Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Cambridge Poetry Summit

Well, I've just returned from a weekend of spending too much money, and hearing far too much non-mainstream poetry for my own good. It was marvellous. Cambridge the city is beautiful and like living in a museum. But I met & heard some great poets: Tony Lopez, Alan Halsey, Peter Manson, Tom Leonard, Harry Gilonis. There was a great film of Robert Creeley reading and discussing his poems and life, made by Colin Still. Kelvin Corcoran was great too, and John Welch.

Not everything was great. I didn't take much away from Adrian Clarke's work, which seemed just too abstract for me. Some of the young male poets from Cambridge seemed to be competing in the "do the police in different voices" silly voices competition. Brian Catling - curiously - didn't do much for me either. A poem about a Scottish "idiot" and "hardman" seemed too much like a cliche of working-class life (we all drink and fight a lot) than something really eye-opening. It's a middle-class view of the lower classes, done in highly intelectual, Olsonite verse.

But the best has to be Micheal Haslam. Here's an extract from Venite Pheonix:

Venite Pheonix to the colours coast
the seaway in her phantom boat
and feather coat, a spectrum ghost.
Glass Black. Blue Swart. Dark Turque. Navy.
The Wine Maroon. A Royal Deed.
The Purples Violate a Mark of Heat.
Sun Gold. Egg Yolk. Sky Egg White,
a transparent glue. Sea Glass as green
or grey or blue. Green as the gorse
and yellow bloom. A lilac air,
a bluish blush. Shallow Sallow.
Lemon flora mallowish. Deep tan as from a cello.

Roll these words around your tongue; this is a poet with a wonderful ear for the music of the English language. I was reminded by this beginning of WS Graham's Nightfishing, of Basil Bunting's Brigflats. This is a poetry steeped in the mythology of the North of England. He's learned much, no doubt, from Robert Duncan and the Black Mountain poets in the States, but there are profound meditations on the matter of Englishness in his work. And profoundly unrestrained, yet concentrated on the subject, like Hopkins, like John Clare or Coleridge.

I'll no doubt return to the subject of this conference, but for now I'll leave it.

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