Friday, 28 September 2007

Prizes, poems and fat cats

I’ve just seen the office copy of BBC Wildlife Magazine, which contains the winning entries in the 2007 Poet of the Year competition. I’m absolutely delighted that my own poem, Hares In December, came 2nd in the adult section. I wrote it for NaPoWriMo in April, although I made the notes for it much earlier, after walking round Rockingham Forest looking for Red Kites one December day (we found them, plus loads of Hares).
My prize, a huge package of bird food, plus feeders and a nestbox, arrived in the post the other day. The slight problem is that I don’t really have anywhere suitable to put any of it, because I have a pretty small garden without trees or high fences, and in addition the main part of the garden is out of sight of the windows (I live on a terrace, and there’s a communal path between the houses and the gardens). The one or two places that would accommodate them would be far too open to cats.
So, I thought I’d pass the prize on to my parents. They have a bigger (although far from huge), much more varied garden, and although it’s in a pretty built-up, suburban location, over the years they’ve managed to attract a fair amount of wildlife. As well as all the more common garden bird species – Robin, Blackbird (loads of them), Dunnock, Wren, Song Thrush, Starling, House Sparrow, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Collared Dove and Woodpigeon – there’s plenty of corvids, including Magpies, a large family of Carrion Crows, occasional Jackdaws, and, a couple of summers ago, a Jay who insisted on filling every available space (including my mum’s peg bag) with acorns, and on trying to collect people’s hair as nesting material. There have been occasional Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a regular pair of Sparrowhawks, a Kestrel, and in winter, visiting Yellowhammers, Goldcrests, Reed Buntings, Pied Wagtails, Goldfinches and Bullfinches. In the summer, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers are sometimes around, plus plenty of Swifts and House Martins overhead. A Buzzard flies over now and then, and a Pheasant once found its way there. There’s a Heron that lands in nearby gardens, but hasn’t yet made a visit. All quite impressive, given that they have one (very large and conspicuous) cat, plus a sort of timeshare on another (he flits between several owners). Oh, and next door’s cat likes to pop over for a bit of a light-hearted chase around the plant pots.
The reason why their cat (the unfortunately named Gizmo) is no deterrent to birds goes back to his early days. When he was about six months old, he went and launched himself at a group of Herring Gulls on the lawn (sadly, they never visit anymore, although there’s the occasional Black-headed). He grabbed one by the leg, and it and its mates then turned on him. He just managed to escape before he was carried away or filleted by their beaks, and has since shown little interest in birds (neither did the cats we had when I was a kid, although one was a prolific mouser), often stoically suffering close-range taunting from the Crows, Magpies and that Jay.
He doesn’t bother mousing, either. Again, when he was very young, he chased a squirrel in through the patio window, and it then ran up the curtains, along the pelmet, and back down the other side, before escaping back out of the window. He seemed to take this disappointment quite badly, and now refuses to acknowledge the existence of mammals other than cats. Foxes visit quite regularly, and I’ve seen him sit almost back to back with one, each pretending that the other isn’t there.
I’d imagine , then, that he’ll have no problem with Robins using the nestbox. Now and then, he’ll do that strange chattering thing that cats do at birds (Magpies are the only ones that seem to provoke him), but otherwise, he’s a walking refutation of the claim that cats are wiping out songbirds.

Festival time

I'm terrible at getting myself organised to go to any kind of poetry or literary festival. I'll see that it's on, and think it looks good, and promise that I'll go, then either completely forget about it or leave it too late to buy tickets.
But Liz Bassett flagged up the Derwent Poetry Festival over at Word Doctors, and I'm determined to get along there. After all, it's a lovely part of the world anyway, so I can intersperse the poetry with a bit of walking and/or birding. Just need to decide whether to go for the Saturday or Sunday, or both.
In the meantime, I'm going to go to to the Autumn Leafe reading, by Martin Stannard and CJ Allen, in Nottingham next Thursday evening. I got the details from a flyer that I don't have to hand at the moment, but from memory I'm pretty sure it's at the Broadway Cinema, starting at 7.30pm. It's organised by the always excellent Leafe Press, by the way.
UPDATE: I've just discovered the online details about that Leafe reading - here they are.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Big, bad Wolfe

I recently bought a secondhand copy of this. It's great. I vaguely remember reading about Thomas Wolfe (not the white-suited gobsh*te - that's Tom Wolfe) years ago, but why's he not better known in this country?

Monday, 24 September 2007

Bill Griffiths

Very interesting piece at Fretmarks about the death of Bill Griffiths. I can't claim to know much about him, but oddly enough his name has kept cropping up in my reading for the last month or so (mainly to do with his work translating Old English texts). I'll have to do more digging into his work.
The rest of the piece deserves to spark some discussion, too. Readings ARE strange things, I think, but I suppose their value depends very much on how they are done. I sort of agree with the writer being the last thing the listener or reader should think about, but sometimes it's hard not to.
It was a quiet weekend. Friday, before leaving work, me and my boss ventured out onto the Fens at Eldernell in search of a reported Purple Heron. We got great views of a juvenile Marsh Harrier, plus a Hobby and plenty of Kestrels hunting despite a wind that made it difficult to stand up. No heron, though. Or was there? We did watch a distant heron fly off, and remarked on its dark colouring, but didn't get excited because we'd made the elementary error of not consulting the bird guide first, and so were under the impression that Purple Herons are much smaller than our own Greys. Afterwards, checking in the book, we weren't so sure. They are smaller, but not a huge amount. We've put it down as a might-have-been.
Otherwise it was two days of reading, writing and watching India knock the Aussies out of the World 20/20. When he's batting like he is at the moment, Yuvraj Singh combines power and timing better than pretty much anyone I can think of. It's just a shame that I'm cooped up here at work while the final is on.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Don't believe the hype

I'd have to say I wasn't one of those who was bowled over by Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident Of The Dog In the Night-time when it came out a few years back. It was a perfectly enjoyable read, but a bit uninvolving, and I didn't think the central character particularly captured the psyche of an Asperger's Syndrome sufferer (from my admittedly very limited experience of them).
When Haddon's first poetry collection, The Talking Horse And The Sad Girl And The Village Under The Sea, came out in 2005, I read a few reviews of it (they were very mixed), and forgot about it.
Recently, though, I've been trying to give the credit card a rest and borrowing poetry collections from the library, rather than splashing out, and when I was there last Friday I saw Haddon's book and grabbed it. I'd have to say, it's certainly a lot better than the bad reviews it got (and than the one on Amazon - it sounds like the reviewer has some bizarre ideas on poetry in general). On the other hand, it doesn't really live up to the most positive reviews, or to the synopsis, that says:
"That Mark Haddon's first book after 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' was a poetry collection perhaps came as a surprise to his legions of fans; that it is a collection of such virtuosity and range did not. The gifts so admired in Haddon's prose are in strong evidence here too - the humanity of his voices, the dark humour and the uncanny ventriloquism - but Haddon is also a writer of considerable seriousness, lyric power and surreal invention, and "The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea" combines bittersweet love-lyrics, lucid and bold new versions of Horace, comic set-pieces, lullabies, wry postmodern shenanigans (including a note from the official board of censors on '18' certificate poetry), and an entire John Buchan novel condensed to five pages. Consolidating Haddon's reputation as one of our most powerful myth-weavers and spell-makers, 'The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea' also confirms him as one of the most outrageous and freewheeling imaginations at work in contemporary literature."
I presume that was taken from the blurb (I haven't got the book to hand at the moment), and it does rather overdo it, and therein lies the problem, I think. I'm sure the more outrageous claims just put reviewers backs up, and do the poet no favours. For example, "such virtuosity and range" - really? Honestly? "Surreal invention" - the surrealism is rather clumsily done, I thought, and easily the worst thing about the collection. "Uncanny ventriloquism" - no, I can't go for that (see earlier comments on the novel). And finally, "one of our most powerful myth-weavers and spell-makers" and "one of the most outrageous and freewheeling imaginations at work in contemporary literature." Oh come on! In what way outrageous? And where are these myths, exactly?
This isn't intended as an anti-Haddon diatribe. The same could apply to any number of recent poetry collections - I understand the need to market them, but surely making wildly overblown claims just turns the book-buying public off in the long run? I've enjoyed the collection on the whole, but very much despite the extravagant claims made for it.
Understatement is, we're always told, very much the order of the day in contemporary poetry. Perhaps reviewers should use a little now and then.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Beaten to the punch

A lot of my poems take an awfully long time to write. They hang around in notebooks and computer files, half-finished, sometimes barely started, waiting for that original scrap of inspiration to be hammered into shape. Sometimes, it never happens, but more often than not something gets finished, eventually.
One such piece had been sitting on my hard drive for a good two years. It didn't work as it stood, but there was something there, I thought, that might be worth persevering with. Then, a few weeks back, I came across a poem by the Irish poet Eavan Boland, which was startlingly similar in theme and structure to my unfinished poem. Hers used Atlantis in its central metaphor, mine used Lyonnesse, but the idea was the same. We'd probably arrived at the idea from very different directions, but it's hardly the most remarkable coincidence in the world.
Anyway, now I had a problem. Unsurprisingly, her poem was (i) much better; as well as being (ii) finished; and (iii) published. Probably I should just have forgotten about it, but over the weekend I pulled my poem apart, reassembled it in various different forms, and ended up with something very different from what I started with, but which I'm actually pretty happy with. It's still not as good as Eavan Boland's, of course, but I think it's now sufficiently different to survive. I might send it out somewhere eventually.
The moral? Well, there isn't one, really, except to say that sometimes being forced to consider radically changing a poem does you a huge favour.
It was a good weekend. Yesterday, I went to one of my regular birding haunts (I won't say where, because I was reminded earlier that there are people out there for whom raptors are Public Enemy No1) looking for a reported Black-necked Grebe, and with the intention of taking my first very tentative steps into the world of digiscoping (taking pictures through a telescope, using a compact camera). As I arrived, a juvenile Peregrine was overhead, and by the time I'd parked, another (an adult, this time) was perched on the tree that they always use, with its bright yellow talons very visible through the scope. I went off walking, in search of the Grebe (with no luck), and as I returned to the car, I could see what looked like a second Peregrine on the tree. I got the scope on it, and it was. A female, judging by the size. Then, as I looked harder, I realised that a third Peregrine was there, facing away from me. I looked up to give my eyes a break, and there was a juvenile powering over the water, putting the Tufted Ducks and Black-headed Gulls to flight by his mere presence. Four Peregrines - at times I think I'm in danger of getting blase about them, so easy are they to see locally, but this was something else. I did little more than mess about with the new camera, but trial and error is all part of the process.
Finally, lots of good stuff on Stride. I saw Eleanor Rees' book in Borders on Saturday, but was a bit put off by its price, so I'm with Rupert Loydell on Salt's hardback thin volumes. I'll wait for it in paperback. I also saw Luke Kennard's collection, and would have bought it. In fact, I got as far as waiting in the queue, then realised that I'd left my wallet in my other coat. I don't suppose they'd have accepted 87p and half a tube of Polos, so I sheepishly snuck it back onto the shelf, and made my exit. I'll go back for it this week.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Taking monstrous liberties

I'm indebted to The Library Princess for pointing me in the direction of
Got Medieval. As someone who has always thought that history gets REALLY interesting just about when the Romans are packing up to leave, and loses some of its lustre again when the Renaissance comes along (we're talking in relative terms here), it's essential reading.
I'm slightly alarmed to see what's in store in the forthcoming film version of Beowulf (go to the July 17 entry), not to mention disappointed in Neil Gaiman. I don't have high hopes for it, but Hollywood has mangled plenty of other classics of world literature beyond recognition, so why should this be any different?
On the other hand (you knew that was coming, didn't you?), perhaps it will spark an interest in the original in a few people, so who am I to complain? I'm not ashamed to admit that my own interest in early medieval history was kindled entirely by reading the Lord of the Rings. Especially by the Riders of Rohan, with their Anglo-Saxons-on-horseback culture.
Speaking of which, I'm sure I read an article in a Sunday paper a few years back, saying that a translation of Beowulf by Tolkien had been found. It would certainly be a must-buy, given that Tolkien's 1936 lecture on the poem, The Monsters and the Critics, completely revolutionised understanding of it. But I've heard nothing since reading the piece - did I imagine it?

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Shakespeare: Who wrote what?

Every few years this sort of story comes along. I'm not sure what to make of it, really. I love a good conspiracy theory, and I can see that there are some reasons for thinking that the authorship of Shakespeare's plays was down to someone else, or several other people. I'm not sure, though, that the reasons offered here are that convincing.
Derek Jacobi's comment that he doesn't think anyone could do it all on his own seems a bit odd - surely you could, and would, say the same about any genius, in any field? That's what sets them apart, isn't it?
His later comment, where he names De Vere the likely author because his life and experiences more closely match the plays, worries me even more. After all, no one's experience can match the plays that closely - they're just too varied and multi-layered for that. It seems to me to downplay the importance of imagination, and there's a hint of snobbery too. It must have been an aristocrat, because no pleb could possibly have managed it. Hmmm. I'm not persuaded.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Workshop responses

I've just come across the responses to that WS Graham themed Guardian poetry workshop. On first reading, I think I liked Eleanor Livingstone's poem best. I'm biased, admittedly, because she's a fellow HappenStancer and we launched our chapbooks at the same reading, but I'd agree with what Matthew Sweeney says - it's a surprising poem, and that's always a good thing.

Friday, 7 September 2007

"You don't have to be an ornithologist (to draw absurd conclusions to suit your prejudices)

It’s not often I’m moved to write to a newspaper, but this particular piece of ill-informed drivel did the trick. At a time when several of the broadsheets are jumping on the ‘let’s control raptors’ bandwagon (The Times had this piece*, and The Telegraph this – there’s loads to argue with in both, but they do at least make passing reference to one or two facts), Richard Ingrams and The Independent take things to a quite spectacular level of ignorance, prejudice and downright malevolence.
Where to start? Maybe with the Red Kites flying “menacingly” over his house. Menacing who, exactly? Does he suppose they’re about to swoop down and carry off young children, or the family pets? They take little live prey as it is, most of it no bigger than a rat.
What about the growing numbers of “larger birds”? By this Ingrams seems to mean raptors, although of course there are plenty of larger birds that are no such thing. If he’s really interested – and of course he’s not – there are plenty of figures available for larger birds, and if he took the trouble to read them he’d find that a lot of them are also struggling. Notable among them is the Hen Harrier, under threat precisely because it is still persecuted by shooting interests.
Connected with that, there’s the fact that the rapid increases in the number of Buzzards in particular, plus some other species of bird of prey, is entirely down to their populations having reached such dangerously low levels not so long ago. And the reason for that? Well, myxamatosis played a part where Buzzards are concerned, but again, systematic persecution by gamekeepers was the main cause.
As for the decline of small birds being down to the increased number of raptors – bullshit. The two we’ve been talking about, Buzzards and Red Kites, take very few birds. In the case of those British raptors who do – Sparrowhawk, Goshawk, Hobby, Merlin and Peregrine – many of their preferred prey species (Blue Tit, Great Tit, Blackbird, Collared Dove, Woodpigeon, to name but a few) are thriving. Ingrams is right to note that certain small birds have declined considerably, but of course it doesn’t suit his purpose to mention that others are doing very well.
The paragraph beginning “You don’t have to be an ornithologist…” is quite staggering in its stupidity. Perhaps you don’t need to be, but a basic grasp of a few facts would be a help. He seems to think, from what he says, that Sparrowhawks do nothing but catch sparrows, when in fact they take a whole wide range of prey. But they’re a native species too (as are all the raptors we’re talking about), so those losses are factored into nature’s equations. Predators do NOT wipe out their prey species, then wonder where the next meal is coming from.
Finally, there’s his little dig at the RSPB. Where exactly did he find out about the declines in small birds? From the RSPB, of course, and the BTO, and all the other organisations genuinely concerned with conservation. Certainly not from his grouse moor-owning, old school tie chums, anyway.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the whole piece is what it doesn’t mention. In the whole, long, sad list of bird and animal species that have disappeared into extinction, there isn’t one that was killed off by being preyed on by another native species. If, as Ingrams suggests, raptor numbers grow too large, then populations will experience a levelling off as they find their appropriate level. In the case of Buzzards, for example, that depends on Rabbit numbers. In the case of Red Kites, largely on the availability of roadkill and other carrion. All assuming, of course, that shotgun or poison-wielding types don’t take a hand.
Because there is a common factor in that list of extinctions. Mankind. Our interference with natural habitats and lifestyles is what causes extinction, and that’s exactly what’s happening with those birds now in serious decline, including the House Sparrow and a lot of farmland species. Intensive farming, plus the disappearance of a lot of green space in urban areas (for parking, or patios) is the culprit, not Sparrowhawks or corvids or cats or any of the other reasons suggested by the head-in-the-sand brigade. Lots of farmers ARE making an effort, with and without Government and EU help, and it’s heartening that declines can be reversed relatively quickly, but only if they’re spotted and acted upon in time. And there are always those for whom greed comes first.
There’s one consolation in all this, and that’s that Ingrams’ droolings will only have been read by a tiny percentage of the population anyway, having been published in a paper that sells under 250,000 copies daily, most of them in London and the Home Counties (it's given up even pretending it knows the rest of the country exists). That’s under a quarter of the number of people who pay their RSPB subs each month.
Rant over.
* Once you know that Magnus Linklater owns a grouse moor, it rather colours your view of his objectivity.

New broom

There's a new Poetry Editor at Writers' Forum. Sarah Willans, one of the co-founders of Word Doctors (highly recommended) has taken over the role and is keen to see as many good poets as possible submitting to the magazine's monthly competition. And the real prize, of course, is exposure in a widely distributed and read magazine (it's easily available in WH Smith, for example).
When I started trying to write seriously, the mag was invaluable for giving pointers towards all sorts of magazines, competitions, workshops, courses and festivals, and under Sarah's stewardship, I'm sure the poetry workshop will be essential reading.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

So Here We Are 5

Click here to hear So Here We Are 5, the latest in Tears in the Fence editor David Caddy's Poetic Letters From England. The stuff about Bill Griffiths caught my eye on first reading, but as always, there's loads of good stuff there to follow up on.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Is Dylan poetry?

Ah, the old "is Dylan really poetry" chestnut again. I'm not sure what to make of Andrew Motion's comment. Surely all song lyrics depend for their effect on the music, otherwise the songwriter would just call them poems in the first place?
On the other hand, he raises two other interesting points. One is whether or not Dylan is considered cool or relevant enough by today's schoolkids to encourage them to read poetry. My suspicion is that for most, he isn't. The second is the whole question of getting kids into poetry by a 'backdoor' route. It makes me a little uneasy, and I find myself thinking that wouldn't it just be better to expose them to plenty of good poetry, well taught. Even when I was at school (mid-80s), the amount of poetry covered in the curriculum seemed to be very small. At O Level, we did a few World War One poems (Owen and Sassoon), a few Ted Hughes poems (I remember Wind being one of them, and the one that starts "The swallow of summer..."), and that was pretty much it. We did do a Shakespeare play, and Under Milk Wood, but very little actual poetry, and I don't ever remember being particularly inspired by it. A Level was better (and very well taught) - Prufrock and Portrait of a Lady by Eliot, Heaney's Selected Poems, and The Whitsun Weddings, but I think it's fair to assume that anyone who's taking English A Level already has some degree of interest in poetry, and literature in general.
On the other hand, I suppose it can't do any harm!
But back to whether lyrics stand as poetry. My own feeling is that they very rarely do, no matter how good they are as lyrics. I love Richard Thompson's songs, for example, but even though I often think about individual lines that they would work in a poem, I generally think that the overall effect depends entirely on the interplay of words, music, voice and instrumentation.
On Radio Five this morning, discussing this story, their objection was that Dylan's songs depended very much on his delivery of them. I'm not sure that's valid, because there are plenty of good cover versions of his songs. I used to have a double album of them, some quite obscure. Two favourites were Farewell Angelina, by New Riders of the Purple Sage (a Grateful Dead offshoot), and Mama You Been On My Mind, by Rod Stewart (in his early days, of course). And of course, there was Jason and the Scorchers' fabulous blast through Absolutely Sweet Marie, sounding a bit like The Ramones would have done had they grown up in Appalachia. Anyone got any favourite Dylan covers?

Two ticks

I’m not what you’d call a twitcher, the sort of birder who dashes off to Shetland at the drop of a hat to see some rare vagrant, but neither am I an expert enough patch birdwatcher to be able to get by without the help of the various local birding websites and BirdGuides.
I check them regularly, and occasionally, if they list something interesting on my ‘beat’, I’ll go and have a look for it. It’s pretty much the only way you can work if you haven’t got time to get around all your local sites on a very regular basis.
Anyway, yesterday there were a few Leicestershire mentions on the websites, so I did a few stops on the way from work to a meeting in Nottingham. First was Eyebrook Reservoir, to have a look for the Sandwich Terns and Curlew Sandpipers reported there earlier. Sadly a Peregrine had spooked the terns, and there was no sign of the Sandpipers, even at the spot where I’ve seen them in previous years.
So it was on to Wanlip Meadows, just on the corner of my patch, to look for a juvenile Spotted Redshank. Trouble is, the path into the Meadows has been closed for weeks while sewage works take place. No problem, I thought. Just across the river is Watermead Country Park, with a bird hide that overlooks the Meadows. I parked, walked round there, and found the hide locked up. Hmm. Not impressed. Early morning and late evening are often the best times to watch birds, especially at a site like this where many of the birds disperse elsewhere during the day, returning later to roost. This was only 6.30pm. I know vandalism can be a problem, but this is a showpiece site, well run and patrolled, and well used by the public too.
Fortunately, the ramp up to the hide offered something of a vantage point. OK, so it was looking towards the setting sun, and it only looked over a fairly narrow section of the Meadows, but it was better than nothing. I got the scope set up and started looking. Loads of Black-headed Gulls (always entertaining to see them bickering), and nearly as many Lapwings. No other waders, though, no matter how many times I scanned back and forth.
It always happens, though. I decided to have one last sweep, then move on. A Green Sandpiper moved into view, and called twice. Then, from the same direction, came the Spotted Redshank. In terms of plumage there are probably a few things you could confuse one with, but their behaviour gives them away. This one was a textbook example, wading deep in the pool, occasionally up-ending, and all the time moving with a restless, almost frantic energy. It was a bit too backlit for me to be able to make out the barred markings at their best, but with a bit of patience it was possible to get most of the way there.
Finally, on to Swithland Reservoir, to look for a juvenile Little Gull. I was a bit daunted, and the words “needle” and “haystack” came to mind when I got down to the dam and saw a huge gathering of gulls in front of me. Mainly Black-headeds, but with some of the larger species too. But Swithland Res is one of my favourite places to be on a lovely still evening, birds or no birds. Nothing for it but to set up the scope and start scanning.
And it happened again. Just at the point when I had decided to give up, it flickered into view, fluttering about like a tern, and descending to delicately pick insects from off or just above the water. It even came fairly close at times, and I was able to watch it for a good 10 minutes before the meeting loomed large and I had to leave.
It all takes the patch list to 130 for the year, but it honestly is the looking that matters. Tonight, if the weather holds, I'm off to Sence Valley Forest Park to search for some Whinchats.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Sphinx update

Here are the latest reviews to go with issue 7 of Sphinx, HappenStance's journal devoted to reviewing chapbook poetry. I thoroughly enjoyed the books I got this issue - each of them very strong, but in quite different ways.

New releases

Lots of new reviews over at Stride - the Eleanor Rees collection sounds intriguing (I've heard lots of good things about it from other sources too), and I enjoyed Paul McLoughlin's last pamphlet a lot, so I'll have a look out for his book too.

Slow burner

Sunday nights are pretty much taken care of until the end of October, because the final series of The Sopranos (*** don't follow this link if you don't want to see spoilers - I cut and pasted from it with my eyes shut ***) started last night on E4. It was something of a scene-setter, so you get the distinct feeling that all hell will let loose in the remaining episodes.
Two things about this programme endlessly fascinate me. One is the moral aspect - you feel a bit strange, to say the least, about identifying with or rooting for such a collection of psychopaths, but you keep going in the belief that all will get their just desserts in the end, one way or the other. Maybe from the law, maybe from a rival mob, maybe from their tortured consciences (yes, most of the characters have them). It gives it all the feel of a real tragedy, because even when characters try to break out of the cycle of violence, they slip back in, as Tony's cousin, played by Steve Buscemi, did a couple of series back. Or like last night, when nice guy (we're talking in relative terms here) Bobby found himself having to make his first hit to ingratiate himself with Tony again.
Secondly, there's the fact that this is a series that British TV just couldn't make. I don't mean in terms of the production values, because that probably goes without saying. I mean that it trusts the viewer to remember little plot twists or revelations from years ago, rather than signposting everything as drama series over here too often do. The characters, too, are consistent - there's none of that thing where people undergo a personality change overnight just to serve a new plot development. We CAN do it over here, most notably with period dramas, but we do so too rarely.
On a Sopranos theme, it was interesting to see during yesterday's Villa vs Chelsea game that Jose Mourinho's hair increasingly resembles that of Paulie Walnuts, Tony Soprano's unhinged henchman. Which Chelsea player is going to go for the Silvio Dante look, I wonder?