Sunday 31 October 2010

La Orquesta Mondragón

I should be blogging about all the excellent poetry I've read this weekend, but there's been such a glut that I'm still digesting it. Time for a trashy novel and some dodgy music, such as this 80s track from La Orquesta Mondragón, led by Javier Gurruchaga...

Saturday 23 October 2010

Ink Sweat & Tears

I'm delighted to have a poem, Paco, Mum and Me, up at the excellent Ink Sweat & Tears today. While you're there, I thoroughly recommend you browse their archive - it's a treasure trove of top-notch poetry and prose.

Sunday 10 October 2010

Poetry in the media

This week has encapsulated the media's treatment of poetry in several ways.

To start with, there was The Guardian's coverage of the Forward Prize. Sam Willets is a fine poet, but why was he singled out for a major feature prior to the awards ceremony? The answer could clearly be found in his former heroin addiction, which provided much-needed "human interest" for the journalist and newspaper readers. I feel this tabloid-driven slant devalues his excellent work. Meanwhile, Hilary Menos' actual winning of the First Collection Prize gained far fewer column inches.

And then there was Ted Hughes. Again. And Sylvia. Again. The Guardian titled one of their articles as follows: "Ted Hughes's final lines to Sylvia Plath bring closure to a tragic tale". That reference to a "tragic tale" is key to our understanding of the sub-editor's angle on this feature: the focus and draw originated in the tragedy of the couple's background story.

These are not just two examples of how poetry is used to provide colour for newspaper articles. In fact, they resonate further and perpetuate misconceptions among the general public. These features reinforce the stereotype of poets as a rare breed who lead atypical and often tragic lives. Many people are turned off both reading and writing the genre, feeling that poetry is consequently not for them.

I often find people taking a surreptitious fresh look at me after finding out I write verse, assessing me anew. A few have expressed surprise and mentioned that I don't look like a poet! Such articles don't help us to get rid of these caricatures.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Review: Hace Triste, by Jordi Virallonga

A quick look at the labels that run down the right-hand side of this blog should provide any passing readers with the chance to catch up on Jordi Virallonga'a poetic background. This post will focus instead on Hace Triste (DVD Ediciones, 2010), his latest collection.

Hace Triste finds Virallonga covering familiar territory such as the intricacy of relationships, while also opening up to new subjects, such as the ageing process. The book's first poem, Azúcar Quemado, states his aim:

"no caer antes del duodécimo asalto"
"not to hit the canvas before the 12th round"

In other words, defiance, expressed via engagement with life. This engagement has long been a crucial feature of Virallonga's work, and is something that sets him apart from many contemporary Spanish poets. Reading Hace Triste, I'm reminded once more of what first drew me to his work: poetics that gain much of their power thanks to the interlinking of ideas and events, as in this example from Del Orden:

"Ordenas la rabia en el armario,
las risas en el album, el odio en los estantes,
las caricias con los tranquilizantes,
la venganza metida entre las faldas, el llanto
entre cortinas, en la puerta la basura
con recuerdos, con latas,
tu obsesión por reciclar"

"You tidy up anger in the wardrobe,
laughter in the album, hatred on shelves,
caresses with tranquilisers,
revenge slipped between skirts, teardrops
between curtains, rubbish at the door
with memories, with cans,
your obsession with recycling."

The use of this technique might seem commonplace to U.K. readers, but it's unusual in the context of contemporary Spanish poetry, as is Virallonga's use of register, which shows clear development and greater surefootedness in Hace Triste. He veers between formal language and colloquialisms, yet always postions himself firmly within a Spanish that exists beyond the page.

Again, U.K.-based readers might take this for granted. However, much poetry written in Spain seems to bear little correlation with the language that people use, esoteric verse being written with esoteric syntax.

Hace Triste perhaps lacks the seismic thematic drive that made Crónicas de Usura such a stand-out collection, but it's still an excellent book, an alternative vision of how verse in Spain could progress if the current generation of poets were to throw off the shackles of their idolised predecessors. Jordi Virallonga deserves to be read.