Monday 27 April 2009

Poetry with an anchor

The poetry I love tends to have an anchor - a physical set of surroundings and a social environment.

An obvious example might be Peter Sansom, whose work is mainly set in Yorkshire. Such a setting lends a specific sense to his work that opens outwards.

However, my interpetation of an anchor goes much further; Tobias Hill comes to mind at this point. Hill may set a poem in an exotic location, but London is always lurking in the background. Its social strands and physical layout provide an implicit counterpoint for all Hill's poetic wanderings. The reader is aware of London acting as an anchor throughout Hill's work - we know where he's from and we watch him exploring the developments in his relationship with his origins via his encounters with elsewheres.

Everyone has just such origins to affect how they view new experiences. All writers reflect this fact in their work, but Hill seems to do so more consciously than others, using it as part of the inner drive to his poetry. I aspire to something similar in my work, reflecting on an anchor that's inherently part of me. It permeates my poetry, not necessarily having to be openly invoked in every piece. Even when writing about Spain, I do so in the light of where I'm from, who I've been and what social anchors I've dropped.

Monday 20 April 2009

Poetic Failures

From time to time I have a trawl through my folders of old failed work on the off chance that some piece or extract might be worth reworking or set off a new spark.

Doing so this weekend, I realised how key themes, techniques and tones have developed in my work. Only now can I spot my first clumsy gropings towards them a few years ago.

Larkin was keen to insist on his disavowal of a poet's obligation to develop, but he also admitted that his percentage of failures didn't drop with time, in itself a recognition that we mustn't stagnate or repeat ourselves if we're going to be creative. I use this argument when wrestling with my current poetic messes: the encouraging aspect of the process is that maybe, just maybe, they are staging posts on the way to somewhere new and as yet unknown.

Saturday 11 April 2009

Songwriters and poets

Songwriters who are poets, poets who are songwriters...

...beyond the debate as to whether lyrics are poems or poems are lyrics, comes another issue: many countries boast prominent songwriters who are also well-known as poets, but not the U.K..

Several examples spring to mind in the U.S., while Spain has a long tradition of writers working in both genres. Among the most famous current crop is Joaquín Sabina - he publishes poetry which has been admired by figures such as Angel González, while also selling out concerts. Apart from the fact he's from my wife's lovely home town of Ubeda, I also feel an affinity with his deft word-play, social commentary and narrative drive, as in the song below:

Does U.K. poetry look down on songwriters? Do we force a distinction on artists (i.e. you're either a poet or a songwriter)? I'm convinced not only that both are compatible, but that they can feed off each other and enrich both the writer and reader/listener.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

The invented truth

There are a few gorgeous moments as a reader when an author helps you make that final jump. Cortázar gave me just such a shove when I first read this...

"Supe que no llegaría a la verdad me convencía de que país nuevo era vida nueva..."

"I knew I wouldn't reach the invented truth...if I convinced myself that a new country was a new life..."

As a point of reference for a writer who lives abroad (whether through choice or due to political repression), this phrase is extremely relevant. It's been key to me, converting an intangible, semi-conscious feeling into a crystalised, clear thought.