Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Hoopla and the Haul

Every September the Free Verse Poetry Fair rolls into town, or the Connaught Hall and environs, to regale its devotees with a day of book browsing and poem listening. It is an essential date on the calendar for all poetry aficionados within reach of the capital. Publishers, mainly small press, but also some of the largest, come from far and wide to sell their wares, and showcase their poets in a series of talks and readings that run all day. It is a marathon of poetic indulgence, time to catch up with friends, make new friends and revel in the well-ordered word; a full on versification, indeed. 

My haul this year included the following books and pamphlets: from Seren’s three for two offer I selected Katrina Naomi’s The Way the Crocodile Taught me; from Eyewear, and at half price, no less, publisher Todd Swift’s Madness and Love in Maida Vale; from Happenstance, Paul Stephenson’s The Days After Paris; and from New Directions and famille Horovitz, Adam’s A Thousand Laurie Lees (The History Press), and Michael’s Midsummer Morning Jog Log. 

As I work my way through them, some short notes and praise – 

Katrina Naomi focuses on family, especially her relationship with her grandmother, mother and step-father. This is her second book and, as well as well-made sonnetish lyrics, she gives us the inventive Step-Father Graph poem, and a moving eulogy to her mother, Mantra, which is afforded its own final section in the book. She’s not one to shy away from violence and the Krays (Concrete Overcoat), or the sexy. I was taken by the crocodile with whom she swims ‘belly to belly’ in the title poem, and the almost Ballardian idea of pressing one’s body against an aeroplane wing in The Woman Who Married The Berlin Wall. Chapeau. 

Todd Swift celebrated his 50th birthday this year. That’s hard to believe for someone so full of energy for writing and publishing. In this, his livre d’anniversaire, there are appreciations from friends and colleagues, along with 21 new poems. As author of a whole collection on the subject of tattoos, my ears always prick up when I see another such poem. Todd’s mini-series of Poems On Unoriginal Themes includes one on tattoo laser removal (‘I took my skin back to/ Being a baby, more or less. Spotless,/ Milky not a cast of sin.’), and others on twins and ghosts. I hope there are more of these to come another time on, say, the moon, shards, rainbows, mermaids, walking down the rue whatever, and other contemporary clichéd subject matter (mea culpa). There is much both serious and playful to enjoy here, along with Todd’s careful use of rhyme. His ability to use meter or not, and cast poems as they need to be, whether tightly packed, as in Great Malvern, or lose and disjointed, as in On the Growing Darkness in My Mind, depending on the subject matter, is well displayed. Similarly his invention is wide, such as in Christ, Swimming, where Jesus is breast stokes against the cross, and The Shit Show, which says what is says on the tin. There are well handled poems of love in its many forms too. Felicitations. 

In the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks last November, Paul Stephenson focused his attention on the City of Light. His pamphlet gives a sense of the changes that took place on the streets and in the hearts of Parisians coming to terms with atrocity. There is a sense of rawness and immediacy. These are not poems of tranquil reflection and this makes the odd slip and clunk forgivable for all that. Bravo.

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