Yesterday and today the world experienced the Chilean miracle at Camp Hope, where thirty-three miners were rescued after months of doubt and darkness - a time they survived with optimism, creativity, and inspiring communitarian spirit. The event, to my mind equivalent to the moon landings in terms of human and technical drama (not a unique thought, I am sure), is particularly resonant of the literary style of "magic realism" which came from Chile's part of the world, a style that saw the miraculous in the everyday. It therefore seems apt to celebrate, today, poets whose work touches upon, in a variety of ways, fable, dreams, enchantment, faith, and the extraordinary - poets I will label (if just for this post), "The Fabulists".
When discussing this with one of the poets included below, Matthew Gregory, he had this to say: "it seems to me a kind of new Romanticism of some sort, allowing for the frivolous and the camp, something like the Victorian horror crazes, but, when it works, with something of a truthful enquiry, is like the best of magic realism. It seems to be happening generally, doesn't it? In the mid 1990s, I'm quite sure there wasn't as much vampire love on television as there is now. And in poetry, on the whole. Underwood, Kennard and sometimes Emily Berry write with many voices, untrustworthy narrators, ghosts and anthropomorphic subjects. I think reading Charles Simic, James Tate, the Eastern Europeans/Polish (Holub, Szymborska) and some Ashbery is where we'll find the nerve of this particular ache."
Now, a few grumpy critics in Britain have complained that these labels I am applying may be constraints for these poets as they develop - which seems to miss the point of these posts entirely - as with all literary labels, these are provisional, arbitrary, and, indeed, like literary criticism itself, equivocal, in a creative sense. I offer these as ways to read and appreciate these poets, but not as "Swiftian" "puffery". There is nothing satirical about it, and very little puff. Though I do like Puff the Magic Dragon.
Kathryn Simmonds was born in Hertfordshire in 1972 and worked in children's publishing and the charity sector before pursing writing seriously, although she has written poetry since childhood. She won an Eric Gregory Award in 2002 and her pamphlet Snug was published by Smith/Doorstop in 2004 as a result of their annual competition. Her first full collection Sunday at the Skin Launderette won the Forward Prize for best first collection in 2008 and was short listed for the Costa Poetry Award. She is also interested in prose and dramatic writing - her short stories have appeared in The Barcelona Review, The Liberal Magazine and a number of anthologies, and she has written a play for Radio 4. Now living in north London, she works as a writing tutor for the City Lit, Morley College and The Poetry School. Simmonds is one of the only poets in Britain who, though subtly and never condescendingly, replies to a British secularism that disenchants the world, with her own quietly held sense of Catholic faith; as such, her poems form part of the great debate between science and religion occuring now - though they are, of course, also about much else besides.
Midnight for the squirrels and the drunks,
midnight for you dear and your chest hair too,
put your pen down pet and rest here.
Midnight swallowing the mirror whole, swallowing
my mother in her pale blue slippers,
and my brother, my big brother in his too small bed.
Bed, the longed for stopped short sound delivering
us at last from sense-making. The trains
are empty, the magnolia trees are still, the tower block
has lost another dozen yellow squares but
they'll fill up and we'll fill too, and in tomorrow's
morning we'll awake, washed up again among
the bills. Meanwhile, the stars are queuing up
to get behind your lids. Love, give me your hand.
Meirion Jordan was born in 1985 in Swansea and has lived in the small village of Cwmllynfell on the edge of the Brecon Beacons for most of his life. He studied mathematics at Somerville College, Oxford, where he won the Newdigate Prize, before taking an MA in creative writing at UEA in East Anglia where he is currently studying for a PhD. His first collection of poetry, Moonrise, was published by Seren Books in 2008 and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for best first collection. His second collection of poetry, drawing upon medieval Welsh literature and history, is scheduled for publication in 2012. Jordan is one of the most exciting new Welsh voices in decades, and the strangeness and imaginative reach of his poetry, allied to his mathematical mind, make his work strikingly original. One feels he may become a major presence.
Beast of burden
My cousin Iago says he has a singing cow
and though he's a liar my brother's seen her
whistling a measure in the thin hours
while I scratch beery verses to St. Peter.
If I go milking, the milk turns in the pail
and when I plough, my furrows tend to waver;
no wonder my brother begs me to stay inside
dividing six pints among twenty-four metres.
On Sundays I sit in the priest's house
being careless with his wine and his bible
til he raises a glass to the Young Pretender
and I crawl out to sleep in his stable.
For my wife has gone off with the gig
to hear Methodists preach at Llangeitho,
singing frivolous hymns with the other young things
and eyeing up ministers ten years her senior.
So at night after sitting past two with my ink
scraping englynion from the oak of the table,
or imagining my wife in ecstatic convulsions
as the subject of some Methodist awdl,
I go out with one ear to the pasture
and the weight of the moon's white ring
pressing down on the bones of my lumped, sagging neck
and I put on my ox-horns and I sing.
Matthew Gregory was born in Suffolk, in 1984, and spent all of his early life in a suburb of Lowestoft. He studied at the Norwich School of Art and Design and Goldsmiths, University of London. He has lived in Prague, St.Petersburg and New York. His poems have appeared in the anthology series Stop Sharpening Your Knives, as well as Poetry London, The Rialto and Magma. In 2010, he received an Eric Gregory award. Recently he has been collecting material for a documentary-film about the lives of the young poets he knows. He is currently living in Naples and working on his first collection. Gregory, though very new, has already caught the notice of many of the younger generation for his wildly inventive poems.
The Last Poems of Ever Mackintosh
The Poem Speaks To Ever
''The first thing to do is inspect your room.
Let in a little air, let the window stay ajar
like someone listening on their elbow.
As for noises outside, let them come
because finches are welcome in any poem
and might land elegantly somewhere.
Chance is crucial. Don't underestimate
the day that is a blue and white marble
muddled in with many others.
No thing is more noteworthy than another.
Greet earthworms and fridge alphabets
as you would an exciting foreigner.
Be particularly nice to the earthworm-
their soft forms will be your final readers.
As for interests: best to have more than
the one that has you up nights at this desk.
Play a field sport that allows you to launch
something into the wild question of sky.
Cultivate a little mould or sea monkeys
to know the scale of what's outside.
Listen constantly. Don't be bitter
or be bitter entirely, like a white dwarf
before she supernovas among famous stars.
Envy is fine if it sharpens your teeth.
As for making things up, being a fantasist,
grow an astonishing fish, paint it any colour.
But stripe it with gills. Swim it in cold water.''
Vahni Capildeo, born in Trinidad, has duel citizenship and is also British. She is a Contributing Editor for the Caribbean Review of Books, a co-editor of TOWN, a public arts initiative, and a Contributing Advisor for Black Box Manifold. After an academic Research Fellowship (Girton College, Cambridge), Capildeo worked in creative writing at the Universities of Sheffield and Leeds. Her most recent book is Undraining Sea (Egg Box, 2009). Her work was included on the Oxfam DVD, Asking A Shadow To Dance (2009) and in the Identity Parade anthology (Bloodaxe, 2010). She is now a Lecturer at the University of Kingston. Capildeo, who has a DPhil in Old Norse from Oxford, is one of the most intelligent and unusual poets writing in Britain at the moment - her work is not merely culturally hybrid, but deeply enriched by her awareness of language, form, and tradition.
body running on water
the attentions (orange pollen under the tongue)
Line out of place
I disarranged it
wax on paintwork
I would not scrape it
light upon dust outlining
one size of shoe
Talkative, the walls...
what are you celebrating?
floor, may you rejoice
in having been well fed
... yellowing the rosemary on the ledge
too cold...beggars eat heaped snow
in your expansile microclimate
assisting at your own flaying
you forget you cannot remember
you cannot know what you did not know
the anti-room's rotation, granular, in a black freeze
I turned the key in the door
and the dead soldiers
on the foldup ironing-board beds
turned a breath of welcome
and bells rang where the staircase has been removed
and I was made uneasy
by the formation of the here and now
Person of my last willing touch
intention darts, exits
via the backs of the fingers, via the ribs
reasserting extreme nowhere
leaving me standing
locked out of abstraction
weak as if in thaw
a stonemason could substitute
If not for you
if not for better listeners
- O gods who can be put out and not put out -
What is this thing I learn to do?