You see Katy’s mugshot every time you visit this blog. Look at the masthead – top row, on the right, between Tom Paulin and Ted Hughes. Yep. That’s pretty much what I think of Katy Evans-Bush. Plenty of poets had a claim to that spot – Plath, Christina Rossetti and Aemelia Lanyer were all contenders. (I’ll be writing about Lanyer for Anthony Wilson’s blog later this month). However, Katy’s blog, Baroque in Hackney, was and still is a one-off. When Poor Rude Lines started, all I could find online was self-published poetry. Discovering Baroque in Hackney was a shot in the arm. Katy is disarmingly well read, humane and infectiously engaging.
It’s a thrill to read these essays from our foremost blogger. It’s testament to her talent and a validation of blogging in general. Flicking through these essays on Negative Capability, Dylan Thomas, plagiarism and poetic metre, Katy’s significant contribution to British and international poetry becomes clear. You could set your watch by those tedious little posts asking whether poetry is dead. Meanwhile, with characteristic chutzpah, Baroque in Hackney has just been getting on with the business of creating the sort of online space and conversation that poetry lacked but needed. Erudite – yes. Academic – no (well, not in that way). Baroque in Hackney is for us, for general readers, and surely continues to bring new audiences to contemporary poetry.
Katy’s essay, ‘The Poem is a Question: Keats, Negative Capability and Us’, serves as an illustration of some of this book’s qualities. It’s grounded in the here and now, in a real evening, in the writing of a real poem and, with characteristic, joyful bloodymindedness, interrogates and rejects creative writing’s tired old dogmas:
Write what you know. That’s what we hear. Even schoolchildren are given this advice, whose whole job in the world is to be curious and find everything out. But how do you even know what you know? And really, what does anyone know?
The other adage, which crops up even more frequently is this one: Show, don’t tell. Generations of writers have been given this advice. Presumably it applies after the writer has figured out what they do and don’t know.
And then, in a thrilling leap, Keats enters the ring. An essay on Negative Capability at keatsian.co.uk explains the Latin root of ‘doubt’ as ‘being in two minds’ – a state of uncertainty. (Check out Gina Cooke’s excellent Ted-Ed video – posted above). Katy develops the idea:
So, Negative Capability is not about a capability as such, and it isn’t about being ‘negative’. The phrase can possibly be understood in the light of two other ways in which we use the word ‘negative’. One of them is the photographic negative – which contains all the information necessary for the picture, but does not yet present it – and the other is the concept of negative space. That is the space that surrounds the subject of the picture; it’s everything except the thing you think you’re looking at, and it defines the thing you’re looking at. If all you are doing is ‘telling about’ or ‘showing’ the thing you think you’re looking at, you are missing (as Keats seems to be telling us) most of the information.
Then Katy gets all the tools out of the box, reading her ideas against Keats himself (Ode on Melancholy), Philip Gross’ Elderly Iceberg off the Esplanade and against Elizabeth Bishop’s Cirque d’Hiver. The close reading and the range of poets cited is thrilling and, when she feels it, she’s prepared to go out on a limb. Here she is on that Elizabeth Bishop poem describing a toy circus horse bearing a dancer on his back:
In the third stanza, a surprise: ‘He has a formal, melancholy soul’… More than this, ‘He feels her pink toes dangle toward his back / along the little pole / that pierces both her body and her soul’. It is quite possible to imagine that Bishop didn’t even see this coming, till it came.
With one notable exception, I’ve had to accept that my local pub and my life aren’t filled with hordes of people reading and discussing poetry. Blogs and blogging have gone a long way to filling this need and I owe Katy Evans-Bush my thanks. If you’re as yet unacquainted with Baroque in Hackney, head on over – and buy a copy of Forgive the Language while you’re at it.
- Read Katy Evans-Bush’s blog, Baroque in Hackney
- Me and the Dead – reviewed on Poor Rude Lines
- Egg Printing Explained – reviewed on Poor Rude Lines