The horror of buying a novel is having to read it. Fascinating discoveries from second hand bookshops and chainstore threefertwos alike pile up on the shelves, taunting you with your laziness and their unreadness; novels that have been read are no better, merely taking up space as you slowly forget their plot and characters, destined to either be lugged from house to house as you move, or given away as fodder for Oxfam in its quest to become the Tesco of secondhand bookselling.
A book of poetry, on the other hand, is never finished. The most dog-eared and memorised volume of verse is all the more valuable for that; the smallest anthology is always capable of revealing new lines and new perspectives. And never being finished, starting is easy. Dip in, find one good line, one satisfying couplet or image, one short poem that you can read to your other half in bed, and the book has already paid for itself. Moreover, there’s never any reason not to buy a book of poetry today just because you bought one yesterday.
And so, recent acquisitions include:
Jerome Peignot, Typoesie
A gorgeous anthology of visual poetry, bought for me as a leaving present by my lovely colleagues at the ICA. It contains some beautiful flower poems by concrete poet Mary Ellen Solt, who shares with abstract animator Mary Ellen Bute not only a first name but being a true pioneer in a field dominated by men. I have a small dream of one day curating a small Mary Ellen festival devoted jointly to the work of both.
Tom Chivers, How to Build a City
I did my little bit to save Salt by buying this (great though they are, their constant self-publicising does border on the annoying). The author is not to be confused with the London Paper hack of the same name, though this book is all about London. Dense, allusive stuff. Contains the word ‘lozenge’ in the first line of the first poem.
The Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry
Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. led me here, looking for Robert Creeley (title) and Clark Coolidge (Guston collaborations), as well as some Beat context. Postmodernism’s a dirty word: postmodern less so, the further you get from the 1980s. Very familiar names rub up against very (to me) unfamiliar. There could be a lot of education in this one.
The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch
A P.O.T.H. impulse probably led me here, too. I wish that Koch’s name rhymed with Hanhan Höch’s, but instead it rhymes with Coke. Seven hundred-plus pages of poems I will probably never read most of, but a few short beautiful and funny ones including ‘Permanently’ and ‘Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams’
Johannes Kerkhoven, Mixed Concrete
Acquired in Housmans and published by Hearing Eye, a book of contemporary visual poetry. Intriguing, but some of it borders on the tritely aphoristic.
Pot! Poetry Olympics Twenty05
An output of Michael Horovitz’s small empire. I saw Horovitz, editor of Children (and Grandchildren) of Albion, perform at a recent London Liming at the RFH. Coming on with his ‘anglo-saxophone’ after a young woman had read a rather self-righteous poem about how she preferred the power of words to the power of drugs, he performed an excellent poem about being stoned out of his gourd which was many times better than hers. Later he could be seen by the side of small the stage tapping his foot to the dubstep poetry of Spaceape. This book also contains the very funny ‘Spam’ by Stacy Makishi, who performed at London Liming’s QEH outing last year.
City State, New London Poetry
Edited by the aforementioned Chivers, a sampler of new London writers from Penned in the Margins, every one of which is younger than me. More by Chivers himself, Chris McCabe and Caroline Bird (another Liming performer). East London references probably win out over any other corner of the city, but the range of poetic practice is satisfyingly wide.
Another Penned in the Margins/Chivers effort, a self-consciously zeitgeisty collection of six young poets. Better than it sounds: there are already some favourites here, including Joe Dunthorne’s ‘Sestina for my Friends’ which he performed at the recent Oxfam launch of The Manhattan Review. James Wilkes’ ‘A Postcard from the New Forest’ is a piece of visual poetry curiously reminiscent of Ben Marcus’ invented worlds.
Peter Finch, Selected Later Poems
Signed by the author, and acquired at a reading at the ICA. Hearing Finch read was like feeling poetic horizons physically widened. The fact that his reading was so viscerally oral is neither undermined nor lessened in works committed to dead tree. Some of it borders on the concrete, some of it can be heard with the mind’s ear; all of it adopts a relentlessly unforgiving playfulness with language (From ‘Paint’: “Winter Arse … Blueberry Sandinista … Mango Vagina”). This is the second book in the list to contain a parody of William Carlos Williams’ ‘This is Just to Say’, entitled ‘The Plums’. (Tom Leonard has written another: I may devote a tiny aberrant corner of my Mary Ellen festival to this form).
Two threads of commonality: four of the books contain poets who I have recently seen perform. Five of the books in some way relate back to the ICA’s Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. All of them remain resolutely unfinished books. Forever.