Sunday 26 February 2017

StAnza is coming!

With a myriad of poetry events to suit every taste, fabulous venues and a terrific social scene, all in the lovely setting of St Andrews, StAnza has become one of the foremost poetry festivals around. This year, it's running from 1st to 5th March, and you can browse the extensive programme here. I wish I could make it up there myself. Maybe next year, Matthew, maybe next year...

Friday 17 February 2017

Understated and underrated, Stuart Pickford's Swimming with Jellyfish

Rather than throwing all sorts of fireworks and overt technical virtuosity at his poems, Stuart Pickford specialises in the tightrope-walking art of simplicity. 

Throughout Swimming with Jellyfish (Smith-Doorstep, 2016), his second full collection, Pickford demonstrates over and over again that straightforward language can actually heighten the dramatic tension of a poem when in the hands of a special talent. It’s often forgotten that such simplicity can be more laden with danger than supposedly riskier poetic techniques, as failure tends to be starker when undecorated.  

Pickford’s main thematic concern is the cycles of life. In this respect, he’s especially strong on fathers and sons. Individual poems provide delicious portrayals of such relationships, as in “Cocker”:

“My dad called me Cocker
when I was young, not son.
I didn’t want my friends
to hear him say it.
Then, for years, nothing.
But recently, kneeling
to pick up his legs
to swing them into the footwell,
the word’s come back”

Within this piece, there’s a gorgeous, painful evocation of the son’s shifting perspective and changing role as time goes by. Layers of dramatic riches and tension are imperceptibly peeled back.

Moreover, thematic complexity is heightened further once individual poems are compared and contrasted within the context of the collection as a whole. For example, the above-mentioned “Cocker” connects beautifully with “The End of George’s Last Football Season”, in which the speaker is now a father instead of a son, before one specific father is united with umpteen others:

“…as I drive out of town, every rec
Is haunted by a dad watching his son…”

Pickford reaches beyond the incident in question, using it as a point of departure for an imaginative journey. However, his generalising statement would be far less powerful without its preceding anecdote. Both add to each other.

Swimming with Jellyfish doesn’t yet seem to have attracted the critical acclaim that it merits. Understated and underrated, Stuart Pickford’s poetry deserves a wide readership. Here’s hoping this collection becomes a slow-burning success. 

Friday 10 February 2017

Letting go

And so the time has come to let the poems go. Some of them have been with me for well over a decade, while others only pitched up a few months ago. They've all been pretty decent company through thick and thin, these landmarks in my life. I just hope they find some new friends when the book comes out in June...

Sunday 5 February 2017

Will Harris' poetry blog

Thanks are due to Helena Nelson for pointing me (via Twitter and Facebook) in the direction of Will Harris' poetry blog. I was already an admirer of the examples of Harris' verse that I'd spotted in magazines - it demonstrates an excellent eye for a turn of phrase and a striking cadence - but I hadn't picked up on his blog.

It turns out that Harris writes great prose too, an ease of reading combined with a layered depth. What's more, he's capable of denouncing racism in one post and drawing out the riches of Larkin's poetry in another. From my perspective, that's impressive and coherent. This is a blog to follow!