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"

Tuesday 14 April 2015

A commemorative bench for my parents on the Constitution Trail, Normal, Illinois

As readers of this blog will know, until his paralysis in 2007, my father loved cycling, and the creation of the Constitution Trail in Bloomington-Normal was a great event for him. He cycled on it regularly and indeed, talkative man that he was, he also made friends there. After his death in 2009, I talked with my mother about arranging for a commemorative bench on the trail, an idea that really pleased her. When she died in 2011, I wanted to include her, too, somehow. The bench is located in Fairview Park. (If you click on the photo, it should enlarge.)

I look forward to visiting the bench when I'm next in town, probably early September.

Sunday 12 April 2015

Maureen Thorson's My Resignation (Shearsman, 2014)

On Wednesday I heard Maureen Thorson read at an off-site AWP event, Saturday I bought her book at the Small Press Distribution booth at the book fair, and I've read it over the last two days. Here are some favourite passages:

O questor at the doorstep of high summer,
the weathers of a heartbreak
left me red-eyed, wary,
              transparent to the winds,

tawdry terrors
underlying my tenderness.

from "A Man for All Seasons"

You've come down where your heart lies, 
from the great cold enclosure, 
a southerly course.

             At the head of no army,
             with one smile
             and two hands to make your case.

             Past several rivers,
             bright medals of your intention.

from "Follow the Leader"

Alphabetizing ourselves while azaleas go gaga.
Hot pink shockwaves drowning out the yard.

from "There Will Come the Great Reshelving"

The idea(l) of the unconditional

             leaves me waiting at the window
             to glimpse that singularity--

a flash in the middle distance
             the watcher and the watched one
might converge.

end of "Meet Me at the Vanishing Point"

Curious to thrive.

last line of "The Sun Sets Every Day"

Thinking of collision. Hands arranging my hair
             as red branches frame the window.
Teeth white as flashbulbs. Limbs clash,

             Petals no one tells apart.

end of "Closer Than They Appear"

Not to be alone--

             a shivery, upwelling pleasure.

end of "'Applause for This Shared Vigilance'"

Every emotion carries the seed
             of its loss, excruciating bloom.

from "Self-Portrait as Tragedienne"

              In it to win
the beautiful wreck.

end of "Jackpot"

(All along the fenceline, I uproot
              encroaching morning glories.
              I throw 
their twining corpses over my shoulder.) 

from "On Marriage"

The weather report calls for continued transcendence:
Lengthening evenings, gilding the telephone wires
as they dip over the yards, rattling slightly
with the feral hum of air conditioners.

from "Trophy Life"

When I kiss you, the night kisses back,
                           velvety, intolerable,
                           a greedy creature
lurching comically on rubbery wings.

from "Through the Looking Glass"

Whiling the green evening away in a restaurant
             located adjacent to the possible.

from "Smorgasbord"

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Lesley Saunders' The Walls Have Angels (Mulfran, 2014)

Some favourite passages:

...although some mornings
we wake in a past room
so familiar is the window
and soft-footed

like the look of a pearl
that we feel we are
the kind of stuff
continuously inhabited

by light and memories
of light, winter birds
falling out of the sky
more spirit than flesh....

from "Nightshirt"

...her face contemplative as glass....

from "Annunciation"

                                  The song in her head held

its wisteria note for the length of a question....

from "Music for Two Keyboards"

...and the slight sense of
          mistaken identity
each time the daughters
catch sight of their
vivid altered selves.

from "Psalms for the House"

                                             The blue

was something else: the cool of wall
against a woman's back, the linen
weight of her hem, and the light itself

               material as the jug of warm milk

in a corner.

from "Smalt"

...movements of the soul in vivacious flesh....

from "Shudder"

                                       Spoke without notes

in front of all these silences....

from "The Power of Light"

                    Comes a dancer

out of the Gloucestershire bluebell woods
blue-veiled with whatever it takes
to get to the truth.

from "Out of the Blue"

The air is suddenly bee-yellow,

peony-red, aflame:
there is more to this world than this world....

from "Enter the Dragon"

At the door the last visitor

must slough his dead skins
like a disreputable coat
and wait for the music.

from "Keepers"

You can purchase The Walls Have Angels at Waterstone's here for either home delivery or click and collect service.

Sunday 5 April 2015

On not winning the Ted Hughes Award

My partner Trev and I were not long inside the Savile Club before its poshness had overpowered us--or we had someone with whom to share our views. For the first time in years I saw my former MA student Tom Weir, whose poem had placed in the top ten in the National Poetry Competition (yay, Tom!). Before long I'd met up with Peter Daniels, Rachel McCarthy, fellow shortlister Patience Agbabi, Tammy Yoseloff and many more I met that night for the first time. I became an avid poet-sighter, pointing out to my partner  John Agard, Carol Ann Duffy and Alice Oswald, among others.

Fortunately we didn't have to wait long into the night before the Ted Hughes was announced. Kei Miller and Julia Copus gave lavish descriptions of each work on the shortlist, then Carol Ann Duffy pronounced Andrew Motion the winner. I looked at Trev and shrugged my shoulders and spent much of the rest of the night receiving commiserations as well as, more happily, talking about the Forward Prizes, as I met Forward Arts Foundation employee extraordinaire Maisie Lawrence, with whom I'd had a fair bit of contact about meeting arrangements and book deliveries. 

Was I, am I disappointed? Of course, but only a little. I've greatly enjoyed being shortlisted and the new readers it seems to have brought to Imagined Sons; there have also been some new invitations for readings and workshops. It's time to get on with my reading for the Forward Prizes--and to my next collection, on which I'll say more before long. 

Thanks to everyone who sent kind messages over the past weeks about the book and the award. I don't think I've ever felt such strong support for my work, which is so heartening as I look to the future. Many, many thanks.

Friday 3 April 2015

Togara Muzanenhamo's Gumiguru (Carcanet, 2014)

Here are some favourite passages:

All day the work, shuffling steps into shuffled clearings,
beetles and crickets rising off cordite clicks sparking
off stone, bearded chin sequinned with sweat.

from "In the Music of Labour"

                                                       Silence is not simple,
the road, almost a ritual passage to an evening
         descending on you with a passionate fear.

the end of "Cirrus"

...the dark scream of ghosts
sung wild off the moon's charred, white breath.

the end of "Nagapie"

...the sun hauling amnesia in.

from "Amnesia"

                The wind sings through the grass, parrots rise
from bare trees, yet youth still whispers some reprise
his hunched shadow won't easily surrender or forget.


...the sky nailed wet with stars.

from "Portrait off a Water Trough"

and life, air and nature glowing slow beneath a task
          sung heavy with the golden harvest of smoke.

end of "The Coucal and the Smoker"

Race and power rotating on the axes of money.


                                                                           ...a laughter
reversed--dark as echoes of grief flowering on every lapel.


          ...the Piper's sweet needling flute drawing us to nod
deep into a sparkle where panic raised its jewelled hood
with its black imperious summons, the angered demigod
hypnotically licking time off every sweet layer of the sun
till the brass bell woke us with the gong of its lobed tongue.


                                                 ...the heat at work on the tar,
the city's streets slow and soft with submission.

from "Gates of Dawn"

           It's true, we'd walked through something dark;
and though the sun set like a weeping wound, the stark
nature of our joy drew us up, and almost embarrassed us.

end of "Savannah Chapel"

                                     Sunlight bounced hard
up off the ground, wild fermented fruit sweetening
the heat.

from "The Fig-route"

Each warm draught like the pant of a dog.


     And the nights now are for fear, great gasping fields of darkness without stars--whole hours of quicksand for the dying.


     There was a safety and imagined danger in this game; he stood at the edge of the pool like a machine manufacturing joy as we ran into his arms like components into the assembly line--to be flung into absolute completion, again.


...their poise, a poise of pure ease.


     No weight could question my strength--my hands locked over my father's chest, his back on my stomach, his loose head, as we carried him into the clinic.


Soon, there will be a full moon, and at first it will be blood red as the sun is now, and blunt like the crown of a stillborn.


...having no choice but to trust the dark.


     The buzzards lifted to a dead tree. Monstrous wingspans flapping over new stars and planets. What had I done?

from "Gumiguru"

A weak, sulking rain draws a thin curtain across the lake,

silver gossamer over Norton town.

from "Water"

Pale signatures of dust scrawl the sky, the whispered strokes

vanishing into a blue canvas. 

from "The Reduction"

        The sun a red miserable glow faint with a silence
this season gives, a spiritual silence wet with flying ants staining
        broken glass, the delicate song of rain
singing through broken trusses, up to where pain
              opens its wings to soar through skies quietened by height.

end of "Facsimile of a Quiet Country"

Wednesday 1 April 2015

A new review of Imagined Sons on the Magma blog

You can read a new review of Imagined Sons by issue 63 co-editor Lisa Kelly here, but I'm happy to give away the conclusion: "...the poems seed their own dynamic by continuing to work on the imagination after the book is shut. That, surely, is one of the most important things poetry can do. O’Donoghue [quoted on the cover] might just be right."