Friday, June 15, 2012
I published Carrie Etter's pamphlet 'Yet' five years ago, but last night at the Flying Goose was the first time we'd met, and I can say it was a great pleasure. Carrie's reading was revelatory, and, for me, it added an extra dimension to the poetry. The work in her Shearsman collection 'Divining for Starters' has elements of abstraction, and the title sequence, which investigates our cultural predilection for defining new beginnings, is full of false starts and broken sentences, and of snatches of language left unfinished. But there's also a strong sensual element to Etter's poetry, most evident in the remarkable 'Erotics' section. What last night's reading did for me, was to add a sense of place and a sense of the personal to these elements, and to foreground the musicality of the words (yes, I do believe poetry has a musical element, and that the sound of the words is very much part of its effect). Carrie has a strong mid-western accent, and we had a conversation afterwards about how, because I had an English 'internal reader', hearing the words in her own accent subtly changed my reception of them. This, added to her brief introductions, placing the poems in a context of growing up in Illinois, and of her relationship with her late father, grounded the work in a way that silent reading couldn't completely do. The reading ended with a number of poems from her pamphlet, 'The Son', about her experience of giving up a son for adoption; I've reviewed this powerful sequence on Litterbug, so I won't add more, except to say that several audience members, including myself, found the reading a moving experience.
Friday, June 1, 2012
£5.00 A5 32pp. ISBN: 978-1-905885-51-0
The great thing about pamphlets is that you can roll them up and shove them in your back pocket and read them while eating your sandwich at lunch time or waiting in the rain for your train to work. Another great thing is that you can get a buzz from the contrast between the fragile and ephemeral nature of the stapled pamphlet and the sometimes astonishing beauty of the contents, as I did with my two latest Oystercatchers, one containing the luminous, spare wordcraft of Carol Watts, and the other new work by the great John James.
The poems by James are in his trademark laconic style, in plain language, set in France and Bristol, and containing a number of tributes to other poets - Barry MacSweeney, Apollinaire, John Temple and others. But the tone is a long way from the patrician "hail fellow, well met"; instead, it's cool and ironic, full of lyricism and beauty. The opening poem is a tribute to the late Andrew Crozier (topical, given the new 'Crozier Reader' from Carcanet):
...at the kitchen table I put a hand to my breast in sorrow
then reach for the wine still singing
& your book resonant of a life
neither following nor in pursuit
at the end of a line let me read it again...
The poems are full of named people ('I reach toward the poetry of kindred') - family, friends and fellow poets - and are distinctly elegiac in tone. The language is plain, the speech direct. Reading this pamphlet got me wondering about the difference between these poems and the typical first-person-anecdote poem that I find so dull. One difference is that these poems look outward - to the persons addressed and to the world of affairs and politics (though they're not overtly political). The poems feel open; they don't tell us how to respond; they don't sum things up neatly; the persona in them is vague and unemphatic, subordinated to the external world and to the other characters that appear in the poems. But in the end, these things matter less than the fact that the poetry is supremely well-written, the result of lifetime's attention to the art of language; they have that undefinable quality which tells us we're in the presence of the real thing:
BREAKFAST AT RED LODGE
Stop on the turnpike in the month of May
& after breakfast head up country. From here on, says J,
grinning over a serious forkful of Red Lodge Special,
we're in the Texas of East Anglia.
Is that so, says, J, with mock sobriety.
The counter of the cafe painted cheerful red, the tea is hot & brown
& the heads of passing saints smile down
from the wall on these two pilgrims
laughing madly in the Hopper window
where space opens up into the blue beyond the red & white stripe canopy.
Years later swirls of sandy dust blow low across the truck park over the street.
At the next table Asterix the Gaul steadies himself above a dish of red meat.
HGV men return their empty plates and are gone.
It's a sunny afternoon. Drive on, they say, drive on.