Me and the Dead: assemblage for National Poetry Day

The Scottish poet and blogger Rob Mackenzie, who has been reviewing up a storm in recent months alongside (but possibly more productively than)  yours truly, yesterday posted a review on his blog of Me and the Dead. I discovered it because WordPress tells you who is linking to you (but not everybody, do you now, WordPress? Sheila O’Malley also linked to me yesterday and it doesn’t say that. Mind you it was just lovely, idly checking out her blog and finding myself linked!)

I didn’t link to Rob’s review yesterday for some reason, like not wanting to blow my own horn or something – it was National Poetry Day, and I was trying to think of ways of marking it, saving my post for that, but none ever came. I even tried writing something in verse, but my heart wasn’t in it. Seemed a bit of a damp squib if you really want to know – the Poetry Society just gave it a link, and sent out an email later; but the link itself, to the NPD website, was useless, as they exceeded their bandwidth and the site – when I tried it, several times – was down. I wanted to go to the National Portrait Gallery to hear John Siddique’s lunchtime reading, but then I called the cleaner and she agreed to come and bail me out (literally) at 1pm… (It’s been several months, and even with my Herculean efforts the depredations have been severe.)

And did we see National Poetry Day in the press, even though the Forward Prizes were announced the night before? It seems not to be news, in any way. I’m sure someone could do something to make it news. Not just downloadable teachers’ packs unsupported by actual bandwidth.

Anyway, so in this climate, in comes Rob Mackenzie with a remarkably thoughtful and insightful reading of my work. I was overcome, to be honest, reading it. One thing I love is that he talks about structure – form, technique – as well as content. I think it’s a great review, and not only because he urges people to read my book. It’s great because it talks about the book in a really intelligent, rounded way, as a book of poems, engaging with the nature of the poems. (Well, I’ve started that criticism workshop now…) My pet peeve in reviews is when they only talk about the subject matter, treating language, form and technique as optional incidentals (or, more likely, things the reviewer feels unqualified to write about).

The review begins:

“In the title poem, death is “an assemblage of fragments” with a sting in the tail, as life at times can feel like an assemblage of death-fragments. The poems in this collection have such variety in form and subject-matter that the collection might at first appear similarly fragmented, but it’s held together by clever sequencing and an eloquent, definable tone.”

I’m going, yes, life certainly can, it is full of the buggers. Death-fragments. I wish I’d thought of that! (And it reminds me of Celan.) I’m going thanks for noticing the incredible variety of form! I worked on that. And fragmented? Oh no! But clever sequencing, I love that, and yes, I was worrying no one would admire my sequencing so thank you Rob.

Also, I will note, the “assemblage of fragments” in the poem is a person. But this person then says the words, “I’m Death, you know;” so for Rob to equate this with death being an assemblage of fragments, just as life is an assemblage of death-fragments, really did make me happy.

He then goes on to describe and quote from various poems, some usual suspects and some surprises, and of course one’s ego is very gratified to see those words, pounded or wrestled out over months, now taking their ease in someone else’s space…

Meanwhile, the struggle here continues. Excelsior and all that.

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