"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Stephen Romer: Poetry Doesn't Bite

I've said here before how puzzled I am that most literary bloggers seem to run a mile from contemporary poetry. Stephen Romer's Yellow Studio might be worth trying if you are suffering from this particular phobia. It's one of the best collections of 2008 and a substantial volume where all his skills of tender eroticism and lovely fluency of line are on display. The final section of the book, which contains a series of poems written after the death of his father, is particularly striking. Published by Carcanet under its "Oxford Poets" rubric (an obscurity explained by the fact that they bought up Oxford University Press's outstanding poetry list a few years ago when the venerable OUP's marketing people told them to junk their poetry) this volume was even reviewed in The Observer when it came out, a treatment normally reserved for the poetry celebs. Go on, try it.


Stephen Mitchelmore said...

It's clear I have a blindspot, if not a phobia, for poetry (whether contemporary or not). After thinking about it for a few moments, I suspect it's that I'm drawn to the development of sentences upon sentence, of blocks and more blocks of prose, rather than the more intimate play of words (if you'll excuse such crude reductions). I don't suppose that is the common reason. Perhaps poetry low profile is also due to the difficulty of speaking about it in public. Hence The Guardian resorting to dumbing down tactics recently by celebrating Betjeman: apparently he made poetry popular "again", as if light verse was ever unpopular.

Nicholas Murray said...

That's an interesting observation. I would say that what I like about Romer is precisely his "development of sentences" which is what I meant by fluency. It's a sort of liquid articulation which the best poets do so well. But at the same time there is a lot of very dull poetry around and bad poetry is far more a crime against the people than bad prose which can sometimes get something done even if it isn't aesthetically pleasing. A bad poem, by contrast, is no use to anyone. But in the end I locate the source of poetry's pleasure in those moments of light, epiphanies, where you suddenly see and feel intensely. That makes it all worth while. On the question of dumbing down the Guardian, which heroically gave space to small presses and little poetry publishers on a Saturday seems (I hope it is only seems) to have given up.

Bournemouth Runner said...

More a case, I think, that Poetry Bloggers write about poetry and ne'er touch the demon fiction, and fiction bloggers don't seem to find the time for poetry as they devour their Booker longlists. I tend to sit in the middle - but I don't tend to review so much as muse about things.