Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Poetry of Soup

I have to say that in this pic we have already
eaten rather a lot of it
Our last and largest pumpkin ripened in the conservatory, turning from a striped green to a deep orange in light and frost-free conditions.  Though it got so sharp outside(so minus 16)that in the end I did worry about the frost free bit. 
Every now and then I remembered to check the pumpkin was still solid.  Last weekend I carried it back into the kitchen, and distilled a huge pot of golden soup from last summer's store. 

Sorry if this sounds smug, but, you know, I am.  Think of all that weeding and forking compost.  My dues are paid.  The ends have justified the means. I claim this comfort in the black-ice dark of January. 

As Robert Crawford so rightly said:
'A soup so thick you could shake its hand
and stroll with it before dinner.'

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Making the Beds for the Dead

I've just noticed my copy of 'Making the Beds for the Dead' by Gillian Clark, is due back to the library tomorrow.  That's the excellent Scottish Poetry Library outpost in Dumfries.  I've already renewed it once, and might just ring up and see if I can keep it for another month.  Eleri Mills did the cover.

What a lovely collection.  Try this from 'The Physicians of Myddvai':

A crack in glass,
the scream and shadow
of a Hawk, close and low
enough to blow the heart.

There's something so sudden, so loud, so disorientating about this stanza. - and then that intimate body blow in the last line and a half.  I absolutely love it.  It reeks of the mysteries of the Mabinogion, though it's not such an old story.  The Physicians of Myddfai were a family of physicians who lived in the parish of Myddfai, Carmarthenshire. I did a bit of looking up.  They are thought to have been related to Rhiwallon Feddyg and his sons, Cadwgan, Gruffudd and Einion, who were physicians to Rhys Gryg, Lord of Dinefwr in the thirteenth century. It is believed that their descendants continued to practice as physicians in the area until the eighteenth century. The gravestones of the last physicians in the line, David Jones (who died in 1719) and John Jones (who died in 1739) are to be seen in the parish church of Myddfai today.

Gillian Clark writes very well about sheep.  I appreciate 'Wethers':

Spring-born, their lives lived
on the one slope, in the one flock.
Summer, they forget their mothers,

forget our hands, learn grass,
grow wild, wander afield on the hill.
Winter, they know us again, grow tame,
calling for hay at the gate.


Friday, 7 January 2011

Cheered up by thoughts of St Andrews

I've sprung into action and bought my tickets for StAnza.  Was inspired to be very sharp off the mark in order to lay hands on a ticket to John Burnside's Round Table reading.  But it all looks fabulous. I'll hear Stewart Conn, Marilyn Hacker, Paul Farley, Selima Hill, Ciaran Carson, Douglas Dunn, not to mention the one and only Rab Wilson and the devastatingly unique Hugh McMillan, and (as they say) more.

Tonight it's snowing.  Our 11 year old spent his Christmas money on a faster sledge, so there is loud rejoicing.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Christmas has brought me the Bloodaxe Book of Poetry Quotations, edited by Dennis O'Driscoll.  It's a little book packed with the pithy, insightful remarks of hundreds of poets and poetry readers.  I've been sitting by the Christmas tree grinning over such as:
'Keats was the first poet I got really excited about.  In fact, I was rather in love with him until I found out how tall he was.'  Wendy Cope
'Watching large poets work with miniaturist forms can be a bit disorienting, like meeting a heavyweight fighter out walking a chihuahua.'  Blake Morrison

The book is divided into themes (What Is It Anyway? Poet At Work.  Profit Motives.  Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know.  Pushy Poets), which I'm finding irrestible.  And I love the way the poets contradict each other:
'Difficult poetry is the most democratic, because you are doing your audience the honour of supposing that they are intelligent human beings.'  Geoffrey Hill
'So-called difficult poetry is often very rude.  It ignores the presence of the reader.'  Billy Collins

Fantastic insights:
'A poem is partly grace, partly discovery, and partly a conquer another foot of territory from the unconscious.'  Agnes Nemes Nagy
'Poetry is the purest of the language arts.  It's the tightest cage, and if you can get it to sing in that cage it's really really wonderful.'  Rita Dove
'A good poem is almost always about something else, which is why they are hard to write.'  Charles Causley

And then there are remarks which are scarily recognisable:
'...the problem with most poems is that there is too much language chasing too little of an idea.'  Peter Johnson
'Technique is important.  I think that if most people who called themselves poets were tightrope-walkers they'd be dead.'  Michael Longley
Still, cheer up -
'If good poetry is to be written, enormous amounts of bad poetry must be written too, if only because it is important for a serious poet to know what it is she/he is trying not to do.'  Germaine Greer