Monday, August 31, 2009

Poetic Swings and Prose Roundabouts

John Keats, probably not having any trouble writing prose and poetry at the same time, unlike me

The kids go back to school next week, and I can already feel that inexorable swing back toward prose happening inside. I wrote another poem today in my rebranded, reshaped Gawain sequence, but it was an effort. The easy glide of mid-summer poetry is dissipating. I may only have a few more days of composition left in me. Until next time, that is.

I want to write something about Hughes, so that's been flagged up mentally and is now occupying some space where my own work was. And I'm studying Romantic and Victorian poetry over the next academic year, which means I have Keats and Hopkins permanently at my bedside - metaphorically speaking - and though I love them both deeply, they are not the stuff new poetry is made from.

But last week, oh last week, I wrote something good. Not in the Gawain sequence, but a stand-alone lyric. I was very pleased with it. So pleased, in fact, it may keep my toes warm all winter.

Horizon Review is due out in another few weeks, too. More work of a non-poetic type. So it's back to school and back to prose. But until that last leaf falls from the tree, I shall keep squeezing the remnants of poetry out as best I can.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Big Salt Facebook Vote

Three posts in one day. I'm having a rush of blood!

I also forgot to mention the big Salt vote-fest on Facebook. What is the most important book Salt has ever published?

You'll need to login to Facebook (or register if you're not already in the system) in order to vote here.

Katy Evans-Bush: The Poetry Workshop

And I forgot to flag this up, for those in the London area: a new poetry workshop, being run by Katy Evans-Bush, whose poetry is published by Salt and whose Love Ditty of an 'eartsick Pirate, an affectionate and hilarious take on Eliot's Prufrock, in Piratese, can be found at the Horizon Review website.

Katy's workshop will meet at the Lamb Pub, 94 Lambs Conduit Street, London WC1
6.30-8.30pm, Wednesdays
The price is £125 a term
Starts September 23rd

See Katy Evans-Bush's website for details of how to join.

Reviewing (and the importance of the line-break)

I seem to go through phases in my writing. Some months it's prose fiction, others it's poetry, and still others it's reviewing. Not that I don't mix and match occasionally, but prose and poetry do feel like natural opposites - enemies, even? - and so try not to do both at the same time, or not without experiencing a little inner tension.

This month, I've been writing some new poems, revising old ones, and also working up to a handful of reviews I've got in hand, one bunch for Iota and the other for Poetry Review. By working up to them, I don't mean girding my loins, i.e. mentally preparing myself, but reading the books in question, making a few notes, and generally allowing the poems I've read to circulate creatively in my mind.

It's an instructive exercise, reviewing. Having to formulate your thoughts on someone else's poetry can make you return to your own work with a more analytical eye. Or it can make you despondent, if the poet you're reviewing happens to be very good!

Something that has a strong effect on me at the moment is the line-break. I'm becoming a little obsessed, perhaps, with the ramifications of the line-break. It was always a defining moment for me in the poems I have written, but it now seems, more than ever, the key to a good poem. Or perhaps, deeper than that, the key to what kind of poet one is or becomes.

So when I review books of poetry, one of the most important things I'm instinctively - rather than overtly - noticing as I read through, is the line-break. Which really means, I'm listening to the rhythms of the poem even more than I'm listening to the surface meaning, because in a bad poem the line-break struggles against the meaning in a clumsy and inapposite way, and in a good poem, the line-break hands you the sense and feel of the poem both aurally and visually, without effort.

This was meant to be a post about reviewing, but perhaps it's secretly a post about the importance of the line-break. Which is indeed the very thing vexing and exciting me this morning.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Gawain, Again

I'm rather relieved this week because, after months of impasse on my Gawain and the Green Knight sequence, I am finally clear about its structure and general direction.

It all happened rather suddenly. I was just browsing my file of poems, tidying things up and pondering the shape my fourth collection might take, when it struck me that instead of just vaguely picking out key moments in the poem, or key emotions, and writing poems around them in an ad hoc fashion, I should follow the traditional division of the poem into four Fitts and restrict myself to writing only three or four poems for each Fitt.

For this new-and-improved sequence, I selected four of the poems I had already written and jettisoned the rest. Then I started writing some new poems in a more linear way, choosing key scenes rather than floating about the topic.

I was also concerned to change the style of the poems themselves. To regiment my earlier disorganised margins, I pulled in all off-set lines to the left-hand margin and capitalised the first word of each line. This seemed to give the growing sequence an air of "difference" from the other poems I've written this year, and also some faked, much-needed gravitas.

Having done that, and written some new poems in this new format, I then discarded the capitalisation, which had served its purpose, and allowed some of the lines to drift back into their earlier positions, away from the left-hand margin. But I am keeping the majority of lines flush with the left for the moment, as that formal discipline does seem to be working on the whole.

I'm still not sure whether the sequence is any good, by which I mean worth publishing. But it has some good moments. It's definitely something to keep tinkering with, on and off, with a spanner and an oily rag. My Sunday sequence.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Looking Back

I've written a handful of poems in recent weeks about my childhood and teenage years: Proustian reminiscences, holiday snapshots, family portraits, that kind of thing. It's a well-worn genre within poetry, and that fact alone makes me worried. Is it the poetic equivalent of a mid-life crisis to suddenly start writing poems about one's youth?

They're not desperately bad, these poems. One has just been accepted at Poetry Review, and I'm fairly confident of placing a number of others in magazines over the next year. They are honest poems, written - thanks to a general lack of it in my family - without sentimentality. They appear to work well in a stand-alone lyric sense, and easily earn their place in my fourth collection.

Yet somehow I'm uneasy about having written them and about wishing to write more, which I definitely do. There seems to be a positive wellspring there, looking back at my past with older eyes, and any gush of new, publishable poetry must surely be welcome after twelve years in the game.

But am I really the sort of poet who writes 'nostalgia'?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Being Honest

Hopefully not another blind alley, since I've lost myself in a few of those recently, but I'm writing poetry again after a short break (not dried up but forcing myself to concentrate on prose this summer, since, as David Morley advised me a few months back, we all have to eat and prose tends to pay where poetry doesn't).

I didn't want to write any poetry again until the autumn, but my poetry had other ideas ...

The most important thing for me at the moment, in terms of writing poems, is to be honest and not get sucked into making empty gestures, by which I mean the 'telling' last line which explains the poem, or the genre piece which points to nothing beyond itself, and other crimes against poetry.

The danger is that in not wishing to be too damned honest - i.e. gushing or becoming too realistic/mundane for poetry to bear it, so that it breaks apart into prose - I may err on the side of being too laconical or obscure.

Artifice or artistic integrity. Dirty great hints to the reader or embarrassed dumbshow. Where are the dividing lines? What are the differences?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Mort à la poesie

Some mid-summer break entertainment for you. "Death to Poetry." And a very odd film to accompany that sentiment.