Thursday, 29 October 2015

Tasting Notes has now sold out

Tasting Notes, my second HappenStance pamphlet, has just sold out, although I've kept back a few copies for sale at forthcoming readings. This means that almost the entire print runs of both my chapbooks - 350 copies of Tasting Notes and 250 copies of Inventing Truth - have found a home. Now it's time to get back to work on polishing my first full collection manuscript...

Friday, 23 October 2015

Depth and coherence, Jonathan Davidson's Early Train

Perhaps my greatest thrill as a reader is the discovery of a new poet, that moment when I open a collection, start gulping down the poems and immediately realise they’re going to be with me for the long haul. Of course, such moments become rarer as time goes by, but that only serves to render them even more significant.

It’s for this reason that I’m featuring Jonathan Davidson’s 2011 Smith-Doorstep collection, Early Train. He might not be a new poet, but he has been to me this year. I’ve gradually got hold of all his books, and they’re now fixtures on my desk. However, my favourite is Early Train.

There’s no doubt that this collection was unjustly neglected on release. The manner of Davidson’s poetry is unassuming, as is his profile as a poet, yet his work is packed with rewarding punches. As his verse has developed, Davidson’s poems have acquired a quiet depth and immense aesthetic coherence that resonate far more than the work of other more famous contemporaries whose main concerns are their haircuts, best camera angles and poetic posturing.

Early Train offers us page after page of poems that provide the jolt of recognition. In other words, they provoke a sudden self-awareness in the reader that sets us off on our own imaginative journey. One such piece is “The Flowers”, which uses understated syntax to powerful semantic effect, as in the poem’s final quatrain:

“…They are often seen on bridges
spanning motorways, the stems
wilting but unable to collapse,
traffic moving freely beneath.”

Davidson is implicitly inviting us to recall moments when we have seen such flowers ourselves, asking us how we were affected. Moreover, his use of apparently everyday language enables him to load certain specific words with additional connotations, creating a tension via juxtaposition: ”..wilting...unable…collapse…freely…” all qualify each other and all build on each other’s power.

The everyday is present throughout Davidson’s poetry, but this is never kitchen-sink verse. Instead, he plays concrete acts and details off with an intense imaginative world. One such instance can be found in a comparison between the opening and closing lines of “Tony”:

“I’m reconciling a bank account, thinking of you.
A thousand little contracts keep me in the black…

…I find you in the charnel darkness, in the chaos
and disorder, the lost stuff. I am un-reconciled.”

And Early Train is full of poems of such quality. It’s a collection of maturity by an outstanding poet. I’m hugely saddened by its lack of impact on publication but also encouraged that its slow-burning reputation is growing among discerning readers of poetry. I know that many of my friends are already keen fans and I hope this feature will contribute in some small way to the process.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Needlewriters in Lewes this Thursday

Just a gentle reminder that I'll be reading as a guest poet at Needlewriters in Lewes this Thursday (7 p.m. for 7.45 p.m.). I've been looking forward to this event for a long time, so it's difficult to believe the day has almost arrived! Here are a few more details:

Needlewriters is a co-operative of poets and prose writers who present a reading each quarter at the Needlemakers Café in Lewes, showcasing writers in a lovely venue. Food and drink are available throughout the evening from the café.

On this occasion, I'll be reading alongside Ros Barber (who'll be featuring her prose) and poet Caroline Clark. I'll be bringing along copies of both my HappenStance pamphlets for sale, but this will be one of the last chances to get hold of a copy, as Inventing Truth is already officially sold out and Tasting Notes is well on the way.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Payment for poetry readings?

Over the past five years I've given readings as a guest poet in Oxford, Shrewsbury, Leicester, Portsmouth, Coventry, Edinburgh, London (three times), St Andrews, Nottingham and Cheltenham, while Lewes and Bradford on Avon are coming up. In doing so, I've met a lot of lovely people, many of whom have become friends, while also introducing my work to terrific audiences.

On certain occasions I've read to no more than a dozen people, on others to packed halls. Sometimes I've been paid well, but just as often I've received no fee whatsoever. In those cases, I was delighted just to have the chance to present my poetry and maybe sell a few pamphlets to cover costs. What's more, I'll continue to read at such events when I get the chance.

However, another issue presented itself a few months ago during a conversation with a well regarded organiser of poetry readings. I was told that they only offered a fee if the poet in question made a living from their verse (even if indirectly via Creative Writing courses, etc), regardless of the quality of the poetry or the pulling power of their name. If a poet had other sources of income that weren't connected to verse, the organiser preferred to save any available funds for someone who was financially dedicated to the art.

I disagree entirely with such a position. The standard of verse, the quality of a reading and the potential audience should be the fundamental criteria, not the way poets earn a crust. What do you think?

Friday, 2 October 2015

Clarity and mystery, Wayne Price's Fossil Record

Wayne Price’s Fossil Record (Smith-Doorstep, 2015) might be his first poetry pamphlet, but he’s far from being a novice in literary terms. Price has previously published a short story collection and a novel, and this experience shows in the coherence of his poetics.

One of the outstanding poems in the collection is “Loyalties”, as it encapsulates many of Price’s qualities and techniques. For example, it opens with a generic statement before clarifying, illustrating, yet also casting doubt and qualifying via the use of specifics.

Throughout the poem, there’s a dexterous managing of pronouns that brings about an interplay between “I”, “you” and “we” in syntactic and semantic terms, both aspects working in harmony, showing a deep understanding of the nuts and bolts of narrative. However, this doesn’t mean that Price is indulging in chopped-up prose: the music, the pacing, the cadences and the line breaks are all proof of his ear for verse, as in the poem’s closing stanza:

“…He didn’t have to come between us in the end.
when I left to rent a single room
I couldn’t take him. And you
were out at work all day:
He’d have chewed the house down.
Twenty-five years. Ah, God.
Wouldn’t we let him sleep in peace
anywhere he wanted now?”

As can be seen in this extract, Price offers the reader his piercing clarity with just a hint of mystery to respect our imagination.

Fossil Record, meanwhile, refers to a tension between human interaction and nature. The title poem, for instance, invokes the elements, manmade structures and cycles of human life all within its opening two lines:

“Wind was stammering at the windows all night.
If I slept at all it was a half-sleep…”

This poem steps back from the everyday to explore that afore-mentioned tension, while it’s juxtaposed on the page with another piece that homes in on such details: “Suburban Gardens at Night”…

“…are a country of their own,
belonging to no-one. Evening after evening
they repossess themselves at the moment
the kitchen light snaps on
and blinds us to everything
beyond itself…”

Via such meticulous ordering and layout, the poet establishes an implicit dialogue between the two pieces.

In Fossil Record, Wayne Price demonstrates a control of his narrative material and a gift for verse that mean it must surely be just a question of time before he brings out a full collection. I’ll be buying it, but for the moment this pamphlet provides us with an excellent introduction to his poetry.