Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Issue 1 | Poetry | C-Words

I’ve always been somewhat of a completist. As a comic-book aficionado I would never be satisfied with a series until I’d owned every copy dating right back to the first. If I hear a song I enjoy on the radio, I react by saving up enough money to buy that band’s entire back-catalogue. If I enjoy a film, then I make a point of watching every  featurette and every interview I can find on the DVD until I feel like an authority on that movie.

I wouldn’t have brought this up unless I’d known that you all do this too. We’re a society obsessed with being vs. seeming. We trawl through bonus-discs and acoustic versions and making-ofs and rare B-sides and interviews. We’re addicted to what’s on the other side of the curtain.

In many ways, this outlines our obsession with those two dirty ‘C’ words in poetry – ‘Collected’ and ‘Complete’. Those two flirtatious little words are dotted across the spines on my shelves making the same promise we’ve all fallen for; ‘To read me, is to have the whole picture. I will take you back to where it all started and you will know this poet.’

We all want to go back to the start, read the complete Robert Frost as if we were the first people to discover him and chart his progress. We all flick to that first collection thinking ‘now, I will be experiencing the real poet, before he learned to hide himself in all that poetry.’ The idea sits there in our heads, that if we can go back in time to where the poet is finding their feet, then we will find that, just as we suspected, they are just like us behind all that talent and fame.

The more I play the debut game though, the more I realize it’s a false economy. The debut collection often represents the poet at their most guarded. The esoteric allusions come thicker and faster in many cases as a résumé to ward off the anti-youth brigade. It’s also a cliché but entirely true that a debut collection has often taken a whole lifetime longer to write than any of its follow-ups… often a lifetime spent without much first-hand experience of the literary community and professional criticism. I do genuinely believe however, that the internet is slowly but surely shifting trends in self-awareness and the value that writers and people who write place on their work.

Let me save you some time. Behind all that talent and (often posthumous) fame, poets are just like you. They watch trashy television shows and eat fast food. They have the exact same relationship problems that you have. They all worry sometimes that their life has been pointless. They lay awake at night wondering whether or not to send an email to their ex. They get pissed off when other poets beat them for a promotion. At one point or another, they have all broken wind. If you take all these things as read, then you will not need to go trawling through ‘Complete’ collections waiting for the poets to tell you this for themselves.

What you will find in debut collections, however, is the poet’s opening gambit. Their entrance music if you will. I have taken the liberty of composing 30 Haiku-Reviews of debut collections from people I respect. You will see that, in a few cases, it is not their abilities as a poet that I respect in these people, but there is nobody on this list that I do not look up to for one reason or another.

Ted Hughes – Hawk in the Rain

powerful in its address
and orality.

T.S. Eliot – Prufrock and Other Observations

How very awkward
and solipsistic it is
to be middle-classed.

Robert Lowell – Land of Unlikeness

So very prolix
and esoteric. Who knew
he’d write Life Studies?

Robert Frost – North of Boston

If you are after
long, rural and lyrical
poems, you’re in luck!

Geoffrey Hill – For the Unfallen

Don’t worry mate, I
didn’t really get what he
was saying either.

Charles Bukowski – Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail

some goddamn asshole
in the flat next door won’t stop
screwing his damn wife.

Sylvia Plath – The Colossus and Other Poems

Some fine craftsmanship
but Plath will drag you into
a morbid hell-world.

Rudyard Kipling – Barrack-Room Ballads

A little racist
on occasion, but the man
sure had good rhythm.

Elizabeth Bishop – North and South

Knowing how angry
the ‘female’ prefix made her
… just ‘a good poet’.

Walt Whitman – Leaves of Grass

Depending on which
edition you own, you could
be here for a while.

Dylan Thomas – 18 Poems

So much beautiful
nonsense – so shallow that it
appears to be deep.

DH Lawrence – Amores

Get lost in the cold
music of melancholy,
wise lyricism.

William Blake – Songs of Innocence

Something tells me that
this series is due to take
a rather dark turn.

Billy Corgan – Blinking With Fists

Seriously bad.
And I’m not just saying that.
Really bad writing.

Tim Burton – The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy

Not for young children
but ideal for those dark souls
who enjoyed Corpse Bride.

Matthew Welton – The Book of Matthew

Once you get your head
into his weird semantic
mind-fuck, you’ll love it

Luke Kennard – The Solex Brothers

Trippy prose poems
to leave you scratching your head
whilst laughing out loud.

Wallace Stevens – Harmonium

If nothing else, you
will learn a lot of new words
(keep Google open).

Hugo Williams – Symptoms of Loss

Probably his worst
collection but worth a read
for exposition.

John Berryman – The Dispossessed

It’s all there, the wit,
incantational syntax,
a drunk genius.

Tennessee Williams – In the Winter of Cities

Whilst it’s his drama
we remember, his poems
gave him his vision.

Nicholas Swingler – Dream of the Condom and other poems

It’s a tragedy
that more people don’t know this
book. Go buy it now!

Ray Diamond – The Runner of Little Races

One of the few books
I own set in sans-serif.
It’s very good though.

Jacob Polley – The Brink

One of few writers
able to write metaphors
that serve their purpose.

Stephanie Leal – Metrophobia

American gem
I like the one she wrote on
her vile ex-boyfriend.

Ross Sutherland – Things to do Before You Leave Town

I laughed my ass of
at the titular poem
and ‘Two Moons For Mongs’.

Les Murray – The Ilex Tree

Strewth! Bleedin’ bonza
bushwackin’ boetian boy
breaks onto the scene!

Seamus Heaney – Death of a Naturalist

These are the poems
on which a legacy’s built –
that one about spades.

Daljit Nagra – Look We Have Coming to Dover!

A moving collage
of the voices that have been
soundtrack to his life.

William Shakespeare – Venus and Adonis

The moral being
that clingy chicks get in the
way of a good hunt.

Phil Brown
Poetry Editor

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