3 minutes reading time (506 words)

POETRY THAT ISN'T

Over the last few years I’ve seen quite a lot of it.

I'm talking about poetry that isn’t prose but isn’t quite poetry either (whatever ‘poetry’ is). Something in between. I don’t say this as a criticism. I like it when text slithers in and out and won’t be pinned down.

Poets sometimes propose work that is like this. And several times people have suggested I might publish a pamphlet of poems with complementary art work. HappenStance doesn’t do illustrated work (Diana Gittins’ Bork! has been the only exception), so I say ‘No’ to that. Simples.

But I don’t by any means rule out a mixture of text forms, morphing in and out of whatever you might want to call them. Clare Best’s Treasure Ground had prose sections at start and finish, and there will be a pamphlet by Kris Evans next year that will mingle its forms magnificently.

And although I don’t personally publish art work with poetry, I like the idea. I like the way Ambit has always done this. I like the mixture in The London Magazine. So when people ask about it, I always want them to find a way to make it happen, even if it’s not through me.

So I was specially interested to read Estuary by Lydia Fulleylove, with artwork by Colin Riches. I published Lydia’s debut poetry pamphlet, Notes on Land and Sea in 2011, and knew something about the collaborative work that has underpinned this new book. It’s a paperback volume from Two Ravens Press (an imprint worth supporting) with eight laminated colour plates in the middle. The text itself, to quote the introduction, ‘has three elements: diary observations, poem meditations, and voices of those who work the land’.

The narratives in their various forms weave several threads into the whole. There’s the life of the farming world – human, plant and animal. There’s the poet’s father, who is ill. There’s the river estuary – the water, and the water creatures. There’s the weather, and the movement of the day from light to dark. There are the inmates in the prison, where the author is working part-time, and they too are writing and responding to the environment. There are people in the local community, which whom the author is also working: the High Tide poets and the Drawing Ahead artists. It sounds an impossible combination!

However, Lydia has cracked it. It works. This is a fascinating, moving, unusual piece of art. It is not expensively produced, nor without some minor flaws, but it is a marvellous demonstration of a project achieved. Matthew Stewart’s recent review on Rogue Strands gives more quotation and more of an insight into how it works.

Anyone who is interested in cross-art projects, or poems with pictures, or poems that aren’t necessarily ‘poems’, should take a look at this. It can be done. More people should think outside the poem-a-page book. More people should be determined to find a way to bring it into print. A pleasure to read, and to recommend.

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Comments 4

Guest - Simon R. Gladdish on Sunday, 02 November 2014 11:03

Dear Nell

It sounds fascinating. ( My poetry tends to rhyme and scan but then I'm a bit old fashioned in that way.) Perhaps poetry plus art is a potential way of getting contemporary poetry out of the doldrums.

Best wishes from Simon

Dear Nell It sounds fascinating. ( My poetry tends to rhyme and scan but then I'm a bit old fashioned in that way.) Perhaps poetry plus art is a potential way of getting contemporary poetry out of the doldrums. Best wishes from Simon
Guest - Nell Nelson on Sunday, 02 November 2014 11:52

I think what Lydia is doing is just writing in an interesting way -- and some writing doesn't have to be called 'poetry'. In fact, I think she calls parts of it 'poetic meditation'. Out of context that sounds a bit arty, but in context it is simply enjoyable and absorbing to read -- or it certainly was for me. I always think the word 'poetry' makes a grand claim. A lot of what I write myself is verse. The limericks, for example! I hope occasionally a poem makes an appearance. And in between there's much else!

I think what Lydia is doing is just writing in an interesting way -- and some writing doesn't have to be called 'poetry'. In fact, I think she calls parts of it 'poetic meditation'. Out of context that sounds a bit arty, but in context it is simply enjoyable and absorbing to read -- or it certainly was for me. I always think the word 'poetry' makes a grand claim. A lot of what I write myself is verse. The limericks, for example! I hope occasionally a poem makes an appearance. And in between there's much else! :)
Guest - Harriet Rowland on Sunday, 02 November 2014 21:02

.......Simply observing Lydias' metamorphosis from poet larva to colourful, expansive, exciting, writing aritst has been one of the cherished pleasures of my life so far!! Estuary has appeared to me as almost a "working autobiography so far" ( not to overlook Colins' amazing artwork! ).......what interests me most, though , is the anticipation of what is yet to come from this extraordinarily aware writer......

.......Simply observing Lydias' metamorphosis from poet larva to colourful, expansive, exciting, writing aritst has been one of the cherished pleasures of my life so far!! Estuary has appeared to me as almost a "working autobiography so far" ( not to overlook Colins' amazing artwork! ).......what interests me most, though , is the anticipation of what is yet to come from this extraordinarily aware writer......
Guest - Teika Bellamy on Friday, 14 November 2014 17:41

Thanks for this useful and enlightening post Nell. I'm *very* into the pairing of art with poetry and so the book you mentioned has now become yet another on my 'book wish list'! I'm so much into the pairing of poetry with art that I even began to learn to draw just so that I could easily accompany my own poems with the appropriate illustrations. That's how much I'm into it... ;-)

The first book I edited and published 'Musings on Mothering' had a lot of paired art and poetry, and I'm still super proud of having spent all that time arranging pictures and poems (and digging out *just* the right image for a poem - and vice versa). I think that all independent publishers do a certain amount of pairing art with words - their book covers are a good way, I think, for a publisher's personality to shine a little. I've always thought your book covers beautiful :-)

Thanks for this useful and enlightening post Nell. I'm *very* into the pairing of art with poetry and so the book you mentioned has now become yet another on my 'book wish list'! I'm so much into the pairing of poetry with art that I even began to learn to draw just so that I could easily accompany my own poems with the appropriate illustrations. That's how much I'm into it... ;-) The first book I edited and published 'Musings on Mothering' had a lot of paired art and poetry, and I'm still super proud of having spent all that time arranging pictures and poems (and digging out *just* the right image for a poem - and vice versa). I think that all independent publishers do a certain amount of pairing art with words - their book covers are a good way, I think, for a publisher's personality to shine a little. I've always thought your book covers beautiful :-)
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