University of Hunger
by Martin Carter
edited by Gemma Robinson Bloodaxe ISBN 1-85224-710-X £12
of what we communicate in conversation is conveyed non-verbally. In
writing, tone does the work. It betrays sensibility as inevitably as
voice-colouration. Literature doesnít get written by the powerless until
they start to rise. They need, at least, a basic education. Their
sensibility is different from that of the powerful or the comfortable.
It contains more urgency and insurgency. When the powerless write out of
their experience, it can seem strident and vulgar, like the importuning
of a beggar. Writing and powerlessness sit oddly together because
writers are assumed to be superior in discipline, in the strenuous
effort to write what is true; and why should anyone with the talent and
will to do that be powerless ? Itís reassuring when the truth of
literature comes from people with position. The common illusion of our
culture is that people with place are superior ( even though everyone
knows the boss is a fool). The contrary holds: those without position
are unworthy, they have failed, are incompetent or stupid or weak or
feckless. Snobbery sees those without money or power as inherently
inferior, racism does the same to people of colour. Martin Carter was on
the receiving end of both. He was politically active, fighting upwards
against colonialism, racism, capitalism. Born in 1927, he was just the
right age to get it in the neck from the British during the 1950s
emergency. What was he supposed to write about ? Daffodils ? Coffee
spoons ? What else could he write about but the injustice that was the
air he breathed ? There are those who blench from writing which makes
social justice its theme. What they are really saying is that its
victims should keep quiet. Carter wouldnít keep quiet and he went to
jail. His writing is marinated in the sensibility of the powerless, the
poor, the downtrodden. The superior discipline of high talent together
with the voice of the dispossessed. Uncomfortable stuff for the powerful
and their cultural emissaries.
book contains Carterís poems and some of his prose. It is edited by the
excellent Gemma Robinson. Diligently introduced and annotated, it
provides a superb guide to Carterís work and influences. Robinson is
thorough and astute. Her scholarship is impeccable. Itís heartening that
she teaches in a British university. Her students are very lucky. Lucky
for us all too that she has made Guyanese writing her speciality.
style of Martin Carterís poetry is determined, as style always is, by
its subject matter. The first piece is his famous TO A DEAD SLAVE. The
title itself is enough to have made Eliot wince and Larkin write a
cynical letter to Kingsley Amis. In the atmosphere of contemporary
British poetry, itís a bit embarrassing. Isnít poetry supposed to
entertain ? Isnít it supposed to win prizes that can be reported in the
qualities ? To a dead slave ? Really, itís not the kind of thing you
want to talk about in the Groucho. Let sleeping atrocities lie. After
all, wasnít the British Industrial Revolution funded by money made from
the slave trade ? This isnít irrelevant to the poem. Nothing could be
more relevant. Carter, like Flaubert, knows we donít choose our
subjects. The art of writing is to find the means to write about the
subjects imposed on us. Hence Carterís style. Superficially itís like
that of much poetry of the past fifty years: clear, straightforward,
uncluttered. But the tone is special: itís that of a man writing through
his tears. Compare it to Philip Levine. He too writes in a plain way and
about the lives of those on the receiving end. But Levine is American
and white. To be poor in America is nevertheless to belong to the most
powerful society on earth. Carter came from relatively well-heeled
circumstances, but he was black and colonial. Levineís poetry lacks the
sense of hurt which runs through Carterís. Itís this underlying tenor,
the heartbroken cry of the degraded which marks out Carterís writing.
underlying tone is one thing, the variety of surfaces another. Carterís
poetry is thoroughly achieved because these two never clash. One effect
of the combination of plain-style and confessional in modern poetry is a
tone of absolute confidence, which can be nothing other than arrogance.
Most modern poetry is written from a perspective of surety. Carterís is
written from questioning:
I come from the nigger yard of
leaping from the oppressorís hate
and the scorn of myself;
Even lines as apparently
unambiguous as this are full of asking.
Over the shining mud the moon is blood
falling on ocean at the fence of lights.
How does the tone of
doubt and pain ease through these words ? Itís hard to say, but it
last thing Carter does is to entertain. His poetry pulls no tricks. He
never shows off. Nor does he go for the cheap laugh or the slick jibe.
This is poetry pulled up to its full height: courageous, dignified,
principled, disciplined. There is no poetry of the twentieth century in
English better than this.
book also contains forty pages of prose. ďLife in a country as
materialistic and philistine as B.G. soon blunts the edge of the mind.Ē
Sound familiar ? Carter is a thinker of real insight and a prose writer
of genius. Read his Open Letter to the People Of Guyana (1979)
and think about our present condition. Remarkable, isnít it ? Whatever
you do, donít be without this book. Itís one of those volumes youíll go
back to over and over and wonder how you ever lived without it.
BAD SHAMAN BLUES
Bloodaxe ISBN 1-85224-728-2 £8.95
never met W.N.Herbert or heard him read, but I bet heís a chatterbox.
His poetry has that sense of compulsive talking, the need to buttonhole
and get it off your chest. Unlike Martin Carter, he has nothing of great
urgency to convey. He hasnít stared at his condition and found that he
is denied the choices that inform identity. Rather, he is a product of
that culture which has unbent the springs of action, to paraphrase
Hoggart quoting de Tocqueville. This culture presents us with the
situation of a man of advanced European sensibility fallen among
savages, like Schneebaum being forced to eat a still warm human heart.
As a writer, Martin Carter spoke for his people. Who can Herbert, or
anyone else speak for, these days ? Itís necessary rather to
speak against, and then, who will read you ? This is the dilemma
of the writer in an advanced democracy in the grip of infantile popular
culture, a debased political discourse and the triumph of vulgarity.
Herbert gets round it, though he doesnít solve it, by refusing to be
serious. Just as Carterís tone always intimates hurt, alienation,
resistance, so Herbertís is always, at least slightly, facetious. Put
these two together, compulsive talking and persistent facetiousness, and
youíve got the essence of Herbert.
For Andrew Waterhouse, Herbert is essentially serious; this is a
tribute to a dead friend and fellow poet after all. Yet the facetious
tone still creeps in:
Displacement is our theme of themes
itís what remains:
the way we canít remember dreams
The second line is the
key. Herbert canít suppress himself. He canít restrain his bubbling
chatter or his need to impose himself on his subject matter. Yet heís a
very skilful writer so thereís much readable and highly entertaining
poetry here. He uses rhyme and formal structure adroitly and in the
Scots dialect poems challenges our linguistic insularity and cultural
pomposity. He can make you smile and laugh and takes you into familiar
territory, doing lengths in the public baths for example, in poems that
make the usual unusual. Itís easy to see why heís popular at readings:
try many of these pieces out loud and they read very well. Herbert is
already well-known and this book was shortlisted for a major prize. His
readers will like it. Itís what they expect and itís very well written.
Yet it also illuminates our problem: who can be bothered with the effort
of poetry when you can turn on the telly. And if that effort is too
much, isnít every other kind ? How do we reset the springs of action ?
How do we escape the defence of our facetiousness ?
STRANGER TO NOTHING
by Philip Levine
Bloodaxe ISBN 1-85224-737-1 £9.95
Levineís tone is conversational, easy. The blurb calls him ďthe
authentic voice of Americaís urban poor.Ē He says of his writing that he
had to ďtemper the violenceĒ he felt towards those who ďmaimed and
cheatedĒ him so that he could admit ďtendernessĒ to those who had
ďtouched and blessedĒ him. Perhaps this goes some way to explain his
style. It could be that the tempering has become the essence. Certainly,
there is hardly anything close to anger in Levine. You canít imagine him
writing a poem of Byronic satire and sarcasm, castigating his political
enemies, those who have maimed and cheated him and his people. The poem
here which perhaps captures best how he works is Gin:
The first time I drank gin
I thought it must be hair tonic.
My brother swiped the bottle
from a guy who father owned
a drug store that sold booze..
It tells a story and
isnít truly distinct from prose. Not all the poems are as direct, but
they all tend to this simplicity, narration and prose-like structure.
These are Levineís strengths and he uses them skilfully. The poems are
easy to read, are all carefully structured and never drift away into
rambling or indulgence, nor seem over-long. He has an astute ability to
judge when he has said enough which imports a sense of precision. Heís
gentle, witty and amusing company and thereís both intelligence and
courage beyond the ordinary in the way he uses a plain demotic to write
of everyday things. He also explores the full range of human emotions:
nothing human is alien to him. He is a writer of extraordinarily high
talent and this is a book anyone with an interest in contemporary poetry
shouldnít miss. My caveat, however, emerges from Levineís success in his
chosen enterprise. He views the world from the point of view of a secure
self. The I of these poems speaks as if it knows itself
thoroughly. Compare this to Carter whose self is, inevitably, alien.
Carter is truly alienated. His self has been stolen by the injustice and
brutality of colonialism. He writes from the point of view of a man who
canít know himself because the freedom to establish his own identity has
been denied. Or more accurately, his identity is that of a rebel:
someone who has to fight off oppression. He is ruled from
without. Perhaps we all are. Maybe our precious sense of identity is
illusory, but to able to experience yourself as choosing makes a
crucial difference. Perhaps Levine, living in democratic America, able
to put pen to paper and write what he likes, really has elaborated a
sense of selfhood without alienation. Or perhaps the apparent
self-knowledge is part of the ďtemperingĒ. I wonder if the secure tone
isnít partly a compensation ? At least, what I miss is the excitement of
alienation for it speaks of hope, of promise. When our intelligence
tells us something in our lives is wrong, we have to gird ourselves to
change it. Levineís voice, clearly on the side of the lonely, is, all
the same, comfortable. Perhaps this is inevitable in America where
radical opposition to the prevailing economic system has become all but
impossible. Perhaps a cool, self-possessed knowingness is all thatís
available. Literature always raises these questions: why this voice ?
Why this tone ? Why did these particular conditions produce these
particular forms ? Levine is a fine writer, but Iím puzzled as to the
origin of that integrated self.
POEMS BEFORE AND AFTER
Bloodaxe ISBN 1-85224-747-9 £12
Holub was a highly cultivated European scientist. His field was
immunology. This book is divided between the poems which preceded the
Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and those which followed. He is so
well-known, hardly anyone needs to be reminded of his style: clear,
simple, wry witty. What makes Holub so remarkable, is his ability to
open up a sense of our limits and the foibles that accompany them.
Thereís a lovely funny poem called Napoleon:
Children, when was
Napoleon Bonaparte born,
A thousand years ago, the children say.
A hundred years ago, the children say.
compassionate, objective as scientists must be. The punch line is
hilarious and illuminates the inevitability of misunderstanding. Holub
has pointed to the likeness of poetry to science: the discovery of the
unexpected by intense concentration. So his work is always searching.
There is a group of poems whose titles begin Brief reflection on..
Most of them focus on an idea or phenomenon with scientific steadiness
in order to uncover a surprising and usually amusing aspect of the
taken-for-granted. This is the virtue and delight of Holubís work: like
science it refuses to take the taken-for-granted for granted. This takes
us back to Levine. Holub canít speak of the world with the assurance of
Levine, or rather, his assurance is that of the radical questioner.
Levine, on the other hand, is usually writing from a selfhood which
presents itself as beyond question. Holubís work canít accept that
anything is beyond question. Nor is Holub convinced that the so-called
personal voice is quite so personal as we think: it was the editor Jan
Grossman whose advice established his voice for him. This doubt about
the claim of the intensely personal nature of poetry is ever-present. I
suspect he would have agreed with Flaubert that poetry is as precise as
geometry. And what could be less personal than Euclid ? This sets him
apart from most contemporary poets, from that widespread presumption
that the poetís perception and sensibility are self-justifying which at
its worst descends to the view that all emotion is self-justifying
because personal. But are emotions any more personal than geometry ? He
has said ďI would say that one of the illnesses of modern poetry is too
much subjectivity, too much toothache.Ē Holub has an appealing way of
suggesting the relativity of his own point of view, of all points of
view. As the final lines of the lovely little poem Distant Howling
Only the virus
remained above it all.
This is a substantial
volume, just over four hundred pages. It should be in ever library in
the country. Holub is a truly great and memorable poet and this
collection will grant a lifetime of surprise and joy.
by Tatiana Voltska
Bloodaxe ISBN 1-85224-704-5 £8.95
In the Soviet Union, poetry was popular
but censored. If you werenít an approved writer, you had to go
underground. Samizdat literature, of course, kept alive what the
Stalinists wanted to kill off. It means self-published. But it wasnít
vanity press. It was a matter of survival. Voltskaia found many of the
poems that most influenced and affected her in samizdat
publications. People wanted to get hold of that stuff. Now itís no
longer necessary ( or maybe it is ?), poetry is retreating to the
margins, where it lives in Britain. Folk prefer thrillers. What does
this mean ? That the free-marketeers are right ? Give people a free
choice in the market and theyíll choose the low and easy. Maybe it
proves the opposite: that people value only what is hard won, what has
to struggle for its life. They read thrillers to pass the time, not
because theyíre culturally hungry. And cultural hunger is a symptom of
Voltskaiaís poetry is straightforward,
undemonstrative, it has something of the objectivity of Holub. There is
a sense of quiet tragedy running through her work. She carefully avoids
melodrama, rhetoric, the cataclysmic. Yet throughout this collection she
invokes a sense of collapse and loss in the midst of which people are
thrown back cruelly onto the personal, as if the personal isnít social.
As if intimacy exists in a vacuum. In her poems of intimacy, there is
always foreboding. Itís as if people have all the elements of happiness
but canít or darenít assemble them. Nor does intimacy provide any
In this town where all of us will come
The outlines of a mouldered church
And lazy fluff floats by.
Where all of us will
come to dust. Thereís a terrible, hard-headed realism about that. She is
tenderly hard-headed. One thing. The translations are excellent, as is
the introduction by Emily Lygo. But the beauty of the Russian is,
inevitably, reduced. For example, the line endings of In the
kitchen donít rhyme in the English version but in Russian the sounds
are: vetcherkom/ prinecen/ chaikom/ syem/ lay/ mee/ teplay/ tmee/
Lucifer/ notch/ er/ pomotch/ odna/ veleet/ vina/ boleet. This doesnít
give much idea of the lovely sound of the Russian, but there is real
music in the original which itís impossible to convey. Still, this is a
bi-lingual version so anyone with a desire to savour the Russian sounds
can take a few lessons and start to get the idea.
THE SEA CABINET
by Caitriona OíReilly
Bloodaxe ISBN 1-85224-705-3 £7.95
The first poem in this collection begins:
The pool at the centre of the
was once a swimming pool for local boys.
Seven lines later,
OíReilly repeats ďswimming poolĒ. If the repetitions are deliberate,
theyíre ill-judged. If not, theyíre clumsy. Poliomyelitis isnít a
bad poem, but it doesnít have the polish youíd expect of a
highly-praised writer. I think it may be that OíReillyís work suffers
from the illness Holub diagnosed. Not that she writes endlessly about
herself, but when sheís writing about something else, itís as if,
sheís writing about herself. Much of the writing seems foggy, but here
and there it emerges into vividness:
By the campsite, travellersí
greyhounds lick the junk they find
and sniff along a wall sprayed
RELEASE IRA PRISONERS
and further on , HANG THEM ALL.
Suddenly the language
connects. Hereís a recognisable bit of reality with a range of gripping
associations. But these moments are rare. Mostly, OíReilly hides behind
imprecision, or perhaps itís fairer to say the imprecision of the
excessively precise. The title poem is about the Town Docks museum,
Hull. I think it provides a good example of OíReillyís over-precise
writing which tips into vagueness. She wins prizes and plaudits, but
itís hard to find much in her work which is clear and memorable.
edited by Neil Astley ISBN 1-85224-739-8
selection of work by Enzensberger, Holub, Sorescu and Transtromer with
introductions, interviews and comment. Four of the outstanding poets of
the second half of the twentieth century. This is a superb little volume
and provides more than an introduction. Even if you know these poets
well, as most serious readers do, this is a neat little quartet of
geniuses and the accompanying comments are enlightening. Clear and
direct in style for the most part, wry, oblique, sceptical in outlook,
they provide an excellent guide to the best in the poetry of their
epoch. Excellent too that they are foreign. The old English insularity
is rapidly breaking down and we are coming to accept that all literature
is world literature. Congratulations to Bloodaxe for its consistent
contribution to this improvement.
I STUDIED ONCE AT A
by Tua Forsstrom
Bloodaxe ISBN 1-85224-649-9 £8.95
Holubís diagnosis of too much subjectivity in modern poetry, too much
toothache, seems pertinent. Subjective has a straightforward meaning:
personal. Modern poetry, then, is too personal. My tooth ache is, of
course, personal. But everyone knows what toothache feels like, or at
least can know. Toothache is a common, shared experience because
we all have teeth and our nerves are wired in the same way. The same is
true of emotions. We understand Othello because we can all imagine being
driven mad by jealousy. Jealousy is a shared, common experience even if
what makes us jealous differs from culture to culture. Emotions never
pre-exist their context. They are social.
Since, at least, the ascendancy of the Romantics, there has been a
conviction that emotions are personal. But if they were, theyíd be
useless. If jealousy were just mine, what purpose could it serve ? It
would be as superfluous as a private language. Emotions work because
they are social. Weíve evolved to be mind readers and in the faces,
demeanours, tone of voice of others we discern their emotions. Emotions
in me that others canít read or emotions in others that I canít read are
worthless. The awful deprivation of the autistic world is the inability
properly to read emotions. Emotions are public. Itís much easier to hide
an idea than an emotion. I never bother telling my religious friends Iím
an atheist, but they glean from my demeanour that I donít share their
illness Holub detected in modern poetry is, I suspect, the sense writers
have that if they stick to their emotions, theyíre writing about
something private and, therefore, beyond question. It is, after all,
beyond question that I donít like beetroot and that soap opera makes me
nauseous. So I can write about disliking beetroot and soap opera and
no-one can question. But distaste and dislike are shared, common
experiences. To understand a poem about disliking beetroot, you have to
have experienced dislike. So my retreat to the subjective in search of
an unassailable position is an illusion. As soon as I begin to explore
my dislike or distaste, Iím on common ground, Iím writing of something
social. Modern poetry is bedevilled by an attempt to escape into the
personal. Escape from what ? The recognition that emotion is social, the
personal social, the self social. Also, there is a confusion between
social and public. Sexual mores are socially engendered, but sexual acts
can still be intimate, private. In the same way, there is a confusion of
social and political. Itís assumed that to retreat to the subjective is
to escape the political. True, in a superficial sense. But there is no
escape from our social being expect death. Just as, if we refuse to
accept we need oxygen to respire, we are doomed.
much toothache. Doesnít Holub mean too much writing about toothache as
if itís mine, as if doing so exempts from objectivity ?
When modern poets write
I, itís as if theyíre speaking of something they understand
fully. Yet, nothing in the universe is more difficult to understand than
your own mind. To say I is to evoke the unknowable. Holub likes
the objectivity of science, the search for a moment of discovery. This
is what poetry should do. But the I of modern poetry is written
as if its reality is already discovered, as if there is nothing more to
be said about I,
as if I is a constituted reality about which there can be no
question. Of course, we must all live as if this is so, but writing is
another matter. Holubís little poem about Einstein and Valery points the
way: Valery asks where Einstein jots down his new ideas, Einstein
replies that in his field new ideas are so rare, when you have one, you
donít forget it. The same should be true of poetry. In fact it is.
Poetry written by the modern I is full of commonplace ideas,
clichťs. The I is so full of itself, it feels it must write of
every little experience. But where is the discovery, where the
revelation ? I donít like beetroot. But this is dull. Why write a poem
about it ? Too much subjectivity. Poetry should be as objective as
physics. The Theory of Relativity is a short book. If what youíre
writing really is a discovery, you donít need to write much. On the
other hand, Cervantes needed a thousand pages. The point is to address
objective reality and to reveal something. The point is to not say I,I,I.
counted eighty-eight uses of I to the halfway point of this book
and gave up. Of course, the nature of the usage matters: a poet can give
voice to a third person character speaking in the first person. In
Forsstromís case, the I seems to be identified with the poet. An
I slit open an envelope
with a knife, freshly mown grass
steams in through the windows
Itís the suddenness !
In slow processes !
I say that I regret it all
I regret it almost all, it
makes no difference
I knew you since I was a child
and thought like a child
Yes, water and light.
Cracks in the socle.
First of all, is with
a knife necessary ? What else would we picture ? Secondly, six uses
of I in thirteen lines. Thirdly, the curious evasive disjunctures
and non-sequiturs. And then, for me this creates no lasting image.
Nothing stays in my mind. Nothing, I think, is supposed to, except I.
Itís unfair to use such a small piece of poetry as typical, but I
believe it is. Forsstromís technique, as I understand it, is to destroy
everything except I. It is the only image that remains after
reading her work: the writer writing it. She is expert at drawing
attention to herself. Itís for this reason, I think, that the cover
blurbs use words like ďmagic ritualĒ and ďmysticalĒ. She isnít writing
about anything but herself. Her poems are carefully constructed to
undermine a sense of the common, the shared, the social. They come from
the atomised world where solipsism is mistaken for individuality.
Society is atomised, but how should we write about that ?
I stopped too long
in the forest, itís important to appear,
not talk so much.
How does the second
clause relate to the first ? What image emerges. We think in images. The
whole point of literature is to spark up pictures in heads. Forsstrom
deliberately fights this. Like a possessive and narcissistic mother, she
wonít let her children go. She binds them to her with rings of steel.
These poems are mine ! She wonít let them become public. She wonít let
them belong in that social space which is the only place a poem can
has prizes galore and is thought of as Finlandís greatest. All the same,
this seems to me to have a terminal case of the illness Holub diagnosed.
Not just too much toothache, but nothing but toothache. This is the kind
of poetry for which posterity will curse us. It should be fought against
with all the literary resources we can muster.
by Matt Simpson
Shoestring Press ISBN 1-904886-28-0 £8.95.
Simpson seeks to evoke the familiar through slightly unfamiliar uses of
language. He can structure a poem. Heís careful and meticulous and he
can search out telling similarities. Maybe, though, he sticks a little
too close to the personal: our way with bales of cotton. Here and
there he stumbles into sentimentality or corniness, but mostly heís
readable, friendly, appealing, matey. The second half of this is about
marriage. Marriage is a social matter, of course. The increase in
divorce has devastated many lives, especially childrenís. Simpson evokes
the well-known highs and lows. But where did the change come from ? Why
the battlefield ?
LIGHTING UP TIME
by Jeremy Hilton
Transference LE1 7FW ISBN 1-905237-71-5 £8.99
Perhaps the key poem of this selected is ĎJenny doesnít cry
any moreí. Hilton is the poet of broken hearts. He has been a social
worker. In his work, generosity reaches out in dismay at the damage we
do to one another. As is the poetry, so is the man: compassionate,
principled, thoughtful. This volume covers Hiltonís work from 1991 to
2004. His style is ambitious. He rejects the retreat to gnomic,
constrained poems. He tries to open up his poems so that his
characteristic generosity flows through. Song Of The Lost Children Of
Memory is a good example. Itís not like Matt Simpson. It embraces
huge spans of time and disparate cultures. It do so in order to make us
aware of our true nature, to bring us down to size, to make us see that
only by learning how to treat one another well do we fulfil our
humanity. All the rest is a mistake. The writing is always secure.
Hilton should be praised for opening a pathway that most modern poets
wouldnít have dared follow. This book is an antidote to our cynical and
Hodgeon Smokestack Books ISBNO-9551061-5-X £7.95
thing you notice about a poem is the layout on the page. Gordon Hodgeon's poems
tend to be chunky. Their occupation of the page reflects the way they read. Many
of them tell stories. They evoke the details of common things and point to the
lessons of disillusion. Some of them use formal structure and rhyme. At times,
he uses, perhaps, more words than he needs. But the comfort of recognition he
seeks is often evoked.
Lucas Smokestack Books ISBN 0-9551061-4-1 £7.95
English is a neat poem of eight couplets which sums up and spikes English class
obsession and snobbery. It's one of the best pieces here. Lucas revisits many of
his favourite intellectual and cultural locales: Dickens, jazz, Crabbe, Clare,
cricket. He's attractive in his enthusiasms. Curiously, it struck me just how
English a writer he is. Though he has a long association with Greece, his poetry
belongs in an English tradition almost untouched by foreign influences. The
title comes from a poem derived from Socrates learning a tune on the flute while
the hemlock was prepared. It informs the rest of the collection poignantly:
suppose every moment were your last Would you do anything different ?
courageous life is lived as if every moment might be the last and this
collection tries to discover that courage in the ordinary.
ONLY NOT WALKING
Spooner-Harvey Smokestack Books ISBN 0-9551061-2-5 £5.95
Spooner-Harvey suffers from cerebral palsy. He writes about being disabled, but
not exclusively. He is clever, witty, funny, wry. This is, unfortunately, a
short collection, eighteen poems. They are all instantly likeable without being
throwaway. Spooner-Harvey makes his serious points through charming, hilarious
and downright bawdy humour. The only pity is the collection isn't longer. He is
a superbly individual and original writer and the sensibility behind this book
is self-deprecating, generous and courageous. Delightful stuff.
Malcolm Povey Smokestack Books ISBN 0-9551061-3-3 £7.95
around the battle of Sedgemoor this unusual collection shifts timescales and
draws parallels between the event of the late seventeenth century and modern
conflicts like Kosovo and Iraq. Povey tells the story of the Dorset and Somerset
Rebellion in a way that lifts it from its context and turns it into an
archetypal battle. Quietly, Povey suggests the stupidity of war and disdains the
class structures which give rise to it. He is a very intelligent writer who
wisely writes within his talent so the poems are all soundly constructed and a
pleasure to read. Here's a short piece in full:
Jeffreys hanged them:
Divvied out their cash.
Bush bombed them:
Divvied out their oil.
change. Not many poets try something as different and ambitious as this. It
deserves to be widely read.
POETRY:THE NOTTINGHAM COLLECTION
John Lucas Five Leaves NG5 4BR ISBN 0-907123-23-6 £7.99
Fifty-three poets with a connection to Nottingham. There are plenty of
well-known writes here and almost all me writing is competent, firm, underpinned
by discipline and imagination. A particularly memorable poem is Julie Lumsden's
Staying Awake For The Results. Interestingly, the style of this piece is
slightly different from most of the poems and is neatly in keeping with the
disillusion she evokes. This isn't the cynicism of post-modernism, it's the
disappointment at the cynicism of post-modernism, fit doesn't have a name.
Perhaps it should be called deficitism: that pervasive sense of the seeping away
of all values, meaning, content. The arrival of a cultural desolateness in which
a phoney, exaggerated, regressed selfhood forces itself to the centre of
attention and all subtlety must hide its face. Where did it come from ?
Capitalism must seek new markets where it can. No longer a manufacturing nation,
no longer able to command the world, British capitalism sells g-strings to
ten-year-old girls and mobile phones able to access hard porn to ten-year-old
boys. AH values must be destroyed in the pursuit of profit, and if your teenage
son is getting high on hard porn, don't complain Capitalism has done its work.
The mobile phone entrepreneurs are raking it in. That makes this collection
something of a curio: most of its writers haven't caught up with this change.
They write as if values of restraint, consideration, moral discrimination still
prevail. But those values could live only when capitalism kept itself alive by
the imposition of widespread poverty. After the Labour victory of 1945 some
means had to be found to get hold of the rising disposable incomes of the once
poor working-class. The result is a debased consumerism which reveals the old
values of restraint, consideration and moral discrimination as flimsy and
hypocritical. A new set of values can't arise out of nowhere. Conditions must
change first. So we live with the deficit and the deficit demands a revolution
in literature. The revolutionary voices are there but they are marginalised.
Why, for example, is McSweeney on the periphery ? Hughes, Heaney, Duffy,
Armitage, O'Brien, Motion. They don't speak any longer to our condition. Nor,
interesting as it is, does this collection. We are waiting for Apollinaire.
GOODFELLOW by Kirn
Cottage 0X5 3AB £5
SNOW BUNTINGS AT BARTON POINT by Kirn
Sixties Press SM13PJ £5
aren't arbitrary. Try Ramachandran's test: say all the words you know that mean
small - tiny, minute, petit, klein, pequeno. What movements does your mouth make
? No do the same with big ó huge, enormous, vast, grand, gros. And this time ?
The reason your mouth imitates the meaning of the word is that there's a
pre-existing cross translation in your brain between the visual centre which
imagines the meaning and the linguistic centre which produces the sound. Kim
Taplin seems to have an intuitive understanding that words aren't arbitrary and
delights in their sounds. This makes her a little unfashionable. She's prepared
just to play with sound and meaning;something of a sin these days. Goodfellaw is
a long exploration of the idea of the free spirit. Kaplin is interested in the
myths of fairies, sprites and so on which have been a way, down the centuries,
of keeping an anarchic spirit alive. The writing skips and rolis along taking in
a variety of landscapes .characters and ideas. The second collection is very
different but it's full of Kaplin's ability to find metaphor and example in the
natural world, her desire to pull us up sharp in our arrogant abuse of the
planet and one another. She's a poet who, by now, ought to have a had a
substantial selected. In the meantime, read these.