Titles are tough. At their best they can clue a reader in to otherwise ambiguous meanings, or subtly shift a reading. At their worst, they can be off putting, overly prosaic, pretentious or so weird they don’t work with the poem.
And with visual poems there’s the added bonus of having to juggle the sense-making in the picture with the sense-making in the words.
Luckily, there are random title-generators out there to save us. Ruggenberg’s title generator offered me ‘Lonely flames’ as one choice for this one, which makes me worry about cliche in the found words. Title-O-Matic suggested ‘Shine Radiant’. All of which makes me think we’re living in a huge poetry meme dictated by abstractions.
Poetic Name Generator suggested my name is Haiku, but it took a lot of questions, suggesting I’d nearly broken their algorithm. But this isn’t a Haiku.
Each poem in the collection was crafted as a response to the ideas, places or writing presented by Macfarlane as he documented a reflective journey through and of the Earth in a unique refractive travelogue that bends time and space.
Responding to a contemporary complex text is an interesting callout in itself (kudos to editor Matthew M. C. Smith), and the poetry doesn’t disappoint. The mixture of voices create a kind of poetic conversation; diverse, in style and content. This leads to surprising discoveries and juxtapositions as we read through the volume, making this an enriching and thought-provoking – letting the reader find their own particular paths to travel.
Stylistically, the poems range from short, word-rich imagist poems through to concrete poetry; they read as separate explorations, realising different reflections and representations that range from a sense of immersion and materiality to more spiritual reflections, some author-centric, some with a focus on a sensory understanding of Earth, centring the material rather than the human.
The accompanying illustrations by Rebecca Wainwright work sensitively with the poetry; this is a gentle, thought-provoking rather than a strident book. Both poetry and images take us underground as readers, into a different space, where the diversity of thoughts, images and reflections work to portray a multi-layered, fascinating world. There’s little self-conscious artifice in these responses, but instead, a deep sincerity.
Although there’s lots of great poetry in there, stand-outs at my first read were Robert Minnhinnick’s short, sonically charged ‘Hailstones’ and Jack Bedell’s three ‘Kate Mulvaney’ poems, which present a picture of gentle pragmatic witchiness grounded in specificity and detail.
A perfect book to read on a rainy Summer afternoon with a coffee and a biscuit.
Black Bough have released a series of soundscapes and readings to accompany the book.
The Hall of Small Requests is part-found, part-formal; poetry in a hybrid space, working with surrealist methods to dictate a kind of form. These led to a physical collage, then a prose-poem made from found text, and then to a sestina.
I think there’s something about working in a hybrid space between digital/physical which might be interesting to explore further here, also working with formal patterns but using chance-led words to dictate key parts of the formal element. A kind of blurring between these boundaries.
The text of the poem is made from what I could decipher from the vertical strips torn from the book. It reads:
In the Hall of Small Requests, under a Latin motto, a hatch in the stone archway surrenders small tickets to a crowded group of acrobats. A deep pile carpet muffles sound. I climb to an adjacent corridor, tilted towards an iron memorial. At the top it opens to the sky; the most beautiful bookshop in London.
The work of Brenda Hillman is extraordinarily rich. Hillman uses surrealist methods, including particular words as anchor points/formal points. I love the sense and intellect in her work. Reading her poetry led me to also revisit the poetry of Benjamin Peret & Andre Breton. Onwards!
And, somewhere in between all of them, the towering figure of Apollinaire. Calligrammes is extraordinary.
“There is not just one reality. There is only one’s own perspective, which can be very different depending on who you are…a compromise among many ways of seeing. Hence, realistic drawing is more like the smallest common denominator than any actual reality”
(Scheinberger, F. Dare to sketch: A guide to drawing on the go)
Another collage poem made in response to the brief at Singapore Unbound. Like this one, it’s using found text from secondhand books and surrealist methods to see if colonial-age narratives can be re-made in a different way.
Found poetry from “Main Fleet to Singapore” (Russell Grenfell), a colonial-age text that I’m trying to re-make, using the word Singapore without writing ‘about’ Singapore, in response to this competition brief.
It’s following a similar method to the fairytale poems from earlier, but using more material methods rather than photoshop.
It’s complex to work with archive material in this way. Too easy to jump to easy conclusions about what is ‘right’. Too easy to polarise. Every piece of material has sensitive claims. We do not and cannot ever know the personal histories of those captured in these photographs.
Source material: Grenfall, Main Fleet to Singapore