Friday 28 November 2014

Poems from the Road podcast

Back in the summer I received an e-mail from Robin Vaughan-Williams, a fellow HappenStance poet, asking me to record a reading of my poem "Dad on the M25 After Midnight" (from Inventing Truth).

I'm delighted to report that my recording is now to form part of Robin's Poems from the Road podcast. Poems from the Road is a poetic journey down Britain's A-roads and motorways, exploring the abstraction, violence, landscapes, and migrations that characterise our experience of the road.

Robin's podcast also features verse from many other poets such as Helena Nelson and Clare Best. It will be broadcast on Hive Radio every Thursday in December, 5-6 p.m., as part of the Apples and Snakes Home Cooking series. I'm very much looking forward to hearing it myself!

Saturday 22 November 2014

The ripple of moments, Liz Lefroy's Mending The Ordinary

The poems in Liz Lefroy's Mending The Ordinary (Fair Acre Press, 2014) ripple out from pivotal moments. They begin with "Years on I return...", "Son, you don't know this, but last night..." or "Two weeks away, and when I return it's dark...".

This pamphlet is rooted in the specifics of time and place, of episodes that might initially seem everyday but are then charged with ramifications. One such example is "The School Concert, in which a mother's pride at watching her son's performance opens out to an understanding of what has come before:

"I shut my eyes, controlled my breathing
as at your birth.
                           It was as useless
as it was then and my life burst out of me..."

Lefroy often makes use of a linguistic change of gear at a key point in the poem. In "Grace", for instance, she shifts from mundane turns of phrase to highly charged imagery as she reaches for meaning, starting with...

"Today we played Frisbee on the beach.
You weren't there. I skimmed it to you anyway..."

This same poems ends as follows:

"...a sudden lift of wind,
an unexpected flight."

Lefroy is never unambitious. Mending The Ordinary takes experiences, launches them and explores those afore-mentioned ripples. What's more, abstracts are melded to concrete details in her exploration.

The closing lines of the pamphlet's final piece, "The Square Root of Paradise", offer us an excellent example of her poetic method. In this case, a context is not being provided for a moment as much as for all the poems that have come before, casting a new light on the collection's title:

" syrup twisted onto a spoon, lifted up high,
tipped to a skeining - a long stitch of sweetness
mending the ordinary."

There's a freshness to Liz Lefroy's verse that very much does lift it out of the ordinary. The reader is unexpectedly moved by every poem. That's a considerable achievement.

Saturday 15 November 2014

Dave Poems

Just as I'm committed to publishing positive reviews of the new books of verse that I most enjoy here on Rogue Strands, all with the aim of helping them find a wider readership, so I'm also aware that poetry blogging and reviewing can adopt many different but equally valid approaches. One such example is Dave Poems, run by Dave Coates.

I've been reading his blog since 2011, initially intrigued by his use of a disclaimer at the beginning of each review, in which he states any prejudices or connections with the poet in question. I've always found the posts a maelstrom, especially the earliest ones. They were daring, provocative, forthright, sometimes a car crash and sometimes extremely perceptive. Above all, they were the work of someone who was wrestling with his own views of poetry.

To write and offer up such reviews for public consumption takes a lot of guts. Moreover, as time has gone by and Coates' work has evolved, he hasn't hastily removed those first articles. Instead, he's done an excellent job of placing them into a personal and general context, recently publishing a remarkable retrospective post on his first fifty reviews.

In the afore-mentioned piece, Coates encourages “the understanding that negative criticism is not a personal attack, and that personal attacks are not good criticism.” In other words, he might now be choosing his words with greater awareness of their consequences and the potential for personal hurt, but that won't stop him criticising or praising poetry as he sees fit.

Dave Poems is already a terrific blog. The coming months and years, however, promise even more. I know Coates' views are going to challenge my preconceptions, and that's invariably a good thing!

Tuesday 11 November 2014

The rootlessness of professional poets...?

In his recent blog post about the relationship between his verse and his day job, Tim Love remarks on how many young U.K. poets are forced to chase residencies and short-term contracts from place to place. He highlights their consequent sense of disconnection.

I would argue that many professional poets do actually feel a sense of community, via their colleagues and social media, etc. However, I'm not at all sure whether such physical or virtual surroundings are entirely beneficial to their verse. I can think of several examples of such poets whose early work I enjoyed far more than later books. I admired them when their poetry was anchored in experiences and a feeling of belonging that necessarily lie beyond academia.

Let's take a successful young poet with poems in top-notch mags and a well-received first collection. What's the next step? This is not just a question of careers: the course of a whole life depends on such choices.

Is poetry a vocation or a job? Will an alternative career take over or leave time to write? Will creativity be boosted or stunted by the constant company of other poets? Will an unusual approach end up being over-rounded and homogenised or will it be honed and perfected?

Saturday 1 November 2014

Playful humanity, Declan Ryan's Faber New Poets 12

If the Faber New Poets series is meant to be a series of snapshots into the future of how a Bright Young Thing might develop, Declan Ryan's pamphlet (nº12) is a miserable failure. That's because the future is already here. Ryan's poetry is fully formed, original and waiting to strut its stuff.

The chapbook may only contain ten poems, but each of them offers up a perfectly layered narrative. Dramas reveal themselves, line on line. One such example is the opening to "Girl in Bed":

"He brought the painting to be valued,
knowing something of the price
of this tantalising neck..."

Of course, as readers, we too now know something and are being tantalised ourselves by these very lines. Empathy is immediately established. There is warmth.

And this warmth is key to an understanding of Ryan's verse. While his is a poetry of cultural and geographical baggage, shot through with such connotations, it never loses its keen humanity. Joe Louis, Trinity Hospital, John Coltrane, The Hague, The Washington Post and Kilmainham take on the significance of characters in this collection, yet we encounter them alongside intimate turns of phrase such as the following stanza from "Transmission":

"I suppose that was a sort of dance
on the platform, afterwards:
our feet shuffling towards one another's,
your palm on my chest,
exactly the right size for my heart."

Deft handling of linguistic expectations is in evidence here. The poet is only too aware of the overdone image of a heart lying in someone's hand. He thus subverts it, recharging its possibilities.

Declan Ryan's Faber New Poets 12 is buoyed by the delicious challenge of portraying individual emotion within society. His meshing of sociocultural allusions, linguistic playfulness and authentic feeling creates a poetry that stands out in contemporary verse. Get hold of this book and see what I mean!