Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Driven repetition, Kim Moore's The Art of Falling

Take a long, deep breath when reaching for Kim Moore’s first full collection,  The Art of Falling (Seren 2015), because you’ll be tumbling with her from the first page onwards through her intoxicating verse.

Moore’s signature poetic technique is repetition. Her work is riven with it and driven by it. There are certain poems that even make explicit, conscious nods towards its use, such as “A Psalm for the Scaffolders”:

“…a psalm for the scaffolders
who fall with a harness on,
who have ten minutes to be rescued,
a psalm for the scaffolder who fell
into a clear area, a tube giving way,
that long. slow fall, a psalm for him,
who fell thirty feet and survived,
a psalm for the scaffolder
who saw him fall…”

Moore’s strengths in her employment of repetition are various. She repeats phrases with slight variations such as in the tense of a verb (“fall” and “fell”), which invites the reader to home in on those small changes. Meanwhile, the repeating of whole structures such as the poem’s title empowers the piece as an invocation. And then there’s the building of clauses in the continual use of “who”, generating a pace that combines with the afore-mentioned invocation to lend this poem a religious charge. In other words, form and content fuse superbly.

Poem after poem, repetition crops up:

“..a fall from grace, a fall from God,
to fall in love or to fall through the gap…”

“And if it be a horse…
…And if it be a swan…
…And if it be a tick…”

“A curse on the children…
…a curse on the boy…
…a curse on the class teacher…”

“And if you saw her…
…and if she set fire…
…and if she threw…”

“…as if one person can’t carry this with them
and be unchanged, as if I could speak seagull…”

And I could quote umpteen more. However, it’s important to underline that Moore is far from being a one-trick pony. There is variation in tone, of course, alongside a deft narrative touch, a gift for delicious turns of phrase and a fabulous ear, as befits a music teacher. Nevertheless, repetition rules for much of the book, creating the sensation of a relentless emotional thrust, charging onwards, seeking an authentic core.

In The Art of Falling, that core is to be found in “How I Abandoned My Body To His Keeping”, a sequence about  “a relationship marked by coercion and violence”. This sequence lies at the heart of the collection. I could highlight any one of several pieces for their power, for their capacity to move and affect, but a personal favourite is “His Name”. Here are the first four lines:

“Because they tried to make me say your name,
the shame and blame and frame of it,
the dirty little game of it, the dark and distant
heart of it, the cannot be a part of it…”

And there’s that repetition again, in Moore’s gorgeous use of the definite article. Of course, it’s even better in the context of the poem as a whole, but you’ll have to get hold of a copy of The Art of Falling to see what I mean. Just keep in mind that piece of advice I gave earlier: don’t forget to take a long, deep breath when snapping the spine.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Sheenagh Pugh's blog

I've been a regular reader of Sheenagh Pugh's blog for several years (it's been going even longer than Rogue Strands!). However, when enjoying her thought-provoking interview with Steve Ely last week, I realised that not only was it missing from my blog list but I've never featured it here. Time to put that right on both counts!

Of course, Sheenagh Pugh is a well-known poet and critic, so the blog acts as a complement to her other work. It's also an excellent place to encounter new verse, be intrigued and go out to buy books. This is because Sheenagh works tirelessly to review, discuss and interview, all drawing on her huge pool of knowledge.

I very much recommend a lengthy trawl through its archive, but I would start with her review of Paul Henry's most recent collection (see here). We share an immense admiration for his poetry.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Poets on Facebook: the nightmare of the news feed

I know it's my own fault virtually all my "friends" on Facebook should be poets, but that doesn't change the terrifying nature of my news feed at times, especially when I'm feeling vulnerable about the value of my own verse.

People are variously delighted to have work included in an anthology, so pleased to be publishing two poems in a magazine, reading at an event next week, bringing out a new collection in 2016, finishing off a new poem, celebrating having been shortlisted, linking to their new title on Amazon...

...what's wrong with you, Stewart?! Just look at what everyone else has achieved while you've been redrafting that poxy line for the fourth time. And deep down, you know it still isn't right even though you're urging yourself to fall in love with it enough to send the thing off this afternoon. If you read any more of that stuff on Facebook, you probably will.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Ian Abbot's Finishing the Picture

The Jul./Aug. issue of The Next Review is now out, featuring my extensive review of Ian Abbot's Finishing the Picture. In it, I address questions such as the following:

"...Does Ian Abbot’s poetry stand up to scrutiny? Does it match the power of his life story? Is he, in the light of Finishing the Picture, a major poet about to be rediscovered and valued at last...?"

To find out more, you can get hold of a copy via this link. There's also an interview with Clive James, plus original work by Eve Lacey, Paul Howarth and others. Here's a shot of the cover:

Monday, 27 July 2015

The fit of a poem

Further to my previous post, it's also worth bearing in mind that rejection/acceptance isn't as black and white as it may seem. Magazine editors will often choose a poem because it fits in well with others that have already been selected for a certain issue. On the other hand, of course, a poem might miss out because it doesn't work alongside previously chosen pieces.

This question of fit is also relevant in terms of the transition from magazine to collection. There are occasions when a poem that appeared in a top journal just doesn't pay its way in the context of a full-length manuscript. In an opposing sense, meanwhile, certain pieces are destined never to be accepted for stand-alone publication but turn out to be crucial to the flow of a book. They bounce off and enrich the poems around them.

Of course, all the above is easy in theory and difficult to judge on a case-by-case basis. I think many poets can recall having agonised over a poem's possible worth!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The usefulness of rejection

Rejection can be immensely useful. Apart from teaching us anger management and giving us an excuse to redecorate that spot where the coffee mug somehow smashed, it's a filter and a warning, dropping a hint that our work might not be ready, indicating which poems might not be on the money, encouraging us to graft once more. Those mights, of course, are due to the vagaries of taste, as mentioned elsewhere on this blog!

In fact, I feel that renowned poets run the risk of never having this chance. Certain editors are keen to have a famous name adorning their mag, so they are liable to take work even if it's not 100% convincing.

In this context, I was interested the other day to read an interview with American poet, Matthew Siegel, in which he discussed his prize-winning collection, Blood Work, which had previously been a runner-up elsewhere in a different form. Here's his view on that process:

“I thank my lucky stars that they didn’t take that book,” he said. “I mean, it’s a great prize — I would have been thrilled to win it — but the book wasn’t ready. And it’s so much better now."

Siegel is also very interesting on his countless magazine rejections. You can read the full piece here.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Roy Marshall and The Sun Bathers

I met Roy Marshall for the first time at a HappenStance reading back in 2011. Maria Taylor introduced me to him and mentioned he was one of the winners of the Crystal Clear Creators pamphlet competition. We shared a couple of beers that night and I was immediately struck by his terrific passion for poetry. At that stage, he'd just started a blog and had also got a few initial acceptances from small magazines.

Roy Marshall published the pamphlet, titled Gopagilla, not long afterwards, and I gave it an excellent review here on Rogue Strands, mentioning that "Gopagilla is a satisfying and poetically coherent first pamphlet. It delivers a lot and promises even more. I very much look forward to reading more of Roy Marshall's poetry in the future."  However, he didn't stop there. Let's fast-forward four years. Not only has he won several prizes for individual poems and had acceptances from many of the U.K.'s leading magazines, but he's also published a full-length collection, titled The Sun Bathers, with Shoestring Press.

And then this last week came the best part: The Sun Bathers has been shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize alongside books from major players such as Bloodaxe. This is terrific news, not just for Marshall but for other late starters, for those that have taken alternative routes, for small publishers who believe in a poet and back their work to the hilt.

In short, congratulations, Roy! Oh, and while I'm about it, I very much recommend a visit to that afore-mentioned blog. It's packed with poetic tales, interviews and original verse. What's more, I've suddenly realised it's somehow still not on my Blog List to the right of this poet. Time to put that right...