If poetry worked like football, would the same names be at the top? Which poets would win the Premier League and who would forever be battling relegation?
Today is the start of the Premier League’s new season – football’s rich and powerful once again compete to lift the trophy and take the huge spoils. Of course we just had the Women’s European Championships, and England’s Lionesses emerged victorious. The England team won because sport is clear cut.
Everybody knows who the top teams in the world of football are because the league system makes it clear – your place in the league relies on performance; success in the Arts is very different.
To be among the top names in literature, sculpture, music is difficult because success is not determined by results. Instead, the arts work on subjectivity as well as talent, but also on the vagaries of time and place, who knows who and how the wind is blowing. The result of this for poetry is that some poets miss out on the spotlight. A Poets’ League table would be chaotic, with some of the best struggling to avoid relegation in League One, while others somehow coast along, mid-table in the Premiership.
I imagine we can all name poets who we believe should be more widely known, or more importantly, more widely read. At the other end of the spectrum we can also name those whose work just does nothing for us, and yet their name is up there in metaphorical lights.
Of course the lack of clarity and the subjectivity is perhaps half the fun. After all, we have a good idea of who will be top of the Premier League next May, and the enjoyment of the game perhaps diminishes because of this. However, with poetry, nothing is quite so certain – we don’t know if the next poem we write will be any good, and much of the time we don’t even know if there will be a next poem.
While you wait for the next poem to emerge (mine or yours), perhaps you can have a think of who deserves their place in the Poets’ Premier League, who needs to be relegated, and which of the lesser lights deserves a bigger crowd.
Here is a poem recently published in Acumen Poetry. I was delighted to be back in there after a hiatus, it is a well respected publication of genuine quality. My thanks to Danielle Hope, editor of Acumen. The poem was subsequently Guest Poem on the Acumen site here https://www.acumen-poetry.co.uk/neil-elder/
Each time I pass the little cinema, that became a bowling alley that became a supermarket that is now a block of flats, I play back all the films I saw there as a child.
The romance of art deco design coupled with a floor your feet would stick to. Those days are light years, a mortgage, a wife and two children away, but it’s easy to slip back into the darkness, to watch smokers in the seats on the left turn the air blue-grey while Pearl and Dean sweep away reality before leaping off into deep space aboard the Millennium Falcon. Arriving back from far off galaxies we’d blink into the afternoon.
I smoked inside cinemas when my turn came, and now it’s that, not the special effects I saw that really blows my mind.
I went past the old cinema today; the films couldn’t last, bowling didn’t wow the locals, the supermarket couldn’t compete; but I guess everybody needs a place to sleep.
The poem takes me back to seeing films in Pinner or Rayners Lane. Sadly, both cinemas are gone – Pinner cinema closed in 1981, the Rayners Lane one went in 1986, though it still exists as a building because of its spectacular Art Deco design, but it is now a Zoroastrian centre, having been a bar at some point too.
It does seem remarkable to me that smoking was allowed in cinemas – just a hallmark of how life has changed. It makes me wonder what we do today and take for granted, that in years to come will be seen as weird. Hmmmm …. roller coasters, red meat, heading a football, electric scooters?
Here is a poem that Oddball Magazine kindly published. It is a relatively new poem and not in any book of mine.
Another Thought I Must Not Have
I have never held a gun that’s primed and loaded, one that I could use on the neighbours, myself or on you. I imagine the slow weight as I lift it from the table, the metal, the squeeze.
It isn’t hard to see the sex in guns but I cannot say that out loud, like all the other things I must pretend I do not think. Every week I add another to the list; you should see how many times your name appears in all the marginalia.
I was delighted to be asked by the host of Poetry Passages, Clifford Rames, to chat about poetry and to read a few poems from Like This. Clifford is a haiku aficionado who generously hosts a site promoting poetry in the widest sense. His posts are nuggets of sunshine that make the day brighter.
My chat covers the writing of Like This, takes in Billy Collins, the generosity of George Bilgere and the way writing a poem is like getting food stuck between your teeth.
I had a bit of success with ‘Bath Time’, a poem I wrote a few months ago. It was part of a competition run by Sentinel Literary Quarterly and the judge, Rachel Long, described the poems as:
An immediate, active, present and heart-wrenching poem! A film in and of itself.
I was asked to film myself reading the poem and I couldn’t resist having a little fun with the idea. See the reading here – https://youtu.be/7l3Aulv3E9M
So … I hope you enjoy Bath Time and wish you many hours of happy reading while you soak.
When I’m in the bath, and hear you arriving home, I’m often sorry that you don’t come in to talk to tell me about your day, like people do in films. I would hide my modesty and you would look lovely sipping chilled pinot grigio from a glass.
Granted, the bathroom is small and we have no chair in here, and the edge of the bath is too narrow for you to perch on comfortably, and I suppose if you did come in I’d only complain about the heat escaping, and you’d distract me from my book with inane minutiae of your journey home and the dismal office politics you can never leave alone.
On reflection I am glad the bathroom is so small and we are not characters in a film, because if we were you would be having an affair that I would discover by chance one afternoon, when a restaurant I know nothing about calls to check the reservation you have made, triggering my paranoia and ending with one of us meeting a watery and violent death in the bath, just like in the film you are so fond of.
Here is a review of ‘Like This’ that has just been published in The High Window.
Note the picture shows the original cover design. My thanks to David Cooke, editor of The High Window, for including the review, and of course thanks to Sue Kindon for an attentive and generous review.
Like This by Neil Elder. £5.99. 4Word Press. ISBN 978-2-490653-11-9
Instead of starting with a dedication, Neil Elder begins with a quotation from the novel Stoner by John Williams: ‘What did you expect? he asked himself.’
Over the course of the next forty-four pages, Elder questions the nature of expectation, reality, and perception. He says in the Preface that most of the poems were written in the last two years, which, as we know, haven’t been the easiest of times. There is an underlying sense of early 21st century angst and uncertainty; In ‘On Hold’, Emma from Reception wants to know:
how long to hold on for, unsure of when the line will be disconnected.
Elsewhere, there are flashes of colour and dazzling light, as in ‘No Reception’, the opener:
The sun is splashing through leaf cover and I squeeze tight-shut my eyes to see a kaleidoscopic rush of yellow and green.
Often there are two perspectives of the same situation. ‘Two Views’ speculates on the different outlooks from the writer’s hotel room and that of his neighbour across the corridor. In the delightful fantasy, ‘The Dutch Room, painting no 12’, the young herdsman in the picture is eager to experience life beyond the valley, and is disbelieving of the viewers, who are envious of his bucolic existence. A deft piece of mental gymnastics. The two-viewpoint theme recurs in ‘Broken’ – which party actually let slip the glass?
Then there’s that thing we do when the mind wanders off :
I don’t remember how I arrived on this stretch of dual carriageway.
and: even as you talk, I am picturing the dessert menu.
There are moments of hope and humanity, – a whole poem of them in ‘These Moments Will Keep You Warm’, with its implication that you are going to need them in the cold places to come. There is laughter, howls of it. A wry humour is at play, at times reminiscent of Billy Collins. This comes across strongly in ‘Birthday Surprise’, where the speaker tries (and fails) to put on an appropriate smile at his birthday celebration. The second stanza is unexpected:
Scanning the faces of friends and family who are giving Happy Birthday a go, I see my father; a surprise because he has been dead so long, and he always hated parties.
The matter-of-fact tone of this revelation works a treat, and is sustained to the end of the poem. The smile appears, and touches the reader.
I am a little in love with ‘When David Attenborough Died’, which wrong-footed me into fact-checking on Wikipedia. Panic over, I could enjoy this fabulous (in all senses) fantasy of the ecologist-friendly response to the imagined demise of the great man, from the bewilderment of office workers and the reaction of schoolchildren, to the shutting down of production lines :
…plastic punnets remained empty. And pilots quit their cockpits, refused to fly again; that was the start of the Heathrow Nature Reserve.
Throughout the book, Elder strikes an accessible, conversational tone, and there are no awkward line breaks lying in wait to ambush the pleasure of reading aloud. Free verse at its best, and an existential world view in a digestible form.
Overall, a deal is struck between possibility and certainty; in the poem ‘Balance’, Elder concludes:
Ahead is a day of work: I should be glad and indeed, I am. But I shall be glad when I drive home into the sun, knowing I shall do this again tomorrow.
Like it or not, life is like this.
Sue Kindon lives and writes in the French Pyrenees. She has been widely published in magazines, and has had some success in competitions. She considers her greatest achievement to date to be a prize for a poem in French. She is currently working on a third pamphlet to follow She who pays the piper (2017) and Outside, The Box (2019).
Two big-hitters converge in a poem of mine – and in real life.
This weekend sees the start of ITV’s ‘I’m A Celebrity’ ratings winner, and the release of Jane Campion’s film adaptation of Thomas Savage’s ‘The Power Of The Dog’. A year or so ago I wrote a poem that brought these two entities together – little did I know they would re-align.
My poem took a set of actual events and pushed them up against each other. The poem is called ‘Reading Thomas Savage’
1 – I read ‘The Power of The Dog’ and was blown away by it.
2- As I finished the novel upstairs, I could hear my family watching ‘I’m A Celebrity’ – and loving it.
The poem comes from my collection Like This, and captures a moment where I was cut down to size.
When I took myself off to finish the novel, could feel superior – reading a modern day classic, appreciating subtext and written expression. Or I could feel left out – I was on my own being ‘worthy’, while others were in hysterics sharing a good time.
I had no idea a film would be made of the novel. I have not seen the film, but I absolutely recommend the book – but maybe you should watch a bit of Ant and Dec before shutting yourself away – there’s no harm in getting down off your high horse to have a good time.