Andrew Sant

Poetry as the solidifying of memory, poetry as a survivor's sanguine amusement, takes a lifetime. Louise Nicholas relates autobiography through strongly considered moments ...

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In this episode of 'Poem of the Week' Andrew Sant reads 'Tamarillos'. ABR Editor, Peter Rose, introduces Andrew who then reads and discusses his poem.

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This cactus looks as if, on a reef,
it could be neighbour to sponge, equally at ease
under the sea – or strange as some tentacled hydra
on the window ledge, free
of quickening leaves.

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I was in the house of a friend’s parents recently and noticed, stuck to the fridge door, a poem clipped from a newspaper, among the sundry magnets and notices. Companion to book reviews, its subtleties had taken their fancy as being more than ephemera. Good, I thought, these are poetry readers – an engineer and an art teacher – who can confidently duck and weave among poems that come their way and say, yes, this one’s a pleasure. But do they buy and read collections of poetry? Well, they would more often if …

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If despair and desolation can be said to have had a high point in poetry in English during the modern era, it is in T.S. Eliot’s poetry, particularly ‘The Hollow Men’. While reading Martin Langford’s remarkable The Human Project: New & Selected Poems, I was reminded of other poets whose reputations depend upon the discomforting poems they have written. The until recently neglected American poet Weldon Kees, who may or may not have jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge in 1955, wrote about the underside of the American dream, its sterility, in a tone of unwavering bitterness, but his noirish imagination and technical brilliance make the poems compelling. Something similar could be said of the English poet Peter Reading, whose expression of undiminished anger is a result of his disgust with humanity, and its condition terminal, though his pervasive self-righteousness can be wearing.

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The opening poem in Petra White’s first collection is a modest, tantalising, somewhat mysterious poem called ‘Planting’. A metaphor, you might think, for the inspiration and growth of a poem – much as Seamus Heaney’s famous ‘Digging’, also the first poem in a début collection, established a link via the rhythm of digging, between the act of writing and the act of cultivating land, in a particular place and culture. But this is not so. White’s poem is an aside, takes pleasure in evoking the senses’ responses to a fleeting experience, and coolly resists specific interpretation. Who is it about? Where?

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Götterdämmerung Café by Andrew Taylor & Russian Ink by Andrew Sant

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June 2001, no. 231

Wallace Stevens once remarked: ‘One of the essential conditions to the writing of poetry is impetus.’ It’s a statement worth keeping in mind when confronting a new book of poems, because thinking about impetus helps us locate the concerns of the poet and the orientation of the book. Since poems are not objects so much as events, what drives a poem helps govern how it arrives at its destination – how, in fact, it is received by that welcoming stranger, the reader. Poems reveal their origins, whether they intend to or not. What Emerson says of character, that it ‘teaches above our wills’, that ‘we pass for what we are’, is true for poems as well. So it is not an idle question to ask of these books – these poets – their impetus, remembering that ‘impetus’ derives from the Latin ‘to seek.’

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The Ghost Names Sing by Dennis Haskell & Album of Domestic Exiles by Andrew Sant

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February–March 1998, no. 198

Both Dennis Haskell and Andrew Sant are primarily domestic poets. Family and friends comprise the milieu of many of their poems, which attempt to transform quotidiana into something of enduring interest. The chief danger of this type of poetry is that the prevalence of so many poems about family members and friends results in a poetic environment that can resemble a vast, monotonous suburb. If most domestic poets seem indistinguishable from each other in their subject matter alone, then the situation of contemporary poetry becomes further muddled when this homogeneity is bolstered by a general complacency with language.

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Would it surprise you to know that a number of our well-known writers write to please themselves? Probably not. If there’s no pleasure, or challenge, or stimulus, the outcome would probably not be worth the effort. If this effort is writing, it seems especially unlikely that someone would engage in the activity without enjoying the chance to be their own audience.

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The three books under review here promote no generalisation about the condition of poetry, the health of the beast, unless they call to mind the difference between poems which are interesting from line to line and those which somehow resonate as wholes. R.H. Morrison, the eldest of the three poets, is the one who most often produces whole poems, at least to my ear.

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