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Poems A Joking Word

Introduction by Jack Blackmore

Trent Editions, 2020. £12.00. 210 pp. ISBN 9781842331699.
A new edition of the 1930 collection, Jonathan Cape, London

 In April 1929 Laura Riding, then aged 28, stepped off the the window-ledge of the London flat she shared with Robert Graves, breaking her spine. Just fifteen months later Jonathan Cape published Poems: A Joking Word, the first comprehensive collection of her poetry, summing up the first half of her meteoric poetic career. The collection opens with some of her earliest poems, dating from 1919, which she had originally planned to publish separately as First Poems. It includes the substance of her first two collections, The Close Chaplet (1926) and Love as Love, Death as Death (1928) – and some later poems. Many of these and the author’s strange and initially alienating preface rehearse and reflect upon the circumstances of the suicide attempt, and upon her survival and consequent flourishing. Only in recent years have the scope and scale of Riding’s ambition—and her achievement—in poetry and in prose begun to become clear. She has been increasingly recognised as one of the most important poets and one of the most vital figures in twentieth century literature and spirituality more generally. The Trent Editions series has played its part in the more general revival of her work, by publishing the two volumes of her autobiographical writing, The Person I Am, and by re-issuing, with ground-breaking introductions, the four key early selections of Riding’s poems, which are now very rare and expensive in their original editions. This is the fourth collection of Laura Riding’s poems in the Trent Series, following The Close Chaplet, Love As Love, Death As Death, Poet: A Lying Word. 

‘Some of the poems will be found immediately lucid. Others, the kind to which the long-celebrated difficulty is attributed, will make one stop—not just ‘stop and think’ but stop and read. If this necessity is ‘difficulty,’ it is associated with the virtues of the poems, and contributory to a happy consequence in the immediate freshness they have on return to them. The language has precision, but also litheness of expression-movement; it is lan-guage alive and at work.’ — Alan Clark, in Contemporary Poets ‘I derived considerable courage from Laura Riding’s self-determination, and the proof [her poetry] gives that those who refuse to compromise or write what the public thinks it wants are not obliged to back down. Laura Riding is very brave.’ — Marianne Moore ‘Laura Riding means what she says, is where the poem says she is; and this being so, we have participated in an experience that expands us.’ — Michael Kirkham 

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