Sunday 29 January 2017

Riven by tensions, Paul Stephenson's The Days That Followed Paris

Paul Stephenson’s pamphlet, The Days That Followed Paris (HappenStance Press, 2016), is riven by tensions: traditional versus modern, collective versus individual, local versus international, all revolving around one date - 13th November 2015 - which also forms a pivotal subtitle to the chapbook.

Of course, the afore-mentioned date is that of the terrorist attacks in France. As a consequence, it has entered the collective consciousness with personal connotations for every individual, just like 9/11 and 7/7. Paul Stephenson lived through these attacks as an ex-pat in Paris itself. As I can confirm from my own experience, such moments are when you feel most acutely that you’re foreign, and this heightened sense of dislocation runs throughout Stephenson’s chapbook.

His first poem, “Safety Feature”, sets the tone:

“Facebook knows my whereabouts:
It looks like you’re in the area affected
by the Paris Terror Attacks…

…Xavier is safe.
Ricardo is safe.
Scott is safe.

Kate is safe.
Emily is safe.
Jason has yet to confirm.”

This piece uses Anglo-Saxon and Hispanic names to highlight the international make-up of this extremely French city, just as later poems mention “…the Algerian waiter…” or “…a Parisian man, a Swedish girl…”, all alongside the invocation of emblematic locations such as the Place de la République, Gare Saint Lazare and Montparnasse. Stephenson is taking the supposed security and safety of well-recognised places so as to subvert them and include the reader in his sense of dislocation.

Stephenson’s poetry has always combined accessibility with experimentation, clear narrative drive with the shifting sands of uncertainty and doubt, and his techniques lend themselves superbly to these poems of terrifying days when assumed truths are suddenly, terrifyingly undermined, as in the key poem, “Fraternité”:

“…A brother who pleads for you to give yourself up,
            swears he noticied nothing strange
and claims you’re normal. A brother who shrugs, shows
the whites of his palms, pushes
the door behind him.”

The poet is taking a crucial term from the French revolution, a term that most of us previously thought we could define, and he’s layering it with new implications, unsettling the reader via the thematic potential of his story in tandem with his line endings, dangling verbs that then swing shut with a jolt just like the door of the final line.

Paul Stephenson first published a small selection of these poems in The Compass, not long after the Paris attacks. Even now, I recall the shock and buzz of reading them for the first time. The passing of time could have diminished their impact, bearing in mind that they revolve around specific events that are being replaced in our consciousness by new horrors. However, that very fact is a fundamental reason why they retain their power and even hit harder when I read them today. They portray contemporary concerns that affect all of us. As individuals, we share their collective tension.

The Days That Followed Paris is a pamphlet of far more political relevance than most overtly political poetry. Its subtlety reaches the heart as well as the head, undercutting facile convictions and opening us up to the life-blood of doubt.

Monday 23 January 2017

Giles Turnbull's poetry blog

Rogue Strands is always on the look-out for new poetry blogs, so it was a pleasure to discover Giles Turnbull's venture a few weeks ago.

Giles is a blind poet living in Wales. His blog does tackle important issues relating to his blindness, such as the use of awkward terminology, the difficulties involved in reading texts in certain formats and the unique challenge of giving a poetry reading in public. However, it also offers its readers a wide range of interesting articles on poetry in general.. There are posts, for example, on whether men or women make better poetry readers (!), on the relationship between poetry and music, on political poetry, etc, etc. All in all, it's a terrific addition to the U.K. poetry blog scene!

Tuesday 17 January 2017

U.K. poetry pamphlet competitions at Sphinx

If poetry pamphlets are your thing, Sphinx has become a point of reference for the U.K. scene: its website is absolutely jam-packed with reviews and features on chapbooks. Only last week, it published a comprehensive list of U.K. poetry pamphlet competitions (see here), all ready for your shiny new manuscript in 2017...

Thursday 12 January 2017

Mary Evans Picture Library: Poems and Pictures

The publication of my poems feels like the wait for a bus: I stand alone, shivering, gloveless and miserable for what seems like an age until, all of a sudden, a whole load of them come along at the same time.

Following my four poems on Clear Poetry and two pieces at Good Dadhood earlier this week, I'm very happy to find the Mary Evans Picture Library are today featuring my poem Milko (first published in London Magazine) alongside a highly appropriate photo that reminds me of my suburban childhood.

My work has been published on their Poems and Pictures blog, which also houses a superb archive of verse by the likes of Pippa Little, Lorraine Mariner and Tamar Yoseloff, among many others, all combined in each case with a complementary picture. I'm grateful to Gill Stoker for her invitation to take part, but it's worth mentioning that this excellent project invites unsolicited submissions...

Wednesday 11 January 2017

Good Dadhood

Good Dadhood is an exciting new poetry project that's just been launched by Sharon Larkin. She explains the idea perfectly in her introduction:

Here, poets are going to be celebrating fathers – their own, their grandfathers, step-fathers, foster fathers.  Or someone else’s exemplary Dad. Or perhaps you are a Good Dad yourself – or are trying to be – and have already put your positive experiences of fatherhood into a poem, or now feel inspired to do so.

I'm delighted to be featuring today with two poems from my full collection manuscript (you can read them by following this link). An earlier version of Al Anochecer was originally published in The Next Review, while At Chipiona previously appeared in New Walk. Here they are on the internet for the first time!

While you've over at Good Dadhood, why not have a look at Sharon's submission guidelines? She's currently looking for more poets to form part of the project.

Saturday 7 January 2017

Clear Poetry

Amid the myriad of poetry e-zines that have emerged over the past few years, it's becoming more and more difficult for their creators to establish a clear editorial identity for them. That's why Ben Banyard's description of Clear Poetry is so refreshing:

"This blog is aimed at encouraging an appreciation of, and an engagement with, contemporary poetry. The poems you’ll find here are my personal choice and I feel that they are approachable, accessible and downright astonishing!"

You might disagree with his aesthetic, but it nails its colours to the mast from the off. My own views do very much align with his, so I'm pleased to report that I'm currently the Featured Poet at Clear Poetry with four poems that you can view by following this link. Moreover, while you're there, why not explore the treasure trove of verse in its archive, which includes the likes of Alison Brackenbury, Geoff Hattersley, Roy Marshall, etc, etc...?