Crowdfunding with Anthony Wilson: in praise of anthologies

Anthony Wilson’s crowdfunder is something you can really get behind. You can be part of a venture to launch a new anthology of poems that really ought to get more attention. All the details you need are available by following this link

https://unbound.com/books/no-one-you-know

Not only that, but in support of crowdfunding their new anthology of poems, No One You Know, with Unbound, Sue Dymoke and Anthony are starting a series of blog posts about anthologies which have influenced us as readers and writers. The first one is about an anthology that inspired me. Again…just follow the link

Discovering Geoffrey Summerfield’s Worlds

Anthony also writes

We would be interested to know which anthologies got you, our readers, going.

So here goes with a reworking of a post I wrote a couple of years ago. Your favourite anthology might be something like The Rattle Bag. Mine are ones that initially kept my head above water as a young teacher, and then introduced me to a world of poetry. Here we go:

 

The Best of…………..

……..punk, bluebeat, blues, rhythm and soul, Bob Dylan, the 80’s, Motown, Stax, Atlantic, Leonard Cohen, ska, Reggae Greats, Miles Davis. A flavour of my record collection. I reckon 80% of it is compilations. Very few single albums that hold my attention all the way through. Albums without a dud track. Cohen’s ‘I’m your man’. Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ (although you could argue that it’s actually a compilation of great artists). ‘Who’s next’. Tom Russell:’The man from God knows where’. I’m pushed to think of many more, off-hand. And I’m a bit like that about poetry, though that’s been changing over the last three or four years. Anthologies. That’s been my thing. Maybe that’s why I frequently go blank at poetry events when friends talk with great familiarity about poets I’m not sure I’ve heard of, and feel a bit gauche when poet friends post photographs of new collections they’ve bought in a retail frenzy at this or that poetry festival. So this week’s cobweb strand is in praise of anthologies and anthologists…or, at least, one particular anthologist. OK. Close your books, tidy your pens, sit up straight, look this way, remember it’s your own time you’re wasting and now…..

….let me take you back to 1972, when the then Education Minister, one Margaret Thatcher of blessed memory, ordered a review of the teaching of English. It was the first of a long series of attempts (which grew more successful over the years) to take political control of the school curriculum, and of English in particular. What it produced was hardly what she hoped for. The report was ‘Language for life’ (popularly the Bullock Report)…a generally humane and informed document, which you might have expected of HMI. It’s taken SATS, league tables and OFSTED to put the kibosh on that kind of subversive lefty nonsense. What we have in its place is government ministers sounding off about how we should teach the history of the First World War, and what poetry should be force-fed to the children of Albion, and how. And now…..

anthology 3

….as the wheel turns inexorably full circle, let me take you back another twenty years when I passed my 11+ and went to Batley Grammar School and was presented with Book One of a series of five English course books written by a man who sold at least 70 million copies of his prolific output by the time he died in some comfort in the 1990s. You might not remember just how drab and battered English course books used to be, but just to be clear, that jazzed up ‘contemporary’ later stuff was just as stuffed with clause analysis, punctuation exercises, comprehension exercises, jumbled proverbs and all the rest of the nonsense. Oh, and each chapter would begin with a bit of text, an extract of prose and, maybe twice in any one book, a poem. The one I remember from Book One was something by Masefield. Followed by exercises that sqeezed every last ounce of syntactic, grammatical, and vocabulary juice out of it.

anthology 2

 

Of course, we were offered books of poetry which contained no exercises. But generations of desperate pencilled marginal notes. Palgrave’s Golden Treasuries, and the deeply dispiriting, but jauntily alliterative Paths to Parnassus: The poet’s pageant. I remember the second one from the  stock cupboards in my first teaching job. Exercises and heritage. Whose heritage was never in question. Probably not that of the lads I taught on my first teaching practice at Wharrier Street Secondary Modern School in Walker on Tyneside..alma mater to the great Eric Burdon, as it happens. So the question would arise. If you don’t want this stuff, what’ll take its place? All my secondary and university education in English Lit. stopped dead round about 1916. I was well up on prose fiction…northern realists like Sillitoe, Stan Barstow, John Braine, Keith Waterhouse, and I was totally sold on the short stories of Dylan Thomas. And I was shortly immersed in a golden age of children’s fiction. Alan Garner, Joan Aiken, Robert Westall, all of them. But I simply didn’t know enough poetry to offer an alternative to what seemed to be on offer.. The Bullock Report noted it was still a problem in 1972.

‘The teacher is often faced with the task of showing that poetry is not some inaccessible form of utterance, but that it speaks directly to children, as to anyone else, and has something to say which is relevant to their living here and now.

BUT

It is exceptionally difficult for the individual teacher to keep abreast of all the new poetry that is published. Indeed, except for those with a particular interest in it there is often a time lag, so that the teacher is not aware of much of the work produced in the last two decades. A good anthology will do a great deal to introduce teacher and pupil alike to new and unfamiliar material, but it should not be a substitute for the extensive reading of poetry by the teacher himself.’

I remember reading that bit about anthologies not being a substitute for extensive reading. I didn’t know whether I felt guilty or indignant. Because what I believed then, and still believe, is that the best anthologies offer the shared experience of an committed enthusiast’s extensive reading. It’s taken me a long time to get round to standing up for anthologies. But here goes.

anthology 7

For years, the BBC ran a schools’ radio series called Books Plays and Poems,  lovely landscape format booklets that accompanied the programmes and in the mid 60’s they were the first source I had of an eclectic mix of poetry that included contemporary work (including the lyrics of Penny Lane). They had photographs in them, too! Imagine. And then, in my fifth year of teaching along came Geoffrey Summerfield’s Voices [Penguin. 1970]. It was the first of a series of four anthologies, and pretty soon accompanied by four more Junior Voices.

 

And here’s the thing; they not only didn’t look remotely like school books, but they didn’t read like school books either. They were full of surprises, and, in the case of Junior Voices, they had stunning imagery in colour. They were books you could sit and browse, and every page brought a fresh surprise, if, like me and the rest of the teachers The Bullock Report talked about, you didn’t know much about poetry and poets and poems (unless they were on O and A Level syllabuses).

What’s more, none of them seemed to have designs on a reader, other than to share a boundless enthusiasm and apparently encyclopaedic knowledge. They were eclectic and exciting. They weren’t overtly thematically organised, so there was none of that invitation to compare and contrast we were all programmed into. It was all done by smart juxtapositions.Let me tell you who they introduced me to. Roethke, Elizabeth Jennings, e e cummings, John Clare, Basho, Stanley Cooke, Norman MacCaig, Woody Guthrie, Elizabeth Bishop, Gary Snyder, Patricia Beer, Yevtushenko, Neruda. They sold me on Sylvia Plath’s ‘You’re’, and Ted Hughes’ Hawk roosting, and Auden’s Musee des beaux arts. There were medieval riddle poems, and playful stuff like ones from Alastair Reid’s Ounce, dice, trice. Haiku and and shape poems. Carlos Williams. Maybe it was Summerfield’s connection with NYU, but there were lots of American poets who I would otherwise never have come across. It was the inclusion of MacCaig’s I took my mind a walk that ended up with my reading his collected works, beginning to end. Years later. But that was the seed. Those anthologies opened my eyes and ears to world I had no idea existed.

And that wasn’t all. Hard on their heels, in 1974, came Geoffrey Summerfield’s Worlds

anthology X

And for me, as for Anthony Wilson, this one was truly a revelation.  ‘Worlds, says Anthony, ‘is one of the most important books in my life.’ I’ll second that. It will come as no surprise, I suppose, to discover that you can now only buy second- hand copies of these lovely books. Meanwhile, Coles Notes go from strength to strength, and supermarkets stock books of exercises to drill your children through their SATs and their phonics, and so the world turns,and the mills of Gove grind exceeding fine. Thank god for Geoffrey Summerfield and Michael Rosen and the rest, and whoever picks up their mantle in coming years

Now, it may well be that lots of you have parallel experiences. Anthony and Sue would be delighted to hear about them. But before I go, I want to say a word about about a different way of encountering an anthology. I’ve been going to Ann and Peter Sansom’s Poetry Business writing days for a good long time. In the process I realise they’ve assembled a very special anthology for me. Very often, a writing exercise will begin around, or from, a photocopied poem. I’ve religiously trimmed them down and stuck them in my workbooks so I know which poem triggered which draft or prose ramble. And now I have probably a couple of hundred, and in the process I’ve realised that these workshops have done for me now what Voices and Junior Voices and Worlds did, way back when. Without them I’d never have met Alison McVety, Thomas Lux, Billy Collins, Liz Berry, Martina Evans, Frank o’Hara, Tishani Doshi, Matthew Sweeney, Robert Van Dias, Claudi Jessop, Stewart Conn…and on and on it goes.

That’s what a great anthology is. The shared experience of folk who know more than you and who fill you with enthusiasm to know more than you do. To want more of the best of the best of. If that was all very teacherly, I guess it’s what I do. Certainly what I did for 40 years. Hard to shake off.

Not sure who’ll be the guest next week. But he or she will be stellar. Promise.

 

2016: my favourite bits

2016: my favourite bits

minions-at-the-firworks

I started the year (or ended 2015) by playing with my best Christmas present…making scores of Minions out of card. I’m easily distracted. Even more easily distracted by photoshop, which lets me give you, and the Minions, a New Years Eve firework display.

I’ll end this year with a big thank you to everyone who’s made it a busy and happy year of poetry (the other stuff out there in the big world I’d rather briefly forget, just for a hour today. There’s nothing I can do about Brexit, about Trump, about the liars and cheats and egomaniacs hell-bent on destroying everything I, and, truly believe, you, hold dear. Grant us serenity to accept what we can’t change, and the courage to change what we can. Let us love each other better.)

Let me say thank you to all the people who recharge my batteries, and inspire me, and who inspire so many others. Particularly, to Kim Moore and Steve Ely for their residential course in St Ives in February. To Ann Sansom..again..for her course in Spain in June, and to Ann and Peter Sansom for the sheer exuberance of their end-of-the-year course in Whitby in December. To the Poetry Business Writing Days in Sheffield. To everyone who runs the open mic. poetry nights that give an audience to so many poets, and give confidence to those just starting out : Keith Hutson’s Word Play poetry nights at the Square Chapel in Halifax; everyone at the Puzzle Poets Live in Sowerby Bridge; Keely Willox at the Purple Room in Ilkley; Mark Connor’s Word Club at the Chemic Tavern in Leeds; South Street Arts Centre in Reading; Jimmy Andrex and John Clarke’s poetry nights at The Red Shed in Wakefield; The Albert Poets in Huddersfield. Thanks and ever thanks.

I’ve been very lucky this year. I had a pamphlet Outlaws and fallen angels published by Calder Valley Poetry in January. I was one of the winners of the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition; because of that I’ve had my first full collection, Much Possessed, published by smith|doorstop. And my friend and former pupil, Andy Blackford and I will be having a collection published in 2017 as a result of winning 1st prize in the Sentinel Poetry Book Competition. None of it would have happened without the network of creative support from those residentials, open mic.s, and workshops. None of it. So thanks and ever thanks.

Huge thanks to all the indefatigable curators of poetry blogs who do so much to provide a platform, particularly for new and emerging poets. It’s invidious to pick out favourites, but that’s never stopped me. Thank you especially to Kim Moore and The Sunday Poem, to Josephine Corcoran for And other poems; to Roy Marshall and his thoughtful, helpful essays https://roymarshall.wordpress.com/; to Anthony Wilson for being the best of the best; and to Ben Banyard and the splendid Clear Poetry. Plus a special word of gratitude to Greg Freeman who travels the country in order to sustain Write Out Loud. What a labour of love that is. If you feel so inclined, they could do with a bit of financial help to support their day-to-day running. Every little helps. https://www.writeoutloud.net/

And, finally, thank you to all the poets who’ve been guests this year on the great fogginzo’s cobweb: Carole Bromley, Wendy Klein, Tom Weir, Mike di Placido, Vicky Gatehouse, Bob Horne, Di Slaney, Graínne Tobin, Stephanie Conn, Gaia Holmes, Jim Caruth, Yvie Holder, Mark Hinchcliffe, Andy Blackford, Julia Deakin. Tom Cleary, Roy Cockcroft, Anthony Costello, John Duffy, Stephanie Bowgett, Wendy Pratt, Laura Potts and Yvonne Reddick.

Two poets who I loved and who were featured during the year have died. Gordon Hodgeon and Shirley McClure. They made the world richer and we are poorer for their loss. Light a candle for them. You don’t have to be religious. Just light a candle.

Just to remind you of the riches they all shared during 2016, I’ll be posting a bunch of poems every day for the next few days. My favourites, the best of the year. Today, from January:

Wendy Klein : South from Bakersfield

Town after town, farther and farther apart; you’re looking
for differences, no matter how small, haunted and baffled
by their alikeness: the filling stations with their dirty rags, tied
to the handles of tin buckets that hold grey water to swill
the desert dust from your windscreen. You know you’ll leave
streaks and tracks–the definition of clean seems different here.

There’s a half-grown boy to fill up your tank if you’re able
to rouse him, and if he likes you, he’ll wipe your windscreen
with fresh paper towels and he’ll grin, display a front tooth
missing, lost in a brawl at night on a rickety porch, over
a mousy girl who could be his best friend’s sister. Now
you’re ready to drive a hundred desert miles or more
to the next one, its twin, you guess, as you pass
the Baptist church, its pink neon cross blinking.

Carole Bromley : Touch

There wasn’t a lot of it in our house.
We learned to live without

though I do remember one time
when my friend, Rosemary, died

and, on the same day, my boyfriend
told someone to tell me we were through

which was a shame since he
was one of the first people

in my whole life to touch me
and I loved it. That night my father

asked me to come down from my room
and watch the news with them.

Three and a half inches of snow
had fallen that day in Alamo.

I lay on the sofa while dad stroked my hair
like an awkward teenager

and, a quarter of a million miles away,
the Russians made the first soft landing on the moon.

from February:

Tom Weir :  Day Trippin’ for Thomas

‘I’d ride horses if they’d let me’— Will Oldham

We talked all morning about the horse
that, if we’re honest, none of us actually knew existed

but it seemed worth it just to get you into the car,
to stop shouting. We mentioned it so often

you began to repeat it from your child-seat
like a mantra, and you’ll never know the relief,

having arrived and not been able to see a stable,
having stalled you with an ice-cream which you wore

like a glove as it melted over your hand,
of finding the woman who showed us where

the horse rides took place, where you waited
so quietly in line, where I stood and watched

as you approached the man with a five pound note
scrunched up in your tiny hand. You spent

the rest of the day repeating the words too little
like a radio breaking bad news every hour on the hour.

We took you down to the lake and watched
you throw stones at the water, watched clouds fall apart

and mend as rowing boats left the harbour and you
sat still, refusing to join another queue.

from March.

Mike di Placido:    Not Quite Birdsong

A butcher where I worked once
was a whistler – you know the type:
aggressive, soulless. I’d stand around
being useless somewhere planning his death.

Days at his block and bacon slicer
rending the air, making his shrill statement.
Clocking on to clocking off –
Colonel Bogey or The Sheik of Araby.

And you could tell he worked at it –
thought he was good. I’d think
of his family, how they coped.
Thought about sympathy cards.

And the other butchers? Surely
he was pushing his luck
next to all those knives and meat-hooks.
Not forgetting, of course, the mincer.

Vick Gatehouse:  Burning mouth syndrome

The doctor says it’s nothing serious, something
she’ll just have to live with, a malfunction
of the nerves perhaps, not uncommon in women of her age
and she leaves with a script for a mild antidepressant,
a leaflet counselling moderation in alcohol, tobacco
and spicy foods and when she returns, he says it again
after taking a look at lips, teeth and tongue –
‘nothing to see’ and he says it with a smile when she can feel
the bees humming in her blood, the tips of their wings
chafing artery walls and she knows without being told
they’re house bees, the ones who feed, clean
and ventilate the hive, pack nectar into the comb
without really tasting it, the ones who wait for mid-life
to take their first orientation flights and she can really
feel the smart of them, the bees in her blood, unfurling
their proboscises to touch the corolla of her heart,
so many years spent licking out hives, all the burn of it
here on her tongue and they’re starting to forage now,
to suck sweetness into their honey stomachs, and the doctor
he’ll keep telling her it’s nothing when they’re rising
like stings, the words she’s kept in.

[Runner-up, Mslexia Poetry Comp, 2015 (published Mslexia 2015)]

from April

Shirley McClure:  Engagement

Nurse dresses the wound,

we talk hormones, oestrogen,

how the levels will drop

like water in a summer pool

that yields only a dry ring,

a glaze of salt.

She says I can swim in salt
water, now that the wound
is healing; she says to ring
if there’s a problem. Oestrogen
used to be my friend. The pool
is out of bounds, but I can drop

down into the waves, swim till I drop,

crawl out covered in salt.

Sea water gathers in a pool

at my feet, and even the wound

shines. Sunbathers beam oestrogen,

and I stand, hopeless in a ring

of bare-breasted women. Can’t ring

any nurse about this. Can’t drop

out of the world because of oestrogen.

I change in our room, taste salt.

My sun-dress won’t cover the wound,

I pull on an old t-shirt, curl up by the pool.

You find me at the pool.

Still not used to your ring –

the ring came before the wound,

before the floor dropped

out of the world, before salt

baths and the war against oestrogen.

– Was it the oestrogen                                            

you fell for, or the reflecting  pool,                

or my image conserved in salt?                         

Would you rather I gave back the ring,                

would you rather we dropped                               

the whole plan? I wound

you with questions, wound with oestrogen,

the drops I have left, run from the pool,

your ring glued to my finger with salt.

Tomorrow, poems and poets from May, June and July.

May 2017 be all you hope for, and nothing of what you fear.

U.A.Fanthorpe: a treasure trail [4]…and a Saturday postcript

U.A.Fanthorpe: a treasure trail [4]…and a Saturday postcript

treasure-4

Last leg of the labour of love. How these doughty souls who did the ‘Blog-a-day-for-a-month’ marathon did it and maintained their sanity will remain a mystery. Hats off to, among others, Josephine Corcoran and Anthony Wilson…who manged not only to write them, but to write interestingly. Applause, please!!!

While we’re on the subject of blogs and bloggers, thanks to all of you who follow the great fogginzo’s cobweb. We’ve not been together all that long, but today we’re in distinguished company. Thank you, Matthew Stewart at Rogue Strands  for choosing us as one of the UK Poetry Blogs of the Year 2016.  You can see the full list by following this link.    The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2016

Right…your last set of clues to track down my quick picks of the multitude of stunning moments that U A Fanthorpe gives and goes on giving. Actually, before that, another small matter. I hadn’t anticipated getting requests as well as arguments through the Comments link. Still, a request is a request, and this one from Nigel King of the Albert Poets sent me hunting for a poem I hadn’t got to yet. He writes that he asks his psychology students at the University of Huddersfield to read The passing of Alfred. So here you are, Nigel. My favourite ‘moment’ from that:

“… the dead followed them, as they do us,

Tenderly through darkness,

But fade when we turn to look in the upper air.”

And now I shall very simply, and randomly, share moments that identify themselves as fine poetry, that memorise themselves even as we read them.

” Here battle was. Here the king bled to death,

the martyr hung in chains. And once we know

the grand heraldic cruelties, we sense

enormous suffering behind each hedge.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

“Tomorrow we shall do these things

which are required of us. Today

is a day not ours……”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“On the dig’s last day, the god’s head,

decapitated, dirty, alien, moving.

……the people came unflagging

to queue, as war had taught them, to see

something outlandish, risen from London earth,

wearing their waiting like medals.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

“O for a tongue-tied muse to celebrate

the steadfast dumbness of dissidents under torture,

the hangdog faces of children who won’t perform,

Quakers, clever as fish in a soundless dimension ”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

“They’ve thought up a disinfected vocabulary

in Rwanda, Lebanon, Bosnia, Ireland, here.

I know the anodyne lexicon: Ethnic Cleansing..

……..with a nice feeling

for euphemisms, you can get away with murder”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Here lies the bunch-back’d toad, the bottled spider,

the hell-hound, the abortive rooting hog,

God’s enemy and England’s bloody scourge.

FIne language is one way of being remembered.

This is the best we have. This is Shakespeare.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

“Her armchair’s horizon is global.

In it she waits for her tiny Doomsday.

Her drawers are tidied fior good, and then

untidied again. Life keeps on being picked up,

like a tedious piece of knitting.”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………

” We must respect the anonymity

we decent ladies all pretend to have,

letting the Whore, the Genius, the Witch,

the Slut, the Miser and the Psycopath

go down to history, if they really must,

while Caesar keeps his bright precarious gloss.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

” Don’t eavesdrop on my heart,

it’s clever.

And if your hand should touch my breast

my heart would make its own arrest,

develop hands, as trees grow leaves,

and hold you there forever.”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

I could go on like this for days. But there’s wood to cut, there’s ironing to be done, and forms to fill in and bills to pay. But I hope I’ve surprised you, who like me thought you knew U A Fanthorpe.

And should want to know more of UAF herself, then treat yourself to a wonderful interview she gave in, The Desperado Essay-Interviews 2006

http://lidiavianu.mttlc.ro/ua_fanthorpe.htm

Thank you for your company this week. No cobweb strand on Sunday, but we’ll be back on December 11th with a gem Revisited. See you then xxx

 

[Saturday Morning. I realise there’s some things I desperately wanted to say, and then somehow omitted. One is that Clive james unwittingly nails precisely those qualites of Fanthorpe’s poetry that have so excited me..like when he writes

“Any poem that does not just slide past us like …thousands of others…has an ignition point for our attention”

AND

“one hears the force of real poetry at a glance. There is a phrase; something you want to say aloud”

Now I think that’s what I’ve been doing for the last four days. But I find it hard to come close to forgiving the faint praise when he damns her by describing

Fanthorpe’s gift for obscurity”

He appears to imply that she wilfully hid herself away from the public gaze (as opposed to having a gift for noisy self-promotion?). I can’t really forgive him for that. Nor the poetry ‘establishment’ that makes a fuss about significantly and self-evidently inferior talents. All I can say, she’ll not be allowed ‘obscurity’ while I’m alive and breathing.

One other thing. On the question of Tyndale in Darkness: one of the crucial point of contention between the established Church (and particularly the burner of ‘heretics’ Sir Thomas More) was the translation of the Latin of ‘Faith, Hope and Charity’ into English. The problem lay with the Latin: Caritas. The Church insisted on ‘charity’ which very nicely justified the trade in soliciting charitable donations to the Church, in return for Masses and absolutions.

But William Tyndale insisted that the true word had to be  Love. That was one of the reasons why he was burned. You can see why U A Fanthorpe would love him

Magic toyshops…..a polished gem (9) Gaia Holmes

melies-train-station-HUGO

“Comparison is the thief of joy”

–Teddy Roosevelt

“You wake up one morning. You check in with Facebook. Skim the latest updates. And there it is: another writer announcing their latest prize-winning success, followed by several hundred ‘likes’ and congratulatory comments. You add your own, with a smiley or two.”    ( you can feel a ‘but‘ straining at its leash, can’t you?).

Thus Robin Houghton in her excellent guest post for Anthony Wilson’s blog recently ….I’ll leave the link at the end, because it’s well worth a read.

It certainly chimed with me. Robin’s post takes a cool look at the business of envying the success of others. Two things go through my mind. One is an acknowledgement of the ‘why not me?’ feeling. The other is the memory of the pleasure other people’s success has given me. Kim Moore, Jane Clarke, Keith Hutson, Pam Thompson, Wendy Pratt…their pleasure has made my life richer. And, I think, envy is on a spectrum that, at its other end, contains rich and positive feelings and emotions. I might ‘envy’ a writer who can do things that I can’t…but then I can qualify that. I can believe: ‘I can’t do that YET’. We learn from the company we keep. Simon Armitage said something at a workshop he ran a couple of weeks ago and it has stuck. He says that the only piece of advice he’ll give his students without reservation is : READ. How are you going to get better at your trade unless you spend time in the company of people who are better than you? Certainly, in the company of people who are different from you, who can do things that you know you can’t do. YET. I guess it comes down to the difference between ‘I wish that was me instead of you’ at one end of the spectrum and ‘what will I have to do to join you?’ at the other.

Here’s an example. One of my mentors, Hilary Elfick, told me once that all my poems are silent films, full of visual imagery and without sound. That brought me up short. I was reminded of it this week at the open mic. I compere at The Puzzle Hall Inn in Sowerby Bridge; one of my favourite Calderdale poets, Tom Cleary [(un)discovered gem No.5, 30/11/2014] was reading, and I was struck by the way sound matters in his poetry. There was a train ‘snaredrumming over the points’; there were the RUC, looking to split scalps, ‘the tap and slap of truncheons on their palms’. I thought: ‘I wish I could do that’. He does first lines, too. The kind that defy you not to read on…’her first husband fell into a machine at work’ or ‘since the scream he hasn’t moved’. And I thought. ‘I wish I could do that’. The answer to which is: well, work at it if you want it. Otherwise stop feeling sorry for yourself.

And thus, after much procrastination and delay, we come to my guest for today. I’m going to use a lot of analogies to explain what her work does for me. I hope they work.

QUEEN peter blake

Whenever I read Gaia Holmes’ poems, or hear her read, I’m put in mind of the world and work of Peter Blake. To nail my colours to the mast, this image of Alice is how I’d picture Gaia’s narrative voice. Not quite other-worldly, but knowing things I have no immediate access to, and aware that the world is strange and lovely and that it can make us vulnerable. It’s a voice that makes me think of the doughty, unworldly, resourceful, compassionate clear-eyed heroines of folk tales. The ones who have no expectation of the kindness of  stepmothers and stepfathers and spiteful siblings, who are stoic about their work among the ashes, who undertake unnerving journeys through forests to the hen’s leg houses of cruel aunts, who understand that everything you are given is a gift to be used for the betterment of the world….all that.

The Toy Shop 1962 Peter Blake born 1932 Purchased 1970 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T01175

I just realised that I’ve been enthusiastically banging on about this and that, and altogether forgetting the magic toyshop analogy.  I saw the Granada film version before I read the book.. It starred the unnerving Tom Bell. It’s completely unavailable anywhere in any format as far as I can make out. Why? It was great. As is the book. I love the arbtrariness of it all…the arbitrariness of the folk-tale. Once upon a time there was a sister and two brothers; their mother and father went on a journey and never came back because they died suddenly. So the children came down in the world and went to live in a toyshop. C.S.Lewis’s siblings have to learn swordplay and archery and war, and then become kings and queens. Carter’s have to play at puppetry, and at Leda and the swan. Carter’s tale has a terrible erotic charge among the feathers and the wedding satins and the dancing red-haired aunt. I think of toyshops and orphan girls when I read Gaia Holmes poems. Not all of them. But enough. Let’s meet her, shall we.

Gaia Holmes is a Luddenden-born poet whose work digs beneath the surface of mundane, urban life to reveal a remarkable seam of exoticism. Her carnival of characters – bingo callers, burger sellers, critical theorists – are all cast from the least expected places. She is a graduate of Huddersfield University’s English with Creative Writing BA, and has previously made a living as a busker, a cleaner, a gallery attendant,an oral historian, a lollypop lady , a poet in residence at Bradford Library, a free lance writer and Creative writing lecturer.
As well as being a familiar face on the local poetry scene, Gaia Holmes is also known nationally. She has read at literary festivals throughout Britain and beyond. Her poem ‘Claustrophobia’ was highly commended in the ‘best individual poem’ category of the Forward Poetry Prize, 2007 and ‘A homesick truckie In The Algarve’ was the featured poem in Frieda Hughes’ weekly literary column in ‘The Times’ (May 2007). Currently she runs the Halifax-based writing workshop ‘Igniting the spark’, and hosts Themes For Dreamers’, a fortnightly show (sundays 4-6pm) on Phoenix FM (Calderdale’s community radio station) along with William Thirsk Gaskill and Dave Higginson and featuring a flavorsome blend of music, poetry and other literary things. ‘Often we give away prizes; broken kettles, muses and poetry books. Often we press the wrong buttons or say the wrong things.’ she says. And they do. Being a guest is a rare and wonderful experience. Take it from me.

[The narrator exits stage left (because that’s where his sympathies lie) and returns two days later]

You should be reading this on Sunday night. At this rate you’ll be lucky if it arrives on Monday, and even if it does, it could be more incoherent than usual. How do these young poets manage to travel and travel and still seem lucid? I’ve only driven 500 miles and my head is now full of warm damp wool. Still, if anything will wake me up it’s the poems of Gaia Holmes; here we go.

First of all, I always misremember Gaia’s poems. When I remember them, I remember something like a magic toyshop, something slightly ramshackle and magical, full of awkward corners and odd surprises and surreal pilings on of impossible detail, the wacky inventiveness of one who would clear her life of the tidemarks and dullings of old lovers with Cillit-Bang, and the crazy imaginings of the salacious neighbour who thinks the poet ‘snorts cocaine, sleeps in a coffin,  /  eats dead kittens drowned in gin’ . I  invariably ‘remember’ feather and patchouli, and saffron lampshades, and the interiors of the cover of her first collection. This one:

0954828089

And here’s a thing. If you want to buy it via Amazon the cheapest will cost you £15.00 + p&p. The most expensive is currently about £65.00, which, ironically, means that since the first print run is finished, Gaia probably can’t afford to replace her own copy when she loses it, or when it falls to pieces, or when she loses it, or when someone steals it. Whichever is first.

But as soon as I open up her her poems and read, rather than rely on this memory then before long I’ll be chilled and close to tears. There’s a lot of ice; there’s even an Ice Hotel. There’s the cold of loneliness and love gone wrong, and broken things that might be hearts or dreams that make you think twice about walking in bare feet. There’s the orphan voice of a narrator who sees things that no-one seems to notice her seeing. Like this.

The Allure Of Frost
Boxing day.
No fire in the grate and unopened presents
stacked around the base of the tree and fairy lights muted,
switched off, and the brandy that swells the fruit starting to eat
the cake in its tin and all the mirrors doused with tea towels
and your raw-eyed mother keening into a pillow in her bedroom
and too many men in black whispering and nodding
and I don’t know what the rosary is and whether to curtsey
to the priests when I hand them their tea
and the phrase ‘fruits of thy womb’ seem too ripe and too rich
for this and, Mary mother of God, I don’t know
how to cross myself and fear I’m invoking the devil
and the scent of death’s so thick
that it’s tainted the water and it’s heavy in the curtains
making them bend the rail
and your lips taste of the oils that grease your dead sister
and when I kiss you, you push me away and I want to spit
and weep and slap the corpse where she lies in her coffin
all done-up with hair grips and lipstick,
her sunken cheeks plumped out with wads of cotton wool
and the rictus of sin softened
by the crust of Rimmel Natural Beige powdering her face
and it’s so hot in here
that the cheese is sweating and the butter is liquid.
The chocolate coins are dripping from the tree.
Your Aunt’s un-bitten sandwiches
are curling upwards on her plate
and the lilies are wilting and stinking in their vases
and the cat stands quivering and retching
against the cold crack beneath the back door.
Outside the frost, not knowing any difference,
continues to sparkle. And I’d like to go out there.
I’d like to stand in it until my feet turn blue.

I think this poem has everything in it that I think of as ‘Gaia’s poems’. The piling on and on of sensory detail, the Alice in Wonderland, or folktale, sense that the logic of things is wrong, the wistfulness, the vulnerablity, and the pluck of a girl who will stand in a sparkling frost till her feet turn blue and the world becomes real again. Lovely. It makes me think of Richard Dadd’s fairy feller. I’m not sure why, but indulge me. I do like a picture every so often.

Richard_Dadd_-_Fairy_Fellers_Master_Stroke_(1855)

And then there’s a more worldly voice. I’m struggling to make up my mind about which poem to choose next, because I’ve been so many to choose from, and her newer poems are quite hefty (which I like) and I think that three is probably enough to make you want to go and pay £65.00 for that first collection. However, I plump for this one.

Ballast

You reach a certain stage in your life
when you seem to spend a lot of time
holding other people’s babies.

At parties, the bottles of M & S berry crushes
on the kitchen table
outnumber the bottles of wine
and it seems you’re the only one drinking.

Tonight you’re nursing your second glass of Chianti,
warming it against your chest
as the other guests sip Mocktails
and talk of teething rings and Farley’s rusks
and you’re trying to find a way in, but failing

and one of the kids is doing that cute thing again
with his hat pulled down to his nose
and everyone starts taking photos
and clucking and cooing and you take one too
just to fit in, even though you know
that you’ll delete it later
in favour of a landscape
or something you can understand
or something you can have

and you want a cigarette but no one’s smoking
so you go and stand outside the front door in the sleet
to smoke a roll-up but it gets wet
and you’re sucking on nothing

so you go back in. You cut through the branny fug
of milk and nappies with your reek of smoke
and they look at you cow-eyed with pity
and you know they’ve been talking about you
and one of them says “It’s not too late at forty”

and you mumble something and walk into the kitchen
to pour yourself another bigger glass of wine
and you sit there for a while listening to them talking
and think about the things they have:
the husbands, the high chairs, the family-sized toasters,
the pairs of tiny red wellies lined up by the door,
the huge American fridges
covered with glitter-crusted playschool pictures
and you think about your lack.

You think about your cat that moved next door,
your scrawny Basil plants withering on the windowsill,
the bread you bake always turning black

and you go back into the lounge,
move mounds of small, pale woollen things off a chair
and sit down wishing you had some ballast in your pockets,
wishing you were not made of straw and dry things,
wishing you were not quite so old and flammable
because they’re all looking at you
and it seems you’ve turned into
the hollow witch levitating in the corner,
that lonely, awful thing
that they could have become.

The first time I heard this, a couple of months ago, it took me aback and took off in new directions. It’s a great poem to read aloud, working the breathing-through of long, burgeoning sentences, which I’m currently addicted to. But a second reading picks out the trademark observation, those sensory images that are always surprisingly right…that branny fug, for instance, and the incredibly frustrating business of sucking on a wet roll-up, sucking on nothing, surrounded by Farley’s rusks and Milton, and milky babies, and mounds of small, pale woollen things. So far so ‘Guardian’ till the poem takes a tilt into something darker, and it’s the darkness of the folktale and the fairy godmother who may have things in her heart that you don’t want to know about, wishing she were not made of straw and dry things  /  the hollow witch levitating. Don’t tell me that last verb didn’t catch you out.

I’ve come to sudden decision. I’m going to stop explaining, or trying to explain,I’m going to stop reviewing and evaluating and being teacherish. I’m still jet-lagged, or whatever the word is that decribes the brainscramble of driving too fast for too long. So, with no more ado, I’m simply going to share two more poems with you.

Rain Charm For Stirling Street

Oh, the itch and nag of it-
this rainless month
when sapless slugs
fruit our yards like prunes
and the lawns
in the salubrious parts of town
are brown whispers.

Even inside
red roses yellow
and spill their petals
before they’ve had time to bloom.
Hard green mangoes
rot before they’ve ripened
and in the fridge
milk thickens and clots
in the necks of bottles,
the cheese gets louder and louder
until it roars.

And lately, we have had
restless nights too hot to touch,
deserts between us in our beds,
Sirocco winds blistering our dreams,
our waking bodies
black with fruit flies.

All you sun-junkies,
you lovers of deck chairs
and Ambre Solaire, forgive me.
I am taking action.
I am standing behind the kitchen door
wobbling a cross hatch saw
to make the sound of thunder.
I am cooking lightning
in the microwave.
I am pouring rice on to a saucer
to make the sound of rain.
I am summoning a storm.

You know what? I believe Gaia Holmes can make rain. I know that cheeses can roar. I take that as the West Riding dialect word for ‘weeping’. ‘Give ovver roaring or I’ll give you summat to roar ovver’ my Gran would say. In a kindly, apple-cheeked way. Gaia Holmes can write bittersweet, tender love poems, too. And does. They make me want to gather ‘her’ up, whoever is the her of these poems, whoever is the ‘I’; I want the world to set itself right and more kindly.

Kneading
Inspired by the paintings of Andrea Kowch

My life is full of gaps.
The barbed wire fell away
from our fences
leaving rotten posts.
Wind shucked the glass
from the greenhouse frame
and rabbits gnawed our apple trees
to stumps.

The turnips and beetroot we planted
are soft and rotten beneath the dirt
and the dry-teated cows
can give us nothing.

We sell what we can: rare eggs with no yolk,
scant scrapes of honey, the last plump fish
from our dying lake.

and there’s not enough love
in my wrists
to make bread.

In bed at night
my husband’s hands
fall through me.

When I read these poems I have to remind myself of the subversive truths of the folktales, of the resilience of folk, and that, somewhere and somehow, the innocent and the loving will endure and triumph. I believe that, as Gaia writes in another poem, in lines I hope she’ll forgive me for taking out of context:

Tomorrow I’ll be out at dawn
shovelling sunlight into sacks,
siphoning it into jars and bottles
……………………………….
I will pipe the edges of his world
with gold.

I think it will be the gold of the sky in Peter Blake’s Alice;  the cold house of the toyshop will be hot with flames and we will all run over the ridge tiles in the night with not an idea where it’ll all end. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I have. I think I have an idea for next Sunday’s post, but I can’t be sure. Still, you all looked very smart today, and I’m proud of you all, and next week, as a treat, we’ll have a no-uniform day. Let’s say ‘Thankyou, Miss Holmes’, and then off you go. If you want to buy her books she only has one at the moment. Maybe you can save up for the other. Here’s the detail.

Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed  [Comma press 2006]  via Amazon: anything from £15 – £65

Lifting the piano with one hand      [Comma Press 2013]  £7.99

Oh….and you can follow Gaia and read more of her poems and other things via this link.     https://gaiaholmes.wordpress.com/about-me/

oops…nearly forgot. You can read the full text of Robin Houghton’s ‘On Literary Envy’ from July 19th this year, via Anthony Wilsons’s wonderful poetry blog at Anthonywilsonpoet.com/

 

The Best of…………..

……..punk, bluebeat, blues, rhythm and soul, Bob Dylan, the 80’s, Motown, Stax, Atlantic, Leonard Cohen, ska, Reggae Greats, Miles Davis. A flavour of my record collection. I reckon 80% of it is compilations. Very few single albums that hold my attention all the way through. Albums without a dud track. Cohen’s ‘I’m your man’. Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ (although you could argue that it’s actually a compilation of great artists). ‘Who’s next’. Tom Russell:’The man from God knows where’. I’m pushed to think of many more, off-hand. And I’m a bit like that about poetry, though that’s been changing over the last three or four years. Anthologies. That’s been my thing. Maybe that’s why I frequently go blank at poetry events when friends talk with great familiarity about poets I’m not sure I’ve heard of, and feel a bit gauche when poet friends post photographs of new collections they’ve bought in a retail frenzy at this or that poetry festival. So this week’s cobweb strand is in praise of anthologies and anthologists…or, at least, one particular anthologist. OK. Close your books, tidy your pens, sit up straight, look this way, remember it’s your own time you’re wasting and now…..

….let me take you back to 1972, when the then Education Minister, one Margaret Thatcher of blessed memory, ordered a review of the teaching of English. It was the first of a long series of attempts (which grew more successful over the years) to take political control of the school curriculum, and of English in particular. What it produced was hardly what she hoped for. The report was ‘Language for life’ (popularly the Bullock Report)…a generally humane and informed document, which you might have expected of HMI. It’s taken SATS, league tables and OFSTED to put the kibosh on that kind of subversive lefty nonsense. What we have in its place is government ministers sounding off about how we should teach the history of the First World War, and what poetry should be force-fed to the children of Albion, and how. And now…..

….as the wheel turns inexorably full circle, let me take you back another twenty years when I passed my 11+ and went to Batley Grammar School and was presented with Book One of a series of five English course books written by a man who sold at least 70 million copies of his prolific output by the time he died in some comfort in the 1990s. You might not remember just how drab and battered English course books used to be, but just to be clear, that jazzed up ‘contemporary’ later stuff was just as stuffed with clause analysis, punctuation exercises, comprehension exercises, jumbled proverbs and all the rest of the nonsense. Oh, and each chapter would begin with a bit of text, an extract of prose and, maybe twice in any one book, a poem. The one I remember from Book One was something by Masefield. Followed by exercises that sqeezed every last ounce of syntactic, grammatical, and vocabulary juice out of it.

voices 10voices 9

Of course, we were offered books of poetry which contained no exercises. But generations of desperate pencilled marginal notes.

palgrave The_Poets_Pageant_179

Palgrave’s Golden Treasuries, and the deeply dispiriting, but jauntily alliterative Paths to Parnassus: The poet’s pageant. I remember the second one from the  stock cupboards in my first teaching job. Exercises and heritage. Whose heritage was never in question. Probably not that of the lads I taught on my first teaching practice at Wharrier Street Secondary Modern School in Walker on Tyneside..alma mater to the great Eric Burdon, as it happens. So the question would arise. If you don’t want this stuff, what’ll take its place? All my secondary and university education in English Lit. stopped dead round about 1916. I was well up on prose fiction…northern realists like Sillitoe, Stan Barstow, John Braine, Keith Waterhouse, and I was totally sold on the short stories of Dylan Thomas. And I was shortly immersed in a golden age of children’s fiction. Alan Garner, Joan Aiken, Robert Westall, all of them. But I simply didn’t know enough poetry to offer an alternative to what seemed to be on offer.. The Bullock Report noted it was still a problem in 1972.

‘The teacher is often faced with the task of showing that poetry is not some inaccessible form of utterance, but that it speaks directly to children, as to anyone else, and has something to say which is relevant to their living here and now. It is simply that much of the work of this half century, and perhaps particularly the last two decades of it, has a voice to which a larger number of young people can more readily respond. Moreover, it is fresh to many teachers themselves and some feel able to read it to their pupils with the pleasure of a new discovery. BUT  It is exceptionally difficult for the individual teacher to keep abreast of all the new poetry that is published. Indeed, except for those with a particular interest in it there is often a time lag, so that the teacher is not aware of much of the work produced in the last two decades. A good anthology will do a great deal to introduce teacher and pupil alike to new and unfamiliar material, but it should not be a substitute for the extensive reading of poetry by the teacher himself.’

I remember reading that bit about anthologies not being a substitute for extensive reading. I didn’t know whether I felt guilty or indignant. Because what I believed then, and still believe, is that the best anthologies offer the shared experience of an committed enthusiast’s extensive reading. It’s taken me a long time to get round to standing up for anthologies. But here goes.

For years, the BBC ran a schools’ radio series called Books Plays and Poems,  lovely landscape format booklets that accompanied the programmes and in the mid 60’s they were the first source I had of an eclectic mix of poetry that included contemporary work (including the lyrics of Penny Lane). They had photographs in them, too! Imagine. And then, in my fifth year of teaching along came Geoffrey Summerfield’s Voices [Penguin. 1970]. It was the first of a series of four anthologies, and pretty soon accompanied by four more Junior Voices.

voices 2voices 3voices 4voices 5

And here’s the thing; they not only didn’t look remotely like school books, but they didn’t read like school books either. They were full of surprises, and, in the case of Junior Voices, they had stunning imagery in colour. They were books you could sit and browse, and every page brought a fresh surprise, if, like me and the rest of the teachers The Bullock Report talked about, you didn’t know much about poetry and poets and poems (unless they were on O and A Level syllabuses). What’s more, none of them seemed to have designs on a reader, other than to share a boundless enthusiasm and apparently encyclopaedic knowledge. They were eclectic and exciting. They weren’t overtly thematically organised, so there was none of that invitation to compare and contrast we were all programmed into. It was all done by smart juxtapositions.Let me tell you who they introduced me to. Roethke, Elizabeth Jennings, e e cummings, John Clare, Basho, Stanley Cooke, Norman MacCaig, Woody Guthrie, Elizabeth Bishop, Gary Snyder, Patricia Beer, Yevtushenko, Neruda. They sold me on Sylvia Plath’s ‘You’re’, and Ted Hughes’ Hawk roosting, and Auden’s Musee des beaux arts. There were medieval riddle poems, and playful stuff like ones from Alastair Reid’s Ounce, dice, trice. Haiku and and shape poems. Carlos Williams. Maybe it was Summerfield’s connection with NYU, but there were lots of American poets who I would otherwise never have come across. It was the inclusion of MacCaig’s I took my mind a walk that ended up with my reading his collected works, beginning to end. Years later. But that was the seed. Those anthologies opened my eyes and ears to world I had no idea existed.

And that wasn’t all. Hard on their heels, in 1974, came this

voices 6

This one was truly a revelation. A carefully edited selection of each of the seven poets (and by then I was beginning to think I knew them) BUT accompanied in each case by a personal statement or essay by each poet AND a photographic essay on each poet by the wonderful Fay Godwin (and if you haven’t got her collaboration with Ted Hughes in Remains of Elmet then you can do no better than to rush out and buy it. It’s never too late). As I was doing a bit of googling, trawling for images for this post, I was delighted to stumble across a post by Anthony Wilson in September 2013. Anthony describes how he encountered Adrian Mitchell, and therefore one of his selection of Lifesaving poems, in this very anthology. ‘Worlds, says Anthony Wilson, ‘is one of the most important books in my life.’ I’ll second that. It will come as no surprise, I suppose, to discover that you can now only buy second- hand copies of these lovely books. Meanwhile, Coles Notes go from strength to strength, and supermarkets stock books of exercises to drill your children through their SATs and their phonics, and so the world turns,and the mills of Gove grind exceeding fine. Thank god for Geoffrey Summerfield and Michael Rosen and the rest, and whoever picks up their mantle in coming years

Now, it may well be that lots of you have parallel experiences. I’d be delighted to hear about them. But before I go, I want to say a word about about a different way of encountering an anthology. I’ve been going to Ann and Peter Sansom’s Poetry Business writing days for about five years. In the process I realise they’ve assembled a very special anthology for me. Very often, a writing exercise will begin around, or from, a photocopied poem. I’ve religiously trimmed them down and stuck them in my workbooks so I know which poem triggered which draft or prose ramble. And now I have probably a couple of hundred, and in the process I’ve realised that these workshops have done for me now what Voices and Junior Voices and Worlds did, way back when. Without them I’d never have met Alison McVety, Thomas Lux, Billy Collins, Liz Berry, Martina Evans, Frank o’Hara, Tishani Doshi, Matthew Sweeney, Robert Van Dias, Claudi Jessop, Stewart Conn…and on and on it goes.

That’s what a great anthology is. The shared experience of folk who know more than you and who fill you with enthusiasm to know more than you do. To want more of the best of the best of.

OK. If that was all very teacherly, I guess it’s what I do. Certainly what I did for 40 years. Hard to shake off. I promise the next cobweb strand will be much less about me and infinitely more about a poet who stops me dead in my tracks. No. I’m not telling you who it is.

And finally, and without a shred of shame or irony, I’m going to advertise not an anthology, but a collection. My collection. I posted this at the wrong time, I realise, bang in the middle of Black Thursday, so I’ll run it past you one more time.

larach cover for cobweb 001

I’m really delighted to say that I’ve had to bespeak a reprint of Larach. Thanks to everyone who’s already bought a copy. Now, here’s the deal. Having Larach published in the first place was my prize for winning the 2014 Lumen Camden Poetry Competition with the poem about Emily Wilding Davison ‘Camera Obscura’. (If you follow the cobweb strands you’ll know that I posted it a couple of weeks ago as a reminder of what the right to vote cost so many courageous, selfless individuals). The judge was Sir Andrew Motion who is a patron of the charity. This year’s judge is George Szirtes. It’s a great competition, no question. If you entered this year, then good luck…results must be out soon.

The purpose of this annual competition is to raise funds to support a winter night shelter for rough sleepers. One of my sons was once, for a short time, a rough sleeper. It’s a charity near to my heart. It was the reason I entered the competition in the first place, knowing that my entry fee would go to help the charity’s work. There is no profit from the winners of this competition.

If you already bought the book you paid £3.00….I always thought that it could raise more, so here’s the deal. WardWood agreed to reprint the book at a price to me of £3.00 a copy. I’ve had the book repriced at £5.00. For every copy I sell £1.00 will go to the charity. I’ll use the balance to cover post and packing for orders I take via the cobweb site. Just check out the details about ordering copies by clicking on My Books at the top of the page. And anything left over after that can go towards funding any future reprint (Fingers crossed)

I hope you’ll all be happy about this arrangement. If you are then I’d take it more than kindly if you reblogged this post, or Shared it in Facebook and/or Twitter. And let me know what you think about it all via the Comments box below. I really do want to feel as though I’m doing the right thing all round.

A very Bad hand at Righting 2 …Director’s Cut with special features

Well, it’s Sunday again, and it turns out I feel it’s a bit incomplete without a post. So, here’s the deal. If you read most of this on Wednesday, then you can whizz straight to the end and then crack on with whatever creativities enmesh you right now. If you didn’t, then you’ll just have to begin at the beginning, or the afterthoughts will make no sense.

ap_paris_shooting_vigil_2_kb_150108_16x9_992

I’m writing this early in the week, and possibly not in the right mind for balanced thoughtfulness.This morning I read Anthony Wilson’s post, After Paris … just follow the link, and read it for yourselves     http://anthonywilsonpoetry.com/   And then I read Bill Greenwell’s poem for this week. And then I had to write. Anthony Wilson writes about the responsibility on all writers to write in the cause of the reality and truth of how things are. Bill writes about the ways in which we are all being steadily imprisoned in the name of our freedoms. I’m writing out of anger. I am writing because meaning is being sucked out of language that’s used to justify the unjustifiable, and about the profoundly anti-social nature of the soi-disant ‘social media’. I am tired beyond belief of the 24/7 news reporting that is minimally concerned with informing and clarifying, and substitutes hypothesis and posturing for responsibly educating us all. I am angry at the universal and casual Bush-ism of a ‘war on terror’, and all the terrible errors that follow on the reification of an abstract word. A word. Words cause nothing. People with guns and bombs and emotional paralysis kill other people, and they do it in the name of more words. They do it in the name of democracy, without ever defining what that might be. They do it in the name of Islam, which is a short name for a splintered and internecine religion with as many warring factions as Christianity. A word used lazily and thoughtlessly without any reference to mutually exclusive and rhetorically inconvenient schisms, say between Sunnis and Shias. Like Christianity, and the sectarian rhetoric of the euphemistic Irish ‘Troubles’. Anthony Wilson is right to invoke Seamus Heaney in After Paris. Think of him and threats to his friends and his family because he wouldn’t let his language and his poetry be allied to the half truths of dogmatic opposition. I am writing because I’m tired of the easy and uncommitted emotionalism that can be loosed on the world at the touch of a Twitter ‘enter’ key, or on railings in all our towns and cities for the cost of a bunch of flowers. I am tired of the OMG of texting atheists and the post-Diana and post 9/11 righteousness that commits us to nothing at all.

On Saturday I was a Poetry Business Writing Day. One exercise grew out of a poem: Known to the guards. I should have made a note of the poet. Someone will tell me. It’s a poem about how a child might be frightened into an unshakeable belief in the omnisicience and omnipotence of the forces of law and order, even if it’s actually only a fat member of the Garda on a bicycle. Peter Sansom asked us to to reflect fast on early brushes with authority. Normally, this would have sent me into Stan Barstow/Dylan Thomas territory. But this happened instead. It has no title, and it’s not been tidied up.

I want no more nostalgia, for whatever reason;

how can I, in a week of hostage, sieges, men in black

with guns as big as wardrobes, Kevlar vests, black boots,

helmets like the eyes of flies, the chatter of static, the racketting

senselessness of helicopters, blue strobing convoys

barrelling through siling rain and spray

and the breathless wet-yourself excitement

of the newsmen endlessly recycling scraps of film and tape,

and sputtering phone-in answers and solutions

no one wants to hear, the bigotry the fury,

the fictitious facebook solidarities,

the cursor click that tells the world that now,

today Je Suis Charlie

and redfaced politicians photo-opping

their temporary indignation in between

their destruction of the welfare state

and growing fat with hedgefund managers and oligarchs,

how can I versify my childhood fears

when after all, our number’s up

and all of us are in the eye of millions of cameras

and all of us are known to the guards

who have the guns and the vans and the planes

and can guard none of us from anything?

TOPSHOTS-FRANCE-ATTACKS-MEDIA-POLICE

Like I say. I’m not in the mood for balance, and I fear for truth, whatever that is, so long as it has no capital letter. Tony Harrison says it better. The last four lines of ‘On not being Milton’. The quotation is from a plea for clemency. Tidd was hanged.

Articulation is the tongue-tied’s fighting.

In the silence that surrounds all poetry we quote

Tidd, the Cato Street conspirator who wrote:

Sir, I Ham a very bad Hand at Righting.

 

Sunday: An afterthought 

I was tempted to call it a coda, but that probably implies a degree of of structural or formal intent that it doesn’t deserve.

First up, I tracked down the poem ‘Known to the guards’. It’s by Martina Evans, ( check her out at http://www.martinaevans.com/about/ ), who I didn’t know about, but who grew up in an Irish country pub with lots of siblings,who has had published nine works of prose and poetry, whose poetry collection ‘Facing the public’ was a TLS Book of the Year in 2011, and who has a considerable reputation as a university teacher and workshop leader. I should get out more. I should certainly try to know more about this world of poetry and poets. It seems to grow exponentially, like Macbeth’s line of spectral kings.

Second is a bit more complicated. On Wednesday I wrote in reaction, and, as ever, there’s a lot of rhetorical over-simplification. I’ll stand by the wellsprings of it, but I didn’t want to give even the scintilla of an impression that words are the problem. What I wanted to say was that it’s what we do with them , and what we let them do to us that matters. I wanted to say my version of what Anthony Wilson meant to me. And also that words are what keep the world alive, and mapped and negotiable.

Most nights, on the edges of sleep,I dip in and out of Edgelands [Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts], because there’s not a page without a line or a phrase or an image that doesn’t make me see the world in a sharper and more interesting light. Last night I was just skimming through the chapter on Ruins. It’s about abandonment and the uses of memory, or about the memories  built into industrial structures even though there’s rarely anyone to articulate them. (which is, of course, the genius of this book).

These are the things that stuck and snagged. The authors are writing about abandoned warehouses and other empty structures in the wastelands of buddleia and fireweed and crumbling asphalt. ”they become non-places, quite literally off the map – ‘an impossible designation of space as terra nullius, which suggests they are spaces of and for nothing’ And they atrophy because their blood supply has been cut off.”  A laid-off warehouseman points out for them ‘a long, shallow, corrugated roof like metal horizon over the scrubby edgeland trees. That was his warehouse. Now it feels like the empty church in Philip Larkin’s ‘Church Going’:

‘A shape less recognisable each week/A purpose more obscure’

What I was not managing to say was that we can behave as though words are real, and wave them like banners or wear them like disposable Tshirts . Or believe that words should be what make the world real, make its shape more recognisable, its purpose less obscure.

Next week we’ll be having a guest, which I imagine will be something of a relief.

 

 

 

 

A very Bad hand at Righting

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I’m writing this early in the week, and possibly not in the right mind for balanced thoughtfulness.This morning I read Anthony Wilson’s post, After Paris … just follow the link, and read it for yourselves     http://anthonywilsonpoetry.com/   And then I read Bill Greenwell’s poem for this week. And then I had to write. Anthony Wilson writes about the responsibility on all writers to write in the cause of the reality and truth of how things are. Bill writes about the ways in which we are all being steadily imprisoned in the name of our freedoms. I’m writing out of anger. I am writing because meaning is being sucked out of language that’s used to justify the unjustifiable, and about the profoundly anti-social nature of the soi-disant ‘social media’. I am tired beyond belief of the 24/7 news reporting that is minimally concerned with informing and clarifying, and substitutes hypothesis and posturing for responsibly educating us all. I am angry at the universal and casual Bush-ism of a ‘war on terror’, and all the terrible errors that follow on the reification of an abstract word. A word. Words cause nothing. People with guns and bombs and emotional paralysis kill other people, and they do it in the name of more words. They do it in the name of democracy, without ever defining what that might be. They do it in the name of Islam, which is a short name for a splintered and internecine religion with as many warring factions as Christianity. A word used lazily and thoughtlessly without any reference to mutually exclusive and rhetorically inconvenient schisms, say between Sunnis and Shias. Like Christianity, and the sectarian rhetoric of the euphemistic Irish ‘Troubles’. Anthony Wilson is right to invoke Seamus Heaney in After Paris. Think of him and threats to his friends and his family because he wouldn’t let his language and his poetry be allied to the half truths of dogmatic opposition. I am writing because I’m tired of the easy and uncommitted emotionalism that can be loosed on the world at the touch of a Twitter ‘enter’ key, or on railings in all our towns and cities for the cost of a bunch of flowers. I am tired of the OMG of texting atheists and the post-Diana and post 9/11 righteousness that commits us to nothing at all.

On Saturday I was a Poetry Business Writing Day. One exercise grew out of a poem: Known to the guards. I should have made a note of the poet. Someone will tell me. It’s a poem about how a child might be frightened into an unshakeable belief in the omnisicience and omnipotence of the forces of law and order, even if it’s actually only a fat member of the Garda on a bicycle. Peter Sansom asked us to to reflect fast on early brushes with authority. Normally, this would have sent me into Stan Barstow/Dylan Thomas territory. But this happened instead. It has no title, and it’s not been tidied up.

I want no more nostalgia, for whatever reason;

how can I, in a week of hostage, sieges, men in black

with guns as big as wardrobes, Kevlar vests, black boots,

helmets like the eyes of flies, the chatter of static, the racketting

senselessness of helicopters, blue strobing convoys

barrelling through siling rain and spray

and the breathless wet-yourself excitement

of the newsmen endlessly recycling scraps of film and tape,

and sputtering phone-in answers and solutions

no one wants to hear, the bigotry the fury,

the fictitious facebook solidarities,

the cursor click that tells the world that now,

today Je Suis Charlie

and redfaced politicians photo-opping

their temporary indignation in between

their destruction of the welfare state

and growing fat with hedgefund managers and oligarchs,

how can I versify my childhood fears

when after all, our number’s up

and all of us are in the eye of millions of cameras

and all of us are known to the guards

who have the guns and the vans and the planes

and can guard none of us from anything?

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Like I say. I’m not in the mood for balance, and I fear for truth, whatever that is, so long as it has no capital letter. Tony Harrison says it better. The last four lines of ‘On not being Milton’. The quotation is from a plea for clemency. Tidd was hanged.

Articulation is the tongue-tied’s fighting.

In the silence that surrounds all poetry we quote

Tidd, the Cato Street conspirator who wrote:

Sir, I Ham a very bad Hand at Righting.