At this time of year it's customary for blogger to round-up their books of the year. I find that a hard thing to do in terms of poetry. Some of the poetry I've come across this year was published before 2013, this would include work by Mark Halliday (have blogged about him before) and two stunning books by Catherine Smith: 'Lip' and 'The Butcher's Hands.' I read those two from cover to cover and was struck by the range of subject matter and Smith's ability to write about darker (and therefore rather interesting) aspects of human psyche. I'm looking forward to getting a copy of her latest book, 'Otherwhere.' What an intriguing title. Another non-2013 favourite, also published by the fabulous Smith/Doorstop press was Carole Bromley's 'A Guided Tour of the Ice House.' That book sustained me through a evening of cancelled trains on the way home from Sheffield. Bromley's work is a pleasure to read: clear-sighted, direct and utterly engaging. Poems like 'In Another Life' and 'The Lovers' and 'South Bank and Eston Rotary Club, 1951' really grabbed me and there was so much in the book to curl up into. Funny, sad, wry, honest. I have the book by the bed and keep returning to it, that's a big mark of admiration for me.
So, I'm not done with 2013 yet. I have no doubt that 2014's blog posts will have some focus on things published this year. There's one book I'm going to focus on though and that's Roy Marshall's 'The Sun Bathers' published by Shoestring. Regular readers of this blog will know I have praised Roy's work over the last couple of years. In 2012 his pamphlet 'Gopagilla' was published as a part of a series of our Crystal pamphlets and it was packed with strong, memorable pieces, many of which can be found in 'The Sun Bathers.'
A first collection from Roy is a very huge deal, especially when you've seen a poet's work develop and grow over time. I know it's not just me though. When I read at Beeston Poets in November with Roy a couple of things struck me. Firstly, I noticed the audience was hanging on every word in his poetry and we experienced 20 minutes of lyric power tempered with a plain-spokeness which made the poetry immediate. One of the first times I heard Roy read was at Leicester's WORD! back in 2010, and I heard a remarkable poem called 'No Signals Available' which made me sit up and take notice. That poem is also in the book I'm happy to say. When I read 'The Sun Bathers' many of the poems were familiar to me, not least because they've appeared in a plethora of magazines but also because I've been lucky enough to have seen them at the drafting stage as well. Don't just take my word for it, at the Beeston reading an audience member requested a poem, which shows to me that readers form attachments with these poems. A great sign to my mind. You can find details of how to track down a copy here.
It's hard to pick an individual poem to share with you as there are so many notable poems. Many of these you can find on-line, but you should of course buy the book! My favourites include the 'Leonardo' sequence, 'Presence', 'Rose,' 'A Western Australian Piano Graveyard,' 'Relic' - this list could be longer, you get the picture. These are well-formed poems with a personal edge. They speak to you. As I said many of Roy's poems are on-line, so to avoid overlaps I've chosen 'Cimetero' which draws on the poet's Italian heritage. There are some sumptuous and evocative words and images, 'gellateria' honey heat and scent of rosemary, the child's innocence at the father 'who'll live forever' and the understated sinister sense of death and corporeal decay, colours 'deepening from terracotta to crimson.'
The gate kept a world out: scooters humming
along the road that ran down to the lake,
gellateria and monument.
Lizards froze, slipped into cracks, past photographs
set in granite, chrysanthemums on marble beds,
so different from the grassed churchyard at home.
I loved the honey heat, scent of rosemary
and privet, plots to walk between, adding dates
to calculate the ages of the dead.
One day, a grave, freshly dug, sides shored,
colour deepening from terracotta to crimson,
waiting not for Dad, who brought me here
because I asked, Dad, young and fit who'd live
forever, but for Nonno; next year, behind
polished glass, the face I'd know.