Monday, 11 January 2010

New Discovery

It's not often that I pick up a poetry book and at almost every page turn think oh wow, oh, yes, yes, and then sob deeply at the next page, and then continue reading the whole book in my first sitting and then hold it in my hands, stroke the cover, admire that too, and open randomly and reread a poem and sigh.

Perhaps that's a good job. Life would be pretty exhausting if I did.

This weekend, instead of going up to Edinburgh (warned off because of the snow) I picked up Grain by John Glenday. I'd ordered it because I'd read a review and a poem from it in the Poetry Book Society, a great way of being introduced to a whole bunch of new books every quarter that I can either buy or not buy.

So, what got me about this? Well, it's always high anticipation at opening a book of someone I've never read before (apart from the good feeling generated from the PBS Bulletin). So it's already a little like opening a treasure box (especially given the lush cover, which this picture does not fully
reveal).

What really hit me in the reading was how John Glenday repeatedly stripped away not just the layers of our world, but of our time. Narratives ran backwards, images unpeeled shade, found the dark under light, the rhythms echoed what was behind words, and he was forever asking questions, doubting, uncertain as he did so.

I've been thinking a lot lately about poetry's contribution to our current society, not too enthralled by the few war poems I've read. Eco-poetry (despite its handy label), for me, displays an effective reflection of now, a banner for what is now (middle-class) mainstream concerns. But this book does something so much bigger, more consuming. It reflects the need for us to stop and reassess everything we know, strip it back to we can, individually measure its worth. And, more beautifully, it does it in a way that's so quiet, so tentative, that I just want to crawl inside each poem, alongside each word sound, sit there and listen with my eyes closed.

Yes, there is a predominance of nature poems. There is also writing on relationships, myth, religion and work. And all of them show a care in handling the language, in the respect of words and communication. This collection, of 43 poems, reminds me of my father's adage: only speak if you have something worth saying. John Glenday isn't as much speaking as sharing what he has witnessed and is trying to connect together.

A generous book. A great start to my year of reading.

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