July 7th, 2020

July 7, 2020

Pubs have grown strange. No longer are you able
To jostle at the bar, but are directed
Towards a lonely disinfected table
Where gloved hands bring the drinks that you’ve selected.
The bar staff gamely take to new-learned tasks
Some bossily, but others with more tact.
It’s disconcerting seeing them wear masks;
You’d be put off, except for one sweet fact…

There is no music! The loud thumping rock
That’s been the soundtrack to our evenings out
Has been switched off, because high-decibel schlock
Makes drinkers shout, and so spread germs about.
No racket now will murder conversations –
Even this virus has its compensations.


July 4, 2020

July 4, 2020

Our post-lockdown hairdressers
Wear defensive screens
Styled rather like what Dan Dare wore
When fighting Treens.

Now twelve weeks of abundant growth
Fall round my stylist’s feet.
Soon my unruly mop’s quite tamed,
Like the Mekon’s battle fleet.

Shorn and tidied up at last,
I too am like Dan Dare
Venturing into the future
With well-behaved hair.


Back to Life

June 29, 2020

Dry your tears. Snakeskin is back online. The firm that looks after the site tells me that there were ‘issues’ with the server. These now seem to be resolved.

Make sure you take a look at the SHORT POEMS issue, which will arrive on July 1st. There’s some brilliant stuff in it.


Where’s Snakeskin?

June 28, 2020

The Snakeskin webpage has mysteriously disappeared. I’m trying to get in touch with the firm who provides the site, but they can be elusive over weekends.

I’ve checked, and yes, I have paid my bill, so that’s not the problem this time.

I’m just hoping all will be well again by Wednesday, when the July issue is set to go online. It’s a short poems special issue, and is shaping up very nicely. Make sure you look out for it.


A Fable

June 13, 2020

In a distant country, years ago
A cruel illness made a slow
But nasty progress through the land
And threatened to get out of hand.
The king and his advisors, shaken,
Declared firm measures must be taken
To stop the plague from taking hold.
They issued diktats firm and bold.
No citizen must ever roam,
But all must always stay at home,
And must stay six long feet apart,
Even from the darlings of their heart.

But, fearing he’d be disobeyed,
The king said: ‘Make the plebs afraid.’
His men drew graphs and uttered lectures
About how wickedly infectious
The illness was, and they so hyped
It up that almost no-one griped –
No, most were most obedient, fleeing
The touch of any human being.
They washed their hands obsessively
And took delight especially
In letting the police force know
If any deviant dared to go
To visit with his family.
The plebs deplored this, virtuously.

Read the rest of this entry »

Snorkelman

June 10, 2020

Over the long, long years of its existence, Snakeskin has inspired many of its readers to creativity. Quite frequently we hear of this directly, through feedback. Mostly, probably, we don’t.

It is pleasing to hear of an artwork created as direct response to a Snakeskin poem. Artist Shirley Blacoe read ‘Snorkelscape’ by her friend Seth Crook in the June number, and produced this rather splendid picture:

‘That Man Again’ by Shirley Blacoe

The image has now been added to the poem in June Snakeskin.


‘The Deal’ by Annie Fisher

May 26, 2020

Four years ago this blog enthusiastically reviewed Infinite in All Perfections by Snakeskin poet Annie Fisher. The Deal, her follow-up pamphlet, also published by Happenstance, is even better.

Typically, Annie’s are poems that contain lives; sometimes content that might fill a whole novel is compressed into a few lines. The father-daughter relationship in ‘Perhaps’, for example, or the childhood of ‘In Hiding’.

Annie Fisher is drawn to writing about people whose lives are unsatisfactory, like the anorexic girl of ‘Ghost’:

She watches
as her shadow on the ground
grows more obese
with every passing hour.

Or the man whose whole life is a catalogue of disappointments:

Let-downs ambushed him throughout his life –
the taste of fresh-perked coffee; aubergines;
live albums; picnics; Camembert; his wife.

Several poems are about childhood: some, I, think, about her own childhood, and her relationship with her father. ‘His Face in my Mirror’ was in Snakeskin a few years ago:

The little lazy eye he gave to me
Winks back unmistakably.
Try all you like, it seems to say
You can’t escape your DNA.

For me, the sign of a good poetry book is that when reviewing it I want to keep on quoting and quoting. That’s the case with The Deal. The language is so clear, and yet so rich, and a few lines can suggest a world of implications.

But I’ll stop now, and just tell you to do yourself a favour and buy a copy. The title poem is especially beautiful.

You can order The Deal at: https://www.happenstancepress.com/index.php/shop/product/47801-the-deal-%E2%88%92-annie-fisher


The Old Man Reads a Review of Recent Poetry Books

May 25, 2020

This Guardian critic does not give much cred
To poets who are male and white and dead.

Which leaves me feeling very slightly wan,
Since I am white and male, and getting on.


The poets identified

April 21, 2020

Sharon Phillips has kindly sent me this key to identifying those promising young poets of 1971 pictured on the book cover featured in the previous post:

Here’s the cover again:

Judging by the responses, both on the blog and in private emails, we all did pretty poorly at identifying them.

I spotted Heaney, of course, and Tony Harrison and Michael Longley. I was also right about Douglas Dunn and Ian Hamilton, and made a guess at Hugo Williams. I really should have got Brian Patten, and probably Peter Dale. Several others I made wildly wrong guesses about.

The picture that surprises me is Jon Stallworthy. Not only was he a good poet, but I met him, memorably. In 2010 I was fortunate indeed that he was the external examiner for my Ph.D. The Ph.D. viva can be a formidable process, but I thoroughly enjoyed mine. Jon Stallworthy asked some searching questions, but showed an enthusiastic interest in my answers, and shared his own insights into the matters I had investigated (The Representation of the Soldier in Great War Prose Literature, 1914-1930). Of course, when I met him, it was thirty-nine years after that picture was taken for the cover of the 1974 book, and he had changed considerably.

And now it’s forty-nine years since the book was published, and just to see the cover raises all sorts of questions (quite apart from the question raised in Sharon’s poem, about the apparent scarcity of women poets at that time). There are questions about time, and fame, and success, and the fashions in verse. Some of those young poets of 1974 are now revered; others are forgotten. Several probably left poetry and went on to other careers. Too many of them have died.

And that’s the way it goes.


The Young British Poets

April 1, 2020

In April Snakeskin, Sharon Phillips has rather a good poem (‘Looking Good’) which references a seventies book, The Young British Poets, edited by Jeremy Robson.

Here is a scan of the book’s cover. I wonder how many of the poets readers can recognise. I think I score half a dozen definites, plus a couple of possibles.

No prizes – but how many can you identify?