Archive for May, 2008

eighteen: Richard Price, Lucky Day

Hopefully the next few weeks will be a lot calmer than the last few, and I’ll be able to get back into the Sunday-evening routine…

Last week’s collection was from Richard Price, who I’d never come across before. He is apparently the youngest of the Informationist group of poets, and again I have to confess ignorance; but if wikipedia is to be believed, one of the movement’s main features is ‘engagement with the technological innovation, jargon and interconnectedness of the “information society”‘. The rather stop-start, sometimes repetitive style of the poems definitely had a sort of switched-on, connected feeling to it.

The collection is made up of eight sections, and my favourite was probably ‘Hand Held’, written for Katie, the poet’s daughter, who was born with the neurological disorder Angelman syndrome. Perhaps this is simply because I naturally gravitate towards a more personal style of poetry, but I found this section wrenchingly human, poignant, and shot through with a wry kind of humour.

Favourites were ‘A world without earth’, ‘Better trees’; ‘Hedge Sparrows’ and ‘Magpie’ from ‘A Spelthorne Bird List’; ‘Lucky day’, ‘As if’, and much of the section ‘Hand Held’, especially ‘Than we are’, ‘”Speech absent”‘, ‘The grip’, ‘The taps just flow hot and cold’, ‘Sleeper’, ‘Fast’ and this beautiful sonnet, ‘The world is busy, Katie’ –

The world is busy, Katie, and tonight
the planes are playing, fine, alright, but soon
the folk behind those blinks will nap, sleep tight,
as you will too, beneath a nitelite moon.
The world is busy, Katie, but it’s late –
the trains are packing up, the drunks are calm.
The fast, the slow, has gone. It’s only freight
that storms the garage lane. It means no harm.
The world is busy, Katie, but it’s dark –
the lorries nod, they snort, they spoil their chrome.
They hate to be alone. For them, a lay-by’s home.
The world is busy, Katie, like I said,
but you’re the world – and tired. It’s time for bed.

It’s such a tender poem, made all the more poignant by the fact that it’s a sonnet with a line missing. Is this a nod, I wonder towards Katie’s lacking the activation of vital genes?

Lucky Day, Richard Price (Carcanet, 2005)

seventeen: Seamus Heaney, Electric Light

Another late post. At number 18 (though it’s only the seventeenth poet, hence the number of the post)of my proposed 52, am I running out of steam? I’m enjoying reading the poetry as much as I was, but I think I am finding that I’m not sure I have anything terribly interesting/useful to say.

Perhaps this week/last week’s delay is down to simple fear – fear of trying to write something meaningful about (probably) Great Britain’s most celebrated living poet – Seamus Heaney. I remember my poetry tutor, Olivia Byard, saying that of today’s contemporary poets, Carol Ann Duffy and Seamus Heaney are the two who will undoubtedly still be read in a hundred years’ time. Academic, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995… where do you start? Perhaps I’ll brush it all aside in favour of this lovely glimpse into the poet’s writing space, and remember that he’s still human.

Like Duffy, Heaney is one of those poets you think you know just by virtue of their ubiquity. Aside from a few anthologised poems, though, this was my first real encounter with him. And like a lot of the poets I’ve recently been reading, it felt like I needed a gloss, to make sense of all the Irish and classical references. Happily though this piqued my curiosity rather than made the poems impenetrable (mostly, anyway).

I do like the way that Heaney is dense, but in a solid, compact sort of way rather than a showy, embellished way. I also love his often playful, aural way of writing:

… on air
That is water, on carpets of Bann stream, on hold
In the everything flows and steady go of the world. (‘Perch’)

Although I wish I’d taken the time to follow up all the references I didn’t follow, what I really warmed to about Heaney (and in this he reminded me of R.S. Thomas) is the humanity and the sense of place with which he infuses his poems. Are the two linked? A sense of place, the specifics of where you live, seem to me to be a very human way of writing, anyway. Place names feature in many of the poem’s titles, and are revisited in other poems: Toomebridge, the Bann Valley, Montana, Ballynahinch Lake, Glanmore…

My three knock-out favourites were ‘Perch’, ‘Lupins’ and ‘The Clothes Shrine’, and I find it hard to choose between the last two, but here’s ‘Lupins’:

They stood. And stood for something. Just by standing.
In waiting. Unavailable. But there
For sure. Sure and unbending.
Rose-fingered dawn’s and navy midnight’s flower.

Seed packets to begin with, pink and azure,
Sifting lightness and small jittery promise:
Lupin spires, erotics of the future,
Lip-brush of the blue and earth’s deep purchase.

O pastel turrets, pods and tapering stalks
That stood their ground for all our summer wending
And even when they blanched would never balk.
And none of this surpassed our understanding.

Electric Light, Seamus Heaney (Faber and Faber, 2001)


For all sorts of reasons I didn’t manage to read much of Seamus Heaney (the final book for April) last week, so I’m including it again this month. And the rest:

Seamus Heaney, Electric Light (Faber and Faber, 2001)
Richard Price, Lucky Day (Carcanet, 2005)
George Szirtes, Reel (Bloodaxe Books, 2004, winner of the 2004 T.S. Eliot prize)
Czeslaw Milosz, Second Space (HarperCollins, 2005)

sixteen: Roger McGough, The State of Poetry

Late once again – really late this time. Life has been full in ways both good and stressful recently, so I’ll not apologise too much.

Roger McGough‘s The State of Poetry was a welcome read after a few weeks of fairly tough poetry: fun, bouncy, full of jokes and puns. In fact pretty much all of the selection (‘of his shorter, more playful poems’, says the blurb) is based around wordplay and punning: a favourite –

I have outlived
my youthfulness
so a quiet life for me.

Where once
I used to

now I sin
till ten
past three. (‘Scintillate’)

And there are a fair few that work beautifully on the page – ‘The State of Poetry’ – the image/poem (?) on the front cover especially. This was probably my favourite of all, ‘Italic’:


but now I’m sadly lowercase
with the occasional italic

You can hear McGough (‘the patron saint of poetry’, according to Carol Ann Duffy) reading three of his poems here.

The State of Poetry, Roger McGough (Penguin, 2005)