Thursday, 18 December 2014

Gestures of love, Rebecca Farmer's Not Really

The easy way out for this reviewer would be to declare that Rebecca Farmer's Not Really (Smith-Doorstep, 2014) is concerned with mortality. At first glance, death seems a dominating theme in her pamphlet.

Of course, that would be to ignore a couple of obvious truths. Someone cannot die without a preceding life. Other people continue to live after a death. A reminder of these two facts enables us to get to grips with Farmer's verse.

Before homing in on the nitty-gritty of the poetry, one additional caveat is required: the poems in Not Really are so charged and moving that the reviewer ends up in even greater danger than usual of blending the poet with the verse. Such emotion is evoked and invoked that the distance between the two is compressed. However, this separation should never be ignored and is key to any assessment of Farmer's poetic qualities.

Let's start with the first of those afore-mentioned truths, that someone cannot die without a preceding life. In this respect, Not Really is terrific at the treasuring of moments and the depiction of gestures of love amid suffering, as in the following extract from the collection's title poem:

"...They ask him if he's in pain; not really, he says.
You curl beside him and he strokes your feet.

Farmer is also especially good at capturing the essence of experiences, making the reader live through them too, in a new and pesonal way. In "The Diagnosis", for example, she creates a disembodied music and syntactic structure that reflect the semantics:

"...Your name is called.
The doctor hasn't read his script,
he doesn't say this is what it is,

but you look pale.
He looks at me.
Does he look pale to you?

Pale? Pale as what -
pale as this December 10 O'Clock?
Yes, he looks pale, I say."

And now for the second truth, that other people continue to live after a death. One of Farmer's favoured devices is the role of ghosts. They crop up in several poems. They are characters. They take on human traits. As such, their haunting qualities are exacerbated. In "The Fridges of Ghosts", we (i.e. those who have been left behind) are watching...

" the ghosts freeze old memories in cubes
and to keep themselves amused

photograph each other on their phones..."

I hope these snippets from Not Really, together with their related analysis, are sufficient to demonstrate that Rebecca Farmer's verse shouldn't be pigeon-holed as confesssional. I can't claim it's an easy read, but that's not because of the presence of death itself. Instead, it's due to her talent for involving the reader. Farmer aims to unsettle us so as to make us consider our own lives afresh, and she succeeds throughout her pamphlet. Read it if you dare!

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2014

2014 has offered further proof, if any were still needed, that poetry blogs are here to stay amid the maelstrom of social media. The quality of blogging has continued to improve, and the U.K. scene has developed organically. In other words, some blogs have tailed off, others have grown, while several newcomers are also worthy of note.

So, with the same proviso as last year that this is a subjective and partial selection, here are The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2014 according to Rogue Strands.

Let's start with blogs that focus on reviews. In this respect, John Field's efforts at Poor Rude Lines remain a benchmark. His posts can't be continual, simply because so much work goes into them, but they're well worth the wait. Meanwhile, as mentioned a few weeks ago, Dave Coates over at Dave Poems has undoubtedly grown and developed as a reviewer without losing any of the thrust that makes him different. As for newcomers, Elsewhere has been an excellent addition. Run by Rob MacKenzie, it features regular reviews by guest critics. I've discovered a number of books via its posts.

And now on to poets' personal blogs, with the main criteria that they should go beyond mere self-promotion. The following tend to provide a mixture of reviews, interviews, news, features and comment on the poetry scene. My personal choices this year include several old favourites that I read regularly:

- Matt Merritt at Polyolbion (excellent clarity of prose)
- George Szirtes' blog (what a literary life)
- Ben Wilkinson at Deconstructive Wasteland (great reviews)
- Katy Evans-Bush at Baroque in Hackney (fun, erudite yet caustic if necessary)
- Fiona Moore at Displacement (spot-on analysis)
- Maria Taylor at Commonplace (real insights into a poetic life)
- Tim Love at Lit Refs (also check out his Lit Refs Reviews blog)
- Helen Mort at Poetry on the Brain (a unique spin-off from her PhD work)
- Kim Moore's blog (her Sunday Poem feature is a must-read in this household)
- Roy Marshall's blog (good on the process of writing and submitting)
- Robin Houghton at UK Poet Gal (bucketfuls of honesty)

There are also other blogs that have either developed or emerged in 2014. Anthony Wilson's project has long been on my reading list, but his work as Guest Blogger at the Aldeburgh Festival has been exemplary. It's taken his blog in a new direction and is highly recommended. From the U.S. via northern England, meanwhile, comes Edward Ferrari's Republic of Yorkshire. It's every bit as intriguing as it sounds! And last but not least, I've recently become a follower of Josephine Corcoran's poetry blog.

The above brings me on to a slight shift that's taken place. Josephine also used to run And Other Poems, which was a showcase of guest poets' work, as was Michelle McGrane's Peony Moon. Both have suspended operations this year, leaving very few blogs of their type on the U.K. scene apart from Abegail Morley's Poetry Shed. However, there has been a huge increase in the number of blogzines. I'm not going to detail them here, purely because I don't really see them as blogs. They're online poetry magazines with rolling content instead of numbered periodical issues.

On to my final section: publishers' blogs. Again, my aim is to dodge mere marketing tools and concentrate on content with insight into the graft that goes on in the background. I especially enjoy the following:

- Helena Nelson at HappenStance (I always learn something new from her weekly post)
- Charles Boyle at Sonofabook (CB Editions' new magaine is one of the most interesting ventures of 2015)
- Todd Swift at Eyewear (always good for a spicy opinion)

And that's it for another year! Apologies to anyone who feels left out in this very personal selection. All in all, it's been a superb year for poetry blogging. Never mind finding time to post on Rogue Strands, I'm struggling to keep up with reading all the excellent content that other U.K. poetry bloggers are producing. The standard is rising, year on year. Here's to an even better 2015!