Monday, 25 February 2013

A Very Quick Introduction to the Poetry of John Welch

Born in 1942, John Welch lives in Hackney. For many years until his retirement in 2002 he worked in East London schools teaching English to children recently arrived in the UK. His Collected Poems appeared from Shearsman Books in 2008. Other collections had previously appeared from Anvil and Reality Street. He has run a poetry publishing imprint, The Many Press, edited an anthology of South Asian Literature, Stories from South Asia, and worked with poets from South Asia and Iraq on the English versions of their poems. He has written extensively on the subject of poetry and psychoanalysis. His most recent collection of poems is Its Halting Measure, which appeared from Shearsman in 2012.

John Welch’s writing is often based on the details of life and cityscape in the North East quadrant of London. It combines vivid detail with psychological investigation and honesty, expressed in language both direct and haunting. The poems convey a real world, a shared world, but one that is also riddling, seen with eyes that fixate on its rich detail, but in a way that conveys both its familiarity and its strangeness, and the vital but indefinable processes that mediate between the two. This precise blend of the visual and the psychological, conveyed with clear and delightful language, is forceful and honest, quite gently attracting the reader in and presenting by the end of the poem a complex and energising pattern of language, sound, sight & feeling.

Art and vision are important within his writing – John Welch has collaborated with artists, indeed is married to the painter Amanda Welch. His poems often involve processes of seeing and understanding through vision, with all the mixed and confusing imagery of London as it is. There is also an interesting fascination with a language which is, like the city, being continually seen afresh – his professional and artistic involvement with new communities in London has sharpened a sense of the English language’s strangeness, in a lived and understated way. It is outstandingly contemporary poetry – pleasingly unfashionable and unaffected unlike much that tries for this.

Here are two interesting summations from reviewers: “Yet the characteristic Welch poem is out walking through the north London streets, measuring the presence of the conscious self in its passing settings, and making more of this modest and unmistakeable music:

“And I will walk slowly
Making the most of it
Absenting myself in the song

“This book is full of integrity – again and again, the seriousness of address; writing as if poetry were a matter of life and death. Quiet lyrics following one another like cold waves onto an autumn shore. No flash effects, no random scramblings, no posturing, nothing sly or trivial. Writing as if your life depended on it.” (Peter Hughes reviewing the Collected Poems on Intercapillary Space website.)
“Attention is the poet’s true task, as many writers have reminded us. John Welch reinflects the notion, asking us, ‘Is there a reward for all this watching?’ The reward is, of course, the attention itself; a ‘seeing emptiness.’”  (Andy Brown reviewing the Collected Poems in Stride Magazine.)

A Place Like Here (Katabasis, London 1968) Six of Five (The Many Press, London 1975) The Fish God Problem, with drawings by Ken Kiff (The Many Press, London 1977) And Ada Ann, A Book of Narratives (Great Works Press, Bishops Stortford 1978)
Performance (The Many Press London 1979) Out Walking (Anvil, London 1984)
Blood and Dreams (Reality Street Editions, London 1991)
Greeting Want (infernal methods, Cambridge 1997)
The Eastern Boroughs (Shearsman Books, Exeter 2004) On Orkney (infernal methods, Stromness 2005) Collected Poems (Shearsman, Exeter 2008)
Untold Wealth (Oystercatcher, Hunstanton 2008) Visiting Exile (Shearsman, Exeter 2009)
Its Halting Measure (Shearsman, Bristol 2012) Prose
editor, Stories from South Asia (Oxford University Press 1984)
Dreaming Arrival (Shearsman, Exeter 2008) – on the relationship between psychoanalysis & writing
articles, reviews etc  in The Bowwow Shop,  fragmente, Jacket , London Review of Books, nth position, PN Review, Poetry London, Poetry Review, The Reader, Scintilla, Tears in the Fence, Use of English, Wasafiri.
CD: Lip Service, a selection of poems (Optic Nerve 2008)

John Welch:
John Welch’s blog:
author page at Shearsman Books:
audio recordings on the Archive of the Now: -  search for “John Welch” or look under Authors
poems on Great Works:
recent poems in The Fortnightly Review:
reminiscences: Being There
& Getting it Printed: London in the 1970s
Andy Brown, Laying Siege to an Empty Fortress:  Collected Poems, John Welch  
Peter Hughes, John Welch, Collected Poems
 Tom Lowenstein, John Welch, Collected Poems

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