Pippa's TippaThis autumn is really dragging us along like puppies on a lead, isn’t it? Here in Baroque Mansions we are all – me, my alter ego, my esteemed other, my kids, everybody – sort of inundated, in both good ways and puppy-on-a-lead ways. In between juggling bills, reluctantly updating web domains, and feverishly checking lottery tickets, there’s hardly time for any sort of leisure activity… and I’ve been doing so much poet profiling and poetry reviewing (see autumn issue of Poetry Wales, and upcoming issues of Poetry London and Poetry Review) that blogging on top seems like a bit tooooo much…

Plus, Baroque Mansions has gone a bit typewriter mad, one has emerged as a bit of an overnight geek, and that’s been taking up a lot of time, frankly. More on that one after I take possession of my own little adopted Adler Tippa (from my friend Pippa) on Wednesday.

BUT you will be pleased to know that where I am falling down on the job, others are blogging heartily away. Edward Ferrari’s The Republic of Yorkshire attracted me right away by his use of the IM Fell DW Pica tentypeface for his banner; as you can see, the Baroque banner is in IM Fell French Canon, so it’s rather as if we bought the same shoes but in different colours. Also, he has a picture of James Merrill’s collected poems in his sidebar, so basically, I’m there. Check it out.

Fiona Moore is doing some storming blogging on Displacement – her discussion of the new Ten anthology and issues around race and poetry in the UK is fascinating. I love that she reviews the launch event because I wasn’t able to make it on the night, and the discussion – including a discussion of aesthetic values – sounds really fascinating, and not before its time. What do we look for in our poetry (or in any other literature, for that matter)?

Lumsden Mischief cover 176And Anthony Wilson is going from strength to strength, as they say. Not only is his own blog giving rise to a book – Lifesaving Poems is going to be published in June by Bloodaxe – he’s also doing a magnificent job as the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival blogger. The festival is in only three weeks; well, under three weeks, now, as today is Sunday.

(Also, funnily enough, I’ve just finished writing a feature for MsLexia magazine (which will appear in the next issue) on ways to think of turning a blog into a book – and poetry only gets a sort of sideways mention, but this is a brilliant development.)


The good news from the Baroque point of view is that I am going to be at Aldeburgh myself, as well, as a sort of reviewer-stroke-Penned-in-the-Margins presence, thanks to the imaginative generosity of Tom Chivers and Naomi Jaffa. That’s really exciting because the festival is Naomi’s last as Director, and the line-up looks quite frankly amazing. There are several people I’m really looking forward to hearing; off the top of my head now, not only Hannah Silva’s new PITM show, Schlock!, but also Julian Stannard, Jonathan Edwards, the US poet Paula Bohince, and Jen Hadfield (always a pleasure, and it’s been years).

Er, in other news, we’re waiting for the eldest Baroque offspring to be slightly less beset with work and wisdom teeth and do some essential back end work for us, and then I can resume my new website project, which I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned yet. Suffice to say it will be good. Once it happens. Projected launch date now, I hope, in the New Year. I’ll try and get a gold dress.


02_poster-artwork copyHappy National Poetry Day! I’m heading down to the Southbank Centre in a little while to hear live poetry in the Clore Ballroom (in the Royal Festival Hall building), and then to not one but two events this evening. At 6pm, The Pity – four poets reading specially commissioned work on war. Steve Ely, whose book Oswald’s Book of Hours was one of my main books of last year. Zaffar Kunial, whose Faber New Poets pamphlet is out – as it happens – today. The wonderful Denise Riley, and the inspiring Warsan Shire, London’s Young Poet Laureate. After that, a celebration of Michael Donaghy, ten years after his death. There are stilltickets available for both events, I think. Be there, or miss it. In the meantime, think of a poem

So, the Forward Prizes went ahead the other night, and as anyone with sufficient interest to be reading this blog knows, the winners were Kei Miller for Best Collection and Liz Berry for Best First Collection.

The two books – Kei’s The Cartographer Tries to Map His Way to Zion, and Liz’s Black Country – form a sort of diptych, both dealing overtly with place and place-identity. Both make plentiful use of dialect, so that the sound of the poems is the sound of the place. Both these books are intensely alive to the subtle play in language, rich in nuance and symbol, rich in analogy and even humour.

Years ago I heard Liz Berry read for the first time, a tiny slip of a thing with a halo of light blonde curls – it transpired that she was an infants teacher – reception – and I could see how the kids would ADORE her. She doesn’t even appear to talk extra loud when she reads she just sounds gentle and good-humoured and completely commands the attention of even a large audience. A pin could drop.

She opened with a poem called ‘When I was a Boy’, which begins: ‘I was a boy every weekday afternoon/ the year I was seven’… I still think of this as her signature, in some ways – the cheerful aliveness to what childhood was like, and the equally cheerful attention to what ‘being a girl’ is. Last week I took her poem ’5th Dudley Girl Guides’ to me Tuesday night group:

Your plain faces are lovely as bunting
in the sunlight while you pitch your tents

calling each other to pull guy-ropes taut
crawling easy as lads…….lifting

the silver pole inside the green canvas…

It’s a small poem – there are only three more lines, but they’re corkers, in the same vein of imagery – sexual, gently humorous, a bit wistful – that says more, far more, than what’s merely on the tin.

Kei Miller has the same easy, unforced manner of reading – these two are not the haranguing kind of poet! – musical, unfussy, giving the words their space. It;s the sort of compelling that is what I think George Szirtes had  in mind when he described a poetry reading as an intimate event, where the poet has something he or she must absolutely tell you about. (Or words to that effect.)

The subject of this book is the relationship between the linear Western European way of looking at things – embodied in the mapmaker, the cartographer – and the rastaman’s more holistic and felt experience of place, which is Jamaica and also time – ‘On this island things fidget./ Even history.’ – and the interplay between the two, which are clearly two sides of the poet. Poetry is being able to see between.

The poem ‘ii: in which the rastaman disagrees’ begins with a slipping-between:

The rastaman has another reasoning.
He says – no that man’s job is never straight-
forward or easy. Him work is to make thin and crushable
all that is big and real as ourselves; is to make flat
all that is high and rolling; is to make wutless
plenty things that poor people cyaa do without…

There were of course many other fine collections on both shortlists – ‘Best’, and ‘Best first’. We all know that there is in reality no such thing as ‘the best book’. Such a thing can’t exist, and both of these collections with their ‘betweens’ tell us just the same.

Briefly, I’ll mention The Whole and Rain-domed Universe, by Colette Bryce – whose dreamy time-slip poem ‘A little girl I knew when she was my mother’ left one of my students practically weeping into it, going ‘I want it to wiiiiin, I love it soooo much…’.

Here, ‘miles away’, near a dressing table, her mother sits on a piano stool: ‘all that is left of the instrument’:

I see them floating in the triptych mirrors
the little girls I knew when they were my mothers.

They look down at their old hands,
jewelled rings screwed over knuckles.

And Kevin Powers, Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting. Like last year’s War Reporter from Dan O’Brien, this book is part of the War Poetry of our own time – in this centenary year, a real thing to remember. These poems come from the front line – in Texas, in Iraq, in his mum’s garden while she waits, no longer able to sleep.

The first stanza from ‘Self Portrait in Sidewalk Chalk’:

Once, when seeing
my shadow on the ground
I tried to outline it
in chalk. It kept moving
as I knelt and as the sun
moved itself from horizon
to horizon, the chalk
was changed.

Dannie Abse the infinite

September 28, 2014

  On Tuesday this year’s Forward Prize winners will be announced, and the entire auditorium will be in a hush of sorrow. There will be a hole where one of the judges was to have sat, and most of the people in the auditorium will be feeling bereft. A light has gone out. I use this […]

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Donaghy: ten years today

September 16, 2014

‘Don’t be afraid, old son, it’s only me…’ Today, 16 September, while the Scottish Referendum rages, the future once again seems uncertain – like it did for some of us this week ten years ago, when Michael Donaghy lay in hospital, on a life support system, after a massive brain haemorrhage. Of course, I now […]

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Free Verse and Penned in the Margins: be there or be square

August 29, 2014

Once again it’s that time. If you can possibly get to London next Saturday – the 6th, that is, not tomorrow – and are even remotely interested in the state of UK poetry, Free Verse is the place to be. I think this might be the fair’s fourth year; it’s now such a well-embedded date […]

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The Great Below and the great after

August 18, 2014

This year marks ten years since Michael Donaghy died. As it happens, this autumn his Collecteds – poems and prose – are both going to be out in paperback, at last. Almost more to the point, the first critical guide to his work (appropriately called Smith: A Reader’s Guide to Michael Donaghy) will be published by […]

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Purple prose for purple times

August 4, 2014

1980: One of the things I really wish I hadn’t lost over the years is my great-grandfather’s scrapbook. It was a large, old-fashioned tome with dark pages, on which anything that meant something to my great-grandfather had been glued. A lot of it was very boring to the teenager I was when I read it. […]

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John McCullough: blog tour guest post no. 4

August 3, 2014

John McCullough had been on the poetry scene for ten years or so and had three pamphlets published (including the Tall Lighthouse pamphlet, The Lives of Ghosts) by the time his first collection came out in 2o11.  The Frost Fairs - one of the many generation-changing first collections made possible by the Salt – won the Polari […]

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