Wednesday 18 December 2013

Peter Reading's Stet (Secker & Warburg, 1986)

It's interesting to go back and read Stet (1986) and find the same concerns and methods I had become acquainted with in Reading's later poetry. It's a slim volume of a single poem in multiple voices and hence registers, so it's hard to excerpt. Here, though, are three passages I love. 

              Engines cut out, thick snow dumbed harmonious
              doves numbed in frozen postures of flight and we
                    found in the eerie too-bright morning
                         rhubarb leaves crusting the ice-whorled window.


             [Don't go out there--you'll all catch your death of it,
              sinister twits are in the ascendancy.
                     Plump up a stanza, close the brackets,
                            snuggle down into a cosy re-draft . . . ]


          Mirage of tangible air, heat-rippled pollened and sweet,

rises as if seen through gently vibrated cellophane, out of

          pub garden well-tended beds. Blaze of a mid-day in June;
yeastily fragrant of new bread, a buff-frothed pint of bright amber,

          cool on an oak table, gleams. (Inverse of Elegy, this.)

I believe Stet to be out of print, but it appears in full in Reading's second volume of Collected Poems.

Monday 16 December 2013

Bin Ramke's Aerial (Omnidawn, 2012)

Some favourite passages:

Nocturnal warnings fill us with desire
to know the arts of birds
and the habits of fishes.


The land is the land, and home.
The water is the water, and home.
The light is the light is the air
and is its own home, we think.


What a contrite species this is
which does its damage by day and
by night regrets and dreams
or watches at windows.

from "Migrations of Birds and Fishes"

the beetle imago crawling two
dots on its back shiny as dew
under the murderous eye of sun
I of sunlight sizzling the morning as

if and we wait again against. For health.

end of "Living in Weather"

Everything is necessary, nothing
is sufficient. Speak to see
who listens.

second stanza of "Crystalline Structure,
Threat of Weather"

Boundaried vision and vapor conspire

to exhale, exalt into rain random dispersal into
the present. I see as far as that. I never saw farther.

from "Into Bad Weather Bounding"

   also silence might also be
white noise--all frequencies all intensities all
distance as an imagined reciprocal of absence

opening of "Contradiction, and the Enigmatic Modes"

The bird-bath encrusts itself, crystalline
graph, birds huddle and I watch from the window
the glazing of water.

from "To Breathe Together"

. . . ordinary,

this secretly separate sifting
of a self particulate, drifting

from "Desire. Consider. Star. Ice."

We begin. No, we don't. We hover over choices, claiming and
proclaiming one thing as beginning
then another.

from "Articulation"

. . . a shock it is to find you have a past 
not the one you remember. Forgone, forgotten.

end of "Beautiful Island:"

In the UK, Bin Ramke's Aerial is available from Foyle's, presently at a 22% discount.

Friday 6 December 2013

Matt Bryden's 'Brest Litovsk' from Boxing the Compass (Templar, 2013)

Brest Litovsk

Drop a shroud over a country –
food aid, shelter, nightfall,

enough to forget about it, let
it get by.

You can walk right up to it,
whip off the covers –

an angle-poise lamp under sack,
a starscape.

Silent, contoured, like camouflage
netting pulled over a tank –

there are handholds,
footfalls for the blind.

You like to imagine the conundrum –
an ant crossing a table-top comes upon

a sugar cube 1cm by 1cm by 1cm:
how far is added to its journey? –

that a shirt hung from the nozzle
of a tank might obscure it,

that you could walk across
a country covered in such a fashion –

tottering over plate, doll, bone
and crush them without noticing –

a sprawling landfill, a Milky
Way teeming with animals,

a bee in the hand.

Matt Bryden's first collection, Boxing the Compass, is available directly from the publisher for £8.99, postage free worldwide. 

Monday 2 December 2013

At the Time of Partition by Moniza Alvi (Bloodaxe, 2013)

Some favourite passages:

Like a conquered king,
the story limps away.

Pity the ending.
No story has an ending.

Attend the burial--
there will be a resurrection.


One day--that sliver of time

in which anything can happen
and often doesn't,

but sometimes time take one day
by the hand, or the scruff of the neck.

That day when any story
takes a deep breath

                                and begins--


In an exodus, such a child
grown up and not grown up

was ripe for being lost.


A line so delicate a sparrow might have
picked it up in its beak.

from "The Line"

Under duress, 
it [the house] was dauntingly calm.

from "Ever After"

Where will you live?
Have you any arrangements?

An arrangement?
It lay breathing at the end of the tunnel.

Hopped towards her like a tamed bird.

Like a kite, it tangled in the trees. 


At this point the back
of the story
                    begins to break.

Can it walk at all?
Or hobble with a stick?

Will it close its eyes and drift into sleep?

How to serve it well?

from "So They Took the Bus"

How did she come to be here
in a place so in love with no?

from "No"

The nothingness was palpable--
you could pluck it from the air.

from "The Camp"

A nation in its instability,

one that could change lives
with the suddenness of a blow to the head.

from "And Where?"

What was there to cling to
but hope?

The fine escarpment of hope.

from "Continuing"

At the time of posting, Moniza Alvi's At the Time of Partition is available for 27% off from Foyle's

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Exteroceptive by Sarah Hayden (Wild Honey Press, 2013)

achingly precise

high humming seeming scatter

unfolding its rhythm


and shameless

somewhere        beneath it all

is the lodestone of a metronome

             comforting still

though a deep

meticulous burial has swallowed the thick


from "Optic"

...what he would be compelled to say

and only just manage to hold behind his teeth


what is this wetness we are straining at

snapping our leashes

on the bounceback

whyso urgent, fellow traveller?

from "Auditory"

your verti-vapour would undoubtedly turn me on (

or would--if i could only ignore your bit-champing amaneunsis)


this is the artist grouting only the most obvious angles of approach


mollescent, uncorsetted, i can only acknowledge participation

and stamp it full-righteous with customized rubber

from "[Proprio]"

1 when the tinfoil was folded back, this chicken was rendered rrruminant and too sad to eat. We rushed to remake it as a story. This, in a loud place and, lest any soldier falter, lubricated by prefatory laughter.

from "Olfactory"

of their snowdriven transmissions drag and stick moreishly

from "Haptic"

Exteroceptive is available from Wild Honey Press for €5. She also has a new pamphlet just out from Oystercatcher, System Without Issue

Monday 25 November 2013

Rhian Gallagher's Shift (Enitharmon, 2012)

I read with Rhian Gallagher on the King's Lynn Poetry Festival in September and this weekend finally found the time to read her second collection, Shift. Here are my favourite passages:

Not moving an inch,
myself to myself become a mystery.

last lines of "Under the Pines"

                                     Yet rain falling over the city
is like a hammer, a thousand pianos at the adagio.
I am equal to the wound of any blade.

from "The Gospel According to Longing"

...till the architecture seemed made of lights alone.

from "Becoming"

The mountains do not rescue us, or the light
or the tender microclimate of the bay below.
We have it all and are lost.

from "Crossroad"

The season bends.

from "Prospect Park"

A white wing blurs over lagoon and paddock,
flick of a magician's cloth.

from "The Big Dark"

Some days, blind to stone and wing,
more or less moving,
when I am picked up
by the scent again
and am shaken

margin of every elsewhere here.
The southerly boots in, flanked by coal-dark cloud
polar-particled, mean as.

from "Shore"

The sun
roaring in my head.

last words of "Sea Change"

The wind stirring above the range
and angel, a parachute with no body.

from "The High Country"

You can purchase Shift for directly from its publisher, Enitharmon Press, by going here.

Monday 18 November 2013

A student article on yours truly

Ben Franks, an undergraduate at Bath Spa University, has written a flattering article on me based on an interview we did, and it's up at his own Pie Magazine. Thanks, Ben, for the kindnesses therein!

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Head down, still moving

I haven't posted in over a month, and that's due to the start of the academic year at Bath Spa University. As some of you know, for some years I've been coordinating a class with over 200 students, the first-year core course in creative writing. I love the teaching part of it and despise the administrative. Well, I don't despise the administrative work--I just get frustrated with how many hours of my life it demands. 

While I've known for some time that the number of hours necessary to do the job well results in significantly less writing during the academic year and poorer health, I've persisted--until now. The heaviest amount of work for this class is at its beginning and end, and this year, a colleague will be taking over the module for the middle months, January through April. Thus I have been counting down the weeks to winter break not just for that three weeks' relief from teaching and constant emails, but also in anticipation of a more manageable workload in the new year. 

It's all the more heartening, during this time, when magazines come in the post bearing my poems. I have poems in the current issues of Ambit, New Walk, Poetry Wales and Shearsman and dip into them for a few minutes here and there. I see the names of other poets I know and smile, as though we've just waved to each other in passing.

The fantasy of more time is always there, yet most of us have to make a living and strike a balance between the work and the writing. This seems to be the recurring theme in the conversations I've been having with other writers lately, perhaps because with my own workload I am that much more desperate for possible solutions. Some people get up earlier in the morning. Others choose part- over full-time work, trading in greater financial security for more personal fulfillment (to oversimplify). I thought I made that choice, too, with a .7 contract (3 1/2 days a week), but the problem with academic contracts is that one always has to work far more hours than one is actually paid for to get the job done. 

On that note, I should return to my university inbox and tackle the latest urgency.

Thursday 3 October 2013

Jackie Wills' 'Ale-Wife' from Woman's Head as Jug (Arc, 2013)


He turns on a gulp,
his mouth opening
once too often,

and I'm strum, venturer,
a night-worm
for his empty palm.

But this one talks to me
as if I'm a girl in a field
he rowed to under bridges

glimmering with a canal
stopped at midsummer.
He puts each coin

on the bar so carefully,
sliding me the gold of a day
he replays and replays.

Jackie Wills
Woman's Head as Jug
Arc, 2013

At the time of posting, Woman's Head as Jug is available from Foyle's Books for 30% off!

Sunday 22 September 2013

Things Not to Do When Reading Your Poetry to an Audience

Thanks to Facebook friends and acquaintances for their many useful suggestions! I hope anyone who reads their work publicly will take note.

1. Don't go over time. Don't ask if you're over time or coming up against the time limit. You should know how long you have and have planned your poems accordingly.
2. Don't get drunk before reading. Reading drunk is highly unattractive, however you may feel at the time.
3. Don't mumble or whisper. Enunciate your words clearly with good volume. Read at a conversational pace, neither wildly fast nor snail-slow. 
4. Don't apologize or make self-deprecating remarks about the poems.
5. Don't avoid the mic. If it's there, use it, whatever you think of your powers of projection.
6. Don't read a poem you just wrote that day, however good you think it is. 
7. Don't read from a laptop or phone. A laptop is too awkward to hold and maintain eye contact, while a phone is generally too small to read from.
8. Don't arrive late. If you're a scheduled reader, you should arrive at least fifteen minutes before the reading is due to begin.
9. Don't ask the organizer if there's time for a couple more poems. If you don't know if there's time, you're not showing the audience due consideration. 
10. Don't rock on your feet or pace. 
11. Don't play with things in your pockets (keys, change, etc.).
12. Don't give your poems lengthy introductions. Keep your remarks succinct. 
13. Don't neglect the other readers by talking or checking your phone, etc. Give them the attention you hope to receive yourself.
14. Don't read in a single tone throughout your poems. Record yourself and listen. Change what you don't like or what you think may be ineffective. If you can make a video recording of yourself reading, so you can look for mannerisms, etc., even better.
15. Don't keep your face in your book/pages. Make regular eye contact. 
16. Don't immediately flip through pages to the next poem as soon as you have finished one. Allow enough of a pause at the end of a poem that the audience is clear that it's finished.
17. Don't say where poems have been or are going to be published. It makes you seem insecure and/or arrogant.
18. Along the same lines, don't tell the audience who likes this poem--a famous author, your workshop group, your mother, etc. It won't dispose the audience to like your poem too.  

I suppose 9 and 16 annoy me the most: the former seems self-indulgent, while the latter creates confusion and makes it hard to enjoy the reading.

Saturday 14 September 2013

Anne Carson's Glass, Irony and God (New Directions, 1995)

opens his--

eyes stacked with the motions of roses in that other dawn
and a torn coolness--



Pale dawn was filling up the lap of the room.

from "TV Men: Sokrates"

You dove once

into your privatest presentiment
and stayed, face down in your black overcoat.
To my wonder.
Endlessness runs in you like leaves on the tree of night.
To live here one must forget much.

the end of "TV Men: The Sleeper"

A stranger is poor, voracious and turbulent.
He comes

from nowhere in particular

and pushes prices up.
His method of knowing
is to eat it. 


A stranger is master of nothing.

Who in a nightmare
can help himself?


Rome collapsed when Alaric ran out the dawn side. 

from "The Fall of Rome: A Traveller's Guide"

Lapping at Isaiah's ears black birdsong no it was anger.


The nation stirred in its husk and slept again. 


It was a cold winter evening, the cold bit like a wire. 


He slept, the asters in the garden unloaded their red thunder into the dark.

from "The Book of Isaiah"

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Mnajdra Temple, Malta, 4000 BCE, visited August 2013

It was the hottest of days when we visited the prehistoric temples at Qrendi, Malta. First we saw Mnajdra. 

The covering is protective, but rather ruins the atmosphere....

Come on in....

These pressed dots are one of the first types of decoration seen in the prehistoric temples. 

Sunday 8 September 2013

The Capitoline Museum, Rome, August 2013

 I can't recall how many times this image appeared in an undergraduate Latin text, 
but I saw it often enough to be delighted to see the original! 

An elegant sarcophagus, with a strange, theatrical mask 
in the upper left corner that I'd see again in Italy....

 I guess these were leftovers of a sort, in a courtyard. What leftovers!

A chariot! A real, bleeding chariot! If only it'd had a date on the placard! 

Friday 6 September 2013

Homecoming (Chicago: Dancing Girl Press, 2013)

It's here! My latest pamphlet/chapbook is Homecoming, from the fabulous Dancing Girl Press in Chicago. Here's what I've come up with as an account of the work: 'Homecoming picks up on a sense of isolation in the American Midwest as well as its emphasis on the more positive attributes of family life. Thus when the father falls prey to injury and illness, his decline upsets the meanings of family, selfhood and home. Poems in Homecoming first appeared in Court Green, New Welsh Review, Notre Dame Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Wales, The Rialto, Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics, The Times Literary Supplement and The Warwick Review.'

In the US, please order directly from the press for $7 plus shipping; in the UK, you can obtain it directly from me post-free for £5. 

As some may have noticed, I like to use a pamphlet as a smaller concentration of an ongoing book manuscript (poems from several pamphlets went into Divining for Starters, while The Son selected from Imagined Sons). Homecoming derives from a manuscript with the working title, The Weather in Normal. It may become book four; it's hard to say at this point. 

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Anne Carson's 'The Glass Essay' (1995)

Some favourite passages from Anne Carson's long poem, 'The Glass Essay,' from Glass, Irony and God (New Directions, 1995):

Spring opens like a blade there. 


You remember too much,
my mother said to me recently.

Why hold onto all that? And I said,
Where can I put it down?


Each morning a vision came to me.
Gradually I understood that these were naked glimpses of my soul.

I called them Nudes.


                               By now I was so cold
it felt like burning.


But by now the day is wide open and a strange young April light
is filling the moor with gold milk.
I have reached the middle

where the ground goes down into a depression and fills with swampy water.
It is frozen.
A solid black pane of moor life caught in its own night attitudes.


It is a two-way traffic,

the language of the unsaid.


The April light is clear as an alarm.

As we pass them it gives a sudden sense of every object
existing in space on its own shadow.
I wish I could carry this clarity with me

into the hospital where distinctions tend to flatten and coalesce.


His face cracks open it could be a grin or rage

and looking past me he issues a stream of vehemence at the air.


Sunlight flocks through the room.


He used to be a big man, over six feet tall and strong,

but since he came to hospital his body has shrunk to the merest bone house--
except the hands. The hands keep growing.


I stared at the back of her head waiting for what she would say.
Her answer would clear this up.

But she just laughed a strange laugh with ropes all over it.


Those nights lying alone
are not discontinuous with this cold hectic dawn.
This is who I am.

Monday 2 September 2013

Teatro dei Pupi, Ortigia, Sicily, 1 September 2013

The Teatro dei Pupi, with its laboratory, museum, &c., is an institution in Ortigia, Sicily, producing puppet plays using centuries-old stories. These scenes come from the play I saw last night, La Triste Istoria di Olimpia. The blurriness of the final photo indicates the speed of the battle scene!

Sunday 1 September 2013

Friday 30 August 2013

The Colosseum, Rome, August 2013




From the remains


A wonderfully lifelike bust from the remains


Another wonderfully likelike bust from the remains

Sunday 25 August 2013

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Book blurbs

Lately I've been thinking a lot about blurbs as I've collected a couple for my next book of poems and advised a friend on obtaining some for his. In seeking blurbs, I've encountered unexpected (while hoped for) generosity and earnestness. For my pamphlet/chapbook Subterfuge for the Unrequitable (Potes & Poets, 1998), I approached via email two poets I'd never met or had previous contact with, Cole Swensen and Ron Silliman. I'd admired Swensen's work for years and was delighted when she provided a lovely blurb. With Silliman, I only had the virtue, by way of introduction, of bringing out the pamphlet with a publisher who had also produced some of his own works (and he's had quite a few publishers over the years), and yet he too kindly gave me a blurb for my pamphlet. 

The blurbs did more than provide the pamphlet with something to put on the back cover and perhaps persuade a few people to buy it. They heartened me greatly. Indeed, to this day rereading their remarks encourages me. 

I had a similar experience with my first full collection, The Tethers (Seren, 2009), approaching Robert Crawford, whom I'd only met briefly at a conference, and Rosanna Warren, whom I'd never met but whose work had influenced my aesthetic since I was introduced as an undergrad to her work.

I understand some poets are bombarded by so many requests for blurbs that they have had to set down rules: they don't do blurbs for students or they only do blurbs for students; they only do them for people they know personally; etc. I feel grateful to all those poets who make time to comment conscientiously on a younger or less established poet's work and thus help it find a readership. My thanks go out to them all.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

The Poetry Life, with Thanks to Richard Price

At the first Reading Poetry Festival in June, Richard Price showed two flowcharts of a poet's life. One was a straightforward progression: magazine publication, small press book, possibly larger press book later on. There were perhaps five steps in all. Then Richard showed what a poet's life really looks like, with many 'steps' and arrows in every direction. Writing poems and publishing books became only two among many activities. Poets also give readings, collaborate with artists, publish pamphlets and broadsheets (though we could use many more of the latter in the UK), start their own magazines and presses, translate other poets' work, teach seminars and workshops, form workshops with other poets, create communities of exchange, friendship, love. I'm only touching on part of the breadth that Richard elaborated so well in the session, that makes me excited to think about the life I live. 

On another note, I also think this larger literary life is why American and British students pursue MFA and MA degrees in creative writing while knowing they may never have careers as writers per se. It's worth pursuing the degree for the sake of taking one's writing to a greater strength, for the sake of another year or two's deeper immersion in the world of writing, teaching and publishing. Or have my earnestness and idealism gotten the better of me? 

Monday 5 August 2013

A Baker's Dozen from Yours Truly at Truck

New Zealand poet David Howard contacted me about a month ago to say he would be the August editor for blogzine Truck and asked me to contribute to his 'baker's dozen' series, in which I would select and comment on 13 poems that represented the course of my work. The poems and commentary are now up here; if you have trouble reading the small font, as I did, just select View from your browser menu, then Zoom In for improved legibility.

Saturday 3 August 2013

Chris McCully's Polder (Carcanet, 2009)

My thanks to Richard Price for recommending and loaning me this volume. Here are some favourite passages (it helps to know McCully is an Englishman long resident in the Netherlands). 

Where do you think the dust in the house called Song came from? . . . . It came from you, and the cycle of shedding solitudes.

from 'Dust'

The trains ran down darkness....

from 'The Thorn Carol'

As far as you look is artifice
or put to work: the air
fills oyster shells with snow; you're borne
by weeks of earth and ice; and deep
under the Amsteldijk carp sleep.

last stanza of 'Murdering the Sea'

The day went on dancing, but you didn't dance.


The hurling sky broke into headaches
while you broke into distance. . . . 

from 'On Greenfield Station'

. . . the sun bloomed briefly in the waters of Snoeksteeg.

Elsewhere the crowds, with their sum of unreliable accents,
queued for Anne Frank and the coinage of memory.


Today burns slowly, hanging ash on the incense stick.
The first tulips are an intricate diversion.

from 'A Tourist on Waterlooplein'

For lunch there's the bafflement of not working.

from 'Summer Sundays'

                You could call it home,
such weather, its visible timing,

its intimate pressure.

from 'Counting the Lightning'

By dawn the local tragedy's locked up
but its meaning is still at large--


. . . and the terrible facsimiles of failure and love
have become love.

from 'Fado'

She is the last of my loves,
patient, imperious.

from 'Ochre'

And here, in the flat, assumptive province
Called exile it's been autumn since winter.


No one told me that I'd have to learn
Such competence with grief.

from 'The Vinegar Days'

Polder is available directly from the publisher here.