Goin’ On a Holiday

September 5, 2009

Goin’ on a Holiday…

Well, by the time you read this I’ll be on my annual post-festival European Vacation. I’m heading to Berlin to visit the mysterious, musical mastermind, D-Rock and then will be heading east with the cartoonist Dan Meth. Here’s an example of what our conversations are likely to sound like:


Poetry is for Reading …

so I’m bringing along a couple of collections I’m anxious to read. I’ve got Sharon Old’s “One Secret Thing” already packed. I was very pleased to see Olds reading at the Edinburgh Book Festival and would recommend any of her books to anyone. These poems are honest, deceptively simple, and as visceral as a punch in the neck. I like her poems because they always have a little blood on them. And I mean that in the most beautiful, loving way.

Anya Yurchyshyn, at Esquire, said this: “Here’s one of my favourite poems from ‘One Secret Thing’, the second poem from Part Four: Cassiopeia. I’m not sure if I need to write anything ever again. She kinda covers it all.” Which echoes my sentiments exactly. This is the kind of poetry which, as a writer, simultaneously makes me want to write more, write everything, get it down, share it out and yet also makes me want to stop writing for fear that it has been done before, done better, deeper and with more resonance.

2. The Music

On the phone my mother says she has been sorting
Her late darling’s clothes—and it BREAKS
, and then there are soft sounds,
as if she’s ‘been lowered down, into
a river of music. I’m not unhappy,
she says, this is better for me than church
her voice through tears like the low singing
of a watered plant long not watered,
she lets me hear what she feels. I could be in a
cradle by the western shore of a sea, she could
be a young or an ancient mother.
Now I hear the melody
of the one bound to the mast. It had little
to do with me, her life, which lay
on my life, it was not really human life
but chemical, it was approximate landscape,
trenches and reaches, maybe it
was ordinary human life.
Now my mother sounds like me,

the way I sound to myself—one
who doesn’t know, who fails and hopes.
And I feel, now, that I had wanted never to stop blaming her,
like eating hard-shelled animals
at mid-molt. But not my mother
is like a tiny, shucked crier
in a tidepool beside my hand. I think
I had thought I would falter if I forgave my mother,
as if, then, I would lose her—and I do
feel lonely, now, to sense her beside me,
as if she is only a sister. And yet,
though I hear her sighs close by my ear,
my mother is in front of me somewhere, at a distance,
moving slowly toward the end of her life,
the shore of the eternal—she is solitary,
a woman alone, out ahead
of everyone I know, scout of the mortal, heart
breaking into solo.

Thanks to Esquire for posting this poem here.

Buy her new book here.

While searching for a good poem…

I found this lovely video of Olds reading Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California” which is an amazing poem.

Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?”

You can read the text along with the video at the Poetry Archive


I’m also bringing …

Sam Meekings’ “The Bestiary” which I started dipping into about a year ago. At the time, I found it shockingly gorgeous and was not surprised to find it calling out to me, begging to be brought abroad.

The book is broken up into two parts: Water and Air. What strikes me the most is that Meekings is able to do that brilliant thing where he can describe the natural world in a way that sits in your stomach. It’s not just a poem about A Frog or Oysters or Jellyfish – it is about death, love, age, childhood, memory, hope. Maybe this doesn’t sound so impressive but I often find myself reading poems about trees which are just, you know, about trees. (I’m not particularly interested in trees.)

Anyway, it is a highly enjoyable collection and hope others will get a chance to pick it up.

Here’s a good review from Horizon if you are interested.

I remember reading the “Air” section and finding it so gutting I thought my intestines were going to fall out. As a writer – I always in in awe of poets who can pull off lines like:

“all the things we never said came hissing out / and made me old in a second.”


“… the way to kill a thing is with words.”


“We lined up in silence, as if it were an altar / at which were given countless lives, // where the tresses and tears of our eyelids, fingers, lips / were all stitched to the hem of the sky.”

Me, I find I can’t pull off that kind line without sounding utterly disingenuous. The images are new and fresh and, yes, startling. His poem about hedgehogs almost made me cry.

Worth finding a copy. You can buy it here or can borrow it from the good ol’ SPL. Also, our multi-talented friend, Will Brady, did a great job on the cover design. Which is quite handsome.

Also in the bag…

  • Cold medicine. I always get ill when I’m trying to have a good time.

  • David Simon‘s book, Homicide. (Which Cannongate has just re-released here along with “The Corner”.) I read “The Corner” last year and was totally blown away by the epic quality of Simon’s reporting, his empathy is surpassed only by his attention to detail and intense research. Simon is the creator of The Wire (which, if you’ve not seen yet, I am deeply envious of you). I got to shake hands with him the other day at the Book Festival. Surprisingly, we had a really good little chat about the best place to get pizza in New Haven. I said Pepe’s. He said Sally’s. The eternal debate rages on. If this sounds strange – watch  :httpv://

  • A rough draft of my new manuscript. I hope to beat those boys into shape.

  • A very small camera.

Poetry is for Reading Part Three: “The Father” by Sharon Olds

June 25, 2009

oldsPoetry is for Reading pt. 3: The Father, Sharon Olds.

I keep dipping into this beautiful book about the death of Olds’ father. The poems are strikingly realistic and honest and have a universal quality to them. I love how Olds manages to capture all the moments of dying – of physical touching, memory and history – into her poems. The book, of course, risks becoming a home-movie or a sugar-coated ode to a loved one. However, Olds is defiant and original in her voice and it makes for an incredible, gut-churning read.

As I was reading the book I kept drifting back to my grandfather’s body lying in hospital and waiting to die. I recalled his shrunken form and how the spit crusted to his dry lips. I remember looking at him, remember words spoken between short breath and I wondered how impossible it might be to speak or write this, this passing. The days in the hospital just seemed so singularly personal and tragic that a poem either felt like it wasn’t big enough or felt massively too big, too weighty for what was essentially a simple thing, a natural and ultimate thing. I remember thinking, “I must remember this.”

If you have ever lost a loved one – this is a book to wrap yourself in again and again. The Father gave me some time with my own beloved and deceased. Like all great books, The Father is a little door that let’s you go some place you don’t normally go. I was grateful for the door.

The Mortal One

Three months after he lies dead, that
long yellow narrow body,
not like Christ but like one of his saints,
the naked ones in the paintings whose bodies are
done in gilt, all knees and raw ribs,
the ones who died of nettles, bile, the
one who died roasted over a slow fire—
three months later I take the pot of
tulip bulbs out of the closet
and set it on the table and take off the foil hood.
The shoots stand up like young green pencils,
and there in the room is the comfortable smell of rot,
the bulb that did not make it, marked with
ridges like an elephant’s notched foot,
I walk down the hall as if I were moving through the
long stem of the tulip toward the closed sheath.
In the kitchen I throw a palmful of peppercorns into the
as if I would grow a black tree from the soup,
I throw out the rotten chicken part,
glad again that we burned my father
before one single bloom of mold could
grow up
out of him,
maybe it had begun in his bowels but we burned his
the way you burn the long blue
scarf of the dead, and all their clothing,
cleansing with fire. How fast time goes
now that I’m happy, now that I know how to
think of his dead body every day
without shock, almost without grief,
to take it into each part of the day the
way a loom parts the vertical threads,
half to the left half to the right like the Red Sea and you
throw the shuttle through with the warp-thread
attached to the feet, that small gold figure of my father—
how often I saw him in paintings and did not know him,
the tiny naked dead one in the corner,
the mortal one.

Published by Knopf.

Ryan to Speak at Cambridge University – June 19.

June 17, 2009

America Week at Cambridge University: Will there be hotdogs?

America Week at Cambridge University: Will there be hotdogs?

I’ve been invited to speak at an event at Cambridge University. The event, I Hear America singing: an American Poetic Revue, is part of America Week at Clare Hall and features myself and the poet Tamar Yoseloff talking about and reading works from some of our favourite contemporary American poets. There will also be free American Wine!(But will there be hot dogs?)

The Event is Friday June 19th and starts at 8pm.

For those interested but unable to make it here is the list of poets & poems ‘ll be talking about. Most of these poems / poets can be found at the Scottish Poetry Library. Do come see me at my office hours on July 7th from 4 – 6pm if you want to find out more about the following poets / poems.

Here they are in no particular order:

* Marita Garin, Huskies

* Charles Bukowski, Trouble

* Etheridge Knight, Feeling Fucked Up (from his selected works)

* Robert Pinsky, The Want Bone

* CK Williams, Insight (from The Forward Book of Poetry 1998)

* Mark Doty, Where You Are (from Sweet Machine)

* Tom Sleigh, Newsreel (from Far Side of the Earth)

* Michael Burkard, Tooth (from Unsleeping)

* Wendell Berry, The Inlet (from Given)

*Joy Harjo, We Must Call A Meeting (from In Mad Love and War)

* Cornelius Eady, I Know (I’m Losing You)(from You Don’t Miss Your Water)

* Raymond Carver, Locking Yourself Out, Then Trying to Get Back In (from All of Us)

* Sharon Olds, The Glass, (from The Father)

* Hayden Carruth, The Quality of Wine (from Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey)