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!
This poem captures the experience so well. We used to go on holiday as a family to the Pembrokeshire coast, and it was the third, or fourth time that we went out that we finally managed to encounter a pod of dolphins. Truly magical. You don’t need to travel halfway around the world to experience something special in nature.
A bit later than normal, this week’s from my poetry bookshelf post is a (brief) introduction to the work of John Glenday.
John Glenday was born in Broughty Ferry in 1952. He has said in interview that his mother was a reader, his father not at all. She gave him the words, his father the silences, a Glenday-like formulation. His ambition to be a poet was first fired in his teens. ‘A lot of people do [want to be poets in adolescence], but I never grew out of it…. Every job I’ve had is really something I’ve had to keep me while I’m writing.’ He studied English at the University of Edinburgh, and after graduating became a psychiatric nurse. Currently he lives in Drumnadrochit and works for NHS Highland as an addictions counsellor.
The above paragraph was taken from the Scottish Poetry Library’s introduction to John Glenday, which can be found here:
I first came across Glenday’s poetry at a zoom reading hosted by Walthamstow based Forest Poets. Incidentally their next event is a reading by George Szirtes, which I’m sure will be excellent – another poet who I shall have to write about at some point. if interested, you can buy tickets here:
I thought John Glenday’s reading was great, and was compelled to go out and purchase a copy of his collected poems afterwards. Those of you reading this who are familiar with his poetry will know that he is a superb, lyrical poet, with a beautiful and clear use of language and the space between words.
Take this, the title poem of his second collection, Undark, written about the Radium Girls;
And so they come back, those girls who painted the watch dials luminous and died.
They come back and their hands glow and their lips and hair and their footprints gleam in the past like alien snow.
It was as if what shone in them once had broken free and burned through the cotton of their lives.
And I want to know this: how they came to believe that something so beautiful could ever have turned out right,
but though they open their mouths to answer me, all I can hear is light.
The Selected Poems is a very good starting point and includes poems from four collections, and others that were not, until then, available in a collection. They are uniformly excellent, with a diverse range of subjects and forms – there is a lot of rigour and structure underpinning the lyrical quality of language.
A lot of the poems have a strong connection to the sea and sky, to the landscape and ecology, but also there are poems of love, of family history and a range of other subjects.
You can hear Glenday reading a short selection of poems on the Poetry Archive website, including Tin, which uses the fact that the can opener was invented forty-eight years after the tin can as a starting point for a whimsical and yet poignant poem.
To quote the blurb on the back of the Selected Poems, Glenday shares with W.S. Graham and Denise Riley an obsession with speech, silence and limits of knowledge, and with what form the energies that flicker along the border might take.
I’ll finish with the last stanza from The Skylark , which originally appeared in his fourth collection, The Golden Mean
one cloud, one thread of wind, one song to hang like nothing over everything.
If this brief (well it is 10.15 PM as I write this) introduction has whetted your appetite then you won’t be disappointed if you explore his writing further.
If you haven’t heard this yet then it’s well worth a listen. Recorded on wax cylinders in 1890, it may be the oldest recording in the Poetry Archive. Yes it’s crackly, but you can hear the cadence and power of Tennyson’s diction. I bet he would have done pretty well at a poetry slam if such events had existed in late victorian England!
I’ve shared the poem below the audio link in case you want to read it before clicking through (it is also shared in full on the Poetry Archive page).
The Charge of the Light Brigade
I Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. “Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!” he said. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
II “Forward, the Light Brigade!” Was there a man dismayed? Not though the soldier knew Someone had blundered. Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
III Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of hell Rode the six hundred.
IV Flashed all their sabres bare, Flashed as they turned in air Sabring the gunners there, Charging an army, while All the world wondered. Plunged in the battery-smoke Right through the line they broke; Cossack and Russian Reeled from the sabre stroke Shattered and sundered. Then they rode back, but not Not the six hundred.
V Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon behind them Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, While horse and hero fell. They that had fought so well Came through the jaws of Death, Back from the mouth of hell, All that was left of them, Left of six hundred.
VI When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made! All the world wondered. Honour the charge they made! Honour the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred!
I thought I would start delving into the marvellous poetry archive of audio recordings. Something to share regularly on a Tuesday night perhaps? If so, let me know your favourites, and I’ll share them here to this blog’s gradually widening audience.
Here’s Charles Causley reading Eden Rock. That last line. Phew.
Charles Causley (1917-2003) was born and brought up in Launceston, Cornwall and lived there for most of his life. When he was only seven his father died from wounds sustained during the First World War. This early loss and his own experience of service in the Second World War affected Causley deeply. His work fell outside the main poetic trends of the 20th century, drawing instead on native sources of inspiration: folk songs, hymns, and above all, ballads. His poetry was recognised by the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1967 and a Cholmondeley Award in 1971. In addition to these public honours, the clarity and formality of his poetry has won Causley a popular readership, making him, in the words of Ted Hughes, one of the “best loved and most needed” poets of the last fifty years.
The above paragraph was lifted directly from the Poetry Archive website.