Monday, 11 May 2015

Kim Moore's The Art of Falling (Seren, 2015)

Some favourite passages:

And the soul, if she is to know herself
must look into the soul and find
what kind of beast is hiding.

the opening stanza of "And the Soul"

I come from people who swear without realising they're swearing.

the opening line of "My People"

                                  ...and the lawn sits

in its shadows and dark and its falsehoods
and the ending begins with its terrible face,
its strange way of being, its short way of living....

from "I'm Thinking of My Father"

and if there was a moment
when I thought the body was a cage,
I knew it then....


Here is the loneliness of November
and its failure at an ending....

from "After Work"

Wouldn't any of us, if pushed, sit on the riverbank
and comb snakes from our hair, or think that in our grief
we could become a sea bird, our outstretched bodies

like a cross nailed to the wind?

from "Translation"

                                                     You ask
about birds, but all I can talk of is stones.

end of "How I Abandoned My Body to His Keeping"

                                                     Show me
how to recognise the glint in the eye of the dog,
the rabid dog. Remind me, O body, of the way
he moved when he drank, that dangerous silence.
Let me feel how I let my eyes drop, birds falling
from a sky, how my heart was a field, and there
was a dog, loose in the field, it was worrying
the sheep, they were running and then 
they were still. O body, let me remember
what it was to have a field in my chest....

from "Body, Remember"

...when I knew fear was just a thing
to be bargained with, inside my feathered heart
was another feathered thing, born white but slowly
turning black, the way the crow in all the stories
was turned black for speaking truth.

end of "When I Was a Thing with Feathers"

In winter, in the fog,
sheep lie on the road for warmth
until the car is close enough
to breathe on them
and then they straighten their legs
and clatter away like coat hangers.

from "The Dead Tree"

                                 ...his eyes two leaves
of slowly changing colour.

end of "Chet Baker"

I can put on the heavy garments of the soul.
I can tether myself to the earth if I choose.

from "Give Me a Childhood"

You can purchase The Art of Falling directly from the publisher here. If you join Seren's (free) book club, you can get 20% off all titles.

Friday, 8 May 2015

The Ted Hughes Award Citation for Imagined Sons

"The poems in Carrie Etter’s poignant collection, Imagined Sons, coalesce around a haunting: though the poems are spoken by the birth-mother, it is the son who takes centre stage, his absence experienced as a real and pervasive presence throughout. The sequence is a montage of fictional fragments, each fragment representing one of an infinite number of possible versions of the mother/son relationship. We loved this book’s innovative arrangement: the ten regularly occurring ‘catechisms’ interleaved among thirty-eight prose poems, and contained within an over-arching circularity of structure – beginning, as it does, with the refrain How did you let him go? and ending with the unsettling When will you let him go? But above all, we were delighted by the variety of tone ­– from heart-breaking to funny to frightening – and by the mix of the fantastic and the mundane, of fairy tale and contemporary detail. This is a book to be read and reread."

Ted Hughes Award judges, 2015

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Andrew McMillan's Physical (Cape, 2015)

Some favourite passages from this forthcoming collection:

grappling with the shifting question of each other's bodies
until the morning breaks across them and still their strength


taken allegorically          he is beating on himself
until the point at which the inner river of the word grace
runs past and everything lays down in calm

from "Jacob with the Angel"

they have got too close to the glass
and now they are laying
in the broken pools of their own faces

from "The Men Are Weeping in the Gym"

but the crowd goes mad and claps
of thunder thrum the valley where I sleep
and my lonelyhaircut cellist eyes the bar between us

from "If It Wasn't for the Nights"

rain      the morning's mundane idea forming
movingloopingringroad of a day


how much of fighting
is the need to touch another man?

from "Protest of the Physical"

you thought all men grieved like small Greek women
in black who say the bread still needs to be baked

from "How to Be a Man"

the night is not so much clouding as burying itself

last line and stanza of "Morn"

Andrew McMillan's first collection, Physical, is published by Jonathan Cape later this year.


Monday, 27 April 2015

Peter Riley's Due North (Shearsman, 2015), third and final selection

My thanks go to Tony Frazer, editor at Shearsman Books, and Peter Riley, for allowing me to post so many quotations. Here's a final round of favourite passages from Riley's new collection:

...they asked us what songs we'd brought with us.


We'll evict ourselves when we need to.


from "VII. Lateral Spread and Forward March. Erwartung. Préludes."

Apocalypse too is lullaby.  

from IX

That name I was, blown away in cloud as this life must flit

with the winged seed driven under the stone, calling in vain for respite. 


Break the lifeline down to the pain and

desire that everyone knows. There is nowhere else. There is nowhere else

to be or speak. The earth enters you back into its folds unsatisfied, there

is no other song; there is only September, when the falling year offers us

everything there is, and teaches us to measure the distance. 


A network of bright lines falls over experience, like a field system, breaking

the grip of totality as the wave breaks on the shore or the air on the

mountain side. In and across these polygons we attach principles and

mitigate conflict. It is painful walking downhill on stones with exhausted

calves but script will bear us to the end.


Language failed him.

As it fails us all, and we tighten the cord on the tent flap asking sleep

come shine along. 

from "XI. The Ascent of Kinder Scout"

Who comes in the form of a black dove

and flies into the future?


How am I to resolve the contradictions? Parts of the brain

close down and the music touches the heart. But to rescue us

We need the mind entire. The mind the place the night the river

the stars the black bird and the wine. We cannot afford wine

Or toffee, or mother's milk. All flesh is as grass but

we can't afford grass. Yours faithfully.

from "XII. Angel Meadow"

Friday, 24 April 2015

Peter Sirr, The Rooms (Gallery, 2014)

Some favourite passages:

I want to lie in the atrium
of the museum of the fingertip
and touch, touch, touch.

last lines of "The Mapmaker's Song"

That clarity,
how everything blazed
in the undaunted light
of itself.

opening lines of "Robert Graves House, Deià"

...but the sun is somehow still on the table, the book
turned over, the oil softening the bread....

from "Nando's Table"

..but here it is again
in November
the ice-sharp town....

from "Cold"

The room comes on
like another life, the alien

objects glitter, the fields outside
stretch into more than distance.


...and the undiluted life comes striding
giantly from the walls....

from "Home"

If there are foxes they are running, if the dead
have spilled from their fields they are here now
running headlong into the night.


There's not a blade of grass here that doesn't have your breath on it
before the sun burns you back to darkness again.


I could hardly walk to the end of the lane
without feeling my foolish life resist
the green song, the green light....


                                                                    My hands
fly through the years, touching everything.


                  ...and I knew
everything that ever lived was beating there
and I'd sleep forever in the din.


When the doors closed what I couldn't forget
was how there'd been such ease in it,
such a relieving lightness in the dissolving,
the self dividing, how we'd flocked
to the calling tables, and sat and ate and talked
to the living and the dead and looked across
at ourselves looking back, smiling, raising a glass.

from the long poem, "The Rooms"

And where did all this quiet come from?
Secretly the house collected it
and releases it now like a slap.

from "Quiet"

The drowned Ophelias come,
climbing up the banks
and crossing the miles of fields
to take their places:


We like our poetry
big and swaggery!
The dark theatre of the poem!
The proud flourish of the name!


How well do you know yourselves?
Do you have any idea
what knowledge floods in
when things get difficult?


No writer is an island,
least of all me.
I open my mouth
and dozens fall out.


Choose between the gunfire and the weather
or get them both: fly to the cursor, curl up in paper,
wear out the desk with risk after risk.

from "Audience with BB [Bertolt Brecht]"

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Nicholas Laughlin's The Strange Years of My Life (Peepal Tree Press, 2015)

One whole (short!) poem and then some passages I enjoyed from this first book:


Plant these seeds so you can tend a forest
so you can long for a stranger to feed the wild birds.


What starts in the tepidarium
will end in my memoirs.

the opening lines of "Sub Rosa"

My traitors were my lovers.
I was the Aztec kid.
I was the night captain on the S.S. Escape,
here today, French tomorrow.

the opening stanza of "My Traitors"

Rain, so I remember rain,
like a new history for a conquered kingdom.

opening lines of "Rain"

I discover I have a Russian heart.
I discover I am a small boy with a heart full of stones,
a bag of stones.

opening lines of "I Discover I Am Russian"

A flower named for a bird.
A bird swooping like rain.
Rain the size of an island.
An island creased like my hand.
My hand hot as my tongue.
My tongue new as a flower.

opening stanza of "Clues" heart is a falling bird
tumbling in air,
and my lungs like two stones
have sunk to the tide,
and like a leaf dropped eight days dry,
I rust, I fold.

from "After Eight Days"

I am becoming thirty-two years old.
Nice to, at last, be strange.

from "I Think I Am Becoming Myself"

Flowers: so their lips, their nacred
auricles, their burning finger-
tips: they show us first how flesh
is holy incandescence....

opening of "Bodies of the Saints"

My nettle tongue prickled with a pledge.

from "My Prey, My Twin"

You can learn more about the author from Vahni Capildeo's enthusiastic article here.  You can purchase The Strange Years of My Life directly from the publisher here.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Peter Riley's Due North (Shearsman, 2015), second selection

Some favourite passages:

                                       Our old romances return

freshly laundered on the backs of migrant workers

from former colonies and recent war zones.


Take me into a war

where the compass point searches for the heart

and a continent gathers around a companionship of respite.


There is too much poetry, it infiltrates alien discourses.

The financial news is given out in metaphors and stage accents,

and only the initiated know what's happening


                                      ...when I consider

the termination of my life the owls call, meaning no harm,

and the northern windows rattle the windows.

A shrinking recess in the dark surface of place

holds such authenticity as is left. This stinking Eden (clarts etc.).

from "IV: Strangers Arriving. Soldiers Returning"

Like leaving school, a sudden cold field,

Yes/no questions: what are you going to be? (c1956)


Indeed we know we are nothing, our language is lies

       my sighs, my broken words, the sink of my passion

into inarticulacy, the everyday which is where we live

in which we are trapped

       Gentle shepherd, rain on the window

                 It is an honour.


Gentle fold in the hillside where we sit and sing

of the world's lapses....


                                                 We are not mad. Reality

is not hidden. We prove it, with our hands, at work, perfectly clean.

A bitter wind in the night, cold and damp infiltrates

the house through the walls

        hope through dreams of fear.


...the casual and cynical madness of the press.


...on railway bridges in Heaton Norris in wild

                     costumes of the soul with small notebooks....


                               We were told

          we were alone and refused to believe it....


I like this town                                    "I want to be remembered
I like its nervousness
I like being excluded                          as a blue cloud
I want to be forgotten
and melt back into company              in a white sky"


To reach the shining port of our melancholy

                  that levers us into a new world

                            through a darkness with an arch over the entrance

                                         reading "Work Makes You Tired".

from "V: Locospotters"

In sleep "we" is restored to the choral "I"

And the singing can start

the great chant of humanity suddenly unafraid

under contract, rights to offset duties


All' mein Wirkin, all' mein Leben
All my working, all my life
All my doing, all my finishing
                 devolves on you
attentive ear, shielded breast.


                    Events, lives, spinning into light or dark through dream

The grammar of our quest a squaring

of this spin, lakeside cabin in snow

from "III: Water Songs. Schubert/Goethe.
Mayakovsky the Russian Scarecrow"

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Judging the Forward Prizes, Reading Differently

As a university lecturer and further education tutor for the last twenty years, with a focus on teaching creative writing, I have developed my ability to read appreciatively. I've come to start my workshops with "What do we like?" because I want to use that immediate, almost unthought initial response as a starting point. 

Reading for the Forward Prizes requires a different approach, that of reading for excellence. In poetry it consists of many elements, including linguistic precision, musicality, and depth of thought. I think reading nearly 200 books like this will make me a better teacher and a better reviewer--or so I hope. I've certainly already perceived a development in my thought, in my sense of my own poetics as well as what I look for in others' poetry. The two poems I worked on on the flight to the States ten days ago differ markedly from my previous writing--they're a lot longer, and one combines lines and prose, something I've never really done before. Whatever is yet to come, judging the Forward Prizes has been one of the most challenging pleasures I've experienced in a long time. 

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival, 29-31 May

The programme's now out for the Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival on the weekend of 29-31 May in Cornwall. I'll be reading on Sunday afternoon with Karen McCarthy Woolf, and other readers on the weekend include Matthew Francis, David Harsent, Sinead Morrissey, Matthew Sweeney and Anthony Wilson. Tickets for all events, including workshops with Morrissey and Sweeney, are a mere £55, £42 concessions. You can find the full programme here.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Peter Riley's Due North (Shearsman, 2015), first selection

Some favourite passages:

                    ...raising the head, learning wisdom

in a form of desire, a distance to be gained, learning to wait,

           absence of question-marks, Orphic stasis.


                       ...wood smoke drifting across the fields

         dividing thought                between love and duty


Tell me-- how from the vast emptiness of the million words

the short phrase strikes the bone between the eyes,

tell me how the world is altered, so little

tell me as little as possible, tell me falsetto

        tell me all night--


Then sustain it, tell me

        what you have, lost or left

        in a language beautifully linked

that you could tell the links one by one

like the links in a silver chain, a silver

        tested and coined, fixed in the moon's side,

                   over the end of the world

and we'll get there, reach

         the flowered arbor, the chambered tomb

                             crawl into it and read the stone

with difficulty (about honour).       Then answer

Where are you from?


Tenant farmers above Halifax,

world of clarts and slopstone

and the rain singing in the yard.

from "I: Housman's Question"

And another child is born,
somnolent in white lace
and always welcome (what 
is a sky without a star in it?) 1830s urban
infant mortality rate 50% (what is a sky
without a soul in it?) soul tugging at
soul under a black sky.


stations built of overlapping chords, where we

laid our heads on the hard wooden benches and

dreamed our own cathedrals, man woman and child.

from "II: A Lost Patrimony" the year points to the stars chattering

in the morning sky with a lark's clarity, the stars fading away.


As I came into this world far from
any centre, pratensis "of the fields" so I
moved out, seeking a hand in darkness as 
a child against the wandering fires in the night fields
learning to breathe in the world's fullness
a single truth, that held a dying hand, far from any centre.


...consolation for a life of dread

as death is warmed to.


                                                          ...under the kestrel's path we moved

out and back, seasonally or daily,

                                                           going to Marks & Spencer's for a shirt

well beyond the northern limits of the nightingale.


...and wafts us out of our indulgences

to the waking place, the narrow cot, the birthing light

                          not far from the duties. Or Elektra's


from "III: The Generations. The Dispersals. Funeral Duties"