Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Short Update with Three Books

It’s been a month since I last blogged and here are my excuses...

No, I’ll save you all that. Being sorry for not blogging is faintly ridiculous. Since my last foray into blogland, I read some of my poems at the University of Basel, Switzerland along with Katy Evans-Bush (at the kind invitation of Andrew Shields) and then went out to try one of the region’s sausage delicacies with a few members of the audience. I stayed in Basel Youth Hostel, which had an affordable bar (in Swiss terms) and a buffet breakfast, and also an inevitable snorer in the room. I walked the cobbled streets and admired the window shutters. I walked along the Rhine and brought back chocolate for the family. A very enjoyable couple of days! I also took part in the Bugged! event at the fabulous West Port Festival in Edinburgh, which went really well. I read a few pieces from the anthology and later that evening went to see a fine reading by Rachael Boast and J.O. Morgan. And the submissions period has opened for Magma 53, which means that Kona Macphee and I have spent the last ten days working out a strategy for keeping up with the poems that flood the inbox daily. Working out strategies is always a good way to spend time.

But this post is really to recommend three books as much as anything else. First of all, Mark Burnhope’s The Snowboy, a Salt pamphlet of real quality. Any poet who can address a wheelchair with, “O wing-black, spectral-silver mass;/ crass imposition upon the meadow” (‘Wheelchair, Recast as a Site of Special Pastoral Interest’) deserves to be read widely, and there are many other poems which make this small collection an exciting experience. Burnhope’s ability to create memorable phrases and recast language in imaginative ways mark him out.

Secondly, Ian Duhig’s Pandorama (Picador) is a great read with a wide variety of forms and styles. You can never quite guess where Duhig is going to take you next. He seems to know about things that few people have ever thought about knowing and uses his learning lightly but with genuine emotional and intellectual impact. This collection is satirical, funny, disturbing and mysterious, often simultaneously. Moving elegies for David Oluwale, a Nigerian immigrant who died following years of racial harassment by police, line up alongside navvies, seed-fiddles, and ‘Closed Enquiry’ which celebrates “Santon Bridge’s Annual Lying Championship”; politicians may be barred from entering but agriculture holds plenty of scope:
cattle so huge they need individual postcodes,
rams’ horns winding up in different time-zones.

And finally, there’s Gabriel Josopovici’s Touch, which is described as a prose essay musing over “the central question of how we can feel at home in the world.” In fact, it’s a fascinating group of essays clustered around that theme, probing ideas of distance with reference to Charlie Chaplin, transgression and self-delusion with reference to Proust, power with reference to the $50m trade in Nazi memorabilia, and the difference between walking in England and walking in Egypt with a nod to Tristram Shandy (which, by coincidence, Ian Duhig also references). Touch, not mere observation, binds the essays into one. Josopovici deals with complex ideas without resorting to jargon or meaningless abstraction and there’s a passionate and intelligent engagement with the world behind every enquiry.

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