For some time Dave has been writing reviews for various publications including the Write Out Loud web site.

The reviews are reproduced here for you to read and enjoy.

Jul 10

Interview with Michael Holmes

Interview with Michael Holmes

Q. So Michael why do you write poetry.

A. I don’t know really. I just have to.

Q. Who is your poetry for?

A. I don’t know really. Well it’s probably for me if I’m honest, or Michelle.

Q. So why go to the length of publishing your collection?

A. Well it stands up on the shelf. Papers just fall off and notebooks aren’t much better. Laptop and tablet are all very fine but a book can show you a better time.

Q. I’ve heard that phrase somewhere before. Who would you say your influences are?

A. You mean my poetic influences? My dogs have influenced my poems. So have my relationships. Particularly with myself. That’s not what you meant is it?

Q. Favourite poets?

A. I’d love to say I’d never heard of John Cooper Clark and if anything I write or read sounds like him, then he must have copied me. But it’s a fib.

Q. That’s seems pretty clear on your audio site where you read all your poems in this collection. Have you ever read Jacques Prevert?

A. Who?

Q. You stress that your work is “performance” poetry’. You obviously didn’t go to RADA. Or am I wrong?

A. No I‘ve just picked it up. I hope that what I lack in style is made up for in clarity. I’m very particular about my words. They’re not just there to be thrown away.

Q. You have some interesting turns of phrase. Is your poetry literature or just a series of therapeutic diary entries? A shorthand way of capturing the tales that might make up an autobiography some day? You do subtitle your work, “My beautiful diary”. I have to say your “Recollections of the ‘Djemma el Fna’ 1989” is a lovely piece of travel writing quite different from most of the collection.

A. That’s one way of looking at it. It’s a bit like making short films with words. Poetry is condensed reality. It doesn’t have to excuse itself. It doesn’t have to have a beginning, a middle and an end. It doesn’t have to satisfy the readers need for completion. It doesn’t have to stick to form.

Q. That’s interesting because in a few poems you do cling to a rhyming structure, which if I may say so doesn’t necessarily add to the content or meaning. Don’t you think no rhyme is better than forced rhyme?

A. Maybe. For the most part they write themselves, some are born rhymed, some are born blank. I seldom thrust rhymeness or non-rhymeness upon any of them.

Q. Your book title “As the mood takes me” suggests your relationship with life is a little capricious. It could also suggest that you have little control over your writing. Do your moods govern your poetic output or can you put them to one side?

A. I could say my moods are me; they’re not separate from me. On the other hand over time my relationship to my moods has changed. I now realise they are fickle. Good or bad, they won’t last for long. I can manage that. So in a sense they are separate from me.

Q. So, given that you are quite open about your personal voyage through bi-polarity and personal trauma, is your poetry therapeutic? Has it been cathartic?

A. I doubt it. It has let me show off though. There’s a part of me that needs to perform. I could do it through music but it seems a lot easier through words. A poem like “The story of my life” is obviously a retrospective, a reflection, a summation.

Q. Your pen name is Glenn Evans. A hybrid drawn from two of your musical heroes, Glenn Gould and Gil Evans, both pianists and composers, both from Toronto, both associated with the avant-garde, both masters of their craft and ground breaking artists. Would you rather be an accomplished pianist or an accomplished poet?

A. As far as I’m concerned I’m both. Poetry is easier to carry around. I had no formal grounding in either. I’ve taught myself both (with some assistance). We have to, or should I say we can do if we wish, make the best of what we’ve got. I’ve got me, and Michelle, and Angel, and I’m trying to make the best of it.

Q. As the mood takes you?

A. Not quite. As I said before, I’m on far more intimate terms with my moods now and I try not to take any crap from them. We try to make each day a good day in some way. We’ve had enough of the others. I must be strong, I’m still here.

Dave Morgan

*The author wishes to stress that Michael Holme took no part in this interview so it is strictly a work of fiction.

Mar 2

The Elephant Tests: Matt Merritt, Nine Arches Press

23rd February 2014

I don’t like crosswords, whodunnits or things that require a dictionary, encyclopaedia of myths and legends, or even Wikipedia at hand to get below the surface and winkle out the hidden elephantmanmeanings of things. But Matt Merritt is a good poet with a distinctive voice, and I’m sure a collection like The Elephant Tests would make an excellent set book for examinees to sweat the meaning out of.  I have no doubt that it’s the stuff that some poetry competitions were designed for.

Merritt’s subject matter includes the eponymous elephant, as well as birds in various guises, and places, and it is in the latter I find most recognition. I now know the chiton mollusc has an unexplained homing instinct and, quite uniquely, teeth of magnetite. Whether this deserves lumping the creature with sperm whales, Atlantic salmon or “even the birds” just to draw a comparison between the chains of instinct and our own free-basing capacity to “wander song-lines, desire-lines, remake maps, charts, the base metal of our words” seems to leave some unasked question unanswered (‘Magnetite’).Read more

Feb 19

On Euclid Avenue: J Fergus Evans, Flapjack Press

fergusbookSunday 22nd December 2013 7:32 pm

 

The Manchester poetry scene has been enriched by a number of North Americans over the past 10 years. J Fergus Evans adds to the trove with a fine collection, On Euclid Avenue, published by Salford’s Flapjack Press.

Evans’ first collection carries the reflections of a mature and discerning writer who says what he wants to say economically and without fuss or polemic. If that makes it sound a little detached, maybe it is. He is a forensic observer of people and places who occasionally forages into more intimate realms. This is not to say his work lacks passion, but it is largely a passion for small things, for the importance of everyday experience, and a compassion for the people who are players in it.

Place is a dominant theme in this collection. In a few lines the reader gets on intimate terms with Atlanta, Georgia, and its neighbourhoods. This includes afternoons spent appraising the bars and dives of Cabbagetown  where it’s “hot as sin and skin is on display” and “mosquitoes suck and hum and the air thrums with sex and danger”. It leads into Peachtree Street, where summer is “hot like a hammer” while “Autumn is a cool kiss on your cheek”.

Evans shows a transparent affection for his home city. In ‘The Hurricane’ layers of detail create a visceral sense of foreboding as “we waited, watched the air turn green”. The sky is “smudged charcoal”, the clouds are “coiled, tense, black as jungle cats”, the storm “sucks the light out of the air, then everything is plunged in violet.” He treats Manchester with similar grace in ‘What I Had To Hand’, where he takes to heart “the snap and crackle of your anarchy, the lisp and whisper of your canals” and calls it home.Read more

Feb 23

Tony Harrison's v. and the commodification of outrage

TonyHarrison

For reasons I can't remember I have two copies of Tony Harrison's collected poems. Perhaps I think one will illuminate the other. I don't read either of them very often. If I have a session which might involve getting even half way through one before realising there are other things to do, I spend the rest of the day or night thinking in iambic pentameters. The recent (18 February Radio 4 11pm) programme about Harrison's v. and his masterly re-reading underscores the significance of the poem as a social commentary. The poetry's not bad either, with lines that deserve to be etched in marble and flaunted in our public spaces, if only to antagonise our civic guardians or provoke, through graffiti or otherwise, the bitterness of the inarticulate or unheard.

The slating of v. the film by a wide range of influential voices in 1987 did not suppress interest in it - just as the Lady Chatterley's Lover trial of the 1960s, gave a massive boost to the book's paperback sales. It's equally likely that as with Lady Chatterley, most pages were skimmed in pursuit of the well-thumbed visceral, leaving much else neglected. Visceral v. is, but not quite as shocking on re-reading, and perfectly familiar, depending on the company you keep. To present the poem on a public service TV programme was daring in 1987 if not outrageous.

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Dec 8

All the way from Kathmandu - Selected Jazz Poems: John Clarke

I once saw John Clarke perform in Greenwich. He represents an exotic minority of performance poets who conceive theirkathmandu poems in a mindset earthed in jazz and blues. The poems are not lyrics in a conventional sense; but, like many lyrics, standing bare on the page, they don’t shine as they might. As for what a jazz poem is, I presume it to be one enhanced by or created for a jazz score, in a way that the two are complemented. In that sense the collection could be seen as the sound of one hand clapping.

After three attempts at skimming through All the way from Kathmandu I knew I was missing something. I dug out Clarke’s 2009 CD What Jazz Can Do (for your life) performed with the imperious Jazz Circus, and the pieces began to fall into place. One track from that CD is included in the collection, Bluebird.

John Clarke can be profligate with his words, doesn’t mind the odd mixed metaphor and non-sequitur, and is driven by his imagination. He is not a page poet. He is not clinical or pedantic in pursuit of form or structure. However, with Jazz Circus providing the sound track I re-read this collection, with his south-east London voice in mind, and heard it afresh.

As someone who favours the literal and observable I was drawn to Clarke’s reflections on life in London such as Loop:

“Sometimes it feels like we’re daily

Scraping humanity off the floor

Sometimes we don’t even seem capable

Of doing even that”

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