Tuesday 17 January 2012


There's a Middle East religion with a god that is half book, half man. He spends his time reading himself. I don't think I read that much, but libraries certainly figure in my life. Snakeskin once accepted a poem of mine called Interlibrary Love, about 2 libraries trying to chat each other up using ISBNs, and I use library imagery both in poetry and prose.

According to the OED, Chaucer's the first recorded writer to use "library" as an English word. He might have had as many as 60 texts in his own collection. The University Library, 2 miles away from here, has 8 million books or so, sorted broadly by subject, then size, then age. As long as you use the catalogue it's a mighty useful resource. My pamphlet's not in there, but it's in the British Poetry Library. If you're ever down in London, pop in. It's near Waterloo Station and is open 6 days a week (closed Mondays). You'll find books and many current magazines there. I've just discovered that it also has a folder for press cuttings about me. Ah, fame.

2 miles the other way from my house is this "library phonebox" in a nearly village - look carefully and you'll see it has shelves of books. It would be a shame if libraries disappeared. Some small ones are already disappearing near us. The University Library's collection of printed journals will surely shrink once people become used to reading them online - I can read "American Poetry Review", "Parnassus", "Poetry", "Southern Literary Journal" and 793 other literary periodicals online through the university nowadays. E-books will supplant paper versions sooner or later. But at least the University Library has a decent cafe.

Sunday 8 January 2012

A return to Form

I've recently read "William Carlos Williams and the Meanings of Measure" by Stephen Cushman (Yale, 1985). With "a persistance that sometimes borders on the monomaniacal ... Williams crusaded on behalf of his theory of measure for nearly fifty years". His theory was little more convincing than Hopkins'. Like Eliot and Pound he didn't think that poetry could be really Free.

Reactions to (and re-evaluation of) free verse continue to appear. Books tackling the subject include

Some poets have tried to integrate old forms with new sensibilities. The New Formalists leant towards old forms whereas the Hybrid poets were true to their modern sensibilities. More generally there's a revival of some less common forms. See -

As the final link illustrates there are dozens of forms that are rarely used nowadays. Some are gimmicky, others are waiting to be rediscovered. I'd like to draw your attention to 2 which I've suddenly seen around

  • Instead of rhymes at the end of lines, use anagrams
    Beyond it, the treasure
    he seeks. Walking at his side, two austerer
    figures: a woman, who grips on dangling tress
    of his tawny pelt as her lowered head rests
    (by Richie Hofman, New Criterion). Jon Stone's "Mustard" (Best British Poetry 2011) has lines that end in anagrams of the title - "cry out drams", "heart's mud", etc.
  • "terminals" - write a poem that has the same words at the line-endings as a famous poem has - Katy Evans-Bush in her Egg Printing Explained book (she uses Pink Floyd) and John Tranter (he uses Matthew Arnold) have used this effectively.