I’ve put in some miles this week. On Tuesday I was in Sheffield’s lovely Bath Hotel, a public house with a beautiful backroom bar that felt like a front room.
This was the best kind of poetry event, with a host of poets gathering to read and listen in intimate and elegant surroundings. The hat was passed to cover the expenses of guest poets Jo Bell, Maria Taylor and me, and the audience was full of friends I’d got to know over the years, including John Foggin, Liz Cashden, Linda Gould, Julie Mellor and Joe Caldwell. I’ve been a fan of Maria Taylor’s for years, and as well as a wealth of poems from around the room it was great to hear both her and Jo read.
On Friday I drove down to Oxford for the launch of Martin Malone’s Shoestring Press collection ‘Cur’.
Martin is co-editor with Charles Lauder of the Interpreter’s House poetry magazine, and you can read an interview with him about his editorship and poetry in a previous post on this blog,
The launch took place at the fabulous Albion Beatnik Bookshop.
I used to visit my girlfriend in Oxford in the 1980’s. She was a student at the Polytechnic, and I’d arrive by National Express Coach and later by rusty and unreliable 1967 MG Midget. In her second year she lived above a bakers in Cowley road. The room had a damp patch on the wall that she covered with a poster of Jim Morrison. There was a two-bar electric heater and the bakers would start making noise at about 5am. There is a poem about all this in my pamphlet ‘Gopagilla’. Once or twice I went busking in town with my guitar. Anyway, I was feeling slightly nostalgic about all this as I wandered past the Eagle and Child and down to the bookshop. I like to arrive early to most things if I can. I popped in and bought a Les Murray selected, bumping into the poet Jamie Mckendrick in the process and having a chat about translation and living in Italy. I’ve been referring to Jamie’s Faber book of 20th-Century poems recently so it was interesting to talk to him about that and about his experience of living in Naples. I showed him a picture I’d purchased in the Ashmolean Museum earlier and he recognised the rooftops.
Then I left Jamie and Dennis (the owner of the Beatnik) in peace and wandered back into town where I fortuitously bumped into Sigfried Baber, poet and friend of Martin’s who had traveled up from Bath to attend the launch and read one or two poems of his own. Also reading at the event were Hilda Sheenan, Joesephine Corcoran, Robin Houghton and Keith Hutson. It was great to absorb the unique atmosphere of the Albion and have a chat before the event in which all Martin’s invited guests read two or three poems. I chose to read ‘Wilfred Owen’s last letter’ from my collection ‘The Sun Bathers’, as Martin is currently working on a PHD related to the Great war poets.
After superb readings from Josephine, Robin, Hilda, Siegfried and Keith (the later two both featured poets on this blog) Martin thanked us all for coming and read ten poems from ‘Cur’.
I’d seen and heard Martin read before so I knew his new book would be good. But this morning, waking early and taking an hour or so to read some of it I found I was unprepared for how good it is. Writing reviews is time-consuming and hard work and it’s getting late so I won’t attempt a mini-review at the moment as I’d want to do justice to this fine and very varied collection. I will say that it is full of brave, naked expressions of love and affection (‘Like I was your Girlfriend’) wonderfuly elegant love poems (‘Spoil’) and many witty and politically and historically based poems as well as poems about music and art, all laced with easily worn learning and touches of endering self-effacment. I have asked Martin if I could post a poem or two and he kindly agreed so here are a couple of my favourites.
The hedgerow was Dad’s cashpoint; from it
he’d casually withdraw the small currencies
of wonder: my first finch egg, sheep skulls,
an old wren’s nest, the dunnock’s four way
clutch of blue.
Slum-cleared city kid,
he had ranged the estate margins into edgelands
to forage new-found greenery: suck marrow
from deciduous bones, lap time like stolen cream.
What he really handed me was some final flourish
of golden-summer cliché, out-of-step with these times.
No point, then, but the passing on of breakable things.
Seven AM in Piazza Plebescito,
not the human figure but long shadows
cast in this bronze light of April morning.
Freeze the frame. Bookshop owner opening
up on Piazza Dante, the Crib Street
assistant with her new lover to meet,
a Mergellina fisherman dropping
off fresh vongole, the Vomero lawyer
and Caremar sailor bound for Ischia:
ghosts of the unreal city, thin as nails.
He’d make your head look like the blade of a knife.
‘Cur ‘ is available from Shoestring Press.