underground reading

varied diet
varied diet

One of the few up sides of my enforced break from cycling was the extra reading time on the journey to and from work. I found poetry particularly suited to short bursts of reading, and also loved how individual poems could quickly plunge me into a completely different emotional and linguistic space to the squash and trudgery of commuting. I made very few notes, so this is simply a record (probably incomplete, not in chronological order) of what I read and the impressions each volume left on me.

Into the Woods by Anna Robinson (not pictured). I borrowed this from the Poetry Library, and found its effect quite hypnotic. The sequence has a fairytale quality – by which I mean the dark kind of fairytale of old: a hovering sense of menace; strangeness encroaching into the everyday; half-glimpsed things.

When God is a Traveller by Arundhathi Subramaniam. This was an impulse buy following the T.S. Eliot Prize readings at Royal Festival Hall. She was the standout performer for me, with wonderful presence and charm. Reading her poems, I could hear them in her voice in my head. There is a lot of wit, a worldliness, and much striking imagery. I liked the spacing and tempo of the poems, and the excitement of discovering what, for me, is a new voice.

I Knew the Bride by Hugo Williams (not pictured). Another post T.S. Eliot Prize readings purchase, to send to a friend in Holland who knew Williams years ago. I dipped in before entrusting the book to Royal Mail, and ended up reading the whole thing. Self-deprecating, very English, almost off-hand, yet threaded through with painful truths, both emotional and physical. I was glad that I could write to my friend that Williams has now had a kidney transplant and is apparently doing well.

The Misplaced House by Josephine Corcoran. I’d followed the gestation of Jospehine’s pamphlet via her blog, so was keen to read this. Unfortunately I couldn’t make the launch so ordered the pamphlet instead from Tall Lighthouse. I knew some of the poems, such as the powerful opening poem Stephen Lawrence isn’t on the National Curriculum, and her themes of family, loss and memory chime strongly with my own concerns. I really like the way the poems seem to talk to each other, too, as well as to the reader. And there’s a funny if rather disturbing poem where poet and pet rabbit exchange places.

Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads by Amy Acre. I confess I didn’t know Amy Acre’s work before tagging along to the launch with my London Undercurrents collaborator Joolz Sparkes. But in a spirit of adventure, I purchased the pamphlet, having enjoyed Amy’s performance at the launch. Her poetry does lean towards the performance end of the spectrum, but there’s plenty of energy and linguistic inventiveness on the page too. Some of the references I’m sure passed me by – different background, different generation – but I particularly liked The Ends of the Earth, which is a beautiful and tender mirror poem. Having watched the film Back to the Future for the first time the other night (I have a patchy relationship with cinema), I’m sure a few more references in this pamphlet would now fall into place on a second reading.

Myrtle by Ruth Wiggins. i remember being wowed by Ruth’s poem Pulmón de manzana when she read it at the launch of issue 19 of South Bank Poetry in November last year. That poem is included in her impressive Emma Press pamphlet, one gem amongst many fearfully good poems. These are rich and sensual poems, often astonishing, always assured. I’m still shocked that I could be lured into her poem False Widow given its (phobic) subject. That’s powerful writing.

Fauverie by Pascale Petit. I’m in danger of sounding like a literary floozie. Another launch, another book purchase. But this is not just another collection. The poems, many of which originate from dark and painful places, are full of fierce and wonderful imagery, and carry a great redemptive power. The book is alive with creatures both caged and wild, with vivid evocations of Paris – sights, sounds, smells and tastes – and at its centre is a transformative journey, with Petit fully in control of her material.

Formerly by Tamar Yoseloff & Vici MacDonald. Described as ‘a poetic journey through disappearing London’, this beautifully produced pamphlet features black and white photos by Vici MacDonald paired with ‘loose sonnets’ by Tamar Yoseloff. A not-so-impulse buy from last year’s Free Verse Poetry Book Fair. I like it as a thing-in-itself. I like the London angle, the collaborative aspect, and I’m rather afraid of form, so I was very interested to read these loose sonnets and feel their cumulative impact, the resonances between poems, and their overall elegiac effect.

If you’ve read to the end – thank you! You’ll have learnt that I’m a sucker for a launch event. I think I need to get out on my bicycle now.


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