Sunday 21 September 2014

Words that Leave you Cold and Words that Inspire

I have been a little out of sorts with poetry of late - I have read quite a lot of poetry books in the past couple of months, but none of them has really excited me. I thought it must be to do with my own state of mind - I have been going through some tough times in my personal life so I assumed that this had put me out of kilter, especially as some of the books were ones I had been looking forward to, and had high expectations of, like Kei Miller's The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion. The knock on effect for me of not reading poetry that inspires, is that my own creativity is effected and I start writing less. Not a great place to be in for a writer.

This has all changed in the last couple of weeks. I have been to two really awe inspiring poetry readings. The first was Carrie Etter (at Cafe Writers in Norwich) and the second was Pascale Petit at Wymondham Words Festival. This is writing that speaks to my soul - writing that walks the tightrope between the personal and the surreal. Etter's book Imagined Sons is a poignant exploration of an imagined relationship with a son that she gave up for adoption shortly after birth when she was seventeen. Etter imagines meeting her son in a variety of situations (where he is doing a variety of jobs), as well as exploring her own reasons and the judgements that others might make. The result is a powerful and emotive read, the poetry finely honed and exact. Petit's new book Fauverie centres on the author's father and Paris. Petit is drawn to animals and animal imagery and the big cats of the Paris Fauverie of the title are a strong and compelling presence in her work. This is highly emotive writing - but there is no stream of consciousness or sloppiness here. This is tightly edited and beautiful and each word is working hard to earn its keep. It is a difficult read though so be warned and some of the description is extremely unpleasant - for example at the reading Pascale read a poem where her father eats an ortolan (a small songbird) whole with his head under a napkin in the traditional manner. This image has stayed with me ever since.

It goes to show, I think, that poetry has to speak to you (me) as the reader. It doesn't matter if it is well written or whether the writer has won this, that or the other reward. If you can't make some kind of emotional connection with it it can leave you cold. This is something I tell my students in my reader workshops - you can't just pick up a poetry book at random and expect to love it or be inspired. It is like any other type of book (or music) - you have to find the writer that resonates with you at that particular moment in your life. I am very pleased to back on the poetry horse.