The evening in memory of Tony Hendry happened this week and I was very lucky to read his poem ‘Mellbreak’ at the event. It’s a poem I’d always liked and I will always remember him reading it at Foxes. I left the evening reflective, as you might expect. After thoughts of Tony I thought a great deal about Nick Pemberton, which is not unusual or uncommon. My attention was recently brought to a review of Nick’s recent (posthumous) collection. This is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it got a review.
Now, allow me to avoid getting on my hobby horse here by simply saying that the standard of poetry reviewing is dire – save for a few leading lights: you possibly subscribe to Jeremy Noel-Todd’s Substack – a great example of intelligent, knowledge-rich reviews that seek to draw our attention to what’s really good and away from what is not. Forgive an analogy. You’ll no doubt have noticed the ubiquity of Ed Sheeran in music: he tends to be No. 1 these days. For a long time. And then his next song replaces the old one at No. 1 (unless Kate Bush… blah blah). As a music reviewer in Sheeran-world you have two choices, so it seems to me. You can waste your days writing screed after screed of invective about how much you hate Ed Sheeran, his negative affect on music, and you can insult swathes of people by suggesting that anyone that listens to Ed Sheeran is a moron. That’s a lot of energy. Or, you can focus what little light you can shine on the really good stuff that people don’t know yet. In music I think Neil Kulkarni does this very well (go seek, if you’re interested). The good poetry reviewers do this, too. The bad reviewers review each other (literally) and write glowing reviews about how great they are: Gerry Cambridge is on good form about this is ‘The Dark Horse: The Making of a Little Magazine’. I should say that nothing mentioned in this post is mentioned without the idea that we each have to make up our own minds about things and learn more and go beyond the narrowness and small-mindedness of poetry of the past (perhaps you read this article in The Guardian this week: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/jun/18/the-book-that-tore-publishing-apart-harm-has-been-done-and-now-everyones-afraid). And here’s Noel-Todd’s Substack: https://someflowerssoon.substack.com/. Noel-Todd also writes on reviewing culture, too; here, for example: https://someflowerssoon.substack.com/p/winter-recipes-for-spring.
Anyway, back to Nick Pemberton. The review I was sent was by Alan Dent in MQB. It made me glad that someone had read and understood Nick’s poems and was fluent in the concerns that Nick’s poems dealt with. The second thing that was interesting about the review was that the words in it counted. What do I mean? Well, a look through the other reviews in the review section of MQB showed that poetry was being held up for scrutiny and REALLY evaluated. I don’t have to agree with someone’s viewpoint on poetry, but I like to read informed opinion on poetry. Once upon a time I worked in a pub that had The Mirror and The Telegraph delivered every day. I devoured The Telegraph like medieval monks ate purgatives. The swell of bile and resentment that has engulfed this country and America in the last ten years came bubbling up through the floorboards came from somewhere. I read Boris Johnson’s columns in The Telegraph. Let me just say that. It all came from somewhere. That’s not say it wasn’t well written (by someone, who may or may not have their name next to it); occasionally it was well informed; often it was by someone with a double-barrelled name; usually the opinion was drivel – particular pieces that stand out in the memory were pieces about Europe, education and the environment. And now look where we are. It all came from somewhere.
I’ve subscribed to MQB: you might like to, too: there’s nothing like reading strong, informed opinion to help you form your own. Having an informed opinion is hard, I think. And it’s ok to realise that you don’t know enough. I don’t know enough and I dislike it: I’m always trying to learn more about poetry. And if you have a particular poetry review publication (I was very careful when I typed that) that you like, please let me know. I’d love to share some wider recommendations.
Hope you’re looking forward to the Symposium on September 3rd. There’s plans for a workshop programme after it. And, in a little aside, I had notice yesterday that after a barren period of something like three years I will have some things published towards the end of this year. So, if you’re having a unlucky streak please take heart. It coincided with me having A Very Strong Opinion about some white, middle class, male poetry that I will keep to myself, but I can’t help but think that knowing a little about what my own thoughts are about poetry has helped me keep sending things out, even when the rejections become comical in number and frequency.