Wednesday, 29 July 2015

from The Modie Box, i.m. Bernadine Meeker Etter, 30 July 1945-29 July 2011

from The Modie Box

I do not understand how I can be alive while you are dead. The field white with snow and the absence of crops. Closer, the creamy brown clumps of stalks, the world after harvest.


They offered you to us as a possible vegetable. A butternut squash, perhaps, its pale warmth.


I took a box file and put everything I had of us into it—letters I wrote you, cards you sent me, photos and postcards. I stuck on a label. Its presence on the shelf reassures me.


Burnt toffee peanuts, salt water taffy, lightly sweet white wine, Constant Comment tea, raisin bread toast, orange roughy, salmon, Polish sausage, black olive pizza.


Death, resurrection, death. What could be more violent?


The line crackled, but I could still hear pain in your voice, if not each precise word. I fought myself not to call back, to find a clear channel, to extend or intensify your difficulty. If I’d known it’d be the last, I would have succumbed to my selfishness. Without such knowledge, I nearly had, anyway. I tried to allay my guilt for not calling back but wanting to by going online for flowers at once.


This hunger unappeasable.


There is no redemption here. Sometimes I pick up the box and shake it, and that absence, its dry sound, drags me to weeping.


Hazel eyes: sunlit wheat


The florist could say when the flowers had been left at the hospital, but not if—


I begin to suppose I will never stop writing this poem so I, agnostic, dubious of heaven, may keep talking to you.


Your body soft with loose flesh, your embrace a leaning into ease.


I wrote my first poem outside of class at age 11. We were camping in Indiana, and I’d gone to the lake with my journal while you and Dad set up the Steury. As soon as I finished the first draft, I dashed back to the site to show it to you.


When you laughed hard or long, you wiped the corners of your eyes.


A lock of hair from youth: black-brown. A lock of hair from age: hazel, glimmering honey brown, dye from a box.


Marigolds and mums, the only flowers she dared plant, they needed so little care. 


This piece originally appeared in Shearsman. 


Friday, 17 July 2015

My first collection of fiction

Some of you will know that I've published a number of stories in lit mags over the years, so hopefully it won't be a complete surprise that V. Press has offered to publish a chapbook/pamphlet of my flash fictions next year. I haven't decided on a title yet, but I'm already trying to obtain a particular image for the cover. We're aiming for May 2016 publication, so I can do a launch at Bath Spa before the school year ends. 



Saturday, 11 July 2015

The Ware Poets' Competition 2015

Last night I attended the reading and celebration of the Ware Poets' competition for 2015, which I judged. I like a number of aspects of this competition. In addition to the prizewinners, another fifteen or so poems can be highly commended, and all 23 poems, in this case, were published in a slim anthology. At the celebration, the first half is devoted to the reading of all 23 poems: where the poets themselves couldn't be present, different members of Ware Poets read the poems--and read them well, no one having responsibility for more than a single poem and apparently practiced. It meant all 23 were treated like winners--as is only right when they constitute the top 2% of the poems submitted! (In the second half, I read from Imagined Sons.)

There are also no sifters for the Ware Poets' competition: I saw every single poem. I think that allows for a greater range among the chosen poems. Anyway, congratulations to all 23 winners, with my thanks for your work!

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Lesley Wheeler's Heterotopia (Barrow Street, 2010)

Some favourite passages:

This blitzed, hungry, smoke-thin world
invented me, and its ardent lies

are my birthright.

from "Forged"

                                                               ...dryad men, full
of mutton and commerce, stomp through in gray overcoats.

from "Heterotopia"

The new designer had never seen an eagle and did not know
          it carried prey in its talons, or he wasn't as deft as the
          old artist, or he was bored and manufacturing trouble.
Ergo, the duck with something nasty in its bill.


...the irritable phoenix plotting immolation in its ball of myrrh....

from "Concerning the Liver Bird"

There he goes, peeping at my bosom
and away again quick, stumbling
and clutching his guilty heart.

It's snowing flakes of coal today.

from "Mr. Hawthorne Peeks at Me Shelf Kit, c. 1854"

Even my great-grandmother's suffering
was never told, save for the last birth, seventeen
years after the rest. Go to the pictures,
Father said, and the elder children grabbed
the coins and ran. They didn't know and he
was ashamed. The newborn small and powerful,
distilled from the ether, dreams, old rain.


                         All beginnings hurt
someone: the animal, the ground. So much
to witness and all of it slipping away.

from "Twilight Sleep"

A day becomes a story becomes a bird,
a lost seagull who shrinks each time
I describe him.

from "Inland Song"

I'd belong 
to it whether it wanted me or not.

end of "Vronhill Street in Liverpool 8"

It's an incoherent sound,
the shout of the unshaven man in the dirty cap,
but he has what you need and he sells it cheap.

from "The Calderstones"

If a magpie lights on the garden wall, she might

look up, and the wind might pluck a fragrance
from a blossoming bough.

from "The Forgetting Curve"

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Poetry at Gulliver's, Manchester, 24 June 2015

We had a small, attentive audience for our reading last night at Gulliver's in Manchester. The readers were Carola Luther, Brian Bartlett, Stephen Burt and I. So many good poems and such great company! Here are some photos of the evening--unfortunately I missed snapping a picture of Peter Riley as he had to hurry off for a train.

Neil Campbell, Scott Thurston, and Evan Jones

Nearly the whole gang! (I didn't mean to cut off Carola Luther!)

Jessie Bennett and Stephen Burt

Claire Thompson and Alec Newman

Evan Jones and Carola Luther

Steven Waling carrying a copy of Imagined Sons 


My former student Zoë Howarth-Lowe (on the right) and her dad

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Daniel Sluman's Absence has a weight of its own (Nine Arches, 2012)

Some favourite passages:

                   When you wake

to find a tube hanging from your chest
your ears will swarm with bees,

the doctor will catch you

just before you hit the tiles.


                              The tumour on the x-ray

tells you life is a fistful of cobwebs.

from "Letter"

I have adored your ankles,
snaffled the fine hairs that crisp
the small of your back,
& now, after I've licked

the soap-traces from the underside
of your knees, we find ourselves
stalled in the marriage bed;
your maiden name

a peppercorn crushed
in my mouth.

from "After the Wedding"

                                                                       I think 
of you, sealing yourself in a lead coffin where

the faces of the men you shot burst like poppy seeds.

end of "Your Limp Breath Slides off the Hospital Walls"

& the shadows we nailed
the floor
start to stir. 

end of "Snow/Swinging #2"

You stare until the letters tremble
like needles on a pine tree.

opening lines of "Ambition & the Individual Talent"

I have pulled apart
the machinery of that night

for the last ten years....

from "Scenes from a Film"

We'll return where we left, forgetting

when we started; each breath
binding us tighter to the past.

end of "When Our Pupils Swallowed the Irises Black"

                  You could tighten

this world in inky loops,

tourniquet this moment
before it bleeds out.

end of "When Lightning Switchblades"

I'm aware of my breath--the push & pull

of this fine wire....


When the doctor brought in my scan
my liver had bloomed a Rorschach test,

& we all stared, seeing only one thing.

from "My Death"

The last time we spoke

I was smearing the red flag
of myself around the tub....


                      God sees me

as a tiny pink coffin, wandering

from place to place, waiting
to fall into the open earth.

beginning and ending of "Dear Samaritans,
I'm Writing This to Let  You Know Everything's Okay Now"

Last night can't escape your kitchen....

from "The Aftermath"

Violins eased from speakers 
& hovered around our gestures

as a whole summer bled into that night,
a shoddy polaroid.

opening of "Kiss"

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Nancy Gaffield's Zyxt (Oystercatcher, 2015)

Here are some favourite passages:

                               the iterate wind renders you

down to tallow this far north you stop looking for light

end of "Blown-in"

                                           regardless of
where you are bats return in the early evening, & we are on the threshold of the [in]
visible world....


a solitary blackbird sings
& we are


listen--what was it we saw that
summer the moon burned 
almost black--
did you
can you


                                                     we hunt among flints
for a name that cannot be spoken a hot wind scatters the thirty-nine articles
so much space you can hear dust loosening the hinges


first in 
panic of
dislocation I
let myself drift in the lyric

from "Eastbridge Fibonacci"

                                                                                             what happened to you then
as afternoon evaporated into evening and the century folded in

from "Lost Negatives"

Darkness brayed within him


The randomness of it
        skylark and song
        somniis meis fis--
        you become because of my dreams

from "Abecedarian Hymn for St Alphege"
(a tour de force of a poem)

Monday, 8 June 2015

The Forward Prizes, with thoughts for those on and not on the shortlists

Today The Guardian covered the announcement of the Forward Prize shortlistings. I've been quoted by newspapers four times before--twice by the L.A. Times, twice by the (central Illinois) Pantagraph, yet never accurately until now. You can read the article here.

While I've been pleased to see congratulations go to the shortlisted poets on Facebook and Twitter, I've also thought of the sadness and disappointment some of those not shortlisted may feel, as I've felt before at similar announcements, and want to say there was much good work that didn't make the shortlists, and not making the list does not mean one's book or poem isn't good.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

The Third-Year Poets of 2015, second selection

Round two from the student reading at Bath Brew House on 28 May, with the blurbs I wrote for each of their pamphlets.

"Sean Martin’s pamphlet Shrike gives animals from sea, land and sky their own distinctive voices in a series of provocative and compelling monologues."

"In the ambitious pamphlet When I Was, Chloe Mayo intelligently and insightfully explores an ambivalence at the heart of selfhood that manifests both in our sense of ourselves as well as in our relationships with others."

 "In Atlas’s richly nuanced poems, Tom Williams conveys the significance of place—indeed, of inhabiting each place anew—throughout our lives."

"In his well-nuanced pamphlet, Is This It?, Matthew Leigh explores the psychological complexities of romantic relationships with intelligence and tenderness."


"In this emotive and engaging pamphlet, Skeletons in the Closet, Jack Tinmouth powerfully traces the discovery of sexuality from the purely physical, to the increasing emotional freight of relationships, to romantic love."

An ideal night and hopefully a new tradition for the third-year poets at Bath Spa University!