Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Off target

I generally avoid knocking the BBC too much, but this really is a piss-poor excuse for journalism. The heavy-handed attempts at humour are bad enough, but the whole premise is even worse – be careful what you wish for, Leicester fans, because a title win wouldn't mean lasting success.

Big deal. It'd still be more than we've ever had to cheer about before. To be honest, anything above 7th place will be better than anything I can remember in nearly 40 years of following them. Win the title and I really won't care too much if the entire playing staff are abducted by aliens from Zeta Reticuli 24 hours later.

There'll be other clubs after our best players no matter where we finish. Winning something first would (a) make them more likely to stay, and (b) assuage the pain of losing them if they did decide to go. Go and ask supporters of that club near Trent Bridge (not Notts County – I mean the new boys) if they regret their 1978 title win. Or ask Leeds fans if they'd really rather not have won the league in 1992.

It's all pretty typical of how the national media are reporting this season. Leicester and Tottenham's chances are routinely dismissed in a few words (not enough depth, blah blah blah), while there's endless talk about Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea. The first two are understandable enough, but any journo worth his salt would have realised two months ago that United are playing for 4th place (and I wouldn't put any money on them finishing there), and Chelsea for sixth at best.

The fact is, we're currently top because week in, week out, we've been the best team in the division so far. Our best is not as good as Man City or Arsenal's, I'll admit, but we've been at our best far more consistently than they have. It might not, ultimately, be enough to win us the league, but we will be somewhere close. The longer it takes Man City and Arsenal to realise that, the better.

Rant over. Normal service will be resumed soon.

Daniel Sluman book launch

Just a handful of tickets left for this, I think – a chance to hear Dan read from his new collection the terrible, plus Angela France and David Clarke. I can recommend the book very highly, and you'll see more on it here in the months to come.

Friday, 22 January 2016

A Sky Full of Birds

This is what I've spent a large part of my writing time on for the last two years – a 'birding memoir', in which I talk about trying to see Britain's greatest avian spectacles, and how they're almost without exception within easy reach of everyone with even the most casual interest in wildlife. There's also a lot of rambling about history, poetry, and football.

It will be published by Rider Books at the beginning of April, and I apologise in advance for the fact that you're going to hear a lot about it on here over the next couple of years. If birds aren't your thing, move along quietly and there'll be some poetry to follow.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Payment for writers

Very interesting blog piece from Charles Boyle here, on the current debate about literary festivals paying (and not paying) writers. It is, of course, a very complicated subject. I'd guess many writers find it difficult to say no to unpaid readings and appearances even if they do feel strongly that they should be paid, but equally I'm not sure if any of the festivals are making a great deal of money out of the whole thing. One to discuss at length.

There's another interesting take on the issue here.

Friday, 15 January 2016

First Shindig of 2016

I've been very poor at updating things around here just lately, but for now it's worth highlighting this event, on Monday night - as always, it's worth making the effort to get along to. Open mic slots will be available, and Mark Goodwin always reads well. It all starts at 7.30pm, and entry is free.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Free For All

Birmingham-based Haunted House Theatre will be touring the Midlands with a new verse play about free schools.
Free for All, written in iambic pentameter, is a play by University of Birmingham PhD student Richard O'Brien, a prize-winning poet who is researching if poetry can still work in the theatre for modern audiences.
Following a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe, the show tours to Nottingham Contemporary (Jan 27th), Hansom Hall, Leicester (Jan 28th) and mac Birmingham (Jan 29th). Actors have been cast from the finest of the region's professionally-trained talent.
Richard said: “I'm especially excited to come to Leicester, the birthplace of Joe Orton and resting place of Richard III, with a show mixing Shakespearean and modern theatrical traditions. With King Charles III playing at the Curve, Leicester is getting two modern verse plays in one week!”
“For a long time, it would be unusual to go to the theatre and not hear poetry. Even today, Shakespeare is the world's most performed playwright, but I think poetry in the theatre is something we've become very suspicious of. Free for All is an attempt to show that verse on stage can still speak to people now.”
Director Rebecca Martin expects the play to ruffle a few feathers: “Free schools are one of the most controversial topics of the day. Since the General Election, all parties and voters have been asking tough questions about privilege. How can education give every child an equal chance? Free for All doesn't offer one answer, but Richard's characters have very strong opinions on both sides.”
Martin was a co-founder of pantsguys productions, an Australian company which won multiple Sydney Theatre Awards. She said her first UK company was created with one thing in mind: “We set up Haunted House Theatre to revive a kind of theatre where the power of language can make anything happen.”
Richard O’Brien was a winner of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award in 2006 and 2007, and the 2015 London Book Fair Poetry Prize. Andrew McMillan describes him as ‘one of the strongest poets of his generation’. He is working on a practice-led PhD on Shakespeare and the development of verse drama, funded by the Midlands3Cities Doctoral Training Partnership, and lives in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter.
 The show is coming to Nottingham Contemporary on Jan 27th (free – book here), Leicester's Hansom Hall on Jan 28th (tickets here), and Birmingham mac on Jan 29th (tickets here). Alongside the production, Haunted House will offer talkback sessions and workshops on this little-known field for actors, writers and directors. Further discussion of the ideas behind the production can be found here.
For more information see, go to, and follow @hauntedhousetc / @notrockyhorror

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

'Map' among the year's best

Nice end-of-year list here from the Poetry School, featuring Map: Poems After William Smith's Geological Map of 1815, edited by Michael McKimm and published by Worple Press. Admittedly, I do have a vested interest, as I've got a poem in it, but it really is a superb book.

Simon Barraclough's Sunspots and Greta Stoddart's Alive Alive-O are also well worth seeking out, and would certainly make it onto my own list.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

How iffy is If?

Interesting essay here on Rudyard Kipling's If, voted the nation's favourite poem back in 1995, and no doubt still popular today.

I'm no great fan of it, for some of the reasons listed in the essay, but it set me thinking about Kipling more generally. I've enjoyed many of his short stories, from The Man Who Would Be King to the strange and rather chilling The Wish House. I liked Kim, although I haven't read it in 20 years now, and remember thinking it was rather more complex than many critics would admit. And some of his poems (although I think Kipling himself insisted they were merely 'verse') have stayed with me.

In particular, three of his Boer War poems – Chant-Pagan, Lichtenberg, and Bridge-Guard In The Karoo. The latter, especially, is an old favourite of mine (and a great poem to learn by heart).

I also came across this, on Lichtenberg. I've always supposed that the "small wet drizzling down" was a deliberate echo of Westron Wind, and I'm just disappointed it doesn't make a little more of "Ah Christ! My country again" – Kipling often sounds like he's trotting out a rather 'stage' version of different accents, but that sounds perfectly Australian.

Friday, 11 December 2015

RF Langley's Journals

This has been my recent reading. I don't know Langley's poetry that well, although I've enjoyed what I have read, but you really don't have to know it to get an awful lot out of this terrific book from Shearsman. Langley's eye for the tiniest details of the natural world, in particular, make it constantly surprising.

There's little doubt that keeping the journals must have fed into Langley's poetry-writing process too, though, and it's made me think of keeping one myself. At the moment, I scribble notes down constantly, and I do keep a sort of nature journal, but it's haphazard. I think my New Year resolution, of sorts, will be to make time to write a little in it every day.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Jack Gilbert

Someone posted a link to this poem on Facebook earlier – I thought I'd share it here. I don't know enough of Gilbert's work. I must read more.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

52 - the book

It provided a year's worth of poetry writing prompts, hints and tips, and now you can get it in book form.

52 was a project that ran throughout 2014, and the new volume from Nine Arches Press anthologises those prompts, from Jo Bell and a team of guest poets, including myself, alongside some fine poetry ranging from John Donne to Kei Miller.

Read more about the making of the book here, or order it here.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Try The Nightwatchman

The Nightwatchman, the cricket quarterly of a decidedly literary bent, will be posting some of the best pieces from its first three years here.

There's also a Select XI of essays from issues 1-11 here, so you can get a taste for this fine publication. And remember, The Nightwatchman is always on the lookout for cricket-related essays, poems, and other pieces of writing.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Daniel Sluman, Cora Greenhill & Stephen Payne, 16.11.15

On Monday night, I was at the last Nine Arches Press/Crystal Clear Creators Shindig of the year, at The Western in Leicester.

As usual, the open mic readers were both varied and of high quality, and it's particularly good to hear pieces of short fiction punctuating the poetry.

The featured readers were all poets whose work I'm familiar with, and all, I thought, shared something in their delivery of their work. They're undemonstrative yet expressive, they pace both the individual poems and the whole set beautifully, and there was always a slight tension underlying their readings, a result, I think, of their ability to create a stillness in the room, a feeling that something is about to happen.

Cora Greenhill's The Point Of Waking is a collection that I've returned to a couple of times over the last year or so, and her reading here will no doubt send me back to it again.

Stephen Payne's Pattern Beyond Chance is recently out from HappenStance, and it's full of collisions between poetry and science, reflecting his day job. Above all, they're poems that constantly ask questions, both about their subject matter and the means of expressing it, and that curiosity is infectious - you start asking the same questions, too.

Finally, Daniel Sluman's the terrible is his second collection from Nine Arches. Judging from what we heard here, it builds on the many strengths of his debut by managing to be even more starkly honest. The result is both harrowing, at times, but also full of astonishing tenderness. The title poem, in particular, was stunning. It's a very difficult balancing act to pull off, but he does it beautifully, and I can't wait to read the book.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Map reviewed

Over at London Grip Poetry Review, there's a review by Martin Noutch of Map - Poems After William Smith's Geological Map of 1815, edited by Michael McKimm and available from Worple Press.

He has kind words for a lot of the poets involved, including myself, for which I'm very grateful. Most of all, though, it's another chance to draw attention to a very fine anthology about a remarkable man and his work. Give it a try.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Nine Arches / Crystal Clear Creators Shindig

Daniel Sluman, Cora Greenhill and Stephen Payne are the featured readers at the latest Shindig, hosted by Nine Arches Press, Crystal Clear Creators and the Centre for New Writing, at The Western, Western Road, Leicester LE3 0GA, from 7.30pm on Monday, November 16th.

Dan will be reading from his new Nine Arches collection the terrible, while Stephen also has as new book out, Pattern Beyond Chance, from the ever-wonderful HappenStance.

As always, entry is free, and you can sign up for an open mic slot on the door.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Poem at Rogue Strands

Thanks are due to Matthew Stewart for choosing to feature a poem of mine - Comeback - on his blog Rogue Strands. It's from my first chapbook, Making The Most Of The Light, which came out just over 10 years ago now. As Matthew says, it is now out of print - I thought for a while I'd even lost the copy that I use at readings, but thankfully i turned up the other week as I was packing to move house.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Alternative realities

A couple of weeks ago I came across this feature online, and only got round to reading it yesterday. All very intriguing, but I'm such a layman, scientifically, that I really need someone to explain a few things to me. 

For starters, how would it be possible to prove mathematically that these many interacting worlds exist (as the article seems to to suggest could happen)? I suspect that the answer is very hard to boil down to a few short paragraphs, although don't let that put you off trying!

Thursday, 29 October 2015

For or after

I've been writing a poem that takes as its inspiration, or at least its point of departure, an album by a favourite songwriter of mine. He's not exactly a household name worldwide, but he's still pretty well-known.

Thing is, I don't want to use his name in the poem's title (because I already have a good title), but I think I do need to give the reader a pointer as to who it's about, because as I've said, he's not so famous that they automatically know.

So how do you do it? Making it "for..." doesn't seem right, given that I've never met the bloke or had any sort of contact with him. I'm not sure, though, that "after..." does either, because although a few words of his lyrics appear in the poem, it isn't really that closely connected to any of his songs. So is there another way? Advice very welcome.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Poetry plagiarism

Really rather good take on the whole poetry plagiarism issue by Channel 4 News here – Ira Lightman comes across really well, I think.

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

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.