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).

Eyewear

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.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Review: Assembly Lines, by Jane Commane

Over at WriteOutLoud, there's this excellent review by Neil Leadbeter, of Assembly Lines, the first poetry collection by Jane Commane (who is of course also the driving force behind Nine Arches Press). It's out now from Bloodaxe Books.

There's plenty else to browse on the site, too – a poetry gig guide, profiles and blogs among them.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Redshank


And one more wader from Minsmere, the eternally nervy Redshank, although this one laid off with the alarm calls for a while to preen and sleep on a fencepost in front of one of the hides. They're a familiar sight on most wetlands, of course, but that doesn't mean that they're not worth a second look.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

The balance between bat and ball

England's utter destruction of Australia in the 3rd one-day international at Trent Bridge on Tuesday (Richie Benaud would almost certainly have said "It's absolute carnage out there" at some stage during it), has sparked a lot of debate online and on Test Match Special about whether or not there needs to be some evening up of the balance between bat and ball in this format of the game.

The straightforward answer is yes. As Jimmy Anderson said on the commentary, if every game is a high-scoring big-hitting contest, it all starts to blur into one. Many of the best one-day games I can remember have been low-scoring, tense affairs. Derbyshire's 1981 Nat West Trophy Final win. India's 1983 World Cup Final win. And of course, the 1999 Australia vs South Africa World Cup Semi-Final – for my money the best one-day match ever played.

What's annoying, though, is that this only ever comes up when England dish out a hammering. Yes, the pitch was flat and favoured batsmen. Yes, the Kookaburra balls used give bowlers no assistance whatsoever. But it's the same for both sides. Australia won the toss and declined to use the pitch when it was at its best for batting. They also bowled poorly, let's be honest, while England were excellent in the field. Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali showed there was something in the pitch for spinners – more fool the Aussies for picking only one frontline spinner, leaving out Nathan Lyon, their best option.

When, in the past, England's one-day side has taken thrashing after thrashing on flat pitches, the pundits have been quick to say that they need to find bowlers who can come up with something different on such surfaces. Now we have, and now we've found batsmen who can take the fullest advantage of such friendly surfaces, we're being told that the rules need to change.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Black-tailed Godwit


There were large numbers of Black-tailed Godwits at Minsmere RSPB, in all their breeding finery. Presumably these are birds that simply haven't made the journey to their northerly breeding grounds, although a few might also be failed breeders that have already returned. Whichever was the case, they were a pleasure to see – I love waders anyway, but these are among my favourites.

I do wax lyrical about waders in my book A Sky Full Of Birds – it's available to buy here, or you can use the email link on the right to get a copy direct from me (I'll even sign it if you like).

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Spotted Redshank


Even by my standards, that's a pretty ropey pic, but it's the best I could do from long distance, craning over several people in a crowded hide. It's a male Spotted Redshank in full breeding plumage, so different from the way I have generally seen them in the past, in winter plumage.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Marsh Harrier


Also very much in evidence at Minsmere RSPB were Marsh Harriers. They're a common enough sight in the Fens close to our office, too, but it's easy to forget that 40 years ago, when I was just starting to get interested in birds, they were very rare indeed. Even now, there are fewer breeding pairs in the UK than there are breeding pairs of Golden Eagles – it's just that the Goldies are harder to see because they're in much more remote, inaccessible areas. But anyway, the return of Marsh Harriers are proof that organisations like the RSPB are making a real impact in some areas - we just need to start paying more attention to the habitat everywhere else.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Dartford Warblers


I was over at Minsmere RSPB in Suffolk earlier this week, and also managed to have a look at some of the smaller reserves nearby. At Westleton Heath, I heard and then saw four Nightjars. Having waited until it was almost dark, I'd pretty much given up hope that they were present, and then all started 'churring' at once, before they started to fly over the heath, with their white wing flashes standing out in the murk, and their 'wing clapping' loud in my ears.

The next day, I went back to see what might be around in daylight (I'd been told Turtle Doves were a possibility). No such luck, but Dartford Warblers were plentiful and were showing very prominently atop the gorse and other bushes. They're not great photos (as ever), but these were the best views of the species that I've ever had in the UK. Good to see that the Beast From The East earlier this year didn't hit them too badly – I'd heard that Cetti's Warblers in the area had been pretty much wiped out.


Friday, 8 June 2018

Liz Berry and Jane Commane at Ledbury Festival

Ledbury's always full of excellent poetry, and this looks like one of the highlights of this year's programme. Two great poets whose work carries a distinctive Midlands flavour (and there's been far too little of that over the years).

There's lots more to enjoy there, too - have a browse here.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Nebraska

Pitchfork publish regular reviews of what they consider significant albums of the past, and last week it was the turn of Springsteen's Nebraska.

At the time it came out in 1982, I would have been absolutely oblivious to it, but I did buy it not long after I got into Springsteen, around 1987. By that time, the muted initial response it had received had begun to dissipate, and various other artists had started to imitate its ultra-stripped-down approach. To be honest, that became a bit annoying – recording everything acoustically on a cassette player doesn't automatically confer integrity, depth and meaning on an album.

But for Nebraska, it was undoubtedly the right decision. Even though the recordings are so homepsun that at times you can hear Springsteen's chair creaking, the effect isn't to create an intimacy with the listener, but rather, as the article says, to isolate the artist from his subjects, allowing him to observe and report dispassionately.

Songs such as Highway Patrolman and Atlantic City are like short stories (the former was the inspiration for the film The Indian Runner), but in many of the songs here, what's not said is as important as what is. You don't know exactly what it is that the protagonist of Atlantic City has agreed to do, just that he's desperate and willing to try anything.

I like the more obviously personal Used Cars a lot, as well as the yin and yang of State Trooper and Open All Night, with the latter offering one of the album's few glimmers of light. The article highlights the echoey, early rockabilly sound, and they're right – it's far closer to that in spirit than to folk music, for all that it's acoustic.

I go back and listen to it every now and then, and there's no doubt that it's one of Springsteen's most important albums.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Forward Prizes 2018 shortlist

The shortlist for this year's Forward Prizes has been announced. They look reasonably varied to me, with some new names cropping up there, although as always they're pretty much dominated by the major presses.

I'll have to try to catch up with some poetry reading, to include some of these, over the next few months. Vahni Capildeo, who won the Best Collection Prize in 2016 , is nominated again – I enjoyed her last book, and I'll look forward to reading this one.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear?

We recently ran an excellent feature by Lev Parikian in Bird Watching, about the theme of this book. I can recommend it very highly, whether you're already a birder, a lapsed birdwatcher, someone dabbling around the edges but determined to learn more, or an absolute beginner. Above all, it's about what it means to be a birdwatcher, and why building a connection to nature matters. Try it.

Strange spring

It's been a funny old spring, bird-wise. The cold temperatures right into the first week of May, and the northerly winds that brought them, held up the arrival of many migrants, and even now, I've yet to hear a Cuckoo, have barely heard or seen any Willow Warblers, and missed Wheatear altogether (although that was more that I haven't been to any suitable habitat, really). Hirundines and Swifts have been sparse, although numbers are starting to grow now.

On the other hand, some species, such as Yellow Wagtail, appeared in large groups when they did arrive, and there have been decent passages of things like Black Tern (plus a couple of White-winged Black Terns). Up at Frampton Marsh RSPB last week, there were some good waders – lots of Dunlin and Avocets, a few Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints, and Greenshanks.

Some of these things may be connected to longer term declines or increases, but others are part of what makes migration, and birdwatching, so endlessly fascinating. Things turn up where they shouldn't, or when they shouldn't, or both, and so you never know quite what you'll find when you leave the house.

It's something I touched on in my book A Sky Full Of Birds – you can buy it here, or if you'd prefer a signed copy I have paperbacks available. Just email me if you're interested.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Battle Royal and Blood Royal

Over the last few weeks I've read Hugh Bicheno's two-part history of the Wars of the Roses, Battle Royal and Blood Royal. They're extremely readable, with plenty of in-depth material that I hadn't come across before, and he's particularly good at looking at what the motivations of the participants might have been, the more obscure members of the gentry as well as the big names.

But at times, he's prone to making big claims without producing much evidence to back them up, most notably regarding the legitimacy of Edward IV. Now you can make a good case for him not having been the son of Richard of York, but some of the reasons Bicheno gives don't really hold up. Yes, Edward was a lot taller than either of his supposed parents, but his brother George and one of his sisters were also notably tall, so I'm not sure what that proves. Given that much of his argument, especially in the second book, depends on you accepting his claim, this unwillingness to go into detail is annoying at best.

What also gives me cause for concern about these claims is that Bicheno is rather slapdash in his approach to minor details. He repeats the old myth about the Battle of Losecote Field being so called because the rebels threw away their livery as they fled. In fact, it was never called that until the 19th century, and the name more likely comes from 'hlose-cote field', a locally common name referring to a cottage with pig sties.

Similarly, in his description of the Battle Of Edgecote, he talks about the slaughter of the Welsh Yorkist troops as they fled, and says that Welsh Road runs through the battlefield, implying that it is so called because it's where the slaughter took place. But Welsh Road actually gets its name because it's an old drovers' route through the Midlands, used by Welsh drovers to avoid the main turnpikes. That's all pretty well attested, and long stretches of it even now show all the signs of having been so.

Nit-picking, maybe, but it makes me wonder about the lack of evidence for his bigger claims.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

New-look England

Well, maybe Ed Smith is going to prove me wrong straight away, which can only be a good thing. I agree with most of what Jonathan Agnew says here. Buttler is, as Smith has said, a unique talent, and I'd always want to find a way to keep him in the test set-up. He's the sort of player that could win you a game in a session, and for all the nay-saying about him being a 20/20 player, there are others who have made the switch successfully. David Warner, for example.

Bess looks a good choice, too. He probably won't get a lot to do in these first couple of tests, but it's a bold selection.