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The Fabric of Cringe … and how to avoid it.

We’re a big fan of Judy Brown’s poetry – here she is reading from her Forward shortlisted Seren collection Loudness – so we are very pleased we’ve been able to tempt her to teach for us this Autumn.

Jusy is interested in getting to the nub of how to successfully incorporate details of our modern lives – our technology, our work, our landscapes – into poetry, and on her new course, ‘Poetry and the Stuff of Modern Living’, she’d like to bring you along with her.

Judy writes …

‘There are great new poems that could have been written 50 years ago – but what if you want to talk about your life exactly now?

Jen Hadfield knows how, mixing nature poems with totally natural details of modern life.  This is us: puffballs and lichen with choked-up freezers, answerphones and quadbikes.  In ‘Byssus’, children on a walk, caught up ‘in a current of complaint / and omniscient / App-light’ eventually ‘crack […] open/ their phones like geodes.’

Hadfield has been quoted as saying she wants her poems to be honest about the fact that speech is a mixture ‘of ancient words and new coinages’.  One kind of honesty is to accept everything as fair game for poems, as Peter Redgrove does.  The alternative is the photographer who waits until the cars have moved off before clicking.

Sometimes the focus on newness is more intense.  ‘[T]his is me accessing my email,’ Sam Riviere tells us in ‘Nobody Famous’, ‘I think my password 40 times a day / what kind of effect is that having’.  One effect may be opportunities: for the lush musing of Polly Atkin’s ‘Somnography’ and its dreamed messages; for Chrissy William’s headlong inventiveness; or for the glitzy appreciation of stuff in Amy Key’s work.  Even the sheer intimidation of Sylvia Plath’s icebox and sewing machine in ‘An Appearance’.

Sure, there are terrible poems by poets self-consciously delighted (or bemused) about their now-obsolete gadgets.  Perhaps it’s over-reliance on the subject’s novelty which deflates over time into a fabric of cringe.  The abandoned and obsolete seem easier to write than goods still in their cartons.  But why then do proper names (including brands and film titles) often work so well in poems it feels like a trick?

Poems about work are hard to pull off.  Successful ones often concern work with a long history – teaching, farming, ‘mending wall’, physical work.  But Claire Crowther and Tiffany Atkinson have written memorable poems about offices – supplemented by Tony Williams’ angry wait at the photocopier while ‘your clothing passes from fashion, and from the annals of fashion.’

Apart from our homes, where much of our stuff is kept, inspiration smokes off our objects of shopping desire (and even shops themselves), and out of semi-public spaces such as hotels, car parks, lifts , or cafes and restaurants (Rosie Sheppard has written about the Dulwich Gallery Cafe).  There’s a lot of poetry in these halfway houses – and even in the garbage which blows through them.

Here in their piazzas and atria, on their uncomfortable seating, under their arches, we are both accompanied and alone, always a good start for a poem.  The same is true of transport – the dreamy alienation of airports, the visceral clutch of a crammed tube.

I hope you’ll join me in writing about who we are now, in a way that will still seem fresh tomorrow.’

Spend a term wrangling the modern aspects of your life into poems that at least tip a wink to timelessness – book here or give us a ring on 0207 582 1679

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Image Credits:

Image: Coles supermarket at Southland Shopping Centre, Melbourne, Australia

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons