Monday, 23 May 2011

The 3D of Poetry

With my current maritime project well under way I'm reading all things sea.

The most recent being Jean Atkin's Lost at Sea (Roncadora Press) on left. Although I'm not convinced it's strictly a 'read', being a wonderful collaboration of text, texture and visuals. The poems focus on the Shetland Islands, their geology, their inhabitants, sailors, drowings and survivors. A subject made all the more visceral by the mashing of the paper's texture upon which the poems sit.

Which got me thinking about the spaciousness of poetry, what it is and how it is perceived. This may have been prompted by John Fuller's article in The Guardian this weekend about the riddles of poetry, or hearing about Bob Dylan's squirming under labels, preferring 'poet' to anything else - for its versatility. Although I'm not convinced his lyrics, taken bare, make such great poems... To me it seems the addition of music is what makes them poems - or how he delivers them...

Anyway. This illustrated book/pamphlet highlights to me the beauty of this flexibility. The block printed pages could be described as poetry themselves. Poems are two-dimensional sculptures, which, like a magic-eye paintings, grow a third, and possibly fourth, dimension upon reading. After years of writing fiction (short and long) when I landed on poetry being the best form for what I wanted to say (and how) I instantly felt at home in poetry. It was a homecoming - to a home I didn't fully recognise, but which had formed the peaks of my childhood landscape as an avid reader of poetry, nursery rhymes, Struwwelpeter, etc etc. Like Eliot's And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time ... except it was the start of my exploration...

As 'poet' I can continue to persue my eclectic practice. Making the films to accompany Host last year was a visual way of exploring the poems, a rewrite of sorts. Working with Mouthtrap stretches my musical muscle. Sailing brings out my artisan poet. Basically I get to muck about.

I love this meeting point that pulls such diverse strands together, and sends them spiralling apart - like a prism. It's this patterning possibility that excites me about working on multifaceted approach to one subject, or form. And by 'working on' I mean reading about too. So I welcome any suggestions for artists/books/films about the sea...

Sunday, 15 May 2011

A Thesaurus of Readings?

Two readings in one week is a rare occurrence for me. The first, up in Cumbria, with the wonderful friendly and attentive Poem and a Pinters was a lively evening - with a great spread of poets - open mics included Mike Barlow (reading his 3rd prize winning 'Mack' fresh from Strokestown) and Jennifer Copley, whose pamphlet Living Daylights (Happenstance Press) is a eerily fascinating and oddly funny response to death. I was billed with Graham Austin, whose relentless humour kept his set upbeat and me wondering why I had to follow him.

The same was true for the second of the two readings - at University of Cumbria, with the very marvellous and dry Andrew McMillan (pictured left, looking the relaxed and engaging performer he is). Andrew is an interesting deliverer of his work, in that he punctuates his elastic, insightful and often tragic poems withan irrepressible and irreverent wit. The result is unsettling, demanding attention and rewarding in a crystal sharpness. And the rest of the audience clearly found it so since they'd laugh at what seemed to be a punchline of a poem before their cognitives caught up with the jaw muscles and they realised they were laughing at loss or pain. I'm working with Andrew on his second pamphlet, due out from Red Squirrel Press in the autumn, and it was great to hear him read some of its poems out alongside older ones - the leap in confidence of form and breadth is thrilling.

And, yes, talking of leaps. I used both readings to test out a few new poems from Hawthornden. Always a nerve wracking experience - such fresh poems, but they're from the sequence that is rooted in The Bay, so I thought the audience would be at least interested in a perspective of their locality. Made more jittery given one of the poems is a villanelle - needing to be because of its subject matter - lighthouses - but written, rewritten and read with Donnie P's disparagement of villanelle's loud in my memory. And a quiet fear he might be right. So, all the more gratifying was the positive response to these newer poems - the audience being the true gauge of your work - and encouraging the continuation of the rigorous rewriting I'm filling my spare time with. We shall see how they're received further afield...

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A Poem and a Pint

This Saturday (7th May 7.30 pm) I'm reading at the Malt Kiln Bardsea, near Ulverston, alongside Graham Austin with music from Demix.

I don't often get asked to read to the north of here. So it'll be good to head in a different direction on the M6. Although it does mean I won't get to see this beautiful bridge as a signal for being Nearly Home.


My fellow poet, Graham Austin has been prolific: Fuelling Speculation (HappenStance, 2010); Poetry for Blokes, Volumes 1-7; Free Verse Tales from The Home for Historical Personages (2009); Golden Boy and Me, 1 & 2 (2004); and Not a Word (2004, containing the interesting silent performance poem). He's also published two booklets, Considering Eliot's The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock (2009); and The Joker Playing Card (2005).

Demix are from Rusland, with "distinguished pedigrees in the world of rock, blues and folk, their music is distinctive, Sarah’s gorgeous jazz-inflected voice beautifully supported by Rod’s inventive guitar".

I'm looking forward becoming part of A Poem and a Pint's lineage. Its back catalogue includes Don Paterson, Kathleen Jamie, Michael Symons Roberts, Helena Nelson, Christopher Reid, Clare Shaw, Andrew Forster and tons of other admirable poets.