Saturday, 20 November 2010

Launch of hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica

I've admired Matt Merritt's writing for several years, ever since I encountered his excellent Happenstance pamphlet, Making The Most Of The Light, followed by his first full collection, Troy Town.

This Sunday evening sees the launch of his second collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, published by Nine Arches Press, at Jam Cafe, 12 Heathcote Street, Nottingham. I'd love to get along, but finding myself in deepest Extremadura might be something of a handicap.

In any case, I'll certainly be getting hold of a copy as soon as possible. Michelle McGrane featured a number of poems from the book a couple of days ago and it looks terrific!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Other Lives

Dan Wyke has three of my poems up over at his Other Lives blog today - Extranjero, Dad On The M25 After Midnight and San Fairy Ann. With recent posts including pieces from the likes of Todd Swift, Helen Ivory and Michelle McGrane, there's plenty of intriguing poetry to be found there.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Review: Birdhouse, by Anna Woodford

Whenever the new issue of a magazine reaches my hands, I first flick through it, poem by poem, seeking “something” that might arrest me. On several occasions, poetry by Anna Woodford has done so. What’s more, her work has invariably followed through from that initial stab of pleasure.

For this reason I was delighted when Woodford won the Crawshaw Prize last year, which guaranteed the publication of her first full collection, Birdhouse, by Salt. It’s a heady read – all those poems that were individually exciting now become enthralling when lined up page after page. Woodford might be in love with language, but her poetry shows it’s a relationship of equals right from the collection’s dazzling opening lines…

“You fiddle with the catch
between my legs until my mouth
springs open…”

In other words, Birdhouse is a book that savours originality of language as a means of transmutation, rather than as an end in itself. There’s no sense of narcissistic revelling in a mastery of linguistic effects. Instead, Woodford harnesses them so as to free the reader, as in the following example from Scan…

…I think
of my heart, that has been
seconded – its old iamb
beating in the dark of my chest.

Anna Woodford doesn’t attempt rupture from previous poetries. In fact, she takes them and casts them in a new light. Just as the reader starts ticking boxes, she springs another surprise. For example, the typical poem that uses a photo as its launch pad – in this case, it’s Clipping, with a purposely drab beginning , as if in a knowing nod to the sub-genre…

September 30 1987. You are a picture
in the North Wales Echo…

Just as we’re sighing at Woodford’s supposed slip, she abruptly changes gear and we’re off…

…How carelessly you carry your son in your face.
I cannot bear to leave you to your ex-girlfriends
until I think of your mother: folding and unfolding
the clipping you sent home between lectures
before tucking it away with your childhood
cards in her heart’s solid dresser.

Terrific stuff! What’s more, Birdhouse is packed with poems of this quality. Anna Woodford has achieved something special with her first collection – a fusion of linguistic playfulness and thematic seriousness. Not hectoring, not lecturing, her poetic generosity launches the reader on countless flights. This is a book I’ll be reading for many years to come.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Review: New Walk Magazine Issue One

In the current climate of e-zines and blogs, the launch of an ambitious, beautifully presented print-based poetry journal is a significant event in the U.K. poetry world.

As such, Issue One of New Walk magazine is arresting even at first glance. The artwork is excellent, implicitly exploring its own relationship with poetry, as in Claire Blyth's gorgeous back cover, while the layout of the poems invites the reader in, giving verse room to breathe on the page.

Edited by Rory Waterman, Nick Everett and Libby Peake at the University of Leicester, New Walk sets out its aims in the opening editorial:

"We want to reflect in our magazine as wide a range as possible of the ways in which contemporary poets respond to the challenges of freedom. This is why we are interested in modernist and experimental poetry but no less in so-called formalist poetry, which is not necessarily any more conservative nor any less daring in the freedoms it discovers".

The magazine's contents then set out to prove the editors' points, especially in terms of the precise order of poems. Contrasting poetic stances and methods are juxtaposed: Rob Mackenzie is alongside Andrew Motion, while Alison Brackenbury is followed by Peter Larkin. This editorial tightrope is successfully walked and provides a useful snapshot of a wide range of writing.

As would be expected from a magazine that boasts such a well-known line-up for Issue One (Hilary Menos, Matt Merritt, Grevel Lindop, Leontia Flynn, etc, etc...), the standard of writing is consistently high, but my personal favourite is Journey Home by Stephen Payne. This poem's achievement lies in enabling the reader to grasp a new truth that seems obvious once it's been revealed. That might sound cryptic, but you'll have to read the poem to see what I mean, as quotes would sell it short.

New Walk's reviews, meanwhile, further underline the magaine's editorial position: a whole gamut of poets are tackled, from Robin Robertson to Louis Simpson. Criticism isn't shirked, which leads to some uncomfortable reading, as in Nicholas Friedman's review of Mark Halliday's "No panic here". Rob Mackenzie has already discussed this review on his Surroundings blog, and I agree with much of what he states, as Friedman seems to knock Halliday for doing exactly what he intended! If this review were published in a stand-along context, I'd thus be very unsure of its value. However, in New Walk magazine, I do think it performs a useful function, implicitly encouraging the reader to consider and reconsider differing poetic stances.

The editors have done a terrific job with Issue One of New Walk. The magazine looks to have a very promising future on the U.K. poetry scene, especially if its delicate editorial balance is maintained, drawing together different poetic strands, comparing and contrasting them, showing how they can and should develop alongside each other.