Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Poetic Heroes, Series 1: W.S. Graham

Of all my encounters with contemporary poetry over the years, nothing has had a profounder effect on me than the poetry of WS Graham. And, like all great art, his work seems to evolve over time, changing its effects on me as I read it.

It's about fifteen years or more since I picked up his Collected Poems in a bookshop. Initially, I was
attracted by his late poems - "To My Wife at Midnight" and his elegies to Peter Lanyon and Roger Hilton - and then I worked my way backwards through his great poem "The Nightfishing" to his early work in the rhetorical "apocalyptic" style. Throughout his mid to late period poetry, even the most abstract and opaque, there's a human element which speaks directly to personal experience.

And of course, Graham's life, much of it spent in west Cornwall in the company of artists, was
heroically dedicated to the art. As Harold Pinter put it:'W.S. Graham drank and ate poetry every day of his life'. It does seem that Graham believed, in his own words, that 'The poet or painter steers his life to maim//Himself somehow for the job'.

Right now, it's this early work that fascinates me. I've grown to appreciate it partly as I've grown to appreciate the early work of Dylan Thomas and as I've read more of contemporaries like Burns Singer. Unlike almost all practitioners of this style who later moved away from it, Graham defended his early poems, insisting that they were as good as anything that came later. Reading this early work now - always musically adept - it seems to broaden his achievement, and add a whole body of lyricism and reference to his oeuvre. I now think of the work as more consistent than I had previously reckoned. As Peter Riley persuasively argues, the later work grew directly out of the early poems and shares many of their qualities.

Take a look at the two WSG items on Litter, by Geoffrey Godbert and my good self. One of the best interpreters of Graham's work is Peter Riley, and a good place to start is his review of the New Collected Poems.

Graham produced very little prose, but I'd recommend to anyone his "Selected Letters" - an amazing, lyrical collecton of correspondence, that also includes his important early essay "Notes Towards a Poetry of Release".

As I grew up on industrial Tyneside, one of the poems that really struck a chord when I first
encountered Graham was "The Dark Dialogues":

The big wind blows
Over the shore of my child
Hood in the off-season.
The small wind remurmurs
The fathering tenement
And a boy I knew running
The hide and seeking streets.
Or do these winds In their forces blow
Between the words only?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I've broken my left wrist, and as I'm left-handed, typing is rather difficult and writing impossible. (Since you ask, I did it playing rounders - an advanced form of baseball- in the park with neighbours and assorted youngsters, something I'm obviously too old to do). So posts may be sparse for a while. But I do have something to say about W.S. Graham which I've already typed out, so that'll appear soon.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Some nice new work is about to appear on Litter: an intimate memoir of WS Graham by Geoffrey Godbert, and an extensive review of Gael Turnbull's Collected by Alistair Noon. There are some astute observations in Alistair's piece. I like this summary of British history:

"What for the Romans were the Tin Islands became the command centre of a maritime empire, has become Airstrip One, and may end up as a supply node for East Asia."

and I also like this comment:

"...there are simply more resources for a poet to draw on than previously. Under such circumstances, synthesis of influence is likely to be ongoing, and perhaps piecemeal, rather than reaching some notional endpoint at which the poet 'finds a voice'."

Why indeed should a poet "find a voice" - why not have many voices, or voices which sounds like other people's voices? I've always admired poets like Edwin Morgan who sometimes sound like other poets, or who have different styles for different types of poetry. It's possible to get hung up on the individualist notion of "voice".

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The proof of Bloomberg-Rissman's book arrived today, and it looks fine. Fantastic in fact. I swear that each time I see a Lightning Source book, it's better quality than the last one. This (I think!) looks good with a white background to the cover, and white paper. I've noticed that publishers like Wesleyan University Press and, I noticed recently, Faber, are now producing expensively-produced hardbacks to differentiate themselves from P-O-D outfits. My next step is to approve the proof and start distributing (the hard part).

Kelvin Corcoran's pamphlet is nw alomost sold out, thanks to his reading tour in the wake of the St.Ives exhbition which is touring art galleries around the country. Kelvin reads at the same galleries and sells pamphlets by the dozen. I think readings are now the only way to sell pamphlets effectively.

Monday, June 4, 2007

I might add, regarding the previous post and as a declaration of interest, that Bamboo Books are publishing my Bonnefoy translations. I'm very pleased about this, of course, and grateful to proprieter Robert Rissman. The pamphlet is Bonnefoy's 1991 collection 'Début et Fin de la Neige'. More details to follow.
The latest Leafe pamphlet is now available. It's 'World Zero' by John Bloomberg-Rissman. Costs four quid - if ordering from the UK send a fiver to cover postage. In the US it's available direct from the author for eight dollars - apply here.

This pamphlet is published in association with Bamboo Books of California - they did all the production and artwork. I'm a big admirer of JBR's poetry (witness, I'm bringing out his 200-page poem 'No Sounds of my Own Making', for which I'm currently awaiting a proof), and I'm proud to adding this to the Leafe catalogue.