Monday 24 May 2021

The communities created by regular poetry events

Further to my post last week about certain poetry readings in London, I thought it was only fair to focus today on regular events that are held all over the country (having mentioned them in passing as a point of comparison and/or contrast with London).

I myself have been a guest poet at regular events in Leicester, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Manchester, Huddersfield, Edinburgh, Chichester, Portsmouth, Cambridge, Coventry, Oxford, Shrewsbury, Bradford on Avon, Reading, Lewes and Birmingham, so I’m speaking from personal experience when I state that these events are all idiosyncratic and play an important role in many people’s lives, reaching far beyond the stereotypes of open mics, etc.

First off, there’s invariably a dedicated individual or team who volunteer to run things, often without any funding whatsoever (the irony, of course, is that this is where poetry really flourishes and makes a contribution to society). Secondly, there are the regular attendees, some of whom even arrive from outlying towns and villages, coming together for the reading in question. And that’s before considering their personal circumstances: on several occasions, a member of the audience has told me that poetry events provided their main (or even only) source of social interaction.

In other words, this post is a celebration of regular poetry events all over the country, though it’s also a lament, as their temporary shift online provides yet another example of the huge damage that the pandemic has inflicted on many people who already suffered great loneliness. And then, finally, it’s an expression of hope, that poetry can still form communities, even maintain them via the internet, and emerge into a post-pandemic era where we’ll be able to gather above a pub or in a village hall, and listen to each other’s poems once more.

Wednesday 19 May 2021

The poetry world in London vs the poetry world in England

I've long been troubled by the huge gulf between the poetry world in London and the poetry world in the rest of England, and Toby Litt's review in the Guardian of Sam Rivere's novel, titled Dead Souls (see here), has brought my thoughts into focus.

On the one hand, not having read the novel itself, I can't judge its contents, but I can suggest that the most troubling aspect of this review is its false equivalence between the "the small world of English poetry" and the London scene. In other words, there's a huge world of English poetry beyond the capital's elite. It's thriving and vibrant, anything but "monstrous".

On the other hand, having given numerous readings in London and in other locations, I've observed certain important differences in the audiences, dynamics and interval chit-chat, etc. Of course, these interpretations are subjective and partial, as I'm fully aware that exceptions do exist. However, here goes...

1) Far fewer books are sold by poets at readings in London than elsewhere. Of course, there are more events in the capital and money can only reach so far, but this is still indicative of a certain attitude.

2) There are undoubtedly groups of fawning acolytes around certain poets and editors at London events that are a lot less common in other towns and cities.

3) In London audiences, there's invariably a proportion of people who seem uninterested in the readings themselves, only coming alive at the interval and during post-reading drinks, when they grab the opportunity to network.

Monday 17 May 2021

The natural flow of language, Ruth Beddow's poems on Wild Court

As a reader, I'm especially keen on poets who show a knack for trapping and then heightening the natural ebbs and flows of language. Of course, many don't even want to. However, their forced and artificial turns of phrase tend to leave me cold despite their popularity with certain editors and judges. I seek an apparent simplicity in a poem, accompanied by an almost imperceptible tightening of its cadences and layering of its potential ramifications. This is difficult to achieve and notoriously undervalued, but it moves me far more than linguistic fireworks that don't earn their corn. 

In the above context, I was especially drawn to Ruth Beddow's two poems on Wild Court last week (you can read them yourself via this link). Their connection to experience is clear, while their capacity to reach way beyond mere anecdote is also startling. In other words, I thoroughly recommend them and I'll be keeping an eye out for more work from this excellent poet whose name is new to me. Yet another example of the role of a fine editorial eye at a poetry journal: spotting talent and bringing it to readers...

Monday 10 May 2021

Stand Magazine

I finished Uni in June 1995 and decided to move to Spain, where I intended to live, work and write. A few months later, I came back to Farnham for Christmas and made the first of what would be many day trips up to London to the National Poetry Library (every time I visited from Spain!), where I'd browse their collection of poetry mags, making notes on those that might be worth a subscription and/or a submission. In those days, that was the only way for me to keep abreast of developments!

On my afore-mentioned first trip up, I also stopped at the bookshop on the ground floor of the South Bank Centre and bought as many poetry journals as I could. Chief among them was this one...

It's the Winter 1995 issue of Stand magazine, edited (of course) by the legendary Jon Silkin and featuring the likes of R.S. Thomas and Harry Smart, who passed away only last month. I must have read it dozens of times and it still inhabits my bookshelf!

In other words, Stand has been a constant presence throughout my poetry life. As a consequence, the news that the current editorial team (John Whale et al) had accepted three of my poems for publication was especially significant. I'm delighted to report that they've been included in the new issue (Nº229,19.1) alongside work by the likes of Zaffar Kunial and Alison Brackenbury, etc, etc. 

I very much look forward to getting hold of my contributor's copy whenever I finally make it back to the U.K., just as I also yearn to visit the National Poetry Library once more...

Tuesday 4 May 2021

Richie McCaffery's Coping Stones

Richie McCaffery has very kindly sent me a copy of his new pamphlet, titled Coping Stones (Fras Publication, 2021). Being a one-man band, I try to spread my work as widely as possible in order to optimise the number of poets that I feature, so I won't be reviewing Coping Stones as such. This is because I wrote in depth about Richie's previous pamphlet, First Hare, here on Rogue Strands just eight months ago (see here). However, suffice to say, it carries all the hallmarks of his poetry: terrific poetic leaps that open up new avenues of thought to the reader, along with enlightening explorations of how objects interact with our inner lives.

Moreover, you can read two excellent reviews of Coping Stones (by D.A. Prince and Vic Pickup) over at Sphinx Reviews (via this link). I very much recommend both pieces, as they give distinct flavours of this excellent pamphlet. A warning though: you'll inevitably end up getting hold of a copy for yourself!