Issue 8



Awarding the Nobel Prize for Literature to Czesław Miłosz in 1980, the Swedish Academy said that he voices our ‘exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts’. That might stand as a figure for poetry altogether, or at least for poetry that does not cease probing into a deeper, often inevitably painful stratum of the psyche. This labour of writing is something Miłosz himself explores in the poem by him reprinted in this issue. David Clarke, in his own poem in conversation with that of Miłosz, speaks of the ‘doubt that drives conviction’, which brings us nicely to the question of political poetry and the essay on this subject by Colin Brown and Deborah Harvey. They are alert to the pitfalls of polemic, yet, staking a claim for poetry’s capacity to extend our human sympathies, show this in itself to be a primary political act. It is a delicate navigation: to give voice to heartfelt concerns without banging on drums with too heavy a hand.

Mark Roper is a poet aware of such dangers, keen to attend to presences and realities the small ego cannot encompass. His poem ‘River’, published here, with its reminiscences of Keats’s epitaph, takes gentle issue with the whole project of ‘putting things in words’. Tim Koehn, similarly, seems at pains in his poem to enter strange truths of the natural world with images unreined from a rational straitjacket. The natural world is, as we know, under severe stress from our human impact, and it is easy to wonder if over-prosaic ways of human thinking, and, by extension, acting, might be part of the problem. Several poets here probe into this self-inflicted ecological wound, while others look to the solace we can still derive from the natural world, not least by walking through it as a way of enlarging the narrower self.

At the same time, landscapes often embody vanished forms of existence that can resonate, as Rebecca Gethin reminds us, with personal losses. These might even include the increasingly common existential reality of homelessness. Katy Evans-Bush takes issue with an over-metaphorical and ‘poetic’ gaze in the face of such threats. Similarly, the human body, also a kind of landscape – celebrated here in line drawings by Nick Naydler – suffers all too real and painful travails which are explored, in different ways, by several poets here. 

But to return to the body politic, we have a sequence of poems and prose concerned either directly or  obliquely with our place, or otherwise, in Europe, and these read like elegies to a richness of cultural life we cannot afford to dispense with; to connections beyond insularity without which we would be sadly impoverished. Tom Phillips, for instance, in his sequence from A Common Language, draws attention to fine differences of grammar in other  languages, and to how these embody subtly different, enriching modes of experience, ways  of seeing and feeling about the world. Katrina  Naomi’s  sojourn in Japan takes us still deeper into cultural otherness, reminding us at the same time of the gifts modern poetry has received from that quarter.  And Patrick Bond, conversing with a review of Sinéad Morrissey published last issue, highlights another form of cultural enlargement when he argues for the function in poetry of difficulty ‘beyond narrative or verbal predictability’. He speaks of poetry as a bodily, visceral and not merely intellectual response, one that develops a dialogue between the kingdom of the mind and the body’s other but certainly not lesser territories.