Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Two Books and My 2009

I finished off two poetry collections in the last few days. First of all, The Burning of the Books and Other Poems, the latest collection by George Szirtes. I wish I had time to say more about it (but don’t). It’s a great read – complex, multi-layered, and unafraid to tackle big subjects. Many poets would come unstuck and produce turgid, earnest poems, but Szirtes is relentlessly inventive and shows (if this needs to be shown) how tight form can liberate poems from doing only the easy, expected thing. The book also has one of the great covers of 2009 - click on the image to see it better. Some people like to divide poets into oppositional categories such as ‘mainstream’ and ‘innovative’, ‘traditionalist’ and ‘modernist’, but Szirtes’s poetry resists such categorisation, which can only be a good thing.

I’d say the same about the second book I read, which was Equal to the Earth by Jee Leong Koh, born in Singapore and now living in New York City. The poems tackle immigrant experience, homosexuality, love, loss, and relationships. They often make use of traditional form but stand (I feel) at a distance from much American ‘formalist’ writing – I get the feeling many ’formalists’ spend most of their time counting syllables on their fingers to make sure they’ve got everything right! Koh’s formalism serves the poems rather than the other way round. They are extremely well written, moving, pointed, and refreshingly unfashionable (less surreal and elliptical, more complex reality and linguistic precision). His material is often deeply personal and clearly means a great deal to him but he avoids both melodrama and dry distance. At the Equal to the Earth link, you can read a terrific sample poem, ‘Brother’, a coming of age poem I suppose, the mythical brother-in-the-womb evocative of all ‘shimmering absences’ and unknowable desire. Anyway, I recommend this book highly.

People are blogging ‘what I did/achieved in 2009’ posts to end off the year. I didn’t really do enough to fill a blog article – I had a poetry collection published, a book I am still very proud to have written – I guess that’s an achievement in itself. I did plenty of readings and had poems and reviews published in various magazines. Other than that, there’s nothing of real note to say.

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