Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Birds and music

I was reading this fascinating post over at Bill of the Birds, the always entertaining blog of Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher's Digest.

Over here, British Sea Power are probably the best-known birdwatching musicians, but I was interested to see that Steven Tyler of Aerosmith is thought to be a birder too. Respect!

Bill's a pretty useful guitar player himself, incidentally - he gave us an impromptu performance at the airport in Cebu City last year.

You can hear more about all this on Bill's This Birding Life podcast - have a look through the archives, too.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Troy Town at Peony Moon

My collection, Troy Town, is currently featured over at Michelle McGrane's wonderful blog Peony Moon. There are four poems from the book, plus some info on how to get hold of it. I'm very grateful to Michelle for giving the book some attention - have a browse through her blog's archives to find all manner of fine poets featured in the past.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Last night's Shindiggery

I popped over to Leamington Spa last night for the latest Nine Arches Press Shindig, and a splendid event it was too.

Featured readers were Roz Goddard, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, Maria Taylor and Julie Boden, and they worked very well together. Roz read from her just-launched Nine Arches chapbook The Sopranos Sonnets & Other Poems, and Deborah from her recent Smokestack book, Pavilion. I'm looking forward to reading both, because The Sopranos is a long-time obsession with me, while Deborah's book is themed around British dandies and eccentrics, and you can never have enough of those.

In addition, there were loads of good open mic readers - I'm terrible at remembering names, but I think it was a chap called Nigel Hutchinson who read a really good poem titled Lammergeier. There were some excellent poems from Simon Turner too (I've only just got round to buying his new book, Difficult Second Album), and I read a couple, Cahoots and Drinking With Godberd.

I came away with plenty of new reading material (Roz's, Simon's and Deborah's books), and I'm looking forward to the next Shindig, at The Looking Glass, Braunstone Gate, Leicester, on August 9th. It's billed as Shodfest, and will see the launch of Mark Goodwin's new Nine Arches collection Shod. More details soon...

Friday, 16 July 2010

Latest Litter

Lots of good stuff over at the latest issue of online magazine Litter, with poetry from the likes of Jane Commane, Nathan Thompson, Kelvin Corcoran, Carrie Etter, Ian Seed and C J Allen.

I particularly liked Jane's poem At Lyveden - the site it refers to figures heavily in the Midlands Revolt of 1607 and the whole tragic story of Captain Pouch.

Also good to see C J Allen's Lemonade there - it's the title piece of a new e-book that I've just downloaded to review.

Thursday, 15 July 2010


As you may have seen elsewhere, poetry publisher Salt is experiencing one or two difficulties at the moment, but nothing that can't be solved with a bit of good old-fashioned retail therapy. You go out and buy a Salt book, you read it, you feel entertained/educated/better etc, and Salt is able to go on doing what it does so well.

It's not just poetry, either, now I come to think of it. There's fiction, including short stories, and the likes of The Salt Companion To John James, which I'm currently about halfway through. I'll be posting a full review in due course, but in the meantime I'll just say that it's a great way of getting more from the poetry of one of the UK's most underrated writers.

You might also want to pick up James' Collected Poems, while other volumes in the Companion series look at the likes of Lee Harwood. Serious about poetry, but seriously readable too.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Cover versions

I've wondered for a long time why poets so rarely read other people's poems alongside their own at readings. After all, go to see a band, and you can usually rely on hearing at least one cover version during the course of the set.

I have seen it done, though, and it works well, especially if the poems chosen in some way inform the rest of the set, or have some sort of connection to it. Of course, the fact that most poetry sets only last about 20 minutes probably means that poets are reluctant to 'bump' one of their own poems to make way for something else, but I wonder if there's also a fear of making their influences too obvious?

Well, whatever, I think I'll give it a try next time I do a full reading. Whenever I come across a poem I really like in a magazine (or maybe in a public place), I make a point of copying it out, not just so I've got it to hand, but because recording it helps to fix it in my mind. It means I've now got a wide assortment of poems that I probably know better than my own - I think I'll start with a couple of those.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

More pics from Oz

Time for a few more pics from my recent trip to Australia's Top End, that part of Northern Territory stretching south and east of Darwin.

The first picture shows a Darter, on the wetlands close to the Gagadju Lodge, Cooinda. We took in the Yellow Water Dawn Cruise, seeing huge numbers of Plumed Whistling Ducks, various egrets and herons, a lot of Rainbow Bee-eaters and Forest Kingfishers, and a scattering of White-bellied Sea Eagles and Jabirus.

Next picture is me having a bit of a refresher at Gunlom, after we'd climbed the escarpment in search of the White-throated Grasswren. Sadly it eluded us, one of the few target species to do so, but having a midday dip was some compensation. The view's incredible, back across the Kakadu National Park, and the water's cold. And crocodiles can't climb, either.

The third pic is of one of our camp sites on the three-day canoe safari down the Katherine River, with Paula of Gecko Canoe Safaris, and my guide, Chris Parker. We had Blue-winged Kookaburras in the trees around us, while other birds included Black Bittern, Great-billed Heron and a lot of raptors. You'll notice that, as well as the battered field guides and binoculars, we hadn't neglected to pack a few bottles of the best Aussie reds, to help pass the evenings. Later, sleeping out in the open, we could hear dingos howling on the far side of the river, plus one or two strange animal noises we preferred not to try to identify!

Finally, a really bad picture of some female Hooded Parrots, taken at Pine Creek as we headed back to Darwin on the last evening. I was having to rest my compact camera in the fork of a small tree, and the light was entirely wrong, so this was the best I managed before they flew off and met up with some calling males. But it's one of the signature birds of the Top End, and we were thrilled to finally track some down.

I should just mention that, should you be interested in finding out more about the area, a full trip report will be in a future issue of Bird Watching. But you should also have a look at the website of Fisher King, Chris's company. I can't recommend him as a guide highly enough.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Taking your time

In the poetry world, there are plenty of late starters, people who relatively late in life start to take their writing seriously, in performing it, or trying to get it published. I'd include myself in that category, to an extent - I only really started to make a big effort about eight or nine years ago, although I'd dabbled in a rather directionless fashion for years before that.

There are also, though, plenty of poets who write and are published right from their teens, who maybe do English and/or Creative Writing at university, but who don't publish a full collection until well in their 30s, maybe their 40s. I've come across quite a few lately, in fact I'm reviewing a couple at the moment, and I have to say I admire their patience and dedication in resisting the urge to put out a debut collection until they're ready. I can think of a couple of problems that the long wait can create, but for the most part they seem to sidestep these rather admirably.

I'd guess that the rise (or rather the resurgence) of the chapbook has something to do with it, too. It means that poets are able both to get their name out there and to plan and create complete, self-contained pieces of work. Some put out several pamphlets before ever even considering submitting a collection. From what I've seen (someone like Helen Mort might be a good example), it's a thoroughly good thing, allowing younger poets to experiment with voice and form.

I'm rambling, I know. But I'll try to put these thoughts in a more coherent form soon...

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Shindig, Sopranos and more...

The latest Leamington Shindig takes place on Sunday, 18th July, at Wilde's Wine Bar, The Parade, Leamington Spa, with special guest poet Roz Goddard. Doors open at 6.30pm, with readings and open mic from 7.30pm. Entry is free.

Roz Goddard's The Sopranos Sonnets & Other Poems, from Nine Arches Press, will be available on the night, both as a standard Nine Arches Press chapbook, and as a signed limited-edition pamphlet in a print run of 100 copies only.

It features acutely observed, streetwise and bittersweet sonnet-portraits inspired by the TV series The Sopranos (the greatest ever? I could make a good case for it), about a mafia boss and his family. I'm a huge fan, so I look forward to seeing the book. It'll be interesting to see if either of my favourite characters - Tony Blundetto and Silvio Dante - are featured.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

More reading

I got home last night to find that not only had Anon 7 arrived, but so had issue 6 of Under The Radar, Nine Arches Press's in-house magazine.

I didn't have time for more than a quick flick-through, but I enjoyed poems by Angela France and Michael McKimm, and will have time to have a proper look at the rest of an eclectic crop over the weekend. There are also four poems by me in there - Cahoots; Drinking With Godberd; Dreams From The Anchor Church; and Breedon-on-the-Hill, an interview with Claire Crowther, and reviews from the likes of Alison Brackenbury.

It looks like an excellent read, as ever - I look forward to reading both mags properly.