Oxford Poets 2013: An Anthology

Oxford Poets 2013: An Anthology

by Iain Galbraith

The latest anthology in a renowned series that has featured writers such as Charles Tomlinson, Rebecca Elson, and the Nobel Prize–winning Joseph Brodsky, Oxford Poets 2013 includes 19 poets whose work is marked by wit, imagination, and thematic range. The collection celebrates the vibrancy and vitality of new writing today and includes poets


The latest anthology in a renowned series that has featured writers such as Charles Tomlinson, Rebecca Elson, and the Nobel Prize–winning Joseph Brodsky, Oxford Poets 2013 includes 19 poets whose work is marked by wit, imagination, and thematic range. The collection celebrates the vibrancy and vitality of new writing today and includes poets Gregor Addison, Emily Ballou, Paul Batchelor, Riina Katajavuori, Frances Leviston, and Leonie Rushforth, among others. The individual voices are distinctive, yet they share a commitment to the truth of their experience and an excitement with the possibilities of language.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“There are some fine poets collected here . . . as a showcase of an upcoming generation . . . we have something genuinely worthwhile.”  —Sarah Crown, Guardian

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Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date:
Oxford Poets Series
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5.40(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.80(d)

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Oxford Poets 2013

By Iain Galbraith, Robyn Marsack

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2013 Iain Galbraith and Robyn Marsack
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-782-9


Gregor Addison was born in Dalkeith in 1966 and raised in Alexandria and Clynder. He worked as a chainman/labourer until he was twenty-two, then went to Newbattle Abbey College where he studied Philosophy and English Literature; from there to Aberdeen University, studying English Literature and Gaelic; then to Jordanhill College. He teaches English at Clydebank College.

Harold Pinter once said that, at some point, the world and your world must meet. For a long time it seemed to me that life was lived elsewhere; why would I write about where I live? What is there to say? But I gradually saw that the push and pull of historic changes might be read in the working lives and movement of my own family members. Families tell stories – not all of them true, perhaps – and for some of the poems here I was torn about how much of the truth should be in them. Did I even have a right to tell the stories? I reminded myself that these stories have been passed down through many re-tellings and I suspect they have been shaped many times before they even got as far as my ears. The poems that appear here are not just a way of locating myself – though they are certainly that – but they point to other lives lived, to abandoned dreams and personal tragedies.

My immediate world is the west coast of Scotland, particularly the area around Loch Lomond, the Gareloch, and extending all the way to Glasgow. Balloch and Dumbarton are where my parents were born and I can't help but remember two stories told to me over the years. In the late 1940s, my mother was taken on a walk up a local coffin road known as the Staney Mullan, which offers views over Loch Lomond and the Vale of Leven. My mother's uncle had a small portable radio and this was playing Edith Piaf's 'La Vie en Rose'. Still a child, my mother looked down on Loch Lomond and its many islands and thought she was looking out upon Canada and Australia. The second story is one my father recently told me and involves another local place, the Dumbarton Crags – a volcanic ridge that runs along the hills above Dumbarton. As a boy, my father used to sit with his father listening to Conan Doyle's The Lost World on the radio. Later, up on the Crags, he'd imagine this was his lost world. At some point, the world and your world must meet; sometimes, it occurs through a child's imagination; sometimes, through the need for employment that forces us to travel. Many of these poems are about the points at which the local and the world meet through various individuals' experiences.

    Denny's Shipyard, Dumbarton, 1959

    Boiler-suited, cap and tools wheeling like crows,
    a pillow burst like flak, or black feathers
    falling, clawing the air like Icarus.
    The rigging gave, cracked like a nut. One slow
    agonising moment and another –
    the hull wrong way up like a steel cathedral.
    Still we like to think he did not suffer.
    But he held on for days in that hospital.

    In Curaçao or Port Sudan, father felt the cargo
    shifting in the hold. Surely an omen?
    The women brought the body home, and began
    the mourning – cursing the man
    who felled the one thing in life you could cling to.
    Who orphaned the postcards you'd send back home.

    United Turkey Red

    So my forefathers and their offspring fled
    the famine in Tandragee, the arse-end
    of Ireland. The roughers slammed the docks, splashed
    their cold thin faces (red as madder, fixed
    in alum mordant). Paddy's Milestone had smalled
    to one pale rock and the day ran like ink
    on an envelope. In a carryall
    they'd stowed their bric-à-brac, their shawls, strong drink
    to lift their dampened spirits. For wasn't theirs
    a one-way trip? Except, they'd never lose
    their feel for home-spun histories, would weave
    new fabric worked in blood into a shared
    memory. New worlds loomed, new prints and hues
    of India. Soaked calico stained their sleeves.

    Bespoke (Loch Sloy Hydro Dam, 1948)

    Crushed stone from Ben Vane vibrates the conveyor
    as mother takes tiny, measured steps, making
    small alterations to fall in behind
    her father, the tailor, who worries the tape like a rosary.
    In dirt and dungarees, the men look up and shake
    their heads to loose the sweat. Half-blind
    from concrete dust, cursing their luck, their history,
    they dam all with a shrug of round, taut-muscled
    shoulder. The tailor unpockets a notebook
    making pencil sketches for an inventory,
    as the Polish foreman (made-to-measure) is hustled
    into thoughts of how he'll look
    come pay day. Fingering samples, giving a brusque
    but non-committal nod to the cloth-blue dusk.


    A flat top trunk, a packer lugged Stateside
    in the 20s, sits by the window,
    bearing the scars from the gangplanks grandfather
        dragged it down.
    The stevedores rough-housing pitted its face
    like an overripe avocado, spooned out
    its secrets, until it finally passed to me to prove
    some stories come at you pitched at a slant.
    It weathered depressions,
    languished in basements, a greenhouse, a shed.
    Then glossed over, settled in an alcove for years
    without incident. It is
    in its solid, dogged way, a statement. A testament
    to the everyday, stowed away with fragile dreams
    in its papered womb, in its empty chest.

    Stamford Hill

    Then in the closing 50s, the rivers of blood were a spring
    just gurgling. At the registry office, Stamford Hill,
    my parents married, having shunned the ill-
    will of religion.
    Now, salt-beef bagels became my father's obsession.
    He'd croon Sinatra. And in the Kosher baker's
    on Dunsmure Road, they dubbed my mother Cleopatra.

    Next door, the old executor (who'd escaped the Baedeker
    Blitz on Exeter to his London bed-sit) played
    Beiderbecke on an old Dansette – as if
    those Afro-Caribbeans had not yet left the MV Empire
with their own swung-rhythm.
    The Broadway drew Hasidic Jews in evening amber
    and time was of no matter, the ebb and flow
    of lepers, of pilgrims, little more than a side-show.

    Pte 1091 Allison, aged 19

    She cradled the tin box, worn and rusted
    as an urn for ashes. Six decades dead,

    her older brother decayed in her last days
    until all that was left was this shared grief,

    a soldier in a photograph, chest out, stood
    to attention. Private 1091 Allison

    stopped with one shot, a line of sight pointing
    to the front room in a Dumbarton pre-fab,

    a sofa thinned with sitting, stained red and soft
    as a paper poppy. Some sniper that, to inflict

    a wound that would weep a lifetime and more,
    to encompass us in the scope of his lone rifle.

    Past tense

    Tungsten-warm, a lemon strip illuminating
    the horizon, awaiting the patter
    of morning rain on an old zinc roof. Later,

    trying to fathom the depth of days, their drop –
    stopping to gaze up at Beinn na Caillich,
    a moment's longing sharp on the tongue.

    Sat on the bench with a dry book, I parse
    her words precisely, sensing
    their bitter afterbite, the pith and rind.

    Clydeside, March 2011

    Slowly, like wet swarth, silvered and lathered,
    the river wanders and a boat passes,
    and a bow-wave bellies up, out, like blown glass.

    Here, in '36, the Great Queen shipped
    out into the world to whistles, cheers, drawn
    by the tracer's celluloid hand, and slipped

    her hatching ground. Spawned in the squat shadow
    of the great crane. Titan, spurned, overthrown,
    looks idly on at boats that pass below.

    Where riggers fell, now daffodils push up, massed
    at the water's edge where memory washes.
    And turn their heads with the sun that passes.


    I've known exposed till, soft ground returning
    footsteps with a sprung rhythm. I've scaled spoil
    and scree, running upwards against churning,
    slipping stone, defiant over the shale-oil
    lacquered slopes. Round-calved, I've laboured sand dunes,
    trod for miles over sinking bog, weary,
    tired, but happy all the same. Whistled tunes
    when the sun was full and rubbed at bleary,
    sleep-filled eyes in long hours idled with friends.
    The winter wash is clearing the moraine.
    I've set up home, alone, almost content,
    with walls for old memories; the telephone
    asleep in its cradle. The sills have silted.
    I'm living at an angle now, stilled, tilted.


David Attwooll lives in Oxford where he works in publishing, and plays drums in a street band. His poems have been published in various magazines; of those included here, 'March for the Alternative' first appeared in Magma, 'SPEEDER CLAIMED CAR...' in Rialto, 'Wiggy in Cornwall' in Smiths Knoll, and 'Banner for Bid' in The Reader. Grateful acknowledgements are due to the editors of those magazines.

I wrote poetry (and lyrics) as a student, as you do; then for forty years didn't. I'm a late starter: a resolution to do something new each month of the year I reached 60, four years ago, produced (along with a hilarious tango class, inept yoga, etc.) an attempt at a sonnet. Evening poetry classes followed, and I have been very lucky to have had a stellar roster of mentors who kindly guided and encouraged me – Giles Goodland, Gerard Woodward, Jane Draycott, George Szirtes, and Jenny Lewis.

My preoccupations are commonplace: time and memory; the sea; processes in low- and high-tech media; half-understood science and the mysteries of the brain; local histories; politics (with a small p); death (inevitably); light and sound. And especially music. I've been an amateur drummer since my teens and that must nudge both the way I write, pushing against form and syntax, and what I write about. I try to listen out for what the rhythm section is doing beneath the surface melody of places and events, the beat a few strata down.

Our street band played (a ragamuffin mix of jazz and 'world music') on the anti-cuts 'March for the Alternative' in March 2011, and as well as the politics there was something ancient and ritualistic going on there. 'Flags in East Dulwich' is based on true family stories; 'The sound ladder' was sparked by the mongrel cross of a South American anthropological exhibition in Paris and Nordic musicians playing ice instruments in Oxford. I have a weakness, I realise, for secular resurrections. Generally, I hope I've been courteous enough to leave doorways open in the poems (as Paul Farley put it), so they don't need any gloss here.

Of course all they are really 'about' is the process of grappling with language. I love the fact that in Greek airports a metaphor is the conveyor belt carrying our overstuffed suitcases around: there's the odd business of making things less familiar to try to perceive them afresh in an 'alienated' world, with the distant and often frustrated hope, as George Szirtes wrote in his T.S. Eliot lecture, 'that language and experience are parts of a whole; that ... signifier and signified are briefly, triumphantly, consolingly, connected ...'

    March for the Alternative
    (London, 26 March 2011)

    As the year turned and the clocks moved forward
    we brought rough music to shame the capital:
    a spring tide of homespun tribes with pagan
    banners and chants congealing the streets, spilling
    over the Embankment; ran tan brass stuff
    recycled from military detritus
    scattered round the world's empires, subverted
    into the currency of offbeat streetbands;

    a Lenten charivari of dancing girls
    with flags on a grey day under
    prunus trees, a whiffler with a
    bilious Guy Fawkes mask, a skimmity ride
    of signs and slogans and awkward curses
    with mugshots on placards like spoiled paper money
    waving past small change of dandelions, coltsfoot,
    scattered by banks of municipal daffodils;
    and Eric Pickles Ate My Youth Club,
    The Associated Society of Engineers
    and Firemen – Doncaster Branch, Smile
    You're on Police Camera, NO CUTS,

    a floating airship of inflated scissors;

    and inverted echoes of old market streetcries
    from garlanded union reps, physiotherapists,
    trainee teachers, assistant librarians,
    junior nurses, rappers and samba crews;
    a scumbled flood to Hyde Park where a morris side
    and a woman with wicker antlers circled
    on the field as folk shuffle-streamed by to flex
    a free and common right, sympathetic magic,
    that the sound of perhaps a million spent feet
    might be heard, and the debt to winter deferred.


Excerpted from Oxford Poets 2013 by Iain Galbraith, Robyn Marsack. Copyright © 2013 Iain Galbraith and Robyn Marsack. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Iain Galbraith is a poet whose work has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Best Scottish Poems, Edinburgh Review, New Writing Scotland, PN Review, Poetry Review, and the Times Literary Supplement. He is an English–German translator and a winner of the John Dryden Translation Prize, awarded jointly by the British Center for Literary Translation and British Comparative Literature Association. Robyn Marsack is the director of the Scottish Poetry Library and the coeditor of the anthology Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets.

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