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Forum Home > Poetry > Poems of the Decade

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 837

Nice to discover vol.2 of our Poems of the Decade critical guide has just reached 1000 sales. Not bad for a new indie book publisher with zero advertising budget! :) 

October 16, 2016 at 3:11 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Mrs Mcteachey
Member
Posts: 1

Very excited about being part of this. Would just like to say that this site and the books have been a great help to someone teaching A level poetry for the first time. Did 'Eat Me' today with my lovely group. Looking forward to more discussion and support. 

October 19, 2016 at 2:16 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 837

Mrs Mcteachey at October 19, 2016 at 2:16 PM

Very excited about being part of this. Would just like to say that this site and the books have been a great help to someone teaching A level poetry for the first time. Did 'Eat Me' today with my lovely group. Looking forward to more discussion and support. 

Thanks, nice to hear that we've been some help. If your class has any questions for Ian Duhig let us know. Ian is going to do a Q & A on his Lammas Hireling poem in the new year. :D

October 31, 2016 at 5:13 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Ciaran O'Driscoll
Member
Posts: 20

Good to hear that Ian is doing a Q&A. May have a question for him, need to re-read the Hireling.

November 9, 2016 at 6:32 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 837

Check out George Szirtes blog in the next week or so. Lots of useful information and great poems, but maybe also a few thoughts about his wonderful poem 'Song': http://georgeszirtes.blogspot.co.uk/

November 22, 2016 at 3:33 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 837

Straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak, George has posted important and helpful information on his poem onto his blog. Read what he has to say here: 

http/georgeszirtes.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/a-note-on-song-poem-for-helen-suzman_29.html


"This poem is not about a dark wood: it is about people putting their shoulders to the wheel. But above all it is about levers that raise hearts."

November 29, 2016 at 11:12 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 837

The poet and academic, Ruth Padel has a good essay on The Lammas HIreling in her book 'The Poem & the Journey'. Padel's book features 60 poems by modern poetts with short accompanying essays. Particular favourites include Machines by Michael Donaghy and Wedding by Alice Oswald. Highly recommended and available for 1p here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-listing/0701179732/ref=tmm_pap_used_olp_sr?ie=UTF8&condition=used&qid=1483385046&sr=1-3

January 2, 2017 at 2:30 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Tim Hewitt
Member
Posts: 8

Neil Bowen at December 7, 2015 at 11:52 AM

The shortest poem in the anthology is not on the Edexcel set list. But it makes for a good lesson starter activity on the significance of titles. 


The poem is by academic & poet David Herd and is two lines long:


Worked in the morning.

Watched TV.


What can we say about such a short, seemingly inconsequential poem? How could it possibly have been selected as one of the best Forward Poems of the Decade? Is this another case of the sort of craziness that gives modern art a bad name? Is it some sort of game about how we construct a poem by reading it as such?


Clearly the poem is composed of very ordinary, everyday language and outlines a very ordinary, seemingly insignificant experience. Probably most of us do this or something like it each day and few of us would think of writing a poem about something so mundane. And if we did, we'd probably try to jazz it up a bit. There are none of the usual poetic techniques, such as imagery or sonic effects. Both of the two sentences are incomplete fragments, denuded of a subject, which we take to be 'I'. This helps create the impression of someone speaking, perhaps. They are blunt, truncated and seemingly plain statements of fact - technically both sentences are declaratives.


Each of the two lines ends with an emphatic full stop so that the two experiences of work and leisure seem disconnected. Maybe there's the suggestion that only these two things mattered for some reason. Why, for instance, aren't there further lines, such as 'drank some tea', 'drove home', 'cooked the dinner'? Something about watching the TV at this point must have been very important. 


After spending as long as you or your class can stomach on analysing these 6 words, the next task is to suggest possible titles. Here are a few my cynical yr. 11 class suggested: Life, School, What I learnt today, The shortest poem with the longest possible title we could think of. 


 

Another poem with an evocative title is Simon Armitage's Chainsaw versus the Pampas Grass. I'm not going to analyse this poem in detail, for now, for reasons that will become apparent early next year, he writes, hoping to sound a little bit mysterious. So here, for the time being, are jsut a few, introductory thoughts about the title:

 

Perhaps you’ve whiled away some time when waiting for a bus or somesuch by playing imaginary match-ups. Which would win in a battle between a shark and a crocodile? Would a tiger defeat a lion or would the lion lick the tiger? Who’d come out on top in the final showdown between Superman and Batman? What about Nigella Lawson against Mary Berry? In this game, the contestants have to be well matched, otherwise there’s obviously no fun in the speculation and not much of a fight.


Obviously Armitage's title is meant to sound like a sports match or a fight. There’s no article (‘a’ or ‘the’ at the start which also makes ‘chainsaw’ sound like a name of a person or team. If we think of chainsaws and their place in popular culture for just a moment or two we’ll soon hit on the notorious horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Chainsaws are clearly serious bits of kit, poweful and dangerous tools that can be wielded as weapons by nutcases in horror films. Powerful and dangerous are not words we would usually associate with the rather flimsy, thin stemmed and fluffy headed pampas grass. In pitching a potentially deadly weapon, armed with rotating sharp serrated teeth propelled by a powerful motor incongruously against some defenceless wavy grass, Armitage makes the battle seem comically one-sided, like Supermans taking on Mary Berry. As the first line of the poem acknowledges, ‘It seemed an unlikely match’. Inevitably the grass will be wiped out, quickly and easily, we assume. Perhaps this will be a rather short poem?

 

Notice that the poem’s speaker is not included in the title: It is not Armitage & the Chainsaw versus the Pampas Grass. This adds to the sense that the chainsaw is a character in the poem, acting almost autonously, with a will of its own. It also excuses the speaker from responsiblity for the foreshadowed carnage to come.


Dear Neil,

                 As someone who gave up English teaching (but still tutors) to become a gardener, I found chainsaw versus pampas grass particularly interesting. More so because about two months ago I was asked to remove a very overgrown specimen of pampas grass and did so, in part, with a chainsaw. I can report that they are extremely tough and unyielding! Similar to Armitage, we ( there were two of us) removed the top growth, but then spent a further hour digging out the roots. I am hopeful that it will not regrow in Spring. There are some instructive videos on You Tube of American setting fire to them or pulling them out with heavy chains using pick up trucks. They are also capable of inflicting lacerations with their leaves. So I am a bit reluctant to ascribe feminine characteristics to them (luckily for me the females in my life are not like that).

I was also struck by similarities between Armitage's poem and Nettles by Vernon Scannell, particularly the use of the word "spears" and the regeneration of the plants. However, as an exercise in preparation for the Edexcel A level poetry paper, I chose the sonnet "Flowers" by Don Paterson for comparison. Very different in tone, but with interesting points of comparison. 

Anyway, keep up the good work, I always find your website stimulating. 

Best wishes,

Tim. 

January 8, 2017 at 2:29 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 837

Dear Tim,

Thanks for the expert knowledge of pampas grass; I admit my own understanding of it is purely literary. Not sure I'll rush to watch the videos of Americans obliterating it with chains and trucks, though perhaps during a long evening of marking I'll be tempted. 


You're certainly right about your luck with the women in your life. I would have thought women just as capable as men of inflcting lacerations, physical or mental. 


Love your ideas for reading Armitage's poem alongside Scannell's. Again you've right that Armitage's man vs. nature theme is a long-running one that can be traced back to the Romantics if not earlier. I don't know Paterson's poem, but I rate him highly as a poet and will seek it out, so thanks for the suggestion. 


Good luck with keeping the unruly plants in place, and nurturing others into bloom. Doesn't sound at all like teaching. 


January 10, 2017 at 12:22 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 837

Neil Bowen at September 21, 2016 at 3:12 PM

Forward poet and staunch enemy of automated answer services Ciaran O'Driscoll has devised a quiz on the poems. Test your knowledge by finding the quiz in our documents section. Anyone getting full marks is a clever clogs and should let Ciaran know that he needs to make the next quiz more difficult. :D

January 18, 2017 at 2:39 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 837

Neil Bowen at September 21, 2016 at 3:12 PM

Forward poet and staunch enemy of automated answer services Ciaran O'Driscoll has devised a quiz on the poems. Test your knowledge by finding the quiz in our documents section. Anyone getting full marks is a clever clogs and should let Ciaran know that he needs to make the next quiz more difficult. :D

A Quiz on Pearson EdExcel A/AS Level Set Poems from Forward’s Poems of the Decade.


 

 

(1) In which poem does a ‘wee baby’ arrive in a doctor’s bag?

 

(2) Which poem mentions a piece of music by Mozart?

 

(3) In which poem does a girl jump from a porch roof?

 

(4) Name the poem by former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion which leaves the author, the reader, and a wooden pile, hanging in mid-air?

 

(5) Which animal is described in The Lammas Hireling as ‘a cow with leather horns’?

 

(6) ‘I’d like to say that we could be friends

but the truth is we have nothing in common...’

Who is the poet Helen Dunmore addressing here?

 

(7) There are two poems which deal in their different ways with cannibalism. Name them.

 

(8) ‘One of them was dug up by a dog.’ What does this line in Ruth Padel’s poem refer to?

 

(9) Which poem mentions the Beatles and Dustin Hoffman?

 

(10) Fill in the missing word:

Bringing a – – – into a house changes it.

 

(11) Which poem mentions Krakow, Zagreb, Madison and Milkwaukee?

 

(12) In the poem by Alan Jenkins titled Effects, what are the effects referred to?

 

(13) ‘I will tell you this,

he is something to follow,

this red fellow.’

(Robert Minhinnick)

The red fellow is ......?

 

(14) Which poem has an ungrammatical title?

 

(15) ‘This was the sledgehammer taken to crack the nut.’

In Simon Armitage’s poem, what corresponds to the sledgehammer, and what to the nut?

 

(16) What legacy did her Mum leave to Ros Barber?

 

(17) What is the inheritance in Eavan Boland’s eponymous poem?

 

(18) ‘We know what happens next.’ (Last line of Sue Boyle’s A Leisure Centre is also a Temple of Learning.)

What happens next?

 

(19) ‘...God sat/ Cross-legged, navy blue/ On a boulder above his cave/ One hand forbidding anyone impure/ Or wearing leather, to come in’?

Name either the title of the poem or the author of these lines.

 

(20) ‘Nothing happens until something does./ Everything remains just as it was /And all you hear is the distant buzz / Of nothing happening till something does.’

Name the poem which begins with these lines.

 

(21) ‘try it/in a pitch-black room’ (On Her Blindness by Adam Thorpe)

Try what?

 

(22) Which poem is a parody of a poem by John Keats?

 

(23) ‘There are ------ still

In the underground rivers

Of Westmoor and Palmersville.’

From Fantasia on a Theme of James Wright by Sean O’Brien.

Supply the missing word.

 

(24) ‘My body is their marriage register.’

Name the poem in which this line occurs.

 

(25) ‘Tangled with rotted trappings, half-decayed horses lay/ where they’d fallen.’

Tennyson famously celebrated an historic event which Ciaran Carson writes of in The War Correspondent. Name the event.

 

(26) What biblical event does Colette Bryce treat in her poem Early Version?

 

 

January 18, 2017 at 2:42 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Ciaran O'Driscoll
Member
Posts: 20

This remark may be nit-picking, but I have discovered a stanza in 'Material' by Roz Barber that has NINE lines instead of the usual eight. But if this is NOT nit-picking, can we attribute a significance to it? 

February 3, 2017 at 5:37 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 837

Ciaran O'Driscoll at February 3, 2017 at 5:37 AM

This remark may be nit-picking, but I have discovered a stanza in 'Material' by Roz Barber that has NINE lines instead of the usual eight. But if this is NOT nit-picking, can we attribute a significance to it? 

I expect so, Ciaran. Would you care to share your surmising with us? I'll take a look myself too.

February 17, 2017 at 12:32 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Ciaran O'Driscoll
Member
Posts: 20

Neil Bowen at February 17, 2017 at 12:32 PM

Ciaran O'Driscoll at February 3, 2017 at 5:37 AM

This remark may be nit-picking, but I have discovered a stanza in 'Material' by Roz Barber that has NINE lines instead of the usual eight. But if this is NOT nit-picking, can we attribute a significance to it? 

I expect so, Ciaran. Would you care to share your surmising with us? I'll take a look myself too.

I'm not sure what significance to ascribe to it Neil. But in the spirit of an exam student trying his best to display his analytical abilities, I suggest that the rather despotic-sounding dancing teacher's 'Step-together, step-together, step-together/ point!' is disturbing to the memory of the author, and she reflects her disturbance in the disruption of the eight-line form of the poem.

February 26, 2017 at 4:06 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 837

Ciaran O'Driscoll at February 26, 2017 at 4:06 PM

Neil Bowen at February 17, 2017 at 12:32 PM

Ciaran O'Driscoll at February 3, 2017 at 5:37 AM

This remark may be nit-picking, but I have discovered a stanza in 'Material' by Roz Barber that has NINE lines instead of the usual eight. But if this is NOT nit-picking, can we attribute a significance to it? 

I expect so, Ciaran. Would you care to share your surmising with us? I'll take a look myself too.

I'm not sure what significance to ascribe to it Neil. But in the spirit of an exam student trying his best to display his analytical abilities, I suggest that the rather despotic-sounding dancing teacher's 'Step-together, step-together, step-together/ point!' is disturbing to the memory of the author, and she reflects her disturbance in the disruption of the eight-line form of the poem.

Interesting. And it's helpful, I think, for students to know that even the experts, critics and poets alike, don't necessarily have definitive answers. I will take another look, when I have the chance. Thanks for posting, Neil

February 28, 2017 at 11:40 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Rob Marshall
Member
Posts: 56

Excellent on the book! Well done!

February 28, 2017 at 11:58 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 837

Rob Marshall at February 28, 2017 at 11:58 AM

Excellent on the book! Well done!

Thanks and we've a new version out soon for the new, reduced selection of poems, first examined in 2018. Basically this book puts together the essays from the first two in one volume.

March 5, 2017 at 12:14 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Ciaran O'Driscoll
Member
Posts: 20

Just a few thoughts on 'Journal of a Disappointed Man' by Andrew Motion, to add to what has already been illuminatingly said: 

This poem depicts the kind of scene which a disappointed man would see as an image of his own life, much ado that turns out to be fruitless. It is perhaps what Eliot would call an ‘objective correlative’ of disappointment.

The pile, apart from being something driven into the ground, also has strong connotations of fortune, good fortune, wealth (‘He made a pile’). In this case it is a wealth that cannot be exploited, perhaps it signifies poetry; and that is why the men cannot land it, why it is an enigma to them all and they gradually leave the scene, having given up on it, leaving the poet, the inheritor, with his unusable, impractical pile suspended in mid-air.

The pile remains suspended in mid-air because it is an ‘unearthly’ kind of pile.

The workers haven’t a clue what to do with this pile, just as many people haven’t any real understanding of poetry. This also could be the source of the disappointed man’s sense of let-down. I find the poem rather evocative of Beckett.

May 9, 2017 at 6:49 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 837

Ciaran O'Driscoll at May 9, 2017 at 6:49 AM

Just a few thoughts on 'Journal of a Disappointed Man' by Andrew Motion, to add to what has already been illuminatingly said: 

This poem depicts the kind of scene which a disappointed man would see as an image of his own life, much ado that turns out to be fruitless. It is perhaps what Eliot would call an ‘objective correlative’ of disappointment.

The pile, apart from being something driven into the ground, also has strong connotations of fortune, good fortune, wealth (‘He made a pile’). In this case it is a wealth that cannot be exploited, perhaps it signifies poetry; and that is why the men cannot land it, why it is an enigma to them all and they gradually leave the scene, having given up on it, leaving the poet, the inheritor, with his unusable, impractical pile suspended in mid-air.

The pile remains suspended in mid-air because it is an ‘unearthly’ kind of pile.

The workers haven’t a clue what to do with this pile, just as many people haven’t any real understanding of poetry. This also could be the source of the disappointed man’s sense of let-down. I find the poem rather evocative of Beckett.

Now, I'm really glad you say that Ciaran, as I've an illustration from Waiting for Godot accompanying my essay on this poem in one of the Art of Poetry books. I like the mirror image idea, a disappointed man looking at a disappointment. You still on for a seminar on these poems later this month by any chance? 

May 9, 2017 at 10:09 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Ciaran O'Driscoll
Member
Posts: 20

Neil Bowen at May 9, 2017 at 10:09 AM

Ciaran O'Driscoll at May 9, 2017 at 6:49 AM

Just a few thoughts on 'Journal of a Disappointed Man' by Andrew Motion, to add to what has already been illuminatingly said: 

This poem depicts the kind of scene which a disappointed man would see as an image of his own life, much ado that turns out to be fruitless. It is perhaps what Eliot would call an ‘objective correlative’ of disappointment.

The pile, apart from being something driven into the ground, also has strong connotations of fortune, good fortune, wealth (‘He made a pile’). In this case it is a wealth that cannot be exploited, perhaps it signifies poetry; and that is why the men cannot land it, why it is an enigma to them all and they gradually leave the scene, having given up on it, leaving the poet, the inheritor, with his unusable, impractical pile suspended in mid-air.

The pile remains suspended in mid-air because it is an ‘unearthly’ kind of pile.

The workers haven’t a clue what to do with this pile, just as many people haven’t any real understanding of poetry. This also could be the source of the disappointed man’s sense of let-down. I find the poem rather evocative of Beckett.

Now, I'm really glad you say that Ciaran, as I've an illustration from Waiting for Godot accompanying my essay on this poem in one of the Art of Poetry books. I like the mirror image idea, a disappointed man looking at a disappointment. You still on for a seminar on these poems later this month by any chance? 

Neil, is the seminar on "Poems of the Decade' still scheduled for Wednesday (31st)?

May 29, 2017 at 12:48 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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