Friday, 30 March 2012

In Memory of Adrienne Rich

One of the defining presences of post-war poetry in English passed away this week aged 82. The unremitting political urgency and depth of her work can hardly be equalled, just at this time of widespread public dereliction when her clear, incisive voice is needed more than ever.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Meeting Hornby

  I met Nick Hornby today at an event at the Ministry of Stories on Hoxton Street, which if I can say with my teacher's head on is a fantastic groundbreaking project promoting creative writing for children and adolescents which anyone involved in education in Hackney should check out (apparently based on a similar project Dave Eggers founded in San Fransisco.) Our students with learning disabilities had participated in several workshops encouraging them to invent 'sensory poems' about their experiences of local shops and cafes -their words were then transmuted into 'plaques' to be displayed in each of the places' windows, creating concrete links between learners' individual perspectives and their immediate environment.
   Having an 18year old son who is on the autistic spectrum, Nick Hornby ( a remarkably down-to-earth guy for a best-selling author) seemed to have an excellent understanding of what an important project this was and did the presentations of the hand-pressed books which each of the students took away. He even spoke of perhaps wanting his son to attend one of our courses.
    I'm an admirer of High Fidelity, the only book of Hornby's I've read - not so much for the style as for its insights into obsessional music geekery as both a mask for - and at the same time a furtherance of - a young man's diffidence and immaturity.
    But I despair of ever getting a novel published. Yesterday I received with surprise a self-addressed envelope with my novel-sample and synopsis in it - surprise, because I haven't sent out any postal submissions for ages. Checking the date on the covering letter, I realised it was from an agent I had submitted to in September 2010.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Catches Up as Joy: Tess Gallagher at the South Bank

   The reading in the Purcell Rooms on Tuesday was a major disappointment in so far as John Kinsella (one of the main draws for me) couldn't make it due to sickness.
   His last-minute replacement was Rachel Boast (author of Sidereal) and,like the other first-half reader Jean Sprackland, she regaled us with the kind of over-familiar, risk-averse poetry aptly placed to garner Whitbreads and Costas and all manner of other commercially-sponsored awards. Boast was certainly the more engaging of the two, however, due to the metaphysical and scientific scope of her work, citing Samuel Taylor-Coleridge as her book's "presiding spirit".
   Tess Gallagher, with a hefty New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe) to promote, was a far more vibrant reader and between-poem speaker, with poems ranging over her links to Ireland, memories of Raymond Carver, a lament for a hummingbird, and the stunning meditation 'At Lorca's Piano'. In many respects her manner has changed little since the 60s, but it's just this post-Beat quality of rambling personal disclosure imbued with a sort of ragtaggle spiritual enquiry that's still so treasurable to hear, offsetting apparently prosaic narratives with potent undertones and crosscurrents, occasionally leading to startlingly beautiful lines such as "our soon-to-be-deadness catches up in us as joy".
   Gallagher should have been the headliner as Douglas Dunn could only be described as dull. Glints of acerbic Scots wryness were the only palliatives to a monotone rehearsal of the same post-Larkinian stylings Dunn has (with the notable exception of his best and most widely-read book Elegies) soldiered on with.

Monday, 19 March 2012

nummi no more

One of the Finnish poets included in the anthology I mentioned recently passed away last week. Here's a link to a fascinating interview with him along with some samples of his poems (thanks Jeremy):


Thursday, 8 March 2012

Shearsman at the Swedenborg

  To the fetching venue of Swedenborg Hall the other night, just off Bloomsbury Square, for a reading to launch two new Shearsman debut volumes, The Marble Orchard by Sandeep Parmar and Hedge Fund and Other Living Margins by Helen Moore.
  Sandeep Parmar acquitted herself well, with nuanced readings of poems vividly seesawing between life-story and history, memory and myth. Her work on the Modernist poets Mina Loy and the Hope Mirrlees of 'Paris' seems to have seeped into her distinctive patterning of phrase and cadence, often layering different linguistic registers to arresting effect.
   Helen Moore was a sensitive reader of her own work, giving each syllable and word a rich phonetic voicing. This came across particularly well in the effective dialogic poem 'Hedge Fund' which she performed with her partner, Niall McDevitt. Other poems attempting to address ecological or gender themes came across as less than subtle and eventually one longed for the more 'oblique strategies' preferred by Parmar.