I read last night in a basement bar in London's East End, as part of poet Declan Ryan's "Days of Roses" reading series. It's become one of the main fixtures of the young London poets underground scene. I was impressed with everything about the look and feel of the place - red walls, ska posters on the walls, a live DJ, a good mic - and an audience of attentive, stylish and alarmingly hip twentysomethings, the guys smart in skinny jeans, jackets and ties, the ladies in 40s/50s retro summer dresses with enough red lipstick to knock a B52 out of the sky. Some of the poets reading are among those I have been mentioning this week - including Kate Potts, and Sam Riviere. Other fine emerging poets, Jon Stone and Katrina Naomi read, too. Also in attendance was poet Liz Berry, who I am pleased to introduce to you today. Before I do, spare a thought for poor Gordon Brown, the embattled UK PM, who has just today made a major election gaffe by saying what he really thought of a sweet old lady on the campaign trail when a live lapel mic stayed on too long; this may hand the election to the Tories (or Lib-Dems).
Anyway, back from politics to The Blind Mice bar in Hoxton, and from there, rapidly, to this intro for Ms. Berry. For, Emily Berry (yesterday's featured poet) is not the only Berry in town. Liz Berry is another poet I was glad to include on the Oxfam DVD. When the director Jennifer Oey and I sat down to edit the film, we knew right away that we needed to start the readings with Liz's performance. She has one of those mesmerizing deliveries that captures an audience instantly. Liz Berry, like many of the young British poets, won an Eric Gregory award, in her case, in 2009. She has has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway. Her poems have appeared in magazines including Poetry Review, The North, Ambit, Poetry
As the previously unpublished, new poem of Liz Berry's below, shows, her work is an unnerving, and sometimes slyly charming, exploration of the erotic, and the romantic, as they intersect with darkness, innuendo, and the potentially taboo; like fairy-tales, or Lynch, the innocent surface or form of things is potentially always about to be ruffled by experience. Of course, one needs to read British poetry with one ear tuned to its subtle almost dog-whistle effects, for much of its violence and surprise occurs - unlike North American poems which seem to employ a broader register of statement - in the slightest variations played on common, polite speech, and with the English poetic tradition in mind. Decorum trembles like a bodice in Tom Jones.
Other recent poems of Berry's consider a human-dog love affair (elegantly and lyrically described) and a fishwife's salty honeymoon oysters. They're really love poems, but with a hint of lemon. or twist in the tail. Her work is among the most compelling being written by this younger generation, and, in its sense of extending the tradition of the erotic witty monologue developed by Duffy, and combining that with the intelligent moodiness of Paterson, is quietly ambitious, and exciting.
When you bought me a milk pan for Christmas
a woman at work said you were as romantic
as a stone. Watching you that evening,
I wondered what stone she had meant:
a chip of carpark gravel or something fancier
like the peridot in my mother’s engagement ring?
My interest in you became geological.
Pulling on your wellingtons to walk the dog in the rain,
you were granite, durable, funereal almost.
Under the water of the bath, you were the agate
I found on
and mottled as the skin of a seal.
At other times you seemed a rarer gem,
not emerald or topaz, nothing any other woman
would wear at her throat; but plainer, more lovely,
like the limestone walling the caverns back home
that purified the iron in blast furnaces
where keepers dripped jet from their beading brows.
And a man like that would never choose a rose
or a diamond ring, he’d stand for hours in a shop
on the coldest day, testing the unfamiliar weight
of a pan in his hand, assessing its metal,
imagining how the milk would taste on my tongue
as it poured, steaming, from that perfect lip.
poem by Liz Berry