The Low Passions: review

I heard of the American poet Anders Carlson- Wee because of an article about a poem he had written, which caused some controversy. I was interested because he was writing in another voice, something I do frequently in my work and a subject I am writing about at the moment. The discussion around his poem centred on the poet assuming a selection of radically different voices to create a layering of statements highlighting homelessness.

Some readers found this unsettling and it generated questions about this kind of writing being a cultural appropriation of voice, that resulted in racist and ableist language being used.  Is it appropriate to write in an invented voice, or the voice of another person? I have written in the voice of queens, artist’s muses and rock star’s muses. My current manuscript is an imagined memoir of Pamela Colman Smith (there is an interesting article about who PCS was by Dr Elizabeth O’Connor here), so you can see my interest in all the ethical and creative considerations when writing in another ‘voice’.

My impression on reading Carlson-Wee’s poem was that it was more like a chorus in a play; many voices presented by the author to create a scene. An attempt to render passing voices that had been overheard. This may not have been successful for some readers, but I didn’t believe it was intentionally appropriating, rather it was theatrical and observant. It was an interesting discussion though and the poem was useful for my research about utilising other voices/identities to create a new piece of work, and I was glad the controversy had brought me to the poet.

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This brings me to the poet’s latest work, The Low Passions, which is a remarkable book.

There is an immediate sense of  the journey, both literal, as a travel memoir and something more spiritual. Wondering and wandering could describe the concern of the book. 

The first poem sets the scene for the whole book. The poem’s narrator marvels about, ‘all the hazards we pass through/in amazement.’ That ‘we’ is important because there is an echo in this collection, not only the people inhabited in the persona poems or observed, but a brother, who skirts in and around the narrative. That sense of brotherhood is reflected on, both in the sense of the relationship between personal family, but in the larger sense of a human family.

But this personal brother is challenging within the various imagined narratives; there is a truth in the observations that speaks of memoir. It is compelling. The poet returns to this often bloody and dramatic relationship like a painful scab that needs to be touched. Carlson-Wee is an excellent observer, both of voice and detail. He captures the competitive and painful reality of siblings, in the poems Dynamite or Polaroid, then in  contrast in the poem titled The Raft, he describes fishing with his sibling, checking cooked fish for tenderness, when it is the poem itself that aches with tenderness.

There is a feeling of Biblical incantation in the opening poem, Riding The Owl’s Eye, that also echoes Whitman’s ‘Out of the cradle endlessly rocking.’

‘Out of all the dumpsters […] Out of all the hazards.’

In Carlson-Wee’s book the landscape and people are carefully observed and recorded so that they seem fully realised on the page, which reminded me of Frank Stanford’s poems. Reading these poems is a visceral experience. Carlson-Wee swaps persona and dialect from poem to poem, and they all combine to create the feeling of a dramatic assembly. Unlike Stanford, Carlson-Wee does not reflect epic, brutal reflections to the reader, rather the poems have quieter, contemplative stories to tell.

However, the poet is both amazed and angry contemplating the magnificent-horror of life and there is lament and prophesy in these poems; questioning the meaning of life in relation to faith. For example, the character of Cousin Josh is brilliantly realised and ultimately tragic, forcing the reader to question why these things happen to a person. Carlson-Wee elevates other voices, the disenfranchised and lost.

Movement, travel and a sense of motion is constant within the book, but also, in contrast, profound stillness. Again in the opening poem, Carlson-Wee demonstrates his skill that continues throughout the collection, of moving from the large landscape of a poem, to hyper-focus on a small detail that he describes in a way to show its equal enormity.

[…]Some say the world is broken,/some say the Good Lord has forsaken our dreams,/ but I say it our own throat that grows/the cancer, our own asthma that blackens our breath/to a wheeze. And the truth is, the mile-long train/ will always crawl past. The socket-fixed gaze/of the owl’s skull will always turn perfectly/backwards. […]

To me, it felt like Carlson-Wee was asking a big question about place and belonging. What is the meaning in this life? Is it a series of roads one must travel down to find meaning? If you want to understand the landscape and people, you can’t sit back as a mute observer. You must actually live that lifestyle and experience a true sense of place, and the endless question of belonging to that place. However, it doesn’t feel like poverty tourism, rather a renouncing of materialism; a humble shape for the poet to inhabit so they can see.  There is a sense of deliberate vulnerability within the narrative that unfolds; turning away from comfort and stripping down to bare living. What this does is uncover precious time for contemplation.

My favourite poem in the collection is called, Primer. It is a written as a lesson in how to survive if lost in the forest. I read it as a child receiving the lesson from a relative. Carlson-Wee does what he does best in the collection, writes something that seems like an observation of place and nature, or the interplay of voices. Or perhaps it is about the tenderness of relationships and the gift of knowledge, but then he elevates it into something much larger; a lesson in having faith. Faith in God. Faith in a human voice being heard in the unfathomable place that is beyond observation:

And what do you listen for?

Sounds that shouldn’t be there. Yes

Sounds that shouldn’t be there but aren’t.

Yes. And what have you heard

since we started? A bird? Yes. Another bird

far away. Yes. A gust in the trees.

Yes. Your voice, if your voice counts.

Yes, my voice counts.

 

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Link to Primer poem on YouTube

 

 

 

 

 

DISSOLVE to: L.A.

“What does it mean to die in a movie scene? To exist on the peripheries? James Trevelyan takes twelve cult action films of the 1980s and 90s and gives life where it was extinguished too early.” The Emma Press £5

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It’s difficult to not love these poems just because of the subject matter, irrelevant of the quality. I mean, my husband and I talk to each in Aliens quotes  (for example, this is how I wake the kids up…drives them mad) and we know and love all the movies in this pamphlet, so I was enthusiastic before I even read it.

Luckily my enthusiasm was not misplaced, they are excellent poems that demonstrate attention to detail, humour and an exhilarating look at the minor characters in these films.  Doing this allows Trevelyan to examine cinematic tropes and offer different perspectives on these big, action filled films (populated by larger than life personalities like Cruise, Gibson, Schwarzenegger).

In the opening poem, Lloyd, the character states, ‘They gave me a name/and does that not give me life?’ and he goes on to list characters that were known by their clothes or job, highlighting his significance. Lloyd is not just a redshirt, he was important enough to name and was allowed to live by the Terminator who took his sunglasses. This poem makes you consider the single-line characters, and the ones who stand in the back ground as nameless extras.

The poems bounce from one form to another, the form echoing how the characters are slipping from one voice to a distinctive other. The poet gives them personality, brings them to life on the page in a way they never had the chance in the movie.

I could discuss each poem but I will leave it for the reader to discover when they get this slim but packed pamphlet, and just talk about my favourite: Timmy.

There are twelve poems but it has the weight of all that back story behind each one. The illustrations really enrich the different characters as well. I do think you will enjoy this collection more if you know the movies, it just brings out the inner fan enthusiasm.

In Timmy, a character from Aliens, Trevelyan uses a fragmented poem form, with long lines that use the landscape space on the page. The white space and lack of punctuation makes the poem feel distant, like the far reaches of space perhaps! Sorry, I can’t help bringing in the movie lingo as I think about the poems.

The trope of an innocent child dying is used to emphaise the horror of the aliens in the movie. The battle to save the sister of the murdered brother is the main action of the plot. The brother died off-screen and never developed much character; his job was to be young, innocent and die. In the poem, Timmy has a dark edge to his voice, appropriate for his ending, and the imagery plays with his sister’s nickname, Newt. He talks about her ‘bugeyes and cold blood’ placing her as one with the alien invaders. The brutal image of a newt leg being torn off and regrown echoes the grotesque ability of the Alien species to stay alive and regrow inside human hosts.  Timmy says, ‘i bet you dont remember a star that warms you up,’ reminding the reader of the remoteness of the colonists, how they have left civilization far behind and have been rewarded with the most horrific death. Although this is an imagined world, it highlights how powerless children are when parents decide to move to a new world, a new country (especially ones desperate to risk a hostile environment to make a new life for the family).

Trevelyan brings sibling jealousy, as insidious as the alien reproduction, into the narrative. It unsettles the reader and is an entirely human characteristic, once again highlighting this minor character’s humanity in contrast with the alien predator that kills him.

I’ll leave you with this scene, Ripley going to save Newt, Timmy’s sister. It’s the most kick-ass mother power scene ever!

And buy the pamphlet, it’s really entertaining and well-crafted.

Saboteur Awards: Inheritance

It’s a wonderful feeling to have been shortlisted in the Saboteur Awards, with Katy Wareham Morris, for our collaborative piece Inheritance (published by Mother’s Milk Books). Thank you to people who voted for our pamphlet.

This sequence of poems was written at a time when both Katy and I were under various life pressures, but we found a break from all the stress by working on the poems together. I started the sequence off with the first poem and then we would write in response, incorporating a word, phrase or feeling from the previous poem to create an echo across the centuries. After working on my book, Queen, Jewel, Mistress, it was absorbing to explore just one imaginary character in the 19th century. In contrast, Katy was working on poems that examined the current experience of modern motherhood.

“2016. Nights of no sleep, new infant to feed and soothe; a woman reaches for an old box of papers to read. Letters, diary: fragments of a life long gone. The writing of a forgotten relative from the 19th century that she had always meant to do something with. Archive. Study. Yet, she never had the time, until now, when her baby ‘murmurs in the blue slate light’. The woman from the past is suddenly in her life, ‘soft as the nook between neck and ear’. Two voices trying to find their way through motherhood and marriage, whilst still clinging to their own identities.

Inheritance brings together two poets, Ruth Stacey and Katy Wareham Morris, to create an unforgettable sequence of poems. The poems follow each other with echoes from the past, images that re-surface and bring with them a feeling of universal emotion, irrelevant of the century.”

If you have enjoyed Inheritance … 9th April-9th May: Voting on shortlist opens: Vote Now!

It is also brilliant to have two V Press Poets nominated for best pamphlet. Claire Walker and Romalyn Ante. Edited by Sarah Leavesley, who runs V Press, they are very different in style and showcase the variety of excellent work Sarah selects.

As usual, my part of V.Press was designing the hand-sketched covers (Sarah does the photo covers for the flash fiction).  Below is one of the stag images I drew for Claire, one of many as it was a very vivid sequence set in the countryside. It wasn’t chosen as the final cover but it remains a favourite of mine. Claire chose a tremulous, cautious deer peering out of the trees, which suited the pamphlet perfectly. Romalyn’s design was plain and one of those perfect combinations of the words becoming the image. I really enjoy reading each new poetry pamphlet or poetry book and working on the covers; sketching the pamphlets (where I include the word poetry somewhere)  and bolder designs for the books. For example, Kathy Gee’s Book of Bones had a striking, white image of a skull on the cover. Antony Owen, recently shortlisted for the Ted Hughes, had a plain blue cover with a repeating classical pattern bordering the name of the book: The Nagasaki Elder. Antony is an incredible ambassador for peaceful protest against nuclear arms and one of the things that sums up his kind, generous nature is the request he made to me to make his name hardly stand out on the cover as it was the names of the people in the poems, those interviewed in Hiroshima and Coventry, that mattered.

 

Finally, the incredible, monumental, heartbreaking, upsetting, vital #metoo anthology has been nominated. I am very proud to be included in this book. It has been so carefully and considerately edited by Deborah Alma and published by Nadia Kingsley at Fairacre Press. The work in this book will not be an easy read, but it is necessary, and ultimately creates a feeling of hope and solidarity. You can hear Deborah discuss the anthology at the Hive, Worcester 17th April.

V.Press shortlisted for the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets

The Awards are now established among the most significant awards in contemporary poetry. They are designed to raise the profile of poetry pamphlets, recognising the enormous contribution that they make to the poetry world.’

‘Judges’ Comments: The V. Press offering of four remarkably diverse pamphlets included a mix of established and new writers. We fell in love in particular with Alex Reed’s pamphlet ‘A Career in Accompaniment’ about looking after his wife – quiet poems, carefully crafted, with enormous emotional heft and dignity.’ 

We have a special offer at V.Press at the moment to celebrate the press being shortlisted for the awards, please follow this LINK to find out more.

Free Verse: Poetry Book Fair

I would be delighted to see you at our reading on the 30th September.
11.30    Mother’s Milk Books
Ruth Stacey and Katy Wareham Morris
“Nottingham-based independent publisher Mother’s Milk Books showcase poets Ruth Stacey and Katy Wareham Morris, the authors of Inheritance, the most recent pamphlet from the press’s popular series of poetry ‘duets’, which focusses on narratives around womanhood and being a mother.”

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Programme 2017

“We’re delighted to announce the programme of readings and events at this year’s Poetry Book Fair! It’s only a small selection of the exhibitors attending the fair, but we hope it offers a juicy selection of just some of the exciting developments in UK poetry this year!

The fair itself is free to enter and is open to the public from 11am – 6pm, with an Evening Do from 7pm onwards, at Conway Hall (25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL).”

Giveaway!

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Queen, Jewel, Mistress is a collection of poems that journeys from Anglo-Saxon times to the present day. Every famous queen and many forgotten ones get a moment to speak with the reader. In the back of the book is a brief history of all the queens. To win an illustrated copy of my book just comment on this post and share with your history loving friends.

The queens in the sketches are Anne Boleyn and Ælfthryth, wife of King Edgar. Plus, a songbird for Eleanor of Provence…you will have to read the poem to know why!

I will choose a winner on 30th April. Good luck!

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Sudeley Castle

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I will be visiting Sudeley Castle on Sunday 4th September. I will be reading poems in St Mary’s Church which houses the tomb of Katherine Parr. The whole day at the castle is a celebration of Katherine Parr. I wrote the poem about her whilst I was staying at The Hurst during my Arvon week. I can remember walking through the ice shrouded woods, snow on the horizon, thinking about the lines that became the poem. I can’t wait to read it at Sudeley and other poems from Queen, Jewel, Mistress that also link to the history of the castle.

Sudeley Castle Website

NPG 4451; Catherine Parr attributed to Master John

attributed to Master John, oil on panel, circa 1545

© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Hwaet!

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Reading ‘Actions Speak’ at the launch of Hwaet! at Ledbury. It was a brilliant evening of poetry and I felt grateful to Ledbury Poetry Festival (especially Chloe Garner) for including me and for always supporting me as a writer. Watch it HERE

“Mark Fisher was delighted to be asked to open the first Ledbury Poetry Festival in 1997 as Labour arts minister, and has maintained his support for the festival as an active Patron over many years. His anthology Hwaet! brings together 200 new poems by a wide range of poets who have delighted audiences at Ledbury Poetry Festival over 20 years as well as poems by some unforgettable visitors no longer with us who will always be remembered in Ledbury. Scattered between the poems are anecdotes contributed by poets and others offering a sense of the diverse flavour of an international poetry festival which is possibly unusual in being created, nurtured and loved by the community in which it is based. “

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The poets saying ‘Hwaet!’ include writers from all parts of Britain and Ireland, from North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. They include writers who’ve been poet-in-residence or worked on popular community and schools projects in Ledbury along with winners of the Ledbury Poetry Competition.”

You can purchase the anthology HERE.

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Generosity

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I’ve been running after my own invisible tail (long, with feathers, spaniel style) for the last few months. It resulted in becoming very tired and forgetting things. I was asked to read at Hellens Garden Festival. I was looking forward to it, had it fixed in my head it was on the Sunday. Then I arrived, early, feeling quietly proud that I wasn’t late and slowly realised I had come on the wrong day. I should have read on Saturday. Imagine my distress. I had let people down and been an all round hopeless poet. Yet, Adam Horovitz generously gave me space before his own reading so I could read some poems. Everyone was so kind. I felt wrapped in the supportive space created by poets. I enjoyed Adam’s reading very much, not only were the poems rich with detail and the languid weight of the landscapes within them…but he also had one of those voices, compelling and calm. In the beautiful setting of Hellens Manor, Much Marcle, the sun warming us through the odd shower, it was a perfect afternoon.  This is why I love poetry.

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The school where I work had booked Spoz to do a poetry slam and he had Rich Grant with him to take one set of kids. Rich, known as Dreadlockalien, was a poet I knew about but had never met before. It was right in the middle of me feeling very tired out and stressed so a day off normal tasks and watching Rich do his stuff was going to be a joy. Dynamic, fun, witty, charismatic and a brilliant poet…he had every kid in his group focused and producing great lines of poetry. More importantly, he made poetry not suck, which is important with kids who despise poetry! In the break we got talking about life, motivating the kids who don’t usually get to shine. I told Rich about my son who had recently been bullied for the first time about his skin colour and how devastating he had found it. Rich was keen to send my son a message to lift his spirits and give him words to remember, words to keep about his space in the human race. Rich took the time to record this message for me on my phone, completely ad-libbed, so I could take it home to my sons. Build them up. Such generosity. This is why I love poetry.