Monday, January 20, 2020

'Prison Camp Violin, Riga' anthologised in Carol Rumens' 'Guardian Poem' book Smart Devices

I am very pleased to say that I have had my ‘Poem of the Week’ Guardian poem, ‘Prison Camp Violin, Riga’ anthologised by Carol Rumens in her Smart Devices: 52 poems from The Guardian, which is published by Carcanet, and may be ordered here:

Carol Rumens has been contributing ‘Poem of the Week’ to the Guardian for more than a dozen years: that’s more than 624 blogs! She’s a poet-reader, not an academic. She is fascinated by the new, but her interest is instructed by the classic poems she has read. They make her ear demanding: when it hears that something, it perks up. She perks up. This is a book of the poems with her commentaries.

‘A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words.’ Rumens partly agrees with William Carlos Williams in her fine introduction, but she develops the conceit, seeing each poem ‘as a more flexible instrument, a miniature neo-cortex, that super-connective, super-layered smartest device of the mammalian brain’. I think I agree. We are beyond mechanical or organic metaphors now and are safely in a cybernetic connecting nexus.

Her mode, though, is not to operate at this level of generality. Her close readings pick at the particularities of the poem (though she does offer some context, where necessary).

There are 52 poets in the book and they are roughly arranged to take us through the year, so I may well read the book that way. I am looking forward to re-encountering work by Fred D’Aguiar, Denise Riley, John Ashbery, Elaine Feinstein, RF Langley, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Ian Gregson, WS Graham, Billy Mills, John Kinsella, Yves Bonnefoy, Anne Stevenson, and all the others whose work I don’t know very well, or who are, indeed, new names to me. 

You can still locate all the poems and commentaries online (not just the 52). 

You can still read my poem and Carol’s commentary in The Guardian here.

I read it here:

I also say a little more here about the poem and about where it has been published. (It has a ‘twin’ poem too.)

Carol was born in Forest Hill, South London, in 1944. She has held various literary posts, including the Northern Art Fellowship, and poetry residencies located at Queen’s University Belfast, University College Cork, Stockholm University and the Harvard Centre for Hellenic Studies, Nafplio. Rumens has published twenty poetry collections, the latest of which is The Mixed Urn (Sheep Meadow Press, 2019). She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Bangor, Gwynedd. This is where I met her (only the once, so far, unfortunately, when I was also ‘visiting’, as external examiner in Creative Writing). I’d like to thank her once for choosing the poem for The Guardian and even more so for selecting it for this fascinating book. 

Carol Rumens lecturing