Reading Poetry in August: The Sealey Challenge Days 1 to 10

Book - Identity Papers by Ian Seed

Identity Papers by Ian Seed

I’d never heard of the Sealey Challenge, but I jumped at the chance to challenge myself to read more poetry, to read a whole poetry book or pamphlet each day through the month of August. I decided not to put too much pressure on myself, and to not worry if I didn’t get to the end of every book. So here’s an overview of the poetic gems I’ve discovered in the first ten days of August, and some of the highlights…  

I began with a book I had been meaning to read for a while, and which I have now reviewed in full – Wild Persistence by Katrina Naomi. I have heard her perform on several occasions, and particularly enjoyed reading the poems that focus on celebrating life in all its fulness. I’ll post the full review soon.

Book - Impermanence by Colin BancroftFor Day 2 I read Colin Bancroft’s pamphlet Impermanence. His poems are subtle and slow, focusing on the intersection of nature and humanity, somewhat reminiscent of Ted Hughes. I particularly enjoyed reading ‘Tethered’, a beautiful depiction of how terrible news brings a specific memory to mind:

All I could think about when you told me
That we had lost it, was the night
We spent camping in Braemar
And the wind funnelling down the channel
Between the hills at such a rate
That it bent the tent poles and pushed
The fabric almost into our faces,
As though there were great pressure
Being applied on the outside
And the whole of the world
Was sitting on our refuge, crushing it down.

I enjoyed dipping back into Rosalind Hudis’s Restorations, for Day 3, and then escaped into a world of river, with Alice Oswald’s Dart for Day 4.

poetry books for days 1 to 10 of the Sealey ChallengeFor Day 5 I returned to an old favourite, Ice by Gillian Clarke. I bought it several years ago when I went to see her and Carol Ann Duffy perform in Swansea. I love her use of slant rhyme, and will certainly be re-visiting this book again in the weeks to come.

On Day 6 I decided to read one of the books I originally purchased for my MA in Creative Writing, only to discover that the reading list had changed, so it has just sat there on my shelf for a few years. Identity Papers by Ian Seed is a collection of prose poems. I must admit that I am unsure about this particular kind of prose poetry, and would probably lean towards describing it as flash fiction. However, whatever you call them, these mini-narratives are addictive. They are just short enough to intrigue you, leaving off before you get any kind of satisfactory conclusion, making you re-read them again and again. Here is ‘The House that Jack Built’, a poem that reminds me of those weird, slightly spooky diaoramas you get in museums, that seem to be both real and not real:

I entered the museum that contained the house that Jack built. The original purpose of the house had been to keep everyone out, and I thought that the game would be to find the secret door. I found instead a house without walls. A man with a strong, kind face was cooking broth on a stove for two boys in nightshirts, who had fallen asleep over a kitchen table. The scene looked warm and welcoming, yet I felt increasingly irritated by a faint waxen glow surrounding it. Moreover, ever since entering the museum I’d had the distinct sensation that the fingertips of my right hand were brushing against the bottom of someone’s front teeth. I decided to have a word with the museum attendant.

On Day 7 I returned to my pile of Seren books, and was, as always, stumped, amused and bewildered by the poetry of Peter Finch in The Machineries of Joy. I don’t enjoy all of his writing, but I was pleased to find a few poems about areas of Cardiff, poems that bring the history of the city to life, and a few other fascinating gems, including a meta-ekphrastic poem with the title ‘John Ashbery Visits Lidl’.

Poetry book - Yellow and BlueYellow & Blue by Thomas A. Clarke was another book that I accidentally purchased for my MA only to find that it was no longer on the reading list. On Day 8 I was pleasantly surprised to open it and find a series of miniature poems, haiku-like in their simplicity, focusing on details of the Scottish landscape. Each one felt complete in itself, yet also part of the larger narrative:

it looks as if the ragwort
grew up in response
to a splash of yellow paint
on a fence post

Day 9 was a relaxing day of sunshine and reading Katherine Towers’ collection The Remedies, in the garden. I bought it at the Ledbury Festival a few years ago, when I heard her perform. I love these short succinct flower and nature poems. They seem small and insignificant but are full of a kind of subtle potency. Poetry book - The Remedies by Katherine Towers

On Day 10 I read The Estate Agent’s Daughter by Rhian Edwards, another local South Wales based poet. Her work focuses on family and relationships, including some of the poems from her wonderful pamphlet Brood.

And the poetry reading challenge continues…

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Declaration: I received free copies of Wild Persistence, Restorations, The Estate Agent’s Daughter and The Machineries of Joy from Seren Books..

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