Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I've just purchased the latest book from Skysill Press, this time "Gospel Earth" by North Carolina poet Jeffery Beam. I bought the hardback edition, beautifully put together and with nice cover artwork (by Laura Frankstone). Like the previous Skysill book from Jess Mynes, this one is also driven by "the urge to produce the irreducible poem". Many of the poems are one-liners - a form Beam has made a study of:


Another field cloudless sky becomes a revolution.

Many of the others are short haiku-like poems. but these are no mere syllable-counting metaphors, but poems of depth and a certain mystery:


Bees sense crowshadow across dry pavement

I am pilgrim on this vegetable earth

I like that. I don't really know why; I just like it. A lot of the poems strike me in that way - "irreducible", I suppose; concentrated, and often needing to be re-read and slowly absorbed by the reader, like a mini-meditation, a Zen Koan:


What whispered place from visions spring always springness

Some of this poetry, especially a sequence called "The Green Man", reminds me of Ronald Johnston. But in fact, the influences are wide and fully acknowledged; Beam cites

"the spiritual literature and folk traditions of the East & West - Japan, India, China, Korea & Malaysia - the Dao, the I Ching, canny Biblical fragments, the Desert Hermits, Gnosticism, Sufism, Ancient Greek poets & philosophers, the French and Spanish Surrealists, the Symbolists & Decadents, Shape Note Songs,bluegrass & African-American gospel music, women's poetry throughout time, Native American poetry, & the poets of the contemporary small poem movement in America & Britain - particularly..."

Beam then goes on to name ninety-five poets across cultures and centuries. The first section of the book, "A Gathering of Voices" is a sequence of short quotes from some of those poets. I like this inclusiveness and sense that the poetry is part of a continuum spanning various human civilizations.

I can't do this book justice in a brief blog post, and I hope to review it properly at some point (promises, promises) but for now I'd just say it's recommended.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The previous post is in response to similar pictures at the blogs of John Bloomberg-Rissman and Richard Lopez. We have a household rule that my poetry books are restricted to one room, and we operate a strict one-in, one-out policy for books (though I often flout it). In the shelves on the left in the top photo, the books are two rows deep, which makes it rather difficult to find stuff. Note the family photos and other objects on the shelves: my books don't have any privileges (like shelves to themselves).

My Bookshelves

My wife and I went to the cinema last night to see The Four Lions. I'd recommend the film, it's funny, though quite disturbing after things take a sinister turn half-way through. The film supports the view that many people in this country subscribe to: that the British-born terrorists of July 7th 2005 and other attacks, were not part of some disciplined, global terrorist network, but were in fact inadequate, misguided buffoons, susceptible to propaganda, and unaware of the enormity of their actions.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Delightful Old Tradition

Once upon a time, British poets were chaps who'd 'come down' from Oxford and gone straight to their Oxbridge contacts in London to arrange to have their slim collections published. These collections were then read by the vulgar masses (or was it, rather, by other Oxbridge graduates?). Sadly, those days are over. Its interesting though, to know that the old ways still persist in some of Britain's quainter tourist enclaves: that there's still a post called "Oxford Professor of Poetry", and that it has just been filled by a certain Professor Geoffrey Hill (78). In continuation of a delightful old tradition, Prof Hill is paid a 'stipend' to deliver a 'Creweian Oration' every other year, and to speak in a sonorous voice in an oak-panelled 'lecture theatre' once a term.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Good new poem from C.J.Allen published online by Red Ceilings. Click on the cover image above to see it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Belated report on Drew Milne's reading

Tuesday 18th May
Centre for Creative Collaboration, Acton Street WC1

Milne read from three groups of texts, the first being architectural in both layout on the page, and in content (i.e. they were 'about' architecture) and which appeared to be constructed from other texts. He preceded the reading by playing a recording of well-known architects discussing their work; the recording was spliced to make a sort of audio-collage. This was very effective, and set the tone for the rest of the performance (which is what it was, rather than a 'reading'): no lyric 'I' in sight, constructed texts and a reader who sat throughout and dispensed with anecdotes and small talk. The effect was very different to most poetry readings I attend, which are usually conventional, and in which the poet is expected to put his or her personality on show. With Milne, you were given a sense of poetry as a medium made from existing materials, and as something which is an "addition to the world" (to quote WS Graham) rather than a comment on it or a story about it. It struck me that Cambridge-style poetry like Milne's, or J.H. Prynne's would be better appreciated by most people as a performance-text, rather than something you would sit down and read in the conventional sense.
A new book from Martin Stannard is available here:


This is early poetry repackaged. I have the original in an artist's large format book with illustrations etc. You don't really see that sort of thing anymore, what with standardised technology.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My daughter introduced me to the music of the English guitarist John Renbourn, whose work she'd been studying for her degree; last night we went to see him perform in a small bar in Nottingham. Renbourn is sixty-six years old, but that doesn't seem to have dimmed his virtuosity, or his friendliness and good humour. It was a privilege to be in such intimate surroundings - around forty or fifty people - and to hear over two hours of spellbinding music from just one man and his acoustic guitar. He played everything from delta blues to ragtime to Celtic folk, and included the three old English songs shown in this clip: