Monday, 28 September 2020

A second poem in The Spectator...

 Just like that old cliché about buses, I've been waiting for years to have a poem in The Spectator and now two have come along in quick succession!

Here I am again in the 26/9 issue. And no, I still can't quite believe it...

Saturday, 19 September 2020

My poem in The Spectator

I'm chuffed beyond belief to report that I have a poem in this week's issue of The Spectator. Thanks to Mat Riches for getting hold of a copy on my behalf and for nudging an earlier draft of this piece in the right direction...

Thursday, 17 September 2020

The darkening hue of the years, Richie McCaffery's First Hare

Richie McCaffery is an unusual poet. To start with, his poems are immediately recognisable. And then there’s his commitment to his method. Instead of shedding a skin after every book, reinventing himself for the following collection, he chips away at his concerns. This quality shines through once more in his new pamphlet, First Hare (Mariscat Press, 2020), which builds on the foundations of his previous books, layering them with additional nuances in both aesthetic and thematic terms.

I’ve mentioned in the past that McCaffery is one of the best in the business when it comes to so-called poetic leaps. This device involves the invocation of an object, person or situation, followed by an unexpected, startling comparison with another object, person or situation. The comparison might at first seem incongruous, but poets of McCaffery’s skill render it inevitable and enlightening, thus capturing their reader.

One such instance in First Hare can be found in Lighthouse. This poem portrays a picture that’s hung on a bedroom wall in the first stanza; the second stanza introduces the figure of a sleeping partner; the third then brings both elements together as follows:

…It’s drawn in such a way
to imply that the onlooker
is deep in the eye of the storm.

Larkin might famously and disingenuously have disavowed the poet’s obligation to develop. However, McCaffery does so via deft steps forward in pieces such as Mac, which delivers a complex narrative with several character in eight lines. It’s one of those poems that doesn’t do itself justice via short extracts and it’s not fair to quote it in full in a blog review, so you’ll have to get hold of a copy of First Hare to appreciate the skill that’s brought to the table.

And then there’s also McCaffery’s thematic development. He’s always been excellent at delicate touches of wry whimsy, especially when bringing his poems to a close, but this new work finds him adding the extra tempering qualities of age, the darkening hue of the years that have gone by, as in the closing lines to Sports Days…

…On mandatory sports days I always took pride
in taking my time and if someone fell down,

bloodied their knee I’d stop to help them back up.
She’d be there, cheering me on as I came last.

One of McCaffery’s many achievements has been the gradual accumulation of a loyal readership for his poetry over the course of his earlier books. They won’t be disappointed by this fresh addition, but it’s also ideal for others who hadn’t previously discovered his lucid, clear-cut and thought-provoking work. First Hare will provide them with a perfect snapshot and introduction to his art.

Richie McCaffery speaks to us directly, with passion, with sincerity. He moves us in ways that should theoretically lie beyond the capacity of such accessible words. His poetry is essential reading.

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Three poems in The High Window

I'm delighted to report that I have three poems in Issue 19 of The High Window alongside the likes of Diana Hendry, Sarah James, Myra Schneider and Richie McCaffery, etc, etc. You can explore their excellent poems by following this link. Many thanks to David Cooke for having published my work!

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Hilary Menos on metre

I was grateful to Mat Riches the other day for pointing me in the direction of Hilary Menos' blog. I've long admired her as a poet, but her blogging had previously passed under my radar. I very much recommend a leisurely browse through her archive of posts (see here), as it's littered with interesting pieces, a treasure trove of reading pleasure. And then, of course, if you haven't explored her poetry, I'd also suggest you do so: it's top-notch.

However, today's post here on Rogue Strands is specifically related to an extract from an interview transcript on her blog which caught my eye. It homes in on the relevance of metre, expressing a perspective that coincides with mine and is beautifully expressed. Here it is...

Good poetry is language that has been ‘tempered’; it has density and tensile strength. Meter provides a pattern or framework that allows for variations, for deviation and return. Without meter, verse risks becoming forgettable, lightweight, ephemeral and self-indulgent. As poets we need to ask why a particular poem takes a particular form. Some rules are trivial conventions and can be cast aside. Others are there for a reason and we abandon them at our peril. We do need forms that reflect our new understanding of language, new thinking about the world and our place in it. But certain poetic genres and forms have been around for centuries, and there are reasons why they have survived.

Saturday, 15 August 2020

The brutal truth...?

Over on Twitter, Magma (the renowned print-based poetry journal) have engaged positively in a debate about the cost of entering their pamphlet competition, which was 20 pounds. They've stated...

The brutal truth is that poetry magazines need competitions, grants etc to survive long term. Of course we'd rather sell more magazines...And we do have a reduced entry rate for our heroic band of subscribers who help to keep us going.

It's worth placing this quote in the context of a comment by Rob MacKenzie, the editor of Issue 79 of Magma, on a separate Twitter thread, in which he mentions the following 

For Magma 79, we have between 5000 to 6000 poems submitted...

In my view, the brutal truth is not the need for competitions and grants. Instead, it's the huge disparity between the number of poets who submit and those who subscribe to print-based magazines. If just 10% of the poets who submitted to Magma were to subscribe, the journal would surely be self-sustaining. The key question is why they don't do so.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

The National Poetry Library and the South Bank Centre

Regular readers of Rogue Strands might recall my post last September (see here) about the National Poetry Library's attempt to charge for membership, an attempt that failed on the back of petitioning from throughout the poetry scene.

Well, the situation has now worsened, not only with the temporary closure of the entire South Bank Centre due to Covid (which means no one could access the Poetry Library anyway) but also with the Centre's consequent aim to make mass redundancies and shift to a far more commercial model. The question at this point, of course, is how the change will affect the library in both the short and long term.

I'm not against the idea of seeking out new revenue streams for arts ventures and venues through the use of their premises, so long as that's combined with sensible public funding. However, this commercial process often seems to provide an excuse for ludicrous salaries in senior posts rather than making the most of those extra funds to generate high-quality, free artistic content for users who might otherwise be excluded.

Moreover, I do get extremely concerned when marketing people start producing word salads like the following quote from an excellent New Statesman article on the issue:

“When we talk about ‘start-up’ we mean a ‘mind-set approach’: being agile, adaptable to change, moving fast, risk-taking, innovating, constantly learning, changing the status quo, learning from failure, for example. We are not re-modelling operationally as a start-up.”

This is just empty fluff. Of course, everyone's aware that the South Bank Centre's income will have dropped hugely and will remain at a low level for the foreseeable future. Neverthless, the current crisis shouldn't be allowed to offer a perfect excuse for a permanent change in approach and the loss of one of the nation's key cultural assets. In this context, central government must step up to the plate for once.

We need the National Poetry Library, we need its excellent staff and we need free access to its unique collection. Once again, we're going to have to defend it...!