Sunday, 31 July 2022

A selection of Evangeline Paterson's poetry on The High Window

A few months back, The High Window commissioned me to curate a selection of Evangeline Paterson's poetry. The result is the feature (see here) that's now been published. I do hope you enjoy Evangeline's work. She's an unjustly neglected poet who warrants serious re-evaluation...

Friday, 29 July 2022

Christopher James' The Storm in the Piano

My review of Christopher James' new pamphlet, The Storm in the Piano (Maytree Press, 2022), is up today at The Friday Poem. You can read it in full at this link, but here's a short extract as a taster
Whether using the first or third person, the poet stands far further behind these poems than is common these days, thus avoiding any temptation to conflate the poet and the narrator. Dramatic set piece after dramatic set piece, Christopher James invites us into his vast array of worlds via an aesthetic approach that feels pretty much unique in the context of contemporary UK poetry.

In a juster world, Christopher James' books books would sell in thousands...

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Ploughing its own furrow, Ruth Beddow's The Thought Sits With Me

When I first came across Ruth Beddow’s poetry on Wild Court, I was especially struck by the natural flow of its language, a quality that makes her work immediately stand out among her contemporaries (Beddow is still in her twenties). I was thus keen to get hold of a copy of her first pamphlet, The Thought Sits With Me (Nine Pens, 2022), and a close reading confirmed my initial impression, as in the closing stanza to Birmingham Central Library, 1973:

…and later, a year since I had left the place
for good – a decade after my parents
dismantled our home – the rubble piled high
on Paradise and said, as I stood watching,
there’s a grace in being forgotten.

The above extract demonstrates an acute sense of the delicate, tense relationship between line and sentence, employing enjambment judiciously, harnessing language to musical effect without ever falling into the trap of artificial fireworks. And then there’s Beddow’s ability to root her poems in the everyday as a point of departure before lifting them into their own world far beyond mere anecdote. In this case, that transformation takes off as soon as the reader realises the rubble is speaking.

Moreover, in thematic terms, this poem is a perfect example of Beddow’s deeply felt awareness of the passing of time. Her invocation of changing generations, also referenced in other poems in this pamphlet, implicitly invites us to think about our own personal histories. And along those same lines, the following extract from
Ode to a Reuterweg Bedsitalso stands out:

…My bag was already packed upstairs
in the matchbox room I had thought Neolithic
but which, in time, as with all the walls we love

and leave, had softened all around me…

This quote again flows easily while also packing an emotional punch. Furthermore, in its reaching out for the first person plural, it again demonstrates Beddow’s ability to carry her poems beyond day-to-day experiences, encouraging us to explore the significance that objects and places acquire in our lives.

In the context of contemporary trends, Ruth Beddow’s
The Thought Sits With Me is consequently a remarkable first pamphlet. It defies fashions to present us an idiosyncratic poetic aesthetic that ploughs its own furrow. Of course, the intriguing issue now is where she’ll take her poems from here. I’ll be following Beddow’s progress with interest. 

Thursday, 14 July 2022

A new poem in The Spectator

I'm properly chuffed to have a new poem in The Spectator this week. ‘Heading for the Airport’ is taken from my second full collection, which is forthcoming from HappenStance Press in November 2023. It's a significant poem for me and you can read it here.

Sunday, 3 July 2022

Summer / Break by Richie McCaffery

Due to having a generous mention in the acknowledgements section of Richie McCaffery’s third full collection, Summer / Break (Shoestring Press, 2022) and  having kept up a long-distance, email-based friendship with him over several years, I don’t feel I can review his new book with any degree of independence or objectivity.

However, suffice to say, Summer / Break is an excellent example of the poetry I enjoy reading. Apparent simplicity, delicious poetic leaps and achingly resonant object-led poems have long been McCaffery’s trademarks, but his recent personal upheaval seems only to have driven him further and deeper in a quest to find the means of expressing and transforming extreme emotions. Completely and utterly recommended!

Friday, 1 July 2022

To be studied or to be read?

Amid all the recent talk of certain poets being added to or removed from this or that syllabus, I started to wonder whether it's better for a poem to be studied or to be read. Deep down, I suppose I fear the heart of a poem might be ripped out once it's submitted to the strictures of an exam or a grading system, although its inclusion in a syllabus clearly means it will reach more people.

Of course, the counterargument lies in the chance of encountering a sensitive English teacher who shows students how to read for themselves, thus adding to their own autonomous interpretations. I know, for instance, that I would never have learned to appreciate many poets without the help and encouragement of Richard Hoyes from Farnham College. However, I've got the distinct impression that such teachers are being squeezed out of the system...