Thursday, 12 December 2019

John Ash, 1948-2019

Very sad to read this morning of the death of John Ash, a very fine poet who somehow often seemed to slip below the radar of surveys of contemporary UK poetry (perhaps because he had lived and worked abroad for so long).

I first came across his work in a Bloodaxe anthology in the early 2000s. One poem, Visigothic, caught my eye more because of my interest in early medieval history than anything else, but its quality got me hooked, I read the rest of Ash's poems in there (maybe half a dozen), and he became one of my favourite poets, one of those names who you really want the rest of the poetry-reading world to know about, but who you also regard as your own secret.

Carcanet have what I think is his last published poem here – typically of him, it's elegant and witty on the surface, with a very serious centre. He'll be very much missed.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

New poem at Ink, Sweat & Tears

I have a new poem – Peninkulma – posted today at Ink, Sweat & Tears. I hope you enjoy it, and that you'll enjoy looking through the many fine poems on the site.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Wear The Fox Hat: poetic coincidences

Poet Matthew Stewart kindly pointed me in the direction of this post by poet Mat Riches, which talks a little about a couple of poems from my first chapbook, Making The Most Of The Light, which came out through HappenStance back in 2005. As I explain in the comments, rather oddly one of the poems mentioned came to mind a day or so before I read Mat's post, even though I probably haven't read it or thought about it in 10 years.

But anyway, more to the point, have a good browse of Mat's blog, Wear The Fox Hat – it's full of good things.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

The Laurel Prize

I was very pleased to see this announcement earlier today – Poet Laureate Simon Armitage is promoting The Laurel Prize, for poetry themed around environmental issues, and the natural world. He'll be donating his £5,000 a year laureate honorarium to the prize fund, and there'll be prizes for best collection as well as best individual poems, plus a prize-giving day at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Which all sounds good. What are you waiting for?

Friday, 8 November 2019

Over at Rogue Strands

I came across this post at Rogue Strands earlier – lovely to see fine poetry being published there, and to read about the forthcoming second Rogue Strands poetry evening, featuring Katy Evans-Bush, Ramona Herdman, Rory Waterman, Rishi Dastidar, Matthew Stewart and Mat Riches, on November 28th. I won't be able to get along there on this occasion, but I'll have to make sure I can some other time.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Magma 75: Loss


I received the new issue of Magma in the post today – No75, themed around Loss. It contains my poem Grail Birds, which was partly inspired by Tim Gallagher's fascinating book The Grail Bird, and partly by the loss of my father a year ago this Friday. 

As always, it's packed with poems, reviews and articles, and I look forward to reading it over the next few days. I'll try to pick out some highlights on here when I do.


Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Competition feedback

Poetry competitions do seem to cause quite a bit of controversy, whether because of high entry fees, the use of 'sifters' (meaning that big name judge isn't necessarily going to see your work), or because some people see the whole idea of being competitive about art wrong.

I've never had a problem with them, as long as people know exactly what they're paying for, and the money is going to support poetry longer-term, by helping with magazine or reading series running costs, for example.

Some competitions also give some sort of feedback. This could be a full critique – when I first entered the Plough Prize back in around 2003, you could pay an extra £1 per entry to get a detailed and very thoughtful analysis of your poem from the judges. It was worth entering for that alone.

But most just publish some comments from the judge or judges when they announce the winners. The usual way it's done is to say what they liked about the winning or shortlisted poems. That can have the unfortunate effect of making you think that, if your poems weren't in the same vein, they didn't like them, but it's probably the safest option.

This, on the other hand, seems pretty out of order to me. At the very least, I think the Sentinel Literary Quarterly should be making clear that if you enter their competition, the judge might well decide to be publicly harshly dismissive of your work. I think they might find themselves taking rather a hit from this, if the reaction of many poets on Facebook is anything to go by.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Richard Thompson at 70

I'm not going to entirely rehash the old debate about whether song lyrics are poetry (yes, I'd say, although not the same sort of poetry you generally see on the page), but Richard Thompson is probably my favourite lyricist of all time. I hadn't realised that he was playing a 70th birthday gig at the Albert Hall, but there's an excellent interview about it and a host of other things here.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

James W Wood: Building A Kingdom, New and Selected Poems 1989-2019



Recent posts on this blog have, unfortunately, largely been concerned with the sad passing of poets and musicians, so it's good to have something positive to write about, namely James W Wood's Building A Kingdom: New and Selected Poems, from The High Window Press.

I was honoured and delighted to be asked to write the introduction for it, and I will post a few choice quotes from it over the next few days, but for now I'll leave you with Irish poet Noel Duffy's words about it, and an exhortation to get hold of a copy as soon as you can.

"There is a fierce sense of purpose in the poetry of James W Wood, revealing a writer with a uniquely powerful and, at times, bleak vision of modern life. Yet placed against such concerns are poems of a more intimate nature, rooted in the world with a thrilling sensuality."

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Elaine Feinstein, 1930-2019

Very sad to hear of the death of the poet, playwright and translator Elaine Feinstein. I hadn't realised previously that she actually grew up in my home town of Leicester (I knew she had a connection to the city, but for some reason thought that she'd been to university there).

Her fairly recent New and Selected Poems, from Carcanet, is probably the best place to start if you want to read her work (and I can recommend it very highly). Here's a poem of hers that I like a lot – I can't remember where I first came across it, but it's stayed with me, and feels more and more apt the older I get.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Daniel Johnston, 1961-2019

Sad news overnight of another death, that of US lo-fi indie icon Daniel Johnston, who suffered a heart attack at his home in Austin, Texas.

I first came across him back in 1996. Stewart Lee, the comedian, in his other guise as a record reviewer for the Sunday Times, raved about the double album Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo, a collection of out-takes, alternative versions, covers and other assorted oddities.

Although in truth it's fairly patchy (as such records always are) it started my long love affair with Yo La Tengo, and in no time at all I was working my way through their back catalogue. One of the tracks that did catch my attention was a cover version of Daniel Johnston's Speeding Motorcycle, being performed live on a radio show (YLT had already covered it on their album Fakebook). Johnston himself phones in and provides the vocals. Like everything else Johnston did, it's very rough-edged, but also full of passion and feeling.


I gradually collected a few of Johnston's earlier records, and found a lot there in the same vein. His music's always very affecting, although sometimes that's in the sense of being disturbing. It's always worth listening to, though – it's no wonder his songs have been much covered by other artists.





Thursday, 8 August 2019

David Berman dies, aged 52

Sad news this morning of the death of David Berman, US poet and the frontman and driving force behind indie band Silver Jews. I bought his collection Actual Air, way back when, and enjoyed it a lot, and I've got a couple of the band's later albums.

I think Berman's death was misreported several years ago, but sadly, this report seems to be all too true.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Paul Batchelor on Niall Campbell and Frederick Seidel

I haven't read either of the collections being considered here, and having read Paul Batchelor's article, I don't suppose I'll be in any great hurry to do so, but full marks to him and the New Statesman for a review that says exactly what it means. More of the same, please.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Peter Riley on WS Graham

Peter Riley is as excellent as ever in The Fortnightly Review, talking about WS Graham, and specifically the New Selected Poems edited by Matthew Francis, the Selected Poems edited by Michael Hofmann, and The Caught Habits Of Language, a recent celebration of Graham's work which I reviewed for Magma and enjoyed a lot.

I found myself agreeing with most of what Riley says, especially about Hofmann's almost total rejection of Graham's earlier work, and indeed of the poetry of the 1940s generally, which feels lazy and unsubstantiated.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

The sound of silence

I've only just got into the habit of downloading podcasts to listen to during my commute (yes, I'm years behind the times). A lot of the time it's Cricket – the Test Match Special podcast, Tuffers and Vaughan, or Tailenders.

But there's also The Verb, and this week's was excellent, looking at silences in poetry – coincidentally I'd started writing a poem on silence a couple of weeks back, so I listened with more than my usual interest. Ian McMillan, who's always a pleasure to listen to, was joined by poets Ilya Kaminsky, Julia Copus and Simon Armitage, and there's much to enjoy.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

David Lynch interview

Nice interview with David Lynch here. I've long been a fan anyway, but he has all sorts of interesting things to say about art and creativity generally.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Alice Oswald elected Oxford Professor of Poetry

Alice Oswald has been elected Oxford's first female Professor of Poetry, and a jolly good thing too. Andrew McMillan would also have been a good choice, and I'm sure he'll be in the reckoning in the future. Slightly staggered that 58 people still voted for Todd Swift, but there you go...

Friday, 14 June 2019

Places Of Poetry

The Places Of Poetry blog is a terrific idea – basically you can pin your own poems of place on the map of the UK, as well as enjoying browsing the map and discovering a lot of excellent new poems by other people.

I haven't posted anything up there yet, although I notice there's something a gap around where I live in Warwickshire, as well as around my hometown of Coalville in Leicestershire. Time to get busy, perhaps.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Have Moicy!

I've been a huge fan of American indie stalwarts Yo La Tengo for a long time now, and one of their most consistently enjoyable albums is Fakebook, from way back in 1990.  It's far from typical of their output, being made up of semi-acoustic cover versions of various obscurities (as well as retreads of a few of their own songs), but it's got a lovely, laid-back vibe.

Anyway, one of the songs on there, Griselda, comes from an album called Have Moicy!, by Michael Hurley, The Unholy Modal Rounders, Jeffery Frederick, and The Clamtones. A couple of weeks ago, I finally got round to looking it up on Spotify and having a listen, and it's great. It's folk music, but not as we know it. Robbin' Banks is a particular favourite of mine on there.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Life after cricket: Robin Smith

I'm sorry the link has to be to the Daily Mail, but this interview with Robin Smith about the mental health problems he suffered after retiring from cricket is excellent, both moving and, ultimately, uplifting.

Back in the dark days of the late 80s and early 90s (for English cricket), he was one of my favourite players – combative and positive, as well as a terrific batsman. I remember watching his 167 in a one-day international (an extraordinary score in those days) – it was absolutely brutal.

But he also always came across as modest and unselfish, and there's a hint of that in the interview. Look at his stats, and his test average is really pretty impressive, again when you consider that in those days batting averages were generally lower. I thought he was ultimately rather shabbily treated by England – they suddenly decided that he was hopeless against spin bowling, just because he'd struggled against Shane Warne, but then who didn't?

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Springsteen albums, ranked

The other day, ahead of the release of his new album Western Stars, The Guardian ran this piece ranking all Springsteen's albums.

First thing to say is that, much as I love Springsteen, I think there are absolute stinkers on pretty much all his albums. Great as Darkness On The Edge Of Town is, for example, it contains the almost unlistenable Streets Of Fire, and the not much better Something In The Night.

I'd have Devils and Dust and Magic higher on my list, Born To Run would be ahead of Born In The USA on the strength of Thunder Road and the title track alone, and I'd have The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle at No1, even though it's hardly one of his more typical albums. But yes, I'd have to have Darkness... very high on the list too.

But I'm glad the writer put Tunnel Of Love well up there. Springsteen rarely seems to play much from it these days, presumably because it was born out of the break-up of his first marriage, but I love it. Subtle country and Orbison influences, and some great songs, not least Brilliant Disguise.

I haven't listened to it much for a few years, mainly because I went on a press trip to Croatia during which the driver of the minibus played it on a continuous loop for five days. You can have too much of a good thing, as it turns out.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Hugo Williams: Lines Off


This is out any day now. I don't suppose Hugo Williams will ever be the height of poetry fashion, but he always strikes me as something of a one-off, wringing the maximum effect out of deceptively simple-looking poems. I look forward to all his collections, and this one is no exception.

Friday, 24 May 2019

And another thing

I don't want to give his execrable book any more publicity than it deserves (ie., none), but I read another damning review of Jacob Rees-Mogg's The Victorians this morning. OK, the New Statesman was never likely to be that appreciative of the walking anachronism's hurriedly completed homework assignment (presumably the dog ate the original manuscript), but they do do the reader the favour of quoting some of the author's laborious and tedious prose.

The one part of the review I would immediately take issue with is "The one non-Westminster discussed is the cricketer WG Grace, included mainly because 'as Every Englishman knows', more than any other sport, 'cricket at its best captures the soul of the nation. Fair play, etiquette and gentlemanly behaviour.' Not much of the latter is evident in the modern game, but Rees-Mogg's perceptions, here as elsewhere, are myopically rooted in the past."

The reviewer appears to have missed the point about WG just as much as Rees-Mogg has. Dr Grace was undoubtedly a great player, a man who revolutionised batting technique in particular, but he really didn't give much of a damn about fair play, etiquette or gentlemanly behaviour. Reading about his career, it's hard to escape the conclusion that even David Warner and Steve Smith might have baulked at taking the field with such a master of gamesmanship (well, more like straightforward cheating), so the dig at the modern game is unwarranted. Nor, it should be noted, was WG alone in that respect.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Oxford Professor of Poetry

Interesting piece in The Guardian about the election of the new Oxford Professor of Poetry. Of the three candidates, I think I'd probably go for Alice Oswald, although I can also see that Andrew McMillan would be an excellent choice. As for Todd Swift, well, you can follow the links in there to see why his candidacy has caused disquiet. You can also read this "statement from an observer" on his blog. You might be able to take a shrewd guess at who the observer is.

Mike Brearley on Cricket

I know you're not supposed to say it, but one of the most disappointing cricket books I've ever read (possibly one of the most disappointing books, full stop), is Mike Brearley's The Art Of Captaincy.

When I bought it, 15 years ago or so, I expected to find it full of all sorts of arcane insights into cricket leadership. Brearley, after all, is considered one of England's best-ever captains, the architect of three Ashes triumphs, including the miracle turnaround of 1981. He was tactically innovative and always thoughtful, and his man management skills were legendary. A trained psychologist, he was described by admiring Aussie fast bowler Rodney Hogg as "having a degree in people".

But I felt at the time that it simply stated the obvious. I came away from it with no more idea of how Brearley achieved what he did than I had at the start. Shorter articles on captaincy, from the likes of Ian Chappell, revealed far more.

But he's more than made up for it with On Cricket. It's wide-ranging and diverse, taking in controversial issues such as ball-tampering and the Basil D'Oliveira affair as well as Brearley's opinions on some of the greats of the game, and on his own career.

Above all, it's beautifully written. Packed with detail, yet clear, concise and very readable, and Brearley's own character comes through on every page. Not in the sense that he puts himself at the centre of things, just that he approaches every subject with the same inquisitive, open-minded, tolerant and thoughtful way.

And that, I realised, probably says a great deal more about the art of captaincy than anything. As a player, how could you not want to perform well for a captain like that? One who, you could be confident, would treat every team member fairly, and never put his own ambitions above the team's. Brearley may or may not be England's greatest ever captain, but he's certainly the most interesting thinker about cricket writing today.