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

.


May Snakeskin: BREATHE

March 3, 2021

Rosie Miles will be the guest editor of the May issue. She explains:

Topic for May 2021 Snakeskin: BREATHE

Guest edited by Rosie Miles

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

I can’t breathe!”

Allow yourself to breathe. Let the wine breathe. Take time to breathe. Breathe a sigh of relief.

Who has breathed their last? Who can barely breathe? Who is still struggling to breathe?

What is it like to breathe again? What (new) spirit breathes among us?

Breathe energy, breathe fear, breathe courage, breathe air, breathe hope, breathe peace, breathe deeply, breathe freely.

What are you/we breathing new life into?

Breathe it all in.

Please respond to the theme as imaginatively and expansively and arrestingly as only poets can!

  1. Send up to four poems to Rosie Miles (info@rosiemilespoet.com) in one single word.docx or pdf attachment.
  2. Please start each poem on a new page.
  3. Your document should be named ‘BREATHE_Yourname’.
  4. Likewise please put ‘BREATHE Yourname’ in the Subject Line of your email.
  5. A brief “Hello”/introductory note in your email is welcome.
  6. Deadline Monday 5th April 2021.
  7. Poets whose poems are being included in the May 2021 edition of Snakeskin will be notified at the end of the month.

Another Snakeskin Zoom meeting

March 3, 2021

The January meeting was most enjoyable, and there will be a new one on Thursday March 18th, at 7.00 p.m. (London time).

Six or seven Snakeskin poets will be reading from their work, so that we can all put faces and voices to the names we see on our screens.

I have sent an email to my list of attendees from the previous meeting. The list may not be complete, though, and maybe others would like to attend. If you have not received an email, and would like to join in, please send a note to simmersgeorge@yahoo.co.uk.


March Snakeskin will be USEFUL

February 1, 2021

February Snakeskin is now online, and is the usual cornucopia of various verses. You’ll enjoy it.

The important news is that next month Snakeskin will consist entirely of USEFUL POETRY.

Too often the unimaginative and the semi-literate decry poetry as useless. We shall prove them wrong with an issue of verse with a real-world practical purpose. Expect rhymed recipes, mnemonics, advice to the lovelorn, counselling for the obese, and so forth. Submissions are requested.


Two new collections

January 28, 2021

I’ve recently received two very enjoyable collections by Snakeskin poets.
David Callin is from the Isle of Man, and Always, as its title suggest, a pamphlet full of appreciation of what will endure – though many poems, looking back, communicate vividly a sense of what has not endured, even on his home island, where change comes more slowly than on the mainland. ‘Lost Pubs of Douglas’ for example, is a hymn of nostalgia for boozers past. ‘First Lessons in Wendish’ regrets languages that have disappeared.
David Callin likes old films. There is an affectionate tribute to the great Douglas Fairbanks, and he shares my delight in the great train movies of the 1930s:
I would like to go
On an old-fashioned sleeper,
caught up in some
intrigue of caper,

dodging the
unkind intentions
of chaps with guns
and cops with truncheons.

Perhaps the poems of his that I like best though, are those with a taste of the uncanny. Click here to read ‘Witches’, which appeared in Snakeskin a couple of years back.
Always is published by Dreich Chapbooks, price £5.

Ragpicking Ezekiel’s Bones by Pamela Sumners is a much heftier volume – 190 pages of idiosyncratic and original poems.
It is a book that takes you to unexpected places. Click here for a sample, the remarkable series of poems: The Patient in Room 327 has Too Much and Too Little Time on her Hands .That sequence was her first appearance in Snakeskin. Her poems are for people who want to be challenged. The ones I found most remarkable were those about her mother’s incarceration in an institution, such as ‘Bryce’, and ‘My Mother’s Guest Room.’ Some of these poems can be painful to read. Pamela Sumners does not avoid tough subjects. She deserves to be read.
Ragpicking Ezekiel’s Bones is published by Uncollected Press at $15