Tuesday, 30 March 2010

New Shapcott

Thanks to Matthew Stewart (Rogue Strands) for drawing my attention to Ben Wilkinson's (Deconstructive Wasteland) comment on a recent Poets On Fire Forum thread: http://z11.invisionfree.com/Poets_On_Fire/index.php?showtopic=1891

I wanted to join in the discussion but since they aren't currently registering new members, the new collection I am looking forward to most of all this year is Jo Shapcott's 'Of Mutability' due out from Faber in July. Has anyone read any original work by her since 'My Life Asleep' in 1998? I can't wait to see what she's been up to...


I'm looking forward to receiving New and Selected Poems 1974-2004 by Carl Dennis that includes work from his 2002 Pulitzer Prize winner Practical Gods, and Gary Snyder's No Nature: New and Selected Poems that includes work from his 1975 Pulitzer winner Turtle Island.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010


As I see it, one area of common ground between poetry, person-centred counselling and Buddhism is the way they transcend the narrow confines of the self and embrace the transpersonal. Our relationships with one another are central to each of them.

It's been a long time since I've reflected on why I started writing poetry. The reasons are varied and complex, but one important factor was my sense of isolation. I was a frequently lonely young person who passionately wanted to communicate my burgeoning inner life and be heard by other people. I couldn't do that in any of my relationships, and at the time, I wasn't able to make relationships that could meet my needs.

Thus, poetry became in part a way of communicating meaningfully with other people; of expressing myself and finding people who would listen. It was a survival strategy of sorts. In the absence of satisfactory relationships, it was the best thing I could do.

According to person-centred theory, the self is socially-constructed. Well-being is fostered by satisfactory relationships with our primary caregivers when we are younger. Conversely, complications occur when the nature of those relationships is conditional. This gives rise to conditions of worth in the structure of the developing self that then make it difficult for the individual to develop according to his or her own organismic experiencing process.

Person-centred counselling focuses specifically on creating the type of relationship in which conditions of worth dissolve and clients can realign themselves with their actualising tendency. This relationship is characterised by empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard.

Mental health, then, is to a large extent dependent on the quality of our relationships with other people. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, 'I am because you are.' The self thrives or atrophies according to the degree the individual encounters or is able to foster relationships with the abovementioned qualities.

Returning to myself, in my early thirties my sense of isolation began to feel intolerable. I found myself needing to move away from relationships where there was an absence of relating empathically and no openness or mutual positive regard. My creative coping strategy was no longer enough and I wanted to engage more directly with other people.

One explanation for my move into the field of counselling was to redress this imbalance and to continue connecting with other people, only more intimately. Blogging is one more way of continuing that trend and following one of our strongest primal instincts.

The Buddhist philosophy of no-self extends this idea by rejecting the existence of the self other than on a conventional level of analysis. Reality, it is said, is an interdependent flow of psychic and physical phenomena. In other words, the ego is an illusion - useful, perhaps, practically - but when we see clearly we realise there is no fixity or separateness, only change and connectedness. As the Zen tradition believes, we are already enlightened but our ignorance and fear and attachment to our selves prevents us from experiencing it.

Interestingly, the sort of absorbed state I sometimes achieve writing poetry, or prior to writing, is similar to the concentration developed through meditation. This can result in what feels like a release from the self and a direct experiencing of what Buddhism calls reality.

Likewise, in counselling, in the the right conditions the client may feel safe enough to lower his/her ego-defences (to slip into psychodynamic vernacular!) and experience a profound degree of intimacy. Such moments of 'relational depth' may assume a spiritual significance and resemble what Buber calls the I-Thou relationship. Thinking about it, poems, fully realised, enact that very same dynamic too.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Review of Scattering Ashes on Rogue Strands

Waterloo Press has given my collection Waiting for the Sky to Fall a welcome pre-publication mention on its Facebook page.

There is also a link to Matthew Stewart's poetry blog Rogue Strands that includes a review of my pamphlet Scattering Ashes published by Waterloo Press in 2004.

Stewart, whose own work is due to be published by Happenstance, lives in Spain which means his blog is of particular interest to anyone interested in Spanish poetry.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Waterloo Press on Facebook

For anyone who doesn't read this blog on my Facebook page, you might be interested to know that Waterloo Press is now on Facebook.

In the last few years Waterloo Press has emerged as one of the U.K.'s most interesting and prolific small presses.

Just send them a friend request if you would like to keep up with events and publications and whatever else the impressive range of poets decide to share. There is also a news and views section to follow or contribute to.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Days of March

At the start of March I decided to write a diary poem by writing a 4-line poem for each day of the month.

I find it a useful form to work with, especially alongside work and parenting commitments.

Even so, there have been days when I haven't felt like writing anything, and I have retained those 'empty days' as creative gaps in the poem and all that they suggest.

I hope that by the end of the month the poem will be a curious and honest snapshot of my creative process, as well as documenting the consistencies and inconsistencies of my inner life at a certain point in time.

Below are two extracts.

Days of March


Cycling home from work, I followed a pink grapefruit
rolling slowly down New England Road.
It kept reappearing from under the cars queueing at the lights.
Near the bottom of the hill I turned right, and lost sight of its progress.


Poor, persistent words, nibbling away at the inscrutability of human experience.
Being is inarticulate, pre-verbal. An Everest of indifference, Niagara of bliss.
This morning, I was struck speechless by spring sunlight.
After six years of therapy, I realised: I don't know what I am talking about.

Poem of the Day

Here's a poem I read this morning by Jane Hirshfield.


A person is full of sorrow
the way a burlap sack is full of stones or sand.
We say, "Hand me the sack,"
but we get the weight.
Heavier if left out in the rain.
To think that the stones or sand are the self is an error.
To think that grief is the self is an error.
Self carries grief as a pack mule carries the side bags,
being careful between the trees to leave extra room.
The mule is not the load of ropes and nails and axes.
The self is not the miner nor builder nor driver.
What would it be to take the bride
and leave behind the heavy dowry?
To let the thin-ribbed mule browse in tall grasses,
its long ears waggling like the tails of two happy dogs?

(Originally published in the magazine Runes and after in The Best American Poetry 2004.)

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Reading Round-Up

I've just ordered Donald Hall's White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006, and I'm waiting to receive Edward Hirsch's Wild Gratitude. Somewhere in the post is also The Best American Poetry 2001, edited by one of my favourite poets Robert Hass.

On the go at home are The Best American Poetry 1991 and 2005, edited by Mark Strand and Paul Muldoon respectively. After those I think I'll probably want a break from big American anthologies and will hope to finish off Zbigniew Herbert's Collected Poems.

There is a also a mounting stack of non-poetry books by my bed. At the very bottom is a slim book called Introduction to Zen which I have been intending to re-read for a while. The eschewal of language explored within is beginning to feel more attractive.

Faber New Poets 2010

I have just come across the next quartet of young poets to benefit from Faber and Faber's New Poets programme.

Joe Dunthorne, Annie Katchinska, Sam Riviere and Tom Warner are the four lucky pre-first collection poets who have been invited to enter the inner sanctum of the poetry publishing establishment, where they will benefit from financial assistance, mentoring and pamphlet publication by Faber.

Interestingly, because of the lack of money this is something small press publishers have been doing for some time, and it is interesting to note that Faber is being supported by Arts Council England in this venture.

Following a quick Google, I've particularly enjoyed Joe Dunthorne's exuberant poem 'I am happy' which can be found on his impressive website. Clearly Dunthorne, who has also published a novel, is a multi-talented person who looks like his talent might take him in any number of directions. The poems I read by the other three I found competent and readable but unremarkable in comparison.

All four are appearing at a reading at Brighton Festival on 22 May.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Edward Hirsch

A heads up: Carcanet is bringing out a selection of Edward Hirsch's work later this month. At last! Good work, Carcanet.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Guildford County Secondary School

Last night I started a new poem consisting of several short poems on the subject of my time at secondary school.

The idea for this poem comes from Donald Hall's poem about his own time at school.

Although I have written a number of school poems, Hall's poem made me realise I have many more memories that could be perfectly captured in a series of short poems.

Very quickly I started on four vignettes, then was in and out of bed jotting down lines for several others.

In some ways the end of school felt like a terrible disaster to me. It is my belief that at such an early age the people I went to school with were introjected into the formation of my personality like members of an extended family. Leaving school represented an abrupt loss of my extended family.

Nevertheless, these people continue to live in my memory and imagination, and among other things, the poems are a way of engaging with them once more.