Love poems, Uncategorized

Ok. I give in. Here are some love poems

parkhill2

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.  

Nights Out

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 great Animator

Proof

The proof copy of my second full poetry collection dropped through the letterbox earlier this week.

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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.

Clare writes
‘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.’

The great Animator, Uncategorized

Last night I couldn’t sleep for excitment

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.

Uncategorized

‘The Great Animator’.

My new collection, ‘The Great Animator’ will be published in February.

To launch the book I’m delighted and honoured that I’ll be reading with the American poet Michael Waters and the Romanian born poet Mihaela Moscialue. It is worth clicking on the links as above as these are two very interesting and highly regarded poets, and I am looking forward to listening and learning from them both. It is definitely worth clicking on the link to the read the review of Mihaela’s latest book by John Lucas.
John’s style, clarity and forthright opinions are a breath of fresh air in a poetry reviewing culture that often fails to explain why the reviewer thinks something is good or not good, and to incorporate aspects of poetics and wider cultural contexts in a concise, clear and engaging way.

Readings will be at Leicester on March 11th and in London the following week. There may also be a reading in Manchester.

All that remains is to send the typescript to the printer along with the artwork I have commissioned from graphic art student Ayo Byron.

 

Uncategorized

Reading to write – back to Basics

“ I don’t know exactly where ideas come from, but when I’m working well ideas just appear. I’ve heard other people say similar things – so it’s one of the ways I know there’s help and guidance out there. It’s just a matter of our figuring out how to receive the ideas or information that are waiting to be heard.” ― Jim Henson

Jim Henson was of course the genius behind the Muppets. But his thoughts on ideas being mysteriously  ‘out there’ and ‘waiting to be heard’ by those ‘working well’ are echoed by many poets (Alice Oswald articulates the idea in this recent interview). In my own practice I have often found that the poem I wish to keep will arrive on the tail of another poem I have been struggling to write. It is about being receptive, to have all the creative muscles warmed up and ready to receive whatever it is, from wherever that may be.  And surely part of this ‘working well’ , for a poet, is to be reading well. I’ve been wondering lately, if my ability to ‘receive’ has been impaired by wading in the stream of internet communication.

It is seven years since a poem I had written first appeared in print. At the time I was not on Facebook or Twitter, and I had no smart-phone or tablet. I used the internet sparingly and when I did it was predominantly to research poetry magazines or to look up poets. I was still working days, nights and weekends as a nurse in a coronary care unit and had little time for anything else. At some point in the preceding five or six years, on a visit to the local bookshop with my baby son, I discovered contemporary poetry. As well as my role in the team at the hospital, I was a full-time dad and sole carer to my son for two days a week. So my first ‘serious’ attempts at writing poems had to fit around nursing, building towers with bricks, pushing a swing in an empty windswept park, changing nappies, spooning mush and so-on.

Two years on from that first poem publication in the Rialto magazine and a few publications later, I won a competition and had a pamphlet published as part of the prize. A year after that my first full collection appeared. Gradually I caught up with social media developments. I joined Facebook and was befriended by and friended hundreds of poets, many of whom I had never met. I learnt  not to be drawn into debates or arguments where misunderstandings were likely to occur. One comment on a thread might lead to countless updates that filled my e-mail inbox as people joined the conversation.  I subscribed to blogs and newsletters, found my inbox clogged, and unsubscribed. I became aware of research that highlighted the dopamine rush that occurs when people ‘like’ your posts. I enjoyed the feeling of connection to an online ‘community’. I shared my news and triumphs and was moved by heartfelt responses. I highlighted causes I thought important, vented anger over political events in an environment where I soon realised that my views were unlikely to be challenged since the majority of my online friends were involved in the delivery of state education and healthcare. I gradually became aware that just logging on to see what was happening could take me to news stories that might potentially distract and detract from writing or reading anything of real quality.

Despite my increased internet use, I continued to write and send work for publication. I’ve been told I am a prolific writer, and am pleased that a second collection is due out in a couple of months. Recently I began to question the value of time spent on the internet and particularly its impact on my writing output. After all, I started to write poems, to send them out and be published, without any ‘connections’.  I learnt by reading. I wrote by writing. I didn’t have the means, nor the need, to share any achievements and had not developed a Pavlovian dopamine release response to ‘likes’ and kind comments.  Not that I’m knocking the value of receiving generous and unsolicited praise and support which has buoyed me on many occasions.  Nor am I suggesting that a total cold turkey long-term withdrawal from social media, or from the internet in general, would suit me.  I’m not entirely sure that I have the will or the willpower.

addiction

Social media can serve various positive functions in facilitating contact and sharing information. It can be a place where writers can express themselves and receive support and encouragement.  However, apart from proving to be a distraction in benign ways, one aspect of social media is the potential to lead users to make unhealthy comparisons with those who are ‘doing well’ – winning prizes, being published, reading at festivals, delivering workshops etc. In the inevitable lull between the next publication or reading, it easy for anyone, even someone who is doing relatively well (and I include myself in this category) to feel that the poetry world is one non-stop party from which they are excluded, a party full of interlocking acquaintances and friends, all of whom are enjoying more ‘success’ than them. Despite having thought carefully and written about ‘success‘ in poetry , I am not immune to such pitfalls.

Poetry is a slow art. Reading poetry requires undivided attention. It is a means of communicating that is probably the antithesis of the super-fast communication highways that now infiltrate most people’s waking lives.

I feel very positive about certain aspects of my internet engagement. I enjoy writing this blog and find it useful and hope it is useful to others. Among its other functions, it is a place where I can clarify thoughts such as these. And of course even ‘idle’ browsing of the Internet can reveal thought provoking articles or information that can enhance writing.   Generally I think it is good to connect and engage via the Internet. As long as this doesn’t become a major time consuming preoccupation.

I began this piece by recollecting how I started out writing poems; by reading them, and by working away when I could, without distraction.  Somewhere, I forget where, I read that anyone thinking of writing poems should read all the poetry books on their shelf before starting to write. I am aware that I don’t read nearly enough, and that several collections I’ve bought of late have not received sufficient attention or thought.
So I’ll start there.

Here is a simple poem by Wendell Berry, with a simple message.

How to Be a Poet

(to remind myself)

i

Make a place to sit down.

Sit down. Be quiet.

You must depend upon

affection, reading, knowledge,

skill—more of each

than you have—inspiration,

work, growing older, patience,

for patience joins time

to eternity. Any readers

who like your poems,

doubt their judgment.

 

ii

Breathe with unconditional breath

the unconditioned air.

Shun electric wire.

Communicate slowly. Live

a three-dimensioned life;

stay away from screens.

Stay away from anything

that obscures the place it is in.

There are no unsacred places;

there are only sacred places

and desecrated places.

 

iii

Accept what comes from silence.

Make the best you can of it.

Of the little words that come

out of the silence, like prayers

prayed back to the one who prays,

make a poem that does not disturb

the silence from which it came.

From the Poetry Foundation  

 

Uncategorized

The fab four, smoke and Montale

I enjoyed the recently released Beatles documentary, ‘Eight Days A Week’  earlier this evening.

beatlesmovieposter

As a Beatles fan from a very early age, I didn’t learn anything new about the band or the times they lived in.  I was surprised, however, by the raw energy of their early performances, and once more impressed that the band could sing and play in time and in tune without being able to hear each other or themselves over the legions of screaming fans.  This level of achievement was not only due to their considerable individual talents as musicians, but also a result of their five year apprenticeship at clubs in the their home town and especially in Hamburg, where they played for up to twelve hours at a time. I always remember this when I hear how an artist arrived from nowhere. No one, in any field can get that great without a lot of graft.
Months before their last official concert on the 29th of August, 1966 ( the day I was born) the band had become sick of touring and wanted to spend more time experimenting with new sounds in the studio. What came across through this film was that inside the bubble of madness and mayhem that surrounded the band, they were very close. It was their humour and laddish bonhomie that enabled them to maintain their sanity and just about keep their feet on the ground. Another thing that struck me was the way the Beatles, and almost everyone in their circle, seemed to be continuously smoking. In one interview George Harrison sits behind John Lennon and mischievously and repeatedly taps ash on the latter’s mop top. And of course George Harrison sadly died of lung cancer at the age of fifty-eight.
In the UK and elsewhere,  legislation and vapour cigarettes have lead to great changes. In the nineteen eighties the canteen at my further education college, the cinema, the top deck of the bus, pubs, restaurants and my first work places were all filled with smoke. I even knew a heart surgeon at the tail end of the 1990’s who would light up in the staffroom before and after an operation.
I have two ‘smoking’ poems for you. The first is a translation of a Eugenio Montale poem that featured in the Italian translation section of the excellent ‘High Window’ magazine last year.

station

As I write this there is a fog outside, and I’m thinking of the black and white England of that Beatles film; of the foggy, cold and smoky railway stations where a young Paul Simon, visiting from the USA,  wrote ‘Homeward Bound’ as he waited for a train with his ‘cigarettes and magazines ‘.  The second poem is from my first book, ‘The Sun Bathers’ , published in 2013.

In the Smoke

after Montale

I’d often wait at the station, coughing
in the cold and fog, buy a paper
not worthy of the name, smoke cigarettes
that came in those bright packets
the fools have now banned.
If your train was cancelled or delayed
I’d watch carriages as they strobed past,
scan faces on the platform
until I saw yours, nearly always last.
It’s just one of the memories
that haunt me in dreams.

I Dreamt of Smoking 

the long abandoned sense of time
measured and slowed to a cigarette’s length;
necessity and luxury, the sparked up camaraderie
of bus shelter, fire-escape, a doorway in the rain.

My dream was not a pining for breath given substance,
for jellyfish pulsing in a projector’s beam,
nor for rituals of unwrapping, tapping and rolling,
or buried addiction, risen again.

But I know the source; it was you of course,
it was the two of us, smoking.

 

THe Dark Horse, Uncategorized

The Dark Horse

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I’ve been very much enjoying Gerry Cambridge’s account of the first twenty years of his journal ‘The Dark Horse’.  Available from Happenstance Press, this is a beautifully produced book utilising elegant typefaces and layout. This is fitting since Cambridge is a specialist in print design and typography. Illustrations include front covers as well as correspondence from and portraits of, many of the characters involved in the magazine’s story.  This book is a must read for anyone who is involved or thinking of becoming involved in  poetry magazines, and it will also be of interest to anyone who has ever purchased or submitted to a ‘little magazine’ .

Cambridge is a fine prose writer and his light and witty style makes for a lively read.  As well as details of the natty-gritty of obtaining finance and the physical aspects of printing and distributing a little magazine, there are sketches of the  (mostly memorably idiosyncratic)  poets and critics he has encountered along the way.
Other topics include poetry politics, cliques and prize-giving culture, the relationship between poetry and academia, and issues of editorial independence.  If all this sounds a little too niche for the general reader, it isn’t. The book moves swiftly from one anecdote or topic to the next, and the writing is often elegant and never less than nimble.
As an occasional reviewer of poetry, I was particularly interested in the section that touched on that subject.  When considering who to approach to write reviews, Cambridge states that he likes to ‘ assign books about which honest opinions may not be forthcoming to more senior, less easily impressed critics. They blow through the smothering hype around much current poetry, which is often mutually congratulatory, like a gust of January air through a mim-moue’d cocktail party. ‘ I must admit that I don’t know what ‘mim-moue’d’ means, but I get the gist. Cambridge continues

‘It is not that such critics are deliberately combative; they are merely unafraid. Fear of creating offence is a major issue in the contemporary poetry world, which is a relatively small boat; rock it, and you may be thrown overboard. And there is no large, popular readership to be validated by; there is only the sea.’

Cambridge implies that contributors (such as my own editor and publisher John Lucas, who has occasionally written for the ‘Horse’ over the years, ) had and have the integrity and independence to write candidly. These are reviewers who  ‘enjoy, indeed, relish swimming’ in the aforementioned sea, and their lack of fear allows the sort of writing that might eloquently point out that an emperor of the poetry world is in ‘the altogether.’

Cambridge’s anecdotes of his encounters and exchanges of opinion with the great and good often have a sense of mischievous glee, as he depicts quirks of personality and points of contention over literary matters. He is also keen to point out his own moments of ignorance and naiveté as he navigated various poetry worlds equipped with nothing more than with what he subsequently came to see as misplaced confidence.

It is clear that Cambridge enjoys his status as a poetry outsider; as a non-academia (he is self-educated) who can hold his own in academic circles, as a Scot with Irish heritage, as a poet and publisher geographically removed from the London-centric poetry elites, and as someone who has created and sustained a well-regarded journal through nothing other than passion and perseverance.  It is also clear that he has frequently re-evaluated the direction and values of the magazine in order that The Dark Horse evolves and reflects developments in the wide worlds of poetry.

Cambridge concludes

‘Like poetry itself, at heart a poetry magazine is a celebration of the human spirit beyond awards, issues of reputation and all the attendant palaver. It is a free space of expression that transcends commercialism and other involved interests. It aims for the high ranges even as it scrabbles in the foothills.’

While reading this book I remembered that George Harrison named his record label ‘Dark Horse’. And later that morning I encountered another dark horse.  Crossing a field, I came to a stile where this chap stood and refused to budge. I didn’t fancy trying to get past his head and navigate the space between his ample flank and the fence.  I reasoned with him for a while before deciding on a three-field detour. I thought how Gerry Cambridge’s choice of name for his journal was not only apt for the reasons he gave – ‘the outsider ,  the unknown quantity, the unexpected winner’.Perhaps it also reflects a certain dogged determination to stand and remain exactly where one wishes, regardless of persuasion, expectation or unrecognised command.

 

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A dark horse

Uncategorized

John Foggin’s ‘Much Possessed’

much-possesed
Sometimes I’m lucky enough to  buy a book of poems that is so compelling that, time allowing, I’ll have to read the whole collection in one go. This sort of collection transports me into another world (or worlds) so completely that everything else has to be put on hold.  Books like this tend to confirm our essential ‘aloneness’ while making the world seem a less lonely place.
Here is John Berger writing about poems in his book ‘and our faces, my heart, brief as photos’ 

‘Poems…bring a kind of peace. Not by anaesthesia or easy reassurance, but by recognition and the promise that language is acknowledged, has given shelter, to the experience which demanded, which cried out.’

John Foggin’s new collection is a book full of such poems. I wanted to share my enthusiasm for the book and so I recently contacted a magazine editor friend of mine to ask if I could review it. I was somewhat relived when I found the book had already been sent for review. Why? Because I don’t really want to write an analysis of something I am still marvelling at. I just want to enjoy it!  Also, this is a complex and lengthy collection and it would be very hard to do it justice in a 500 word piece. So instead I’ll write a few words here.

At 81 pages ‘Much Possessed’ travels far and wide, geographically, historically, spiritually, emotionally. It draws on biblical stories and figures to take on and re-imagine some of the great myths and stories from feminist and humanist perspectives, through eyes that have evidently seen much but are still lit up by the unfathomable mystery and joy of living in all its difficulty and wonder. Like D.H Lawrence’s incredible poem ‘Snake’, Foggin’s ‘Whether it cared or not’ and ‘A Dry Place’ are breath-taking challenges to theological dogma that are driven by a compassionate need to question what has been handed down.

This book is packed with poems of love, hope, celebration and endurance. It is articulate and illuminating, full of warmth, tenderness and toughness, exploration, courage, humility and humanity. Did I mention the craft involved? Well, can you imagine me being so enthused if it wasn’t a superbly crafted book of poetry? I’ve been carrying a copy around with me for a while now to ward off the darkness, both very real and of my own making. ‘Much Possessed’  is a superb achievement.

 

Uncategorized

Politics, poetry

2016 has been a tumultuous year in western politics. Here in the UK the repercussions of referendum result on leaving the European Union are yet to be understood.
Then there was the American election result which seems to have come as a shock to so many.
There has been much debate on the role of media- ‘mainstream’ and other-  and coining of terms such as ‘post-truth’ (lying), and ‘fake news’ (previously known as propaganda.)

As always, when events are perceived as unprecedented or representing a radical shift of some kind, there arises discussion about the relevance of poetry and its ability to reflect and respond to events. I’ve read several pieces about this, and have looked to poetry for solace, for precedence, for echoes, for sense.

Here is the poet Ocean Vuong –

“The reading of poetry is in itself an act of political resistance to the mainstream. Particularly in this election cycle, where there is this great anxiety for certainty. What is your position? What is your stance? Why are you flip-flopping? There’s an anxiety of certainty and power and boldness . But poetry acknowledges the true complexity of what it means to be human, which is that nothing is ever that certain.”

Another take on poetry and politics, or more specifically how to feel useful and engaged in a ‘time of crisis’ , can be found here.  I can relate to some of this article, but can’t help thinking that a lot of people were living in times of ‘crisis’ before the results of elections in the US shook up their world view. Don’t get me wrong. I am not complacent or immune to anxiety over recent developments. I’ve had recurring nightmares about Nazis which I imagine came about after hearing of the rise of white supremacists and their increased profile and apparent proximity to power in Europe and the United States. I worry about climate change and its denial. However, it is simplistic to think that all was well yesterday and that everything has suddenly changed for the worse.  Many people live under threat because of their gender, religion or race, or because of lack of access to basic sanitation and healthcare. The richest countries supply the arms that fuel conflicts in which civilians suffer.

I met a friend of mine recently who said that with ‘everything’ going on she couldn’t possibly write poems. I understood what she meant and thought of Adorno, German sociologist, philosopher , musicologist and composer, and of his statement, often, it seems quoted out of context, that ‘ there can be no poetry after Auschwitz. ‘

This is a huge area for philosophical debate and if I recommend visiting this site and particularly the comments section, if you are interested in the discussion and interpretation of this statement.

In his brilliant and wide-ranging article ‘A Politics of Mere Being’ for this month’s Poetry Chicago, the poet Carl Phillips writes

‘I know political has chiefly, as a word, to do with governing — and usually, more specifically, the governing of an entity such as a nation, a body of citizens — from the Greek politikos, relating to citizens, the people of the state, polis in Greek.’

Another definition might be that politics is about who gets what, when and why.

There are thousands of overtly political poems, poems that addresses issues or situations by name, that are powerful and memorable. A poem like Neruda’s ‘I’m explaining a few things’ which he wrote in response to the bombing of Guernica in the Spanish Civil war, bears witness to an inhumane act.  It contrasts many aspects of the complex and simple beauty of the city’s daily life prior to the atrocity with the destruction and suffering in the aftermath of the bombing. It is a timeless piece that serves as a monument, and sadly, remains relevant as an expression of disgust and horror.

Neruda is a great poet and was able, I think,  to write a worthy response to this event.  Not all poets can achieve this. Political poems can lack subtlety. They might read as ‘preachy’, or appear to tell the reader what to think.  The same is true, for example of songs. Although John Lennon wrote some great ones, his “Power to the People” is not one of them.  Perhaps at the other end of the scale is ” Strange Fruit“,  first recorded by the great Billie Holiday in the late nineteen thirties. The lyrics were originally a poem, written by American writer, teacher and songwriter Abel Meerpol. Meeropol had seen a photograph of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Indiana, and wrote his poem, which he  later set to music, to express his horror.

The heading of this post is ‘politics, poetry’ and I’m aware I’m rambling a bit. Perhaps a consideration of the interaction of these two subjects would be better suited to a thesis or two.

Definitions of the ‘political’ can extend into every aspect of human life. Accusations of poetry’s failure to respond to the ‘political’  seem to discount the recent increase in the diversity of voices being heard in British and American poetry- voices that arise from a wider range of gender and racial perspectives than previously heard; voices that articulate a wider range of experience.

As a contemporary writer it is possible to wonder if one is responding ‘well enough’ to political events. To feel that one is somehow failing to articulate responses to disturbing events. I recently picked up a second-hand copy of The Faber book of Reportage.

faber-book-of-reportage

It is full of incredible eye-witness accounts that served to remind me (and it is a reflection on my distance from such events that
I might need reminding ) that barbarism on a huge scale is as old as the human race. This ongoing inhumanity has never prevented the celebration of its beauty in art. We have Neruda’s civil war poem, and we also have his love poems. We have Picasso’s  ‘Guernica’. We also have his ‘Child with dove’.

guernica-1937

I suppose I am trying to articulate the rather obvious idea that not every artist can respond to ‘political’ events by producing ‘political’ art. However, I believe it is important for writers and artists of all kinds to respond to inhumanity and humanity on whatever scale they can, and by exploring their daily lives, to add, if they have the freedom and means to do so, their unique voice to the ongoing record of human experience.

Carl Philips articulates this far better than I can. Here he is again.

‘ A reason to broaden the definition of political is because each individual is different, and our poems will necessarily reflect that. In a democracy, that seems to me to mean that those who must write as witness to the savagery of, say, war should do so — that’s part of the record of what it means to be alive right now in 2016. So too, though, is the intimacy between a parent and child, so too is the agony of private despair that can blind us to what also counts as part of life — joy, in its myriad forms. To be alive has never been one thing, any more than a period of history is. At the same time, people are complex creatures, and we manifest our sensibilities in many ways. Writing is just one of them. …. How is it not political, to be simply living one’s life meaningfully, thoughtfully, which means variously in keeping with, in counterpoint to, and in resistance to life’s many parts? To insist on being who we are is a political act — if only because we are individuals, and therefore inevitably resistant to society, at the very least by our differences from it…. as we all should, if collectively we are to be an accurate reflection of what it will have been like to have lived in this particular time as our many and particular selves.’

There are lots of resources related to this massive topic here.

I’d welcome any thoughts. Thank you.

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New book


I have a book coming out in March 2017. So I’m going to toot my own trumpet for a moment.

Where did this book come from? Well, I’m not entirely sure! Apart from one poem I had left over from the last book, all the poems in this one were written and rewritten over the three years since ‘The Sun Bathers’ was published. Only one poem was generated in a writing workshop.  

As with the last collection, I’ve kept poems circulating to magazines. As I write this, forty-five of fifty-seven poems in this collection have been published. Since the last collection in 2013, magazines that taken my work for the first time included Ambit, Poetry Wales, Stand and The Manchester Review. Poems were also taken by new magazines that appeared during this period including The High window, The Compass, Clear Poetry, and Nottingham’s Lucifer magazine, due to be launched next week. I was also pleased to have poems in favourites of mine like The Rialto, The North, New Walk, Magma and The Interpreter’s House. Several poems have appeared in anthologies. Seven or eight of these published poems have been left out of the book, for various reasons.  Other poems in the collection have received competition prizes from judges including the poets Liz Berry, Clare Pollard, Don Patterson, Pascale Petit, Helen Ivory, Ruth Fainlight and Dalgit Nagra.  Once again, several poet friends have cast an eye over individual poems and one or two offered to look at  the manuscript and their names will be in the acknowledgments. All that remains is to finalize the title and artwork with my publisher.  As I found out with the last book, none of this seems real until you hold a copy in your hand. Writing this helps. Thank you for reading.