A hive of activity, that’s what it’s been here in the last two weeks. A veritable hive.
Poetry activity, needless to say. I’ve been working with Gerry Cambridge on the book which will come out in November. Yes – a whole book, not a pamphlet. It is to be called Notes for Lighting a Fire and it is terrific. I know I am biased, but even when I take my bias and hold it at arms’ length for appraisal, I still think it is a terrific book. But in the meantime, I’m nervous about getting it right. I have my own sweet little time-honoured method for pamphlets now and this is a different kettle of verse. Having said this, Gerry is so good at what he is doing – and so expert at making publications – he is a joy to work with.
Pamphlets are short and they ought to be easy by comparison. But they aren’t easy. Each one is so remarkably different from the last it wakes me up with a little shiver of anticipation. On Thursday I posted a first draft to Peter Gilmour, a Glasgow-based writer. His poems are exceptionally intense, several of them triggered by his wife’s suicide. It’s a cliché to compare them to black holes, but they do have that effect of appearing to suck in everything around them, so it’s difficult just to slip from one poem to the next. In the end, I divided the pamphlet into sections to give the sets more breathing space. We’ll see what Peter thinks.
Peter’s is a first publication and so is David Hale’s, which will probably be titled The Last Walking Stick Factory. There are woods in it, and many trees, a coffin and some machines. I particularly like poems about machines for some reason. I’ve been communicating with David for years now – at least three years I think, and some of these poems have been coming and going between us until they’ve become old friends. I’m dying to see them printed. Both this and Peter’s pamphlet create a challenge for cover image – Peter’s poems are more abstract than visual, and David’s image could be the walking sticks, but that might look jokey and silly, and few of the poems are light. Perhaps the weave of the wood. . . ..
And finally, Sue Butler’s pamphlet – not sure of the title yet. Sue’s not a new poet. She has, over the years, had pamphlets from different publishers, and her first book, from Smith Doorstop in 2004, was Vanishing Trick, which is one of those books where certain poems stay with you. For me, it was ‘The Song of My Weakness’ and ‘A Miniature Fairytale’ and ‘When I Grow Up I Want To Be’, and actually, now I think about it, several others too. I’ve been writing to her for years now, on and off. You have to feel strongly about a person’s poems to write to them. I also identify with her situation – a person who, like Alison Brackenbury – has worked away in ordinary jobs, while squirreling away poems.
I would like to use the last line of one of her Vanishing Trick pieces to describe her own poems, but that’s complicated. I’ll need to quote the poem first. Here it is. It’s called ‘Proposal’, and it’s typical of her work to embed a whole narrative in a few bleak words. Having said which, ‘Proposal’ is not bleak at all, and it reminds me I also have a weakness for poems which cook up a meal. Matthew Stewart can do that, and so can Sue Butler:
......Down back streets with women
......double his age, he queues for pears.
......Inspects the eyes and gills before buying
......herrings from a trawler.
......Bakes their flesh with dill,
......stews a sauce from their severed heads.
......He covers the gate-leg table with a cloth.
......Arranges lilac in a milk bottle.
......At ten to eight he melts fresh butter,
......flash fries the pears.
......Stirs in sugar, cream, crushed cloves
......until every mouthful is deafening.