Poetry Worth Hearing: Episode Six
Updated: Jul 9
Welcome to Episode Six of Poetry Worth Hearing. (on Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts and Audible) In this episode, Giles Goodland talks about poetry which matters to him, mostly in the modernist or post-modernist vein. He is attracted to work which opens poetry up to new areas of discourse rather than that which achieves crystalline perfection of form. Giles discusses the distaste of Movement poets for what they saw as the undisciplined extremes of the Apocalyptics and points out that these poets, like Picasso in art, were reflecting the disjunctures of society in the abrupt cuts, juxtapositions and disjointedness of their work. The conflict between formalists and those who pursue open form or alternative forms continues, but poets keep on writing, producing work where, in the words of Dinah Livingstone, each poem is an experiment.
Poetry Worth Hearing is looking for poetry which works upon the ear, whether that is with verbal constructions where the language and arrangements of words operate in terms of themselves, or where the poem is more obviously saying something about the world. For what it's worth, all the poems in this episode, whether cited by Giles, drawn from contributors or featured in the reading by W.N. Herbert, work on the ear and speak to our human condition.
Giles Goodland's books include Littoral (Oversteps, 1996), Overlay (1997) A Spy in the House of Years(Leviathan, 2001) Capital (Salt, 2006), What the Things Sang (Shearsman, 2009), The Dumb Messengers(Salt, 2012), Gloss (KFS, 2012) The Masses (Shearsman, 2018), and Civil Twilight (Parlor Press 2022). He has worked as a lexicographer, editor and researcher, teaches evening classes on poetry for Oxford University's department of continuing education, and lives in West London.
Books and writers referred to by Giles included:
The Dynasts by Thomas Hardy
H.D. Trilogy, Tribute to Freud
Humphrey Jennings, film maker and poet.
War Music by Christopher Logue
Apocalypse: An Anthology edited by James Keery. Includes apocalyptic and neoromantic poets, such as Dylan Thomas, George Barker, W.S. Graham
Nicholas Moore, well known as an apocalyptic poet in the forties who re-emerged in the sixties with Spleen, 31 translations of one Baudelaire poem.
J. F. Hendry, another apocalyptic poet, well-known in the forties. With Henry Treece, he edited The New Apocalypse in 1939, which gave the movement its name.
George Barker. A prolific poet but Giles recommended his earlier work.
William Bronk, Death is the Place, 1989
Vahni Capildeo, Undraining Sea, 2009
Jeremy Hilton Fulmar's Wing. 2022. Knives Forks and Spoons Press
These are specific works mentioned by Giles. Most of these poets have considerable bodies of work which I have not listed.
Although I didn't have space to include it on the recording, Giles also talked about how he discovers contemporary poetry that he enjoys. He goes by word of mouth, particularly recommendations from fellow poets. He enjoys readings and picking up chapbooks. He subscribes to a few magazines, notably Tears in the Fence and PN Review, but will also take occasional one-off subscriptions to other periodicals to see what they are doing. He also mentioned Poetry libraries, including the ones in London and Edinburgh. Oxford now has its own poetry library.https://www.facebook.com/oxpoetrylibrary
That swing from boredom (restocking
the cubicles, damp dusting the shelves)
to full on life and death
(victims of a road traffic accident perhaps)
seems impossible to manage.
This time it’s a man in his 90's -
head bleeding from a fall,
frail and not talking at all -
who, in front of your eyes changes:
someone shouts arrest, and they bleep the team
start resuscitation – one pummelling his chest
another squeezing an Ambu bag green-lined to oxygen.
The team arrives - suddenly it's your turn.
You know you need least 2 inches
of sternal compression for the full effect
so that's what you do, and under your hands
you feel the crunch of bones. Ribs snapping.
Keep going, a doctor says, and you do,
keep going, keep going, keep going
until you are told to stop
and afterwards, when the resus is over
there's a staff nurse in tears
asking loudly is this right, is this is what he
or his relatives would have wanted?
then, the shock of it overrides you with the shakes.
No one notices, except another student, a small third year.
She walks over, has to reach up to put her arms around you.
It's alright she says, you did your best.
That's all any of us can do.
She leads you to a chair, and sits you down
crouches next to you, still holding your hand
and waits, talking gently until the shakes subside.
Evidence based practice I
We were warned, before going out onto the wards
about archaic treatments - those ways passed down
through generations and old style matrons, just because
that’s the way we’ve always done it. The senior tutor
impressed upon us the mantra of evidence based practice.
We must never consider that a potential pressure point
could be massaged with meths to toughen the skin,
or that a Sorboe ring would be wise for a patient to sit-upon,
or that a bed-sore could benefit from egg-white and oxygen.
Oh, no. There are better ways of doing things, she said,
You are the new faces of nursing, the next generation,
and it’s up to you to question, question, question,
- challenge all those out-dated ways.
She scanned our eager-to-please smiles: nearly 60 of us,
mainly girls of 18 or so, all brought up to defer to our elders,
all taught to do as we were told. She tilted her head forward
as if to bestow this responsibility onto her proteges.
I am somehow reminded of Miss Jean Brodie.
What three years in nurse training taught me
I learned how to stay awake all night,
- after a party and all the way through
to May morning to hear the choirboys sing;
how to work after only three hours sleep
and how to sleep in until past lunchtime
or how to sleep the whole day, with earplugs;
how to comfort someone in tears
- after their emotional, unceremonious
break-up with the latest demi-god;
how to dodge the traffic, biking
through the city, taking the back lanes,
cycling under The Bridge of Sighs;
how to cycle up Headington Hill
or Southfield Road, or Jack Straws Lane
without ever getting off;
how to knit at night, how to pick up
other people’s stitches, how to put it down
in the middle of a row, if needs be;
how make a meal out of whatever’s in:
a tuna fish thing, or pitta bread stuffed
with peanut butter and grated apple;
how to keep tally of telephone calls,
the gas and electricity,
how to divvy up the bills;
how to share everything, how to starch
and stitch those linen hats, to be the best
at making seven even folds.
After Kate Bingham's 'Things I Learned at University’
Sarah J Bryson has had poems published in print journals, anthologies and on line. She was a regular participant, during the Covid pandemic, in a weekly on-line arts event, combining photographs with haiku style poetry and has recently had several poems on the Poetry and Covid site.https://poetryandcovid.com/poems/index-of-poets-and-poems/
You take my hand, I skip and chatter
you smile and nod.
We skirt the corner shop: Dandelion and Burdock
brown sacks of soil-brushed spuds.
Looking twice we cross the concrete road,
we pass allotments,
where men with rolled up sleeves
aim silver spades at well-worked earth,
dig huge cabbages and grin. ‘Hey Jimmy!’ they all cry.
Smiling with the sunshine, you reply.
We reach the bowling green,
where Ernest, Wilf and Eddie bend and stretch.
‘This is my granddaughter,’ you say. They beam hello,
then Ernest rolls the jack
and all attention fixes on its track.
I swing my legs on a slatted bench
socks slither to my shoes.
You shade your eyes, aim weighed woods
which no one else may touch,
while the close-clipped grass greenly anticipates
a game to remember.
The tablecloth, scarlet, chenille
bought in your absence
from a Shepherd’s Bush stall
now hangs askance.
Your mother’s clock stolidly squat
dead centre, a reluctant mediator
watching our chairs face off.
We have nothing left to say
though say things,
the hollow voice of the clock
timing our silences,
its hands thrown out in despair
stuck at ten to two.
We have nothing left to do.
My fingers find the fringe
yours upend your empty glass.
A solitary tear of Valpolicella
celebrates alone, soaking into scarlet,
and the cat has her kittens
under the table.
Trisha Broomfield has had three pamphlets published by Dempsey and Windle, contributed to Surrey Libraries Poetry Blog, Surrey Libraries Words in Focus and Places of Poetry. She read regularly on her local radio during Lockdown and has contributed to BBC Radio Surrey. In 2021 she was short listed for the Roger McGough Poetry Prize, performing with other finalists at The Exchange in Twickenham. Her poems can be found on Facebook, Trisha Broomfield Poetry, Instagram magentapink22 and have been featured in the online magazine Spilling Cocoa over Martin Amis. Observations, memories and humour are never far away from her work.
Looking Through, Looking In
Where the monks grew apples for Abingdon,
apple pie for the abbot,
a succession of orchards,
still today the apple and the pear,
the peach and the fig—
in the stone of the wall around the garden
is a window,
looking out on the road,
looking in among the trees.
In the orchard grows a tree,
an apple tree you can see through,
a hollow lower trunk
with a window in it,
its graceful frame
arced by living wood and bark—
you can see into its heart and through—
light patches of moss
moist in the grass at your feet,
in your ears only the noise of birds,
a bleat farther off—
a gap opening up into meaning
in its unexpectedness.
A window into the world,
like Julian of Norwich
in her anchorage,
where she could gaze one way
straight into the love of Christ
and the other with mercy and understanding
on the vanities of Margery Kempe,
as if her two windows were only one.
Don’t you wish
you could cut out frayed or fraying bits
and stitch it all together again?
Expertly blocked and patched,
you could be stronger,
perhaps same, but different—
so that looking back,
work completed, for now,
you might spot,
in the re-shuffling
something that was always there,
but less clear,
or something unguessed,
as one new patch shifts
the meaning of the rest.
No longer the same tired message.
But then to do it all again.
Record, pieced together—
no story is stable,
continually retold by the needle, moving on,
as scraps stack up,
black, purple, polka dot,
where the sewer sits.
If you have the right backing,
you can sew in almost anything.
Put it straight in,
you will be surprised
how it matches.
Inge Milfull is half German, half Australian. She grew up in Germany and has lived and worked in Oxford for most of the last two decades. She now writes mostly in English. She has been involved with the long-running local group Back Room Poets almost as long as she has lived in Oxford and runs one of their poetry workshops.
Lizard’s Love Song
Each of my perfectly patterned parts
would fall for you and rather be
left behind to love you
limb by limb. Yet my cold-blooded
heart cannot race nor leap
for the desert’s freezing night
forces me asleep.
But in dreams, I scamper
I run, even dance
the sun whips me on in her frenzy
across burning stone, my panzer-built
dumb skull searching, searching you out
ecstatic and quick-flickering-quick
until shipwrecked, trapped
in split-vision, I weep
till I know what I have lost.
I dream that I, too
can cut a lock of hair
and dissolve in the winds.
Woken by the cold smile of night
I calm, diminish
as if I were dying, the heart turns
as quiet as a click.
Between the Leaves
Astrological Herb Bed
Not that I believe in horoscopes; Stonecrop (Sedum album)
they scare me but these plants classified Moon – emotion and magic
‘Astrological’ claim a cure I can’t resist – white, moist.
for the knots of kernels in my flesh
the moist fever.
How to believe
these rosettes of succulent leaves –
one touch – can draw you
under the dominion of the Moon
drag shadow into light
how to stretch out my hand
and not be wrong.
Quiet inside quiet under the old tree
I stoop to observe this not-yet-flower
its very first shape; sweet – yes, sweet
unfinished but Stonecrop in every detail.
My finger prods the almost-bud
its invisible clock ticking.
Quiet inside quiet.
They say stones cannot shrink.
They are wrong.
Every night the moon shrank
with bystander’s shame.
Hanne Busck-Nielsen is Danish. Her poems, translations and reviews have been published in Interpreter’s House, Corbel Stone Press, Albion Beatnik Press, White Rat Press, The Poet’s House, Oxford; ‘POEM, International English Language Quarterly’ and The Alchemy Spoon. In 2015 she received the Special Commendation in Oxford Brookes University International Poetry Competition and was a finalist in the Cinnamon Press Pamphlet Competition, 2021.
How to become your own worst friend Try to reverse time as if to tweak your genes – to wipe out the diabetes*2 and blunt the parts*4 you’ll sharpen*1 to arrows against your heart, the mind you’ll use to break anything happy*10. Start at the beginning, when you aren’t even a dream*14 in your parents’ lives. See!*7 Already there are eggshell cracks*9 in the family you’ll spill through, pain that won’t be undone. Note how*13 you accumulate*3 bad shit. Tell your brain it isn’t a fate*6 you could escape. Let yourself say I’m good enough; it’s not my fault. Pretend to believe*11 this. The past can’t be mended, the past is not yet you*12, stubbornly broken, and grabbing for explanations*5 that might make sense of the unfairness, though, of course, you’ll find none*8.
*1 attack yourself as the body *2 over-attacks its own cells
*3 substitute your list *4 of personal design flaws
*5 footnote well,
*6 caveat life to death
*7 watch closely those *8 who don’t like something/someone
*9 when all else fails, call it *10 names, pull ‘it’ apart
*11 piece together instead *12 a voodoo doll, prickly with pins
*13 this isn’t the best way *14 to make a person/life/world, but...
The only colour is Dad’s Ford Cortina, his bright maroon pride and joy. I’m six and I’m lying on the back seat. Or maybe I’m sitting but the reason I only catch snatches of blurred light is because I’m too small to see properly out of the window. Mum is holding my hand.
I don’t remember much else, except that I am ill and the hospital will make me better. I know there is snow though, because it’s winter and there’s always snow.
Because my world suddenly feels as frozen as the garden when the grass and flowers are smothered by white, layering to a thick blanket as bleached as my nan’s bedsheets.
Because my nursery-school teacher brings me a snow globe. It’s an unusual present – strange in its unexpectedness, and the fact that I’m now two years into big school. I shake it, admiring how this white glistens. Even upside down, it’s a glittering dreamscape.
For weeks afterwards, everything blizzards.
I can’t yet string together the letters and sounds of this oddness. I will come to understand it as a list of sweet things I should never eat. I will learn to measure ‘better’ in glass syringes, injecting oranges and then my leg. I will will my skin numb.
Still, the needle’s weight, its sharp jab, that sting pushing the plunger, forcing cold insulin into my body.
All this filters through slowly.
That afternoon, I can’t yet see what’s so wrong with me. I say goodbye and watch through the ward’s window, as Mum and Dad leave.
That evening, nurses let some of the kids play hide and seek. They laugh and whisper and run. I don’t join in.
Later, I sneak back to the large window. Dad’s Cortina was a livid bruise in the car park. But, since it’s gone, I wish it back. The hospital’s white walls close around me.
Sarah James is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer, journalist and photographer. Winner of the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine 2020 and CP Aware Award Prize for Poetry 2021, her latest collection is Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic (Verve Poetry Press, 2022), from which these poems are taken.
W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee and lives in a lighthouse in North Shields. He is mostly published by Bloodaxe Books, who brought out The Wreck of the Fathership in 2020. His latest book, The Kindly Interrogator, consists of translations from the Farsi made in collaboration with the author, Alireza Abiz (Shearsman, 2021). His work has been shortlisted for the Eliot and Forward Prizes, and has won numerous Arts Council awards. He is the recipient of a Cholmondeley Award, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He teaches poetry at Newcastle University, and was Dundee’s first Makar.
I hope you enjoy this episode. Submissions should consist of a recording of up to four minutes of poems which have not yet been published, although I will accept those which have appeared on a personal blog. They should be accompanied by texts of the poems and a short (up to 100 words) biography. These should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Suggestions and comments are also welcome.