In our experience, whenever poets get together, sooner or later one of them will ask the other ‘Who are you reading?’
Far more common than conversations about their actual writing, the premise of this question assumes that reading other poets’ poems, and thereby staying in relationship with the art-form, is the primary duty of the poet.
This is the key mistake of beginner-poets, afraid of ‘catching’ the influence of others. As the Chinese proverb puts it: ‘She who knows a hundred poems sounds like a hundred poets; she who knows a thousand poems sounds like herself.’
Best of all in these conversations is when one’s friend introduces a name that is new, undiscovered or unheard of. Thanks to the internet all of us are now expert-curators of the lost and unfamiliar.
But we believe there are essential and vital voices out there that even Google has not heard of. That is what No One You Know is about.
We have eavesdropped on conversations between seventy-five leading British and Irish poets and their favourite undiscovered poets and poems, and brought them into the open.
We have invited each poet to discuss a never-before-anthologised poem that they passionately believe deserves a wider audience. If you pledge your support you can look forward to reading poems chosen by a diverse range of fine poets and finding out why they have chosen their particular poems. Our poets include: Zayneb Allak – Raymond Antrobus – Myra Barrs – Jo Bell – Andy Brown – Nancy Campbell – Peter Carpenter – Kate Clanchy – Mandy Coe – Jane Commane - Andy Croft– Rishi Dastidar – Maura Dooley – Sasha Dugdale – Carrie Etter – Cathy Grindrod - Rich Goodson – Rebecca Goss – Philip Gross – W.N. Herbert – Naomi Jaffa – Rupert Loydell – John Lucas – Ian McMillan – John Mole – Helen Mort – Helena Nelson – Deryn Rees-Jones – Michael Rosen- Lawrence Sail – Jacob Sam-La Rose – Peter Sansom – Jean Sprackland – Martin Stannard – Jenny Swann – Matthew Sweeney - Andrew Taylor – Joelle Taylor – Rory Waterman – Gregory Woods – Cliff Yates and many more.
Intense, by Richard Nicholson
here comes that bloke with the
worn out eyes.
He's always coming 'round here
with his talk about
death and sex
and laughing too loud
and thinking too much
and drinking too much
it's too much
for a small town without a cinema
and only one horse.
Richard Nicholson (aka the singer-songwriter Billy Penn’s Brother) burst into my life towards the end of the 80’s when he invited the band I was in to play at Harry, a tiny festival of faith, arts and politics in Harrogate (get it?), North Yorkshire. Around the same time, with my friend Luke Bretherton, I began a monthly meet-up for writers and artists in my kitchen in Brixton. We named it Bull, after the pub in Clapham that we never quite got round to booking to hold the event. Without the resources of the internet we now take for granted, it was a word of mouth affair, friends of friends of dubious friends pitching up with their entry fee of Bulgarian red, to read, pontificate or argue about their latest masterwork. Naturally Richard came and held forth with the best of them, making lugubrious wisecracks in his deep Geordie voice while sipping Oolong tea through his pipe smoke. One week he would bring a painting, the next a new song, another a manifesto in reply to Marshall McLuhan.
Then, one week, he brought a little sequence of poems which stunned me with their brevity, mordant humour and precision. I think there were no more than half a dozen of them, but each seemed to carry the freight of a lifetime’s reading, study, reflection and rage. I told him at the time I thought they were as good as Ivor Cutler, one of our shared heroes. I still think this today. I saw him perform the poems once, in a basement on Brixton’s Acre Lane. He declaimed them without introduction, sitting upright in bed wearing striped pyjamas and a Scrooge nightcap. The effect was charming and unsettling in equal measure.
Every time I read ‘Intense’ I recall the force Richard’s different personae, whether singing onstage, painting in his front room (which was also his bedroom), or merely making some eggs. Much more than that, I am struck by the delicacy of the poem’s line breaks, some of them on the breath, others interrupting it. My impression was, and still is, that Richard wrote the poems quite fast. Nevertheless, I see the faultless timing of its wit, its simultaneous debt to outliers like Cutler as well as something perhaps darkly vaudevillian that I cannot quite put my finger on. Most of all, the poem is completely true to its own lights. It stands on its own terms, unafraid of what any reader might think of it. I still can’t quite tell if I find it funny, or disturbing. I urged Richard to keep writing his poetry, but cannot be certain that he did. More than twenty-five years later, I still hold out hope to see the entire sequence in print for the first time.
A key aim of our No One You Know anthology is to introduce readers to poems that are admired by the poets who have chosen them and need to be more widely known. If you like the sound of that idea and would like to read No One You Know then please visit our Unbound webpage here and pledge some funds – no matter how small - to speed this new anthology into publication. In our occasional updates, we…
When I think about the anthologies I go back to – like my childhood favourite, the gorgeously illustrated Golden Treasury of Poetry, selected by Louis Untermeyer, or Roger McGough’s Strictly Private – they are the ones where I know I can revisit old favourite poems – Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘The Fish’, May Swenson’s ‘Was Worm’ or Elizabeth Jennings’ ‘Absence’ but also the anthologies where I know I can…
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If you could tell just one or two like-minded people about the book we would be so grateful. You know…
In our quest to secure crowdfunding for our new anthology, No One You Know, with Unbound, Anthony Wilson and I are writing a series of blog posts about poetry anthologies that have influenced us as readers and writers. We'd love to know what your favourite anthologies are.
An approval copy of the Against the Grain anthology (published by Nelson) appeared in the English department where I worked…
In support of crowdfunding our new anthology of poems, No One You Know, with Unbound, Sue Dymoke and I are starting a series of blog posts about anthologies which have influenced us as readers and writers. Below I discuss Geoffrey Summerfield’s classic Worlds: Seven Modern Poets (Charles Causley, Thom Gunn, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Norman MacCaig, Adrian Mitchell, Edwin Morgan), Penguin Education…
These people are helping to fund No One You Know.