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Showing posts from October, 2011

(ix) 02:50: Newtyle

Remember that poem right at the end of Don Paterson’s God’s Gift to Women (1997)? The last in the book’s muddled sequence of poems that take their titles from the defunct Dundee-Newtyle railway line, it comes a handful of blank pages – actual blank pages, just to be clear, not the blank-page poems Paterson has a proclivity for – after the notes, isn’t listed in the contents, and got up the noses of a fair few critics with its mid-parentheses, mid-sentence, ostentatious ending. Really, though, nothing can disguise its intrinsic revelatory weight and significance, how ever much the poet seems at pains to undermine any naïve, earnest hunt for intellectual or spiritual meaning: the white page of its printing likened to snow, which in turn becomes a deity’s “shredded evidence”, falling from the skies.

Well, for those who haven’t spotted this already, you might want to check the copyright page of Landing Light (2003), Paterson’s equally acclaimed follow-up volume (if one discounts the magnif…

Review: Siân Hughes's The Missing

Siân Hughes’s The Missing is a short collection of, typically, short poems; a fact that belies this debut’s exactitude, hard-won emotional truths, and long road to completion. It is some thirteen years since Hughes’s vignette “Secret Lives”, appearing here in book form for the first time, first graced London’s tube trains as part of the Poems on the Underground project (and winner of a TLS competition), depicting a familiar suburban world of complex relationships with magical panache; where dressing gowns meet in the middle of the night to “head for a club they know / where the dress code is relaxed midweek, / and the music is strictly soul.” As much of The Missing demonstrates, Hughes has a real talent for capturing such fleeting, subtly significant incidents: a blend of delicate suggestion, invention and colourful wit characterizes her best poems, expressed in unobtrusive, idiomatic language. “The Girl Upstairs”, for example, treads the line between personal happiness and polite soc…

Difficulty, Academia, and the Young

V: I’ve been quite disappointed recently at how polarized the poetry world can be. When I’m in London speaking to young poets and people there, they like a range of poets — then I get back to Oxford, and talking to graduate students it can seem sometimes like the only poets taken seriously are Hill, Muldoon, Prynne — these are the serious poets.

CR: You can see why. There is a great difference between those poets, but they all have something in common — difficulty. If you’re a graduate student — this is professionalization again — you want to admire something that other people can’t read, where there is work for you. Those three poets represent an employment opportunity. They wouldn’t like Elizabeth Bishop because she is, relatively speaking, quite easy, although she isn’t really that easy — as you know. But there are so many local pleasures, and you persist. ‘Filling Station’ — how can anyone resist it? Well these people can. Because it’s witty, it’s lovely, and they understand it. It…

Making Writing Matter

To those wondering how on earth Autumn has crept up so quickly despite having arrived late – September’s the cruellest; Eliot & Pound had it all wrong, man – I’m right there with you. 2011 looks to have sped on by, and it doesn’t seem a year ago that I was writing about Matter 10 – the decade anniversary issue of the mag published out of Sheffield Hallam University’s renowned MA Writing course – in this meagre corner of the internet. Yet here we are – or I am, at any rate – typing this up hot-on-the-heels (well, almost) of the launch of Matter 11, a rather funky, hot little pink number, as you’ll see from the above, that wouldn’t look out of place on a coffee table in some swanky hairdressers frequented by gaggles of rich-kid fashionistas.

Were it to find itself in that unfortunate situation, however, unlike the tedious fuckwittery that would odds-on make up the glossy pages of its idiotic neighbours, Matter’s pages are crammed with sharp, witty, gritty, honest, often edifying and,…

In Brief reviews: Nerys Williams' Sound Archive and Julian Turner's Planet-Struck

Sound Archive, by Nerys Williams (Seren, £8.99)

"How to sing the texture of hair / drying near fire on a winter's night?" asks the narrator of "Shopkeeper's Song", one of several playfully serious meditations in this curious collection. A former sound librarian, Nerys Williams brings precision, scrutiny and colourful synaesthesia to her terse, contemplative poems: "my favourite perfume was a room of laughter" states the poet in "Aurascope", while words are put under the knife in "An Anatomy of Arguments"; "edges so fine their chords fray into light". Surreal imagery abounds, heightening the poems' examinations of the blurring between reality and illusion, truth and deception: Dublin's "Dead Zoo" of stuffed animals becomes an unlikely metaphor for the forgotten "unreleased singles and demos" that John Peel once championed, now there's "nothing left but teenage kicks"…

Memorial

In her sixth book of poetry, Memorial, Alice Oswald draws on her classical education and longstanding fascination with the oral tradition – tales told rather than written – to produce a mesmeric reworking of the world’s greatest war story: Homer’s Iliad. Yet where most critics have praised, and most translators have sought to capture, what Matthew Arnold called the poem’s “nobility”, Oswald’s version abandons its narrative – the wrath of Achilles – approaching instead what ancient critics called its “enargeia”, or “bright unbearable reality”. The result is a darkly atmospheric poem which flits between biographical laments for the many war-dead and soaring, dramatic similes; “an antiphonal account”, as Oswald states in her introduction, “of man in his world”. Throughout, the unflinching, plain realism of the former – “DIORES son of Amarinceus / Struck by a flying flint / Died in a puddle of his own guts / Slammed down into mud he lies” – is often as gripping as the elemental blaze of t…