Thursday, July 21, 2011

New Work on Litter


Martin Stannard
A Poem in tribute to the late Paul Violi

Geraldine Monk
A Poem from her new book 'Lobe Scarps & Finials'
Mark Goodwin
Two tributes to Geraldine Monk


of books by Julie Lumsden, Eileen Tabios and Aidan Semmens

Click here to read

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Review - 'A Stone Dog' by Aidan Semmens

published by Shearsman books, 90pp, £8.95 / $15, ISBN 9781848611658

If I were a tutor on creative writing course (an unlikely scenario) I'd advise young poets to stop writng for twenty years or so, then, after having some experience of life and wide reading, to take up the craft again. It seems to have beneficial effects. George Oppen famously gave up poetry for political activism for twenty-six years, and a number of poets I'm in touch with have taken life-sized sabbaticals: Ed Baker, for one, and the excellent Alisdair Paterson for another. And now we have Aidan Semmens, who has been working as a journalist and leading a normal life for a few decades, but who has now returned to writing and publishing poetry. Semmens was at Cambridge in the 70s - he won the 1978 Chancellor's Medal for an English Poem at Cambridge - and for a while edited Perfect Bound, the magazine associated with the Cambridge school and the British Poetry Revival. He then lived in the north-east, where he was involved with with the Morden Tower readings and was a friend of Barry MacSweeney and Richard Cadell.

To read the rest of the review, click here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Review: Lumsden and Tabios

True Crime by Julie Lumsden (Shoestring Press), £5.00, ISBN: 978 1 907356 38 4

Silk Egg by Eileen Tabios (Shearsman Books), £9.95 / $17 ISBN 9781848611436

These two books are, on the surface, dissimilar; Tabios writing out of a post-modern, post-colonial milieu, Lumsden writing in what seems a more conservative mode. But the apparent differences are deceptive. Both books are ironic, economic with language, and concerned to present a subversive account of an accepted discourse.

Julie Lumsden is a writer I've admired for a long time, and was in fact, one of the first writers to be published by Leafe. This short pamphlet is exemplary in its concision and economy, delivering a series of monologues and brief, acerbic observations. Much mainstream poetry, combines monologue and lyric, but achieves neither mode successfully. Lumsden's monologues are dramatic in the way that Browning's were; Lumsden is a playwright for stage and theatre, and it shows. The opening sequence of ten poems tells the story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. and it does so from the viewpoint of the characters involved - The Best Friend, the Witness, the Hangman etc. The Hangman, speaking of the woman he's hanged before Ruth Ellis:

No one wept through the night for
Mrs Christofi, or broke through a police cordon...

...Let's put it this way, she
wasn't the sort of woman

men apologise to with roses.
She was older, not much of a looker.

Typically, this implies so much more than it says. The rest of the pamphlet has a similar cutting edge:

I'll stop when I'm ready, stop
driving to poetry events in suburban libraries
wondering if Frank is dead,
and if there's a poem in it.

What this pamphlet does is create a convincing world, peopled by believable characters, then draws the reader into it. A skillful thing to do.

Eileen Tabios is a renowned Filipino-American poet, publisher, editor and intellectual, and this is her first, long-overdue, UK publication, from the ever-reliable Shearsman Books. If all novels were like the ones in this book, I'd read a lot more of them.There are seven 'novels' here, each chapter of which consists of a short prose-poem, often just a couple of sentences, and each novel is a distiliation of the essential elements which could make up a real novel. I was won over on encountering these lines:

He moved into her gift, woke each morning to soft warm
lucidity, and agreed as regards the irrelevance of ribbons.

The understated sensuouness of that last line is superb. Each novel is an unfinished narrative, a set of fragments, for which the reader can supply completion, or, alternatively, they could just enjoy the phrasing, imagery and the sense of mystery each piece invokes. At one level, this book is a satire on contemporary novels, with each of the ten novels being a precis of a certain type. Thus, "Opium-Centred Lace", is - parody is too strong, and not the right word - is the ghost or shadow of a novel that might be a travelogue with some sort of love interest. But the language has a light touch and is too lyrical to be a straightforward satire:

The cafe was owned by the grandaughter of Romanian

Living a good life, someone once whispered in a
childhood schoolyard, is one conclusion to a grave secret.

In "Silk Egg" there is the most-modern notion of appropriating the contemporary realist novel, and the element of parody; but what ultimately appeals about this book is the delicate lyricism.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Men at Risk from Modern Poetry

Researchers have found that men who read difficult modern poetry - from Wallace Stevens to JH Prynne - struggle with relationships. It seems that such men become disillusioned with everyday conversations. Findings suggest that the poetry gives men unrealistic expectations about the complexity of daily language. According to one expert: "Men in particular, can find that the language their wives and families use is lacking in the exciting conundrums, non-sequiturs and thrilling blind-alleys of poetic diction. This can lead to them drifting out of relationships to join groups of like-minded individuals who can comprehend such verbal intricacies". Doctors recommend a gradual transfer of reading to simpler poetry - such as that published by Faber and Faber - with the ultimate aim of being able to survive on a diet of light romantic novels. "We believe such a course will help men to return to normal linguistic usage."

(source: McUniversity, Donaldstown, USA)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Carlo Gébler complains (see my post below) of the "the atrophy of community (writers have never been more marginal and their enterprise more quixotic and ridiculous)". He can't be talking about the poetry world, in which post-modern conditions have rendered traditional hierarchies meaningless, and in which writing and publishing is a shared, communal activity. As for his parenthetical aside; I think the aim of every writer should be to become quixotic and ridiculous.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ian Seed reviews 'Variations on Painting a Room' on Stride.