Tuesday, 13 October 2015

A winning formula

Come on, writerly types, you can admit it to me. While 'working from home', 'waiting for inspiration', or 'doing research', you've watched a ridiculous number of episodes of Murder She Wrote, haven't you? As an aid to procrastination, it's right up there with emptying out the toaster's crumb tray, or rearranging your CDs in alphabetical order.

Well, a gentleman called Tom Francis has come up with the formula for the stock episode of the gentle whodunnit, and it's right on the money. Thing is, funny as it is, it does also highlight how TV audiences tend to like to know what they're getting.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Sleep paralysis

I read this in The Guardian earlier, although I haven't seen the documentary that it talks about. I used to get sleep paralysis on a regular basis, and it could be terrifying at times, although other times it was merely weird, and once or twice funny.

What's interesting, I suppose, is that SP has spawned such a range of folkloric explanations across the world, as well as playing its part in creating the whole alien abduction phenomenon.

I'd be interested to know if anyone knows of any poetry that deals with sleep paralysis - I've written one or two unpublished pieces myself, but it's hard to find the right tone, because however frightening it can be, briefly, it doesn't really have any lasting effects.

Incidentally, I haven't had an episode for about four years - avoiding falling asleep lying on my back seems to have helped, as does simply getting more sleep.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Forward Poetry Prize 2015

I have a lot of doubts about 'prize culture' in poetry generally, but in recent years, the Forward Prize shortlists have become a great deal more diverse, and they deserve a lot of credit for that. Anything that gets a wider range of poetry and poets into the public eye has to be worthwhile. So, congratulations to all Monday night's winners - plenty of future reading for me to do.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Autumn Poetry @ Upstairs at The Western

There's a special one-off event celebrating new poetry with Nine Arches Press and the Centre for New Writing at the University of Leicester, on Monday, 5th October, 2015.

It takes place Upstairs at the Western, Leicester's only pub theatre, at the Western, Western Road, Leicester, LE3 0GA. Doors open at 7.30pm for readings by poets:

Alistair Noon was born in 1970 and grew up in Aylesbury. Besides time spent in Russia and China, he has lived in Berlin since the early nineties, where he works as a translator. He has published poetry, including translations from German and Russian, in nine chapbooks from small presses, a collaboration with Giles Goodland (Surveyors' Riddles) and Earth Records (Nine Arches, 2012, short-listed for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize). The Kerosene Singing is his second full-length collection.

Myra Connell grew up in Northern Ireland and now lives in Birmingham where she works as a psychotherapist. Her stories are published in various places, including the Tindal Street Press anthologies, Her Majesty and Are You She? Her poems have appeared in Under the Radar, Obsessed with Pipework and The Moth. Her first pamphlet was A Still Dark Kind of Work (Heaventree Press, 2008), and her second, From the Boat (Nine Arches, 2010). Her debut full collection is House, also just published by Nine Arches Press.

Jonathan Davidson’s new collection: Humfrey Coningsby - poems, complaints, explanations and demands for satisfaction (Valley Press, 2015) purports to be a collection of poems written by the 16th Century traveller and other observers, with a curious contemporary ring to it. It may be. It may not. We may never know. What we do know, is that Jonathan Davidson is a citizen of Coventry and a poet and writer of radio dramas

Rennie Parker comes from West Yorkshire but now lives in Lincolnshire, a county which influenced the poems in her latest collection, Candleshoe (Shoestring Press, 2014). She is currently writing towards a booklet, The Complete Electric Artisan, and recently released two short novels as Kindle e-books, Trust and A Perfect Vicarage Affair.

Entrance is FREE, but you should book tickets to be sure of entry - click here or visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/autumn-poetry-upstairs-at-the-western-tickets-18631285677

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Become an Eyewear micro-patron

I recently signed up to become an Eyewear micro-patron - for £10, you get two of the press's titles, 40% off other titles, and exclusive news and invites. I was keen to buy Andrew Shields' book anyway, so it was a bit of a no-brainer - great value. They are, it should be pointed out, really nicely designed books, too. I look forward to reporting back on them soon.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Richard Skinner on Geoffrey Hill

Terrific blogpost here by Richard Skinner, on how he came to appreciate the poetry of Geoffrey Hill, and also about the joy of discovering a much-sought volume in a secondhand bookshop. Hay-on-Wye, of course, is the best place in Britain for such happy accidents, and the Poetry Bookshop in particular is an absolute treasure trove. I'm long overdue another visit.

My own discovery of Hill's work was somewhat similar. I read a handful of poems, including parts of Mercian Hymns, in a university textbook of my sister's, then read the whole of that collection when I was at university myself – I was trying to dig out stuff for an essay on the 8th century Mercian church, and the computer suggested it in the search.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Corbyn and the anthem

Good blogpost here on why Jeremy Corbyn should be applauded for not singing the national anthem - he'd have been a hypocrite to do so, he showed all the respect appropriate to the occasion anyway (which is more than some of the singers did), and thirdly, it's a lousy and absurd anthem anyway.

The real debate, of course, ought to be why we can't have an anthem that isn't offensive to Scots, Catholics and republicans, but I don't suppose we'll have that any time soon. The right-wing press, who have generally had a strange way of showing how much they respect the monarchy in the past, have their own very obvious agenda here. Incidentally, I wonder how many of their 'journalists' and photographers were singing? I wonder, too, how many of those who have criticised Corbyn could sing the anthem in its entirety?

Monday, 14 September 2015

Brian Close, 1931-2015, RIP

"How can a ball hurt you? It's only on you for a second". Not sure if that, like so many other remarks attributed to Close, is apocryphal, but it certainly sums up his attitude.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015


"Oddly pointless...but utterly lovely". I think that's probably a fair assessment of Stuff Like That There, Yo La Tengo's new album, which attempts to recreate the laid-back, semi-acoustic vibe of their classic 1990 record Fakebook. Not that pointlessness ever worries me too much where pop music is concerned - I don't mind someone trying to change the world with a song once in a while, but first and foremost, it's supposed to be entertainment, isn't it?

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Leicester Shindig, September 21st, 2015

The latest Nine Arches Press/Crystal Clear Creators Shindig takes place at The Western, Western Road, Leicester, LE3 0GA, from 7.30pm on September 21st – guest readers are Richard Byrt, Robert Peake, Sarah James and Rosie Miles.

As always, open mic slots will be available on the door, and entry is free. And also as always, it's a good idea to get there early to get a good seat.

Monday, 7 September 2015

PJ Kavanagh

Nice obituary of the poet PJ Kavanagh here – I had no idea that he had played the Nazi priest on Father Ted! Possibly my favourite episode of all, and that's saying something when talking about such a consistently great programme.

Interesting to read about his meeting with the poet Patrick Kavanagh, too. They're both poets whose work I like a lot, although it doesn't sound as though the older man would have been a barrel of laughs in person.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

The importance of county cricket

Excellent piece on CricInfo today about why the administrators of our cricket should stop meddling with the structure of county cricket - it actually works pretty well. It also touches on the way that the richer counties, those with test match grounds, carry too much clout, despite their often poor record of producing international players.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Primers - a final reminder

The Poetry School and Nine Arches Press  are delighted to announce the arrival of Primers, a new annual scheme creating a unique opportunity for talented poets to find publication and receive a programme of supportive feedback, mentoring and promotion. The scheme will select three poets whose work will feature together in the first volume of Primers, a book showcasing short debut collections of work.
The Primers scheme aims to provide an important platform for emerging poets who are seeking to develop their writing and build towards a full collection of poems. With the involvement of Jane Commane (Nine Arches’ poetry editor), Kathryn Maris (poet and guest editor) and the Poetry SchoolPrimers’ intention is to nurture and support new talent that may otherwise not find an outlet. It also aims to provide an important opportunity for poets to develop their skills, work on their poetry practice, and find audiences for their work. Following editing and mentoring with Kathryn and Jane, the Primers collection will be published by Nine Arches Press, and a further series of live events will showcase the three chosen poets at festivals and shows around the country.

Primers presents a really exciting opportunity; for poets it will offer an excellent first step, with the full support of Kathryn Maris, the Poetry School and myself. I am already looking forward to seeing the new writing that will be submitted. It also enables Nine Arches to do more of what we like doing best; nurturing talent, working closely with poets to support their creativity, and keeping our finger on the pulse of contemporary poetry’
Jane Commane, Nine Arches Press
‘The Poetry School has a long history of working with poets to develop their creative talents. Primers is the next stage in this work, taking poets out of the classroom and onto the bookshelf and the festival stage. We’re very excited about the new poets and poems that are going to emerge from this scheme.’
- Ollie Dawson, The Poetry School
 ‘Primers is, potentially, a more meritocratic take on anthologies and other introductory platforms for which the usual procedure is the hand-picking of writers already known to an editor. By contrast, the poets to be included in Primers will be chosen from anonymous submissions, so poets need not have a proven track record of publication nor ‘visibility’ within the poetry world.  There is so much strong work being written by poets of all ages who have not yet had their first break, so I expect the decision-making will be difficult. But I look forward to the process, and I’m delighted to be involved with Nine Arches, a press that consistently delivers attractive books by first-rate poets.’
- Kathryn Maris, poet and guest editor

How to Submit
Download Primers’ rules and regulations here … Primers Submission Guidelines. Submissions will only be accepted online, via Submittable, to keep administration costs as low as possible.
The important dates to note are …
  • Submission deadline: 1 September 2015
  • Shortlist announced: late October 2015
  • Final selection announced: late November 2015
  • Publication of Primers Volume 1: April 2016
Good luck with your submissions! For more details, contact John Canfield at coordinator@poetryschool.com

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

More on Lee Harwood

I came across this excellent piece on Lee Harwood last week - it sums up many of the things that make his poetry so special for me, in particular what is says about him using the techniques of modernism to recover a directness of address in poetry.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Hen Harrier poems

At the weekend, the Guardian ran this review of Colin Simms' Hen Harrier Poems, from Shearsman, to rather neatly coincide with Hen Harrier Day.

Any extra publicity that it gives to Hen Harrier Day, and to the shameful persecution of these birds by shooting interests, is very welcome, but it also shouldn't be allowed to obscure the brilliance of Simms' poetry. I recommend any one of the volumes of his work that Shearsman have been bringing out - his is a highly individual and rigorously exact nature poetry that is a world away from the stereotype of the genre that's sometimes decried.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Sean O'Brien on Jack Underwood

There's been a very interesting thread over on Jon Stone's Facebook page, about Sean O'Brien's review of Jack Underwood's book Happiness.

I'm going to repeat what I said there, so apologies to those who have already read all this. I don't know Jack Underwood's work well enough to be able to make an informed judgement on what O'Brien says - I've no idea if he really does slip into "a kind of indie house style that can be read (and perhaps more significantly, heard) almost anywhere at present...".

Some of the criticisms of O'Brien's review are that he has paid insufficient attention to the poets that have emerged in the last decade or so, and that he ends up sounding like a father bemoaning his offspring's taste in music. The problem for me, though, and with so many reviews in the broadsheet press, is that he's paid too much attention to other poetry - surely if you're going to engage with the more casual reader of poetry, you need to assume that they haven't already read a lot of similar-sounding poetry (and as I say, I have no idea if Underwood is part of a wider trend). I'm not saying you need to take each collection in absolute isolation, but equally it's unlikely that any individual reader has had the chance to become quite so jaded by what's out there as the professional poet/reviewer. Unless, of course, you're assuming that the only people reading are other poets, which is worrying in a whole different way.

I don't think this is a problem peculiar to poetry reviews, incidentally. It seems to happen in most fields these days - reviews too often rely on comparison to other examples of the artform, genre, or whatever.

Anyway, O'Brien's more positive comments only reinforce what I'd already felt about Underwood's poetry - that it's well worth checking out. In that sense, it's a good review, because it has only piqued my curiosity.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Lee Harwood, 1939-2015

Very sad to hear that Lee Harwood has passed away, at the age of 76. I can't think of many writers in the last 20 years whose work I've enjoyed more, or re-read more often.

I can't remember who introduced me to his work, but I bought his Collected Poems, from Shearsman Books, back in 2006 and read it cover to cover again and again, so much so that all my memories of that summer are linked to that book. If you haven't already got it, I can't recommend it highly enough - Harwood manages to be both open to the influences of numerous American and European poets, and yet distinctively himself, and distinctively English.

Two other things distinguish his poetry. One is a warm humanism that often focuses on the small details of everyday lives that don't otherwise get written about (or at least, not with dignity). The other is a willingness to embrace joy and wonder when the occasion demands.

But I've said more than enough, given that I never met the man or even heard him read. Here's a piece by the poet and author John Harvey, who did both, and published him.

Sunspots on tour

Simon Barraclough is taking his recent collection Sunspots on tour - details here. I'll try to catch it in Nottingham or Oxford.

And if you need any more convincing, read this conversation with Simon from earlier this year.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Summer reading

Every year, the broadsheet daily and Sunday papers publish features on what various literary luminaries are going to be reading on the beach this summer. I nearly always read them, but I don't generally end up following many of the recommendations.

This year, though, I was short of something to read on various long journeys, so I followed the suggestions of one particular article (in The Telegraph, I think) and downloaded a couple of novels, Michael Frayn's Towards The End Of The Morning, and RC Sherriff's The Fortnight In September.

The former is excellent, and a must for anyone who has worked in newspapers, although the sort of Fleet Street world it describes was already long gone years before I ever set foot in a newsroom.

The latter is also a fine book - I'm about halfway through at the moment - and conceals considerable depth within its disarmingly straightforward style. Essentially it's an account of a family's annual holiday in Bognor in the late 1920s, early 1930s, but it has a lot to say about class and social attitudes, as well as family life.

One gripe. The iPad version has been extremely badly formatted, with lots of typos, usually with the last letter of one word being attached to the start of the following word, like this: lik ethis. You can usually work out exactly what's meant (although in a few cases there's a word missing altogether), but it does feel pretty slipshod. Electronic versions should be more than just text files flowed haphazardly into the pages.

Still, don't let that put you off. I'm surprised both these books aren't much better known - give themn a try.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Words and Ears reading

A week on Thursday (July 30th), I'll be the guest reader at Words and Ears, in Bradford on Avon. The regular event, which includes open mic slots, takes place at the Swan Hotel, starting at 7.30pm, and entrance is £3 on the door.

I'm looking forward to it very much, having heard nothing but good things about Words and Ears from both readers and audience members. Here's poet Josephine Corcoran's take on it.

It'll also be nice to get a chance to look round Bradford. I seem to remember that there's a very distinctive Anglo-Saxon church there, and although I've been to nearby Bath many times, I've never got round to seeing it.

Monday, 13 July 2015

The habit of writing

I recently completed the manuscript for a book I've been commissioned to write. It's described as a "birding memoir", and looks at some of Britain's greatest avian spectacles.

Now I've worked as a journalist for the last 23 years, so I'm no stranger to writing great chunks of prose, but this was something else again. It amounts to 70,000 words, written and rewritten and edited and, hopefully, honed to something readable.

I'd have to say that Google Drive was a huge help, allowing me to write passages on my work computer, before and after hours, or during lunch, or on my iPad in spare moments elsewhere, without having to remember to take a memory sticks or discs everywhere. If I had, I suspect I'd still be a long way from finished.

For the year or so I've been doing the actual writing (rather than the research), I haven't written a great deal of poetry at all, but getting into the habit of writing every day, and setting targets, has been a huge help, I think, and now I find myself returning to poetry with renewed vigour. I also feel like I can tackle another prose project I've often thought of having a go at. It's going to be a busy winter.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Go Set A Watchman

So, who's running out to buy it straight away? Who's going to offer the first opinion on it? Is it another masterpiece, or a cynical milking of Harper Lee's unpublished work by her agent?

I'm waiting for a while, mainly because I'm already in the middle of two other novels, both recommended in one of those 'what to read this summer' articles in national newspapers, both exceptionally good.

Monday, 6 July 2015

The summer of Steele

Ahead of the start of the Ashes this week, here's a bit of cricket nostalgia, in the form of a great BBC article on David Steele, surely one of the most unlikely sporting heroes this country has ever seen. His story is the stuff of fiction, really, and you wonder if the same thing could happen today - probably not.

My earliest cricketing memories are of that summer of 1975. Encouraged by my dad, and my grandad, I must have started watching bits of the BBC coverage, and I was certainly outside with bat and ball in hand whenever I got the chance. It was a great summer, too, overshadowed a little by the drought of the following year, so those chances were plentiful.

Obviously, being five years old, I didn't understand most of the intricacies of test cricket, but I was hooked nonetheless. Three things stick in the memory. One is Alan Knott and Tony Greig batting together, Little and Large, with Knott in patched-up kit and Greig sporting one-piece gloves that he promoted for someone (Stuart Sturridge, perhaps). Another is the abandonment of the Headingley test, as a result of the digging up of the pitch.

And third is Steele. Whenever I watched a few minutes of play, Steele seemed to be batting. Even as a 5-year-old, I remember thinking it strange that a completely grey-haired man should be playing professional sport. He quickly became a favourite, though (helped by the fact that his brother John played for Leicestershire, who at the time were on their way to their first-ever Championship title), and I can remember feeling surprised and aggrieved the following year when he was left out of the team to tour India, despite having repeated his successes of 1975 against the 1976 West Indies tourists.

Whatever happens, we'll need a bit of his sort of grit if we're to win this Ashes series. I'm not confident, to be honest, but I do feel we have a better chance now than a couple of months back.