Thursday, 28 February 2019

Letters From The Underworld, by Alan Baker

I enjoyed reading DA Prince's review of Alan Baker's Letters From The Underworld here at Sphinx. He's a poet who deserves much more attention, in my opinion, ploughing a very distinctive furrow of his own.

You can buy the book here, at The Red Ceilings Press website.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

StAnza 2019

It's that time of year again – from March 6th to 10th, St Andrews plays host to StAnza, Scotland's poetry festival. You can browse the many events here (they actually start on March 5th) – if you get the chance, go along. I can recommend it very heartily.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Poem in Antiphon Issue 24

It's been a long time since I've sent out any poetry submissions, so I'm absolutely delighted to have had a poem – Marginal – accepted for issue 24 of Antiphon. You can download a PDF of the magazine at the magazine's home page by following the link above.

A nice feature of Antiphon is that they include recordings of the poets reading their work – I'm afraid I haven't sent mine in yet, but I shall try to put that right this weekend.

But anyway, lovely to be published in the company of poets such as D A Prince and Rebecca Gethin.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Verve Poetry Festival

Birmingham's Old Rep Theatre plays host to this year's Verve Poetry Festival, which runs from today until Sunday.

The full line-up is here - plenty of interesting stuff to enjoy, with poets such as Alison Brackenbury, Carrie Etter, Vahni Capildeo and Jacob Sam-La Rose.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Peter Riley on Olson, Prynne and Paterson

The Fortnightly Review has this fascinating piece, by Peter Riley, on The Collected Letters of Charles Olson and J H Prynne, and Don Paterson's The Poem: Lyric, Sign, Metre. Now I've only really skimmed through it at lunchtime, and I'll have to give it much more detailed consideration at some stage, but it is good at least to be able to read such a thorough and thoughtful article on poetry, and TFR deserves credit for that.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

From the notebooks of David McComb

I know I've banged on before about my love of The Triffids, but I've only recently come across the official Triffids Facebook page. Just recently it's been featuring pics of David McComb's notebooks, with the original lyrics and ideas for all the songs on Born Sandy Devotional, the album that (I suspect) most fans would regard as their masterpiece. If you don't know it, go and have a listen now.

Even if it wasn't one of my favourite albums, it would be fascinating – McComb seems to have had a very clear idea of exactly how he wanted the album to sound, right from the earliest stages, as well as a vision of lyrically coherent selection of songs. But it's interesting that, reading the most recent post, he wasn't keen on including Personal Things, which for me is one of the highlights of the album, with absolutely great lyrics.

Incidentally, there's also a Facebook page for Love In Bright Landscapes, a proposed film about David McComb and The Triffids that is seeking funding support.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Alliteration and the Anglo-Saxons

I came across this article on alliteration in English language poetry, and of course it starts with the Anglo-Saxons, and specifically Caedmon. It's something of a general overview, so many of you may already know most of this, but nevertheless I found it sending me off to look up a couple of things, as well as back to the Anglo-Saxon originals of The Seafarer and The Wanderer.

The first of those, incidentally, is a poem packed with ornithological detail, to the extent that one writer considered that he could say with confidence that the poet was writing about the Bass Rock during a particular week in April. You can find out more about that in my book A Sky Full Of Birds (yes, yes, I know, shameless plug), but I'll also post about it in more detail at the appropriate time in April.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Now at Nine Arches...

Just my periodic reminder that there's some wonderful poetry available at the Nine Arches Press website, including new collections by Josephine Corcoran, Roy McFarlane and Suzannah Evans, as well as a wealth of back-catalogue titles (which include my own The Elephant Tests).

You can also get the latest issue of Under The Radar magazine, and find out how to submit work to Nine Arches.

My first Nine Arches collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, is available direct from me.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Blinded By The Light review

This looks interesting – I've read articles by Sarfraz Manzoor about his love of Springsteen in the past, and they've always struck a chord, if you'll excuse the pun. I'll look forward to seeing it.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Boom time for poetry sales

Poetry sales are soaring, according to this piece in The Guardian, with both so-called 'Instagram poets' (I don't like the dismissiveness of that term) and everything from Homer to Heaney selling well.

I'm slightly confused by what it says about the boom being fuelled by a desire for clarity and a desire for more nuance. The latter sounds perfectly reasonable, but clarity isn't really what I'd go to poetry for. Nevertheless, it's encouraging, and if you want to keep the boom moving, then I'd be more than willing to sell you a signed copy of either of my Nine Arches Press collections, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica and The Elephant Tests.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Hugh McIlvanney, 1934-2019

So it's farewell to the very best of modern sports writers, Hugh McIlvanney. From as far back as I can remember, my dad would rave about the brilliance of his writing on football and boxing. He was right – McIvanney was streets ahead of the competition, one of those journalists who'd have been a brilliant writer whatever his subject, despite the fact that his passion for sport came through.

Here's just a taste of his work, from The Guardian website. Raise a glass in honour of a true great.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Sopranos prequel

Hmmm. Not sure what I think of this idea – it has the potential to destroy the legacy of what is probably my favourite TV series ever. One of the things that I loved about it was that it resisted the temptation to tie up all loose ends, or to give you the full background to anything. Instead, characters referred to past events as though they were common knowledge, without elaborating on them too much. For me, that both makes things sound more authentic, and feels truer to life.

I'll want to see the film all the same, though.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Backlisted podcast

The other day, I stumbled across the rather splendid Backlisted podcast – the most recent episode features a look at JL Carr's How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won The FA Cup. As they say on the podcast, it's one of his more straightforward novels in many respects, and as they also rightly point out, it has a fantastic blurb (Carr wrote his own).

The rest of the episode focuses on Jilly Cooper. I've never read anything by her, but I have to admit it actually made me rather intrigued. They also mention that the very first episode looked at JL Carr's A Month In The Country, so I've gone back and downloaded that one too (plus the Raymond Chandler and Tolkien episodes). Very enjoyable listening for the daily commute.

NB You can also buy JL Carr's novels (and his many wonderful pocket books), from his own Quince Tree Press (now run by his son, I think).

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Antony Owen at Snakeskin

The December issue of Snakeskin has two fine poems by Coventry poet Antony Owen – How To Find The Falkland Islands, and The Bombing of Beautiful Birds. The latter, you might notice, is 'after Matt Merritt, and I can only say that I'm proud and humbled to have in any way provided any spark of inspiration.

Much of Antony's work deals with war and its effects on both civilians, and the participants, and particularly how the latter are too often left to deal with their own trauma when they return home. I especially like those final two stanzas of the Falklands poem, but there's so much to like there.

You can read more about Antony's work as a poet (and peace activist) here – as you'll see, he was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for his most recent collection, The Nagasaki Elder.

A few years back, I was lucky enough to visit first the Falklands, and then Argentina, for work, in the space of 12 months. What struck me in both places was that, whenever the 1982 war was mentioned, it was not in terms of anger, or ongoing hostility, but simply with a deep sadness.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Conversations with Nick Cave

I am, I would have to say, a bit ambivalent about Nick Cave and his music. There was a time, around Let Love In, when I listened to him quite a bit. Looking it up, I've just noticed that not only was ex-Triffid Martyn Casey a member of the Bad Seeds by then, but Triffid head honcho David McComb also contributed backing vocals. But I can't say I've ever wholly gone along with the 'genius' tag he gets so often.

Still, that's irrelevant. This article in The Guardian is what I really wanted to talk about. Cave's responses to his fans feel genuine and generous, and I found this open letter to a grieving fan particularly moving.

I will have to go back and dip into Cave's back catalogue a bit, though. Given how prolific he's been, I've probably missed a lot.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Poetry in schools

Excellent piece here from Michael Rosen, on the teaching of poetry in schools, and how reducing it to a series of a yes/no answers not only does the poetry itself a great disservice, but teaches the children nothing and probably puts them off poetry for life. I was lucky, when I was at school, that we had English teachers who encouraged you to read a poem with an open mind – indeed, above all, who encouraged you just to read poems.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Declan Ryan on Hugo Williams

Interesting overview of Hugo Williams' Collected Poems here, in the Los Angeles Review of Books, by young poet Declan Ryan. Williams never really seems to quite fit in to any poetic school or movement, but I've liked his work ever since I first encountered it (a remaindered copy of Dock Leaves that I bought about 16 or 17 years ago). Billy's Rain is, as the article suggests, probably his best collection, but the Collected Poems is well worth a look.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Is contemporary poetry in "a rotten state"?

Late to the party with this, but apparently novelist Rose Tremain thinks modern poetry is crap, while poet Robin Robertson finds himself sitting in the appalled middle ground, between the polar opposites of "light verse" or "incomprehensible".

Well, you can have fun arguing about whether or not they're right, but it's the way the subject is approached that bugs me. With Tremain, it's the "Let's dare to say it out loud". She sounds like one of those middle-aged men who 'dare' to be politically incorrect, but of course she's not saying anything daring at all, just using the platform afforded her by a national newspaper to trot out the same sort of thing Jeremy Paxman and Stephen Fry have done in the past. And of course, she doesn't mention any of the poets she does approve of, whether contemporary or from the past, or indeed any of the contemporary poets that she has read to form such an opinion. So, all things considered, a pretty pointless comment.

In Robertson's case, it's the implication that the "middle" in which he finds himself is somehow the squeezed, obscured, ignored part of the poetry world, rather than the largest sector, and the one that encompasses the larger presses and the bulk of the media coverage. It's dominated, of course, by middle-aged white men like Robertson writing largely mainstream poetry (and I speak as a middle-aged white man writing mainstream poetry). What's the problem with hearing some different voices?

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Arthur Merritt, 1940-2018

My dad, Arthur Merritt, died on November 1st after a long illness. He was a wonderful husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather to my mum, Verley, my sisters Rebecca and Hannah and myself, my wife Natalie and my stepchildren Charlotte and Jacob respectively. We said our goodbyes to him yesterday, but of course he will always be with us in everything we do. Of that, more in a few days.

At the funeral, Tennyson's Crossing The Bar was read. Now I don't think Dad was ever a great reader of poetry, but this (it's hard to reproduce the formatting here, so I've just included the link) struck just the right note, and had added significance because he was a proud native of Louth, Lincolnshire, from very near Tennyson's own home village. Rest in peace, Dad, we love you now as always.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Magma 72 reviews

In the new issue of Magma (No.72), I've reviewed new collections from Bobby Parker and Stav Poleg, and an anthology in celebration of WS Graham. I won't give away what I thought of them – you'll have to buy the magazine for that. It contains a lot of fine poetry, much of it around the theme of climate-change.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Looking back on Leicester's Shindigs

Jonathan Taylor has posted a short piece looking back at Leicester Shindigs, 2010-2017. It was a great pleasure to read there on several occasions, and an even greater one to attend regularly. I hope it will return in some form, but whatever happens, it did a great job of giving both new and established poets a regular forum, and huge thanks are due to Jane Commane, Matt Nunn, and Maria and Jonathan Taylor, who fronted it and did all the behind-the-scenes work that made it such a success.

Riverrun, by Alan Baker

Knives, Forks & Spoons Press are publishing Alan Baker's new collection Riverrun, a sequence of sonnets about the River Trent. As the blurb from Robert Sheppard says, Baker (a fine poet who deserves to be widely read) is following in a long tradition of poets taking rivers as their inspiration.

Full details are here, or you can read four of the poems at Stride.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

TS Eliot Prize shortlist announced

The shortlist for this year's TS Eliot Prize has been announced – there are five debuts on the list, alongside the likes of Nick Laird and Sean O'Brien. It's good to see the judges including such a diverse range of work, although the list is dominated by the larger publishers, with a very notable exception – Fiona Moore's The Distal Point is published by the very wonderful HappenStance.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Oswald's Book of Hours

Litter has an interesting review of Steve Ely's collection Oswald's Book of Hours, from Smokestack Books. It's one that I'd really like to catch up with, partly because Ely's a very fine poet whose work I've enjoyed before, and partly because of the subject matter.

I just started reading The King in the North, by Max Adams, about Oswald, 7th century king of Northumbria and saint, reminding myself of what I've long forgotten since studying the period at university. The two books ought to complement each other rather well.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Robin Robertson in The Guardian

It's not really any wonder that the world of poetry is small and polarised when the likes of Robin Robertson take every chance they get to trot out the same old grumpy-old-man bollocks moaning about 'Instagram poetry' and the avant-garde, is it?