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 The events of the last two years have already rendered my poem’s content out of date, but it represents a certain point in time.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.
The haiku above, one of the April contingent in The Haiku Calendar 2022, still very much worth buying from the incomparable Snapshot Press, here, has been talking to me for the past week and a half. Few haiku as short as this – just nine syllables – do as much work.
I picture the poet/protagonist, having consulted the weather forecast, down on his haunches to polish his faithful pair of sturdy black boots, for a walk into the countryside, maybe, or out to the coast.
The familiar sound as the tin-lid’s catch releases is immensely satisfying. Chard is as observant and excellent a haiku poet as anyone writing today, so he knows that the ‘pop’ needs no qualifying adjective, and his choice of the rather old-school ‘dubbin‘ is inspired.
It’s also pertinent to note that Chard didn’t write ‘set fair the dubbin tin’s pop’. His wording enables a double surprise: of the pop itself, and then that what causes the pop is something as apparently trivial as opening a tin of shoe polish.
Except that it isn’t trivial, and it shifts the focus: what we see is an act born of tradition; of someone with standards to maintain, standards no doubt instilled in him as a boy. The day is ‘set fair’, so boots need to be looking their best.
Over on The Friday Poem, I have another essay, here, entitled Considering the Effects; on three poems about bowls (yes, really) by Stephen Payne, Pauline Stainer and Ted Walker. My thanks to editor Hilary Menos, and to HappenStance, Bloodaxe and London Magazine Editions for permissions to quote the poems in full.
Last Friday, April Fool’s Day perhaps appropriately, marked thirty years to the day since I started working in local government. I joined Kingston Council all those years ago thinking that it would do me for a few months while I thought about what I really wanted to do with my life. I’ve moved local authorities a few times since then and returned; for 10 years now I’ve worked for both Kingston and Richmond. In 2014, also on 1st April, along with everyone else in children’s services in Kingston and Richmond, I TUPE-transferred out into our own new not-for-profit community interest company, to be owned and commissioned by the two councils. So whenever I’m in Kingston for work, I end up sitting at a desk which is about five metres away from where I sat back in 1992. That’s progress. But still, I remain glad that the only paid work I’ve undertaken in the last 30 years has been public service, which is much maligned nowadays, in no small part thanks to this utterly contemptible government of ours.
Friday was also the retirement day – therefore her leaving do in the evening – of a colleague whom I like(d) very much, for her dry wit as much as anything. You can’t survive for years in local government unless you have a penchant for drollery. I love leaving dos, because they are a chance to celebrate a working life well served, but also because they invariably draw old faces who haven’t been seen for some while. A bit like funerals but not quite as sad. Then there’s the booze, of course, as you can see from the picture of some eejit below. The poem below, which was published in Butcher’s Dog 8 in 2016 and then in The Evening Entertainment, was my attempt to make sense of such occasions.
The Leaving Do
You’re already ancient history: for months you’ve been demob-happy and senior management have less and less often invited you to meetings or solicited your view; so here you are yet again—though this time unexpectedly for your turn—in the Fox and Hounds, where your deputy reserved an area from 5pm: you emailed every name in the corporate address book, plus a few old faces who managed to escape before you; anyone, basically, who might give a toss. After three jolly Happy Hours, on an unknown but quaffable brand of fizz, there’s a fair-sized turn-out considering it’s a school night. Your team are patently delighted to be seeing you off, though most dissemble from politeness. Some folk say you’re going because you don’t think they’re good enough; pronounce at the bar that you’ve been over-promoted. One or two seem genuinely pleased to see you succeed. Thus the evening develops into This is Your Life: each vodka brings retirees looking so much chirpier than before they left, and colleagues you’ve not seen for yonks, fully reminding you why. That’s when Vivienne from Finance appears at your elbow and wells up unstoppably, as she’ll miss you ‘like mad’, and you never, ever, even guessed.
My latest ‘one point of interest’ (OPOI) reviews are on the Sphinx website: of Alan Brownjohn’s The Ship of Endurance, here, and Martin Figura’s My Name is Mercy, here. As ever, though, there are lots of other reviews to read.
Wednesday marked seven years since my dad died. So here’s a sonnet about him, concerning an important aspect of his retirement years, which Richard Skinner kindly published in his annual journal 14 in 2020.
We never saw our father bidding in stuffy, Crockery-cluttered auction rooms across Surrey— Dorking, Shere, Reigate, Haslemere—for late-Georgian Toby jugs; even so, we can all imagine
His tried and tested method of signalling a bid Was the same as when oncoming vehicles slid Politely into passing places and relinquished Right of way to his Fiesta: he acknowledged
Such sensible behaviour not by disclosing A palm, a thumbs-up or peace sign, but raising His trigger finger an inch; like a Sunday-outing Farmer in a new black Mercedes, visiting
Beachy Head, who listens to Country and Western To snuff out an upsurge of untold depression.