Saturday, 25 April 2009

Never Quit Your Versey Ways

Long ago Karl Marx predicted that capitalism would regularly swing from boom to bust. What he didn’t also tell us was that verse would do this too. As long as I’ve been watching public interest in poetry has gone in cycles. Everyone loves it, sales increase. No one can be bothered with its versey ways. Poets give up.

Right now we seem to be entering another era of boom. Interest is up, poetry books are appearing in the market place in shoals, and Wales is banging the winners out one after another. The Poetry Book Society in London runs a sort of club for aficionados. You sign up, pay your annual entrance money and then receive a choice vol each quarter. You also get a magazine of poetry news and samples plus the chance to buy from a selection of the recently top rated at discounted prices. No need to move from the armchair or the attic.

The Society has traditionally avoided Welsh content, preferring the wider reaches of mainstream contemporary English literature enlivened by Scottish intervention and the occasional American guest. For Spring 2009, however, they’ve made Seren’s Ruth Bidgood a firm Recommendation. Her excellent new collection, Time Being, is trumpeted as the answer to a young writers dominated poetry world. Ruth Bidgood is the antidote to youth’s arrogant surety of its own worth, runs the blurb. A statement that might cause a cheer in some quarters. Bidgood is praised for her quiet passion for nature and her understanding of history. How the past influences the present. Of this many newer writers haven’t a clue.

Elsewhere in Wales other excellent books are arriving on the shelves. Don’t miss Richard Marggraf Turley’s impressive Wan-Hu’s Flying Chair published by that champion of innovative verse, Salt. “Since you ask how it begins, it begins with elasticity”. Marggraf-Turley’s poetry bends and stretches. “When it works you almost don’t need walls.” I’d go along with that.

Back at Seren, Damian Walford Davies has just published his Suit of Lights. These are intelligent and engaging poems. Verse with content that stretches the ways to write. History evident again, near the surface. Poems about people, place and maps. “I look for the right place to break a plane and make my lines a habitable space.” We need more like this.

The Seren and Salt books can be found in decent bookshops, and in Wales we still have a few. You’ll find Ruth Bidgood there, too. The PBS is at 2 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9RA. Join if you want to keep up. In addition to Bidgood their current recommendations include J O Morgan, Robert Render and the truly awesome Sharon Olds. Top choice is, however, Alice Oswald’s book about nature made with artist Jessica Greenman – Weeds and Wild Flowers.

This is a version of The Insider which appeared in the Western Mail on 25th April, 2009

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