A couple of poems in the shed

Thanks to Abegail Morley who has put two poems of mine onto her Poetry Shed website. You can read them and explore Abegail’s other pages here – 

https://abegailmorley.wordpress.com/2017/03/12/two-poems-from-neil-elder/

 

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Everything is Scripted by James Giddings. (Templar Poetry)

(A short review of a pamphlet/book I recently read and recommend).

A poem exists on its own terms; it is the reader who imposes meaning, makes of it what he or she will. The poems in James Giddings’ Everything is Scripted invite the reader in, they give space for interpretation. What they also offer is amusement, originality and surprise, after all, when was the last time you imagined your own father living inside a freezer?

The poems are full of vim and humour, but pathos lurks and sometimes sweeps in just when you think you can relax. There are several poems in which Giddings imagines his dad in some altered state or outlandish situation. There are feelings of loss and separation buried within the surreal moments, and thinking of your father as a parachute strapped to your back is a lovely metaphor, until you entertain the possibility that the parachute won’t open. In ‘My Dad the Politician’ we have a prescient mix of Putin and Trump presented:

The whole world waits on his word.  /  His charisma, though scripted, is undeniable.

He calls for a press conference and fights  /  A bull live on air,

The poem spins the media dream-machine of a polished politician until we reach the core of the man who confesses in a whisper “I can’t do this.” Perhaps  this is what Presidents think in the wee small hours? Here we have one of the recurring ideas in the collection, the notion of doubt and how we deal with self-doubt. Even a marriage proposal is shelved because of fears about what might happen at the subsequent wedding, “you in a meringue dress chewing out the caterers/ over the width of the finger sandwiches,” (A Proposal).

everything-is-scriptedThere are a few alternative love poems in the collection, such as “A Proposal” and “Some Reasons For Divorce”, and we also have death within the pages too. One of my favourites where death comes knocking is ‘Butcher’ where we get the big questions flown in on the back of arresting visual images –

Have my hindquarters strung up in the shop front,

Parade them like the legs of can-can dancers.”

‘Killing You off on Public Transport’ captures much of the prevailing tone of the collection, a self-lacerating but tender tale of imagined killing that seems to me to chime with how many of the poems present uncertainty beneath the veil of bluff confidence;

It’s got to the point where I’m no longer sure/ why it is I’m crying

 The poems reward re-reading, and the free verse is deftly handled (see ‘Our Love Shares’ for example). These poems are very much of the zeitgeist – there is irony, which seems increasingly to be the way we communicate, and there is a sense of bewildered detachment, bordering on a sense of isolation. But as I said at the start – perhaps that is my interpretation, we’ve just emerged from 2016, and you may read things differently.

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Poetry Day Interview

Here is a link to an interview I did with Optima Magazine in advance of National Poetry Day 2016, and also in readiness for the Chorleywood Literature Festival where I am reading with Caroline Smith. You will see my piece beneath the interviews with Caroline  and Philip Pollecoff.

http://www.optimamagazine.co.uk/read/leisure/entertainment/1512-stanza-bonanza

optima Go to the end of the item for details about getting tickets to the reading on 15th October.

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The How and Why – A Close Reading of Life Just Swallows You Up

One of the nice off-shoots of being shortlisted in the 2016 Saboteur Awards with my pamphlet was the invitation to write about a poem by another shortlisted poet. The Managing Editor of ‘The Missing Slate’, Jacob Silkstone, had the great idea of doing a Saboteur Showcase, which involved writing a response to a poem he sent. All I knew was that the poem was by someone else on the shortlist – the rest was up to me. Here was an excuse to do something for the pleasure of itself – and a chance to test my critical reading.

The poem I wrote a response to was Life Just Swallows You Up by Tania Hershman.You can read my response and Tania’s poem here   The How and Why – Close Reading

What it perhaps has triggered in me (time allowing!) is the wish to do a few more of these close readings – looking at the how and why of a poem – giving my interpretation and reading. It seems a neat way of sharpening one’s own thinking and approach to writing.

 

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Saboteur Awards – Comments by Voters

I have added a page at the top of my blog that will take you to the comments people made when voting for ‘Codes of Conduct’ in the Saboteur Awards, for which I was shortlisted. No gong on the night- but reading the comments was reward enough. Lots of very kind people have shown support for the pamphlet and I value their support.

This link should get you to the comments — https://neilelderpoetry.wordpress.com/saboteur-award-what-voters-said-about-codes-of-conduct/

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Poems – This handbook remains out of print

This handbook remains out of print

Swimming uphill with a snow suit on
Is not recommended for beginners.

It can be vexing to find oneself
Trailing in a stickleback wake.

The safest approach is to lie on your back
Letting the current take over.
In time you will note the point
Between silt and shore.

Intermediate persons may jump
From the bridge in order
To determine the size of their splash.

An instructor may be bankside
To offer assistance.

(This poem appears in ‘The Journal’ #40)

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A Tale of Two Readings                      Badges

My pamphlet ‘Codes of Conduct’ has taught me something – friends can be lovely.

I’ve done a few readings in recent months, the key ones for ‘Codes of Conduct’ being at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden, and a second one with two other Cinnamon Press poets at a venue that shall remain nameless. There’s no point discussing the bad gig for any length of time; for we three Cinnamon poets it felt a bit like we were intruding (despite the invitation to Cinnamon Press from the venue), it all felt rather lifeless, the organiser did seem not interested and poets from the floor (regulars, I guess) simply wanted to read their piece rather than listen to each other. The plus side was meeting and hearing Louisa Adjoa-Parker and Louise Warren from Cinnamon (wonderful poems and lovely people – find them on the Cinnamon Press website), and having a trio of good friends come and cheer me on. And here we reach the positive aspects of readings … friends.

I am not about to have a significant birthday or get married, but I have had a pamphlet published (I may not ever have another), so surely I had some excuse for shindig …

The ‘good’ reading at the Poetry Café was a full house. What made it so enjoyable was the sense of good will and humour that friends and family lent to the evening. Having the pamphlet published has been very nice, but this particular evening made me realise that what I had really gained was the affirmation of friendship. The launch had given me an excuse to use social media to contact a few old faces and to spread the word at work. On the night I had people there whom I had not seen for more than 19 years, along with numerous friends and colleagues, not all particularly interested in poetry as a rule.

I was lucky enough to have a few Herga Poetry friends who were willing to read – and they were well received, demonstrating that the folk who were there were a  positive crowd  and not simply there out of duty to me. It seemed that goodwill spread around the room as people who didn’t normally mix out of work or who rarely found an opportunity to meet came together on the back of the poetry.

 

The Poetry Café on Betterton Street is a terrific venue.                Poetry cafe      Centrally located, very affordable and I found staff always wanted to help make the event work. Let’s not forget that there is also a bar.

Camaraderie

The generosity of spirit and the feeling that people are genuinely chuffed at my own little success has been the highlight of being published for me. I’m not talking about being praised – put ego to one side. I am talking about a sense of celebration and a sense of camaraderie.  We can of course use our poet persona and pretend that we write because we have to and we wouldn’t care if nobody read our work – it’s the poem that counts. But the truth is I have been hugely encouraged by the reaction of others, and I’ve learnt that poetry is far more fun when the social element is added to it.

People left the Poetry Café wearing their Henderson badges. (Henderson is a character in the first part of the pamphlet, a kind of anti-hero, a number of poems revolve around him at work.) We stood in the pub with badges on lapels, and even now there are people at work who routinely display their support for Henderson. Such fellowship cannot be found alone in a garret.

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