With Trump in the UK and a Tory leadership contest under way, it seems like a good time to launch a poetry book: Realtime Notes Volume One. You can buy it here.
Since 17 August 2017 I’ve been posting ‘realtime’ poems to Instagram at a rate of at least one a day. Realtime Notes Volume One takes the best poems from the first year – 284 out of about 750 – and presents them in a paperback book that is now available for £10 + delivery. Volume Two will follow later this year.
As I’ve said before, Realtime Notes is partly about treating time as a formal constraint in poetry, challenging the expectation that poetry should always take extended time, both to write and read. It’s interesting to see what happens when you push back against that.
Given the realtime nature of the project, I was unsure for a while about whether a book was the best medium for it. But as it turns out, I really like what happens when you see them in a book – the shift in context turns it into a different experience.
284 poems is still enough to retain a sense of scale and to capture the changes in pace that take place throughout the year. But it also concentrates it down to a more manageable read and you see patterns that you wouldn’t necessarily notice on Instagram or on the website (realtime-machine.com). And books are still a great technology for delivering text – there is something pleasurable about reading from the printed page.
I think it also brings out something I’ve always thought about the project, which is that it’s as much about the cumulative effect as it is about the individual poems. At the back of the book, there is an extended ‘Interview with myself’ that covers this point:
Rather than single pieces, I think of them as fragments of one bigger poem that is essentially novelistic. So you have the big plotlines of Brexit and Trump and the sense of this grand historical sweep, but you also get the granular details of visits to the barber and letting a fly out of the window. And there are themes that echo across the whole story, including meditations on the nature of time and reality, or recurring characters like Dan Hannan.
The poems still feel like a good, relevant read (to me, at least). They remind you of a time recent enough for you to get most of the references (that should be the case for a good few years), but long enough ago for you to think ‘oh, I’d forgotten all about that’. It’s also similar to a film – full of disasters, shootings, villains, heroes, comical interludes, political drama, and a high death count.
As well as being fast to write, the poems are relatively quick to ‘get’. I like to think the book would make a good gift for people who are not that into poetry. It’s comical, angry, cathartic, obscene, mundane, transcendent, philosophical, humdrum – all the stuff of real life. But then the poems should reward repeat reading as the (sometimes chronic) density of the wordplay means there are often hidden layers.
The book is a fairly hefty paperback, modelled on the Penguin Modern Classic series and printed by the same people. I wanted it to be a relatively humble book, accessibly priced at £10. Some of the poems contain visual support – screengrabs and thumbnail photos – wherever it felt essential in order to get what the poem was about.
I’m proud of it and consider it a proper literary work – my novel (or at least Volume One of it). I’ll be flogging copies at the Birmingham Design Festival later this week, and I’ll no doubt be talking more about it wherever I can.