Think of poetry pamphlets published in this country and the chances are you think of young UK writers just starting out. But many of the most experienced and accomplished poets use this mode of publication too. And not all the work starts off as poetry in English.
For several years now Alan Baker has been making a significant and under-acknowledged contribution to poetry through his Leafe Press, and its associated magazine Litter.
Alan, who is based in Nottingham, deserves praise for his work as a poet, publisher and translator. His pamphlet The Beginning and End of Snow is a work I wouldn't want to be without. It consists of his own translations of poems by the great French poet Yves Bonnefoy. Here is the first poem in full:
First snow, early this morning. The ochre, the green
Take refuge under the trees.
Second, towards noon. No colour remaining
But that of the pine needles
Which also fall, thicker sometimes than the snow.
Then, towards evening,
The light stiffens.
Shadows and dreams have the same weight.
A little wind
Writes with the end of its foot a word outside the world.
The familiar world is made unfamiliar by the snow and by the poet. The known, the unknown and the imagined mingle in a site of strange potential. Bonnefoy's vision is of a possible rejuvenation, the white world cast as a blank page. The final two lines beautifully combine a modest script with cosmic scale and context. This is what some mean by the ‘spiritual in art', a spirit which has nothing to do with the decay and dogmas of organised religion, but everything to do with humanity on Earth in space, now.
The third poem, 'The Plough', begins like this:
5 am. The snow's still falling. I hear voices
From before the world.
Again we are entered by a stunning sense of unexpected possibility. It's like a wake-up call. I love the way the words The snow's still falling hover in grammatical ambiguity. Is ‘still' an adjective qualifying a gerund? Or is it an adverb qualifying the present participle? Well, it's both, and that is its deftness. The poem ends with this vertiginous, simple and irresistible passage:
And that child
Has all the sleeping house to himself. He wanders
From room to room. He presses
His fingers against the windows. He watches
Drops form, when, for a second, he stops
Pushing the misted panes towards a falling sky.
If you find a poetry publication representing better value than this, please let me know. It costs £3.50.
The Beginning and End of the Snow, by Yves Bonnefoy and translated by Alan Baker, is available from Leafe Press, 4 Cohen Close, Chilwell, Nottingham, NG9 6RW. Find out more on the website or by email.
Peter Hughes' poetry publications include Paul Klee's Diary, Blueroads, Nistanimera, The Summer of Agios Dimitrios and The Pistol Tree Poems. Nathan Thompson writes of it as ‘flickering, intense, innovative and utterly mesmerising'.
Peter also runs Oystercatcher Press, based on the Norfolk coast, which has published more than 40 poetry pamphlets over the last three years.