor explores the legacy of Shelagh Delaney's play A Taste of Honey, fifty years after it first shocked and enthralled audiences. The play brought social taboos and working-class reality to the London stage as never before. Interviews with the original cast and archive material shed new light on the play's importance for the evolution of British theatre.

Fans of The Smiths and Northerners (Delaney was born in Broughton, Salford, Lancs.) of a certain age and hue will understand my nostalgia for this slice of sociology (which was one of the first things I ever saw in the theatre).

And now for some local news! Manchester Libraries now has its own literature blog. The Manchester Lit List is "dedicated to literature news and events in Manchester Libraries and partnering organisations. If you're looking for any information on readings by poets and novelists in Manchester, or if you would like to find out more about local and famous writers, then take a look."

Short notice, I know, but tonight at 7pm at The Salt Museum (162 London Road, Northwich, Cheshire, CW9 8AB) -- Halloween Horrors: An evening of readings from Phobic: Modern Horror Stories with Nicholas Royle, Conrad Williams and & Emma Unsworth. Admission is £3 (on sale at the door; redeemable against the price of the book).

Short notice I know, but this evening at 6pm, in Lecture Theatre 6 of the Geoffrey Manton Building, at MMU, there is going to be an Alice Oswald reading.

Alice is the author of Woods etc. and Dart. She is a past recipient of the Forward Poetry Prize and The Eric Gregory Award, and has been short-listed for the T.S. Elliot Prize. She was named one of the Poetry Book Society's Next Generation poets in 2004. This event is hosted by the Writing School, is open to the public, and is free of charge to students and staff of MMU, £5 (£3 concessions) to the rest of us.

A 30th birthday celebration of Manchester-based poetry publisher Carcanet Press (The Sunday Times Millennium Small Publisher of the Year in 2000) and its Editorial and Managing Director, the poet and critic Professor Michael Schmidt FRSL OBE, will take place at 7.30pm tonight at The Grand Gallery, The National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South, New York. Hosted by the Poetry Society of America, the event will feature an incredible programme of readings by John Ashbery, Eavan Boland, Mark Doty, Marilyn Hacker, Stanley Moss, Kei Miller, Paul Muldoon, Maureen O'Hara, Marie Ponsot, John Peck, Susan Wheeler and David Yezzi. Admission is $10 / $7 for PSA members and students. Visit to book tickets.

A note from the good folk at the Manchester-based literary magazine Transmission:

That’s right folks, the new Transmission Weblog is here! It has taken the place of our previous news page and with it we will be keeping you up to date with the goings on at Transmission HQ, as well as reporting on the wider literary world.

As we gingerly dip our toes in the cyber waters of the 21st Century, visit our blog and let us know what you would like to see develop there and on the rest of the site.

Announcement: "Due to adverse weather conditions, the Geoffrey Manton Building is being evacuated on orders from the Vice Chancellor and will be closed from 4.30pm today. Please note that, as a result of this, tonight's reading event (Matthew Welton and Linda Chase) is cancelled. Apologies for any inconvenience caused."

We're battening down the hatches here in grey old Stockport, awaitin' the storm to arrive with some trepidation. Trepidation, and tea!

The Manchester-based poets Linda Chase and Matthew Welton will be appearing at Manchester Metropolitan University on Thursday 18th January 2007. Admission is £5.00 (£3.00 concessions; free to students and staff of MMU) and the venue is: Lecture Theatre 6, Geoffrey Manton Building (opposite the Commonwealth Aquatics Centre on Oxford Road, Manchester city centre, UK).

Linda Chase grew up on Long Island in commuting distance of New York City. She has been a stage costume designer, a Tai Chi teacher and is currently an Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She co-ordinates the Poetry School Manchester and in 2004 started the Arts Council funded Poets and Players performance series. Her first collection These Goodbyes was published by Fatchance Press in 1995, and two further titles have been published by Carcanet: The Wedding Spy (2001) and Extended Family (2006).

Matthew Welton was born in Nottingham and currently lives in Manchester. He is course leader for the Creative Writing degree at Bolton University, editor of Stand magazine, and a director of the Manchester Literature Festival. His first collection, The Book of Matthew, won the 2003 Jerwood-Aldeburgh prize.

This event is hosted by the Writing School and is open to the public. A selection of Linda's and Matthew's books will be available to buy before the reading from our special Blackwell's stall. Get your copies signed by the poets.

Tomorrow, Carcanet will host a lunchtime event to celebrate the publication of The Shepherd's Calendar by John Clare, from 1-2pm at Manchester Central Library:

For the first time in nearly 180 years, this is a book that presents, side by side, two major versions of one of John Clare's most celebrated poems, The Shepherd's Calendar. The final manuscripts of the poem that Clare composed are placed against the published version in a parallel text; and some fascinating poetic differences, as well as similarities, between the two versions emerge. These changes and continuities are examined in a challenging introduction that charts the development of the poem, and that explores the imaginative strengths of both versions, as well as their limitations. The presentation of this material is enhanced by a series of beautiful woodcuts by Carry Akroyd, evoking the natural and human landscapes about which Clare wrote.

The event will include a talk by the book's editor, Tim Chilcott, a renowned Clare expert, readings of Clare's poems and a display of artwork by Carry Akroyd, who illustrated the book. Carry will also discuss her artistic interpretations of Clare's poetry.

Next year's Thursday evening reading events at MMU (Meet the authors, meet the poets) has been announced. All the events are hosted by the Writing School and are open to the public. A selection of books will be available to buy from our special Blackwell’s stall before each event begins. Admission is £5.00 (£3.00 concessions; free to students and staff of MMU). The evenings are held in Lecture Theatre 6, Geoffrey Manton Building (opposite the Commonwealth Aquatics Centre on Oxford Road, Manchester city centre) at 6.30 pm.

14th December:  Sarah Hall
11th January:      Owen Sheers
25th January:      Jean Sprackland
1st February:      Trevor Hoyle
8th February:      Simon Armitage
15th February:    Rosie Bailey and U.A. Fanthorpe
22nd February:   Matthew Hollis
1st March:          Carol Rumens
8th March:          Livi Michael
15th March:        Martyn Bedford
22nd March:       Jackie Roy and Jeffrey Wainwright

To celebrate the (UK) publication of Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts and Fragments, edited by Alice Quinn (Carcanet), there will be an Elizabeth Bishop Celebration on Friday 24th November (in Manchester Central Library, Committee Room 2nd floor 1-2pm -- the event is free).

Michael Schmidt will talk about Bishop and her work, there will be audio recordings of Bishop reading, and Manchester writers (like me!), students and fans of her work will contribute by reading some of her poems aloud to the gathered masses.

I was recently sent Art and Memory in the Work of Elizabeth Bishop by Jonathan Ellis (Ashgate), but I've not had a chance to look at it. The publisher reckons:

Jonathan Ellis offers evidence for a redirection in Bishop studies toward a more thorough scrutiny of the links between Bishop's art and life. The book is less concerned with the details of what actually happened to Bishop than with the ways in which she refracted key events into writing: both personal, unpublished material as well as stories, poems, and paintings. Thus, Ellis challenges Bishop's reputation as either a strictly impersonal or personal writer and repositions her poetry between the Modernists on the one hand and the Confessionals on the other.

Although Elizabeth Bishop was born and died in Massachusetts, she lived a life more bohemian and varied than that of almost all of her contemporaries, a fact masked by the tendency of biographers and critics to focus on Bishop's life in the United States. Drawing on published works and unpublished material overlooked by many critics, Ellis gives equal attention to the influence of Bishop's Canadian upbringing on her art and to the shifts in her aesthetic and personal tastes that took place during Bishop's residence in Brazil during the 1950s and 1960s. By bringing together the whole of Bishop's work, this book opens a welcome new direction in Bishop studies specifically, and in the study of women poets generally.

Two wee reminders ... as I mentioned on Monday, the poet Roy Fisher is reading at Manchester Metropolitan University (in the Geoffrey Manton Building, on Oxford Road, Manchester, opposite the Aquatics Centre; £5/£3 concessions) tonight at 6.30pm.

And Tom McCarthy (worth checking-out is Tom's recent talk on Trocchi) will be reading from and discussing Remainder with Simon Glendinning of the Forum for European Philosophy at Borders, 120 Charing Cross Road, London also tonight at 6.30pm. This event is free.

Jeffrey Wainwright (author of the excellent Acceptable Words: Essays on the Poetry of Geoffrey Hill) writes to tell me that Roy Fisher is reading at Manchester Metropolitan University (in the Geoffrey Manton Building, on Oxford Road, Manchester, opposite the Aquatics Centre; £5/£3 concessions) this Thursday coming at 6.30pm:

Roy Fisher was born in Birmingham in 1930 and is not only one of England’s senior poets but one of the very best. He has published many books of poetry in a wide variety of forms and formats. His work includes major long poems such Wonders of Obligation and the epic-scale works A Furnace and City. His interests and influences range through American modernism, painting and jazz – he has been a professional jazz pianist – and his myriad subject-matter includes the subtlest of transitory perceptions, the post-industrial world and the foibles of the contemporary arts scene. In all his topics and styles he is witty and acute. Asked to describe his perfect reader he replied: "she would be a woman who would nose around the back of a row of lockup garages to see what she could see, without making a song and dance about it". His collected poems The Long and the Short of It: Poems 1955-2005 is published by Bloodaxe Books. This reading, his first in the North-West for many years, will be a major occasion.

RSB's very own Max Dunbar is one of the regional editors of Succour magazine:

Succour magazine will be released on October 24th, available at the Cornerhouse [in Manchester] and through the website. With a theme on The Obscene, issue 4 features new writing from Matt Thorne, Cathi Unsworth and David L. Hayles.

RSB did not win a Manchester Blog Awards last night. The best arts and culture blog was won by Yer Mam! Well done James!

Also within the Manchester Literature Festival, The Burgess Project: "Following the development of a live literature promenade performance project using mobile phones by the-phone-book Limited for Manchester Literature Festival, October 19th - 21st 2006."

As part of the of the Manchester Literature Festival (which starts on Thursday, the William Boyd gig looking like that day's highlight), or running parallel with it (I'm not quite sure!), is the Manchester Festival of Palestinian Literature: "the UK’s first-ever festival of Palestinian literature in English translation."

From Buzzwords (and also Literature North West):

Libertine Magazine launches tomorrow at Manchester's Central Library (6pm/free entry and wine). It is "dedicated solely to poetry, lyrics and the liberation of the language that they use". The first issue includes an interview with Carol Ann Duffy in which she discusses Mozart, Madonna and Lennon/McCartney. Guillemots frontman Fyfe Dangerfield talks about Kerouac, Lewis Carroll and his own poetry. All that as well as "great features exploring the inspiration that great names of music and literature have on each other, plus a wide variety of excellent and original brand new poetry and song lyrics submitted from around the world".

I met the guys behind Transmission, Dan McTiernan and Graham Foster, at the Manchester Independent Book Market, back on the 2nd September:

Transmission is one of the most exciting and innovative literature magazines being printed in Manchester. Established as a not-for-profit venture, the creators of Transmission are dedicated to providing a high quality medium for aspiring writers and artists to display their talents. The publication combines original and varied writing with quality illustration and snappy design.

Certainly, the Transmission boys are trying to do an interesting thing, combining new, local (North of England-based writers) work (of mixed quality) with a fairly literary magazine (eg interviews with Sarah Waters and Anthony Burgess´s new biographer Andrew Biswell and writing guidance from RSB interviewee Michael Schmidt). I'm not convinced yet, however, that they've fully proved themselves. What would be nice was if the contents for the sold-out early issues were put online, then you'd all be able to check it out.

Very short notice I know, but today, between 1-2pm, in the Committee Room, 2nd Floor, Manchester Central Library (in partnership with Bloodaxe) there is a free poetry reading featuring Clare Shaw and Jackie Kay.

I won't be at the poetry, but tonight I will be over at Manchester's Common bar, attending the midweek Licktronica event, where the superb Helios will be playing live. Helios's new CD Eingya is gorgeous, wonderful, fabulous ... As is just about everything else on the peerless Type label.

Well, I was going to stay in today, hide from the rain, and read David Peace's The Damned Utd., but news of the Manchester Book Market (via The Literary Saloon) has just filtered through the wires, so I guess I'll be off into town to buy books (and records: the new Susanna And The Magical Orchestra is out!)

The Manchester Book Market is a brand new initiative designed to give independent publishers and retailers, of books and magazines, the opportunity to sell their product directly to the public. The project was set up in response to a perceived under-representation of the independent book sector, in Manchester and, if successful, will hopefully grow from a one-off initiative to a regular fixture on the specialist market calendar.

The event has been will take place on the busiest shopping days of the week, Friday and Saturday, to give traders the best possible opportunity to make profit and promote their organisations to potential consumers. Also, St. Anne’s Square is considered to be the ‘best pitch in town’ as a central attraction for shoppers from all sides of the city. The addition of an outdoor coffee shop, and potentially live literary events, will help ensure that consumers are kept in the vicinity.

Succour magazine is calling for submissions:

Succour is a biannual journal of new fiction and poetry. The magazine grew out of the University of Sussex's Creative Writing courses and is now sold in London, Brighton and Oxford. A themed journal, Succour aims to promote quality original work by new artists and writers.

For issue 4, The Obscene, Succour are looking for fiction, poetry and artwork from Manchester-based writers. You can email submissions to RSB's very own Max Dunbar. Prose submissions should not exceed 2500 words and should be attached as a Word document. Artwork can be emailed as bmp or jpeg files. You can interpret the theme as wilfully or obliquely as you like.

The deadline is Monday 28th August.

Later today, from 1-2pm at Manchester Central Library, Carcanet are organising Lunch Poems: A Frank O'Hara Celebration:

Local poets, including Matthew Welton, Linda Chase, Barry Wood, Michael Schmidt [and me!], will read their favourite O'Hara poems to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the poet's death in 1966. There will also be a video screening of O’Hara reading his poem Lana Turner has Collapsed, from the Channel 4 series Modern American Poets, produced by Colin Still.

I'm reading The Critic which has me in the highly enviable position of being able to say penises in public: "You lurk there / in the shadows, meting out / conversation like Eve's first / confusion between penises and / snakes." What will me poor mam say!?

Carcanet publish O'Hara's Selected Poems and 'Why I'm Not a Painter' and other poems. O'Hara's work also features alongside that of John Ashbery, James Schuyler and Kenneth Koch in The New York Poets: An Anthology.

Manchester-based (but New York born) poet, Linda Chase, has a new website, appropriately called Hopefully, I'll be interviewing Linda on RSB very soon about her Carcanet collections Extended Family and The Wedding Spy.

Short notice, I know, but there is a special meeting of the Human Sciences Seminar today, at 5pm, in Room 335 of the Geoffrey Manton building of Manchester Metropolitan University. The speaker is Lisa Guenther from the University of Auckland, author of the forthcoming The Gift of the Other: Levinas and the Politics of Reproduction (SUNY Press). Her paper is entitled The Ethical Animal: Levinas and the Limits of Humanism.

From Friday 19th to Sunday 28th May it is the 5th Chorlton Arts Festival:

This year brings the biggest programme to date, with over 80 performances, in over 40 different venues, over 8 days. There is everything you could wish for: dance, drama, music, poetry, film, art exhibitions, the arts in schools programme, and the annual arts trail on the meadows of Chorlton Ees.

Matchbox is a new Manchester-based poetry magazine. Each issue is devoted to one poet and contains some of their poems, and a free gift, in a matchbox. The first issue is by Togara Muzanenhamo whose new collection, The Spirit Brides, will be coming out this summer from Carcanet. The matchboxes are available now, in Manchester, in Blackwell's, the Cornerhouse, Herbivores Cafe, The Basement and via subscription through the Matchbox website. Future issues are to include Bill Griffiths, Ray DiPalma, Lisa Jarnot and Peter Inman.

Tonight, between 6-7.30pm, in room 335, Geoffrey Manton Building, Manchester Metropolitan University, the Forum for European Philosophy presents: Michael Dillon on Transformation: Politics of the Messianic. Michael Dillon is the author of Virtual Security in Millennium: Journal of International Studies and Intelligence Incarnate in Body and Society. For further information please contact: Catherine Lowe or Joanna Hodge.

This Thursday, 30th March, between 1-2pm, (when surely most good folk are locked in offices?) at Manchester Central Library (in the second floor reception room), Comma Press are launching Parenthesis "a new generation in short fiction ... a showcase for emerging talent in UK short fiction." It's free, refreshments will be provided, and there will be readings by Anna Ball, Adam Marek, Alistair Herbert and L.E. Yates.

I was at the last of this year's Human Sciences Seminars yesterday evening (Dr. Tanja Staehler (University of Sussex) giving an interesting paper on Plato and Levinas on Writing Law), so I missed last night's Analysis programme on Radio 4 presented by Kenan Malik, whose Man, Beast and Zombie: The New Science of Human Nature I enjoyed so much last year. In the programme, Malik was asking "whether humanism still has any meaning - and what politics might look like without a humanist impulse." You can access the programme online, at the BBC, for about the next week.

It was a bit of a vintage night on Radio 4 last night, actually. As I was driving home, I was happiliy entertained by Don Quixote -Spanish romance and the first novel.

Jeanette Winterson, author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, The Passion, The Powerbook and (most recently) Weight, will be reading, talking and answering questions at Manchester Metropolitan University at 6pm on Wednesday 22nd March. This event, which is free and open to the public, is hosted by the MMU Writing School. The reading will take place in Lecture Theatre 7, on the ground floor of the Geoffrey Manton Building (directly opposite the Manchester Aquatics Centre on Oxford Road). For further details about this event, contact Andrew Biswell, the Academic Director of the Writing School.

Poets and Players present a New Poets’ Night tonight, at 7.30pm, at the Tai Chi Village Hall, behind the house at 163 Palatine Road, Didsbury, Manchester (£4/£2 concessions). Please note that all the reading slots have been filled, but that shouldn't stop you going along to listen!

Something of a local institution, the Manchester-based Human Sciences Seminar has been running for about 25 years. All meetings begin at 5pm, on Thursdays, in the Geoffrey Manton Building, Room 3.35, in Manchester city centre. Last week Alison Stone, from Lancaster University, gave an excellent and well-attended talk entitled Are There Two Sexes? I'll be interviewing Alison later in the year about her forthcoming book Luce Irigaray and the Philosophy of Sexual Difference (CUP).

This coming Thursday, 2nd John Sellars, from Oxford University, will be giving a talk entitled Deleuze’s Stoicism. Should be good. Sellars' book-length study of Stoicism is out from Acumen in April.

Manchester blogger Conscious and Verbal gets it about right when s/he says, of Geoffrey Hill's poetry reading, which Hill gave in Manchester last night, that it was, "serious, funny, heart breaking, daft. All those things." Hill is a wonderful communicator and the reading, superbly attended (two or three hundred people, I would guess), was nicely structured with Hill reading a couple of poems from each of his collections. The reading was introduced by Professor Jeffrey Wainwright whose Acceptable Words: Essays on the Poetry of Geoffrey Hill is just out from Manchester University Press. (For those afraid of poetry, Wainwright's Poetry: The Basics does the primer/intro job very nicely.)

Geoffrey Hill will read his poetry tonight at Manchester Metropolitan University at 5.30pm (Lecture Theatre 3, Geoffrey Manton Building, Rosamond Street West, Off Oxford Road, Manchester city centre). Presented by the MMU Writing School and Carcanet poet Jeffrey Wainwright, this is a rare opportunity to hear Hill read in the UK, marking the recent publication of his new collection, and recent RSB Book of the Week, Without Title (Penguin). Admission is free; no advance tickets necessary. For more information contact Jeffrey Wainwright. Hill's Selected Poems is being reissued by Penguin in June.

The complete-review Geoffrey Hill page is a good starting place to learn more about Hill (as is the Geoffrey Hill Study Centre and the The Geoffrey Hill Server):

Not a simple poet, and not for everyone, by any means. Moral, Anglican, traditional (hidebound, some might suggest), Hill can easily be off-putting. He wins us over on the strength of his verse - he has a fine ear for the English language - and the rigor to which he subjects his ideas ... His subject matter is often obscure, but there are rewards there for the reader willing to work with the text ... It is poetry that provokes thought and that lingers.

Manchester Bloggers is an "aggregation of posts from Manchester Bloggers." Manchester, North of England, UK this is. RSB has just joined up.