Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

"The Best British Poetry 2014" by Mark Ford (ed) (Salt, 2014)

Modeled on Best American Poetry, this book has a different editor each year, and poets offer commentaries on their pieces. This time at least half of the poems come from only 4 magazines - Poetry London, Poetry Review, Kaffeeklatsch, and London Review of Books. The online magazine "Poems in which" features twice. Young and old rub shoulders, as do the various schools - Armitage, Motion and Hugo Williams feature along with less mainstream writers like Chris McCabe. The commentaries interested me especially when they mentioned the form/procedure -

Visual/Standard forms

  • Rachael Boast's poem is a box form - 4 stanzas of 3 nearly equally lengthened lines. Why? Because, according to the poet, "Form and meaning are confluent in the poem: it fell into one long disorientating sentence". Huh?
  • Michael Bayley's poem "Estuary" in stepped verse. Why? Because according to the poet it "not only appeared to loosen the syntax but reproduced the artist's slow meditation on the landscape before him". It doesn't loosen the syntax for me, but why is loosening a good idea anyway? The jerky, irritating layout to me is far from being slowly meditative.
  • Caoilinn Hughes writes "It borrows the end-rhymes and the quatrain structure of a pantoum, without repeating whole phrases. The rhyme scheme is something like the below. Genomic!

    Stanza 1: A B C D
    Stanza 2: B E D F
    Stanza 3: E G F H
    Stanza 4: G I H J
    Stanza 5: I I
    The stanza's line-counts are 5, 5, 4, 5, 3. Stanza 1's end-words are "parts", "strands", "bonds", "white", "hands". Stanza 2's are "trinity", "invite", "torso", "divinity", "infinitesimally". I make that A B C D B / E D F E G, which fits what she says except for stanza lengths, though I see nothing genomic there!
  • Hannah Lowe writes that "the poem plays with the idea of filmic time - the sense of rewinding, frame by frame, and its structure - the short, enjambed lines - is meant to reflect this".
  • Jon Stone - "The rhyme-scheme is something I call "creeping rhyme" - it shifts slowly, via vowel, consonant, hard, soft and fuzzy rhymes" The end-words are "words", "upturns", "ones", "wrong", etc. I might use that idea.
  • For George Szirtes the sonnet form "suggests development under concentrated and compressed conditions". It's a tight ABBA CDDC EFGFEG rhyme scheme.
  • For Sarah Wardle the sonnet form is "tight, yet at the same time overspilling and all in one sentence, showing the ongoing energy of the metropolis 24/7 ... the iambic pentameter becomes the heartbeat pulse of the city". The rhyme scheme is ABCDEF GGGHHH II, I think.

Other procedures

  • Michael Bayley's poem "Estuary" is a found poem.
  • Alan Brownjohn's is a list of invented 1st lines, in alphabetic order.
  • Sophie Collins searched an archive for poems containing "Desk". There were 12 poems, so she picked a line from each poem.
  • Richard Evans' poems is in the shape of a space invader.
  • Claudia Friedrich took each 3rd word from a German text (a justification of plagiarism) and translated them.
  • Oli Hazzard's piece is a cut-up.
  • Helen Tookey's piece is a found poem or a cut-up ("I enjoy the way that this kind of collage or cut-up technique can result in a text that's suggestive without ever quite resolving into a clear meaning").

Writing techniques

  • "it was necessary to let a sort of revolving table of images, sensory 'apparitions' and soluble concepts cycle through me for a period, until the most visible of them began to suggest a palette and the 'secondary' or 'tertiary' elements a texture in which to foreground the dominant shades ... what emerged in writing was ... a particular unrendered quality ... the quiet press of interior spaces on the line and an elegiac lustre to everything else. These airs or atmospheres began to take precedence as aesthetic 'constraints', above any formal ones" (Matthew Gregory). I think I know what he means - that he ended up writing a tone-poem where the need not to disrupt the tone began to dominate over other factors. He compares this process, with some justification I think, to that of a painter.
  • Kate Wakeling writes of "Riddle" that "quite a few other people have since consistently solved the riddle in another, quite different way and with an answer which seems to hold a more material (and dare I say quaint) meaning than I would likely have intended in such a thing, but that admittedly makes a much crisper sense of it all".

Miscellaneous comments

I liked Fiona Benson's "Toboggan Run" and Emily Berry's "Picnic". Burnside's poem did little for me - a standard plot not fleshed out. The poets have a range of aims when writing their comments. Joe Dresner's poem and comments don't have readers like me in mind. Laura Elliot's comments are more relevant to readers like me, though I couldn't have coped with the poem without the comments. Matthew Gregory's poem was tempting, and the comments interesting too.

Caoilinn Hughes writes
"To discover the atom is a start - to know what it means; its particle trinity that has oceans cleaving to the tilted earth resisting the moon's recurrent invite;/ miraculous photosynthesis, which is bodiless, yet we grope about for its photon torso"
and ends the poem with
"Ø to know how anti-particles balance the pseudanthium with all its quarks!/ With a fast enough machine, we could decode the daisy chain in calculus, Objective-C,/ transcendental equations. Would the parts of its sum be atoms or litanies?".
I know a bit about quarks, calculus, Objective-C, and transcendental equations, but what about those readers who don't know? They probably have an advantage over me when appreciating this poem. And why the slash O? It all looks rather suspicious.

I liked Lydia MacPherson's poem and the approach she's adopted in her comments. McCabe? No. Scott? Seemed slight to me. Seed's prose produces small though interesting effects, less than what prose writers like Lydia Davis achieve with the same word count. Stannard's and Underwood's pieces seem so-whatish. Wakeling's and Waldron's poems are in the wrong order. I want to read more by Sam Willetts.

Overall there's much that (in Tookey's words) "is suggestive without ever quite resolving into a clear meaning", and hints (from Wakeling, etc) that clarity is quaint.

Other reviews

  • Christina James (a tantalising verse crop of fruit on the tree of knowledge, dangled by Mark Ford for our delectation and designed to appeal to our taste and our sense of adventure in a poetic world that has darkness and sadness and pain and disease and war and death and destruction and sex and drugs and vice… and delight.)

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