Two poets of the English Southwest - Tony Lopez and Luke Kennard
The new year for English undergraduates here at Plymouth kicked off with a couple of poetry readings - from Tony Lopez, professor of poetry here at Plymouth University, and for young blood, Luke Kennard.
Luke is completing a PhD at nearby Exeter, his latest collection The Harbour beyond the Movies already on the current shortlist for the Forward prize. At 26, that makes him the youngest ever shortlisted author. He has a mild presence, almost the young gentleman bumbler in his delivery style, which makes a neat balance to the surreal nature of his work. Many of his poems are short prose pieces, in effect surreal short stories. In an ideal world he would publish them with the same brief width as poems, to make the form more particular. They were funny and engaging pieces, often with a witty play on other's work yet readily accessible. For me, it opens up a new form to play with.
As does Tony's work, drawn from his brand new collection Covers. The novelty for me here was Tony's preference for snipping lines and phrases from other people's texts from which to assemble his own work, often with a political edge. In listening to them for the first time, my main focus was on the technique - the experience was a little schizophrenic, somewhat like listening to a lot of different voices being rattled together in a glass jar. It is often the case with me and poetry that it takes a few readings before my own understanding dawns. The one poem of Tony's that used his own words, blending reactions to the likes of Andy Goldsworthy's dry stone wall in the New York sculpture park, the films of Donald Sirk, and Rock Hudson, was the one that really worked for me. That had the most obvious unity of voice and narrative cohesion ... as a novelist, I remain a sucker for narrative.
The event a fine way to kickstart one of my own fresh aims ... to actively build up my appreciation of contemporary poetry. Part of Ray Bradbury's advice - for all writers - is that we start each day by reading a new poem. It breaks old patterns and shifts you into a newly creative way of looking out on the world.