Sunday, 28 September 2014

Poetry reading in Oxford

The second and final stop on my Autumn reading tour will be in Oxford. I'm delighted to report that I'll be appearing at the Jericho Tavern on Walton Street on Sunday 5th October (doors open 6.30 for a 7p.m. start, £5/4 concessions) alongside Gareth Prior, Sasha Dugdale, Claire Trevien, Andrea Brady and Sarah Howe. That's an excellent line-up in anyone's money.

This event is especially important to me for several reasons, not least of which is the fact I lived on Walton Street many moons ago and used to cycle past the Jericho Tavern on a regular basis, most often in a sweat at being late and undercooked for a tutorial. I might even squeeze in some supper at Pepper's Burgers for nostalgia's sake!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Poetry reading in Shrewsbury

The first stop on my two-leg Autumn reading tour will be in Shrewsbury on Thursday 2nd October. That means I'll finally be involved with National Poetry Day after years of observing events from Spain!

I'll be reading as part of Shrewsbury Poetry @ Eat Up alongside Michael Thomas, Pauline Attenborough, Paul Francis and Ian Lakin, while there will also be music from Martin Thomas of Grey Wolf.

The event is due to start at 7.30p.m. and the venue is Shearmans Hall, Milk Street SY1 1SZ. I do hope to see any readers of Rogue Strands who might be able to make it along!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Precise leaps of imagination, Joshua Mehigan's Accepting the Disaster

Having enjoyed Joshua Mehigan's first collection, The Optimist, which was published in 2004, I was looking forward to getting my hands on his second book, Accepting the Disaster (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014). It didn't disappoint.

Mehigan is a brave poet in several ways. There's great pressure from peers, editors, academia and social media to keep yourself in the spotlight once a first book has been well received, so it takes courage to hold back on bringing out a follow-up. In this case, Mehigan's patience in waiting a whole decade has brought handsome rewards, as Accepting the Disaster is packed with honed verse.

Secondly, Mehigan is unafraid of dragging traditional form into a present-day context and cadence. When doing so, his craft succeeds in making the afore-mentioned form pass unnoticed. Metre and rhyme come into play, yet they are never intrusive. One such example is "Down in the Valley", a murder story in nine lines that's reminiscent of a Carver narrative due to its deadpan, laconic delivery. It dodges explicit gore so as to ramp up horrific imagination:

"...Nature is just. There's nothing left to fear.
The worst thing that can happen happened here."

Just as in The Optimist, there are again glances towards Philip Larkin through a contemporary American lens. "The Professor", for instance, reminds this reader of "A Study of Reading Habits" when it states:

"...These days I never read, but no one does,
and, anyhow, I proved how smart I was.
Everything I know is from a book."

I wouldn't want these references to other writers to give the mistaken impression that Mehigan's work is in some way derivative. In fact, the reverse is true. What's more, this second book demonstrates that he has found his idiom. The everyday, as expressed via taut turns of phrase, is woven with delicately controlled, precise leaps of imagination, as in the opening two stanzas of "The Smokestack":

"The town had a smokestack.
It had a church spire.
The church was prettier,
but the smokestack was higher.

It was a lone ruined column,
a single snuffed taper,
a field gun fired at heaven,
a tube making vapor..."

Regarding his subject matter, meanwhile, Mehigan deals with mental illness head-on in sections of Accepting the Disaster, rather than implicitly invoking it, as was more often the case in The Optimist. Nevertheless, confession is never the aim. Instead, powerful stories are compressed and distilled into verse.

Accepting the Disaster is a fine collection in its own right. However, when viewed alongside The Optimist, it marks the definitive emergence of Joshua Mehigan as a major voice not just in American verse but in English-language poetry as a whole. I thoroughly recommend it.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Anthony Wilson's Lifesaving Poems are to become a book

I've previously mentioned my admiration for Anthony Wilson's Lifesaving Poems - a series of blog posts in which he selects and discusses poems that have deeply affected him during his struggle with life-threatening illness - and so I was delighted to read the news that Bloodaxe are to publish them in book form.

Far too many thematic anthologies lack a personal thread running through them, a narrative that drives them forward. Lifesaving Poems will provide these qualities in spades. What's more, Wilson's deft touch in his commentaries won't just illuminate verse for non-poetry-reading people who have bought the book on a wave of emotion. It will also capture long-term readers for the genre.  I look forward to getting hold of a copy myself.