On National Poetry Day

October 7, 2021

October 7th. Today is National Poetry Day, they tell me. I wrote a poem on that subject a long long time ago, and haven’t much more to say about it.
But then pretty well every day is Poetry Day here at Snakeskin headquarters, though some days are more poetic than others.
A good day was a Saturday last month when I was sniffing round Huddersfield’s open market as usual; Saturday is secondhand day, and there’s always at least one treasure to be found. As it happened, I had not come across much of interest that day, till I encountered a stall with a small pile of books. Mostly railways and military, as I recall, but there was also 33 Poems by Radnóti Miklós . It was a dual-language edition, published in Budapest, the Hungarian facing the English. I knew the name, of course (though slightly anglicised as Miklós Radnóti).
For years, Thomas Land sent translations to Snakeskin of poems from the Hungarian Holocaust, and Radnóti was one of the most treasured poets in his canon.
The book was cheap, and I bought it without looking far into it. It was only when I got home that I saw that the translator was Thomas Ország-Land – our Tom, by his more Hungarian name.
The book had been published in 1992, three years before Snakeskin was even born. Many of the translations appeared again in Thomas’s 2009 Snakeskin e-chapbook, Deathmarch – where there is indeed an acknowledgement to this little volume, a reference I had quite forgotten.
It reminds me of how much I miss Thomas, and his monthly submissions of versions, sometimes lyrical, often horrific, of translations recalling the poets of Jewish Hungary (many of whom had been killed during the war years).
Snakeskin is happy to frequently publish poems that are light, or humorous, or dealing with ephemeral issues. We like to think we cover the whole range of poetry (apart from the pretentious). But the poems Thomas sent us, reminders of the greatest crime of the twentieth century, were there each month to remind us of the worst facts of life, and of the role of the poet in speaking up in times of horror.
I miss him indeed.

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Poetry goes live – in Holmfirth at least

September 4, 2021

I moaned recently that in this part of the world at least, live poetry events just did not seem to be happening yet. Well, at least one public reading will be happening soon.

At the Holmfirth Arts Festival (September 17th-19th) there will be a live reading from Escape: Writing out of Lockdown, the collection the Holmfirth Writers’ Group has compiled from what they have written to cheer themselves up during the past miserable months. It will happen on September 19th at Holmfirth Technical College.

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Short Poems

September 2, 2021

The new Snakeskin is online, packed with short poems. Nothing over ten lines, I said (and note sadly that some good poets are actually unable to count accurately. Never mind.)

The editorial inbox bulged this month. I had plenty to choose from, and found myself reluctantly rejecting some competent pieces that would definitely have made it had competition been less tough.

I was particularly pleased by the quality of the serious short poems submitted. Don’t worry, we have clerihews and double dactyls in the mix for those who, like me, enjoy those classic comic forms. But the ones that stood out while I was editing were the shorties that made a poignant or disturbing point with economy. There are some very good ones. And I’ll make sure we have another short poems special issue soon.


Never Enough Already

August 19, 2021

I’m delighted to hear that Snakeskin poet Jane Blanchard’s new collection, Never Enough Already, is now published, and on sale.

Jane Blanchard’s neatly-crafted verse focuses on daily life, marriage, family, travel, gardens and social conventions. But there is much wry wit, from raccoons to royals, and deft use of such forms as haiku, villanelles and sonnets to make for a pleasingly thoughtful and varied collection. — Jerome Betts, editor of Lighten Up Online



Ralph Feinnes and ‘Four Quartets’

July 30, 2021

On Wednesday I went to the theatre in York, to see Ralph Fiennes present his version of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.

I had wondered how the poems would work on the stage. The first of them after all, contains much material that had been cut from Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral as being essentially undramatic. The poems are an extended meditation on Time. Eliot’s own reading of them is only intermittently dramatic.

Well, the poems do work in Fiennes’s version, and triumphantly. He does not just read the poems, and does not exactly perform them. He seems to be a man living them. A single figure, barefoot, in a bare prison-like space, he is forcing himself to think through complexities at the edge of what humans might understand. Often anguished and vulnerable, he is engaged in the ‘intolerable wrestle/ With words and meanings’, trying to explain to himself the difficult truths that he glimpses, constantly pushing himself to explore further. The danger with these poems is that they could begin to sound preachy (And Eliot had a fondness for preaching, as in the choruses from The Rock ).

Looking back on it, one admires the technical skill that Fiennes applies to the task, with variations of pace and mood, finding moments of humour and moments of desolation, with movements that never seem imposed as decoration, but always compelled by the poems – even the clod-hopping dance with which he enacts the rural rites of East Coker:

Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth.

While it’s happening, though, you don’t analyse the technique. You listen, and you live through the poems with him.

At times, Fiennes seemed a character out of Beckett, whose ‘No matter. Try again . Fail again. Fail better’ is prefigured by Eliot’s ‘and every attempt is a new start, and a different kind of failure.’ But Beckett never lets his characters work through towards real insights; Eliot believes that humans can at least glimse intimations of truths worth knowing.

Other performances of the poems would be possible. (In The Dry Salvages, for example, finding more of the wonder as well as the horror of the ocean.) What I liked about Fiennes’s account of them, though, was that he faced the poems head on, and gave no easy answers at all. The moments of enlightenment or ecstasy had to be earned, and were few. At the end he had come to insight (‘And the fire and the rose are one’) but the moment is indeed momentary. After saying the words, his head lowers again into the position in which he began the evening. He is a man still puzzling, still wondering, in a world with no pat solutions.

Then a long pause before we burst into huge applause for such an achievement. Oh what joy it is to be back in a crowded theatre.


Freedom for Poetry?

July 25, 2021

Well, it’s a week now since Freedom Day, and what an anti-climax it’s been. We’re all still wearing masks on the buses and in most shops. Many people reamain nervous. The country has not cheered up.

Pubs are almost back to normal now, and the theatre is gradually getting reasserting itself ( I’m going to see Ralph Fiennes presenting Eliot’s Four Quartets on the stage of the Theatre Royal in York next week – hooray!). The institutions of poetry, though are taking longer to stagger back to normal.

The places where poetry readings happen are being cautious. Universities and libraries seem to be being very cautious indeed about letting even a small crowd in for a spoken word evening. The back rooms of pubs also seem to be in less than a frantic hurry to offer their hospitality again.

Maybe some poets have got too fond of Zoom, of reading and listening from the comfort of their own homes. I can testify to the fact that there have been some very satisfactory Zoom poetry sessions – and they’ve had the advantage of bringing together poets from far apart.

But live readings of poetry matter. For me, the test of a poem is how it connects with an audience. I’ve come away from readings knowing that that stanza needs to be snipped, and a better one added at the end, and so on. Hearing yourself read makes you listen to the poem. Zoom isn’t quite the same.

Soare poetic signs of life showing yet? I’d be delighted if anyone who knew of promising UK poetry events would mention them in the comment section of this blog.

And if any group in the North of England would like to invite this poet to give a reading from his collection Old and Bookish, please do get in touch.


‘Frank’ by Chrissy Banks

May 16, 2021

I’m delighted to pas on the news of a new pamphlet from Snakeskin poet Chrissy Banks.

It’s called Frank, and is published by The Poetry Business.

Read her poem At the Juliet House, Verona, by clicking here,

Or you may like to hear Chrissy launching her pamphlet on YouTube.


‘Breathe’: May Snakeskin is online

May 3, 2021

Many thanks to Rosie Miles for her work in putting together the May issue.

Twenty-six poems about breathing are now online at the usual address. You’ll also find Rosie’s thoughts on editing, which may give you an insight into the sort of choices that editors have to make. She explains why it’s useful to send editors not just one poem at a time, but three or four. As she says:

Often it’s helpful to send more than one.  As an Editor I want to get a feel for your writing, your style.  That’s not impossible from one poem alone, but that one poem has really got to stand out and do a lot of work to make the shortlist. 

Where I disagre is where she says that it is helpful to send a bio, a note explaining who you are, where you’re from and what you’ve published. Notes like this helped Rosie get an idea of the poets, but for me they get in the way. I’m interested in the poems and only the poems. Where you live, or what age or colour or gender you are don’t really interest me. Nor does a list of your previous publications in magazines, however prestigious. Only the poems ought to count.

Rosie doesn’t quite agree, but that’s the point of having occasional guest-editors. They shake things up a bit, and offer a different perspective. And this month Rosie has done an excellent job.


Last chance for Breathing

April 3, 2021

A reminder that the deadline for May’s special issue is Monday April 5th.

The topic is BREATHE, and the guest editor is Rosie Miles. Send your poem to:
info@rosiemilespoet.com

But before you do that, take a look at the extremely miscellaneous but uniformly excellent verses in April Snakeskin, which went online a couple of days ago.


Short

March 14, 2021

I’ve recently been sent two volumes of short poetry. Both enjoyable, but very unlike.

Max Gutmann’s Rewriting History collects a large number of vigorous short pieces written in two forms associated with the comically biographical – the clerihew and the double dactyl. If you don’t know what a clerihew is, Max explains:

A clerihew
Makes you aware o’ who
Humphrey Davy was. Or Sir Christopher Wren. Or anyone else you might be hazy about.
Usually in a way Davy or Wren wouldn’t be too crazy about.

He illustrates the Double Dactyl (sometimes known as a Higgledy-Piggledy) thus:

Jokery Folkery
Higgledy Piggledies
Called Double Dactyls by scholars, I think –

Offer biography
Pseudo-historical
(Meaning the data
Are likely to stink).

If you like Max’s explanations, you’ll like his collection (for details contact him at: info.maxgutmann@gmail.com ).

Mark Rutter’s poems belong to a different short poem tradition. That of minimal modernism, with nods to the concrete poetry of that remarkable creator Ian Hamilton Finlay. He offers Finlay an epitaph:

LAY
FIN

Some of his poems are shorter than that, and sometimes I don’t get the point. The word ‘mouseleaks’ by itself on a page perhaps means more to him than it does to me. Sometimes there is clever wordplay:

when philosophers fight
sophisticuffs

or

the anti-christ
turns wine into water

Sometimes they are not jokey. I liked this one:

an open space
of gorse and heather

A pink orchid
with spotted leaves
Once seen
reveals another.

You can get Mark’s collection from Amazon for £5

.