Ok, I caved.
I haven’t been writing anything resembling a blog post for a long time now, and it’s time I called it a day for QLP?. But if you’re interested in keeping up with my poems or seeing what strange chunks of the internet I’m patching together, do proceed to The Ocean Is To Blame. It’s where I live now, getting bitter at brine. But I promise it’s more fun than that.
Thank you for reading. See you in the ether.
Those are lines from Jessica Poli’s fantastic poem ’24’, originally published on elimae and making a brief guest appearance on The 24 Project, that superfast pop-up arts journal that everyone’s been tweeting about.
I have been lots of places lately. Not actual, in-the-world places, though I have been in those too. But while my body shuttles back and forth between raised bits of land, all the exciting travel has been done by poems.
- Two of my poems can now be found in issue eight of Specter magazine. They are about pretending to be the moon and having lots of feelings, and about Norse ghost-doubles and having lots of feelings.
- I wrote a poem especially for Aesthetix‘s third issue, Household Fires, and they liked it enough to give it a home! It is about powercuts and molecules and, unsurprisingly, fires in the household.
- Another poem I wrote is in the new Sixth Finch! This is one of my favourite magazines so I am super happy to be part of it. The poem is about small animals and winter and features rifles but is not as upsetting as it sounds.
- The aforementioned pop-up journal / social media experiment The 24 Project were also kind enough to take one of my poems. It is about wardrobes and teeth colliding and shedding clothes (which makes it sound far sexier than it probably is). It is only there for six more days so check out all the awesome stuff on the site while you still can.
- Last night I hosted a reading in Stirling! People showed up and listened to the poems and everything. Thanks to Miriam Gamble, Ryan Van Winkle, Billy Letford, Claire Askew and Dave Coates for being great poets and reading great poems and not calling bullshit on my emcee abilities. And thanks to everyone who came along for showing your beautiful faces.
So yes. That is what I have been up to, along with alternately adding and removing schools to my list of prospective MFA applications in varying degrees of panic. I thought I had loads of time and it turns out not so much. It’s scary, but good scary. Much like David Bowie’s acting career.
I promise not to go on and on about this. I can’t promise that of either MFAs or David Bowie. I only have so much [which is not much] restraint.
This is the closest I will get to affirming the value of love songs today.
But today is a really exciting day. Issue 2.3 of NAP goes live today, and damn is it stuffed with amazingness. Guest editor Gregory Sherl gives us Diana Salier, Andrew Cox, Melissa Broder, KMA Sullivan, David Greenspan, Rose Hunter among many others including ILK-kind M.G. Martin, Rob MacDonald, Parker Tettleton, Nick Sturm, Thomas Patrick Levy, Caroline Crew and myself. Whew.
Also new to the interwebs is the second issue of UP, a supremely sexy creation that for its sophomore outing ventures into animal love. Often literally. Because Valentine’s isn’t just for humans…apparently.
On top of that, the February issue of PANK appeared yesterday!
I think I need to lie down. The internet is just throwing all kinds of awesome at us this week. I’ve decided we don’t have time for candlelit dinners / chocolates / roses / all that bullshit. So this is the last we’ll say about it. Forget the relationships being rubbed in the world’s face and get on the lit mags. You’ll feel better for it.
Bless you, NAP / UP / PANK. Bless you.
This kind of exposition isn’t usually my thing: it carries a sense of justifying (or even apologising for) my decisions that makes me uneasy. But I needed to order my own thoughts re: what I’m doing next, if only so I can have my reasons set down in front of me where I can look at them and be confident in them. I’ll admit that it’s probably not obvious why I’ve decided that I want to do a poetry MFA in the States. It certainly seems sudden. But the move West is one I’ve been mulling over for about a year now. It’s one that has required a lot of mulling. I’m currently enrolled in an MLitt – arguably the British equivalent of the MFA – so it seems redundant to want to do both, I guess.
It’s not. As much as I don’t regret taking the MLitt, what I’m reading (and consequently writing) has changed significantly in the past year or so. This is down to external influences like recommendations from friends but it has to be said that the immediate availability of new American literature online is a big reason for the shift. And what’s being published in these online publications is generally very different from what I’d been encountering on home soil.
In the creative writing class I took as an undergrad, the concrete was valorised over the abstract almost constantly. Sentiment and post-confessional internalising were evils to be purged. Formal experimentation didn’t really come into it.
That seems to have set the tone for my subsequent experiences as a writer in the UK. Any mention of poetry in the media seems limited to older poets with established reputations and comfortable mainstream inclinations, or younger poets making a name by emulating them. Don’t mistake me here: I still think that Carol Ann Duffy (for example) is a fine poet. But I get no sense of danger from that mainstream—nothing about it fizzes or yelps or clangs in my heart any more. It’s treading water, or at least gives that impression in my daily existence.
It probably didn’t help that I played it safe throughout my undergrad, taking Contemporary British & Irish Poetry over American Poetry Since 1950 because I knew so little about what was happening on the other side of the pond. My dissertation snuggled easily into a poking-around of linguistic trends in Britain. In a way this was a microcosm of what I was doing in life: staying in my comfort zone. But I’m done being comfortable.
I want abstraction and experimentation.
I want to shout about my joy and my despair.
I want to cheer loudly, not clap politely.
I want to curse freely in my poems without apologising to the reader.
I want to write poems that just don’t make sense and have it not matter because sense is as subjective as everything else.
I want to not get tied up in the definition of terms like ‘prose poem’ or ‘hybrid text’ because a piece is a piece and under its skin everything is really poetry.
If I wanted to do any of that here, I’d have to accept being sidelined as inaccessibly weird or—god help me—postmodern. To be a postmodern poet in the UK often entails being brushed off or sneered at by the aforementioned mainstream, stuffed into a revisionist anthology that makes too much of you or entering a publishing circle-jerk. That kind of academic foppishness and self-imposed martyrdom is just not for me.
But in America I can sense hope! In the online independent scene you can be as odd and frank and lyrical and serious and madcap and jovial and maudlin as you like, as long as you do it honestly. If you want to write a surrealist piece of ekphrasis with Homeric allusion woven in with found material from all ten seasons of Friends, you can FUCKING GO FOR IT. That is an ethos I can get on board with. And yes, I’ve joined in and (so far) been accepted. There are people like James Tate and Heather Christle and Melissa Broder and Gregory Sherl (among countless others) who are testament to making this pop-culture-lost-generation-totally-bonkers century work as a shiny new poetry machine.
Yes, I’ve made myself a small part of that, via the internet. So why up sticks across the ocean when I’m involved from where I am?
Because I need to see it or I’ll lose it.
I can feel change and excitement firing through my veins every time I get a little bit closer to the heart of it. I know people who’ve been there (and back) and I love that I can party with the cool American kids digitally but it’s not enough. Breaking out of my parochial existence via the internet has made me better, but the writer I’m becoming can’t thrive here because (comparisons to whiny hipster mantras aside, please) there isn’t a place for what I’m producing in Britain any more. What I’m producing has been irreversibly altered.
It saddens me that there is no longer any palpable bridge between the poetry communities of the UK and US and god knows I am willing to start building but I can’t make a bridge without seeing both sides. I don’t want to forsake British poetry, I want to foster the thrill and the terror and the punch-in-the-gut-you’re-human! feeling I get from American poetry, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Britain, I still love you but I’m not living in you. I’m existing in you. America: you have my heart. I am applying to MFA programmes in you so you can have the rest of me.
So 2012 started, uh, gracefully as expected. On the penultimate day of 2011 Caroline and I had a glorious reunion (no, it really was — there was Springsteen) and danced into the night at a location that is never to be disclosed.
Bravely trudging through the hangover I made it to NYE itself, and was conscious long enough to hear the midnight countdown and then kiss everyone ever.
After that it’s a little hazy. I remember a taxi, and then BOOM. Whole new year. Whole new, um, month? My day-to-day remains mostly unchanged.
What IS new, though, is very exciting. And that is NEW NEW LIT MAGS.
But there’s MORE. As well as the first new PANK of the year (which is always an event), the second issue of Aesthetix went up, early at that! These poems are united under the common title of Arrow, and there is a scary amount of talent here (once again a small child writes poetry better than me).
My runaway favourite from the issue though, has to be Melissa Broder‘s piece. Lord knows I’ve rambled enough about it on social media, but I love it so much I want y’all to read it here and now — check it:
When I saw he’d have to take an overnight boat
to Hades, I knew he couldn’t handle the soot.
I was like Give me a bow right here I’ll shoot
a hole in the ground with my feathers all knit up.
It is my gift to help a man pass over
down a black and newly-shot hole.
A hole does seem poor consolation for age
so he always cries out like a bell on a tree.
But men are dirt servants making movements in the dark
and they know the steps of every wormy dance.
In his heart baby monsters beat an old milk pail
singing This is all you get and it is enough.
I’ll make no bones about it: I love Wendy Xu‘s poems. A lot. And she has three cracking examples (from The Dream Horse) up at Nicholas Liu’s UNSWEPT, which is very new and very exciting. Xu is in remarkably good company; it’s a stunning first issue and certainly one to keep your eye on. I’m hovering nervously above the submissions link right now.
Wendy (hello if you’re reading this) is almost a poster-girl for debut issues — she popped up recently in Aesthetix‘s inaugural RED CAR IN THE FUTURE issue, and we were grateful to publish her work in the first ILK at the beginning of the month. And no, I’m not just plugging her because of that. I’m plugging her because she’s not only prolific but also a damn fine poet. See for yourselves:
The trouble with loving someone else
is deciding where to put your hands,
at your sides you’re too disengaged
but held up, above your head like an offering
is offensive to anyone looking on.
God doesn’t care about your brief affair.
Today the newspaper says that a man
held his girlfriend hostage for 16 hours
while updating friends on his cell phone.
It’s ok to admit you want an audience.
When someone opens a door for you,
walk through it.
Among the many wonderful things I received for Christmas this year (pretty sure I still have the food baby) was an anthology — Modern Irish Poetry, ed. Patrick Crotty. This came from two of my parents’ closest friends, who have encouraged my reading since time immemorial. Just inside the book I found a pasted insert bearing a quotation from P.B. Shelley:
Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.
I’m sure many of you have heard / read this before. It rang a bell to me, however distantly. But that one little sentence — intended as a defence of the abstract ‘poetry’ — haunted me as I lay awake til seven a.m. (standard practice).
Why is the poem a mirror? I for one am sick of always looking into the poem and being confronted with me. Obviously that’s something I should take up with myself. I write the poem, and I am my own most common subject. I’m beginning to understand the advice I had from Meaghan Delahunt as an undergrad: get out of your head and come to your senses. In my case it’s more that I need to stop looking in the mirror and start looking out of the window.
This is about balance, of course. My crazy is an inexhaustible source of words, and I doubt I’ll be divorcing the confessional any time soon. But I can’t help feeling like I’m internalising too much. I have a lot of feelings and that’s good fuel, but there’s a whole world out there and maybe it’s time I sent my poems out into it.
In the Meadowlands poem ‘Rainy Morning’, Louise Glück says:
You don’t love the world. / If you loved the world you’d have / images in your poems.
I want to love the world you guys. So what do you think? Is the poem Shelley’s mirror is it Heaney’s stained-glass window?