My friend the Scottish poet Andrew Philip wrote a review of The Silence Teacher that I just discovered tonight. His perspective is one I greatly respect — not only because I hold him in such high esteem as a poet, but because he, too, has walked grief’s road after losing an infant son.
It must have therefore been as hard in some ways for him to read the collection as it was for me to write it. Yet I can also think of no one better equipped to understand, from the inside out, the difficult task of attempting to make art, and thereby make meaning, from such loss.
There were many dark nights of self-doubt for me. These poems often felt simultaneously necessary and impossible to write. Grief is such difficult terrain to navigate honestly without fears of self-indulgence. Yet Andrew himself has done this masterfully, and I rate his own poems about his son among the most moving I have read.
It is therefore greatly affirming to see him write that The Silence Teacher represents “the kind of volume I wish I had written” since, through his support, encouragement, and fine example, in a way he did.
As the year comes to a close, I find myself in a reflective mood. Having compiled a list of the more than 350 poets I have mentioned on my website since I began writing about poetry in 2003, I was curious to discover which poets I have mentioned most often in the last ten years.
What follows is that list of poets — most alive, some dead; most writing in English, some not; many I have met, some I won’t and never will. Click on the name or image for a brief summary of who each one is and and what they mean to me, and to read what I have written about them over the years. Continue reading…
After weeks of preparation, my dream finally came true — bringing together two fine poets and dear friends from six thousand miles apart for a live poetry reading and Q&A with the global poetry-loving community.
The poets were in great form, the questions from viewers were interesting and the conversation was intimate and wise. People “came up to me afterward” (in a virtual sense, through social media) to tell me how much it inspired them to hear both the poems and insights that both poets shared tonight. We discussed the practice of writing, the filmpoem genre, and how poetry, mythology, and life experience interweave and inform each other.
The only major hiccup came at the very end, when the feed unceremoniously cut out on viewers about two minutes before we had said our final farewell. A virtual roar of discontent went up on the Transatlantic Poetry Community page from those tuned in. It means they missed the end of Andrew’s sentence (no, he can’t draw MacAdam exactly), my announcement of the three viewers who won a book, and a few parting words from me, gushing with thanks for all involved.
Today I received copies of Silk Road Review Issue 10, containing a feature on British Poetry that I edited for the journal. It features a wide range (in terms of age, occupation, background, and geography) of poets whose work I have come to admire in the two years since I relocated to the UK.
From the introduction:
So what is “British” about these poems? First, there is a unique focus on language, its heft and chewiness. To some extent, all good poetry takes up this cause. But in Great Britain, one’s use of language is intimately tied to one’s place of origin. A phenomenal number of dialects, accents, and several distinct languages coexist in close geographic proximity. Place is therefore invoked the moment one opens one’s mouth. From Patience Agbabi’s cold fusion of hip-hop and Chaucer, to Liz Berry’s private defense of her father’s Black Country accent, to Andrew Philip’s Scots-language-infused quatrains — when it comes to place, language is as important as the soil (or concrete) under foot.
Furthermore, in a culture where two strangers can meet and converse for hours before finally (if ever) divulging their own names, deeply confessional poetry is eyed somewhat askance. Yet each poem can still be read as a precise autobiography of the poet’s innermost life. In lieu of the self, these poems are populated with eccentric characters, for the damp climate here seems as conducive to whimsy as it is to mushrooms. From shopkeepers to skeletons, “bear-solemn” organists to the figure of Pippi Longstocking cross-bred with Frankenstein’s monster, antic figures dramatise a panoply of selves.
The Internet gives us the illusion that the best a culture has to offer will invariably find its way to us. But when it comes to art, I find that so much still comes down to local knowledge. Americans and Brits alike have long maintained a fascination with the literary work of their overseas cousins, but usually only the biggest names make the trip across the pond.
How closely you watch is, of course, up to you. My hope is that you will seek out the work of these ten fine poets out for your own sake, to bring a little transcontinental mischief and mirth to your poetry reading in the year ahead.