Hello Best American Poetry! I'm thrilled to be guest-blogging here this week, and I'll be acting as your London Correspondent. (Right now it's cloudy and overcast, the chicken is about to go in the oven, Benny Goodman's on the iTunes and there's a persistent sound of Gameboy from the stairs in the hall...)
Editing in: I see now I've hit publish that there's no intro yet, but I'm five hours ahead of New York, and they did say the 15th! So I'll pull up my chair and stay.
Oscar Wilde famously said that England and America were two countries divided by a common language, and I guess it makes sense that poetry - being the furthest outpost of the language - would be a place where the two cultures really do go their different ways. So I'll be talking about some of the best - or at least most interesting and little-known - British poetry over the coming week, bearing in mind that I'm not attempting a complete overview! I'll just be talking about some things I like.
By way of introduction I'll respond to Don Share's post of last week about all the things he was carrying at AWP. I can't tell you what I carried at AWP but I can tell you what I carried around London.
First, like Don, a bag. My current handbag is an overarm number in cooked-spinach-green fake patent that opens wider than any other bag I've ever seen, like the mouth of a frog (but is quite tidy really). It does triple duty as handbag, overnight bag for when I stay with my significant other across town, and mobile office. I work full time in Central London; the "office" part is for my own writing. Here's what it had in it last week. Not ALL at once, but largely so, alas...
The flat compartment: a small pink leather notebook for jottings, a big black notebook with notes for the novel I never have time to work on. The letter my next-door neighbour wrote to complain about the terrible noise and attitude of my kids (teenagers eh), notes for a review of a new book by the London writer Iain Sinclair (of which more later!), a thick sheaf of poems I've been sending out (including my poem Richard Price), a subscription form for Poetry Salzburg Review, some postcards representing my book, my iBook. (Yes! I'm prematurely crippled, just as my teachers always said I would be. I can barely turn my head to the left anymore. Small price to pay.) A note to self, from the Sinclair book: "I wish," writes Mary Calvert to her husband Edward, away painting, "you would particularly regard the transparency of shadows."
Lucky Day, by Richard Price (Carcanet) - the UK poet, not the New York crime novelist or the 18th century Welsh moral philosopher
Millions of Strange Shadows, by Anthony Hecht
You Can't Take it With You, starring the young Jimmy Stewart, to lend to a friend
The round compartment: My purse (aka "wallet"), Pilot black or brown gel pens, silver fingerless gloves wrapped into a ball, my dark grey crocheted beret, a tupperware container of pasta with mushrooms, a jar of courgettes (zucchini) in olive oil, slices of bread in a plastic bag (twice), a tin of split (not spilt!) pea soup, my reading glasses, my computer glasses, tissues for my terrible cold, Strepsils for my terrible throat, ibuprofen for my terrible head, extra-powerful dissolving vitamins in a tube, dark chocolate, spare tights, make up bag (very beautiful, cream, from MAC), a Benefit powder compact and my old iPod mini (uncharged all week as keep forgetting to find the charger when I'm home). Hand cream (currently a hemp hand cream from the Body Shop; it's nice, but it makes my hands smell like ropes).
The pocket: my Oyster card (this gets you on the Tube, an uncharacteristic bit of poetic whimsy from Transport for London, as in "the world is my..."), my phone, my staple Chanel Rouge Noir lipstick, a red MAC lipstick I like to put on over it, a lip balm, a little Nina Ricci compact I've had for about eight years, my housekeys, tons of kirby grips, aka bobby pins. They stalk my days like ants, with their little wire bodies and weird little bobbles at the ends. I must have at least two in my hair at all times or I can't see. Coins.
(England is currently awash with pennies, for a very simple reason. To bail us out of the recession the government reduced VAT (the sales tax) from 17.5% to 15%, to encourage people to feel confident in their purchasing power. As a result the coffee bars have all put their prices down by about 3 pence. As a result one now spends one's mornings scrambling among all the pennies and 2p pieces in the bag, instead of simply handing over £1.65 or whatever and going one's way. Thanks, Gordon! I've even noticed more pennies on the pavements recently, and I'm not joking. No one even bothers to pick them up any more. I would, but I'm carrying too much.)
Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire by Iain Sinclair (Hamish Hamilton, £20) (571pp).
One day, a shoulder tote bag with spare boots in it. The heels are high and now I can't be bothered to carry them home.
Bags and bags of groceries. Oh the pain! I go everywhere by public transport, inadvertently fuelling (by it being true in my case) the old truism that poets don't drive.
Is that a truism in America? I don't see how it can be.