The subtitle of this post could be “Hold your phone sideways” since this is the best way to read poems on websites if you’re reading from your phone. Once you do it, you’ll never regret it.
This month, my poetry site And Other Poems opened its doors again after a twenty month break. I opened submissions to And Other Poems partly as a means of distracting myself from the tension of waiting for the US election results, partly to stop myself shouting at the television every time Boris Johnson appeared on it, partly as a way to contribute something to the poetry community of which I am a part. As soon as I announced submissions were open, the poems began to arrive. It was as if a tribe of cats had been sitting on my doorstop for twenty months, waiting for me to bring in the milk.
Wasting no time, I rolled up my sleeves to read the poems and started posting them on the site. In all, 174 poets sent in a total of 726 poems. That’s a lot of cats! Inevitably, I haven’t been able to publish everyone’s work. I tried to choose poems that made a connection to me as I was speed-reading my way through my email inbox, and poems I thought readers of And Other Poems would like. I also tried to keep a balance of poets who’d been published on the site before, and those who had not.
First up, I chose two poems by Pat Edwards. She had me hooked with the opening line of her first poem ‘The Gathering’
They will assemble in the parliament of the wide awake,
The mysterious sense of sleeplessness and machinations of power suggested by the poem resonated with my deep-in-lockdown state of mind.
Two poems by Karen Leeder were next, including one new translation from German of a poem by Ulrike Almut Sandig. I like the way these two poems seem to be talking to each other with tales of truth and lies, the natural world, urbane lives, places where both meet. Karen’s poem is imbued with a sense of not quite being awake as if we cannot fathom what is happening to us. And what do you think of Ulrike’s elegant style of titling poems by putting one phrase within the poem in bold? Nu ein Ei//Just an egg! (That’s not the part in bold but I like it).
The poems were coming thick and fast by now, including this brand new poem, ‘Oxytocin’ by Betty Doyle. Oxytocin is a hormone and a neurotransmitter, sometimes called ‘the love hormone’ because levels of oxytocin increase during hugging and orgasm. What’s not to write a poem about?? Betty brings the love to And Other Poems, and while she’s doing the washing up!
Someone on Twitter commented that the title of the first of Joanna Ingham’s two poems, ‘Mother As a List of Locations’ was a poem in itself. I agree. Joanna goes to some of the rarely trodden places of motherhood. What a great lesson in effective linebreaks, too.
The slope above the cathedral
where I shoved you off
my lap so hard you rolled
away across the grass.
I love the way that Kathy Pimlott’s poem ‘Mercy’ plunges us deep into a darkly comedic dreamworld. Dreams are everywhere but it’s not easy to write well about them. Kathy has the deftest touch and leaves us with a stunning last line. Her poem really captures the sense of dreamland/real life overlap that so many of us are living through: “Sometimes the feeling / doesn’t match the story, leaks out into the day.”
A sensuous, richly worded villanelle by Jane Burn is next at And Other Poems. “This bed a purse of flame and I, a hot coin thrown / to its tawny lickings lie…” Truly a poem to roll around the bed in, tangling yourself in its delicious language.
Meanwhile, Rowena Knight’s poem ‘Catastrophe’ takes us to the surreal and ridiculous world of dieting advice, poking fun at a system that puts women under pressure to lose weight. “The fig rolls are particularly out of control…” comes the news flash.
Jean Atkin’s poem ‘The Very End of Old Delph Will’ gives us a tale of an 18th century Saddleworth boggart “constantly likely to emit hot winds…” Mmm. I can think of a modern-day “boggart” with a similar characteristic. The “good people of Delph” come up with an ingenious plan to rid themselves of this evil spirit and make sure he doesn’t come back, planting “a copse of sycamores over him, just /
so their roots would keep him strapped down.” American readers, take note!
Something completely different from Richard Price, and the first time I’ve read a poem laid out as a Myers Briggs personality test, with worked examples! There’s no HR Department here – instead, a father and his young son are taking the test, the poem spilling over with tender playfulness, as well as utter seriousness. You need to take your time with this poem, and read it out loud.
Carole Bromley, who writes wonderfully for children, as well as adults, shares a new poem for poets and knitters all ages, ‘Teaching Tabitha to Knit’. Another one to read aloud. Is it about writing poems or about knitting? Or about knitting a poem, as someone cleverer than me suggested. Or maybe about writing a woolly scarf…
One of the delightful things about editing a poetry site is that poems from poets you admire suddenly land in your inbox. I heard Warda Yassin read at the Sheaf Poetry Festival last year and was so impressed, I immediately snapped up her pamphlet from Smith|Doorstop. Then I read three poems of hers in the most recent Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal (such a good, new publication, by the way) which I loved. So I was excited to see that Warda had sent me poems. I confess to doing a bad thing and moving her poems up in the queue rather than waiting to read them in the order they’d arrived. Her poem ‘Graduation’ is about the past, a memory from childhood about a father’s graduation: what we remember, what we think we remember, what we choose to remember. I love that line “Four milk toothed daughters yoyoing off arms.”
Another thing about a poetry site is the issue of including images. Usually, I think poetry works best in a clear, uncluttered space, but when it comes to Greg Gilbert, who is a musician and artist, as well as a poet, it would be a great shame to not include one of his incredible, detailed drawings alongside his poem. Paper Face (a Sculptural Wish for the Hands) is a new poem by Greg, who is living with stage 4 cancer, that explores the artist’s compulsion to create new work, even from within the depths of serious illness. With lines describing the “…Furious inking / When I was supposed to be sleeping / And soon I was bald and buried / Beneath them…” the poem gives readers a vivid sense of the artist’s extraordinary, relentless creative energy.
I would have never imagined that potholes would make a good subject for a poem but they do indeed feature in the first of two poems by Elisabeth Sennitt Clough, capturing the mysteriousness and (perhaps misplaced) promise of adventure in small town living. Elisabeth writes with great economy, and, like Richie McCaffrey, another poet I admire, she is an expert of the short poem, conveying much in only a handful of lines. Do take a look at her work at And Other Poems and elsewhere.
Though their ambitions are shallow,
some potholes leave openings
wide enough to swallow you.
To end the month of November at And Other Poems, I’ve included a poem by Susan Utting, an ekphrastic poem, after a painting by Henri Rousseau called ‘Surprised! (Tiger in a Tropical Storm)’. I love that exclamation mark and the wittiness of Susan’s first line “Why surprised? I’m everywhere…” the tiger talking back to the viewer, even from beyond its slaughter. The poem’s closing lines serve as a warning about this beautiful, endangered animal.
while you can, before I am no more
than rumour, before I’m history.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my selection for November. Thank you to all the poets for their poems and to all readers. I’ll be posting more poems throughout December and January, so be sure to pop into the site for a good read.