Tuesday 28 April 2020

No News: 90 poets reflect on a unique BBC newscast

I'm please to report that I have a poem in an excellent new anthology from Recent Work Press. Titled No News: 90 poets reflect on a unique BBC newscast, it features my work alongside pieces by the likes of Maura Dooley, Ian Duhig, Philip Gross, Glyn Maxwell, Ian McMillan, Helen Mort and Robert Pinsky, etc, etc. A brief description of the project reads as follows...

On 18 April, 1930, at 8.45pm, the BBC announced: ‘There is no news.’ Piano music played for the rest of the 15-minute bulletin.  
90 poets from across the world reflect on a this marker of a time before the 24-hour news cycle, before the ubiquity of news and information that seems to haunt us through our daily lives. Through this anthology there are poems that capture that moment of nothing but piano music making up an evening news bulletin, poems that contrast this with today’s news, and personal stories grounded in the intervening years.
Moreover, the publishers asked me to record my poem for their YouTube channel. You can now watch the video here...!

Friday 24 April 2020

Tastes in wine, tastes in poetry

Wine snobs and geeks are forever turning their noses up at easy-drinking wines that shift millions of units at supermarkets, but I've always argued against this stance. My view is that almost everyone (except the offspring of millionaires and landed gentry!) starts off drinking such wines, often at parties. My own memories of Bulgarian Rizling (sic) are vivid but also extremely hazy!.

Most of us don't progress beyond these wines of course. We're happy to keep consuming them for the rest of our lives, and that choice is completely valid. Other people, however, use entry-level, generic brands as a stepping stone. Maybe they'll move on to wines that are made by famous names or maybe they'll end up browsing the shelves at their local independent wine merchants, ready to take a voyage of discovery.

I'm convinced there's an analogy here that can be applied to verse. Supermarket wine could be compared to easily-digested, go-to poems that are immensely popular at christenings, weddings and funerals, thus playing a pivotal role in many people's lives without creating a need for further exploration of the genre.

However, many readers then progress to renowned names, both in terms of poets and publishers. What's more, for more curious readers, an independent bookshop has loads in common with privately-run wine merchants, especially in terms of the profile of stock that they often keep, attracting customers who want to seek out exciting products from beyond the mainstream.

In other words, my experience in these two fields tells me that it's important to recognise the value of stuff we ourselves might no longer want to consume. Popular wine and poetry provide people with pleasure and enjoyment, while also encouraging them to explore further if they so wish. I'm not going to turn my nose up at that!

Monday 20 April 2020

Poems with lives of their own

I've previously mentioned that a poet ceases to have any control over a poem once they publish it. From that point onwards, the poem has a life of its own and (with a bit of luck!) initiates a relationship with its readers.

In this context, I'm especially drawn to pieces that weren't among their creators' favourites. Once such example is Philip Larkin's The Mower. It's been shared widely on social media in recent times (for instance, when the well-known American poet, Ada Limón, put it on Twitter the other day, it got over a thousand likes and 200-odd retweets) mainly because of its famous ending, which resonates in the current circumstances...

"......The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time."

However, the poet himself apparently didn't rate it. In his biography of Larkin, Andrew Motion wrote...

"...Larkin realised The Mower was only a qualified success, worth publishing, but not worth presenting on a national stage. He let it appear in the Hull Literary Club magazine Humberside."

I can't quite imagine what Larkin might think of the poem appearing all over Twitter! And that, of course, is the crux of the matter: he's no longer in charge of people's taste, and a so-called qualified success is fast becoming one of his most renowned pieces.

Another such example, meanwhile, is the excellent Welsh poet Sheenagh Pugh. If you type her name into Google, you're immediately directed towards the following search term: "Sheenagh Pugh Sometimes". This refers to her most famous poem, which was also widely shared in the aftermath of the latest General Election results, though I've no idea why! ;-)

From observing her reactions on Twitter, Sheenagh is less than enamoured of her own poem these days, but she can't stop it cropping up all over the place and many readers associating her name with it, even though she's far prouder of many other poems (she's got a lot of top-notch work to be proud of!). Yet again, the poet can't stop her poem having a life of its own...!

Thursday 16 April 2020

Lyrical Aye poems

I'm pleased to report that Richie McCaffery has posted a short sequence from my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, on his blog as part of his special feature for lockdown, Lyrical Aye Poems. You can read it by following this link. While you're there, I'd recommend a browse of the archive, which already includes excellent work by the likes of M.R. Peacocke, Matthew Paul and Chris Powici, etc, etc...

Sunday 12 April 2020

Inner and outer worlds, Anthony Wilson's The Afterlife

I’ve long been an admirer of Anthony Wilson’s poetry, ever since I picked up a copy of his first collection, how far from here is home? (Stride, 1996) at a second-hand bookshop over a decade ago. I later discovered his excellent blog, of course, and his work as an editor, which has brought poetry and new poets into so many people’s lives, but it is his own creative output that always calls me back, invites me in once more and moves me afresh.

For this reason, I devoured his latest collection, The Afterlife (Worple Press, 2019), in one greedy session, before going back over it again and again. From his first collection onwards, Wilson has displayed a talent for re-energising everyday language, for using ordinary words to conjure something extraordinary. He does this by engaging with events via observations of the people who live through them, as in the following extract from Sitting With Your Body:

…and Tatty stroked
your shoulder as if comforting
a child who was poorly and hadn’t slept,
all the while watching your stillness,
finally you were still, as though present,
then we kissed your ice forehead
and found our coats and walked
across the common to eat with the others.

The emotional intensity of these lines develops in subtle ways, by the juxtaposition of contrasts such as movement and stillness, by the ambiguous double or triple meanings of certain pivotal words. For instance, Wilson implicitly hints at different interpretations of terms like sleep and presence, trusting his readers to forge their own connections and take off on their own journeys.

An ability to play with the multiple meanings of words is also present in the collection’s title, The Afterlife. Initial readings might offer up religious connotations of life after death. In fact, Wilson is referring to a second life that comes after having faced your own death, a second life in which everything has changed forever.

This theme runs through the collection and marks a step forward in the poet’s thematic concerns. In dealing with his second life, Wilson works to find reconciliation between his inner and outer worlds, as in the opening lines of There are Days…

There are days I lose to knowing
it has come back.

An ache in my back, a run of night sweats.
Then nothing.

I am me again, climbing out of bed
to make the tea…

Physical acts are here portrayed alongside emotional torment, routine seen as a necessary counterpoint to the loss of former certainties.

The Afterlife is far from being a depressing or morbid read. Instead, its poems celebrate life with greater intensity thanks to their acknowledgement of our frailty, encouraging us to seize our days too. I thoroughly recommend it.

Thursday 9 April 2020

The tension of enjambment

If enjambment in syllabic or stressed metrical verse creates a tension by holding a key part of meaning over to be delivered in the following line, it's my understanding that this tension is heightened by the sudden disruption to any correlation between line length and semantic/syntactic units.

In that context, how does free verse deal with enjambment? I've noticed a number of well-known poets largely steering clear of it, turning each line into a semantic and syntactic chunk, only invoking it in clearcut cases. Meanwhile, others use it regularly, seeking to fragment and distort both meaning and expected sentence structures. This varyiing use of enjambment also seems tied in with contrary aesthetics and approaches.

One last question though...and, no, it isn't loaded, it's simply an attempt to shake off my own prejudices: how can enjambment in free verse ever generate as much tension as in metred verse if it lacks the additional tool of simultaneously breaking with form?

Thursday 2 April 2020

Elizabeth Rimmer's BurnedThumb poetry blog

Through my recent dealings with the excellent Red Squirrel Press (my endorsement for David J Costello's collection, etc), my attention was drawn to Elizabeth Rimmer's poetry blog, BurnedThumb.

Apart from being a fine poet, Elizabeth also does some editing for Red Squirrel and is a lively presence on the poetry scene both via the web and in the flesh (when this virus permits!). Her BurnedThumb blog reflects her infectious enthusiasm and acquired knowledge, ranging from virtual launches with top.notch original poems to reviews of festivals and events. All in all, it's well worth a read and a follow!