Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Four New Faber Poets

The timber-framed, baronial/serf-exploiting splendour of Dragon Hall in King Street, Norwich provided the venue last night for the launch of the Faber 'New Poets' tour. They are four poets of exceptional talent: Jack Underwood, Heather Phillipson, Toby Martinez de la Rivas and Fiona Benson. The event was hosted by the Norwich poetry group, Café Writers' Society, and chaired by Matthew Hollis, Faber's poetry editor, with able support from George Szirtes, who also read from his own work.

Jack Underwood kicked off the event with a welcoming confidence.
Jack graduated at Norwich Art School and went on to study for a PhD at Goldsmiths, where he now works within the Creative Writing programme. He also fronts a rocking, three-piece band, 'Le Tetsuo', who have appeared locally over the years and are much admired. In the poem, 'Your Horse', (a personal favourite), the protagonist has an awkward audience with an ex at which 'horse' manifests itself with embarrassing effects. 'Hannah-loo', the imaginary memoir of a guitarist from the late fifties is also a gem.
'Sam Lynch lent me a gypsy dollar to cut our first record
at the hollow shack off Memoir Street.'
Jack utilises a surrealistic idiom to brilliant effect in capturing the quotidian comedies of errors and manners pivoting on the platonic seesaw of idea and base execution.

Heather Phillipson's writing is well observed stuff. A couple of poems feature her encounters with phenomenology by way of Heidegger. 'German Phenomenology Makes Me Want to Strip and Run through North London' represents the desire for a Dasein other than the effort of reading 'Being and Time'. A later poem enacts a kind of Beckettian applied philosophy to a family scene, at which the matter of analysis begins to teeter on an absurdist, albeit phenomenological, edge.

Toby Martinez de la Rivas's first poem, 'Song', captures the ignominy of a country type,
'too busy' or 'too poor' to properly husband the creatures in his care. It's full of arresting images and Lawrentian in its evocation of scene, while reaching beyond the immediate object: 'draping and inverse, eyeless thing/ over his shoulder with disdain like a soiled boa'. The poet spoke of 'the religious impulse' and there is a visionary quality to his writing which is refreshing and powerful.

Fiona Benson astonished with a lyrical confessional poetry. I had to avert my eyes and listen. Like Toby Martinez de la Rivas's 'Song' , her poems are born out of a harsh, rural condition; not
'emotion recollected in tranquility' this poetry of incidental death and coupling in the grass against a backdrop of 'breeze-block wall'. The poem, 'Lares', has a dead bird 'snagged/ by a halter or skein of fibre or yarn' enacting a mnemonic function, of which the list, reaching out for accuracy and reenactment, suggests a panoply of possible threads, as does the later 'spindle and pin/ and needle and thorn of your hollow bones'. A textual tapestry is woven: 'after the fact of your scavenged heart,/ the stolen tissues of your wings'.

A common denominator of all four poets is their ability to use language to capture the subtle significance of the occasional and incidental. This is a significant strength of good poetry. T. S. Eliot, Faber's erstwhile, illustrious editor, spoke of 'the objective correlative' and, though he was underpinning a theory of impersonal poetry, he was also validating the way in which the world speaks to the potentially creative sensibility.