All 28 entries tagged Carcanet
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June 13, 2016
Sarah Hymas reviews “The Invisible Gift: Selected Poems” in The Compass
There is something overwhelming about years’ worth of work bound into one book: the chatter of all those poems, all those preoccupations and the slow growth of the poet being compressed into something dangerously close to white noise. I share the reservations expressed by Jane Routh in Issue 1 of The Compass around the concept of a Selected.
This is not, however, true for David Morley’s ‘The Invisible Gift’. Morley’s focus, while elastic, comes back again and again to a tight realm: the natural world, folklore, traveller and domestic scenes. This allows the poems to layer up and build a deep resonant world and the book to open, as if it is a door, shedding light onto what is as familiar and unknown as my neighbour’s house.
The poems are taken from his four Carcanet collections, Scientific Papers (2002), Invisible Kings (2007), Enchantment (2010) and The Gypsy and the Poet (2013), covering just over ten years, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that this Selected has such cohesion. The book is sectioned, gathering poems from each collection into constituent parcels, but apart from The Gypsy and the Poet, neither books nor dates are referenced in the contents or section titles. This encourages the flow in presentation and reading of the work.
There is also a prologue and an epilogue (both taken from Enchantment). The first is ‘Hedgehurst’ which I read as a manifesto, of a kind, for the book. The latter ‘Spinning’ is a reflection on the power and fabulous nature of storytelling, a summing up, I suppose, although that does not give the poem its full due. I like how it is separate from the body of the Selected, how this gives it space and an identity that may have been lost if it were alongside companion pieces from the original book.
So, as manifesto:
my name into the night. The trees
shushed me, then answered
with caterpillars baited on threads.
I called again. Moths moored
in bark-fissures flickered out,
fluttered towards me as I spoke
Naming and connecting is one of the spines of the collection as a whole: how definition brings us closer to the world we occupy. The importance of language is its ability to shape and open our understanding. This notion is explored further in a poem like ‘Kings’ where English and Romany interweave throughout the poem. There is a slight layout issue which means translations of the Romany (in footnotes) do not always sit on the same pages as the original word. I gave up flipping pages and simply read the Romany as sounds within the English ‘sense’ which was a far more satisfactory reading. That way the poem occupied itself in me as an aural, physical entity rather than the intellectual relating of a distant event.
‘Hedgehurst’ is introduced as a character from Fireside Tales of the Traveller Children. As such it makes issues of violence seem safe by setting them in this fabulous context: ‘My father flared and fumed as / I fumbled with gravities’. These issues of violence are echoed in a more familiar setting in a later poem, ‘Three’ set in kitchen and bedrooms, where another father ‘has a fist crammed with kitchen knives’ and ‘One of us is guilty of the crime of two biscuits.’ And here they hold a direct potency and pain, stripped bare in the stark electric light of the home.
But, thankfully, there is the redemptive power of love. Back to ‘Hedgehurst’: ‘I whispered my wife’s name …’
I called her again.
Moths stirred in bark-fissures.
They flickered out, flutter
towards us as I spoke her name,
as though my voice was a light.
This love is not confined to humans, as displayed in the consecutive poems ‘Osip Mandelshtam on the Nature of Ice’ and ‘Two Temperatures for Snow’. The delicate force that binds both narrators to the paradoxical abundant temporality of ice and snow is likened to a ‘force-field’, yet exposing and liberating. Such is the concentration of connection to other, the desire to understand and the rewards that come from this. Then there is the playfulness of ‘Chorus’ where the dawn chorus and birds’ activities are seen in the light of new beginnings, in this case the birth of a son.
The rook roots into roadkill for the heart and the hardware.
The tawny owl wakes us to our widowhood. The dawn is the chorus.
The repetitious litany of this poem is hypnotic, delicious, soporific. It’s probably no coincidence that images of repetition, of circular motion and circles, are found throughout the book, from creatures making circles to blacksmiths’ iron circles and the circle of the circus.
‘A Lit Circle’ is a short sequence detailing circus performers: ‘Rom the Ringmaster’, ‘Demelza Do-it-All’, ‘Kasheskoro the Carpenter’ and other high energy, breathless characters describing their skills, relationships and the prejudices against them, the factions and ‘Round it goes, this hate, hurtling around, / The question is where’s that hate going to hurtle when it’s without home,’. Coming as this sequence does after another sequence, about Papusza, Romany name for the poet Bronis ława Wajs, traveller and performer who suffered terrible injustice and persecution through her life, preempts the epilogue’s declaration of the importance of creative expression in people’s spiritual strength and salvation.
The sonnet sequence from The Gypsy and the Poet explores how this creative expression may come about. Again there is a connection with nature, a listening that enables the entrance to a deeper understanding. Where at first, the gypsy Wisdom Smith
… leans against an ash tree, shouldering his violin,
slipping the bow to stroke the strings that stay silent
at distance. All John Clare hears is a heron’s cranking
Wisdom watches the poet’s continued writing, frustration and ‘scribbling pen’ and draws him to his world of tobacco and music, his way of seeing what is ‘Deepest of the Deep’ what is surface, what is love and who and what he is writing for. It is an almost comic sequence, playing formality off instinct, class and society off natural law that ultimately presses its beliefs and ethics into and between lines. ‘I call out to my child, and he is everywhere, and she is everyone.’
The Invisible Gift is a fitting testament to a poet whose work over the last decade or so shows a tracing of origins and deep connections.
June 12, 2016
‘John Clare’s Heirs’ by Stephen Burt from “The Boston Review”
Probably nobody wishes they had been John Clare. The son of an agricultural laborer and an illiterate mother in tiny Helpston, Northamptonshire, Clare (1793–1864) had only the barest schooling. After finding, at age thirteen, “a fragment” of James Thomson’s long poem The Seasons (1730), Clare “scribbled on unceasing,” drafting his own poems in fields and ditches. Helped by a vogue for peasant poets, his Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820) likely sold more than 3,000 copies in a year. Visits to London literati, and three more books, ensued, despite diminishing sales. In 1832 Clare, his wife, and their six children left Helpston for another village, a few miles off, where he never felt at home. Five years later Clare was declared insane and confined to an asylum. In 1841 he escaped and walked home, sleeping under culverts and trudging twenty miles a day. Clare spent the rest of his life in another asylum, “disowned by my friends and even forgot by enemies,” though in some years he continued to write. At times he thought he was Lord Byron. His late poems can present a scary sense of disembodied, empty confusion.
And yet most of Clare’s voluminous poetry, early and late, mad and sane, exults in what he saw firsthand outdoors: crops, wildflowers, birds, mammals, and fellow laborers, all threatened by the Enclosure Acts of the early 1800s, which turned shared fields and forests into private property. Before enclosure, Clare wrote in the manuscript version of “October” (1827),
Autum met plains that stretched them far away
In uncheckt shadows of green brown & grey
Unbounded freedom ruld the wandering scene
No fence of ownership crept in between
To hide the prospect from the gazing eye
Its only bondage was the circling sky
(Note the misspellings, which his printed books correct; some modern editors, led by Eric Robinson, restore the manuscript usage.) The wonder that Clare found in unspoiled, unenclosed landscapes was something like the wonder he found in childhood, with an unphilosophical glow:
We sought for nuts in secret nook
We thought none else could find
And listened to the laughing brook
And mocked the singing wind;
We gathered acorns ripe and brown
That hung too high to pull,
Which friendly windows would shake a-down
Till all had pockets full.
He also portrayed the gypsies, now called Roma, as “a quiet, pilfering, unprotected race” whose language he claimed he could speak. Almost everything that could have seemed, to a nineteenth-century reader, like a reason to count Clare as minor, or not to read him, makes him a resource for poets today. “Bard of the fallow field / And the green meadow,” as he called himself, Clare remained closely attentive to what we now call his environment, what he called “nature,” in a way that is neither touristic nor ignorant of agricultural effort. He saw tragic ironies all over the place, but he never sought verbal ironies himself: he is about as sincere (if not naive) as poets get. Clare seems to have benefited from few of the changes wreaked on the planet since the invention of the steam engine and cannot be blamed for whatever brought them about: he may be the last significant white Anglophone poet for whom that was true.
Better yet, Clare’s apparently unorganized—but minutely observed—poetry looks like a model for poets who want to stay true to a material world while rejecting the hypotactic, well-made structures that earlier generations preferred. Clare’s poems, Stephanie Weiner writes in her study of his legacy, “insist on their origin in real acts of perception” even though “he seems deliberately to court unboundedness.” John Ashbery loves him: in his 1969 prose poem “For John Clare,” “There is so much to be seen everywhere that it’s like not getting used to it, only there is so much it never feels new.” Twenty years later, Ashbery called Clare’s verse “a distillation of the natural world with all its beauty and pointlessness, its salient and boring features preserved intact.” The distinguished scholar Angus Fletcher found in the incontrovertibly English Clare—and in Ashbery and Walt Whitman—what Fletcher called A New Theory for American Poetry (2004), all about the anti-hierarchical, centerless, “self-organizing and nonlinear . . . . environment-poem.”
No wonder some poets now work with Clare in mind. The sonnets of The Gypsy and the Poet (2013), by the English writer David Morley, dramatize Clare’s meetings with the Romany leader Wisdom Smith:
Clare gazes at the fire. Wisdom cradles the poet’s cup and stirs
and stares at the tea leaves: ‘Our lives are whin upon this heath
whose growing makes one half of heaven and one half earth.
You desire an earthly heaven, John, and will find it in Helpston.
The leaves also say you are welcome to my fire—and to this cup.’
‘You read a world from so little,’ thinks Clare. And the Gypsy looks up.
…Morley weaves Romany lore and language (often untranslated) into his poems; a trained biologist, he also corrals the horticultural details. Morley’s wise, witty, circuitous Gypsies seem better adapted to the land than Clare himself, though his written words may outlast their music and speech: “Wisdom Smith tugs corks on two bottles. He pulls a long face. / ‘John, I know no man more half-in or half-out of your race. . . . / We die if we do not move, whereas John—John, you would die.” In their low-pressure conversation, their unobtrusive hexameters, their samples of English and Roma customs and landscape, Morley’s poems draw winningly on aspects of Clare that no American poet could use...
June 11, 2016
Ken Head reviews ‘The Gypsy and the Poet’ for “Ink, Sweat and Tears”
The strands of David Morley’s thought in this collection are rich and various. On the one hand, he makes use of ... his knowledge of the Romani dialect in which he sometimes writes. On the other, the poems in the book’s first and third sections work to develop an insight into the real-life friendship between John Clare, the poet, and Wisdom Smith, the gypsy, material for which Morley draws from Clare’s journals and emphasises in the title of the opening sonnet, “Wisdom Smith Pitches his Bender on Emmonsales Heath, 1819″. The central section of the book, by contrast, is concerned to demonstrate the validity of Clare’s own belief in the creative forms of nature itself: “I found the poems in the fields/ And only wrote them down.” There is concrete poetry here and experiments in what George Szirtes has described as “the dynamics of birdsong”. These elements constitute a complex mix, the source material for which, it’s probably fair to say, is not well known, a particular difficulty, I felt, with the epigraphs taken from traditional Traveller songs and The Book of Wisdom of the Egyptians, for which no translation is offered because, as the notes make clear, “meaning may be found within the poems.” True enough. Both in content and form, the poems work hard to be accessible, but even given the problems of translation, I should have preferred to make my own judgement as to the relationship between each epigraph and the content of the poem related to it.
The collection, sixty-four poems in all, is bookended with two italicised sonnets which seem to me to define the basis of the entire project. In the first, “The Invisible Gift”, Morley describes the way in which, he believes, Clare went about making poems: “John Clare weaves English words into a nest/ and in the cup he stipples rhyme, like mud/ to clutch the shape of something he can hold/ but not yet hear; and in the hollow of his hearing,/ he feathers a space with a down of verbs/ and nouns heads-up.” It is a joyous creative process, craftsmanlike and unpretentious, that is being described, although at the other end of the collection, “The Gypsy and the Poet” makes clear the agonies a compulsion to write may bring with it: “Shades shift around me, warming their hands at my hearth./ It has rained speech-marks down the windows’ pages,/ gathering a broken language in pools on their ledges/ before letting it slither into the hollows of the earth.” Morley may, perhaps, be speaking of his sense of his own predicament here, caught between cultures, struggling with the notion of belonging, although what he writes is clearly, he believes, also true for Clare. The point, well made throughout the Wisdom Smith sonnets, is especially clear in “An Olive-Green Coat”: “John Clare longs to look the part, the part a poet can play/ – no part labourer. He stares at a tailor’s display, his money/ gone, his hands numb with the vision of further toils.”
Clare’s struggles with poverty, lack of education, his sense of isolation, the misery and depression these forced him to live with and his eventual decline into mental illness, are well documented and commemorated poignantly in what may be, if not his best, then certainly his best known, most anthologized poem, “I am”: “I am – yet what I am, none cares or knows;/ My friends forsake me like a memory lost:/ I am the self-consumer of my woes -”. Morley’s poems, however, in bringing together the very different mindsets of poet and gypsy, both of them, in material terms, impoverished, both living close to wild nature, but in other ways so dissimilar, create a dynamic that also highlights the love of nature, the life and energy, which readers familiar with Clare’s work will know predominate throughout his writing. “Mad” makes the point well: “Wisdom Smith smiles into his steaming bowl: ‘March Hares/ grow spooked in their bouts, so tranced by their boxing,/ you can pluck them into a sack by the wands of their ears!’/ John Clare hungers. He hugs his bowl and starts writing/ on the surface of the stew with a spoon. ‘Let the hare cool/ on the night wind,’ urges the Gypsy. ‘Sip him but do not speak.’ ”
In what Wisdom Smith teaches, or tries to teach, Clare, there is Romani lore that has been passed down through generations: how to survive in a world that is always indifferent and may well be hostile, how to enjoy it nonetheless, how to learn who and what are trustworthy and who and what may not be. As Smith says in “A Walk”, ” ‘I know no more than a child, John,/ but I know what to know …’ “ There are many similar examples, moments when the practical gypsy spells out the lessons of life to the brooding, insecure poet: ” ‘I envy your free-roving,’ John Clare sighs to Wisdom Smith./ ‘To have the wide world as road and the sky and stars as your roof.’/ ‘That bread in your mouth, brother,’ butts in the Gypsy, ‘is ours/ because I bought it with my muscles and my calluses this morning./ Man, the day gads off to market with the dawn and everything/ sells itself under the sun: woods, trees, wildflowers and men.’ ”
This book, to which my one thousand words haven’t begun to do justice, is the most interesting new poetry I’ve read this year; it’s a delight, a testament to what is important, not only in English poetry, but in life also: ” ‘Poor John,’ whispers the Gypsy, ‘a quaking thistle would/ make you swoon.’ ‘Truth is, Wisdom, a thistle still could!’/ laughs the poet. And the friends snort and drink to the night./ Clare snores beneath his blanket. Wisdom rises from the earth./ Their fire is all there is to show. Orion stares down on the heath./ He searches for their world with a slow sword of light.”
June 10, 2016
by Stone and Star
David Morley's most recent collection, The Gypsy and the Poet… is a unique tribute to one of the most celebrated poets of the English countryside, John Clare. Many of the poems make up an ongoing dialogue between Clare and a mysterious Gypsy named Wisdom Smith.
Wisdom Smith appears briefly in John Clare's notebooks, and Morley uses this as a starting point for a series of playful, joyous sonnets made up of springy, alliterative verse which occasionally turns sombre (as when Clare says "Were poems children/I should stamp their lives out" and Wisdom Smith responds "Then do not make them", in 'My Children'.) I found myself wondering if Wisdom Smith was simply another aspect of Clare's complex personality (or is Clare another aspect of Wisdom Smith?) and if the sequence was a sort of Yeatsian dialogue of self and soul. This is particularly the case towards the end of the collection, as Clare descends into madness and the corporeal reality of the two figures' encounters becomes more doubtful. I think the poems can be read either as real encounters or as aspects of one personality, but in any case, the two characters have much to teach each other. Each sees the world at an angle that the other finds challenging, and so they bring each other to new understandings, even if it's through banter and mockery:
'I do not read, brother,' states Wisdom smiling,
'for I will not bother with Mystery.
Worlds move underfoot. Where lives Poetry?'
Wisdom Smith gets Clare to live in the moment, in the natural world; Clare gets him to look more seriously at poetry.
'Poetry is in season,' laughs John. 'Rooms woven from wound wood
are like rooms of woven words.' Wisdom looks at Clare - hard.
'Poetry is not everything. You know that, John,' smiles the Gypsy.
'You are wrong,' dances Clare. 'Everything. Everything is poetry.'
The poems are highlighted by English and Romany epigraphs, which heighten the impression of a dialogue between two cultures, both at home in the natural world, but in different ways.
The book is divided into three sections, the first and third of which are the John Clare and Wisdom Smith sonnets. The central section is made up of a variety of nature poems, including pieces which became part of the Slow Art Trail in Strid Wood, poems based on birdsong and painted on bird boxes, and shape poems. I am not really a fan of shape poems in general, but I saw all the poems in this section as a kind of extension of John Clare's (and David Morley's) notebooks and his observations about his life in the natural world. These poems are a record of what is happening around us, often unperceived, and they go a long way to show us how complex and intertwined the natural world is. Two poems, 'Fight' and 'Ballad of the Moon, Moon' are based on Lorca and his rich, strange perceptions of the Gypsy world.
The Gypsy and the Poet is a book to be taken out and read in the fields or the forest, but if this isn't possible, it can at least take the reader there in imagination and provide new insights into our relationship with the natural world and with other cultures, all wrapped up in some very colourful, distinctive and haunting verse.
BARDEN TOWER (David Morley)
I have heard a tourist claim this view
as though she had bought it at cost -
an expensive mirror. Unseen and ornately
ivy throws its ropes across the leaf-litter
shifting a forest's massive furniture;
the moss robes veil the thrones
of fallen oaks; trees flare with lichen;
Autumn smashes rainbows across
the woodland floor. You may never
have seen these trees more brilliantly
than when you turned your eyes
to that hunting lodge and sensed the light
kindle a million leaf mirrors.
In his woods near Lake Tuusula
Jean Sibelius shaped symphonies
from the speech of trees; firs bowed
violins while his swans sailed, keening.
Before his death a solitary swan
veered over and made him her own.
I am close to you who once shared this view.
This is not my sky, my flight, my words. This is not a mirror.
Poem © David Morley, 2013. Artwork © Peter Blegvad. Used by permission.
August 06, 2013
John Clare, Wisdom Smith and Me
I’d finished a trilogy of books for Carcanet, and I had no idea what I was going to do next. What poet really does? I had been invited by New Networks for Nature, an alliance of creators whose work draws strongly on the natural environment, to perform at their annual gathering. My reading took place in Helpston Church. Afterwards, I sat down by John Clare’s grave and had a little chat with him.
Back home, I re-read Jonathan Bate’s biography then I read Clare’s Notebooks. Because Clare thinks nobody’s going to be reading them, he sounds more at ease with himself - a real, living voice surges through. He sows the earth for unwritten poems and even for an unpublished prose book about the natural history of Northamptonshire called Biographies of Birds and Flowers.
The Notebooks also show the presence of Gypsies in Clare’s life. I am partly Romani, I write in Romani dialect, and am alert to anything Gypsy. Clare liked Gypsies. He liked them at a time when it was acceptable for a clergyman to write in the local paper, “This atrosious tribe of wandering vagabonds ought to be made outlaws and exterminated from the earth”. Gypsies liked the poet back: ‘As soon as I got here the Smiths gang of gipseys came and encampd near the town and as I began to be a desent scraper we had a desent round of merriment for a fortnight’. A fortnight of merriment is not gained unless the Gypsies trusted this local poet - with his fiddle and pen – completely.
Clare also sought them out for stories, songs and tunes. And one character keeps cropping up in the Notebooks, a Gypsy called Wisdom Smith: ‘Finished planting my ariculas—went a botanising after ferns and orchises and caught a cold in the wet grass which has made me as bad as ever—got the tune of “highland Mary” from Wisdom Smith a gipsey and pricked another sweet tune without name as he fiddled it’. Wisdom was the catalyst. Next day, I went into my writing shed and found Wisdom Smith sitting in the chair, waiting for me, and I seemed to step into him, or he stepped into me. Some days I found John Clare waiting with his friend. This triple team could write a lot better than I could alone: they could turn sonnets and make them an outdoor form, an unenclosed space for singing the world into being. Clare’s example, with Wisdom Smith’s energy and – yes – his wisdom, forced me to make a step-change and write poems about the the life of love.
I allowed myself to be taken over and to trust in that transformation completely. Emmanual Levinas wrote how ‘I am most like myself when I am most like you’. It is true that once upon a time the action of writing used to take me over so completely it obliterated me. But, newly, sometimes painfully, I felt myself to be more myself than ever. Yet here I was, taken over by a gypsy and a poet. I felt as if I had lived three lifetimes, transcending the self and entering a near-constant state of negative capability that allowed me to escape the “literary” - and write from a wild love of the world and for life:
It is pleasant as I have done today to stand
... and notice the objects around us
‘There is nothing in books on this’, cries Clare.
‘I do not read, brother’, states Wisdom smiling,
‘for I will not bother with Mystery.
Worlds move underfoot. Where lives Poetry?
Look’, hums Wisdom Smith, ‘in the inner domes
of ghost orchids - how the buzzing rhymers
read light with their tongues; or in this anthill -
nameless draughtsmen crafting low rooms, drawing
no fame - except the ravening yaffle,
or fledgy starlings bathing in their crawl.
I see these worlds - lit worlds. I live by them’.
The wood-ants sting. John Clare shifts foot to foot:
‘I did not know you gave me any thought’.
‘This? All this - is nothing, John’, laughs Wisdom.
January 03, 2013
This piece first appeared in a shortened version inThe Guardian.
Judging the T.S. Eliot Prize has become no less of an undertaking than the Man Booker. Prose may be longer but poetry is denser. This year saw 131 poetry collections arrive in early September, some as marked-up proofs bearing the handwritten corrections of poets. How their precisely perfect notations reminded you that every one of these manuscripts was the labour of years – and the labour of tears. I arranged my world around reading them, and I read every single one. My life was put aside for two months; certainly any thought of writing poetry was removed. It has been the strange and compelling time. The process of submitting myself to this huge whirl of words has been self-annihilating. I was not myself. I became all eye and ear.
What do you hold on to? It helped that I had already reviewed over 40 of the submitted books this year during a manic reviewing programme for Poetry Review under the editorships of George Szirtes, Charles Boyle and Bernardine Evaristo. I already knew, for example, how much I liked a lot of the stuff coming out this year from Salt Publications, Nine Arches Press, Seren, and the brilliantly-named Knives, Forks and Spoons Press. I was disposed to read harder into the volumes of some of the more fugitive presses. I don’t care if a collection is from Picador or Waterloo Press or Two Rivers Press. I stood to attention and gave every poetry book its due.
I subjected each book to a series of physical and aural tests. Listening in on a poem, I read aloud (sometimes to myself or to Warwick University students); or I read in total silence; and sometimes I read against silence. I placed headphones on my ears and filled my mind with other music – Mahler, bird calls, The Beatles – and then I read a poetry book at the same time to test which music sang more strongly. I also took the poems into the fields and read them while I was walking. If they could make me stop walking they were doing very well (that test goes for people too). In these ways, and several others, the number of books was reduced to around 20. A whirlpool of words rang in my mind.
Which books did I love but which failed to win through to the shortlist? My personal favourites included Abi Curtis' The Glass Delusion, Jon Stone’s School of Forgery, Lesley Saunders’ Cloud Camera, Richard Price's Small World, Maria Taylor’s Melanchrini, Andrew Motion’s The Custom House and – all three judges loved this one - William Letford’s astonishing debut Bevel. And what of the shortlist? You have to remember that of the 10 books there are 4 that are already pre-chosen, the Poetry Book Society Choices from Simon Armitage, Paul Farley, Jorie Graham and Sharon Olds. What we were selecting were 6 books by 6 poets. I am proud of them all. Stand to attention, Sean Borodale, Gillian Clarke, Julia Copus, Kathleen Jamie, Jacob Polley and Deryn Rees-Jones! I salute you all. I agree with Michael Longley in saying there's nothing clichéd about our list, that we went with the words on the page. But we also went with the sounds, and my ears and eyes are still full of them.
December 20, 2012
I liked Elizabeth Jennings and I like her poems. When I was 30 I directed my first poetry festivals. While programming I made a decision to ask women poets to read at most of the events. I drew no attention to this engaging balance. I thought the programming made its own point. At one festival, of the 24 poets performing, 21 were women poets. The three men were programmed into one event of their own which I called “Three Male Poets”. I bought myself a Stevie Smith tee-shirt and set about hosting (my tee-shirt bore a photo of Stevie Smith; there are edgier versions available; see image below). The main performance space was a little… well, it was dull. So, using what came to hand from skips and photocopiers and craft shops, I built a high, wide self-standing frieze of poems, images and images of women poets of the last three centuries. This provided a lively backdrop to the performance area, and gave better lighting and perspective for performer and audience. What happened next? The readings were packed. Sometimes I had to turn people away. And they were really angry at being turned away. Why? Because some of the women poets I had booked simply did not get asked to do readings because these women were – women and some were old. Thus, these readings were rare appearances. In fact, there was a mini-riot before the reading by Elizabeth Jennings because of numbers trying to press in through the door. I had met Elizabeth from the train three hours earlier. Immediately we clicked. She jabbed her finger to my chest. ‘You’re wearing my *friend*!!!’ . Anyway, I introduced her to the keen, standing-room-only audience. She rose to the occasion and read with clarity, magic and total power. As the reading went on so more people took advantage of the fact we were all listening to Elizabeth to sneak in through doors and windows. By the time she came to read her final poem the room was overfull. And the audience exploded with applause when she finished. So enthusiastically! Their rapture took Elizabeth Jennings by surprise and she slipped and fell backwards. With a puma’s speed (I was 30), I was under her, breaking her fall and catching her in my arms. The applause grew louder. But as I caught her we both collided with the ‘high, wide self-standing frieze of poems, images and images of women poets of the last three centuries’. This wall of wonders trembled for a second and then, like the finale of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, collapsed around us. ‘Like an allegory’, cried Elizabeth Jennings. And the audience exploded again - and picked her out of my arms - and carried her away to be loved and adored like the hero she was.
September 29, 2012
July 02, 2012
In my last poetry collection "Enchantment" I asked Peter Blegvad to come up with images that would intervene in the book, proving breathing spaces between sections and textural moods. If you know the book you will know he came up with great work (see PB's 'Hedgehurst', left).
Well, my new poetry book is completed.
It is called "The Gypsy and the Poet" and once again I am thinking about images that will work with the poems, not illustrating them - but extending from the poems in some manner that enhances and deepens the tone of the whole book, the conversation between the poems, and between the poems and their readers.
I need to experiment with images on the blog for the next few entries and am meeting with Peter again next Wednesday. What do you think of these? What do they say to you? What might they evoke or invoke?
November 12, 2011
‘As Clear as Water’: Ink, Sweat and Tears on “Enchantment”
Angela Topping reviews Enchantment in “Ink, Sweat and Tears”, 2nd November 2011
This book is aptly titled: it certainly does bring the reader under Morley’s spell. The first poem is an elegy for Nicholas Farrar Hughes (Plath’s son). Morley recounts a simple and beautiful memory of going for a walk with Nick, in which he befriends two horses. Morley’s reputation as an eco-poet is well deserved for this one line alone:
where leaf-worlds welled from all the wood’s wands.
This is such an elegant and visual line. The alliteration works really well with the imagery, such as ‘wands’ which is a perfect description of the young whippy branches but with the added resonance of magic which wants to conjure Nicholas up and relive the moment of his happiness. ‘Welled’ is a lovely word as the young branches are moist and full of sap, with the added resonance of tears filling the eyes, and ‘leaf-worlds’ recalls Blake’s ‘to see the world in a grain of sand’. The next poem, ‘Dragonflies’ contains dazzling language to match these insects, through skilled deployment of internal rhyme to the imagery of ‘sparking ornaments’. Each poem in this water sequence opens out into the next one. And these poems are as clear as water, so clear primary school children would enjoy them and be charmed by them. I am with Orwell on the notion that good writing is like a pane of glass, and like Keats in the pursuit of ‘negative capability’. Morley shows us beauty we can focus on, rather than us watching him seeing the beauty. That is a mark of the truly great poet.
‘The Lucy Poem’ is a remarkable imagining of the life and thoughts of a human ancestor, dubbed ‘Lucy’ for the light shed on our past , but more scientifically Australopithecus afarensis who lived 3.2 million years BC. Intellectually Morley’s research is admirable, but the poem connects with us on a deeper level. We see the planet as it was in the past through Lucy’s eyes, and its beauty is strange and startling:
when those mountains
bloomed from underworld lodes
springing geladas led their fat
appetites to the snow-caps
muscled like woolly gods;
The poem follows Lucy as she takes a walk through the terrain, and the poem’s short, springing lines and long stanzas perfectly suit this narrative, because each line makes a stride and each stanza break a change in landscape. Lucy is on a quest for water, and she finds it through the sense of hearing. This makes a satisfying close to the poem. Even if Morley had not taken an epigraph from Wordsworth for this collection, the link with that great Romantic poet is unavoidable through the name Lucy.
‘Chorus’ celebrates the birth of a son to the Morley family. The joyous tone is achieved by using Whitmanesque long lines of observation, focusing on bird song and bird behaviours. It is best described as a hymn to morning. As society becomes increasingly secular, poems like this and ‘The Lucy Poem’ reach out to everyone and provide spiritual sustenance without religious agenda, as does ‘Proserpina’. Morley does not seek to be obscure; everything we need to know is in the poem, such as the reference to Ruskin:
… to attend as Ruskin did
to Malham Cove when the stones of the brook were softer
with moss than any silken pillow;
And I love the assonance and consonance of the phrase ‘silken pillow’ which creates the tactile sense of the softness through the repetition of the l sounds.
Morley also draws on Romany heritage to remake traditional stories, for example ‘Hedgehurst’ in which he gives a voice to a half human half hedgehog youth from a traveller children’s story. This long poem holds the reader because of the freshness of the language, the aptness of the metaphor and the music of carefully orchestrated sounds:
Whose is this scorned skin?
What weather rouses me
to lag my limbs with lichen
to fold fresh thatch around me?
There are a number of Romany poems in this collection, forming a core section. All repay reading aloud and all are spellbinding. I can’t help thinking of John Clare and his fascination with the ‘Gypsies’ from whom he learned fiddle tunes. Morley gives the reader a powerful insight into a culture which is often secretive and closed. The circus sequence, ‘A Lit Circle’, gives voice to many of the circus entertainers such as Zhivakos the Horseman and Mashkar the Magician. Morley’s language glitters and delights, when he captures the excitement of the performances tempered by the sorrows of the travelling life and the inevitable changes which will threaten this world of magic and bravado. This language is enhanced by the inclusion of Romany words which lend their own music and exoticism to this gliding, gilded poetry.
Morley includes unobtrusive notes in the back of the collection, which acknowledge his source material and help the reader to access information. Although this is a complex book in many ways, and the third in a series, I find the poems have just the right amount of challenge for the reader. Morley is a quiet poet whose work is to be savoured and mulled over, by a fireside on a winter’s night or swinging in a hammock in the midst of the natural treasures which he interweaves throughout his work. Ever inventive, yet true to himself, Morley is a marvellous poet.
....reviewed by Angela Topping
November 07, 2011
‘Incarnations of the Wild’, Poetry London on “Enchantment”
A review by Sue Hubbard in Poetry London, Summer 2011, No. 69
SUE HUBBARD WRITES: "When I was a child one of my favourite poems was ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsies’, a Scottish Border ballad written around 1720. It seemed to suggest a parallel, unregulated world that sat alongside my own rather constrained, suburban existence. The words spoke of the unfettered pleasures of an alternative life close to nature: exotic, sensual, dangerous even. Something of this atmosphere is evoked in David Morley’s new collection Enchantment.
"It begins with an unconventional sonnet sequence in memory of his friend Nicholas Hughes, distinguished professor of fisheries and ocean sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the son of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, who died by his own hand at the age of forty-six. This not only flags up Morley’s own role as an ecologist and naturlist, but links him to the poetry and imagery of Ted Hughes, whose mythic relationship with the natural world hovers behind these poems.
"The Wordworthian epithet at the beginning of the book ‘with rocks, and stones, and trees’, also suggests a connection with the elemental. The close observation of a water measurer – that spindly insect which can be seen slowly walking around on the surfaces of ditches and ponds, apparently pacing out the distance between points – reveals a specialist knowledge of fauna that avoids the trap of much romanticised nature poetry. Dragonflies, mayflies and Alaskan salmon are all closely observed here. In ‘Proserpina’, Morley refuses the easy bien-pensant terms of environmentalism – ‘I could write a cliché about conservation here / but I won’t and I won’t because I can’t – understanding that the mess of the external world, all too often, mirrors a deeper internal disquiet:
It is true
That what we waste bends back to grind us. My rubbish
Is also here in me, and I shove and shovel it around
Every day, sometimes alert to its weight and stench
But most of the time too busy or bored to see or scent
The wealth and ruin of evidence, its blowflies, the extended
Families of vermin.
"But it is the second section that takes me back to that childhood excitement of ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsies. It begins with ‘Hedgehurst’, a poem based on a traditional Romany story taken from Duncan Williamson’s Fireside Tales of the Traveller Children, about a creature that is half-hedgehig and half human. Spoken in the voice of the Hedgehurst, the tone is incantatory, ancient and pagan:
What weather rouses me
to lag my limbs with lichen
to fold fresh thatch around me?
"Like some John Barleycorn or Green Man, the Hedgehurst appears as the incarnation of the wild:
I had kenned from my wrens
how to cave-mine my call,
to speak through soil, make
speech slither through a hill...
"In the later, more obviously narrative sequence ‘A Lit Circle’, Morley creates a series of monologues spoken by various circus folk, including the ringmaster, clown and strongman. Fizzing with Romany and Parlari (the unwritten language of fairgrounds and gay subculture), his language conveys a sense of what it means to live on the margins of mainstream society. As ‘Demelza-Do-It-All’, who has an act as a barrel walker [as well as fifteen other acts, DM] says, ‘down in the industrial estate with my sister for small animal food, / the vet for the dogs’, she saw ‘swastikas scratched on every circus poster’. Romany traditions and superstitions, along with a fierce pride in their itinerant way of way of life, are graphically drawn in ‘Songs of Papusza’:
The straw of which a Romany gives birth is burnt. A gypsy dies;
the caravan with all goods and clothes is flashed into flames.
"In these strangely evocative poems where a blacksmith creates a girl from fire and a mother slides her fairy-baby into a waterfall, David Morley taps into myths and folklore to weave a series of spells reinventing the oral tradition of poetry and returning it to fireside and hearth."
November 04, 2011
Writing about web page http://sounds.bl.uk/resources/teachersnotes.pdf
This document is taken from the British Library website cited in the entry below this. There are also some good workshops based on poetry by Mimi Khalvati, Moniza Alvi and Saradha Soobrayen.
David Morley’s... writing often addresses Romani culture and uses Romani language. Frequently he writes poetic narratives which blend traditional story-telling with the hard concrete realities of urban life, writing about difficult situations with the lightness of a magical realist touch. In this activity students will think about tone and language, updating a fairytale to a twenty-first century context, and mixing contemporary diction with archaisms and clichés.
This poem’s title ‘Taken Away’ helps the content of the poem work on many levels. It is about a child who has been taken away from his parents, but the exact details of the story are murky – is this about death (even possibly murder) or the taking away of a child by others who fear the parents can’t look after it? Ask the students to work through the poem, making a list of narrative events. What do they think is happening? When is the poem set? The same poem contains ‘fairy baby’ and ‘postman’; the child is ‘like a seal’ and ‘drinking whiskey’ – what happens when we mix language, time and situation like this? What’s the mood of the poem?
Bring in a pile of children’s books that contain nursery rhymes and fairytales. Also bring in lots of newspapers. Firstly give out the children’s books and ask the students to open them randomly and write down ten words or phrases that they think carry the tone of the story or rhyme and make us feel like we are in a magical world. Then give them the newspapers and ask them to choose ten words or phrases that are totally contemporary and put us in the twenty-first century. The students then have to choose one fairytale or nursery rhyme and find a story in the newspapers that somehow relates to it. They should then write a narrative poem, updating the fairytale to the modern day context and make sure it contains at least 5 of their magical words / phrases and at least 5 of their contemporary newspaper words / phrases.
If they want to really push themselves and help their poem gain momentum, they should write the poem in 4 line stanzas, with an alternate line rhyme scheme XAXA XBXB XCXC etc.
However, the poems will also be fine, unrhymed and in a different shape - perhaps try copying David Morley’s poem using long lines and irregular stanzas.
August 01, 2011
Writing about web page http://polyolbion.blogspot.com/2011/07/enchantment-by-david-morley.html
Enchantment, by David Morley
July 18, 2011
Writing about web page http://bostonreview.net/BR36.2/david_morley_paul_daniel_franz.php
Review of David Morley's Enchantment - Paul Daniel Franz, Boston Review, April 2011
Writing about web page http://www.bookgeeks.co.uk/2011/02/25/enchantment-by-david-morley/
Enchantment, by David Morley
David Morley’s poetry collection opens with a sonnet-sequence, written in memory of a friend of his. Although they have the requisite 14 lines Morley’s sonnets depart from tradition in a number of ways with line-lengths of around 15 to 20 syllables, and lacking end-rhymes, but building internal patterning with assonance and half-rhyme. The quality of the writing in these short pieces is particularly striking and they are poems which the poet’s background as a naturalist shows through to good effect. The evocation of, for example, an Alaskan Salmon, is as powerful and fully realised as the faunal observations of Ted Hughes or Alice Oswald, while his specialist knowledge prevents the pieces from slipping into the all-too-easy Romanticism of ‘nature poetry’. This is also true in the poem which follows the sonnet-sequence: ‘The Lucy Poem’. The title alludes to Wordsworth’s famous Lucy poems, but the eponymous subject in this case is not a young girl but rather the 3.2 million year old Australopithecus afarensis skeleton. In content, these opening poems are far from typical of the collection, with the majority of the pieces in the collection concerning the world of Romany gypsies, both their day-to-day experiences and their myths, with the line between the two becoming intriguingly blurred at many points.
The Romany section of the book begins with ‘Hedgehurst’, based on a traditional story concerning a being which is half hedgehog and half human. The poem is spoken by the Hedgehurst in an incantatory tone which at times recalls Geoffrey Hill’s earlier work: “I was space between an axe-edge / and the oak’s white wound.” This is the most lyrical of the Romany poems, the others becoming at times more narrative in tone, at others more directly spoken. The sequence ‘A Lit Circle’, for example, uses monologues by a series of circus workers to take us behind the scenes of that aspect of Romany life in which we are most likely to have encountered them; from ringmaster, to clown, to strongman. The poems do not shy away from the darkness behind the circus, and feel authentic in their blend of pride and realism. In fact, darkness is the presiding hue of the Romany poems. Tradition is celebrated, but Morley is keen to remind us of the hatred many have felt towards gypsies both historically and through to the present day. As with Morley’s previous two books (Scientific Papers and The Invisible Kings) in this loose trilogy, the oral roots of poetry are fore-grounded. The poems remind us of their connection to both magic and to making, as the mythic intertwines with the artisan. In language and in content these are startling creations and a powerful conclusion to the sequence.
July 12, 2011
Order copies of Enchantment at http://amzn.to/qJJIWm
By Nisha Obano in Poetry Review, 101: 2, Summer 2001
‘Morley’s poetry evokes with enormous skill and sensitivity the many ways in which ecological changes affect our economic and social lives…Enchantment is a profound and tender work which confirms Morley’s place at the helm of British poetry today’.
By Julia Bird in Magma, Vol, 50, Summer 2010
‘David Morley[‘s]…inheritance and ongoing research has given him access to stories, histories and language which are unfamiliar to most of his non-Romani readers and, in writing them up for us, he offers us a genuine thrill of discovery. Too many times, I’ve seen poets with Three Book Gravitas turn for the first time to the Greek myths in order to sub out their current disquiets to those overstretched archetypes. Sometimes, I don’t want another retelling of Diana and Actaeon, I’d rather read for the first time about The Hedgehurst. He’s half human, half hedgehog, and he’s a powerful figure…
I judder awake as jays bounce
and strut about my body.
I rise, I shout, and they scatter.
They jump screaming into the sky.
It is time to call everything to life
for I am king of this and this is my kingdom.
…with much to tell us about self-determination and statecraft. His spines prick us and demand our attention.
…Morley has a professional stake in the outdoors; his background is in ecology and naturalism. His nature poems read like diagrams of food chains and water cycles; no on element in the web of life has precedence over another. In ‘Fresh Water’, humans, horses, midges and salmon are equally important, yet all of them are subject to a greater power – ‘the energy system / cindering softly under us, slow-cooking the marshlands.’
Whether giving a representation of Romani culture, or weighing up the balance between the natural and the human world, Morley’s lyric “I” is dropped well back. It does not crash about in the undergrowth, drawing attention to itself. Instead, he finds fresh alternate voices and personas to articulate his concerns. The subject of ‘The Lucy Poem’ is – while tipping her hat to Wordsworth’s Lucy-muse – the 3 million-plus-year-old Australopithecus afarensis, whose fossilised remains were found in Ethiopia in the 1970s. Imagining Lucy’s search for water is a way for s to talk about climate change in a way that privileges sensory experience above manipulable stats and science-lite…
When the waterhole went
wolves ran with their thirsts
higher than fur could manage:
they loped the dry courses
to their source, lapping parched
stone where water buried its song
…its persuasive effects unavoidable.
Morley’s language is gorgeous, slubby and dense, demanding a slow-paced reading and recitation. ‘Chorus’ is a patterned, refrain-rich poem for a newborn – ‘The heron hangs its head before hurling down its guillotine. / The tern twists on tines of two sprung wings. The dawn is the chorus’ – which is as much a lullaby as a powerful cradle spell. His tales are told strongly enough to ‘draw readers into a lit circle’ even if the closest they get to a Gypsy campfire is a chalet at Centre Parcs. If I had been anywhere near the shortlisting panels for last year’s poetry prizes, I would have nudged this collection and its newly delivered worlds to the top of the pile.’
January 12, 2011
8pm, Wednesday 19th January, 2011
Venue: The Capital Studio, Millburn House, Warwick University, Coventry, CV4 7HS
'Enchantment' by David Morley
Publicity material for this event says:
Carcanet Press invites you to the launch of 'Enchantment' by David Morley.
David Morley's 'Enchantment' reinvents the oral tradition of poetry as a form of magic, marvel and making. Opening with a celebration of friendship, the poems tell the world into being. In myths of origin and the natural world, the terrible chronicles of history and the saving power of folk wisdom, the poet weaves spells of Romany and circus language, invents forms and shapes, drawing his readers into a "lit circle" magical and true.
December 15, 2010
Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/alumni/knowledge/projects/bookclub/week22/
The Book Club at The Knowledge Centre features my new poetry collection Enchantment, as well as three poems and a poetry film. Seasonal twist to the poetry film...
December 05, 2010
Writing about web page http://bit.ly/dVgURw
David Morley's "Enchantment" chosen as Book of the Year
by Jonathan Bate in the Telegraph http://bit.ly/dVgURw
December 04, 2010
Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/dec/04/nightingales-david-morley-saturday-poem
The Guardian has chosen 'Nightingales' from "Enchantment" as its Saturday Poem, published today.
I had spent an enchanting day clearing empty mouse nets from my writer's studio before becoming aware of this honour in the late afternoon. Perspective is mouse-size.
I was also delighted to publish three new poems in this week's London Review of Books.
If the weather allows...