Saturday 31 December 2011

Sphinx, a new issue and a new website

Sphinx has long been one of the few publications to focus on reviews of poetry pamphlets. Initially printed, it's been web-based for the last few issues under the auspices of the Happenstance Press website.

Issue 19 has just come out, but for the first time it's been launched as part of a new stand-alone website for Sphinx. You can find it here, and it's well worth a browse. There are reviews for many recent pamphlets, all within the established framework of three reviewers for each book, their pieces then juxtaposed and in implicit dialogue with each other. In this issue I tackle Charlotte Gann's intriguing chapbook from Pighog, The Long Woman. Once again, it's a thought-provoking process for me to compare and contrast my views with those of others. 

Wednesday 21 December 2011

The lives of second hand books

I love the idea of the different lives that are led by books. Just we gain fresh perspectives from them, so our treatment of them casts fresh light on us. In fact, one of my poems from Inventing Truth, titled Last Chance, is a first-person monologue from the point of view of a second hand book at a jumble sale as it awaits a new owner or the fate of being recycled.

In a similar vein, some months ago I highlighted Wayne Gooderham's excellent Guardian feature about bespoke dedications that can be found in second hand books. Well, since then he's started a blog here for his collection of them. It's well worth a look...I can feel another poem coming on!

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Alun Lewis on History

I'm currently tackling and relishing Alun Lewis' Collected Poems, getting to grips with his heady mix of erudition and grit. I'll go into more detail about this excellent book at a later date, but for now a quote that struck me from his poem The Peasants...

"...Across scorched hills and trampled crops
The soldiers straggle by.
History staggers in their wake.
The peasants watch them die."

This reminds me so much of images from umpteen television news bulletins over the past few years, Lewis' lines echoing backwards and forwards through time.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Review: The Hiding Place, by Tom Duddy

First things first, this book is terrific!

Let's start with some background info. The Hiding Place is Tom Duddy’s debut full collection. Published by Arlen House in Ireland, it was recently shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry. This Prize is awarded annually to the writer of the best first collection published in the UK or Ireland in the preceding year.

Tom Duddy teaches Philosphy at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and his academic background is of immense interest in the context of The Hiding Place. Poets are often said to wear their erudition lightly, but Duddy goes far beyond that, exploiting it in idiosyncratic and immensely subtle ways, approaching life so as to understand it, metaphysics constantly filtered through the concrete, as in the following example from The Small Hours:

“A siren far out on the public road
breaks the circle of acid thought, and I turn
to find her pressed close, warm, palpable…”

The juxtaposition of “thought” and “palpable”, together with the play between them, is key to an understanding of Duddy’s poetics, as is the sense of public and private. Throughout this poem, as indeed throughout the whole collection, the poet is inviting us along with him.

The Hiding Place is shot through with a rare generosity towards the reader, capturing, transmitting and transmuting kernels that lie in Duddy’s mind. He casts new light on old scenes, thus enlightening us about our own lives. This is what I most treasure about poetry. It’s what lifts certain poets and poetry into a very special place.

The collection is also characterised by a delicate weighing of the effect of words. Their music is at first unassuming and then all the more powerful for this as their resonances build. I found myself rereading the poems over and over again. They were immediately accessible, but gave more and more with time in a cumulative effect. This extract from the title poem is an example of just what I mean:

“…Someone whose mind has been elsewhere
will have turned around and seen us
and stopped smiling and decided
that the time has come to wake us
to our fair share of the real...”

As can be seen above, Tom Duddy writes a poetry of the “mind” that’s rooted in the “real”. In no way limiting, this approach is in fact highly ambitious. What’s more, his achievements in this collection prove that the esoteric is not the only route to poetic depth. I can’t recommend The Hiding Place enough. Here’s hoping it finds an ever-increasing readership as the story of its exceptional qualities gradually comes out.