Sometimes you read good poetry that is familiar, that reads like the sort of poem you would write yourself if you were good enough, the sort of poem you want to write when you grow up. And sometimes you come across good poetry of a sort you never even thought of, and that you wouldn't ever be able to write unless you rewired your brain, that astonishes you with newness and strangeness - and occasionally makes you ask yourself if what you write is poetry at all.
After today's lot, I began to see myself as a slightly manic four year old, jumping up and down with excitement shouting "Wow, look at that! It's so pretty!"
Poets of the first sort are easy to find if you like poetry at all. They include, for me, Kathleen Jamie, Gillian Clarke, Seamus Heaney and John Burnside, Eavan Boland (might as well aim high while you're at it!) Poets of the second sort are rarer, and more tricky. Recently I've been reading two such - Geoff Cooper whose Songs the Lightning Sang was brought out by Calderwood Press earlier this year and Tim Atkins, whose Folklore is published by Salt.
Geoff Cooper's poetry is unashamedly Romantic, obviously influenced by Coleridge, Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Neruda, but achieving a voice of his own by tempering the lushness with accurate observation of the natural world and careful control of metre and structure. It is sensual poetry, inspired by landscapes, painting and music, passionate, as becomes a first collection, but also powerful and mature. It depicts a beautiful but fragile world where human behaviour is largely destructive or violent, God absent, nature indifferent. Yet the pervading sense of alienation and despair is not the final word.
as a fool remember, that poetry must go beyond
the shining world ---
---brave and deep
inside others, and beyond ourselves.
must puzzle out
what's furthest, hardest,
yes poetry must seek out
All those other human worlds
Tim Atkins' poetry is not much like that at all. For him the distinction of the individual human worlds much less that between the natural and human world doesn't seem to exist. It's even hard to make out what the subjects of his fractured sentences are. The whole landscape,(Atkins is inspired by the Malvern Hills, the setting for The Vision of Piers Plowman) stones, people, flowers, stars, bones, birds, comes together to make one living breathing fertile mortal organism. You know what you are up against when he starts with
Man walks into sky .
It is physical, but not exclusively visual poetry, tactile, auditory, richly textured. Weird and beautiful.