Quote of the Day
The press has produced some of the best of contemporary writing and handsome editions of classics of all ages...
Subscribe to our mailing list
Review of William Letford - Nicholas Lezard's Choice, The Guardian
These editors know their onions when it comes to poetry.Previous review of William Letford... Next review of William Letford...
Come off it, I can hear many of you cry. An anthology of new poetry – no, worse, new poetries – for £12.95? That's two bottles of OK wine, or a good main course at a gastropub. Like a confit of duck leg or something.
I know, poetry is a hard sell. And I must confess that I picked this up with more of a sense of duty than of pleasure, and maybe a nagging sense of guilt that I had done, once again, absolutely nothing for National Poetry day.
But look at it this way: the pleasure afforded by even two bottles of wine, or a duck confit, is passing, and, in time, not even the memory of it remains. Yet the pleasure I have gained from William Letford's poems alone will, I am confident, stay with me for ever.
'There is still an abundance of poetic talent out there,
and people vigilant enough to notice it.'
I can honestly say that on reading his 14 very short poems here, I feel just as Keats did when he read Chapman's Homer: that a new planet has come into the sky. How can you not smile – or indeed, as I did, laugh out loud – at his poem 'Moths', which begins with the word 'moths'dotted about the page, like, of course, a cloud of moths (the title forming an extra-large moth), and then has, as its first proper line, the words 'fucking moths'? Or 'It's aboot the labour' whose central section goes like this:
heh Casey did ah tell ye a goat
a couple a poems published
(Letford, it is made clear in the little biographies at the end of the book, has a real job – as a roofer – and his poem about getting up to work in winter when it's still dark should make poncey southern metropolitan softies like me a little bit ashamed of themselves.)
Then again, I was confident that there was going to be some good stuff in here. As anyone familiar with Schmidt's work and his first-rate magazine PN Review would agree, he is a man who knows his onions when it comes to poetry. There are those who consider his approach elitist or academic. I was about to use a rude word but I'll confine myself to expressing the hope that this collection will make them revise their opinion. And in Eleanor Crawforth he has found an excellent co-editor. She may be rather younger than the otherwise ageless-seeming Schmidt, if he will forgive me for mentioning this, but clearly she too has an excellent eye and ear for poetry.
Indeed, Schmidt provides a very good short introduction in which the work of a poetry editor is brought to life. 'Editors who are not promoting a movement or a group, when they tear open an envelope or click an email attachment, hope to be surprised by the shape on the page, by syntax, by the unexpected sounds a poem makes, sometimes with old, proven instruments used in new ways. They might hope to find evidence of intelligence.' (I love that bit.) 'And they respect creative disobedience. Where there are schools they look out for the truants.'
And so there will be something for all tastes here, and, as I have discovered, one's own tastes can be more catholic than one might have imagined. So there is delight in Letford's Edwin-Morganish playfulness (he's not always playful; he has composed the most thoughtful poem about getting head-butted that I have ever read), as there is in Oli Hazzard's list-poem 'The Inability to Recall the Precise Word for Something'; the way Will Eaves ends a poem about AFC Wimbledon with the line 'the house of sleep is full of spies'; the biblical and Smart-ian cadences of Lucy Tunstall's lines 'Oh remember the children of first marriages / For they are silent and awkward in their comings and their goings'; David Ward's chilling 'Def: Extreme Rendition'... These are poets of all ages from early 20s to mid-60s, all writing in English but from around the world. There is still an abundance of poetic talent out there, and people vigilant enough to notice it. Give it a go. You'll like it.
The Carcanet Blog Let's Gimbal! read more Carcanet New Poetry Showcase: The Audience Writes Back read more John Gallas: A Little Andaluciad read more Carcanet Poetry Showcase: 30th April read more The Manchester Writing Competition 2013 read more Six Sixty-Six: Infinity by Gabriel Josipovici read more
We thank the Arts Council England for their support and assistance in this interactive Project.
This website ©2000-2013 Carcanet Press Ltd