LONDON POEMS

FABLES from the GREAT NORTH WOOD

NEW YEAR, NEW BOOK


A sequence of 12 short storieS for two or more voices
Original cover art by Nomis
150pp

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here is how it starts . . .

ONE: BLACKHEATH

I – Before the Beginning

Pond Mount. Blackheath. Nothing is begun.
There is nothing here, not even London.
It’s cold: a life-defying Kelvincold.
A bare expanse with nothing for a soul.

It’s vacant, gaping, meaningless space
known as Chaos to Greek mythologists,
a chasm without bottom, top or sides,
a vacuum waiting for the start of time.

This is before the beginning, before
the hills, before the dinosaurs,
before the pharaohs and before the flood,
before beliefs, exchange, bodies and blood.

Slowly, off-beat ethereal noises
subvert the blankets of freezing silence.
From the hollowness, Northern Lights arise
colouring the obsidian darkness.

Six raven figures, dressed in anthracite
habits, slide out of the backlit midnight.
Hissing winds and knocking sounds are heard
which, as befits beginning, become words . . .

FABLES FROM THE GREAT NORTH WOOD

A sequence of twelve stories for two or more voices by Robert Cole

Original cover art by Nomis

Dedicated to Mark Beech (1960-2020). He left too soon

Here is how it starts . . .

ONE: BLACKHEATH

I – Before the Beginning

Pond Mount. Blackheath. Nothing is begun.
There is nothing here, not even London.
It’s cold: a life-defying Kelvin cold.
A bare expanse with nothing for a soul.

It’s vacant, gaping, meaningless space
known as Chaos to Greek mythologists,
a chasm without bottom, top or sides,
a vacuum waiting for the start of time.

This is before the beginning, before
the hills, before the dinosaurs,
before the pharaohs and before the flood,
before beliefs, exchange, bodies and blood.

Slowly, off-beat ethereal noises
subvert the blankets of freezing silence.
From the hollowness, Northern Lights arise
colouring the obsidian darkness.

Six raven figures, dressed in anthracite
habits, slide out of the backlit midnight.
Hissing winds and knocking sounds are heard
which, as befits beginning, become words . . .

On sale at ebay for £9.99
Free postage and personal inscription

Uncle Iolo, centential

From my Granny (Alice Blodwen) to her son, my uncle, Iolo Dyfnan Davies.
29 January 1920 – 5 April 2009

I am remembering my Uncle Iolo with a bitter-sweet chuckle. The letter dates from 1940, as does the photo, I’d guess. It begins: “Now that our British Winter has set in, campaigning is less than ever a picnic. Well keep your bowels open and keep as dry as possible. A good motto for the dark days . . .”

Watts slams ‘amateur’ poetry of Kaur, McNish and Tempest

Watts slams 'amateur' poetry of Kaur, McNish and Tempest

Published January 23, 2018 by Heloise Wood

Poet Rebecca Watts has criticised the new wave of high-selling female poets such as Rupi Kaur, Hollie McNish and Kate Tempest in a literary magazine, saying “we must stop celebrating amateurism and ignorance in our poetry”.

In a piece entitled ‘The Cult of the Noble Amateur’, currently the most popular article on the PNR’s website, Watts has compared the poets to US president Donald Trump by arguing “ability to draw a crowd, attract an audience or assemble a mob does not itself render a thing intrinsically good”. She also claims that social media has dumbed down poetry and that the “honesty” and “accessibility” of these writers compromise the “aspiration to do anything well”.

McNish has claimed the article is an “extremely one-sided piece” in a response on her blog.

The poets under attack have made around £2.4m from their work according to Nielsen BookScan. McNish has sold 20,715 copies of her poetry amassing £196,327 while Kaur has shifted 183,044 books making £1.6m. Tempest has sold 67,465 titles including her debut novel, The Bricks That Built the Houses (Bloomsbury) accruing £626,627.

“Why is the poetry world pretending that poetry is not an art form?,” Watts wrote in the January/ February issue of PNR. “I refer to the rise of a cohort of young female poets who are currently being lauded by the poetic establishment for their ‘honesty’ and ‘accessibility’ – buzzwords for the open denigration of intellectual engagement and rejection of craft that characterises their work.”

The Cambridge-based poet asks “what good is a flourishing poetry market, if what we read in poetry books renders us more confused, less appreciative of nuance, less able to engage with ideas, more indignant about the things that annoy us, and more resentful of others who appear to be different from us?”

Watts compared Kaur, McNish and Tempest to Trump and argued that “like the new president, the new poets are products of a cult of personality, which demands from its heroes only that they be ‘honest’ and ‘accessible’, where honesty is defined as the constant expression of what one feels”. She wrote that this “accessibility means the complete rejection of complexity, subtlety, eloquence and the aspiration to do anything well”.

The Carcanet Press-published writer laments how the popularity of social media has led to a “dumbing down” of poetry. “Of all the literary forms, we might have predicted that poetry had the best chance of escaping social media’s dumbing effect; its project, after all, has typically been to rid language of cliché,” she wrote. “Yet in the redefinition of poetry as ‘short-form communication’ the floodgates have been opened. The reader is dead: long live consumer-driven content and the ‘instant gratification’ this affords.”

She is also concerned that “the middle-aged, middle-class reviewing sector is terrified of being seen to disparage the output of young, self-styled ‘working-class’ artists” but that “to foster the kind of intelligent critical culture required to combat the effects of populism in politics, we must stop celebrating amateurism and ignorance in our poetry”.

McNish, whose collections are published by Picador, has responded with a blog post, tweeted to her 22,000 followers, in which she wrote “I normally don’t reply to these sorts of articles, because I am happy to have my writing critiqued in any way” but went on to say that the literary nature of the magazine and the assumptions made in the article had encouraged her to respond.

She said that “when something like this is printed in a very prestigious literary magazine which goes further than any writing critique to make assumptions about my (lack of) education, my love (or not) of language and my personality, as well as patronising and insulting a whole swarm of other writers who I love and admire and who I know love poetry as much as anyone, I feel it’s nice to be able to reply”.

She revealed how she felt “like this is an extremely one-sided piece and if it’s going to be used to prove how shite and attention-seeking I am, I’d like a space to stand up for myself”.

According to the Guardian, the PN Review article has “split the poetry establishment” with editor Michael Schmidt sharing various positive responses.

Poet Don Paterson, who publishes McNish and Tempest at Picador, told the Guardian: “If you’ve ever seen Hollie perform, the suggestion that she doesn’t know exactly what she’s doing is pretty funny. You don’t have to like what people do, but I think you measure it against its own ambitions. Otherwise it’s like saying TS Eliot was a terrible hip-hop artist. True, but so what.”

Watts, who was reportedly prompted to write the piece after being asked to review McNish’s Plum (Picador), told the newspaper that she only intended to use the book “as a case study in order to examine the intricacies of a wider cultural phenomenon”.

Writer and Host of “Poetry Unplugged” at Covent Garden’s Poetry Café, Niall O’Sullivan, tweeted that he did not believe Watts’ “hatchet job” was due to bitterness or jealousy but that the problem is “more about the values of the academic mainstream, how they are passed on through workshops, prizes and certain codes of conduct that must be observed in order to progress”.

He wrote: “When a group of young women go on to individually outsell entire shortlists, this suddenly renders the values of the workshop culture as inconsequential within the wider world.”

Spoken word artist Melanie Branton responded to the “somewhat inflammatory article” in a blog titled ‘Accessibility vs Elitism’. She said: “Don’t read it if you’re a spoken word artist – it will make you very cross, especially if you’re an admirer of Hollie McNish, whom Watts repeatedly misrepresents, in an oddly personal attack.”

Branton believes that Watts “does make some valid points” but that she “repeatedly makes prescriptive assertions of what poetry ‘is’ or ought to be, ignoring the fact that, even within the ‘establishment’ there are competing schools of poetics”.

Picador, which publishes McNish and Tempest, and Simon & Schuster UK, which publishes Kaur, has been contacted for a response.

Two Woodcrofts

“Three days after my childhood home was sold I am in Scotland, in a Mornigside flat, recalling a Swansea house as old as this brushed sandstone place is new. I cajole significance into the misty-eyed coincidence that just after the Merrow house was sold I find a Morningside welcome in the cool and confident Scottish Woodcroft allied (by me) to a Welsh Woodcroft of old.”  – from ‘Two Woodcrofts’, in London Poems (WetZebra2016) by Robert Cole.merrow_0027

Super Cally Fragile Lipstick

Super Cally

Super Cally Fragile Lipstick (13.25pm, Venue 27, nr Grasmarket) is the Edinburgh Fringe show with the best name. Not only is it a great play on words, it is bang-on appostite. It is also poetic, which is a thing for me if no one else.

Cally’s jokes are good and her delivery refreshingly bright without having that faux-hyperness that you see with some standups. There are excursions into the blue (if you get my drift) but it’s all pretty innocent. I especially liked her apology for being a little late to the show. “I was waylaid,” she explained.

The most engaging aspect is the fragility, though. I reckon she could do more with it, actually, although the judgements here are knife-edge tricky. Until recently it would have been unthinkable to make comedy out of autism in the way Cally does. The key to her success here is that she warm hearted, thoughtful, considered, and twinklingly funny.

Disclaimer: I have come to know Cally by bumping into her on the circuit a couple of times, so my comments here cannot be taken as entirely objective. They do, I hope, benefit from more-than-superficial familiarity with the work.

First review – Broadway Baby

First review of #manandboy from @broadwaybaby

By Laura Pujos

Man And Boy is a perfectly poetic way to punctuate an otherwise hectic day at the Fringe. The premise of the show is that a “middle-aged English fat bloke” called Robert Cole reads out a selection of poems from his newly published collection London Poems, joined by his nephew Ed, and later in the run, his son Maurice.

Understated and unusual, Man And Boy achieved a stillness and tranquility in the room that is probably hard to find elsewhere at the festival.

The poems are divided into three sections, Family, Form and Fate, separated by brief musical interludes, with Ed on keyboard. The set-up is beautifully simple. The two men sit in front of you, void of a stage, while a table of poetry books and family photos construct their set. The small space heightens the intimacy as Cole shares with the audience snippets of his life. There’s something so calming, amongst the bustle of the Fringe, about just sitting and listening for 50 minutes, letting his words wash over you.

The poetry collection itself is “grounded in geography”, the people and experiences that Cole connects with and a, somewhat surprisingly green, London landscape. Despite a background in finance, Cole writes not about the city grind but uses the natural world as a springboard for thinking about the human journey, with both its wonders and sadness, and reflecting tenderly on family.

Cole’s writing displays influences including Philip Larkin, and employs a variety of technically challenging forms such as the sestina and the villanelle, but is unpretentious and absolutely not limited to poetry fans. One could go away and plumb the poems’ depths at greater length, but they also have an immediately aesthetic quality. Cole’s straightforward, conversational style of expression and attention to sound patterning work well in spoken word performance, enhanced by the musical element of the reading.

Understated and unusual, Man And Boy achieved a stillness and tranquility in the room that is probably hard to find elsewhere at the festival. The abstraction of the show’s title captures the universality of the thoughts and feelings Cole explores, that will leave you feeling both happy and sad, much like life itself.