How long should a poet leave between collections? Will fifteen years do?
Martin Edwards’ HappenStance pamphlet Rainstorm with Goldfish is his second collection. His first – also a pamphlet (he was a Redbeck Press pamphlet competition winner) – was Coconut Heart in 1997.
So Edwards has had no fewer than fifteen years to mull the poems between the pages of Rainstorm with Goldfish. And I think it shows. Without meaning to lapse into blurbonic plague (see Dennis O'Driscoll in Dark Horse, issue 25), the language here is distilled. There’s a purity in the understatement that strikes me as rare, and beautiful.
Poetry’s a fickle business. It was back in 1984 that Martin first encountered a little blaze of glory. He had poems in a Faber anthology, Hard Lines, and before he knew it he was being interviewed on Radio 1 as one of the latest gifted young poets.
It’s 2012, so it doesn’t take a genius to work out he’s no longer young and the blaze of glory was short-lived. But he’s been a faithful servant to the Muse all this time. He doesn’t write lightly.
Here, for example, is ‘Grief’. It looks so easy.
Your eyes and nose and mouth
in a pattern of stars, gone
in a blink.
All the palaces of your voice were empty;
all the labyrinths of your fingerprints.
Or there’s ‘Hate’, which begins:
I’m sixteen and just beginning
to hate myself.
How could anyone not want to read the rest?
Rainstorm with Goldfish outfaces brevity with depth. And although there is something valiantly restrained about working against the current, about resisting the imperative of publish publish publish, I hope it won’t be fifteen years before Edwards does more. Anna Adams, in Island Chapters, says “True poems come into being at the top of an experience chain, as people and birds of prey are at the top of a food chain”, “something found, not something sought”. Sometimes the necessary experience chain takes fifteen years. Or more.
It has been suggested – by Robert Nye, among others – that patience, for a poet, is a mandatory requirement. Waiting until the poem is ready. Again, I can feel myself toppling into numinosity (stop, woman, stop before it’s too late!) but there is something in this.
There are innumerable ways of writing poetry. Some are young and full of life and playfulness and sheer delight. Exhilarating and fast and intoxicating. But a few writers take a lifetime to say a handful of small things plainly. Rainstorm with Goldfish belongs in that group.