I’ve been to see the Sickert exhibition at Tate Britain, having meant to go and see it in Liverpool when it was on show there.
Sickert’s long been among my favourite British artists – and artists per se. The exhibition traces his development from his beginnings as Whistler’s protégé in the 1880s to becoming the grand old man of British art as Europe descended into war for the second time during his life. The curators haven’t flinched from questioning the ethics of Sickert’s nudes or his interest in the infamous Camden Town Murder, and outline how his pioneering usage of photographs paved the way for Pop Art. For me, it was especially good to see many of his Degas-influenced music-hall and theatre pictures assembled together; likewise with the ‘conversation pieces’, narrative paintings in shades of brown and muted ochre, which could have illustrated the novels of Bennett or Wells.
Here’s a poem of mine, written six or seven years ago, which focuses on three fine Sickert paintings in the Tate collection, all of which feature in the exhibition, two of them hung side-by-side.
Vermilion: the dress and hat of Minnie Cunningham, vamping, for the Bedford Music Hall’s Friday-night delight, ‘I’m an Old Hand at Love, Though I’m Young in Years’.
Venetian: the suits worn by Brighton Pierrots, trotting out patter to rows of vacant deckchairs, while poison-gas drifts and chokes the No Man’s Land beyond Sickert’s Dieppe.
Scarlet: the mac defining a news reporter’s back, hunched at the front of a vast crowd flailed by rain, waiting hours for Amelia Earhart’s arrival at Hanworth Air Park, May ’32;
conception month of my parents, who grew up to nurture such tasty Moneymaker tomatoes, lining them up to redden on the south-facing window-sill, behind the kitchen sink.
My reviews of these two fine pamphlets are up on the Sphinx website, where, as always, there are many other reviews to read. Thanks to Nell Nelson for her encouragement and skilfully editing of my chunter.
The review of Amanda Dalton’s Notes on Water is here.
The review of Greg Freeman’s The Fall of Singapore is here.
Today is an exciting day for me because my essay on the poet (and writer per se) Ted Walker has been published on The Friday Poem, here. I’m very grateful to editor Hilary Menos for finding space for my rambling observations and, moreover, for Ted himself.
The essay took a good deal of reading and research, including a trip down to Lancing back in February (thus the photos); it was, and is, a labour of love. The more I’ve read by and about Ted, the more I’ve grown to like him and respect his considerable achievements. As you’ll see from the essay, he was critically acclaimed throughout his career, yet hardly anyone seems to remember him. My intention was to bring Ted back into the light, so that, with any luck, he might acquire some new readers. If that happens, then I will be very glad.
The summer is invariably a quiet time for me, writing-wise. There are too many distractions for one thing, but, in any case, I rarely get in the mood to write when it’s warm and pleasant outside.
Reading, though, is a different matter. Sitting out in the sunshine with a good book is, of course, one of life’s great pleasures. In the last three months or so, I’ve enjoyed new and old collections by David Cooke, Jonathan Davidson, Tim Dooley, John Foggin, Ishion Hutchinson, Simon Jenner, Anita Pati, Peter Sansom, Anne Stevenson and Sarah Westcott, as well as pamphlets by Amanda Dalton and Greg Freeman which I’ve reviewed.
On my to-read pile, are new collections by Cahal Dallat, Richie McCaffrey, Dino Mahoney, Helena Nelson and some old ones by Ken Smith, plus the Collected Poems of Lorine Niedecker. All of those should keep me busy when I’m off soon, in four of the six school holiday weeks. A few days in Marvell country, Holderness, will also be good for the soul.
It’s been lovely to see the excellent news lately that some of my favourite poets have new collections forthcoming, including Ramona Herdman, Marion McCready, Pete Raynard, Emma Simon and Matthew Stewart.
Meanwhile, the understandably long waits to hear back about various submissions go on and on, so in amongst my fretting about resilience and recalling of Eliot’s words about poetry being a mug’s game, I was chuffed to see, today, that Live Canon posted on YouTube the reading I did for them last year in their still-thriving Friday Lunchtime readings series. It can be watched here.
I have a poem, ‘Accommodation Strategy’, in the second issue, here, of Public Sector Poetry, which is a rather niche journal for people like me who work in the public sector and also happen to be poets. The events of the last two years have already rendered my poem’s content out of date, but it represents a certain point in time. It just goes to show that local government is rather more fluid and dynamic now than when I started it in an eon ago.
I’m delighted to have two poems on Wild Court again, here. Big thanks to its editor, and very fine poet, Robert Selby.
I could provide some football trivia as background to the Cloughie poem, but I’ll let the poem speak for it itself. I like to think it’s in keeping with David Peace’s brilliant 2006 novel The Damned Utd, which was filmed in 2009 with Michael Sheen fully inhabiting the role of Old Big ’Ead himself.
I’ve written before on this blog about the excellence of Kathy Pimlott’s poetry – a review, here, of her first Emma Press pamphlet Goose Fair Night (2016). Kathy’s second pamphlet, Elastic Glue (2019), was just as good, and contained several poems concerning the gentrification of her neighbourhood of Covent Garden and Seven Dials in central London.
I was therefore delighted to be able to attend the launch, on Wednesday at the lovely setting of Phoenix Garden, of Kathy’s first full collection, The Small Manoeuvres, published by Verve Poetry Press and available to buy here. It was a very enjoyable evening, which included Kathy reading some of the fine poems in the book.
Like the two pamphlets, the poems in The Small Manoeuvres are full of Kathy’s clear-eyed perceptions, a palpable sense of social justice, deep respect for family, friendship (especially amongst women), history and memory, and finely-drawn character studies. They are, in the best way, very readable poems, without any irritating tricksy-bollock nonsense. For these reasons, Kathy is among my very favourite contemporary poets.
The first of the five stanzas which make up the poem ‘Weathers in the City’ exemplifies Kathy’s bravura, but also concise, tell-it-as-it-is style:
Our lead-laced down draughts gust between high-rises, blow sex cards from phone kiosks, shake plane trees to sneezes. Not true winds as such.
The poem’s concept is an original one. It carries on to end as wonderfully as it began:
Without oceans, rippling cornfields, crags, we must find the sublime where we can. Once, from the Lyric Hammersmith bar,
disappointed with the play, I looked out and saw a triple rainbow, so clear it made anything possible. And sometimes grubby air rests on our cheeks as if we are loveable.
Aside from the incidental resonance for me of the mention of the Lyric bar, where I spent many lunchtimes with my friend James when we both worked for Hammersmith and Fulham Council in the late Nineties, this passage begs the questions of who ‘we’ might be and, intriguingly, why that ‘we’ might not usually be ‘loveable’. Is ‘we’ the city-residents, or does it also include all those who are just passing through as tourists or even as day-trippers? The idea of community is a key theme, sometimes more latent than explicit, in Kathy’s poetry.
‘Weathers in the City’ is one of several superb poems set in Kathy’s locale which form a core sequence at the centre of the collection, touching on Theatreland, West End pubs and all, but the book also encompasses jam-making, sloe gin and much else besides.
Here’s a picture of the poet herself at the launch.
With thanks to editor Hilary Menos, I have another piece on The Friday Poem today: a review, available here, of Sarah Mnatzaganian’s marvellous Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter, published by the estimable Against the Grain Poetry Press. As ever, though, there’s plenty of other, excellent stuff on there.