Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Guardian's Christmas books

The Guardian have today published their standard late-November feature: a selection of literary luminaries have offered their Christmas picks from a whole raft of genres.

My interest was immediately centred on their poetry books. Many don't bother with verse, being producers and consumers of prose. However, Don Paterson's Rain is a popular choice if they do. This is an excellent book, so I'm sure it's not the only poetry collection they've read this year on the back of its winning the Forward Prize (while also consequently being a safe bet to recommend).

One or two writers do select something less obvious, but I again feel this is yet another missed chance to bring exciting and accessible new U.K. poetry to a wider audience.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Antonio Gamoneda and British readers

Antonio Gamoneda is renowned is Spain as one of the country's best living poets. Now an elderly man, he worked for many years as a bank clerk, writing without recognition. This was until the publication of his selected poems, Edad, which won the National Poetry Prize. Later collections, such as Libro del Frío, were extremely well received by critics. Gamoneda's found awards raining down on him over the last few years, topped off by the Premio Cervantes, a Hispanic version of the Nobel Prize.

In other words, we're dealing with a key figure here. So why isn't his work available to U.K. readers? Well, I recall attending a reading with him a few years ago in Zafra, when I also had the chance to enjoy a few tapas with the man himself afterwards. It was a wonderful reading and a great night. Gamoneda took the audience by the scruff of its neck and entranced everyone. One of my main memories of the event is the shine in so many of my Spanish friends' eyes as they listened. I too was captivated, but perhaps never more aware of the gulf between U.K. and Spanish poetic aesthetics. I sat there thinking how terrific Gamoneda was and how absurd he would sound to most of my British friends.

In a recent thread over a Poets On Fire, Tony Frazer (the excellent editor at Shearsman) specifically remarked how disappointed he'd been by Gamoneda when at a reading a oouple of years ago. Here's a link to Gamoneda on You Tube for you to see what we mean!

I've had numerous discussions recently about the difficulties that are inherently involved in translating Spanish poetry for U.K. readers, and I feel Gamoneda is one of the best examples of the problem. Superb in Spanish, he's slightly ridiculous in U.K. English.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


For better or for worse, one of the main features of my poetry is its brevity. I enjoy the challenge of evoking a context, telling a story and generating an emotional charge in as few words as possible. However, this means I walk a poetic tightrope. In such a compressed format, one wrong word is enough to tip the balance out of kilter. It's a risk I love to run!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The toad work

I've been snowed under at work these last couple of weeks, what with visits from American importers and blending this year's Tempranillo, which mainly involves trying to predict how it will taste in 2010. A bit like falling in love with a poem you've just written yet at the same time wondering whether that feeling will last when you pick it up again six months later.

This hectic schedule has meant I've barely had time to read a poem, never mind write one. The toad work plays a key role in my life, but does it help me as a poet? Well, the answer might superficially be a resounding NO in the light of my previous remarks, but I feel that it does on the whole. I've nothing whatsoever against creative writing tutors who find their classes fuel the creative process, but I'm certainly sure that teaching poetry would drum the slippery substance out of me forever!

Reading and writing poetry is an outlet, an escape valve for me, a time that's mine and mine alone. As such, it takes on a precious and untainted status in my life. If I had longer to write, I don't think my focus and concentration would reach the levels they reach within my current constraints.

Alison Brackenbury has been the latest guest poet over at the Poets On Fire Forum these last few days, and she makes a number of interesting remarks on just this subject, prompted by an astute question from Matt Merritt. It's worth comparing and contrasting her views, noting how a writer's needs and motivations change along with their circumstances. Maybe my own feelings on the matter will alter in the coming years!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Factions, Groups and Schools

First of all today, here's a quote from Tom Chivers' guidelines for authors on his excellent new Penned in the Margins website:

"Factions, groups and schools are for the history books"

In the meantime, however, over at Poets on Fire I encountered a link to the following article, titled "The New British School (from an American perspective)" I have to say I very much agree with Tom on this: factions, groups and schools are only useful for literary historians. Even then, they can lead to crass pigeonholing. So why are they still invoked on such a regular basis among contemporary poets and critics?

These terms are befriended by poets and critics, often with a academic background, who feel the need to structure their views on their own poetry and other people's work within the same kind of framework they've always been encouraged to use in their studies. Nevertheless, I'm convinced that the writing of poetry should build its foundations on reading, not on study.