Thursday, 14 January 2021

Prompts and exercises

First things first, I do understand and respect that prompts and exercises help certain poets unblock ideas at specific difficult points in their writing lives.

However, as a poet, I personally find that my own poetry is best served when I get on with my daily business, making sure I read, read, read in the gaps between the stuff I’m doing, thus allowing poems to ripen in my mind before putting pen to paper. As mentioned previously on Rogue Strands, sometimes it's better to wait rather than forcing work to come out.

As a reader, meanwhile, I get the impression that certain collections seem to use prompts and exercises as a systematic method of writing. I'm afraid I have to admit these are books I don't tend to enjoy because I find it extremely hard to connect with the poems in question...

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Prose that's packed with poetry, Liz Lefroy's I Buy a New Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence)

I seldom review prose on Rogue Strands, but I’m making an exception today for Liz Lefroy’s book, I Buy a New Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence) (Mark Time Books, 2020), simply because it contains far more poetry than the vast majority of collections that are brought out by major publishers.

I Buy a New Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence) takes Lefroy’s long-running blog as a point of departure and shapes it into 52 pieces, most about a page long, one for every week of the year. It offers snippets of a life, a family, a job, sometimes portrayed head-on, sometimes aslant, but always accompanied by a feeling that (like the best radio presenters) Lefroy is engaged in a one-to-one chat with the person who’s reading her book.

This effect is achieved via the presence of a fluidity and a supple cadence in each sentence, Lefroy’s excellent poetic ear underpinning every entry to such an extent that I’m tempted to label them implicit prose poems. What’s more, the easy-growing language then lends additional impact to her invocation of arresting images at crucial points, which is another extremely effective poetic technique. Here are some examples of what I mean…

…The space in the spanner which fits onto the nut of the tap is called the jaw. The satisfaction of finding the right-sized jaw for a nut is comparable to diving into water with barely a splash.

…My mother died before my son was born, but her material substance somehow shines through him every time his fingers (long as hers were) play piano keys, and every time he smiles his smile, which is sunlight illuminating thousands of days.

…There was nothing to learn, but that the moment I kick off my shoes, the moment I turn down the lights, the moment I dance for myself, is the moment I feel free.

… I went back to the car to get my camera, and returning, saw my sons silhouetted against the grey winter sky, standing together between rows of white gravestones. I stopped for a moment, watched them as they talked, so alive, so full of hope and energy, coming home for Christmas.

As these extracts demonstrate, I Buy a Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence) is a chronicle of how Lefroy’s creativity fits around and interplays with her everyday life. As such, it’s terrific, thought-provoking reading for anyone who’s juggling their writing with other commitments. However, as mentioned in the introduction to this review, it’s also shot through with poetry in abundance.

Liz Lefroy has previously published two excellent pamphlets, both of which are well worth seeking out if you get the chance. She’s won the Café Writers Competition. She’s been widely published in magazines and read at festivals. Her voice is unusual yet possesses universal appeal. The question now is simply when her poetry itself will be granted the platform of a full collection that it so richly deserves…

Monday, 4 January 2021

The silences between poems

It’s my firm belief that poems benefit from silences between them, from so-called fallow periods that actually don’t tend to be fallow at all. Very few poets benefit from writing eight hours a day, as thoughts and ideas need to ferment and macerate. Moreover, poems improve when blended with experiences, both everyday and extraordinary ones, which is a key reason why I believe most people’s poetry deteriorates once they begin teaching Creative Writing in an academic environment without sufficient non-poetic stimuli and points of reference.

Of course, the same goes for drafts. They too require space to breathe. In their case, the space is necessary to allow me to fall out of love with them, to disentangle myself from the heady fumes of their creation and take a surgical step back before working at them again. And then leaving them in a folder for months. Maybe cannibalising them for a different piece. Maybe realising how to turn them from a failure to a success in a sudden spark, sometimes years after their initial creation. That spark, inevitably, comes from an unexpected facet of a new experience that takes me back to the afore-mentioned old piece and also reciprocally enables me to cast a different light on what’s just happened to me. Without life, poetry starves.