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December 04, 2010

The Guardian Chooses 'Nightingales' as their Poem of the Week

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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.

Hope to catch up with folks at readings tomorrow in London 2 pm and Cheltenham 8 pm.

If the weather allows...

Pantles to be found

November 26, 2010

A Ghost of What We See, What We Pass Through & What Might be Watching Us Watching Ourselves Waiting.

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David Morley


But these two things shall come to thee
in a moment in one day, the loss of children,
and widowhood: they shall come upon thee
in their perfection for the multitude of thy sorceries
and for the great abundance of thine enchantments.
—Isaiah 47


I love those stories when the world they wake

whitens on the horizon of your own eye

as though another sun has neared us in the night

or some new star flowered from the dark matter.

They shift on a single movement of mind or image—

a suicide leaps into space but lands on a high ledge

where he is found by fishermen with ropes and jokes.

The man says he thought the night was his own death

and it was, nearly. His hair has sprung into white fright

as if his head had been dipped into the dyes of the dawn.

What’s expected of me, more so because unexpected,

is that I will go on telling and making and spinning,

more so because I was guilty of the crime called happiness.

Stories for children when we know all of us are children.

And now that I possess only my own poised possession

that I shall deliver these tales from some darker attention.

There they squat around the fires, with their teeth glittering.

They are moving on from their roll-ups to their shared pipes,

from red wine to glugs of gold whiskey. They are settling in

as if they were waiting for some long haul between settlements.

They say language shows you, so my stories should show you

what worlds I’ve wound through, whose voices I’ve breathed in—

that smoke spooling from their mouths; the fire’s smoke

swirling above them make an understood utterance, a ghost

of what we see, what we pass through and what might be watching

us watching ourselves waiting. If that’s too curdled for you

try truth. A five-year old boy dies. His parents bide by his body

for three days. Then they fill a rucksack with his best-loved toys.

Another rucksack embraces the child’s body. They drive to a cliff,

hitch on the rucksacks and throw themselves spinning off the earth.

What does their tale say about how much they loved each other

and how much their son loved and was loved? Their story

makes something cease in you. They drove as if going on holiday

in a campervan. They say language shows you, and this story

shows to me that truth and even love grow impossibly possible.

This is not what you have come for. It is not what you wanted.

Where is the magic-eyed metaphor that reverses them into life?

Why am I not spilling word-lotions into your ears that allow

these three loving people to meet in another place, laughing

and singing and unbroken? Why doesn’t the story wake the boy?

My own story interests nobody, not now I’m on my own.

Making story costs them nothing but my drink and caravan.

It’s the hour before I begin when the clouds close down

and I’m lacking of language and in a desert of image

and nothing knows nothing. I am not even nowhere.

Now the word-trail slows in my mind, my blood sheds

all sugar and I can recognise no thing, not even the walls

of my van, or who I am, or what I will later, maybe, become.

I used to reach out at these times, touch my wife and say

‘my wife’; then I would come back. I would come back into life.


The fire may as well be language for translating the logs

from their green, spitting blocks into red pictures and paintings.

The children spy wide worlds from the ringside of the fireside

as if a circus were performing before them. It shows in their eyes

for it is all reflected there. I usually start the evening with a call

to calm, then a joke and a drink before I unleash the animals.

Animal tales first, padding around the fire just there in the dark,

now in the ring of light, and back again; I go out of sight

for the ending. Then stories about witches (the children dozing)

and so on to burkers and ghosts before night swallows my voice.

They say language shows you but subject shows you too.

Reverse that order of telling and you end up killing the evening,

sending the children unarmed into nightmare, startling

the rabbits of the audience with glare of monster and murder.

Yet one day, one day I shall never be there, not that I am now.

I stalk that ring of light. I know to toe around every twig.

I know when to lower my voice, and when to stop silent.

That’s when I let natural magic have its effect—an owl call;

a dog fox wooing demonically in the wood; badgers scratching

and sputtering. These are not words; they are warier than words.

They are life not legend and sometimes they flout me.

They do not enter on cue. They make witty what is deadly

or horror from humour. Control. Do I really want control?

When their hearts are hearing me while their eyes are on the fire

it is as if I were the fire’s brother, that we were a double act.

The fire came free (although children fed it until sleep).

Just pictures and paintings. We’d see them anyway in dreams.

What’s expected of me is that I feed their dreams, lobbing

green blocks of words that spit and split and charm and char

while all the long, wordy night I am desperate to be doused.

What’s fabulous might be a hedgehog spiny with rhyme

or a bride born from gnarled nouns. What’s fabulous might be

darkness drowsing over a woman of words beside a waterfall

of words. What’s fabulous might be an anvil hammered white-hot

with hurt, or Lipizzans held or hurtling on the harness of a verb.

Truth or tale, you’ve winnowed my mind many times too many

for me to be free with feigning, and now night’s met my heart

and halved it. This is something I cannot say tonight, for tonight

is my last night. Tonight at midnight I am laying down my words.

I shall bury them beneath the embers of that brother, the fire.

I am sloughing the freight of fiction, the shackling story.

I owe this to my wife for believing in the one truth of me.

I am leaving the camp by dawn. I am taking nothing

apart from myself. The enchantment I offered as payment,

they will find it under fire. They will shovel it out ashen,

riven beyond repair. Stories are second chance. They repair.

They repay. I am broken. I want to try the truth.      So,

I am glad you are all here. I hope you enjoy your evening.

I was here all the time listening to you but now it’s my turn.

Ladies and gentleman, and children. I am ready when you are ready.

from Enchantment by David Morley (Carcanet Press, 29th November 2010)

November 23, 2010

Here is a Story to Return You to the Surface of Earth.

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Skeleton Bride by Peter Blegvad from Enchantment by David Morley

                             'The Skeleton Bride' by Peter Blegvad

From 'The Skeleton Bride' by David Morley in Enchantment

Light up, phabaràv, kindle the kind wood

for the rose of the moon is opened; the camp

nested in darkness; our dogs snore in their heap.

Prala, you are chilled. Seal your eyes when you will.

Those lamenting tents might then fall silent.

Our women are waiting on your rule of sleep.

Here, take my blanket stitched with flame.

Weave what warmth you can from what I say.

Keep listening, more like overhearing I know.

Don’t heed the wind’s gossip in the trees. Those elms

lie. Oaks over-elaborate. I have coppiced them all

for my word fires. Here is an ember to light you.

Here is a story to return you to the surface of earth.

David Morley's new poetry collection Enchantment is due soon from Carcanet Press, with original drawings by Peter Blegvad. Order it now at

November 17, 2010

Only Two Weeks to Go Before an All–Powerful Hedgehog Exacts Regime Change on the Planet…

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Hedgehurst by Peter Blegvad from Enchantment by David Morley

You've been warned.

David Morley’s new poetry collection from Carcanet is Enchantment.

His website is right here

November 10, 2010

The Wonderfurled World of John Stammers

Freshwater Stone People by David MorleyJohn John Stammers Interior Night is various and startling. The pose of the speakers in these poems can be grim and urban (‘The House Sale’, ‘Mr Punch in Soho’, ‘Dead Alsatian in a Vegetable Crate’) but, across the body of this evocative collection, there’s a childlike candour to his perception and poetic language that has much in common with Romantic poetry. You might say that the poet loads every vein with ore but knows the human cost of each gram. Stammers is attracted by hope, even at its most hopeless (‘A Dramatic Monologue’). His floridity of diction can be beautifully exact and natural (‘O’). He hears more than he wants to understand (‘in words culled of sense as if mastered by the wind’ – ‘Sands’). Possibly the best poem here ‘The Shrine of Proteus’ has the speaker and his friends create ‘a possible light diversion / for the boys and me during the summer holidays’:

Around the altarpiece we placed found items from the shore

and discarded or lost objects drained of their original affect

by casual disposal or the caustic action of the seawaters:

whin-feathered dune flowers, hardy but etiolated by the undercut

of salt breeze and the bitter, constant scratch of blown sand grains;

and two branches that the profound twist and torque of wave motion

had probably transformed into twin horses of the deep.

The poem invokes an encounter with a version of the Ancient Mariner as environmental catastrophist (‘some kind of sea-god of antic myth’) that leads to disillusion and remembrance of things past. This is a poetry of growing up and unlearning harsh wishes:

I was compelled to punish them that night for going too far

in their silliness. And I would have beaten the old sea dog

who had set their minds into such a ferment, had I been able.

There are boundaries I will not have violated.

Stammers’ mythic form of address and longer line are unerringly right for these slightly weird materials: affected as they are with literariness without being fake. Some of these poems unfold a fictional continuum in which plausibility and possibility are bent and reconstructed to make a strong and inevitable narrative - the kind of thing fiction writers like China Miéville prefer to call ‘weird fiction’ – enacting the kind of parallel universe which Simon Armitage’s collection also explores. In ‘The Encounter of M’ Stammers describes and re-describes a brief meeting between lovers that is transfigured by recollection, retelling and switches in time until ‘The sun was low and we cast no shadows / across the plush white lawn’. There is a weird music to the diction of Interior Night that charms and chills.

Interior Night, John Stammers, Picador Poetry, pb., 64 pp., £8.99, ISBN 978-0-330-51338-8

Many thanks to Fiona Sampson, editor of Poetry Review, where this piece first appeared.

David Morley’s new collection from Carcanet is Enchantment. He is editing The Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing. His website is right here

November 09, 2010

Grave Robbing with Richard Dawkins: Simon Armitage


Photo copyright hkoppdelaney under creative commons

Simon Armitage’s recreations of the worlds of Gawain and The Odyssey were well received in circles that otherwise might never bother with the epic tradition; while his new collection Seeing Stars presents prose poetry to readers for whom it could be a revelation. Baudelaire said, ‘Always be a poet, even in prose’ and like decent poetry, the best prose poems generate imaginative mischief, linguistic and political escapade and a rapidity of combination of images. But the absence of the line does not mean the poet’s ear need not be alert to the sense of spoken voice - even when that voice is entirely in character. The poems in the Seeing Stars resemble a spree of proser’s yarns, parables and absurd monologues, often droll, moving and confidently voiced. The poetry has much in common with the tone and poise of James Tate’s poetry, an influence about which Armitage has been scrupulous, not least when Tate himself soars through ‘The Knack’ like King Wesley at the climax of It Happened One Night. That poem’s final slowing lines show how voice and line bicker with each other in a way that dares our understanding of when a poem is a poem and when it is not a poem:

                         Then James Tate, a

poet much admired in America, went by in an

autogyro, flicking Boris the V-sign. North America,

I should say, though for all I know he might be the

toast of Tierra Del Fuego, and a household name in


‘The Knack’

Anything can happen in these word-worlds. The more incongruous the event then the more effectively realised the parallel world of the poem (‘Hop In, Dennis’, ‘Cheeses of Nazareth’, ‘Aviators’, ‘The English Astronaut’); and the challenge to expectation and the pure pleasure of invention owe as much to Vince Noir’s madcap tales in The Mighty Boosh as they do to James Tate or Luke Kennard’s The Harbour Beyond the Movie. The parallel worlds that Armitage invents are not so much surreal as super-real (or strangely recognisable if you’ve spent time in the borderlands of Yorkshire and Lancashire). Many of them are successful on their terms once you tune into their fairy-tale frequency, flashes of magic and deadpan absurdity. This is the opening of ‘The Experience’:

I hadn’t meant to go grave robbing with Richard Dawkins

but he can be very persuasive. ‘Do you believe in God?’

he asked. ‘I don’t know’, I said. He said, ‘Right, go get

in the car.’ We cruised around the cemetery with the

headlights off. ‘Here we go’ he said, pointing to a plot

edged with clean, almost luminous white stone. I said,

‘Doesn’t it look sort of…’ ‘Sort of what?’ ‘Sort of

fresh?’ I said. ‘Pass me the shovel,’ he said.

Armitage has taken the possibilities of the prose poem and remade them for the mainstream. What this book also refashions isn’t so much the poetic form as the poet himself, allowing him to travel artistically from the hewn, tensioned speech of epic to a circling, roundabout, confident yarning. This is not to suggest the poems are all marshmallows around a campfire. Some of the throwaway brutality in these poems is unsettling not least because the characters using it are true to their word and recognisable in their casual contempt (‘the peaks and troughs it produced had a confidence about them…like…a graph of Romany populations over the centuries’). There are many moments of astonishing emotional momentum that take your breath and defy the gravity of either prose or poetry. And there are also flickering shifts in register, usually towards the end of a poem, in which epiphany and a folkloric vision create a coda of grief and glory.

You have been reading about Seeing Stars, Simon Armitage, Faber and Faber, hb., 74 pp., £12.99, ISBN 978-0-571-24990-9

Many thanks to Fiona Sampson, editor of Poetry Review, where this piece first appeared.

David Morley’s new collection from Carcanet is Enchantment. He is editing The Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing. His website is right here.

November 04, 2010

Canaletto at Warwick, 1752

EF Warwick

October 14, 2010

The Poetry Book Society Launches Free Student Membership

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Tuesday 12 October 2010

Poetry Book Society


The Poetry Book Society is delighted to announce that it has launched a free PBS student membership on its new website to persuade students to read more contemporary poetry by making the best new work available to them, and encouraging them to become lifelong poetry readers.

The PBS’s new membership scheme will enable students to get a free membership by enrolling online at, and sending a scanned proof of student identity. They’ll be able to log in and browse the online quarterly Bulletin available in the members’ area of the new site, and order books with their 25% members’ discount.

Student members will be alerted to the new Bulletin and will handle their membership by email. The PBS hopes they will welcome the simplicity of access and use that this new membership offers, as well as the fact that it’s free. The organisation will develop its new membership by offering lists of set texts and other tailored material for the student pages, and will provide a discussion forum online.

Our distinguished roster of ambassadors has endorsed our aims and they are generously lending their support to our new venture:

Carol Ann Duffy                              Andrew Motion

Maura Dooley                                  Douglas Dunn

Paul Farley                                      Mark Ford

Philip Gross                                    Bill Herbert

Jackie Kay                                        Andrew Lambirth

David Morley                                   Stephen Regan

David Roberts                                  Michael Schmidt

George Szirtes


The launch of the new, rebranded PBS site has enabled the PBS to recruit members and make it easy for existing members to renew their membership online. The organisation hopes to widen its recruitment to younger, more web-savvy groups and also to recruit more widely internationally. The new site will enable the PBS to support and promote its other projects and prizes, which include the T S Eliot Prize, with the announcement of the shortlist and its new reading groups’ scheme on 21 October.

The PBS has also just launched a new niche poetry bookshop,, the only one of its kind in the world, which will sell all the 90,000 poetry books and CDs available in the UK, including all the poetry titles in print and the Poetry Archive CDs.

Both sites will offer a constantly-updated stream of news, articles, poems, reviews, events and a mass of other poetry-related material.

                                                                                                                                                                                                   … ends

For further information please go to

or contact: Chris Holifield or Dave Isaac at the Poetry Book Society

tel 020 7831 7468 emails and


About the Poetry Book Society

Founded by T S Eliot and friends in 1953, the PBS is a unique poetry organisation which provides an international membership with its Selectors’ choice of the best new poetry books. The Poetry Book Society has recently launched two new websites, an online bookshop (, offering 90,000 poetry books and CDs, including the Poetry Archive recordings and the SoundBlast performance poets’ CDs, together with a wide range of news, articles, reviews, information and events listings. The new PBS website,, has a special members’ section and houses the PBS’s projects, including the T S Eliot Prize and its Shadowing Scheme, and the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets, run in partnership with the British Library. The Society also runs the Children’s Poetry Bookshelf ( and the Old Possum’s Children’s Poetry Competition (running until 18 October).

September 10, 2010

An Antidote to Anthologising: “Dove Release” Reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement

Where the thinking gets done

A number of writers have contacted me about the review of my poetry anthology in the TLS by the poet and jazz musician John Mole; and a number of younger poets and contributors to the anthology have had difficulty seeing the review owing to their not subscribing to the TLS. I was teaching an Arvon Foundation course at The Ted Hughes Centre at Lumb Bank last week and managed to see their subscription issue. I took a copy which appears verbatim somewhere below.

I want to make a comment. It’s interesting to contrast the friendly reception of this unassuming, agenda-free poetry anthology from a small press with the qualified receptions offered by reviewers to recent canon-trouncing anthologies of younger (and not-so-young) poets from the more powerful independent presses. George Ttoouli discusses this balance in Horizon Review here and goes on to contrast Dove Release with a number of anthologies, none of which Dove Release is competing with. It’s a warm and fascinating piece of writing but I don’t quite get why George Ttoouli believes, ‘It’s hard to discuss this book as an anthology, when so much is geared towards making readers focus on the poems.’ In my world - in my book - the focus on poetry is the whole point of an anthology. The model for my anthology, although I wasn’t slavish about it, was The Poet’s Tongue which, as Stephen Burt writes on The London Review of Books blog:

“The grandfather – or perhaps the generous uncle – of such anthologies may be the best of the lot: The Poet’s Tongue, edited by W.H. Auden and John Garrett, saw at least two printings in 1935, and at least one more in the 1940s…The poet and the schoolmaster put together a volume in which, the introduction says, poetry would appear not as ‘a tradition to be preserved and imitated’, but as ‘a human activity, independent of period and unconfined in subject’…It’s in two parts, paginated separately; part one has simpler language, and more narrative, as if intended for younger readers. But that division is almost the only clue that Auden and Garrett intended the book for schools. Selections arrive in alphabetical order by first line (an arrangement The Rattle Bag imitated), with authors’ names left out of the main text (they show up in the table of contents); humour and obsequy, fame and anonymity, prayer and limerick, show up unpredictably, side by side.” More succulent prose on anthologies from Stephen Burt here:

This is what George says in his discussion of recent anthologies in Horizon Review:

“Coming to a different beast entirely, Worple’s recently published Dove Release, chooses a distinct path through these various aspects of anthologising. Ostensibly gathered under the auspices of celebrating “a decade of writing at the University of Warwick”, there’s a celebration of new poets, some of whom, David Morley’s introduction tells us, are in their twenties. There are some established names, a refreshing addition to the range of new poets (listed alphabetically here to mimic the book’s “democratic” order): Jane Holland, Luke Kennard, Glyn Maxwell, Ruth Padel, George Szirtes; and various Warwick staff, including Peter Blegvad and David Morley, jostle with a host of unknowns, or barely-knowns. There’s a spate of Eric Gregory Award recipients: Zoë Brigley, James Brookes, Swithun Cooper, Luke Heeley, Liz Manuel, Michael McKimm and Jon Morley. But there’s an anti-celebrity approach; poets are not named as prize winners and biographical details are absent — even acknowledging where poems might have been published before is foregone in favour of stressing the selected poetry, above all.

“It’s hard, then, to discuss this book as an anthology, when so much is geared towards making readers focus on the poems, but Morley’s introduction is an oddball. He emphasises the specific university environment and the connections each poet has with a course I myself took in 2000, taught by David Morley, called The Practice of Poetry. The recent scientific underpinning of Morley’s approach to teaching poetry is also highlighted: “Meeting scientists, and seeing live science, presented our poets with ideas, characters, and designs. It also gave us new language: the terminology of science is gravid with metaphor and is constantly inventing new terms for describing the stuff of life and the structures and shapes of the universe.”

“Aware of how this might limit interest in the anthology, Morley points out that it “certainly isn’t” a book of science poems. The book’s jacket and blurb attempt to avoid easy pigeonholing, but ultimately this is held back by the context for the collection, which is a shame. The lack of pressure placed on the reader’s expectations is refreshing, the democratic structure doesn’t favour celebrity in any way and so, as a reader, I was primed to find something to enjoy — and there is plenty. But I would say that, I’m in it.”

Just so. And finally to John Mole’s piece for the TLS.

David Morley, editor


New Flights and Voices

184pp. Worple Press Paperback, £10

9788 1 905208 13 5

Purchase from

In his engaging introduction to this anthology mainly by young writers in their twenties with whom he and fellow tutors have worked together on the Practice of Poetry course at Warwick University, David Morley begins with a quotation from Kenneth Koch’s poems addressed “To My Twenties”. This was a time between the twenties and thirties, Koch writes, when “you were midmost / Most lustrous apparently strongest” and there is plenty of light and strength apparent in Dove Release. Plenty of variety, too, both in the poems themselves and the encounters which have inspired them.

Convinced that writing is an act of community and always in search of “open spaces for creative discovery”, Morley has encouraged his young writers to work not only in art galleries and nature reserves (he is himself a former ecologist) but also – and most rewardingly, it would appear – alongside research scientists in a spirit of mutual delight and respect. The scientists were “charmed and challenged” by the poets’ presence, and the poets energized by new language and material which find their way into work which, though sometimes overloaded with the excitement of fresh terminologies, is seldom less than technically accomplished. These terminologies are, as Morley points out, “gravid with metaphor” and thus ready to give birth to poems.

But Dove Release is not just the record of an experiment. The sixty poets, introduced alphabetically and without biographical notes, include several Gregory Award winners and a few of the tutors, among them Glyn Maxwell, Fiona Sampson and George Szirtes. Readers will find their own favourites, but of those which most successfully ingest scientific knowledge I’d pick Charlotte Jones’s “Cuttlefish”. Three scrupulously attentive poems by Emily Hasler compare favourably with the Elizabeth Bishop of “Sandpiper”, Luke Kennard wins a memorable simile prize for describing a friend’s “courteous smile like a weak / Line-break”, and Rebecca Fearnley’s “The Bipolar Bear” lives up to its clever title. In fact, there’s a lot of cleverness and fun, as might be expected from a project in which the poets and their tutors have evidently enjoyed working together.


Times Literary Supplement, 6th August 2010

August 19, 2010

In Memory of Edwin Morgan

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What is that place, my father and my mother,
you have gone to, I think of, in the ashes
of the air and not the earth, better to go there
than under stones or in any remembrance
but mine and that of others who once loved you,
fewer year on year. It is midsummer
and till my voice broke, Summer suns are glowing
I loved to sing and One fine day to hear from
some thin wild old gramophone that carried
its passion across the Rutherglen street, invisibly
played again and again - I thought of that person,
him or her, as taking me to a country
far high sunny where I knew to be happy
was only a moment, a puttering flame in the fireplace
but burning all the misery to cinders
if it could, a sift of dross like what we mourn for
as caskets sink with horrifying blandness
into a roar, into smoke, into light, into almost nothing.
The not quite nothing I praise it and I write it.

Edwin Morgan died 19th August 2010 (see good piece by Sarah Crown at link above)

Edwin Morgan in 1950s

I met Eddie Morgan a few times and invited him to read in Huddersfield for the 1995 World Poetry Festival (Andy Darby now of the Lancaster Litfest also played a huge role here). I was very fond of Eddie and his poetry and translations. He was 75 when he read for the festival and had all the energy and elan of someone far younger; he was not world-weary in the slightest, but illuminated with life and full of love. Over dinner we managed to discuss Mandelstam, Mayakovsky, Blok, Montale, Baudelaire, the Scottish Poetry Renaissance, freshwater ecology, mathematics and the varieties of midge found in Fife.  He was and is a hero, and I urge you to read him. I love this photo of him from the '50s (courtesy of the Scottish Poetry Library). Goodbye and good rest, Eddie.

August 11, 2010

Chat We Won't. Talk We Willl.

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How it sounds'Live Chat' with, me(!), David Morley, Thursday 12th August, 2pm-3:30pm via Warwick Live at The Knowledge Centre.

This week, I'll be hosting a live chat and answering your questions on poetry, art and science, creative writing and publishing.

I'll also give a number of “micro-workshops” and some quick techniques... to assist you in your writing. The Live Chat will take place on Thursday 12th August from 2pm – 3:30pm. Just visit this webpage on Thursday to join the chatroom and take part in the discussion. You’ll need to be an alumnus of Warwick to join in the chat though... Sorry if you're not.

July 25, 2010

Made, Measured and Heard

Lundy Church

Waiting is nearly always a better form of writing than rushing. Lachlan Mackinnon is a genuine poet who takes time to get it right. Small Hours is his fourth collection and a distinguished piece of work. Opening with mostly occasional poems including a fine-hewn homage to Edward Thomas and a poem in memory of Mick Imlah, the book moves into a long poem ‘The Book of Emma’ that unfolds over fifty-four sections cast mostly in prose. It explores a repressed relationship between the speaker and ‘Emma’, a young woman of considerable distinction; it discloses few real secrets, even the particulars of Emma’s untimely death (‘You fell off Lundy’); and yet releases a powerful current of conscience, honesty and loss:

You are an open wound in me…People who come across members of your family hear of you and are curious to know more though a generation has passed and you left so little trace in the world. So small a footprint yet the shovelling jealous sea has not erased it…

Of course in making this thing about you or around you I am talking about my youth and homesick for it. But that is not the point. The point is that at one time in one place I met someone who became to me a living conscience.

‘The Book of Emma, XLVIII’

Ezra Pound’s belief that poetry must be as well written as prose is an appealing principle to apply to ‘The Book ofLachlan Mackinnon Emma’, which is neither prose poetry nor poetic prose but a vivid series of elliptical, connected flash-backs that have the quality of flash fiction – except we are clearly hearing a poem. There is a little or no tranquillity to these recollections: the speaker seems scalded by his skill at holding and harnessing memory, by the doubleness of his insight. This is a poem in which an alternative universe is being uncovered, and a parallel life is slowly drawn from the darkness. Mackinnon (right) seems to be talking to a ghost, but that ghost is as much a ghost of himself. ‘The Book of Emma’ makes for brave writing and complex feeling; it is a highly successful experiment in form.

Sinéad Morrissey’s previous collections showed us that the pleasures we take in poetry owe less to what is said and what that means, and more to how well something is made, measured and heard. Through the Square Window is a book of many achieved pleasures: serious, speculative and authentic. This is a book of immense variety and intense, formal panache. The opening poem takes the subject of a storm but makes so much more than a drumming description; it summons a sense just this side of Gothic, and is wonderfully heard:

…Evening and the white forked

parting of the sky fell

directly overhead, casements

rattled on hinges and Thunder

may as well have summoned

the raggle-taggle denizens

of his vociferous world:

the ghouls, the gashed, the dead

so bored by now of being

dead they flock to gawk—

sanctuary was still sanctuary

except more so, with the inside

holding flickeringly, and the

outside clamouring in.


Sinead MorrisseyMorrissey’s conjures her poems confidently. The reader trusts, and is held. There are poems here of marvellous adventure that are as good as any being written in English. ‘Matter’, a long poem as strange and as familiar as its subject – childbirth - has an extraordinary edginess and grace. These are the final lines:

Stay the wind on a river eight weeks after equinox—

witness blue-green mayflies lift off

like a shaken blanket; add algae

and alchemical stones to the lake floor

in the strengthening teeth of winter, what swans.


Morrissey’s authenticity feels like the authenticity of folklore, except that it is of our human world, written slant. Her exuberance lies in her ability to let language sling itself through its registers without losing the rule of sense and sound. I wish I could fitly express the artistic attainment reached by the music, poise and life of her language. To realise a book so completely requires a writer to go far out of themselves. It is a measure of our respect to acknowledge their safe return by reading them. Through the Square Window is an authentic, exuberant, fully realised book of poems by a poet of true powers and gift.

It’s a positive sign that Sam Willetts waited and worked on his poems before releasing them at the relatively late age of forty-seven. New Light for the Old Dark is a powerful introduction. He writes observantly, vividly, if inwardly. He desires to represent a state in which, to paraphrase Barry Lopez, he has absorbed that very darkness – in this case, heroin addiction - which before was the perpetual sign of defeat. When he unleashes his experience into metaphysical language he takes us with him, as in the fine poem about the death of his father:

His new state exposes the stark child of him,

and un-sons me. No answers now to a son’s

questions, about this, about the sense,

for all his slightness, of a long life’s mass

coming to rest, a settling that churns up

grief in a rounding cloud. Dad

dead; end of the opaque trick

that turns our gold to lead.


There are similarly terrific poems throughout this book. At other times the poet’s sense of self-defeat defeatsSam Willetts itself, forgivably, and leaves some poems not quite surviving (‘A Moral Defeat’, ‘Coup de Foudre’). This makes for a mixed reading, a frustration of achievement and potential. The book feels as if it were edited by several minds. What we have is a bright and at times brittle first collection, tethered by the occasional loss of nerve and almost continuously allusive (Michael Hofmann might have written half this book which is great unless you’re not Michael Hofmann).

Sam Willetts is without doubt a good poet in the making and there is a grave truth in him. He is magnificent when he is plainest (‘August 9th’, ‘On the Smolensk Road’, ‘June 3rd’) and maladroit at his showiest (‘Rubberneckers’, ‘Home’, ‘Green Thought’). In some ways New Light for the Old Dark is oversold when it would have been better undersold: the writer of the blurb, who may have had a hand in creating the book, makes solemn claims for significance. This collection will receive attention mainly for the right reasons, but also falsely because the poems and the poet are partly sold on an experiential premise that has little to do with authenticity. Yet I predict great things for Sam Willetts not least because he is a better literary artist than he, perhaps, believes. Try him.

David Morley

Books discussed:

Small Hours, Lachlan Mackinnon, Faber and Faber, pb., 90 pp., £9.99, ISBN 978-0-571-253-500

Through the Square Window, Sinéad Morrissey, Carcanet Press, pb., 60 pp., £9.95, ISBN 978-1-847-770-578

New Light for the Old Dark, Sam Willetts, Cape Poetry, pb., 60 pp., £10.00, ISBN 978-0-224-08918-0

Many thanks to Fiona Sampson, editor of Poetry Review, where this essay first appeared.

July 22, 2010

Rebounding Flowerheads


For Thomas A. Clark, walking is a form of poetry, a personal rite for writing. The Hundred Thousand Places is a single poem that steps through the Scottish wilds over the space of a day. It moves forward through subtle quartets, the pauses between them invisibilized by a blank page: a cloud coming across the vision. And inner- and outer vision are really what this poet offers in gently-sculpted, clear-eyed variations:

the rock in the water

breaking the full

weight of the flow

produces melody

the rock by the water

broken by bracken

tormentil and heather

releases colour

Solvitur ambulando—it is solved by walking; and the world is a series of connected and out of the ordinary problems that might be solved only by moving through them. As Rebecca Solnit wrote in Wanderlust: A History of Walking, ‘Walking shares with making and working that crucial element of engagement of the body and the mind with the world, of knowing the world through the body and the body through the world’. For Thomas A. Clark, walking doesn’t solve anything in any final way; it explores and perhaps resolves in part the problem of our ultimate loneliness. The short poems that make up the whole poem possess a strict sense of precision inherited from Ian Hamilton Finlay: a summation of perception and connection which could be carved on a granite slab in Little Sparta:

from rock


from astringency


I’m sure Clark would agree with Solnit’s statement that ‘A lone walker is both present and detached, more than an audience but less than a participant. Walking assuages or legitimizes this alienation.’ Thomas A. Clark’s lovely and somewhat lonely poem releases many valuable visions and a deep sense for the music of the natural world. I also think the poetry explores a form of legitimized alienation, something ‘more than an audience’ and ‘less than a participant’; and is more honest to itself and its readers for doing so.

Like Thomas A. Clark’s book, Frances Presley’s Lines of Sight takes many a wild walk through the natural landscape, this time in the South-West of England. Similarly Lines of Sight reads as though it were written as a whole book, so scrupulously have the sections and poems been woven and riven together. Richly impressive are the poems from ‘Stones settings and longstones’, a highly kynaesthetic sequence inspired by the Neolithic stone monuments on Exmoor. Prose poems, concrete poems and free verse are madly and delightfully mixed with arresting artistic control and design making them almost slippery when quoted out of context:

Not against wind

we have won wind

the house is standing against

abutting the hillside


buttery butts

the water but

cannot save austral ia

              this sliver of stone




                          from ‘Buttery stone’

The prehistoric stone monuments on Exmoor are evocative and strange: geometric arrangements of sandstone slabs in quiet combes; willowy standing stones on open moor; and stone rows, one of which was recently discovered. The geometric and highly patterned orchestration of Presley’s book feels as if it arose from being composed on a moor then pressed letter by letter into the earth. Her work was fresh to me and I found it a highly pleasant revelation, at once thoroughly alert and judged yet delightfully manic and far-reaching in its wildness, risks and resultant freedoms.

Janet Sutherland prefers a pared back, uncluttered free verse for the poems in Hangman’s Acre. The understated tones and hewn forms create a careful performance (there’s a judgement to be made for poems whose proximity to pain and death is pretty well face to face). But Sutherland’s poems do not gloom or mope; and like the poets above Sutherland is a gifted and observant nature writer:

the voice of the chainsaw echoes in

valleys  smoke hangs high and drifts

the terraces are held against the mountain

by the dead and the living  their hands

their muscles  the salt of their skin

at dusk the mountains shift to grey

layers of rock are smoke and mist

and the sound of the chainsaw stops

just this spade and this pick scraping

making the little difference   and underfoot

the cloudy cyclamen and by the side

the dark-leaved aromatic myrtle

from ‘Underfoot’

There are many delicacies in such an approach: deftness of image, delays of space. Of course, Elizabeth Bishop’s attentiveness of voice hangs over this whole collection but the influence is one of tone. I can’t help but admire the fact this poet can yield such music, movement and scent from a rebounding flowerhead and a slown down spondee-sprung myrtle.

the poetEiléan Ní Chuilleanáin has been publishing excellent collections since 1972. Her selected poems were recently co-published by Gallery and Faber. The Sun Fish is to my mind Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s best single volume. It contains an impressive number of outstanding poems including ‘The Witch in the Wardrobe’, ‘On Lacking the Killer Instinct’, ‘The Door’, ‘Ascribed’, ‘Calendar Custom’ and the title poem. Any reader new to this poet would do well to begin with these poems and to read them out loud, taking aural delight in the rhyme-patterns and stanza break in ‘The Door’ for example, quoted here in whole:

When the door opened the lively conversation

Beyond it paused very briefly and then pushed on;

There were sounds of departure, a railway station,

Everyone talking with such hurried animation

The voices could hardly be told apart until one

Rang in a sudden silence: ‘The word when, that’s where you start —

Then they all shouted goodbye, the trains began to tug and slide;

Joyfully they called while the railways pulled them apart

And the door discreetly closed and turned from a celestial arch

Into merely a door, leaving us cold on the outside

‘The Door’

Read alongside her Selected Poems, The Sun Fish provides a completely convincing case for Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s international reputation. Given that The Sun Fish reached the T.S. Eliot Prize shortlist, I hope it makes her work much better known in the United Kingdom.

David Morley

Books discussed:

The Hundred Thousand Places, Thomas A. Clark, Carcanet Press, pb., 96 pp., £9.95, ISBN 978-1-84777-005-9

Lines of Sight, Frances Presley, Shearsman Books, pb., 116 pp., £12.99, ISBN 978-1-84861-039-2

Hangman’s Acre, Janet Sutherland, Shearsman Books, pb., 90 pp., £9.95, ISBN 978-1-84861-074-3

The Sun Fish, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Gallery Books, pb., 64 pp., €11.95, ISBN 978-1-85235-482-4

Many thanks to Fiona Sampson, editor of Poetry Review, where this essay first appeared.

July 15, 2010

Why Poets Die Young

Writing about web page

Caution: Writing Poetry May Be Hazardous to Your Health
by Mad Dog

Poets die younger than novelists, playwrights, and nonfiction writers. They’re also poorer, get beat up more often, and are really tired of seeing people roll their eyes when told how they earn their meager living.
Most people don’t take life expectancy into consideration when thinking about a career. Rare is the high school student who sits down with a guidance counselor and discusses the job availability, pay scale, potential for advancement, and average lifespan of investment brokers, doctors, and cowboys. After all, you know that if you choose to become a police officer, Navy SEAL, or elementary school teacher you’re taking your life in your hands, but who would think that if you become a writer, what you write can have an effect on how long you’ll be doing it?

  Well, it does. At least according to an article in the Journal of Death Studies (motto: “People are dying to get published in our magazine”). James Kaufman, a researcher from California State University who wrote the article, studied nearly 2,000 dead writers from the United States, China, Turkey and Eastern Europe and found that poets die younger than novelists, playwrights, and nonfiction writers. They’re also poorer, get beat up more often, and are really tired of seeing people roll their eyes when told how they earn their meager living. And you wonder why they write such depressing stuff.

  Kaufman’s not sure exactly why it is that poets die younger, but he has two theories. The first is that since they have a higher rate of mental illness, alcoholism, and drug addiction there are more suicides. I know, I was shocked too. The second is that poets start writing young, churning out twice as much of their lifetime output in their twenties as do novelists, so if they die at an early age they may already be known as a poet, while if a novelist dies young he or she may not have written anything of note yet. Is it any wonder Zen priests have adopted the new koan “If a great novelist dies before writing his masterpiece, will he make a sound?”

This is one of those instances when winning makes you a loser, much like taking first place in the International Mime Competition. 
  In spite of their propensity to die at a younger age, poets aren’t anywhere to be found on the Bureau of Labor Statistics list of the 10 Most Dangerous Jobs. Lumberjacks are at the top, followed by fishermen, pilots, and structural metal workers. Keep this in mind the next time you think about grabbing your rod and reel and hitting the Bassmasters circuit. Neither is poet on the list of the most stressful jobs, though prison guard, police officer, social worker, and teacher are. Hell, even dentists made that list and what do they have to be stressed about other than being careful not to let the occasional “Whoops!” slip out while they have a drill in your mouth?

  As writing goes, there are definitely more dangerous jobs than being a poet. Being a foreign journalist in Iraq immediately comes to mind, as does being an Academy Award-winning screenwriter. It’s true. According to a study a few years ago by some Canadian researchers who had more time on their hands than government oversight, screenwriters who win an Oscar live an average of 3.6 years less than those who are merely nominated. Winning additional awards cuts their life expectancy by another 22 percent. Go home with four statuettes and chances are you’ll die while being handed your next one. Talk about too much of a good thing.

Keep all this in mind the next time you get discouraged with work and romanticize about dropping out and becoming a poet. Consider a career as a novelist or playwright or nonfiction writer.
  This is one of those instances when winning makes you a loser, much like taking first place in the International Mime Competition. The interesting thing is that it’s just the opposite with actors. In a previous study, the same researchers found that when an actor wins an Academy Award he or she tends to live 3.9 years longer than those who were merely nominated and had to smile when their name wasn’t announced, trying desperately to imitate someone who actually believes that being nominated is the honor. Now that’s good acting, especially since inside they’re crying because the jerk who won will not only get paid more for their next film, but will outlive them. Of course they shouldn’t be upset. After all, it’s not as if having stalkers, not being able to have a quiet dinner out without being hounded for autographs, and seeing photographs of yourself at your sloppy early morning worst in People week after week isn’t enough of a reward.

  If you’re looking for a job that’s easier on you than lumberjack, fisherman, poet, or Academy Award-winning screenwriter, you might consider the list of the least stressful jobs as ranked by the Jobs Rated Almanac. At the top of the list are medical records technician, janitor, forklift operator, musical instrument repairer, and florist. You’ll notice writing jobs are nowhere in sight. I can only hope my insurance company’s actuary doesn’t notice this.

  Keep all this in mind the next time you get discouraged with work and romanticize about dropping out and becoming a poet. Consider a career as a novelist or playwright or nonfiction writer. Anything but a poet. And whatever you do, don’t aspire to be a poet who wins an Academy Award. Life is too short. Or it would be anyway.

©2004 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. They're like poetry only without the annoying rhyme.

Poor Chats

Poetry's Reasons

Writing about web page


David Morley presents the last podcast in our series of Poetry Challenges. This episode is called Poetry's Reasons and it's about how and why we write poems. See:

David challenges you with two small exercises that attempt to remind the writer how individual and strange our relationship with words and language is, and how a writer's personal reading, listening and writing are intimately linked within any poem.

To finish the series Prof Morley shares a poem that he has recently written, You Were Broken, listen to the podcast to hear him reading it.

You Were Broken

The amazed, massing shade
for the glacial valley, made
from a single araucaria
that smashed its way
by micrometers of birth-push
under five centuries of dusks
of carbon dioxide and rainfall
against its unrolled, harbouring roots;

and the roots took the rocks in their arms
and placed them, magically,
like stone children, about itself
as it unfolded its fabulous tale:
of the wood heart mourned to flint
by slow labour and loneliness,
by whatit could not reach, yet see
at distance, and of the sound of that sea,
and of the cruel brightness

of butterflies and grasses,
foreknowledge of their brevity,
of a heard stream, overhearing
prints of otters on its plane stones,
gold wagtails sprying over
the gravel and shallows of courtship;
of orange blames of gall-wasps, honey fungus,
the watch-turning of tree-creepers;
of blights of summer lightning,

of fire damage and that dark
year's mark worn secretly,
a ring, forged inside a ring;
then the winter's coronation closing
in a swaying crown of redwings,
cones, drab diagonals of pine-fall,
the lead winds hardening, and while
the stone children wept with rain
the great tree sheltered them.

David Morley

July 07, 2010

Poem Becomes Worldwide Natural Art Installation

Writing about web page

Acclaimed artist Julia Foster came across Professor David Morley's poetry at a reading at Warwick Arts Centre. Following a later meeting with David at The Writers' Room in Millburn House a global poetry and art project was born in which Julia began asking friends and fellow artists to participate in linking the lines of a poem by David around the world.

The lines of the poem are from a poem called "Kings" which tells the journey of a Romani man. As Morley writes, "The poem is a fairytale: a once upon a time; the scenes are set in no country but many countries the borders of which are invisible". These words are the key to this international art project in which borders become invisible to the journey of Morley's poem and Foster's beautiful art structures.

Julia Foster used the practical form of a Romany 'patrin' to carry the poem. Patrins are markers left by Romanies to let others know of their direction. Julia created 144 patrins in the shape of sycamore leaves cast from metal.

Each of the 144 patrins is threaded with a ribbon cut from a pillowcase. Lines from the poem are printed on the ribbon. Friends have been asked to tie the Patrin along a route or pathway of their choosing and then e-mail an image and details of the location. 

As you will see from the link below, the poem has now travelled around the globe. Julia Foster has created a surprising and fresh piece of natural world art. Professor Morley's poetry is now displayed in Moscow, Kerala, Auckland, Texas, Paris, Granada, Vancouver, Vienna, Quebec, Tory Island, Tokyo, Iona, Rostock, Estland, Meppel, Mausanne, Southern Australia, Barcelona, Thailand, Kuala Lumpur, Szczecin, Warsaw, Iceland, Lithuania, Greece, Dublin, The Solway Firth, Bulgaria, Sicily, Epping Forest, Crete, Beirut, Italy, Washington DC, Amsterdam, New York and many other places...

To see more pictures and poem placements, visit

Patrins around the world

Some locations for the patrins


In Lithuania

July 02, 2010

It's Time to Become a "Poetry Volcano

Writing about web page

David Morley presents the tenth Poetry Challenge called Volcano and Diamonds. This episode is "about youLanguage as steam becoming a kind of poetry volcano blasting out lots of rubbish but also a few diamonds". 

In this podcast I challenge you to a drastic exercise in deletion and discrimination. Click

June 26, 2010

Philip Pullman was Right about the Dust

Dark Matters

June 25, 2010

On Titles, Sequences and Collections

Writing about On Titles, Sequences and Collections from Warwick Challenges

magnetic-poetry.jpgDavid Morley presents the ninth podcast Poetry Challenge in which we explore titles, sequences and collections.

"The title is a door for the reader to open, or a little window through which they peer at the interior, an intrigue making them question whether they should enter or take part."

In this episode david gives you a very Twitterish Poetry Challenge - make up a one-word poem and then give it a title.

Don't be shy about sharing your responses to this poetry challenge here on the blog where others will be able to appreciate them.

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