Climbing Postcards: Judy Kendall
Judy Kendall is a widely acclaimed poet and translator, with two previously published collections under her belt. Having previously taught at the University of Gloucestershire, and spent seven years lecturing at Kanazawa University in Japan, she is now a lecturer in English at the University of Salford. She also has a doctorate in the process of poetic composition, and this shines through in much of her work in this book.
Climbing Postcards, her third collection, published by Cinnamon, is a book of poems ostensibly about climbing, although there are hints of relationship difficulties mirroring the climbing struggles.
A note in the acknowledgements states that many of the rhythms of the poems were inspired by the Ordsall Acapella Singers. I wondered how this would be represented.
Poems about climbing, though? I wasn’t sure if this was going to be up my street, or mountain, but any doubts I had dissolved upon reading the first poem. Remembered Song, above Cwm Idwal is a fascinating weave of song lyrics and poetry, although the two could be, and indeed are, interchangeable. It tickled my intellect in ways I was really not expecting.
The second poem appears to be a found piece, and is deceptively simple – it will have you moving your finger along the words and mouthing them silently, though. Or maybe that was just me. By the third poem, What I learned on my first long wall, I was a confirmed fan of Judy Kendall. ‘What I learned’ is tight, complex, witty, intelligent, and a fantastic example of concrete poetry, using symbols - among other poetic devices - to indicate the grips and foot holes found on indoor climb walls.
Some pieces seem to be more performance-based and rely on rhyme to see them through. On Hearing of the death of My Father is one poem that I think must have been inspired by the Ordsall Singers.
Here’s another surprise - Judy Kendall swears in some of her poems! I’m totally sold by this point already but this bought me life membership to her fan club, being a fellow foul-mouther. She disproves yet again the misguided belief that swearing equals a lesser intellect.
The eponymous Climbing Postcards is another intelligent and original poem. It combines the writing on two postcards, written by two separate people, and places them adjacent to each other on the page:
“Today I went I went on a climb today
rock climbing with a very hard start
with Judy requiring you to
and her friend Jeff pull yourself up”
Even more impressively, some of the lines can be read in a linear fashion. This is very clever poetry.
Kendall reveals a world of climbing I had never even considered before, poetically or otherwise. Fearless, there is nowhere she will not explore. She produces some beautiful prose, and displays fully engaged observational skills, spanning her admiration of an older and more experienced female climber, a locker room scenario, mimicking climbing whilst travelling on a tram – even farting whilst climbing. And don’t forget the swearing!
There are found poems, rhyming poems, acrostic and song poems. Some pieces were so structurally intricate they were beyond my level of understanding. Readers with a more developed knowledge of poetic technique and composition would almost certainly draw more out of them, but even if I didn’t quite “get” them, I admired their originality and intellectual vigour.
There was a surprising amount of end-rhyming, which I didn’t expect in a collection of pretty extreme experimental writing, but I do believe most of the rhythm of these pieces to be inspired by the Ordsall Acapella Singers, so it makes perfect sense. In any case, it takes all sorts to make a good collection, and this is a great collection, in my humble opinion.
I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would. It would make the perfect gift for climbers, but I would recommend it to anyone without any hesitation, as there is something for everyone in this slim volume. Laura Taylor
Climbing Postcards, by Judy Kendall, is published by Cinnamon Press, at £7.99.