May 02, 2010

'Omens In Your First Words Each Morning': Discovering the Poetry of David Briggs

David BriggsDavid Briggs was born in 1972, and grew up in the New Forest. He received an Eric Gregory Award in 2002, and has placed poems in magazines (print and online), including Poetry Life, Poetry Wales, Agenda Broadsheets, Limelight, The Guardian and Notes From the Underground. His work has also featured as a Showcase in Magma, in the anthology Reactions 5, edited by Clare Pollard, and on BBC Radio Bristol. He gained a commendation in the 2007 National Poetry Competition, and four poems have been selected for the forthcoming anthology Identity Parade, edited by Roddy Lumsden. In the hours between sitting down to write, he is Head of English at the Grammar School in Bristol. His first collection The Method Men was recently published by Salt Publications and it's excellent.

I first met David Briggs on an Arvon Foundation course probably a decade ago in deep Devon. He possessed a natural relationship with language, ideas and poetry that made him the best kind of company. What his new book shows is that his sense of poetic vocation has sharpened to a point at which a real kind of poetry makes its way through him, being shaped and shorn with enormous skill, but possessing its own life and duende. The duende comes to especially fierce life in the title poem. This is the close to that poem: 'Me, I always learned enough by firing / my full quiver of arrows at random // and observing the manner of their falling. / Or, when that failed, I could always find // omens in your first words each morning.' This is a powerful, very telling and often moving collection of poems. David Briggs is a strong poet and it will be very interesting to read what comes next.

What Happened to Clowns
i.m. Miroslav Holub

when nobody laughed any more?
When even the act of pouring
hot custard down Pantalone’s
hoop-waisted trews
failed to simmer even a snigger?
Clowns took to the streets.
Hyperbolic, red and yellow boots
flip-flopped uptown; the afternoon so hot,
buckets of confetti couldn’t cool them off.
And they congregated at the railings
of the offices of the Minister for Circus.
Years of inadequate investment
had whittled their craft to politics
they didn’t have the heart for.
Perhaps, they ought to have become
taxi drivers? Writing had been on walls —
or had been, before Scaramouche blacked
the writing over with arches of paint
to connote railway tunnels,
against which they had squandered
engine-red and canary-yellow striped,
plywood locomotives.
While they disputed for spokespersons
through mime, Pierrot posed forlornly
at the Doric-framed doorstep
of the offices of the Minister for Circus,
only to pirouette abjectly back
to mutinous crowds when the bell-push
streamed water that smudged his mascara,
tickled the wrinkles of his face.
Tweedledee and Tweedledum took
to beating each other’s craniums
with styrofoam crowbars, blundering
about pavements in elaborate plays
of faux semi-consciousness.
No one so much as smiled.
It was merely tragic — two ageing clowns
resorting to cliched slapstick.
Even those veterans who claimed
to have trained with Aristophenes
failed to find euphemisms
by which to allude to the shifting paradigm
of their times. In the distance,
four pantomime horsemen came
careering and whinnying toward them.

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