Wednesday 2 February 2011

Displacement again

How will this blog turn out?  Declarations of intent can be dangerous…  What I want to do most is write about poetry I’m reading, from TSE Prize contenders to stuff that’s not well known.  At the moment I’m reading John Haynes’ You, Karen Solie’s Pigeon and Modern and Normal, Philip Nikolayev’s Letters from Aldenderry and Sam Willetts’ New Light for the Old Dark, though this last one seems to have walked.  Maybe it’s that sort of book. 

I came across all of these in different ways – interesting how a book comes to be read, out of so many choices.  John Haynes because of his earlier book, Letter to Patience, in which I love his intertwining trains of thought – so vivid, and done with much skill and intelligence.  To write a book-length poem in terza rima is unusual, somewhat contrary to current poetry norms.  Surprisingly few people seem to have read it.  So much for winning the poetry part of the Costa Prize in 2006. 

Again, in You he’s attempted something very ambitious and unusual, though the less fluent rhyme royal form is less in his favour, and the book is maybe less accessible.  His TSE Festival Hall reading didn’t help much: his constructions can be hard to follow on the page, let alone by listening.  Very difficult, surely, to read out an extract from something long and complex – without all the changes in tone and form, the pauses and explanations one gets in a reading of several shorter poems.  I still wanted him to win, though.     
Karen Solie (Canadian) because she had two poems in the last Magma, one of which, ‘Once Pyrrho…’, seems to me mind-blowing in the way it mingles vast perspectives with detail.  She also writes in Magma about being inspired by Frank O’Hara.

Philip Nikolayev (Russian-American) because a friend recommended him as an innovative poet: sonnets embedded in prose poems. 

Sam Willetts because he was on the TSE Prize shortlist, and I enjoyed his reading at the Festival Hall a lot.  Of course if he’d been published by a small publisher instead of Cape, he’d never (well, it’s very unlikely) have got shortlisted.  

So none of them by chance.  If poetry sections in second-hand bookshops were better...  As well as You, my current, prose bedtime reading is Into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg, a remarkable account of how she was accused in the Stalinist purges and spent years in a hard labour camp.  She is interesting on the psychology of collective madness.  I found it at a local bookshop (under fiction! as one might find Kafka under history) and stamped inside is GREENWICH LIBRARIES BOOKSALE.  Another kind of purge.  Lucky for me, not so lucky for holders of Greenwich library cards.  It must have been an old booksale; the fate of Greenwich libraries isn’t yet known.  But a bad omen.   

Anyway, I need to start adding links, pictures etc to this blog, so it looks less bare.  I will write about some of the books mentioned above.  I will try to post something at least once a week.

Now back to Al Tahrir Square, Cairo.

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