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).

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Antony Owen at Snakeskin

The December issue of Snakeskin has two fine poems by Coventry poet Antony Owen – How To Find The Falkland Islands, and The Bombing of Beautiful Birds. The latter, you might notice, is 'after Matt Merritt, and I can only say that I'm proud and humbled to have in any way provided any spark of inspiration.

Much of Antony's work deals with war and its effects on both civilians, and the participants, and particularly how the latter are too often left to deal with their own trauma when they return home. I especially like those final two stanzas of the Falklands poem, but there's so much to like there.

You can read more about Antony's work as a poet (and peace activist) here – as you'll see, he was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for his most recent collection, The Nagasaki Elder.

A few years back, I was lucky enough to visit first the Falklands, and then Argentina, for work, in the space of 12 months. What struck me in both places was that, whenever the 1982 war was mentioned, it was not in terms of anger, or ongoing hostility, but simply with a deep sadness.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Conversations with Nick Cave

I am, I would have to say, a bit ambivalent about Nick Cave and his music. There was a time, around Let Love In, when I listened to him quite a bit. Looking it up, I've just noticed that not only was ex-Triffid Martyn Casey a member of the Bad Seeds by then, but Triffid head honcho David McComb also contributed backing vocals. But I can't say I've ever wholly gone along with the 'genius' tag he gets so often.

Still, that's irrelevant. This article in The Guardian is what I really wanted to talk about. Cave's responses to his fans feel genuine and generous, and I found this open letter to a grieving fan particularly moving.

I will have to go back and dip into Cave's back catalogue a bit, though. Given how prolific he's been, I've probably missed a lot.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Poetry in schools

Excellent piece here from Michael Rosen, on the teaching of poetry in schools, and how reducing it to a series of a yes/no answers not only does the poetry itself a great disservice, but teaches the children nothing and probably puts them off poetry for life. I was lucky, when I was at school, that we had English teachers who encouraged you to read a poem with an open mind – indeed, above all, who encouraged you just to read poems.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Declan Ryan on Hugo Williams

Interesting overview of Hugo Williams' Collected Poems here, in the Los Angeles Review of Books, by young poet Declan Ryan. Williams never really seems to quite fit in to any poetic school or movement, but I've liked his work ever since I first encountered it (a remaindered copy of Dock Leaves that I bought about 16 or 17 years ago). Billy's Rain is, as the article suggests, probably his best collection, but the Collected Poems is well worth a look.