Saturday, 21 May 2011

New Walk Issue Two

Despite far too many work commitments, I'm snatching time every now and then to read and write as much poetry as possible. At the top of the pending pile was Issue Two of New Walk magazine, where I was delighted to appear myself with three poems from Inventing Truth.

This second issue confirms that New Walk marks the first emergence for a long time of a major new player in printed poetry magazines in the U.K.. The editors continue their policy of juxtaposing contrasting yet equally valid approaches - for example, I encountered my poems alongside intriguing pieces by Carrie Etter - and seem set on reclaiming key ground for a successful outlet of this ilk.

In other words, New Walk is introducing little-known voices to a wider audience, while also providing a platform for more established poets to showcase new work. Dan Wyke, for instance, can be found exploring extremely interesting ground beyond his first collection with a poem titled School Fête. Alice Oswald, meanwhile, features with part of Memorial, her forthcoming book.

As for the reviews, they continue to draw attention to excellent new books, such as Matt Merritt's fine collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica.

All in all, what with its top-notch production values and terrific artwork, New Walk is now one of the poetry magazines I most enjoy. I certainly recommend you get hold of a copy!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

First reviews for Inventing Truth

The first reviews of a poet's first pamphlet are inevitably significant, so I was intrigued to read three of them all in one go over at the latest issue of Sphinx. Suffice to say, I'm grateful for such generous assessments of the book and am especially delighted to find that my poems have hit the spot with readers, as can be seen in the following extract from Richie McCaffery's piece:

"Inventing truth is a remarkable collection of pithy poems that open up to panoramas of love, family, regret and longing, and linger, flourishing in the mind long after reading."

I can't let a plug like that go begging, so here's a link to the Happenstance shop, where you can purchase a copy of Inventing Truth for yourself.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Review: The Hitcher, by Hannah Lowe

I first encountered Hannah Lowe’s poems in The Rialto and was impressed by their combination of strong narrative drive, vivid language and endings that didn’t so much tie poems up as open out beyond them. When I later discovered that the same magazine’s publishing arm was bringing out a pamphlet of her work, titled "The Hitcher", I got hold of a copy.

The blurb on the back cover is impressive but daunting. In other words “immensely talented”, “wonderfully evocative”, “one of the most exciting new voices in British poetry” and “in brilliant command” all contrive to put the poet under some degree of pressure before her reader sets off.

Does Lowe deliver? Well, this chapbook finds her showcasing many of the qualities that first caught my eye, while also highlighting areas that need work. She’s capable of setting scenes deftly with language that draws precise sketches without straining for effect, as in the opening lines of “The Picnic”…

“We walk to the shadows of St James’s Park,
past blue deck chairs, paired like old friends,
under the flight of a frisbee, the wide oaks,
a fractious sky of tumbled light.”

However, her fondness for long lines sometimes leads to wordiness and overegging a good idea, as in “Dracula’s Bride”…

“Often she remembers the party at Hallowe’en,
the old gang in fancy dress, fake blood, fangs,
one guy painted totally green”.

In this case freedom is contaminated by flabbiness, of too many words not earning their keep and not becoming new, whereas at other times Lowe achieves terrific tensile rhythms. I have the impression that she’s feeling her way towards an exciting music that doesn’t always click as yet.

Her Anglo-American background, meanwhile, seems set to offer fertile poetic territory: Lowe views both the U.K. and the U.S. with the added edge of being something of an outsider in both countries, while her verse also feeds off both traditions. For example, her observations of life in London are exceptional, detached but involved.

And yet there’s a fair bit to pick holes in. To start with, I find it surprising that the proofreading of the pamphlet failed to pick up on two instances of mix-ups between “its” and “it’s”. This might seem nitpicking, but the poems in question were consequently ruined – their jarring errors yanked my attention away from the verse.

A more important question, however, is the repetitive nature of Lowe’s linguistic resources and voices: a confessional, autobiographical “I” runs through almost all this poetry. Delicious in a single poem, its cumulative effect over the course of the collection becomes over-rich and lacking in variety. As for images, well, in 23 poems I encountered…”fists hard as stones”, “You punched a window”, “the hole I punched in the door” and “when my brother put his fist through a window”. In other words, their initial element of surprise was quickly lost.

“The Hitcher” is a real mixed bag, flawed yet exciting. These poems look as if they’ve been written over a short, intense period in a tremendous initial burst of creativity. As Hannah Lowe moves beyond them towards a first full collection, it will be intriguing to see how her work develops. If she broadens her canvas while also tightening up her musical control, she could well live up to that blurb and maybe even surpass it.