Wednesday, 16 April 2014

And Other Poems

A nice bonus at last Friday's Park Street Poets reading was that I got to meet Josephine Corcoran, whose And Other Poems is one of those poetry blogs that's always worth a read.

Its very regular updates feature a different poet each time, some well-known, some emerging, and some new, so there's simply a wide variety of quality poetry. No frills or adornments, just somewhere to sample voices that you might not have come across before. I recommend it.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Poems from the Road

Robin Vaughan-Williams is looking for ‘poems from the road’ for a podcast that'll be made available in July.

It's part of the Apples and Snakes Home Cooking series, and will be broadcast on and then made available for download. Poems from the Road will be a poetic journey down Britain’s A-roads, and will include work by poets from around the country.

Robin explained: "I am looking for poetry that is born from the road, addresses the road, inhabits it, or otherwise explores our experience of the road.

"The road is many things to many people: a place of alienation, danger, abstraction, release, solitude, speed. It takes up vast chunks of much of our lives, yet is often neglected as one of the spaces we inhabit in the rush from A to B. What of the inner world, the landscapes, the journeys, the people that populate them?"

If you’d like to submit (up to three poems), you can contact Robin directly here. Audio recordings of the selected poems will be used, but at this stage Robin only needs the poems in written form. Final selections will be made by June 1st. 

From May Robin will also be collecting poetic tweets from the A-roads, to be edited into an audio collage for the programme. Keep an eye on his Twitter account - @robinrvw - for further details.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Park Street Poets, 11.4.14

Friday saw me whizzing down the M5 to Bristol to read at Park Street Poets, held at the excellent Boston Tea Party, which not only boasted a really nice upstairs reading room, but also some great carrot cake. It's a quarterly event hosted by the poet David Briggs, whose Salt collections The Method Men and Rain Rider I can warmly recommend.

I read first, mainly from The Elephant Tests, although I did give a rare outing to The Meeting Place, from Troy Town, thanks to the generous time slots. The good-sized audience were more than kind, and it was, as I've said, a really nice space to read in, with the university clock chiming dimly in the background.

Alasdair Paterson's reading was excellent, taking in work from Brumaire and Later, the Flarestack pamphlet that marked his return to writing poetry after 20 years away, as well as his two recent Shearsman collections, On The Governing of Empires and Elsewhere or Thereabouts. His poetry wears its considerable learning and wit lightly, moving beyond mainstream lyrics while never forgetting the value of a good story or the musical potential of language. He reminds me of a favourite poet of mine, Lee Harwood, as well as a name that cropped up during the reading, Harry Guest, in his ability to create and inhabit a space entirely his own.

The same could be said of the final reader, Carrie Etter. Being an American expat who has taught in the UK for the last decade might be partly responsible for that, but whatever the reason, she's able to move between poetry genres and schools easily and without self-consciousness. She read from Imagined Sons, her new Seren collection, and delivered what must be difficult material (the book concerns the experience of giving up a child for adoption) with quiet confidence that had us all, I think, utterly enthralled.

I'm not going to say anything more about the poems for now, because I've spent part of today reading the book straight through twice, and I'd like to review it properly in the near future. Suffice to say that  the chosen forms work perfectly with the material, and best of all, that this is poetry that always feels as though it needs to be written.

Finally, it was great to meet Carrie at last, having been online acquaintances for several years, along with Alasdair and David, and thanks are due to the appreciative and generous audience.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Poems, Places & Soundscapes

This exhibition of digitally-produced sound and poetry kicks off this morning at the Cube Gallery, at Phoenix Arts in Leicester. There's a panel discussion about sound poetry and film-poems on Thursday at 6.30pm, too.

I'll miss the latter, unfortunately, but I'll look forward to catching up with the exhibition next week (it runs until April 25th).

Saturday, 5 April 2014

It's not just birds...

One of the greatest pleasures of my recent trip to Argentina was that there was plenty of non-avian wildlife to see. The howler monkeys above were in a patch of forest in the Ibera wetlands, one of a couple of groups that we saw while up there.

The caiman below, on the other hand, was one of hundreds we saw in the same area - the many pools, streams, channels and cuts are a paradise for them, you'd imagine. I don't think they're much of a threat to anything larger than a jacana, but they're satisfyingly fierce looking.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Poets and biography

It probably wasn't a huge surprise to many that Jonathan Bate's biography of Ted Hughes - originally being written with the co-operation of the poet's estate - has now effectively been 'outlawed' by the same. Bate intends to continue with it, but it will be with a different publisher (Faber were originally due to bring it out), and without the blessing of the poet's family, notably his widow, Carol.

I won't go into all the ins and outs of it here, but you can read Bate's side of things, and some interesting questions are raised. For one thing, as Bate and others have pointed out, there's a strange situation surrounding quotations from documents in the British Library. As they've been bought with public money, why should the public only be allowed to see them, but not quote from them at length? That feels rather like the estate trying to have their cake and eat it.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Lolham Brigs

I was over around Helpston yesterday, as part of an ongoing project with photographer Phil Harris. We're not trying to trace John Clare's footsteps or anything like that, just to use some of the locations associated with him to spark off ideas.

For most of the time, for example, we've become a bit fixated on roads and green lanes, but yesterday we thought we'd have a look for a piece of graffiti left by Clare on Lolham Brigs, just north of his home village of Helpston. I'd heard about it a few years ago, but had always thought it might be quite tricky to find, as the bridges are pretty extensive and in a fairly marshy area.

As it turned out, we found the inscription straight away. My photo isn't very good (Phil took some much larger scale pics of it all), but it seems to read "John Clare, Helpston, 1817". The date might not be right, but it's there with a lot of other graffiti dating from 1790 onwards, and in particular concentrated in the years up to 1830 or so.

As you'll see from this poem, Clare featured the site in his poetry more than once.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Another first in Argentina

We saw this Narrow-billed Woodcreeper in the Mburucuya National Park, northern Argentina. It's a family of birds I'd never come across before - they're not unlike our own Treecreeper, but rather larger.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Park Street Poetry, April 11th

Delighted to be reading alongside Carrie Etter and Alasdair Paterson on April 11th - more on this soon...

Monday, 24 March 2014

The Elephant Tests reviewed at Sidekick Books

Over at the Irregular Features section of the Sidekick Books website, Ned Carter Miles has reviewed The Elephant Tests at length.

It's a very thoughtful and well-argued assessment, for which I'm extremely grateful, and it has me thinking about the direction I've taken in the small amount of poetry I've written since the book came out.

While you're over at the Sidekick site, take the time to browse it more thoroughly, in particular the rest of the Irregular Features, which are a real little treasure trove of criticism and reviewing.

And finally, a reminder that you can buy The Elephant Tests here.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Waders in Argentina

If I had to pick a favourite bird family, I'd probably be stuck between corvids and waders (shorebirds to Americans). I think my liking for the latter has something to do with growing up in a relatively wader-starved part of the country.

Anyway, both were in short supply in Argentina. As I've already noted, Chimago Caracaras seem to fill the niche taken here by Carrion Crows, Magpies and Jackdaws, while we were probably around at the wrong time of year to get many waders.

Having said that, the Southern Lapwing, below, was pretty much everywhere we went, and like all lapwings it's a striking creature.

At the top of this post is a South American Snipe, sometimes treated as a race of Common Snipe. There are certain differences in behaviour and call, from what I saw, but it's an interesting question.

Finally, below, there's a Solitary Sandpiper, a new bird for me. It has a certain Wood Sandpiper feel to it. Other wader ticks included South American Stilt, Two-banded Plover, and both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs (and trying saying the latter in a hurry).

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Birding Argentina

I've just returned from a couple of weeks birding in Argentina - I was part of a press trip led by Tim Appleton, the founder of Birdfair and manager of the Rutland Water reserve. My other fellow travellers (and you'll hear more about them all later) were Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher's Digest in the USA, Dominic Couzens, one of the UK's best nature writers, and Niklas Aronsson, editor of Var Fagelvarld, the magazine of BirdLife Sweden.

After a day in Buenos Aires, we headed north into the Ibera wetlands, a region that's relatively unknown to European birders, but which has the look and many of the same birds as Brazil's famed Panatanal. From there we flew south, into the Andean foothills of Patagonia, and spent several days in the 'Lake District' around Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes.

I've already posted a fair few pictures on Facebook and Twitter, so apologies if there are some repeats here over the next few weeks. And before I get started, I'd just like to thanks Pablo Cagnoni, everyone else at Inprotur Argentina, and our many excellent guides and hosts. You'll be hearing a lot more about them too.

Over the two weeks, we saw some truly astounding birds and wildlife spectacles, but I thought I'd start with a couple of what birders rather disparagingly (and disappointingly) call 'trash birds' - that is, very common and widespread species. Whenever I've bird-watched abroad, I've found it fascinating to discover just which species are the equivalent of the Blackbird or Great Tit that we see on a daily basis over here.

Above is a Great Kiskadee (Benteveo Comun, in Spanish), a large tyrant flycatcher that we saw everywhere in Ibera, as well as at the excellent Costanera Sur reserve in Buenos Aires. Its name is an imitation of its call, and it flycatches enthusiastically, hovering and swooping like a mini-raptor (it does occasionally catch small mammals and even fish).

Chimango Caracaras, above, were pretty much everywhere we went, and seemed to fill the niche taken up by Carrion Crows, Magpies and Jackdaws over here (the only corvids we saw were a couple of jays). That's to say, they feed opportunistically, and with a great willingness to adapt to whatever circumstances throw into their path. Despite their rather vulture-like behaviour, caracaras are related to falcons, and are found throughout South and Central America. I love corvids, and I love raptors, so a raptor that behaves like a corvid is always going to be a winner in my book.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

The King In Yellow

I'd read a lot of Twitter and Facebook posts praising True Detective to the heavens, so I recorded the first episode when it made its UK debut last weekend, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

It's a slow-burner, and inevitably there's a lot of scene-setting, but there was a real sense of menace and impending doom all the way through, so it didn't really surprise me to read this article this morning, about the links between the series and Robert W Chambers' classic 1895 collection of short stories. It's a long time since I read it, but I'll have to get hold of a copy - interesting to see that new electronic versions have already been rushed out in response to the publicity through the show.

I'm going to be interested to see how far down the Lovecraftian route True Detective goes - my guess is that it'll steer clear of the explicitly supernatural, and instead explore the 'cosmic horror' that HPL was so fond of - the Matthew McConaughey character already has the look and sound of one of his protagonists, a man who'd probably prefer not to piece together the sum of his knowledge.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

A poetry blog tour

The excellent Roy Marshall invited me to take part in this tour of poetry blogs. How does it work? Well, I answer four standard questions about my own work, then link to the blogs of three more poets, who will answer the same questions over the next few weeks.

Now, you'll notice that there are just two links posted so far - to Gill McEvoy and Tim Love. That's because most of the poets I know had already been approached. If you'd like to take part, then, drop me a line, and I'll add your link. Anyway, here goes...

What am I working on?
I've been working with a photographer, Phil Harris, on a project looking at landscape and particularly the landscape of John Clare's poetry, although it's started to take us down some quite different routes, too. It's been a really exciting and challenging way of working - neither of us wants to end up effectively illustrating each other's work, so we've just been figuring stuff out as we go along.

I've also got a long-standing sequence that I've been working on, and that I'm thinking of polishing up and sending out to pamphlet publishers some time this year.

Alongside both of those I've been writing some very occasional occasional poems, but it's pretty slow going (for reasons that will become clear later in this post).

Finally, I'm planning a prose project - if it gets approved, it would certainly feed into my poetry, I think, so I'm looking forward to working on it.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?
Hmmm. Difficult, and probably not really for me to say. I'm always slightly conscious that, not having done an English or Creative Writing degree, my reading of poetry has been a bit haphazard (although voracious), so maybe that shows up in my own work, but I'm not sure. I do tend to write a lot of nature poems, too, and for the most part I tend to dislike enlisting birds or animals or whatever for obvious symbolic or metaphorical effect, but having said that my latest book, The Elephant Tests, contains several very obviously symbolic elephants (I know next to nothing about the actual animals).

Why do I write what I write?
Well, I suppose I'd say because I have to, although that can end up sounding a bit pretentious. I do get physically uneasy when I have something I want to write but work or whatever else is getting in the way.

As regards subject matter it does tend, for the most part, to be rooted in the subject areas I know most about, although I'd also say that by doing so I find out more about them. I'm interested in the potential of all the arts to change attitudes about environmental issues (this is something that New Networks for Nature has pioneered), so that has been increasingly important in driving my work, I think, but it is very much about the poetry first and foremost - I don't like the idea of browbeating readers at all.

How does your writing process work?
It's changed quite a bit over the years, and continues to change. I make notes for poems all the time, and although I like a Moleskine as much as the next person, I scribble on any scrap of paper to hand. More and more I also make notes on my phone or iPad. More and more, too, I remind myself to write something, anything, including blog posts, diary entries, etc., rather than waiting around for inspiration. I mine a lot of my other writing for poetry 'prompts' and ideas.

Having done that, I usually write the first full draft by hand, then later put it on my PC. I've been trying to take far longer over revising poems, giving myself a set period to let them 'mature', so I'll then go back to a piece a few times over several months. I generally have quite a few poems on the go at once, so I don't worry too much if one gets abandoned for a lengthy period - last week, I went back to a piece that had sat untouched for four years, and reworked and 'finished' it within 10 minutes. I think the time away just made its flaws so obvious, as well as the potential solutions.

In physical terms, while I make notes all the time, I tend to do all the hard work in the evenings and at night. I'm not sure why, but I struggle to write poetry much before 6pm. I can't listen to music while I write, and I stay away from Twitter and Facebook, but I sometimes quite like having something undemanding on the TV or radio, such as cricket or snooker, that I can dip in and out of.

The blogging tour continues...
For more answers to these questions, see:
Gill McEvoy,
Tim Love,

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Poetry Alight

I've been terrible at updating this blog recently, but intend to do much better, starting with last night's Poetry Alight reading at Lichfield.

In the new venue of the King's Head, the upstairs room is just about spot-on for a night of this type - large enough that you're not all piled in on top of each other, even with an excellent turn-out like last night's, but compact enough that you can hear the poets read without any trouble.

Gary Longden hosts it superbly, and I liked the format of open mic slots to begin and end the evening, as well as between the featured guests in the middle. Importantly, too, there was time to talk. Feeling part of a poetry community is a more important aspect of events like this than it's sometimes given credit for, but here we all went home having had the chance to make new friends and catch up with old ones.

I didn't make notes, so I'm afraid I haven't got the names of most of the open mic readers, but a high standard was maintained throughout, not just by the familiar faces such as Tom Wyre and Malcolm Dewhirst.

Michelle Crosbie's feature set was excellent. She read entirely from memory, and even sang her last piece acapella, and I'd like to hear more of her work, as well as to see it on paper. She used rhyme skilfully, I thought (as did many of the open mic-ers) - not something that's easy to do, and something that an audience immediately picks up on if it's not done well.

I read entirely from The Elephant Tests, and Jo Bell helped me out on Ravens, Newborough Warren, reading the second voice. It was a pleasure to read for such an appreciative audience, and there was lots of good feedback later on (plus plenty of books sold).

Jo's own set was the highlight of the evening, taking in poems from the excellent Navigation (available again now), as well as newer material. She will, I hope, have a new book coming out before too long, burt in the meantime, take any opportunity you get to hear her read. She can flit between laugh-out-loud funny and lump-in-the-throat moving in the space of a line, and that's a rare thing indeed.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Poetry Alight, at Lichfield

Next Tuesday (February 18th), I'm reading at Poetry Alight, in Lichfield, with the wonderful Jo Bell and Michelle Crosbie. It's a well-established and popular regular poetry night, complete with plenty of open mic slots, hosted by the excellent Gary Longden. I'm looking forward to reading in the city of Dr Johnson very much.

Just a word of warning - in case you haven't already noticed from following that link, it's at a new venue, the King's Head, 21 Bird Street, Lichfield, WS13 6PW. Hot food is available (always a bonus).

If you'd like to sign up for an open mic slot, email as soon as possible, as they tend to get snapped up pretty quickly.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Writing In The Dark, by Richard Caddel

This arrived this morning - Alan Baker posted a link about it on Facebook last week, and it sounded right up my street. I enjoyed Caddel's Magpie Words - a selected poems - a few years back, but this had passed me by until now. I know I probably shouldn't be so bothered by the physical quality of books, too, but this is a very handsomely produced volume from West House Books, and that's always a good start. I suspect I'll be writing more about it over the next few weeks - can't wait to start reading it.

Friday, 31 January 2014

European Hoatzins?

The Hoatzin, found in the Amazon and Orinoco rainforests of South America, is one of the world's more bizarre creatures, a bird with the digestive system of a cow. This gives it a rather unpleasant smell - the locals where I saw them, in Ecuador, called them 'stinking turkeys'. The youngsters also have claws halfway along their wings, adding to their distinctly prehistoric appearance. Anyway, an interesting article here suggests that they may originally have come from Europe.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Frances Corkey Thompson

A few years back, Frances Corkey Thompson brought out a superb chapbook - The Long Acre - with HappenStance Press. Among other highlights, it contained one of my favourite bird poems, Stonechat, a piece that manages to pack a huge amount into a few brief lines.

She now has a website/blog here, at which you can find out more about her writing, as well as contact her for feedback on your own writing.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

New look for Nine Arches

Nine Arches Press has a new-look website, which is the perfect excuse to remind you that you can buy my latest collection, The Elephant Tests, here.

There's also a wealth of other individual poetry collections, the magazine Under The Radar, short story collections, and the anthology Maps and Legends, which is a great sampler of the best of Nine Arches' poetry output in the last five years. Have a browse, and I hope you'll find something there to ancourage you to dip your hand in your pocket.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Don't get me wrong

Several initially unconnected trains of thought have come together this week, and now I'm going to subject you to my efforts to string them together.

I tend to like poetry that leaves itself open to the reader's own imagination*. I don't mean deliberately ambiguous or obscure, or so vague as to defy any attempt to impose meaning, but poetry that doesn't set out to shepherd the reader down one particular route. It isn't the old mainstream/alternative divide, I don't think, because looking down my bookshelves I can find good examples of this in both camps.

So, I also like it when, in a review, say, my own poetry gets read in a way that hadn't occurred to me, or that at least hadn't been the initial driving force behind the poem. This happened recently with Roy Marshall's review of The Elephant Tests in Hinterland - his reading of a couple of the poems makes more sense, now, than what I had assumed would be the 'obvious' reading.

I was thinking about this at Monday's Shindig, and afterwards. I enjoy hearing poetry read or recited a lot (at least, when it's being read by the poets themselves), but do I like to be able to read the poems later too, if at all possible, because there are always going to be nuances that you miss (my hearing isn't the greatest, either, which doesn't help).

Then yesterday, I started thinking about pop songs that, even after years, continue to be misinterpreted, no matter how often journalists or their writers point out the 'real' meaning. I don't mean misheard lyrics, but things like Ronald Reagan's attempt to co-opt Springsteen's Born In The USA as a patriotic flag-waver, rather than the outburst of disappointment and disgust that it is, or the way that Every Breath You Take is trotted out as the sort of romantic 'our tune' that gets played at weddings, rather than the stalker-ish creepfest that it is. In both those cases, and several more, the song's huge commercial popularity probably depended to a great deal on being misunderstood, although neither make any particular effort to hide their true 'meaning'.

So I started wondering a couple of things.
1 Whether there are any poems that have become popular in a similar way (in as much as poems ever become popular these days)?
2 Why there's the difference between poets and songwriters in this respect. The former generally say they want their work to remain open to the reader's interpretation, while the latter are more prone to pointing out the real 'meaning', yet the latter seem to get misinterpreted more often (partly, of course, because most of us don't sit down to read song lyrics very often.

* There are exceptions. Some of my favourite RS Thomas poems (and there are few poets I like better) seem to me to do an awful lot of telling, rather than showing. By rights, I oughtn't to like them, but I do.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Leicester Shindig, 20.01.14

Last night's Shindig at The Western was a slightly unusual one, from my point of view, in that the featured poets were, largely, new to me, although I've always enjoyed what I've read from Cathy Grindrod, and Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson's open mic spots at previous Shindigs have always been worth hearing.

I'll certainly seek out more from both after last night's readings. Both were quietly assured and nicely paced, no mean feat when, during Lindsay's set, there were a certain amount of slightly comic interruptions.

After the break, Charlie Jordan was perhaps more obviously polished in her presentation, but none the worse for that, while Joe Coghlan built momentum almost hypnotically from a slightly nervous start. He recited two long poems, and it would be interesting to hear and read a greater variety of his work, but this was a fine introduction to a writer and performer I suspect we'll hear a lot more from.

The open mic spots were of their usual high quality. Rebecca Bird's poem was a highlight for me, as was Caroline Cook's, and Martin Malone read what might be the best football poem I've ever heard, partly because, of course, it was far more than a football poem.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Poets On Fire - a new look

Over the past six months or so, I found less and less time to update Poets On Fire, so late last year I looked for someone to give the blog a good home.

That someone is Carl Griffin, and you'll see that he's already beginning to take the site in a new direction. There'll still be news on forthcoming live poetry events, but he's also going to be using it to help build a network of poets, SPIN, offering feedback and support for writers. It's a great idea, and I wish him every success.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Anvil's Prayer, by James W Wood

Ward Wood Publishing, 2013, £8.99
Surprise in poetry, most readers would probably say, can only be a good thing. The surprise of new forms, of words used to create new sounds, new music, or the surprise of original and wholly distinctive subject matter.
There's another sort though, and that's the surprise achieved by all really good poetry, of making you feel that something's been said the only possible way it could be said. The surprise of an effect that's both emotional and intellectual, but that creeps up on you unannounced.
That's how James Wood's poetry works. His technical skill and ear for language are outstanding, but what repeatedly catches you off-guard in this memorable debut collection is the emotional heft that he asks them to carry.
I found that all the more impressive given that I'd seen the manuscript of the book well before publication, and have read and re-read the two chapbooks - The Theory of Everything (HappenStance, 2006) and Inextinguishable (Knucker Press, 2008) - that contribute to its contents.
(I should add, at this point, that another more surprise occurs to me, namely that it took this long for a publisher to offer a full collection).
The book is split into three sections, Hymn, Elegy, and Exaltation, but while that broadly deals with themes of praise, grief and mourning, and celebration, one of its strengths, I think, is that all those elements are present throughout.

Take the wonderful The Craws, from the middle section:

                                                     You were
no prizewinner, sportsman, or great thinker,

just a man like any other, and one
whose life asks us for little grieving.

It's bracingly clear-eyed and honest, and it manages to perfectly balance mourning with recollection of a life well-lived. There's no attempt by the poet to distance himself from difficult or uncomfortable subject matter - the understated precision of the language is trusted throughout to steer clear of the pitfall of sentimentality.
Catherine Wheel, dealing with a suicide, is another good example, asking its questions gracefully and without a hint of melodrama or straining for easy emotional effect.

                                           you were
a Catherine Wheel blazing brilliantly

in a ploughed field at midsummer, a spark
that might have cloaked us all in fire
if only we could have seen it.

We're talking about restraint, here (sometimes abetted by Wood's skilful use of the constraints of form), rather than the sort of buttoned-down politeness of which much mainstream British poetry is often accused. When Wood wants to, he can really put the spurs to the language and positively gallop across the page. A poem like The Theory Of Everything is exhilarating for the way it pulls together a whirlwind of diverse ideas and images to celebrate the sheer variousness of the world (no, the universe), while there's a similar joy in both language and life itself to be found in Fantaisie De Fruits and Buccaneers.
Wood's control of pacing is evident not just in individual poems, but in the structure of the collection, closing with the superb An Fraoch Mor and Departures, both perfectly controlled in their reflectiveness after some more free-ranging excursions just before. The latter is again clear-eyed, refusing to look for excuses or distractions, closing with "So set sail for life, / keep steel in your eyes. Hold hard to your course / and let the storm clouds rise."
The love poems are highlights too, and I'll close by pointing out one further surprise that involves them. I suspect many poets would have kept the opening piece here, The Same Page, towards the end of the book, a sort of pay-off after the difficult journeys that have gone before, what with its potential for a happy ending of sorts. Here, though, it's an interrogation of both the nature of love and of poetry, and the hold it takes on you isn't released until the end of this very fine book.

On the money

Northern Irish poet Sinead Morrissey won the TS Eliot Prize on Monday night, for her collection Parallax. I must say I'd thought Michael Symmons Roberts the likely winner, so this came as something of a surprise, but it's a pleasant one.

I haven't read the book, but I've encountered quite a lot of Morrissey's poetry in the past and have enjoyed it. It's hard to make a real judgement on what should have won, as of the 10 contenders, I've only read three so far (Michael Symmons Roberts, Dannie Abse and Helen Mort). I think either of those last two would have been a worthy winner, although I suspect it might have been seen as a sort of lifetime achievement award if it had gone to Abse.

But anyway, congratulations to Sinead Morrissey - I'll look forward to reading Parallax.