Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lobe Scarps & Finials - Geraldine Monk - Leafe Press £8.95

Here's the promised first review, and it's a doozie:

Geraldine Monk is one of those poets who one gets the feeling would be much wider known, if only she weren't one of those darned "other poets" who get left out of the lists when it comes to official verse culture. She is funny, wise and playful, and she probably has as much understanding of the physicality of language as any poet living in this country. In this book, as in many of her other books, sound and meaning clash and merge, dance around each other like two lovers still working each other out.

Her poems are often difficult to quote from in a blog review, because she places words very carefully on the page to emphasise their relationship and to add a visual dimension to her poems. This is often called "open form" or "projective verse", and is where we see the influence of Olson and the Black Mountain poets; but hers is also a profoundly local as well as international poetry.

In Poppyheads, for instance, she takes her inspiration from the carved at the end of pews in a church in Rotherham, not far from her home in Sheffield. These short verses evoke both the carvings and the natural magic of the North of England:

to the
edge of my pond -
flutters bug me. Litter. Water louse.
Damsels in. Nothing is for ever. Floozies
ply. So long dragons - fly now nymphs.

I see dragonflies over a river or a millpond, and I hear them too, in the alliteration, in the rhythm that dashes about. Throughout her work, there is this reaching out for a language that doesn't just explain or evoke the world, but reaches into it and brings it to life for us.

This book, in some ways, is a gathering together of various pieces rather than a fully unified collection, which her last, the sonnet sequence Ghosts & Other was. Nevertheless, the sequences do hold together and explore the mysterious edge of the natural world. She even manages, in Glow in the Darklunar Calendar to reinvigorate that old standby of poets, the moon. Though I'm always aware of Mina Loy's line from The Lunar Baedecker, about that familiar symbol of mystery "pockmarked with personification", she manages to range widely between the scientific, the mythic and the mystical in often beautiful lines that show there is life in the old satellite yet.

Perhaps not her most essential read: for that I recommend Interegnum and Escafedd Hangings; but this is nevertheless a very enjoyable book. It brings together sequences that add further to our understanding of one of the best poets, and really should be enjoyed much wider than she is. And I do say enjoyed: the gusto of these poems, the linguistic play and the brio of the dancing words is not something to be worried over. They should be read quickly first, to get the music of them, and then savoured, read aloud. She wants you to join in the dance.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Hopefully soon, I'll be able to include a couple of reviews of books I've read recently. In the meantime, I've been thinking about poetry again, and expectations.

There was a comment I came across in an article, to the effect that there were these "bastions of neo-modernism", and it caused me to ask who they might be. Two possible candidates came to mind: Geoffery Hill and JH Prynne. They're both "difficult" poets and they could both be described as "neo-modernist"; but I wonder how much either poet sees themselves as "bastions" of anything. Personally, I lost contact with Geoffery Hill about the time of the The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Peguy, which I remember being very good, but then he was silent for years and came back with a rush of books I've never really had time to keep up with. My loss no doubt; but there's so much to read it's not possible to keep up with everyone.

JH Prynne I know through pieces in anthologies, some of which I find frankly baffling and some of which I find bafflingly beautiful. Which means I don't know what they're about, but I kind of like them. But again I haven't really followed him up to the Collected, and perhaps I should.

But it leads me to thoughts about influence. Another article, a review of the Selected Edward Thomas, informed me that he was a really important poet for the development of English poetry. And I guess he is, but again all I've read is the stuff in anthologies. Or - I tell a lie - I have picked up his Selected in libraries and read a few poems in them, probably more than either Prynne or recent Hill. If this amounts to influence, then I'm influenced, but not much.

Of the three, I probably like Hill the best; but I can't say that any of them mean that much to me. They don't - to use a lovely Quaker phrase - speak to my condition. Other poers who may be influenced by them, or by some aspect of them, maybe do; but I don't see much influence of Prynne in, say, Lee Harwood or Tom Raworth, for instance.

Edward Thomas and Prynne, and probably Hill too, are important to some for particular reading of English poetry. Edward Thomas leads to Larkin, leads to Armitage and Duffy, say; Prynne leads to the current crop of avant garde poets; Hill, no doubt, to another kind of poet. And then you start to take sides: Thomas vs Prynne vs Hill.

I like all three poets in their way. I like Hill's depth of reference, the strange surface music of Prynne and the quietly assertive values of Thomas. But not so much that other poets don't come first on my reading list. Maybe I'll get round to Prynne; I should probably have kept up with Hill; and Thomas would be pleasant to look at. But poetry in England is not one line, or two lines, or three; it's a field full of folk, and there's so much more to listen to. I'll be missing something by not studying all three, of course I will; but then I'll miss other stuff if I don't pursue that too.