Sunday, 31 August 2008

Inextinguishable - James W Wood

James W Wood (Knucker Press,
If you enjoyed James Wood’s 2006 HappenStance chapbook The Theory Of Everything half as much as I did, then you’re probably not going to take too much convincing to buy this, his latest pamphlet, a handsome full-colour publication matching the response of 13 artists to his poems. So, my apologies if you’re already converted, because I’m going to preach to you anyway (something the poems never do, incidentally).

The first thing to say is that this collection represents significant progress from an already impressive starting point. That HappenStance pamphlet was notable for the sheer variety it offered, with Wood leavening the more serious, resonant moments by taking off at all sorts of playful tangents. The poems in Inextinguishable, on the other hand, are much more homogenous, the better to carry their considerable elegiac weight.

And carry it they do. The first poem, An Fraoch Mhor, sets the tone simply but movingly, both looking back to the past and imploring “Let memory go now”, and several of the other pieces here explore that tension – on the one hand, wanting to do justice to people and places past, on the other, wanting to move on into an uncertain future.

Fine craftsman that Wood is, he knows just when to deploy that plain, unvarnished style elsewhere. The Craws, for example, contains the lines:
“…You were
no prize-winner, sportsman or great thinker,
just a man like any other, and one
whose life asks us for little grieving.”

The emotional impact of the poem is all the greater for that willingness to speak a simple, unvarnished truth, to do much more than a little grieving without ever slipping into sentimentality, an effect that’s replicated elsewhere.

Another favourite was Catherine Wheel, an elegy which closes with the fine:
“…you were
a Catherine Wheel blazing brilliantly

in a ploughed field at midsummer, a spark
that might have cloaked us all in fire
if only we could have seen it.”

And the final poem, The Orchestra Plays Nielsen’s ‘Inextinguishable’, serves to gently but firmly restate what we’ve already taken from what’s gone before:
music is life, and like it, inextinguishable.
A principle
for every anxious soul to follow,
forged and hammered in our heart’s crucible,
the beat that trips and will not rest,
all things in ebb and flow.”

Taken on their own, these poems add up to a very strong chapbook collection, so maybe I saw the artists’ responses as something of a pleasant but inessential bonus. Perhaps a few too many seem to interpret Wood’s words a little too literally, but I liked Jaimie Lane’s By The Station CafĂ©, Fiona Purves’ Thirteen and Elizabeth Walker’s Catherine Wheel in particular.

But it’s the poems that I really want to talk about. Buy them, read them, and wonder when this man is going to get the full collection his talents deserve.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Killer Bob (Browning)

I’ve posted on here before about my unease when a poet’s work is interpreted as being wholly autobiographical. I can’t imagine that’s ever the case, even with ‘confessional’ poets. Poetry is, after all, art, and as such contains imagination and fictions.

With that in mind I meant to link to this piece in The Guardian a few weeks back, which seemed to me to carry that autobiographical notion to absurd extremes. I didn’t, because I was too lazy, but I opened today’s Guardian to find that Sheffield poet Geraldine Monk had done my work for me (and done it far better than I could).

Her letter reads:
“I read Elizabeth Lowry’s article about Robert Browning (“Portrait of a lady”, July 19) with mounting incredulity. To adduce murder from a poet’s writings is as serious as it is shallow. My last volume of poetry contains monologues and imaginary letters by Mary Queen of Scots. I have never once harboured any desire to murder either my husband or the Queen.”

Says it all, really. I bet it won’t deter the next would-be literary detective, though.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Going live

Time for a bit of self-advertising. I'll be reading as part of the Zest! Open Floor Poetry Night, at Alexander's Jazz Theatre Bar, Chester, at 8pm on Monday, September 22nd. I'll also have plenty of copies of Making The Most Of The Light and Troy Town available, so I'll work out a little package deal.

As the title of the event suggests, there's also an open mic spot, so you can bring along your own or a favourite poem to read (I like that idea of having a few 'cover versions' at a poetry reading).

The venue is in Rufus Court, off Northgate Street, and entry is £3/£2. See you there.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

The Fifth DH Lawrence Festival

The DH Lawrence Festival – held in and around Eastwood – started on August 15th and runs until September 11th. Brochures can be ordered by calling 01773 717353.

The Festival includes introductory material on Lawrence, events for specialists, a photography exhibition on mining, family events and walks round Lawrence's old stomping ground, "the country of my heart".

Less Lawrentian events include a drawing workshop with the man who did the Harry Potter drawings and a family history session. On September 9th there is a talk on dialect in Lawrence's work and a guided walk round Greasley on September 7th.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Prynne at Litterbug

I've been doing a bit of browsing over at Litterbug, poet and publisher Alan Baker's excellent blog. Take the time to go down the page (at least as far as July 13th), and there's all sorts of interesting discussion of JH Prynne. I'd have to say that on first reading I found myself sympathising with CJ Allen's piece, but then I'm coming at it from an angle of almost total ignorance, which is never a good thing, is it?

I find myself wanting to know more, wanting to read more, and then getting put off by the thought of paying money for a book that might, judging by some of the comments there, get tossed into the corner for years after an initial burst of enthusiasm. So where's a good, and cheap, starting place for Prynne? Any ideas?

It's April 1st, right?

First Jeremy Paxman lays into him in an ill-considered and ignorant mini-rant, and now this. What did Burns do to deserve all this?

Still, at least Jacko and his mate are fans of Scotland's national bard, and it's certainly not the first time his poems have been set to music. Will we ever get to hear them, though? Don't bet on it.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Another quick reminder...

A week on Saturday, two new HappenStance poetry publications by Leicestershire poets will be launched – D A Prince’s Nearly The Happy Hour, a first book-length collection for both author and publisher, and Rebuilding A Number 39, by Marilyn Ricci, the author’s first chapbook collection. Come along and listen and celebrate the launch, and talk to the poets and HappenStance publisher Helena Nelson in person.

It's on Saturday, September 6th, at 2.45 for 3pm, at the Friends’ Meeting House, 16 Queens Road (junction with Victoria Park Road), Leicester LE2 1WP. Email if you plan to attend. I'll see you there.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

The Bestiary - Sam Meekings

The Bestiary
Sam Meekings (Polygon, 2008, £7.99)
You see a lot of talk these days about the extent to which poetry collections need a connecting thread, theme, arc - call it what you will.
My own feeling is that, while such binding agents can often add hugely to the success of a collection, they’re by no means essential. The more old-fashioned, ‘greatest hits’ type of approach (or rather, simply bringing together the best of a poet’s most recent poems) can work just as well for me too.
All this is by way of ponderously getting round to saying that Sam Meekings’ debut collection seems like a perfect example of how to link together poems that aren’t, strictly speaking, a sequence, but aren’t stand-alone efforts either.
As the title suggests, it’s nature that is the common element throughout, although Meekings is at least as interested in fish, amphibians, invertebrates and the shifting borders between land and sea as the birds and animals beloved of so many poets (I plead guilty). There’s a fascination with all sorts of textures and smells (the slimier and ranker the better – slime is a word that crops up regularly throughout), and a gift for rendering them real to the reader, that recalls not only Hughes, but also early Heaney, an impression that’s reinforced by Meekings’ preference for regular forms.
He uses plenty of end rhyme too, with a rare subtlety and musicality, and similarly the links he makes from his apparent subjects to human concerns are generally understated, often only apparent after a few reads.
Very occasionally, I’ll admit, he overdoes it and you long for just a little plain-speaking, or, as in Calves, he strains a bit too hard for significance when his knack for vivid description would do the job on its own.
Mostly, though, he hits a balance that’s hugely impressive for a poet in his first collection (and one who has arrived relatively unheralded). It will be interesting to see where he goes next – he’s created a considerable weight of expectation for himself, but all the signs are that he has the talent to carry it.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Dampened enthusiasm?

Sometimes rain can be a blessing. I've been struggling to write as much as I'd like to over the last couple of months, for a whole number of reasons. I was on a day off yesterday, and after a bit of birding early on (nothing spectacular, but three distant Whinchats at Sence Valley FP were good), the rain set in and left me with no option but to sit in front of the laptop and get to work. And a good thing too.

I tinkered around with a couple of poems that I'd been making notes for over the past few weeks, I wrote a couple of reviews for this blog (I'll put them up in the next few days), I worked my way through a whole load of 'finished' poems that I've been pondering sending out for a while now, making revisions and alternate versions or just throwing them out if they don't come up to scratch, I started another major revision of a sequence of historical poems I've been working on over the last year, and I even started writing a little prose, as much for my own enjoyment as anything else, not having any ambitions in the field of fiction.

The test, of course, always comes the morning after, when you fire up the laptop again and come face to face with what seemed so marvellous the previous night. Well, having worked my way through it again just now, there is something there worth keeping, so I'm planning on using this little surge of energy while it lasts. There's more rain forecast...

Monday, 18 August 2008

At the Birdfair

Well, the rain held off for the most part, so we were spared any Glastonbury-style mudbaths, and another Birdfair passed off very pleasantly indeed.

Every year is different, every year’s the same. So, although there’s always something new to catch the eye, what really makes it so enjoyable is that you catch up with people who you don’t see from one year to the next. Where magazine contributors are concerned, for example, it’s always nice to be able to put faces to what are otherwise names at the bottom of an email, while there are always old friends to bump into. And there are birders of all sorts, from the hardcore twitcher right down to the armchair watcher.

Highlights included Sir David Attenborough, who seemed to be every bit as nice as he appears on the TV, closely followed by the wonderfully hospitable Prom Peru stand, who kept a constant stream of Pisco sours coming (it was wintry enough at times that you needed your cockles warming, so strictly medicinal, you see?).

I even met a fellow poet, Sandra MacGregor Hastie, whose company SMH Books publish the excellent Redbreast: The Robin in Life and Literature. Today, it's back to real work. Bah!

Thursday, 14 August 2008


I'll be offline for most of the next few days, because it's that time of year again. I'm off to the shores of sunny (for now, at least) Rutland Water for Birdfair. If you're passing the Bird Watching stall in Marquee 2, pop over and say hello. I'll be back next week.

Monday, 11 August 2008

A riposte

Here's David Marsh's reply to that stream of nonsense from Giles Coren a couple of weeks back. I'm with him all the way. There seems to be a growing trend in all areas of the print media to see sub-editors as surplus to requirements - a false economy if ever there was one.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Chapbook review

I'll be posting my own review of James Wood's Inextinguishable as soon as I get the chance to write it, but in the meantime, there's this excellent piece at Fuselit. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Polyverse Poets

Here's the new Polyverse Poets page - as you'll see, it's a network for East Midlands based writers, and also contains links to the Polyverse Festival page (the event will take place in Loughborough in July next year). Have a browse...

Good on yer, Aussies!

I can't help finding this story just a bit heart-warming. I'm not a huge coffee-drinker, admittedly, being stereotypically British in my preference for a nice cup of industrial strength builders' tea, but when I used to work in the middle of Leicester and have to make very early starts, I was occasionally tempted. Starbucks, though, was always distinctly underwhelming, with the coffee seeming nothing special, and the price and welcome not a patch on the nice people at Cafe Roma (halfway down Halford Street, if you're ever there).

Friday, 1 August 2008

Poetry in motion

This is a slightly bizarre, yet rather charming idea. I'm still not entirely clear what the point being made is, but it sounds like fun all the same.