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December part three

More piecemeal updates – late, of course (it’s that time of the year).

A.E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad (Dover Thrift Editions, 1990, following the authorised 1924 edition)
U.A. Fanthorpe, Christmas Poems (Enitharmon/Peterloo 2002)

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forty-seven: Elizabeth Bishop, North & South

Apologies for the late post, and for the fact that, as I’ve left my copy of the Complete Poems behind in London (I’m now ‘home’ for the holidays), there won’t be much substance.

Reading Elizabeth Bishop was a slightly odd experience; she felt very American, and very different to the much more contemporary writing I’ve been reading recently. I think I wanted to like her quite a lot more than I did; maybe when I return to the Complete Poems and read the rest of her writing I’ll find it more engaging, or maybe some background reading would help. Sadly without my copy here I can’t remember any of my favourites, but I seem to recall they featured sleeping on the ceiling…

North & South, Elizabeth Bishop (1946; Complete Poems Chatto & Windus, 2004)

December part two

Who knows why I’m resisting getting all the rest of my December reading lined up, but I am. Maybe it’s nice to break the rules after almost a year of doing things the same way each month? Anyway this week’s collection is Elizabeth Bishop’s first collection North & South, originally published in 1946. My edition is the very handsome Complete Poems, published by Chatto & Windus. I’ve been wanting to read Elizabeth Bishop for a while now, and I’m loving it so far. But that’s for the end of the week, when I’ve finished.

forty-six: Maura Dooley, Life Under Water

Maura Dooley‘s latest collection Life Under Water has been shortlisted for the 2008 T.S. Eliot prize, which is in part why I picked it up; I was a bit uninspired trying to select my last month’s worth of poetry collections, so I thought reading a few of the shortlist was as good a way as any for making my final selection (although I still haven’t got all of December’s reading lined up).

I hadn’t read any of Dooley’s work (I don’t think) before this, and I enjoyed it. The collection has a broad horizon, with pieces mapping recent elections, lost rivers in London, the English Civil War, family life, the heart… Somehow though I look back over last week’s reading (yes, I’m late, I’m sorry) and there’s nothing particularly that grabs me or a sense of the collection as a whole that I feel I can write about. Last week was a rather depressing one, it has to be said, so maybe it’s that; or maybe it’s the weather, and getting to the end of the year. Sorry, Ms Dooley. I think it’s my fault, not yours.

Favourites were ‘Valentine’, ‘What You Will’, ‘Midsummer Lullaby’, ‘Lettered’, the shocking brilliance of ‘The Old Masters’, ‘Remark’, ‘A Tune for Dave Smith’ and this, ‘Moth Trap’, which grows on me more each time I read it: –

We looked to learn,
lit the lamp, waited
till something like a bloom
could be gathered,
its freedom tethered
by a shaft of light,

the way this lovely girl,
observing her own shadow,
holds up twelve years of life,
complicated filigree,
a thread leading home,
a rope to be cast off.

Life Under Water, Maura Dooley (Bloodaxe Books, 2008)

December part one

I can’t quite believe it: here I am, on the edge of the last month of the year, with only a few more poets to go until I get to the slated fifty-two (although unless I double up on my Christmas holidays I won’t quite have finished before the year is out). Looking back at the list of poets and collections I’ve read feels like looking back over a journey. I’ve enjoyed it a lot.

Unfortunately I’m a bit disorganised this month: usually I’ll have a stack of books ready to go by now, but that’s somehow not happened. I blame busyness, and the run-up to Christmas having already begun. So for now all I have lined up is Maura Dooley’s Life Under Water (Bloodaxe Books, 2008). I’ll post the rest of my December books when I’ve got them.

forty-five: Helen Farish, Intimates

I remember hearing Helen Farish read at possibly the first poetry reading I went to, in Oxford about three or four years ago – in fact, it must have been around the same time that Intimates was first published – and I recognised several of the poems, particularly the opening poem, ‘Look at These’ and the desperately beautiful ‘Newly Born Twins’.

I loved this collection. Each poem seemed perfectly formed, and to hit home so forcefully, illuminating some truth about modern existence. I loved the freshness and the simple directness that characterised each piece. I’m struggling with an Advent poem at the moment, and in contrast Farish’s work seems so incredibly unfussy and absolutely sharply honed. Brilliant stuff.

Some of the most moving poems were about the death of her father, and all sorts of final moments; I particularly loved ‘July’, with all the days of a man’s life figured as birds flocking around, or streamers unfurling (I think this was my very favourite poem in the collection). And there’s a preoccupation with female physicality, and in particular the troublesome nature of breasts – from ‘Look at these’ to fear of the possibility of cancer. In other places there’s a sense of celebration that reminded me of e.e. cummings, in particular ‘Brathay’ – ‘And all over, write, in full: / The Dazzle of this World.’ This thread of a sense of the sacrament of the ordinary and everyday continued in pieces like ‘Treasures’ and ‘Outside the Baker’s’, where ‘light you hadn’t reckoned on [is] like a blessing / you didn’t know you needed.’

So many favourites in this collection; so many, in fact, that the concept ‘favourite’ becomes a bit pointless. But here they are: ‘Auto Reply’, ‘What Held us There’, ‘Brathay’, ‘Drifts’, ‘July’, ‘Treasures’, ‘The White Gate’, ‘The Old King’s Gardens’, ‘Recording’, Grant us time to read and ponder’, ‘Outside the Baker’s’, ‘Coffin Path Poem’ and ‘Newly Born Twins’: –

In separate incubators one of the twins was dying.
Against doctor’s orders, a nurse put them together.

The strong twin, the one with nothing
pulling her back, she slung
her newly born arm over
the one who was wanting to leave,
and stabilised her heartbeat, made everything
regular in the body of the one who’d already
had enough.

The strong one, she will think
she is God, that she can pull back
life from where it was going.
It will be harder for her
than for the one who already knows
about separation, loneliness, where
they can make you want to go.

Intimates, Helen Farish (Jonathan Cape, 2005)

forty-four: Sam Meekings, The Bestiary

This was a totally brilliant collection, and I wish I’d taken notes while I was reading it, because I lent it to Poetry Andrew as soon as I’d finished it. So you’ll just have to imagine some deep and meaningful commentary from me, and then read the book yourself. It’s great.

The Bestiary, Sam Meekings (Polygon, 2008)