Saturday, 28 April 2012

'Sea Swim' Review - by Christian Ward

I'm delighted to post the first review of John Wedgwood Clarke's Sea Swim, reviewed by poet and writer Christian Ward. Christian's literary accolades include first prize at the East Riding Open Poetry Competition in 2010, and look out for a poem by Christian in Poetry Review this summer.

The sea has inspired poets for centuries; Elizabeth Bishop, for instance, famously compared the sea off Nova Scotia to knowledge in her poem ‘At the Fishhouses’: “It is like what we imagine knowledge to be: / dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free, / drawn from the cold hard mouth / of the world".

The sea around Scarborough is the inspiration for Sea Swim, John Wedgwood Clarke’s pamphlet. Written as part of imove, a Cultural Olympiad Programme in Yorkshire, this 18 poem sequence is a great showcase for Clarke’s talent for creating original metaphors and stunning images. Diving in (pardon the pun), the reader feels how the sea can transform on an emotional and spiritual level.

Clarke has a knack for recording detail in an imaginative way. A swimmer surfacing in his dark wetsuit is ‘like a cormorant’ (“Rings”), beach chalets are ‘small wooden stanzas’ (“Beach chalets”), a warship’s red flag is like a ‘pilot fish’ (“Warship, South Bay”) and a spider is ‘auburn-legged’ (“Winter Minutes”). The reader becomes part of this landscape with these intimate details.

There is a strong emotional undercurrent in these poems, felt in poems such as “Hydro”, where Clarke compares his shadow to a ‘frisky amoeba blundering in another world’ and the tender “Winter Minutes”, where there is ‘nothing to record but your absence’. The sea can take away just as easily as it can give back. Language, emotion and the real, physical, are all fleeting here.

Sea Swim is an excellent pamphlet. John Wedgwood Clarke’s deft imagery and knack for creating poetry with depth makes him one you need to read. Much enjoyed.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

National Poetry Month (Pt. 2): Charles Baudelaire

Mario Praz once wrote Charles Baudelaire was a poet "in whom the Romantic Muse distilled her most subtle poisons." Having a slight handle on the French language, I couldn't agree more. Take L'Ennemie, par exemple:

The Enemy

My youth was nothing but a storm of shadows
Star-crossed, here and there, by the occasional sun-shaft.
Thunder rolled, rain ravaged (mourning skies)--
My tree never had a chance for fruit to speak of.
I live in the great fall of the mind, now,
Reaping not what I sow, the earth dark and deep (hanging sweet, hanging low).
I dig at trenches--water seeps, mud heaps onto sluit graves.
The meaninglessness of toil, life--tell me, what is it worth?
Will that of which I dream ever bear ripe with ripening fruit?
No, it is pain, pain--she eats at the marrow of life.
The great obscure Enemy sucks the blood, gnaws the strength
right out of me.*

*translation & photographie by Cora Charis

Thursday, 12 April 2012

National Poetry Month (Part 1): Pablo Neruda

It's that time o' the year, so it's time for Neruda.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez claimed Pablo Neruda was "the greatest poet of the twentieth century--in any language." Having a slight hold on the Spanish language, I have a difficult time disagreeing. Take Sonnet 66, por ejemplo:

I do not love you except (because) I love you:
I move from loving to not loving you;
waiting, not waiting for you--
back & forth, through my heart, from ice to fire. 

I only love (you) because I love you.
I love; I hate without end, and hating you 

pray to you, and the measure of my changing love
is not to see you but to love you blindly.

{Perhaps January's light will devour, 
its cruel-intentioned ray, my whole heart,
stealing the key to life's rest.}

In this history only I die, 
die of love because I love you,
because I love you, Love, in fire and in blood.*

Kind of hard to compete with that. 

*translation & photographie by Cora Charis

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

A First Month at VP

March has proved itself an extraordinarily exciting month in publishing. So much so that I wonder if life in the wonderful world of Jamie McGarry's Valley Press can possibly maintain this pace? I am assured that I might as well "give up the gym" now that I have secured my seat on the VP bus to success (I am assuming those of you who read this blog regularly are already familiar with Jamie's uniquely confident witticisms?)

Now, before I leap into bringing you up to date to with spring's events so far, I would like to take a little space here to properly introduce myself: I am Jamie's newest (and only) member of staff. I first met Jamie in 2008 at Scarborough Poetry Workshop when he joined us after winning first place at the Scarborough Literature Festival's poetry slam. I myself had held the title for winning the year before and was curious about this new face of poetry rising up through the ranks. I would like to point out (as has now become a custom when we relay this tale) that I had not entered the slam the year that Jamie won. Since then I have entered and won two further slams which Jamie likes to make absolutely clear that he did not enter. So, we have become united by our undefeated titles as Scarborough Slam Champions and while the poetry world waits with baited breath for the day we become slam rivals and enter the same competition, we placate with mutual appreciation in a contrived stalemate - contented - playing scrabble. a poor but equal Scrabble skill.
Ele Lawlor vs Jamie McGarry, perfectly

I have come to Valley Press under a traineeship structured to compliment my studies of English. I currently wear the title 'Editorial Assistant' alongside the endearing nickname given to me by VP Author Jo Reed - 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' (thank you Jo). I very much look forward to getting to know the rest of the VP family as I endeavour to master the manyfold artistry that is publishing. Here's to growth and success all round!

So far I am pleased to report that all is chocolate roses and tuneful harmonies in the VP offices. I have enjoyed a most eclectic four weeks in my new role. My first week began by accompanying Jamie to Hunmanby where we had a brilliant time entertaining the local WI. Jamie gave an informative and humorous talk on VP's rise and future plans, and the industry of publishing in general. We introduced Hunmanby to some of the VP authors' work, reading poems from various collections. The snails were out (of course) and I was most privileged to read from Helen Burke's The Ruby Slippers and Norah Hanson's Love Letters and Children's Drawings. Then, after devouring some deliciously calorific homemade shortbread we were given the honour of judging their poetry competition. The winner was the charming Larraine whose Spring poem caught our eye with its clever rhyming of the words 'blithely' and 'Filey'. Excellent work Larraine! The day ended with an impressive amount of books sold and a sunny drive back back to Scarborough, cannily timed with Radio 2 airing the 1961 classic song 'Poetry in Motion'. Oh how we laughed (and yeah, we sang along).

Cara in full flow.
Next on the agenda was the third leg of the already highly successful Valley Press Fest tour, which took us this time to Newcastle's impressively grand city centre. The venue - The Lit and Phil - couldn't have been more fitting for a literary event. We were lucky enough to have a nearly full cast of the lovely VP Authors turn up to read for us, wine flowed and the performances were each and all superb. The evening's special guest was future VP author Cara Brennan. Cara read from her soon-to-be-published collection of poetry, her style held us all captivated as she gently spoke each poem with an alluringly congruent and clean innocency. She is currently studying for an MA in creative writing. We wish you all the best Cara and look forward to seeing you in print very soon. Watch this space people!

Of course, publishing can't all be jet-setting and sparkling performances. There is plenty to be getting on with and lots of fun new stuff for me to learn here at my desk. I have chosen, from the vast selection of submissions, my first full project for VP. I will be producing an ebook of poems by the extraordinarily beautiful writer Jade Kennedy. I have fallen utterly in love with her work and really can not believe my luck that my working day involves reading and re-reading and editing and ordering this stunning collection. I won't say too much just yet, but be sure to keep your eyes open for more news on this publication.  That's all for now, thanks for reading - hope to see many of you soon at the fine VP free April events!