Thoughts after Michael Marks Poetry Pamphlets Awards

After the Michael Marks Poetry Pamphlets awards and poetry reading event, I am now in possession of three award-winning pamphlets by James McGonigal, Olive Broderick and Sophie Robinson. These very slim and yet thoughtfully made volumes are absolute gems. For one thing, they rarely sit smugly on bookshelves in chain bookstores. You have to make an effort to get them. London Review Book Shop or the Foyles is your best bet. I’m lucky to have bought some at the awards event.

michael marks awards pamphlets

Yesterday evening, I read some of these poems to my boyfriend. He loves the nature-inspired poems by the Scottish poet, James McGonigal. I have to agree that McGonigal’s collection, ‘Cloud Pibroch’ by Mariscat, is very good in capturing the sweeping hand of Nature, and the subtle changes of natural landscapes. In his work, the expansive landscape harbours such zest. I like the precision of his words, ‘ropes of tears’, ‘nectar jazz’ of bees, oilskin book covers…It’s refined, controlled, pensive musings of man’s relationship with nature, and how one gathers strength from it.

I’m intrigued by Sophie Robinson‘s poetry book published by Oystercatcher Press. The first poem, ‘Preshus’, is a stunning, angry poem on love loss: ‘what is love but last year’s hate. What is hate but last / year’s death…’ All that vehemence, plummeting and so much resistance against reality. The imageries are startlingly visual and very forceful, the language innovative and beguiling, yet at times I am unsure about the unsettling line-breaks or uncomfortable pause(s) at the end. Noting the cinematic quality of her poems and the delving in contemporary issues, it is not difficult to understand why Robertson serves as poet in residence at the V&A.

Olive Broderick‘s collection, ‘Dark-haired’, on the other hand, has a more sophisticated pitch. I like the measured pace and diverse range of topics. There is refined grace in the way the poet reveals half-hidden truths. ‘The Oakwood Trilogy’ is delightful to read, using the surreal to highlight the tension in relationships, ending with the spilling of water or tears. I would like the poems to be more emotionally charged though.

Shortlisted poets for the award:

  • Neil Addison, Apocapulco (Salt) – not only is his poetry as exotic as the title for this pamphlet collection, but his personal profile is also worth rereading
  • Simon Armitage, The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right (Smith/Doorstop Books) – which Lavinia was slightly embarrassed to have read differently
  • Sean Burn, mo thunder (The Knives Forks and Spoons Press) – first time I have heard of this press
  • Olive Broderick, Darkhaired (Templar)
  • Ralph Hawkins, Happy Whale First Smile (Oystercatcher)
  • James McGonigal, Cloud Pibroch (Mariscat)
  • Sophie Robinson, The Lotion (Oystercatcher)
These mini poetry collections are a very effective channel for showcasing emerging, experimental poetry talent. If you are curious about the origin and history of poetry pamphlets, do read Helena Nelson’s interview with Peter Sansom on Poetry Business.

Arab world in Knightsbridge, London

The London Evening Standard reported a traffic accident of two Arab drivers crashing their Lamborghinis in the streets in Knightsbridge, London, damaging four other expensive cars along the way. Allegedly from wealthy families in Abu Dhabi, these car owners reassured shocked passers-by that they would pay for the damages.

cars in knightsbridge

Two weeks ago, we had stood in the same area, leaning against the railings outside Harrods, watching and counting the number of posh cars fleeting past. In the half hour that we spent there, I must have seen at least forty snazzy cars – Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and the more common BMWs, Porsches and Mercedes. A considerable proportion of the car owners or drivers are from Asia and the Emirates. We saw one long, cream coloured limousine with a car plate in exotic Arabic.

Inside Harrods, we saw many elegant Muslim women, draped in their long qihabs, their enchanting eyes giving one a feast of their hidden beauty. Some of their qihabs were impressively opulent in the sense that qihabs could be, decked with glittering, precious stones. They moved in such slow, graceful steps. Some of them had Prada and LV handbags. We saw these immaculately dressed women, who inhabit an entirely different world and culture, emerging from the expensive, chauffeured cars and entering the department store in unmistakable style.

My friends asked, since these beautiful women were dressed in black garb for most of the day, what do they need the luxury goods for? The truth is, I don’t know. Perhaps they are after the luxury goods for their sheer beauty and quality, rather than feeling the need to show off.

The phenomenal glimpse of the Arab world in Knightsbridge has reinforced my belief that to stereotype people or races is often misleading if not futile.

Thomas Heatherwick and his super-sculptures

Thomas Heatherwick and his art intrigue me.

Years ago, my boss at Swire gave me an interview clip on Heatherwick’s childhood. I find out that Heatherwick, born into a family of artists, harbours a questioning mind since he was a child. He likes to find out new ways of doing things. It’s fascinating how the curious, geeky child who makes strange greeting cards and craft for his mom becomes the man that he is today.

The man behind these ideas

When I was working in Hong Kong, I remember seeing the British artist for the first time, the creative mind behind the £120m Pacific Place Contemporarisation project, a visionary attempt to redesign one of the best malls in Hong Kong. He has a very intense look about him and doesn’t seem to give a damn what the world thinks of him. There he was, artist behind B of the Bang, in a press conference and media tour that promoted his creative work, oblivious to all that publicity surrounding him. He looked as if he was thinking of his next big idea. Nowadays, Pacific Place has a much more dramatic look about it, with the lighter shades, rippling wooden facade of toilets, musical capsule lifts, airy piazzas, a greenhouse Italian restaurant, and a dazzlingly luxurious hotel with a most modest stony facade (For more, click here).

The living coral sculpture he did for Shanghai Expo’s UK Pavilion this year is equally startling. I love the subtle, quivering silhouette of the sculpture (video).

London Mayor Boris Johnson has announced Heatherwick’s design for all Londoners: a new, low-emissions Routemaster bus which, in my opinion, looks like a red cake of soap. The new bus will roam London’s streets from 2012 onwards.

The new Heatherwick bus that looks like a cake of soap

Have a look at his medium- and large-scale projects on his studio if you have the time. They seem to assume a life of their own. (Heatherwick studio)

I am still planning to go to the Beach Cafe in Sussex he designed one warm sunny day.

Not Just Fashion but Fun: Alexa Chung

I like Alexa Chung.

Who wouldn’t?

She is sweet and sexy, cheerful and quirky. She is 27 years old. She is 5 foot 8. She doesn’t seem to care and she has a cool boyfriend (or seems to be). She can wear anything with her smile (showing her teeth). She is a TV presenter turned fashion icon and Hollywood star. She has Sandra Bullock’s voice. She is all confidence.

Vogue has made Alexa Chung the latest cover girl, and features her fashion diary for the whole month (article).

We love fashion that we can splash on and experiment, that won’t look too bad on us who have not (yet) had the time to get into the perfect shape. We love to be told that the same old stuff hidden in our wardrobes and that we are about to throw away — old jeans, flannel shirts, dusty ankle boots,  quirky trousers — are now the hottest fashion must-haves for the season. We love the feeling of being able to reinvent ourselves without breaking the bank. She makes us remember that we should play with our style. Fashion shouldn’t be boring.

Besides, there is something very appealing about a young Chinese woman (even if her Wiki page points out that she is British) being praised by UK and US fashion editors for her looks and taste. She is Scorpio too. You feel a sense of affinity.