Monday, March 23, 2009

Padel & Monk

A while since I've been here. I've been getting my head down, working at the prison and thinking of what I want to do next. More about that soon.

I've been going through a slow patch, writing wise, but finally things are coming again. I've just read two books of poetry from opposite sides of the poetic track. One is Ruth Padel's Darwin, which is basically a biography in verse. It uses her characteristic long, loping lines to good effect, and is actually very enjoyable, and sometimes moving, especially in the poems about his family. She inserts a lot of Darwin's writings into the poems; but this is no avant-garde cut'n'paste job; it all takes place in chronological order, it all makes sense, and doesn't do anything more than most mainstream poetry does. But it does it well. I enjoyed it a lot, actually. Though I wished it were more adventurous, that it played with our expectations more, that it surprised us with its form. But I guess you can't expect much more from a mainstream poet.

Geraldine Monk's Ghost & Other Sonnets is a much less mainstream affair that plays with the 14 line structure of the sonnet to create dense, rich sequences and connections that are much more the kind of thing I usually like to read these days. This is probably at first glance more approachable than some of her work, but it is in fact as intriguingly structured as any of her work. The sounds of some of these poems are often extraordinary; and picking one's way through the fractured narratives, glimpses of imagery and song and the juxtoposing registers of speech here can keep you rereading for hours.

It's good to see both of these collections. If I prefer one over the other, it would have to be the Monk. She seems to me to have a handle on how we experience reality in these days where even popular films like Pulp Fiction can interweave several narratives at once, can justapose time zones and themes with a kind of cut-up craziness that make your head spin. Ruth Padel seems stuck in the old chronological, hyptactic way of thinking; whereas everyone these days is getting used to thinking paratactically. It's how the internet reads the world, cyberrealism not realism.

The poetry of the future will be less tied to the old realism, methinks. But who knows? We might see a return to narrative...