This week I received a copy of Poetry South East, an excellent anthology produced by The Frogmore Press. According to Frogmore, ‘the original series was published by South East Arts between 1976 and 1983, with Howard Sergeant editing the first and Anthony Thwaite the last. The Frogmore Press revived the series with Poetry South East 2000 and published Poetry South East 2010 ten years later.’
I read the anthology from cover to cover, and what leapt out right away, even more than the individual talents, was how well the anthology had been edited. Each poem passes the baton without a false step or an uncomfortable fumble. Jeremy Page’s selection and arrangement — all conducted under lockdown conditions of course — is absolutely exemplary.
Fifty two poets are each represented by a single poem, and it is a pretty convincing snapshot of poetry written for the page in the South East. I am delighted to be one of them, and there are real treats in this collection from wonderful poets, many of them such as John Agard, Brendan Cleary, Sasha Dugdale, Maria Jastrzębska, Patricia McCarthy, John McCullough, Grace Nichols, Catherine Smith, Susan Wicks and Jackie Wills, who are rightly famed in the region. There are lots of my poetry pals in it too, such as Robin Houghton, Sarah Barnsley, Charlotte Gann, Stephen Bone, Antony Mair and more all shining.
New and Selected Poems: A formula for Night by Tamar Yoseloff from Seren Books. A New and Selected is a point of significance in a poet’s career, and shows someone unafraid to challenge herself conceptually and in her choice of form. There are distinct phases in work, persistent engagement with visual art is a theme too such as in the poems from Formerly based around the decaying facades of London’s built environment, in a partnership with photographer Vici McDonald. It’s a simple concept but beautifully executed, allowing peeling incomplete words to leak into the work.
The longer poem ‘Fetch’ is one of my favourites here. The poet includes a definition of a Fetch as an apparition or double. The poem starts “I send her out/into the cold dark night.” Having written about doubles myself, I was struck by how freshly and successfully Tammy approaches the idea. We see the world through a woman who may or may not be the poet, and we are remotely piloted through her investigations with a sense of mystery derived from the blurring of identity.
The collection is so varied, I have tuned into some bits faster than others. A few lines from a earlier poem ‘Moths’ have stayed with me because I’m so effortlessly drawn into them, and I find they are emblematic of her restless poetic development. Our protagonists are leaving a US diner:
“We pay, go back into the night. The car picks up
its tune of old motor and stuck gears where it left off,
the radio zeroes in on a voice, a snatch of a song,
clear for a moment then gone. The darkness is complete,
except for the moths, illuminated as they are caught
fluttering towards the headlights. In the morning
you will wipe their powdery remains
off the windscreen then drive away.”
This beautifully-realised group of poems is based on the true story of a girl of fourteen who took a vow of solitary devotion.
We are told she was “enclosed in a cell built onto the north wall of the chancel of St. James’ Church, Shere, Surrey. She spent more than one thousand days in the cell before asking to be freed.” This was in 1329, but Clare Best‘s theme of female constraint and aloneness is timeless and relevant.
I love this kind of tight brief a poet can give themselves. The tension between physical and spiritual animates the sequence. And the medieval horror of it all is not shrunk from, nor how the mortification of the flesh somehow stands for a spiritual purification:
“Loosen teeth – pull them
one by one
from shrunken gums.
Two rows on the window ledge.”
alive with lice.
My body rots, a holy
wilderness. My night-bird spirit soars.”
Michaela Ridgeway’s intense charcoal drawings of female figures exude energy and constraint in equal measure, and so excellently complement these poems. It is a lovely project.
And as someone who has worked on a thousand junk mail formats as an agency copywriter, I always appreciate a bit of ‘paper engineering’ and this collection opens up and forms a cell of paper.
I am off to Chad. In less than a month I shall be going to what is, according to the United Nations human development report 2011 is the fifth poorest nation on earth. I will be part of a small team to fact-find and shoot film for fundraising activities. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit twitchy about the idea at first (Chad being roughly three thousand miles outside my comfort zone) but this rare opportunity to do something good in the world has to be seized. My trepidation is rapidly being replaced by curiosity and excitement at the opportunity to grow as a writer and a person.
Telltale Press news… The Poetry Book Fair is happening on Saturday 26th in The Conway Hall London. I’m really proud to be on the Telltale stand (it’ll be our first time and we are sharing a stand with the lovely folks at The Frogmore Press) with Robin Houghton, Siegfried Baber and Sarah Barnsley.
Sarah’s spanking new Telltale pamphlet, The Fire Station, is about to released into the wild, and having read it I can tell you it is wonderful.
My own poems have had a couple of cheering acceptances lately. From Under the Radar magazine another with The Island Reviewwhich is a beautiful site visually and in content. While the excellent poetry anthology edited by Josephine Corcoran called And Other Poems will also feature a poem later this year. No doubt I shall be bragging about these more when they see the light of day.