In advance of our launch this weekend at the Durham Book Festival, we present some quick cuts and choice rashers from the upcoming issue of Butcher’s Dog magazine, co-edited by Sophie F Baker (from the naughty) and The Poetry School (from the sour).
It was a Herculean labour cutting almost 750 poems or so down to 20 odd, but with lots of tea, emails-at-1am and discussions about the acceptable and unacceptable uses of ‘breasts’ in a poem, we’ve put together an issue we’re immensely proud of.
I’ll be sharing my personal thoughts about the whole editing experience in another blog post, but for now, I leave you with this modest sampler, a reminder of what we’re all in this for – deft, intelligent poetry that picks you up to dance, kicks you in the heart and shares a bag of chips with you on the night bus home.
Earlier this week, I asked some of the BD4 poets to say a few words about their selected poems. This is what they said…
LISA MATTHEWS on ‘The private rooms of Stanley Spencer’
‘This idle engine, this finished heart. Plumb-line in a corner, a forgotten
art. Handprints. A cave roof. The space between the parquet, the parakeet
The precise mystery of poetry is a beautiful thing: it disrupts and defies, magnifies and explodes, speaks and is silent – all at once, and in amazing and contradictory ways. When we write we don’t just fling any old words on the page. We work at poems. We consider, we draft, we re-draft, we scan, we wax and we wane with our work, we listen to and simultaneously block out the big and great voices (and the small ones that we admire) – we sound our own voice like the hull of a ship. Writing poetry is the most precise act I undertake in my life and yet it is, at the same time, the most mysterious. My poem ‘The private rooms of Stanley Spencer’ was inspired by a very old fragment I remembered from one of my journals. Many years ago I attended one of Gillian Allnutt’s writing workshops where she used Spencer’s portrait of the sisters as a creative prompt. The image really affected me. I’ve no idea why, and that’s all part of the mystery. Poetry is what I do – it’s like food or sleep or sex or shelter: it feels like a physical function, a bodily compulsion. Initially I wrote about the two women in the image and in my burgeoning, mid-90s narrative the women were lovers, not sisters. Then the journal filled up, I put it away and started a new one. And another. And another. Then, for some reason – about six months ago – I was I drawn back to the fragment about the sisters and felt compelled to write this current poem. There’s no filing system to my journals but interestingly it usually doesn’t take long to retrace my steps and find what I am looking for (as long as I don’t try too hard to consciously remember). This poem is one of a growing sequence about a woman who sits for Spencer in his studio. She wants to fly an airplane and she rejects entirely the traditional notion of marriage. I have no idea who she is. So, while it’s not about Spencer, the poem is – on some level – about the act of looking and its relationship to the looked-at object. And vice versa. That’s the reason for the two-parts to the piece. There’s some kind of dialogue going on between the normal and italicised fonts in parts I and II. Though I am not sure if I know what, exactly, that dialogue is exploring. Perhaps it’s gender roles and expectations. Perhaps I am the woman in the poem, or maybe I am Spencer, or maybe I am both or neither. At this point in my writing life these are not the important things to try and understand – you can no more explain a poem than fold water into an envelope – it’s the emotional potential, how a poem might make me and the reader feel that’s of vital importance. Prose poems inhabit a liminal zone between two forms. Long lines. Short lines. Description or invocation. I wrote to a friend and fellow poet that I did not understand why this poem needed to be a prose poem, other than the form “felt right”. I am sitting in a chair writing this and nothing and everything makes sense in the moment of the poem. That’s why I read poetry and it’s why I write it. And somewhere between the two worlds I find some kind of uneasy equilibrium that is my writing practice.
IRA LIGHTMAN on ‘Magnetic Naughty’
‘though I am from the sour, let me sing of the naughty’
My poem ‘Magnetic Naughty’ celebrates the North, where I moved to live at the beginning of the millennium, and renames North as naughty, South as sour, East as least and West as less, for fun: the poem plays with renaming institutions of the North (e.g., magnetic North, New Writing North, up North, becomes magnetic Naughty, New Writing Naughty, up Naughty). I wanted to give some sense of the North as joyous and anarchic and sexy, which is how I see it (coming from the Sour-Least). It’s not very thought-out, but was written on a napkin at a poetry slam night in 5 minutes, years ago. I like to labour at poems, but sometimes you’ve got to leave a first draft alone.
LAURA TANSLEY on ‘Outside Edges’
‘glasses lip to lip gasping to be near a mouth’
‘Outside edges’ is concerned with one of those many moments when we step over the line from childhood to adulthood and we either make a hasty retreat or plough forward blind.
KAY BUCKLEY on ‘Opus Anglicanum’
‘Walk through long grass,
pick a blade; sharpen it until its root is clean.
Listen. The wind is the only winding shaft.’
‘Opus Anglicanum’ is a poem that is very personal to me. I wanted to write a poem commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of the miner’s strike and to mark the cultural changes that have happened to my home town. I have always been interested in the NUM banners so I use them throughout the poem both to mark the key points in my life – but also to show how for towns like Barnsley the changes that have taken place are akin to that of the Reformation. ‘Opus Anglicanum’ is a celebration of the mining culture and a timely reminder of how power works. Its form of a narrative poem which uses the layout of a medieval text is used to ‘reclaim’ my view of historical events and like the banners themselves, signifies a heritage that still resists being forgotten.
NATALIE SHAW on ‘He liked her to talk about other women’s breasts’
‘then Sam, always on display,
flat as Marie-Antoinette’s
champagne cups – pop!’
For me, this starts off light and fluffy and ends up as quite a dark poem – the woman loses her head at the end which could be about sexual ecstasy but it’s also about how in this situation it’s not really her head (or her) that counts. I have no idea what people reading it think though.
SARAH MOOR on ‘Peggy’ and ‘Shearers’
look of women,
the silent scissoring
belief in rhythm.’
‘Peggy’ and ‘Shearers’, are speculations on work; agricultural soundscapes; and (probably) about rejection. Peggy is a childhood memory; Shearers are 11 standing stones up by Hownam, in the Cheviots.
STEPHEN PAYNE on ‘Plato’
‘A man stands in front of a life-size statue of a fox terrier
sitting up with its head cocked to one side.
The man’s head is tilted a little too’
My poem, ‘Plato’, begins on the page, and began in my head, with an observation, a sighting of humans in the wild. I made brief notes-for-a-poem, but these sat around for ages (months, years, I’m not sure), until one day I was reading about division of labour, for my research, and came across the Plato quote. It brought the poem-notes to mind, and that was when I started working on the poem. I ‘finished’ it a long time before I submitted it; I’m very slow in that way, usually.
DAVID LUKENS on ‘The Weight of History’
‘The poet whose sonnets had lain for years unnoticed
in a Georgian desk before Vic found them. The ballerina
searching her make up case for its cache of drugs.’
My poem ‘The Weight of History’ is about a vast retail area (junk shop, emporium, antique shop – none of these terms do it justice) which I visit regularly and sometimes buy a chair, a pot and once an old fireplace. Every time I go there the shop is more crowded, the gangways narrower and the stacks of furniture higher. I wanted to capture the sense of danger one feels navigating around the shop where the slightest wrong move could disturb the equilibrium and result in death or serious injury. But I keep returning and the owner keeps piling them up so I also wanted to recognise the fascinating attraction of these old things with all their histories. I am aware in myself of both the urge to collect stuff and the panic as it starts to take over your life – so I assumed (probably unfairly) that this is an important dynamic conflict for the owners.
MAGGIE SAWKINS on ‘The Emptiness’
‘and the rain will drain through you
and the rain will drain through you.’
One of my preoccupations is how we deal with the metaphorical hole in our chest, the hole we spend our lives trying to fill. ‘The Emptiness’ personifies this hole, enabling it to find a resolution that isn’t always possible in real life. I guess the poem’s informed by my personal and professional experience of people in addiction.
JULIE MELLOR on ‘Out of the Weather’
‘we pray for those
who dash with trolleys across Tesco’s
miraculous car park, shimmering, soaked.’
My poem, ‘Out of the Weather’ was written at a Poetry Business Writing Day (run by Peter and Ann Sansom). I can’t remember the actual exercise, but I work in the spare room a lot and find myself gazing out onto the bowling club, the moors and a Tesco’s car park – an odd combination I know, but that view was in my mind when I wrote the poem. Throw bad weather into the mix and the writing found it’s way fairly quickly. Unlike some poems I’ve worked on, this one was relatively painless!
JAMES GIDDINGS on ‘I have wasted many days’
‘I want to live like a carton of milk, blissfully unaware
of my expiry date.’
The poem is quite erratic with some surrealist images in. It focuses on a person’s perception about their life and how meaningful it has been. It ends with some hope I think, but without sentiment.
JOHN CHALLIS on ‘Advertising’
‘Axes swing for human heads, the gallows
start their jig, and men sell unwanted wives:
the horseshit is piled high beside the meat labelled fresh.’
I used to work in advertising. The agency was on St John’s Lane, more-or-less opposite Smithfield Meat Market, and every day for two and half years I walked through the market just as it was packing up. You’d usually see a butch of butchers drinking outside The Hope at 9am. It made the city seem so 24hrs. Their evening, my morning. Years later I wanted to write something that paired the two professions, and that also explored a historical context. I’m interested in how time works within poems and wanted to use the market to travel back, (the area had been used for trading since the middle ages), in order to suggest how very little, especially the fundamental goal of employment, changes. The area was, and still is full of salesmen.
STEVE ELY on ‘Paul and Laura Mandragora’
‘Paul’s dick smelled of apples, Laura’s apples
smelled of dick. He bit the crinkled berries.
She sucked the rooty wick.’
‘Paul and Laura Mandragora’ is a poem symbolising and satirising the implied ontology of (post)modernity/late capitalism, in which human beings are increasingly defined as privatised material beings whose sole purpose on earth is to seek advantage, hedonism and pleasure. As a five-pointed root, the mandrake is a physical symbol of humankind, with the points standing for earth, air, fire, water and spirit – a holistic being. However, mandrakes famously scream when they’re pulled from earth – they’re so attached to their medium. This vegetable tantrum is akin to the contemporary human response when our infantile demand for instant gratification (our earthy and earthly pleasures) are denied us. Mandragora is the drug made from mandrake, a heroin-like narcotic. My not-so-subtle references to sex allude to the normalisation of pornography in the internet age. So this is ‘modern man’ – drugged on pleasure and porn, neglecting the kids – that is, the wider world and the future – who/which, as a consequence, threaten to be even more materialistic and one-dimensional. And there are nine billion of us. No wonder we’ve lost half the animals on earth in a generation. In the collection I’m writing at the minute, Incendium amoris, there are quite a few poems exploring mandrakes, the four elements, spirit, pentagrams and other five-pointed symbols of humanity.