I'm reading lots of different poetry books just now...more at once than I would normally...they're all up there by the bed and on the desk upstairs...probably dancing around the room when I'm not there. I know some of you read heaps of poetry all the time but I usually read mine in small doses, spread out over time, mixed in with novels and newspaper articles and more. There are lots of reasons for this current change: (a) I've been book-shopping more than usual of late and most of that shopping has been done in the poetry section (Borders in Dundee mainly), (b) I've got to one of those can't-read-any-more-novels-for-a-while points (Patrick Gale's 'Notes from an Exhibition' that I picked up in a charity shop recently just about finished me off...explanation on request) and (c) well, I'm just in the mood for poetry I suppose (I'm not always). I say this a lot but I really do like all kinds of poets...like to try them anyway...professors of literature...street poets writing directly onto pavements with chalk...I really like to go in without blinkers, if I can. For me it really is just about how a poet puts their words together...does it do anything to my brain that's interesting or not? And then if they end up saying something interesting too...well, then...hurray, hurray, hurray...jackpots, flashing lights, dancing on tables...
So, this is what I'm reading (in alphabetical order) – I'm not going to analyse each book too much just now...just a few random thoughts:
Simon Armitage 'Selected Poems'
Bought full price in a bookshop!
Armitage is one of those poets who I feel I...well...should like (he's very Northern English, he's my generation, he's a big music fan etc.) but who I've somehow never really got into, if you know what I mean. The book of his I've enjoyed most so far is the non-fiction prose 'All Points North' but I thought it was time to give his poems another go so I got a ticket for one of his StAnza events and bought this book to prepare! I'm reading it a little at a time and I am warming to it (little by little) as I go. So far the poem that has made me go back and read it again most is one called 'At Sea' (from 1992's 'Kid'). I'm not sure he'll ever be my favourite poet or anything (why is that...is he just too nice?) but I am enjoying getting to know his work better.
Wendy Cope 'Serious Concerns'
Bought full price in a bookshop (possibly with birthday book tokens though)
In the days when we were much more skint I used to do a lot of photocopying library books and this was one of the books I copied quite a lot. Wendy Cope (who moans about people getting poems free on-line) would probably disapprove of that kind of behaviour. However now we are less skint I can go mad and buy books that I have grown to love (like this one from 1992) so I'm afraid that shows the silliness of all those arguments (including yours, Ms Cope, much as I love you). Still, those differences aside, I do thoroughly enjoy and admire the way she combines humour and devastating observation, the way she switches effortlessly between different styles, the way she sidesteps literary fashion...so many things about her writing. She may not the be the critics' choice...but honestly who cares? (Not I!).
Sophie Hannah – 'Pessimism for Beginners'
Got this one in a book swap.
I've only ever read Hannah's poems in anthologies so I wanted to try...oh you know...a full book. I was also interested by the title because 'Living for beginners' was one title I considered for my recent publication (and I suppose we are not that different as poets...though of course she is better known, more successful, more experienced...minor stuff like that). A lot of the poems in here are witty (which I get accused of too) but her sense of humour and subject matter is a bit English middle class par excellence for me (jokes about getting an au-pair etc.). Maybe if I'd grown up in, say, North London instead of Middlesbrough I might have written more like this...who knows? Still, I do like the book and there's lots of clever, crisp writing - my favourite so far being 'Round Robin' (having a go at those ridiculous xmas letters). It's an easy target but she does it well with lines like “Timothy got his partnership and Claire her PhD / Which all reflects extremely well on Dorothy and me.”. There are plenty of layers to the book and I like her sharpness so I will be reading and rereading for a while yet.
By the way I got tickets for my Mum and me to see Sophie Hannah at StAnza but Hannah has cancelled so it will be Kevin Cadwallender instead (Fri 20th March, 1pm in St Andrews, Fife). My Mum doesn't really like poetry and was only coming with me because Sophie Hannah is a bit famous and also writes non-poetry books that are on sale in Smiths/Waterstones etc. (sorry Kevin...mothers, what can you do?) so if anyone wants the spare ticket just let me know. I should point out that it is a 'Senior' ticket but maybe because of the cancellation the Byre will go easy on us and let anyone use it...but this is all getting a bit Blind Date...I'll move on...
Odd one...I don't own any Mitchell books and never see any in shops. I looked online and there are so many different books that I don't know which one to go for first. I listened to the BBC R4 'Poetry Please' Mitchell special the other week (and loved it!) and may write about that soon but in the meantime if anyone wants to offer Mitchells as swaps or point me in a direction of anything that would be much appreciated.
Don Paterson 'The Eyes' (a version of Antonio Machado)
On loan from local library
I mentioned this book a few posts ago. I keep meaning to get out the 'Poesías Completas' of Machado's that is up on my bedroom bookshelf (along with lots of other books I haven't looked at for years...) but I haven't got to it yet. In the meantime Paterson's version is certainly how I remember Machado...sad as sad can be...lots of emptiness. Gotta love it.
Don Paterson 'Landing Light'
Bought full price from a shop (Again! Am I splashing out these days or what!)
Unlike with the Armitage, straightaway several of the poems in here switched lights on for me...flick, flick, flick all over the place. Bitterness, tragic tones, cynicism, spiky intelligence, really perfectly targeted arrows to the heart...yep, that's me, signed, sealed and sucked in. So far my favourite is 'The Rat' (although incidentally if you go and read the poem via the link I've put there you can see that Paterson calls it a “not very good poem about a very good poem”). Oh...what does he know! Plus he must have thought it was good once...even if only for a second or two.
I might need a course in Classics to appreciate some of the other poems in this book more fully...except I'm just a bit distracted with other things right now (well seeing as you ask – family life, social life, 'Sopranos' series 2 , about a million different CDs, reading too much bloody poetry...). Maybe next year.
Stevie Smith 'Selected Poems'
Bought full price from a shop
I had this book from the library a while back and always wanted my own copy. It contains some real nonsense and some real sense (sometimes disguised as nonsense). I will be writing a big ol' post on this poet at some point soon. Anyone else a fan?
Wallace Stevens 'Poems selected by John Burnside'
Bought (again!) full price from a shop
Because I kept reading that he was the best poet ever and I hadn't read any of his work (ever). I am liking the poems in this book...but so far more in a line by line way than in a whole poem way. I'm not really ready to go into this one any deeper than that right now. Maybe more later.
So that's it for this broadcast from Plebs read Poetry Badly. Come back next week to see me compare and contrast T.S.Eliot classics with Lily Allen's song lyrics. As if I would....
1 hour ago