March 8th and 9th brought two poetry launches on two consecutive nights in London! What joy.
First off, the country bumpkin from Devon tips up at the entrance to the Phoenix Arts Club but can’t find the way to the poetry readings at first. The Big Issue seller assures me I will find poetry down those unlikely-looking/sounding stairs which is, indeed, where I do, at last, discover Pindrop poets.
Pindrop Press www.pindroppress.com is the heartchild of Jo Hemmant, a fine poet herself and who chooses a very select few to publish each year and whom she nurtures and markets with enthusiasm. (There have been another two readings in Kent for the Pindrop gang since then!) Tonight, it’s the turn of Sarah Salway and Kiran Millwood Hargrave.
Sarah Salway’s poems are often heartfelt: in You do not need another self help book, the title poem, she writes,
‘I didn’t see how beautiful
the world is
with its only wish
that I belong’
and witty as in The Man in the Print Room who ‘knows the word for more in every tongue.’ Since that evening I’ve been reading these funny and tender poems that are very inventive with language and have such a distinctive voice. This does not feel like a first collection to me. They are so evocative of family I almost feel her poems are becoming my friends.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s first full poetry collection Last March brings to vivid life the journey of Scott and his polar expedition team… and death – ‘their breaths guttering out, slower, now, slow.’ This book is brilliantly conceived and researched as Kiran had full access to Scott’s letters and diaries. You can’t believe she wasn’t there herself. Every aspect is beautifully imagined and her taut poetry reflects the chill, the feelings, the self-doubt, the self-analysis: in Tent she writes,
Of gutted cloth
These ebbing men….’
The following night was Jan Fortune of Cinnamon Press (a friend called her a saint of poetry) launching Frank Dullaghan Omar Sabbagh and Bill Greenwell. All these poets remind me why Jan called her publishing company Cinnamon. She is, she once explained, severely allergic to cinnamon (I think she said she faints) and so, in the light of this, she chooses writers who give her a very strong reaction.
Frank Dullaghan’s poems in Enough Light to See the Dark are dark and humorous by turns. He is one of those Irish poets who write about place as if it is human. He is both compassionate and insightful when it comes to people. Omar Sabbagh’s collection The Square Root of Beirut is rich in imagery and metaphor. They deserve and need to be read and re-read because they are densely layered and contradictory.
Bill Greenwell’s long-awaited second collection Ringers contains incredibly tender poems about dying in a hospice where even in the car park
‘you see the notice, stapled to the brick, above
the crooked line of cars. Short Stay Only.’
The collection is a wonderful mix of tender and poignant as well as the chilling, for example a poem about Pink Mist. There is inventive parody after Blake and Belloc. I was particularly struck by the title poem, Ringers, the last one in the book:
‘if they laid us on shattered slats of ice
if we were slum-eyed fish set down together
on a market stall, pouting and touting
for passing custom
they’d see how similar our difference.’
Unable to stop inventing, Bill also treated us to new work and he brought the house down with his rendering of Engelbert Humperdink singing ‘Please decease me… .’ If you want to read accessible, contemporary poetry at its best then get this book. www.cinnamonpress.com/ringers