Friday, 10 December 2010

Standard Midland by Roy Fisher


In an afternote to the collection, Roy Fisher provides an explanation for the title of the volume, when he describes as 'the plain way of speaking we people of central England like to believe we have'. Rather than the plainness to which he refers, the irony and self-deprecation implicit in his explanation are arguably the most characteristic elements of West Midland discourse (I express this view as a West Midlander). In my view, in addition to the explanation that Roy Fisher provides, the title refers to a variety of RP English spoken by middle class people from the Midlands and it may also echo the notion that the Midlands is culturally featureless or simply mean 'typically midland'. This degree of unshowy layering is also typical of Fisher's poetry, which is amongst the most engaging and remarkable work produced in this country over the last 50 years.

Paul Bachelor wrote a review in the Guardian where he said that Standard Midland is the work of a man in later life (after all, Fisher mentions that he talks to himself more than once). Indded, some of the poems seem more like random thoughts and impressions with little regard to the concept of audience, but there are also some astonishing poems in the collection, even if Fisher does manage occasionally to create lines which are little more than complex verb phrases, with all the charm of a traffic jam on a dual carriageway.

Fisher's saving grace is his imagination (both imagistic and linguistic). This is never more in evidence than in the brillinat sequence: Hell, Horse and Hellbox: the tabernacle poems, which celebrates seven generatins of printing in the King family. Originally, the text formed part of an object d'art and refers to it, and to its maker in the opening line:

FROM THE BOOK OF THE KINGS THEIR TRADES AND STATIONS

The poem succeeds because of the clash of registers, which helps to create striking mataphors, and its puns. Thus it begins like someting from the Bible (i.e. such as such begat such and such) but also sounds like a pastiche of the recitals from a land title deed. This fits in with the subjects of business and self-employment which appear in the poem.

It begins with a list of the occupations of preceding generations of Kings. One cannot help but study them to see how occupations repeat themselves, are poassed on, reappear and develop - or as Fisher says larer in the poem: 'Deviate,/ develop - hardly'.

Fisher grapples with profound ontological ideas, such as the notion of the particular and general which he refers to as the 'example' and 'the rule'. - this also refers back to the concept of biological generation, where the generations themselves are examples of a fundamental rule (i.e. the family biology).

Fisher also speculates on the 'mischief' of language itself (which develops by deviating from its original meaning). The mix of generation - of the occupations of those generations and their development and deviation - causes fascinating clashes of register:

with dynasties of every sort coming into fashion.
Sons in waiting, grandsons coming to the boil.

The first line of the quote contrasts the concepts of dynasties (continuity) with fashion, but also suggests that fashion itself has its own dynasties. Then the idea shifts to service and then to overcooking, in the mean time presenting a potted history of inter-generational conflict. It ends with an incresing focus on individuals rather than their collectivised histories as 'family' or 'society' (in the third section of Hell, the 'countryside shaken out clean,/ and everywhere fortunes falling out of it', finishing in 'Tabernacle Street', where I guess Ronald King was raised.

This is great stuff, worth reading again and again.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Jilted City by Patrick McGuiness

This review is 'under construction'. For the latest 'finished' review, read the previous blog about 'Identity Parade'.

Patrick McGuiness is an exciting talent who has emerged recently, whose laconic verse can be both memorable and moving. Being of Belgium and Northern Irish ancestry, he writes about being in-between places and history (it should be said that Brussels features more in his work than Belfast).

His new collection Jilted City encompasses his excellent Smith/Doorstop pamphet 19th Century Blues as well as powerful translations, most notably City of Lost Walks by 'imaginary' Romanian poet Liviu Campanu (there seems to be a growing fashion for imaginary poetic alter egos like Derek Mahon's translations of an imaginary Indian poet in Autumn Wind). The one thing which detracts from this collection is a long sequence called Blue Guide - a sequence with a poem for every stop along a route that McGuiness used to take as a child. This, it strikes me, is a formulaic exercise in overly self-conscious in-betweeness, lacking in emotional resonance. That is not true of the rest of the collection, however, which includes a vivid (though deft) poem about his father's death.

This collection is definitely worth buying, if you have the cash.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Identity Parade

I recently attended the Manchester launch of the new Bloodaxe anthology of contemporary poetry, Identity Parade, which is meant to follow on from The New Poetry (1993) and Motion and Morrison's Contemporary British Poetry (1981) as the definitive collection of the contemporary poetry scene. At the event, Roddy Lumsden, the editor of Identity Parade, said something along the lines of: if anthologies are invitations to the party, Motion and Morrison's book was more like an invitation to a cocktail party; which given the inclusion of Tony Harrison and Douglas Dunn seems a little unfair. The point I suppose was to compare CBPand IP and highlight the latter's inclusiveness.

Whilst IP is certainly more inclusive than CBP, somehow it is less than the sum of its many fine parts. Unlike CBP, which mainstreamed a formal restrained poetry reflective of the political and social currents of the time (Northern Ireland, class and, to a lesser extent, gender), and TNP, which announced the rise of the marginal voice, conceived in oppostion to the metropolis (and Thatcherism), IP simply lives on the claim to represent a generally apolitical diversity.

Its voices and experiences are usually middle class (with one or two exceptions), often Oxbridge educated, the dominant form is free verse and philosophical or political verse is rare. Although the poets all have recognizable voices, the collection is dominated by intense lyric poetry, which is heavily descriptive, with a tendency to rhetorical density. Because of this, I think there may be some parallels with the poetry of the 1940's (Thomas, Watkins, Graham) although clearly there are some points of contrast as well. Naturally, there are some very fine poets included , some of whose reputations will be enhanced by the opportunity to compare them with their peers (I think particularly of Sasha Dugdale, whose poems in this anthology strike me as much wilder and more dislocating than they do in her collections, and Vona Groarke, who if she were older would have been a suitable companion to Derek Mahon in CBP). I am glad to see the inclusion of fine poets like Sarah Corbett and Julian Turner, and equally glad to note the absence of over-rated ones like Kathryn Simmons and Caroline Bird. However, I do not understand why Tim Liardet was not included, and I am sure that there are others who could justifiably complain about their exclusion. Perhaps it is inevitable that some good poets will get left out, but I regret that this may effect their future reputation and sales.

Notwithstanding the number of women poets in the anthology, I also have reservations about its claim to inclusiveness. The editor expressly excludes writers who were over 55 when their first book was published (which is direct age discrimination, though probably not justiciable because the production of a poetry anthology is unlikely to be the provision of a service to the poets who might wish to be included in it - so probably not unlawful, just a crass decision). The minority ethnic writers in the anthology reflect the code/language/idiom-mixing of ethnic diasporas, but there is nothing to compare with the rise of dub poetry in the 1980s. This is poetry written ABOUT black and asian people, and there is often an element of satire in it, albeit affectionate satire. Nowhere will you find anything influenced by rap.

Arguably, what we have is a snapshop of the new metropolitan arty middle class, slightly more ethnically diverse than before, with more women participating visibly within it. But somehow the social and intellectual milieu it reveals seems narrow. Nevertheless, there are some great poems in the anthology, which are worth reading, and I can't think of one poet in it whose work I haven't enjoyed stumbling across.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Discovery! C K Williams in Manchester


On 4 October 2010, I went to a reading by C K Williams in the Manchester literatue festival with my friend, Heather, a Canadian - invited, I suppose, because she is a North American, extremely bright and likely to be in tune with Williams's ethical concerns (a literary way of saying the uncomfortable 'p' word, POLITICAL).

I'd read a couple of poems by Williams and I loved the way his poetry modulates through an experience touching on thoughts and analysis as well as emotion, but in a way which stems from the experience at the root of the poem, not as comment upon it. What amazed me at the reading was also his capacity for empathy. He is an existential poet because his poetry is about existence and the choices which underlie it. Somehow this approach enables him to write political and philosophical poetry AND love poetry, although of course there's no reason why those categories are mutually exclusive. Indeed, their interweaving reminds me of 17th century metaphysical poetry.

There's some good reviews by Michael Hofman and Chase Twitchell on the amazon site: these say as much as I could, rather more elegantly.

Anyway, I've ordered a collected poems from the USA in hardback at half the price of the paperback in this country and I can't wait till it comes.

And Heather, who isn't a big poetry fan like me really loved the evening, which made it even better!

Friday, 24 September 2010

Old Fart? Derek Mahon's new collection

Derek Mahon's new collection of poetry left me in two minds. On the one hand, he can craft poems with deceptive ease which explore their subjects with intelligence, wit and sensitivity. On the other hand, he's swallowed anti-globalisation politics, and he expresses its reactionary mind-set in heavy-handed didactic verse using tired tropes. Its strongest points are the translations and the final section, where he seems to be translating the 'fictitious Hindi poet Gopal Singh'; its weakest when he's being himself.



The collection begins with a striking translation/ adaption of Homer. Like Heaney, he uses colloquial idiomatic phrases to make formal poetry sound as if it is form of speech. The selection is also appropriate because the poem is about the beginning of a return, and many poems in the collection refer to this idea, whether it be in relation to Hindu philosophy or his own life, in retirement.



Blueprint, the next poem, is an ode is three parts which contrasts city and country. Capitalism is failing and we need to 're-enchant the world'. There's some clumsy didactic writing in it and the ideas within it are too leaden to rescue it from its stylistic failings.



A Quiet Spot which follows gives the game away. Mahon's retired to the sea side and has turned his back on cosmopolitan life. There's some sentimentality in the poem but I think he carries it off, Gaia reference and all, because of his mix of traditional regular verse forms and contemporary vocabulary. In case, you were wondering why I called him reactionary, he exhorts his audience 'to create a future from the past', echoing the theme of return which appears in many guises throughout this collection.



The Thunder Shower is one of the weakest poems in the collection. The Poulenc and Brahms of rain is contrasted with 'bits of recorded pop and rock' which emanate from the city. I'll try not to mention the 'tiny voices in a creche/ piercing the muggy air'. I'll pass by the fact that Poulenc is 'plinky' and Brahms is 'groaning'. On the plus side, Mahon does try to offer a critique of neo-con madness, but in my view, a good political poem needs nuance and subtlety, and this has neither, although it isn't as chronically bad as World Trade Talks:



Next spring, when a new crop begins to grow,

let it not be genetically modifed

but such as the ancients sowed

in the old days.



When I read stuff like this I really get a sense of Mahon looking out at sea from a house paid for by a generous public sector pension cursing the rest of us for our materialism and waste. And I just want to quote one of his great poems from the 1970's, Afterlives: What middle-class cunts we are and leave him to chew on that.



Beached Whale is a lot better although it is slightly marred by the random attribution of an afterlife consciousness to the dead beast:

Dead of some strange respiratory disease
............................................................
she knows we aim to make a study of her.

Sorry, that just doesn't wash (lol)!

Thankfully, the poems in this section do get better as you go on. At the Butler Arms and Sceilig Bay benefit from focussing on historical subjects. Art and Reality is addressed to the dead poet, James Simmons, and is the sort of far-reaching verse letter Mahon excels in writing. Everything is concrete, even those most high-minded of abstractions 'reality' and 'art', with Simmons and Mahon playing these parts respectively in a dispute 'in the Longley's house'. OK, so on the face of it this may sound like name dropping, but I read this as intimate chat within which we're all neighbours. The same epistleory format is used in the impressive Under the Volcano, which veers from observation, to references to histocial fact, geographical information and speculative thinking. This may not sound very poetic but what I think Mahon is doing is attempting to be Homeric by including lots of stuff in poetry which usually gets left out of the contemporary lyric. The poem itself is in danger at points of becoming another one of his dreadful eco-poems but it's rescued by the way he contrasts nature's chaos with his own 'rage for order'. Ultimately, the salvation of philosophical poetry is complexity, ambivalence and ambiguity (indeed, if you're perfectly clear about something you might as well write an essay, or blog).

Possibly the best poem in this section is Autumn Skies. This starts off in history and moves on to the here and now, with a spiritual vision and a comment on the peace process, which is particularly moving coming from one of the greatest poets of 'the Troubles'. Its key lines, and perhaps the key lines of the collection are:

If a thing happens once
it happens forever


The cheekist and most brilliant lines are these on the intellectual tuition provided by rugby:



learning from the scrum/how to advance against/the exigencies of form



The next section contains some marvellously lucid yet down-to-earth translations of Chinese poets, including Tu Fu. They are quite different from David Hinton's intense free verse renderings. Somehow they manage to be both Northern Irish and Chinese



As you'd expect, we are too poor for wine/ but somewhere I've got a drop of the old moonshine



These translations can be impish but more often than not they are beautiful, melancholy and wise. Autumn Fields is probably the key to Mahon's own state of mind. Although the poem is an authentic translations (at least the subject matter is very similar to Hinton's) the tone is Mahon's. The key lines are:



An autumn wind shivers my walking stick/ but peace of mind resides in ferns, flowers



The last section is, in my opinion, the best and most original. They deal with the questions of development and tradition that Mahon is interested in, but being Indian, the spiritual is a bit more everyday and taken a little less seriously. Thus in Dharma Bums, Western kids on the eastern spiritual trail



.....sit like tramps/ beside the road,/ each on a dusty bum,/ when they should be at home in advertising.



Advertising the benefits/ of our spirituality -/ Ganesh the god of profit,/ Sarawati the celebrant of it,/ Rama of many dominions/ and Krishna, 'brighter than a thousand suns'.




Saturday, 31 July 2010

Habitually Brilliant: The Later Poetry of W.H. Auden

In May, I saw Richard Griffiths as W.H. Auden in Alan Bennett's new play, The Habit of Art. I don't intend to review that play now except to say that I enjoyed it immensely and was impressed by Bennett's wit, versatility and stage craft and Griffiths's acting. I hope the play goes on to establish Auden as a great character as well as a great poet.

However, its underlying premise about Auden's later poetry annoyed me: in the programme, Bennett claimed that in his later years Auden stopped being a poet and just wrote bits of his witty conversation down in verse. Images replaced by references. Visions by chat. That sort of thing. This is a softer version of the view famously expressed by Larkin in his essay 'What's become of Wystan?'. Subsequently, I suspect Larkin revised this view a little because he included Goodbye to the Mezzogiorno (writeen in 1958, only 15 years before Auden's death) in the Oxford Book of Twentieth Century Verse.

I certainly do not share either Bennett's or Larkin's views on the later Auden. Instead I think Auden wrote some of his best work - indeed arguably his most valuable and enduringly relevant - in the last 20 years of his life. His work has a particular resonance for our post-modern times - its reflective intimacy, irony and humility mirrors the increasing diversity of modern society and the decline of grand narrative ideologies by positioning the subject in his own private idiosyncratic sphere.

What Auden most values in his later verse is the space to be himself. He seems to have believed that he was becoming more reactionary with age (in fact his 1946 poem Under Which Lyre was subtitled A Reactionary Tract for the Times). In fact, his abandonment of the politics of the Old Left in favour of a richer and more nuanced liberalism can be seen as avant garde. As a gay man, his search for privacy is closely related to the equality and human rights agenda which is now the terrain (albeit a contested one) of social democrats, liberals and, in the UK, progressive Conservatives alike. What his later poetry lacks is the unconvincing concern for the working class which invades some of his earlier work (he never engaged with actual working class people and his poetry always hits a false note when he tries to show concern for the poor or financial inequality and powerlessness). Instead, his later poetry pits the individual voice against its historical context. Arguably the later Auden explores more convincingly the earlier Auden's concerns about time and politics versus human relationships:

It's natural the Boys should whoop it up for
so huge a phallic triumph, an adventure
it would not have occurred to women
to think worthwhile, made possible only

because we like huddling in gangs and knowing
the exact time..................................

Our apparatniks will continue making
the usual squalid mess called History:
all we can pray for is that artists,
chefs and saints may still appear to blithe it.
(Moon Landing)

His refusal to indulge in America's Cold War populist celebration of technical superiority and his contemptuous reference to apparatniks (applied to both sides) places him in a very dissident position. He even draws on radical feminism whilst referencing more old-fashioned gendered notions about the proclivities of men and women by saying that men are 'more facile/ at courage than kindness'. (Facile as in facility and as in superficial and easily achieved, clever stuff!)

Of course, all this is very well and good but the question remains: is this sort of stuff vivid and does it have a life of its own - the inner animation of all good poetry? I do acknowledge that some of the later verse is ramshackle and has a tendency to ramble but the best verse is fluid in thought and prosodic movement. Unfortunately, this fluidity makes it difficult to quote, particularly as Auden developed a taste for litotes in later life:

Our hill has made its submission and the green
swept on into the north: around me,
from morning to night, flowers dual incessantly,
colour against colour, in combats

which they all win, and at any hour from some point else
may come another tribal outcry
of a new generation of birds who chirp,
not for effect but because chirping

is the thing to do...........

The poem goes on to contrast the natural world with the human, to place the new testament doctrine of forgiveness as concomitant on our mortality and the occasional truth of gossip (still thinking about that one) before describing the goddess Clio. His lightness of tone in the later passages in the poem are touched by melancholy wisdom (to throw away/ the tiniest fault of someone we love/ is out of the question) and yet this big baggy creation somehow makes sense encompassing as it does such a huge variety of reflections upon both collective and individual experience.

His interests are biological, anthropological, geographical and historical. Ideas are animated and landscapes personalised. Inevitably, there are more and more poems about bodily decline:

For many years you envied
the hisute, the he-man type.
No longer: no you fondle
your almost feminine flesh
with mettled satisfaction,
imagining that you are
sinless and all-sufficient,
snug in the den of yourself.
(Lullaby)

Like all decent poets, he makes the general specific. In one of his last poems, Talking to Myself, he compares the body politic to his actual body and concludes

All states we've lived in, or historians tell of,
have had shocking health, psychoso matic cases,
physicked by scientists or glozing expensive quacks.
When I read the papers, You seem an Adonis.

The later Auden is funny, wise, humane, infuriating and colourful. His latter work includes successes and failures, but it is the culmination of his career, and not a reflection of failing powers. Read it, without prejudice.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Planisphere by John Ashbery

When I read Ashbery’s later selected poems, ‘Notes from the Air’, I began to have doubts about a poet whom I had thought of as perhaps the greatest living poet in English. His poems were so open that they all began to feel as if they were about everything and nothing in particular. In fact, they all began to feel a little bit samey.

Notwithstanding this, his latest collections, ‘A Worldly Country’ and Planisphere’, have proved to be delightful reads. Clearly, Asbery does not benefit from over-exposure.

Rather than write an academic piece, I thought I’d provide a list of reactions/ thoughts which I tend to have to his poems in ‘Planisphere’. The list is non-exhaustive, but many of his poems tend to hit a number of the items on the list below.

• Modern slang/ jargon ‘maxed out’, even swears colloquially (‘For Fuck’s Sake’). Best title of poem ever: ‘um’
• Opens in middle of conversations ‘such an attractive idea’
• Epigrams which don’t refer to anything in particular – or nothing at least you’re likely to know about - but which feel totally exact
• Parody of epigrams
• Sense of imperial (turning post imperial) guilt (less so perhaps than the previous collection ‘A Worldly Country’)
• Jokey, super modernity

Spray on sex, he botanized.
That could never happen.

He is being held by Egyptian matrons.

• Direct address
• Sense of time passing, regret
• Poems feel whole but are in fact often a series of non sequiters, some of which gesture in similar directions
• Naughty bo-ho snidey observations: ‘God-fearing, ass-wearing blokes’
• Funny, playful
• A few poems have identifiable subjects
• Wit about people, time, language ‘the acrostic lost its apples’
• Self-deprecating persona
• Striking poetic effects, using personification and concretizing the abstract
• Some references to God, not exactly respectful – rueful – perhaps, but not blasphemous
• Obvious debt to later Auden, without the need to explain, but the manner, the (off) bearing the same(ish)
• Sometimes I just don’t care what it means, or if it actually means anything at all, it just feels right, like a box you can keep bringing ideas from: I’d/ expected the new bill/ to be unbreakable. Like marble./ Instead: handheld/ receivership’

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Favourite Collections

Usually I write reviews of poetry collections which takes a lot of energy and commitment. Today I thought I'd do something a little more fun and compile a short 'Desert Island Disc' list of contemporary poetry books I really rate. By contemporary, I generally mean published in the last 5 years although I accept the definition might apply over at least the last 25 years:

Derek Mahon - Harbour Lights
Geoffrey Hill - Without Title
Julia Darling - Apology for Absence
Geoff Hattersley - Back of Beyond
Paul Muldoon - Horse Latitudes
Hugo Williams - West End Final
Alice Oswald - Woods etc.
Charles Tomlinson - Cracks in the Universe
John Ashbery - A Worldly Country
Michael Haslam - A Sinner Saved by Grace
Patrick McGuiness - The Canals of Mars
Selima Hill - Gloria
Matthew Welton - The Book of Matthew
Roy Fisher - The Long and the Short of It
John Ash - The Parthian Stations
Louise Gluck - Averno
Mahmoud Darwish - The Butterfly's Burden
Steven Waling - Travelator

Saturday, 6 March 2010

David Attenborough, I think not!

As you can see, Derek Mahon’s latest collection (Life on Earth, Gallery Press 2008) passed me by somewhat. Perhaps I saw the title and mixed it up with book of the more famous TV series. Unlike that epochal venture, this is on the whole a slight collection. In my view, I have to add that some of the poems are weak and pretentious: e.g.

She sits there tinkering with an ice-cream
...............................................................
She wears a hat, gloves and a frilly blouse
................................................................
If only time could stop like this before
life choices, childbirth and the coming war.
(An Ice-Cream at Caproni’s)

We are not talking William Carlos Williams here. The last line is about as subtle as a hurling stick and entirely made up of abstract noun phrases. This is bad writing, pure and simple.

Others are marred by cliché and prosaic generalisations. For instance, in Biographia Literaria, we are told that Coleridge had:

a troubled soul torn between fear and rage

(You don’t say, Derek). If you’re going to write this sort of verse, and I’m a fan of thinking poetry, then the thoughts have to be novel, deft and interesting. Otherwise, what you end up with is heavy-handed doggerel (i.e. a bit like Eskimo Nell but nowhere near as entertaining). If you want an example of how this sort of thing can be done well, look up For Danton by Charles Tomlinson.

Thankfully, there are a number of specimens of novel, deft and interesting verse in this collection, not least in the collection of 9 poems in rhyming quatrains, collectively entitled Homage to Gaia. This includes an Ode to Bjork, which is really good and surprising from the old fella. I mean, he has always struck me as militantly high brow. Suddenly, I have to revise my image of him in his library re-reading Robert Graves’s Myths of the Ancient Greeks and translations of Basho. Now, I have to add to my thoughts that whilst he’s doing that, he may be listening to Venus as a Boy and not to the piano music of Robert Schumann. That just shows, you should never underestimate the man.

It will not have escaped the notice of my readers (or should I say, reader, Hi, there) that the collection has a few Green bits in it. In fact, Mahon seems to have fallen in with Green thinking hook, line and dolphin-friendly sinker. There’s mention of solar panels, helium air ships, and various references to the tell-tale signs of environmental catastrophe, which we are all happily ignoring in the hope that we’ll keep our jobs not doing anything you can really put your finger on.

He also seems to be engaged with ideas about cycles of natural re-birth – this has a sort of New Age-y spirituality about it. It feels a long way from the young firebrand who once wrote so vividly about ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland e.g.

We hunted the mad bastard
Through bog, moorland, rock and the star-lit west
And gunned him down in a blind yard
Between ten sleeping lorries
And an electricity generator
(As It Should Be)

Or the guy who mixed traditional poetry with resonant references to modernity, creating unique registers which make some of his work, unforgettable:

You with your light meter and relaxed itinerary
Let not our naive labours have been in vain!
(A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford)

Mahon has moved on – in some ways very radically in this engaged new collection - but sometimes there are echoes of the past, when he mixes registers, drawing on the dialect of his urban Northern Irish background to lend the verse more saltiness:
Once a tomato sandwich
And a pint of stout would do
but them days are over
(At Ursula’s)

There are poems, like Insomnia, which are as alive as anything he’s ever done, absorbing precise sensory impressions (‘Boats knock and click at the pier/ shrimps worship the stars.), incorporating the demotic (‘That woman from/ the Seaview, a ‘blow-in’/of some kind from a foreign shore) and opening up on ideas rooted in the environment of the poem (a soul screams/for sunken origins, for the obscure sea bed/ and glowing depths, the alternative mud haven/we left behind). The last poem, Homage to Goa, sums up, in wry, precise and vivid terms his own, slightly detached, engagement with metaphysical notions of reincarnation:

Given a choice of worlds, here or beyond,
I’d pick this one not once but many times
whether as mozzie, monkey or pure mind.
The road to enlightenment runs past the house
with its auto-rickshaws and its dreamy cows
but the fans, like the galaxies, go round and round.

This is thinking poetry of the highest order.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

The New Rosemary Tonks: Emma Jones, The Striped World

When I was reading Emma Jones's admired first collection The Striped World, a few stylistic features put me in mind of the poet Rosemary Tonks, who mysteriously disappeared in the early 70's after joining an unorthodox (i.e. weird) Christian sect.

They're both really self-conscious and they use dislocating metaphor - far-flung connections, multi-layered, and functioning through the use of adjectives and verbs as well as nouns:

When the sun,that gradual sepoy
rose, then clouds occurred

Your heart, greedy and tepid, brothel-meat,
Gulped it

There are differences as well. Tonks exhibits a self-conscious bohemianism whereas Jones has imbibed post colonial literary theory.

In Jones's work, I also sense the influence of Dylan Thomas. In Zoo for the Dead, there are tropes of diving, and discovery and dream-like narrative transformations which remind me of The Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait.

Jones is also a much more philosophical poet:

.............Why say
'innocence ends' when the same

blue bird beats in the chest

It's definitely worth getting.