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Thursday, 19 June 2008

Winter Tennis Reviewed In Summer Issue Of Poetry London

The summer 2008 issue of Poetry London is now out, featuring Pauline Stainer on the cover, and with reviews by, among others, Nathan Hamilton, Peter Robinson, Kathryn Maris, and Anne-Marie Fyfe. It also features new poems from Emily Berry, Canadian poet-novelist Steven Heighton, Polly Clark, and Chris Beckett - again, among others.

Readers (especially those not based in the UK) would find a subscription to this lively, increasingly wide-ranging magazine would give them a pretty good idea of mainstream British poetry, which is recovering, thanks in no small part to the influx of younger and emerging poets over the last few years who have begun to get the logjams moving again. That being said, readers of Eyewear know, this wouldn't be Eyewear if I didn't mention a certain UK tendency to want monolinear utterance from the lyric, rather than the polysemous (let alone perverse) multiplicity of voices, and options, available.

Winter Tennis (my collection published in Montreal, Canada, in summer 2007 by DC Books) is also reviewed (along with Faber's Nick Laird, and Mario Pettruci from Enitharmon) in this issue of Poetry London, by Tom Chivers. Chivers is a poetry organiser, and good young poet, who disregards the tradition of British amateurism in poetry, and prefers the Donald Davie/ Ezra Pound trajectory of activism and serious enthusiasm (as do I). I won't quote his review in full, but it's mostly positive (buy the issue!). That being said, the review opens with a dramatic flourish:

"There are at least two Todd Swifts in Winter Tennis. The first, the one I like, is spiky and enigmatic, an anthropologist of contemporary culture, and a real craftsman. The second slips into grand gestures and an overwrought high lyricism. Swift is a proponent of 'fusion poetry' so this diversity of form, whilst confusing, is hardly surprising. Ambitious writing that breaks the mould like this is needed more than ever, and in this new collection there's plenty of the first Swift to satisfy my tastes."

I am very glad (indeed, even moved) Chivers thinks my fourth collection is "ambitious writing that breaks the mould". One thing of note, though - this matter of the Jekyll and Hyde aspects of my writng - what ever happened to an appreciation of verbal complexity and hybridity of style and language? The title of the collection is meant to be ironic, or more, oxymoronic - "winter" signifying death, and quietude, and bitter cold, and "tennis" rather life, play, and sunlight on the garden.

The two terms come together, breeding lilacs out of a dead land, mixing, as it were - in Eliotic fashion - Laforguean unities from fragments of various styles and tones - snatches of differing phrases. Pound said one of the ways of criticism is to write in the archaic or antiquated styles of other poets. The archaic and flamboyant utterances in Winter Tennis are playing on that aspect of modernist inheritance, which is often neglected (it's not enough to translate Dante, but to write one's own poems as Dante might, mon frere). In short, I do like to fuse high lyricism with a disrupted, smart alec lyricism. This leads to textual stylistic textures that are not always smooth, but fun to write, and, after Corbiere, hardly surprising.
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