Thursday, 31 March 2011

Here I go...

Well, I've decided to take the plunge and have a go at NaPoWriMo 2011. I'll post a poem on here every day during April (I can't make any guarantees as to length, or quality, mind you). I'm not exactly sure what'll happen at the end of the 30 days - many magazines, webzines and journals treat even a brief posting on a blog as "previous publication", and thus disqualify any poem so displayed from appearing within their pages. On the other hand, I think it's fairly doubtful that what I post will be in anything like a 'finished' form, so it'll all probably be pretty unrecognisable by the time it eventually gets considered for sending out to editors.

Unlike four years ago, there'll be no unifying inspiration or theme. Instead, I'm going to go back through my notebooks and have a go at writing some of the poems I've meant to get round to for ages, but have put off tackling until now. There'll probably be a few spur of the moment pieces, too.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

NaPoWriMo 2011

Back in 2007, I took part in NaPoWriMo for the first, and so far, only time. Basically, you're challenged to write a poem a day throughout the month of April. I used my iPod to provide inspiration each day in the form of a random song, and quite a few of the poems I produced ended up published, albeit after some fairly lengthy tinkering later.

I'm still undecided about taking part this year. My excuse to avoid it is that April's going to be a really busy month (readings, hosting a readers' holiday at work, a friend's wedding, and more), but on the other hand much the same can be said of most months, so taking part would be a welcome dose of discipline in my writing life.

But whatever I decide (and I can feel myself edging towards taking part even as I write), there's now a new, simple to use website for all participants. Register on it if you want to be part of it, and enjoy a hectic, but potentially very rewarding, 30 days.

Birding update

As I wrote that I would at the start of the year, I've been doing as much of my birding as possible on foot. But the arrival of the longer spring evenings does mean that I can do a bit of birdwatching on the way home from work, so last night I made a couple of stops.

I was hoping there might be some Wheatears around, or even an early Ring Ouzel, so I had a quick wander around at Beacon Hill. No luck, so I took myself off to the fields, maybe half a mile away, that have been a reliable spot for Curlews in the past (in fact, many years ago, they definitely bred here - more recently, I'm not so sure).

Well, I had no luck with the Curlews, either, but one of the best things about birdwatching (possibly THE best thing, in my experience), is that you almost invariably go out looking for one thing, and find something completely different. At least, that's how it works in Britain, as a consequence of us having so many birds moving in and out of the country at any one time.

So, as I focused my binoculars on the field, I realised it was full of Fieldfares, chattering away and busy feeding themselves up ahead of their imminent return to Scandinavia. I counted 550 (the largest flock I've seen this winter), but I'm pretty sure there were more, hidden in the various folds in the ground.

Closer to home, I stopped at the crossroads just at the foot of Iveshead. There's often a Little Egret or two on the brook here, but all that seemed to be around was a male Kestrel on the telegraph wires. I caught a bit of movement on the stream on the far side of the road, though - two Mandarins. There's a small flock at nearby Blackbrook Reservoir, but they usually stay tucked in at the edges. You also sometimes see them on the little pool or on the stream in the woods at Charnwood Lodge, just up the road, but again they're elusive.

Once I got home, I was able to write up a few notes to the sound of a pair of Tawny Owls hooting and ke-wicking in the cemetery behind my house, then I made a rare pre-dawn start this morning to go and check back at the same sites. The Mandarins were still around, and the Fieldfares had been joined by at least one Curlew (I couldn't see any others, but the one I could see did his songflight more than once) and up to a dozen Skylarks.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Listen to StAnza 2011

There are loads of good recordings of poets reading at last week's festival here - I can particularly recommend Billy Letford, and especially his startling There's hunners o burds on the roofs. I think there are more recordings being added all the time, too, so keep going back to check for updates.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Catch it while you still can

My first full collection, Troy Town, is officially out of print as of today, with no further copies available through Arrowhead Press or Amazon. A final flurry of sales at StAnza last week cleared out the remaining stock, and I'm very grateful to everyone who's bought it since it came out in 2008.

But...I do have around 20 copies still left at home. I'll be continuing to sell them at readings, as well as through this blog - they're £9 including P&P by post, or £7 in person. So, if you want to get your hands on it in all its hardback glory, email me using the link (Getting In Touch) on the right, or use the comment box of this post.

Meanwhile, it's a big day for Arrowhead, with Martin Figura's superb Whistle in the running for the Ted Hughes Award For New Work In Poetry tonight. I'll be keeping everything crossed that he wins, and there'll be more news as I get it.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Writers at Warwick

Since it came out at the end of last week, I've been enjoying the University of Warwick's new Writers app, which features around 200 recordings of 150 authors and poets. If you've got an iPhone or iPad, it's an absolute must, a treasure trove of material with a good, eclectic range of writers. There's plenty there if you've got an academic interest in the literature, but it's also a really user-friendly and straightforward resource for the more casual browser, like me. Get downloading...

Monday, 21 March 2011

StAnza 2011 and States of Independence 2

I've spent the best part of the last week thoroughly immersed in poetry, and it's really not a bad place to be (provided it's good poetry, of course).

It all started, of course, with StAnza 2011. It was my first visit to Scotland's top poetry festival, but it won't be my last. It's an extremely friendly event, for starters, in a great location that's compact enough to make it easy to dash around between events. And like any festival, it's excellent for catching up with old friends, or meeting others who you've only previously known through a computer screen or their writing. So, in between events, I managed a couple of pints with HappenStancer James W Wood (he's got a novel coming out soon - more on that later), a rushed coffee with Rob Mackenzie, a quick word with Penelope Shuttle, plenty of chat with poetry dynamo Jo Bell, and many more.

But of course, that would all count for nothing if the events weren't up to scratch. Not a problem, though. Highlights included readings by Billy Letford (both at the first night's open mic, and at the Young Poets' Showcase) and Iraqi poet Adnan Al-Sayegh, the rest of the aforementioned Showcase (with Claire Askew, Sarah Howe and Ellen Cranitch), and two fine 'round table readings', by Tom Pow and Paul Farley. The former read from his work on dying villages, but also delved deeper into the subject, while Farley bravely presented us with the drafts of his poem Treacle and considered various aspects of the creative process.

My own reading, with Dawn Wood, went well. There seemed to be just the right amount of overlap between us where subject matter was concerned, the audience were excellent, and the books seemed to sell well. Anyway, more on StAnza in the weeks to come - I've got a few pics to sort out.

On Saturday, I was at States of Independence at De Montfort University in Leicester. It's a chance for small presses to parade their wares, but again a lot of its value is also in allowing you to meet people and simply get some idea of the wealth of talent out there outside the big presses. I did a brief reading as part of the Nine Arches Press talk, and also heard a fine reading by CJ Allen and Alan Baker (unfortunately Ernesto Priego couldn't make it).

Finally, I spent the rest of the weekend browsing the pile of books and panphlets I bought at the two events. They were:

The Deleted Part - Adnan Al-Sayegh
A Certain Chinese Encyclopedia - Sarah Howe
The Mermaid And The Sailors - Claire Askew
Songs From A Dying Village - Tom Pow

States of Independence
Connoisseur - Dawn Wood
The Present Day - Ernesto Priego
The Road To Murreigh - Paul McLoughlin
Variations On Painting A Room: Poems 2000-2010 - Alan Baker
A Strange Arrangement: New And Selected Poems - C J Allen
All My Eye & Betty Martin - John Lucas (not poetry, this one, but excellent)

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

British birders

Excellent post here by the digiscoping dynamo that is Dale Forbes, about what makes Britain and its birdwatchers so distinct from the rest of the world. The points he makes about class seem spot-on to me, and I think I'd go further. I have a theory that, because so much of our common land and open spaces was snatched at a relatively early stage in our history, birdwatching (and angling, probably) are an attempt by the dispossessed to stake a claim to the landscape. I should probably go away and find some eveidence to actually back that all up, though.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Keeping busy

Work and other commitments mean I can go weeks without going near a poetry event, but every now and then there's this sort of week, when everything comes at once.

Tomorrow night (Tuesday March 15th) I'll be at the Flying Goose in Beeston, Nottingham, for what will be the last poetry night there compered by John Lucas. Featured poets are Ann Atkinson, Poet Laureate of Derbyshire, who will read from her Smith/Doorstop book Drawing Water and other work, and Alan Baker, who'll read from his new Skysill Press book Variations on Painting a Room: Poems 2000-2010. The poetry starts at 7.30pm, and admission is £3 on the door.

On Wednesday, I'm off up to St Andrew's for StAnza 2011. I'm reading with Dawn Wood in the Supper Room at the Town Hall at 11.30 on Thursday - the rest of the time I plan to see as many of the events as possible, and blog and tweet about them as they happen.

I'd have stayed for the whole five days, but I have to be at a wedding reception on Saturday night, so have to dash back on Friday night. The good side of that is that I'll be able to be at States Of Independence at De Montfort University, Leicester, from 10.30am on Saturday. I'll be doing a short reading at 11am, and there's loads of good stuff lined up. I'm particularly looking forward to hearing Ernesto Priego at 1pm.

Blackbox Manifold 6

The new issue of Blackbox Manifold has just gone live - there's an Edwin Morgan tribute, reviews, and poetry from the likes of Matthew Sweeney, Ron Silliman and John Welch.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Sphinx 16

The latest online issue of Sphinx magazine is out now - it continues the unusual (and I think, highly effective) system of three reviews for each chapbook. I reviewed Hilary Menos's Wheelbarrow Farm (as always with Templar, beautifully produced) and Martin Hayden's Meeting The Pilgrimage Halfway - see what I, and the other reviewers, made of them.

Friday, 4 March 2011

StAnza 2011

It's only a couple of weeks until StAnza 2011, and I've got a piece up on the festival's blog today, connected with one of the theme's of this year's event – The Poet's Ark. Looking forward to it all a great deal now - fine poetry, good company, and sea air.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

New Welsh Review No.91

It was St David's Day yesterday (you all knew that, of course), and appropriately enough, the spring issue of New Welsh Review (No.91) was waiting on the doormat. It's almost as if they planned it that way.

Featured poets include Zoe Brigley, Gillian Clarke, Robert Minhinnick, Helen Mort, Alison Brackenbury and Gerard Woodward, and there's the usual mix of features, fiction, photo-essays and columns as well.

There's also a wealth of reviews (NWR is to be applauded for giving each review so much space, too), including mine of Kona Macphee's Perfect Blue and Carolyn Jess-Cooke's Inroads. It's not giving too mcuh away to say that Kona's collection was one of my favourites of last year.

It's the final issue of NWR edited by Kathryn Gray (who also has a fine poem included). Her successor will be Gwen Davies.