Friday 29 March 2019

Poem in the Glasgow Review of Books

I'm grateful to Sam Tongue, the poetry editor at the Glasgow Review of Books, for having chosen one of my most recent poems to be published today. You can read it here alongside new work by Mat Riches and Ralph Monday. I'd especially recommend Mat Riches' piece - apart from being a good friend, he also writes excellent poetry!

Sunday 24 March 2019

Elizabeth Bartlett's poetry

I’ve been putting off this post for months, all because I’m acutely aware that the format of a blog post means I can’t do the subject matter sufficient justice. As a consequence, I’ve decided to provide something of a point of departure for my readers in the hope that you’ll then pick up the baton.

Let’s cut to the chase: in the view of this blogger, Elizabeth Bartlett is one of the most remarkable poets to have emerged in the U.K. in the second half of the twentieth century.  

Why is she so little-known? Why is my copy of her new and selected poems, Two Women Dancing (Bloodaxe Books, 1995) a never-opened review copy with a little yellowed slip from the publisher still inside, plaintively stating “We would appreciate a copy of any review or mention you might give this book”? Why has there barely been any mention of her on Google since her death in 2008?

Numerous arguments can be put forward, some of them overlapping, none of them conclusive. First off is the old chestnut of her work not quite fitting into any group or school. It does contain elements of the aesthetic of the Movement, but her thematic scope and forthright attitude to emotion, alongside her acute approach to form (metrics hovering over every line like a ghost), mean that such comparisons fall short.

Several attempts, meanwhile, to shoehorn her poetry into labels of “working-class feminist” or “amateur poet” sell her writing short on every count. Firstly, her lightly-worn erudition underpins all her work. Secondly, her focus on female characters is her personal expression of the human and social condition rather than a political stance. What is true, however, is that Elizabeth Bartlett’s poetry would probably be far better known if she’d been a man.

At this point, having made a theoretical case, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. What are the main themes in Bartlett’s poetry? Well, they range from taking the Mickey out of the (mainly male) poetry establishment to monologues in the voices of the social underclass via Bartlett’s professional experiences as an employee of the NHS, while also stopping off to pare back assigned roles in tortured love affairs.

Here are a couple of quotes as examples of the above. To start with, a startling opening to a startling poem, titled This Room

Since you took me by the hand
and led me to my mother’s unmade bed,
I have never got it right with men.
I remember the pale sun lighting up
the flowered wallpaper, the counterpane…

And here, in Stretch Marks, she’s brilliant on those male poets…

…Mostly they teach, and some must be
fathers, but they have no stretch marks
on their smooth stomachs to prove it.
At least we know our children
are our own. They can never really
tell, but poems they can be sure of.

And in Quite a Day, she takes on the voice of a young mother who’s being visited by a social worker:

You didn’t say you liked my house.
You just sat down, asking questions,
legs crossed at the ankles, removing
the toddler’s hands from your clip-board.
I had washed the coloured crayon marks
off the walls for you, and scrubbed
the rush matting so it smelled as sweet
as summertime in far away Norfolk,
and herded the cats into the garden
so they shouldn’t tear your tights…

Elizabeth Bartlett deserves a full-blown feature in a major journal, she deserves critical attention, she deserves wider recognition. I can’t manage any of that with this blog post. However, she also deserves readers and maybe, just maybe, I can gain her one or two. If you want to try, I thoroughly recommend that you start with Two Women Dancing. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Thursday 14 March 2019

Two poems at Wild Court

While in the midst of enjoying StAnza, I discovered the additional good news that two of my most recent poems had been published by Wild Court (you can read them here). This news was especially good because I've been following Wild Court since it launched and have long regarded it as one of the best web-based poetry journals in the U.K..

Rob Selby, the editor at Wild Court, has done an excellent job. He's curated a terrific collection of original work, essays and features, and I'd especially recommend a read of Liz Berry's recent poem, Highbury Park, which was published there a few days before my work appeared.

Monday 11 March 2019

A postscript to StAnza

I could and should praise StAnza for its superb array of poets, its beautiful venues and its excellent organisation, but what I'll treasure most from the past few days is its ability to remind us that we're not alone in our love of the genre. StAnza brings the poetry community together before sending us home with an incredible glow that lingers long, demanding that we read and write poetry, poetry, poetry...

Tuesday 5 March 2019

StAnza: my reading with Diana Hendry

StAnza is coming and so am I! I'm setting off on Thursday morning, driving 300 miles up to Madrid and taking a flight to Edinburgh before making my way to St Andrews.

I'll be reading at a Border Crossings event alongside Diana Hendry on Saturday 9th March, starting at 11.30 a.m. (here's a link to my reading on the festival website), while I'm also looking forward to meeting old and new friends, attending other readings and buying as many books as I can fit in my hand luggage...

Friday 1 March 2019

Martyn Crucefix - Works and Days of Division

Over at his excellent blog, Martyn Crucefix has just embarked on an ambitious project. Titled Works and Days of Division, it's made up of 29 original poems by Crucefix himself that will be published on a daily basis from today (see here) to 29th March.

Of course, we're all only too aware that 29/3 is Brexit day, and these poems will portray and address the current divided state of the U.K., both directly and indirectly. Bearing in mind that I've long admired Martyn's work, the chance to follow the publication of 29 new pieces - all inviting the reader to engage with painful current affairs - seems to me a top-notch example of politically aware poetry at its best. Here's hoping that over the coming weeks this exciting project receives the recognition it so richly deserves...