Monday, April 02, 2007

The Problem With Poetry London

Sometimes, one looks forward to the thump on the map of a new issue of a magazine. Sometimes, one groans when you realise which magazine it is.

Oh no, it's the London magazine.

I'm sure there are lots of great poets in London, but none of them ever gets into the London magazine. Instead we get something like this, from Ruth O'Callaghan:

On some days a plash of oars
breaks the sleek of water

and a ripple will rim towards us

where you can almost imagine the poet thinking, doesn't that sound poetic? "Plash of oars", "sleek of water": so Heaneyesque, except who except poets use language like that in anything other than poems?

But that's Ok, it's not a serious problem; but this poem then starts getting "serious" and talking about "history", and you know that we're in the realm of symbolic hidden oarsmen and we're going to learn about something.

Or there's Sean O'Brien, who has translated Dante and doesn't let us forget it, so a poem about drains becomes - you guessed it - a metaphor for the underworld. He also wants us to know that he knows some big words - so here's the first line: "Sites of municipal vaticination." Drains have become sites of "prophesy", or an "act of prophesy". Later on we get more references: Barbaricchio's crew and "peristalsis". Now, I've nothing against long words; but why are they there? To add something to the poem or to show off? That first line sounds ugly; it has all the melopoeia of drumkit being kicked over.

Most of the poems are not that bad, thankfully; they're just, well, dull. Lots of clever images (windows like boiled sweets for instance), but lots of poems that proceed from A to B and tell nice little stories and are very personal. Marilyn Hacker - great translator of Francophone poetry that she is - cannot rise above the pedestrian narrative, though it does again get clever in its form (the last line of one verse becomes the first of the next...) Okey, it's a reaction to the Isreali incursion into Gaza, so it's Important - but again, the form is there to say "look at me, I'm a poem, aren't I clever?" It doesn't add anything, and the whole thing is too wordy by far (just thinking about what Lorinne Neidecker would have done with such a subject makes me wish to read her again.)

Cleverness, showing off, long words that don't add anything, I keep wondering what's wrong with me that none of the poems in this magazine impress me with their need to exist. They seem so full of words, but empty of any music. I've haven't even mentioned the horrendous Jeffery Harrison, who sounds like a pale imitation of Billy Collins. As if one Billy Collins weren't bad enough.

Ah well, back to John Ashbery.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Poetry London, or the London Magazine?
Wouldn't it be easier to just not let it drop on your doormat in the first place?