May Day mayday

I’ve been getting my head down reading and writing in the last few months, and participating in the odd workshop session here and there, most recently this weekend just gone, when I was unusually productive.

I organised one myself, in March, for five of us to write poems in response to works in the Albert Houthuesen exhibition at Doncaster’s Danum Gallery. Albert who? you might ask. I confess that I’d not heard of him before, but he was a contemporary of some great artists at the RCA, including my hero Ed Burra. I especially liked Houthuesen’s drawings and paintings of clowns, especially a troupe called the Hermans who regularly performed in Doncaster when he was living nearby as a refugee from London during the war.

This coming Saturday, instead of watching the hideous spectacle in Westminster, the five of us are convening for another poetry from art session, at Sheffield’s fabulous Graves Gallery, where one of the exhibitions surveys the career of George Fullard, about whom I’ve written before, here.

I’ve read lots of poetry, but the book which has haunted me most of late is one which I’ve been wanting to read for years: John Berger and Jean Mohr’s collaboration A Fortunate Man. It contains so many insightful passages about the human condition that it would be invidious to single any out here. Suffice it to say that it’s up there with the Into Their labours trilogy and Bento’s Sketchbook as my favourite of Berger’s many beautiful books. What an extraordinary writer he was. Incidentally, he was an early champion of Fullard.

In my most recent poems I’ve been trying to be more ‘in the moment’, like I am in haiku, rather than dwelling on, and in, the past – albeit, of course, that every second of time contains the past and the future as well as the here and now.

I’ve booked for a couple of online readings – the wonderful duo of Fokkina McDonnell and Zoe Walkington (whose pamphlet, available here, is a brilliant hoot) for Writers in the Bath; the Live Canon launch of pamphlets by Josephine Corcoran, Matt Bryden and Isy Mead; and one in-person: John McCullough, Nafessa Hamid and Vicky Morris as part of Sheaf Poetry festival.

In March, it was fantastic to see Presence reach its 75th issue, due, principally, to the huge effort put in by editor-in-chief Ian Storr, who has had the steadiest of hands on the tiller for a good few years now. I was very happy to have three haiku in it, including this one:

the cornfield flash
of a goldfinch in flight . . .
Flanders poppies

One last thing: here’s a quote from Michael Hamburger’s superb introduction to WG Sebald’s 1998 collaboration with Jan Peter Tripp, Unrecounted: ‘[M]emory is a darkroom for the development of fictions.’ More on that, and the book itself anon.

5 thoughts on “May Day mayday

  1. Hi Matthew,
    I enjoyed this newsy post! Thanks for booking a ticket for the Live Canon pamphlets launch, it will be lovely to know you’re in the audience. Best wishes, Josephine

  2. I’m in Sheffield on Thursday for a Hallamshire appointment. I always try to drop in to the Graves if I have time so I’ll check this out if I can. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. A very enjoyable post. I would be interested to read your thoughts on Unrecounted. As you probably know, many of the poems are variations on the poems in For Years Now (with Tess Jaray); I generally prefer the versions in For Years Now – some of them differ quite dramatically, e.g. ‘Feelings, my friend/wrote Schumann/are stars that guide us/only under a dark sky’ becomes ‘Feelings, my friend/wrote Schumann/are stars that guide us/only in the brightest daylight’. Interesting to consider them side by side.

    1. Thanks very much – yes, I agree. Though neither set is among his better poems, I think. I hope to get round to a proper discussion of Unrecounted at some point.

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