David Borrott is my first featured poet of 2015 and it’s great to be able to share his work. I first met David at one of the Poetry Business writing days, and we’ve now paired up on the Writing School to look at a couple of poets (more about this when we’ve done the tasks)! In the meantime, have a read of his amazing poem ‘Ultrasound’, which appears in the current issue of The North. Actually, you’ll want to read it more than once, because it’s the sort of poem that makes you want to write just that bit better than you’re doing at the moment (at least, that’s what it does for me). Also, you’ll find his thoughts on Louis MacNeice’s The Burning Perch below. So, lots to keep you going if you get snowed in!
David Borrott was born and grew up in Ilford. He now lives in Lancashire with his partner and their three sons. He has a degree in Philosophy from York University and a MA in Poetry from Manchester Metropolitan University. He has been published in an anthology Watermark by Flax Books and in CAST: The Poetry Business Book of New Contemporary Poets. His first pamphlet is forthcoming in the summer with Smith/Doorstop.
For you, it is already here:
For me, it is as intangible as tomorrow,
as if far away, submersed amid oceanic depths,
a greening on the scope,
looming, rising on anticipation’s winch.
Tonight I may place my hand
on the projection of your belly
and feel only a warmth,
as one feels casually on the bonnet of a car
that has been somewhere, has somewhere to go.
The Burning Perch by Louis MacNeice
I chose this book because, besides that I like it, I was reading it on an Arvon Course and the tutor, Maurice Riordan, told me how important a book it was for his generation of Irish poets. I can’t remember his exact explanation but I suppose next to the Movement poetry of the time it is more emotional, richer psychologically, more Dionysian, less Apollonian. More open without losing control over the line. Less highbrow academic pedantry. Unafraid of playful elements, even childish nursery rhymes. Yet it retains a social focus, directly in poems such as The Suicide but also poems such as Charon and The Taxis despite their mythopoetic stance, show the effects of modern living on the psyche of the individual. The poetry works without retreating into a heavily egocentric position such as Dylan Thomas or even Sylvia Plath could do. (much as I like those writers). I think it is a measured movement away from heavy rationalism, and as such a step forward.
Death is a major theme in the book, MacNeice died before it was published but he was only 55 and died unexpectedly from pneumonia. Perhaps his view of the problems of civilisation and the effect of turning fifty was enough of a motive to point his thoughts downwards. But this does not make the work maudlin; it is full of slanted joy. There is a ludic approach to the exploration of language. This book is both a major poet working at his best and a building block in the formation of contemporary poetry.
My favourite poems are Soap Suds, what a fantastic opener. Charon with a hint of the waste land, and the dynamic personification of Death who like everyone else demands payment. And Star-Gazer, which captures the wonder of the universe but also the tragic sense of human and individual vulnerability.
I think that Soap Suds is possibly MacNeice’s best poem (one has to mention Snow which was written in his twenties). I love the movement in the poem that seems to replicate the mental episode represented. The Proustian memory stimulated by a smell is not original but the way it is handled is superb. The transfer back to childish joy and wonderment (and fear) and then the loss of the same. Everything is moving, the ball, the mallet, the hoops, the running tap which like time is falling through his fingers. It is a better poem than Deja Vu or Star-Gazer which touch on the same sort of incident because of the way the language and syntax recreate the mental element so precisely, or rather not precisely but with an evocation of the leaps and turns of thought and the dreamlike state that memory can induce. A lot of the strength of the poem is in the use of symbols, ‘great yellow ball’ in the third line is a hint towards the sun which is so representative of time. In fact, the adjective ‘great’ is used three times, secondly with the globes and thirdly with the gong all putatively round objects and representative of Time. Time is the master and controller in the poem. ‘Dog-dark hall’ is my favourite phrase, so unusual and so right as a childhood memory.