I bought a copy of John Clegg’s first collection “Antler” while browsing the Salt Publishing website. I think I liked the cover. But I am really glad I did buy it; it’s a superbly cohesive first collection and really ought to be a contender for the Forward Prize. My reivew of the collection (with photo of the jolly cover) appears as my first review for Dr Fulminare’s excellent poetry site – I’m so glad to be working with him – and you can see it here:
Clegg’s editor, Roddy Lumsden (look how I am a namedropper) told me that he’s never had to do so little editing. Clegg’s poems appeared fully-formed from the reindeer’s very skull. Don’t argue, just buy this one.
Alison Moore’s hero in The Lighthouse is called Futh; the sound you might make trying to spit out an insect that has flown into your mouth. It suits him, he seems to irritate the people he meets, but the subtlety of Moore’s narrative is that he doesn’t really understand why. At the opening of the book, Futh is on a ferry, going on a solo holiday to Germany, his ancestral home, knowing that while he is away his wife is boxing up his belongings and moving them out of the house. As in Virgina Woolf’s similarly-titled novel, the action is all interior, and the plot subservient to character. Futh takes the opportunity on his walk to remember his life, and we begin to understand the conscious and unconscious influences that have led him to his present predicament.
The lighthouse of the title is a silver perfume bottle treasured by Futh as a memento of his lost mother. Futh himself is a perfumier and the book is pervaded with Proustian scents; oranges, violets, cigarettes, camphor. As the book progresses, the fragrances seem to intensify. The lighthouse is also the name of the first and last hotel on his walking tour; Hellhaus, and Moore weaves in the narrative of Ester, the hotelier’s wife, whose future we feel is somehow bound up with Futh’s as he begins his circular walk.
Futh’s innate inadequacy is shown by his feet; first blistered in his boots, then sunburned in his sandals. He misses meals and mixes up his hotel arrangements due to an inability to cope with the world.
The denoument is sudden and shocking, but after the reflection it caused, I began to think about fate and inevitability. Alison Moore cleverly shows that what happens to Futh is the product of his memories and experiences. It is this commentary on our inability to escape our own nature which makes The Lighthouse a strong candidate for this year’s Man Booker prize.
The Lighthouse is published by Salt: www.saltpublishing.com
New Statesman magazine has an enviable history of publishing poetry. (It published (Edward Thomas’ “Adlestrop” three weeks after the poet was killed in world War I.) It has recently renewed its commitment to poetry.
So I am delighted that last week it printed a poem of mine, and you can now read it here:
Like many poems this one derives from a collision of two ideas. The first was that last year I had the chance to visit Northern Ireland, a place that held my earliest memories. Although born in the English midlands, I spent two years living in Antrim as a toddler. When my family returned to England, my pre-school peer group had plenty to say about the way I spoke. The second was a TV documentary which explained how archaeologists can use the minerals deposited in a skeleton’s teeth to deduce where it’s owner spent his or her formative years; the Amesbury Archer, for example, was found in Wiltshire, but grew up in the Alps. The poem is about prejudice, but also about the different ways a place can leave its mark on a person.
There’s something very comforting about watching people bake, even if it is in a staged competitive situation like The Great British Bake-Off. Now, in a pop-up tribute blog called the Great British Bard-Off, some very good poets are writing their own poems in response to the works of art that are the lightest naan bread and the perfect pie. The blog is curated by Amy Key and Charlotte Runcie, and includes poems by AF Harrold, Roddy Lumsden, Porky the Poet (aka Phil Jupitus) Sophie Meyer, Adam Horovitz…
I’m very pleased that one of my poems is there.
In my mother’s kitchen there were no scales,
all weighing was done by tablespoon;
for flour and sugar, a perfect ounce
heaped as much above as there is below.
With baking-soda, eggs and marge
we’d make sultana scones, jam tarts,
sandwich cakes, not fancy, nothing requiring
the Be-Ro Book; all from memory.
Plain cooking, fit for a plainer life,
a recipe of expect the worst
in a stir of gossips, con-artists
and nosy-parkers, no-one you can trust.
She baked as she lived, liked only what she knew,
shunned the unfamiliar. I wish her life
had been ruled by the mantra of the mixing bowl;
as much above as there is below.
The Last of Summer
The first of September, and the last of the English summer;
now the blackberries droop on their brambles, heavily sweet,
and birds mass on the humming lines like athletes lining up to race.
We wipe the dew from windscreens in the cobweb-heavy mornings.
Here ends a season dragged with clouds and lashed with soaking showers,
scant of picnicking and sunbathing and heatwaves spent on loungers.
Cheated of fetes and festivals, barbecues and beaches,
people pack away shorts and sandals in drawers and high cupboards,
shove airbeds and gazebos into garden sheds and garages.
School uniforms are hemmed and pressed and laid out for the new term.
Faces turning inwards towards TV screens and sofas
consider prematurely the serious work of autumn.
Electric light flicks on in every sitting-room and kitchen;
the nights, like the shedding hay wagons, intent on gathering in.
Nobody I Knew Will Ever Read This
because it’s made of poetry;
because it has no proper rhymes,
because the lines don’t travel all the way
to the far side of the page.
Because the things it has to say
might be too embarrassing,
too personal. Because it is free
from numbered clauses, short on bullet points;
of pie-charts, moving averages,
distressingly bereft. Because it’s left
aligned, not justified, and not designed
to be digested down to Powerpoint slides
for senior execs who don’t have time
or much of an attention span. Corporate Man
has no respect for poetry. It’s too
right-brain, and quite unlike
the careful analytical reports I used to write.
Come to think of it, nobody I knew
ever read those either.