Friday, 1 October 2010

Findings... and not findings...

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...



Titus said...

What a brilliant post! Why the hell am I spending money to learn when you're around?
I am buying that book on Saturday.

Prose/poetry debate very live in my mind at the moment. I am very confident in my prose, and know when it's right. The poetry seems to me to be anybody's guess. Let's stick together and do Samson's legs before he clonks us with the donkey's jaw. That might be a metaphor...

Rachel Fox said...

And I've been wondering whether I should go back to prose... though obviously I need an editor... Your poetry seems confident too, by the way, so just don't admit to any lack of confidence and you'll breeze it.

And you shouldn't listen to me anyway - one way to fail your writing course for sure!


The Solitary Walker said...

I loved 'Findings' when I read it a few years ago. The early chapter about the peregrine falcons sticks in my mind for some reason. And I like her poetry too.

Rachel Fox said...

You are altogether a more reasonable person, SW!

I couldn't pick a favourite part of 'Findings'. I really liked every word.


Totalfeckineejit said...

It's hard , bordering on the impossible, to be objective about such a subjective topic as poetry, but you have a real stab at it here.People like what they like,there is no wrong in my book, though of course I have my own prejudices that border on the judgemental.For example I am the president of PAH, poets against haiku. How terrible is that, to be purely against something?Wouldn't it be better to be (selectively) FOR things? How negative,sad, nihilistic, yet ultimately pathetic and (hopefully) harmless!
We are all human, we are all flawed, we are all different.And thank feck for that! Vive la difference.

Rachel Fox said...

You're right - it is subjective (and yet you wouldn't believe the number of online rows I've been in where a.n.other has been totally convinced that THEY are objective and it's everyone else who is merely subjective - hah!).

A lot of this post is about my own state of mind really... and trying to work that out.


Totalfeckineejit said...

Moi aussi,and isn't that what keeps us going? Keep going comrade!

Eryl said...

You've sold it to me, if I stumble on a second hand copy I'll certainly buy it.

This post is, itself, many layered and multi-textured, I'd say, like a good winter wardrobe. I need to go off and cosy up to it for a while, then maybe I'll come back and tie myself up in knots trying to explain something about something to do with poetry and my feelings on it.

I just watched all those Stewart Can't-remember-his-surname videos: very funny indeed, thanks for them, X

Marion McCready said...

I like the sound of that, had been meaning to pick up a copy for a while. Personally I find her hit and miss. There are so many of her poems that I really love, especially from her Jizzen Collection. I bought The Tree House a few years back and was very disappointed, it's been barely off my shelf as well. I remember reading an interview with her where she said that in The Tree House she was going back to her original poetic calling as a nature poet, ie taking the focus away from the personal and political poems of her previous collections. But they fall pretty flat for me in comparison.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, Eryl, I did play with those post more than usual before it went up. Partly because it's normally when I say I don't like something that the author themselves turns up in the comments to call me out (Owen Sheers anyone..?). I was trying to read the knots I think... wondering, partly, if I'm just barking up wrong trees and so on.

Thanks for your comment Marion as it kind of backs up my feelings... especially helpful as we have quite different styles and tastes and yet came to a similar conclusion here. And as for 'hit and miss' I suppose most artists are that really, aren't they?


Ross Wilson said...

Findings was one of the books I took with me on my George Mackay Brown "pinthomage" to Orkney a couple of years ago. I really liked it and always meant to go back to it(I don't think I ever read the final essay.)I thought The Tree House was a good book as well. The second poem, I remember, as being especially good (first one as well.) I think that collection was largely about a woman in middle age trying to come to terms with how she (and we) should live on this planet. Then again, I haven't read it in ages and can't find it (Or Findings - I can't find Findings! Ha!)to re-read and offer any in depth response (I'm in the process of putting up new shelves and all my books are in boxes.) And now I think my dinner is on fire so I must, er, shut up and get up . . .

Rachel Fox said...

Glad you like 'Findings' too. I was very jealous of her Andrew Marr recommendation on the cover (he is the thinking woman's not-at-all-attractive-really crumpet you know...).
hi Ross
I am in no way saying 'The Tree House' is not a good book, I should point out - just that, in some ways compared to 'Findings' I found it (for me!)... kind of dour and flat (in places).
Yes, to the middle-aged woman and all that... and maybe that's one reason I hoped her poetry really would work for me right now (I am much in the same place, at the same time...). And some of it did... I keep going back to the poem called 'The Creel' certainly.

Rachel Fox said...

odd editing in that last comment!

Titus said...

Andrew Marr = attractive. For sure.

Rachel Fox said...

Well. In the dark maybe.