As I mentioned earlier, I have been organising poetry readings for the poets included in the British poetry special feature I edited for Silk Road Review 10. The twist is that both of these readings will be conducted virtually and available globally, using Google+ Hangouts on Air. The dusts has settled, the dates (and stars) have finally aligned, and I am happy to announce two excellent lineups for these events. Save the dates!
Sunday, October 13th at 8PM BST / 3PM EDT / noon PDT
Featuring Patience Agbabi, Katy Evans-Bush, Isabel Galleymore, Chris McCabe, Andrew Philip, Paul Stephenson, and Claire Trévien
Saturday, October 19th at 8PM BST / 3PM EDT / noon PDT
Featuring Liz Berry, Fiona Benson, Markie Burnhope, Abi Curtis, Helen Ivory, Ira Lightman, Rob A. Mackenzie, and Esther Morgan
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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.
You can order single copies or subscribe at the Silk Road website.
I spent the past several months editing a special feature on British Poetry for the US literary journal Silk Road Review. The project came about as a natural extension of my private efforts to help expose more interested Americans to the remarkable scope and diversity of poetry I have encountered since relocating to London eighteen months ago. And what a scope it is!
I focused on poets writing in English on the isle of Great Britain. Silk Road celebrates literature of place, and in Great Britain, place is 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.
The geographic range is wide in this collection — encompassing Scotland, Wales, and various distinct regions of northern and southern England — as the following map attests.
These poets also vary considerably in age, occupation, and background. But above all it is the mix of poems I love — the heft and chewiness of language, the eccentric panoply of characters, the private moments keenly observed. The feature will appear in Silk Road 10, due out late spring/early summer next year. You can subscribe now to ensure that you don’t miss a word.
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
-Jack Kerouac, On The Road
The thing about experiments is that they don’t always work out. In this way, experimental poetry can be seen as a high-risk, high-reward art form. Unlike other modes, where poets endeavour to generate sufficient heat to boil water, experimental poets go for either Roman candle effects or stink-bombs — but nothing in between. Much of it ends up the latter for me. I find it falls somewhere between a riddle and an inside joke, packed with cleverness and cerebral effect. It is so often the cerebral quality, above all, that leaves me cold — poems written from the neck up only, leaving the author safe and aloof.
This is why I have so enjoyed discovering experimental poet Ira Lightman‘s work. Ira pushes the boundaries of word-play, but retains something of the human in doing so. Consider this poem from Duetcetera, a collection of concrete poems arranged with gaps in the middle:
Apropos of the current US presidential election, the poem captures a certain sense of foreboding I have detected in Brits who follow the slings and arrows of the American political process. Continue reading…