Thursday 23 January 2020

A mouthwatering week for new collections

Looking back over my Twitter feed for this week, I'm struck by how much good news I've been able to share from poets that I admire, all revolving around their new collections. Just like buses, three of them are heading our way in near unison now that we've got the festive period out of the way.

The books in question are Robert Selby's first full collection, The Coming-Down Time, which is due this spring from Shoestring, Rory Waterman's third collection, Sweet Nothings, on its way soon from Carcanet, and Samuel Tongue's first full collection, Sacrifice Zones, launching in February from Red Squirrel. I very much look forward to featuring them on Rogue Strands in due course...!

Tuesday 14 January 2020

Making it big in poetry

Countless poets imagine on a daily or nightly basis (or both!) just what it would be like to make it big in poetry. They're convinced that they only need one major win or acceptance for their path to be cleared to stardom, for their arrival at some hidden inner sanctum to be declared.

In this context, let's imagine winning the Bridport, followed by the National Poetry Competition. How would it feel? How would life change? Would things be utterly transformed forever?

These aren't just questions to be thrown into a vacuum. They're issues that were faced head-on by Christopher James in an excellent post on his blog a couple of years ago (thanks to Mat Riches via Neil Elder for pointing me in its direction). You can read it here.

James has gone through the process of winning and has come out the other side. He tells his story beautifully, with self-awareness in spades and zero narcissism. Making it big in poetry is a fantasy that blurs our focus on the most important things: the reading and writing process itself, followed by a search for readers. Even if we just find one, we've discovered real success.

Tuesday 7 January 2020

Turning tactile, Ramona Herdman's A warm and snouting thing

For my money, Ramona Herdman is one of the best poets on the U.K. scene at reading her own work. I was lucky enough to see her read from her most recent pamphlet, A Warm and Snouting Thing (Emma Press, 2019) in London recently, and I was most struck by how she paced each line, each word to perfection, accelerating and then slowing down, as in the ending to No Better Than She Should Be Red…

…the garden tapestried
with shock-sweet little nippled sherbet candies

vigorous  sprawling  decadent  shameless.

When seeing these lines on the page, I can physically feel Herdman lingering over those last four words, relishing the physical shape of their consonants and vowels, turning her poetry tactile.

Moreover, the above-mentioned poem is representative of much of the pamphlet in thematic terms. A Warm and Snouting Thing confronts and subverts traditional roles, especially when dealing with gender and sex, sometimes explicitly, as in Comeuppance…

…And I remember the sudden novelty
of making adult men feel something.

Of stealing some of their power. Making a ripple
in the world…

Moreover, this extract provides an excellent example of Herdman’s harnessing of sentence structure so as to play further with pace, with surprise and expectation. In this example, she allows a sentence to flow according to convention before slamming the brakes on, challenging both linguistic and social conventions.

At other times, meanwhile, Herdman’s technique is more implicit. She is adept at layering descriptions. In the following extract from Nudes, she juxtaposes them, allowing them to play off each other, inviting comparison and contrast:

…Summer-comfortable just in skin,
butter baby, unselfconscious, playing
in the stained glass shadows on the parquet…

Taken in the context of her previous (also excellent) pamphlet, Bottle (HappenStance Press, 2018) it’s clear that Ramona Herdman is building an outstanding body of work. Her challenge now would seem to be the development and publication of a new full collection that would enable her to reach a wider readership and surely gain the extra recognition that her poetry so richly deserves.

However, for the moment, let’s relish her most recent offering: A Warm and Snouting Thing invites you in, challenges your pre-conceptions and takes you on a sensorial journey in the space of thirty pages. What more do you want…?!

Friday 3 January 2020

Don't live to write, write to live

Every now and then, when overdosing on momentary angst about a poem that I'm gestating, I find it's worth reminding myself of my own version of an old Spanish saying that we often repeat while at the office: no vivas para trabajar, trabaja para vivir...don't live to work, work to live.

From my perspective, a similar attitude to the blank page is extremely useful. Writing poetry makes me feel more alive and awake to experiences and feelings. In other words, as the title of this post indicates, my attitude is clear: don't live to write, write to live.