Thursday, October 23, 2014

FLASH BANG: New & Selected Poems

I'm thrilled to announce the publication today of FLASH BANG: my New and Selected Poems 1996-2014. Almost twenty years in the making!

I've been hanging on for the past few years, wondering what to do about a Selected, which publisher to approach. But my experience with self-publishing - and my disposition in general! - has made this the best choice for me at the moment, as I explain in my previous post.

I hope those who have enjoyed my writing in the past will take this opportunity to pick up, at a very reasonable price, a selection of my best work to date, along with some brand-new poems. It's been a big step for me, publishing this selection of old and new poems, and I would be extremely pleased if some of you at least wish to come along on the journey.

All profits to the author!

FLASH BANG: New & Selected contains extracts from the following books: 'The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman' (Bloodaxe, 1997), 'Boudicca & Co.' (Salt Publishing, 2006), 'Camper Van Blues' (Salt Publishing, 2008), and 'On Warwick: Poems of the Warwick Poet Laureateship' (Nine Arches Press, 2008). 

Previously unpublished work includes extracts from: 'Gawain', a new version from the Middle English poem; 'Hango Hill: Poems of Illiam Dhone (Manx Martyr)'; 'The Dream of the Cross', translated from the Anglo-Saxon; plus a clutch of new poems. 

‘Extremely powerful and varied … Holland has both the clarity for the reader and the mastery of language to say what she means in a way that makes the brain tingle with both shock and pleasure … This collection is outstanding.’
 ANGELA TOPPING, Stride Magazine

'I reached the Boudicca sequence, and everything went electric … There’s a touch of Vicki Feaver about the violence and the cool delight in blood and innards, but the work is quite distinctive. I was dashing from poem to poem, completely compelled.'

'a true craftswoman, a supple and graceful thinker with an effortless grasp of line, at the heart of the English lyric tradition.'
FIONA SAMPSON, former Editor of Poetry Review 

Available as an ebook (can be read with free Kindle software on Kindles, iPads, iPhones and most other devices and computers) at:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Self-Publishing: The Last Great Adventure in Poetry?

What do Walt Whitman, TS Eliot, Shelley, ee cummings, Thomas Kinsella, Rose Kelleher, Alexander Pope and RS Thomas have in common?

Apart from being well-respected poets, they all self-published their poetry at one stage or another.

The practice of self-publishing has never been easier nor more widespread. Yet the stigma of self-publishing, perhaps especially where poetry is concerned, still exists. Why is this?

Many readers of contemporary poetry - almost invariably poets or writers themselves these days - assume that poetry which is self-published was not good enough to stand the rigour of editorial choice. They imagine such books must issue from self-indulgent or desperate souls whose last resort is to self-publish their dubious poems, unable to find a readership elsewhere.

But of course this is no longer the case. And probably never was.

Yet the idea persists that self-published poetry is not worth the same money you might happily fork out for a traditionally published book. After all, how are you supposed to know if it is any good? You may be completely taken in by a nice cover or interesting blurb, or another poet's recommendation, and spend your hard-earned cash on rubbish.

Whereas everyone knows that traditionally published poetry, the sort that is shortlisted for prizes and published by sober and respectable places like Faber or Picador, for example, can only ever be excellent. Perhaps even brilliant. And certainly worth paying for. Otherwise why would those clever editors, with their flair and good taste in poetry, have selected them for publication above all others?

Besides, why would any poet whose work was good enough to be traditionally published actually choose to self-publish?

Well, there are many reasons. One is that it is pointless to send poetry to traditional publishers in the sure knowledge that you do not write work which will fit into their very list. I am bored by the seemingly endless struggle to fit into boxes designed to showcase one type of work and exclude all others, work which is increasingly bloodless, uninteresting and limited. This is not about a lack of talent - though for some, that is indeed the unfortunate reason they have not found favour with mainstream publishers - but a total failure of interest in what is currently considered 'good' poetry. I used to enjoy that struggle to fit in, and engaged with much highly praised contemporary work, hoping to find something there to excite me. But no longer.

Contemporary British poetry feels horribly sterile at the moment, at least in the higher echelons. It's an exercise in stifling personality and freedom, and keeping everything tight and restrained. The adventure of self-publishing, of striking out on your own and making public precisely what you wish to make public, without reference to an editor whose taste almost certainly will not match your own, and whose suggestions you will feel obliged to follow - this is perhaps one of the last great adventures left to us in poetry.

Of course, along with self-publishing comes the necessary abandonment of any hope that you will be noticed by critics or recognised for your work. That is a tricky one, because every poet has an ego. But it's an acknowledgement that some goals are simply unattainable. A wide readership is out of my reach now. But I can still rebel and enjoy kicking over the traces!

So maybe only a small handful of people will buy my self-published book. But they will at least be readers who have gone out of their way to find it and actively wish to read my work. They will not have bought it because of who the publisher is, or because the poet is well-known or just appeared at a big festival, so 'must be good'. These are intelligent, discerning poetry readers who wish to engage with work that isn't any of those worthy things, but which might still prove interesting for any number of reasons.

I am not well-heeled enough to pay for a paperback copy of my self-published poetry. So my self-published work is only on Kindle or PDF files. But since I am a firm believer in ebooks, and in the artistic purity and freedom of self-publishing on the whole, this is not something that bothers me. It also means I can offer most of my publications at lower prices than you would expect from large publishers.

My New & Selected Poems is out this month in a collection available only on Kindle. It's called FLASH BANG.

It contains generous extracts from four of my five traditional poetry publications to date (excluding The Lament of the Wanderer), plus extracts from unpublished long poems and sequences, and a selection of new individual poems.

If nothing else, I hope it will be interesting for readers to contrast self-published work like this with poetry you may also be reading from traditional poetry publishers. Take a chance!

FLASH BANG (New & Selected Poems) is available for ebook pre-order now.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Horizon Review Archive Project

Random poetic image. Enjoy.
I edited Horizon Review from 2008-10, a lively online arts magazine owned by Salt Publishing. We published reviews, articles, comment, publishing news, poetry and short fiction in an eclectic tangle, big names and new writers in together.

I left the post when my own writing commitments grew too much, and the magazine was later edited by Katy Evans-Bush.

The magazine folded a few years later, and sadly has since disappeared from the internet. In the interests of 'rescuing' some of the fine contributions to that magazine, I have been given permission to republish a selection here at Raw Light.

If you had work in Horizon Review - either under my editorship or Katy Evans-Bush's - and would like to see it archived here, please get in touch. I do not have access to work featured in later editions of the magazine, so you may need to send the files as well.

The work will appear in no particular order. It is unlikely dates of original publication will be included, as there is little access to records - apart from the odd cached post.

This is an on ongoing project, heavily reliant on tracking down individual contributors in order to seek permission to republish their work, so it may take place over several years. Do let people know about this project if you think they may have been involved in the magazine.

I am hoping to include poetry and fiction as well as articles and reviews, but obviously it will depend on what people are willing for me to republish. Please note, no one's work will be republished without permission. There are no fees for republishing, the archive project is a non-profit-making attempt to establish at least a partial record of what was in the magazine. But those who do choose to be republished may wish to update their bios and photos at the same time, i.e. promoting newer work.

This project's success will depend on people sharing this information and helping me out with locating writers and seeking permissions. So thanks in advance!


Sunday, August 03, 2014

Horizon Archives: Jane Holland reviews Plumly on Keats

A Touch of Irony:
Jane Holland on Stanley Plumly’s creative biography of Keats.

Part of the Horizon Review Archive Project

Stanley Plumly, Posthumous Keats (Norton, 2008) £16.99

Almost compulsively, it seems, each age must reinvent the great poets for themselves, with fresh biographies and critical studies to trump their antecedents. Stanley Plumly’s latest work, ‘Posthumous Keats’, is among the newest examples of this compulsion and one which amply demonstrates the possibilities and limitations inherent in a work of critical biography. His book - or ‘meditation’ as one critic has it - on the quintessential English Romantic poet, John Keats, takes its inspiration from Plumly’s own response to the tragic young poet’s life and work. From that personal foundation, ‘Posthumous Keats’ radiates out into a creative and often highly imaginative reconstruction of Keats’ last years of life, including the so-called ‘Living Year’ of 1818-19 in which he wrote some of his best-loved poems.

Plumly is not only a lecturer at the University of Maryland but also an experienced poet and writer himself, and his expertise at creative non-fiction is one of the hallmarks of this biography. The early life, that fateful last trip to Rome, the deathbed scenes, and especially the aftermath of Keats’ early death at the age of 25 - all these are imagined with such keen novelistic instinct that Plumly puts himself almost in the position of secret observer rather than scholarly biographer. So in the following, densely-written passage, Plumly conjures up for us the pungent atmosphere of Keats’ daily environs as a young medical student in London:
It is a busy, dark, Dickensian part of town, exposed as much to sewage and garbage as to the prison life of the Clink and the new Marshalsea network of jails, and within hailing distance of the infamous Mint. There is an etching of the borough from 1820 that, in artistic perspective, makes it look like nineteenth-century southern Manhattan along the East River, rather like Whitman’s ideal picture of it in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”.

Nor does Plumly dwell solely on Keats. His account of the later drowning of Shelley and his two unfortunate companions in the Gulf of Spezia is beautifully and sparingly achieved through a combination of official documents and letters, and some artful supposition. Much is made of Keats’ final volume of poems, given to Shelley by Leigh Hunt and found in the drowned poet’s inner pocket after his body is washed up on the beach. The grimly prophetic line ‘I am borne darkly, fearfully, afar ‘ of Shelley’s from the close of his Adonais is recalled. We are reminded, with a touch of irony, that Keats had turned down an invitation to stay with the Shelleys in their Italian coastal villa, perhaps not wishing to die in the other poet’s arms but to remain out of sight for his last few weeks.

The artist Severn’s death and burial - the close friend who famously sketched Keats on his deathbed - is described in no less careful detail. Fanny Brawne’s dying admission of love for Keats is also discussed, and her covert stash of memorabilia - hidden from her husband and children for forty-odd years - is opened and explored for the secrets it may reveal about their relationship. An air of fateful and sinister oppression hangs over these scenes, as it does over the book as a whole, which is at times redolent of an Agatha Christie murder mystery - where all the suspects must gather after the body has been discovered, to be interviewed in turn.

But when there is no mystery, no whodunit to be solved, just a set of unfortunate circumstances that led to somebody’s death, what is to be gained from these meticulous reconstructions of poets’ lives, often many centuries after they have shuffled off this mortal coil?

This is a difficult question to answer without addressing the issue of prurience. But one thing it demonstrates, at least, is that the cult of celebrity was no twentieth-century invention, as this diary entry from a Mrs. Gisborne, encountering the young poet at Leigh Hunt’s home shortly before his best - and final - collection of poems was to be published, confirms:

Mr. Keats was introduced to us the same evening; he had lately been ill also, and spoke but little; the Endymion was not mentioned, this person might not be its author; but on observing his countenance and his eyes I persuaded myself that he was the very person.

Celebrity aside, there is also the important consideration that the significant moments of a great poet’s life - however painfully short - ought to be documented, to be borne witness to, both by those who were there at the time and those who would continue to build on the legend that is The Famous Poet. For somewhere in amongst those lovingly reconstructed details we may find vital clues to our own creative development - clues to how a poet grows into his or her identity and inheritance. As Lawrence Lipking writes in
The Life of the Poet: Beginning and Ending Poetic Careers (Chicago, 1981):

Keats seems to hold the key to everything we would like to know about how one becomes a poet. At twenty he was no more promising than any number of other would-be authors; suddenly, just short of his twenty-first birthday, he left all the rest behind. What happened?

Plumly himself addresses the problematic issues of prurience and celebrity in various oblique asides during the course of this biography. ‘What is the accumulative, acquiring power, forty years on, of a ring, a lock of hair, a miniature of vague likeness?’ he demands, contemplating the way Keats’ inner circle, many of them nonentities in themselves, have stepped into literary history alongside him. So Keats himself, Plumly ironically claims, ‘becomes their biographer’.

But a famous poet’s life - personal in the present, at the point of first contact - has a way of becoming impersonal with time, of passing into new hands, none of whom will have known the person under scrutiny and for whom that life must become - like The Waste Land, which Plumly references here - a heap of broken images rather than an organic whole:

Bric-a-brac, relics, memorabilia, items around which has congregated an aura of light of the most personal depth and value. But what if that value becomes, on its own, not just personal, but universal? Who owns that memory then? These fragments I have shored against my ruins. The pieces and parts of Keats that each of his friends felt proprietary toward fragmented any chance of a coherent sense of his character and career in the living moment after his death.

Keats himself, resigned to his approaching death, may have sensed how such fragments would be all that remained of his life. Breaking away from his friends and from the woman he wanted to marry - but now never would - he retreated to Rome to die a lonely death, burningly aware of the poems he had failed to write. Thus his last letter, addressed to his friend Brown: 
I have an habitual feeling of my real life having past, and that I am leading a posthumous existence. God knows how it would have been - but it appears to me - however, I will not speak of that subject.
As a practitioner himself, Plumly is also acutely aware of the despair Keats felt at his own premature death. There can be few things more poignant, after all, for a poet of Keats’ ability, than to die with the knowledge of great poems unwritten. Plumly’s response - a deeply personal one, as he acknowledges elsewhere - is to comfort and reassure the dead poet even in the impersonal, forensic act of reconstructing his ‘posthumous existence’.

So here Plumly pauses to reprise Keats’ last letter, examining it with such thoughtfulness and intensity that it becomes almost a last poem in his hands:

“It runs in my head we shall die young” - George, yes, but perhaps you too, Brown, and maybe Keats’s sister, maybe Fanny Brawne herself, and all of you back there in life. Can we correct our mistakes? Yet if we die before they can be corrected, they will be forgiven. Death is forgiving. “I can scarcely bid you good bye.” Keats’s exit line, “I always made an awkward bow,” is not unlike his desired epitaph: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” Both make a gesture, a memorable gesture; both, thus, are poetry; both close without closure; both elevate the moment; and both speak in the past tense, the posthumous tense.

You can buy this book from Amazon UK, Amazon US, or the publisher's website, Norton.

 This article first appeared in HORIZON REVIEW
and has been archived at Raw Light
as part of the Horizon Review Archive Project.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

A Poem: Women's Prayer Group, Coventry

I'm posting this poem from my second poetry collection, Boudicca & Co. (Salt Publishing), in response to a conversation on Twitter today with a friend who has just visited Coventry Cathedral. 

The photo (left) was not taken at Coventry, but at Flecknoe Church, Warwickshire. I don't have any shots of my own of the glorious interior of Coventry Cathedral, so chose this to accompany my poem instead. 

This is one of those 'true' poems in that I did once belong to a prayer group that met in an upper room at the Deanery next to Coventry Cathedral. I no longer do such foolish things, but I still like the poem.

I wonder if anyone ever fixed that clock ...

Women’s Prayer Group, Coventry

The clock on the deanery mantelpiece
has stopped. Outside, a spire
is all that’s left
of our medieval cathedral, burnt out
by fire bombs in the war.
Our group (there are usually eight
or nine of us) meets
each Wednesday for prayer and supper
in an upper room. Here, we set 
such ordinary things as childcare, husbands –
our daily bread – 
against St. Paul’s teachings. How much
should we give to the church?
How much to the poor?
We struggle for words or bore each other
with pettiness. Yet each week
we pray and each week
the clock tells us the same thing: look up!
Bombs are still falling here,
their silent detonations
poised a finger’s-breadth above each head,
held off by prayer.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

No Poet Is A Sentimentalist

The poet W.B. Yeats, photographed by Alice Boughton, 1903.

Last night, reading Cleanth Brooks' book of critical essays, A Shaping Joy (1971), I became intrigued by this quotation from W.B. Yeats' 'Anima Hominis' (in Per Amica Silentia Lunae): 'no fine poet, no matter how disordered his life, has ever, even in his mere life, had pleasure for his end. Johnson and Dowson ... were dissipated men ... and yet they had the gravity of men who had found life out and were awakening from the dream ... Nor has any poet I have read of or heard of or met with been a sentimentalist. The other self, the anti-self ... comes but to those who are no longer deceived, whose passion is reality.'

Every time I attempt to articulate why I enjoy this description and find it important, I fumble it. So I'll just put it out there, for others to read if they wish, and perhaps some clearer thoughts will arrive in time.

Though I have a suspicion Yeats might have found it relatively easy to meet poets today who are 'sentimentalists'. Unfortunately.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

UNCUT POETS: reading at the Phoenix, Exeter

I'll be reading some of my poetry tonight at the Phoenix, Exeter, for those in the area. The reading series is called UNCUT POETS.

Here are the details.

Starts at about 7.15- 7.30pm if you're thinking of coming along, and it's £5 on the door.

I'll be reading from several of my published books, along with new work.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Publication Day for ROSE BRIDE, written as Elizabeth Moss

Can Margerie ever escape her wrongful reputation as a courtesan? ROSE BRIDE: out now

The final title in the Lust in the Tudor Court series: scorching Tudor erotica for fans of Sylvia Day, The Tudors and Philippa Gregory's White Queen.

She is a fallen woman, an object of men's lust...
Margerie Croft yielded up her virginity before her wedding, and then fled from her eager suitor - knowing that she could not marry a man she did not love. Now she is viewed as soiled goods, fit for only for the role of courtier's plaything.

He sees something in her that others don't...
Virgil Elton is King Henry VIII's physician, working on a tonic to restore his sovereign's flagging libido. But first it must be tested. Who better, then, than the wanton Margerie Croft? But as he gets to know her Virgil discovers someone as intelligent and passionate as she is beautiful - someone who has been gravely misunderstood.
For her part, Margerie finds Virgil irresistible - with or without the help of his special medicine. But she knows she could never make Virgil a respectable wife. And yet, despite herself, Margerie can't help but wonder... 

Will they find the formula for a lasting love? 

ROSE BRIDE: available TODAY as an ebook, paperback in July 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Song of the Hare

She sang the song of the hare
and the trees responded

She sang the song of the hare
and the wind trembled

She sang the song of the hare
and the stars oscillated

She sang the song of the hare
and the earth drummed

She sang the song of the hare
and the hanged man hung

as the god in the tree
put forth branches of sorrow

and the lark climbed high
in an ecstasy of cloud 

The Song of the Hare by Jane Holland was published in Boudicca & Co (Salt Publishing) 2006. 
A poem to celebrate the coming-in of summer!

Photos: Jane Holland, May 2014. Cornwall, near Bodmin Moor.
(Couldn't spot a hare, sorry.)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Notes Towards Authenticity

RAW LIGHT: the magazine

poetic aphorisms from Jane Holland

Aphorisms, filled with the hot air of poetry ...

Authenticity, the poet’s most plausible con trick.
The spirit, rather than the letter, of authenticity is what marks out good poetry. Those who achieve both, or appear to achieve both, are gods.
Don’t waste time on compromise. Even a botched job is better than a failure of nerve.
The act of writing poetry is, by its very nature, ironic.
‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water.’ (John Keats) What could be more authentic? Or more calculated?
Belief in authenticity is the gateway to Blake’s road of excess (and we all know where that leads).
The Fool opens the Major Arcana: innocence and an openness to failure breed creativity.
Good poetry can be written by an idiot. All things considered, it’s probably better to be an idiot.
Federico García Lorca: ‘The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought.’
Lorca and the duende. Arsenic lobsters. The raw and the cooked. What flies in one language may fall flat in another.
Trust yourself. You don’t have to believe in angels to hear a bell ring. And vice versa.
Poetry is hard: it demands energy. There must be an energy to the poem that propels each line toward and beyond the waterfall of the line-break: ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ (Dylan Thomas).
Home is where the stress falls.
The more authentic the idea, the more natural the line.
A line that calls attention to its own idiosyncrasy can be as authentic as a line that speaks of elegance and tradition: intention is everything.
Rhythm that springs direct from the personality – however contrary and antipoetic - is authentic. Everything else is based on the way we think we ought to be writing.
Ergo Mina Loy: ‘Poetic rhythm, of which we have all spoken so much, is the chart of a temperament.'
An adopted persona is still true to the self if chosen by the self.
The truly authentic is never the other, only the self: even when disguised, lying, psychotic.
You cannot steal or borrow or learn authenticity. It’s either there in the work or it isn’t. Sometimes the only way to find it is to stop looking.
The poem made up of undigested influences is to poetry what a plastic flower is to fresh blossom.
The poet must believe authenticity to be possible, even when faking it like crazy.
The poet’s first voice is an amalgam of second-hand fictions.
If poetry is a fiction, can it ever be true?

Jane Holland

First published at VERSE PALACE, poet Francis Leviston's essay blog, December 2009, which no longer appears to exist. Francis does have a website though which is still online.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Alison Lock gives us Three Hares

Alison Lock performs from THREE HARES

 Raw Light: the magazine

In this article I will describe a little about the process of writing the poem 'Three Hares'. The poem is part of a music/poetry collaboration and the result is something that attempts to cross the boundaries of word and song and musical note and rhythm.

The idea was to produce a piece that would last for 15 to 20 minutes and take the audience on a journey through our forests and woods, using a variety of techniques used in both arts: changes in rhythm, metre, tempo, rhyme, repetition, syllabic consistency, prose and poetry styles. The sonic patterns of the woods: birdsong, wind, falling trees, running water etc., informed the writing.

Three Hares
Green Man, White Goddess.

Three Hares is a symbol of rotational symmetry
where the ears of the hares are shared and
like a treskelion they appear to be in constant motion.
It has symbolic and mystical associations. As with
the Green Man, it is a meme, a carrier of ideas,
an optical illusion, representing the cycle of growth,
invoking the fertility of the White Goddess.

Why Three Hares? This is a question I asked myself. I wanted to write about trees -

how they sustain us,
how they nourish our culture,
our folklore, our myths,
our deepest dreams.

- but the symbol of the Three Hares and its universal connections with fertility, the cycle of life, death and rebirth seemed a perfect illustration for the life of a forest. I had been reading a lot about the ecological importance of trees; the role of trees in the eco-system, how they are essential to the survival of many creatures, plants and micro-organisms, how they are interconnected with all of life on this planet.

But when I thought about trees, woods and forests, I thought about fairy tales, battles, hiding places and I realised that I wanted to take

... a look at a liminal world, a place where transformation occurs.

Many of the stories we read, or are read to as children, describe forests as dark places patrolled by witches, trolls, goblins and wolves. Folktales from all over the world tell of trees that are personified; protective of the innocent, or dangerous to those who wish them harm. But I was not only interested in fairy tale trees, I wanted to explore the trees that surround us today.

The poem begins with the ancient; the pagan worship of trees and the enigma of the Green Man, another symbol of fertility, carved in stone and wood and found in many places in Europe and Britain. This symbol takes the human-like attributes of the tree: trunk, branches, the gnarled features for a face, the sap as blood. Some say that the Green Woman is the Earth, Mother Earth:

..whose carved face,
frond hair, ivy brow,
skin peeled or smooth
as beech bark, trace-veined,
age wefted, tatted webs,
tattooed, blood-crossed
with the oak,
the birch, the rowan.

By walking through the woods of the South Pennines I explored the footpaths, the margins, the scars, to find out about their recent history.

The areas of woodland are usually marked by a perimeter; sometimes a physical signpost or a fence:

A gilded post is a sign
for the wayfarer, a snicket
leads to a stile, a stepping stone,
a cross-bar, a kissing gate
and the path becomes a bridleway
where a rustic fence marks
the perimeter of a world
where turned earth meets cloud.

Other times the trees are edged by a canal where:

the Himalayan Balsam ushers
like a nodding crew,
leggy, white in the half light
winking at a passing boat.

Not only are they places of contemplation, of dreamy walks where the only sounds are the birds in the trees, but they are places of leisure and activity:

A mountain biker skids, sped-
tacking his prints on the yarrow bend
spraying the nettles Pollock-style.

The woodlands of the Pennines have a particular connection to the mills in the valleys built during the Victorian era – these woods are etched with the footpaths used by the millworkers:

as beech nuts crack under foot,
a loom's shuttle is thrown
back and forth, back and forth,

Finally, as I watch the hares leap across the open moors, new trees are being planted in the open fields. Those with a consideration for the future, our future, are intent on replenishing the woodlands:

Fields of ragwort are released
to the gilder rose, the oak,
the beech, the sycamore too.

First planting is the birch,
the bringer
of light into darkness,
the pioneer preparing the soil
like a good besom

for the return of the White Goddess.

Here, I have talked about the poem itself, but this is only a part of the whole process. I wanted to create something that was an experience, an atmosphere, rather than piece to read only. We have produced a booklet of the poem to accompany the performances. It was produced by the graphic artist, David Kaye; his response to the poem was both sensitive and creative and the result is a work of beauty.

'Three Hares' was written with a musical interpretation in mind and I collaborated with a musician I had worked with before. Robin Bowles had accompanied me at a reading of 'Eye of the Heron', a piece written as a result of my work as Poet in Residence at Holmfirth Arts Festival. He played both mandolin and bouzouki (notably instruments made of wood). He perfectly captured the rhythms, the sounds, the essence of that piece and I wanted to continue this work in 'Three Hares', only this time creating a closer collaborative process from the beginning. But that's another post.

We hope to record 'Three Hares' soon but perhaps for now you might like to listen to 'Eye of the Heron' on Soundcloud.

Alison Lock

Monday, April 28, 2014

Angela Topping: A Poetic Manifesto

RAW LIGHT: the magazine

A Poetic Manifesto

Angela Topping

When Jane Holland invited me to contribute to her excellent poetry blog, I thought it might be useful to do something on how I came to write this poem, which was included in Salt’s anthology Troubles Swapped forSomething Fresh, which is now a set text on a number of Creative Writing degree courses

How to Capture a Poem

Look for one at midnight
on the dark side of a backlit angel
or in the space between a sigh
and a word. Winter trees, those
elegant ladies dressed in diamonds
and white fur, may hide another.

Look for the rhythm in the feet
of a waltzing couple one, two, three-ing
in an empty hall, or in the sound
of any heartbeat, the breath of a sleeper,
the bossy rattle of keyboards in offices,
the skittering of paper blown along.

You could find a whole line
incised into stone or scrawled on sky.
Words float on air in buses, are bandied
on street corners, overheard in pubs,
caught in the pages of books, sealed
behind tight lips, marshalled as weapons.

Supposing you can catch a poem,
it won’t tell you all it knows. Its voice
is a whisper through a wall, a streak of silk
going by, the scratch of a ghost, the creaks
of a house at night, the sound of the earth
vibrating in spring, with all its secret life.

You have to listen: the poem chooses itself,
takes shape and begins to declare what it is.
Honour the given, else it will become petulant.

When you have done your best,
you have to let it go. Season it with salt
from your body, grease it with oil from your skin.

Release it. It has nothing more to do
with you. You’re no more its owner
than you hold the wind. Never expect gratitude.

Angela writes: 

Rupert Loydell, who had published my first two collections under the Stride imprint, was editing the anthology Troubles Swapped For Something Fresh, and asked me to submit something. I’d never been much of a one for writing about my own practice but I thought it was about time I had a bash. I struggled to complete the commission, then Rupert sent me a reminder. I tried again. Nothing. 

I gave up and went for a bath. The first phrases came through suds and bubbles, shampoo. Once I was wrapped in my bathrobe, I started to write them down.

The title 'How To Capture A Poem' is because poems are wild animals and it’s hard to tame them. Midnight is the witching hour and poems are a kind of alchemy to me. The dark side of anything, the one not illuminated, is where poems hide. Angels are special to me because of my name. The winter tree image came into my mind when I was driving home from school in the snow. I was trying to think of a new image for snow-covered trees and I took the opportunity to place it in this piece.

Stanza 2 is about rhythm, which is important to me. It’s the tick tock of the poem’s clock, it’s how you know it’s alive.

Stanza 3 brings in some of my subject matter, the quotidian, the words all around us, giving us the sound-track of our thoughts.

Stanza 4 is about my practice, how a poem will gradually reveal itself to me, sometimes just giving me one phrase for free, sometimes much more. And more of my themes come into this stanza as well.
"It’s eccentric of me I know, but I do believe in listening to the poem."

It’s eccentric of me I know, but I do believe in listening to the poem. I was trying to get a poem about my mother’s death right, years ago. What I couldn’t at first see was that it wanted to be a sonnet. As soon as I noticed that two of the lines my right brain had given me were iambic pentameter, the rest of the poem sorted itself out as quick as you like!

Poems have to be let out into the world, they have to fly free. So the title comes full circle. Once you have captured it, it has to go forth on its own. I edit as best I can, and give up when I have made the poem strong enough to survive. Of course it will bear my fingerprints, something of me will reside in it, but it also belongs to the reader. Poems are nothing without readers.

The ending is a nod and a blown kiss towards W.S Graham’s poem ‘Johann Joachim Quantz's Five Lessons’, a poem in five sections about teaching someone the flute, as a metaphor for writing. Graham ends his poem ‘Do not expect applause.’ My ending is ambiguous. Never expect the poem to be grateful to you – in fact I am always grateful to the poem for choosing me to write it. Also, never expect gratitude from anyone else. Or praise, or blame, or even a reaction.

I write poetry because I have no choice in the matter. I do have a choice to go out and do readings, which I love doing, and people have told me they enjoy hearing me read my poems. I have a choice, in a way, to publish. I mostly do that so that those poems leave me alone, I can think of them as completed and move on to the next collection.

This poem is my manifesto. 

Angela Topping

Angela Topping's latest books are Letting Go (Mother's Milk Books) and Paper Patterns (Lapwing).
You can find Angela Topping on wordpress