Here There Now Then – A Touch on the Remote

There are occasions when events from the past seem to become so fully present in the moment as we live it that it’s as if a gulf has been bridged between them. It’s a sort of redemption – though the events themselves may need no redeeming. What is salved is the permanent vanishing of the earlier through the intensity of attention accorded it by the later, perhaps especially so if our attention is manifested in language, a poem. There is an aspect here of Seamus Heaney’s idea of the redress of poetry which I ought to figure out more clearly.

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But I was left with thoughts such as these last week, having read for Dawn Gorman’s Words and Ears series of poetry readings in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire. We’d set it up many months ago and I had been looking forward to it especially as this is close to my home town, Trowbridge, and my mother’s childhood and adolescence were spent in Bradford. I was also delighted to be reading with Linda Saunders who has just published a new collection with Worple Press, A Touch on the Remote. I’d had a few meetings with Linda many years ago (in the 1980s) when she would go up to Oxford to visit my old friend and mentor, Tom Rawling. There were several workshops at his house, I think, in that peculiarly intense summer sunshine of the past, full of hope and literary expectation. Like much of Rawling’s work, the opening sequence of Saunder’s new collection is composed of poems concerned with acutely observed landscape – in several cases observed with an almost visionary sense of history . . .

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Linda Saunders

My mother was christened Bernice, first child of Graham and Elsie Hale in 1922. Her sister, Gwen, quickly followed. There was no immediate prospect of their leaving the White Hill house which was a one-up, one-down with attic. The two girls had to share the middle room with ‘Gran’ (as they called Elsie’s mother, Rhoda). They walked up White Hill to school at Christ Church. They skipped down to the sweet shop, to the ‘bake house’, to the centre of town. On Sundays they climbed Coppice Hill to the Methodist church and Sunday School.  In good weather, the two girls hooked their arms over the iron railings outside the house with Elsie in the doorway warning them not to stray far. They jumped up and down the high kerb stones, played whips and tops on the steep, quiet street. On wet days, they stared through the front window, across the roofs of the town below to the spire of Holy Trinity. Bernice was badly ill with scarlet fever when she was eight years old and for a long while afterwards was so weakened that she had to be helped everywhere in an old pushchair.

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Saunders’ own strong sense of history can be seen in ‘Washing the Horses’ where the narrator watches people who “sleek soap-lather” on their horses’ wet hides. A bit later, the horses dry off on the bankside, “bays, pintos, strawberry roans, a shetland / with a foal no taller than an Eohippus. // This has been happening forever”. In ‘The Bridge at Iford’, a couple kneel as if in a ritual act, “like pilgrims” to watch the water flow under the bridge, themselves being watched by statues of “Greco-Roman deities”. Then the arrival of a newly-betrothed couple for photographs at the picturesque scene leads to thoughts of the future too – “Live happily. I think to them in passing, / ever after – the wish as ultrasonic as / the pipistrelle’s twitter”.

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The Bridge at Iford Manor

The narrator’s image of the pipistrelle bat’s piercing signal could serve as one of the key images in Saunders’ work. Elsewhere she jokes about the onset of deafness: “Something I say, something she said / flies past us into the wood” (‘Hidden Valley’). It’s these forms of strained/successful communications across time and across distance (with a son living in the USA) that also provide material for a later sequence of poems: “I see him stepping over the door sill / across a crack of time” (‘Into the Blue’).

We would squeeze into the Standard 10 to visit my grandparents on Winsley Road, Bradford. It was a dark, terraced house which had an immense front garden with a pleasingly straight path from the front gate to the door in the centre of the facade. This path was lined with planted borders, the earth heaping up from the lower level of the path and there were roses and vegetables elsewhere and I am sure an allotment somewhere. At the back of the house was a tiny yard containing the outdoor toilet, a fascinatingly musty dark cramped garden shed, a sweltering little green house which seemed always full of tomato plants. There was also a raised piece of grass – you could not call it a lawn – where we tried to play football or cricket but the risk of the low walls was really too great. Instead, we often played on that long front path; Corgi cars pushed to and fro as we breathed in the acrid-sweet smell of lush cushions of blooming white alyssum.

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Saunders’ background is in History of Art as well as literature. You can see this in ‘Reserve’ where she describes the processes of a painter preparing the ground for an object on the canvas, in this case an apple. The poet is interested in the absence, the vast potentiality before the object appears: “There are moments I sense // the inter-touch of me with everything – / this unselving reach”. During the Words and Ears evening, I read a number of poems from my Daodejing versions which also suggest that such an “unselving” might prove a happier and more fulfilling line to take in life. With our own “unselving”, the more aware we become of our surroundings, our context in both space and time.

It is Saturday tea – laid out on the living room table. There is a second front room hardly ever used which, if you open the door and peer in, feels chilled, dark, a little musty and formal and a baffling waste of space. We sit round the table and eat sandwiches, perhaps crumpets, malt loaf, Victoria sponge or the pink and yellow check of Battenberg cake which I loathe because of the marzipan covering. Nan or Mum often slice the rounded ribbed milk loaf that I have never seen anywhere else, turning it on its end and slicing horizontally, perilously.

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In ‘Love Portrait’, Saunders describes a window on another canvas as yet “unpainted”. She wonders “could this be the light that slips / past time”. Because the artist has yet to define it, perhaps this is also the light that communicates between times.

We wore short trousers, of course, and I still can feel the way the thick dark tablecloth with its tasselled edges brushed my thighs making me want to scratch them. Elsie’s husband, Graham, was a quiet mild man, always limping because of a shrapnel wound in the leg from the battle of the Somme. He sang in a local choir, had worked all his life at Nestle in Staverton, gardened keenly and seemed a loving husband and father though to us he was a rather remote, taciturn grandfather. Just once he exploded at us for something I have now forgotten – perhaps just making too much noise or not clearing the table of toys or drawing books quickly enough when he wanted to swing the heavy cloth across it in readiness for the meal. Given his generally gentle demeanour, his blazing, brutal anger astonished and appalled us.

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The final poem of Saunders collection is ‘Stepping Stones’. Another artist, a sculptor this time, makes “foot-shapes of stone”: “The child found them one at a time, / spotting the next from where she stood on the last / up to her thighs in seedheads and buttercups. / Where will they go? she asked the sculptor”. They lead onwards inevitably into the next moment, then the next – but to live wholly in the present, only in a language composed of present participles, is a form of dementia, a quite different and destructive form of “unselving”. Our making sense of things requires our awareness and exploration of the temporal.

Olivia Byard’s ‘ The Wilding Eye’ reviewed

I confess to being unacquainted with Olivia Byard’s work before I was paired to read with her at last year’s Cheltenham Poetry Festival. We had both just had new books from the always enterprising Worple Press. I read with her again last week at Oxford’s Albion Beatnik Bookshop. I wanted to try to convey something of her methods and concerns in this blog.

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In The Wilding Eye, Worple Press have gathered new poems and others selected from Byard’s previous two collections, From a Benediction (Peterloo, 1997) and Strange Horses (Flambard, 2011). Her work ranges from vivid evocations of childhood scenes, to mythic treatments of subterranean psychic hurt, sketches of domestic exchanges, more politically engaged poems and (recently) a more expansive concern with our relationship with nature. Her work is hard to pigeon-hole but acclaim from the likes of Les Murray and Bernard O’Donoghue is well deserved.

Some of those hyper-lit childhood scenes appear in ‘From Benediction’ which is a brilliantly detailed account of a child’s encounters with an eccentric, kindly grandfather. But even though his “disembodied” false teeth are more likely to be caught smiling “in their cut-glass jar”, it does not take a very close read of the poem to sense unease. The child is “trapped outside” her grandfather’s room, yet inside the furniture looms like “black giants” and dolls are trapped in “glass cases”. ‘Without Blessing’ reinforces this sense that all is not well. Why should the two sisters be sleeping in “Aunt Audrey’s bed” at all? Where are the parents? Are they perhaps part of the “razzle dazzle beyond the door”? Why should one sister be happily “abandoned” to sleep while the narrator eyes the mirror, all too awake, eying a “dark opponent” there? All she can think of are “stratagems for escape” yet memory reminds her any attempt at flight is “futile”. When the word “menaced” finally arrives as a way of describing her state of mind it is the wholly appropriate one.

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‘Theft’ is more explicit. “Her childhood was thieved”. These were bold poems in 1997, four years before Pascale Petit’s The Zoo Father (Seren). But Byard does not allow herself to be wholly defined by past events. Whatever their source, the wounds send out shock waves that surface variously. Here as a strange fascination with a schoolgirl’s traffic accident, now in the landscape of Lake Huron, now in the way Byard is drawn to characters from Christian myth (Christ, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Lilith, Lazarus) all of whom are co-opted into micro-dramas of pain and survival. Magdalene is just the most obvious example of this with her mouth’s “bruised hole battered / by harsh sounds” and in a second poem the character herself speaks out: “My nature haunts you; it wrecks / your peace”.

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Yet Magdalene is partly addressing men (surely the root of disturbance) and what she demands is some self-knowledge, or at least less blindness. She says “Search for where I reside in you”. But the re-making of the masculine ego is not really Byard’s preoccupation in her poems. Instead, there is an internalising of what she calls plainly the “dark side”. ‘Whores in Amsterdam’ is a memorable poem as the female narrator watches the sex workers closely, she imagines their thoughts – then returns the next day to do exactly the same again. Why? Perhaps “to learn the limits of my own dark side”. Or perhaps “to hide”. Many poems from Byard’s second book, Strange Horses, pursue this sense of the dark carried unwillingly, but inevitably within ourselves. ‘Mappa Mundi’ half-mockingly records the strange mythic creatures illustrated on the map but quite seriously concludes with the wish to forget “our roaming monsters”. ‘The Torturer’s Horse’ revisits Auden’s ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’ only to locate the root of worry, blood and unease in “you or me”.

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In another ekphrastic piece on Piero di Cosimo’s ‘The Forest Fire’, the beasts fleeing the fire – many of them with human faces – are plainly identified as our own nightmares, briefly dislodged but all too soon returning into the mind’s undergrowth, to lie in wait again, “for the dark dreams to quicken”. And such darknesses can be set loose at the slightest provocation. In ‘At the Kennels’, a casual comment about the dogs is made: “they never really / forget abuse” and a delirious, Plathian, nightmarish torrent of images is released, culminating in “a twitching thing” attached to an ECT machine. In part, it is the presence of, perhaps the responsibility for, the needy creature in the narrator’s arms that steadies the situation on this occasion, enabling a homecoming where, in a more assertive tone, deftly managing the shift from literal to figurative, we are told “I throw open the windows. / Everywhere, I throw open windows”.

Each of Byard’s collections contains cave dwellers. ‘At Ruffignac’ (1997) has the narrator time-transporting to watch the cave painters at their “serious joy”, secluded, secretive, their art a translation or distillation to be held aloof from the outer world. In ‘The Horse at Ystradfellte’ (2011) the outer world is again an almost fairy-tale-like, maze-like rummage and bustle in contrast to the small white horse image, “whole, complete, protected / from marauding eyes” in the cave. Interestingly, in ‘Homo Erectus’ (2015), the bustle of the world is this time presented more satirically through big-bummed, munching cave-men, who seem intent on excluding those who do not fit in. The poem notes the old, the hobbling, the dim, the infertile. And one other outsider: the needlessly observant one who stops, distracted from the merely necessary, to watch a bird, only to be “irredeemably entranced / by breath and song”.

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Poets like to dramatise themselves as neglected heroes; we like to believe our ‘useless’ art has its uses. In the unfolding drama of Olivia Byard’s speleological sequence of poems, I can’t help but read the more recent access to light and air, to bird song and branches, as a further metaphorical opening of psychic windows. And it’s not merely in the acquisition of a new household pet that the new poems lean upon the natural world. ‘Inheritance’ lists a plethora of natural details in a celebratory tone as something “not withheld” and nature’s gifts prove a likely “fresh furrow” in ‘Wood’. In ‘The Wilding Eye’ itself, the abandonment of the manicured lawn to unregimented disorder is in part ecological, part psychical as years of trimming, reserve and restriction give way to “great / gulping breaths, of sweet riot /  and tangle”.

There is real delight in Byard’s recent poems, all the more powerfully felt for the sense (after DH Lawrence) of ‘Look, we have come through!’ The gifts of nature (and the need to protect them) are foremost in this but ‘Besetting Sins’ (despite its title) also triumphantly expresses a far less corrosive, self-critical assessment of mankind’s – of this particular poet’s – “wonky wings, wrong angles, pratfalls”. We may know happiness begins in forgiving ourselves but it may prove an almighty struggle towards that point at which “it’s time / to turn, be returned” (‘Way Out’).

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Visiting Cheltenham Poetry Festival 2015

Piles and piles of books: literally covering the walls of the room. Shelves labelled children’s books, philosophy, modern novels, poetry, drama, politics – my eye catches a tottering stack of those old Ladybird books I used to love to read as a kid: evocative pictures of Stone Age man bringing down a mammoth, of happy passengers on modes of public transport, of prisoners from the American Civil War. Well OK – the back room of an Oxfam book store may not seem the most pre-possessing place to listen to poetry, but there are worse, such as scrubbed-sterile galleries, cramped cellar-spaces, overly reverent thee-ay-ters, noisy pub rooms. This place – it’s in Cheltenham town centre, at the Poetry Festival – has the live feel of untidy contingency, of work in progress, a vibrant culture that is literate, ideas and books readily swopped to and fro. That feels right. Piles and piles of books in transit from one hand to another.

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Olivia Byard and MC at Cheltenham Poetry Festival

I was there on Saturday afternoon reading with Olivia Byard, both presenting work from the great Worple Press. Following our own performances there was the launch of The Other Side of Sleep, an anthology devoted to longer narrative poems. Published by Arachne Press, it’s intended as a welcome antidote to all those competitions that stipulate the standardised ‘no more than 40 lines’. Cherry Potts, the editor, introduced several voices. Jeremy Dixon read an entertaining piece about serving customers in Boots which was funny and (appropriately) repetitive – “Would you like a bag with that? Please enter your PIN”. Apart from writing his own work Jeremy produces intriguing, limited edition books at Hazard Press. Kate Foley was disappointingly unable to read her long poem (a double disappointment to me as she had also been unable to attend the recent Torriano Poetry Competition award evening I hosted in London (read my blog about the evening here).

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Angela France read a fascinating poem about a story teller’s life that she cast in the form of a crown of sonnets, or corona. Wikipedia: a sequence of 14 sonnets concerned with a single theme, each linked to the preceding and succeeding sonnets by repeating the final line of the preceding sonnet as its first line. The first line of the first sonnet is repeated as the final line of the final sonnet, thereby bringing the sequence to a close. She read beautifully and with great pacing and conviction. Math Jones (a self-declared pagan) read from ‘Grithspell’, full of declarative lines and much spitting in which gods (rather belligerently to my ear) declared an end to war. In contrast, Bernie Howley (a relative new-comer to poetry) read ‘I Have No Feet’, a poem about leaping off a cliff into an Italian pool, while just behind her stood a banner with Emily Dickinson’s declaration about feeling the top of your head coming off.

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After a coffee break mid-afternoon, an event called ‘The Minotaur is Not a Monster’ featured Myra Schneider (from whose recent Enitharmon book, The Door to Colour, the event title was taken) reading alongside Anna Saunders, poet, Executive Director and Founder of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival. Myra’s work (an earlier book reviewed here) is firmly based in the real world yet capable of addressing the yearnings and concerns of the spirit, as revealed in her reading of ‘Oranges’. In Crete, on one of those coach trips round the island, groups ushered in and out of suitable sites of interest – on this occasion a café and orange grove. As a leaving gift: “a giant orange with bumps, dents, niggles / and an off-beat attempt at rotundity, / a fruit unabashed by its rusticity”. Schneider’s work shares that same unabashed quality as the poem’s narrator later stuffs her mouth with huge orange segments, juice spurting all over the sheets. But this is no sensual liberation (or not that only). The taste is as much evocative of hard work, ritual, friendship, “those rare moments / when silence suspends the ordinary / and the unattainable seems within reach”.

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One of Saunders’ poems, ‘Silks’, is rather more steamy in its sensuality and shape-shifting. A female eye; the male as snail, belly down, as “if the earth were using him / for an accordion”. A little stroking makes him “rise”, morph into butterfly, pupa, silk-worm, perhaps back to snail, its trail leaving behind his “pearlescent signature scribbled / from wall to door”. Saunder’s poems are fast-moving, flash-edited, pronouns and main verbs often jettisoned as scurf. She was a bit awkwardly introduced as a poet who had greatly improved – rightly Bernard O’Donaghue has admired her original and fresh technique – and no-one listening on Saturday would gainsay that.

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Earlier in the afternoon, Olivia Byard had read from her new and selected poems from Worple Press, The Wilding Eye: here. The title poem boldly trashes thousands of “years of husbandry” (the latter being the right word on several counts) in deciding to allow a manicured lawn to go wild. Within a couple of weeks it bears a “crown” of daisies, a “spurt of purple bloom”. One of the barriers being dismantled here is language as the very word “lawn” is forgotten, enthusiasm ramping up to addiction with each “new fix – of the rough / tough leggy fallow”. This is a ‘zoom’ poem, rapidly propelled without a backward glance towards a new world, ending breathlessly, jaggedly, venturing personal and ecological liberties, “gulping breaths, of sweet riot / and tangle”. Exciting stuff – and appropriate too as Saturday also saw the launch of Dear World, the Festival anthology with a preface by Andrew Motion. It’s sponsored by the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England (Motion is their current President) and he argues, nodding to Wordsworth and Clare, that “big pictures are made of small details”, the ecological health of our world is reliant on the kind of observational attentiveness reflected in the writing of a poem: “use this book to inspire [. . .] to redouble our efforts to say why the countryside matters, and why it needs defending”.

Earlier, I had the pleasure of reading from my own Worple sequence, A Hatfield Mass, subtitled ‘voice and shape in an English landscape’: here.

Back to London later, exhausted . . .

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Ecology and Poetry: Review of Michael McKimm’s ‘Fossil Sunshine’

I met Michael McKimm earlier this year – at the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair in September 2014. His chapbook, Fossil Sunshine (Worple Press, 2013) interested me because much has been said in the last few years about how poetry has embraced science. This is one plank of the argument that also declares poetry has embraced popular culture, or the world and language of IT, the law, or maybe banking. Yes, poetry is keen to annex what it can. And I would happily sign up to the general principle that poetry’s health can feasibly be measured by the range of experience it can encompass. In times of feebleness poems are stuntedly concerned with poetic subjects, poetic diction; in periods of strength, there is a great sense of traction and encompassment, that anything will give itself to the poet.

Perhaps we are on the cusp of one of these latter moments; reading Nathan Hamilton’s 2013 Bloodaxe anthology (note the wide embrace of the title) Dear World & Everyone In It you might get that feeling. And guess what: Michael McKimm appears on page 90 and Fossil Sunshine really is differently-angled to most of the collections you’ll have read recently. These poems are the result of a year-long collaboration with earth scientists, in a project funded by Arts Council England. Drawing on fieldwork with geologists, the poems explore the relationships between geology, the oil industry and climate change, and (Worple’s blurb says) they ask what the evidence held in the geological record can teach us. The blurb goes on: “From ice ages to landslides, oil spills to geo-engineering, Fossil Sunshine captures the language of geology, as well as the energy and drive of exploration and discovery”.

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Given its subject, the book inevitably has an admonitory tone. But one of the problems with poetry’s annexing more and still more was noted by Keats and his response was to loathe anything poetic that has a palpable, didactic design upon us. Indeed, the poetic and didactic are mutually exclusive for him. Poetry is a realm (perhaps unique) where life’s genuine truth and beauty (simply that it is full of shades and ambiguity) can be expressed and relished without any irritable reaching after clarity and fact. What I like so much about McKimm’s poems is that they would also have pleased Keats on this count. They are vigorous, ambiguous and even visionary. In them we see mankind’s power as much as our malign influence, the frailty of nature as much as its resilience. They want us to think about these issues, but will not do the thinking for us.

‘Tertiary Basalts’ describes its igneous subject as “Crow black, slick as onions, or walk-on-nails / tough”. It’s in part a child’s eye view (“A thick burnt red / running through like a layer of jam”) and the narrator admits that rock like this would give his earlier self “more pictures than the clouds”. But McKimm does not ironise the child’s vision but combines it with an adult understanding of the rock’s creation to make a more rounded celebration of the natural world. ‘Holderness Boulder Clay’ does something similar as it vigorously describes the sea’s biting away at the friable coastal reaches till “a fencepost hang[s] from a whip / of wire, and plastic drainage pipes / [are] like pillarbox guns”. Whatever warnings are here they are buried in the figurative language – the whip, the gun. The poem is a tour de force of minute particulars; I’ve never felt so close to the ebb and flow, the nibbling of erosion, the swirl of “gobstoppers of granite, sandstone, / Norwegian porphyry, carnelian”. Elsewhere (in prose this time), someone called Stuart takes a little hammer to a chunk of Yorkshire chalk and skilfully unearths a fossil sea sponge: “Laosciadia Planus. I weighed it in my hand.” And like a time machine, suddenly Bridlington with its Pitch and Putt course vanishes to be replaced by a vision of the past: “Sea conifers, angiosperms. The whole place electric with reptiles”.

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Only someone much concerned with the environment could bring the natural world – both present and past – so vividly into poetry. Someone like that could not fail to express concern at our interventions in the world. A scattered sequence of poems, each called ‘Abstract from a Conference’, expresses this concern. The first explains that coal, oil, gas are anciently stored sunshine that we have since “sought with our intelligence / and drive”. Our brilliance has long been to our benefit but . . . “Is it possible, a soft // landing for civilisation? We were smart. / How smart do we now want to be?” The ‘Abstract’ in the title to these poems perhaps permits more didacticism than elsewhere: abstract as summary, abstract as form of language. Yet even here there is an awed sense of ourselves: “Survivalists, stewards of the biosphere, / from nothing we grew”. Where did we go wrong? We “thought of ourselves”. Perhaps little else. And for a while, “where was the harm in that? – / as the mighty river’s arteries flowed past.” ‘Pipeline’ is another sustained performance, a description of the route of a North American oil pipeline. Detail is put to use to suggest both the varieties of landscape it passes through as well as the ingenuity of its builders: “without even a pit stop it’s pierced Manitoba, / steady trajectory, knows where it’s going”.

So McKimm’s images are often carefully laid down, alive, at the borders of ambiguity. Yet the descriptive drive of the book pulls no punches when it comes to the mess we have made of things. Here are “the basics: deforestation, fallow lands, / tilling, terracing, irrigation systems, subsurface // water extraction, mining, transportation systems, / waterway re-plumbing, reservoir interception, // groynes, jetties, seawalls, breakwaters, harbours, / warfare”. Even a small scale ‘Oil Field’, apparently landscaped into a natural environment, is regarded, or rather listened to, with suspicion: “the beam pump’s / gentle purr, like an antique Singer threaded / through with jet, working with a rhythm / you would never think so peaceful or so clean”. At the living room table, my mother would propel an old Singer like this, an image perhaps of technology taken so far, only to be wrenched further still (the thread through this machine not homely cotton, but the more sinister thread of an oil jet).

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Andrew McCulloch’s review in the TLS concluded: “Read these poems!” Penelope Shuttle has written: “The language employed by this poet is powerfully tactile.  These are strong and in every sense grounded poems”. ‘Grounded’ is a worthy pun, of course, as much about McKimm’s language and tone as about his rocky, muddy, sandy subject matter. I’d recommend these poems, for their grit and grain as much as their environmental concerns, for their humble belief in human ingenuity as much as their clear-eyed warning about where it seems to be taking us.

The Launch of ‘Magma’ 60 at LRB bookshop

Last Friday night I read briefly (partly from my Worple Press book: https://martyncrucefix.com/publications/a-hatfield-mass/) at the LRB bookshop, 14 Bury Place, London WC1A 2JL (in fact just doors along from Enitharmon Press’ new offices). It was the launch of Magma magazine’s new issue (http://magmapoetry.com/). Magma really has become one of the must-read magazines in UK poetry and the event was one of two national launches (the other is on Thursday 11 December at 7pm at the Lit & Phil, 23 Westgate Rd, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 1SE, with guest reader Sean O’Brien). The LRB is a spectacularly good bookshop but you feel acutely the vanishing of bookshops elsewhere – to be surrounded by shelves of ‘proper’ books is a real pleasure, distressingly beginning to take on the quality of a sepia-tinted memory. Yet, as one of the readers commented, this is a dangerous place to visit if you’re not prepared to part with hard cash: so many temptations. It’s also a good place for a reading: chairs from front to back on the ground floor, seating well over 50, and on Friday it was packed.

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Magma 60 is edited by Rob A. Mackenzie and Tony Williams (one of the good and distinctive things about the magazine is its rolling editorship) and 19 poets were asked to read a couple of poems each, with Kei Miller putting in a longer shift at the end as guest poet. Among others, Peter Daniels’ poems evoked a quiet, desperate sense of things not holding, of wider societal failing (‘you might discover you’re painting the house / while the other side’s on fire’). Jacqueline Saphra remembered being seventeen and then dealing with her own seventeen-year olds, boys and girls, the latter crying from their rooms, ‘Come in, I won’t let you in, Come in’. Michael Henry recalled Finals exams and wanting to write about Brecht, which he does in his poem ‘Agent provocateur’: ‘The Brechtian grape is a dry white grape / and it tastes like the white corpuscles in blood’. Martha Sprackland and Jasmine Simms found common ground and a source of poetry in drifting off in science classes at school (I remember it well).

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John Greening read about visiting the archaeological dig at Sutton Hoo and an intriguing poem about ‘The Battle of Maldon’ which knowingly fails to offer ‘an explanation // of what happens in the end [. . .] about how     whatever it is     was broken’. DA Prince also evoked an earlier age with ‘The bell-makers’ reminding me of sequences from Tarkovsky’s film Andrei Rublev (1966): ‘the brilliant blistering light, / that cataract of blazing air, the stream / of liquid pain’. Karen Leeder presented new translations of German poet, Volker Braun. Braun was writing in part through the upheavals of 1989, exploring the triumph of capitalism: ‘EVERYTHING AND NOTHING / Was it ever really yours? Fuck you, fantasist. / The encore: all that you could never need!’ (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rubble-Flora-Selected-Seagull-German/dp/0857422189/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417365225&sr=1-1&keywords=volker+braun).

At the end of the first half, Gwen Adshead, a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist who works in secure hospitals, talked about her work and love of Philip Larkin’s poetry and read ‘Talking in Bed’ (one of my own Larkin favourites; see below). Kei Miller’s live delivery illuminates and energises his own words on the page. I’ve written more about his prize-winning The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion (Carcanet) on this blog (https://martyncrucefix.com/2014/10/22/kei-millers-cartographer-and-friels-translations/). He read several of the Place Name pieces, the poem where the Cartographer asks for directions and gets indirections instead (‘all true’ Kei said), the ‘Hymn to the Birds’ and the 28,000 rubber ducks poem which moves (almost imperceptibly) from children’s bath toys to captives lost overboard on trans-Atlantic passages years ago. Miller finished with his short poem ‘Distance’ which seemed to be something of an answer to Larkin’s poem chosen by Gwen Adshead; here are the two of them. . .

Talking in bed

Talking in bed ought to be easiest,

Lying together there goes back so far,

An emblem of two people being honest.

Yet more and more time passes silently.

Outside, the wind’s incomplete unrest

Builds and disperses clouds in the sky,

And dark towns heap up on the horizon.

None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why

At this unique distance from isolation

It becomes still more difficult to find

Words at once true and kind,

Or not untrue and not unkind.

Distance

Distance is always reduced at night

The drive from Kingston to Montego Bay is not so far

Nor the distance between ourselves and the stars

And at night there is almost nothing between

The things we say, and the things we mean.

A Hatfield Mass – proof

Have just sent off the final proofs for the second of my chapbooks/pamphlets to appear this summer. This one is from Worple press and has its roots works by Henry Moore, originally displayed in the grounds of Hatfield House in 2011 has this lovely cover . . .

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Worple were keen for me to include a brief Note about the poems that begins like this . .

Rimbaud suggests our openness to life, the unearned pleasures of the child, begin to close off around the age of seven. The rigidity of the maturing self, the closing in of solipsism is something from which these poems look to be rescued or relieved.

 Salvation lies in the movement towards flexure with or accommodation of the world about us, the subjective becoming interconnected, melded with the objective world . . .