Thursday, 15 July 2021

Back to the Anchor Church

At the end of the ITN News last night, there was an item about the Anchor Church at Ingleby, Derbyshire. The gist of it was pretty similar to this article, but they went rather more heavily on the 'discovery' that the caves were an Anglo-Saxon dwelling rather than belonging to the late medieval period.

I know the site pretty well. In my Nine Arches Press collection hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, there's a poem called Dreams From The Anchor Church, at least partly inspired by it. I've been walking there quite a lot over the years. Memorably, about 10 years ago, I saw a Red-footed Falcon nearby, the only time I've ever seen the species in the UK.

I was a bit surprised by the TV piece, because I thought it had long been established that it was an Anglo-Saxon site. I remember talking about it as such when I was at university, in the late 80s/early 90s. I mentioned it to my lecturer (I suspect I had heard the local tradition that it was the home of an Anglo-Saxon saint), and she then pointed me in the direction of a book or possibly an article in a history journal that confirmed it. 

It's strange, then, how knowledge gets lost, and found, and lost again, and refound, because this appears to be a case where the local folk tradition preserved an accurate recollection of the past. And given the amount of early medieval remains in the area (a couple of cemeteries of the Viking 'Great Army', and an Anglo-Saxon crypt in nearby Repton church that holds a couple of Mercian kings), it's surprising that this one was ever ignored.

The link with the church at Breedon-on-the-Hill is interesting, too. It appears possible that some of the wall friezes there were taken from the sarcophagus of St Hardulph, to some the church is dedicated, and who is likely to have been one and the same as Eardwulf, King of Northumbria.

Friday, 9 July 2021

Michael Horowitz, 1935-2021

Very sad news this week of the death of Michael Horowitz, described here as a beat poet and a performance poet, but a whole lot more than that, given his untiring work to popularise any and all poetry.

I met him about 12 years ago, at the Forward Prize night, I think, and chatted for a while – he was charming and inspiringly enthusiastic (and wore an absolutely extraordinary 'peacock' jacket). It is, as the piece suggests, quite hard to get hold of his work in print, but he was very much a performer. He'll be very sadly missed.

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Poetry world, or poetry worlds

There's a couple of interesting posts over at Matthew Stewart's Rogue Strands blog, in which he looks at the difference between the poetry worlds of London and the rest of the UK, and at regular poetry events all over the country. I've done relatively few London readings, so I'm not sure whether my experiences, which have been good, are entirely representative, but he makes some very good points about poetry events elsewhere. 

Friday, 21 May 2021

Happy Birthday, Bob

All this week I've been hearing stuff on Radio 4 building up to the 80th birthday of Bob Dylan on May 24th.* Now, and I'm sure I've said this on here before, I love a lot of Dylan songs, but I'm not always that keen on his own versions of them.

So, I started trying to come up with my Top 10 Dylan covers. And here they are, in no particular order, although I suspect I'll remember loads of stuff that should have made it in there over the next few days. 

1 Mama You Been On My Mind - Rod Stewart

2 When I Paint My Masterpiece - The Band

3 Absolutely Sweet Marie - Jason and the Scorchers

4 You Ain't Goin Nowhere - The Byrds

5 I'll Keep It With Mine - Bettie Serveert

6 All Along The Watchtower - Jimi Hendrix

7 Fourth Time Around - Yo La Tengo

8 Wanted Man - Johnny Cash

9 A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall - Bryan Ferry

10 Si Tu Dois Partir - Fairport Convention

I'll have to see if I come up with my 10 favourite originals, too. 

* His name also came up yesterday because His Royal Bobness is the honorary patron of a prostate cancer charity set up in memory of England cricket great Bob Willis. Rather strange, on the face of it, but as any England fan from 1970 to 1990 can tell you, Willis was such a Dylan fan that his full name was Robert George Dylan Willis. 

Monday, 3 May 2021

Lectio Violant, by Steve Ely - Zoom launch

The Zoom launch of poet Steve Ely's new Shearsman collection, Lectio Violant, will take place on Tuesday, May 25th, at 7pm.

You can register to attend here

Official release date is May 7th, but you can buy the book now, or just find out more about it, here

And if you don't already know Steve's work, I can recommend it very highly. Oswald's Book Of Hours is possibly my favourite of his books, but they're all worth a lot of your attention.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

What's new at Nine Arches?

This is my regular recommendation that you have a browse at the Nine Arches Press website – it's full of great individual poetry collections (the most recent being Jacqueline Saphra's 100 Lockdown Sonnets), anthologies, books on the process of writing poetry, and Under The Radar magazine.

If you go all the way down to near the bottom of this page, you'll see that my last collection, The Elephant Tests, is still available. I am finally getting close to completing a very belated follow-up to that book, although there's still work to be done. So what am I doing here?

Friday, 23 April 2021

Saboteur Awards 2021

The second round of voting in the Saboteur Awards 2021 is now open – you have until May 5th to make your voice heard about some of the best of the year's literature. You don't have to vote in every category, but you're asked to vote in at least three.

I do have a slight interest in the Best Collaborative Work category, as I contributed to Arrival At Elsewhere, curated by Carl Griffin. It's a book-length poem that responds to the events of the last year, and I recommend it very highly, although I would say that, wouldn't I?

Monday, 12 April 2021

An – excuse me – DAMN fine poetry course!

Twin Peaks might very well have been the best TV programme of all time. It was certainly one of the most influential. I'm talking here primarily about the first two series. In fact, primarily the first, although anything to do with David Lynch deserves watching and rewatching. I think I might be inspired to dig out a few of my favourite clips and post them on here in celebration.

So, this looks fantastic – a Zoom-based poetry course on writing poems inspired by Twin Peaks, with tutor Chrissy Williams. Full details, including how to book, are on that link. 

Monday, 5 April 2021

Spelt Magazine

The first ever issue of Spelt is out now, and you can read more about it and buy a copy here. It promises "poetry and creative non-fiction that has something to say about the rural experience", which leaves plenty of scope.

The full submission guidelines are here.

Monday, 29 March 2021

Harry Guest, 1932-2021

Sad news at the end of last week the death of Welsh-born poet Harry Guest, a major figure in the British Poetry Revival of the late 60s and 70s. I have his 2002 Collected Poems, A Puzzling Harvest, and it's excellent, showing a poet who, despite his connection to the avant-garde, remained opened to a very wide range of influences throughout his career. 

While I was searching for material on him, I came across this excellent post on Rob A Mackenzie's Surroundings blog, from way back in 2006, in which he makes the same point (and others), far more eloquently than I could. The whole series of posts that it's part of are very rewarding to read, too.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Magma 79

I received my copy of Magma 79 yesterday, and as always there's a really good mixture of poetry (including poems from the latest Magma Open Pamphlet Competition), articles and reviews. I haven't had chance to read much of it yet, and have to admit I went straight to two poets I always enjoy – Tony Williams and David Morley – but I look forward to having a longer read tonight.

It also includes my own reviews of collections by Robert Selby, Katrina Naomi and Robert Alan Jamieson. I won't tell you here what I thought about them, other than that they all had something to recommend them - you'll need to read Magma to find out more. 

Thursday, 25 March 2021

The Las

I stumbled across this article on the BBC website last week sometime, and it set me thinking. I can remember, back in 1988, all the fuss in the music press about The Las, when the original single version of There She Goes came out. It was hugely tuneful and jangly (but then, so were a lot of things back then), and seemed to promise a great deal. 

I can remember the eager wait for their debut album, the constant delays, and then finally hearing it on a friend's record player. And I can remember being disappointed.

I know. I know you're supposed to buy into the whole lost genius story, but I can't.

I remember at the time thinking that it all sounded just too desperate to nod in the direction of classic British 1960s guitar pop. The review on AllMusic says that it avoids that, and compares it favourably with work by Oasis and Blur in that respect, but I can't agree. I wasn't a big fan of either of those bands, but I'd say that both at least steered clear of straightforward pastiche. The Las, to me, didn't, or at least not always.

I saw them live, on my 21st birthday, in fact, and got the same impression from the gig. It was good. They were good. But they didn't blow me away. It all felt a bit contrived.

And that's it, really. There are plenty of you who will disagree with me, and I'd be delighted to be persuaded of the report of my ways. But for now, at least, the legend feels a lot more interesting than the music. 

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Changing The Face Of Poetry

Lockdown has been something of a mixed blessing for writing poetry. On the one hand, there's been a lot more time to do so. On the other, there's been less inspiration, for me at least, because the days have been so same.

So here's something a bit different. And there's the same here. Singer and songwriter Tally Koren is looking at ways of turning poetry into songs, as has been done here.

Take a look, and think about submitting something.

Sunday, 21 March 2021

Fighting fire with fire

Up front, a warning. This post is about cricket, and pretty much nothing else. And it's long. 

There's obviously a long way to go, given that we have no idea whether this summer will pan out anything like normal, but the cricket press and forums are starting to turn their attention to England's Ashes tour next winter, and to who might make up the team. In particular, large parts of the cricket press and public seem to have decided that the only way England are going to win is with out and out fast bowlers.

That always sets the alarm bells ringing for me. In my lifetime, England have won four Ashes series in Australia. They suggest that there are far more important things for England to concentrate on than "fighting fire with fire" by picking quicks. 

In 2010-11, Andrew Strauss's team won 3-1, with a four-man bowling attack. None of them were what I'd call fast – Chris Tremlett came closest, but his height and extra bounce were more important weapons. Jimmy Anderson and Tim Bresnan were good old-fashioned English seamers, and Graeme Swann played a big part with his off-spin. What was even more important was a batting line-up that, other than the first innings at Brisbane and most of the Perth match, coped superbly with the Aussies' pace and bounce.

In 1986-87, Graham Dilley was the closest England had to a genuine quick, but he was still more like fast-medium, as were Botham, Small and DeFreitas. Spin twins John Emburey and Phil Edmonds helped give Mike Gatting control in the field, but again the vital thing was a batting line-up that, Allan Lamb apart, dealt well with the Australian attack.

In 1978-79, the Aussies were weakened by the loss of their Packer players, and England beat them 5-1 (we'd lost a few too, but they were pretty much all players on the downhill slope). Now, Bob Willis played a significant role, and Big Bob was genuinely sharp. A young Ian Botham was quicker than he sometimes appeared, too, and he was among the wickets. But Mike Hendrick, a classic English seamer if ever there was one, was just as important, and off-spinners Geoff Miller and John Emburey were both highly successful.

Only in 1970-71, which I don't remember, did an English fast bowler genuinely dominate the series. John Snow was the quickest, the nastiest and the best on both sides, and the Aussies had no answer.

Looking back beyond that, it's fair to say that the two previous England wins in Australia could be put down to out and out fast bowling – 1954-55 ('Typhoon' Tyson blowing the Aussies away in two tests) and 1932-33 (Larwood, Voce and Bodyline).

What has always been important in Ashes wins in Australia has been the batting. Batting as long as possible, and wearing down the Aussie pace attack, which is rarely anything but impressive (OK, 1986-87 was an exception there). Boycott, Edrich, Luckhurst etc., in 70-71. Randall, Gower and an all-round performance in 78-79. Chris Broad, with help from Gower and Gatting in 86-87. And Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen and Bell in 10-11. When we've lost over there, it's generally been because we haven;t coped with their quick bowling. In the 90s, there was Shane Warne to cope with too. 

I have a horrible feeling the squad will be packed with Archer, Wood, Stone and maybe others only because they are fast. I'd rather it be packed with the best bowlers, regardless, and even more importantly the best batsmen, the ones who will fight it out and bat for days if necessary. 

Friday, 19 March 2021

Might have beens

This is a really good article about Aussie off-spinner Jason Krejza, and his brief but memorable test career. He comes across as a thoughtful chap, wistful rather than embittered, and it's hard not to think he was unlucky in the way he was treated by the selectors. I remember watching that debut against India, and thinking that he was a name who'd be on the scene for years. 

Thursday, 18 March 2021

Forgotten Good Poems

This is a really interesting Twitter feed. It's a reminder of how ephemeral much poetry is – it's so easy for it to slip past us in magazines or online, or in slim volumes which sit in the bookcase for years after their first reading.

Every now and then, I come across a poem that I decide I don't want to forget about in a hurry, so I copy it out by hand into a little personal anthology. Anybody else do that?

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

ADHD and mental health

This is a really excellent post about ADHD, and mental health generally, from Kirsten Irving. If nothing else, it ought to encourage all of us to think hard about it, and about how we treat ourselves, which of course inevitably affects how we are with other people.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Poetry readings

Interesting blog post here from Sue Ibrahim. Of course, it's getting difficult to remember exactly what a poetry reading is like, and I've only seen a couple on Zoom during the past year. But it is one of the things that I'm now missing, and looking forward to returning to when things get back to, well, not normal, but what will pass for the new normal.

It set me thinking about different reading styles, and exactly what I want to hear at a reading, and I'll post about that in the near future. But, in the meantime, I'd be interested to hear any best/worst experiences.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Backlisted, again

I know I've mentioned it on here before, but I'm just going to give another plug to the Backlisted podcast. Over what now runs to more than 120 episodes, they've discussed a huge variety of books (mainly novels, although they've also touched on poetry and biography). Generally they try to shine a light on lesser-known if not downright obscure books, but they've also covered more mainstream works, too. Although, one of the pleasures of the podcast is that you usually end up realising the the book being discussed is not exactly what you thought it was, anyway. 

Friday, 5 March 2021

A day to remember/forget

I stumbled across this article the other day, and although I knew all about Brian Langford's record-breaking spell of bowling, I'd never come across the bit about Doug Insole before. Called out of retirement (after six years) to play in an injury crisis, a baby throws up all over his cricket bag on the train, and then he's run out for 0. 

That's the sort of story that makes cricket my favourite sport.

Thursday, 4 March 2021

What made me want to read

It's World Book Day today, and there's an awful lot on Twitter relating to it. My favourite so far has been from Kirsten Irving (@KofTheTriffids), who has posted about some of the books that sparked her love of reading as a child. I'm about to shamelessly steal the idea here.

I can't honestly remember much of what I read when I first learned, except for Angela Banner's Ant and Bee books, but as I got older I became a voracious reader. Non-fiction, for a start. I used to virtually memorise Playfair Cricket and Football Annuals each year, and of course there were bird books. My grandmother bought me an RSPB guide, which had great artwork and short, pithy species accounts, some of which I remember to this day. A while ago, I dug it out, and found that it was written by David Saunders, who is a monthly contributor to Bird Watching, the magazine I now edit. 

When it came to fiction, I read The Hobbit on the recommendation of a friend, and loved it, and went on to The Lord of the Rings, and loved that too. But one book that really stands out in the memory was a slimmish volume that I got out of Coalville Library.

It was called The Goalkeeper's Revenge, a collection of short stories for kids by Bill Naughton (probably better known for his play Alfie, which was turned into the Michael Caine film). Set mainly in 1930s Lancashire (although at least one story was set in Ireland), it was both extremely readable, and yet full of period and local detail that could have been daunting but that just made you want to know more.

One of the things that still sticks in the memory from it was the food. There's one story where some boys go to a fair, and ponder what to spend their few pennies on. Half of them come down on the side of food (a reminder that in a 30s mill town, having enough to eat wasn't a given), and buy roast potatoes, and hot black peas.

In another story, about a deaf friend of the narrator, there are meat pies that still spring to mind even now, every time I see, let alone eat, a pie.

I have no idea if it's still in print, but I'd imagine there are plenty of secondhand copies around, as it was a favourite in libraries and school libraries. It stands up well even reading it as an adult, and I suspect kids now would love it just as much as I did then, because what rings most true about it is the way that kids talk and behave.

Monday, 1 March 2021

The Lucksmiths

Wikipedia, and the Internet generally, are dangerous things. Yesterday, I heard the end of Tess of the D'Urbervilles on Radio 4, and looked it up online, never having read it. 

Wikipedia told me that its ending was inspired by Thomas Hardy having witnessed the execution of a woman called Elizabeth Martha Brown, for the murder of her abusive husband, in 1856, and that an Australian band, called The Lucksmiths, had recorded a song about it on their 1995 album The Green Bicycle Case.

Now, that immediately rang a bell, because years ago I read a book about the Green Bicycle Murder, which took place just outside Leicester in 1919. But the album also contains a song called The Tichborne Claimant, which sent me off reading about that particularly long and convoluted affair. Among the interesting things I picked up was that it involved the same Tichborne family as that of the poet Chidiock Tichborne, executed for his part in The Babington Plot against Elizabeth I, although not before he had written the famous elegy you can see on that page.

All of which is a very long way of getting to the point. If you've followed this blog over the years, you'll know that I have a very big soft spot for Australian bands. Two in particular, The Triffids and The Go-Betweens, but there are others. And I think The Lucksmiths will be joining them as favourites. The album mentioned above is excellent, both musically and lyrically, and is more than a little reminiscent of The Go-Betweens, and I'm looking forward to listening to the rest of their work. The follow-up album, I notice, is called What Bird Is That, which has to be a good omen.

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus

A bit late, I know, but the sun's starting to break through, and there are daffodils out, so Happy St David's Day!

Thursday, 25 February 2021

What I Do To Get Through

I'm proud and delighted to say that I was one of the many contributors to the above book, What I Do To Get Through, edited by Olivia Sagan and James Withey. It's a book about different approaches to coping with, and getting through depression, and as you might have guessed, my contribution was about birdwatching, and how it can benefit your mental health.

You can buy it here, but of course you can also order it at your local independent bookshop too.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Writing advice

Someone on Twitter posted this link the other day – it's a little compendium of thoughts on writing and writers (and indeed, creativity and life more generally). It comes from a huge variety of sources, so of course it's contradictory, and of course there will be parts of it that you dismiss as absolute nonsense, but there's probably something there to suit most writers, and most moods. Browsing through does make you think a bit harder about your own writing.