Friday, 18 April 2014

LENIN IN AMERICA

Last post I mentioned that I'd found some old poems in the loft. I am beginning this post with the only one that worked. It is a short poem and echoes some of the ideas I used in a recent post.

Transposition

Lenin in America
homeless in the Dustbowl
on the run from hunger
no police on his trail
just another faceless man in ill-fitting shoes

Woody in Russia
learning to play the balalaika
talking blues on the banks of the Danube
getting married when the mood takes him
starts to travel when he feels the urge

March 1999

I remember I was reading a book about the Russian Revolution at the time and how during the Soviet period children were told of Lenin's pre-revolution travels around the country, this taking on an almost religious aspect with him converting whole villages to his cause. Nonsense of course. I think I'd reread The Grapes of Wraith as well. If I remember it correctly Tom Joad leaves prison in ill-fitting shoes, arriving back at the farm he complains that his feet hurt or as he says: his dogs are barking.
Now a recent poem. I think some of the ideas may need explaining- the death-knell of a poem is when you have to explain it! Anyway some science. In 1909 Franz Haber discovered a means of fixing nitrogen in the soil that has lead to the development of artificial fertilisers, in turn these have made possible the huge population growth over the past century. Malthus warned of the dangers of the population growing beyond our ability to feed it.

The trick of fixing nitrogen bought us some time,
so we fuck like rabbits and sit in our own shit.
Just beyond the circle of light,
cast by the burning of hydrocarbons,
the shadow of Malthus circles,
snaps at our heels,
growls: one day soon, one day soon...

I have nothing to say about the content, I think the words speak for themselves.
On a lighter note I leave you with a video of Friends of The Bride, one of those bands that should have been big...

Friday, 11 April 2014

HIS INTELLECT CUTTING IDEAS ADRIFT

I was moving boxes about in the loft the other day and I found what I thought was simply my old poem folder that I used at readings. I pulled it out of a box thinking that I would look through it to be on the safe side before composting all the old paper.

I discovered a number of poems that I had forgotten writing, and as distance grants perspective I was able to see why they didn't work clearly. Take this poem for example:

getting drunk with Robert Lowell

you notice the crease in his trousers reflected the razor of his mind
the glittering scalpel of his intellect cutting ideas adrift
shaping new connections
the martini glasses chime and empty again
its the medication I think at first that has him so high
not the alcohol or the please to see you elegant manners
but it's not it's him
later I cannot recall all the connections he spun or when sober if they stand scrutiny
the next day he will fall into that pit


OK, I wrote this about sixteen years ago or so, it is going to be different to how I write today. But two things jumped off the page- one was the layout was awful and the second was the jarring last line. I am introducing something that makes sense only if you know about Robert Lowell's mental health. You cannot bring something in from left field in the last line of this type of poem. It will work as a device at times but not in this context.

Plus lines 1 & 2 say the same thing, and are a little clich├ęd, and if I have the word elegant to describe his manners do I need the please to see you as well?

I suspect that this poem may have been shown at a workshop but was left as an interesting idea.

Here is my revised version:

Getting Drunk with Robert Lowell

We sit in canvas directors chairs,
opposite sides of the pit
-his alternate universe of suffering.
He does not invite me to look into that infinity,
he rips up concepts; martini glasses chime,
he pours a refill, right angles ideas.

Later I cannot recall all those connections he spun,
or if sober they would stand scrutiny.
I know by the vacant chair he is in the pit.

It feels like this like a poem that can stand by itself now. I'd be interested in what you think.


Here is another one that made me laugh when I read it:

as my prostrate has enlarged, grown smug like a contented animal, I increasingly find myself in public urinals like the other old men, urine trickling like trepidation, and call such visits parade duty with the prostrate brigade, there is no eye contact or comment on strength of stream

This was an exaggeration of course and I have had to change it about make it work but the germ of a poem was there. And here:

at some other point on the continuum, were we do not exist, it is raining, water mingles with rust, dry pools of oxide no longer, the sun is setting, the planet turns

I think this was a contender for Burning Music, my first collection, not sure if it made it. Again the layout was centred in the middle of the page and looked wrong.


I am leaving you this week with the latest video by Liz Green, whose new album is out on the 14th April. She's touring and if you get the chance to see her take it, she is a one off. There is no one quite like Liz.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

GRAM JOEL DAVIES: MY KIND of POET



There is no pretention about Gram, he is poetry. There is passion balanced by a deep knowledge and a way with words that I envy. I also have to confess I am in awe of the long complex lines of his work. I am pleased if I can manage to string ten lines together, Gram works on a larger scale and pulls it off. There is never a wasted word, nor a superfluous sentence.

And hearing him read! He has a presence and the voice to bring it all together.


Gram was the fine mind behind the editing of Juncture 25's first anthology (we have a couple of copies left, you can get yours here). I can honestly say without his attention to detail it would not be the book it is.


By now you have gathered that Gram is a member of Juncture 25. He can fully formed-as I think I wrote in the introduction. I find his work to be rich, resonant and thought provoking. He has an excellent blog, well worth reading.



Let's here what he has to say.

Why poetry?

When you remove all that is unnecessary, poetry is left.

I have been read stories. I have puzzled over riddles or puns. Experienced drama. Listened to hip hop music. Seen the news. A list of what makes poetry possible would be long.

Why though? Life fills up, it gets empty. I shake off what feels dead and poetry remains. As if it were what everything else is for.


Tell us how you work

Have you ever heard about Peter Redgrove’s method, the way he would keep several books and gradually copy “germs” of ideas from one to the next, expanding on them every time? He believed the unconscious mind worked on each, and eventually formed poems. Well, I do not work like that.

It is a sound principle, I think. Sometimes, a theme can occupy me for a while, and it seems to get magnetised so that other things around me begin to make sense in terms of that idea, and cling to it. This happens inexplicitly, but when sitting down to write, I find a number of observations from recent days have clotted together, formed their own little nexus in my imagination. Some of these may have been quietly snowballing for a very long time, years or decades, and become very powerful. Others happen overnight, or an afternoon. It can happen in a second, actually.

Association is both the essence of metaphor and of meaning. You need a vantage point to experience anything meaningfully. Poetry has the advantage of being able to talk about one thing directly in terms of another. This is what gives it emotional energy. In the overlap between things not obviously connected, our hearts are forced to stretch to comprehend and then we really feel something.

What is particularly interesting is that if you give yourself a receptacle, for example, decide to write according to one form or other, or to draw words only from a particular source, or to speak as one kind of voice, you instantly create a space for associations to fall into. Rather than waiting around for something you might call inspiration, you can prepare the ground. Which is why often I will write by taking two or three starting points (e.g. a news story, a memory, an intention for short lines) and let these things reach out toward one another in the mind. Where they cross, there’s material for a poem.

Which poets make you green with envy?

Anne Michaels, in her collection Miners’ Pond & The Weight of Oranges, stuns me. She wrote a beautiful novel, too. If I could write like her, I could stop.

Tea or coffee?

Ha. A piece of advice I was given: when a writer begins to write about coffee, they’re really in trouble.

I start the day with espresso. Drink green tea. Pick mint from the garden. Buy chamomile by the sack. Then there is licorice. Lemon. Vanilla rooibos. There’s occasionally nothing so nice as breakfast tea made too strong in a pot then served with a little too much milk.

What question would you not like me to ask?

Why do you not use your time instead to administer triage in disaster zones?

How would you answer it?

In my dreams, I do.

What's in the pipeline?

Personal goals include writing one poem every week for a while, interacting with more writers and remembering to submit work for publication occasionally.

If you were a book, poem, song, colour what etc would you be?

I am a ringbinder full of notes.

To end with a poem. 


Gram As Lifeform, Phosphorescing


Awake in my pushchair after sunset
I am proto-hominid; a hunter who searches
the hedgerow. The road surface quakes my teeth, 
there are voices, the presence of figures. 
This verge is a planetarium of glowworms; illuminated
ichor totems taking shape. It is not my moment. I wait. 

Strapped in the car, I sing to radio pylons. But wait
until dark – when each isosceles dims into sunset, 
then scaffold becomes illuminated
by a pack of wolves. Every red eye searches
an umbra of moths. It is my totem pole of figures
stacked amid shivering cables and metal teeth. 

It goes past. I have dreams of losing teeth
then wake. A deathwatch beetle ticks the wait
from its cavity. Over me, glow stickers draw figures
of a star-chart without rotation, sunrise or sunset. 
In such patterns are embryonic myth; I make searches
whose purpose is not illuminated. 

Watching jellyfish breeze an aquarium tank, illuminated
blackly by ultraviolet bulbs, my reflected teeth
are pre-human, skeletal; a face unlike mine searches
itself among the bulks of hydrozoa. They wait
like negative plates of sunset. 
Faintly, my teacher’s voice relates figures. 

I have imagined a moment the self figures
out who it is, when the familiar becomes illuminated. 
We are near hedgerow, using our throats to test sunset
with shrieks high enough to shiver teeth, 
hoping bats will acknowledge us. I see one wait, 
hovering mid-beat between pips as it searches.

In these days, when troglodytes perform web searches,
I am camped. My dog runs figures 
of eight in his LED collar while I wait
on a flame. Half-visible in its illuminated
circle, we listen to screech owls give saw-teeth
calls. A myth takes shape in these hours after sunset.

I am someone who figures a beast in the umbra of sunset,
that creature who searches lightning for its teeth, 

who waits beneath park lamps to see moths illuminated. 

Thanks Gram.

Friday, 4 April 2014

SHAPE SHIFTING, IDENTITY EATING...


This week one poem. It was written last year. It was revealed in court that undercover policemen had been given the identities of children who had died when very young. These policemen had been ordered to infiltrate groups viewed by the government as suspicious- anti-nuclear protesters, green activists and people concerned with animal welfare. In short people like me.

You can read the latest development in this ongoing scandal here.
This poem came quite quickly. I wanted to capture the fracture picture that was [and still is emerging] emerging.

Deception

The names of dead babies
were allocated to policemen,
so they could live undercover,
sleep with suspects,
investigate certain people.
We are told this was in the national interest.

To lie in bed in the night
and wonder if your son's name
has been resurrected,
to camouflage a liar,
who spies on your neighbour.
But they will not tell you.

Shape shifting, identity eating,
they attend every meeting,
always saying the right thing.
Offering and helping,
inside they are mocking,
your dossier compiling.

Who were the suspected
and exactly what did they do
to be worth the attention and budget allocation?
Did they really imperil the state?
So many questions
you will never answer...

I would be interested to know what you make of it.

I am leaving you this week with a video by The Mountain Goats. I keep saying to myself that I will write an appreciation of the band-watch this space. Here are The Mountain Goats singing Cry For Judas.

Monday, 31 March 2014

EMILY FAY McCOY: POWER, PASSION & POETRY


From the first time I heard Emily read I was hooked, the presentation, the passion and the power made the audience sit up and take notice. Emily stole the show at the Fire River Open Mic night.


Emily is a member of Juncture 25, Taunton’s leading poetry group. She has read at many events and has the ability to captivate the audience. There is a real energy about her readings, if you get the chance to catch her at a festival this summer take it. You will not be disappointed.


Not only is Emily a first rate poet, [who writes about Magpies] she is also a seasoned traveller and her account of her journey across Europe in a van is a delight. I am not much of a reader of travel stories but I found Travelson the Continent to be an excellent travel book. It kept me entertained from start to finish.

What I like about her work is its richness; there is much to ponder on in her poetry. I am impressed by the skilled manner in which she deals with rhythm. There is a lyrical quality to her work that draws you in and transfixes you.
.
Enough from me, let’s here from Emily.
  
Why poetry?
Because I’m too impatient! Just joking – I like the way poetry captures an image, a moment or a feeling that is hard to express in just one page (or less than page). In fact to counter that, I am actually trying to write a novel (so far about 1/3 of the way!) and it’s a great experience because you have so much time to look at a situation from all sorts of different angles. With poetry you’ve got one shot at making an impact.

Plus poetry can be so striking – sometimes you find a poem that just hits you, perhaps because you’ve had a similar experience or perhaps a similar feeling. I want to do that. One of my favorite examples that has stuck with me is Julia Copus’: “we don’t fall in love: it rises through us…like tea stains as it creeps up…a cube of sugar lying by a cup.”

My poetry is often emotional but I believe you can’t truly represent something unless you’ve been there in your mind, either in real or imagined state and I hope that (like how I sometimes have that eurieka moment with other poems) my poems can affect other people in the same way.



Tell us about how you work? – tell us about your work…(in advertently changed the question, might also answer the original question at the end…)
I’ve been writing since I was little and I hope have now got out of that awkward stage when you write laments over your poor teenage life…(but probably not).

Possible favorite proud moment: won second place in a school poetry competition with a little poem I wrote in an English lesson. We weren’t set for anything except science and maths and so my mind often drifted in English (particularly as we were studing Of Mice and Men – not one of my favourite books). I didn’t put a name on the poem, just posted it to the box then saw it on the school wall a week later. Secretly I thought that if I had put my name to it I would have come first!

Since moving to the South West I have met the most wonderful people (Paul included!!) who have supported my writing and performing. I think I would have continued to write anyway but would not have the same guidance, I’m still astonished that together Juncture 25 have published our own book. It’s so exciting and I just want to hand out copies to everyone I see in the street!

Other things I suppose I could include in ‘your work’: my dissertation at uni was a collection of poems based on the Cornish myth of Tristan & Isolde. I printed it on my mums printer and bound it with card and raffia then sold quite a few copies!

And then I’ve got my blog (shouldn’t really call it that!) my ‘kindle book’. About my travels around Europe in a red ford transit van/campervan. It was an amazing experience and I’m so glad I wrote it all down. The book wasn’t just a diary of my travels though (I have that handwritten somewhere!) I like to think of it as a window on a journey. I hope that it could be a good read to others, I certainly like looking back, and I included little poems, lists, photos – photos were a key part – and stuff like that. It was fun to do and it’s available on amazon for the kindle – a fair 98 pence!

The campervan you drove hither and thither across Europe - what was that all about?
After university I didn’t know what to do (a common feeling I do believe). Applied to various graduate schemes before deciding that wasn’t what I wanted so instead embarked upon a journey.

The van was incredible. 6 foot long wheel base, giant steering wheel, wild engine. It took us through 13 countries safely (mostly) and was the most amazing way to see and experience Europe. I thought that the trip would be more productive – poetry wise – but I suppose it was mostly spent absorbing the environment. I did however write a diary every day and a blog post about each section of the journey. And I’m so glad I did as it forms a good story and even though things have changed since then, still makes me smile. One day I might write up the boring version!! (The daily diary!)


Which would you say is the more important-the poem on the page or the spoken poem?
I think they are equally important. I know I am the worst person for sitting on the fence but I am strongly perched on this one. I began writing for myself (cringe) and so they were I suppose silent poems and now that I have found my ‘voice’ in more ways than one, although I think my poetic voice does wander around a bit, I have found a new dimension for the poems. I love the way different people read a poem, again a double meaning, people read poems differently and they sound different in different peoples mouths. And the main thing about poetry – and literature – that I love is that it is all right.


Which would it be tea or coffee?
Tea. Loose leaf. With a digestive.

What's in the pipeline?
I hear we are going to be performing at 2000 trees festival in July! Again, I am grateful to Juncture 25 for pushing me towards these things. Work has slightly overtaken my life at the moment, and sometimes means that I don’t do as much writing as I want to, or apply to festivals, competitions etc etc etc but to have a group of people working towards the same thing, namely getting ourselves out into the world, is brilliant.

Personally I would like to get my own book out there at some point, the plan is the magpies… I’ve got a collection of poems from the Magpie rhyme (1 for sorrow, 2 for joy…) and I’m nearly finished but I’m just waiting for the words to come. Then I want to do something with the 7 finished poems, whether a book or a performance or a video, or a piece of art…the possibilities are endless!! Plus my novel which I hope at some point to finish. It’s going to be a long one though, I don’t want to make it into a short story. It is based on two children and their journey through life. I have tried not to use any ‘internal monologues’ and is entirely founded on the descriptions of their body language. I hope that some people might like to read it, if not it is certainly a good exercise
.
Apart from all that, the pipeline includes honing my rather wayward writings!



What question would you not like me to ask? 
Do you write for yourself or for others…

And how would you answer it?
I write for myself but I hope that it illuminates similar things in other people’s lives or imaginations. But I feel guilty sometimes that I write for myself and in the future (when I become more worldly wise) perhaps I will be able to be more proactive, but probably not.

If you were a colour/ a book/ a poem and a song what would you be?
All together?!
Grey. The Magic Faraway Tree. Words, Wide Night – Carol Ann Duffy. Such Great Heights – The Postal Service.


Tell us about how you work?
I do most of my writing in bed, or in the arm chair by my bedroom window, and quite a bit on trains. I have been known to write something down on the steering wheel (don’t tell anyone!). Possibly because these are the places where I am on my own, or where I can gather my thoughts. I especially find trains very thought-gathering places.
This may be why I struggle with writing in form, my poems seem to come at strange times, normally when my mind relaxes a little bit, and when I try really hard to write something in structure, or for example my ‘gold’ magpie poem – I have the scene, the “whats at stake” (thanks Ginny) and the characters so it were but just haven’t found the words yet. So I’m just waiting for that to form itself.

So in a nutshell, my writing is not confined (to a nutshell) and I hope that with the right nurturing will grow wings and fly. There we go! 

Sunday, 30 March 2014

PUT YOUR EAR INTO THE FLOOD


A poem I have been working on for some time this post. It was prompted by the allotment flooding again. I struggled with the second half. I knew what I wanted to say but could not find the words to say it.


The water is rising
but the river is full.
Now it crosses the allotment,
causes a uniform flatness
that ripples under the wind.
Put your ear into the flood,
there is excitement here – change comes.
The enforced idleness of
the imprisoning ice is ending.
The rising sea will recover lost land.



This is definitely a work in progress. I am not sure about the last line- can the ocean recover lost land? The ocean is the water rather than the ground and I am not at all convinced the last line works. 


This week at the Juncture 25 workshop the task was to write a self-portrait as a sonnet.  I did not like my attempt and have ripped up the form.

Selfie in Light and Darkness

The magpie told me,  
the purpose of this life was to choose,
but when I look in the mirror I see my father,
maybe more hair, less lines, but him.
I want to say to the magpie
I’m in it for the poems,
but he knows that already,
and I have to describe the creature I see.
Part light, the rest darkness,
it’s the percentages that count.
I’m not saying.

That’s it for this post. I’d like to hear your opinions about the work in progress. I shall post an interview with the amazingly talented Emily Faye McCoy. Not only is she a fantastically talented poet but she has a book of her travels out. I shall leave you with Serafina Steer.

Friday, 21 March 2014

AS BLUE AS PRIVILEGE & DISDAIN


To start this post a poem based around observing a man in perfect cricketing whites walking through the town early on a February morning.  I could not help but wonder what was going on. I was out to buy the paper and was looking forward to settling down with my toast, tea and the book review. As I walked to the shop and back again the bones of this poem formed in my head:

February cricketer,
startling the grey street in perfect whites,
shoulders a bat in a bag on his back.
Sport shoes crunch the broken glass
and polystyrene remains of a Friday night.
I watch him from across the road,
I think him misplaced from a gentler July day,
or Well’s time traveller come to bring Victorian civilisation
to a town that has lost pride in its appearance.
The church he is passing is locked,
bars prevent the homeless from sleeping in the porch.
On the corner, cash is paid for cars.
He had hoped for better than this,
social justice, equality, perhaps welfare for all,
only to find us squabbling over remnants.
Astride his machine once more,
He sets the controls for another future.
We will I am certain, not even rate
a foot note in his narrative.


I am sure that the cricketing gentleman had his own reasons for being so attired on a Saturday morning. While I was mentally riffing on echoes of H G Wells’ The Time Machine, adding to it the images I collected on my journey. The first line was what I hung the rest of the poem. 

Here's a joke: Where do you get mercury from?
H G Wells!


This next poem took much thought and is, I think, a work in progress.

Trophy

Afterwards I can track the switch,
exactly where one thing became another,
when suddenly compromised, I seemed to collude.
I picture myself on her website, my smile an endorsement,
a trophy of seized photo op.
She wears her ambition as if it were acceptable.
As I take umbrage, she says:
You don’t know anything about me.
This is both right and wrong.
I know the flag she drapes across her shoulders.
It is as blue as privilege and disdain.  

She broadcasts the easy answers as she has been coached.

I am not going to fill the background in-but I would be interested in your thoughts.

Here is a video of the wondrous Stray Birds playing Dream in Blue.