2014 was my first year as lecturer at the University of East Anglia, and I am honoured to be able to introduce such an exciting body of work. It’s been a pleasure to teach this talented bunch of poets, and a delight to see their work change and strengthen, even in the short time I’ve known them. Teaching the MA workshop this year has been energising and exhausting in equal measure: each student brought their best work, born of their lives, their experiences, their interests and their hard work, to workshops each week, and whilst the work varies greatly in style and theme, each student treated the work of their peers with respect and admiration. Moreover, what these poets share is a commitment to making the familiar new, to discovering fresh forms, original images, strange and wonderful new modes of expression.
What I enjoy the most about William Annesley’s work is his reduction of the physical world, time and space, to the poem itself, its subjective lyric interiority. The final lines of ‘Burn it into’, for example, reduce both time and space to a private missive between speaker and subject: ‘Flatten the space around the moment over and over again until it becomes Lick / its back and post it to me’.
Urvashi Bahuguna’s poetry is meditative, dreamy, almost imagist in its stark simplicity. As such, one of Bahuguna’s real strengths as a writer is her ability to compose precise, focused and highly original imagery. From the beautifully specific ‘bangle’ which ‘hangs like a lantern’ in ‘Space’ to the ominously vague ‘thing more real than a word’ in ‘The Kite Runner’, these poems present us with highly original yet understated imagery throughout.
Sam Buchan-Watts has a particular gift for making the familiar new. His poems bring an eerie new life to the domestic, the everyday; the ‘collapsing futon’, that perennial living room fixture, gains agency and menace, ‘angling itself back / like a sexless wave’. There’s a pleasing mistrust of nostalgia in this work: even the photograph, possibly the ultimate embodiment of nostalgia, is problematised, treated with suspicion, even: ‘one ear of my dog is serendipitously / folded back forever’.
Kate Duckney’s poems are marked with a distinctive aesthetic style, particularly through her use of gaps and lacunae within lines. The hesitancy or splitting of voice and language created by this technique is mirrored in the themes of the poems, particularly the recurring negotiation of the relationship between women and nature present in many of the poems featured here. The speaker in these poems often seems torn between the desire for symbiosis between herself and nature and a recoiling from the effacing of agency such pastoral desires might bring, resulting in a fracturing of self: ‘a small colossal song of splitting, joining’.
A J Hodson’s sequence of poems takes us through the latter days of a dying man’s life with a great deal of skill and subtlety. Through the use of a variety of techniques, Hodson manages to convey a deep sense of loss and sadness without tipping into cliché or hyperbole. Rather, death is present in the everyday, the domestic: the ‘shower curtain / [gliding] around his bed’ mimicking the final curtain of the crematorium, ‘automated / leisurely circling the coffin’.
Affly Johnson’s poems concern themselves often with the lyric moment: the possibilities (and impossibilities) of capturing the specificities of a particular time and place engraved into memory through language. This results (amongst other things) in some wonderfully original imagery, from the stark directness of ‘[t]here are bits of your hair in the bin’ to the more abstract ‘biting the pastry arches of our home’.
There’s an exquisite sense of character throughout Madeleine Kruhly’s poetry. One of Kruhly’s real strengths as a poet is her ability to paint a detailed and vivid lyric portrait of a person in a very small and sparse space of words. From the ‘bulging throat’ and ‘thickplaid vest’ in ‘The Photo of Ken’ to the esoteric phrases in ‘In the morning’, Kruhly’s poems are littered with vivid subjectivities, painted with grace, humour and love.
Marena Lear has a lyric gift for enveloping the big within the small. From the ‘intricate galaxies of movement’ contained within the dancing bodies of ‘Tango’ to the ‘three years and five time zones’ separating the speaker from her memories in ‘Through the Window’, Lear manages gracefully to contain universal themes within the specific intricacies of daily life.
There’s an incurable subtlety and complexity of human emotion present in Jo Surzyn’s poetry. Always implied and never named, the emotions present in Surzyn’s work show themselves through image and turn of phrase, from the ominous final image of ‘template for a storm’ to the slippage between subject and object (through the image of a packet of rotting fruit) in ‘pipping’. These are precise, sparse and perfectly pitched poems, designed to take our breath away.
Katie Swinson’s work concerns itself often with the relationship between present and past, particularly in relation to knowledge and understanding. As such, Swinson’s poems are often placed between two temporalities, the speaker’s hindsight providing a counternarrative to a past experience, managing to look backwards and forwards at once, suspended, skilfully, between two or more places and times. Swinson also plays with our subjective experience of time: the present tense of ‘The Block at Evening Time’ gives us a sense of continuity, the endless stretch of domestic time we experience as children.
James Sykes develops a pleasingly complex lyric speaker within his poems, often treading a thin line between humour and vulnerability, irony and the confessional: ‘at the buffet table / feeling violent, feeling stupid, feeling ugly, feeling inappropriately erotic eating a falafel wrap’. There’s a real and raw humaneness to Sykes’s rendering of the lyric self in these poems, pleasing and moving in turn, and intensely readable too.
Rebecca White’s lyric representations of time and memory are as complex as they are moving. The unique temporality of dreams is represented beautifully in ‘The Garden’, the speaker aware even in sleep of ‘the future that has not yet happened’. Specificities of place are also beautifully rendered; one gets the sense throughout these poems of a decidedly non-nostalgic yearning, a desire of the speaker to return or remain in fleeting times and spaces, to ‘stuff the landscape up [her] nose’ or to find the now-absent lover, ‘closer than [she] thought’.
There’s so much more to these poems than these short introductory paragraphs will allow me to express, but I’ll let you find that out for yourselves. These writers, through the skills, talents and hard work they’ve each put into their writing this year, bring new worlds to life on the page. My life is certainly richer for having read these poems, and I hope yours is too.
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