I am rather in awe of people who undertake the "write a poem a month and stick it online" project for NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month). I'm not that quick. Which also means I never seem to have poems to spare. I am a quick reader though – even if poetry isn't exactly ideal for being blitz-read – but the pile of shame next to my bed isn't getting any smaller, so I figured I might try out a NaPoReMo instead, and see if I can stay on top of reading one book of poems every day and writing something about it.
I can tell you in advance, from having done the first chunk of seven days, that I'll definitely be favouring the "slim volume", and will also throw in a few pamphlets too by way of variety / cheating. It's also making me think lots about the way I read poetry. Or the way I read differently for different types of poetry.
These aren't reviews or anything like that. Just a random collection of books I wanted to read and a few thoughts I noted down after reading them. Okay.
A collection of prose poems which each begins "Dear Editor" (which I just freudianly mistyped as "Dead Editor"), each poem being a pretend letter to an editor, discussing an enclosed batch of poems that we never actually get to read. Instead the letters are the poems, and Newman reflects in circling but ever-changing ways about chess, growing up with grandparents, metaphors, poetry workshops, saints, sin, desire... while overall also giving an interesting muse on the nature of poets' relationships with editors, with publication, with themselves. Persistent, wry, engaging.
Sarah Hesketh, The Hard Word Box (Penned in the Margins, 2014)
A collection written following a residency at a residential care home for people with dementia. A mix of poetic styles, includes some transcribed unaltered interviews that almost take on the semblance of prose poetry due to the way the language is used. A look at language breaking down and a reminder of what is lost at the end of life, of these lives. Painful, funny.
Sam Riviere, True Colours (After Hours, 2016)
A pamphlet of poems written sort of in statements, sometimes feeling like each poem is a curated collection of individual statements, sometimes feeling like they are more interconnected. A sort of ennui regarding modern life. Startling juxtapositions. Contemporary +1. I like Sam's work a lot. Dry, funny, genuine (whatever I mean by that).
Charlotte Newman, Trammel (Penned in the Margins, 2016)
This is a frequently confusing collection, but it's so wilful and determined and musical, you can lean into it without flinching. It feels like its complexity is a neccessary reaction to its subject matter - the interweaving of feminism, history, politics, books, bands and all sorts, but perhaps the political element is what feels like the guiding hand throughout. Reads at times like Mary Beard got drunk with the Oxford English Dictionary while listening to Le Tigre. (This collection is also the epitome of a book that should not be read and processed in a single day, and makes me wonder if I haven't made a horrible mistake in taking this daily reading schedule on. Hmm.)
Joe Brainard, I Remember (Penguin, 1995; originally 1970)
Oh wow. I've read this before, but in fits and chunks and definitely not all in one go. As ludicrous as the "one poetry book a day" thing may be, it worked especially well for this. If you don't know it, the poem itself is such a simple idea. A long prose poem with each idea (whether one line or a whole paragraph) separated by linebreaks, and each one starts "I remember...". I've heard people say this is a poetry cliche, probably because of other poems ripping this off, but it's so beautifully done here. A mix of funny childhood observations, mixed with memories of sexual awakening, gay awakening, confusions, tastes and experiences. So relatable and so open. Also very distracting, as each line constantly sparks off a sequence of other recollections of your own as you read.
Ed Doegar, For Now (Clinic, 2017)
I'm very good friends with Ed, so should say that up front. This is his first pamphlet and I'm predisposed to think it's wonderful. I do think it's wonderful. I don't think I'm wrong to thing it's wonderful. Very short lines often, very succinct. Lines have a gentle persuasiveness, within a larger quiet anxiety about the circumstances in which we find ourselves existing. Political, personal, devotional. As if we are all tourists in our own world.
Kristina Ehin The Scent of Your Shadow Arc 2010
I remember seeing this Estonian poet at Southbank's Poetry Parnassus festival about five years ago. She wandered around with a sort of ethereal air, someone who understood something magical. I came across her book in the Poetry Library this week and realised I hadn't actually read it back when the festival was on. She writes very personal poems, about a clearly contemporary experience, but with an enormous connection to folk traditions and to the natural world, to old forests and the sky. There is something very spiritual and organic happening here, something which does not shy away from passion and emotion.
So that's the first seven, already. How quick and casual it seems to cover books in this way, when so often poetry is about lingering and returning and sinking into. This is the opposite of poetry.
I'm struck most though, reading these publications all in such close succession, by how quickly poets can create such vastly different worlds for us to be drawn into, and how much work linebreaks do in terms of giving our imagination the space to really internalise every word and image as we go. (I mean – duh, "linebreaks do a lot of the hard work in poetry" is hardly a profound thought, but still feels worth saying.)
I'm also realising that one of the main challenges here isn't to read a book of poems a day, but to be able to process what I've read and actually write something useful about a book a day. I suspect it may prove almost as valuable as the reading itself.
More next week...