Thursday, 30 April 2009

Birthday party

Nine Arches Press celebrates its first birthday next week with a party/reading/shindig at The Capital Centre, Milburn House, Milburn Hill Road, University of Warwick (actually nearer Coventry).

It’s on Tuesday (May 5th), from 7pm-10pm, it’s free, and will mark the press’s first year in the poetry-publishing business. There’ll be a selection of Midlands poets, including the likes of Jane Holland, George Ttoouli, Matt Nunn and Simon Turner, and there’s an open mic for any up and coming poetry talent.

Oh, and as if that’s not enough, there’s cake too.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Digi-binned bustard

While in Portugal last week, I spent a day birding around Cape St Vincent, right at the south-west extremity of the country (and the continent, I suppose), with the expert help of German tour guide and Algarve resident Georg Schreier. We'd already seen a couple of Little Bustards (OK, OK, no sniggering at the back there) at a fair distance, when the one above popped up not far from the track we were driving along.

He's a male, so he was spending all his time ruffling up his neck feathers and making a strange 'prrrt' noise, a bit like someone trying to blow a raspberry but failing miserably. As we paused there watching him, I thought I'd try to digi-bin him (ie. take photos using a compact camera held up to the eyepiece of my binoculars, which were resting on the door of the car). I was never going to manage anything of any great quality, because I have little experience of the technique, and because it was so windy that the car was shaking like crazy. Still, I did get a few record shots, such as the one shown, with a Fuji F31d and a pair of Bushnell Elite 8x43s.

Georg, meanwhile, digi-scoped (same technique, but using a telescope) the much better picture below, despite also having to rest his scope on the car door.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Birds in poems

Thanks to Caroline Gill for bringing this to my attention over at the Poetry Society's website. I started off pretty well, but struggled quite a bit later on.

Still, there's a few of my favourite bird poems in there - The Sandpiper, The Windhover and Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird among them.

Other favourites of mine include Bernard O'Donoghue's The Nuthatch, any number of John Clare poems, and the Anglo-Saxon elegy The Seafarer, which includes such specific bird references that at least one expert pinned the location down to the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth in April.

Monday, 27 April 2009


Things have been a little quiet here at Polyolbion recently, but it's the calm before the storm, because I've got a whole load of half-written pieces ready to finish and post up.

For starters, there's reviews of Rob A Mackenzie's The Opposite Of Cabbage and Andrew Philip's The Ambulance Box, both from Salt, and both very fine books indeed. I've read and re-read them several times, and keep going back to revise my original thoughts, but I'll get something completed over the bank holiday weekend.

Speaking of my fellow HappenStancers, I'll be reading with Rob, Andrew and James Wood at the Word Power bookshop in Edinburgh, at noon on June 20th, so come along if you can. Edinburgh's always a pleasure, but it'll be great to catch up with the others and talk poetry.

I've also been reading The Salt Companion To Lee Harwood, edited by Robert Sheppard, and Not The Full Story: Six Interviews With Lee Harwood, by Kelvin Corcoran. Harwood's a poet I enjoy a lot, and it's been fun looking deeper into his work with the help of these two books.

And finally, I spent last week on a working trip to the Algarve. The sun shone, and the birding was excellent. Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Spectacled Warbler, Rock Bunting, Crested Tit, masses of Avocets, Black-winged Stilts, Kentish Plovers and Whimbrels (the latter not a bird I see often over here), loads of Little Terns, and a big fall of migrants at Cape St Vincent, including Golden Oriole, some very smart Pied Flycatchers, and absolutely masses of Spotted Flycatchers.

Oh, and there was a close-range Otter, and a very showy displaying Little Bustard, which I managed to digi-bin. I haven't downloaded and tidied up the pics yet, but I'll post them later. In the meantime, enjoy that gratuitous shot of two Bee-eaters (not mine), just because we saw loads and they're a glorious bird.

I almost forgot. I got home to find that some great rarities had turned up on my local birding patch, so I dashed around yesterday seeing a Pectoral Sandpiper at Cossington Meadows, and two Whiskered Terns at Willington Gravel Pits (there had been eight earlier in the day, but a Peregrine spooked them).

Monday, 20 April 2009

The Titanic Cafe closes its doors and hits the rocks or: Knife, fork and bulldozerultra modern retail outlet complex development scenario with flowers

The Titanic Cafe closes its doors and hits the rocks or: Knife, fork and bulldozerultra modern retail outlet complex development scenario with flowers - David Hart, Nine Arches Press

I've mentioned before on Polyolbion that, despite the image its generally had in the UK, as the butt of every comedian's jokes, I like Birmingham.

I like it even more now that I've read this new long poem by David Hart, which takes the demise of the Titanic Cafe ("still the best tea in the UK") as the spur for a long, poetic ramble through some of the unseen corners of the West Midlands. And I mean ramble in the very best sense - Hart's sharp eye for detail picks out all sorts of little nuggets that the rest of us rush past in our haste to be somewhere else. This is poetry as urban archaeology, and that's no bad thing in my book.

Because of that, it's inevitably going to get compared to some of Roy Fisher's work, but while there are traces of his influence in Hart's sharp, witty and frequently funny free verse, it's never overpowering. That's partly thanks to Hart's use of song and even playground-style rhymes, I think, as he uses them skilfully to hang a certain amount of found material and reported speech on (they also make sure that there's no danger of this becoming po-faced or dry).

It also brought Geoffrey Hill's Mercian Hymns to mind, but while Hart isn't afraid to bring the distant past into his work, he's primarily concerned with the present, no matter how unpromising it might seem. Throughout the poem, he seems to be asking the same question - "Can this be beautiful?" - even if it's only voiced explicitly just the once. And the answer seems to be yes, even if it's an unexpected beauty that he finds in the everyday.

The poem works well with the series of Hart's photos that are published alongside, and the extensive footnotes are a good read in themselves, but of course it's the poem itself that matters most. Its very nature means that Hart doesn't reach for easy effect (hence my reluctance to quote from it, because you really need to read the whole poem), but it's both highly readable and extremely multi-layered - I defy you not to read it straight through again immediately you finish it.

David Hart's THE TITANIC CAFE CLOSES ITS DOORS AND HITS THE ROCKS or: Knife, fork and bulldozer ultra modern retail outlet complex development scenario with flowers is launched on Thursday 23rd April, from 7pm onwards, at The Quaker Central Hall, The Priory Rooms, 40 Bull Street, Birmingham B4 6AF. It's all free!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Sphinx 10

The latest issue of Sphinx is just about out, featuring an interview with George Simmers, of Snakeskin, in heroic couplets, plus features on Worple, Grey Hen, bluechrome, and my interview with Jane Commane and Matt Nunn of Nine Arches Press.

There are also the usual reviews and the wonderful Savage Chickens cartoons, and the magazine's online reviews include four by me - Jane Holland's Lament of the Wanderer, Frances Corkey Thompson's The Long Acre and Anne Caldwell's Slug Language (those two both from HappenStance), and Gordon Jarvie's Watching The Sun and Other Poems.

I won't spoil them for you, but I will say that I enjoyed all four chapbooks - Jane Holland's and Frances Corkey Thompson's were particularly memorable.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Back on dry land

The best part of my job, I’d have to say, is that you get to travel a bit. Not only to the far ends of the earth, occasionally, but also to parts of Britain you might otherwise never get to.

Over the Easter weekend, I was on a wildlife cruise around Bute, Arran and Loch Fyne, in western Scotland. We were lucky enough to get some lovely weather, the birding was good, and the company excellent. You could spend a lifetime exploring this area and still not see the half of it, because there are so many little sea lochs, inlets, islands and hidden valleys tucked away, but let's just say that the scenery is frequently breathtaking and leave it at that.

It was actually reasonably quiet, bird-wise, as we didn't get lucky and see the Golden Eagles nesting near the Arran distillery at Loch Ranza, but there was plenty of interesting stuff. Black Guillemots, for instance, known locally as Dookers - very neat, attractive little birds. Or Hooded Crows paired up with Carrion Crows - we must have been just about on the dividing line between the two species. Flypast Black-throated and Red-throated Divers too.

Obviously, I had to sample a few single malts while on board ship (strictly to ward off seasickness, obviously). Lagavulin and Laphroaig are always a treat, but I'd never come across Caol Ila or Arran before, and neither suffered by comparison with their better-known fellow islanders.

But anyway, I'm hooked now. I'll definitely have to return sometime very soon.

A classic

I’ve just finished reading David Peace’s much talked-about novel The Damned United (I might make it to see the film this weekend). It’s excellent, and part of the enjoyment, I think, is wondering just how much is fact and how much is fiction. I can understand why the Clough family might be a bit annoyed at the portrayal of Brian Clough in it, but I don’t think he comes out of it badly (in fact, I reckon only Don Revie, his backroom staff, and Billy Bremner really do). In essence, the book seems a sort of love story, or rather two love stories – between Brian Clough and football, and Brian Clough and Peter Taylor. It’s as a portrayal of a platonic male friendship that it works best.

But anyway, at the back of the book, Peace includes a list of sources and background reading. On it is The Goalkeeper’s Revenge, by Bill Naughton (best known as the writer of the Michael Caine film Alfie).

When I was a kid, I reckon I read that book more than just about any other. It’s a collection of short stories, mostly set in industrial Lancashire between the wars, although one or two also draw on Naughton’s family background in Ireland. And although they’re aimed at children, they work well enough for adults too. I started reading them again last night, and they didn’t disappoint. A little unsung masterpiece, I reckon.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Polyverse Poetry Festival

Polyverse Poetry Festival is taking place in Loughborough at the end of July, and will feature a host of writers from across the Midlands and further afield. I'll be reading and running a workshop, and I also hope to catch up with quite a few of the other events.

Loughborough's a compact but lively university town with good bus and train links to Leicester and Nottingham, so if you're anywhere in the area, come along and pick and choose a few events to attend.

Oh, and in the grand tradition of special offers, if you see me at the festival, I'll be selling Troy Town at £7 (that's £2 off). I might have a few copies of Making The Most Of The Light left too.

Friday, July 24th, 2009, through to Sunday July 26th, 2009.
English & Drama Department of Loughborough University,
LE11 3TT

TICKETS: Will be available imminently. £20 covers whole festival, including all events and a workshop. Other ticket types will be announced shortly.
All ticket enquiries to Ruth Salt, telephone 01509 222 761 (overseas: +44 1509 222 761) between 9am-5pm BST, or e-mail

DREAMS OF MAY - first public performance of this critically acclaimed one-woman play outside London. It takes place on a train where the woman’s memory is triggered by objects causing her to look over her life and confront her demons. This internal conversation is revealed to the audience through poetry and music. Written by SUE GUINEY
Exclusive and specially rewritten version of the dazzling fusion of poetry and science spectacular. The original version was performed at the National Science Museum and the Richard Attenborough Centre.
ROSIE LUGOSI, renowned vampire poetess, brings her hair-raising poetic cabaret. Be very scared - you might laugh your way to a cracked ribcage.
If you want to attend a FREE workshop with Rosie Lugosi, ask for the Rosie Garland one. Details of how to book appear below.

POETS CONFIRMED TO READ/PERFORM: Gail Ashton, Carole Baldock, Tina Bass, David Bircumshaw, Julie Boden, Wayne Burrows, Nick Carbo, Sally Clark, Jane Commane, Rosemary Dun, John Elson, Andy Fletcher, Angela France, Mark Goodwin, Radcliff Gregory, Oz Hardwick, Brendan Hawthorne, Sonia Hendy-Isaac, Martin Holroyd, Christopher James, Pat Jourdan, Chris Kinsey, Emma Lee, Paul Lee, Sheree Mack, Bob Mee, Matt Merritt, Ian Morgan, Matt Nunn, Kerry Oramnge, Tony Petch, Leskley Quayle, Susan Richardson, Steve Rooney, Sam Smith, Gillian Spraggs, Ben Stainton, Geoff Stevens, Jon Stone, Carol Thistlethwaite, Pam Thompson, Lydia Towsey, Deborah Tyler-Bennett and Mike Wilson.

However, you will need to buy a ticket for the festival to be eligible. You will need book your workshop space in advance if you want to be guaranteed a place.
At present, you can only attend one free workshop, although this may change, depending on demand. To book a workshop, contact Ruth Salt (details below) by e-mail or telephone, and let her know your three most preferred choices. You will then be allocated to your most preferred workshop(s) with spaces left.
All workshop enquiries to Ruth Salt, telephone 01509 222 761 (overseas: +44 1509 222 761) between 9am-5pm BST, or e-mail

Carole Baldock, Sally Clark, Angela France, Nick Carbo, Rosemary Dun, Rosie Garland (aka Rosie Lugosi!), Sonia Hendy-Isaac, Matt Merritt, Mike Wilson.

Full details:

Weekend birding

It's that time of year when you can leave the house to do a bit of birding and reasonably expect to find new migrants dropping in all over the place, so I spent the weekend looking for some of those new arrivals.

On Saturday, a male Ring Ouzel was reported at Warren Hills, only a couple of minutes' drive from my house, so I headed over there, only to find out from another birder that we were both ten minutes too late. It hadn't been seen flying off, but it seemed to have disappeared behind a distant, and inaccessible, bush. I spent a while looking, then walked round to Charnwood Lodge reserve, to see if it was visible looking up the hill.

It wasn't. I scanned field after field, hope to find it sheltering from the now rather strong wind behind a drystone wall, but no luck. Turning for home, I walked past the point where a little stream goes under another stone wall and into the wood, and peered over, as I always do (I live in hope of finding a Dipper there). To my surprise, a pair of Mandarin were on the other side, in a tiny pool. They looked as startled as I was, and promptly flew away into the trees.

There are a few (maybe 30) of these absurdly ornate ducks in my area, but usually I see them only at long range at one of the reservoirs, so to see the male close up was a treat. More than made up for missing out on some of those migrants. And there's still plenty of time for Ouzels...

Monday, 6 April 2009

Paper round

Saturday's Guardian contained this review, by David Wheatley, of Michael Donaghy's Collected Poems, out now from Picador.

I enjoyed it a lot, although my knowledge of Donaghy is fairly restricted, to Shibboleth and then a handful of other poems in anthologies. It's a gap I really ought to fill, and there's no better way than with a Collected.

Elsewhere, Rob Mackenzie's The Opposite of Cabbage, which I've been enjoying immensely and which I'll review soon, was reviewed in The Times. Great to see a national paper picking up on a first collection like that, and I hope it gives Rob the sales boost he deserves.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Quiz time

I came across this quiz at the highly addictive website sporcle, and gave it a go. I even managed to get 20 out of 20, after some pondering, but what's more interesting than the quiz itself is the page showing you what percentage of people got each answer right (you have to complete the quiz first before it will let you go there). The results, I thought, were pretty surprising. Some of the poets I'd have thought of as better known were not identified, while one or two more obscure ones were apparently easily spotted.

The reason, I think, is probably the difference between school curriculums on either side of the Atlantic, but it's food for thought, and I suspect highlights how any poetic 'canon' is very much specific to the time and place of its making.