Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jess Mynes' book, "Sky Brightly Picked" from Nottingham's Skysill Press, is a series of short poems, each one related to a specific painting by Mark Rothko, and sharing the painting's title. Mynes doesn't attempt to write about the paintings, but rather to emulate their effect in language; so, we have abstraction combined with an attention to the materials from which the work was made, in short, crafted poems:

Untitled, 1960

caked in interstices

blush cukes
plump rasp bevel

wizen spleen distance

Words are given a materiality by being isolated as units of sound, giving the reader a sense of them as the bricks from which the poems are built. The whole project is very American, driven by, as Clark Coolidge says on the cover, "the urge to form the irreducible poem"; something that has driven poets from Carlos Williams to George Oppen to Robert Creeley. Mynes' work in this book also reminded me of John Taggart in a book like Pastorelles; though Mynes' work is more abstract. Maybe 'abstract' is the wrong word; they dispense with comment, and concentrate on the response to the artwork. They are precise meditations, echoing the spiritual aspect of Rothko's art:

No. 10, 1952

fresco light anapest

antiseptic green quotation

equations think much
to music

a vein
a shovel
a mare foaled

I was bowled over by this book. It's a real achievement to have produced 94 poems in this style without any seeming lapse in quality; you can open the book at random and always find something fresh and engaging. I might also mention the superb photgraph and cover design by Sam Ward.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Don Paterson (OBE) has been awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry. He was recommended by Carol Anne Duffy (CBE), the British Royal Court's Poet Laureate. The Scottish bard was chosen for the medal by a committee of "eminent men and women of letters", selected by Ms. Duffy.

Says Duffy: "It’s simply about excellence, and it means that the monarchy can sprinkle a little stardust on poetry.”

Yes, she really said that.

Unabashed, she continued to heap praise on the medallist's poetry: “It’s formally very accomplished, and technically brilliant" (i.e. it's uses conventional rhyme and metre). Duffy then ploughed on, embarassingly, about how Paterson taps into "deep, timeless human experiences" and ended with a resounding cliche, cleverly combined with a bit of canonisation: "He’s a poet for all time who speaks very much to us in the 21st century, to our preoccupations, but he also belongs in the company of the poets of the past.”

It's appropriate that the award was instituted by King George V: Paterson's poetry reads to me like minor Georgian poetry. But that's the way with literary awards; the example of Abdellatif Laabi below shows that they sometimes, almost by chance, get the right person. But not often. Ah, well. 'Twas ever thus.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I spent this morning in IKEA choosing furniture (or having it chosen) for my teenage daughter's bedroom. I spent this afternoon putting up a curtain rail in the same bedroom (yes, it took that long). I'll probably spend tomorrow assembling aformentioned flat-pack furniture. This is no life for a poet!

I remember reading that when WS Graham moved house in Cornwall, he left in only the clothes he stood up in and walked to the the new house. Sounds like a dream of freedom and simplicity. I hate to say it, but I'm more like Philip Larkin who wondered what he might have achieved if he hadn't written his poetry at the end of long working days.

Friday, January 15, 2010

My Leafe Press henchman John Bloomberg-Rissman has just completed 'Flux, Clot & Froth' (FCF) part 2 of his on-going project, of which 'No Sounds of my Own Making' was part one. FCF, published on John's blog, would run to around 800 pages in book form. The work is an exercise in sampling, that is, borrowing text from other writers - or people in general - to make a kind of boundless poetry that interfaces with all aspects of contemporary life, via the texts that document it. It's an epic project - just check out the list of names he's borrowed from - but it's at the same time a light-hearted (and affectionate) spoof of the epic works of High Modernism. The whole project is called Zeitgeist Spam. Long may it contiinue!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Abellatif Laâbi

I was very pleased to hear that Laâbi has been honoured by the Goncourt Academy. The Moroccan poet was awarded this literary honor for "his life achievements," the Academy said in a statement. The prize will be officially given on January 12, 2010.

Leafe Press, of course, has just published a new translation of Laâbi 's poem 'Fragments of a Forgotten Genesis' in a dual-language edition, and it's available now (see below for special offer). Laâbi is a heroic figure, who has spent his life fighting oppression of all kinds (he was a strong supporter of Salman Rushdie during the 'Satanic Verses' affair).
He was born in 1942 in Fes, Morocco. In 1966 he founded Anfas/Souffles, an important literary review, which provided a focus for Moroccan and Maghreb creative energies. It was banned in 1972. Laâbi was imprisoned, tortured and sentenced to ten years in prison for "crimes of opinion" (for his political beliefs and his writings) and served a sentence from 1972-1980. He was then forced into exile in France, where he has lived since 1985.

Laâbi has published a huge volume of work, particularly poetry, but although there is a Selected Poems ('The World's Embrace') from City Lights, San Franciscio, he is under-represented in English. So Leafe was particularly pleased, in fact honoured, to publish his long poem 'Fragments d’une genèse oubliée / Fragments of a Forgotten Genesis'. It was originally published in 1998 by Editions Paroles d’Aube, but was out-of-print in both English and French when Leafe Press took it on. The poem is a surrealistic refiguring of Genesis presented in twenty-six “fragments.” As a whole, the work is a mystical yet cynical re-visioning of both the Old Testament and the Koran. The translation, by Gordon and Nancy Hadfield is uncluttered and clear, and works as a fine English poem in its own right.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I'd like to wish a belated Happy New Year to all visitors to this blog. I wish you all peace, health and happiness during 2010. Here's a piece of poetry to start the year with; a bit of summer on this winter night, with snow falling outside. My previous post was a response to Keith Armstrong's criticism of Basil Bunting; it's good to remember that whatever factions, in-groups, vested interests and power structures might exist among poets, what counts in the end is the poetry:

A fowler spreading his net
over the barley, calls,
calls on a rubber reed.
Grain nods in reply.
Poppies blue upon white
wake to the sun's frown.
Scut of gazelle dances and bounces
out of the afternoon.
Owl and wolf to the night.
On a terrace over a pool
vafur, vodka, tea,
resonant verse spilled
from Onsori, Sa'di,
till the girls' mutter is lost
in whisper of stream and leaf,
a final nightingale
under a fading sky
azan on their quiet.

Basil Bunting, from 'The Spoils'