Saturday 25 November 2017

Toads revisited

Back in 2009, not long after having started Rogue Strands, I published a post titled "The Toad Work", in which I reflected on how my day job as an export manager and wine blender then fed into my poetry, on how writing was an escape valve that I kept separate from my work.

Much of that is still true, and events often remind me that working as a "professional poet" (teaching, leading workshops, etc) wouldn't suit me. Of course, I'm no less professional in my approach to my writing and in the readings I give than others who make their direct or indirect living from the genre. One emerging issue, meanwhile, is how poets who are scientists, workshop leaders, marketing managers, Creative Writing tutors, export managers, etc, etc, view each other.

In this context, I'm grateful to Mat Riches for pointing me in the direction of an article from The Guardian back in 2007. Written by singer Steven Adams, the piece reflects on his band's choice not to give up their day jobs, and you can read it here. How much of this could we extrapolate to the current poetry scene?

Monday 20 November 2017

Martyn Crucefix on The Knives of Villalejo

I'm grateful to Martyn Crucefix for featuring the title poem from The Knives of Villalejo on Instagram the other day. He also highlighted the collection as a whole in the "Recent Reading" section of his website, stating...

"...Few recent books are as economical and delicately allusive as Matthew Stewart’s debut, The Knives of Villalejo, from Eyewear Publishing..."

You can read more here.

Saturday 18 November 2017

Paul Stephenson interviews me

Until this week, I hadn't realised just how much skill is involved in interviewing someone. Paul Stephenson, who has just published an interview with me on his blog, has led me through the process with engagement, sensitivity and awareness of my work to such a degree that he's enabled me to discover stuff about myself! And then there's his structuring of the piece and ordering of questions as he builds a story for his readers. All in all, he's taught me a lot!

Here's a brief snippet:

"...Paul: Where does the poem begin?

Matthew: My poems begin with the truth. They then reach out for an authenticity that lies far beyond the truth, aiming to generate a jolt of recognition in their readers."

To read the interview in full, just follow this link to Paul's site.

Monday 13 November 2017

A Demand and a Promise

Being a HappenStance subscriber makes you feel part of a community: newletters turn up, full of chat, info and opinion, while a regular flow of pamphlets invites you to discover new names. And then there are the occasional surprises. Like the recent unexpected arrival of A Demand and a Promise, an essay by Helena Nelson, HappenStance editor. Subtitled A poetry manifesto, it's a six page text that homes in on a key issue in contemporary poetry: the lack of readers.

There are lots of thriving creative writing groups, M.A.s and Phds, lots of people wanting to be poets and seeking publication, lots of working poets who need students to keep their courses running and mortgages paid, lots of funding applications, but we're short on readers, and readers are our life-blood. Here are a couple of quotes from the concluding lines to Helena Nelson's essay:

"...If you want to write poetry, you can do exactly what you like. - just throw your text into the ring. But you will need readers, if the poems are to have a chance of being read and remembered. And a good and loyal reader is harder to find than a poet...."

"...Readers of poetry have lost confidence, and therefore poetry has lost readers. Many people don't know what to make of the current cacophony of alleged "poems" all competing for attention. Some wonderful pieces of writing get lost in the hubbub, and there are many bluffers. But if we could change the focus by looking at each poem as no more and no less than a demand for close attention, coupled with a promise of something durable and valuable, perhaps everyone would feel empowered..."

I'm at the front of the queue to sign up to Nell's manifesto. What about you?

Thursday 9 November 2017

Emma Lee reviews The Knives of Villalejo for London Grip

Emma Lee has written a generous and keenly attuned review of The Knives of Villalejo for London Grip, picking up on cultural and linguistic tensions that run through the collection, coming to the following conclusion:

"At face value, these are gentle poems that wear their craft lightly; but a second look reveals their identifiable truths. Like a good wine, Matthew Stewart’s poems have a long finish."

You can read the review in full here.

Monday 6 November 2017

The Poets' Republic

The Poets' Republic is a relatively new print-based poetry journal from Scotland. Amid the mass of verse out there, it's always great to see a magazine that's clear on its aesthetic, poetic, political and social stance from the outset, as The Poets' Republic makes clear in its name and striking front covers, such as this one:

This cover is from Issue Five. I only picked up my contributor's copy a couple of weeks ago (my first publication of new material since The Knives of Villalejo came out) and I was pleased to see my work alongside the likes of Helena Nelson, Colin Dardis, Sally Festing and Marcia Mentor, etc.

The only current fly in the ointment is that I've just seen a post from The Poets' Republic on Facebook to the effect that Issue Five has already sold out! Still, it's definitely a magazine to bear in mind either for a subscription from Issue Six onwards or for a submission to that same issue when the window opens in mid-April 2018. You can read more on their website here.

Saturday 4 November 2017

Abegail Morley reviews The Knives of Villalejo

I've long admired Abegail Morley's verse and her site, The Poetry Shed, so I'm especially pleased and grateful to see her outstanding review of The Knives of Villalejo posted there today. While over at the Poetry Shed, I thoroughly recommend you have a lengthy browse through the treasure trove of original poems, features and reviews in its archive.

Wednesday 1 November 2017

The delicate capturing of moments, Paul Stephenson's Selfie with Waterlilies

In a juster world, Paul Stephenson would already be recognised as one of the best contemporary poets around. 

If his previous two pamphlets demonstrated his multifaceted control of tone, structure and theme (Those People) as well as a knack for unsettling the reader to great empathetic effect (The Days that Followed Paris), his third pamphlet, Selfie with Waterlilies (Paper Swans Press, 2017), shows an emotional honesty that goes far beyond the mere truth.

In Selfie with Waterlilies, Stephenson’s approach tends to be slightly more direct than in his previous pamphlet, yet even within this context Stephenson employs a variety of techniques and registers, veering from the stream of “My Father’s Food”…

“…You never cooked not true I saw the waving of what a frying
pan in your hand a black racket your mum-out dinner racket…”

…to the pared-back tone and short lines of “The Rub”:

“…My muscular father,
my thin layer father,
my recommended father.

My wool fat father,
my liquid father,
my expiry father.”

Stephenson has proven, again and again, that he’s capable of experiments, fireworks and games, all yoked to his poems' aims, but the pieces where he chooses simplicity somehow seem lent consequent, additional strength. A personal favourite from this pamphlet is “Autoroutes”:

“…He thinks I’m asleep but I’m not. I am watching him
in our widescreen windscreen cinema, watching him
cruising past volcanic regions, legions of vineyards.
I am here, watching him going, keeping us going,
his foot down, silent, on the motorways of France.”

Stephenson’s linguistic touch is hugely deft here. First of all, there’s the clear internal music of “widescreen windscreen” and “regions, legions”, all alongside the repetition of "watching" and "going". This repetition and music work together to replicate, reflect and accentuate the rolling noise of the wheels and engine. And there's his shift from a contracted verb (“I’m”) to the sudden reportage (“I am”) of the full form, which is pivotal to the speaker’s role as a witness. This role lasts until the core of the poem arrives in its penultimate line: “I” is followed by “him” and then reaches “us”. Syntactic and grammatical awareness are enacted to poetic effect in the delicate capturing of a moment of intimacy.

I could list umpteen further examples of excellent poems from this top-notch pamphlet, but blog reviews are inevitably limited in length. In summary, if anyone deserves a full collection with a major publisher, it’s Paul Stephenson. I hope and expect Selfie with Waterlilies will help him on his way.