One of the readings to launch ‘The Great Animator’ was recorded at Leicester’s States of Independence festival. You can listen to it as well as readings by American poets Mihaela Moscaliuc and Michael Waters by clicking this link.
Here are some photos from my recent travels to launch ‘The Great Animator’.
As you can see I am fortunate to have spent time with some lovely people (and animals) and to have visited some fabulous places.
First stop was Yorkshire
For the Manchester Waterstones bookshop reading I visited poet and shepherd Keith Hutson. On the left is Keith laying out food for his flock.
Here is Keith’s puppy, Eric, who took me for a walk.
Keith Hutson reading in Manchester
My publisher and editor, the writer Professor John Lucas introducing the readings.
American poet Mihaela Moscaliuc reading from her collection ‘Imigrant Model’. And American poet Michael Waters.
Also new exhibition of Tony Cragg’s incredible work.
And some geese and a Heron by the river
I was also lucky to see a Kingfisher nearby.
London, Bloomsbury. The white plaque is on the Foundlings Hospital.
And a quick stop at the British museum
Including an exhibition of British watercolours. Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious, and new to me, Ralph Maynard Smith.
This piece has the fantastic title ‘Better be yourself; better make your own music.’
Met John Lucas before the evening reading
with Michael and Mihaela at Bookmarks, Bloomsbury.
Who knew that the child, screwing up his face
at that first sip, would find this a necessity;
the aroma suffusing mornings where a radio plays
extracts of bombing runs, gunshots outside a café
as he stands by the humming machine’s twin streams,
flicking the switch when the last drops pock the crema.
He might down it on the spot, or sit on the step to watch
sparrows dust-bathe. Often, he’ll carry the cup to the room
where he pours memories into a book, looking up to find
his reflection floating in a black sky. Maybe if all the cups
he’d drunk were stood in line they’d stretch to Ethiopia
where the kaffa plant grew among the first humans.
His heart, once as easily excited by this dark syrup
as by a lover’s touch, has grown steady, accustomed.
From The Great Animator, Shoestring Press, March 2017.
I’m delighted to announce a short series of readings to promote my new collection, The Great Animator.
March 11th – 1 pm at Leicester States of Independence, with Mihaela Moscaliuc, author of the poetry collections Immigrant Model (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015) and Father Dirt (Alice James Books, 2010) and American poet Michael Waters,- Celestial Joyride (2017) and Selected Poems (2011) from Shoestring Press.
March 14th– Manchester Waterstones, Deansgate 6 -8 with Keith Hutson, Mihaela Moscaliuc and Michael Waters
March 16th– London Bookmarks bookshop, , 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1 3QE , free admission and free wine. 6.30 -8.30 h Michael Waters and Michaela Mosaliuc
March 27th – Leicester Shindig.
Further events are to be found on the Readings page.
Sequence- synonyms – arrangement, array, progression, string, chain, concatenation, cycle, flow, procession, row, skein, streak, perpetuity, track, catenation.
“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes).”
Walt Whitman, ‘Song of Myself’ from Leaves of Grass
‘.. a poetic sequence is a whole that, however beautiful its parts, becomes something greater because of the connections, either explicit and logical or resonant and psychological, between its sections.’- Keith Taylor, Sequences and Symmetries: Michigan Quarterly Review
The quotation directly above is something to aim for, at least.
I’ve written three sequences (two have been published). The first, Leonardo, appeared in my book ‘The Sun Bathers’. The second, Traces is a twelve-poem sequence reflecting on my time as a nurse working in coronary care and is at the heart of my new book.
Each sequence provided its own challenges and rewards. Each allowed me to revisit and explore a theme and its associated images; to gradually apply layers of meaning in a bid to build a partial picture. Or to utilise another metaphor, to lay down roots. In Traces I definitely wanted to revisit and consolidate my experience; to define a territory in which to travel emotionally, to cover the ground within its borders (and to occasionally transgress or blur them by bringing in imagery or metaphor from other areas of my life) in order to investigate aspects of the terrain that could not possibly be covered in a single poem, unless of course it were the length of Homer’s Iliad.
A poem sequence can be viewed as an exciting opportunity to write in different ways about the same subject, to approach it from a multitude of angles, to use different forms in order to take differing perspectives. It might be regarded as a chance to play multiple variations of a tune in styles ranging from jazz to rock to orchestral to plainsong. It is also a chance to play every instrument in the band. A quick internet search reveals that, as with most topics in poetry, there are differing ideas as to what constitutes a poem sequence. A glance at the list of synonyms above shows how even the word ‘sequence’ provides a chance to interpret. For example, an ‘array’ seems to suggest something very different from a ‘track’. And of course a track can be linear or circular. A ‘skein’- a length of thread or yarn, loosely coiled and knotted- would provide a very different metaphor for a group of poems than a ‘procession’.
As a reader, I have often enjoyed the sense of progress, development and interaction between pieces when reading a cluster or sequence of poems. We can learn the terminology of the poet’s ‘sequence world’ – for example, a sequence might be in a setting, such as a hospital, that has its own specific language. We can absorb this setting, feel and think ourselves into a sequence much in the same way we can become absorbed in a film.
However, writing a sequence has its own pitfalls. Repetition, or rather, unnecessary repetition perhaps being the main one. By their very nature sequences are likely to utilise a certain amount of repetition. The challenge lies in approaching a subject from various angles and in achieving that fine balance between fortifying and over-engineering. .
When reading sections of my own sequences or listening to other poets read theirs, I’ve perceived a deepening of engagement from the audience; a sense that the listeners are charged with an awareness of the subject matter through the repetition or reinforcement a theme.
There is no ‘correct’ way to write or order a sequence of poems. Sequences can approach themes in a linear fashion in order to unfold a story or events in time,
or they can play with perspective and memory in order to create collages or impressions.
My own sequences came about in different ways. Most of the twelve poems that make up Traces were written in a kind of trance and with the sort of flow that poets, including me, dream of. One evening a couple of years ago, I wrote several interlinked poems in quick succession. Once I had these poems I added others over a period of a year or so, sometimes consciously identifying what I considered to be ‘gaps’ in the story or narrative of my experience. It felt important (and unavoidable) to restate and revisit themes, and it seemed only right to try to cover as many aspects of the experience as I could in order to do it justice. I can liken this process to walking beside my own tracks on a beach, occasionally stepping on a previous imprint. Looking at the sequence now I can see that each poem makes sense when isolated i.e, the subject matter of each is clear and can stand alone. This is probably a reflection of my own style and tendency to try and make poems that can be read in isolation. I am aware that many sequences contain poems which rely on those around them in order to provide context and meaning. I’m thinking particularly of some of the poems in Karen McCarthy Woolf’s ‘An Aviary of Small Birds’ which are all the more moving and powerful because of their relationship to the poems that come before them in the book.
The sequence in my first book was very different to Traces, although there were similarities in that I had to keep asking myself (after the initial flurry of writing) if I’d approached the subject with enough variety of form and perspective to maintain interest. I mention form because personally I found using a range of forms helped me to find the variety I was seeking. But it isn’t necessary to vary form in a sequence. Sometimes the power of a sequence is enhanced by its utilisation of, for example, a single form such as the sonnet. Sonnet sequences enable the poet to challenge themselves to work within the criteria and constrains of the form. The uniformity of a sequence such as Nick Drake’s ‘Boxes’ from his Bloodaxe collection, From the Word Go, enhances its impact.
Each of Drake’s ‘boxes’ is exquisitely made. The subject matter (his relationship with his father and his illness and death) is explored with great subtly and craft. The poet has used all his skill to create a set of sonnet ‘artefacts’ in remembrance of the relationship . The sequence in this instance, is a labour of love.
My own sequence about Leonardo Da Vinci differed from Traces in that it required some research and was a much more conscious effort to synthesise historical information. I hesitate to say it was less personal since all my poems are in some way personal. However, it did not draw directly from my own lived experience in the way as Traces did . Having read a biography of Leonardo and travelled to his birthplace, I was originally interested in writing about his whole life. But after visiting an exhibition of his anatomical drawings I became focused on a smaller canvas, namely an imaginative exploration of Da Vinci’s anatomical drawings and the processes and circumstances surrounding their production. It was important to scale down the scope of the sequence in order to make the project manageable.
In my experience sequences can provide the writer with the feeling that they are rich in material; that they have ‘something in the bank’ and that even when not actively producing poems, there is a subject to return to an explore.
Once a number of poems have been written, the next challenge is to select poems and lay them out in the order that works best. One absorbing aspect of assembling a sequence is deciding which poems to include and to work out the relationships between poems so they work together to their collective advantage. While it is undoubtedly hard to write a batch of poems that maintain a consistently high quality, it is important to try and recognise any weaker poems and remove them or risk weakening the impact of the whole sequence.
I can think of a few reasons for writing a sequence of poems. A desire to achieve closure; to visit or revisit a subject repeatedly and from different angles. To attempt, as we often do in individual poems, to make sense of a subject. To honour a subject and try to capture some of its multiple facets. To build a monument in words (see definition of ‘perpetuity’ in the list of synonyms above. )To challenge our skills, ingenuity, and stamina. To experiment with different ways of working around a theme or subject.
Images used here are to be found at http://www.pxleyes.com/blog/2012/03/50-brilliant-examples-of-sequence-photography/.
A box containing copies of my new collection ‘The Great Animator’ arrived today. Officially launching with readings in March, it’s not yet available from my publisher Shoestring Press, Amazon or other outlets at present, but you can buy a copy directly from me if you go to this page and click the Paypal link. I had some trouble setting up the button, but a twelve year old friend of my son assisted me. The cover price is £10, but I’m offering it for £9.50 including postage and packing. I’ll be reading from the book in London, Leicester and Manchester next month. Please see Readings page for details. Thank you.
If I’d looked it up later that day
I would have found the hollow bone edge
is called the wrist; that a slope descends
to forewing, that overlapping coverts
are lesser, greater, median, and scapulars are where
the back begins. If I could have looked beyond
the raw, torn joint, and stood at the mouth
of my coppice den, to let it fall open
like a satin fan, I’d have seen the perfect shoulder
of the bastard wing, full flush secondaries
and mantel of the hind, each quill
blue black and slickly primed.
But what it lacked was all I saw so I ran,
as rooks mocked and raved
in the ruin of trees.
First published in The North, January 2017.
Today is St. Valentines day, and inspired by poet Emily Blewitt who has posted some of her favourite love poems, here a few of my own favourites.
The first is by Robin Robertson, better know, I would suggest, for his powerfully visceral and dark re-writes of classical myths such as the death of Acteon.
This poem, Primavera is a simply beautiful poem expressing his love for his daughter Kate.
I don’t have a link to the second poem. It is from Rory Waterman’s Carcanet collection, ‘Tonight the Summer’s Over ‘ and is called ‘In the Avenue of Limes.’
I have had the pleasure of reading with Rory several times, and we launched our first collection’s together in Nottingham. At Rory’s suggestion we each
read one of the others poems. I chose this one to read, for among other things its setting ( the lovers are in the National Arboretum) but mostly for it’s wonderful
repeated coda as we leave the couple in the eponymous avenue where’ autumn was falling/ in ceaseless drifts of twos/and fours..’ and ‘ I lost myself in you/
dashing to clutch at flurries/ of washed-out hearts. Dashing/ to clutch at flurries of washed-/ out hearts. Dashing to clutch/ at flurries of washed-out hearts.’
I love the Frank O’Hara’s 1959 poem, ‘Having a Coke with you’ I’m not going to explain why (does anyone need to explain why they love a Frank O’Hara poem?) except to say I think it is brave and again, beautiful. Here is Frank reading it.
I discovered Dannie Abse’s ‘Epithalmion’ when I was researching poems to read on an evening where, with two other poets, I selected and read some favourite love poems in a restaurant.
Dinner was included in the price and we had a wonderful evening! I don’t recall exactly what I selected, but I know it I loved Abse’s poem at first sight. I also challenged myself to read John Donne’s ‘The Sun Rising’ over the profiteroles.
As we all discover if we are lucky, love is not just for the young. This poem is by the late great Tom Duddy who, before his premature death, published some wonderful poems with Happenstance.
Sometimes, when she and I find ourselves
seated just inside the door of the hotel bar,
two or three young women will come prancing in,
all innocence, high-booted glamour, and
dark-eyed casting about, and she must wonder
out of the corner of her eye if I may not be
taking in too much. If she only knew
what a heavenly and carnal peace I feel
as my thoughts withdraw from the bare,
emblazoned backs and sweep down towards
her dear pale hands at rest in her lap, one
cupped inside the other, palm resting open.
No women poets so far. Here is the marvellous Clare Pollard. This poem is from her collection ‘Changeling’
The Caravan .
And here is Miroslav Holub’s ‘Love’. This poem hit me as something completely different. I was a thirteen year old, not particularly interested in poetry. I still love it.
I love ‘Night in Arizona’ by Sarah Howe for it’s quiet, delicate and intense intimacy.
Then there is Edwin Morgan’s sexy ‘Strawberries’ ! And a poem by Maria Taylor that I can’t find at the moment. And ‘Before you Came’ by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. And ‘Nativity’ by Sheri Benning .But time is running out and I must away before the clock strikes again and so finally, because Emily got me started on this, here is one of her poems, featured here in January 2015.
My Colours, by Emily Blewit
First, on my right forearm, a peacock in jade and gold
so when I flick my wrist its feathers unfold
and fan out like the winning hand at cards;
On my left breast, in oyster-grey,
beats the anatomical diagram of a heart;
A tiger’s fierce orange and black stripes stalk my back
to hide the scars, while in plain sight
between my shoulder blades two white wings take off;
On my collarbone a cicada sings
in yellow glory to crimson catkins;
On my right breast, Blodeuwedd, the owl girl with amber eyes
becomes lilac, lavender, foxgloves, daisies,
and above my womb the moon waits in all her phases;
Coiled around my inner thigh a snake hisses, bottle-green,
while at my hips, macaws kiss;
On my right foot, a greyhound sprints straight off the blocks;
At my left heel curls a brown hare and an orange fox;
A mandala in Indian sand circles my elbow;
On my ring finger glitters a diamond in rose gold;
I am strawberry blonde and oriental raven,
an ephemera of red kites wheeling through stormy skies;
Love, when I show you my colours
I am a riot, a cacophony, a bird of paradise, a polka
on mosaic tiles, a gilded kingfisher diving blue.
The proof copy of my second full poetry collection dropped through the letterbox earlier this week.
I’m very pleased with the way it looks and feels. The cover image, which was made for me by art student Ayo Byron, is just what I wanted. I had sent Ayo a few ideas – images of trees and their roots- and asked him to produce something with movement to reflect the title. The title itself comes from a poem of that name, a poem ostensibly about the wind and the fact it knows no borders.
I’m also pleased to say I am happy with the poems and their order. This book is more varied in subject and style and feels more substantial than my last one and I am delighted with the paper quality and overall look and feel of it. But then this high quality is to be expected from my publisher, Shoestring Press. The book will be available to buy in March, and I’ll be launching it and reading with other poets in London, Manchester and Leicester and posting details here nearer to publication.
Over on poet Clare Pollard’s blog this morning Clare has highlighted a number of sources for free poetry including the online magazines Prac Crit and Poetry and Poems in Which . These are great developments, making quality poetry and interviews and articles available to those without the means to obtain it otherwise. I also received a copy of the hefty 188 page print magazine The North this week. I’m pleased to have three poems from my new book in this edition. Now in its thirtieth year, The North continues to prove that high quality print magazines can co-exist and thrive alongside new online formats. Clare also mentions a project called ‘All That’s Ever Happened’ an e-book anthology of New North Poets she was involved in mentoring for the Poetry School. One of the poets included in the anthology is my friend James Giddings, who I met when I studied in Sheffield some years ago and whose poems have featured here before.
‘Free poetry! There’s almost too much of it these days. How am I going to convince people to pay £9.95 when my book comes out in two weeks..’
The cover price of my book is £10, so I too have been wondering about this. But then I’ll certainly be buying Clare’s book. And I would even if it were available free online.
There are several reasons for this. Firstly, while I’m grateful that online magazines and e-books enable me to read a wide variety of poetry for no expense, it is still from the pages of the book in my hand that I most enjoy absorbing poetry.
I appreciate the aesthetic qualities of a physical book, and through my own involvement I am aware of the many hours it takes to produce one. In the case of my own book, there was the time invested by my editor, John Lucas, who carefully read and made notes on the typescript. The typescript was then set by a skilful typesetter who, from the times on the e-mail correspondence I received, seems to be working very late at night and very early in the morning as he fits his company’s work in around other (I imagine more lucrative) employment. Many e-mails were exchanged before the final layout was achieved. Similarly, the young art student I asked to design the cover dedicated many hours to producing and honing the image I wanted. Then I had to write and re-write the poems, which took several years, although not without a break, you understand!
I love poetry books. Volumes are generally slim and unlike novels, several hundred can sit on the bookshelves of a small office. I can take a book down and weight my pocket with it when I go for a walk across the fields, a habit I developed many years ago. If I have an appointment that might involve a wait or train journey, I can slip a poetry collection or two into my bag and know I have this insurance against waiting-room or platform dullness. While on-line poems, magazines and books are a marvellous and convenient development, I still love turning pages, still love the feel of a physical book. Like Brian Patten’s ‘stolen Orange’ , a poetry book, un-reliant on technology or anything other than my eyesight, has always been for me ‘ a safeguard against imagining/ there was nothing bright or special in the world.’
I attach the document to the e-mail. It consists of a title page, acknowledgements page, contents page, fifty-eight poems and a ‘notes’ page, this last being mostly white but for three small paragraphs. I check the attachment has loaded properly, scan the document to make sure nothing has altered. Take a deep breath. My pulse is slightly elevated. In contrast, the book is serenity
itself. It adjusts its seat and headrest, flips down the visor on its helmet, tightens belt buckle and shoulder straps, hits play on the music system. The speakers are off on the monitor but I know the book well enough to guess that it has chosen either ‘Gimme Shelter’ by the Stones or ‘Whole Lotta Love’ by Led Zeppelin. We both know there is no turning back. Only one of us will ever be resigned to this fact. I can delay no longer. We’ll see each other on the other side. Click.
From my hand to the printer’s inbox at a speed of approximately three hundred and six million miles per hour; a lot less than the blink of an eye. There the book will be helped out of its capsule and set into its final format before being printed onto paper. Bound between covers and packed in a bubble wrap envelope, it will return to earth through the letterbox of my front door. I don’t tend to get excited in advance. The day before will do. But it hits me now. Another book, five years on from the last one. Five years. That’s all it took.