Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Julio Cortázar, what a voice!

Some poets' voices don't seem to fit their work, others' don't meet our own expectations, but Julio Cortázar added hugely to his poems when reading them aloud.

Not theatrical, just completely and uniquely Cortázar, his Argentinian accent formed a partnership with the words that lifts them off the page. Here's a link to an original recording that shows what I mean:

A suitable soundtrack to another glorious British summer!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Forward Shortlist - just one more question

Back from a fortnight with my in-laws in Ubeda, I've seen the Forward Shortlist has come out. Others have already written excellently about it and very much along the lines of my own thoughts - Rob Mackenzie and Matt Merritt among them - but I'd like to ask just one more question.

How many print runs have there been of each of the shortlisted first collections?

Most of them probably haven't got beyond their first printing, unlike Andrew Philip's sadly ignored "The Ambulance Box", which is currently on its third run and still counting. This prize seems more and more disconnected from the pulse of U.K. poetry, just like the big publishers whose miniscule lists it tends to champion.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Review: The Missing, by Siân Hughes

For once, a collection outdoes its blurb - as mentioned in a previous post, "The Missing" is an exceptional book in the context of contemporary U.K. poetry.

Siân Hughes' subject matters in "The Missing" are signposted from the start. Her lost third child and the end of a relationship are themes that run though the book. "The Send-Off", for example, is a superb poem and a winner of the Arvon Prize. Its value lies in peeling layer after layer off a story, telling it through details, encouraging us to explore and identify ourselves with it. This last point is a key success - Siân Hughes engages us incredibly well.

What's more, by "us" I mean the general reader. "The Missing" is accessible but also innovative in its treatment of issues that are relevant to all our lives. It doesn't dumb anything down, yet its appeal is wide.

In general, Siân Hughes uses idiomatic patterns excellently, as in "Fidelity". Everyday language is followed by everyday language, lulling us and thus increasing the impact of the ending. Achieving such an effect is a dangerous tightrope for the poet, far more difficult to handle than linguistic fireworks, so there are inevitably a few slips. I do feel, for instance, that "What If", a list poem, is just too inevitable from the outset. Nevertheless, the collection contains many gems, acutely observed poems that build up line after line. For this reason, I can't bring myself to quote any of them here. Just a turn of phrase or couplet would never do them justice. Not a head-turning poet, Siân Hughes grafts meticulously to get our attention, thus keeping it and keeping it.

I'm not going to rehash the question of why Siân Hughes wasn't signed up by one of the big guns in U.K. publishing, given her accessibility and obvious marketing potential, but I can't resist making one last point: the PBS Choice must be jawdroppingly good if The Missing is only a Recommendation. For me at least, "The Missing" is my Choice for 2009 so far, not just my Recommendation.