I had a wonderful May Day party at my flat in Maida Vale today, to celebrate, among other things, a housewarming, and a recovery from ill health; many friends gathered, and, as the weather turned, and rain bucketed down, we came inside, until midnight (GMT) for tea and wine. Many poets attended, including Alan Brownjohn, Tim Dooley, Denise Riley, Barbara Marsh, Kathryn Maris, Nancy Mattson, Mike Bartholomew-Biggs, Emily Berry, Katrina Naomi, Leah Fritz, Giles Goodland, Mr Social Control, Liane Strauss, Ashok Bery and Kavita Joshi. However, as I began to contemplate this, my last guest blog, I became a little wary. Surely, there is something ill-timed about shipping poems from Britain to America at a time when British Petroleum is destroying a way of life for many Americans. As I am no supporter of the oil industry, and neither are the final three poets I wish to share with you tonight, I can only say that we are very sorry to see such a human disaster visited upon you, and wish you a very speedy recovery from this terrible spill.
Over the last week, I've wanted to share varieties of new (and emerging) British poetry with readers of this important blog. At the beginning of the week, I suggested a tentative list of 25 poets worth following as their work develops. I might have let that list drift to 40, and added poets like Jay Bernard, Ben Wilkinson, Camelia Stafford, Jon Stone, Ahren Warner, Katrina Naomi, Sam Jackson, Declan Ryan, Christopher Horton, and several others. The point being - there isn't yet a definitive shorter list of who "the next next generation" will be in the UK - partly because the current period is remarkably fecund, volatile, and under-studied. One of the paradoxes of Digital Age poetry is that, as we know, there are more poets than readers, but, even more to the point, more good poets than "bad ones". This democracy and wide spread of ability and quality leads to "a good thing" - lots of good poems - but also can tempt critics, and readers alike, into avoiding the harder work of winnowing. Not to exclude, but to allow extra attention to be applied to certain poets and texts, if only so that some poems get studied, read again, and memorised.
On reading the recent anthology Identity Parade, I remarked that while it contained work by several major poets (Alice Oswald, for one), and several very important newer poets (Jacob Polley, Daljit Nagra, and Patience Agbabi, for instance), it had few poems that marked this period as instantly "great" - that is it had many very good poems, but only a handful that were (or seemed to be immediately) extraordinary, in canonical terms. In Britain, the emphasis on the brief lyric poem concentrates the idea of such a focus, because New Criticism celebrated these lyric poems most of all, as well. It may be impossible to compare one age with another, one period and another, but have the 00s produced a dozen British poems as impressive as those of the 70s - one thinks of poems by Ian Hamilton, Ted Hughes, Larkin, and Heaney? They have, it must be assumed. What is required, and it may take time, is for a critical argument to be made, to support such a position, and to offer the evidence, the poems that truly move and inspire.
George Ttoouli is an Honorary Teaching Fellow for the Warwick Writing Programme and a freelance editor. His articles, reviews, poems and short fiction have been published widely. He co-edits Gists and Pithswith Simon Turner, an experiment in poetry e-zining. He is Reviews Editor of Horizon Review.
His debut collection of poetry is Static Exile (Penned in the Margins, 2009) and he has a pamphlet, UN-Affiliated, forthcoming in summer 2010 from Nine Arches Press. He also appeared on the Asking A Shadow To Dance DVD. He's one of the more impressive of the younger avant-garde poets now writing in the UK.
AN ABSENCE OF OMENS, INTERPRETED AS DAMNING
The skies are copied, east across to west
and the horizon is an empty slit
spread open around the island’s flesh.
The yeros in the cafés think the country’s blessed;
they’re reading coffee dregs and taking bets
where skies are copied, east across to west.
And the fishermen think they know best,
they’ll soon find swordfish in the empty nets
they spread around the island’s flesh.
The women sit and prophesy a mesh
of broider, on which their hands will try to fit
the copied skies, east across to west
and I sit here blind to suckle kittens at my breast,
imagining the crow cries that
will spread across the island’s flesh
and though I thought to find a palimpsest,
iodine has only cleaned these cuts:
the skies are copied, east across to west,
spread open around the island’s flesh.
poem by George Ttoouli
Kate Potts lives in London and has taught in Further and Adult Education for several years. Her poems have appeared in various magazines including Ambit, Magma, Poetry Wales and The Wolf. Her work also features in Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century. Her first pamphlet Whichever Musicwas a Poetry Book Society Choice and was shortlisted for the inaugural Michael Marks Awards for pamphlets. In 2009 she received an Arts Council England grant to assist with her first full-length collection, which has recently been accepted by Bloodaxe. She was also selected to appear on the Oxfam DVD. I heard her read this poem on Tuesday night at the Days of Roses event.
Begin with a blank sheet – like plash, night-drizzle, the white-wraith splinter of breakers on shingle. They sail in close to the land. Stowed in the darkwood bows, he starts at the grating of the boom’s swing, the deck crew’s stamping lunge. The salt-bite of his smallness is cupped in that nutshell, that bobbing tin-toy ship. Water tips and distends its horizons. He has no characters – no ink-swipe or gauged mark – to chart this.
A week of trek away, inland, a child wakes, sees it’s early and drifts off, again, into the shallowed heat of their breathings – his siblings – their language: hickory, deer pelt, moss and wold. Outside, the embers glower and cluck.
The empty map, in its beginning, is junked canvas, scraps, hanks of linen, hemp and flax hacked and pulped, each cellulose fibre forced – old bonds re-aligned in bleached, pressed skin. He’s dreamed the land they near as anthracite and bones, and a new sphere sleeps, total and unfaulted. He’ll trace it onto the white. The day baulks still, cat-thin, demurring. Soon, it’ll shoal in, nipping his hard heels. The paper leaf – the topsheet – is lined up, a regular cut, smelling of nothing.
poem by Kate Potts
Zoë Brigley is a Celtic writer who grew up in Wales
The atlas-eater with a jaw for news,
Bit out the mandrake with tomorrow’s scream.
-Dylan Thomas, ‘Altarwise by Owl-Light’
In atlas charts and longitudes, in plots
and plans and latitudes, the new found land
gives up its lard for the fattening
of Spanish cathedrals, its gridded gold
wired into archives of cartography.
At home, tomes of maps are mercantile bondsmen
and the only sound that matters on earth
is the rat-a-tat-tat of a coin on teeth.
Blueprints are filed in marbled office cells
by clerks that regard Columbus; script
but never tremble. The maps of harbours,
with their sea snakes and turtles, are nothing
compared to creatures gathered onshore:
the squat, warted toad of the colony.
Grudges grow deep in new-coming colonists
like mandragora buried in a graveyard plot,
watered with semen and honey to shore up
the slime and decay of their outpost land.
They slow-bake their greed until it is nothing
but ashes in their fires; they feel it fatten
under shirts and doublets, still harbouring
sweet grudges like the mandrake’s syrupy gold,
and the lust on their faces is an age-old script:
starving on the shore of a new geography.
Out of the alchemy of colony cells,
white and tubercular grow the New World men;
parasitic, they swell from soil to burst,
and shriek like mandrakes torn out of the earth.
poem by Zoe Brigley