Thursday 14 July 2011

Inventing Truth on Days of Roses

Three poems from Inventing Truth, my Happenstance pamphlet, are today being featured on Days of Roses, an excellent and relatively new blog that was born out of the London-based poetry, prose and music series of the same name.

Declan Ryan is behind the poetic side of things and has already showcased top-notch work from people such as Andrew Motion, Mark Waldron and Julian Stannard, plus a whole host of emerging voices. Days of Roses has already enabled me to discover several exciting poets I'll be looking out for over the next few years, and I thoroughly recommend it. Poems aren't just posted haphazardly - there's a very keen editorial eye at work.

Sunday 10 July 2011

The Overdrive Moment

When writing poetry, I carry certain snippets with me, sparks that I aspire to creating. Many have been with me for years. Chief among them is one from Ted Hughes in his excellent introduction to to my battered OUP edition of Keith Douglas' Complete Poems (still one of my favourite books fifteen years later).

Hughes compares Keith Douglas to Elizabeth Bishop, highlighting several shared qualities such as the "subjective accompaniment to an...objective outlook", before homing in on a key difference:

"Comparing the two, it is surprising to find that...she knew nothing of that overdrive moment in Douglas, that effect of sudden foreshortening, the abrupt impatient short-cut where his seriousness opens and he arrives at the core of his inspiration..."

I still remember my first reading of that statement, a clear and consise explanation of what I relished most about Douglas' poetry and wanted to capture for myself. Even now, it's always at the forefront of my mind as I open my notebook.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Inventing Truth on Other Lives

I'm grateful to Dan Wyke for featuring Inventing Truth on his Other Lives blog today. He's chosen Extranjero as a sample poem and you can read it here.

"Extranjero", of course, means "foreigner", and the piece deals with my linguistic development since reaching Extremadura. I initially aimed to shake off my English accent when speaking Spanish, but a few years later that achievement brought its own pitfalls!

Saturday 2 July 2011

Syllabics - an explanation

I was intrigued by remarks made by Tim Love in his review of Inventing Truth, plus his exchange with Sheenagh Pugh in the comments section of the same article, about the use of syllabics in poetry. Love stated "it had to be pointed out to me that the poems are syllabics", while Pugh replied with "I have never, ever noticed that a poem was in syllabics before it was pointed out".

These statements run contrary to my own poetic methods and are thus terrific points of departure for an explanation of my use of syllabics:

I'm 100% convinced there's a subtle syllabic music that runs through English-language poetry and lyrics, lying just below the stresses, often drowned out by the heavier resonance of the latter. When writing poems I never need to count syllables - I instinctively notice and feel them. In other words, an iambic pentameter is a decasyllabic line at the same time. If you are counting stresses you are inevitably and implicitly counting syllables too, as stress patterns are made up of clustered syllables.

What's undeniable is that stresses are a key element to the rhythms of English, far more than in languages such as Spanish, in which metrics are always pure syllabics. By this I mean that any English-language poet writing in syllabics simply must also be aware of stresses. I find that syllabics enables me to play with anapests, iambs, dactyls and trochées within a musical framework, a game that inversely provides me with greater freedom to do so than in free verse, all because the whispering music of syllabics underpins them. Rather than ignoring stresses, I'm doing quite the opposite, using them to create and disrupt aural expectations, seeking to bring together musical effects and semantics.

Editors', readers' and other poets' reactions to my use of syllabics have always been split, in that roughly half have fallen into the Pugh-Love camp, unaware of my metrics until they were pointed out. A large number, however, have instinctively and immediately picked up on my technique.

I'd like to end this post by underlining that it's not meant to be some kind of defence of my poetic methods. Quite the reverse: I hope it provokes thought and I welcome comments below.

Friday 1 July 2011

Ink Sweat & Tears Part 2

Ink Sweat and Tears, now with Helen Ivory as sole editor, are currently featuring my poetry for the second time. On this occasion it's "Family Visit", a piece from Inventing Truth. While over there, why not delve into their treasure trove of contemporary verse?