Seven : Five – The Final Confusion

Here we are! Part five! Jumped the shark? Let's find out! My last couple of books follow below, along with the previously errant Stephen Crane, with a few thoughts about reading poems afterwards.

First, a round-up of the different parts to the past month's reading challenge:

part 1 – Newman, Hesketh, Riviere, Newman, Brainard, Doegar, Ehin
part 2 – Hammond, McFarlane, Fowler, Un, Tamás, Wetherington, Jenks
part 3 – Morgan, Campaign in Poetry anthology, Armitage, Riley, Williams, Welton
part 4 – Prado, Moore, Lindsay, Miller, Chingonyi, Jenkins, Hazzard
part 5 – you're in it! See below:

Jay Bernard, The Red and Yellow Nothing (Ink, Sweat & Tears Press, 2017)
Invented prelude to a medieval poem about Morien – a young knight who travels from Moorish lands to Camelot, in search of his father (who abandoned the Moorish princess he had promised to marry, leaving before Morien was born). Looks at early European romantic ideas of blackness and the author writes about Morien in a way in which: "the particular history that produced the author that reproduces [and in some ways contaminates] him is not inevitable." The poems themselves that tell the story are very varied in form, style and register, lots of rhetorical flourish and startling moments. Utterly contemporary in feel – mixing race, mixing gender, mixing styles of text all together to tell the story. Good to read it in one go, to hold it all together in my head. It's been shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award too.

Eds. James Davies, Tom Jenks, Scott Thurston, The Other Room Anthology 9 (Other Room Press, 2017)
Once a year the Other Room reading series in Manchester publishes an anthology of work by poets who have read there, with a focus on experimental writing. Although this was maybe a bit rougher to read all in one sitting, because there are so many ideas and styles swirling around here, there is lots of very interesting work here. Geraldine Monk's piece is an investigation on water, many seas, droplet by the very bones droplet. Sam Riviere's piece is broken down fragmented texts, timestamped a bit like live tweeting a news story maybe. Other pieces of illustrated texts, essays, more conventional framing, unconventional forms, a list of notes and names of birds in the garden... Lots to see here. Lots to show what is possible.

Stephen Crane, Poems (Chatto & Windus, 1972)
Finally here, out of the bag and unpacked. I like this. I also, again, cannot remember when on earth I bought this lovely pink and teal seventies edition. He died in 1900, and was best known for his American Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage. I think that's as much as I remember ever knowing about him, and I don't recall ever having read his poems before. They are sparse, succinct, title-less short verses, with no particularly visible interest in rhyme or any particular form. He takes abstractions, such as war, love, god, and anthropomorphises them in a sort of slight symbolic or impressionistic way. I think that's why these poems get described as "timeless". There's not a huge amount of detail of the age, as it focuses on people's impulses more than their specific contexts. They feel like poems about how he sees the world. God is both dead and alive. There are spirits. But for the most part it feels very-- human. A heavy cynicism, or perhaps realism, especially where war is concerned. Here is a short poem I especially liked, a nice way to end:

Phew. Well, that's that then. Let me point out Jo Bell and Jacqueline Saphra again who have been doing their own NaPoReMo activities too. I have a few thoughts about it all, jumbled around, in no particular order.

If I read one book or pamphlet of poems a day for the whole year, that would be 365 publications.

174 poetry publications, all published in 2017, were catalogued by the Poetry Library in the first four months of this year. So perhaps three times that number, ie of 522 publications, might be catalogued by the end of the year. So one a day would mean I was only 70% through the year's new publications.

That said, the Poetry Library lists 1158 poetry publications published in 2016, so it might be more like only about 30% I could manage.

I have no idea how much poetry anyone else is reading. I know I read more when I'm focused on a very specific project. I know I read less when I'm binge-watching a new show on Netflix.

I miss prose. I've barely read any prose this month, so will be glad to start mixing it up again. I wonder what the poetry to prose ratio is for other other poets?

There are so many different kinds of poetry. And I don't find one kind inherently better or worse, or more or less serious, than another.

I like that anything resembling genre in poetry isn't limited to a specific kind of poem. Lyric poems can be politically engaged, experimental writing can be hilarious, rhyming poems can be tragic, etc. (Well, duh.)

Writing something useful to characterise each publication is tricky. I find it easier to focus on the shapes on the pages sometimes, the visible style. But things get spiced up sometimes by ambition or theme, and occasionally also by biography, but less frequently.

Much poetry benefits from being read in one big intensive burst, so it all sticks and clangs and chimes in the head against itself at once. Much poetry requires you to saunter back into it afterwards, pull up a poem and spend a lot of time with it.

Some poems I like because they tell me stories. Some poems I like because they challenge the way I think about the way we tell things to each other. These are often two different types of poems.

Many collections are designed to be read all at once. Many are, well, a collection of largely disconnected poems, and it doesn't matter if you just read them one at a time.

Good poems get better the more you read them, mostly.

Reading books all at once is quicker than reading them over time. There is a finite amount of time allotted to you in life and you should only spend it on the things you really want to.

Man, there's a lot of interesting and diverse poetry out there.

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