Poetry News – Scotland, February 2017

Our poetry columnist lips her hat to StAnza and Woman Scream, then offers some insight on the best page poetry around at the moment

Article by Clare Mulley | 13 Feb 2017
  • Paula Varjack

StAnza 2017 kicks off shortly, and, if possible, the programmers have outdone themselves yet again. Punters can look forward in particular to a rock-solid line-up of female poets including Paula Varjack and Sarah Howe, and a delicious mixing pot of different roots. For the full programme, go to www.stanzapoetry.org.

Submissions are also open for anyone looking to get involved in The Woman Scream International Poetry and Arts Festival 2017, a confidence and awareness boosting event for feminists which showcases various themes and issues for women everywhere, and this year bears the motto 'A Scream of Freedom'. For more information, go to womanscream.blogspot.co.uk

In Print:

First on the list this month is T.S. Eliot Prize-winner Jacob Polley’s new collection, Jackself, the basis of which sounds rather vague on the blurb but, when read, proves a pleasure. Dark, delicately grim and full of the grimy corners of nature we don’t always look into, Polley lifts the overused name ‘Jack’ from popular fairytale, rhyme, saying and legend in order to draw what seems to be a biography of aspects of the everyman and the nobody simultaneously.

Elements of little boy lost, thug in the making and mischievous sprite, all combine with an earthy folk narrative style to make this a fascinating journey through the back meadows, forests and graveyards at the fringes of the collective mind. One of the longer monster poems – The Misery, with its combined echoes of the Devil, witches and legendary water sprites like Jenny Greenteeth, and a surprising twist in the tale, is particularly enjoyable.

Void Studies by Rachel Boast is similarly gorgeous, although for slightly different reasons. Based as it was on an unfinished project by Rimbaud, involving poems composed more for musicality and an underlying sense of emotion or theme than tangible statements, it is not one for people who enjoy unravelling a poem to find the ‘message’. The imagery is delicate and glowing, but some of the worksare tricky to read aloud naturally, as the line length and complex use of syntax make them slippery. This is definitely one which should be read in a more detached mood, so as to enjoy the colours without trying too hard to pin them down.

On a very different note is Settle by Theresa Muñoz – a more upbeat, prosaic voice overall, sometimes with a conversational narrative style, at others a more misty, contemplative way of capturing the unspoken. The collection is divided in two, covering both the themes of immigration and the world of the internet. Whether accidentally or not, this rather interestingly highlights the ironies of having a prejudiced ‘real world’ juxtaposed with the unquestioned common nationality The Web affords us. An especially resonant poem is Wait, depicting the desolation of waiting for a message and only getting an empty inbox.

Finally, Luke Wright’s The Toll is, again, a whole new ball game, and added a spark to what started out as a gloomy day. Sharp, gritty and warm by turns, it is about a vast array of people and ideas, but is most accurately described as an overview of the mingled corruptions, humour and blessings of living in a small locality in modern Britain. His ‘univocal lipograms’, so full of assonance that they bounce, are a joy to read aloud, as is the gloriously sweary Essex Lion.

womanscream.blogspot.co.uk Jackself and Void Studies are both published by Picador Poetry at RRP £9.99 Settle is published by Vagabond Voices, RRP £8.99 The Toll is published by Penned in the Margins, RRP £9.99 http://stanzapoetry.org