Over the past month I have been reading the book that I picked up second hand in Edinburgh (back here) – Katheen Jamie's 'Findings' (2005).
I've been reading this one slowly because it isn't a book to rush – you really feel like you should stop and put the book down after each section, take a deep breath, take it all in. Though Jamie is perhaps best known as a poet (Scottish, prizewinning... now Pwofessor of Cweative Whiting at Stirling Uni) this is a book of essays that covers a wide range of subjects (wild nature predominantly but also how we live, think, see and well...everything really). You can read a short interview with Jamie connected with the book here.
I enjoyed 'Findings' hugely – it is beautifully written and, even more importantly for me, beautifully thought too (she studied philosophy as her first degree, I note, not literature). If you're interested in Scotland, in wild creatures, or even if you're just interested in life and death and thinking... then I'm sure it is a book that you will probably enjoy too. It feels so full of layers – it's a real work of art.
I've seen Jamie sat in the audience at the StAnza poetry festival but I've never seen or heard her read her poetry live. There isn't much of her on youtube (shame, it's such a great source of everything) but you can hear her voice and some poems at the Poetry Archive here. Having loved 'Findings' so much I am trying to get better acquainted with her poetry again – so far I've liked the poems of hers I've read well enough but I've never really fallen for any of them hook, line and metaphor, if you know what I mean. So (because I've been spending too much money and I'm meant to be saving) recently I ordered 'The Tree House' (2004) from the library (Arbroath copy... not been off the shelf since Oct 2008 apparently, poor thing) and I have been trying to make friends with it bit by bit. Its opening poem is one that's read on the Poetry Archive ('The Wishing Tree' - it's here). I can see why it was chosen as the opener as it is a very confident piece (what did I hear Don Paterson say... something about putting the best ones at the beginning and end of your book...). So go and have a listen....go on, go on, go on...
Though I have warmed nicely to a couple of the poems ('Landfall', 'The Creel') so far I'd have to admit that I am kind of missing what, for me, she manages to do so brilliantly in 'Findings' which is really connect with the reader... this reader anyway (what was it Bug said in the comments the other day... when "the words grab hold & don't let go"?). Now I know there might be lots of reasons for this lack of grabbing:
1. Poetry works differently to prose... it can be more subtle, take effect more slowly. I know that argument... and I suppose it might be that.
2. It might just be me. It is possible that I am a total poetry philistine. I tend to feel about as at home with a bunch of serious poets as I do at the school gate with a bunch of über-Mums (i.e. not very). I don't quite know how I ended up this way.
3. In particular the more perfect poetry is suggested to be (the more prizes it's won...and 'The Tree House' won the Forward Prize for best collection in 2004) the less I seem to respond to it, quite often. In part I think it is that I like some mess, some fallibility in poetry (and this, I should think, will make some people quite sure that I am a poetry philistine... but I'm not sure it's quite that simple). In a similar way, perhaps, I prefer more natural singing voices to operatic ones.
4. Partly what I miss in 'The Tree House' (that is abundant in 'Findings') is the author's personality (and that must be the concluding evidence for my philistine tendencies, I fear... personality! Is she mad?). It is possible, I suppose, that I am just a shallow illiterate (if educated) bimbo doomed to a life reading nothing but celebrity hardbacks (see last post). I mean, there's a Dawn French book of my Mum's lying around the house that's looking pretty damned inviting right now.
5. It is even possible, I'd have to admit, that maybe I just don't like poetry (that does seem to have been a bit of a theme this year) but I don't think it is that. I think I just find a lot of the current trends and splits and schools of thought in poetry just now a bit... alien. And I do like some poetry... just this month I chose the 'Poem of the Month' on the Philip Larkin Fan Club, whoops I mean Society page. It's here (and it's the same poem I posted back here with an audio version by the old sod himself). So, you see, I'm not a completely lost cause (not completely).
6. People can be very, very fussy about what poetry they really like and maybe this is just not so much of a big deal. Maybe it is exactly because of poetry's connection with music ('musicality' easily the most overused, and wrongly used, word in poetry reviewing – discuss). Maybe we do just have very strong reactions in favour of or against individual poems in the same way we respond to songs or pieces of music (but we can't allow ourselves to describe it as such with poetry or that might make us seem simple... so instead we have to come up with whole schools of criticism to justify our likes and dislikes... most of which come down to 'what I like is good and what I don't like is bad'...don't they?).
7. Speaking of music, increasingly I want to hear poetry, rather than see it on a page. And that doesn't mean just 'performance poetry' (you know I don't make that division anyway... any poem can be read/performed). More and more it is the sound of words that make poetry what it is, I feel. I might just go and burn some books or something (only my own ones, no-one else's...).
Anyway, this could go on and on. You can read more sensible, literary-minded thoughts on 'The Tree House' elsewhere online (like here). Not everyone just rambles, unfettered, on a blog.
Finally, there was one bit I particularly liked in the interview with Jamie that I linked to above. It's a quote about writing where she says:
"If my work were totally ignored I'd be debilitated and depressed, possibly fatally."
Well, yes. Just imagine. It might explain a few things round here too...
Fiction at the Friary
4 hours ago