Thursday, 8 August 2019

David Berman dies, aged 52

Sad news this morning of the death of David Berman, US poet and the frontman and driving force behind indie band Silver Jews. I bought his collection Actual Air, way back when, and enjoyed it a lot, and I've got a couple of the band's later albums.

I think Berman's death was misreported several years ago, but sadly, this report seems to be all too true.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Paul Batchelor on Niall Campbell and Frederick Seidel

I haven't read either of the collections being considered here, and having read Paul Batchelor's article, I don't suppose I'll be in any great hurry to do so, but full marks to him and the New Statesman for a review that says exactly what it means. More of the same, please.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Peter Riley on WS Graham

Peter Riley is as excellent as ever in The Fortnightly Review, talking about WS Graham, and specifically the New Selected Poems edited by Matthew Francis, the Selected Poems edited by Michael Hofmann, and The Caught Habits Of Language, a recent celebration of Graham's work which I reviewed for Magma and enjoyed a lot.

I found myself agreeing with most of what Riley says, especially about Hofmann's almost total rejection of Graham's earlier work, and indeed of the poetry of the 1940s generally, which feels lazy and unsubstantiated.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

The sound of silence

I've only just got into the habit of downloading podcasts to listen to during my commute (yes, I'm years behind the times). A lot of the time it's Cricket – the Test Match Special podcast, Tuffers and Vaughan, or Tailenders.

But there's also The Verb, and this week's was excellent, looking at silences in poetry – coincidentally I'd started writing a poem on silence a couple of weeks back, so I listened with more than my usual interest. Ian McMillan, who's always a pleasure to listen to, was joined by poets Ilya Kaminsky, Julia Copus and Simon Armitage, and there's much to enjoy.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

David Lynch interview

Nice interview with David Lynch here. I've long been a fan anyway, but he has all sorts of interesting things to say about art and creativity generally.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Alice Oswald elected Oxford Professor of Poetry

Alice Oswald has been elected Oxford's first female Professor of Poetry, and a jolly good thing too. Andrew McMillan would also have been a good choice, and I'm sure he'll be in the reckoning in the future. Slightly staggered that 58 people still voted for Todd Swift, but there you go...

Friday, 14 June 2019

Places Of Poetry

The Places Of Poetry blog is a terrific idea – basically you can pin your own poems of place on the map of the UK, as well as enjoying browsing the map and discovering a lot of excellent new poems by other people.

I haven't posted anything up there yet, although I notice there's something a gap around where I live in Warwickshire, as well as around my hometown of Coalville in Leicestershire. Time to get busy, perhaps.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Have Moicy!

I've been a huge fan of American indie stalwarts Yo La Tengo for a long time now, and one of their most consistently enjoyable albums is Fakebook, from way back in 1990.  It's far from typical of their output, being made up of semi-acoustic cover versions of various obscurities (as well as retreads of a few of their own songs), but it's got a lovely, laid-back vibe.

Anyway, one of the songs on there, Griselda, comes from an album called Have Moicy!, by Michael Hurley, The Unholy Modal Rounders, Jeffery Frederick, and The Clamtones. A couple of weeks ago, I finally got round to looking it up on Spotify and having a listen, and it's great. It's folk music, but not as we know it. Robbin' Banks is a particular favourite of mine on there.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Life after cricket: Robin Smith

I'm sorry the link has to be to the Daily Mail, but this interview with Robin Smith about the mental health problems he suffered after retiring from cricket is excellent, both moving and, ultimately, uplifting.

Back in the dark days of the late 80s and early 90s (for English cricket), he was one of my favourite players – combative and positive, as well as a terrific batsman. I remember watching his 167 in a one-day international (an extraordinary score in those days) – it was absolutely brutal.

But he also always came across as modest and unselfish, and there's a hint of that in the interview. Look at his stats, and his test average is really pretty impressive, again when you consider that in those days batting averages were generally lower. I thought he was ultimately rather shabbily treated by England – they suddenly decided that he was hopeless against spin bowling, just because he'd struggled against Shane Warne, but then who didn't?

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Springsteen albums, ranked

The other day, ahead of the release of his new album Western Stars, The Guardian ran this piece ranking all Springsteen's albums.

First thing to say is that, much as I love Springsteen, I think there are absolute stinkers on pretty much all his albums. Great as Darkness On The Edge Of Town is, for example, it contains the almost unlistenable Streets Of Fire, and the not much better Something In The Night.

I'd have Devils and Dust and Magic higher on my list, Born To Run would be ahead of Born In The USA on the strength of Thunder Road and the title track alone, and I'd have The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle at No1, even though it's hardly one of his more typical albums. But yes, I'd have to have Darkness... very high on the list too.

But I'm glad the writer put Tunnel Of Love well up there. Springsteen rarely seems to play much from it these days, presumably because it was born out of the break-up of his first marriage, but I love it. Subtle country and Orbison influences, and some great songs, not least Brilliant Disguise.

I haven't listened to it much for a few years, mainly because I went on a press trip to Croatia during which the driver of the minibus played it on a continuous loop for five days. You can have too much of a good thing, as it turns out.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Hugo Williams: Lines Off

This is out any day now. I don't suppose Hugo Williams will ever be the height of poetry fashion, but he always strikes me as something of a one-off, wringing the maximum effect out of deceptively simple-looking poems. I look forward to all his collections, and this one is no exception.

Friday, 24 May 2019

And another thing

I don't want to give his execrable book any more publicity than it deserves (ie., none), but I read another damning review of Jacob Rees-Mogg's The Victorians this morning. OK, the New Statesman was never likely to be that appreciative of the walking anachronism's hurriedly completed homework assignment (presumably the dog ate the original manuscript), but they do do the reader the favour of quoting some of the author's laborious and tedious prose.

The one part of the review I would immediately take issue with is "The one non-Westminster discussed is the cricketer WG Grace, included mainly because 'as Every Englishman knows', more than any other sport, 'cricket at its best captures the soul of the nation. Fair play, etiquette and gentlemanly behaviour.' Not much of the latter is evident in the modern game, but Rees-Mogg's perceptions, here as elsewhere, are myopically rooted in the past."

The reviewer appears to have missed the point about WG just as much as Rees-Mogg has. Dr Grace was undoubtedly a great player, a man who revolutionised batting technique in particular, but he really didn't give much of a damn about fair play, etiquette or gentlemanly behaviour. Reading about his career, it's hard to escape the conclusion that even David Warner and Steve Smith might have baulked at taking the field with such a master of gamesmanship (well, more like straightforward cheating), so the dig at the modern game is unwarranted. Nor, it should be noted, was WG alone in that respect.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Oxford Professor of Poetry

Interesting piece in The Guardian about the election of the new Oxford Professor of Poetry. Of the three candidates, I think I'd probably go for Alice Oswald, although I can also see that Andrew McMillan would be an excellent choice. As for Todd Swift, well, you can follow the links in there to see why his candidacy has caused disquiet. You can also read this "statement from an observer" on his blog. You might be able to take a shrewd guess at who the observer is.

Mike Brearley on Cricket

I know you're not supposed to say it, but one of the most disappointing cricket books I've ever read (possibly one of the most disappointing books, full stop), is Mike Brearley's The Art Of Captaincy.

When I bought it, 15 years ago or so, I expected to find it full of all sorts of arcane insights into cricket leadership. Brearley, after all, is considered one of England's best-ever captains, the architect of three Ashes triumphs, including the miracle turnaround of 1981. He was tactically innovative and always thoughtful, and his man management skills were legendary. A trained psychologist, he was described by admiring Aussie fast bowler Rodney Hogg as "having a degree in people".

But I felt at the time that it simply stated the obvious. I came away from it with no more idea of how Brearley achieved what he did than I had at the start. Shorter articles on captaincy, from the likes of Ian Chappell, revealed far more.

But he's more than made up for it with On Cricket. It's wide-ranging and diverse, taking in controversial issues such as ball-tampering and the Basil D'Oliveira affair as well as Brearley's opinions on some of the greats of the game, and on his own career.

Above all, it's beautifully written. Packed with detail, yet clear, concise and very readable, and Brearley's own character comes through on every page. Not in the sense that he puts himself at the centre of things, just that he approaches every subject with the same inquisitive, open-minded, tolerant and thoughtful way.

And that, I realised, probably says a great deal more about the art of captaincy than anything. As a player, how could you not want to perform well for a captain like that? One who, you could be confident, would treat every team member fairly, and never put his own ambitions above the team's. Brearley may or may not be England's greatest ever captain, but he's certainly the most interesting thinker about cricket writing today.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

The early Simon Armitage

Over at David Belbin's website, there's this interesting piece on new Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, and specifically his early chapbooks and his first full collection, Zoom! David has reposted his original review of them, from the excellent Slow Dancer, and it's hard to take issue with his excellent review. I've not been so keen on a lot of Armitage's more recent work, but there's still a lot to like in those early books.

Monday, 20 May 2019

'Staggeringly silly'

It's fair to say that Jacob Rees-Mogg has suffered a critical mauling for his book The Victorians. Dominic Sandbrook's comment that it wouldn't have been published had it been written by anyone else is rather redundant. Of course it wouldn't – it's just an attempt to cash in on his fame/infamy, with no regard to the quality of the writing or the historical research. Rather like with Boris Johnson's biography of Churchill. I tried to read some of that, but it was really pretty awful.

I almost want to read this to see if it is as bad as they say, but I think I'll take AN Wilson's word for it. He's hardly a raving leftist, so has no particular political axe to grind, and he has himself written a generally well received and readable history of the Victorian era.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Digging up the past

WARNING! I've slipped into early medieval history nerd mode for this post – if you're looking for ill-informed poetry ponderings, anything remotely ornithological, or cricket geekery, please come back in a few days.

You can go months without coming across anything to do with Anglo-Saxon England in the mainstream media, and then two stories come along at once. You'll probably have already seen this story, which raises all sorts of questions about the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, even if they're right about the burial being that of  Seaxa, who had a family connection to a Christian Frankish princess.

But earlier today I also came across this, concerning the 'Great Heathen Army'. Essentially, it explains why previous finds at Repton, between Derby and Burton, weren't the whole story, and how finds at the nearby hamlet of Foremark suggest part of the army wintered there in 873-74.

It's an area I know well, having walked the path alongside the river many times. In fact, I saw a Red-footed Falcon there about 10 years ago (oh, there you go, knew the birds wouldn't stay out of things for long). One of the poems in my second poetry collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica (my first with Nine Arches Press, back in 2010) – Dreams From The Anchor Church – was inspired by the caves along that stretch of the Trent, and by the area generally. You can still get the collection by following the link above, direct from me, or on Amazon.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Les Murray, 1938-2019

Very sad to hear of the death of the great Australian poet, Les Murray over the weekend.

I've probably mentioned on here before, but back in the late 80s and early 90s, he was one of the first contemporary poets I read. That was because this poem, The Widower In The Country, was one of the inspirations for the song New Year's Greetings, by The Triffids (and if you're a regular visitor here, you'll know that they're one of my favourite bands of all time). Loving the song, I was curious enough to seek out the poem, then couldn't get enough of Murray's work.

I also recently read his book Killing The Black Dog, which is excellent – unstintingly honest, and yet warm and generous. He'll be very sadly missed.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

The Ugly Australian

Superb article here by Jarrod Kimber, on the ongoing fallout from 'Sandpapergate'. He makes some very good points, not least about the tendency of Aussie cricketers to claim persecution as soon as someone reacts to their sledging, or mental disintegration, as they prefer to call it.

Also interesting that he points out that Australia have always been the most successful Test Cricket side, even in the days when they weren't known for such antics.

I'm not claiming that any other team in world cricket is made up of angels, but the Aussies do seem to have got away with things ludicrously easily. David Warner had, I suspect, been ball tampering for at least a couple of years, and the extent to which it all happened at the instigation of the coaching team also seems to have been underplayed.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Saboteur Awards

Voting is open now in this year's Saboteur Awards – you can see the nominees and cast your vote here.

In the Best Reviewer of Literature category, one of the nominees is Maria Taylor, Reviews Editor of Under The Radar at Nine Arches Press. She's posted a very interesting blog piece about reviewing here.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Coming & Going: Poems for Journeys

This arrived in the post yesterday, the latest book from the wonderful HappenStance Press. Coming & Going is about exactly that – journeys of all sorts – and features work from over 100 HappenStance poets.

Once I've had time to read it, I'll post something much fuller on here, but at the moment it's just a delight to be reminded that I'm a HappenStance poet – my offering here is Cure, from my first chapbook, Making The Most Of The Light. It's an even greater delight to be reminded of the company that I'm in – James Wood, JO Morgan, DA Prince, Matthew Stewart, Michael Mackmin, Maria Taylor, Jon Stone, Chrissy Williams, Alison Brackenbury, Frances Corkey Thompson, Gill McEvoy, Andrew Philip, Kirsten Irving, Gerry Cambridge, Alan Buckley, Clare Best, Rob A Mackenzie, Gregory Leadbetter and Marilyn Ricci to name but a few. Oh, and not forgetting Helena Nelson, who IS HappenStance Press, a very fine poet, and an inspiration to boot.

It's £12, and you can buy it here.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Rob A Mackenzie on Dave Coates vs. Martinez de las Rivas

There's a superb article by Rob A Mackenzie in The Dark Horseon the recent controversy surrounding Toby de las Rivas's poetry. It's extremely forensic and even-handed, and puts both sides of the argument in proper context – I'll be interested to see what response it gets.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Eden Rock

It's World Poetry Day, so I thought I'd nudge you in the direction of a favourite poem of mine - Eden Rock, by the Cornish writer Charles Causley.

It's been on my mind a lot recently, after my dad's death last last year, but it's easy to admire it from a writers' point of view, too, as well as a reader's. It's beautifully precise and economical, and it'd be hard to write a better last line.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Letters From The Underworld, by Alan Baker

I enjoyed reading DA Prince's review of Alan Baker's Letters From The Underworld here at Sphinx. He's a poet who deserves much more attention, in my opinion, ploughing a very distinctive furrow of his own.

You can buy the book here, at The Red Ceilings Press website.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

StAnza 2019

It's that time of year again – from March 6th to 10th, St Andrews plays host to StAnza, Scotland's poetry festival. You can browse the many events here (they actually start on March 5th) – if you get the chance, go along. I can recommend it very heartily.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Poem in Antiphon Issue 24

It's been a long time since I've sent out any poetry submissions, so I'm absolutely delighted to have had a poem – Marginal – accepted for issue 24 of Antiphon. You can download a PDF of the magazine at the magazine's home page by following the link above.

A nice feature of Antiphon is that they include recordings of the poets reading their work – I'm afraid I haven't sent mine in yet, but I shall try to put that right this weekend.

But anyway, lovely to be published in the company of poets such as D A Prince and Rebecca Gethin.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Verve Poetry Festival

Birmingham's Old Rep Theatre plays host to this year's Verve Poetry Festival, which runs from today until Sunday.

The full line-up is here - plenty of interesting stuff to enjoy, with poets such as Alison Brackenbury, Carrie Etter, Vahni Capildeo and Jacob Sam-La Rose.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Peter Riley on Olson, Prynne and Paterson

The Fortnightly Review has this fascinating piece, by Peter Riley, on The Collected Letters of Charles Olson and J H Prynne, and Don Paterson's The Poem: Lyric, Sign, Metre. Now I've only really skimmed through it at lunchtime, and I'll have to give it much more detailed consideration at some stage, but it is good at least to be able to read such a thorough and thoughtful article on poetry, and TFR deserves credit for that.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

From the notebooks of David McComb

I know I've banged on before about my love of The Triffids, but I've only recently come across the official Triffids Facebook page. Just recently it's been featuring pics of David McComb's notebooks, with the original lyrics and ideas for all the songs on Born Sandy Devotional, the album that (I suspect) most fans would regard as their masterpiece. If you don't know it, go and have a listen now.

Even if it wasn't one of my favourite albums, it would be fascinating – McComb seems to have had a very clear idea of exactly how he wanted the album to sound, right from the earliest stages, as well as a vision of lyrically coherent selection of songs. But it's interesting that, reading the most recent post, he wasn't keen on including Personal Things, which for me is one of the highlights of the album, with absolutely great lyrics.

Incidentally, there's also a Facebook page for Love In Bright Landscapes, a proposed film about David McComb and The Triffids that is seeking funding support.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Alliteration and the Anglo-Saxons

I came across this article on alliteration in English language poetry, and of course it starts with the Anglo-Saxons, and specifically Caedmon. It's something of a general overview, so many of you may already know most of this, but nevertheless I found it sending me off to look up a couple of things, as well as back to the Anglo-Saxon originals of The Seafarer and The Wanderer.

The first of those, incidentally, is a poem packed with ornithological detail, to the extent that one writer considered that he could say with confidence that the poet was writing about the Bass Rock during a particular week in April. You can find out more about that in my book A Sky Full Of Birds (yes, yes, I know, shameless plug), but I'll also post about it in more detail at the appropriate time in April.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Now at Nine Arches...

Just my periodic reminder that there's some wonderful poetry available at the Nine Arches Press website, including new collections by Josephine Corcoran, Roy McFarlane and Suzannah Evans, as well as a wealth of back-catalogue titles (which include my own The Elephant Tests).

You can also get the latest issue of Under The Radar magazine, and find out how to submit work to Nine Arches.

My first Nine Arches collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, is available direct from me.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Blinded By The Light review

This looks interesting – I've read articles by Sarfraz Manzoor about his love of Springsteen in the past, and they've always struck a chord, if you'll excuse the pun. I'll look forward to seeing it.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Boom time for poetry sales

Poetry sales are soaring, according to this piece in The Guardian, with both so-called 'Instagram poets' (I don't like the dismissiveness of that term) and everything from Homer to Heaney selling well.

I'm slightly confused by what it says about the boom being fuelled by a desire for clarity and a desire for more nuance. The latter sounds perfectly reasonable, but clarity isn't really what I'd go to poetry for. Nevertheless, it's encouraging, and if you want to keep the boom moving, then I'd be more than willing to sell you a signed copy of either of my Nine Arches Press collections, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica and The Elephant Tests.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Hugh McIlvanney, 1934-2019

So it's farewell to the very best of modern sports writers, Hugh McIlvanney. From as far back as I can remember, my dad would rave about the brilliance of his writing on football and boxing. He was right – McIvanney was streets ahead of the competition, one of those journalists who'd have been a brilliant writer whatever his subject, despite the fact that his passion for sport came through.

Here's just a taste of his work, from The Guardian website. Raise a glass in honour of a true great.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Sopranos prequel

Hmmm. Not sure what I think of this idea – it has the potential to destroy the legacy of what is probably my favourite TV series ever. One of the things that I loved about it was that it resisted the temptation to tie up all loose ends, or to give you the full background to anything. Instead, characters referred to past events as though they were common knowledge, without elaborating on them too much. For me, that both makes things sound more authentic, and feels truer to life.

I'll want to see the film all the same, though.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Backlisted podcast

The other day, I stumbled across the rather splendid Backlisted podcast – the most recent episode features a look at JL Carr's How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won The FA Cup. As they say on the podcast, it's one of his more straightforward novels in many respects, and as they also rightly point out, it has a fantastic blurb (Carr wrote his own).

The rest of the episode focuses on Jilly Cooper. I've never read anything by her, but I have to admit it actually made me rather intrigued. They also mention that the very first episode looked at JL Carr's A Month In The Country, so I've gone back and downloaded that one too (plus the Raymond Chandler and Tolkien episodes). Very enjoyable listening for the daily commute.

NB You can also buy JL Carr's novels (and his many wonderful pocket books), from his own Quince Tree Press (now run by his son, I think).