Well, no sooner has my series of monthly “Postcards From The Future” concluded (see the tenth and last one over at the Elsewhen Press Millifiction blog here) than Adam Lowe of Dog Horn Publishing and I have struck a deal for me to post a poem a week on the Dog Horn website throughout 2013. That’s right folks, that’s no less than fifty-two poems! Fortunately I won’t be having to make a new one up every week, they will be drawn instead from across my entire output, providing a cross-section through my life. There’s nothing all that remarkable about my life of course, but that’s not the point. Wait a minute! On second thoughts, that’s EXACTLY the point! Most people do lead supposedly unremarkable lives, let’s face it, and the highest purpose of poetry is to give voice and dignity and meaning to the ordinary experiences of just such ordinary lives. Here endeth the sermon. I dare say therefore that some weeks in 2013 there may be some uncomfortably personal moments in store for me in this project, but in the cause of experimentation and taking stock of my life I am willing to risk the self-exposure in return for…. what exactly? Enlightenment, know thyself and all that, Gnothi Seauton. No, something better than that perhaps: feedback, contact with other human beings… who recognise the pain, the despair, the joy. I despaired many times across the years. I still do. But we can get through everything together, by helping each other. Oh dear, we’re back on the sermon again. Was I a flaming minister in a former life? I’ll get me coat:-)
Enough about me. What brought all this on was Adam Lowe and I discovering a certain mutual respect and admiration for each other’s poetry. Adam’s first chapbook collection “Precocious” was reader-nominated recently for the Guardian First Book Award. Within it can be found many fine poems and a general stance of frankness, bravery and anger towards the prejudice that can still, sadly, be the lot of those in society whose gender or sexuality is deemed tangential to the “norm”… whatever that is. This is well summed up by his poem ‘Fruit’ where he takes the classic homophobic jibe and turns it around into something proud and valiant. Here’s a few lines: “a fruit is rich,/remembers its roots,/nourishes, quenches,/ makes a display of any table.” There is humour in there and a tightrope balance between endearing self-deprecation and a kind of inner strength and resolve to be honest in a dishonest world. He takes this further still in another poem “The Offer” with these lines for instance: “Fag boy declines/your offer/to take part/ in society/instead he turns/ his back on/ government/police and/money”. This is strong stuff, served neat with a vodka chaser.
Falling in love carries the same terrors and delights, no matter your orientation, and Adam explores these in forensic depth in many of the poems in this collection, in a way that spans and unites both the masculine and feminine principal inherent in our traditional thinking towards relationships. I’ve never been a fan of Tracy Emin and her unmade bed, but in “Tracy Emin” Adam performs the final alchemy of making her idea into the work of art it was meant to be: re-imagined as a bed he’s shared with his lover, sent sailing down the Thames “through clouds of purple smoke” and “lying in state”.
Adam Lowe is a young poet, but together with the excitement of youth these poems also display a mature structure at times, carefully honed and bolted like the arches of Victorian bridges. One of my favourites is “Ice Angel” whose strength lies perhaps in its multiplicity of metaphorical meaning. Things are not spelled out here, and like the ice it describes: the poem remains icily enigmatic, glimmering on in the brain’s darkness afterwards, immutable as stars. Rather than spoil it by quoting only an extract, Adam has given me special permission to quote ‘Ice Angel’ here in full. One of the best compliments any writer can pay another is “I wish I’d written that” and I wish I’d written this:
And he reached for the stars, eager
and ambitious, despite the cold of night,
the creeping cascade of frost in white
tendrils. He longed to touch the moon,
a full pendant of ice bulbous against
indigo marble; thought in the rapture
he could work miracles, walk on water,
drunk on the beauty of the sublime, cross
over and lift on shifts of starlight; instead
felt the crisp surface crack, a broken mirror;
as his first foot descended, sank, clasped
by still waters; then the second; till
he was swallowed, captured in waxy tableau,
an ice angel beneath impenetrable glass.