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Showing posts from October, 2014

Only One Sort of Excellence

'I'd feel, you call this poetry?': thus Hamilton summed up his early crusades in an interview with Gerry Cambridge in 1996. He would come to look back with a certain amount of self-irony on his youthful absolutism, an absolutism reinforced by the conviction that a bad line was 'a crime against nature'. 'I'm prepared now to concede that there might be various kinds of excellence in poetry, some of which I'm blind to. I felt then that there was only one sort - which I was custodian of', he told the same interviewer. Yet the confidence and seriousness that fuelled The Review [Hamilton's critical magazine]'s stringencies were remarkable, and the stringencies themselves remarkably even-handed. True, the tone was more acerbic when it came to 'legitimate targets', 'popsters and barbarians', as Hamilton put it, such as the Liverpool poets: 'They were getting praised and enjoyed. They had an audience. There was a sort of Leavisite…

"Nasties, nuisances, nincompoops and nutters":
Christopher Reid's Six Bad Poets - review

A farce-in-verse about the japes of a bunch of hapless poetasters might not sound like the most gift-worthy of reads. Yet Christopher Reid's latest volume looks to have been packaged with an eye to the festive market. Or at least a readership bigger than that of your typical slim volume. A hardback with claret endpapers, its dust-jacket features sketches of the eponymous sextet, looking suspiciously like the gaggle of writers manqué in Posy Simmonds's Tamara Drewe. As the poet Alan Jenkins once quipped, where poets used to be mad or bad, now they're mostly just sad. But if Reid proves one thing in his versified tale of a poetry scene gripped by ambition, hubris, lust and stupidity, it's that there's life in the old (and not-so-old) dogs yet.
The leading light in this spoof is the aging Charles Prime. Back prowling the streets of Soho, he is an all-but-forgotten poet, fresh from a decade doing time for crimes undisclosed. "Weather eye tuned to the main chance&qu…

Dream Testicles and Memphis Guilt:
a review of books by Mark Strand and Don Share

Mark Strand, Almost Invisible, Waywiser Press, £8.99, ISBN 9781904130567; Don Share, Union, Eyewear Publishing, £12.99, ISBN 9781908998101
Mark Strand cuts a persistent figure in post-war American poetry, somewhere between its ageing Buddy Holly and its benign – if somewhat sinister – grandfather. His first books, published in the late 60s, marked him out as a connoisseur of concision, approaching stock themes of absence and negation through a blend of realism and surrealist imagery, and a dark humour that steered feeling clear of sentiment. Since then, his poetry has continued to mine that metaphysical seam, though the early dash and vigour have eased, as if our poet had mellowed with age. All of which wouldn’t be a problem, if the poetry hadn’t also gradually slackened. Almost Invisible, Strand’s thirteenth collection and one that consists entirely of riddling prose poems (the man himself won’t deign to give them that dubious classification, though it’s really the only halfway useful …

"The National Grid plunges us / into darkness...":
PBS Poem of the Week

Poem of the Week on the Poetry Book Society's online bookshop is 'Lights out', from my recent pamphlet of poems, For Real.

Halfway through plates of biryani
and the National Grid plunges us
into darkness ...
Catch it here while you can.


Frances Leviston, and The Red Squirrels at Coole

I’ve always wanted to belong to the city of ideas, and it seems to me that membership of such a city is often incompatible with the other kinds of membership on offer along the way. Choices, or compromises, have to be made, and I find myself more and more inclined to say no to some invitations as a way of saying yes to to something closer to that ideal. I found it liberating to refuse both the Poet Laureate’s invitation to write a poem for the Queen’s Jubilee in 2012, and the Poetry Book Society’s attempt to include me in its Next Generation promotion of emerging poets this year. It’s not that I don’t want to be read, or that I object on principal to the business of actively seeking a readership. The question is one of context—do I feel happy in those groupings, in those lights?

A strange bit of posturing, this. Incisive, even admirable stuff from the poet Frances Leviston on Poetry magazine's editor's blog, and well worth reading in full. Any poet of genuine talent should valu…

"A pimped-out souped-up pussy-magnet": Nick Laird's Go Giants - review

Pick up a new poetry collection next time you’re in your local indie bookshop and, chances are, on the dust jacket, you’ll find the usual publisher’s puff. You know the kind of thing: a smart but predictable blurb extolling the brilliance of the poems therein, or else a few quotes from reviews and contemporaries. Should you happen on Nick Laird’s third book of poems, Go Giants, though, you’ll spot something else – a freewheeling paean that (and I say this at the happy risk of furnishing Faber with an endorsement to pin on Laird’s follow-up) is up there with the best hymns to poetry you’ll come across. Making a mockery of those who reckon the living art form ‘a joke; outmoded as the nose flute’ or else ‘a pimped-out souped-up pussy-magnet’, i.e. just the kind of X Factor-type fuckwittery that would put poetry ‘to a phone-in vote’, this title-less prologue conjures a personal reminiscence that stops you in your tracks. Here we find poetry ‘mooching round the back of the loading dock at …