There’s no particular theme for the night offered by the event announcement but the poets have a considerable body of work between them. Including Collins’ position as co-editor of online quarterly tender journaland contributor –along with Allen, Lafarge and Maris –to The Best British Poetry 2015collection edited by Emily Berry.
Alsadir, meanwhile, is a once New York-, now London-based poet, writer and psychoanalyst whose work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Slate, Grand Street, Poetry London, The Poetry Review and more.
Emily Berry writes she struggled with the responsibility as the annual editor of The Best British Poetry 2015, beginning her introduction with a tentative “Hi, it’s quite scary to be the sole editor of an anthology.” It’s an admission that feels distinctly gendered in its hurried disclosure. I felt it beginning this review, knowing no other way to acknowledge my own felt inadequacy as poetry critic than to deflect. The only honest critics, I am starting to believe, are the ones that know how to tell a story.
“On the one hand…who am I,” Berry writes, “to be deciding, on my own, what is ‘best’ (not to mention ‘British’)?” The question barely has time to register before she follows it with: “On the other hand I thought I was exactly the person to be deciding it. I mean, we all think that whatever we like is the best, right?” To be sure, what has made its way into the book is not the best of Britain in any way that is quantifiable or conclusive in its execution, but rather the best of Berry’s research, which proves to be quite enough.
In my mind –where what I like is the best –her results are extraordinary —a 70-plus collection of writings that manages to feel both timeless and patently of this time. It is no coincidence, perhaps, that the first five poems of the anthology are written by women, and that the gender breakdown of the anthology itself veers distinctly towards the feminine. That’s not to say that it is a “feminist” anthology, or one of “female writers” —it seems simply that given the opportunity to select content based on one’s intuition, as Berry did, one always chooses that which elicits a personal response. And what could be more personal, I suppose, than one’s gender and its tenuous existence in the strata of society.
Aria Aber opens the anthology brilliantly with ‘First Generation Immigrant Child’, tossing her freedom and religion at each other like firecrackers—her “sucking and studying / another girl’s body, my mind a knot of tinkling beads / tangled inside a stranger’s unwashed hands,” then her headscarf in a mosque, her cousin whispering “Blood is thicker than water, / even for whores, her breath a verve of Darjeeling and Marlboro / Lights.” Astrid Alben’s ‘One of the Guys’ follows like the continuance of one long, interrupted thought (“not too much poetry / should be done by too many girls. You see, or elthe!”), taken up by Rachael Allen like a baton in a relay race with the poem ‘Prawns of Joe’ and this single, devastating opening sentence: “When I had a husband I found it hard to breathe.”
It’s not all women, certainly, nor is it all ‘women’s issues’ (though only the witless —of which there are so many!—would use that term). But the collection has a particular feeling, which, while basic enough once articulated, remains almost absurdly elusive: it seems to hold the experiences and idiosyncrasies of one sex in equal regard to the other, presenting each as nothing more or less than the experiences of a single person responding to the world around them.
One such experience, and my favourite piece in the anthology, is Paula Cunnigham’s ‘A History of Snow’, told in a broken dialect reminiscent of writers like Flannery O’Connor and the characters of antebellum. “It was a wild sudden,” it begins, following a young girl as she falls severely ill and is saved, in a moment of almost banal kindness, by a stranger at the hospital.
There are too many good pieces to enumerate –including pieces by Sophie Collins,Daisy LaFarge,Sarah Boulton, Jesse Darling–and besides: often it is the lines, not the works, that stay with you. There’s “…and I am running out of places to hide…” from Janette Ayachi’s ‘On Keeping a Wolf’; “another part which I can only describe as / the distance between distance / and distance” from Crispin Best’s ‘poem in which i mention at the last moment an orrery’. Then there’s basically every existing line from Kit Buchan’s ‘The Man Whom I Bitterly Hate’ and from Niall Campbell’s ‘Midnight’, which begins with the discovery that “all because I’d held my child, / oh heart, and found that age was in my cup now” and ends with this single indisputable truth: “no heart grown heavy, heavier, with caring”. **
San Serriffe will be hosting the launch of fourth edition of the ‘Noon on the Moon’ poetic series on February 14.
The Amsterdam-based art book shop brings the launch on the ugliest day of the year – Valentine’s Day – perhaps as a means of channeling the forced sentimentality of the holiday into something actually meaningful.
The evening kicks off at 17:00 and the poetic series combines (like most things do these days) poetry, literature and visual art, challenging the traditional forms of narrative.
Burke – who, after editing the I Love Roses When They’re Past Their Bestanthology earlier this year, is publishing his latest project, an ebook of poems accompanied by architectural drawings by Alessandro Bava and titled City of God (for which we have a review coming…soon!) – is joining forces with Childs to read a story that “maps out space”. Melbourne-based Childs, in turn, works as a writer, editor, and artist, with a new novel, Danklands, coming out this month.
Following Burke and Child’s piece, poet Sophie Collins will read a series of ekphrastic poems, followed by video readings by a handful of artists, including Natalie Parker, Jack Mannix, Aurelia Guo and Autumn Royal.
London’s Rich Mix art centre will be hosting Camaradefest II, an all-day collaborative poetry festival, this Saturday, October 25.
Starting at noon and running until well after the sun sets, Camaradefest II brings together 100 contemporary poets working in pairs to put on 50 readings and performances showcasing some of the best of 21st century literary and avant-garde poetry.
And the line-up brings a lot of familiar names to the table, including a lot of the poets that contributed to the I Love Roses When They’re Past Their Best anthology, which we reviewed here.
The structure of a thing is both its skeleton and its cage, the bones around which the meaty content settles and the enclosure under whose provisions it sprouts. Structure gives shape; it creates the contours within which meaning is born, casts the shadows of context across the plain.
In her 1976 essay ‘Why I Write’, Joan Didion declares that the meaning of a sentence lies in its arrangement, its structure. A decade before Didion, philosopher Marshall McLuhan, in his seminal essay ‘The Medium is the Message’, states that the meaning of anything lies in its medium, at the time referring to the expanding cultures of television. Exactly twenty years after Didion and almost thirty after McLuhan, the Internet as we know it was born and the structure of language, that of the very cultures that produced it, was once again irretrievably transformed.
“This anthology is an attempt to question the discrete borders of the poem as object, and to welcome the ways in which the poems within act as springboards to other lives, languages and politics. The poem is the textual residue of the encounter.”
The encounter of which Burke speaks is that of our existence, of our lives; a poem is the ashes that remain after all else has been alchemized and spent. As graphic designer David Rudnick said in a recent interview: “Art is the zip file of hundreds of thousands of human lives.”
Perhaps this better explains the reasoning behind the book’s title, adopted from Sophie Collins’ cento poem ‘perfection’ (found within the anthology), which in turn borrows the line from Mimi Khalvati’s ‘Overblown Roses’. When Sophie Collins elsewhere in ‘perfection’ writes that “nothing was perfect or as it should have been”, it as though she is stating her case, literally and figuratively. Nothing in language is perfect or as it should have been; all is fluid, dynamic, conglomerate, its actors merely vessels through which the structures of language are perpetuated.
Nowhere is this more true than on the Internet and its seemingly bottomless ocean in which all content floats as anchorlessly as debris. Here, the invisible structure is paramount, creating the context for its content, the systems of information distribution and creative production by which culture is created. To understand the poetry born of the Internet, one first needs to understand the medium as the blueprint of culture.
As Burke considers in his introductory essay, following the leads of Kenneth Goldsmith and Marjorie Perloff before him: “the focus of avant-garde writing after the widespread introduction of digital editing and reproduction tools is not on the production of “original” writing, but in the managing, parsing, organising and distributing of pre-existing information”. Given the exponentially increasing reserves of recorded text, the true parameter of creativity becomes not in creating new or new-seeming content but rather “negotiat[ing] the vast quantities that exist”.
Echoing Perloff, Burke offers up the cento-like approach of which creative culture on the Internet is made as “the most avant-garde cultural producer in the digital age”. After all, if everything is sacred, then nothing is. **