Thursday 26 September 2013

The online premiere

After several months of graft, I'm pleased to be able to announce that the online premiere of Tasting Notes, a poetry film, will be on Wednesday 2nd October. The absence of a red carpet won't stop me being pretty excited!

Saturday 21 September 2013

New Walk 7

New Walk 7 will be heading out to subscribers in the next few weeks. I'm delighted to report that it will be featuring a recent poem by myself (titled Sooner or Later) alongside work by John Ashbery, Sujata Bhatt, Mark Ford, Carrie Etter and other high-quality poets. Why not visit the New Walk website here to get your hands on a copy of what is fast becoming one of the most significant poetry journals around?

Tuesday 17 September 2013

What is a poetry film?

Ahead of the online première of Tasting Notes, a poetry film, here's something of a declaration of intent!

So, just what is a "poetry film"? Well, I believe it's capable of bringing about connections and creating metaphors that neither the verbal nor the visual form would produce alone.

In other words, a poetry film is able to give a concrete image to a set of words that were previously limitless in visual terms, enriching poems by driving the verse in question towards a tangible experience. However, this need not be a hindrance, as those very words strengthen and specify the inital generic power of the images employed, enabling the viewer to set off on a new journey.

This, at least, is my aim with Tasting Notes. The poems are already highly visual, but very few of my readers have had the opportunity to see Extremadura, its wineries and vineyards for themselves. The film intends to give them that vicarious chance.

Thursday 12 September 2013

The deft peeling of euphenism, Hilary Menos' Red Devon

In her second full collection, titled Red Devon (Seren, 2013),Hilary Menos builds on the achievements of Wheelbarrow Farm, her 2010 pamphlet fromTemplar poetry, adding further texture and counterpoints to what was already a highly individual and thought-provoking poetic view of modern agricultural life.

Red Devon is far from being some evangelical vegetarian crusade. Instead, it brings us face to face with what we are and what we’ve always been. Let’s take this example from “Stock Take”:

“…And I feel I’m not being euphemistic enough

when I explain the absence of four or five lambs
by saying we ate them…”

Of course, she’s being the opposite of euphemistic throughout this collection. In fact, Menos peels away the layers of euphemism like the plastic wrapping on a supermarket pack of chops.

Red Devon continually challenges us. We’re never told what to think. Instead, the reader is allowed to roam and explore possible reactions. For instance, “Long Pig”, about cannibals, seems a long way removed from the West Country poems at first sight. However, the contrary is true, as the following extract shows:

“We eat the flesh only in wartime, when enraged,
and in a few legal instances. Theft. Treason.”

The reader is implicitly being invited to compare attitudes towards eating humans with attitudes towards eating animals.

This theme of comparisons between humans and animals is crucial to the book. It runs through all the poems, sometimes underneath them, sometimes as a clear driving force. One such piece is “Shambles”, in which the slaughter of animals is compared to the execution of people:

“This is the goat that, incompletely stunned,
Offered his throat to the knife
And said, like Walter Raleigh mentally thumbing the axe,
“So the heart be right, it is no matter which way the heart lieth.””

Any review of Red Devon wouldn’t be complete without mentioning “The Ballad of Grunt Garvey and Jo Tucker, the sequence of poems that lies at the book’s core. Like so much of Menos’ work, it highlights contradictions with a deft touch, never hectoring, always encouraging reflection. For example, its title is traditional, yet much of the versification subverts any pigeonholed expectations. What’s more, any romantic connotations are quickly dispelled.

In other words, tradition is juxtaposed to modernity, thus enabling contrasts to arise. The final (and title) poem of the sequence manages just such a feat,
beginning with…

“Oh for a story as simple as boy meets girl…”

This fairytale content is combined with a sing-song rhythm, setting us up for a shift in the second stanza to…

“At eight Jo parks, unfolds and folds the map,
listens to the metal tick as the big truck cools…”

The inanimate, modern sound of the metal is layered by the size of the vehicle. Modernity is clashing with tradition and the consequences are tragic.

Red Devon is an example of how a pamphlet, already excellent in its own right, can provide a springboard towards the larger canvas of a full collection that’s even better. Hilary Menos writes poetry that is specific in place. However, the key to her achievement lies in her ability to coax interpretation instead of forcing it. As a consequence, I’ll carry Red Devon in my mind for a long time. 

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Gareth Prior reviews Tasting Notes

I'm delighted to report that Gareth Prior has posted a very generous review of Tasting Notes on his blog. You can read it here and also take the opportunity to have a look at the many other thought-provoking articles he's written. The role of poetry in education features strongly, while there's also an excellent piece on Fiona Moore's recent pamphlet.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Tasting Notes, a poetry film

To a certain extent, the title of this post is self-explanatory. I'm lucky enough to have some very generous friends down here in Extremadura who've been working with me over the last few months to create a professionally produced film version of Tasting Notes.

I'll be providing some background info over the next few days as to how we've gone about things and with what poetic intentions. All this will be followed by an online première in mid-September. Busy (and very exciting) times!

Monday 2 September 2013

Tasting Notes - exciting news

This September promises exciting news: a fresh development in the Tasting Notes project. More details over the coming days...