Thursday 18 November 2021

Reflections on the myth kitty

Following a recent Twitter thread about the myth kitty, I thought I’d use the longer format of a blog post to explain my approach to its use in contemporary poetry.

First off, I take Larkin’s notorious eschewal of the aforementioned myth kitty not as a destination but as a point of departure. In other words, I do favour poems that don’t explicitly draw on and invoke classical mythology. However, it would be absurd not to recognise that all our reading and writing is shot through with our knowledge of myths.

As a consequence, when I write poems about Aldershot F.C. footballers of the 1980s, about their triumphs and disasters, tragedies and comedies, qualities and flaws, many of their stories implicitly remind us of those same myths. This is inevitable and necessary. A renewed, highly personal myth kitty such as this doesn’t ignore what has gone before. Instead, it recognises our cultural baggage, enabling us to empathise and reflect on how classical stories are played out in contemporary settings.

Specific present-day scenarios are capable of refreshing the myth kitty via new perspectives. In my view, the implicit invocation of classical myth is therefore more powerful than explicit allusion, though it forces the poet to take a far greater risk instead of reaching for shortcuts that everybody immediately understands. What do you think…?

Monday 15 November 2021

Past, new and future losses, Jeremy Page's The Naming

Never flashy, never trendy, Jeremy Page’s poetry simply goes about the business of moving its readers via emotional immersion in a moment or experience. What’s more, if his first full collection, Closing Time (Pindrop Press, 2014) was something of a Best so far, his second collection, The Naming (The Frogmore Press, 2021) displays a coherent, cohesive vision that lifts it an extra notch.

Throughout The Naming, Page once more puts to bed the misconception that a poetry anchored in a specific period and a specific generation can never be universal in appeal. In fact, the reverse is true, as borne out by poems such as Still Life, Folkestone, which begins as follows:

Her window is all 60s GDR:
two empty cartons flank
a twin pack of kitchen roll
centre stage; a tin of carrots,
label faded by the sun, confronts
a can of processed peas
on doilies drained to twenty
shades of grey, and yes,
she is open for business…

The implicit consequences of the passing of time form a pivotal element in the above extract, but also reverberate throughout this collection, gaining further resonance in poems of past, new and future losses. The first of these three is addressed in Foreign Country via an exquisite ending…

…The past is a foreign country —
we were fluent in the language once.

The second, meanwhile, is expressed through poems that explore the immediate aftermath of grief, as in Last Times

I’ll never know
when she swam
for the last time….

…but I’ll always know
where I was
when she breathed her last —
upstairs from where she lay,
half asleep, willing
the suffering to end,
willing it not to.

This layered portrayal of intense emotion via everyday language is a typical quality of Jeremy Page’s poetry, and yet again it comes to the fore in the third type of losses he encounters throughout The Naming: future losses, be they places or people. One such example is The Teacher:

Who knows
if we’ll meet again…?
…But if that’s what
we’re both thinking
then we’re as careful
as each other not to say it
while we revisit the past
and fill in the gaps,
in this anonymous London café.

Lovely to see you, we both agree
and go our separate ways.

This fine rendering of social interaction unpeels the turmoil that lies just beneath the veneer of inconsequential conversations. Again, Page takes supposedly banal language and demonstrates its latent emotional charge.

Many of the poems in The Naming might seem slight on a first, superficial reading, but their impact is gradual and accumulative. It slowly builds to a significant achievement that signposts Jeremy Page’s importance as a poet. Read this book, give it time, re-read it, let its lines sear their place in your memory. That’s the power of these unassuming poems. Underestimate them at your peril!

Thursday 4 November 2021

Another new poem in The Spectator

Absolutely chuffed to report that I have another new poem in The Spectator this week. This is the fifth poem they've published by me, but the excitement is still huge! Oh, and I'm also pleased to be in the same issue as my friend Rob Selby! You can read my poem on The Spectator's website by following this link.

Monday 1 November 2021

Rory Waterman on the Poetry London website

Rory Waterman has an excellent piece up today on the Poetry London website. Its premise is as follows:

"Rory Waterman offers a stirring op-ed on the negative effects of superficial do-goodery and inadvertent self-flattery on contemporary poetry and how such tendencies often simplify moral and intellectual complexities to the detriment of the art being produced."

His views will ruffle a few precious feathers, but that's not a bad thing when it's for the greater good of the genre. You can read his article in full here.