Monday, March 19, 2012

Is it not just as great, O soul?

Walt Whitman's Canary

I had a wonderful time reading at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton, with Will Eaves. You can see (but not hear) me reading a poem here. Will is more audible reading from his debut collection Sound Houses, and you can hear him even better on Radio 4's Start the Week (Writers on Families). His new novel is called This is Paradise.

Before leaving Bolton I paid homage to Walt Whitman’s canary, which is in the town’s museum. (You can read why here.) It is a very beautiful bird, a cheering sight, as it was for the father of free verse all those years ago. Here is Whitman’s poem ‘My Canary Bird’ (1888):

Did we count great, O soul, to penetrate the themes of mighty books,
Absorbing deep and full from thoughts, plays, speculations?
But now from thee to me, caged bird, to feel thy joyous warble,
Filling the air, the lonesome room, the long forenoon,
Is it not just as great, O soul?

In other news, I have a couple of poems in the latest issue of Stand and in this week’s Times Literary Supplement you can read my review of Michel Sanouillet’s Dada in Paris.


Unknown said...

Hello Ian Pindar!

I came across your writing in a magazine I was given at school called the English Review, which is a study guide magazine given to students taking their English Literature/English Language and Literature A Level :)

I just wanted to say, I really admire your poetry. You have such flair and I'm definitely going to read/buy (if I can) Constellations :)

I myself am an avid reader and consider myself a writer and a poet. :)

I'm not going to ask you to check out my work. But :) could you possibly give me any tips at all on poetry? Do you have an English BA at all?

Sorry to be annoying x) haha, it's just I discovered you have blogspot and literally my face did this: :D!

Many thanks!
- Hannah

Ian Pindar said...

Hi Hannah,

Thanks for your kind words. I hope you like Constellations when it comes out.

I really enjoyed my English A Level and, yes, I went on to take a degree, but you don’t have to have a degree in English to write poetry. I’ve always admired those poets that studied something else entirely – physics or history – but they never stopped reading and writing poetry, which is the key.

So, being an avid reader is good, but also keep writing. I buy school exercise books in packs of 20 or so from Amazon and just keep scribbling (with a pencil). You can feel really free in these pages because they’re for your eyes only. Then if a poem takes shape you can work it up.

So that’s my main tip when it comes to poetry: keep reading other poets and keep on writing – and don’t be afraid to imitate other poets that you like. You will learn a few tricks and eventually your own voice will come through if you relax and let it come.

As for reading, I’d suggest some anthologies. People are a bit snooty about anthologies but I think they are fine if you accept that they’re always going to reflect the prejudices of the editors.

Have a look at The Penguin Book of English Verse (edited by John Hayward) – or the fatter one edited by Paul Keegan – and also The Faber Book of Modern Verse (revised by Peter Porter).

I’m a big fan of American poetry – and I wish someone had introduced me to modern American poetry much earlier in my life. There I was, mooching about reading Larkin when there was a world of exciting experiment across the Pond (Larkin hated America – and anything foreign or difficult). So have a look at The Penguin Book of American Verse (ed. Geoffrey Moore) as well.

These are quite conventional anthologies – the sort your teachers might recommend. If you want your mind blown, however, you might try:

Poems of the Millennium, volumes 1 & 2 (ed. Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris)

Postmodern American Poetry (ed. Paul Hoover)

The Postmoderns (ed. Donald Allen and F. Butterick)

American Hybrid (ed. Cole Swenson)

These poems are much more experimental, pushing the boundaries, but in order to experiment you need to have a firm understanding of what has gone before, the tradition. WARNING: Experimental poetry is not wholly welcomed in Britain.

The first book of poetry I fell in love with in my early teens was T. S. Eliot’s Selected Poems. I didn’t understand it all, of course, and that doesn’t matter because Eliot’s voice or music carries you along.

I think people feel slightly paralysed and guilty when they don’t understand poetry. You have to learn to relax and enjoy the ride, enjoy the language, the music. We aren’t taught to do that at school because you can't take an exam in it (enjoyment).

Looking at your poetry, I think you might like Frank O’ Hara’s Selected Poems too.

So that’s it. Keep reading. Keep writing. Enjoy. Have faith in yourself and you’ll find your own way through.