after The Log Lady
Sometime men, like ideas, jump up and say ‘hello’. They introduce themselves, these men, with words. Are they words? These men speak so strangely. All that we see in this world is based on someone’s men. Some men are destructive, some are constructive. Some men can arrive in the form of a dream. I can say it again: some men arrive in the form of a dream.
‘I was ashamed, but undaunted (my epithet?).’
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson is killing me sentence by sentence.
‘I read it again, from cover to cover, lying in bed on a grey morning. I looked ay my dressing grown, the turquoise towel hanging on the door, the North Pacific Ocean on the map above my bed reflecting in the mirror on the opposite wall and, very suddenly, the mid-January sky blue through the shreds of the trees.’
& while we’re on Maggie Nelson, Rebecca Perry writes beautifully on her Bluets in the latest The Poetry Review.
‘If we can’t have everything what is the closest amount to everything you can have?’
From a new poem by Emily Berry, which you can watch online thanks to a new reading series The Poetry Extension, founded by poet Natalya Anderson. The first event features Rebecca Perry, Jack Underwood, Matthew Tierney, Ada Limon, Emily Berry, Sara Peters. You can watch the event here.
‘do you know what it’s like to live / someplace that loves you back?’
from Danez Smith’s “summer, somewhere” first published in Poetry but also in the latest The Poetry Review thanks to their regular exchange with Poetry magazine.
‘Okay guys see you in a while’
Joey Connolly wants to read more books from other countries. I am very impressed. You can watch his progress & pick up book recommendations here. There’s also loads of good stuff on Joey’s blog. LATE ADDITION: Joey’s just made his entire reading list public which takes account of gender, ethnicity, countries etc with the objective of reading more broadly. It’s amazing! Take a look.
‘The new me would not talk about her feelings so publicly anymore’
from Julia Scheele’s brilliant comic on mental health and autobiography.
‘Sometimes, it feels like every day brings a new statement on abortion from someone whose opinion you really don’t want to hear.’
Stephanie Boland writes on Donald Trump and the UK’s own abortion problem in The New Statesman.
‘I looked like the mad wife in Jane Eyre / who was locked in the attic: hair crazy, / wearing my bathrobe over trousers / (I’d run out of clothes), crying & laughing / like there was no difference.’
This is from Kathryn Maris’s pamphlet 2008 published by If a Leaf Falls Press, which is run by Sam Riviere. The press publishes very limited edition poetry with an emphasis on appropriative and arbitrary writing processes. I am very excited to see what Monica McClure’s involves, which is coming soon.
‘if you’re lonely, this one’s for you’
so reads the dedication of Olivia Laing’s beautiful The Lonely City.
‘No space for body in the poetry. No / space for body at the cool kids party. No space for body / on the exam table. Definitely no space for body in the family / plot. Body all that potential.’
from The Fat Sonnets by Samantha Zighelboim.
‘How does it feel to be a problem? The mute centuries shatter in my ear.’
Safiya Sinclair’s winning poems from The Boston Review poetry competition.
‘we learned to speak of our own souls with great candour, so close did we feel to them, when before they had seemed like trick staircases to nowhere, sealed behind glass.’
A new poem by Sara Peters in The Walrus.
after Mabel Evelyn Key
it must be very beautiful
the place i’d like to spend my life in
is my new summer rigour
is all my own work
is the prettiest i’ve ever had
is the common task
my only pal
i believe i’m getting morbid
i often did without
some things that happen
is too much for my intelligence
everything seems very awful
quaint, pretty little thing
like other girls
i hope you never know
what it is to be lonely
all day & every day
cured of infatuation
not a soul remembered
This poem appeared in Roulade.
Last year Poetry London invited me to write a personal response to Rosemary Tonks’s collection poems, Bedouin of the London Evening, published by Bloodaxe. The response appeared in Poetry London’s Spring 2015 issue and is reproduced in full here.
Caught in the Champagne-sleet of Living: Amy Key’s personal response to Rosemary Tonks’s rediscovered poetry.
Sometimes when I read poems, they wash over me as if they were hardly there, a culinary foam, all air. ‘Can I taste this yet?’ I ask. Others I munch through like a bucket of popcorn, feeling dissatisfied and guilty afterwards. I can’t absent-mindedly munch Rosemary Tonks’s poems. Like a night spent downing shots of absinthe, I first binge-read The Iliad of Broken Sentences, the second of the long out-of-print collections she published in the 1960s, some six years ago and got terribly drunk. I loved her work but felt somehow overwhelmed as if the poems had layered me in a scent I couldn’t wash away. Reading Bedouin of the London Evening helps me understand why I felt this way.
In ‘Love Territory’, Tonks has layers of ‘bronze-brown dusk’, ‘bronze nights’, ‘brown nights’ and ‘deep bronze’ interspersed with ‘half-lit’, ‘half-dark’ and ‘half-light’. Repetition of certain words and ideas is a hallmark of her work. I’d probably ask for more variation if someone brought me this poem for feedback. But over the whole book it’s ‘savage’ and hideous – the accumulation of her Collected Poems’ sludgy colours becomes obsessive, creating menace. For me, these sepia poems provide a counter-balance to the dominant trope of Swinging London: all Union Jacks and Pop Art mini-skirts.
Tonks’s personal iconography extends to fabrics, cafes, meat and London, like particular colours these too, are recurring motifs. Two that struck me most – cabbages and diamonds – frequently appear in both her books. They seem to signify the queasy meld of the dreary and casual with the exotic and sensual. ‘Sentenced to cabbages’, Tonks notes ‘cabbage-light’, ‘cabbage-shade’ – and the more workaday cabbage stumps and banknotes. Diamonds are ‘spat… drunkenly’ or conversely ‘heavy drinking’, she wants to ‘take a diamond’ to scratch ‘your junkie’s green-glass skin’. I did wonder if Tonks had an awareness of this prevalence, in the same way you might collect ‘special’ pebbles from different beaches and find yourself unable to distinguish between them later. In another poet’s work, the overwhelmingly opulent layering of images and iconography might turn me off, but it’s precisely this excess that is so compelling to me in Tonks.
Reading Tonks has brought to mind lots of contemporary poets’ work. I can hear the pizzazz of Heather Phillipson, the disquiet of Emily Berry, Annie Freud’s elegant luxuriance, Fran Lock’s gothic tenderness. In re-reading her work, I’ve come to notice how influential Tonks was for me. Her exclamations and fondness for contrasting glitz with grime mark my own work. Most surprisingly I find myself thinking of the US poet Chelsey Minnis. To me, Tonks is a poet revulsed and intrigued by her own desires. Likewise Minnis’s poetry exposes the grubby, seedy and outrageous. It does this through an overlay of indulgent glamour, ‘like buttery sweetbreads spilled down the front of your dress’. Though more permissive than Tonks, Minnis is fascinated with her self-disgust: ‘Because I like both pleasure and revulsion… I have a great desire to enjoy my own disgust’.
I almost imagine it is to Tonks that Minnis addresses:
If you deny yourself pleasure, then what does it do for the people around you?
Are you trying to please god with right-seeming behaviour?
This is a dark dark error… (from ‘Poemland’)
In ‘Bedouin of the London Morning’ Tonks writes: ‘if you knew the exotic disgust that grips me… If you knew my (half erotic) convulsion of loathing’. She seems terrified we might turn our backs on her, but dares us to. Her poems are full of foreboding, as though she’s warning us off a terrible calamity. Sometimes this is very direct, as in the brilliant ‘Done for!’:
Take care whom you mix with in life, irresponsible one,
For if you mix with the wrong people
– And you yourself may be one of the wrong people –
If you make love to the wrong person,
They will do you ferocious, indelible harm!
If Tonks were writing today, I’d assume her work to be self-aware melodrama, a send-up – all those exclamation marks, that self-berating tone; it’s hard not to read with a millennial raised eyebrow. Yet I found it refreshing to read poems that are so gorged on their own feeling its impossible not to take them absolutely seriously. That’s not to say the poems are without their humour. How’s this for a one-liner? – in her take-down of the ‘Students in Bertorelli’s’:
Nothing holds upright but some cold green diction, banknotes, a penis.
And she can find herself ridiculous, for her ‘irresistibly amusing’ thoughts, her ‘fierce hot-blooded sulkiness’, for writing poetry – poets being ‘disreputable pets!’. I fiercely love this from ‘The Sofas, Fogs and Cinemas’:
Make them drink their own poetry!
Let them eat their gross novel, full of mud.
In perhaps Tonks’s best known poem, ‘Badly Chosen Lover’, Tonks addresses the poem’s subject: ‘My spirit broke its fast on you’. That poem – the first of hers I read, when it was anthologised by Bloodaxe – has taken on the quality of an anthem for me. I’m reminded of reading Anaïs Nin’s diaries at nineteen, swept up in ecstatic, grubby romanticism. These are ‘drug strong enough’ poems. I often had to steady myself when reading them, to close the book for fear of falling out of my own senses.
Amy Key’s first collection, Luxe (Salt, 2013), was reviewed in PL 87.
I want a show about Chelsey Minnis
I want a show about Rosemary Tonks
I want a show about Claudia Rankine
I want a show about Noelle Kocot
I want a show about Brenda Shaughnessy
I want a show about Audre Lorde
I want a show about Veronica Forrest-Thomson
I want a show about Eileen Myles
I want a show about Rae Armantrout
I want a show about Katsura Nobuko
I want a show about Marianne Moore
I want a show about Ten: the new wave
I want a show about Cathy Park Hong
I want a show about Sara Peters
I want a show about Adrienne Rich
I want a show about Alice Notley
I want a show about Dorothy Parker
I want a show about Tracy K Smith
I want a show about Amy Lowell
I want a show about Glitter is a Gender
I want a show about Ruth & Bianca Stone
I want a show about Christina Rossetti
I want a show about Charlotte Mew
I want a show about Den Sutejo
I want a show about Matthea Harvey
I want a show about Anne Sexton
I want a show about Emily Dickinson
I want a show about Luna Miguel
I want a show about Tender
I want a show about Kim Hyesoon
I want a show about Gwendolyn Brooks
I want a show about Ariana Reines
I want a show about Stevie Smith
I want a show about Gabby Bess
I want a show about Best Friends Forever
I want a show about Hoa Nguyen
I want a show about Gertrude Stein
I want a show about Mary Ruefle
I want a show about Denise Riley
I want a show about Anne Boyer
I want a show about Anne Carson
I want a show about Chelsey Minnis
I want a show about Chelsey Minnis
I want a show about Chelsey Minnis
Earlier in the Summer I was asked by the Southbank Centre to design a free poetry activity to run during the Festival of Love. My friend Camellia Stafford was with me when I got the email and we started to come up with ideas, one of which was based on a favourite game we like to play when we’re drinking. (One other idea, ‘Feeling Emojinal’ didn’t pass the test, but I hope I can make it happen one day).
So at the weekend Camellia and I set up camp in the Arcadia Pavilion at the Southbank Centre, and asked members of the public to help us create an epic love poem, which once finished will go into the Poetry Library’s permanent collection and will hopefully go online in its entirety somewhere.
The idea was that we’d write one ‘exquisite corpse’ style, with people responding only to the previous line in the poem, and in the process we’d make something weird and wonderful. To get us started I asked Maurice Riordan, Kathryn Maris and Patrick Mackie to write the first three lines. We then added one by John Keats and let the public take it on from there.
We were worried no one would get involved, but after a slow start whole families descended on us, each person keen to add their line on what love is, many choosing to put their love for their family on the record. Children added lines of love for pizza, Frisbee, rockets, fairies, salami and ice cream. One of my favourites came from my friend Wayne’s daughter:
Love is like a unicorn hat and lilies.
We interspersed them with lines from Rossetti, Dickinson, Yeats, both Brownings. Some of our poet friends popped down to add to the epic (thank-you Rebecca Perry, Crispin Best, Wayne Holloway-Smith, Sophie Richmond and Alex MacDonald). Others texted or tweeted lines for us to use. We spotted Neil Rollinson on his way to lead a poetry workshop & persuaded him to join in. Occasionally we slipped in ones of our own and in a POEM GOES GLOBAL moment, received a contribution from editor of POETRY magazine, Don Share.
By the end of the second day we had over 18 A3 pages of poetry, tacked up on the glass wall of the Royal Festival Hall – our guess is we have around 200 lines so far – not quite an epic yet. But what it lacks in epic scale, it surely makes up for in number of authors!
This coming weekend I’m doing it all again and will be joined by poets Emily Hasler (Saturday) and Alex MacDonald (Sunday). Come to see us between 11am – 4pm Sat 11 & Sun 12 July or tweet me @msamykey to contribute to this very strange and lovely thing.
On 1 December the Emma Press launches the book I edited for them, Best Friends Forever. It’s a book of poems on female friendship. I say I ‘edited for them’ but in truth I put my heart on my sleeve and asked them to publish it for me. It’s a book I had to will into being, not being able to find anything that does what I wanted it to do. From my intro:
“When I was younger, I wanted to be part of the cult of Best Friends. I wanted the necklace, the endless telephone talk and the secret pact. I wanted to be able to name the girl in that coveted spot. I wanted that certainty both emotionally (my own dear heart) and practically (someone to eat my lunch with).
Then, when I was 14, the riot grrrl movement connected me to other women and girls and gave me a worldwide cohort of sisters. This was a massively emboldening thing for me and the idea of The One BFF became less important, as I began to understand friendships as more elastic, complex and various. While the count-on-one hand friends are steadfast and have become like sisters, there have been others who were very present in my life for just a little time – the right time – and who will always be special to me. Knowing this also makes me wonder about the friends I’ve not yet made, who will become important to me in future years.”
It’s with this in mind, it feels quite auspicious that in a few days time Julia Scheele will launch Double Da Ya – a riot grrrl inspired superzine. I contributed two pieces to it. For one of them I invited some women writers I admire (Katherine Angel, Chrissy Williams, Livia Franchini, Martha Sprackland, Sophie Mackintosh, Rebecca Perry, Francine Elena, Amy May, Kathryn Maris), to the pub to taste kids’ sweets and review them for me. I asked them to come along by email, an email with the subject line ‘will you be my friend’ (inspired by Kathryn Maris’s poem from Best Friends Forever). I’d not met one of the women I invited, a couple of others I’d only met a few times, some I invited are good friends already. We sat in the back of the Princess Louise, making ourselves sick on swizzle sticks and Haribo.
I organised it in the spirit of/it reminded me of when me and my sister Rebecca held a riot grrrl tea party, sometime in 1992 or 1993 probably. We made fairy cakes iced with spider webs and plotted the revolution. One of the girls that came along was in a band called Pussy Cat Trash. I remember seeing her play a song at a dingy club in Sunderland, a song for a friend. I forget what is was called but the essence of the song was a wish that her ‘arms could stretch to be there for you now’. It was a love song, a song of regret felt for not being there for someone, for letting them down, for being too far away. It’s always stayed with me and was in my mind when editing the book – especially the section called ‘I let your hand go’.
Some of my ‘best’, most enduring friendships have at times made me very sad, or caused pain. It was important for me that Best Friends Forever wasn’t overly sweet, that it reflects real friendships and that is what I want to celebrate. We’re having a launch party on 1 December at the Vauxhall Teahouse Theatre. It’s free! Come along and hear some of the wonderful contributors to the book and raise a glass to friendship.
Meanwhile, I saw a group of my BFFs last weekend in Edinburgh and gave them all copies of the book, which I made in part as a tribute to them and I’m sending copies to my other BFFs.
Love you forever.