Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Villalejo on display

Here are two photos of Villalejo on display at the National Library of Scotland. Many thanks to Kate Hendry for sending them through!

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?!