Tuesday 27 November 2012

Joshua Mehigan's The Festival

This week finds me in the throes of reading Joshua Mehigan's 2004 collection, The Optimist. There's a lot of excellent stuff throughout the book, but I'm particularly drawn to a poem titled The Festival. It very much reminds me of Larkin's Show Saturday. Both are specific to their place and time, and both strike an authentic note. Larkin homes in on...

"...mugfaced, middleaged wives
Glaring at jellies, husbands on leave from the garden
Watchful as weasels..."

Mehigan, meanwhile, captures a very similar yet very different dynamic as follows:

"From beer, they swayed like corn in rows.
They unfixed stares to wink at wives
whose dead eyes double-crossed their smiles."

An implicit dialogue between the two poets and two societies is certainly enriching my reading. I'm now looking forward to Mehigan's new collection in 2013.

Monday 19 November 2012

A first reading in Spain

In spite of having spent seventeen years in Spain, I'd never given a poetry reading in Iberia. That was until last week, when my local high school invited me to give an English-language reading from Inventing Truth to their sixth-form students as part of their annual Book Fair.

The pupils had worked on several of my poems beforehand, and I was intrigued to see which pieces had been chosen (they were especially drawn with the ones that focus on identity and the sense of being a foreigner). Following a brief reading, I moved on to explain a bit about the metrics of English poetry and thus lyrics. We finished off by stomping out the iambs and trochées that can be found in The Beatles' Yesterday.

You can read more (in Spanish, of course) at the I.E.S. Santiago Apostol's blog here, with lots of photos of me in action with the students!

Friday 16 November 2012

Peony Moon features Tasting Notes

Over at Peony Moon, Michelle McGrane is kindly featuring Tasting Notes today. There's some background info, a photo of the wine and a sample poem.You can find the post in question here.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Review: The Dreaded Boy, by Antony Owen

At a time when poets tend to tiptoe warily round politics, Antony Owen's The Dreaded Boy (Pighog Press, 2011) makes forthright, passionate statements of commitment, as in the following example from The Scent of a Son:

"...In London ministers argue expenses
In York a father fills carrier bags
walking the scent of his son to Oxfam."

Throughout this pamphlet, Owen explores the horror of war, as much through the experiences of civilians at home as through snapshots of the battle itself. There's a collage effect at work here, built up by layers of anecdote that range from Stalingrad to Basra, from Gaza to Kabul. Owen's perspective is that of the war correspondent: this is reportage, packed with pent-up horror, emotion heightened by the paring back of anything other than observation. His ending to Medusa is a fine example of the technique at work:

"...His little bother asked to see his medals,
he took him to a friend's grave.

He was hailed a hero in the paper
and stoked the furnace with it.

His wife wants to try for a baby,
he packed his bags for war."

The Dreaded Boy is not meant to be an advert for subtle nuance. The themes are huge and they're tackled head-on. It's often said that elegies allow and even encourage the poet to push boundaries in a search for the expression of something that's impossible to express. Well, war is explored in a similar way here.

Antony Owen's focus is primarily on those left behind, on the aftermath of war, on the way it pervades people's lives beyond the battlefield. He's drawing our attention to the forgotten and the neglected. Owen successfully marries this thematic drive to the aesthetics of his verse, demonstrating that there's very much a role in contemporary society for poetry that nails its political colours to the mast. The Dreaded Boy is an unusual and at times uncomfortable read, and for that I'm grateful. This reader always enjoys being taken out of his comfort zone!

Saturday 10 November 2012

Tim Love on Tasting Notes

As mentioned previously on Rogue Strands, Tim Love's blogs are an excellent source of information on the U.K. poetry scene. They're definitely worth following as a point of departure for discussion and thought. A few days ago he posted a very positive review of Tasting Notes, plus a photo (from the launch event in London) of me carving that gorgeous ham. You can find both here.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Dr Fulminare on Tasting Notes

As part of its ever-expanding review section, Dr Fulminare has published a very positive and thought-provoking piece on Tasting Notes. You can read it in its entirety here, but I'd like to highlight the following extract:

"For this reason I feel safe in closing this review with a shopping advice. Buy a bottle of Zaleo (or all four of them)...and have the pamphlet as a crowning touch to the wine – it will make for a gift of inimitable class."

On that note, I'll just point you in the direction of the links to the right of this piece - Christmas is creeping up on us!

Saturday 3 November 2012

Review: Clueless Dogs, by Rhian Edwards

A couple of years ago I reviewed Rhian Edwards' tall-lighthouse pamphlet, Parade the Fib, on Rogue Strands. In fact, you can still read it here. 2012, meanwhile, has seen the publication of her first full collection with Seren Books, titled Clueless Dogs.

Clueless Dogs is an extremely good read. The best poems from the pamphlet run through its spine: Gravy and Sheer are excellent pieces, while Marital Visit is an outstanding poem (the book's worth buying for this one slab of brilliance alone!): a female, lyrically-charged concave mirror of the type of material that Hugo Williams invoked in Billy's Rain. Edwards is terrific at portraying doomed human relationships.

The blurb for Clueless Dogs states that she won the John Tripp Award for Spoken Poetry 2011-12. Now, I'm not going to get bogged down in the pointless argument of page vs performance. Nevertheless, I do recall sharing a stage with Edwards in London a few years ago. She was compelling, performing her poems such as Marital Visit without recourse to the page. She'd learnt them by heart and was able to engage with the audience by laying open her vulnerability.

I do wonder, however, just whether she is quite so successful with other themes, for reasons I'll try to explain. The very qualities that made the "personal" poems so captivating when performed "live" are also those that pervade her work on other subjects, yet in these cases without the same degree of emotional connection with the audience/reader. Let's take an example: where the circular ending to Marital Visit is devastating in its finality, in other cases the chopping-off of loose ends seems forced, closing instead of opening up beyond the text itself. For instance, here are the final lines from Bridgend:

"...The Samaritans have been lobbying the Vale
for years for a phone box
with a direct dial to a volunteer.
Eventually, the council surrendered and built
the box at the foot of the cliff.

Edwards is offering us an ending that's satisfying at first yet slightly facile on rereading. She's reaching for (and obtaining) an effect on her audience rather than her reader.

Clueless Dogs is not perfect, yet its flaws are intriguing. It shows Edwards reaching out into new themes and exploring how her technique can evolve to deal with them. Let's not forget, however, that it is top-notch when evoking moments, scenes and perspectives on couples that are destined to part. Rhian Edwards has already achieved more than many poets: a new, enlightening view of an old subject. The signs are that there's a lot more to come.