Tuesday, 27 April 2010

James Kirkup Memorial Competition

Here is the picture (copied from the Red Squirrel web-site) of the winners of the James Kirkup Memorial Competition last Friday. Sheila Wakefield, the publisher of Red Squirrel Press (who were organising the competition) is on my right, and you can just see the top of the head of Richie McCaffery, from Stirling Writers, behind me. I hope there are other photos which show him to better advantage!
The library where the event was held is a modern building beside a shopping centre - reminds me a bit of Dundee where the library is in the Wellgate Centre - in the Library Theatre. This was a lovely space, small enough to feel intimate, but with enough space for generous seating and good acoustics. It was a much less well-attended event than we might have expected, as eight of the runners up had been prevented from getting there by the ash cloud.
It meant, however, that as well as my own poem Rushlight, I got to read on behalf of one of the absentees Jellyfish by Julie Mellor - a stunning poem; I felt very lucky.
As well as catching up with Richie, I got to meet his parents, and to talk to the judges of the competition about how they had set about their job. This was a really nice experience, as you often find yourself sending poems to competitions and hearing nothing back, and sometimes you wonder if they hadn't just disappeared into a black hole somewhere, or got spiked and forgotten. But every poem in the competition had been read several times before the short-list was drawn up, and all the judges cross-marked their choices. They said they felt they had a 'duty of care' towards those who had sent them work. Far be it from me to suggest that all judges don't act the same way; I bet they do, and sometimes it's a lot of hard work for very little return, but all the same it's nice to hear that your work has been so carefully treated.
The anthology of winning poems is already available from Red Squirrel Press (£4)The winner was Lesley Mountain (she's at the front of the photo) with a poem called Timewasters, which you can read on the web-site,and Sheila, who must be the most hard-working and efficient publisher in the business, says that her pamphlet will be gong to press by Wednesday. Lesley read more of her poems in the second half, along with judges Terry Kelly and Alistair Robinson. A really good night.

South Shields is a very friendly place - I was struck by the courtesy of the drivers who stopped for pedestrians in a way I thought went out of style with pan stick and love beads, but also by the willingness to party which starts the weekend at four o'clock Friday ("So late?" asked the landlord of the B&B I was staying in.) St George's day celebrations seem to be a big thing, so by nine o'clock when the James Kirkup evening ended things were already lively, and I was frankly very grateful to Richie's parents for giving me a lift through the revellers!

Friday, 16 April 2010

John Burnside The Hunt in the Forest

I have had this book almost a month now, and though I read it the very same day I got it, here I am only just posting about it.

I am very fond of Burnside's poetry, ever since I read The Myth of the Twin. I was gob-smacked when I heard him read from Four Quartets which is the third section of Gift Songs and has all the complexities and layers and entrelacements of music, as well as the obvious influences of TS Eliot. So when I found myself in St Andrews for StAnza in a very crowded coffee-bar, and it looked as if the only place left was beside JB I decided I couldn't be that bold, and sneaked off into an obscure corner till I could stop myself doing the 'we're not worthy' bit.

This volume has even more echoes and influences of T S Eliot, but it's a lot easier to get your head round. It has a similar hypnotic evocative loveliness; the poems are full of rain and flowers, the sea, bats, snow, light and shadow. Burnside's world is inherently permeable, dust, pollen, feathers, snow, memories, shadows, ghosts, alternative possibilities slip through it, changing, hinting, fading. Haunting is the word for it.

And haunting it is, because this book is haunted by death. Deaths of friends and family; our own death, imagined, feared, longed for, or evaded; village deaths that become a matter of rumour and folk-lore; the death of animals and the guilt (or lack of it) that goes with it. Death hunts us in the forest of our lives, our dreams, and sometimes we hunt it, and sometimes we hunt each other.

It is an extraordinarily beautiful book, but it is also astonishingly creepy. On the other hand, there are three poems called Amor Vincit Omnia - rays of light in what would otherwise be a very dark place indeed.