Sunday, December 21, 2008

I can't resist lists so when I read Colin's end of the year list of categories I decided to nick a bunch of them!

1)Best poetry collection - I've read many outstanding poetry collections this year but the one that really stood out for me is Douglas Dunn's Elegies. Obviously the collection was published long before 2008 but somehow I'd never got around to reading Dunn before. The subject matter, the understated grief and the technical skill makes these some of the most moving and beautiful sequence of poems I've ever read, they reduce me to tears every time.

2) Best single poem - This is a difficult one, it depends on how you interpret 'best'. The poem I'm going to pick for this category is one that has produced the strangest response in me to a poem yet: it made me want to throw up. I can't really explain this response, when I tell you the poem I'm sure you won't understand it either. Something about those last few lines turns my stomach every time I read it. The poem is Vicki Feaver's 'The Camellia House' from her collection The Book of Blood. Last night I had to stop reading the poem, I was that close to running to the bathroom! You might wonder why I would want to choose a poem that has such an unpleasant effect on me for this category - well I think any poem that can produce such a strong emotional or physical reaction (without using tricks of gory details) then it's doing what surely all writers dream of - affecting people.

3) Best poem I've written this year (for a given value of 'best') - I'm going to cheat slightly and mention a poem that I wrote in December last year. My poem 'Mother Nature House Hunting' was a real break-through for me. I'm not saying I think it's a spectacular poem or the best one I've written because it's neither of those two things. But it was the first poem I wrote which thoroughly surprised me and pretty much, in the last stanza, wrote itself. All of my previous poems were suffocated by my internal editor, in this poem I had found my muse (nature) and a freedom to write by ear, I discovered things about myself that I didn't know were there. I'll put a link up to the poem in February when it'll be published on-line.

4) Favourite non-poetry book - A few candidates for this and they are all Scottish (!!) what can I say - I've had a rather patriotic reading year! Scotland's Books by Robert Crawford and I have swiss to thank for pointing me towards that. Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon and probably also The Cone-Gatherers by Robin Jenkins - a very strange shortish book that has left my head full of weird images that I can't seem to shake which makes me want to go back and read it again.
5) Favourite place of the year - St Andrew's, last March at StAnza. It was my first visit to St. Andrews and I absolutely fell in love with the place.

6) Best events I've attended - The Kenneth White and the Janice Galloway events at StAnza. I loved listening to Kenneth White read his poetry, I can still hear his voice in my head when I read his poems. I've never heard anyone read prose the way Janice Galloway read it, she really came across as a fascinating and down-to-earth writer.

7) Best TV series - Spooks, for sure!

10 comments:

Jim Murdoch said...

After reading the effect 'The camelia house' had on you I was fascinated. What could be so graphic? So I read it and I'm afraid I skipped to the end first before reading the whole thing. Maybe I'm not the delicate flower I think I am. It made such perfect sense to me, the end. It smacks of a child's simplistic and indeed romanticised understanding of death. It's a very good poem.

Rob said...

I enjoy reading people's lists and yours has some interesting stuff. Your breakthrough poem sounds like good news in all kinds of ways. I wish there was some kind of formula for writing poems like that, but there isn't! It just seems to get harder and harder to write a good poem. But surprising yourself is what it's about, I think. Geoffrey Hill once wrote, "I write to surprise myself."

Frances said...

I admire the self awareness in recognising what is a breakthrough and what isn't. I still find it very difficult to judge my own work.

Sorlil said...

hi jim, you know, I never thought of that yet it it seems pretty obvious now! If I was into psychoanalysis I could think of a lot of things to say about my response, I was very close to my maternal grandmother and she used to cough up blood every morning.

Sorlil said...

thanks rob, it was a relief to make that breakthrough, you were kind enough to give me helpful advice at the time.

hi frances, we all write differently don't we, for years I had contrained myself in my writing and I really needed to breakthrough my own barriers.

Dave King said...

I, too,, am a sucker for lists. Don't know Vicki Feaver's 'The Camellia House', but will look it up. Thanks for broadening my horizon yet again.

Rachel Fox said...

Look forward to your Mother Nature poem in the new year.
x

Sorlil said...

thanks dave, it's a very good poem.

hi rachel, thanks, I hope you'll like it!!

Colin Will said...

1. I must find my copy of Vicki Feaver's book - I know I liked it, and
2. I look forward to reading your breakthrough poem. It sounds like something I used to call a 'splat' poem, where it somehow seems to write itself.

Sorlil said...

hi colin, thanks for the list suggestions. I hope I haven't bigged my poem up too much - I'll be too scared to link to it in case nobody likes it!!