Monday, 8 November 2021

Ian ‘DIM’ Wallace, 1933-2021

There have been a lot of tributes online to the great Donald Ian Mackenzie Wallace (known to all as Ian or ‘DIM’ Wallace, after the signature he used on his artwork), who 
passed away in his sleep on November 4, aged 88, after more than half a century as one of the leading figures in British birdwatching.

Renowned as an artist, a writer (in Bird Watching Magazine, British Birds and countless books, including Birds of the Western Palearctic), he had a huge influence on just about anybody who has taken up a pair of binoculars in the last 50 years. 

First and foremost, though, he was a birdwatcher who knew the subject inside-out as a result of close observation in the field, and who was always happy to share his knowledge with great enthusiasm and passion.

didn't know him well, but enjoyed bumping into him every year at Birdfair, when he would appear through the crowds in his kilt and tartan bonnet, then offer suggestions and ideas for Bird Watching Magazine. I'd come away from every encounter enthused and invigorated (and with a notebook full of useful information) – one of Ian's defining characteristics was his positivity (although always tempered by realism).

Probably the biggest influence he had on me, though, is through the book pictured above and below. When I was a kid, I had an earlier version of it, and although the artwork isn't his, he's listed as one of the authors. That figures – the text is packed with concise but memorable ID hints, and information on behaviour, but it's also full of quirky little snippets of folklore and history, and communicates a love of birds in very much the same way that Ian did. It remains my favourite field guide.

So, farewell and rest in peace, Ian. We're all the richer for your work, and for having known you.


Monday, 25 October 2021

Luke Kennard wins The Forward Prize

Good to see Luke Kennard winning this year's Forward Poetry Prize for his excellent Notes on the Sonnets, first and foremost because it's a great collection and just the latest in a line of superb books that he's written, but also because he's a thoroughly nice chap. Good for Penned in the Margins, too, for publishing it – it's heartening to see a small press winning. 

Lots to enjoy (and to catch up with) in the rest of the shortlists, too, and well done to Caleb Femi for winning Best First Collection. 

Saturday, 23 October 2021

Clarity and obscurity

This is a very interesting blogpost, from Jeremy Wikely, about clarity and obscurity in poetry. I wouldn't say I have any answers to the questions raised, although I don't generally enjoy poetry that 'explains' itself too much. I do have several exceptions, having said that, so it's probably something to do with how skilfully it's done. 

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Europe's bird extinction crisis

This, I'm afraid, is utterly depressing and terrifying in equal measure. I'm used, like any other birdwatcher, to reading about worrying declines in all sorts of species. Turtle Dove is one which has been much talked about (although to very little effect), and then there are the likes of Willow Tit, and Curlew. The former has disappeared from large parts of the UK, as has Willow Tit (with some small glimmers of hope in old industrial areas), while the speed of the latter's decline is alarming.

But the species being talked about here are absolutely everyday birds. Rook, for heaven's sake. Swift. If they too are starting to shrink back into ever-smaller breeding areas, where they raise ever-smaller numbers of young, then it's hard to avoid the conclusion that we have broken the natural world beyond repair.

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

It's all happening at Nine Arches Press

I'm not going to apologise for giving Nine Arches Press another plug. It's all going on over there at the moment. As well as Daniel Sluman's nomination for the TS Eliot Prize, Primers Volume 6 has been announced, featuring 10 new poets. And of course, there are years and years of great collections, anthologies and other books there to browse through. 

Monday, 18 October 2021

Brendan Kennelly, 1936-2021

Very sad to hear of the death of Irish poet Brendan Kennelly today. When I first started reading a lot of poetry, having drifted away from it a bit after university, I remember seeing and enjoying a lot of his work in anthologies. Maybe because of that, I was surprised in later years that he perhaps didn't always get the attention he deserved (in the UK, at least, I suspect things were different in Ireland). Time to find those anthologies, I think, and the collections of his that I have. 

Saturday, 16 October 2021

Daniel Sluman on TS Eliot shortlist

Great news this week that Nine Arches Press poet Daniel Sluman is on the TS Eliot Prize shortlist for single window, a hybrid memoir of poetry and images. I've loved Dan's previous collections, Absence has a weight of its own, and the terrible, so I'm looking forward to having a good look at this one. He's a terrific poet, and the nomination is very well deserved

Friday, 15 October 2021

Dominic Couzens wins top award

It's always nice to be able to post about good news, and Dominic Couzens winning the British Trust for Ornithology's Dilys Breese Medal earlier this week is certainly that. 

It's awarded by the BTO every year, to someone who has championed and spread the word about their work, and who has encouraged people to take part in citizen science themselves.

Dom has certainly done that. He's an author, broadcaster and all-round naturalist, and also an all-round good guy and a pleasure to travel and go birdwatching with. I've been lucky enough to go on foreign trips with Dom over the years, and the thing that strikes you is just how much he notices. I know, I know, you'd think that all birders and naturalists would do that, and they do, but Dom takes it to a different level.

That comes out in his writing. Throughout the 15 years I've been at Bird Watching, he's written a feature in each issue, taking a close look at a particular species, always with the main focus on behaviour. Every issue, when the feature arrives by email and I read it through before it goes to the designer, I find myself amazed at how many new facts he has uncovered, even about very familiar garden species that you thought you knew really well. And yet, although the features are packed with research, they're written in such an engaging and accessible style that you can imagine anybody, even the most casual birdwatcher, being absolutely enthralled. 

Congratulations Dom!

Friday, 8 October 2021

Iamb Poetry

Yesterday was National Poetry Day, a fact which I have to admit had escaped my notice until it was too late to do anything about it. Busy week at work, and all that.

Mark Antony Owen, who has created the fantastic Iamb poetry website, very kindly tweeted a link to my appearance on the site last year – you can hear me read three poems (including Grail Birds, inspired by the Ivory-billed Woodpecker referenced earlier this week).

But take the time to have a browse through the whole site. It's a superb resource, an inspiration, and a reminder that however good it is on the page, poetry needs to be heard, too (or at the very least, it takes on a whole new dimension when it is heard). 

There are new poets being added there on a regular basis, too, so it's a site to bookmark and keep returning to.

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Tony Greig

After reading that John Snow article the other day, I came across this fine piece from the same writer, James Mettyear, about his hero-worship of Tony Greig. Greig was a hero to a whole generation until his move to help set up World Series Cricket, but the years since have put that in a different perspective.

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

New at Nine Arches Press

Angela France's collection Terminarchy is one of Nine Arches' most recent publications, and it's a fine book that explores subjects such as climate change, among others. I've enjoyed Angela's past work, but this takes it on to another level, and I recommend it very highly.

There's plenty more to enjoy at the Nine Arches website, too – have a browse of the collections and anthologies on sale there, and don't forget Under The Radar magazine.

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

The Lord God bird

So, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is officially no more, although I suspect that won't be the last word on it. Those like Tim Gallagher, who claim relatively recent sightings and who have led exhaustive searches for the bird, are unlikely to be convinced, and I'm far from sure that I am.

I was lucky enough to go on a birding trip with Tim a few years back, and in the evenings he talked to us about his sightings and his searches. Some of what he told us can be found in interviews such as this.

When I got back, I went straight out and bought his book The Grail Bird, and having found it enjoyable and fascinating in equal measure, bought Imperial Dreams, his book about the search for the Imperial Woodpecker (the world's largest) too. If anything, it's even better.

Whether the Ivory-bill is still out there somewhere, only time will tell, and probably a lot of time at that. But even if it does hang on in some swampy forest of the American South, it's future can't be bright.

Monday, 4 October 2021

The cricketing poet

To be fair, the title of this post is a bit of a cheat. John Snow, the former England fast bowler who's the subject of this article, was of course more of a cricketer who did a bit of poeting, but there you go – poetic licence and all that.

I was too young to see Snow at anything like his best - my memories are of seeing him in a test against the West Indies in 1976, and a few Sunday League games. But reading about his career, it strikes me that he is not given the credit he deserves. Beyond the bare statistics, he saved most of his best performances for the Aussies and the West Indies, and in 1970-71 he won the Ashes back for England with a performance that shaped a whole generation of Aussie cricketers, bizarrely – Ian Chappell consciously set out to create a team that played the way Ray Illingworth's did, with one or more John Snows dishing out the short stuff.

Anyway, it's a really excellent article. Take a look, and enjoy.

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Back to the Anchor Church

At the end of the ITN News last night, there was an item about the Anchor Church at Ingleby, Derbyshire. The gist of it was pretty similar to this article, but they went rather more heavily on the 'discovery' that the caves were an Anglo-Saxon dwelling rather than belonging to the late medieval period.

I know the site pretty well. In my Nine Arches Press collection hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, there's a poem called Dreams From The Anchor Church, at least partly inspired by it. I've been walking there quite a lot over the years. Memorably, about 10 years ago, I saw a Red-footed Falcon nearby, the only time I've ever seen the species in the UK.

I was a bit surprised by the TV piece, because I thought it had long been established that it was an Anglo-Saxon site. I remember talking about it as such when I was at university, in the late 80s/early 90s. I mentioned it to my lecturer (I suspect I had heard the local tradition that it was the home of an Anglo-Saxon saint), and she then pointed me in the direction of a book or possibly an article in a history journal that confirmed it. 

It's strange, then, how knowledge gets lost, and found, and lost again, and refound, because this appears to be a case where the local folk tradition preserved an accurate recollection of the past. And given the amount of early medieval remains in the area (a couple of cemeteries of the Viking 'Great Army', and an Anglo-Saxon crypt in nearby Repton church that holds a couple of Mercian kings), it's surprising that this one was ever ignored.

The link with the church at Breedon-on-the-Hill is interesting, too. It appears possible that some of the wall friezes there were taken from the sarcophagus of St Hardulph, to some the church is dedicated, and who is likely to have been one and the same as Eardwulf, King of Northumbria.

Friday, 9 July 2021

Michael Horowitz, 1935-2021

Very sad news this week of the death of Michael Horowitz, described here as a beat poet and a performance poet, but a whole lot more than that, given his untiring work to popularise any and all poetry.

I met him about 12 years ago, at the Forward Prize night, I think, and chatted for a while – he was charming and inspiringly enthusiastic (and wore an absolutely extraordinary 'peacock' jacket). It is, as the piece suggests, quite hard to get hold of his work in print, but he was very much a performer. He'll be very sadly missed.

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Poetry world, or poetry worlds

There's a couple of interesting posts over at Matthew Stewart's Rogue Strands blog, in which he looks at the difference between the poetry worlds of London and the rest of the UK, and at regular poetry events all over the country. I've done relatively few London readings, so I'm not sure whether my experiences, which have been good, are entirely representative, but he makes some very good points about poetry events elsewhere. 

Friday, 21 May 2021

Happy Birthday, Bob

All this week I've been hearing stuff on Radio 4 building up to the 80th birthday of Bob Dylan on May 24th.* Now, and I'm sure I've said this on here before, I love a lot of Dylan songs, but I'm not always that keen on his own versions of them.

So, I started trying to come up with my Top 10 Dylan covers. And here they are, in no particular order, although I suspect I'll remember loads of stuff that should have made it in there over the next few days. 

1 Mama You Been On My Mind - Rod Stewart

2 When I Paint My Masterpiece - The Band

3 Absolutely Sweet Marie - Jason and the Scorchers

4 You Ain't Goin Nowhere - The Byrds

5 I'll Keep It With Mine - Bettie Serveert

6 All Along The Watchtower - Jimi Hendrix

7 Fourth Time Around - Yo La Tengo

8 Wanted Man - Johnny Cash

9 A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall - Bryan Ferry

10 Si Tu Dois Partir - Fairport Convention

I'll have to see if I come up with my 10 favourite originals, too. 

* His name also came up yesterday because His Royal Bobness is the honorary patron of a prostate cancer charity set up in memory of England cricket great Bob Willis. Rather strange, on the face of it, but as any England fan from 1970 to 1990 can tell you, Willis was such a Dylan fan that his full name was Robert George Dylan Willis. 

Monday, 3 May 2021

Lectio Violant, by Steve Ely - Zoom launch

The Zoom launch of poet Steve Ely's new Shearsman collection, Lectio Violant, will take place on Tuesday, May 25th, at 7pm.

You can register to attend here

Official release date is May 7th, but you can buy the book now, or just find out more about it, here

And if you don't already know Steve's work, I can recommend it very highly. Oswald's Book Of Hours is possibly my favourite of his books, but they're all worth a lot of your attention.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

What's new at Nine Arches?

This is my regular recommendation that you have a browse at the Nine Arches Press website – it's full of great individual poetry collections (the most recent being Jacqueline Saphra's 100 Lockdown Sonnets), anthologies, books on the process of writing poetry, and Under The Radar magazine.

If you go all the way down to near the bottom of this page, you'll see that my last collection, The Elephant Tests, is still available. I am finally getting close to completing a very belated follow-up to that book, although there's still work to be done. So what am I doing here?

Friday, 23 April 2021

Saboteur Awards 2021

The second round of voting in the Saboteur Awards 2021 is now open – you have until May 5th to make your voice heard about some of the best of the year's literature. You don't have to vote in every category, but you're asked to vote in at least three.

I do have a slight interest in the Best Collaborative Work category, as I contributed to Arrival At Elsewhere, curated by Carl Griffin. It's a book-length poem that responds to the events of the last year, and I recommend it very highly, although I would say that, wouldn't I?

Monday, 12 April 2021

An – excuse me – DAMN fine poetry course!

Twin Peaks might very well have been the best TV programme of all time. It was certainly one of the most influential. I'm talking here primarily about the first two series. In fact, primarily the first, although anything to do with David Lynch deserves watching and rewatching. I think I might be inspired to dig out a few of my favourite clips and post them on here in celebration.

So, this looks fantastic – a Zoom-based poetry course on writing poems inspired by Twin Peaks, with tutor Chrissy Williams. Full details, including how to book, are on that link. 

Monday, 5 April 2021

Spelt Magazine

The first ever issue of Spelt is out now, and you can read more about it and buy a copy here. It promises "poetry and creative non-fiction that has something to say about the rural experience", which leaves plenty of scope.

The full submission guidelines are here.

Monday, 29 March 2021

Harry Guest, 1932-2021

Sad news at the end of last week the death of Welsh-born poet Harry Guest, a major figure in the British Poetry Revival of the late 60s and 70s. I have his 2002 Collected Poems, A Puzzling Harvest, and it's excellent, showing a poet who, despite his connection to the avant-garde, remained opened to a very wide range of influences throughout his career. 

While I was searching for material on him, I came across this excellent post on Rob A Mackenzie's Surroundings blog, from way back in 2006, in which he makes the same point (and others), far more eloquently than I could. The whole series of posts that it's part of are very rewarding to read, too.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Magma 79

I received my copy of Magma 79 yesterday, and as always there's a really good mixture of poetry (including poems from the latest Magma Open Pamphlet Competition), articles and reviews. I haven't had chance to read much of it yet, and have to admit I went straight to two poets I always enjoy – Tony Williams and David Morley – but I look forward to having a longer read tonight.

It also includes my own reviews of collections by Robert Selby, Katrina Naomi and Robert Alan Jamieson. I won't tell you here what I thought about them, other than that they all had something to recommend them - you'll need to read Magma to find out more. 

Thursday, 25 March 2021

The Las

I stumbled across this article on the BBC website last week sometime, and it set me thinking. I can remember, back in 1988, all the fuss in the music press about The Las, when the original single version of There She Goes came out. It was hugely tuneful and jangly (but then, so were a lot of things back then), and seemed to promise a great deal. 

I can remember the eager wait for their debut album, the constant delays, and then finally hearing it on a friend's record player. And I can remember being disappointed.

I know. I know you're supposed to buy into the whole lost genius story, but I can't.

I remember at the time thinking that it all sounded just too desperate to nod in the direction of classic British 1960s guitar pop. The review on AllMusic says that it avoids that, and compares it favourably with work by Oasis and Blur in that respect, but I can't agree. I wasn't a big fan of either of those bands, but I'd say that both at least steered clear of straightforward pastiche. The Las, to me, didn't, or at least not always.

I saw them live, on my 21st birthday, in fact, and got the same impression from the gig. It was good. They were good. But they didn't blow me away. It all felt a bit contrived.

And that's it, really. There are plenty of you who will disagree with me, and I'd be delighted to be persuaded of the report of my ways. But for now, at least, the legend feels a lot more interesting than the music.