Image by Caroline Forbes

Antony Rowland

b. 1970

Particles of observation, incomplete phrases and strange juxtapositions seem welded by some hidden charge into a power of feeling. - John Powell Ward

A History of the Beard

Antony Rowland

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About Antony Rowland

Antony Rowland (b.1970) is Professor of Literary Studies in English at The University of Salford where he teaches literature and creative writing. His poetry has been published extensively in journals, magazines and anthologies including Critical Quarterly, Stand, P.N. Review, New Poetries III (Carcanet, 2002), and, most recently, the Bloodaxe anthology Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poets (2010). He received an Eric Gregory Award in 2000, and a Learning Northwest Award in 2001. His first collection, The Land of Green Ginger, was published by Salt in 2008, and was well-received, with reviewers drawing comparisons with the work of poets as disparate as John Ashbery and Ezra Pound. Rowland's writing is at the forefront of a developing strand of contemporary British poetry, which connects the established mainstream with the avant-garde, without either diluting the seriousness of the latter's engagement with language, or failing to startle, amuse and intrigue through his imaginative flair - often realised through the form of monologue. Indeed, it is rare to see this mode of writing pushed so far, especially in poems such as 'The History of the Beard', featured here, in which a legacy of the hirsute is recounted to a headless cavalier, a sibyl doomed to hairdressing in perpetuity, and an academic obsessed with the power of nineteenth-century barnets. Rowland was born in Bradford, and a series of his poems engages with the writer's northern background, but always with originality and wit, never resorting to the familiar trappings of this well-mined subject. Gastronomy often features in Rowland's poetry too, and is represented here with his eulogy to the pie. Jeffrey Wainwright describes his work as "fascinating… 'Scallops' and 'The Cake' are a whole new take on 'war poetry'. They are significant and powerful."

Rowland studied at Hull and Leeds, completing his PhD on the poetry of Tony Harrison as Holocaust literature at the age of 26. Tony Harrison and the Holocaust was published in 2001, and revisits one of the most misquoted passages of twentieth-century philosophy: Theodor Adorno's apparent dismissal of post-Holocaust poetry as 'impossible' or 'barbaric'. Rowland opens up the possibility that the awkward and embarrassing poetics of writers such as Harrison might be re-evaluated as committed responses to the worst horrors of twentieth-century history. The academic branch of Rowland's work was developed with the publication of Holocaust Poetry: Awkward Poetics in the Work of Sylvia Plath, Geoffrey Hill, Tony Harrison and Ted Hughes in 2005, in which he elaborated his theory of 'awkwardness'. In the first critical study of post-Holocaust poetry in Britain, Rowland argues that these poets can play an important part in our understanding of Holocaust writing, and illustrates that 'awkward' poetics enable poets to provide ethical responses to history, and avoid aesthetic prurience. It is also one of the first books to use material from the Ted Hughes archives at Emory University, Atlanta. Prior to Carol Ann Duffy accepting the laureateship, Rowland also co-edited Choosing Tough Words: The Poetry of Carol Ann Duffy (2003). The anthology situates Duffy's poems in relation to debates about the state, value and social relevance of contemporary British poetry, and asks whether Duffy's work is part of a feminist tradition of writing, and whether her work is anathema to men.

In his recordings for the Poetry Archive, Rowland's warm, personable reading style brings to the fore his relish of sound and the sounds of the names of foods in particular. The quick, gentle rhythms of his voice deliver his enjoyably expansive, descriptive poems with a connoisseur's flair for the lyricism of lists. Never merely whimsical, this exuberance in and among words accumulates weight throughout the poems' performance, allowing Rowland's strikingly perceived images to appear, sudden and whole, from inside his well-heard, voluble monologues.

Antony Rowland's recording was made at the Audio Workshop, London, UK, on November 10th 2009 and was produced by John Green.

Selected bibliography

I am a Magenta Stick, Salt, 2012

The Poetry of Carol Ann Duffy: Choosing Tough Words (...

Holocaust Poetry: Awkward Poetics in the Work of Sylvia...

Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poets Bloodaxe,...

The Land of Green Ginger Cambridge, Salt, 2008

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