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.
In my latest poetry review on Huffington Post UK, I look at the newest collections of three poets with decidedly unique worldviews. More than this, what excites me about the trajectory in each collection is that in addressing gender, they have moved beyond postmodern deconstruction and disillusionment, expressing integrated perspectives whose reconciliation feels earned. That is, they do not simply open the wound for the sake of it, but to cleanse and thereby better heal.
A nun spikes her drinks with sacramental wine and wears red lace underwear. A soldier’s wife sits by the bed of a man whose legs have been blown off, and writes his story. In the hands of the poet, Sleeping Beauty has an MRI and Red Riding Hood becomes a femme fatale. Though rich in social commentary, these three American women poets tell their stories, not in generalisations, but through each well-honed line. As Wallace Stevens admonished, “Conceptions are artificial. Perceptions are essential.” The perceptions of these three are sensuous, evocative, and riveting.
Read the full review on Huffington Post UK.
“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”
-T.S. Eliot, “The Wasteland”
As I have said before, it is a strange and wonderful thing to read the results of someone reflecting deeply and at length upon your own work. Irish poet Afric McGlinchey does just that in her review of The Silence Teacher for Sabotage:
Peake’s descriptions brim with sensibility, but the sensibility does not obstruct or abstract the lucidity of the seeing. Associations infiltrate the scenes of his poems like groundwater.
You can read the full review here.
My short poetry collection The Silence Teacher is now available from Poetry Salzburg. It distills nearly seven years of writing about love and loss into just thirty-two pages, and is dedicated to the memory of our son.
The poems in this collection were written in both America and England. They encompass the two years of my MFA in Writing degree at Pacific University, wherein the encouragement of my mentors Sandra Alcosser, Marvin Bell, and Joseph Millar, alongside many gifted students and friends, helped me to take up William Stafford’s challenge to revise, not only my work, but my life.
Many thanks to Dr. Wolfgang Görtschacher and Andreas Schachermayr, not only for selecting this manuscript, but for working very diligently and efficiently since then to bring it to publication. Pre-orders are now shipping from Austria and, if you have not already, you can order your own copy here.
Spanning more than thirty years of writing and weighing in at over one hundred pages, Diana Bishop’s first collection reads more like a retrospective than a debut. Arranged by theme (Love, War, Death, etc.) these poems range from poignant to hilarious, formal to plain-spoken, casting a keen and deeply sensitive eye over a world where politeness reigns supreme.
As first poet in residence at Keats’ House, Hampstead, Diana also brings an ear well-tuned to the traditions of verse. Lighter rhymes such as “Mr Miller’s Mistress” and “A Suitable Shell for Treatment” careen toward couplet punchlines such as “Now we’re very fond of Brighton and the place is sadly missed. / But you can’t enjoy your holiday with your tortoise round the twist.” They are sure to please an audience when read aloud.
But equally exciting are narrative poems attuned to social irony, such as the “Sachertorte” served at a fine restaurant, which is “dark, rich, thick and jammy / (rather like my friend…)” The friend, dressed to the nines and unapologetically snooty, is incensed when the waiter serves a larger slice to “a bag lady, a crone”. The speaker in the poem delights in the possible reasons, deciding finally that “Sacher’s tea room regains my esteem / catching the waiter’s eye, I grin at him.”
In “Famous Photograph”, Bishop takes up themes of innocence and experience in spare, direct language. Continue reading…
“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…