Sunday, 27 November 2016

Vanguard #2 Poetry Anthology

In May of this year I read at Vanguard Readings, a monthly series (currently at the Peckham Pelican in south London) featuring sometimes poetry, sometimes prose, and sometimes both. These evenings are organised by Richard Skinner (novelist, poet and director of Faber Academy) and they have a friendly, non-hierarchical and varied vibe.

I was then delighted to be included in #2 Poetry Anthology, published by Vanguard Editions and featuring poets who have appeared at Vanguard. I'm in exceptionally good company in this anthology, with poets such as Catherine Ayres, Ian Duhig, Victoria Kennefick, Charles Lauder Jr, Kim Moore, Dan O'Brien, Rebecca Perry, Tara Skurtu, Kelley Swain and Tamar Yoseloff, among many others.

To find out which poem of mine is included you will have to buy the anthology, but I can tell you that it is one of my Sherlock Holmes poems.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Keith Douglas: 'The House'

Mysterious door by Scott Wylie. Used under Creative Commons license

This poem by Keith Douglas, 'The House', haunts me from time to time. It sometimes comes to mind when I think of houses associated with my childhood and the movement of memory within them, although it really functions on a more symbolic level.

It has the shifting personas and (il)logical leaps of a dream, but 'The House' seems to be mainly about the mysterious workings of imagination, what can impede it, and the at least occasional fear of every artist that creativity is departing, perhaps for good. In this respect, I think it may share a common theme with 'The God Abandons Antony' by CP Cavafy.

There is also a touch of TS Eliot in the disembodied voices and shadows. A copy of the poem exists in which Eliot had made marginal notes.

THE HOUSE (Keith Douglas)

I am a pillar of this house
of which it seems the whole is glass
likewise transparent to the touch
for men like weightless shadows march
ignorantly in at the bright portico
or through a wall serenely go
unnoticing: myself am like a mouse
and carefully inspect all those that pass.

I am the pillar about which
like a conjured spectacle, such
amazing walls and floors appeared
as in the house that devils made.
Yet this queer magnificence 
shows not to many, its defence
not being walls but in the property 
that it is thin as air and hard to see.

I am the pillar and again the one
walking a perpetual up-and-down
scrutinizing all these
substances, shadows on their ways
crowding or evacuating the place.
At times a voice singing, or a face
may seem suspended in the cunning air;
a voice by itself, a face traversing the stair
alone, like a mask of narrow porcelain.
These I introduce but lose again
which are of the imagination, or of air,
being in relation to the house, actually there
yet unreal till I meet with one
who has that creative stone
to turn alive, to turn all alive:
prospecting this is all the care I have.

In order of appearance chosen by chance
whether to speak, to sing, to play, or dance
to my mute invisible audience
many have performed here and gone hence.
Some have resided in the house a time
the best rooms were theirs, also for them
scents and decorations were introduced
and other visitors were refused.
But when for weeks, months no one came near
an unpleasant prompting of suspicious fear 
sent me climbing up to inspect the high
attic, where I made a curious discovery.
In this room which I had not entered for months
among the old pictures and bowls for hyacinths
and other refuse, I discovered the body
conventionally arranged, of a young lady
whom I admit I knew once, but had heard
declined in another country and there died.

Here's the strange fact, for here she lies.
If I but raise them my incredulous eyes
discern her, fairer now than when she lived
because on death her obscure beauty thrived;
the eyes turned to fine stones, the hair to flexible
gold, her flesh to the most natural marble,
until she's the most permanent thing
in this impermanent building
and to remove her I must use
some supernatural device
it seems: for I am forced to say
she arrived in a miraculous way.
I never studied such things; it will need a wiser
practitioner than me to exorcize her
but till the heart is dust and the gold head
disintegrates, I shall never hear the tread
of the visitors at whom I cannot guess,
the beautiful strangers, coming to my house.

                                                             Wickwar, Glos., 1941

Friday, 18 November 2016

The Open Eye: Five Years in Blogland

Photo by Clarissa Aykroyd, October 2016

Open one eye only - 
the horizon is in the closed eye.

-Nikola Madzirov

As of October, I have been blogging fairly regularly for over five years. It feels like longer, which may or may not be a good thing. This blog has, at various times, been a release, an obligation, a handshake, and a door. Here you can read my first blog post ever, which may give some indication as to why I chose the quote above. (Although it's only a partial indication, because the quote came to mind when I took the photo above - a piece of found art.)

I can see from early blog posts that I had a slightly more rigid approach in mind; or not rigid, exactly, but more of a template. Discuss a poem and then open it up to touch aspects of my life; or pick something in my life, write about it and then draw it down to a poem. This works quite well, and at times I still use this template, more or less. Perhaps I should use it more often - in terms of close reading, there are other blogs out there that put mine to shame.

But over the course of a few years, one of the things I have discovered in myself is a general interest in poetry as a concept - what it touches and what is touched by it - in other words, everything. I am quite capable of finding a particular poet's work, or a particular school of work (tellingly, I saw this referred to as 'factions' on Twitter today) uninteresting or unlikeable in a personal, aesthetic or moral sense. In terms of the part that this work or idea plays in poetry, however, it is always interesting - the breadth of poetry as a concept, and what it can come into contact with. And in this sense, the metaphor of the eye is especially important. Poetry is everywhere, so I have to keep my eyes open for it - except it doesn't just happen through the eye; it's every way in which we experience our self, other people and the world, every way in which we come into contact with the things within ourselves and the things outside of ourselves.

It has also been fascinating to see how my tastes have developed and which poets or poems I write about. Poets such as Yeats, Celan, MacNeice, Eliot and Keith Douglas come and go, except they never really go because even if I were never to read another word of their work, at this point they can never leave me. (As for Celan, I don't get tired of him - I just get tired.) But in this regard, the most essential thing is the fact that I have embraced poetry in translation. Poetry-wise, if one thing over the past five years has influenced not only my reading choices and my own writing, but my life in general - this is it. In the early stages of this blog, I was still very hesitant about reading poetry in translation. In this aspect and the progress I have made, I also owe a lot to Paul Celan, because he was there right at the beginning.

And then, over five years I have also come a long way with my own poetry, met some amazing people, and discovered a lot about what I love about the poetry world, and what I don't love. But that is another story and shall be told another time, as Michael Ende wrote in The Neverending Story.

If you are a reader, and especially if you are a regular reader, thank you so much for coming with me. When I started blogging, I wasn't sure if I even needed readers - but as it turns out, I really do.