I wanted to return to Pomes Flixus and considered ways of opening the book (again). This is one response to the question, which I realise I haven’t yet proposed… From 1970 or thereabouts, Maurice Lemaître’s Toujours à l’avant garde de l’avant garde jusqu’au paradis et au delà.
When we first moved to Wivenhoe, Essex, over six years ago now, my compass still pointed towards London. The railway was a thin chain, a line of landscape that linked our new home with our old home in the city. A combination of changing jobs, Network Rail’s interminable bus replacement services, and a general digging in to our new environment, has seen a shift made.
I wrote no poetry when I left London. I was touting a vaguely experimental novel, playing guitar and singing. Then, after a couple of years here, I started attending Poetry Wivenhoe‘s monthly evening of readings, at which a guest poet, local poet and open mic poets get up on stage for a couple of hours. After a few sessions, I started writing, and reading.
Last year, Scarecrow, a first collection of poetry, was published through me and Ella Johnston‘s own ‘small publishing concern’, Dunlin Press. I had some poems published in journals, too, and I read at poetry events across East Anglia, in London, and in Liverpool.
Wherever I thought I was when I arrived in Wivenhoe, I was not. Some of these thoughts made it into Scarecrow.
So where am I? I appear to have arrived amid a loose, but connected, sometimes neighbourly, sometimes geographically distanced, collective of supportive and curious minds – people who seek out, listen to, read, and most of all write poetry. Some of that poetry rhymes. Some of it doesn’t. Some of its meaning is straightforward and transparent. Some of it is oblique or opaque – a conundrum that doesn’t care whether it’s ever solved.
But what most of the poets I meet these days share, is the knowledge that what they do is outside of direct commercial concerns. It’s not usually seeking large audiences, or existing as some kind of a priori exercise in soliciting funding. That doesn’t mean it’s not good poetry. In fact I often feel the opposite. What it means is that it has other reasons for being. It is created because those who create it feel compelled to do so, compelled to describe – to interrogate, make ambiguous, reinterpret, reimagine – the world in which they live, perhaps for no other reason than they can.
Does poetry make you money? It’s a fair question. But why do you ask? It might help me if it did. But would it help you, too? There’s something about doing something that doesn’t offer financial return that really offends people.
In December, I headed back from Cumbria/The Lake District to Essex via Liverpool, to give a reading at the launch of issue two of Coast to Coast to Coast, a handstitched journal of poetry edited and produced by Maria Isakova Bennett and Michael Brown, in which I had a poem, Ways.
December is a busy time in the day-job for me, and I almost said no to going. In a week of travelling, Liverpool was an extra diversion. But there, at the Open Eye Gallery, were these people again. These poets, and an audience that had come to hear the poetry, reading and listening to the world being subtly reinvented, our understanding of the world being polished, muddied, sharpened, blunted.
It’s strange now, thinking of that high tension line I had drawn between Essex and London six-and-a-bit years ago. So direct, so certain. And now what? Well, it’s January and I’m back in Wivenhoe again. And this is good. Except I am also not here. It’s like everything is starting to be everywhere. And this is good too.
I’ve been rewarded this year by being introduced to the poetry of Billy Mills, whose recent The City Itself is one of those occasional collections that can make you question why you write the way you write. It simplifies the complex, and finds huge space for exploration in what is seemingly simple. It’s about place, and about the elemental and the supposedly insignificant, the particular and the universal, and the relations between them. It’s words, but it creates a soundscape – a rising and falling of the whispering air around us. It’s great, basically, and is part of a continuity of work Mills has been working on since the late 70s – a series of books that form one long book, or one long conversation/interrogation, at least.
Poet Michael Begnal notes here of The City Itself, its “compact and intricate soundplay, occasional lyric flashes, documentary historical material, and even personal narrative in order to make an argument about the interplay between urban and natural spaces and human beings’ place in the network of things.”
Nicely put, and one of the reasons why I’m delighted that Mills has reviewed my recent debut collection of poems, Scarecrow, on his Elliptical Movements blog, alongside work from Peter Philpott, Sonja Benskin Mesher, John Phillips, Daragh Breen, and Anna Cathenka.
You can read the reviews here. It’s a blog worth subscribing to.
In January the ferry marsh is spare. Nearby there are godwits, little egrets, cormorants and, present in their sorrowful call, redshanks.
It is dark at mid-afternoon, especially on the days when the sky starts charcoal and lightens to battleship grey – but no more.
At the writing desk the blinds are up and the silver birch is peeling; blue tits flit through it on their way to the woods. The train horns are reminder of the city; the concrete; the glass.
I have an old notebook with new writing – words, at least, nothing solid, though it is condensing, slowly. And I have a new diary pocked with ink-marks and scribbles.
Before the noise of new writing, though, there is something else. Something coming. Something that has been here for a while. A book.
The faces in anguish. The screams of a horse. The door of no exit. The eye of the blistered sun low as a ceiling bulb. The gasping bull that looks away. A glove for a hand – palm deep-lined. The screeching bird. The heavy mortal stagger of feet, the trampled flowers, the limp child in a mother’s paralysed arms. Flames from the rooftops and burning slate. A solitary candle thrust into despair. The cleaver pinned to the earth.
The dread contortions of life are frozen. That we made this altar is absurd. That we can forget it is the horror.
1 September 2015.
Global share prices tumble as visa checks are waived and bodies are washed up on a continent’s beaches. Dead. The stations and sports halls are full of refugees. We are learning new names and new vocabulary. There was no vocabulary for this. Old words are not sufficient. Very old words might just be. The images pile across front pages, television screens and media streams. They are not past or future, they are now. We are history and horror. A corner is turned. We plead for hope. Barbed wire barricades are to come.
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It was the week she discovered Bob Kaufman and read a poem of his (now forgotten) while the rain streaked across the window of her suburban flat. It was the week the cancer first looked ineluctably fatal.
The news streamed in dolefully: news of supporters and opponents, the disaffected and the quietly optimistic, as if they were some covert vigilante force, untrustworthy renegades all, double agents plenty.
The news was totemic, untouchable. The language was all wrong. The words she was hearing, the words that remained despite visits to the hospital – they were words beyond the window, beyond the rain.
NB: Geographies are distorted by culture, politics, capitalism etc. Spatial relations are always relative / in flux.
Wikipedia entry says the shrine is located next to the (more significant landmark?) Grand Hyatt hotel – also the Skytrain station (tourist advice).
ALSO: ‘The hotel’s construction was delayed by a series of mishaps, including cost overruns, injuries to laborers, and the loss of a shipload of Italian marble intended for the building. Furthermore, the Ratchaprasong intersection had once been used to put criminals on public display.’ ?
A cloth-wrapped pipe. Worshippers. A street full of tourists. Anti-government. Blood and chaos. Hospitals overburdened.
I am looking at the sky despite the clouds. I will not miss these moments. It is just me and my eyes. I have no telescope, no binoculars. I am looking at the sky, the night sky, through a mist of light pollution, into the occluded dark, here, so late and so early, standing alone for this fleeting chance. I am gazing into the stars to see fractured pieces of rock and ice as small as grains of sand. I am waiting for them to flare, to illuminate the ghost of a speeding comet. I am waiting for the gods.