A Reasonable Thing To Ask

It's not often that one poem can provide a straightforward answer to another poem's question. After all, if poetry always worked in such ways, it would cease to be the questioning, affecting and constantly challenging art form that it is. But in the latest edition of Poetry Review (Vol. 98:1, Spring 2008), the poet Christopher Reid has 'A Reasonable Thing To Ask', a poem alongside two others, 'Conundrum' and 'Afterlife'.

The poem's reasonable query is that the reader, or at least someone out there, 'please explain tears'. 'What', asks Reid's narrator, 'do we gain by it' ... 'a faculty that interferes / with seeing and speaking / and leaves [us] feeling weaker'? The question is a good one, as the poem's allusion to Darwin, and by extension, evolutionary theory and survival of the fittest, throws into question the evolutionary benefit (if any) of such a disabling, emotionally-triggered reflex.

Almost incredible, then, that Nick Laird's second collection, On Purpose, published last summer, provides a near perfect answer to Reid's poem in a short little piece titled 'The Perfect Host'. For it turns out that recent scientific research has uncovered the benefits of emotional tears by comparing them with basal tears (constant, moisturising 'tears' that lubricate the eye) and reflex tears (as in 'those that flow / because an onion is reduced to pieces / or smoke strays from the barbecue', as Laird puts it). And the results have shown that emotional tears contain a greater number of toxins and in particular, higher rates of manganese, which is 'thought responsible', as Laird's poem notes, 'for sadness'. In spite of crying and its physically and socially debilitating effects, then, emotional tears help to rid our body of certain toxins, and also explain why, after a good cry, people often feel much better...

because you must know by now
that it loves you, your body,
and wants you to stay.

Quite a cheery sort of conclusion, don'tcha think?

Don Paterson

Just a snippet of news in that my critical perspective of Don Paterson's work to date is now up on the British Council's Contemporary Writers database, here.

A critical perspective of Simon Armitage's poetry, novels and translation will follow.


New Poems by James Midgley

Following on from new poems by Charlotte Runcie, Andrew Bailey and Corinne Salisbury (see previous posts), the final featured poet on the Poetry Group for April 2008 is Mimesis editor James Midgley. His work has been previously published in various UK journals including Magma and The Rialto.

You can read four new poems of his here.



Alongside reviews of Matthew Francis's new Faber collection, Mandeville, Dennis O'Driscoll's Reality Check, and what looks to be an interesting feature in the Commentary section on Movement poet Thom Gunn, I've just checked the TLS website to find that my poem 'The Mole' is published in this week's issue (25th April).

This is my second poem in the TLS - and hopefully not the last - after a short sequence on the scientist Nikola Telsa appeared back in February 07. Do pick up a copy if you get chance.

In other news, I should also be reviewing an interesting new pamphlet collection soon - Flood, by a young poet called Paul Abbott. It's published by Clutag Press, an Oxford-based publisher who specialise in high quality pamphlets (having recently published work by Mick Imlah, Tom Paulin and Seamus Heaney), and is promisingly described as "a Waste Land for the twenty-first century".

Which reminds me - for those who are interested, the Tower Poetry competition winners for 2008 are up on the site. Good to see Pomegranate poet Richard O'Brien commended.


Matthew Francis's Guardian Poetry Workshop

Just some brief news: Matthew Francis is leading the Guardian's poetry workshop for April with an interesting exercise on working and developing sensual imagery into poems.

You can read more here.

As part of the Poetry Writing Month madness I think I might take part, as the exercise looks like a very productive and slightly unusual way into writing a poem.


New Poems by Andrew Bailey

Following on from Charlotte Runcie's work last week (see previous posts), this week's featured poet on the Poetry group is Andrew Bailey, a widely published writer who was winner of the Poetry Society's Geoffrey Dearmer Prize in 2005.

You can read three new poems of his here.

Next week's featured poet will be Corinne Salisbury.


Spoken Word Sheffield

What with events organisers Opus’s Now Then magazine having been recently launched as a platform for their various nights and Word Life returning to the University of Sheffield’s Raynor Lounge, poetry, spoken word and live music performances in Sheffield seem to be going from strength to strength. Wanting to get back into the swing of reading in public, then, I attended two spoken word nights in Sheffield on Tuesday and Wednesday evening.

First was Spoken Word Antics, which has been running for just over 5 years now, drawing together a decent and varied crowd every second Tuesday of the month in the homely upstairs function room of The Red Deer. This offers an extended performance from a guest reader and a mixture of poems, short fiction, novel extracts and songs that quickly fill up the open mic slots.

The featured performance this month was Linda Lee Welch’s new poem sequence, Flossie Paper Doll, a haunting and atmospheric narrative set to guitar and pre-recorded laptop-mixed samples, interspersed with songs. It was an impressive and moving piece that everyone seemed to enjoy. In the open mic section there was also a genuinely funny and off-the-wall reading of a novel-in-progress from Charlotte Wetton, centred around a fictional porn empire and its dealings with a group of religious vigilantes. Brilliantly weird. There were also plenty of other good readers including Corinne Salisbury and organiser Robin Vaughan-Williams, but the last stand out performance came in the form of two poems from Joe Kriss: the first a short, cryptic and funny skit about a man’s identity crisis, the second a heartfelt and unflinchingly honest appraisal of his moving from London to live and study in Sheffield.

I read four poems – ‘CV’, ‘Across the Way’, ‘Snipe Hunt’ and ‘Hex’ – all of which seemed to go down quite well, particularly the ridiculous and outlandish comedy of the first. A few of these are edited versions of very recent poems. So thanks to NaPoWriMo, as it turns out that writing a poem-a-day for a month isn’t as draining as you might expect, and can even help you to turn out some pretty decent work…

As for Wednesday, and there was a new spoken word night at The Runaway Girl called 'Runaway with Words', featuring a mixture of poetry and songs by Sheffield poets Chloe Balcomb & Seni Seneviratne. It also featured poems and songs read and sung by Hallam MA Writing poets Val Binney, Jude Brown, Sally Goldsmith and Fay Musselwhite. I missed the first half but enjoyed Jude’s set of poems and Seni Seneviratne’s performance, which effortlessly switched between moving, often soaring songs and a good range of poems, the highlight being a witty and darkly humorous dramatic monologue in the voice of an elderly woman, reflecting on her past whilst in the confines of a care home. There was also a short open mic section towards the end of the evening which featured six readers including myself: this included a good variety of different voices and I ended up reading the same poems as I had at Antics, which again got a fair few laughs in the right places. It will certainly be good to see this event grow and develop in the coming months now that previous Runaway night 'Words Aloud' has moved on to the Lescar (something else I keep meaning to attend).

Which brings things to tonight, then, when Word Life returns after its holiday break. I’ll no doubt head along, with readings from Andy Craven-Griffiths and a handful of others, plus live music and DJ sets. There’s also a new ‘Poems & Pints’ night at the Roebuck Tavern next Monday which might be worth checking out. In the meantime, though, its back to working on a tenth poem for NaPo, which when completed means I’m a reassuring third of the way through…


New Poems by Charlotte Runcie

Poet and editor of Pomegranate magazine, Charlotte Runcie, is this week's featured poet on the Poetry Group. You can read three new poems of hers here.

Next week's featured poet will be Andrew Bailey, a widely published writer who won the Poetry Society's Geoffrey Dearmer Prize in 2005.


NaPoWriMo 2008: A Poem a Day

Having failed to keep up last year (I must have churned out all of about seven poems) I've resolved to actually write a poem a day throughout the month of April for NaPoWriMo: National Poetry Writing Month.

So while I'm not attempting anything as ambitious as Rob MacKenzie's thirty part sequence poem (which promises to be an interesting read), I will be posting a poem each day on my thread at the Poetry Free-For-All, here. My first piece for the challenge, 'Lightning', is already up.

Feel free to drop in and read once in a while, then, or better still, start your own thread on the forum and take up the challenge!

Commended Poet Shock in National

So the first, second and third place winners of the National Poetry Competition have been announced. You can read them here.

I for one don't feel ready to comment on the quality and deservedness of these winning poems just yet (competitions are so much luck, especially the National and the undoubtedly high standard of many of its entries), but something interesting has turned up of late: word is that a lot of fuss is being made behind the scenes at the Poetry Society over one of the commendations.

This is down to former PM Tony Blair having apparently entered the competition and having been anonymously judged as a commended poet.

The problem apparently stems from his poem's contents, smearing certain current cabinet members and revealing some incredible truths about his time in office.

Of course, this recalls the recent story of the mysterious versifier at Downing Street, though one would hope that the quality of Blair's poem is greater than that of the doggerel 'upon the stair'...

With regard to Blair's verse, then, it is suspected that the judges thought that the poem was by another author and hence written in a witty, postmodern, Luke Kennard-esque style. So at least that bodes well for its overall quality. The realisation that the poem was written by Blair, however, revealed a darker, more truthful and disturbingly confessional side to it.

Whether or not Blair's poem will actually be commended remains to be seen, of course, but I among many others will be very interested to read it.