Archive for the ‘Books / Poetry’ Category
As 2016 draws to a close, I thought I’d mention some of the books I read this year. I tend to have three things on the go at once: prose, poetry and non-fiction – so the selections come from each of those sections, although two of the writers transcend those boundaries.
Lux the Poet – Martin Miller, 1998. (Thanks Jan.) Read the rest of this entry »
I saw someone share Canadian poet Chris Gilpin’s blog from last year arguing that we need to avoid “adopting the term ‘slam poet’”. Slam poetry, he says, is not a ‘genre’. It’s a way of running an open mic and it’s an international movement, emerging historically with the aim of freeing poetry from the “elite cultural gatekeepers”. It is excellent critique and I hope it is read far and wide by young poets who engage in live performance. Gilpin complains:
“Aspiring slam participants (and apparently even those who have no interest in participating) … copy the most obvious elements of performance cliché—yelling, speed, tones of distress, waving their arms—believing that they are correctly recreating a cool, new poetic style. In this way, the idea of slam poetry has crushed a great deal of artistic self-expression, encouraging poets to conform to something they can’t even define.”
The fact that he can describe a set of conventions in writing and delivery which are followed by its producers and recognised by its consumers suggests that ‘slam poetry’ has become a genre. And that genre is a bit wack. Can we turn back the tide? I’ve been running slams for ten years now in the UK, so I thought I’d give some tips for fellow poets to consider.
Recently, I opened up some John Berryman again and been enjoying his poetry, so for National Poetry Day, I thought I’d offer up one of his poems. Berryman (1914 – 1972) was, says Michael Hofmann in the introduction to my Faber edition, “of the first generation of American ‘professional poets’”. i.e. he taught in university, toured around giving ‘readings’ and winning prizes. He was also an alcoholic and suicidal. His father had killed himself when Berryman was 12 and the poet himself ended the same way nearly 50 years later. The dates of his publications make interesting reading: Read the rest of this entry »
I was invited this Saturday as a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme to discuss issues around the theme of poetry, emotions and masculinity. My fellow guest, Anthony Holden, is one of a father-and-son team of editors of a new anthology, ‘Poems That Make Grown Men Cry’ (Simon & Schuster), in which 100 well-known men each introduce a poem that moves them to tears. On the radio, we only had 5 minutes right at the end of the show, so I thought I put my ideas down more fully here. Read the rest of this entry »
With a week to go to the Hammer & Tongue national poetry slam final, I thought I’d put some thoughts together about why we have slams and what I think makes good poetry.
The job of the critic, said T. S. Eliot, is “the elucidation of texts and the correction of tastes.” You might not like the sound of the latter phrase, but let’s follow its implications more carefully; elucidate it, if you will. Now, if you believe that all experience of art is subjective (i.e. there is no such thing as good and bad art, just what different people like) then ‘correcting tastes’ might seem a pointless, even elitist task. And so it is if only a predestined elect get the job of taste-correction. Indeed this may be what snobbish, protestant Eliot would have wanted. Read the rest of this entry »
I picked up a couple of Louis MacNeice books when I was down in Brighton recently. MacNeice was the son of a Northern Irish protestant rector and grew up in Carrickfergus although he was sent, aged 10, to English boarding school, after his depressed mother died. His reputation is generally attached to, and overshadowed by, W. H. Auden’s, with whom he collaborated on a travel book called ‘Letters from Iceland’. Born in 1902, he died in ’63 and I am just starting to get to know his work. Read the rest of this entry »