“As to the Adjective: When in doubt, strike it out.” So said Mark Twain in Pudd’nhead Wilson – and he knew a thing or two.
Still the little bastards creep up. If not inside the poems, they cluster on the book jacket like fruitflies.
Here are some examples from recent book titles. These are all drawn from noble imprints, and the adjectives were harvested from poets, no less.
Vivid and sensual.
Deceptively quiet. Disarmingly tender.
Translucent. Beautifully crafted. Clear, graceful, word-perfect.
Particular, precise, potent.
Visually evocative. Slightly breathtaking.
Dynamic and refined. Stunning.
Gripping and moving.
Intense, exact and absolutely engaged.
It’s easy to mock. It’s less easy to know what to do about it. And what if you have published a book of poems and you want people to know about it? You’ve spent a lot of time and money making it. You believe in the book, and now it’s time to sell it. Roll up. Roll up.
But the world is full of grand statements. And actually some of you might not like the book. You might not even like the sliced bread since which nothing has been better.
Also what if this book of poems is by an understater? What if the work isn’t visually evocative and slightly breath-taking? What if it’s plain? What if it includes lines like “Her eyes search for scraps, for something more / but only the old bread made proper crumbs”?
Anyway, there are other titles to sell too. It’s like peddling your own children. Which one do you love best this week? Aren’t they all, in their different ways, lovable?
The book has an adjective in its title. But it’s a kind of anti-adjective. The title poem (‘Common Ground’) is about a funeral. Death is the (great) leveller and what we all have in common. If I were allowed to use one adjective (I have just given myself permission), I would say what this poem is not, which is comforting. Here are the last three lines:
We must meet up at other times, we say,
weaving good-byes, fingers crossed against
the M6, rush-hour tailbacks, evening rain.
You might know some of D A Prince’s poems already, so you might have an idea what she does and doesn’t do. You might have read her in some of the magazines. She is a practising-poet who practises. She works at it. She writes poems and she sends them out. They’re always popping up here and there. They don’t shout much. Often they stick in your mind. My mind, anyway.
So how to peddle this book? How to promote?
I honestly don’t know. She didn’t even want her photo on Nearly the Happy Hour, so we settled for a monochrome snapshot of her as a little girl. There is one on the jacket of Common Ground, but it’s hidden inside the back flap. There are no blurbs or endorsements on the back cover but there is an eight-line poem called ‘Sea Interlude’.
There are a few adjectives inside the front flap from Tom Jenks, but I can’t quote them here because adjectives are banned today.
I can reveal that Common Ground contains a sestina, and those of you who know my preferences may experience shock equivalent to sixteen adjectives on hearing this fact. You may, indeed, send for the book just to read that sestina. Or you could come to the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair at the Conway Hall in London on September 6th, where the poet might read that very poem at the book launch. But then she might not.
Only one more thing to say really. Here’s the poem from the back jacket, ‘Sea Interlude’. I can’t even explain why I like this so much. Well, I could. But instead I thought I’d just publish a whole book by the person who wrote it.
A lucky morning and the sea
flat from shore to sky
and that line of clouds, tight
as a line of fine knitting.
Or possibly braided rope. One day
I won’t be here to ask
Would you ever write that?
You, looking up puzzled, saying What?