When the latest edition of Stand appeared in my letter box I first assumed someone must have sent me a book. That’s because it’s a double issue, celebrating Stand’s sixtieth year. 60th! As I was born and bred not far from Leeds I feel an instant affinity as this magazine emanates from Leeds School of English. The almost bible-sized magazine is chock-o-block with some jaw-dropping poetry and it’s going to take time to read through it all: I was immediately drawn to Pat Winslow whose Corona of Magpie Sonnets is remarkable, the sequence beginning and ending with the line ‘When sorrow comes, just be ready for it’ (a resonance with Elizabeth Bishop maybe). Coincidentally, a friend had recently sent me her Templar pamphlet entitled Dreaming of Walls Repeating Themselves and I had been very absorbed by her craft, wit and precision. For starters, there is a wonderful and mysterious short story by Mario Petrucci. I have so far ‘discovered’ Robert Hamberger (okay, you all knew him ages ago) who has contributed three sonnets on a mother with dementia, from his The Lesson of Sand. These are deft, visceral poems, perfectly formed and absolutely heart-stopping. I have yet to read many many others – poems and stories and reviews: a feast in store. What riches for me. A snip at £6.50 (235 pages!)
The reason I received it out of the blue was because the nice editors chose four of my poems … so I feel very honoured indeed to be a contributor to this book. (I can’t help thinking in hindsight that one or two of mine would have been better if I had explained that I was teaching in a prison at the time. I have a habit of not explaining enough sometimes because I am concerned about explaining too much! Tim Liardet once advised me to just say things how they are. But whenever I do that I find that editors reject my poems.) Anyway, thank you to Stand. Hope it’s all right to show you a picture of the cover by Dawn Latané.
For anyone with even a passing interest in the mythology of merpeople there is a new website called Poems Underwater (geddit?) on www.poemsunderwater.wordpress.com/ where there’s lots of other interesting information about mermaid legends and underwater creatures explored through poetry and artwork (and even an opera) on their website that’s growing like topsy.
In early July Kirsten and Laura very kindly posted some questions I had answered about my poetry book A Handful of Water as well as a new poem on the subject of the Mermaid of Zennor which they have miraculously selected for their anthology called Lines Underwater that is due out in Sept. I find the idea of combining a book with a website and a You-tube channel for audio-visual material inventive and exciting. It offers us so many fascinating pieces of information – often quite challenging to read – on the subject of sea people, of legs, tails and identity and the curing of ‘madness’.
Devon is enriched by the Ways with Words Literary Festival. This week Christopher Reid, prize-winning poet and once Hughes’ editor at Faber, presented the biennial Ted Hughes Memorial Lecture. During his impressive lecture he gave us fresh and researched perceptions on the subject of Hughes as a passionate educator and as a guardian of imagination. Reid demonstrated how a long-ish poem called Stealing Trout on a May Morning (which I didn’t know at all and comes in the collection called Recklings), ostensibly about fishing in early morning, is like the earlier poem,The Thought Fox a meta poem ie about writing poetry. It made me wonder how many of Hughes’ other fishing and farming poems might also be ‘about’ capturing poems. Hughes felt that children’s imaginations should be nurtured by story because our culture’s tendency is to erode it. Stories, he said, think for themselves. You enter a word like a continent, he wrote (or even a story or a poem, I thought). Hughes was vociferous in this respect but I don’t think Michael Gove can have read his Letters (edited by Reid) nor his book (or its recording) Poetry in the Making. I am resolved to go back to reading Hughes and much more attentively. I recall Muriel Spark’s poem about all the books on her shelves being re-written by the writers in the night because whenever she re-reads them they are all different. Ah, all those River poems will have been re-written by now, what bliss.