Wednesday, 20 May 2015

It goes with the territory

It's that time of year when birds are busy attracting mates, raising young, and all the time defending their territories against intruders. A couple of evenings this week I've been reminded what a full-time job for them that must be.

First, the male Curlew out of a pair that breed a few miles from my house. As I watched him, probing for food close to where his mate is, I think, sitting on eggs, he suddenly decided that a Carrion Crow was wandering too close to her. Corvids, of course, do take eggs and young, although I think this one was feeding on invertebrates and had inadvertently strayed. The Curlew took off, then swooped at him twice, causing him to beat a hasty retreat. Presumably encouraged by this, the Curlew then did the same to the other half-dozen Carrion Crows scattered around the very large field, none of whom were anywhere near, and all of whom seemed to be feeding well.

Last night, I was watching the Peregrines in a local quarry. After the male had passed food to the female, he spotted a Buzzard soaring over, and quickly flew up for a look. After gaining a height advantage of 30-40 feet, he flipped onto his back, briefly, then folded up and dropped like a stone. The Buzzard took evasive action, although the Peregrine was clearly not making a full-blooded attack, instead raking the Buzzard with one talon and dislodging two or three small feathers. The Buzzard then flapped away as fast as his wings would take him, and dignity would allow.

Shindig: Jo Bell, Jonathan Davidson, and Crystal Voices launch

We've probably become a bit blasé, in Leicester, about having a great regular poetry reading/open mic night to go to. For years now, the Nine Arches Press/Crystal Clear Creators events have been presenting a mixture of well-known faces and newcomers, plus all shades in-between.

Monday night was a chance to reflect on that, and to thank the Crystal Clear Creators part of the team behind it - Jonathan and Maria Taylor - for all their hard work.

As usual, the open mic slots were varied and excellent, one of my particular favourites being the short story from (I think), Guy Gresham.

Jo Bell read from her just-launched Nine Arches collection Kithand as usual was perfectly paced, giving the audience the chance to savour every nuance of her poems, which as usual deal with all aspects of life, love, sex, canals, and ducks. This book has been a long time in coming, but it's well worth the wait.

Jonathan Davidson's last collection, Early Train, was a favourite of mine, and his new book Humfrey Coningsby (Valley Press) looks like going the same way - I'm a sucker for poetry with a historical theme anyway, but this is really top-class stuff, playing with the whole idea of historical 'truth'.

The second half of the night included the launch of Crystal Voices, an anthology celebrating 10 years of Crystal Clear Creators. It features the following very fine poets, many of whom read - Alan Baker, Kathleen Bell, Rebecca Bird, Julie Boden, Alison Brackenbury, Will Buckingham, Jane Commane, Caroline Cook, Nichola Deane, Kate Delamere, Mellissa Flowerdew-Clarke, Angela France, Mark Goodwin, Sarah James, Charles Lauder, Jr., Emma Lee, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Carol Leeming, Siobhan Logan, John Lucas, David McCormack, Sue Mackrell, Martin Malone, Roy Marshall, Jessica Mayhew, Andrew "Mulletproof" Graves, Simon Perril, Alexandros Plasatis, D. A. Prince, Robert Richardson, Victoria Smith, Jayne Stanton, Hannah Stevens, Matthew Stewart, Aly Stoneman, Jonathan Taylor, Pam Thompson, Lydia Towsey, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, Claire Walker, Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson, Rory Waterman. Oh, and me too - I read my featured poem, Hometowns of Unwitting Love Objects.

Friday, 15 May 2015

The genius of David Gower

I'll apologise up front to anyone expecting to read about poetry and/or birds on this blog, for yet another cricketing interlude. In my defence, I'll say that the subject of this post, David Gower, was one of the very few sportsmen who genuinely deserved that hackneyed old phrase, "poetry in motion".

Here's a fantastic piece on him by Rob Steen, which says everything about why Gower was, to me and to so many England fans, the ultimate batting hero. I've seen better batsmen - no one would argue that Gower was the equal of Viv Richards, or Sachin Tendulkar, or Brian Lara, or several others - in terms of sheer run-making ability, but I've never seen anyone to match him for elegance at the crease. The likes of Mark Waugh, Mahela Jayawardene, Hashim Amla, VVS Laxman and others occasionally came close, but none have managed to sustain that languid grace quite so totally as Gower.

Steen makes great points about Gower's courage, both physical and moral (although oddly he doesn't mention that Gower, like Botham, twice turned down big money offers to play in apartheid-era South Africa, unlike Graham Gooch), and his ability, as captain to get the best from some awkward characters. The 1984-85 tour of India was probably his finest moment as a leader, both on the field, when he led a Botham-less England to a 2-1 win after they'd gone 1-0 down (and in those days, India didn't surrender a series lead), and off, when his calm dignity kept the team together and focused after the assassination of Mrs Gandhi and the British Deputy High Commissioner. After those tragedies, there were calls for the tour to be abandoned, but as this article shows, it ended in success.

I'm not a big fan of the honours system, so I'm not sure I'd back Steen's call for a knighthood, but it'd be nice to hear Gower being lionised by the press and media a bit more, if only because you'll never hear him do it himself.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Happy birthday, HappenStance!

Just about exactly 10 years ago now, I was down in North Devon for the readings and prize-givings for the Plough Prize, in which I'd won the open category.

While there I met the judge, Helena Nelson, and she explained that she had just started a new chapbook press, HappenStance, from her home in Fife. She'd tested the water with a chapbook of her own 'Unsuitable Poems', and followed it up with Andrew Philip's wonderful Tonguefire (if you can find a copy of this anywhere, I recommend it very highly).

To my surprise, she asked me to send her every poem I had, with a view to publishing a pamphlet. At the time, I think I only had 30-35 that I thought of as finished in any way, but over the next few months, Nell and I worked away at them, and the end result was my chapbook Making The Most Of The Light, which was launched in Edinburgh in October 2005.

HappenStance is celebrating its 10th birthday this week, having moved on to publishing full collections by the likes of DA Prince as well as chapbooks, and even a quick look at their website will reveal the calibre of poets they've worked with over the last decade.

So, I just wanted to say a big Happy Birthday to it, and a huge thank-you to Nell for taking a chance on publishing my poetry. I'm proud, and above all very grateful, to have been associated with such a wonderful press.

NOTE: I do still have two copies of Making The Most Of The Light left - none of the poems in it have appeared in my subsequent collections. Email me if you're interested in receiving one.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Leicester Shindig, May 18th

Next Monday night sees the latest Nine Arches Press/Crystal Clear Creators Shindig poetry night at The Western, 70 Western Road, Leicester, LE3 0GA.

Featured writers are Jonathan Davidson and Jo Bell, who will be launching her new collection Kith, as well as contributors from the new Crystal Voices anthology, edited by Maria Taylor, celebrating 10 years of Crystal Clear Creators.

As always, admission is free, and you can sign up for open mic slots on the door - the fun starts at 7.30pm.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Karen Solie - The Road In Is Not The Same Road Out

I'm currently trying to avoid buying more poetry books, until I've read the backlog I've got piling up in my back room, but this looks essential. I'm a huge fan of Karen Solie's, and I recommend her very highly if you haven't already read her.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Geoffrey Hill

There's a very interesting interview with Geoffrey Hill here, at The Isis. If I'm honest, when I read Hill it tends to be the earlier stuff, but I am gradually working my way through some of his more recent collections, and even when he's not entirely to my taste, he's his own poet. As he suggests in the interview, it's hard to see where he sits in the usually binary model of contemporary British poetry that usually gets talked about.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Slow worms

I was at the Knepp Castle Estate in West Sussex last night, for a Nightingale safari, of which more at a later date. There was plenty of other good wildlife at this extraordinary site, which is being progressively 'rewilded'. We heard Barn and Tawny Owls before the Nightingales resumed singing, and the reptile refuges had Grass Snakes of varying sizes, plus lots of Slow Worms.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

England's way ahead

Another cricketing interlude, I'm afraid.

The great pleasure of a West Indies tour is that you can spend all evening with the cricket on in the corner of the room. The great drag, in recent years, has been that pitches there tend to be slow, low, and of a sort to encourage high-scoring draws. The one being used for the First Test at Antigua looks no different, although there was a hint of turn.

After England's early troubles, Ian Bell's hundred was as classy as you'd expect from him, while Joe Root's innings was equally full of admirable qualities, of which more in a minute. Ben Stokes, too, showed his time out of the side has been well spent, and confirmed the impression I've had of him for a while. When he's out of nick, or even for a few minutes at the start of most innings, he looks like a man who's never held a bat before. Once he's found form, though, he can look impossible to bowl to - at times yesterday he was hitting boundaries at will, without ever really seeming to let himself go. A fully functioning Stokes and Moeen Ali, plus Jos Buttler, would give England a lot of balance and the opportunity to play pretty much any combination of bowlers they wish, which has to be good.

I was disappointed, though, that Trott and Tredwell played ahead of Lyth and Rashid. Of course, they'll both probably make a nonsense of that in the rest of the series, but it smacks of a depressing conservatism and cautiousness. Tredwell's a fine player, but he's hardly the sort to rip through test line-ups, and he's not young. Rashid has done everything asked of him in recent years, and played a large part in Yorkshire's Championship win last year. And leg-spinners, as England surely remember, win test matches.

I've no problem with Trott coming back as such, but as things stand we have a top three that straight away surrenders all the initiative to the opposition bowlers. I'm not saying we need a Chris Gayle at the top of the order, but there needs to be someone there who can put a bit of pressure back on the bowling attack. Trott's sedate pace just puts pressure on Cook to play a game that doesn't come naturally to him, while Balance doesn't, despite his fine summer in 2014, look like a No.3 to me. He moves his feet too slowly and too little, and I suspect is going to be found out badly by Southee, Boult, Starc and Johnson.   I'd rather see other options explored now, otherwise we could have a miserable season in store.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Map: The launch reading

On Thursday night, I was in London for the launch of Worple Press's anthology Map, which celebrates the 200th anniversary of William Smith's geological map of Britain.

It was an honour and a great pleasure to have been asked to contribute to the anthology, but even more so to hear the many poets involved read their work in the august surroundings of the Geological Society - Smith's map was hanging just outside, in the foyer.

It was good to catch up with Michael McKimm, who edited the book, and to meet Peter Carpenter, the man behind Worple (his own poem was one of my highlights of the night).

Lovely, too, to chat with Alison Brackenbury, Jane Commane, George Ttoouli, Isobel Dixon, Ailsa Holland and Julia Bird, and to meet Alan Buckley - his Red Rocks was another highlight.

There was great variety in the poetry being read, and it was a particular pleasure reading to an audience that, at least partly, came to the subject from another direction entirely. By which I mean they were geologists - I hope we didn't mangle the history and language of their science and one of its great pioneers.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Richie Benaud, RIP

I don't often do this. OK, there are plenty of famous writers, sports stars and other celebrities whose death would sadden me a great deal, but I'm wary of saying too much, because how much do any of us really know these people? I tend to think that the mourning, the real mourning, should be left to the families

But the death of Richie Benaud earlier today is different, for me. Having been cricket-mad since the David Steele summer of 1975, I can honestly think of absolutely no one I've had a more lasting and total admiration of. 

I've written about him on here before, at some length, and I can't really add much to what I said back then. Thanks for everything, Richie. We'll never see your like again.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Spring arrivals

Not the best pictures, but they'll have to do. The birds above and below are a pair of Curlew that arrived in Charnwood Forest on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. They're in a couple of fields, separated by a road, in which Curlew certainly bred last year, and probably for a few years before, and this might well be the very pair. I'll be keeping a watch on them (a couple of times a day where possible) for the rest of the breeding season.

Hearteningly, a couple more nearby fields had displaying Lapwings, with at least one pair apparently present in each. They were a bit more skittish, though, so I had to resort to subterfuge to get anywhere near them.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Egrets, I've had a few...

Odd to think that 30 years ago - less, even - the bird above, a Little Egret at Rutland Water, would have sparked a twitch of major proportions. Now, they're all over England and Wales, and fast spreading north into Scotland. Global warming? Perhaps it's helping, but in this case it's probably even more to do with the very adaptable nature of egrets.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Tomas Transtromer

I was away from this blog when the death of Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer was announced recently - there's a good obituary of the Nobel Prize winner here.

I bought the volume above about 11 or 12 years ago, having come across a few of his poems in anthologies, and I'd say that it's since been one of my most-read poetry books, one that I go back to again and again. I'm back at it again now, in fact, having been reminded once again of just what a fine writer he was.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Out now - Sunspots, by Simon Barraclough

Simon Barraclough's new collection, Sunspots, is out now from Penned in the Margins. Keep watching this space for an interview with Simon, plus a full review of the book and a selection of poems from it. And this isn't a spoiler, but it's really very good.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Cheltenham Poetry Festival

Nice piece here about this year's Cheltenham Poetry Festival, including Nine Arches'  Jo Bell, the Poetry Society's Canals Laureate. Full details on the festival, which runs April 20-May 3, can be found here.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

New from Nine Arches

April will see the publication of two new collections from Nine Arches Press - Robert Peake's The Knowledge (out April 21st), and Jo Bell's Kith (out April 14th). Jo's second collection seems to have been a long time in coming, and I look forward to reading it very much. Robert's too - he's a fine poet and critic with a very distinctive slant on things, perhaps because of his transatlantic perspective.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Jazz and Poetry: Wayne Burrows and Helen Tookey

Wayne Burrows will be launching his new Shoestring book - Black Glass: New and Selected Poems - alongside Carcanet poet Helen Tookey, at next week's Jazz and Poetry.

It all takes place at the Guitar Bar, Clumber Avenue, Nottingham NG5, from around 7.30, and as always there's jazz throughout the night from Four In The Bar, and emerging poets at 8.30. Entrance is free, but donations are encouraged.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

A cricketing interlude

Gale force winds, torrential rain, temperatures struggling to get anywhere near double figures - yes, it's the cricket season again!

I can't say I'm full of confidence about England's hopes of winning back the Ashes - under Peter Moores, I think they missed several opportunities last summer to rebuild the team for the long term. I have a nasty feeling that Gary Ballance's lack of foot movement will be found out by the Aussie quicks,  our own pace attack looks patchy, and much as I like Moeen Ali, I think we'll need a full-time spinner at some stage.

That said, though, I wouldn't write us off - the Aussies show every sign of being over-confident, but they've got plenty of ageing, injury-prone players, plus others who still have a lot to prove. It'll be interesting to see if Johnson and Starc look half as threatening on stodgy English wickets, and when things do go wrong for Johnson, he can implode spectacularly. So, my prediction is a high-scoring series, with three or even four draws, but the Aussies hanging on to the urn.

Very interesting piece here about the Aussie public's attitude to Michael Clarke - I'm amazed he still gets so much criticism.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Map: Poems After William Smith's Geological Map of 1815

This arrived the other day - it's an anthology from Worple Press, edited by Michael McKimm, that marks and celebrates the 200th anniversary of the first geological map of the UK (of any country, in fact), and the foundation of a science.

The poets contributing work are Stephen Boyce, Alison Brackenbury, James Brookes, Andy Brown, Alan Buckley, Peter Carpenter, John Wedgewood Clarke, Jane Commane, Elizabeth Cook, Barbara Cumbers, Jonathan Davidson, Isobel Dixon, Maura Dooley, Sally Flint, John Freeman, Isabel Galleymore, John Greening, Philip Gross, Alyson Hallett, Ailsa Holland, John McAuliffe, Helen Mort, Andrew Motion, David M Orchard, Mario Petrucci, Kate Potts, Peter Robinson, Penelope Shuttle, George Ttoouli, Anthony Wilson, and myself.

To buy it (it's £10), go here.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Sean O'Brien reviews Tony Williams

If you haven't already seen it, there's a good review of Tony Williams' excellent Nine Arches collection The Midlands at The Guardian - Sean O'Brien is the reviewer. It's a terrific book - read the review, then read the book.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Reading at Jazz & Poetry

This is me reading Magnetite, from The Elephant Tests, at Jazz & Poetry, at the Guitar Bar, Nottingham, in October 2013.

Jazz & Poetry runs from 8 until late on the second Wednesday of each month, October to July, and admission is free.

Thanks are due to David Belbin for putting this up on YouTube - there are also lots of videos of other recent guests up there. Enjoy!

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Carrie Etter nominated

More heartening news - Carrie Etter's excellent Imagined Sons, one of my favourite books of last year, is on the shortlist for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. The winner will be announced in a few weeks - in the meantime, I can recommend it to anyone who hasn't yet read it.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Penguin poetry

Nothing to do with birds this time. Instead, it's the news that Penguin is reviving its poetry list, headed up by a full-time poetry editor, Donald Futers.

Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric is his first acquisition, and from all I've read of it, it suggests that Futers is going to be taking a refreshingly adventurous and open-minded approach to the list.

I'm also encouraged by the fact that the editor is someone who's clearly very committed to poetry and knowledgeable about it, without simply being a prominent UK poet, which is the case with many of the other bigger lists out there. Looks like Penguin could be worth watching over the next few years.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Famous in France?

Well, a little bit of it - the area around Chalons-en-Champagne, to be exact. And not exactly famous. Or even notorious. We did make it into the local paper, though.

I was there for three days earlier in the week, and I'll post a few pics from the trip over the next few days. The birds were great, the hospitality and welcome very warm, and there was even time to take in a bit of culture, history and champagne.