Tuesday, 16 February 2010

John Glenday: Grain

I forgot to mention that yesterday I got home from work to find a brown Jiffy envelope with John Glenday's recent collection 'Grain' inside.

I can't wait to start reading it later if I'm feeling better. I am particularly interested to see how, if at all, his work as a counsellor influences his poetry.

Many of the poems in my own pamphlet and forthcoming collection were written before I started working as a counsellor. Since then I've noticed my poems becoming less egocentric.

By that I mean I'm now less concerned with bringing a direct first-person lyrical response into a poem, and more concerned to create room for whatever is in the poem to express itself. Of course I still mediate the expression, but there is a narrowing of the gap between subject and object.

In a curious way my poems have become more impersonal but my relationship to them has deepened.

The Gap

This morning I managed to meditate for ten minutes while my wife and daughter were still asleep.

While I was trying to focus on my breathing I noticed that I kept thinking about my blog instead. This thought was followed by a sense of excitement.

What was interesting was that I became aware of a gap between the thought of my blog and the feeling with which I responded to it. This gap feels full of potential.

So, for example, I also feel unwell this morning, and while that is undeniably unpleasant physically, I realise it is possible to choose how I respond it.

The gap is the space/time I create to notice what is going on and how I want to respond to it. Usually the movement is seamless and we come to think of our responses as inevitable, as though we have no part in determining them.

The unpleasant physical sensation of a stomach upset is there, sure. I notice that and my ingrained reaction to immediately want to feel unhappy about it. However, at that point before my reaction, difficult though it may be, I can see that I can choose how I respond to being sick.

Strange though it might sound, I needn't feel down about feeling unwell.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Recent Poems

As well as learning to blog I have also written three poems in the past week.

On Friday evening I was reading Zbigniew Herbert in the bath, feeling playful, unpunctuated and anti-poetic.

The result was a mental draft of 'On Haemorrhoids' I had simply to commit to paper once I'd dried off. Sunday night I shifted a few words about for ease of reading, and finished it off.

The style isn't typically mine but I think the humour and delight in linking a disparate bunch of sufferers definitely are. On an only marginally more meaningful level the poem is also about achievement being frustrated by physicality.

I don't send poems off to magazines as regularly as I used to but I'd be interested to know which ones would consider such a poem. I suspect like many other poets I have squirreled away dozens of poems over the years because they appear at variance with most of the rest of my published work. Perhaps eventually they will make up a collection of their own.

'Undiscovered' stems from a documentary I watched last month about Egyptian boat builders. The programme was pretty boring but I started wondering about the intense passion some people have for the past.

In the poem I try to capture something of that sense of curiosity and wonder by imagining the different places where different valuable objects still lie hidden.

'Post-apocalyptic' stems from some notes I made after a walk on New Year's Day in Leicestershire.

The details didn't cohere until I'd watched the film 'The Road' the other week, after which I had the unifying theme.

I enjoyed writing this one. I like describing urban, rural and suburban locations in an impersonal way and letting the detail convey the meaning. I've always been particularly impressed when I've seen it in the poems of Michael Hofmann and Charles Wright, and more recently in the prose of Iain Sinclair.

These three poems came after a few weeks of not writing any poems. I fully expect a similarly fallow period to follow.

Friday, 12 February 2010

American Hybrid

On the topic of American poetry, the latest big anthology from across the Atlantic is 'American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry', edited by Cole Swensen and David St. John.

The editors have identified a new trend in American poetry away from the long-acknowledged division between the so-called traditional and experimental.

In its place, they claim, a hybrid poetry has evolved that blends trends from accessible lyricism to linguistic exploration.

My feeling is that this book - or at least this development - will be highly influential over here as still-existing divisions dissolve and more poets recognise the possibilities of drawing from both traditions.

Of course many poets have already arrived at a synthesis of their own. John Burnside comes to mind, as do Carrie Etter and Lavinia Greenlaw. The rest of British poetry will, I think, eventually catch up.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Poetry Book Society

This afternoon I delivered three printed copies of my manuscript 'Waiting for the Sky to Fall' to Waterloo Press to be submitted to the Poetry Book Society for its quarterly round up.

Of course I'll be pleased if it gets a mention ahead of publication, but what pleases me most is how the PBS is now actively promoting the work of less well-known poets publishing with small press publishers.

Given the amount of good work out there, and the frustratingly limited opportunities provided by the four or five big publishers, this is a welcome development.

The Best American Poetry

As some of you will know, the U.S. equivalent of the U.K.'s annual Forward Book of Poetry is The Best American Poetry published by Scribner.

Each year the series editor, David Lehman, invites an American poet to choose his or her favourite new poems that have appeared in magazines in the previous year. So in 2009, for instance, the guest editor was David Wagoner and in 2008 it was Charles Wright.

I've picked up a couple of these over the years but the reason I'm blogging about it is because the other day I discovered that many of the years before 2007 are available from Amazon for only 1p(+p&p)!

I've just ordered the one when Charles Simic was editor and can't wait to see what he selected. For a tenner you could get a fairly good overview of American poetry in the last 3 decades.

Desert Island Poets

Since we are hoping to move in the near future, I have already started the long process of boxing up books.

For some time I have fantasised about doing away with the poetry I don't really like and keeping a much smaller collection of books that I really like and which I return to again and again, either as an inspiration for my own work or just for the benefit of my soul.

This appears to be a good time to give that a trial run. As such our flat now has metres of empty shelves and a half-shelf of desert island poets.

Keeping each other company are Eavan Boland, Hugo Williams, Mark Strand, Charles Simic, Peter Reading, Edward Thomas, Wiliam Carlos Wiliams, Seamus Heaney, Montale, Lavinia Greenlaw, Roethke, James Wright, and Charles Wright.

Good enough company until we're settled, though as I write I realise that over the last few days I have already regretted packing Dante, Ryokan, Douglas Dunn, Robert Lowell and Faber's Modern European Poetry.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Financial Times and Other Things

At the offices where I work on Saturdays there is always a copy of the Financial Times in the reception, freshly folded, organic salmon-pink.

A few months ago I extracted the Arts section and alongside some decent book reviews was surprised to see a new poem by Owen Sheers. Over the next few weeks, in no particular order, it has published poems by Philip Gross (recent Eliot winner), Christopher Reid (recent Costa winner) and Sinead Morrissey.

I'm not even sure how else I'd get hold of a copy in Brighton, but other than the Guardian it's the only paper I know of that publishes a contemporary poem at the weekends.

On the subject of newspapers, the other day someone at work gave me the Coleridge pamphlet from the recent Guardian series The Romantic Poets. I haven't read Coleridge for years but was reminded of what a terrific poem 'Frost at Midnight' is. Since becoming a parent myself a few years ago, the poem has taken on new meaning. And it's a very modern type of poem, in the personal, narrative/conversational sense.

And talking of late-night vigils, sitting up with my daughter last night I read a few pages of the Buddhist text The Dhammapada and started to think more carefully about how I want to write this blog and what I want to write about.

At the moment I feel sure that I don't want it to be only about self-promotion. I imagine that after a short while readers would tire of this, and in any case I am less concerned about reputation than I once was.

I would like to be able to write in a personal way about things that affect me personally, as well as writing more objectively with a public voice.

Finally, as well as poetry, I would also like to use this blog as a space to talk about Buddhism and Humanistic counselling. These are two other areas that are particularly important to me, and I often find that all three intersect in interesting ways.

I should add that I hope to do all this in a spirit of sharing meaning - a virtual School of Athens, perhaps - rather than didacticism. As such I welcome any response that turns this from a monologue into a dialogue.

How far I'll get with any of it, time will tell. Ultimately, silence may well be the wisest option.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Reading Contemporary British Poetry

In the last few days I've read Robin Robertson's new collection 'The Wrecking Light' and John Burnside's most recent collection 'The Hunt in the Forest'.

In the next few months I'm looking forward to Walcott's new collection 'White Egrets' and Sam Willett's debut collection 'New Light for the Old Dark' from Cape. The latter I imagine will win the 2010 Forward first collection prize - beating even mine, should it get short-listed!

I was pleased to see Walcott expressing a preference for comprehensible poetry in the Times recently. One of the things I've liked about Willett's poems so far is just how readable they are. In some ways their descriptive quality reminds me of the early work of Douglas Dunn. In the year my own collection is due out, I hope these are signs of a move back towards greater lucidity in contemporary British poetry.

Waiting for the Sky to Fall

Over the weekend I confirmed the title for my first full-length collection with Waterloo Press: Waiting for the Sky to Fall.

Originally due to appear in April as Another Life, it will now be published in July (exact date still sketchy) under the new name.

The Spectator

My latest poetry news is that I've had two poems accepted by Hugo Williams at The Spectator. I'm well-pleased about this since Hugo is pretty much my favourite British poet plus he was head of the judges' panel when I won a Gregory Award back in 1999.

I'm not sure when they'll appear but I'll post something when I receive a copy.