The Front Room

A brief post to plug an event I am involved with tomorrow evening. The Front Room run spoken word & live music events in Portsmouth and the surrounding area. These are usually held in the (excellent) Hunter Gatherer in Southsea, but obviously at the moment are online.

You can pick up the event via the Front Room’s Facebook page. I am contributing three poem films – it’s the first time I have done anything like this (where I have made the films myself rather than using the skills of an established film maker). Any comments afterwards would be appreciated – always looking for ways to improve!

The three poems are;

The Transmutation of Geese

Metamorphosis in a Copnor Garden

The Domestication of Ghosts

The first and third poems can be found in Landings, the second one is brand new, written for tomorrow’s event.

Link for the event is;

https://www.facebook.com/frontroomwordsandmusic/

On Becoming a Professional Poet

Simon Armitage was on Desert Island Discs recently. If you haven’t heard the show then it’s definitely worth a listen – an excellent interview and some great music choices ( you can still catch it on the BBC website at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000j120 )

One thing he spoke about was the first time he had a poem accepted for a magazine. It’s a huge moment for any writer, to find that someone who doesn’t know you appreciates what you are doing and thinks that there is enough merit in your work to put it in their publication. Every poet will get enough rejection notes to paper at least a couple of rooms in the course of their attempts to get their work in print. Even now, with over 100 poems in various magazines I still get a huge boost when one is accepted.

The first magazines I had success with included the now defunct Poetry Monthly, Wire, Tandem and Sol. Small poetry press magazines tend to come and go with regularity. Or they used to do. Now many of the smaller ones are only online. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, though it is lovely to pick up a publication and see your work nestled in amongst other more well-known names. My sole appearance in Tandem was noteworthy for me in that the same magazine also had a poem by Seamus Heaney in it. I do occasionally wonder if he read my own contribution.

These magazines are so important in the nurturing of poetry. It’s a pretty thankless task for editors – a small number of subscriptions, sackfuls of poetry, quite a lot of it written by someone who hasn’t read anything more contemporary than Keats, or hasn’t made any attempt to understand what sort of poetry fits with the magazine’s ethos. 

If you want to support poetry in the UK, and also get an understanding of what contemporary poetry is all about then I’d strongly recommend subscribing to a few magazines – off the top of my head I would recommend the following – Acumen, Brittle Star, Envoi, Frogmore Papers, The Interpreter’s House, Magma, Obsessed with Pipework, Orbis, The North, The Rialto and South. It’s not an exhaustive list – there are plenty of others that are excellent that I have no experience of as a subscriber or submitter of work and hence haven’t mentioned in this list. 

Also books. Buy poetry books. My publisher, Dempsey and Windle have a sale on at the moment – buy two and get a third mystery book free – it might be mine! Go to www.dempseyandwindle.com for details. 

Poetry isn’t exactly the most profitable career choice, either for writers or publishers. If you are on this page and want to support poetry in the UK then please spend a few pounds on a magazine subscription or a book or two if you can afford to do so.

Back to Desert Island Discs. Simon Armitage got a £2.50 cheque for his first acceptance (most magazines pay in the form of a free copy rather than money). He kept it rather than cashing it in. 

In my case the cheque was for 50p from Sol Magazine. I recently found it in a bag of receipts, bank statements and old football programmes whilst attempting to clear out the loft – which is a long term project even under lockdown. There have been plenty of occasions when I have wished I had put the money into my bank account, but am glad now that I didn’t. It’s nice to have a memento of the day that I became a professional poet (!)

The poem itself is short, which probably helped in terms of getting published , and is about Friday and Saturday nights in a Somerset market town. Frome now is pretty upmarket and, apart from a couple of pubs that don’t seem to have changed much, (namely the Blue Boar and the George Inn), is almost unrecognisable from the place I grew up in. Back then, there wasn’t a hand-crafted boutique quinoa parlour to be seen. Weekends were absolute carnage. Not for nothing is Frome Town FC’s nickname ‘Dodge’ (as in Dodge City); 

I’m not sure that this poem is quite what Frome Town Council will be looking for in terms of material for their next marketing campaign, but I am open to offers if it is of interest.

Unhappy Ending

Borderland
Of Sentry posts in nightclubs
Ambushes lie in wait

Wish upon a Stanley blade
Alone again
Too pissed to know or care

Away and running
Fighting drunk
Another Saturday night

How Easy it is To Make a Ghost

Today our house is bedecked with flags. A social distancing compliant street party in the afternoon. We have our finger buffet prepared. There will be a quiz. Good natured conversations over garden walls. Maybe some Vera Lynn or big band jazz. It should be fun – and the end of the war in Europe is something to celebrate and remember, despite the attempts at hijacking of anniversaries and national memory by certain individuals and groups for their own ends.

That rant is for another day though.

V.E. Day 75 is also of course an opportunity for remembrance and reflection for all the trauma and lives lost in Europe over the course of those terrible years. It’s also a chance to reflect on what came afterwards, and how people generally tried to create a fairer and more equal society than that before 1939.

Maybe there will be a similar shift in attitudes here once Covid-19 has run it’s course, although comparisons between then and now are facile; as an example, today’s Twitter storm over whether Boris Johnson is this generation’s Churchill or Chamberlain, which is a slur on both of Britain’s wartime Prime Ministers.

Comparison to Chamberlain is very unfair – he was wrong ultimately, but he had lived through WW1 and it’s consequences which had a big influence on his and most other’s thoughts at the time.

In addition the RAF in particular were in desperate need of modern fighters – and at that time after Guernica there were real fears that a single air raid on London would raze the whole city to the ground – so there was I’m sure an element of buying time in the decision making process.

As for Churchill, which aspects of his career are we comparing Johnson with ? Dardanelles or D-Day? Bengal Famine or Battle of Britain? And you really can’t compare Churchill’s views and writings on race with those of our current Prime Minister. Different people, different times, lazy stereotyping. Johnson should be judged on his own actions and merits, not compared with the ghosts of the past.

I’ll finish with a poem by Keith Douglas who died on June 9th 1944 during the invasion of Normandy. This is one of the best poems I have read as to what war is really like. Hopefully once all the flags and bunting are put away, and all the politicians words are forgotten, we can remember this.

How to Kill

Under the parabola of a ball,
a child turning into a man,
I looked into the air too long.
The ball fell in my hand, it sang
in the closed fist: Open Open
Behold a gift designed to kill.

Now in my dial of glass appears
the soldier who is going to die.
He smiles, and moves about in ways
his mother knows, habits of his.
The wires touch his face: I cry
NOW. Death, like a familiar, hears

And look, has made a man of dust
of a man of flesh. This sorcery
I do. Being damned, I am amused
to see the centre of love diffused
and the wave of love travel into vacancy.
How easy it is to make a ghost.

The weightless mosquito touches
her tiny shadow on the stone,
and with how like, how infinite
a lightness, man and shadow meet.
They fuse. A shadow is a man
when the mosquito death approaches

By Keith Douglas

This Storm Will Pass

Well at least I’ve managed to complete my business accounts whilst in furlough from the day job. It’s been a useful exercise. Something to focus on each day, with measurable daily achievements, of sorts. Something to take my mind off what is going on in the outside world. Something to help stop my mind from unravelling.

43 days.

43 days since March 23rd, and how many more until the lockdown ends? I’m in a pretty good place at the moment, but it is easy to become overwhelmed. I am still being careful as to how much time I spend following the news and reading the latest – sometimes justified – outrage on social media. I have plenty to do during the course of each day, even without the joy of filling in spreadsheets.

The loft still needs clearing. Those settlements on Fallout 4 aren’t going to defend themselves. The British Trust for Ornithology website still needs updating with my latest bird observations- oh look, another Herring Gull ( www.bto.org for details if you want to get involved).

But I know a lot of people will be really struggling with what is happening now, and the worry of what comes next. There is a lot to be worried about here in the UK, which now has the highest confirmed death toll in Europe. A lot of grief, many families broken. But for most of us, these storms will, eventually, pass. Whatever the new normal is, we will adapt and find our own way through.

The poem that follows first appeared in Landings

You

Darkness will take your palm,
hold it gently in-between
the strobe from occasional cars;
patterns made and unmade
until you can no longer see
the hand in front of your face.

The shifting dislocation of dusk,
a near-roost of starlings swirling,
as if shoaling shared memories;
will you redact a well-lived life,
the wrinkling of your skin
in a swoop of passing stars?

I knew a man who thought he had it all,
but time gnawed into an abscess
that just wouldn’t let him be.
Some live their lives as strangers
chasing somebody else’s dream;
their days just slipstream through.

Dusty candles on a mantelpiece,
ornaments without a future,
a warm glow that will never flower;
no fluttering petals of light,
no guttering to get the wax weeping,
no joy no sadness no love.

Yet see the way that midnight turns,
when illuminated by sublinear traffic.
The arcing sweep of a headlight beam,
your face reflected in a roadside pool.
Hold that moment, that rippling smile;
hold it tight and drink it in.

So nurture your future, feed it well;
don’t hunker down as the window panes shake.
Open the door and run into the street;
this storm will pass as they always do.
Catch the rain on your fingertips,
the sheen of beauty on your skin.

Chichester Poetry

I’ve been working flat out on my annual accounts for the past week – if nothing else it keeps my mind off what else is going on in the world. Now that these have pretty much been finished – seven months earlier than normal, I can start getting back to writing, submitting poems, and getting more involved with various poetry initiatives locally and elsewhere – ditto with photography. I’ll still be working on my side business – got to keep the top-up money coming in whilst furloughed from the day job, but at least it will me more forward looking rather than the retrospective compilation of spreadsheets and associated paperwork.

If you are vaguely interested the side business is at www.ecmsales.co.uk – at the moment the range of items on offer is reduced for obvious reasons, but it is still ticking over.

On the poetry front I have a poem appearing as one of this month’s open mike poems at Chichester Poetry, where I was the main reader a couple of months ago. You can read it here, along with some excellent contributions by other local poets, including Denise Bennett, who before Covid-19 was scheduled to headline. I look forward to the rearranged event when it happens!

Link follows…

http://chichesterpoetry.simplesite.com/445523888