Saturday, 21 August 2021

The Sealey Challenge: Days 15, 16, 18 and 21

I'm definitely not able to keep up with a book a day for The Sealey Challenge, but I've read more poetry this month already than I've read in the last year. So a successful attempt for me. I maybe need to do something similar with some of the poetry magazines I get as I can never keep up with all the reading for them either. 

It's been storming here after such a dry summer, we've been flooded with so much rain. So it's nice to curl up with poetry in the evenings after work as a way to wind down. 

Day 14: Remember, Body by CP Cavafy. I loved reading The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell once upon a time and Cavafy was mentioned many times, so I picked up the Penguin Classic mini-edition just to get an idea of what his poetry was like. 

This is a collection of short, mostly erotic poems, all tinged with a sense of longing and despair at the passing of time and the loss of loved ones. I love 'Painted Things' where he admits that sometimes he's discouraged by writing and just wants to sit and think about love.

Durrell's collection of novels echo Cavafy's Alexandria and his feeling of desperate and often forbidden love. Cavafy has lovely little touches of humour and a deep sense of the history of Alexandria running through his poems which lift them above just mere love stories. This little collection makes me want to explore more of his work.

Day 16: inside looking in by the brilliant poet and teacher Tom Leonard. I was lucky enough to have Tom read and critique my work when I first arrived in Scotland. For me, he was the epitome of Glasgow, rough but warm, honest but brutal. My work needed his sharp eye, and pen and it was a watershed moment for me with my writing and with my relationship with Scotland. 

This little chapbook was published in 2004 by the now defunct Survivors' Press as part of their daemon series. He was a first-class poet with his own style, tight, often humorous often written in phonetic Glaswegian Scots. His voice often directly addresses the reader, often harshly, demanding attention, but some of these poems are more tender than others I've read, settling down to sleep with his wife or watching women knitting. 

This chapbook is no longer available, I managed to grab one of the last copies when the editor was having a clear-out, but his collection Intimate Voices is a brilliant one to start with, but it looks like it is also out of print. His work really needs to be republished. 

Day 18: The Weight of Oranges by Anne Michaels. Rich and dense, metaphor piled on metaphor, Michaels' poems cannot be read quickly. They are long and heavy and need time to be digested. She is a poet highly aware of the poetic in the smallest moments, in rain, in different tones and textures of light, the lisp of the wind. Her poems often address an unknown speaker, so I feel a sense of disassociation as I adjust to the new scene and character, but then I become submerged in their voice and images. 

I came to Anne Michaels through her novel Fugitive Pieces so poetic and tightly written, it has the same sense as her poems, of sifting through time, memory and the layers of a connection between the speaker and the person addressed. 

I need to spend more time in these poems, to catch each image as they build upon the previous and to delve into the places the poems create. I never feel at ease in her work, aware that I am missing something, but I continue to return to them in order to find my way. 

Day 21: Nobody by Alice Oswald. A heady mix of mythical and modern-day imagery, aeroplanes and styrofoam floats on purple seas, dawn waking rosy-fingered behind net curtains. I loved Greek myths when I was young and really enjoyed the the current retelling of Circe and Achilles by Madeline Miller, so this 2019 collection by the Oxford Professor of Poetry caught my eye. This book-length poem plays with the stories of the poet from 'The Illiad' who was to spy on Agamemnon's wife, but then was abandoned on a stony island which allowed the wife to be seduced with the tale of Odysseus and his faithful wife from 'The Odyssey'. The poem is punctuation free, line breaks shifting across the pages leaving large white spaces and images that seem scoured by tides.

The sea is the strongest character in the book, its moods set the tone, but the poem says 'the sea itself has no character just this horrible thirst' and that feeling is strong throughout the book. The speakers feel like a true nobody of wives and poets, gods and sailors, it's never clear who you're listening to. The poem feels at once ancient and new, jumbled, found in pieces on some beach. I've just discovered that the book was meant to go with a collection of watercolours by William Tillyer, but I don't have that version. Shame really, as a quick internet search shows that they would really expand the poem. A captivating read.

Personal note: I've had two poems published by Fevers of the Mind poetry and art blog recently which has a nice mix of writings and reviews. I've also had a concrete poem in the second half of the current issue of streetcake. Not my usual style but an interesting experiment. 

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