Tuesday 15 November 2016

Out-of-body experiences, Maria Taylor's Instructions for making me

If I liked Maria Taylor’s first full collection, Melanchrini (Nine Arches Press, 2012), I love her new pamphlet, Instructions for making me (HappenStance Press, 2016). She has somehow made the almost impossible leap from being a very good poet to being an outstanding one. The question is how.

At first sight, Maria Taylor’s verse can seem disconcertingly heterogeneous. In fact, even the blurb on the back cover to this pamphlet states “There’s no telling what she’ll do from one poem to the next, which is one of the things that makes reading her such a pleasure”. Of course, the potential drawback is we might also consequently struggle to come to identify Taylor’s work. Even in the space of the seventeen poems that make up the chapbook, she employs numerous different forms and deals with all sorts of thematic concerns. And yet, somehow, it all hangs together. These days, I immediately recognise a Maria Taylor poem when I encounter one in a journal, long before spotting her name at the bottom.

So what is the specific aspect that Taylor has most developed since Melanchrini? What element makes her poetry different? Well, it was already present and discernible in certain poems from her full collection, but it’s becoming her defining quality and shines throughout this pamphlet: I’m referring to her knack for out-of-body experiences. It’s now more surefooted and powerful than in the past, as in the following example from “Hypothetical”:

“A friend of mine asks if I’d sleep with Daniel Craig.
Before I have time to answer, I’m in bed with Daniel Craig…”

... and from “The Invisible Man”…

“My daughter pushes
The invisible man on a swing
under the apple tree.

I’ve know him for years.
I recognise him by the dust motes.
I ask him out. He stood me up…”

and from “My Stranger”…

…He’s the only stranger I can afford,
a middle-aged man in a plaid shirt
smiling for an artist. Nothing to me,
but I still hang him in the hallway
and call him “Dad”…”

Taylor’s primary underlying technique and concern is the nature of self, the blending of identities, the interweaving of voices, the merging of fact and fiction through ever-shifting perspectives, never allowing the reader to rest on solid ground. The result is verse that’s laden with highly specific intensity and insight, all this in language that flows naturally and never seems forced. Sentences, expressions and line-ending are inevitable yet surprising.

Pamphlets between collections are often under-reviewed and under-read. Maria Taylor’s Instructions for making me deserves an opposite fate. It’s a pivotal landmark in her development, our chance to encounter a set of poems that have her unique stamp running through them. They show us a poet who’s hitting her stride and reaching maturity. Her second full collection will be a mouth-watering prospect, but in the meantime we have these delicious morsels to relish. 

Friday 11 November 2016

Martyn Crucefix on metrics

So many emerging poets (and even a few workshop leaders) seem to think that metrics are an irrelevance when creating verse, as if we can break every single rule before learning any of them, as if almost all top-notch abstract artists weren't first excellent draughtsmen. As a consequence, it's been a real pleasure to read Martyn Crucefix's blog over the past week or so.

Crucefix has been doing some teaching for the Poetry School, concentrating on metrics, and has then written two terrific posts on the back of his sessions. You can read them here. Apart from being entertaining and accessible, they are backed up by a formal rigour and knowledge that can only help any poet to understand the nuts and bolts of how verse is constructed. Wholeheartedly recommended!

Friday 4 November 2016

The missing poets

On encountering a list of Eric Gregory Award winners the other day (see here), my wonky thought processes didn't view it as a roll call of those who were summoned to poetic fame. Instead, I homed in on the missing poets, the names who vanished overnight or gradually disappeared. Have they given up on verse or has it given up on them? Or do they still write and hoard their poems only for themselves?

Their names are a reminder that poetry hasn't been enough for certain people, as if verse has in some way failed them. The missing poets scare me: I can't imagine life without writing poetry.