Four Faber New Poets showcase their talent
Four poets chosen under the “Faber New Poets” scheme gathered to read their works before a diverse audience in Palace Green on 16th October. Faber “aims to identify and support emerging talents” and has toured the country in their bid to showcase the “new poets”.
Jack Underwood, a 25 year old librettist and PhD student was first to read. “Wilderbeast” – an imagined encounter with the Devil – is the most startling and provocative of his selection. Images from everyday existence – “my first time drunk” and “rain and a chip shop queue” are twisted into satanic scenes railing against the poet’s cry of “I am a good man”; this conjures familiar emotions felt when, on occasion, the world seems entirely against you. “Maths” is successful in poignantly satirizing the bizarrely worded maths-textbook questions which are so familiar from our school days. Underwood’s intentions are not as evident in all of his offerings. “Weasel” seems confused as to its motive, and I am unsure whether the revival of the weasel as a symbol of sexuality is entirely valid. “Your Horse” can also be described as odd, with little remarkable information being yielded from an encounter between the poet and his girlfriend’s pet.
Heather Phillipson was my favourite poet of the evening. Her witty and often sardonic observations about life were particularly enjoyable. After a short introduction describing her unusual family, she launched into “Relational Epistemology”. A colourful impression of her unconventional upbringing is soundly rendered in this poem, which was both light-hearted and thought provoking – the concluding lines philosophically stating that “whilst raisins may be the best part of a cake, a bag of raisins is not better than a cake”. Too true. Similarly, “Ablutions” dived into the bubble-addled musings which occur when one is in the bathtub. The verse unexpectedly evolves into a love poem, demonstrating the skill with which Phillipson is able to move from the ridiculous to the sublime using a common image. “The Woodeness of Wood” was a decidedly more silly subject, however, she may be excused this foray as I suspect it was a tongue-in-cheek take on some of the more arbitrary musings free verse may produce. I hope.
The poetically named Toby Martinez de las Rivas was up next. A Durham graduate himself, Rivas opened with a playful prod at Oxford for including seemingly obligatory “dialect poems” in their collections. He crafted a poem in faux-Scots, jesting “it’s aw th’ rage tae write a wee bit in the Scots tongue”. Point made, job well done. Less impressive was his extract from “Instructions on How to Raise the Dead”. He was inspired to sculpt an incantation to revive the deceased after the loss of a close friend. The “poem”, if it can be called such a thing, is a string of words which the poet had found affecting. The list of unconnected words slanting across the page reads more like a child’s spelling homework than poetry. The “hidden message” amongst the individually italicized letters, reads “pater noster upto in terra” (Latin for “Our Father who art on Earth”) is unashamedly pretentious. Conversely, the extract from “The White Road” provides a moving memorial to the poet’s grandmother who has recently died after a struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. I should have liked to have heard more from this particular poem.
The final “new poet” aired was Fiona Benson. There seemed an overriding sense of existential angst pervading the poetry she showcased. Death was a regular theme as was the “shocking” inclusion of an occasional profanity into poems which would have stood steady without the unnecessary addition. That said, “Yellow Room at Arles” provides an interesting personal and poetic response to Vincent Van Gogh’s painting “Bedroom at Arles”. “Sheep” provides a harsh and moving examination of miscarriage, comparing horror at the physicality of human miscarriage to nature’s unceremonious handling of abandoned still-born lambs. The poet’s clinical tone gives her work a sense of immediacy and calculated response to situations which are typically emotive, perhaps it could even be said that echoes of Plath could be felt in her style.
In the question and answer session which followed, Rivas stated, “there’s no reason why a poet should be any good at reading their own work”. He was right, as some poems definitely stand out more on the page than the stage. After the poets were asked about their “target audience”, all four concluded that they wrote solely for themselves. Unfortunately, often this was all too evident, with “self-indulgent” being an adequate label for some of their less focussed work. I take no exception to verse being “free”, “wholly absent” is however, somewhat different. Fortunately, talent was evident, with each poet showcasing work worthy of the occasion. I look forward to seeing what they produce as they hone their poetic skills further.