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Tag Archives: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Lonesomest Sound by Mike Ferguson (Knives, Forks Spoon Press)

The Lonesomest Sound by Mike Ferguson (Knives, Forks Spoon Press)

In a previous short collection, Professions, Mike Ferguson took a series of individual professions – butcher, baker, fireman, policeman etc – as a starting point for a playful exploration of identity, language and a meandering discourse which was always entertaining and often informative. He’s extended that process here with a wider brief where he takes a phrase or word, for example, ‘Not Amused,’ ‘Tarrying’ and ‘In the Palm of a Hand’ and extrapolates in a manner which is equally effective. Each prose poem occupies less than a page and some are much shorter. If there is a more questioning nature to these pieces, and I think there is, then it’s all done with a lightness of touch which makes them such fun to read. 

          Inside a Cloud

         To cool a cloud of its atoms is to swagger in the atmospherics.

          An artist who makes indoor clouds has discovered the texture

          of transience. Is it a  cult of our new  technology to store such

          faith inside the Cloud? Swelling and thickening and rolling and 

          sculpting  invisibility of vapour. A realistic  rendering of clouds

          has an  abstract. This twee  metaphor of bedsheets  in the sky.

          You can fly a plane directly into and along yet only words shape

          within and with. Anisotropic here too – scattering – and future 

          mash-ups are being mapped as I compose. Thank you George.

It’s a beautifully put-together piece and in that sense is typical of the entire collection. Ferguson’s commentary on his own process (‘future / mash-ups are being mapped….’) is never intrusive and also suggests to me that the further into this way of working you delve the more you are forced to engage with the nature of the endeavour itself. I’ve certainly found this in my own work, though our practices are not entirely the same I suspect, and the trick, if it is such, is to embrace such ‘meta language’ while not being overwhelmed by it. Or to put it as Martin Stannard does on the back-cover blurb – ‘ that relationship between enjoyment and the serious might be what you perhaps most remember, and might take it into your future days.’  

     There are around 90 poems in total and there are recurring hints or themes which interrelate between titles/subjects but the main thrust of each piece is generated by the title. Literary references return – Beckett and Coleridge occur, often as amusing asides and there is some lovely wordplay amid the puzzlement and occasional abrupt moments. Memories are evoked – ‘American cursive in my mother’s letters will always remind how / close we were in writing across miles and time and belonging.’ – and then disappear while associations of words and themes keep sending the ‘narrative’ off into different spaces and occasionally into outer space. The actual choice of title in each case is intriguing and may be arbitrary or indeed indicate some form of pattern. Here are a few which I’ve picked at random (?) from the Contents page: ‘Now I Lay me down to Sleep,’ ‘Whiskers in the Sink,’ ‘Purple Turbines,’ ‘Electracy,’ and ‘About Writing Poetry.’ Subjects can be everyday trivia, if you like’ or puzzling encounters, all is grist to the mill. You could certainly spend some time, if you wished, putting together a speculative account of the author’s interests and passions or you can just go with the flow and enjoy these pieces for what they are, language games which intrigue and provoke thought and pleasure in just about equal amounts, I’d say. Not that thinking has to be ‘unpleasurable’ of course! Here’s a second poem for you to encounter:

          You Cannot Live on Beauty Alone

          Because what you hear as the sound of children playing is just the

          calls of  seabirds. A home resurrected  after drought and  lowered 

          waters is  still a relic.  Romanticism  was a power of light until Sara 

          intruded with her orthodox  diss. Beauty  in  loneliness can be self-

          indulgent. As Monroe purred, a career is wonderful, but you can’t

          curl  up  with  it on a  cold  night. I  think  Curley’s  wife  too   knew

          a dress and  sunlight  was never  enough.  Sustenance groomed  is

          still potatoes. Has anyone mentioned the folly of this?

The penultimate line is wonderfully puzzling yet you can just about link it to the previous line if you try. The final line is a wonderful example of juxtaposition, just leaving it all up in the air. The reader is as empowered as the writer. I simply love this kind of material. 

Steve Spence 28th November 2021

Lockdown Latitudes by Steven Waling (Leafe Press)

Lockdown Latitudes by Steven Waling (Leafe Press)

One way or another many of us have been producing material during the last year or more which relates directly or otherwise to the situation we have been experiencing. Leaving aside Brexit and the all-embracing facts of climate change the Covid virus has been and will no doubt continue to be a source of energy for writers and artists of all kinds. It feels inevitable in fact and there have already been anthologies of poetry appearing to suggest so. Steven Waling’s new book is a mix of diary entry and personal testimony, combing observation with a collage technique which is very appealing.

          ON THIS ROUTE

          there’s lots of farting about   Turning night into day

          the sun wants to lie in bed   gets up full bladder

          rain-packed isobars rumble in from the West

          so I wait five minutes at Random Stop   ten more

          at Just Before You Alright   then flash of hail followed

          by the heavy beauty of blue sky   all the weathers

          in one day   Clouds like buses pile up in threes

          I miss the rush hour   no I don’t   students crammed

          sweatthick into tin cans   talking   who got wasted who’s

          off to Switzerland for Christmas   essays undone

          pick up the Metro for puzzles and sport   after

          the end of the world   green shoots of crocus and

          snowdrops climb on board   poke heads out of verges

          past the park just because you think you’re exempt don’t

          make exceptions   key workers still spend

          half their lives standing    in this fine rain   where’s

          your mask   are you going to be difficult it

          goes on your nose as well as your mouth

Anyone who has used public transport on a regular basis during the past eighteen months will be able to recognise these moments and the mix of fleeting observation and anxiety is well registered. 

     In ‘Sci-Fi Days’ school day memories intertwine with the here-and-now in a manner which attempts to find a way of approaching the changed and estranging situation we find ourselves in – ‘wherever I am / whatever I’m from / it’s not here’ – and name-checks J.G. Ballard (‘Vermillion Sands’), ‘Bismarck and the Entente Cordial,’ the assassination of Franz  Ferdinand and hints towards Bowie and Bolan where on the walk to school ‘aliens / sing   Children of the Revolution / on Top of the Pops.’ In ‘Spring in a Time of Contagion’ where the day-to-day experience appears with occasionally surreal snapshots – ‘next as dolphins swim canals / Only four items of each / product’ – we have a heightened sense of the natural world, interspersed with paranoid snippets and a hinting towards martial law which suggests a wartime footing:

          sky so blue it hurts

          I buy potatoes and a paper

          with puzzles   Crack open buds

          I’ll try to be an optimist

          as poetry makes nothing

          the swallows rejoice clean air

     In ‘Jesus Strolls Down Market Street’ we get a sense of the paranoia and alienation caused by the present situation, allied to a description of a small kindness – ‘Someone pays with his own card’ – which is set in downtown Manchester but could be almost anywhere in the country. ‘Ten Lancashire Words to be Reintroduced to the Language’ introduces an element of playfulness into the proceedings while ‘In Deep Time’ has a contemplative feel which deals with the geological notion while also pondering how our conceptions of time have shifted on a day-to-day basis during the last couple of years. ‘Autobiographica Literaria’ hints at Coleridge and again juxtaposes memories in a snapshot fashion which mixes high art with pop culture and t.v. shows. There’s an overall sense of new opportunities being opened up, at least in terms of artistic procedures, but also an engagement with hard reality as in ‘Showering a Man’ (Steven Waling is a care worker) where we get:

          You must fully engage in the dance

               move shoulders to the middle

               lift the feet onto the plate

               shift the body by degrees

The ending registers an all-too-apt mix of feeling when issues around care and social provision are aired – ‘That’s such a good thing to do. / I know I don’t get paid enough.’

     I’m more aware of Steven Waling as a reviewer of poetry than as a poet as this is the first chapbook of his that I’ve actually read in full. I’ve enjoyed the mix of tradition and experiment which he employs and this memoir set in a hard time has a very human appeal which is easy to respond to while also including an element of playfulness which keeps the pages turning.

Steve Spence 19th November 2021

Tom Lowenstein’s notebooks & fantasies

Tom Lowenstein’s notebooks & fantasies

From Culbone Wood—In Xanadu


New from Shearsman


The late Roger Langley wrote of this book ‘A major work of the imagination. In no previous genre. Creates its own genre.’ Tom Lowenstein’s new publication is a riveting account of the world of Porlock and the world of Coleridge, ‘the discord between Somersetshire now and the timelessness of Xanadu’s appearance before me.’ This is a book to have on the shelf next to John Livingstone Lowes’s 1927 publication The Road to Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination.


Tom Lowenstein refers to the travel writings that so influenced Coleridge, Purchas His Pilgrimage, in terms of the early seventeenth-century writer’s fascination with small details: ‘shrunk as the wax in a dried old hive—lie golden cells of honey.’ Some of these cells will be looked into on the coming Tuesday, February 5th, at 7.30 in the Swedenborg Hall when Tom will be reading. Not to be missed!





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