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Category Archives: English Poetry

The Years by Jamie McKendrick (Arc Publications)

The Years by Jamie McKendrick (Arc Publications)

Jamie McKendrick’s enthralling new pamphlet merges visual art and language in an osmosis that allows interference but, at the same time, keeps the two elements at ‘an unsocial distance’, as the author claims in the foreword. His hope ‘is that image and poem can speak to each other without losing their autonomy’. The two media of communication are in conversation with each other, alluding to different perspectives and multiple interpretations. This gives space to multi-layered meanings and to a sense of ambiguity which seems embedded in the human condition.

     McKendrick has published seven poetry collections and won the Forward Prize for Best Collection in 1997 for Marble Fly and the Hawthorne Prize in 2012 for Out There. He is also an editor, reviewer and translator. He has translated Il romanzo di Ferrara by Giorgio Bassani and Valerio Magrelli’s poems (The Embrace, Faber and Faber, 2009), the latter translation winning the Oxford-Weidenfeld and the John Florio prizes, and Antonella Anedda’s poems (Archipelago, Bloodaxe, 2014). His essays on poetry, art and translations are collected in The Foreign Connection (Legenda, 2020).

     His thoughts and strategies for translation reflect in part his poetical practice. It alternates between free and loose interpretation which expresses ‘a feeling’ of the original text and a discipline that is connected to the literary tradition but reshapes or challenges it in a personal yet universal way. His translations take liberties and make deviations without betraying the core of the text. Therefore, adherence to the original does not exclude invention in a mobility that grants the possibility of further explorations in a different context.

     In the poems of The Years there is a sense of decay that alternates with an unquenched yearning for hope in a possible future renewal or reconstruction that nevertheless struggles to surface:

I know the feeling. I feel the knowledge

of that heron. The world is a con.

My quiff quivers. My shoulders hunch. My beak

is sharp as a tack, as a hatchet’s edge

but nothing swims or glints or gazes back 

beneath the surface of the pond I scan.          (‘Nothing Doing’)

     It is a stagnant world that has no answers to the poet’s existential questioning. This quotidian situation is symbolised in the River Mersey, which flows through Liverpool, his birth town, in its ‘immemorial miseries’ and ‘shadow layered on shadow’. In this bleak vision some structures are miraculously intact: a viaduct in the bombed city, an inscription on a tombstone ‘obscured//by bramble and weeds’. The overgrown vegetation metaphorically takes advantage of the neglect and abandonment that is particularly present during the pandemic. Language, poetic language that is connected with the literary tradition, and the inscriptions pencilled in the last picture, ‘L’amore che move il sole e l’altre stelle’ (the last line of Dante’s Paradiso, the last Cantica of the Divine Comedy), seem to be the barriers that humanity erects against failure and destruction. It is a complex construction that in Dante’s work is eventually resolved in God’s dazzling and embracing light that smooths all contradictions in a flooding love. In McKendrick’s poem, Dante’s words cannot be read on the headstone, which is significantly obscured by ‘an ugly shrub’.

     The frequent literary references throughout the poems not only allude to Dante’s work but also to that of Elizabeth Bishop, Pliny the Elder, Ibn Zamrak, and André Kartész’s photography as well as to Petrarch and Thomas Hardy in the epigraph. Thomas Hardy is also a point of reference in the dialogue between images and words that McKendrick found in Hardy’s Wessex Poems. McKendrick’s pictures are in ink and watercolour on paper with the occasional use of crayon and collage. They were created before or after each poem featured in the pamphlet and, as the author claims, the two media should ideally be ‘indistinguishable’ or ‘as though [the pictures] were made by an entirely different person’. The pictures are crowded with images at times and rather unsettling; at other times they are well defined, especially the ones featuring well-proportioned buildings, but most of them are blurred in a graffiato technique of sorts. The marks are layered one on top of the other as if the artist is trying to make sense of the human condition through memories of past years but above all through a relentless observation and recording of the present that is mapped in pictures and words. Our world looks like a labyrinth where ‘obstacles proliferate’. 

     Nevertheless, hope emerges from the futility of the contingent in the dialogue with a possible other person, a reader or another artist. In this conversation, McKendrick remarks ‘that only you/could understand the images’ which allow ‘the scattered city rising from its ruins’ (‘Viaduct’, Homage to André Kartész). There is a requirement, therefore, for a possible renewal and consequent recovery; it is a desire to gain understanding through keen observation and exploration that nevertheless cannot avoid pitfalls. Thus, despair and espoir mix in a ‘cheerful, desperate vista’ of two peaks the poet cannot distinguish. This reveals again the open and multi-layered vision delineated in McKendrick’s thought-provoking lines.

Carla Scarano D’Antonio 11th May 2021

Back to the Future 8th May Conference Videos

The Tears in the Fence one-day conference on Saturday 8th May 2021 promises a dazzling selection of readings and conversation and we greatly look forward to welcoming you.

In between our sessions, we would like to offer this video intermission. You will find below a list of poetry films that has been collated by the festival team. In between sessions and after the festival, please feel free to continue your poetic explorations by dipping into as many of these as you like.

This blog post is a collaborative space. We invite you to add comments with recommendations of any poetry films you think should be a part of this list.

Warmest wishes,

The Tears in the Fence Festival team.

Special thanks to Andrew Henon for collating this list.

Poetry Films

Short history of poetry film introduced by Chaucer Cameron https://poetryfilmlive.com/5587-2/

‘Hooked’ Chaucer Cameron https://poetryfilmlive.com/5587-2/

‘Kobe’ Chaucer Cameron & Helen Dewbery https://chaucercameron.com/poetry/

‘Solitude’ Karen Dews / Benjamin One https://vimeo.com/404267151

‘Working class riots’ Karen Dews / Benjamin One https://vimeo.com/407916970

‘I think about your hands’ Marina Kazakova https://poetryfilmlive.com/i-think-about-your-hands/

‘Neap tide’ Abegail Morley filmed by Helen Dewbery 

https://elephantsfootprint.com/film-poems/neap-tide/

‘Vellatthinu Mukalile Thavala/ Paani Par Mendhak’ Rajesh James

https://elephantsfootprint.com/wild-whispers-project/rajesh-james-india/

A selection of poetry films from Andrew Henon including ‘New levels’ ‘Admirable red’ ‘Summer solstice black Lives Matter 2020’ ‘Summer Solstice 2018’ ‘The art of memory’ ‘Swim Lanes’ ‘Dynamic flow form’ and a selection of interviews. 

https://andrewhenon.wordpress.com/poetry-films/

Wild Whispers transnational project 

https://elephantsfootprint.com/wild-whispers-project/

The Snow Q Project: Maria Jastrzebska

https://snowqproject.wordpress.com/filmpoems/

The Great Margin Poetry Films:

Hari Marini’s Poetry Films, in particular Spirals: Autoportret:

‘Playground of Learning’ by Beth Calverley with Lyra Festival

https://www.facebook.com/lyrabristol/videos/503768653969403 or https://twitter.com/LyraFest/status/1381645788300910597

Marvin Thompson’s Triptych for The Outposted Project

https://www.theoutpostedproject.com/highlights/triptych

‘Hove Lawns to Brighton Pier’ – Joanna Nissel

A Series of Poetry Films and Readings by Dialect Writers for International Women’s Day

Staying Human: New Poems for Staying Alive Edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books)

Staying Human: New Poems for Staying Alive Edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books)

Perhaps going against the grain, for a book with a more popular following, indeed maybe people who don’t often read poetry, rather than for its critical reception I’ve found this book quite vital and engaged and indeed, to my ears, broaching new ground for poetry’s place including in the quite diverse market of anthologies, a Bloodaxe specialism.

Arguably Neil Astley’s now four volumes of the Staying Alive series, from 2002, is the most impacting mainstream venture in poetry publishing possibly since the Hughes/Heaney Rattle Bag. The emphasis here as there is on the single poem. Rattle Bag was organised alphabetically by poem title. I’d say thankfully Astley has not done so and the poems here are arranged thematically under ten headings with a poets’ index. 

I think a difficulty arises in pitching either too high or low. Readers might have high expectations of these poems, but they are very human with human qualities and flaws, hardly the Psalms of David. I think a little time and poring over the book makes that all too apparent.

Having ten sections to contend with I think is actually a merit. Each comes with a short editorial introduction. Speaking of first and last I think the opening is a little underachieved, the conclusion nearly persuasive once we get to it.

So, very briefly, Tom Leonard (d2018) first up presents us with,-

            not to be complicit

            not to accept everyone else is silent it must be alright

            not to keep one’s mouth shut to hold onto one’s job

            not to accept public language as cover and decoy   (beginning ‘Being a Human Being’, p22)

This is something of a call to the creative impulse to remain critical and engaged, ie not just parrot what we’re taught or told but to use our independent faculties. It does seem to me a mite understated, but actually on going through the rest of the book it holds up remarkably well. This is something of the sense of what it says ‘to be human’.

The book actually covers a great deal of humanist ground, with a stress on empathy and relating and recognising those relational qualities in poems that deal with how we think and feel. Astley chooses to end with the poet Nick Drake and the ecocrisis, with a poem called ‘The Future’, though Astley adroitly names this section with the question mark, ‘The Future?’. 

            Think of me not as a wish or a nightmare

            but as a story you have to tell yourselves   (p499)

A standout I think is ‘Conversations about Home’ by Warsan Shire, and her prose poem has some remarkable lines like ‘Sometimes it feels like someone else is wearing my body.’ (p419) This is from section 8 called ‘Roots and Routes’ which has those resonances of where we feel we belong.

An excessively critical voice would doubtless deride some of these efforts as too populist and accessible, not enough craft on offer. But there are very reputable poets here besides, like Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, Vahni Capildeo, Ruth Padel and James Berry, one could go on. If I have some modest misgiving it is perhaps that the emphasis on poems not books speaks a little to the very contemporary and the fleeting foreground of awareness, although perhaps reading some of the fine poems on exhibit here might lead the inquisitive further to books by the collected, comingling authors.

Clark Allison 30th April 2021

The English Strain (Shearsman Books) by Robert Sheppard & Bad Idea (KFS Press) by Robert Sheppard

The English Strain (Shearsman Books) by Robert Sheppard & Bad Idea (KFS Press) by Robert Sheppard

This, I’d say, is uniquely charged, recondite poetry that both hovers over and sharply reenvisages the English sonnet in a nearly scholarly way, but is also remarkably engaging, bawdy, risqué and contemporary. The two books are complementary and contribute to a trilogy, full title English Strain, of which the pending British Standards marks the third part.

The effort is marked by interwoven threads, as it were. The roots of the project pertain to the rewriting, dubbing or transposing of sonnets, setting up with Petrarch’s third, reproduced here, but thence moving on to other notables of the English form: Wyatt, Surrey, Milton, Charlotte Smith and Elizabeth Barrett Browning for the Shearsman volume, and Michael Drayton, rather underrated, for Bad Idea.

The whole is a highly unusual combination of ribaldry and finesse. It’s also pretty much all in the sonnet form of the Petrarchan variety, which for all its stateliness risks being overcome by farce; there are lookin parts for contemporary politicians such as Theresa May and Boris Johnson. There is a brooding disquiet about what is fairly uncompromisingly seen as the folly of Brexit.

But more than that it is nonetheless just an indulgent pleasure to read, and the sifting through or romp via historical progress tends to keep it all on the rails. Try for instance,-

            Petrarchan petting! At the end of the poem he gives her away

            like an evil relative at a shot-gun wedding. I wish he’d done

            something with this poem. I wish I’d done something

            with my life, like jousting or a tourney             (p91)

where the irreverent mockery looms apparent. 

It is pleasing also and appropriate that English Strain moves chronologically, with the opening epigraph from Drayton.-

            My muse is rightly of the English straine,

            That cannot long one fashion intertaine.      (p6)

I’d say what we find is a considerable amount of libidinal energy and direction hewn according to the formal model of the sonnet form, so we get a fascinating mixture of the eruptive and the contained coterminously. There’s also a good amount not just of Westminster politics here but also gender relational controversies, which might be particularly fitting given the sonnet’s role as a mode for finding courtly favour. And a mite unlike Boccaccio, Petrarch was often studious and exacting, that is that the form must have it to the end. It is as if Sheppard is addressing this language by testing how suitable and appropriate it is to our times, which indeed it remains so, or not far off, perhaps more Machiavelli than Dante, however. It is a very effective trawl through history. But Sheppard throughout is agile, not easily pinned down. He is also adept at inhabiting a variety of poeticising voices, so that the Charlotte Smith, say, is just as fluent and persuasive as the few Milton poems here. Would Woolf’s Orlando be too wild a comparison, although Flush is in Sheppard’s bibliography? An obvious source book framing the issues here is also the Reality Street Book of Sonnets. I think then that this is very accomplished poetry at the innovative end of things, reworking literary contemporaneity with the irrefutable force of historical embeddedness.

Clark Allison 27th April 2021

In An Ideal World I’d Not Be Murdered by Chaucer Cameron (Against The Grain Press)

In An Ideal World I’d Not Be Murdered by Chaucer Cameron (Against The Grain Press)

In this visceral, utterly essential poetry pamphlet, described as ‘part memoir, part fiction’, Cameron gives voice to what is arguably one of society’s most unheard groups: women working in the sex trade. Significantly, here is a woman’s voice in marked contrast to the male gaze of poets such as Charles Bukowski or Charles Baudelaire.

The collection’s harrowing title immediately gives a flavour of the bitter irony that characterises this poetry. There is a formidable, compelling honesty here which, combined with a deft and well-judged use of subtext, draws the reader into the poem’s world. Note the first poem, ‘128 Farleigh Road’, in which the speaker candidly observes a man lying dead at the bottom of the stairs, ‘Body Marks’, in which Caprice, Eve, Grace and Morgan speak flash in the pan images of the scars on their bodies. A palpable thread of dissociation runs throughout the book; love is ‘a forewarning of attack’, and the pamphlet’s characters ‘try to disarm you with laughter’. In ‘Cartoons’, the speaker tells of having ‘a near miss’, and of coping with this trauma by remembering her childhood spent watching The Flintstones.

Reading this pamphlet following the murder of Sarah Everard intensified the emotions stirred by the pamphlet’s narrative arc. Poems such as ‘The Green’ were all the more terrifying. Its ominous second stanza – ‘It was a dark winter evening. / Ellen still had a twenty-minute walk home’ – paves the way for the bleak declarative description of Ellen’s fate in the third stanza: ‘It took three days to discover the body, / reporters said it was hard to identify // – devoured mostly’. Ellen’s italicised thoughts surge out of the night – ‘That rustling crack closing in / must be animal.’ This line conveys what women have always known – that many monsters we encounter in life are not animal: rather, they are human. 

Of all the book’s affecting voices, Crystal’s is both enduring and particularly moving. It is rare to come across such a convincing character conveyed entirely through lines and stanzas. In ‘Switchblades’, when the pamphlet introduces Crystal, she is on the defensive. In her italicised lines, she boasts that she ‘carries switchblades’, and taunts the speaker: ‘I’ve heard you with the punters – / you’re no escort, you’re a whore’. However, several encounters in a King’s Cross Café show Crystal in various states of vulnerability. In one such encounter, she refers to her body as ‘bought and sold’. In another, she delivers a dramatic monologue in prose poem form, where she examines abortion: ‘It’s not that hard to flush a foetus down the loo, unless you listen to that claptrap from the pro-life lot…how could you flush a little beating heart down the toilet and not commit suicide when you can’t live with the flashbacks?’ One cannot help but hope that, whether her character is based on a real person to any extent, as several of these characters are, or whether she is purely a fictional character, her story ends with her, as she says in ‘King’s Cross Café (III)’, ‘getting out of this’.

The pamphlet ends with a hauntingly beautiful image, ‘It’s busy on the Thames; / Canary Wharf, I hear it sing’. This final couplet is left ringing in the air, a fleck of heartbreaking beauty among the ‘eerie’ grit of the speaker and subject’s world – ‘it’s extra cold tonight’ – and nightly rituals – inserting tampons and assuring themselves that ‘the cramps will ease with Valium’. In the pamphlet’s title poem, the speaker says of Crystal, ‘she understood erasure, turned it into artforms’, and Cameron’s poetry accomplishes exactly this. There is something remarkably compelling about not only the sparing use of language, but also the use of white space throughout the course of the pamphlet. These words emerge from a blankness onto the page, starkly, bluntly, and irrevocably said. 

Olivia Tuck 19th April 2021

The Sound Recordist by Seán Street (Maytree Press)

The Sound Recordist by Seán Street (Maytree Press)

The Sound Recordist, Seán Street’s sequence published by Maytree Press, is a distillation of many things he has written previously about sound in his poetry collections and the series of non-fiction books brought out by Palgrave Macmillan and Routledge. In these publications are key words that find their poetic echoes as themes and images in The Sound Recordist – interaction, identity, silence, time, memory, place, preservation, time and the ever-present past.

The theme of echoes, the need for echoes, is a constant in all Seán Street’s work, whether poetry or prose. In ‘Wild Track’ the ‘sound/ of air’ is ‘going on round us.’ It is ‘the moment happening’ in the ‘Perfect acoustic silence’ of a ‘blank empty room filled with/ possibility’. All around is ‘wide transparent space’ and here are layers of sound, the ‘inaudible threads’ (‘Microphone’) where ‘meaning lies between things.’ (‘Notes on Using the Studio’). In this ambience are signals ‘on the edge of things’ which emerge gradually like ‘Notes on dim staves’ (‘Early Show’). All one needs to do is be attentive, wait for triggers of memory and the ‘pauses in silence,’ accept that humans are sonic beings as both transmitters and receivers, and become what Seán Street has described elsewhere as ‘ear-witnesses.’

Several poems in The Sound Recordist emphasise sound as language, the interplay between the sounds of syllables and an imagination that creates a soundscape from the sonic resonances of words to create atmosphere and a sense of place. ‘Reel to Reel’ has the image of ‘language quietly singing to itself,/ the sound of its thought awaiting its second speaking/ … its proper nouns and verbs exact after all this time.’ A striking poem in The Sound Recordist is ‘At the Grodzka Gate’ where time zones touch and interact ‘Through the plain grey prose/of the everyday/that stands side by side/ with the unspeakable, and ‘you hold out a pen/to me, fingers touch/ and you become words.’

Other areas of the arts are also part of this essential relationship with sound. ‘Listening to Miles Davis in the Cardiac Ward’, for example, is an evocative poem is which music blends with the recovery process as the ‘singing of the morphine’s/honey through the cannula/finds entrances to dark worlds,/lights bright pathways out of some.’ In ‘A Trick of the Light’ an old Van Morrison tune sung by ‘Someone somewhere across suburbia’ is a memory trigger, a trick of sound, ‘A place to be when the place is elsewhere’ because ‘it’s what music does.’ The cover image of ‘Evening Stillness’ by the artist Paula Dunn is ideal for The Sound Recordist, while in ‘Memory in a Hallway’ John Singer Sargent’s ‘perfected brush stroke’ of a Venetian Interior is ‘the art of pure translucency,/ open doors reflecting water.’ A reference elsewhere to ‘The Ruins of Holyrood Chapel’ by Louis Daguerre enhances the haunted atmosphere of a building where even the echoes have died.

‘Time and Light’ is a particularly evocative poem in Seán Street’s The Sound Recordist adding, as it does, another dimension to the soundscapes already created in this sequence. Sound has now become one of the mysteries of light/hidden and trapped’ while light in its turn will ‘impersonate sound’ and ‘Time’ moves ‘beyond flesh into air’. Everything now is caught in shadows – the ‘layered time’ of

vegetation where angels flew, fleeting
punctum of a flash on altar stone
and the wound of a place’s lost past healed.

Mandy Pannett 20th March 2021

Tears in the Fence 73 is out

Tears in the Fence 73 is out

Tears in the Fence 73 is now available at https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, prose poetry, multlilingual poetry, translations, flash fiction and fiction from Mark Russell, Neha Maqsood, Penny Hope, Mandy Pannett, John Freeman, Sandra Galton, Wioletta Greg translated by Maria Jastrzębska & Anna Blasiak, Robert Sheppard, Peter Dent, Alison Lock, Caitlin Stobie, Jeffrey Graessley, Jasmina Bolfek-Radovani, L. Kiew, Mohammad Razai, Alex Barr, Michael Farrell, Olivia Tuck, Paul Rossiter, John Goodby, Maurice Scully, Tim Allen, Lucy Maxwell Scott, Anna-May Laugher, Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana, Mélisande Fitzsimons, Marcia Hindson, Hari Marini, Oliver Dixon, Gwen Sayers, Beth Davyson, Steve Spence, Valerie Bridge, S.J. Litherland, Karen Downs-Barton, Frances Presley, Mark Dickinson, Alison Brackenbury, Phil Williams, Rhea Seren Phillips, Oliver Southall, Sarah Salway and Sarah Watkinson.

The critical section consists of Louise Buchler’s Editorial, Jeremy Hilton on Hart Crane, Jeremy Reed on Denise Riley, Mandy Pannett on Sascha A. Akhtar, Geraldine Clarkson, Robert Hampson on Jeanne Heuving, Andrew Duncan on Molly Vogel, Clark Allison on Robin Fulton Macpherson, Walter Perrie, A.L. Kennedy, Guy Russell on Lesley Harrison, Alejandra Pizarnik, Mark Prendergast on Mercè Rodoreda, Siân Thomas on Susie Campbell, Steve Spence on the Plymouth Poetry Scene, David Caddy on Stephanie Burt’s Callimachus, Richard Scholar’s Émigrés, Ric Hool on Mélisande Fitzsimons, Morag Kiziewicz’s Electric Blue 8 and Notes on Contributors.

The Continued Closure of the Blue Door by Vik Shirley (HVTN Press)

The Continued Closure of the Blue Door by Vik Shirley (HVTN Press)

Vik Shirley’s pamphlet Corpses, which came out earlier this year, was a work of exquisitely macabre humour. Her collection The Continued Closure of the Blue Door continues the preoccupation with mortality in its sequence of witty poems called ‘death & the girls’. The first four, which are in unpunctuated prose, chart the zany responses of various women to the unavoidable presence of the grim reaper. 

eleanor kept banging on that death was a charmless motherfucker a charmless motherfucker she’d say fairly vindictively this actually wasn’t true but then she’d witnessed him eating pork pie jelly whilst wearing sock garters so no one could really argue

The six ‘death reveries’ which follow are in the form of calligrams, the first in the shape of a coffin, the sixth that of a bottle. The speaker of the poems imagines her funeral, wake, and legacy, but rather than being maudlin these texts are a rich and furious evocation of life. The coffin is to be decorated with an array of eccentric illustrations and objects, and to act as a stage for an impossible dance performance. The funeral procession, a meandering text of increasing width and font size, is equally fantastical, a carnival parade of bizarre characters with music to match. I particularly liked ‘Death Reverie #5’, in the shape of a cross, which begins:

I want my guilt and shame to be left to

the Catholic Church. It seems the most

reliable place for it to be successfully

recycled.

The range of subjects covered by the collection as a whole extends well beyond mortality. The epigraph to the book is a quote from James Tate: ‘That whole day was like a dream leaking into our satchel.’ Shirley has said that Tate is a major influence, and there is a similarly absurd humour in the work of both poets, a transformation of everyday events into something strange and disconcerting, like the woman in the opening poem in the collection, who falls in love with her husband’s electric razor. 

Prose rhythms and cadences dominate in this poetry, though relatively few of the poems appear as justified blocks of text. The opening section includes lineated prose poems, and poems set as justified text but within a narrow margin. In the second section, ‘elephant’, the text is in an open-field format, but with each fragment of text terminating in a single or double forward slash. Some lines also have a slash/double slash within the line. The sequence describes the brief celebrity of its central eponymous character:

elephant out till all hours /

fallen in with /

            erroneous crowd /

                                                                        we ask / who released

                                                            the elephant /

the elephant watching /

smoking cigars /

Section IV, ‘the nervous tic’, like the first, groups poems in a variety of formats. ‘Nunchucks and Weather’ is a sequence of short lyrics. One of these describes how, despite having many visitors, a lighthouse has difficulty ‘meeting other structures / with similar hopes and aspirations.’ 

The final section, ‘the blue door’, returns to an open-field style but with a mix of font sizes for emphasis. Again some texts here use forward slashes, or in a number of cases vertical lines, as punctuation. ‘it’s not every day you find an opera singer in your tumble dryer’ is a wonderfully comic piece. Having discovered a tumble dryer singing ‘Che gelida manina’ (an aria from La Bohème) on an island in a lake, the narrator wonders who could be responsible:

                                                                              as the squirrels

                                             although fairly gung-ho and not lacking in chutzpah

where it comes to matters of nuts and trees   weren’t –

                                                      as far as I knew – familiar

                                           with the musical scores of Puccini

Another delightful piece in this last section is a set of reflections on a Barbara Guest poem, ‘Twilight Polka Dots’. The final poem, ‘Never been to Volkovo’, appears to be a collage of lines from Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground.  

The formal variety and inventiveness of the work collected here stretches the ‘prose poem’ beyond the confines of a static block of text. The playfulness and humour of the writing are highly engaging. It is an impressive first collection. 

Simon Collings 16th December 2020

Light-Fall by Lucy Ingrams (Flarestack Poets)

Light-Fall by Lucy Ingrams (Flarestack Poets)

Lucy Ingrams poems in Tears in the Fence 72 impressed readers with their slowed down attentiveness to the moment and invigorating language use. I was thus thrilled to discover her Light-Fall pamphlet from 2019 and to find more of her mindful poetry.

The opening poem, ‘Swimmer’, where the title is the last two words, with ‘fall’ occupying the last line alone, is worth the price of the pamphlet alone. 

The poem, like the best of Ingrams work, recalls the poetry of Lee Harwood and Elizabeth Bishop and yet is distinctly her own. This emerges through her confident use of space, lineation and punctuation. Note her use of brackets, hyphens, space and counter voice, within a sonically rich low pitched delivery.  The poem, written in the living present, in the manner of Harwood’s sea poems, such as ‘Salt Water’, slows the reader’s attention down to each modulated movement within a wide-eyed focus. The narrator’s eye hovers on a series of physical objects, with slight movements in declining light, so that their actions combine to draw in the movements of sea, breeze and light. The layout, sound and sense combine to produce a balanced and clear-sighted focus. The key is that the poem remains in the variable and active present and eschews any extraneous commentary. 

   the is and will-be of its

the single source   of everything

air, its bubble   coast, its run-off – petrified

world’s counterweight.   its balance-tip

(cloud, the shadows of its rougher swells)

sorted   with that

                 and you   back-stroking

                 next    a flotsam speck    floating

                 only at its pleasure

Ingrams is at her best when she takes risks and moves beyond the rigidity of mainstream poetry to explore and engage the reader with a wide-eyed focus and attention to subtle movements and responses. She has a quiet and strong narrative voice. 

I enjoyed revisiting the poem, ‘Signs’, previously published in the Nine Arches Press, Primers Volume One (2015), with its attention to time, hesitancy and doubt through its spatial use, and controlled form.

And whether you loved me   loved me not

would come with a letter    come with you

would come    would come with some sign

of which there was no sign    yet

Here each movement and change of attention matters in the present. Such poems live, are alive, and are cut through fresh language with moments of 

vividness.

red in the willow crowns    plum in the birch

patterns of gnats     looked for a language

larger than us     tremor of catkins

folds of a bud    for meaning like runes

harder than answers   length in the light

the over and over of wood pigeon music

Ingrams also registers time and its gradual movement from moment to moment in fading late, as one would expect from a poet concerned with being alive to the world and its surprises. ‘Blue Hour’, written in crisp couplets, ends ‘and I turn and my step in the wind-drop quiet / is a thread to tack night / to night.’ I love the precision of ‘wind-drop quiet’ and the dropping ‘to night’ on to the next line to register and emphasise time.

There are many other subtle, quite and well measured poems with slight changes of attention within a perceptual roundedness that suggests Ingrams is an emerging and accomplished poet to follow.

David Caddy 23rd November 2020

The Fifth Notebook of Dylan Thomas: Annotated Manuscript Edition Edited by John Goodby and Adrian Osbourne (Bloomsbury)

The Fifth Notebook of Dylan Thomas: Annotated Manuscript Edition Edited by John Goodby and Adrian Osbourne (Bloomsbury)

The Notebook, a red Zenith Exercise Book, found in a Tesco bag by Louie King, a former servant of Dylan Thomas’s mother in law, contains fifteen and a half poems. The half poem being the first five sonnets of the ten comprising ‘Altarwise by owl-light’. The poems from Thomas’s first two collections, 18 Poems (1934) and Twenty-five Poems (1936) are mostly fair copies of ‘finished’ poems, written on the right hand side, or recto, pages. There are some missing pages and some occasional crossings out, less than one per cent of which were undecipherable. Written between May 1934 and August 1935, the notebook contains no unpublished work. However, it does reveal a break between the ‘process’ poetry he had begun in 1933 and the non-referential poems that came next. The Notebook allows more accurate dating of compositions, with poems, such as, ‘I dreamed my genesis’, ‘Seven’ and the sonnets of ‘Altarwise by owl-light’ being dated.

At the end of ‘Seven’, dated 26th October 1934 and underlined, there is a second longer horizontal line between two short vertical lines in the centre of the page, indicating an end or break. The date is significant, being the day before Thomas’s twentieth birthday, and the editors think that this marks a conscious decision to end a writing phase and embark on a new style. His birthday held special significance and was the focus of several of his October poems. He is also reading James Joyce closely at this time. There is, though, no conscious change of style marked within Twenty-five Poems, and so this is evidence of a conscious change in poetic style. Further evidence is available in the form of the increased number of deletions and there are some other discoveries in the form of an unknown original stanza two in ‘Fifteen’. The deleted stanza is more nebulous than the replacement. He changes genders and uses personal pronouns and in the sixth line ‘white’ becomes ‘black’ and the overuse of ‘half’ is removed.   

The Notebook reveals the extent of Thomas’s use of traditional Welsh poetry, cynghanedd, the short patterning of vowels and consonants. He draws upon the wok of medieval poet, Dafydd ap Gwilm, who used the englyn form, sangiad, the parenthetical phrase, dyfalu, hyperbolic comparison and description, and torymadroddy, inverted construction. He is quite clearly using more than alliteration and assonance in his sound effects.

Thomas scholar, Ralph Maud, speculated on the existence of ten notebooks and the editors see a missing notebook between notebook two and three as well as the most likely continuation of ‘Alterwise by owl-light’ in another notebook. Given Thomas’s highly peripatetic lifestyle such notebooks could still be extant.

The Notebook and handwritten notes, including one where he describes himself as having ‘no respectable occupation, no permanent address’, are fully annotated so that all differences are accounted for and some debated points of punctuation are now conclusively resolved. The Fifth Notebook contains facsimiles and full transcripts of the originals, which are annotated and accompanied by editorial notes. The notes are comprehensive and come with an extensive bibliography divided into several sections. This is exemplary scholarship, easy to navigate and utterly illuminating. 

David Caddy 29th October 2020

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