Upon I Cut

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On the 29th April (a week today) I will be publishing a sequence of sonnets online for free at www.theanatomy.co.uk. I have been updating the temp page with videos of me reading some of the sonnets to whet people’s appetites and have basically set up the whole thing on my own. I had a bit of help from friends but all the programming, layout, editing, writing, testing, was done by me. Its been quite a bit of effort setting up the site and making the videos with no aim of reward. What I’m saying is; it would be really great if you could all be really nice and at least grace it with a tab in your browser at least once.

So what is it?

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After my last three poetry pamphlets which I had printed at my own expense and (due to my own lack of publicity) no one took any notice of, I decided three was enough.However over Christmas I had one of my notebooks with me and due to it being rather a quite one I ended up filling the whole thing with a poem per page in the space of about 2 weeks. Initially I had no plans for it as a sequence but when I noticed the first three I’d written were all sonnets I decided to make them all sonnets and slowly a theme began to emerge. Its a fairly loose theme but it basically became what could be perceived as my psychological make up. The memories, thoughts, feelings and associations I make. Due to this it felt like something of a dissection of my personality. An anatomy, as t’were. The word Anatomy is from the Greek ἀνατέμνω – anatemnō – literally “Upon I cut”. I also tried to vary the format of the sonnet form as much as I could because to be blunt, I don’t have the skills to have as wide and varied a vocabulary and as original imagery as the giants of the form do to keep it interesting. This basically meant I pushed the rules of a sonnet as far as they will go. Many purists (if any were to ever read it) may say a lot of these do not count as sonnets. That’s their problem. By and large I stick to the old rule of 14 lines and a ‘Turn’ at around line 8. As such, it became an Anatomy of the sonnet form itself in some regards. Some may decree this sacrilege from someone who is not a ‘great’ of poetry but I say the best way to know your limits is to test them. It could ultimately be unsuccessful and dreadful, I don’t know, one of the main reasons I am not charging for it.

Sonnets have a very long and boring history that is well documented elsewhere and that I can’t be bothered to go into here. Some of the best examples and explanations can be found in the wonderful collection ‘101 Sonnets’ by Don Patterson. To be honest though, the man who made them what they are today is the daddy himself. Shakespeare’s sequence of 154 is the gold standard for sonnets – and pretty much all poetry for me – and there are many volumes dedicated to the study of them, my personal favourite is by… you guessed it, Don Patterson. Sadly few of us living mortals can attain the dizzy heights of these marvels of literature but there have been other poets who have penned autonomous sequences of sonnets too: Edmund Spenser, Michael Drayton, WH Auden, Pablo Neruda but the most influential for my particular sequence was the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. His sonnet sequence entitled ‘Orpheus’ was written in something ludicrous like 5 days and whose topics vary wildly but tend to centre around prayers to or tales of “the God with the lyre”. This sequence is highly regarded and there are numerous excellent translations but what really opened my eyes was when I read a ‘version’ of it written by the now ubiquitous poet in this post, yes Don bloody Patterson. Versions are different to translations, the idea being you take the essence of a poem and translate that instead, not the words. The subtlety of poetry lies in a familiarity with language, its nuances and connotations, something that a translator can rarely crowbar into another shape without losing something of its initial sense. Patterson’s version is a fantastic sister piece to the original but even then Rilke’s is still the superior and eye wideningly pretty. Read it, please.

So there is something of a heritage in the sonnet form and to be honest it doesn’t need updating to my ears as it is supremely useful in forcing you to wrench out what you want to say, yet small and digestible enough to be swallowed in one go. My sequence is modest in comparison to the greats that have gone before and, as I said, I doubt it is on a par but it was an attempt to get “raw meat” on the table on my part. What I loved about Rilke’s sequence is that he did it so fast, the editing and self-expurgation would have been practically non-existant or at least not as thorough as most poets like to think of themselves. It meant Rilke’s heart and mind is there, raw and bleeding, imperfect yet dazzling in every poem. I don’t claim my own is even close to this as I don’t have the skill he had but I do like to think its a first trembling step in that direction.

People might ask why I feel the need to publish everything I write. I would ask why you don’t feel the need to publish everything you write. Getting something finished and ready to your standard and then showing to others so it can be judged by their’s is probably the quickest and best way to learn I know of. There is no point spending years over something only for it to get lambasted as soon as its released anyway. Don’t torture yourself over whether people will like it or not and don’t let the idiot snobs tell you something that only took a couple months isn’t as good as something that took ten years. The reverse is almost always true. The Beatles made 14 albums in 7 years and every song of theirs is of a higher quality than most. I don’t know where the modern need to stagger everything out comes from. I realise time and patience will raise the quality but only to a certain degree. If you have anything you’ve been sitting on that you made that is finished but you don’t think is good enough, get it out anyway. You’ll learn more from that than you will just staring at it and asking friends what they think when all they will do is tell you how great it is no matter what the quality. Create, release, learn, move on.

Hopefully there will be a poem in The Anatomy for everyone but try reading all of it too. Even if you don’t like poetry I hope you can at least enjoy the site. Take a look at the videos in the meantime and I’ll hopefully see you all there on the 29th.

 

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Progressive Prosody not Posey Poesy

So yesterday was National Poetry Day. This delighted me as there was a lot of interesting stuff about it in various medias and people actually dared to voice an opinion on it. However my ire was somewhat fanned today when I read an article by a Jane Simons of the Daily Mirror (I am NOT a regular reader, a colleague buys it at lunch) and a few comments on the radio were somewhat less than encouraging of Poetry in general. The article in question was regarding the dramatisation of Christopher Reid’s poem The Song of Lunch (which, incidentally, is wonderful). Ms. Simons states in the introduction that “if your instinctive gut reaction to poetry is boredom or fear, then relax. You probably wouldn’t even realise that it was a poem at all if I hadn’t told you,” This, though moronic is, I suppose, fair – most people would . She did however end it by making the idiotic, asinine and frankly ignorant statement; “Poetry that’s modern, relevant, witty and absorbing? Who’d have thought it?” If you had ever read any poetry written in the last 20 years, love, MOST PEOPLE!

Flash back a few days – The Forward Poetry Prize has been heating up for a few weeks and finally the winners are announced. And who should win the coveted ‘Best Collection’? Seamus – fucking – Heaney. Let me state here and now if I could write like Heaney I would die happy. The man is undoubtedly a real talent in literature and is justly deserves his Nobel prize. HOWEVER, I do have a problem with people who win the Whitbread Prize for a translation, a good translation but nonetheless not an original work, of the most boring tale in history and writers who release a lavish, Faber-published, hard-backed collection the same weekend the shortlist is announced. I often describe films released near awards season as Oscar Bait and this is much the same. An ‘elder statesmen’ releases a collection just before the most prestigious award for poetry is announced? Convenient. And sure enough, guess who bloody wins? No, not the wonderfully, visceral, modern, bleak, haunting and fascinating Robin Robertson for the Wrecking Light. Or the abrasive, feminine, lyrical, barb-tongued Jo Shapcott or the moving Through the Square Window by Sinead Morrissey. No, it’s the guy who has won everything except the Forward and decides he wants that one this year so knocks out a collection. How were they NOT going to give it to him?

And this is my point.

I am a fairly recent convert to Poetry, yet I now fly the flag, wave the banner and wear the armband. I am fully prepared to admit 3 years ago I would spit contempt on Poetry and most of its practitioners and do you know why? For the reasons cited above. Because modern society seems diametrically opposed to the whole notion of current, interesting, fun, exciting, contemporary and GOOD Poetry. Especially English society. Ireland, Scotland and Wales tend to have a fine lyrical tradition bred into the schools, England gives you a dry functional appraisal and tells you to read Heaney. Or whatever. Again I will say Seamus is not a bad writer by any stretch, great in fact but you are not going to sell an art form to a newbie by going “Here’s Death of a Naturalist and Electric Light. That’s 20th century poetry. Enjoy.” I got into Poetry because my friend (currently studying literature for a PhD) and another friend, hooked me up with the good shit and sent me on an upward spiral of appreciation. I continue to read and learn more about this fascinating and enjoyable art form every day and as most of you know I even write my own. However, the preconception is that there are only two types of poetry lovers; teenage girls reading Sylvia Plath and stuffy pretentious older types who sit down with Keats of an evening. WRONG!

Poetry could not be more contemporary. Don’t believe me? Find some Don Patterson, Luke Kennard, Matthew Welton, Jo Shapcott or Jack Underwood collections and tell me they are not slap bang in the middle of now. Poetry is even more exciting than most of the detritus published in the mainstream today. Quality control is much higher with poetry collections or pamphlets. You get more bang for your buck too. Poems can be revisited yet tell whole stories and are so dense it takes a life time to decipher, you get 50 to 80 poems in one collection too and the publishing/printing quality is almost uniformly sumptuous and beautiful. Poetry jacket design and page layout is almost always stylish and contemporary. The subjects tackled are mostly current, in the collection Rain by Don Patterson he uses a very modern form to express his love for a modern electronica band and their software they use.

It is the kind of idiocy and ignorance typified by Jane Simons in the media or ‘commentators’ in general, that disabuse the belief that poetry is for everyone and anyone not just stuffy tweed wearing old pensioners, in-the-closet gay men or angsty teenagers. Poems and Poetry are as important, relevant, contemporary and enjoyable an art form as any today it’s just the good stuff is buried and the less relevant and stereotypically ‘Poetic’ stuff is lauded above the rest. There is a poet in everyone and there is a poet publishing out there for everyone you just have to look and looking is so much fun.

So, Happy National Poetry Day for yesterday and if you need suggestions for where to start looking, check this out.

“Poetry is nearer to vital truth than History” Plato said. And it’s true. No matter when you’re alive.