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x OxfordPoets 2010

as in, for example, Jim Carruth’s ‘Signing for the Deaf’ or Philip Hancock’s ‘Applied Physics’.

Ryan Van Winkle, David Shook and Kathryn Maris all have more than one place (more than one continent) they call home. This may nowadays be almost normal and, just as much as a single allegiance, there is good in it for poetry. Displacements are necessary in the poet and in the workings of the poem, so that readers of it will themselves be productively displaced. And, very obvious in all three of these writers, being on the move or at home in different places seems actually to sharpen your sympathy for the lives of people you meet or hear about – as witness ‘They Tore the Bridge Down a Year Later’, ‘Postcard from Weslaco’ or ‘Hilary Has Left the Building, Unless She Hasn’t’.

Kathryn Maris moves through ‘fictions’, from voice to voice. Poetry has to be agile, and restless impersonations, ‘informing’ (Keats’s word) other lives, are one way of unsettling and quickening the imaginations. Robert Ray Black stores whatever has struck him, and shifts it, when the time comes, into the poem’s own location, where it works in a way true to itself and true also to its newly fabricated context. Of one such image ‘a tiger in a Minneapolis zoo’, he says ‘I knew from the moment I saw him I would use [him] someday, and did by putting him in a tree in Charleston’ – in the poem ‘Life Like Green’, we may add. In that strategy, two essentials in poetry – exactness of observation, freedom of use – are admirably conjoined.

Jim Carruth writes, ‘My collections to date, and these poems published here, are part of an ongoing attempt to map the physical and spiritual landscape of the rural Renfrewshire area and how it has changed through time.’ And M.R. Peacocke, well known from her earlier collections for her attachment to a very particular place (a farm in east Cumbria) still views writing poetry as a way of orienting herself. As she says, ‘Now I am old, poetry has become essential as a method of exploring the processes of my life, for which nothing else seems to have prepared me.’ Extraordinary how much of that orientation, which is at heart a wish to shape a life and make sense of it in particular time and place, she puts into her still life ‘Jug’.

The places, the commonplaces… Wherever you are, how much or little you move, the essential requirement for poetry is the same: sympathy, openness to other possibilities. Your best chance of making and leaving ‘some kind of a mark’ lies as much in imagining other lives as in documenting your own. Pippa Little herself

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