(This first appeared in Under the Radar issue 10.)
Poems are discontent; poems fidget, as they are uncertain and dissatisfied with where they are or what they are up to or what they’d like to tell you about it. Any poem which professes certainty, or the ability to express itself clearly, is a liar. I think this is the most important thing to keep in mind, especially when reading new poets. (Older poets have their own forms of tiredness.) It is how poets deal with their familiar and their unfamiliar spaces that create poems which the reader can get involved in, and this is something I would like to explore.
(This first appeared in Under the Radar issue 9.)
Whilst I watch the clouds come along on fronts, I can’t decide whether to say that emotion lives on the edge of thought or that thought lives on the edge of emotion, but either way all poetry is closely involved with this problem. The three pamphlets which I have been reading contain poems that it is interesting to think of as responses, whether their speakers are responding to a book, the sight of their lover with someone else, or the death of a cloned ibex. How we in turn then respond is perhaps too complicated, but it is enough to say that we as readers are closely attuned to these responses, as we are, in some way, taking part in the same action, feeling the same pressures of thought and emotion. To dramatise and direct these pressures is no easy business, and it is interesting to see how Caleb Klaces, Kirsten Irving and Adrian Buckner, in their different ways, attempt it.
My review of The Audience Member by Amber Massie-Blomfield, Selected Poems by Charlotte Newman, and The Histories by Michael C Schuller is on Sabotage. Charlotte Newman’s pamphlet is especially good. I’m enjoying reviewing again. (I’m hoping to expand the outlets for my reviews this year.) There is a lot to be thinking about.
Last Thursday in Oxford I went to the launch of Nathan Hamilton’s new Bloodaxe anthology Dear World & Everyone In It. There weren’t very many people there — I think it was competing with something else that evening — which is a shame. I think readers outnumbered the audience, which is probably representative of UK poetry in general.
My review of Theresa Muñoz’s Happenstance pamphlet Close is published in Sphinx Review. I am a negative about quite a few of the poems, but it seems the other two reviewers don’t agree. Maybe I will write something longer on it to back myself up a little more, but then if I am being negative perhaps it is better to not drag it out.
Oh lord please don’t let me be misunderstood.
It has also been reviewed by Afric McGlinchey (whose collection I am reading at the moment) at Sabotage.
I have a review of Chrissy Williams’ The Jam Trap at Sabotage, my first review there for a while. Sabotage seems to have been publishing more and more reviews lately, so I’m pleased to have my name in there.
I wrote the review mostly without internet on holiday in Devon, and didn’t quite have the time to put in as much as I’d like. I’m not sure it’s a very good review, which is a shame as it’s a good book. Its casual, witty style in prose poems means it takes a bit of work to show the cleverness behind the scenes; there aren’t really any formal features to talk about, for instance. On the one hand, this makes it a great advocate for poetry for those who don’t normally read it (along with the attractive illustrations), but on the other hand, this lack of obvious technical skill can make non-poetry readers assume it’s facile if they dislike it (i.e., since, in an overtly technical poem, one can think ‘I don’t get it but I can see it’s doing something, I can appreciate the skill it took to write’, whereas in a prose poem about wanting to buy a dog there’s only ‘I don’t get it’). I’m hoping it gets reviewed elsewhere, because it deserves attention and it deserves a better review.
Also, it has a blurb on the back from Luke Kennard, who seems to be British poetry’s most profligate blurber at the moment. Maybe it’s just the books I’m reading.
In reviewing myself, as well as reading many other reviews (mostly online), I have many dull opinions on how book reviews should be undertaken, including the following points, which are too often neglected: