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Thursday, 5 May 2016

Ways into Poetry - A Year with Rilke

Often when I suggest to people that it would be good for them to read more poetry they sigh and reply 'I wish I could but I just don't have the time'. But we all make the time to eat every day don't we and spending time on poems is another form of nourishment.

Part of the answer if you are pressed for time is something like "A Year with Rilke; Daily Reading from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke". The book contains a short poem or piece of prose for each day of the year (plus an extra day for leap years). Today's poem is A Circle, written in December 1914 but as true today as it was then.

Allowing yourself to read at least once a day will take no longer than the time to drink your morning tea or coffee or to brush your teeth and you can carry the poem with you for the rest of the day. Don't be put off by the idea that Rilke is 'difficult'. This edition of his work by Joanna Macy and Anita Burrows is designed to be readable and accessible. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Ready for lift-off and a poetry launch

“There are some moments in life that are like pivots around which your existence turns – small intuitive flashes, when you know you have done something right for a change..”
                                                                                Robyn Davidson, Tracks

I have had a couple of these pivotal moments in the last year including making the decision to leave the day job in order to spend more time on my poetry. This is brave, foolhardy and I may regret it but it is making me happy. In Tracks Robyn Davidson is describing the moment when she arrived with her dog in Alice Springs and her ambition to cross the Australian desert with camels. At that point she didn’t know anything about camels. I’m enjoying reading her account and it does make my adventure of launching a second poetry book out into the world later this week seem straight-forward.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

A day of reading –reading does make you happier

When was the last time you spent all of most of your day immersed in a book? Last week, last month or back when you were a teenager? I expect that for many of us (apart from critics and perhaps book bloggers) reading is something to be fitted in around the other things which make up our days, work families, and other responsibilities and reading can be the thing which is left until bedtime when you’re tired and likely to fall asleep over your book.

And yet there is evidence that reading makes you happier so shouldn’t we all aim to do more of it? As a writer I am also an avid reader and I have been trying over the last six months to recapture that feeling of getting lost in a book which I remember from being a teenager. It seems to happen most easily when I have discovered a poetry pamphlet that I can’t put down.

Yesterday it was the novel, Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie which I spent time with. This was my local book group’s choice for the month and the meeting was last night and I really wanted to finish it. It is a feast of a novel, ambitious and moving, with an ending which was shocking and completely believable.

The poetry books I am currently reading  (or about to read) are Loop of Jade, alongside  several other people.  Technically this is a re-read and I am enjoying spending more time with these poems. Then it will be the turn of John McCullough’s Spacecraft which has just been published.  Those of us who loved ‘The Frost Fairs’ have had a considerable wait for this second collection and I have already broached the book, which begins with a marvellous poem ! about the exclamation point and ends with a catflap poem. In fact the prospect of spending the best part of a day with John’s book is rather enticing. I may be gone for a while….

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Pigeon Ravine on the Somme

As I have been writing this blog post I came across my hand-written notes from October 2013 when Jeremy Banning first took me and other writers to Pigeon Ravine and I found Louis Doffman amongst the graves. I can’t remember now whether it was Jeremy who pointed out his headstone (as is his habit of making sure you notice things) or if the part of the inscription ‘served as 242421 Private’ caught my attention because it was an unusual thing to find written. There was more information in the CWGC register.
(served as MOUNTFORD). Son of Charles and Ellen Doffman, of 82. Broad St., Hanley, Staffs.
I assume that it was his parents who provided the epitaph for their twenty-seven year old son. He had been single at the time of the 1911 census and I have found no record of him having married.
Ever in our thoughts
God’s will be done

As far as the official records are concerned Louis remains as Lewis Mountford I have no way of knowing if any of the rest of his company knew that he was really Louis Doffman but I assume he kept quiet about his German sounding name which would have made him a figure of suspicion. 

Photo by Jeremy Banning

The word ‘Ravine’ might make you think of hills and valleys but the landscape in this part of the Somme battlefields is level ground. It reminded me of how the farmland changes and flattens as you leave Bedford and head east towards Cambridge and the Fens. 

You can see for a long way (unless there is fog and mist).

Photograph by Jeremy Banning

 No cover but there is a sunken lane- Gloucester Road
a refuge from enfilade fire when they get there

From Voices from Stone and Bronze  

 As you will observe from my notes this attack by the 2nd Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment happened quite late in the war, at the end of September 1918. Of course the men who were fighting for the Germans and the British did not know the war would be over two months later.
The Pigeon Ravine cemetery is a typical battlefield cemetery where the men were buried very close to where they were killed and all buried together as a company.  I like to think that they will have been buried with a ceremony rather than hastily interred. The cemetery was created in October 1918 by the 33rd Division Burial Officer. It contains 121 known graves, the majority of whom were killed on 29th September 1918. The youngest was 18 and the oldest was a Lance Corporal named Robert Vincent Beare was 41. 

After the war and as the French regained their farms the remains in some of the smaller cemeteries  were moved into larger cemeteries but Pigeon Ravine was left as it was. 
Photograph by Jeremy Banning

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

More reviews please - OPOI

OPOI are a brilliant idea, designed by address the lack of reviews of poetry books and pamphlets and dreamed up by Helena Nelson.

They are a short reponse and the idea is that they present one point of view. So you can do as Josephine Corcoran does in her review of The Great Vowel Shift and just home in on a single poem. This happens to be my favourite poem in Robin Houghton's pamphlet which is a bonus.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Three most popular posts

Now that I am writing blog posts more regularly I have been taking an interest in the statistics for the blog. I've been pleased to discover that the most popular posts have focussed on teh work of two poets;
  1. The first is John Pudney, whose work I was reading back in 2012.  
  2. The second is an interview with Rebecca Gethin following the publication of her collection A handful of Water. At the time she was working on her superb WW1 novel What the horses heard.  
  3. Much to my surprise my venture in making art on postcards as well as writing poems on the back has gained over five hundred views. I have Amy Souza to thank for taking me out of my comfort zone.  

Friday, 8 April 2016

National Poetry Month Readalong Loop of Jade - First Week

It has been such a great pleasure this week allowing myself the time to read the first seven poems in the book and I hope that other people have also been able to make a start on Loop of Jade. I should put in a disclaimer at this point and explain that I am a poetry enthusiast and practising poet not a professor of English so I’m going to give you my personal reactions to the poems rather than textual analysis. At the end of the Readalong we’ll look at what other reviewers have said about the book but for now let’s concentrate on the first group of poems.

Mother’s Jewellery Box feels like a perfect poem with which to open this collection. It hints at the treasures to come, the silver chains, carnelians, her amber ring. I particularly liked the stanza in which the poet begins to examine the relationship with the mother by gauging the weight of the amber ring.

Crossing from Guangdong is so much more than the travelogue poem that it might seem at first, although it has specific details which bring the place alive. 

It is about a search for your roots
"Something sets us looking for a place"

but having trouble finding it. The word strange occurs twice in the first two pages of this poem. And yet the writer is recognised by the waitress in Beijing and the old woman on the bus, who could have been her grandmother.

The next two poems Start with Weather and (a) Belonging to emperor are in couplets and the latter is the first in a series of poems inspired by the animals alleged to be in a Chinese encyclodepia.

(b) Embalmed made me think of the terracotta warriors except that the animals in this poem seemed to have been entombed as living creatures. It includes a history lesson about the fate of the first emperor. 

After Earthward comes (c) Tame which could be based on a folk story but has more recent resonances about how unfortunate it is to have  a daughter or indeed to be born female. 

"He called her Mei Ming: No Name. She never learned to speak. Her life
        maimed by her father’s sorrow."

Our final poem for this week is the title poem in the book, Loop of Jade, which returns to the mother's story, told after dark 

when the men are asleep, I think she believes it's someone else's turn to listen.