Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Tears In The Fence 49

The latest issue of the excellent magazine (let's face it, at 140 pages, it's a small book) Tears In The Fence is out now.

There's a massive amount, and range of poetry, including familiar (to me) names such as Norman Jope, Tamsin Kendrick, Maggie Butt, A F Harrold, Steve Spence, Mark Goodwin, Ross Sutherland, Sheila Hamilton, Todd Swift, Simon Turner, George Ttoouli and S J Litherland, plus plenty more, reviews and the usual round-ups of what's new.

I have a poem, Worst Case Scenario, in there too - it's a pleasure to be in such company.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Owls, bats etc

I did a fair bit of birding at the weekend. I won't go into all the details (it involved the finer points of gull ID, among other things), but some interesting snippets were:

  • As I watched three or maybe four Short-eared Owls at their regular wintering spot at Great Easton, there was the unmistakable hooting of a Tawny Owl. After much scanning with the scope, it was possible to pick out two Tawnys in a nearby tree, sitting tight. One was noticeably much darker than the other. I've been in my current house for getting on nine years, and hear Tawnys on a regular basis, but I've never seen one in daylight, so two was a thrill.
  • At Swithland Reservoir, there was a bat hawking for insects in broad daylight (about 3pm). No idea what kind, I'm afraid.
  • Also at Swithland, I saw one of the resident Peregrines drop like a stone - the trademark stoop. I say trademark, but they usually seem to use a much shallower hunting dive there. This was practically vertical - and my heart (or maybe it was my stomach) rose to meet it.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Blackbox Manifold 2

Issue Two of Sheffield-based Blackbox Manifold can now be found here.

It boasts all manner of excellent poetry from the likes of Paul Muldoon, John Kinsella, Geraldine Monk, Alan Halsey and Matthew Sweeney, and there are two poems from me in there - The Archaeologist and Sunday Cricket, Eastwood - so have a good browse through it and Issue One.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Morning everyone!

Because of all the sound and fury surrounding the abandoned second test, the Allen Stanford affair, and the thrilling finish to the rearranged test match, there seems to have been relatively little said over here about the sad news that Richie Benaud is hanging up his microphone for good at the end of the next Australian cricket season.

I’ve written before about how, for anyone of my generation, Richie was the voice of cricket, far more than John Arlott or Brian Johnston (great though they were). I’d go further, and say that he stands head and shoulders above pretty well every TV sports commentator I can think of, simply because he grasped the fact that you don’t need to tell viewers something they can see perfectly well for themselves.

So, at his best, on the BBC in the 70s and 80s, Richie was quite content to let minutes go by without saying anything, letting the action speak for itself. In the best traditions of minimalism, what he left out was just as important as what he put in. When he did speak, you knew he’d offer genuine insight, rather than clich├ęs and platitudes. Add to that an ultra-dry wit, and you have a legend.

My favourite Richie moment was in 1998, in the 4th test vs South Africa at Trent Bridge. England were chasing 250-odd to win, and after Mike Atherton had weathered a torrid spell of fast bowling from Allan Donald on the fourth evening, they were approaching their target with some comfort. Richie’s co-commentator Geoff Boycott, though, was getting quite concerned that Atherton wouldn’t reach 100 before the end, because Alec Stewart at the other end was stroking the ball around superbly. Boycott kept telling viewers that test centuries were hard to come by, that Atherton shouldn’t pass up this opportunity, and that if it were him out there, he’d be pinching the strike.
There was a pregnant pause before Richie’s masterfully understated:

“I find that very hard to believe, Geoffrey.”

This had the effect of silencing Boycott for several minutes (no mean feat), but eventually it all became too much for him, and as it became clear that Atherton wasn’t going to follow his advice, Geoffrey started again, pleading with him to pinch the strike. Then, remembering Richie’s previous gentle rebuke, he decided to cover himself, saying: “Of course, I wouldn’t know anything about that kind of thing myself. I read it in a book somewhere.”

Richie’s reply (you could almost hear his eyebrows lifting quizzically): “Autobiography, Geoffrey?”

Another reason for Brits to love him was that he remained resolutely impartial, even during Ashes contests over here. Only once do I remember that cracking – in 1985, when Gower and Gooch in particular were feasting off a weak Aussie attack, and he occasionally sounded exasperated, despairing even.

Finally, while I’m no fan of the honours system, why on earth isn’t he Sir Richie Benaud? Not for his playing career, particularly, although he was a great by any standards. More for his general contribution to the game, as a positive, attacking captain who reinvigorated test cricket, as a great commentator, and as someone always willing to embrace new ideas rather than remain bound by tradition.

One thing’s for certain, and that’s that there’s no one around to touch him, even now. On Sky over here, Michael Holding is excellent, David Lloyd entertaining if a bit annoying at times, and Nasser Hussain good (although unashamedly an England fan). Tony Cozier is excellent, but he’s only on when England play the Windies. Mark Taylor and Ian Healy always sound good on the Aussie commentary, but that’s about it. Oh, and there’s Shaun Pollock, who was on radio and TV last summer, and gave every indication of being a natural. As Richie would say, good effort that, I thought.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Raw Light spotlight

Jane Holland has very kindly published The Memory Of Water, one of the poems from Troy Town, as part of her season of other poets at her Raw Light blog.

It has already featured fine poems from Katy Evans-Bush and Rob Mackenzie (whose book The Opposite Of Cabbage is just out), and I can't help being slightly envious of Katy that she managed to supply a poem of that quality that hadn't made it into her very fine book Me And The Dead!

There are plenty more poets to follow, too, so keep an eye on Raw Light...

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

What editors want?

There’s a good piece over on Alan Baker’s blog (it’s the second post down) concerning the whole process of evaluating your own work, and whether it’s possible to be a good judge of your own poetry.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, because as he says, I tend to find that the work I’m keenest for people to like (and publish) gets the thumbs-down, while the stuff I’m indifferent to or have even come to dislike gets a positive response.

And as he says, I think in the long run that’s a good thing – it reinforces the need for a good editor, and the value of taking your time and looking at your own work from as many different angles as possible, and it makes you think about the whole idea of a readership.

Not that I’m suggesting for a minute that any poet should be writing purely to please the reading public (let’s face it – for most of us, that’s a pretty small group). Just, I suppose, that having written what you want or have to write, it doesn’t hurt to view it through the filter of wider tastes than your own.

Just recently, I’ve had a couple of poems accepted by magazines after they’d sat on my hard drive doing nothing (other than very occasionally being tinkered with) for about three years. In both cases, I’d felt that I’d made a pretty bad fist of a poem that I really needed to write.

But, after both were taken by editors at the first attempt, I can see them in a slightly different light, and see why, perhaps, they actually work a lot better than one or two ‘pet’ poems of mine. I don’t think either are any more obviously accessible, or of the moment, than the unsuccessful poems, just that they pull their weight far better. One, at least, also now suggests itself as the title poem of a small series or collection of poems that I've been writing - again, without the outside opinion, I hadn't necessarily made the link between it and one or two other pieces.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Prize time

The results of the 2008 Plough Prize are out, complete with the winning poems, the judges' comments, and more. It's a great competition, particularly for the support, guidance and potential boost it gives to new and up and coming writers, so take a look, and think about entering this year, when Alison Brackenbury will return as judge. Link

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Another review

Swiss-based American poet Andrew Shields has posted this really fine review of Troy Town over at his blog.

I've mentioned before that the best review you can get, I think, is one that alerts you to things that you'd never noticed before (or were only subconsciously aware of) in your poetry, and this certainly does that. In fact, the more I read it, the more I think Andrew's last line pretty much sums up the main concern of most of the poetry I've written up to now - the desire to be in several places (or times) at once.

Incidentally, you can catch Andrew reading, along with Alan Gay, Jane McKie and Tim Turnbull, at the Great Grog in Edinburgh, this Sunday evening. Admission is £3, £2 for concessions.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Remembering The Triffids

I've raved at length in the past about my love for 1980s Aussie band The Triffids and their idiosyncratic brand of country rock, so I'm delighted that one of my poems, Unquiet, will appear in a book called Vagabond Holes: David McComb and The Triffids, to be published this September by Fremantle Press. Edited by Chris Coughran and Niall Lucy at the University of Melbourne, it will feature contributions from a range of journalists, academics, musicians and visual artists, plus poets including John Kinsella and Laurie Duggan.

The poem is one of a few I've written that owe something to McComb and his band, whether in terms of inspiration, mood or setting. Another, Hutt River Province, appeared in Troy Town.

But anyway, I recommend the book, and any of the band's albums. Today, with the UK in the grip of a proper winter for once, is as good a time as any to transport yourself to the sun-baked, parched expanses of Western Australia.

UPDATE: I think the band's entire back catalogue has now been remastered and reissued - details here. And, if you read my next post, Andrew Shields' review opens by talking about Hutt River Province.