Saturday 24 October 2009

Ángel Campos Pámpano

Ángel Campos Pámpano, who died almost a year ago, was best known on the international literary stage as an excellent translator of Portuguese poets into Spanish, especially of Pessoa, but his own poetry is also extremely interesting in its own right.

I remember meeting Ángel on many occasions over the years at readings both in Zafra and Badajoz. He loved the cut and thrust of poetic debate, and I'll always remember the look of exhilaration on his face as we left a reading by José Ángel Valente, one of his favourite poets.

Just before his death from cancer at the age of fifty-one, Ángel Campos Pámpano had the chance to see a copy of his collected poems, La vida de otro modo (Calambur, 2008), and it's a book that I've been enjoying ever since. There are poetic echoes of Jorge Guillén and César Vallejo, both infused with the emotional landscape of Lisbon and Extremadura, but I feel his poems about his mother stand out. They seem to me to be in constant dialogue with Antonio Gamoneda. The latter had always shared many aspects of his poetic aesthetics with Ángel, but in certain poems this key maternal theme coincides and resonates:

"sabrás que lo que queda
es tan solo una ausencia compartida..."

"you'll know that what remains
is only a shared absence.."

These words could also be applied to the many friends and colleagues who still mourn him. A poet who's still with us through his work, Ángel organised numerous readings in Badajoz. Thanks to his efforts, many of us had the chance to see some of Spain's top talents down here in deepest Extremadura. Now it's our turn to keep his talent alive.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Hugo Williams Interview

There's currently a superb interview with Hugo Williams up at Horizon Review. As an admirer, I've chased down numerous interviews with him, but I firmly believe this stands out above the rest. Phil Brown did his homework, then managed to draw far more out of Williams than is usually the case.

Perhaps the key quote I'd like to highlight is the one that Brown astutely chose to give the interview its title:

"I’m referring to the rich adjectives and the exciting similes that ‘only poets could think of’...people like a few fireworks. I prefer the fireworks to be invisible."

This is obviously something of a posture, bearing in mind that Williams himself even drops a couple of metaphors into the interview, never mind his own poetry. However, I do feel this statement is valid as a challenge of many accepted ways of thinking in contemporary U.K. poetry. It's useful as a point of comparison with many of the poems that Horizon features. By this remark, I don't mean to knock other excellent poets, rather to provoke debate just as Williams does.

I believe he isn't taken seriously enough as a figure at the centre of the U.K. poetry world. Too often dismissed as a posh one-off or as an anecdotal poet of the superficial, his poetry and prose are pushed to the periphery. In fact, Hugo Williams is crucial to our understanding of where we've come from and are heading in poetic terms.

Thursday 8 October 2009

Mixed Emotions

On the one hand I have to admit I'm disappointed with the results of the Forward Prizes. This post isn't meant to knock Don Paterson and Emma Jones, both of whom are excellent poets, but I don't feel either of them are particularly accessible (and by this I don't mean facile) to general readers of serious prose who might decide to buy a poetry collection on the back of reading this news. In other words, it's my belief that these Forward Prizes have missed their opportunity to widen the U.K. readership for contemporary poetry.

On the other hand I'm pleased that both Sian Hughes and Andrew Philip have been shortlisted for the Aldeburgh First Collection Award. This must be especially gratifying for the latter, after having missed out on the Forward Shortlist.

Monday 5 October 2009

Review: Scattering Ashes, by Dan Wyke

Following my post about Dan Wyke a few weeks ago, I’ve now managed to get hold of a copy of his pamphlet, titled Scattering Ashes (Waterloo Press, 2004). After poring over it these last few days, I can report that it’s excellent. This is the kind of poetry I love reading and seldom find, poetry that is attuned to the everyday so as to transcend it. What do I mean? Well, here’s an example from “Deer”:

"…the joint
basking in its juices, warm wine,
a film unspooling silently as we slept;
the pleasurable domestic things
that keep a relationship simmering
just below fulfillment…"

Dan Wyke wrote most of these poems while still in his twenties, but the pamphlet shows us a fully formed, individual voice in control of its material. The following stanza from “In The Dark” illustrates this point:

“The light-bulb’s life ends with a chink –
a teaspoon clipping the rim of a cup –
and the dark, previously disguised, shows itself.”

We want to discover ourselves in an image, see something familiar in a new light, and Wyke’s delicate use of “previously disguised” serves just this purpose, transforming the words around it into something special, forcing us to reassess the stanza.

As for minor quibbles, I do feel Wyke overstrains for effect once or twice, when writing of this quality doesn’t need to do so. A few images also seem slightly facile and unenlightening, such as “Your round face glowing like a moon”. Nevertheless, these small uneven patches don’t spoil the overall achievement of the pamphlet.

Dan Wyke’s poems deserve a far wider readership. This is the sort of work that would be ensured popularity among those who feel that poetry can and should be a comprehensible yet challenging art. I understand a full collection, titled “Another Life”, may well be forthcoming in the near future, but for the moment “Scattering Ashes” is a terrific book in its own right and is still available from Waterloo Press. In the meantime, I’d like to finish this review by letting his poetry speak for itself:


While we’ve been reconciling,
the rain has adorned the garden: our spruce
bowing under the glistening freight
of beaded water.
We stand back, watchful.
We know something so exquisitely poised
cannot last.