Whereas Prince found the middle section least in tune with the rest, Geoff Sawers hacks away at the final section of the book in a brief write-up for Shearsman Review. He tempers his dislike of the London poems with the idea that, “Poetry is not about averages; it’s more like the High Jump, where your best one counts.” “Last Gasp”, for him, is that one that counts, and “soars”.
As reviews and comments roll in, both in public and private, it would seem that I have written a book that is one part a kind of poetry anthology penned by my multiple selves, one part Rorschach test for its readership. Some days it feels like everyone’s an editor (and they don’t always agree), yet on a more positive note, it would seem that there is truly something for everyone in this book.
What do you think? If you’ve been provoked by The Knowledge, I’d love to read your thoughts in a user review on Goodreads or Amazon.
“New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town! / The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down.” -“On The Town”, sung by Frank Sinatra
So a book tour that began in the medieval English village of Much Wenlock ends in New York.
We capped off a feasting-our-senses-through-Manhattan city break with a trip to Walt Whitman’s birthplace on Long Island. I gave my “Tactics for Sneaky Poets” workshop to a receptive and talented local group, and was given a private tour of the house and very room where Uncle Walt was born, before taking to the stage.
What a pleasure and privilege it was to read with Peter Cole, who drew parallels between Whitman’s transcendentalist philosophy and ancient Jewish mysticism. He read poems from the depths of his own multitudes as well. Afterward, we answered questions from the audience about translation, displacement, and the necessity of the creative act.
I also marked the fourth anniversary of moving to England while here, surrounded by New Yorkers and ancient Egyptian artefacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York feels in many ways like a midpoint — both geographically and culturally — between my native rural California and adopted London. Yet it is entirely its own place as well. I will be sorry to say goodbye.
I won’t be sorry to get back to a radiator I can control, however, as all the apartment buildings seem to keep them on full-tilt until the end of May. As the street below is waking up, the cast-iron pipes beside my bed are banging furiously, transforming our tiny West Village apartment into a dry sauna.
Val and I have stripped off completely, lounging around like Adam and Eve. We have tasted The Big Apple. I have a feeling we will be back for more.
On the plane from London to New York, I took in three stunning debuts: Mona Arshi’s sensual, wistful, and surreal poetry; Sarah Fletcher’s imaginative, accomplished, and wry personae; Anja König’s incisive, keenly observed notes on loss — and wrote brief reviews of each for HuffPost Books.
“Tell all the truth, but tell it slant” -Emily Dickinson
It’s pretty easy, really. Take a four-thousand-year-old universal human tradition — say, poetry — and use statistical data within a relatively tiny segment — say, the last ten years in America — to extrapolate into sweeping conclusions.
This of course prompted a friendly debate on Twitter with some mathematical philosophers about poetry’s inherent lack of truth due to its freedom from alethic modality (as you would expect).
Still, I contend that it is easier to lie with statistics than poetry, since one engages statistics expecting objective truth, and often discovers subjective misinterpretation; whereas one enters poetry expecting subjectivity, but often discovers something universal. So much of deception, after all, depends on confidence.
What a pleasure it was to launch my debut full-length collection The Knowledge alongside Jo Bell, UK Canal Laureate, who launched her second collection Kith. Coincidence of timing brought us together, but complimentary styles and mutual respect has made touring together a delight.
We started in the small Shropshire village of Much Wenlock, birthplace of the Olympics, a place steeped in ancient Mercian history and happily overrun one weekend each year by poets. We read in a modern theatre space to an appreciative and full audience, many of whom were proud supporters of Jo’s excellent 52 project.
The next day we spoke on a panel with Jane Commane, our publisher at Nine Arches Press, and Simon Thirsk, her mentor from Bloodaxe Books. We dug into the details of editing a collection, peeling back the curtain on this sometimes hidden art. Re-living the past year of working on the manuscript with Jane only deepened my appreciation for her artful support.
We then drove down to Cheltenham for an evening reading in a warm, friendly pub. Again the audience was full and receptive, as well as keen to buy our new books. Several of us set the world to rights afterward over good Thai curry, reflecting on what a strange way around it is to get to know someone first by their poetry — that being often such a deeply intimate route — and then to get to know them socially afterward.
Quadrapheme is a totally independent literature review site, which receives no funding from either publishers or the British Arts Council, so ostensibly they say what they like (and don’t) as they please. Franzen notes the collection’s, “mindfulness of the human place within a network of relationships in the natural world, the consequences and responsibilities of agency.”