Monthly Archives: April 2013

Reciting my first sonnet

Survived my first poetry reading last night. I thought I wasn’t even very nervous until the open mic set I was going to read in started. Then my heart set off. Not quite the abject terror of my early-career scientific talks, but severely uncomfortable. Why? It was a friendly room, packed to capacity but supportive. I guess it just feels more exposed, sharing a personal poem about my life. And not even a funny one: since it was a sonnet evening and I was feeling insecure I read my only published sonnet, which is a serious one. And I delivered it a bit stiffly. They’ll have come away with a very mistaken impression of what my writing is like.

I did stumble once. I should have read instead of reciting (although that is no guarantee I won’t flub words. And I don’t like hiding behind paper, it feels cowardly and prevents me from making even token eye contact.) The error was frustratingly trivial: I said his instead of her, which was just wrong enough for me to feel I had to correct myself. A major Freudian slip would have been more interesting. This was just my mouth failing to deliver the signal my brain sent. It reminded me of when I was 11 and given the task of announcing the pieces for our band concert, and I came out with ‘Johann Sebastian Back.’ The brain concentrates so hard on the difficult bits that the easy bits are lost.

In retrospect I might also have been too far from the microphone. They are my bane. It’s always either echoing and feedback or nothing. Still, it feels good to have done it.



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Interrogations at Noon

Since I started writing formalist poetry, I’ve often heard Dana Gioia mentioned as a sort of leader of the movement in America. Although rhyme and meter have always been around in England (Betjeman, Larkin…), for much of the last half of the 20th century in America they were so far out of fashion as to be untenable. Using them in a poem would be like naming your child Adolf.

So I was excited to finally read a book by a man credited with resurrecting the sort of poetry I like. And I did like Interrogations at Noon, though it wasn’t what I expected: not much of it rhymed, and he didn’t often use any forms I recognized. But the simple, direct diction gives the verse accessibility and power. I think I can detect an influence on (or at least similarity with) many of the formalist poets I admire. 

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Poetry on the Weather Channel

Couldn’t resist posting this video of my sister being interviewed on the local news weather report, which was also taken up by the (US) national weather channel:

She says they asked her for a poetry quote about the weather without knowing she was a poet. They were just randomly circling the neighbourhood and saw her shovelling snow. Maybe there was poetry in her movements.

Maybe I should beware of the pervasive influence of poetry in my life. Tim Love ( posted a link to a Welsh arts website detailing the stages in a poetry career, which read very much like the symptoms and stages of a disease. I may be suffering from second-degree poetry (although my limit to appearance in online journals probably downgrades my condition). Is it too late to seek help?

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The ex-Baroness

I’m coming very late to the party/wake, but I’ll chip in my personal perspective. The main emotion Margaret Thatcher’s death evokes in me is nostalgia. She was PM when I first came to live in the UK. I had this poster on my wall:

The main thing that struck me at the time was how much more resistance there was to her than to Reagan. I had been at university in America (supposedly hotbeds of liberalism, right?) where almost everyone took for granted that Reagan was acting for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Then I came to Leeds, where the majority view was rather different. It was wonderful.

I can understand people who say that there were serious problems in 1979 which anyone in her position would need to address. I recently saw Ken Loach’s documentary “Spirit of ‘45”, which told the story of the glorious creation of the welfare state after WWII, and then skipped to 1979 and Thatcher wrecking it all, completely ignoring the problems that developed in the intervening decades. The unions had more power than optimal, and some nationalized industries were badly run monopolies. The example of BT is probably the best: not only were handsets rationed, but it was an extremely expensive service. When I wanted to talk to my family I would pay £20 for a phonecard and watch it tick down to nothing. That money would have kept me in beer and cinema tickets for weeks. Competition has brought down the price of telephones for ordinary people, and I don’t see much of a down side, though I’m no expert.

But of course Margaret Thatcher couldn’t do things in moderation. If the unions were runaway horses, she didn’t just rein them in, she turned them into Birdseye lasagne. She crushed the miners with a brutal lack of empathy for the families and communities she destroyed. And she sold off everything she could lay her hands on, regardless of how well it was operating previously or how vital a public service it was. So although it seems un-Britishly uncharitable that “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” has now entered the pop charts, I do understand the depth of feeling against her. And her own attacks on the British sense of community and empathy are largely to blame for the lack of civility in the response to her death. 

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