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Archive for the ‘Books / Poetry’ Category

Poem for National Poetry Day 2017: Whom Do We Thank for Women’s Conferences? – Ama Ata Aidoo, 1992

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Whom Do We Thank for Women’s Conferences?
Ama Ata Aidoo, Dangaroo Press 1992

Ama Ata Aidoo is a Ghanaian poet, the “first published African woman dramatist”, a title she gained for her Dilemmas of a Ghost play that she wrote as an astonishingly mature 21 year old. This poem comes from her collection ‘An Angry Letter in January’, published 30 years after that play was written.ama-ata-aidoo-2 Read the rest of this entry »

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September 28, 2017 at 11:13 am

Some Books I read in 2016

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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.)martin-miller Read the rest of this entry »

Slam poetry is a genre. Or how to avoid slam clichés…

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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.

Chris Gilpin

Chris Gilpin

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March 13, 2016 at 11:42 am

Poem for National Poetry Day 2014: John Berryman’s ‘Of Suicide’

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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:John-Berryman Read the rest of this entry »

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October 4, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Poems that Make Men Cry

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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.anthology Read the rest of this entry »

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April 6, 2014 at 11:04 am

Poem for World Poetry Day 2014: ‘Massacre, October ’66’, Wole Soyinka

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Massacre, October ‘66

Written in Tegel

Shards of sunlight touch me here
shredded in willows. Through stained-glass
Fragments on the lake I sought to reach
A mind at silt-bed

The lake stayed cold
I swam in an October flush of dying leaves
The gardener’s labour flew in seasoned scrolls
Lettering the wind Read the rest of this entry »

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March 22, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Why slams and what makes good slam poetry?

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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 snob-prot-poet, T.S.Eliot

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 »

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June 2, 2013 at 10:59 am

Aftermath, Louis MacNeice

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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.louis-macneice Read the rest of this entry »

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March 23, 2013 at 11:43 am

The Death of Poetry greatly exaggerated

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Two things strike me about Nathan Thompson’s online article in The Independent about “performance poetry slams” being “a further nail in the coffin” of poetry. Firstly, it says something about the media as it exists online today and secondly, it says something about the current view of poetry.

To summarise: Thompson’s article says: “Poetry is dead” and young people do not know any poets. Slams are part of modern “quick fix culture” and thus further destroy our ability to appreciate good poetry. Defenders of performance poetry have wrongly “politicised” the debate and are attacking an “ivory tower” that has never existed. Poetry is accessible, but only to people who have the patience to take it in slowly, “like sipping a fine wine”. See full text here if you want to read the full article. Burning-book-001 Read the rest of this entry »

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February 3, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Poetry By Heart – reflections on new, reactionary ‘revolutions’ in poetry

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So the UK government’s Department of Education (DfE) have given “£500,000 of funding to The Poetry Archive to develop and run the National Poetry Competition as part of its commitment to help bring poetry to life in schools.”[1]  The competition is called ‘Poetry by Heart’ and, says DfE, it aims to “promote understanding of poetry as a dynamic art form and enable pupils to develop self-confidence and creative understanding” and to teach the “skills of memorisation and performance.” Of course, “memorisation” appeals to Tory heartlands. It is resonant Rows of Obedient School Childrenof the kind of old-fashioned teaching which reactionaries feel that the mythical ‘PC Brigade’ have outlawed. Read the rest of this entry »

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January 11, 2013 at 10:14 am