Thursday, 29 May 2014

Early Summer Round-Up

Matthea Harvey
Kathryn Simmonds
Pleased to find myself in two early summer publications which came out this week. New Welsh Review 104 has essays on David Jones and Dylan Thomas (surely you can't be bored by his centenary celebrations already?!), a travel piece about Burma and poems by Damian Walford Davies and Jonathan Edwards. My contribution consists of two poetry reviews: one of Kathryn Simmonds' 2nd volume The Visitations and one a pamphlet round-up including Samantha Wynne-Rydderch's latest:
   I also have a poem (or a sequence of four, depending on how you read it) in the new summer issue of  Poetry London. I haven't seen a copy yet but there was a launch this evening (I was unable to attend) which included readings by Niall Campbell, D. Nurkse, Matthea Harvey and Angie Estes, all intriguing poets so should be a strong edition.
   Afterword: I have it now and it's definitely worth a look. Poems by Denise Riley, Colette Bryce and Eoghan Walls, reviews of books by Christopher Middleton, Gottfried Benn (translated by Michael Hofmann) and Derek Mahon.

Monday, 12 May 2014

JHW 1942-2014

    And now John has died. I realise I reflect too often in this blog on the passing of poets - no doubt a sign of aging - but there always seems to me something especially tragic when a poet leaves the world. What was it Pasternak called them? "Hostages of eternity in the hands of time". Something of this although there is something assuring about that quote too; perhaps something also like this line from a Lorrie Moore story: "What is beautiful is seized".
   But John was a friend. He would have laughed at me for bandying such grandiose quotations. Like most genuine poets he didn't have much time for the pretentious baloney that's spouted about poetry and literature; he preferred to get on with it and let his work do the talking. I can only echo the generous tribute written by Todd Swift on Eyewear the other day about both John the man and John the poet, although I knew him for a much shorter time than Todd.
    I missed John when he made his final trip to England three weeks ago to read from his new volume The Golden Age of Smoking at the LRB Bookshop and I had been meaning to email him to see how it had gone ever since I've been back in London. On the other hand I'm really glad I had the opportunity to conduct an interview with John last autumn on this blog and I hope now it reads as a last summing-up of his views on poetry and a potted autobiography for those wishing to look back.
   What comes through, however, is the sense of himself as a figure somewhat eclipsed by the poetry scene he had not so long ago been a distinctive part of, a disillusion born of struggling to get quirky, unconventional poems like his heard above the chugging drone of mediocrity. I hope that John's death will occasion some form of revaluation of his achievement (perhaps a Collected, for example, will appear before long) and see his reputation restored to its proper standing.
   I just flicked through my favourite book of his, Canada, for a line or stanza appropriate for this moment but I could find nothing mournful or gloomy in the whole collection. In fact almost every poem is full of energy, good humour and zing: he was very much a poet "on the side of life" and as a person too. All the sadder, then, that he is now gone.
   Obituary by his friend John Lucas here.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Rosemary Tonks 1928-2014

  One of the most interesting and enigmatic British poets of the late 20th century, Rosemary Tonks, passed away last week. Even to call her a poet, however, shows up the inadequacy of our terminology since she hadn't written any poems since the '60s and had foresworn the two short collections she published at that time. Brian Patten made a radio documentary about her a few years ago called The Poet Who Vanished. Like Rimbaud (whose influence seems traceable in these marvellous, effervescent, offbeat poems, as well as Laforgue's and that of the French Surrealists) she renounced the daring verbal forays of youth in favour of what she came to see as more important concerns; in this case, a reclusive devotion to her Christian faith. A more exact parallel, in fact, could be drawn with the life of Hope Mirrlees, who similarly gave up poetry after a single tour de force - the book-length masterpiece Paris - deeming it incompatible with the demands of her religion and only returning to writing poetry right at the end of her life.
    I wonder if a secondary motive for not seeing a career in poetry as a viable option for either Tonks or Mirrlees (or equally Laura Riding, another apostate) was the anomalous nature of being a female Modernist poet who didn't wish to conform to the inherited stereotypes foisted upon them by the literary establishment. Tonks was clearly never going to be a mainstream poet and what few notices I've found about her (written by men) do often focus somewhat belittlingly on the frisky, sensuous loucheness of her work, which is one of its great appeals and makes it so redolent of its time: how many male poets of the '60s capture the flavour of the period so well? (The Liverpool poets, for example, seem juvenile in comparison.)
   For a taster of her brilliantly-titled volume Iliad of Broken Sentences try this discontinued blog.
   Guardian obituary here.