Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: Lynn Jenner makes some picks and muses on poetry

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Places to talk about poetry with others who love it just aren’t that common. So thanks Paula for making that happen.

One of the things that happened in my poetry world this year was the RETHINKING PINK event hosted by VicBooks at their Kelburn shop back in October. Mary McCallum from Mākaro Press mc’d a discussion and reading from three books of poetry with pink covers. Poets Nina Powles (Girls of the Drift, Seraph Press) and Annabel Hawkins ( This Must be the Place, Mākaro Press) were there to read and talk about their work and publisher/poet Helen Rickerby of Seraph Press read from Miss Dust on behalf of Johanna Aitchison who was in Iowa.

One point of this story is that Vicbooks and two publishers put on the event, an audience came, poets read their work and talked about it and everyone had a truly wonderful time on a Saturday afternoon. I keep getting reminded that poetry is lovely on the page and in the book, but is even lovelier when it is out loud and shared with an audience and when the audience gets to hear a bit about how and why the poetry is made.

Another point of the story is that I had the opportunity and a nudge to read and think about the poems by Nina Powles and Annabel Hawkins. These two poets could hardly be more different in their consciousness or style. Hawkins’ poems began as a blog, and which she then turned into poems. This is quite a bold thing to do, and I wondered how that could work, given the great differences in diction and rhythm and everything else, but it does. The poems retain a casual vibe as they address topics of everyday life, but they sound like poems. I found myself very drawn to the person behind these words and wanting to know about the way this person experiences the world.

Here’s a few lines from Valey Day, a poem about cleaning up a flat with Janola and Jif on Valentine’s night

‘You look lovely,’ Jimmy says.

And I don’t think about the stain on

my shirt or the grease in my hair for the

rest of the night. We check our phones

and no calls have come. Not surprising,

but still.

 

You can hear Annabel talking about her poems with Jessie Mulligan.

 

Nina Powles published Girls of the Drift in 2014. It is in chapbook form and you can see a sample here.

The poems in Girls of the Drift are often about a particular person, the woman at the store, from the Mansfield short story, for example. The poems feel crisp and concentrated, like a Martini. And to stretch the comparison even further, the poems feel artful and slightly austere, qualities we like about Martinis and, in my case, about poems too. In 2015 Powles has completed an MA at the International Institute of Modern Letters. It will be very interesting to see her next collection.

 

This year I have been doing a research project examining the relationship between the critical and creative parts of the Phd in Creative Writing at IIML. This has given me the chance to listen to graduates, supervisors and examiners talking about the role played by in-depth reading in the development of a big ambitious PhD level creative project.

It’s fascinating to be finding out more about the significance, for writers, of reading and thinking about reading.

For myself, certain writers set off explosions in my writing mind. It might be their choice of language, or their use of form, or even just the topic they choose, but something in their work helps me to open new doors in my own. This week it has been Milan Kundera. This description of a man’s feelings about his lover, from Slowness, published in English in 1996, tells me so much:

‘His beloved’s sensitivity seems to him like a landscape by a German Romantic painter: scattered with trees in unimaginably contorted shapes, and above them a faraway blue sky, God’s dwelling place; each time he steps into this landscape, he feels an irresistible urge to fall to his knees and stay fixed there, as if witnessing a divine miracle.’

One thing it doesn’t tell me is whether this miracle is, in the end, a good thing or a bad thing. Perhaps it will drive the man mad in the end? I like that even-handed treatment.

Kundera’s book ,The Art of the Novel, had explosive qualities for me too, especially the last section in the book called ‘Sixty-three Words’. Here Kundera writes a paragraph or a page about words that have particular significance to him. You could call it an auto-index. Beauty (and knowledge), Being, Central Europe, Central Europe again, Collaborator, Comic, Czechoslovakia, Forgetting, Hat ….etc.

Here is the entry for ‘Ideas’:

Ideas.

My disgust for those who reduce a work to its ideas. My revulsion at being dragged into what they call “discussion of ideas.” My despair at this era befogged with ideas and indifferent to works.

Imagine what your own list might be.

This book about the novel, with sparks flying from its words and sentences and its intentions, might easily end up helping me write poetry.

Every year is a good year for poetry.

Lynn Jenner

Picture    This must be the place cover

 

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