Gift–Wrap These For Me, Please…
I’ve written previously about the prose of William Scammell. Now I want to celebrate the poems. Were I making a Christmas choice, Scammell’s “Inside Story: Selected Poems” would be top of the list. Edited by his best friend Christopher Pilling the book is published by the noble Arrowhead Press. It’s a brilliant book and here’s why: Bill Scammell never compromised once. Not in criticism and never in poetry. The bravura and formal panache of these poems is so much more impressive because of the integrity of attack, the generosity of spirit and the playfulness – the constant playfulness – of the poet’s voice. This is a great book (it’s also quite a beautiful book), so Happy Christmas and buy one at once. Here’s how: http://www.arrowheadpress.co.uk/books/index.html
Jane Holland has been getting more attention this year and rightly too. Her editing of “Horizon Review” has been exemplary, demonstrating her razor intelligence, generosity and range. Her new collection “Campervan Blues” was published by Salt earlier this year. It’s a dark and lovely book. I think the standout pieces happen when Jane delves long-past poetries for new directions. Jane is an energetic poet with good taste, and she has an engaging way of talking to the dead (poets, historical figures) as if they were in the room with her (didn’t Blake do this for real?). “Campervan Blues” shows her the way forward. I personally think she’d be ideal to write a new version of Tamburlaine, something I’ve been planning for the past five years once I finish my various fables for Carcanet.
I also recommend Claire Williamson’s “The Soulwater Pool”, a vivid and dynamic collection of linked pieces. It’s a book-length poem voiced by several characters. It’s observationally very smart and subtle. I met Claire recently while reading at the Bristol Poetry Festival. I think she’s one of the most interesting younger poets on the scene. Claire Williamson is cool. She’s worked extensively in the opera world, including working with Welsh National Opera, Opera North and Music Box. Claire has a fine website at http://www.clairewilliamson.co.uk/which also includes details of her poetry films. She’s a poet who deserves a great deal more attention.
Isobel Dixon’s “A Fold in the Map” (another Salt book) was also excellent. Like Claire Williamson’s collection, it needs to be read in one go and it really rewards the reader if you read it like a novel from start to finish. Isobel Dixon’s a real talent I believe, and these poems are highly impressive for their emotional truth, and the élan and love with which she writes about her father. You end up liking the poet a lot after reading this book, which is too rare an event in poetry.
Finally (for now), although I keep asking people to send me treats for the lean months, nobody properly interpreted this message as ‘send me the entire Reaktion Books “Animal” series’. I don’t know why; you people need to start listening to me more carefully. “Animal” is just a fantastic collection of books. So fantastic I went ahead and short-circuited Santa, buying the entire series in one Amazon.co.uk dollop. Happy have been my days since they arrived.
“Animal” is a pioneering series: the first of its kind to explore the historical significance and impact on humans of a wide range of animals, each book in the series takes a different animal and examines its role in history around the world. The importance of mythology, religion and science are described as is the history of food, the trade in animals and their products, pets, exhibition, film and photography, and their roles in the artistic and literary imagination. I wanted them to fire my poetry fables, but now I find they also fire those dark, endless evenings as we slide towards St Lucy’s Day, ‘it being the shortest day’ and all that.