Wednesday 31 August 2011

Interview on Polyolbion

Over at his excellent Polyolbion blog, Matt Merritt has kindly published an extensive interview with me. Our discussion takes in bilingualism, syllabics, Happenstance Press, poets' fetishes and many things in between! To top it off, three poems from Inventing Truth are also posted at the end of the interview.

Saturday 13 August 2011

Review: Un invierno propio, by Luis García Montero

Out of all contemporary Spanish poets, I've long thought that Luis García Montero has the greatest chance of finding a U.K. readership. This is largly thanks to his idiosyncratic blend of influences, ranging from Larra and Lorca to Auden (via Gil de Biedma), all topped off with his personal and literary experience of having reached adulthood just as the dictatorship was imploding and liberty exploding.

His latest book, Un invierno propio, very much confirms that impression. García Montero has always been associated with the so-called "poesía de la experiencia", yet his previous work was still littered with overt allusions to the Spanish literary canon, as if he felt obliged to prove his erudition in the face of accusations by his contemporaries of being overly "facile". In Un invierno propio, however, García Montero seems to be ever more comfortable with his personal, intimate yet direct voice. Many Spanish poets seem to disappear into their own esoteric ambitions with age, but García Montero is taking a far more exciting, opposite route: ignoring many critics' sniffiness, his poetic project is now unique in Spain in the depth that he achieves without a shred of pretentiousness.

One example of this new-found extra confidence can be found in the opening lines of Hay aviones que despegan desde ningún lugar y que aterrizan en ninguna parte:

"Nadie puede bañarse en lágrimas dos veces
en el mismo aeropuerto..."

"Nobody can bathe in tears twice
at the same airport..."

Both this begininng and the poem that follows stand alone as excellent verse. García Montero finds no need for overt allusion or quotation. Nevertheless, there are implicit nods to Ängel González and his Glosas a Heráclito, which contains my favourite lines in 20th Century Spanish poetry:

Nada es los mismo, nada
la Historia y la morcilla de mi tierra:

se hacen las dos con sangre, se repiten.

Nothing is the same, nothing
the History and black pudding of my homeland:

both are made with blood, they repeat.

In other words, García Montero provides the reader with two equally valid routes. The allusion's there but it isn't rubbed in our faces: unlike with much contemporary Spanish poetry, we aren't being made to feel we have to pass a test of our erudtion before the poet grants us access to his work.

Another example of García Montero's growing surefootedness, meanwhile, is in my favourite piece from the collection, titled La tristeza del mar cabe en un vaso de agua, in which his eschewing of fireworks brings with it a gorgeous, direct lyricism that I won't quote, because its simplicity would render it ridiculous in a limited quote. I recommend getting hold of the book, downing the poem in one and then going back to savour it, sip by sip.

In conclusion, if you've got a working knowledge of Spanish and feel like "taking on" contemporary Spanish poetry, Luis García Montero's Un invierno propio is a terrific point of departure. For me, it's his best book so far.

Sunday 7 August 2011

Paul Farley article

There's an article by Paul Farley up on the Guardian website today as part of their "Once upon a life" series. The story of his first few months as an art student in London, it's interesting enough in itself, but takes on far more significance when read alongside his first collection, "The Boy from the Chemist is Here to See You".

There are always arguments about the relationship between biographical detaila and literary texts, but in this case I certainly feel that my appreciation of Farley's book has been enriched by his article. I'd always loved the ferocious vivacity of his first collection and noticed a slow seep-away of this quality in subsequent volumes. I now understand the seismic shifts in his life that contributed to making "The Boy from the Chemist..." such a tremendous and unrepeatable jolt to the reader.

Monday 1 August 2011

John Hollander's Rhyme's Reason

As a student in the Lower Sixth, I finally plucked up the courage to show Richard Hoyes, my English teacher at Farnham College, my first fevered and feeble attempts at writing verse. His advice set me on my way, handing me a scrap of paper with "Rhyme's Reason by John Hollander" on it and telling me to get hold of a copy. It's been with me ever since.

Instead of encouraging me to attend local creative writing classes or giving me overblown praise for the rubbish I was churning out, Richard immediately realised that I needed to sit down and work out that writing poetry was a solitary and hugely self-taught occupation, to understand for myself how poetic form gives figurative sense to speech sound. "Rhyme's Reason" set me on my way. Even now, I vividly recall the light-bulb moment when I first read Hollander's examples, written in verse themselves...

"Trochées simply tumble on..."
"Iambic meter runs along like this..."
"Dactyl means finger in Greek..."

The book goes on to explain the mechanics of a poet's musical tools in great detail. Metre and form are both dealt with via practic examples. However, the key point is its target audience. Not aimed at students or critics, "Rhyme's Reason" is written by a poet for poets. I still thoroughly recommend it.