Thursday 29 November 2018

Conversations with Nick Cave

I am, I would have to say, a bit ambivalent about Nick Cave and his music. There was a time, around Let Love In, when I listened to him quite a bit. Looking it up, I've just noticed that not only was ex-Triffid Martyn Casey a member of the Bad Seeds by then, but Triffid head honcho David McComb also contributed backing vocals. But I can't say I've ever wholly gone along with the 'genius' tag he gets so often.

Still, that's irrelevant. This article in The Guardian is what I really wanted to talk about. Cave's responses to his fans feel genuine and generous, and I found this open letter to a grieving fan particularly moving.

I will have to go back and dip into Cave's back catalogue a bit, though. Given how prolific he's been, I've probably missed a lot.

Wednesday 28 November 2018

Poetry in schools

Excellent piece here from Michael Rosen, on the teaching of poetry in schools, and how reducing it to a series of a yes/no answers not only does the poetry itself a great disservice, but teaches the children nothing and probably puts them off poetry for life. I was lucky, when I was at school, that we had English teachers who encouraged you to read a poem with an open mind – indeed, above all, who encouraged you just to read poems.

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Declan Ryan on Hugo Williams

Interesting overview of Hugo Williams' Collected Poems here, in the Los Angeles Review of Books, by young poet Declan Ryan. Williams never really seems to quite fit in to any poetic school or movement, but I've liked his work ever since I first encountered it (a remaindered copy of Dock Leaves that I bought about 16 or 17 years ago). Billy's Rain is, as the article suggests, probably his best collection, but the Collected Poems is well worth a look.

Friday 23 November 2018

Is contemporary poetry in "a rotten state"?

Late to the party with this, but apparently novelist Rose Tremain thinks modern poetry is crap, while poet Robin Robertson finds himself sitting in the appalled middle ground, between the polar opposites of "light verse" or "incomprehensible".

Well, you can have fun arguing about whether or not they're right, but it's the way the subject is approached that bugs me. With Tremain, it's the "Let's dare to say it out loud". She sounds like one of those middle-aged men who 'dare' to be politically incorrect, but of course she's not saying anything daring at all, just using the platform afforded her by a national newspaper to trot out the same sort of thing Jeremy Paxman and Stephen Fry have done in the past. And of course, she doesn't mention any of the poets she does approve of, whether contemporary or from the past, or indeed any of the contemporary poets that she has read to form such an opinion. So, all things considered, a pretty pointless comment.

In Robertson's case, it's the implication that the "middle" in which he finds himself is somehow the squeezed, obscured, ignored part of the poetry world, rather than the largest sector, and the one that encompasses the larger presses and the bulk of the media coverage. It's dominated, of course, by middle-aged white men like Robertson writing largely mainstream poetry (and I speak as a middle-aged white man writing mainstream poetry). What's the problem with hearing some different voices?

Thursday 22 November 2018

Arthur Merritt, 1940-2018

My dad, Arthur Merritt, died on November 1st after a long illness. He was a wonderful husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather to my mum, Verley, my sisters Rebecca and Hannah and myself, my wife Natalie and my stepchildren Charlotte and Jacob respectively. We said our goodbyes to him yesterday, but of course he will always be with us in everything we do. Of that, more in a few days.

At the funeral, Tennyson's Crossing The Bar was read. Now I don't think Dad was ever a great reader of poetry, but this (it's hard to reproduce the formatting here, so I've just included the link) struck just the right note, and had added significance because he was a proud native of Louth, Lincolnshire, from very near Tennyson's own home village. Rest in peace, Dad, we love you now as always.

Tuesday 6 November 2018

Magma 72 reviews

In the new issue of Magma (No.72), I've reviewed new collections from Bobby Parker and Stav Poleg, and an anthology in celebration of WS Graham. I won't give away what I thought of them – you'll have to buy the magazine for that. It contains a lot of fine poetry, much of it around the theme of climate-change.