Thursday 22 August 2019

The Oscars

I was absolutely delighted this morning to find out an animated film that was produced in Extremadura, Buñuel in the Labryinth of the Turtles, is on Spain's International Feature Film shortlist for the Oscars alongside work from Almodóvar and Amenábar (see the news here in Hollywood Reporter).

I'm especially pleased for its producer and my friend, José María Fernández de Vega, who runs The Glow, the production company behind this exciting project that's taken a hell of a lot of graft to come to fruition. When he made my poetry film, Tasting Notes, back in 2013, I already knew how talented he was and how fortunate I was to work alongside him, but this tremendous accolade is a fresh reminder.

As a consequence, I'm afraid I can't resist the temptation to share Tasting Notes with you once more. Here it is again, just in time for the start of our grape harvest in southern Spain...

Tasting Notes - a poetry film by Matthew Stewart from Matthew Stewart on Vimeo.

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Turning nouns into verbs

Further to my post about the changing use of tenses in English, I've recently noticed another trend of turning nouns into verbs, often with a tweaked meaning.

One well known example is "to ghost somebody", which now seems widespread, and I only had to notice a headline on the BBC website the other day to realise I was about to learn another. The afore-mentioned headline read as follows, "How to tell if you're being breadcrumbed at work", and a quick spot of googling (a proper noun that's become a verb in itself!) soon explained the origin of the term.

The obvious question, of course, is just what exactly "to poetry somebody" might end up meaning....

Monday 12 August 2019

Failing our readers

Over at the HappenStance Press blog, Helena Nelson has just published her twice-yearly summary of current trends in poetic tics. In my view, the last one on her list is perhaps the most important...

The single most common problem: unintended obscurity. The poem is behaving as though it's obvious what's going on but the reader is mystified. This is quite different from deliberate obscurity, which can be compelling.

It's the most important because it means the poet in question has failed their readers at a specific point, thus losing them for the rest of the poem. Moreover, we're all prone to it. There are inevitable occasions in everyday life when we're convinced we've been clear and unambiguous, only for everyone to tell us they haven't got a clue what we're on about or to misinterpret our words with grim or hilarious consequences.

Exactly the same is true of our poems. Except that nobody's around when we write them and fall in love with them. Nobody's present to disentangle our unintentional semantic and syntactic knots. And that's where friends kick in, the best kind of friends, the friends we take into our confidence with dodgy first drafts, the friends who let us know us when we're making one of the biggest poetic mistakes around, that of failing our readers.

Tuesday 6 August 2019

An unflinching celebration, Sheenagh Pugh's Afternoons Go Nowhere

I suppose cliché might suggest the invocation of terms such as “veteran” or “prolific” when approaching Sheenagh Pugh’s new book, Afternoons Go Nowhere (Seren Books, 2019) in the light of her nine previous collections and two Selecteds,  but that would do her poetry a grave disservice. In fact, her recent work displays a freshness and curiosity that reach far beyond the scope of many far younger poets.

First off, Pugh’s use of language is well worth highlighting. Her sentence construction possesses a lucid fluidity that’s outstanding, as in the first three stanzas of The View:

For as long as he could remember, the view
from his window had led across a street
to some house the mirror of his own,

and what he could hear through the double-glazing
mainly traffic, heels clacking  on asphalt,
late at night, a little drunken happiness.

Now he looks out on a bay, cuts his hedge
hard back, ruthless with the white roses
that would come between him and the ocean…

The layering of these lines is seemingly effortless, as is the natural flow. Of course, the poet’s ear, craft and skill all underpin their gorgeous clarity.

Moreover, the above-mentioned poem reflects one of Pugh’s main thematic concerns: the relationship between people and the natural world. At pivotal moments in her work, humans and nature rub against each other, sometimes chafing, sometimes caressing, sometimes managing to do both simultaneously.

Meanwhile, this same deft touch is also apparent in the poems that deal with history. Pugh’s achievement lies in the way she turns historical figures into individuals by homing in on specific personal and emotional moments within a wider context, thus creating empathy for them as people. The Glass King of France provides one such example in its opening lines:

When he looks in the glass, he sees
himself: every organ, every vein.
His most inward thoughts shine
through his crystal skin; the secrets
of his heart parade the streets…

Whether portraying a king or a neighbour, Sheenagh Pugh is acutely aware of the transience of life. Afternoons Go Nowhere is an unflinching celebration of the human condition, written in lucid language that reveals aching complexities. I very much recommend it.

Sunday 4 August 2019

Just, already and yet

I've always used the present perfect tense with "just", "already" and "yet", as in "I've just arrived...he's already finished....we haven't eaten yet". What's more, when teaching English as a Foreign Language, I noticed that all textbooks for learners of British English not only encouraged but demanded the use of the present perfect in such expressions.

However, over the past few years, I've encountered more and more Brits using the simple past, as in "I just arrived" or "he already finished", etc, etc. For me, this is American usage. In my book, "I just had lunch" means that I only had lunch  (i.e. I did nothing else). It's got nothing to do with communicating that I've recently finished my meal.

I suppose this is another example of generational change, of how language evolves and leaves older (gulp!) users behind. Even so, I still can't bring myself to use the simple past with "just", "already" and "yet". Does this mean I'm becoming anachronistic myself? What tense do you choose in this type of context?