Monday, 16 May 2011

The Captain's Tower: Seventy Poets Celebrate Bob Dylan at Seventy

Nine months from conception to birth, with three fathers and seventy bobparents, 'The Captain's Tower: Seventy Poets celebrate Bob Dylan at Seventy' was published on May 11th 2011 by Seren books. Edited by  Phil Bowen, Damian Furniss and David Woolley with a foreword by Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, all information is here:

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Captain's Tower: Seventy Poets Celebrate Bob Dylan at Seventy

The Captain’s Tower: Seventy Poets Celebrate Bob Dylan at Seventy

JEWELS & BINOCULARS, published by Stride/Westwords in 1993, featured fifty poets who celebrated the life and work of Bob Dylan and his influence on their own. Among them were Wendy Cope, Allen Ginsberg, Sophie Hannah, Lachlan Mackinnon, Glyn Maxwell, Adrian Mitchell, Linda Chase, Geoff Hattersley and Matthew Sweeney.

The book is out of print and has become a collector’s item. A changing revue of poets and musicians played venues from London’s Troubadour to the West Yorkshire Playhouse to promote its publication.

On May 24th 2011 Bob Dylan will reach seventy, after almost fifty years in the music industry. To mark the occasion, SEREN will publish THE CAPTAIN’S TOWER: SEVENTY POETS CELEBRATE BOB DYLAN AT SEVENTY. It will combine the best from the original with new work from established and up-and-coming writers.

Among submissions already received are poems by Roddy Lumsden, Luke Wright, Simon Armitage, Tamar Yoseloff, Mark Ford, Jeremy Reed, Matthew Caley, Tim Dooley, Peter Finch and Roger McGough. Others are arriving daily from all over the world. We’d be delighted to hear from other poets and of other poems. Contact

By the end of the year we hope to have collected seventy poems by seventy writers. An accompanying tour is being scheduled for Spring and Summer 2011.

We are asking all authors to donate their royalties to CRISIS, the charity for the homeless that Bob Dylan chose as the UK beneficiary of the proceeds of his Christmas in the Heart album.

Editorial Policy

· Submissions are welcome and should be sent to

· The deadline for submissions is December 10th 2010.

· Submissions will only be provisionally accepted by unanimity of the editors – Phil Bowen, Damian Furniss and David Woolley.

· Shortlisted submissions won’t be confirmed for publication until early 2011.

· Publication will be in May 2011.

· Any previous publication should be noted and will be credited. Copyright will remain with the author.

· We expect most accepted submissions to come from established writers with one or more collections published by well known publishers. However, exceptional work by less known writers will be considered.

· In the submission email, the poet should state his or her willingness to be published in the first and any future editions of the book, their royalties going to Crisis in perpetuity.

· He or she should also provide a biographical note saying when and how Bob Dylan most deeply touched their lives.

· Contributors will receive a copy of the book and may be invited to participate in performances marking the publication.

· Information on any poems relating to Bob Dylan already in existence would be much appreciated, with contact details of the poet if possible.


Phil Bowen has published four collections of poetry, his first full collection, ‘Variety’s Hammer’ (Stride) being selected for inclusion in The Forward Anthology of 1998. His last collection ‘Starfly’ was also published by Stride in 2004. ‘Nowhere’s Far: New and Collected Poems 1990–2008’ was published by Salt in 2009 and recently reviewed in Poetry Review, to be followed by ‘Cuckoo Rock’, his first collection for children, later in 2010.

He is the editor of two Stride anthologies: ‘Jewels & Binoculars’ (fifty poets celebrate Bob Dylan) and ‘Things We Said Today’ (poetry about the Beatles). He has also written four plays : ‘A Handful of Rain’ – an imagined meeting between Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas, ‘A Case of the Poet’, ‘Parlez Vous Jig Jig’ and ‘Anything but Love’ – in which Dorothy Parker meets the lyricist Dorothy Fields.

Born in Liverpool in 1949 ,where he taught Drama until 1979, he now lives in Newlyn in Cornwall and works all over the country as a freelance writer, performer and teacher.

Damian Furniss is a poet whose first full collection, ‘Chocolate Che’, was published by Shearsman Books earlier in 2010, and recently highly commended in the Forward prize for best first collection. His pamphlet ‘The Duchess of Kalighat’ won the Tears in the Fence competition.

His poetry, prose and reviews have been widely published in magazines and anthologies and he has read at festivals and arts centres around the country and at the Indian High Commission. He is currently working on two novels: Shin Kicking and Life Before Death. He is the co-host of Blah Blah Blah, an arts magazine radio show on Phonic FM.

Conceived on the night England won the Football World Cup, he was educated at King Edward VI Grammar School, Stratford-Upon-Avon (where he was taught in the same room as Shakespeare) and Keble College, Oxford. He lives in the West Country and works in social care.

David Woolley is a poet, performer, writer, tutor, broadcaster and arts consultant. He has published three collections of poetry, the most recent of which, ‘Pursued by a Bear’ (Headland Publications) was launched in June 2010. He edited and published Westwords arts magazine and poetry press for ten years.

He was the inaugural Chair of the National Association for Literature Development, Chair of Festivals of Wales for three years, and has been on the Boards of Dylan Thomas Prize Ltd, Swansea Fringe Festival, and the Advisory Panel for New Welsh Review.

Between 1996 and 2010 he was Literature Adviser for City & County of Swansea and Arts Programmer for the Dylan Thomas Centre where he directed the annual Dylan Thomas Festival. He is currently a regional literature officer for the Arts Council.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Damian Furniss reading from 'Chocolate Che' at the Dylan Thomas Festival in Swansea on Friday 30th October at 19.30

Damian Furniss will be reading from 'Chocolate Che' at the Dylan Thomas Festival, the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea on October 30th 2010 at 19.30.

He'll be reading with Gwyneth Lewis, National Poet of Wales 2005-6 and published by Bloodaxe.

Damian Furniss reading from 'Chocolate Che' at Exeter Central Library on Sunday October 10th at 14.00

The inaugural Exeter Poetry Festival takes place 7 - 10 October 2010 in Exeter Central Library and other venues round the city.

I'll be reading at 14.00 with Elisabeth Bletsoe and Jaime Robles - a Shersman Showcase.

Immediately before at 12.30 Rachel McCarthy, Rachael Boast and Fiona Benson will be performing - under the Excite banner.

There are too many other readings of note to list but you can find all the details here.

I was also joint winner of the Exeter Poetry Festival postcard competition so look out for the offending item round town publicising the event. 

Finally, this month's The Blah Blah Blah Show, or 106.8FM in the Exeter area, on Sunday 3rd October 12.00 - 14.00 will be an Exeter Poetry Festival featuring Liv Torc and anyone else we can muster. Liv is one of the best performance poets on the circuit, Bard of Exeter and Exeter poetry Festival poet in residence so not to be missed.

Poem from 'Chocolate Che' by Damian Furniss in the Forward Book of Poetry 2011

'The Duchess of Kalighat' from 'Chocolate Che' by Damian Furniss is published in the Forward Book of Poetry 2011 which claims to be an anthology of the best poems of the year, gathering together those shortlisted and highly commended in the Forward prizes for best collection, best first collection and best poem.

Given 'The Duchess of Kalighat' was first drafted circa 1992 and published in 1995 I'm not sure if that makes me ahead of my time or everything I've written since lagging behind but it is pleasing to see four poems by Shearsman poets in the book, within spitting distance of Faber and Bloodaxe.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Excite Exeter Poetry Update for September

For your delectation this month:
Liv Torc, wondermentalist, Radio 4 South West Slam winner and poet in residence for the Exeter Poetry Festival, launches her new book, 'Dancing Naked in Banana Land' at Otto Retro, next Thursday, 9th September. Doors open 7.30pm, for 8pm start. £7/6 conc all night, £5 from 9pm. Open mic 8-9pm. Liv performed for us to a packed out house in December and we're glad to have her back. A cracking night is guaranteed. If you've seen Liv perform you know I'm telling the truth, if you haven't you'll believe me next week.

Open mic spaces can be booked by replying to this email address, or on 07854598552. Please forward attached publicity to interested parties.

Budleigh Salterton Literature Festival is back for a second year, with Carol Ann Duffy as the headline guest, the weekend of the 24th of Spetember. A jam-packed Fringe is also planned for the Saturday (25th), including a cafe/bar style evening of poetry. Open mic spaces for this are limited and can be booked by contacting Hilary Ackland at or on 01395 444406. Please see the attached publicity for further information.

Fringes are often the life-blood of festivals, so please show your support.
October sees the first ever Exeter Poetry Festival, see
 for the full line-up. The Otto, funky junk poetry night that month will be an open mic extravaganza! Free! with wine and nibbly things provided. Let's kick the festival off in style! Slots for the ExCite Festival Open Mic can be booked now, contact me on the email address above or on 07854598552. They will go quickly, so get typing.

Finally, some may have spotted our website is currently static. The website is being redeveloped, and should be available soon.

'Chocolate Che' by Damian Furniss reviewed by John Gimblett in Stride Magazine

A review of 'Chocolate Che' by Damian Furniss recently published in Stride Magazine and written by John Gimblett writer of an Indian travelogue that covers some of the same ground as '|The Duchess of Kalighat'.
Sparse Soul

In this highly enjoyable volume, Damian Furniss travels the world writing about his experiences and recording observations. There are poems from Cuba in the fiftieth year of the revolution, amongst the dead and dying in India, through the Americas and in Europe 'on the trail of soldiers, artists and monks'.

Furniss's verse is tight throughout, with nothing extraneous, nothing wasted. For example, in the poem 'If Art Was a Car': 'If art was a car, I'd take this line for a spin / ...just because I can - / that would be a day, a day worth living.'

Immediately, I'm seeing a Kerouac moment unfurling before me. Again, this tautness of language is shown in 'Che in Disguise':

Plucked bald as a yam,
Grey streaked in the minge
That remains of his mane.

I can imagine, in my head, the poem being read by William Burroughs in that throaty, Southern drawl of his.

There is an easy, atmospheric sense to the Cuba poems in this volume – slow, lounging, sassy. Look at this from 'See That My Bones Are Kept Clean':

When I'm gone, do not moan
On my long, unbroken bones
But chink your ringed fingers
On tumblers well slung
With slugs of darkest rum..

There's an easy natural pressure (not a force) at rhyme here, and the words slip over the tongue just like that rum must have done.

'Bee Movie' is, again, a close, tight poem full of space and clever rhymes (both end- and mid-line) that masterfully exploit order and form. Got to know the rules to break the rules – ask Picasso.

Edith -
A pigtail-threaded hat,
Face like a shaven cat,
Eyes of charcoal, burning.

Elva -
Lean as a guinea pig,
More skirts than a whirligig,
Scarlet poncho, twirling.

And speaking of the artist himself, in '9 + 1 = Picasso', IV Furniss pulls Wordsworth right into the 21st century: 'Art is the child of a man / And a mountain of men.'

Furniss can be earthy, sexual without pretence of cloakedness, and has the skill and the confidence to carry it off successfully, such as in 'House of the Genius', III:

A rabbit, skinned and stewed,
is a gift, or pigeon, well-plucked;

pets are loved to be killed,
and friends like you to be fucked.

You can imagine sitting around with Furniss, perhaps even sipping a mint tea in the Petit Socco in Tangier, around the corner from Burroughs's old room, and him pulling the glass away from his lips momentarily to pronounce 'You cannot lose a cat / As you can lose a mind - / They just go missing..' ('Found Lost Sign').

Well, I can.

A poem such as 'Old Iron' explores the past: journeys, origins and beginings; exquisite, tailored -

The sunburnt moor of Zennor
The last flag of shore he saw.

On his tod against the waves
To bank the world's last cod

The more one reads this book, the more it divides into its three sections. The middle section is titled My White Ghosts and I think it's the most successful, the most complete, though that isn't a judgment on the rest of the book.

There are some points where Goar's and Furniss's books cross - and one of these is my mention of a zen quality - and subject matter - to some of the language. In this book's 'Darshan with Dalai Lama' Furniss draws on a zen koan; if you meet the buddha on the road, kill him. 'I am here to kill the Dalai Lama.'

The idea is to strip everything down; to begin again from the ground up. Or as the sufis say: Die before you die. As if to demonstrate his zen sensibility, Furniss quotes the explorer, traveller and zen monk Peter Matthiessen at one point.

He explores death sensitively and with great maturity in the poem 'The Great British Cemetery':

Some went to rest with children still eggs inside them, others with
children beside them, ten in a dozen, baptised by fever or dead in

And in 'Holi at Nirmal Hriday' there is this inescapable (well, for Calcutta) meld of death and politics:

For a moment I unlearn my politics,
see a man empty his lungs onto his bed,
kneel beside him and rub his chest.

But a joining of the two with the poet firmly in control and in attendance. And again, I'm going to have to say it, a confidence that can in poets only come from experience and a thorough slog through a lifetime of writing towards... completion. A realisation, almost an awakening.

Furniss understands Calcutta at this essential level, for example (in 'New Life in Hospice') when describing the discovery of a rats' nest. I see this as a metaphor for Calcutta's poor. It's a beautiful poem, redolent of (in my mind) Seamus Heaney's Blackberries through its images; its metaphors. The rats in Furniss's Calcutta are the squashed, vivid fruit in Heaney's: straining, strained.

We found a rats' nest:
stirring balls of pink baldness,
glued eyes still blind as pennies.
even vermin are sacred
to the dying.

It represents a poet in control of his craft, his art. In fact, as does this entire volume, which I enjoyed immensely on so many levels.

(c) John Gimblett