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National Poetry Day and not a single offer of work.

Posted on October 08, 2015 by Rebecca Robinson | 1 comment

National Poetry Day and not a single offer of work.

The answer’s obvious, said a small voice inside him. Your poetry is under-appreciated by a literary establishment failing or unwilling to grasp the complexities of your verse. An even smaller internal voice was heard to whisper, “no, it’s because your poetry is crap.”

He threw back the bed covers and turned on the radio. The weatherman was describing in iambic pentameter an imminent occluded front. He walked to the front door and picked up the letters and the copy of his serious and worthy newspaper. There was poetry on page one from a poet he knew as a right bastard. He turned on the television. A poet was being interviewed in a school. Another bastard.

“Selling out to the establishment!” he bellowed to no-one in particular, banging his spoon into his rice crispies.

He went to his desk and checked over his latest work-in-progress titled Why I Want to Kill Myself.

It was, he argued, a searing indictment of a corrupt society and how it isolated its more Bohemian elements (i.e., him). On the TV, Jeremy Clarkson was shown driving a supercharged car at 180 mile round a race track while reciting a haiku. The challenge was to complete a half mile stretch before finishing. It was a close run thing.

A plug for a later programme was about a famous poet writing a sonnet on Kim Kardashian’s naked bottom.

He leafed through his letters. Three informed him he of his failure to win recent poetry competitions on which he had spent more than £100 in entry fees. He had included a special personal note to each celebrity judge unaware these celebs only saw the final dozen sifted poems. His poems had been thrown out at an earlier stage along with 10,000 others including those from several old ladies who had raided their piggy banks to fund the sending in of their sweet rhyming couplets about their cat.

On his walls were hundreds of printed rejection notes from editors. These were couched in such terms as, ‘Thank you for your submission but I’m afraid your poetry does not quite fit with our present requirements’. Some magazines never replied at all.

“A conspiracy!” he bellowed at the toaster. He realised he hated all poetry. Except his own.

He sat down in the threadbare easy chair from the charity shop. Out the window he could see glum looking commuters flocking towards the Metro Station en route to work.

“Mindless slaves!” he shouted. “Free yourselves from your chains!” He looked in the fridge. Only one piece of mouldy cheese.

He looked again at his poem in progress, Surely some editor would recognise its genius?

Except all editors were bastards.

He listened to the radio again. An Oxbridge poet who had recently been given an Arts Council grant to visit a council house was reading aloud the villanelle which had resulted from the visit.

“Bastard,” he said. All day he was confronted by poetry. It was all rubbish. Unlike his own. Probably he would need to be dead before his true value was appreciated. This small thought comforted him slightly as he set to on the next stanza of his new poem. A charge went through him as he wrote, a charge unknown to those unblessed by the Gods of Creativity. He pitied those other people’s meaningless treadmill lives, their petty obsessions, their soap operas, their Summer holidays, their mortgages, their savings accounts.

“They are imprisoned!” he shouted and went looking for a cheap tea bag in the cupboard. There was none.

Soon National Poetry Day would be over. He would see it out as best as he could. He picked up the small pamphlet of his poems published some years ago by Mangy Crocodile Press, a tiny publisher long since closed. The collection was titled Black Ink. One day it would be discovered and given its true worth. He had sold four copies, two to himself.

On the TV, several minor celebrities were competing to see who could eat fastest famous poems on top of iced cakes.

He wouldn’t go out today. He would be reclusive. He would deny himself to the world.

Let them wait. Anyway, sometimes too much reality was unbearable.

Peter Mortimer - Editor, IRON Press

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Living by Poetry

Posted on July 13, 2015 by Sheila Bounford | 0 comments

One of the pleasures of Radio 4's Desert Island Discs is the glimpse it offers into the lives of people in other professions; I particularly enjoy hearing scientists — who could be wizards for all that I understand their working worlds. But today it was a real treat to hear someone whose working life intersects (albeit very slightly) with my own. Imtiaz Dharker's interview with Kirsty Young was not only a musical feast — it offered fascinating insights into the the heart of what poetry is and does for and to people.

It was wonderful to hear poetry being talked about on national radio not just as ‟art”  but as something that informs day-to-day life. At one point Dharker talked about her parents’ response to poetry as something they lived  by and used as an underscore to their lives. All the more poignant, given that just after she graduated, Dharker chose to accept a marriage proposal from a man she knew her parents would not accept — effectively choosing to walk away from a family she clearly loved and respected, never to see her mother again, although she did later reconcile with other members of her family.

Whether or not I agree (and I really can't make up my mind) with her description of the poet as an ‛outsider’; ‘someone who has to live on the dangerous edges of things’  it is clear that Imtiaz Dharker is a woman of immense strength of resolve. Her phrase ‛seeing life at a slant’ reminded me an earlier woman poet who was something of an outsider, but with vast internal resources: Emily Dickinson: Tell the truth but tell it slant ... And of course the elopement story brings to mind Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Except this is a story of our times, taking in Glasgow, London, Pakistan, India, Wales, and many faiths and cultures. Dharker described herself as a ‘cultural mongrel’, and as she did so I couldn't help thinking the world would be a far better place if we all could describe ourselves so.

At one point during the interview, when Kirsty Young remarked on the way in which death is often what draws people to ‘really read’ poetry for the first time, I involuntarily braced myself for platitudes about funeral poetry. Instead Dharker responded with another striking insight into the work that poetry does in our lives, remarking that ‘poetry is almost like looping time’: letting things co-exist. Which is a nicely succinct description of how poetry lets us approach and accept some of the most intense moments of pleasure and pain. I couldn't help thinking that Dharker's ability to accept that she does not regret leaving home because she needed to at the time, but that she will always regret the way in which it was done, is a perfect example of the dignity that lies within poetry's ability to loop time — creating a state of grace within which it is possible to accept reality and regrets at one at the same time and be strengthened, not destroyed by doing so.

No write-up can do justice to what a great listen this 45-minute interview is. So go ‘listen again’ on the Radio 4 web site, or download the podcast to listen on the go. And a selection of Dharker's work, published by Bloodaxe Books, is available from the Inpress Shop. I for one will be ordering some this week...

Post script: The only other Desert Island Discs interviewee I ever recall asking for the Shipping Forecast was singer and entertainer Marti Caine. At face value, Caine and Dharker are a disparate pair but both identified a sense of comfort and peace arising from the familiar incantation: Viking; North Utsire; South Utsire; Forties; Cromarty; Forth; Tyne; Dogger ... And it speaks volumes about the power of words that decades apart, both women responded to the inherent poetry in the Shipping Forecast in a way that made it important enough for them to include as one of eight desert island tracks, and for Dharker her one disc if seven others were washed away.


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