Welcome To Talking Verse

This blog is dedicated to discussion on poetry.

Poetry, on the European side of the Atlantic, has hardly progressed since the early 20th Century. Whilst in the USA poetry continues to evolve and present itself afresh.

Part of the reason for this is that the issue of poetry has been debated widely in the USA whereas in Britain, for example, you will be hard pressed to find anything that challenges the status quo of poetry.

There have been a few attempts: the Liverpool Beat poets made an short-lived impact during the early 1960s, but they could only offer a poor imitation of a style from the USA.

A handful of poets in the 20th century did make an impact. Basil Bunting and Tom Leonard shook up the established schools. But compared to the US the impact is small. Whilst other art forms have managed to progress over the years, poetry has stood still. Only the narrative has altered to keep abreast of the times.

Many people look to poetry to ‘tell’ them something; as if poetry were some form of journalism or propaganda. The laureateship of Carol Anne Duffy has only reinforced that view. But it is not simply a case of blaming the poets. Duffy is only responding to a demand that arises out of a society that pushes art for other ends, rather than simply art for the sake of it.

Today there is a wide awareness of poetry, the internet is weighted down with poetry sites that offer varying degrees of quality. Poetry is as valid as any other art form but only as long as it operates as an art form. Poets should not be seen as harbingers and the audience should look for meaning rather than rely on the poet or critic to provide answers.


This blog welcomes essays and book reviews about poetry. Please do not submit any poetry. If you wish to use a blog to submit poetry then I would recommend The Poets' Graves Workshop.

All submissions will be read and editing suggestions may be put to the author before being posted. Rejection by the author of any suggestion does not preclude it from being posted on the site.

Talking Verse follows no particular school of thought and has no other remit apart from the widest debate on matters of poetry.

Please submit here

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Phantom of the Apple by John Kay

Review by Phil Thornton

This collection of American poet, John Kay’s work begins with a quote from Camus’ s ‘Myth of Sisyphus’;

“The worm is in man’s heart”

An apt start for a collection of poems pre-occupied with the author’s own heart related health issues. Like many American poets, Kay gets straight to the er, heart of the issue, forsaking the structural showboating and vainglorious stylizations of many European writers in a bid to connect via emotion. Not that Kay doesn’t have a style, but that style serves the poem and not the author.
 On first reading his short sets of six free-form couplets can often be skimmed over but once re-read become more resonant;
 for example

The Dropped Chessman

Kay picks up the newspaper
and reads the headline. He

puts his jacket on and walks
to the bridge. He reaches into

the black bag he’s been carrying
and removes wooden chessmen,

one by one, dropping them into
the river – one white, one black.

At home – a trumpet plays dole-
fully. On the chessboard, he cuts

a blood orange in two, leaving
a thin red stain – and a clue.

A clue? The newspaper headline? The chessmen? The river? The trumpet? The orange stain? Maybe there is no story to tell here, maybe it’s something entirely personal to Kay ( he’s always Kay by the way) or perhaps it has something to do with, I dunno, the death of Miles Davis. What matters is that the reader then projects their own interpretation on the poem. Not that most of the poems in this collection need much interpreting. As with the likes of Fred Voss, Kay’s work surpasses the pseudo-primitivism of Bukowski copyists. The plaintive titles – Eating Pistachios, Tough Guy, I Married A Clown etc – hint at down-home simplicity and although all of the pieces included here are autobiographical with the feverish fear of disease and death informing each word, nevertheless there is a universality about Kay’s existential anxiety. Take

‘Beauty and the Beast’

Fishing in the high mountains
with his family, Kay wanders

upstream alone, searching for
the perfect hole. Luckless, he

sprawls on a sun-warmed rock
dangling his feet in the cool water.

Jeans rolled up, shoes and socks
stacked neatly nearby, he dozes off,

enjoying the beauty of nature –
when, suddenly a sleek Vipera berus

locks his big toe in its cold jaws,
and he hears himself shrieking.

These little moments remind us of our mortality, of what life is and what we will lose once dead. The sound of our own voices, the warmth of the sun, the pain of the bite. In ‘Dead Man Walking’ he’s smelling the roses whilst walking down the Bergstrasse of his adopted German home and these sensual snatches of every day existence permeates the collection. All poems , even ones not entirely to do with Kay himself, return to the same issue; take ‘Infidelity’ 

Some die of Legionnaires’
disease or get rear-ended into

Eternity, but he came home,
bludgeoned his wife and son

with a baseball bat, hopped
on his motorcycle and sped

back in the direction of his
mistress, hit a bus broadside,

jumped up and was killed by
a truck – attracting the police,

medical personnel, journalists
and a poet with a new idea.

This macabre humour returns in poems where Kay describes his ventriloquist puppet, also called Kay. It’s not certain whether puppet ‘Kay’ is an alter-egotistical metaphor for the dying (dead?) man or a real puppet and in any case, it doesn’t really matter.

Kicking The Bag

I have taken to stuffing Kay
into a large, paper grocery bag,

which is lighter than his box
and easier to carry. Yesterday

he began to moan and whine,
causing a general disturbance,

so I kicked the bag a few times.
He wouldn’t stop, so I began to

Untangle his strings. He said,
God’s existence is the only good

explanation for pain. I closed
the bag and kicked it again.

Phantom Of The Apple displays an American poet who refuses to go quietly into that good night, a frightened, ageing man in his 60s who’s ticker troubles provide  both despair and delight.  Any one who had a heart would understand.


When I pick up ice cubes
that stick to my fingertips,

I panic trying to shake them off
-trying to shake off forever,

like during a nightmare when
I find myself in the middle

of the night, walking through
the house, turning on lights

as quickly as I can, a chill in
my spine – doing everything

possible to stay in this world,
to come unstuck from the other.