Sunday, 11 November 2018

The tightrope walk of grief, Fiona Moore's The Distal Point

When reading in London alongside Fiona Moore last week, I was reminded just how difficult it is to write about grief without seeming maudlin. If Moore’s first full collection, The Distal Point (HappenStance Press, 2018), is perhaps the most successful treatment of this subject since Douglas Dunn’s Elegies, how does she pull it off?

Throughout her collection, Moore is walking on a tightrope, managing to affect her readers while dodging the trap of sentimentality. She does so by employing restraint. In this context, restraint doesn’t imply emotional castration but instead the holding back of waves of feeling so that minuscule overflowing inversely becomes far more powerful than a huge flood.

One such example of her technique is the ending to Unknown, in which three characters – an imagined child, the absent partner and the first person narrator – are brought together to powerful effect:

“If you’re a ghost that walks
beside me, she is doubly so. But she
grows older with time
whereas you don’t – soon
the gap between you and me will show.”

There’s not a single adjective in this stanza. Adjectives implicitly involve personal interpretation and judgement, so Moore avoids them here. She’s seeking the layering of apparently minor details, playing off the destinies of you and she, separating them via line breaks, building up to the bald reportage of her killer final line. Like all killer final lines, it takes us back to the beginning of the poem and suggests we might start reading all over again.

The Distal Point richly deserves its recent short listing for the T.S. Eliot Prize. Maybe the only surprise is that its delicate impact should receive such recognition. Of course, the biggest personal reward for Fiona Moore is the consequent access to a larger readership. For the wider poetry community, it represents a timely reminder that craft provides us with a gateway to art and must never be underestimated. 

Friday, 9 November 2018

What a fortnight!

If last week saw me doing a whistle-stop tour of Chichester, London and Aldeburgh, this week has seen me back in Extremadura, racing to keep up with orders of wine and olive oil for Christmas.

Only now can I pause for breath and start looking back on an terrific reading in London, followed by a packed event at Poetry in Aldeburgh. I was going to mention the brilliant people I met in the course of my travels, but such a list would run to a huge paragraph. Suffice to say, it was the best week of my life in poetry.

However, perhaps the best news of all is that the inaugural Rogue Strands reading generated 324 pounds for the Trussell Trust in aid of food banks. That's down to my co-organiser, Mat Riches, whose idea it was to raise those funds!

Friday, 2 November 2018

And now to Aldeburgh...

Just a quick post as I gather my stuff together in readiness for the drive up to Aldeburgh following yesterday's terrific evening at The Rugby Tavern. The range of voices was wide, but they all complemented each other with an unusual synergy, so thanks are due to all our readers - Fiona Moore, Jessica Mookherjee and Kathryn Gray - plus the open-mic poets and my co-organiser, Mat Riches, who also gave a top-notch reading.

And now to plot my reading on Sunday, revolving around food and wine. Bearing in mind my love for the subject, that shouldn't be too tough. Again, I'd love to see you there!

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Tonight's the night for the inaugural Rogue Strands poetry reading

The title to this post might well be self-explanatory, but here come the details: Fiona Moore, Kathryn Gray, Jessica Mookherjee, Mat Riches and myself are reading at the Rugby Tavern in Bloomsbury this evening, starting at 7.30 p.m.. The entry fee is only £3, and all proceeds will be donated to the Trussell Trust in aid of local food banks. We'd love to see you there...!

Monday, 29 October 2018

Algebra of Owls

Algebra of Owls is one of the best webzines around, so I'm especially pleased to have a new poem there today (see this link). Of course, the term "new" is often relative, as is the case with this piece. I wrote a first draft some twenty years ago and it's gone through at least a dozen versions since then before finally coming together a few months ago. All that effort for so few words...

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Recipes and poems

While thinking about my event at Poetry in Aldeburgh next weekend (where I'll be reading poems with a gastronomic and oenological slant) I was reminded how recipes resemble poems. Once you show them to other people, they cease to be yours and take on new interpretations.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Opening the floodgates, S.A. Leavesley's How to Grow Matches

When reviewing, it’s usually wise to avoid invoking a metaphor or an image that might draw attention away from the poet and towards the critic. Any such flashiness invites accusations of selfishness and flashiness, because a review should be about the book in question, not about the reviewer.

However, there are a few cases where an exception is justified, where a metaphor can enlighten and illustrate. S.A. Leavesley’s pamphlet, How to Grow Matches (Against the Grain Poetry Press, 2018), is a good example: each piece finds her opening the floodgates at a precise moment, her delicately controlled releases of anger bringing about effects many miles downstream.

One such instance occurs in the closing stanza to Her Cumuli Collector:

“…The day he left, not a single wisp of white
or grey against the bright blue sky.
But it rained non-stop inside her: heavy,
pounding – the rain of dark angels.”

These lines demonstrate Leavesley’s knowledge of language’s nuts and bolts, of how to subvert them to effect, as she removes the main verb from her first sentence, thus unsettling the reader, before homing in on her clashing, conflicting final image. Moreover, her line break between “heavy” and “pounding” exacerbates that very sensation.

How to Grow Matches uses the challenging of linguistic convention to ramp up its implicit conflicts, as in the final lines of Bowl of oranges: a still life

“…She pinches her mouth closed,
tightens her heart muscle to a fist,
hands her husband a fresh orange.”

The pivotal word here is “closed”. It’s unexpected and casts a new, more powerful light on the verb that precedes it.

Anger often implies and involves the loss of control, but S.A. Leavesley shows that its impact is actually far greater when used with a deft touch. How to Grow Matches is an excellent pamphlet from a new press that deserves to find a spot at the top table of U.K. poetry pamphlet publishing. I’ll be keeping a close eye on its development.