Wednesday, 10 February 2016

David Foster-Morgan's poetry blog

Rogue Strands is always on the look-out for interesting poetry blogs, so David Foster-Morgan's new venture most definitely caught the eye. Foster-Morgan is a fine poet with a striking first collection, titled Masculine Happiness, recently out from Seren, while his blog features well written reviews and ruminations. There are already several thought-provoking posts to explore, but perhaps my personal favourite so far is his piece on Stephen Payne's Pattern beyond chance (see here). I very much look forward to following developments over the coming months.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Poetic justice

Without wanting to trivialise the disgraceful treatment that Sarah Howe has received at the hands of certain sections of the media on the back of having won the T.S. Eliot Prize with her first collection, Loop of Jade, it’s worth pointing out that such articles end up providing terrific publicity, generating extra readers for her intriguing book and creating the opposite effect to what seems to have been intended by their authors. Poetic justice, in fact.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Literary and literal imprisonment, Clare Best's Cell

Clare Best is on one of the most interesting personal journeys in U.K. poetry. She’s constantly evolving, playing with different approaches to verse and blending it with other genres, all without losing her identifying touch.

Her latest production, Cell (Frogmore Press, 2015), is further evidence of her drive. I term it “production” because it’s not quite a pamphlet, rather a poetic artefact. It’s not concrete poetry as such, but it melds the written word to other forms: art and design, as the pages combine pictures by Michaela Ridgway, ingenious origami and Best's verse to create a cell in both literary and literal terms.

The afore-mentioned cell is explained by the poet in her introduction:

“In 1329, Christine Carpenter – a girl of fourteen – took a vow of solitary devotion and agreed to be enclosed in a cell built on to the wall of the chancel of St James’ Church, Shere, Surrey. She spent more than one thousand days in the cell before asking to be freed. When the Bishop learned of her release, he ordered her to be forcibly re-enclosed.”

So the story is full of narrative and emotional impact. That attracts the reader in itself. However, the main critical interest lies in Best’s linguistic approach to her material: the poems tend to speak in the first person singular from Christine’s perspective. Language is drawn from the 21st Century in every way. In other words, Best has consciously decided to offer us a highly contemporary take on a 14th Century tale. Here’s a short quote to give a flavour of what I mean:

“…Knees lock on the ice-flagged floor.
The priest’s voice distant, thick as fog.
Stones climb all around me –
only a slip of daylight now…”

What is Clare Best’s intention? It’s to suggest imaginative points of departure for her reader to draw comparisons between the two periods in time, to wonder how much or little has changed, to focus on inherent, eternal human issues: the nature of suffering, injustice, tyranny, sin and religion. She succeeds.

Moreover, there’s a pivotal reflection of female identity throughout Cell. Mother-daughter relationships (as Christine’s mother indirectly, implicitly suffers too), the subjugation to male authority and even the wielding of sexual power are all vital to any understanding of this poetic artefact. Here’s one such instance:

“Lucifer again…

He spins me off my feet,
       scatters fennel seeds
                     and clover for a bed –
       he spreads me,
enters like a fist.”

The portrayal of a traditional figure (Lucifer)  in contemporary sexualised terms is a clear example of Clare Best’s method. It shocks the reader into making fresh leaps and connections. This is why Cell represents such an achievement. 

Monday, 1 February 2016

Poems in two voices

Last week's Words & Ears event in Bradford on Avon was a lovely evening. I'm very grateful to Dawn Gorman for the invite. Carrie Etter's reading of her own new poems and of work by Linda Lamus was very enjoyable, while I was also delighted to have the chance to give Tasting Notes a full run-out (albeit without the wines themselves).

On this occasion, Stephen Payne was my partner in crime for Tasting Notes. He did the blurbs and I did the monologues. Suffice to say, he was excellent. As a consequence, the two voices began to interact, and I was struck by how such poems come alive at readings perhaps more than on the page. Texture and variety are enhanced via aural and oral contrast and comparison. Implicit dialogue becomes explicit.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Reading with Carrie Etter at Words & Ears in Bradford on Avon

On Thursday 28th January, I'll be reading as guest poet alongside Carrie Etter at Words and Ears. The venue is the Swan Hotel in Bradford on Avon. Words & Ears is a highly successful, monthly event, and I'm very grateful to the organiser, Dawn Gorman, for the invitation. If you're in the area, I do hope you'll come along: open-mic slots are available, while the entry fee is only three pounds.

Carrie will be reading from her friend and student Linda Lamus' book, A Crater the Size of Calcutta, which was published posthumously by Mulfran Press, while I'll be reading from both Inventing Truth and Tasting Notes, Stephen Payne having very kindly agreed to help me out with the second voice in the latter pamphlet. Of course, both chapbooks are officially sold, but I'll be bringing along a few of my last-remaining copies for sale on the night.

More details can be found on this poster for the event:

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Hearing or listening?

While I was preparing my set for a reading next Thursday in Bradford on Avon (more details in the coming days), my attention was drawn to an interview on Rob Mclennan's blog with C.D. Wright. It dates from 2010, but was posted on Facebook in the light of her recent death. I very much recommend you read her poetry itself, which is unusual and intriguing, but for the moment here's a quote from that afore-mentioned interview about poetry readings and the difference between hearing and listening:

"Readings are social. They terrify me, but I do love the contact. I am not the best listener. When I attend a reading, it is not to listen, but to hear and to see someone render their words physical. When I want to listen to them, I sit down with their words in private. Listening is not social." 

Friday, 15 January 2016

My poetry and wine on Spanish television

A couple of months ago I was approached by Canal Extremadura, the regional T.V. channel in this part of Spain, with a view to being featured in a new show called "Un lugar para quedarse". After some initial misgivings, I agreed, and it was broadcast last night.

The format entails telling three people's stries of how they ending up living in Extremadura, interweaving each narrative thread. I appear in three separate sections. Firstly, I'm shown in the vineyards around Almendralejo, talking in Spanish about my early life in the U.K. and my move to Spain, and reading a poem about it in English  (01252 722698, from Inventing Truth). The second section, meanwhile, focuses on my working life at Viñaoliva, with interviews with me and footage of the winery. The final section concentrates on my current life in Almendralejo and my recent poetry, also including another poem in English (Extranjero, from Inventing Truth).

Here's the programme on the Extremaduran version of the i Player, where you can watch the whole thing or simply fast-forward to the three sections that feature my poetry and wine. It would be good to know what you think!