Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Liz Berry / Bostin Fittle

Liz Berry, winner of the Forward First Collection prize 2014

Bostin Fittle

by Liz Berry
At Nanny's I ate brains for tea,
mashed with hard-boiled egg,
or trotters, groaty pudding,
faggots minced with kidney and suet.
Right bostin fittle, Nanny said.
She knew hunger, knew how
to press a blade sure and firm
on the pig's fat ribs, clack the neck
of the cockerel. An apprentice,
I studied her careful craft:
the sweet heart hidden in the rotten 
cabbage, chitterlings plaited
like a rope of hair.
Elbow deep in rabbit, floury
chunks of lard, I touched
my lips to the hide of the past:
salty, dark, unexpected
as the rook she'd baked
for her bride-feast, that flew,
crawing from her hands to his tongue.

bostin fittle great food

• From Black Country by Liz Berry 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Kathryn Simmonds / In the Woods

In the Woods
The baby sleeps.
Sunlight plays upon my lap, through doily leaves a black lab comes,
a scotty goes, the day wears on, the baby wakes.

The good birds sing,
invisible or seldom seen, in hidden kingdoms, grateful for the in-
between. The baby sleeps. Elsewhere the Queen rolls by

on gusts of cheer — 
ladies wave and bless her reign. The baby frets. The baby feeds.
The end of lunch, a daytime moon. The leaves

are lightly tinkered with.
It’s spring? No, autumn? Afternoon? We’ve sat so long, we’ve walked
so far. The woods in shade, the woods in sun, the singing birds,

the noble trees.
The child is grown. The child is gone. The black lab comes,
his circuit done. His mistress coils his scarlet lead.

Kathry Simmond
The Visitations 
Seren, 2013

Friday, July 18, 2014

Kevin Prufer / How He Loved Them

How He Loved Them
by Kevin Prufer
How much the colonel loved his granddaughters
you will never know.
                           Their laughter filled his black Mercedes
the way a flock of starlings might fill a single tree
with song.
              What he’d had to do that day, he’d done
with a troubled heart,
                            but now their laughter overwhelmed him
with such unarticulable love
                                    he could hardly
contain it
             and neither could the empathetic little bomb
in the engine,
                  which chose that moment
to burst through the hood with self-obliterating joy.

And the Mercedes burned in front of the courthouse.
And the black smoke billowed and rose like a heart full of love.
And the colonel rose, too,
                                 like burning newspaper
caught in the wind,
                         a scrap of soot, then nothing, then unknowable—

You will never know
                          what dying is like.

The colonel’s granddaughters are still laughing in the backseat,
or they are uncomfortable in the new bodies
the bomb made for them.

Oh, darling, darling, one of them recalled,
you are burning up
                         with fever—her mother’s cool hand on her forehead,
then the sense of slipping under,
                                          into black sleep. She’s asleep now,
the voice said, turning out the light,
                                              closing the door.

And in every hand, smartphones made footage
of their bodies,
                    the heaps and twists of metal.

The smoke uploaded the wreckage
                                             to the screenlike sky
where it goes on burning forever—

you will never know if dying is like that,
the same scenes repeated across a larger mind
                                                             than yours—

Is it like a small girl with a high fever asleep in a dark room
recollected for a moment
                                 as the brain closes down?
She’s asleep, the voices say, she is resting.

(My fleeting one, my obliterated device, my bit of pixilated
soot.) Hit PAUSE
                     and the smoke stops: a black pillar
that weighs the wreckage down.
                                          Then PLAY
how much he loved them,

What the colonel had done that day
                                              had troubled his heart,
but the sound of his granddaughters’ laughter
lifted him high into the air
                                   like a scrap of burning paper
blown from the street into the trees.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Philip Larkin / Days


by Philip Larkin
What are days for?
Days are where we live.   
They come, they wake us   
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:   
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor   
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Philip Larkin
“Days” from Collected Poems.
Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2001

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Ezra Pound / In a Station of the Metro

by Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Mattew Hollis / The last Years of Edward Thomas

The Last Years of Edward Thomas
by Mattew Hollis

Matthew Hollis's award-winning book tells the story of the last four years of writer & poet Edward Thomas. I've always loved Thomas's poetry & I've read several books about his life including the memoirs of his wife, Helen, & the memoir written by Eleanor Farjeon about their friendship.This book is different because, although it also concentrates on those last four years of his life, as Farjeon's did, it's really about his evolution as a poet. It's also about his friendship with the American poet, Robert Frost, and the influence of that friendship on his writing.

Thomas is not an easy man to like. Frequently withdrawn, taciturn & depressed, he was frustrated in his working life & very difficult to live with. The family always seemed to be just on the edge of poverty as Thomas worked as a freelance writer, picking up commissions to write books about literature & the English countryside, resenting the hack work all the time. He often took his frustrations out on his family & his moods could be frightening. More than once he threatened to commit suicide. His frustration was partly at his inability (as he saw it) to properly provide for his family & partly because his commissioned writing left him no time or energy to write anything else. Yet he was also a very attractive character, whose friends loved him. Helen adored him & her memoirs, collected as Under Storm's Wing, are very moving. Edward, however, grew to resent her need of him & the constant need to provide for the family. Eleanor Farjeon, the poet & children's writer, loved him & wrote movingly of their friendship in Edward Thomas : the Last Four Years.

Perhaps the most important friendship of Thomas's life was with Robert Frost. Frost had brought his family to England from New Hampshire to see if he could make a name for himself as a poet. In the years before WWI, Harold Monro's Poetry Bookshop in London was the place for poets & poetry lovers to meet. Monro's anthologies, Georgian Poetry, were immensely influential & made the reputations of several poets. When Frost & Thomas finally met, they became friends & spent days walking through the countryside talking about everything & anything - their families, their work, the coming war. Frost encouraged Thomas as he began tentatively to write poetry. Once he started, the poetry poured out of him, sometimes he was writing a poem a day.

This is the point where this book really took hold of me & I found it difficult to put it down. Hollis is a poet & his descriptions of the way Thomas wrote his poetry are fascinating,

His first poem had emerged in an unwieldy manner from his prose, but it was, in an important sense, better than his prose. The prose had done everything asked of it: polite, unshowy lines pitched at the level of a quietly spoken conversation; but the poem had that and more besides: it had cadence and it had drama. It was an extraordinary first effort, full of character and good phrasing; tonally, perhaps, it borrowed from his friend, Robert Frost, and by the standards of poetry it carried a prosaic bagginess that he would have to shake off; but in places it soared with an energy and confidence that showed glimpses of the promise to come.

That first poem, Up in the Wind, has all the qualities of Thomas's verse. Quiet, conversational, alive with the details of country life. Thomas is called a war poet but more because he was killed in the war than for any other reason. None of his poetry is explicitly about the war in the way that Sassoon or Owen wrote about the war. The war is often there, in the background, as in my favourite of his poems, As the Team's Head-Brass. The war is there in the quiet conversation of the speaker & the ploughman but the scene is somewhere in England, not France or Flanders.The scene is a field not a trench.

Thomas's most famous poem is probably Adlestrop.

Yes, I remember Adlestrop - 
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

Hollis shows how the poem was written, from the notes he jotted down  in June 1914 in the field notebooks he always carried with him, to the many attempts at that first verse, changing words until he found the right ones. It was as if all the prose Thomas had written over so many years had all been leading him to the point where he could write poetry. Often it was one of his articles or notebooks that suggested a poem or reminded him of an incident or conversation that he could turn into verse.

When the war broke out, Thomas initially had no thought of joining up. Robert Frost had taken his family back to New Hampshire, along with Thomas's son, Mervyn. The rest of the Thomas family or at least Edward himself, had plans to follow them. Thomas was in his mid 30s and there was no conscription to force him into the Army. Gradually, however, he came to feel that it was his duty to join up. He grew uncomfortable with the thought that other men were fighting for the country he loved so much. There was also a more pressing financial incentive. Freelance literary work had almost completely dried up & if he was in the Army, Helen & the children were guaranteed an income, especially if he served overseas.

Thomas joined the Artists Rifles & eventually became an officer in an artillery regiment. I hadn't realised that he was in camp at Hare Hall at the same time as Wilfred Owen. Hollis speculates that Owen was probably trained in map reading by Thomas but, as Owen hadn't been part of the poetry scene in London before the war, he didn't know of Thomas's reputation as a writer & critic. Thomas had not had any of his poems published &, when he did send them out to magazines, he used the pseudonym Edward Eastaway. Hollis wonders what the effect would have been on Owen's development as a poet if he had come under Thomas's influence at this point rather than the influence of Siegfried Sassoon whom he met at Craiglockhart Hospital in 1917.

Thomas could have stayed in England with a staff job but volunteered for service in France where he was killed at Arras on Easter Monday, April 9th 1917. He didn't see his poetry in print but a volume was published soon after his death & his reputation has grown ever since. Now All Roads Lead To France is a fascinating look at the evolution of a poet. It's interesting to speculate about Thomas's future if he'd survived the war. I don't think he would have been defined by his war service & his war poetry as Sassoon was. His subject matter was much broader. I wonder if he would have been a happier, more contented man if he had returned from France to continue writing poetry & maybe visit America & farm with Frost as they had once dreamt of doing. It's another of the great What Ifs of literature.


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I'm an avid reader who loves middlebrow fiction, 19th century novels, WWI & WWII literature, Golden Age mysteries & history. Other interests include listening to classical music, drinking tea, baking cakes, planning my rose garden & enjoying the antics of my cats, Lucky & Phoebe. Contact me at lynabby16AThotmailDOTcom