I've decided it's time to get back to regular posts about weekend poetry reading. I've been doing the reading but not finding the time to mention it.
This weekend I'm re-reading the truly wonderful sequence of sonnets 'A Bargain with the Light', which was one of my favourite books of 2017 and also chosen by the Poetry School. It give you insights into Lee Miller's life as well as her photographs and by the end you feel as if you know her.
Ahead of next weekend's T.S. Eliot Prise readings I'm engaging with All My Mad Mothers which is one of the ten short-listed collections. You can hear Jacqueline (and the other poets) talking about their work here.
'All My Mad Mothers'
My mother gathered every yellow object she could find: daffodils and gorgeous shawls, little pots of bile and piles of lemons. Once we caught her with a pair of fishnet stockings on a stick, trying to catch the sun.
My mother never travelled anywhere without her flippers, goggles and a snorkel. She’d strip at any opportunity: The Thames, The Serpentine, the shallows of a garden pond, a puddle in the park. She was no judge of depth.
My mother was a dipterologist, sucking fruit flies through a straw. Our house was filled with jars of corpses on display. Sometimes she’d turn them out, too dead to flee, their wings still glinting, make them into rainbow chokers, for our party bags.
My mother barely spoke between her bruises: her low cut gown was tea-stained silk, and from behind her Guccis or Versaces, she would serve us salty dinners, stroke a passing cheek, or lay her head on any waiting shoulder.
My mother was an arsonist. She kept a box of matches in her bra, lined up ranks of candles, ran her pretty fingers through the flames. At full moon, she would drag our beds into the garden, set them alight and howl.
My mother was a fine confectioner. We’d come upon her sponges, softly decomposing under sweaters in a drawer, or oozing sideways in a filing cabinet. Once, between her pearls and emerald rings, we found a maggot gateau, iced with mould.
My mother was hard to grasp: once we found her in a bath of extra virgin olive oil, her skin well slicked. She’d stocked the fridge with lard and suet, butter – salted and unsalted – to ease her way into this world. Or out of it.
This weekend I'm going to be reading Martin Figura's latest, a pamphlet with illustrations by Caroline Wright and Helen Ivory's Waiting for Bluebeard.
I really enjoyed hearing them both read at Toddington Poetry Society on Tuesday. It was worth it even though my car ended up locked into the car park over the road. These things happen in Luton. In the Q&A session they talked about process and how research leads to poems.
I have a feeling that both their books will take me on a journey, which is my favourite kind of reading. Arthur begins with
Home Arthur lies warm in his soft feather bed....
Waiting for Bluebeard starts with
Somewhere beyond weather
men are reckoning the acreage of space
and playing tricks on gravity.
My pregnant mother watches with the millions
in their front rooms as she waits
but I will not budge.
Whatever you are reading this weekend I hope it is a good one.
September always feels like the start of new things and this year I'm going back to studying poetry with the Poetry School and the University of Newcastle. The MA classes start on 26th September and I am so looking forward to it.
I am also going to make posting about my reading a more regular practice on this blog. I'm currently reading Ocean Vuong's astounding first collection Night Sky with exit Wounds. It is one of the books short-listed for the Forward Prize which will be awarded later this month. After reading the first couple of poems, Threshold and Telemachus I bought tickets to the reading as I want to hear him.
Having recently discovered the work of Yannis Ritsos, through his Diaries of Exile I've been reading a couple of anthologies of work by twentieth century poets from Greece. This is thanks to the Poetry Library on the South Bank in London.
I began with Six Modern Greek Poets, edited and translated by John Stathatos and published in the UK by Oasis books. The names of the poets were familiar; George Seferis, Takis Sinopoulos, Yannis Ritsos and some less familiar Aris Alexandrou and as I was pleased to see one female poet, Eleni Vakalo. Ritsos remained one of my favourites with his short poems that contain the whole of a life, like 'Return of Deserter
He'd felt uneasy these last days, as though he were a sentry who'd deserted leaving the town unguarded.
I was moved by the poetry of Takis Sinopoulos. These are war poems and Sinopoulos was a doctor who served during the occupation of Greece in the 1940s and the civil war which followed. The impact of the horrors in evident in poems like The Beheading and Deathfeast through which the dead move like ghosts. He discusses his work in an interview in 1980, the year before he died.
... Gradually as they had come, they disappeared, took to the valley, scattering in the wind. For the last time I watched them, called to them. The fire sank to the ground and from the windows came - How just a single star can make the night navigable. How in the empty church is the unknown dead anointed his body laid to rest among the flowers.
Thanks to the Poetry School and John McCullough I spent a Saturday at the end of May ransacking the Natural
History Museum for poems.
My day began early and I was even offered Prosecco on the
train into London after I’d unwittingly joined a hen party as they had a spare
seat in their midst. They were happy and giggly and two of them were going to
London for the first time. It was a lovely start to the day although I did
decline the alcohol.
I paid a brief visit to the Imperial War Museum and then sat
in a nearby café with a hot chocolate and a poem to be edited. This one was
inspired by the exhibitions featuring the work of Claude Cahun at Oxford Brooks University and the National Portrait Gallery.
Then it was off to Lambeth Walk to
begin the process of immersion. We considered the work of poets who had been
there before; including Kate Clanchy's The Natural History Museum from Samarkand (1999)
“They are glassed and boxed like childhood.”
Rita Dove’s The Fish in the Stone and Anne Carson’s
Audubon. The first exercise was to plunder our memories to find the most
memorable museums and exhibits. Mine were all recent as nothing seemed to have
stuck from childhood until I remembered the mummified corpse in the Norfolk and Norwich
The second group of poems were Relic of Memory by Seamus
Heaney from Door into the Dark, Museum of the Forest by Matthew Francis and
Claire Trevien’s The Museum of Water.
I found Museum of the Forest surreal and wonderful and it led beautifully into the second exercise....
The Natural History Museum was busy, as it was Saturday afternoon but I kept to the brief of focusing on the particular and before long I had left the crowds behind and found parts of the Museum I didn't know about. As well as taking lots of notes I took photographs as prompts
Here are just a few examples and now I have until the start of July to turn my notes into poems.
This blog post was going to begin with welcoming the warmer more summery weather and the chance to get out and about but we've had heavy rain for the last couple of days and the temperature has dropped.
Nonetheless I have been on various writing and poetry excursions recently with more planned for June and July.
First I'd like to mention the wonderful Westbury Arts Centre in Milton Keynes and the 'Time to Write' sessions hosted by writer in residence, Karen Littleton. In return for a modest fee you can spend the whole of a Sunday afternoon writing in the drawing room with plentiful supplies of tea and cake. There is something magical about giving yourself permission to write and by the end of the last session I had five poems, a new poem and revisions of four others.
I was back at Westbury last Thursday for the May soiree, listening to Heart Strings and being won oer by their playing, particularly Karl Jenkins Palladio. Four of us including Karen shared our poems with an attentive audience and the evening ended with The Sofa Ensemble, who brought the house down.
I have another reading coming up on 15th June at the City Pride pub near Farringdon with Katy Evans-Bush and members of her Thursday Advanced Poetry workshop.
Meanwhile I've been reading Poems of the Great War a handy pocket sized book for the War and Literature readalong.
I've been reading novels recently and it has been a while since I wrote about poetry reads so I'm glad to get back to it.
I have three poetry books on the go at present; Diaries of Exile by Yannis Ritsos, Memorandum poems for the fallen by Vanessa Gebbie and Marine by Alan Jenkins and John Kinsella.
It's thanks to the work of translators Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley that I've discovered the work of Yannis Ritsos. He wrote the poems in Diaries of Exile between 1948 and 1950 which he was a political prisoner. They illuminate the life around in the prison camp and the hopes and fears of the prisoners. The poems become shorter and shorter as his exile continues. I wonder if he was running out of energy, or perhaps there was less paper or conditions had become harsher or all of these things. I admire anyone for writing under these conditions.
During May I've been re-reading Memorandum, by my friend and fellow poet, Vanessa. As has been told before we wrote poems inspired by the Frist World War alongside each other but though the poems in the book are familiar I find like all the finest work you gain a new perspective by going back and re-reading them. Vanessa's book is one of the choices for May's War and Literature Readalong.
My other book is Marine, published by Enitharmon Press in 2015. It resulted from an unplanned collaboration between Alan Jenkins and John Kinsella who discovered they were both writing poems inspired by the sea. My favourite poem so far after a rapid first read is Albatross (after Baudelaire)