Abergavenny Small Press

Having a little break from the Poetry Bookshelf blog posts whilst I think about how to develop this page further. It was becoming more of a chore than a joy – and I think it was starting to reflect in the writing.

The last couple of library posts weren’t as good as I would have liked them to be, but writing a strong, detailed post takes time. Something I have been short of recently. It is what it is. In the meantime, a little bit of positive news on the personal writing front, as I have had a prose piece accepted in the latest edition of Abergavenny Small Press’ online journal.

You can read it here;

https://www.asppublishing.co.uk/richard-williams-fiction

From my Poetry Bookshelf – Taking Stock

I’ve been writing these bookshelf posts for a few months now – 25 posts in total – and I am starting to wonder whether there is much value in continuing with them. As with most bloggers, especially new ones, it sometimes feels as if I am writing into a void.

Am I? Does anyone actually get anything from these posts, or is it time for me to switch on to something else? This may read like some kind of existential crisis, but it isn’t – having spent a year running social media for a local recruitment company, I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of chasing page views and hits as opposed to proper engagement with content that really interests your (in my case pretty limited) readership.

There were 865 different unique visitors to my blog last month. Is this good, is this bad? I don’t get too many comments here – apart from those from all the lovely spammers of course (thank you for your deep interest in my page ūüėČ ), so it’s not always easy to tell.

So if you’ve enjoyed reading these from my bookshelf posts and want me to continue with them then let me know in the comments. If not, feel free to let me know why. Either way, it would be really interesting to see what people would like to see from a blog such as this moving forwards. If anything!

Do I carry on with these weekly bookshelf pages and weekly audio recordings, or do I just use this as a place for my own random ramblings? If no one is reading it and getting any value from them, is there any point?

And please, please, don’t take this as some kind of cry in the dark. I’m not upset either way – but if there really is minimal interest, then I’ll be happy to use the time in a different way.

Poetry Recordings – Edwin Morgan – The Video Box: No. 25

Just stumbled across this.

For those not fussed about football, but interested in other sporting or competitive endeavours, here’s Edwin Morgan’s poem about the (completely fictional) World Jigsaw Final.

What a truly wonderful, clever and witty poem. I wish I could write something like this!

From my Poetry Bookshelf – Philip Gross

I own two books by Philip Gross – The Water Table (winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2009), and Love Songs of Carbon (from 2015), both published by Bloodeaxe Books. I’m not quite sure why I only have two of his collections. In my opinion he is one of our best contemporary poets.

I grew up in Somerset, so a lot of his location – based writing has deep resonance for me (Gross was born in 1952 in Cornwall), and The Water Table in particular is centred on the South West of England, with a particular focus on the Bristol Channel. Not only poems of place, but there is also elemental poetry about water itself.

Here’s Gross reading Severn Song, the final poem in the collection;

There are poems of environmental change – Atlantis World and Elderly Iceberg off the Esplanade, which begins with the lines;

Last night it came knocking, a first
since the end of the Ice Age. A stray eddy brought it,
a backhander from the Gulf Stream. It was heading
inland, could it be to spawn?

Other highlights (for me at least include a long poem which lifts off with observations in a retail car park (Fantasia on a Theme from IKEA), and a sequence running through the book (Betweenland I to Betweenland X) which as their titles suggest, explore the spaces between land, water and air.

A body of water: water’s body

that seems to have a mind (and
change it: isn’t that what makes
a mind, its changing?) not much
prone to thinking – rather, thoughts
curl through it, salt or fresh, or hang

between states: sometimes gloss
the surface with their oil-illuminations.

(from Betweenland I)

There are other poems of course, on other subjects, but this is a collection that is held together by water and how it connects us to our past and who we are. A good review can be found in the Guardian here:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jan/23/philip-gross-poetry-eliot-prize

You can buy it on Bookshop.org here:

https://uk.bookshop.org/a/5319/9781852248529

There is an excellent review of Love Songs of Carbon , Philip Gross’ eighteenth collection in the Wales Art Review here:

https://www.walesartsreview.org/poetry-love-songs-of-carbon-by-philip-gross/

It’s another superb collection, and as with The Water Table, it’s a book I highly recommend.

As with The Water Table, it’s on my poetry bookshelf at;

https://uk.bookshop.org/a/5319/9781780372587

This collection explores different themes, predominantly of ageing, and the language is, as with The Water Table word perfect. Take the first seven lines of A Walk Across a Field

A week of snow, slight melt, refreeze
and it comes to this: the ground
withholds consent
to every step;

it has us grappling, gasping, at each other,
like the fond emergencies
of young love.

To quote Michael Symmons Roberts & Moniza Alvi, writing in the PBS bulletin

‘The writing is sinewy, urgent and resourceful. The poet is a master of form, deploying his visual and aural patterns for emphasis, as if the page were a musical score. The absolute poise of the lines carve a way through the knotted difficulty of the raw material’.

Interested in finding out more? I’m going to finish with the classic social media / blogger’s faux pas, with a link away from this blog, but it’s worth it. You can read, and hear, a lot more of Philip Gross’ work via his website, at;

https://www.philipgross.co.uk

I hope you’ve enjoyed this latest post in my From my Poetry Bookshelf series. Any thoughts? Let me know in the comments.

Poetry and Settled Status

A quick post this afternoon to mention an anthology open to submissions up and till June 30th – so if you are interested you’d better get on with it!

CivicLeicester is inviting and accepting poems and short fiction on the theme, Settled Status or Indefinite Leave to Remain for All.  The editors will also consider poems and short fiction exploring themes that include: 

‚óŹ lived experience of being a migrant or an undocumented migrant or seeking refuge in Britain and the Irish States,¬†

‚óŹ migrant, undocumented migrant or refugee experiences of rural and urban life, education, housing, work, healthcare, immigration and asylum systems, and¬†

‚óŹ the hostile environment.¬†¬†

The call for submissions is inspired by how, in Britain and the Irish States, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, several coalitions, including the Status Now Network (SNN), Members of Parliament (MPs) and groups that are concerned about the welfare of refugees and migrants are calling for settled status or indefinite leave to remain to be granted to all people who have insecure immigration status or are undocumented or in the legal process so that the people can access healthcare, housing, food and vaccines. 

Details on the Conversations with Writers blog here:

http://conversationswithwriters.blogspot.com/2021/02/poetry-and-settled-status-for-all.html

Chichester Festival Poetry Event

A quick mention for an event I am reading at tonight – if you are at a loose end and want to hear a range of poets read their work, details follow;

POETRY & JAZZ CAF√Č

 Thursday, June 24, 7.30pm. ASSEMBLY ROOM, NORTH ST, CHICHESTER, PO19 1LQ.

LIVE EVENT

As part of the Festival of Chichester, acclaimed poets Raine Geoghegan and James Simpson team up with jazz stars the Charlotte Glasson Trio, with legendary guitarist Chris Spedding, to entertain and inspire. Raine will read from her Romani poems while James will read from his new collection. Enjoy a delightful mix of words and music in the historic setting of the Assembly Room. Tickets ¬£15. Disabled access. http://www.thenovium.org/boxoffice Tel 01243 816525   https://festivalofchichester.co.uk

Poetry Recordings – Jackie Kay – Old Tongue

This week’s poetry recording is by Jackie Kay, who had two brilliant poems in the anthology I wrote about on Sunday. It’s a wonderful poem about dialect, about the loss of language and the loss of sense of place that happens when we move.

It happens to us all that move. I’ve lost most of my Somerset dialect since I moved away, though I still call a wasp by it’s proper name, ‘jasper’. I wonder if my kids will still use the words of their home town – squinny, dinlo, mush ?

I guess I could write a poem about it. But then after listening to, and reading this, I wonder whether I should bother trying!

From my Poetry Bookshelf – Empty Nest – Poems for Families – Edited by Carol Ann Duffy

My youngest child was 18 at the end of last week. Today is Father’s Day. Both events have prompted me to revisit this collection of poems for families, edited by Carol Ann Duffy, which I was given as a present earlier this year.

As with all good anthologies it includes a wide range of poems from across the centuries, that are as relevant now as they were when they were written – Here’s one from Charles Kingsley, writing in the mid-19th century

A Farewell

My fairest child, I have no song to give you;
No lark could pipe in skies so dull and grey;
Yet, if you will, one quiet hint I’ll leave you,
For every day.

I’ll tell you how to sing a clearer carol
Thank lark who hails the dawn on breezy down;
To earn yourself a purer poet’s laurel
Thank Shakespeare’s crown.

Be good, sweet maid, and let who can be clever;
Do noble things, not dream them, all day long;
And so make Life, Death and that last for ever,
One grand west song.

Personal highlights include two lovely poems written by Jackie Kay to her son – Gap Year and Piano 4pm, which make me want to buy her Bloodeaxe selected poems, and stunning Eavan Boland contributions including The Pomegranate, which starts as follows;

The only legend I have ever loves is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.

Poems on letting go feature strongly as you would expect, such as Walking Away by Cecil Day Lewis, written for his son Sean, which if you don’t already know it starts with the following stanza;

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with the leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away

and ends with these lines:-

How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

Or Stephen Spender’s To My Daughter

Bright clasp of her whole hand around my finger,
My daughter, as we walk together now.
All my life I’ll feel a ring invisibly
Circle the bone with shining when she is grown
Far from today as her eye are already.

But this isn’t just a book of parental reminiscence, there are poems written for parents – Charles Causley’s Eden Rock makes an appearance, as does Yvonne Reddick’s witty Things My Father Told Me, there are poems for lost children, such as Sharon Olds’ devastating To Our Miscarried One, Age Thirty Now and William Stafford’s For a Lost Child which finishes with the lines;

I found your note left from a trip that year
our family travelled: ‘Daddy, we could meet here’.

We are all changed by parenthood, and I know that when my son leaves for university in a couple of months time it is going to hit me hard. As W.S Merwin writes in Separation (this is the full poem so I hope it’s OK to share it here);

Separation

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its colour.

Back to Empty Nest. This really is an excellent collection of poems, suitable for poets or non- poets alike. It’s widely available, including on Bookshop.org here;

https://uk.bookshop.org/a/5319/9781529028683

The last poem in the book is Shard, by Ella Duffy, (Carl Ann Duffy’s daughter) which ends

You danced on the road, blowing kisses,
giddy with seeing me,

your daughter, blinking my small light
down on the city;

the space between us swollen
and homesick, a mile long.

After the last year and a half, the poignancy of words like this comes into even sharper view.

Poetry Recordings – Sylvia Plath – Lady Lazarus

This week’s random poetry recording is of Sylvia Plath reading one of her most famous poems. She was a brilliant reader of her own work. Whether or not you’ve heard it before I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

Incidentally, there’s a close reading of the poem on the British Library website here if you want to find out more.

https://www.bl.uk/20th-century-literature/articles/a-close-reading-of-lady-lazarus

Having struggled with my own mental health issues in the past, I’ve not really been drawn to her writing, (I appreciate that for others the opposite is the case), but I really do need to read more of Sylvia Plath’s work. The technique, imagery and language used is astonishing.