Thursday, 24 July 2014

A chronicle of survival, Jeremy Page's Closing Time

In Closing Time, his recent full collection from Pindrop Press, Jeremy Page shows us how to survive terrible emotional suffering with our humanity intact. This is not confessional poetry. It's a book that charts self-reconciliation, stirring empathy on every page.

Page's verse is understated yet highly charged. One such example is "Another Elephant". This poem engages with the reader via the use of reportage and the layering of narrative detail, as is demonstrated by its opening stanza:

"In winter, when the trees are bare,
I can stand here at my window
with that wooden Ganesh on the sill,
and look back to the old house
where it all goes on as it always did
except that I'm not there -
not sweeping the garden path
nor making another pot of tea,
not reading Peace at Last at bedtime
nor cleaning out the rodents' cage..."

An accumulation of specifics is what draws us in and involves us. This enables Page to step up a gear in the second stanza, where he's not afraid to tackle big abstract nouns:

"...And everything that brought me here -
the words, the silences, the pain,
the changing of so many locks -
is the other elephant in the room."

Closing Time is a precise book. It showcases a linguist's knowledge of how to use words to create a ripple. Moreover, the collection is meticulously constructed. The juxtaposition of certain poems has implicit ramifications that are significant. For instance, a hypothetical disappearance/possible suicide note titled "To Whom It May Concern" precedes "Shaving My Father", which is a celebration of love in all its transience:

"...Tomorrow he may not know
who I am or who I was,
but today he does, and is grateful
for the care I take
as I soap his face
with the badger hair brush..."

In other words, Page is questioning the effect of one poem by allowing us to compare and contrast it with the opposite page. He' helping the reader to undergo a similar process to himself, fighting back from the brink via love.

In this collection, the poet reconciles memory with the present, the past with the future. He interlocks and interweaves departures and arrivals, so it's also apt (and no accident) that he should bring the book to an end with the following lines:

"...and I see time future
contained in time past, and understand at last
why home is where we start from."

Closing Time might illustrate great pain, but it's packed with life and is written by a poet who never falls back on facile devices to move us. I feel privileged to have had the chance to review it.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Ambit Launch 217

The launch of Ambit 217 will take place next Tuesday (22nd July) at The Sun & Thirteen Canons pub in Soho, London, starting at 7p.m.. I'll be attending and reading my three poems from this issue alongside excellent poets such as Katy Evans-Bush and Marianne Burton. It should be a terrific evening!

Friday, 11 July 2014

National Library of Scotland poetry competition

I'm chuffed to report that my poem Villalejo has won the National Library of Scotland's "From Home to Beyond" poetry competition.

Villalejo will consequently form part of the Library's summer treasures display, "Voices from the Commonwealth", until the end of August. Now that's a lovely prize!

Friday, 4 July 2014

Butcher's Dog poetry magazine

In this age of e-zines, the emergence of a new print-based poetry journal is always gratifying. As a consequence, I'm delighted to have the chance to showcase Butcher's Dog today on Rogue Strands.

How are poetry magazines born? On a whim or via an organic process? Well, the latter is certainly true in the case of Butcher's Dog, as is demonstrated by the Editors' Note at the start of Issue One:

"Each of the poets featured in this publication received a Northern Writers' Award in 2010 or 2011. In Autumn 2011, the group met under the tutorship of Clare Pollard. Butcher's Dog arose out of conversations in these meetings."

In other words, that first issue was something of a showcase for the seven poets in question (Luke Allen, Sophie F Baker, Jake Campbell, Wendy Heath, Amy Mackelden, Andrew Sclater and Degna Stone). However, it then grew and opened to submissions from Issue Two onwards, always under a rotating editorship.

Butcher's Dog is a beautiful magazine. There's real care in the individual design of each cover, in the choice of paper and in the typesetting. What's more, the editors manage to strike an excellent balance in the contents between well-known poets such as Pippa Little and W.N. Herbert and many new names. For example, a personal favourite comes from Issue Three. The poem, titled "Sea Change", is apparently Karen Lloyd's first published poem. Nevertheless, her control of language, cadence and line-breaks is clear from the start:

"That winter after she'd gone, you sat
in your leather chair, the one that didn't fit
anyone else, and called down the snow..."

This sort of discovery is one of the greatest pleasures to be found when reading a poetry magazine.

Two years on from its first appearance, Butcher's Dog is going from strength to strength, holding launch events in different parts of the country. Moreover, it's currently seeking submissions by 10th August for Issue Four. Why not visit the website and take out a subscription while you're there?!

Monday, 30 June 2014

Poets and friendship

Poetry has contributed many things to my life, but one of the most important of them is friendship. It's enabled me to meet (both in person and over the internet) some incredible people with whom I've got a lot in common. Of course, this is especially important for me, given my own personal set of circumstances: living and working in Spain means that my poetry friends are a lifeline.

All of the above means that I was captivated when Pippa Little (thanks, Pippa!) posted a link to the following article from the Poetry Foundation on Facebook. It's terrific, a wrenching yet energising story: For the Both of Us by David Trinidad.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The tales and truths of artefacts, Richie McCaffery's Cairn

When I reviewed Richie McCaffery's excellent HappenStance pamphlet, Spinning Plates, on Rogue Strands in 2012, I ended my piece by stating that I'd be following his progress with great interest. I'm thus delighted to have got hold of his first full collection, titled Cairn, recently published by Nine Arches Press as part of their Debut New Poets series.

First off, the book is a gorgeous object in itself. Nine Arches work with very high production values and a limpid font. This latter quality is key when reading McCaffery's poetry, as his compressed verse unfolds beautifully in conjunction with the white spaces around it.

Cairn possesses all the positive traits from the chapbook (it includes seventeen poems from the manuscript of Spinning Plates), but also showcases McCaffery's continued development. He is a specialist in extracting tales and truths from artefacts. One such example is "Last Lot of the Day". He begins by setting the scene, using lovely turns of phrase to portray an object:

"A mother-of-pearl inlaid, walnut-veneered
writing slop with a scabby purple velvet
surface for dip-pen, paper and blotter..."

He continues by casting fresh light on the object by connecting it to human feelings via the use of the term "mourning":

"...a bundle of black envelopes
with black edges as if mourning has no-one

particular in mind, and no clear address..."

And he finishes the poem by opening out beyond the object, encouraging the reader to seek further ramifications:

"...You might think of the dead that never died
to leave this surplus, as if they were saved."

In similar yet very different ways, McCaffery draws out stories from a police whistle, a bookmark and even a tarnished silver spoon in this collection. The spoon in question is described as follows:

"A deserter from a service, left pearl black
after years of clammy hands..."

The object's "truth", and by extension an implicit questioning of the nature of "truth" as a term, is then invoked:

"...The thought of which truth someone was forced
to swallow, to need so fine a spoon as that."

Nevertheless, my focus on these tales and truths of artefacts shouldn't lead to mistaken conclusions that McCaffery's work is limited or formulaic in any way. Quite the opposite is true, as is shown by longer pieces such as "The Professional" and "Spinning Plates", in which he allows stories to reveal themselves more gradually, removing layer after layer until he reaches their core.

Richie McCaffery is one of a number of significant emerging poets in the U.K. who recognise that "accessible" need not be a synonym of "facile", that Hamilton and Larkin can be tenderised, warped and twisted in a contemporary idiom without even a smidgen of fear. I recommend you purchase a copy of Cairn yourself. You'll soon see what I mean!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

La feria del libro de Madrid

Most town and cities in Spain hold some kind of book fair, but in Madrid it's a very special annual open-air event that attracts visitors from all over the country. What's more, the venue is terrific: the Retiro park, a gorgeous focal point in the centre of the city.

All along the wide avenues of the park, Spain's publishers - both indie and mainstream - set up their stalls. Every genre imaginable seems to have a niche, and kids are a key focus. Moreover, the fair has a dual role - there's a significant trade element, but direct sales to the general public are its driving force. Publishers reach out to readers: dozens of authors can be seen signing books and giving readings on a daily basis, all alongside classical music concerts and children's shows, etc.

And what about our own visit last Sunday? First of all, it was extremely hot! However, that didn't stop the crowds: thousands of people, especially families, had headed for the fair. There was a terrific atmosphere and my son had a great time choosing his books. He was so excited he even devoured one alongside his calamari at lunch. That's a great example of how this type of event can hook new readers. As for myself, I was lucky enough to meet Luis García Montero for the first time and even manage a brief chat!

Could we develop a similar event in the U.K.? Huge commitment would be required from the publishing world, but a legacy would be guaranteed. It was incredible to see so many people simply enjoying books last Sunday!