Friday, January 9, 2009

The Broken Word

I have just finished reading The Broken Word by Adam Foulds, the book which won the poetry book section of the Costa Book Prize. On the inside cover it is described as a poetic sequence and on the back cover as a verse narrative. This need to categorise the work seems to derive from the same source as the basic unanswerable question "What is a poem?".

Foulds' poem is about the experiences of an English youth, Tom, visiting his family's farm in Kenya between school and university and getting involved in the violence associated with the Mau Mau uprising. Tom returns to England, goes to university and returns to normality. Some flashes of his Kenya days return however and we are left with the feeling that he will neither be able to forget or be able to tell what happened in Kenya.

It's good to see a long poem getting recognition, so many poets write those short less than 40 line lyrics, wonderful when being read but very forgettable. I have been purposely reading some long poems lately including Fiona Sampson's The Distance between Us, Hart Crane's The Bridge and Wordsworth's The Prelude. Some are truly sequences where individual poems can be read on their own but taken together create a whole which is more than the sum of the parts.

I have written a sequence of poems on Sligo during the Civil War. Two of the individual poems have been commended in competitions. You can read one here.

Another long poem or poem sequence - Ciaran Carson's For All We Know - was also on the short list of four for the Costa poetry prize. Described on its back cover as a "novelistic book" and "a sequence of poems" I thought that Carson's book was easily the better book from the point of view of craft, subtlety and depth.

The Independent review of Fould's and Carson's books here.
The Guardian review of Fould's book here.
The Times review of Fould's book here.
Poet David Morley discusses both books here.
Tower Poetry review of Fould's book here.

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