Monthly Archives: January 2013

Reviews and re:sight

So I finished reading the Don Paterson Selected Works, and did prefer the later ones to the early ones. My favourite was Two Trees from his 2009 collection Rain, but I also liked the title poem from that book and 2 short pieces about his son, The Circle and Correctives. He uses rhyme with increasing frequency as his career progresses, which is a good sign in my book, though the only fixed form I noticed him use is the sonnet. Luckily that’s my favourite.

Since I had 20 minutes to kill today I ventured into the City library and was delighted to find books by both him and Sophie Hannah, so I checked out Rain and also a Selected Works collection by her. Previously I’ve been discouraged that most of the poets I wanted to read weren’t available there, but when they are there they are so much easier to get hold of that at the Uni library that I should really make that my first stop.

The reason I was killing time was waiting for my eye tests. Hateful experience. I know how long I take to pick a style, so I had gone in on Saturday with my contacts in so I could see properly what the different frames looked like. I settled on a pair I liked, and today I couldn’t find them again. Aaaaaargh! Plus the optician changed my prescription, even though the contact lens guy didn’t, so I’m worried the new glasses are going to make me dizzy. I spend so long reading every day, my eye comfort is important. Oh well, could be worse. Hurrah for the lack of glaucoma.



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Brief reviews

I’ve read a few more poetry books this week, even venturing back to the University Library again, so I wanted to record some impressions.

 1. Dick Davis, Belonging. I liked this quite a lot. He writes mostly in form, and often about culture clashes (a topic near to my heart). In his case Persian/English/American, which gave a window into a world I know little about. But the themes varied enough to hold my interest after the initial novelty wore off.

 2. Anne Stevenson, Stone Milk. Meh. I like the rhythm of her language, a bit Beowulf, but the extremely long poem about poets in the underworld failed to hold my interest. The short poems in the middle fared little better, and I didn’t even read the play about Medea. I liked her poem ‘Granny Scarecrow’ which was discussed in an online forum, so I may still look out for her collected works.

 3. Sophie Hannah, First of the Last Chances. Gosh, yes. This volume varied much more in subject and tone than Pessimism for Beginners, and I liked many of the poems very much. Not so much the title piece, and just a few others struck a duff note for me, but I just loved ‘You Won’t Find a Bath in Leeds.’ And all of the poems showed an admirable mastery of technique. Well worth sitting in the West Room.

 4. Don Paterson, Selected Work. This was the reason I went back to the library so soon – I signed up for a masterclass with him on Friday, so I wanted to get a feel for his work. The 1-2 poems on his website appealed to me and were in form, so I was hopeful he would be my kind of poet. I’m only halfway through, but it isn’t grabbing me so far. His first book seems to have been like what 99% of other modern poets are writing (not that this is objectively a bad thing, just that it doesn’t rock my boat). But he did make progress over the next couple of books (and I am only up to about 1999), so I’m reserving judgment.

 I am nervous about the masterclass experience – signing up for it made me realize that I have never had any sort of training in writing poetry. And I don’t think I want to be taught to write the way everyone else writes. ‘I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance,’ as Lady Bracknell said.

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The University Library

I’m at Uni! As of Jan 1st my institute joined the University of Cambridge. I had an honorary contract with them before, so not much has changed, but it made me swagger a bit as I walked across town to the University Library.

 The library is a monstrous Stalinist edifice, a bit like the old Bankside power station (now the Tate Modern). And the method of obtaining books is similarly 1930s. A very few are put out on shelves for us proles to stroll among, but not organized in any way that makes them easy to browse — generally they are shelved according to (I shit you not) height. In order to find a particular book you need to trace the full ~10 digit reference number. Most of the poetry books I actually want to read are even harder to get – they need to be requested from the stacks, and most of them I’m not allowed to borrow. Instead I need to sit and read them in the West Room, then hand them back.

 Fortunately poetry books are short, so today for the first time I went through this procedure with Sophie Hannah’s Pessimism for Beginners. I’ve often heard her praised as funny and incisive, and she’s a woman of about my own age who writes mostly formalist poetry, so I was keen to try it. And on the whole I liked it – it was technically brilliant, almost never deviating from true rhyme (which is tricky in English), and often funny and true. But I came away a bit disappointed at how one-note it seemed, since almost all of the poems were about her crap relationships with men. I’ll definitely read more of hers when I can spare an hour in the reading room, but I’m hoping they will be more varied in subject matter.

 Wendy Cope has a lot of poems about bad relationships too. I can’t decide whether this is good, because the funny formalist female poets are leaving a large niche for me to inhabit, or bad because relationship failure is the only subject matter which will gain women an audience. I don’t want to have to dump my husband just to get material. 


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