Thursday 27 April 2017

Surroundings Two

When I started Rogue Strands back in 2009, my main points of reference were poetry blogs from two HappenStance pamphleteers who've since gone on to publish multiple full collections: Matt Merritt at Polyolbion and Rob Mackenzie at Surroundings. The latter petered out in 2014, but I'm delighted to report that Rob's now started a new blog, aptly titled Surroundings Two. It's kicked off with a couple of excellent posts that you can read here.

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Blind tasting and blind reading

As a wine professional, I have to admit to a degree of ambivalence when it comes to blind tasting, the supposed art of spotting a wine (region, grape, maybe even producer and vintage) purely on the back of sniffing and slurping the contents of a glass. It too often feels like a contest for bragging rights. However, it does have certain benefits, especially when a blind comparison of a little-known wine and a famous product results in a challenge to expectations via surprising conclusions. Moreover, it often underlines my view that while there might be a lot of very well made wines out there, very few of them are different enough. In other words, I can't spot most wines blind, only the ones I love or hate!

Much the same is true of poetry: amid the huge homogeneous mass of well-produced verse out there, it's incredibly difficult to guess the identity behind a new poem in a blind reading unless there's a real idiosyncrasy at work. Nevertheless, a PPCE is sometimes a useful tool so long as it's undertaken with a huge pinch of salt.. That's not an Oxford degree, just a Poetry Palate Calibration Exercise. And then I go around claiming I loathe acronyms...

Wednesday 5 April 2017

Five poems in The Poetry Shed

I'm very grateful to Abegail Morley for featuring five of my poems in The Poetry Shed today (see here). All of them are from The Knives of Villalejo, my forthcoming first full collection. My pieces at And Other Poems last week revolved around the theme of home, while these five in The Poetry Shed focus on loss.

Sunday 2 April 2017

Vividly textured, Giles Turnbull's Dressing Up

Giles Turnbull’s pamphlet, Dressing Up (Cinnamon Press, 2017), is set apart by the vivid texturing and layering of its imagery and narrative drive.

Early on in the poems, colour and tone often play a prominent role, as in the following examples:

“Light seeps in…”

“…icy white…”

“…the colour of sunburn…”

“…spinning in dark and light…”

“…effervescent green…”

“…the colour of traffic lights…”

Combined with this light visual touch, apparently simple, clear-cut narratives acquire multiple potential meanings and ramifications in Turnbull’s poetry. Ambivalent and ambiguous counterpoints provide the key to depth. Here are a couple of terrific endings to illustrate this point:

“…the future
beginning with the windings of yesterday’s clocks.”

“…so much coming from apparent failure.”

And now on to a pivotal point when reading this pamphlet, one that takes me back to an old chestnut: the intrinsic or extrinsic approach to a text. I’ve always viewed such a separation as a waste of time, as an academic exercise, and this case is no exception.

What do I mean by the above? Well, this incredibly visual verse was written by a person who has gone blind. Can we enjoy and value it without knowing that fact? Of course. Is our appreciation enriching by the knowledge? Of course. Is it warped? Of course not, so long as we ensure any absurd preconceptions are banished.

While I really enjoyed Giles Turnbull’s pamphlet, I also like reading his blog and his interviews (such as this one with Sabotage) almost as much. In Dressing Up, many of his experiences as a poet who has lost his sight remain implicit and in the background, while they come to the fore in those afore-mentioned prose features.

Perhaps Turnbull’s next challenge is to turn his terrific anecdotes into poetry. I’d love to read a poem about his magic glasses…!