Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Antony Owen at Snakeskin

The December issue of Snakeskin has two fine poems by Coventry poet Antony Owen – How To Find The Falkland Islands, and The Bombing of Beautiful Birds. The latter, you might notice, is 'after Matt Merritt, and I can only say that I'm proud and humbled to have in any way provided any spark of inspiration.

Much of Antony's work deals with war and its effects on both civilians, and the participants, and particularly how the latter are too often left to deal with their own trauma when they return home. I especially like those final two stanzas of the Falklands poem, but there's so much to like there.

You can read more about Antony's work as a poet (and peace activist) here – as you'll see, he was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for his most recent collection, The Nagasaki Elder.

A few years back, I was lucky enough to visit first the Falklands, and then Argentina, for work, in the space of 12 months. What struck me in both places was that, whenever the 1982 war was mentioned, it was not in terms of anger, or ongoing hostility, but simply with a deep sadness.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Conversations with Nick Cave

I am, I would have to say, a bit ambivalent about Nick Cave and his music. There was a time, around Let Love In, when I listened to him quite a bit. Looking it up, I've just noticed that not only was ex-Triffid Martyn Casey a member of the Bad Seeds by then, but Triffid head honcho David McComb also contributed backing vocals. But I can't say I've ever wholly gone along with the 'genius' tag he gets so often.

Still, that's irrelevant. This article in The Guardian is what I really wanted to talk about. Cave's responses to his fans feel genuine and generous, and I found this open letter to a grieving fan particularly moving.

I will have to go back and dip into Cave's back catalogue a bit, though. Given how prolific he's been, I've probably missed a lot.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Poetry in schools

Excellent piece here from Michael Rosen, on the teaching of poetry in schools, and how reducing it to a series of a yes/no answers not only does the poetry itself a great disservice, but teaches the children nothing and probably puts them off poetry for life. I was lucky, when I was at school, that we had English teachers who encouraged you to read a poem with an open mind – indeed, above all, who encouraged you just to read poems.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Declan Ryan on Hugo Williams

Interesting overview of Hugo Williams' Collected Poems here, in the Los Angeles Review of Books, by young poet Declan Ryan. Williams never really seems to quite fit in to any poetic school or movement, but I've liked his work ever since I first encountered it (a remaindered copy of Dock Leaves that I bought about 16 or 17 years ago). Billy's Rain is, as the article suggests, probably his best collection, but the Collected Poems is well worth a look.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Is contemporary poetry in "a rotten state"?

Late to the party with this, but apparently novelist Rose Tremain thinks modern poetry is crap, while poet Robin Robertson finds himself sitting in the appalled middle ground, between the polar opposites of "light verse" or "incomprehensible".

Well, you can have fun arguing about whether or not they're right, but it's the way the subject is approached that bugs me. With Tremain, it's the "Let's dare to say it out loud". She sounds like one of those middle-aged men who 'dare' to be politically incorrect, but of course she's not saying anything daring at all, just using the platform afforded her by a national newspaper to trot out the same sort of thing Jeremy Paxman and Stephen Fry have done in the past. And of course, she doesn't mention any of the poets she does approve of, whether contemporary or from the past, or indeed any of the contemporary poets that she has read to form such an opinion. So, all things considered, a pretty pointless comment.

In Robertson's case, it's the implication that the "middle" in which he finds himself is somehow the squeezed, obscured, ignored part of the poetry world, rather than the largest sector, and the one that encompasses the larger presses and the bulk of the media coverage. It's dominated, of course, by middle-aged white men like Robertson writing largely mainstream poetry (and I speak as a middle-aged white man writing mainstream poetry). What's the problem with hearing some different voices?

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Arthur Merritt, 1940-2018

My dad, Arthur Merritt, died on November 1st after a long illness. He was a wonderful husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather to my mum, Verley, my sisters Rebecca and Hannah and myself, my wife Natalie and my stepchildren Charlotte and Jacob respectively. We said our goodbyes to him yesterday, but of course he will always be with us in everything we do. Of that, more in a few days.

At the funeral, Tennyson's Crossing The Bar was read. Now I don't think Dad was ever a great reader of poetry, but this (it's hard to reproduce the formatting here, so I've just included the link) struck just the right note, and had added significance because he was a proud native of Louth, Lincolnshire, from very near Tennyson's own home village. Rest in peace, Dad, we love you now as always.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Magma 72 reviews

In the new issue of Magma (No.72), I've reviewed new collections from Bobby Parker and Stav Poleg, and an anthology in celebration of WS Graham. I won't give away what I thought of them – you'll have to buy the magazine for that. It contains a lot of fine poetry, much of it around the theme of climate-change.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Looking back on Leicester's Shindigs

Jonathan Taylor has posted a short piece looking back at Leicester Shindigs, 2010-2017. It was a great pleasure to read there on several occasions, and an even greater one to attend regularly. I hope it will return in some form, but whatever happens, it did a great job of giving both new and established poets a regular forum, and huge thanks are due to Jane Commane, Matt Nunn, and Maria and Jonathan Taylor, who fronted it and did all the behind-the-scenes work that made it such a success.

Riverrun, by Alan Baker

Knives, Forks & Spoons Press are publishing Alan Baker's new collection Riverrun, a sequence of sonnets about the River Trent. As the blurb from Robert Sheppard says, Baker (a fine poet who deserves to be widely read) is following in a long tradition of poets taking rivers as their inspiration.

Full details are here, or you can read four of the poems at Stride.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

TS Eliot Prize shortlist announced

The shortlist for this year's TS Eliot Prize has been announced – there are five debuts on the list, alongside the likes of Nick Laird and Sean O'Brien. It's good to see the judges including such a diverse range of work, although the list is dominated by the larger publishers, with a very notable exception – Fiona Moore's The Distal Point is published by the very wonderful HappenStance.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Oswald's Book of Hours

Litter has an interesting review of Steve Ely's collection Oswald's Book of Hours, from Smokestack Books. It's one that I'd really like to catch up with, partly because Ely's a very fine poet whose work I've enjoyed before, and partly because of the subject matter.

I just started reading The King in the North, by Max Adams, about Oswald, 7th century king of Northumbria and saint, reminding myself of what I've long forgotten since studying the period at university. The two books ought to complement each other rather well.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Robin Robertson in The Guardian

It's not really any wonder that the world of poetry is small and polarised when the likes of Robin Robertson take every chance they get to trot out the same old grumpy-old-man bollocks moaning about 'Instagram poetry' and the avant-garde, is it?

Robert Sheppard's Michael Drayton rewrites

I have Michael Drayton to thank for the title of this blog (see sidebar), so it's interesting to see that Robert Sheppard is engaged in reworking Drayton's entire sonnet sequence Idea, titling it Bad Idea. Lots of links there to other interesting work by Sheppard, too.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Does happiness 'write white'?

The other day, I came across this review of JL Carr's A Month In the Country. It's a novel (well, more like a novella) that I've loved for many years, ever since coming across a copy in Coalville Library, and Ingrid Norton does a wonderful job of capturing what's so special about it.

I like what she has to say about how Carr writes about happiness. Henry De Montherlant's oft-quoted aphorism 'Happiness writes white' (actually 'happiness writes in white ink on a white page') has some truth in it, of course, in novels, poems and song lyrics, but there are ways to avoid it. Carr, as Norton describes here, does just that. Interestingly, his other novels are often much more pessimistic in outlook.

But anyway, I'd like to hear suggestions of other writers, or pieces pf work, that avoid the problem De Montherlant identifies. Over to you...

Friday, 21 September 2018

Poets on climate change

Interesting piece here in The Guardian, as much for the science as the poetry, but Bill McKibben's point is a good one. he says: "This science is uncontroversial. But science alone can't make change, because it appeals only to the hemisphere of the brain that values logic and reason. We're also creatures of emotion, intuition, spark – which is perhaps why we should mount more poetry expeditions, put more musicians on dying reefs, make sure that novelists can feel the licking heat of wildfire."

Thursday, 20 September 2018

More plagiarism

Poet Ira Lightman's Facebook page has this – perhaps the most bare-faced example of plagiarism that he has yet investigated. This time it's not poetry, but perpetrated by Steve Marshall of SNM Horror Magazine, who has stolen a bunch of Brett Graham's stories wholesale. Marshall's attempts to justify what he has done are ludicrous, and have no foundation in law. If you're a horror writer looking to get your work published, I'd suggest you avoid this vampire and his magazine like...well, like you'd avoid a vampire.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Forward Poetry Prizes

Some interesting and brave choices this year – as always I have some catching up to do with regards to reading most of the nominees. But congratulations to Danez Smith, Phoebe Power and Liz Berry (whose work I do know well and who is a very deserved winner).


Not sure this answers many questions, if I'm honest. Hmmm...

Friday, 14 September 2018

Dave Coates on Toby Martinez de las Rivas

Dave Coates' reviews are always worth reading, but this is even more thought-provoking (and no less well written) than usual. I have to say I really don't know the poetry of Toby Martinez de las Rivas at all, but Coates makes his case very well. I'll have to read around it a bit further.

Incidentally, wasn't the black sun a fascist and/or Nazi symbol?

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Poet Tips

I'm not sure why I hadn't come across this site before (especially as I was following it on Twitter), but I had a look at Poet Tips at lunchtime today. Basically, you enter the name of a poet whose work you like, and it suggests some other poets that you might like to read.

The only match it suggests for me at the moment is Matthew Stewart (who I can recommend whole-heartedly), but of course it depends on viewers adding their own suggestions, so it will develop over time as new poets are added.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

The Lord God Bird

Poet Laura McKee shared this song on Facebook yesterday, and I'm glad she did. Partly because it's a great song, and has encouraged me to seek out more from Stevens (I'd heard bits and bobs previously, but clearly not enough).

But partly because it also reminded me of the whole controversy over the existence or otherwise of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, the species being referred to. It's the subject of an excellent book, The Grail Bird, by Tim Gallagher, one of the men who claimed to have rediscovered the bird in Arkansas some years ago. He's also written Imperial Dreams, an account of searching for the related Imperial Woodpecker in the Sierra Madre in Mexico. If anything it's even better than the first book.

It's still hard to come to any firm conclusion about whether the Ivory-billed still exists, but I went on a birding trip with Tim once, and have no doubts about his sincerity. Nor can I see what he would have to gain by making up the claims.

But anyway, enjoy the song, and enjoy the books if you get a chance.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Two Orthodox Left-Armers

My last post reminded me that I have a two-part poem about Wilfred Rhodes and Hedley Verity – Two Orthodox Left-Armers – in Candlestick Press's splendid Ten Poems About Cricket chapbook.

Introduced by John Lucas, whose own poem is a highlight for me, it also contains work by the likes of Adrian Buckner, Hubert Moore, Norman Nicholson, Kit Wright, and John Arlott, the doyen of radio cricket commentators. Perfect for the cricket-lover in your life.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

England's all-time Test best

Go down to the bottom of this story, and you'll see England's All Time Greatest Test Match XI, as voted for by BBC viewers/listeners/readers.

My first thought was that, as usual with these things, it's far too slanted towards current and recent players.

I can't see how Jack Hobbs and Wally Hammond could not be in there, if they were even half as good as their records suggest. And that's before you start wondering at the absence of May, Cowdrey and Compton - wouldn't one of them be worth a spot? And Ken Barrington? His test record was right up there with the best ever, and he had a particularly good record against the Aussies.

The bowling is a bit less contentious, but great as Swann was, was he really better than Hedley Verity, or Wilfred Rhodes, or Jim Laker?

On second thoughts, I suppose it's inevitable. No-one voting will have seen much of most of those players, so perhaps the real surprise is that Hutton and Trueman make the cut, presumably based mainly on their records and what voters have been told about them, rather than what they've actually seen.

So, I got to thinking, and compiled my All Time England XI, and then my Lifetime England XI, purely from players I've seen. In fact, I added a twelfth man for each, so that the captain would have a choice of playing one spinner or two. Here they are:

All Time England XI
Jack Hobbs
Len Hutton
Wally Hammond
Ken Barrington
Denis Compton
Ian Botham
Alan Knott (WK)
Fred Trueman
Hedley Verity
Sydney Barnes
Alec Bedser
Wilfred Rhodes (12th man)

Lifetime England XI
Graham Gooch
Geoff Boycott
Alastair Cook
David Gower
Kevin Pietersen
Ian Botham
Alec Stewart (WK)
Graeme Swann
Stuart Broad
Jimmy Anderson
Bob Willis
John Emburey (12th man)

In the first, it was a hard choice as regards the spinners, but Verity was reputedly the only bowler that Bradman felt he could never wholly master, so he gets the nod. Rhodes would offer flexibility as 12th man, given that as well as his bowling, he could bat pretty much anywhere. Compton and Bedser get in there because their records would be even better had they not played in weak sides for large parts of their careers (and because World War Two got in the way, too).

In the second, I went for Stewart as keeper because he was far better there than he was ever given credit for (and had a great batting record as well), and because I can't really remember Knott at his best. Matt Prior was unlucky, though.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Poetry and translation

Over at Poetry Wales, there's a very interesting review of Matthew Francis's The Mabinogi, which considers wider questions about translating medieval poetry and prose.

The reviewer, Eurig Salisbury, says: "Pointing out that he is ‘neither a Welsh speaker nor Welsh-born’, Francis admits he cannot ‘claim the Mabinogi as part of my personal heritage’. His brief pitch for validation, however, ‘in the sense that the greatest products of the human imagination are the heritage of us all’, seems rather glib. A lack of natural affinity with a language or a country certainly does not disqualify anyone who wishes to get to grips with its literature, but an awareness of the wider factors involved is key. In the case of the Welsh language, it is essential, for its position as a minority language in relation to dominant English in its own land warrants understanding in any form of cultural exchange.

"The fact is that Francis’s version is no translation – it is not described as such except in Gillian Clarke’s quoted review on the sleeve – but rather a retelling. It was based solely on a recent English prose translation, and a casual reader might be excused for failing to realise that the language of the original is still spoken."
Is that fair? The Armitage versions of medieval poems mentioned don't seem that different, to me, being closer to retellings than actual translations, although maybe the Heaney version of Beowulf is a bit different.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Robert Minhinnick wins Wales Book of the Year

Good to read that Robert Minhinnick's Diary of the Last Man, published by Carcanet, has won Wales Book of the Year 2018.

He's a poet who too often seems to pass under the radar outside Wales, but hopefully this volume is getting the wider attention that it deserves.