Vahni Capildeo’s foreword to the 2019 UEA Poetry MA anthology, published by Egg Box
‘Knapped’ is a satisfying word for the eyes and mouth to handle together. The ‘k’ used to be audible, in the sharper, more complex beginnings of the pronunciation of this syllable. The consonant cluster simplified over centuries, but still resembles similar words in Dutch and German. ‘Knap’ echoes the sound of struck flint. The initial letter, silent as a secret, carries a sense of the past. There is a language of stone. Flint nodules that have been quartered, perhaps flaked, perhaps set as flushwork, are a peculiar beauty of many East Anglian buildings. A regular visitor to Norwich could be excused for developing a habit of flintstroking. There are numerous walls where the texture is a mosaic of rough and shiny, hollowed and protuberant. The faces of sunned walls may acquire a natural garnish of moss and flowering stonecrop.
An awareness of flint, the matter of the city, encourages an awareness of the numerous hands which worked it; the ringing sounds of the labour; the sweating, the swearing, the whistling and snacking; precarity, fatigue, hunger; Each poet is highly individual in approach, and individuated in voice. What these poets share is an appreciation of language as material.sometimes, accidents; losses; short-term or long-view teamwork, without or with camaraderie. Among the more modern but remarkable buildings of the UEA campus, such as Denys Lasdun’s ziggurats, which I have seen channelling rain into a multi-storey run-off – a very 1960s tiered waterfall – there is also a palpable, and now named, sense of the continuing creation of a site, according to differing, but originally learning-centred, visions.
The poetry in this anthology is similarly built. Like its immediate surroundings and connected city, it bears witness to craft. This, if anything, is the UEA ‘house style’. Each poet is highly individual in approach, and individuated in voice. What these poets share is an appreciation of language as material. The poems are alive to, and can handle, the weight and implications of other forms. They may imply their own extensibility as litanies, self-revisions, or novels-in-verse. They may insist on the grain of the everyday, setting a recipe askew, or invoking and ripping up the threaded expectations of the bourgeois novel. They do not censor their capacity for metamorphosis, prose poem into body, multilingualism into overt quest for joy. These makers know how carefully altered spacing, recurrent motifs and syncopated rhythms can encourage perceptions of fragmentation and whole to play off each other, sure yet different on every walkthrough.
When I was a student, and writing, not at UEA, and not as part of a creative writing programme, I remember searching for poetic models which would suggest how inner and outer experience are not separate from each other. Deconstruction was the fashion, binaries (which nobody of my background had believed in) were being undone, and ‘i’ nagged to be lower case. The best and nearest examples I could find were in Old English and Old Norse, which I studied and translated, in lieu of having workshops to attend. I encountered the so-called Seafarer, who knows and experiences bitter and tossing worry amid bitter and tossing elements, not as that most feeble-sounding figure, ‘pathetic fallacy’, but in an ecology of emotion and environment. He is placed in his troubles and they are placed in him, as dwellings of care, in an affectively untranslatable Anglo-Saxon compound. Trees and cities blossom into their summer aspect, and his wanderlust is set off. They move and suffuse his mood and purpose, not acting as an external inspiration, but partaking, as he does, in a seasonality of quickness. Without a ‘writing community’ as such, but with a strong sense of the companionship of ghosts, I went on looking, often in the wrong places.
The new and most heartening aspect of the well-crafted poems you will read in this book is, for me, their capacity to express and explore ecologies of feeling and being. Type is made lichen. The poet can be a/part of and in foaming and eroding nature. Here is a gathering of itinerants, who all have been habited in the University of East Anglia’s land.