Wednesday, 1 January 2014

what i read - poetry - 2014

that old adage that the more more you read is good for you was certainly true for me this year. fair enough it was most likely driven by laziness. stuck between actually having to write some poetry or lying on the couch reading it the latter easily one all too often. seeing as i wasn't actually working i made it feel more like work and that level of paying attention was very handy. that, coupled with actually getting out and doing a (tiny) bit of reading made it a rather enjoyable poetry year.

given that i did read some poetry i disliked more than anything i've read for a long time but, as grayson perry said in the reith lectures, i don;t have to like it all and that acceptance in itself was handy. what i did like tho, was grand.  i read some lists at the end of the year and i was a bit disappointed to see the same old names - refuse to believe that year after year these are the best books published and i'm more than a little inclined when looking at this sort of thing, or prizes, to make associations with those judging, who publishes them and who eventually wins. not just applicable to poetry by any means but more than statistically significant i'd say.

so it was good, in the lines between, to see some mention of small presses. helena nelson's happenstance in particular, seems to be getting the attention it deserves, which is great given the graft she's put in over the years and i feel there's more to be had by a good trawl thru the small presses these days than much of what the more traditional and larger publishers are doing. not that this is a criticism of them as such, more a reflection of the iniquity of the poetry publishing business, such as it is, generally.

but anyway, any 2013 list which does not include new work by pauline stainer is, by definition wrong. so, and as much to contradict myself almost immediately, there was her new collection out on bloodaxe, tiger facing the mist, which was the bar everything had to be meeting for the coming year. i've said it before and i'm happy to say it again - pauline stainer is the best poet writing today by a country mile and it's a crime she's not more widely read or better known.

this last is maybe not my favourite of hers but it was still going to be my poetry book of the year by a long chalk. she goes her own way does pauline stainer, writes strange luminescent thing that are beautiful on the surface but tricky to get into but, by doing so, are worth the effort and that, to me, is just what i like. you'd think maybe that i'd like geoffrey hill for the same reasons but he's just a bit too abstruse for me. stainer says more by doing less and is the better for it i think. but you don't have to agree!

but it was to geoffrey hill my thoughts turned to when i got the forward book of poetry, leafed thru it and lodged hard up on steve ely. a proper wtf moment in amongst all the rest (not that there isn't much to enjoy in that anthology - well worth a punt).

oswald's book of hours is way different from much of the middle class finger twiddling going on these days. grounded in language as much as history there's as much ecclesiastical as there is of old and middle english, it's a happy joy to trawl thru it and get to awkward wee knots where you realise you don't know what he's on about, fire up the googlemachine and be released into a vista of new knowledge.

ely wears all this like a badge on his sleeve. there's a hagiography of arthur scargill in there which is just on the wrong side of ridiculous but, given what's gone before let alone what's to come (highwaymen!), it's easy to take it in your stride. it's worth checking out ely's website if only to see an almost lance armstrong like transformation form what he's done before but as much to see ely pronouncing on himself. true, it's maybe a bit hilarious in its iconoclasm but there's something about ely that goes beyond the man in the pub/scoring on the spectrum and gets right to the heart of a thrawn, wilful englishness that's seen far too infrequently in poetry these days.

i loved oswald's book of hours. i was into it the moment i got it out of the envelope and it's sat this last couple of months by my chair so i can dip in and out of it again and again. tiger facing the mist is quieter, more introspective but if i had to give someone only two books of poetry from 2013 these would be them.
the stainer is for those curled up in your chair looking upwards transcendental moments ely's for shouting off rooftops, transformative poetry you can feel on your tongue.

shake out the coppers from your pockets and buy these books. they are brilliant.


Marion McCready said...

Really must check out Steiner, I remember you mentioning her before!

swiss said...

most of her back catalogue on amazon for much cheapness