Monday 23 April 2018

A poem for St George's Day

The 23rd

in memory of George Stewart

It casually loiters in the fourth line
of April, pretending not to stalk me,
the expiry date on David's passport
and the start of a trade fair in Brussels.
It knows full well you chose your namesake's day
to die, as if you were somehow afraid
I might forget. As if I ever could.

from The Knives of Villalejo (Eyewear Publishing, 2017)

Saturday 21 April 2018

A killer ending

Just for the hell of it, for the sheer relish of its rightness, I'd like to share with you the killer ending to Helena Nelson's "Ultimatum" from her terrific collection, Starlight on Water:

"...Come to bed, I said
shivering, now. Time later
when sad love's fed
to talk ultimata."

Thursday 19 April 2018

Sue Ibrahim's My Natural World

To finish off my trio of posts about blogs that have caught my eye recently, I'd like to highlight Sue Ibrahim's My Natural World today. It charts her personal exploration of contemporary poetry, while also providing enlightening posts on the relationship between poetry, nature and other literary genres. All in all, it's well worth a regular read, as I'm finding out myself.

Tuesday 17 April 2018

Rob Moore's poetry blog

I love exploring the internet and encountering interesting new poetry blogs out there, so I was delighted to find Rob Moore's DRB poems the other day. He labels his reviews with a "Learning to read" hash tag, but they're far better written than that. One of his recent features is on the latest issue of Strix, and it's well worth a look (see here). Of course, I'm bound to be biased, as he's chosen to quote from my poem in the article!

Thursday 12 April 2018

Angela Topping's poetry blog

Today's featured poetry blog is by Angela Topping. Apart from being an excellent poet, Angela is also a well-known critic and experienced blogger whose posts offer their readers a perfect blend of anecdote, views and content with a wider reach and interest.

One excellent example is her recent piece about her visit to Stanza. Not only does it give a personal insight into her experience in St Andrews, but it captures much of what this terrific festival is all about. I recommend a leisurely read (see here), followed by intense planning for a visit yourself next year!

Angela's blog wasn't on my blogroll along the right-hand side of Rogue Strands, but I'll be sorting that out right now...

Sunday 8 April 2018

A couple of stats

Rogue Strands has recently passed two major milestones: we're now motoring well beyond 200,000 page views and have over 3,000 followers on Twitter. These are figures I could never have envisaged when I started the blog back in 2009. I'm very grateful to everyone who's visited Rogue Strands and read my posts, especially bearing in mind that its monthly reach is growing all the time.

There's more to come, of course: several exciting volumes are already lined up for review later on this year and a spot of original poetry is on the way, all alongside features on poetry blogs that have caught my eye. I hope you'll accompany me once more...

Wednesday 4 April 2018

Beyond the booze, Ramona Herdman's Bottle

Having worked in the wine trade for nearly twenty years, I’ve witnessed both the short-term and long-term consequences of alcohol on people’s lives. Moreover, I’ve read and heard a whole litany of opposing sayings and expressions as to whether or not we reflect our true selves when consuming booze.

My own conclusion is that alcohol doesn’t actually cause us to tell or find truths or lies. Instead, it warps our visions and interpretations like a concave mirror. As such, it distorts reality, which brings me to the subject of this review: Ramona Herdman’s Bottle (HappenStance Press, 2017).

A facile interpretation of Bottle would be to conclude that its theme is the demon drink. In fact, this pamphlet uses alcohol as a point of departure and reference, exploring the effects of that afore-mentioned concave mirror on Herdman's life and on the lives of those around her.

One initial problem when approaching a pamphlet with such thematic drive and unity is that the poet’s technique risks being left in the background. In Herdman’s case, that would be a great pity, as she has many strengths. For instance, there’s her terrific ear, as in the following line from “In Vino”:

“…snigger and whimper and spite…”

The repetition of “er” is obvious, but Herdman’s real skill emerges in the way she uses the “sp” of the third noun, “spite”, to bring together the “s” of “snigger” and the ”p” of whimper”, followed by the bite of the “t”.  

This musical strength combines terrifically with subject matter in one of the most representative poems from the pamphlet, “Drinking Partner”, which is addressed to a father figure and ends as follows:

“…You are the person I’d most like to drink with.
I leave a glass of Bells out at night – like kids,
I hope, still do for Father Christmas. It makes
the morning smell of you.”

The break between the second and third line of this quatrain provides us with a gorgeous undermining of the poem’s narrator – “…like kids/I hope…”, while “do” in the third line plays off against “you” in the fourth, encouraging us to stress that final word of the poem against potential assumptions, thus magnifying its significance. Of course, the last line is also foreshortened, as Herdman accelerates through to the core of her poem.

These brief snippets from Bottle are intended to serve as a taster of its rich layers, of the delicate craft and art that lie just beneath its surface, of the contradictions that are inherent in our relationship with alcohol. Like all top-notch poetry, it leads us back to a fresh reflection on our own experiences.