Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Under Beech Trees

James Sheard mentions in his blog his two-line problem of whether the following lines that he came up with sound like the opening, close or otherwise of a poem -

When next you pass through beeches, think:
These are old lovers; this how I left them.

So swiss suggested using Sheard's lines to come up with our own poems. Though I feel that the lines definitely constitute a poem's ending I found it really hard getting into the 'voice' of Sheard's lines so I decided to use them as an epigraph to my poem instead (hope you don't think this is cheating, swiss!).

Friday, January 18, 2008

A taste of 'Scattering Eva'

I seem to be experiencing a windfall in great poetry books at the moment. I recently ordered James Sheard's Scattering Eva which is a breath-taking collection of poems.
The blurb on the sleeve says -

"...James Sheard takes on the subject of the individual in European history...the speakers of his poems brag, explain, confess, resign, but are always human in their concerns. What emerges is a series of poems like skeletal mechanisms, set ticking at those moments when his characters connect, however briefly or tangentially, with the forces that surround them".

This is poetry as I love it best: thick with imagery, and every line pared down to the minimum so every word used is necessary and intensly loaded.
European history becomes richly exotic where 'Old money smells of civet' and 'Its women oil pearls at nut-meg throats'. The astonishing impact Sheard attains in a single line reminds me of Plath. In his poem At Konstanz Sheard writes 'In the lock of land and heat / my thoughts drone slow as Zeppelins'.
It's taking me a while to read through the collection simply because each line of a poem sets my mind adrift into unfamiliar, rich landscapes.
Some more tasters from the poems - from Heading for Port Bou, 1939 'Behind us, Barcelona had broken open / like an egg, leaking poisons and rumour'. From The No-Sayer "the ward's flowerbruised brightness, / the slow blossoms /of hurt'. From Writing History 'Old towns laid with herringbone / drag our feet onwards, back'.
And finally from the poem Duet which is part of the Scattering Eva sequence which takes up the second half of the collection -

'Sometimes you would weave me
in crossing spotlight.
I would crawl in webbing,
in uptorn shrubs.

Later, I'd watch your ribs
rise and fall - sandbars
in a sloping tide.'

I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone and so would Sean O'Brien, recent winner of the T.S. Eliot prize, who wrote a raving review of it on the back cover.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

First Impressions of Soirbheas

Thanks to swiss for tempting me with a couple of postings of poems by Meg Bateman I'm now the delightfully happy owner of her latest collection Soirbheas (Fair Wind).
Never more than now do I regret that my mother never taught me Gaelic (because my father can't speak it). These poems are at once image-packed, dreamy, personal, passionate, very highland Scottish with a sharp and modern edge but I'm left wondering what's been lost in translation.
I only bought the book this morning and couldn't put it down (much to my one year old's annoyance). The intensity and weaving of grand themes with commonplace imagery reminds me a little of Ahkmatova's early collections. Though where I feel a surreal edge is gained through the translation of Ahkmatova's works I have a niggling feeling that something is being lost in the translation of these poems. Anyhow these are just first impressions from a mad rush read through the book. I'm immensely proud of their highland and island Scottishness and imagery so familiar to me in poems so beautiful, passionate and well written (though I wasn't raised there I was born in Stornoway and spent every long summer of my childhood on Lewis).
This book of poems will be glued to my hands for the near future!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Yippee I'm going to StAnza, a Scottish poetry festival! Well for a day and a half of it anyway!
Some of the speakers I hope to hear are Janice Galloway, Michael Schmidt, Alison Brackenbury and Kenneth White so I'm very much looking forward to it!

My first effort at writing Tanka poems. I've not kept to the 5-7-5-7-7 line syllable structure but tried instead to aim for the spirit of the form.

They weren't written with this pic in mind but do you think they work together?

Geisha Girl by George Henry