Monday, 17 October 2011

Featured Poet: Alan Morrison

I am delighted to be able to post two poems from Alan Morrison's latest book, Captive Dragons/ The Shadow Thorns - Poems from the Mill View Residency 2008-11 by Alan Morrison. This book incorporates an epic poem on the subject of mental illness and its perception throughout the ages, tackling thorny issues such as psychosis and suicide through a series of 35 Cantos exploring different periods, persons and approaches to the psychiatric and social treatment of mental illness. A Laingian sensibility drives towards some uncomfortable speculations as to 'mental illness' as, in part, a socio-political construct. The Shadow Thorns (from which these poems are taken) is a sequence of smaller poems, each a study of composites of various inpatients encountered by the author during his three year voluntary poetry workshop residency at Mill View psychiatric hospital in Hove.

Flo of the solitudes

Flo’s patron of the moment’s immersion,
Timelessly lit in a pool of her own
Out-pouring, her melting-clock comfort zone
From the scotched tick-tock of Cronos; thrown
Onto absorption’s potters-wheel so
Fast-spun she changes shape without motion,
Her forehead pressed by thumb and forefinger
Imperceptibly sculpting each curvature
And groove of her temples’ wet-clay gesture —
She’s lost to her process, the epicentre
Of her head’s magic lantern waxing a-flicker
With lit silhouettes, phantasmagoria
Cavorting around her rapt cerebrum,
Shivering her tapped oblongata stem,
Her eyes synchronised hypno-pendulums
Chasing empty pages with mesmeric pen,
No chore in the pull of inspiration,
Her whole body clutched in concentration,
A twitching statue that has to be inched
Out of its trance with a soft verbal pinch:
Flo, our hour’s up now, thus lowers the winch
That hoists up the spell prior to its clinch
Of gathering magic; with slow-motion flinch
She comes round again, then slips from her plinth.

Robert of the clocks

Robert’s scared of cats, apples and clocks,
Occasionally jerks in his seat to shoo off
Cobwebs or shadows from his shoulders’ rock —
If spoken to, Robert jolts as if shocked
By voice, as if you were an animal who talked;
His itching eyes can rub away the crock
Of our badly dyed bodies: limpid skins
Reveal astral colours exclusively to him,
While our heads leak tulpa illustrating
Our morphing thoughts, embarrassing
For him, as if each person is flashing
Their private parts: his clairvoyant chagrin;
He appears inhibited by some obscure
Obsessive-compulsive nomenclature
That impels him to avoid things that aren’t there,
Or optically scour their ghosting structure
To anticipate particular threats in their nature —
His mouth retches mutely as if the pressure
Of a transparent hand smothers its words —
But he howls in his sleep, so some have heard,
During the grip of his night-horrors’ gird,
He howls like a dog torn by wolves, the curd
Of his strangled tone prowls the gloomy ward,
Owls on their night shifts dimly disturbed.
Robert can only compose words with Os —
Cosmos, osmosis, Osama, morose
Might form his typical spasm of prose,
Orotund aphorisms, round symbol rows
Of circles, omicrons, open mouths, pose
Compelling emptiness through hollow crows.

from The Shadow Thorns sequence

The author adds: 'The poem portraits in The Shadow Thorns sequence are each loosely based on a combination of individuals encountered by the author during his time as poet-in-residence/voluntary workshop facilitator at Mill View; none of these are intended to focus solely on any one individual, therefore if any reader feels a particular poem may be specifically and solely describing themselves, the author maintains this can only be coincidental.'

Alan Morrison is author of critically acclaimed volumes The Mansion Gardens (Paula Brown 2006), A Tapestry of Absent Sitters (Waterloo 2009), Keir Hardie Street (Smokestack 2010), and of the much-praised verse play Picaresque. His new volume, Captive Dragons/ The Shadow Thorns – Poems from the Mill View Residency 2008-2011, is now available from Waterloo Press He is editor of the widely respected literary and political webzine the Recusant, and of the Caparison imprint which produced the polemical anti-cuts anthology Emergency Verse - Poetry in Defence of the Welfare State (2010/11). His fifth volume, Blaze a Vanishing, is due for 2012.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Featured Poet: Martin Mooney

A Question About Fog

Did it drive the cattle down from the hill in search of a visible world,
or did they use it for camouflage, for this infiltration

of our human terrain, these gardens and metalled roads on which they’ve appeared
by surprise this morning, sudden, unblinking, innocent, burly,

a sign of what’s kept on the outskirts, what’s never discussed,
silent apart from the hoof-falls, the muffled flop of their dung?

Martin Mooney was born in Belfast and has worked as a civil servant, creative writing teacher, arts administrator and publican. As well as poetry, he has published short fiction, reviews, critical articles and cultural commentary in Irish and British periodicals.

Mooney has collaborated with visual artists on a number of site-specific projects, and with composer Ian Wilson on Near the Western Necropolis for mezzo soprano and chamber orchestra. He has also adapted texts by Shakespeare, Sheridan and Ionescu for physical theatre companies in the north of Ireland.

Mooney is the author of four collections of poetry - Grub (1993), Rasputin and his Children (2000), Blue Lamp Disco (2003) and most recently The Resurrection of the Body at Killysuggen (2011), poems from which can be found on the blog of the same name.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Featured Poet: Claire Trevien

To help cope with the post-NPD comedown, I'm delighted to be able to post two poems by Claire Trevien.

Love from,

On my wall I pinned
the postcards you sent me from
Malta, Ibiza, Gomera, Greece . . . My fingers
jumped from pools of fluorescent water
to cats haunting

crusty archways. I used to pine
at your absence — an idea — as I fingered
those battered papers haunting
my wall. Each picture was your face watered
down by time, even the stamps smiling from

their contained box. My fingers
would trace the images from
the cards until they unpinned.
Once, you gave me Madrid, a water
fountain, but your words failed. My haunt

would always be wrong: you’d pinpoint
a boulevard rather than the street it was (or water
it down to a lane) and your signature varied from
“your father” to “Joel”. I sent its crumbs to haunt
the wind, but eventually my fingers

chased those scattered scraps pinned
inside bins, imprinted, or sailing watery
grass. I rescued my wronged address from
the pond and the litter man’s fingers,
though your signature is still out there, haunting.

My fingers stopped trying to pin you down,
you sent no more hauntings from over the water.

for Paul C.

My coat wipes against unripe
blackberries, his fingers ride
the brambles for berries fried
by too much sun; my stick bites

through the grass a path, stinging
nettles rub his thighs; flies sing
and the skies are caught licking
corners and bony treetops . . .


He finds the conkers too damp,
or thieved by squirrels; he finds
them too small to use, I find
their shape can fit in my palm

wholly - they captivate me
as if the key to all is
in their shape, their solid brown
arabesques, tied forever.

Claire Trévien is a Franco-British poet. She has published an e-chapbook of poetry with Silkworms Ink called 'Patterns of Decay' and a pamphlet with Salt Publishing called 'Low-Tide Lottery' from which these poems come. She is the editor of Sabotage Reviews.

Beholding Fanny

I don't often have enough time to update my blog, and today is no different, but I can hardly claim to write a poetry blog and not post an update on National Poetry Day.

For some poets NPD is no more about poetry than any other day. I woke up in the early hours with an image on my mind but didn't want to lose any more sleep by getting up to write it down, and so it slipped back into the realm of dreams. It was a good one - they always are! - and I still feel satisfied by the way it had enough energy to carry on into a second line.

In the morning I deliberately avoided Radio 4 since I generally dislike listening to actors reading poetry. Even if a poem is being read by the poet, I'm usually not in the mood to stop what I'm doing and give it my full attention in the way I would if I had chosen a book and set aside time to read it. Actors can get in the way of a poem - they perform, and fail to realise the poem, if it's doing its job, will speak for itself. In the worst cases, the poem is completely eclipsed by the thesping actor.

I was looking after my daughter all day so I didn't have the time to find out what other poets were up to on Facebook. Neither was I able to attend any of the many NPD events being held around the country, but not, alas, in Worthing.

Actually, I'm not sure I would have wanted to participate or attend even if there was something happening closer to home. I'm aware that many fine poets were participating in events that no doubt many people found interesting and innovative, but I don't often feel the same way about off-page poetry activity. I prefer to read and write - that's all, and there wasn't even time for that, today.

Aesthetic interest was engaged, however, by a visit to an antiques shop selling lamp stands and pieces of furniture painted in the style one sees in every room at the Bloomsbury Group's country home Charleston. Nearby, I bought some bacon from a hostile butcher who clearly had me down, correctly, as a supermarket customer, then drove back over the Downs on what fifty years ago would still have been a chalk track used by farmers.

A trip to the library to renew First 1000 Italian Words brought about the unexpected pleasure of finding Mick Imlah's Selected Poems. I am the first person to take it out. Although I haven't read any of it yet - I'm trying to get this done first - I have given it a long, loving sniff. Heavenly.

To eek things out a bit longer we stopped off at the museum. Isabella likes sharpening pencils and I like to see the Stone Age skeleton and a medieval green glass goblet with a hare running round the side.

Waiting while she magnified a selection of echinoids and trilobites, I noticed the display on sheep farming. Of particular interest was a poem, written in 1883 by the shepherd Michael Blann. Its first lines read:

'It was on the green where they all danced
There I beheld my fanny'.

On the way home I nipped into Lidl for some milk and noticed a Christmas advert for gingerbread. The text claims that 'the great playwright William Shakespeare once exclaimed, Had I but one penny in the world, thou should'st have it to buy gingerbread.' I wonder if anyone can verify that or are the marketing people indulging in a bit of brazen bullshitting.

So, another NPD has been and gone. John Burnside has finally won the Forward. One of my favourite poets Tomas Transtromer has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. My daughter sleeps contentedly, leaving her father too knackered to do much more than finish this and call it a day. And the ghost of fanny-loving Michael Blann walks on Downland tracks white in the moonlight as the Stollen on display in the supermarket window.