Tuesday, January 10, 2006

William Oxley: featured poet at Falcon Editions this month

'The sonnet is, at once, the simplest and the most complex, the most personal and the most universal form in poetry ... It is a true microcosm in words: a perfect verbal mirror – when properly polished – of that greater macrocosm called life – of which latter we humans are a part.'


William Oxley is the featured poet this month on Jonathan Steffen’s new literary website www.falconeditions.com. I’ve known William for some years; we first made contact through the small press scene, back in the mid-90s. I was editing Blade at the time and wanted to meet the man who’d been responsible for editing one of the most notorious and influential little magazines in Britain, Littack, which had flourished and folded in the early 70s, two decades before I stumbled across Bloodaxe’s POETRY WITH AN EDGE anthology and was astonished to discover that people who were still alive could publish their poetry. I think I’d read some fascinating interview with William Oxley in Wolfgang Gortschacher’s superb tome on the small press scene, LITTLE MAGAZINE PROFILES: THE LITTLE MAGAZINES IN GREAT BRITAIN, 1939 - 1993 (University of Salzburg Press, ISBN 3705206087) and was keen to pick up some tips on magazine editing from one of the 'greats', especially one who had railed against the Establishment with his Vitalist manifesto.

Feeling a certain kinship with William’s position, I took myself along to the Little Magazine Store at UCL one overcast morning and found great pleasure in reading the original copies of Littack. I then managed to persuade David Miller to photocopy one of the covers for me, designed by Ian Hamilton Finlay - himself editor in the 60s of the Concrete poetry magazine Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. With permission, I used that infamous image of bomber planes as a cover for an early issue of Blade Magazine, attacking the literary Establishment thirty years later with the same bombers!

Sadly, I’m not sure any copies of that particular issue of Blade are still in my possession. So if anyone still has one tucked away somewhere ....

William Oxley is a very talented man, a sort of maverick figure in the small press world, constantly thinking and constantly dabbling in poetry - not only as a practitioner but also as an editor (he launched the Long Poem Group with Sebastian Barker and is Consultant Editor on Acumen) facilitator, organiser and now director of international literary events like The Torbay Poetry Festival. His poems have been widely published throughout the world, and his recent books of poetry include Collected Longer Poems (Salzburg University Press, 1994), and Reclaiming the Lyre: New and Selected Poems (Rockingham Press, 2001).

Among the pieces William Oxley has contributed to Falcon Editions this January are some lyrical, thoughtful and masterfully structured poems; several trademark ‘provocative’ articles on poetry (sonnets, cadence, the ‘designer poet’, the state of poetry publishing today); plus an amusing interview with Jonathan Steffen. I highly recommend a visit to the site; you can click on the link below after these brief tasters, my personal pick of this month’s feature on William Oxley:

Here are the opening lines of his poem


Alone or in pairs like penitents they stand
in unholy wind at the bleakest edge
of fields of winter-gutted farmland
where inedible ivy clings to crazy walls
and trees offer bare ideas of form and age.
Some wear coats like men in shabby overalls
or chamois-naked stand log-still
fetlocked in a mash of ice and mud.

And here is an extract from


The sonnet is, at once, the simplest and the most complex, the most personal and the most universal form in poetry. The simplest because it is comparatively easy for any poet-apprentice to get a grip on; simplest because nearly everyone – poet or non-poet – knows something about it e.g. that it almost always has only 14 lines; and simplest because it is the most efficacious, economical, tightly organized yet flexible verse-form ever invented – the Persian ghazal notwithstanding. The simplest and the most complex form because it is a miracle of containment in being, in vernacular terms, the fabled half pint pot that really can contain a pint. It is a true microcosm in words: a perfect verbal mirror – when properly polished – of that greater macrocosm called life – of which latter we humans are a part.

and another extract from his article


Consequently, this South Sea Bubble of Bardolatry would, sooner or later, start to burst (as now); and it is becoming common knowledge, what all real poets have known for years, that poetry does not sell. And all the subsidy, the hype, the prize-giving, etc., is finding it more and more difficult to preserve the illusion that, anyway, in poetry sales don't matter. For, unfortunately, to people like Waterstone's or Oxford University Press, they do.

plus two lively snippets from his


William Oxley (asked for a definition of poetry): 'Poetry is the dance of feeling among words. Poetry is not about things, but what the poet feels about things. Poetry is the utmost act of honesty.'

Jonathan Steffen: 'Do you think that children should be obliged to learn poems by heart in school?'
William Oxley: 'Yes. Having done some acting in my time I realised early the intriguing way in which even the most mundane lines can haunt the mind when memorized. How much more so the poetic.'

To read these poems and articles from William Oxley in full, click here to visit Falcon Editions.

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