Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Ocean Vuong wins TS Eliot Prize

This year's TS Eliot Prize winner is Ocean Vuong, for his debut collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds. I haven't read it yet, but I'll look forward to it. As always, there's been some debate on Facebook and other online forums about whether or not judges Bill Herbert, James Lasdun and Helen Mort chosen the right winner, but that's pretty much par for the course with such awards and competitions – the fact that they at least get people talking about contemporary poetry is partly the point of them, surely?

Friday, 12 January 2018

The UK's favourite nature book

I came across this earlier today – Land Lines are looking to find the UK's favourite nature book. They're all excellent, as you'd expect, but there's three in there that I'd find very very hard to separate – The Peregrine, John Clare's Selected Poems, and of course The Natural History of Selborne. But I'd have to go for JA Baker's masterpiece, in the end.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Steve Spence on Peter Dent

Another excellent review at Litter, with Steve Spence discussing Peter Dent's new collection about the Rendlesham Forest Incident. I've liked what I've read of Dent's work in the past, and I've also got a bit of a soft spot for UFO-related mysteries.

Martin Stannard on Trevor Joyce

I really enjoyed reading this review of Trevor Joyce's Selected Poems by Martin Stannard, over at the always readable Litter. It says all sorts of interesting things about mainstream poetry, non-mainstream poetry, and what Stannard wants to find in poetry. As always, plenty to agree and disagree with, but isn't that what a review should do?

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Out on the Washes

I had some binocular and scope testing to do yesterday, so I took myself off into the Fens to do it. Perfect, really – wide horizons, plenty of fencelines and ditches to help judge distance, and a misty murk in which you get to see the difference that top-end Austrian and German optical technology can make.

I had some hopes of seeing the Rough-legged Buzzard that has been around Parson Drove, or the Bramblings that have hung around nearby, but I missed out on both, so to finish the testing I headed over to Eldernell at dusk.

I'm glad I did. The flooded Nene Washes were a mass of wildfowl, with the air full of the whistling of Wigeon and the hollering of Whooper Swans. A Marsh Harrier glided past, and just as I was packing up to leave, a Short-eared Owl quartered the nearest meadow then perched on a gatepost, its yellow eyes standing out from the many shades of brown and grey around it.

It's hard to believe, standing atop the grass bank there, looking out over this enormous wetland teeming with birdlife, that you're only a few miles outside a major city. It's a strange landscape, being very much shaped by man, despite the fact that here, at least, the river is allowed to overflow annually. But it has something that many British wildlife sites (and sights) don't – scale. You can stand there and be convinced that there's nothing in the world other than you and thousands upon thousands of birds.

The Snettisham 'spectacular' is one natural event that does rival this for size, and now's just about the best time to see it at the RSPB reserve in Norfolk. If you want to know more about it, you could always read about it in my book, A Sky Full Of Birds.



Thursday, 4 January 2018

Blackbox Manifold 19

The 19th issue of Blackbox Manifold is out now, and features poetry from Tim Allen, John Balaban, Felix Bazalgette, Daragh Breen, Ian Cartland, Jonathan Catherall, Claire Crowther, Charlotte Eichler, Adam Flint, Angela Gardner, Daniel Y Harris, Sarah Hayden, Allen C Jones, Eric Langley, Ann Lauterbach, Drew Milne, Duncan Montgomery, Michael O'Neill, Nisha Ramayya, Mark Russell, Ian Seed, Helen Tookey, and Howard Wright, plus a review by Adam Piette of collections by Rachel Blau DePlessis, Drew Milne and Iain Britton.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Starting as I mean to go on

I thought I'd make a few New Year resolutions for a change, one of which is to finally try to write a novel that's been rattling round my head for years. I'm setting myself to write 3000 words a week until it's done, which sounds manageable until you actually sit down and attempt to write it.

Another is to knock something resembling another poetry collection into shape – I've got most of it reasonably finished, but there are maybe half a dozen key poems that need serious work.

But, and you'll have to excuse me for bringing my day job into things here, I'm also trying to complete the My200BirdYear challenge, as featured in Bird Watching, and the Walk 1000 Miles challenge, as featured in our sister magazine, Country Walking.

I've made a slow start to both, with a lunchtime walk today logging a couple of miles, and 24 species, mainly from my own garden and from the daily commute. Things will really start in earnest at the weekend.

I downloaded the OS app to log all my walks on, and also came across this, rather appropriately given that it's JRR Tolkien's birthday today. It's a much bigger challenge, especially if you have to walk across the Dead Marshes with the Eye of Sauron on you, but still, it's worth a try.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Poetry School Books of the Year 2017

As well as being a great way to spark a debate, the Poetry School's Books of the Year 2017 also has mini-reviews of a host of great volumes, and a longlist of many more, so you've got no excuse for saying that you don't know what new poetry to read (and even less for saying that it's been a thin year for poetry – as if anybody would).

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Solstice

Something brought me wide awake at four. Groans
from the old house. The black dog running through the forest
of his dreams. Revving of a mind that won’t run idle.

So dressed and walked into December woods,
with the last leaves hanging on
and the fat moon making light of the rain.

Past the kissing gate, the gingerbread cottage,
a tractor taken root among the ferns,
and on over the stream. To the ropeswing,

where he swayed between
the man we thought he was and a darkness
that seeped back into every memory.

Eaten from the inside, the tree creaks
and sighs. Barely a bough, now,
strong enough to bear the weight,

but the longest night
for five hundred years, shrinks back
to a few pools, dark beneath the trees. Above,

rooks discuss their headlong commute. A kestrel
punctuates a phone wire, strung for movement.
And home again, tired and wet and cold,

carrying neither the hunter’s stillness
nor the flock’s sure purpose. Unconvinced and unconsoled,
yet the year’s morning yawning, and still unbroken.

Monday, 18 December 2017

More poetry website recommendations

Clarissa Aykroyd has posted her own recommendations for poetry and poetry in translation websites here – lots of good stuff to enjoy.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Poetry for Christmas

I've been holding off buying any poetry for a while, mainly because I'm still working my way through a backlog of books. At some stage in the next couple of weeks I'll post something about the books I have read this year, but what about those I ought to be reading?

I'd be interested to hear any recommendations of poetry volumes to look out for – I've already got a couple in mind, but fire away...

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Dream City Blues

I have a poem – Six Ways To Navigate The City – in this excellent volume, Dream City Blues, edited by Mark Howard Jones, out now. It's a book that looks at urban utopias gone wrong, and cities that have become nightmares.

The poem originally appeared in my collection The Elephant Tests, which is still available from Nine Arches Press. While you're at it, have a look at all the other goodies that Nine Arches have available - lots of good present ideas there.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Writing new poetry

It's been quite a while since my last poetry collection, The Elephant Tests, was published. 2013, in fact, although it's still available from Nine Arches Press, along with a plethora of new collections from new poets (very unsubtle hint for anyone stuck for Christmas present ideas for their literary friends, there).

In the meantime, I haven't written a huge amount of poetry. It hasn't been down to writer's block, exactly, although at times I have found myself wanting to write, but struggling to find ways to do so without retreading old ground.

A bigger reason is that I've been in self-imposed exile in the land of prose, first writing A Sky Full Of Birds (oops, there's another shameless plug), and then working on a couple of other prose projects that may or may not see the light of day eventually. And I've enjoyed that a lot, but it's a very different place to poetry world in all sorts of ways.

Just in the last few weeks, though, I've been drifting back into poetry, writing new poems and revisiting half-finished ones with fresh ideas and fresh impetus. I've got one or two new processes and exercises that I'd like to try. And I've been reading more poetry, too, at lunchtimes especially, and rediscovering the thrill of being inspired, and the danger of imitating an admired poet's style too closely.

So, in the next few weeks, I'll start posting a few reviews, previews, and discussions of poetry, and we'll see what happens.

Friday, 1 December 2017

2017's best UK poetry blogs

It's very kind of Matthew Stewart to include Polyolbion in his annual round-up of his favourite UK poetry blogs, not least because I've been pretty tardy in posting on here this year. But he has spurred me into action, and I'll be posting regularly from the start of 2018.

I'd add that Matthew's own Rogue Strands is always worth keeping an eye on, for poetry news, recommendations, and discussion, and there are a host of other very fine blogs mentioned in that post – give them a try.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Ashes preview

This is the best Ashes preview article I've read so far, and it's by an Australian. The fact that he quotes Mr T is just the icing on the cake.

If England can come away from Brisbane with a draw, and the signs are that the weather may help them out considerably there, I think it could be a very tight series. I keep hearing about how good Australia's pace attack is, but the back-up looks fairly thin, and they will need it at some stage. I'm a bit baffled as to why they've gone into the series with no support at all for their four front-line bowlers, especially given that one of them, Cummins, has a terrible fitness record.

What England are going to need is for someone other than their big four - Anderson, Broad, Root and Cook - to have a huge series. I fancy Chris Woakes to surprise a few Aussies, and I think James Vince, if he could get one big score under his belt, could also go on to do big things.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

TS Eliot Prize shortlist

The shortlist for the 25th TS Eliot Prize has been announced, and it's heartening to see a book from Nine Arches Press, Jacqueline Saphra's excellent All My Mad Mothersin there.

Of the rest of the list, James Sheard's The Abandoned Settlements is the only one I've read so far – it's worth buying for the stunning title poem alone, and is another very worthy contender. Some really interesting choices on there – I look forward to reading more ahead of the award announcement.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Nature and Place Poetry Competition


The Rialto Nature and Place Poetry Competition 2018, run by poetry magazine The Rialto, in partnership with the RSPB, BirdLife International and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, is open for entries.
The judge is Michael Longley, who will pick the winning five poems. 
Editor of The Rialto Michael Mackmin said: “We’re delighted Michael Longley accepted our invitation to judge the Nature and Place Poetry Competition this year, especially given the strong presence of nature and place themes in his own work which serves as an inspiration for many readers and writers of poetry.”
Now in its 5th year, the Nature and Place Poetry Competition has a first prize of £1,000, and second and third place prizes of £500 and a place on a creative writing course, plus two additional prizes for the two runners up of personal tours with naturalists and nature writers Mark Cocker and Nick Davies.

To find out everything you need to know about submitting your poems, go to therialto.co.uk
The closing date is midnight on 1 March 2018.


Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Which waders 2?


What's the wader in the foreground? I'll give you a clue – it's a species that causes beginner birders quite a lot of trouble, being very variable in appearance.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Which waders?


It's time for a birdy ID challenge or two. On September 22nd, Bird Watching Magazine staged a readers' day at Frampton Marsh RSPB, near Boston, Lincolnshire. The weather was fantastic, and because of the extremely high tide on The Wash, just on the far side of the sea bank, there were large numbers of waders (shorebirds, if you're American), present.

Here's a few on one of the scrapes just along from the car-park. The first person to correctly them will get a free copy of my last poetry collection, The Elephant Tests, which coincidentally contains a poem entitled At Frampton Marsh. And should that pique your interest, you can find out more about that book and about Nine Arches Press here.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Ashes squad assessment

So, the whole Ben Stokes business has rather overshadowed the announcement of the actual Ashes squad, but reaction to it generally was pretty negative. Several pundits, including Jonathan Agnew, have called it weak, with others even describing it as the weakest Ashes squad they can remember.

Well, I'd take all that with a pinch of salt, for starters. I can remember several previous England squads being described in the same way, most notably in 1986-87, when it was widely predicted that a resurgent Australia would thrash us. In fact, we won 2-1, but the scoreline flattered the home side hugely. We went into the series with no idea who our openers would be – one of them, Chris Broad, scored three centuries and was man of the series. Incidentally, I can also remember it happening in reverse more than once, with Australian sides arriving on these shores being described as the worst-ever. 1989, anyone?

Still, there's plenty to quibble with in the team the selectors have picked. Gary Ballance, for a start. He may have a great first-class average, and his test average of 37 is OK, but he started his test career well and has been getting steadily worse, as quality seam attacks have discovered exactly where to bowl to him, given his lack of foot movement. I can't see him performing any better in Australia, whether he bats at 3 or 5.

The selection of James Vince is similarly strange, although in its defence, this will be only his second chance (Ballance is on, what, his fifth?), and there's reason to think that his technique might be suited to Australian pitches. But to be honest, I wouldn't have taken either. They have good reasons for not wanting to plunge newcomers into the fray, but if they had to go back to someone from the past, why not Alex Hales (who also has a technique suited to Aussie pitches, and who has played successfully there)?

I don't understand the selection of Mason Crane as the second spinner - he's struggled to get into Hampshire's team most of the season, while over at Somerset Jack Leach has turned in a second consecutive 60-wicket year (despite having to remodel his action). More to the point, the second spinner will probably spend most of the series carrying drinks, and only be called upon if Moeen is injured or suffers a catastrophic loss of form. If they do get the call, they're more likely to be asked to do a holding job than to become an instant match-winner, and Leach seems a much better bowler in that respect.

Finally, the wicketkeepers. Ben Foakes is probably the best actual keeper in the country, and he can bat a bit, too. But as with the spinners, he's only likely to play if the man in possession, Jonny Bairstow, gets injured. In that situation, coming in cold (because there are few matches outside the tests), is he really likely to hit the ground running? Jos Buttler, on the other hand, is one of those batsmen for whom both form and pressure seem to be irrelevant – he plays the same way whatever. He has underachieved for England in tests, but he seems to me to be the best back-up for Bairstow we have, and far more likely to play a match-winning (or even series-winning) innings should he make the side.

There's also the point that Andrew Miller makes towards the end of this article. Buttler, whatever his failings, has a better test record than most of the batting options they've considered and/or taken, despite having played largely as a keeper. So why is he excluded? I think, to some extent, they've started judging Buttler against the player they think he could and should be, rather than against his peers. It's what used to happen with Graeme Hick – yes, he was disappointing when judged against the 'new Bradman' some thought he could be, but his test record was better than all the batsmen they used to bring in to replace him after a couple of failures.

Friday, 25 August 2017

200 birds in a year

This year at Bird Watching Magazine, we've been running a campaign called #my200birdyear – the idea being that you get out and try to see 200 species in the year. You can set your own rules, so some people are restricting themselves to the UK, others to small parts of the UK, and others, like myself, to wherever they happen to go birdwatching (in my defence, the only foreign trip I've done was a few days in Austria in February).

Rather than turning people into full-blown twitchers, racing off down the motorway in search of rarities at the drop of a hat, we hope that it will get people to notice some of the species that otherwise slip beneath the radar. Things like Stock Doves, hidden among flocks of the ubiquitous Woodpigeon. Or any number of warblers, unobtrusive among bushes and shrubs. Or even the likes of Mediterranean Gulls, tagging along with the familiar Black-headeds.

My own tally so far is 170, and includes a few nice little bonuses like Bee-eater (at East Leake) and Pectoral Sandpiper, as well as the likes of Short-toed Treecreeper from that Austria trip. But what's also interesting is what I haven't seen – I'm still missing Spotted Flycatcher and Green Sandpiper, for example, species I'd normally expect to have stumbled across by now. In the case of the former, that might be down to the fact that numbers are continuing to decline, but there's also an element of luck involved.

If they do turn up (in the next few weeks), 200 should be well within sight, with the chance to add goodies such as Brambling, Waxwing and a few geese once the winter weather arrives. But of course, there'll be something else, too, something I can't foresee. And it's that that makes birdwatching so endlessly fascinating. Birds go wherever the fancy and the weather takes them, and being there to see them is down to a mixture of luck, hard work and playing hunches.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Mark Goodwin on Swallows

There's a terrific post here from Leicestershire poet Mark Goodwin, about his children hand-rearing a Swallow. It's interesting from an ornithological point of view, but it's also full of lovely writing. That phrase "a bringing in of the far" is great.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

A Sky Full Of Birds reviewed by NFU Countryside


The paperback edition of A Sky Full Of Birds was reviewed in the latest issue of NFU Countryside magazine – you can see it above. And of course, you can buy it by following this link.

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Knives of Villalejo, by Matthew Stewart


This rather splendid volume arrived in the post the other day. I've been following Matthew Stewart's poetry for several years now, ever since he was highly placed in the Plough Prize, so its great to see this finally published by Eyewear. I've already read it when it was at the manuscript stage, and it combines great economy of style with a hefty emotional punch – I'm looking forward to re-reading it this week.

You can buy it here.

Friday, 14 July 2017

And Other Poems

Over at And Other Poems, there are now two index pages listing every poem published on the site since 2012 (and of course, you can click through to the poems themselves, too). I'm not even going to try to list the many excellent poets who have appeared there, because to pick any out would be unfair, but have a look yourself and enjoy.

Thanks to Laura McKee, who flagged this up on Facebook, and whose own excellent poems you can see here. Short poems too often get overlooked – it takes an awful lot of skill and nerve to know just how much is enough.

You can read two of my poems from The Elephant TestsThe Mind's Skyline and The Dark Ages – which were published there.