Monday, 28 April 2008

Whatever happened to...

Saturday’s Guardian contained this review of a new collection by Stephen Romer, which was slightly strange, as just a few weeks back I’d been wondering what became of him, having liked some of his work back in the early 90s (I remember it as being a bit Hugo Williams-ish, but maybe my memory is playing tricks) but come across precious little since.

Of course, just because a poet is taking his time between collections doesn’t mean he isn’t busy, and Romer’s French connection has always been a strong one. Living on the other side of the Channel for more than 25 years pretty much ensures that your poetic profile in this country is lowered somewhat, I’d guess.

It set me thinking about another “where is he now?” A while ago on this blog, I mentioned having bought three of Oliver Reynolds’ four collections in secondhand shops, and having enjoyed them all (the fact he often writes about Cardiff helps, because I lived there for a few years. In fact, he deserves an award for getting the placename Splott into a poem - I'd guess Peter Finch might also have managed it sometime, but probably no one else. I recently also bought what I think is his most recent book, Almost, but even that is eight or nine years old. I think he has also worked extensively in theatre, but he seems to be a very low-profile poet, which is perhaps a little strange given that his first two books seemed to draw an awful lot of critical plaudits.

So, I'd be interested to know, what does anyone else think of his work? Any ideas what he's doing now? He doesn't seem to me to fit very comfortably into any particular 'school', or into any stereotype of Welsh contemporary poetry, so is that one reason why he's not so visible? I'd love to know more...

Humphrey Lyttelton, 1921-2008

Sad news at the weekend of the death of Humphrey Lyttelton, jazz trumpeter and long-time host of BBC Radio Four’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, which one of his obituaries quite rightly described as more collaborative improvisation than panel game.

Now I won’t pretend to know anything at all about jazz, but I’ve been a long-time fan of I’m Sorry… Without taking anything away from the regular panellists, the programme’s success was down to ‘Humph’, whose persona – veering between exasperated bewilderment and perfect deadpan – allowed him to get away with the sort of double entendres that would normally be tucked away well after the watershed.

These days, far too many people get described as a British ‘institution’, but in the case of Lyttelton, it’s absolutely the right term to use. I just hope they won’t try to replace the irreplaceable.

* Here's Richard Herring's blog post on it. As he says, filthy jokes somehow sound so much more filthy, and funny, coming from the lips of an 86-year-old man.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Kleinzahler's latest

Good review of August Kleinzahler's Sleeping It Off In Rapid City: Poems, New and Selected here. He's a poet I always enjoy reading, and this sounds like a decent overview of his work.

Elsewhere, the new issue of Quattrocento is out. It's a very nicely produced little mag, and it always contains interesting work, so have a look at it if you get the chance.

Monday, 21 April 2008


Plenty of good stuff over at Stride. There are these poems by Jennifer Olds - some great stuff from her also featured on the site last summer.

There's a review of Kelvin Corcoran's Backward Turning Sea, which includes the chapbook Roger Hilton's Sugar, which I reviewed for Sphinx a couple of years back. I liked it a lot, and Andy Brown is similarly positive about it.

Finally, there's a review of Stephen Romer's new collection. I remember reading some of his poems years ago and liking them a lot, and I was thinking just the other day that it was a long time since I'd seen anything from him.

Still starting

Here's my colleague Mike Weedon's photo of that Peterborough Redstart, which is still hanging around. I was lucky enough to see a similarly fine male at Thornton Reservoir, near Leicester, yesterday, although I didn't catch up with the Bittern at Cossington, or the Arctic and Black Terns and Little Gulls reported from several locations. An early start tomorrow beckons...

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Making a start

Just had to dash out of the office and walk the mile or so to Ferry Meadows to see one of these little fellas. Gorgeous birds (pictures never really do them justice), and unfortunate that I only ever see them while they're on migration. What a week for redstarts.

The Slab

Things usually move pretty slowly in poetry world. Not at all surprisingly, of course, given that an awful lot of editors and publishers are doing the job purely because of their love of it, and anyway one pleasant side-effect of all this is that you sometimes get unexpected surprises in the post, getting replies from magazines you’d long forgotten about submitting poems to, or even better, getting a copy of said publication with your poems inside.

Just that happened to me yesterday. There was a bulky envelope waiting on the doormat, which turned out to contain The Slab (Slab v.3 – Slab Of Fun), a Hull-based anthology that appears at periodic intervals. All sorts of production problems had delayed the release of this edition, so I’d sort of forgotten that I’d had a couple of poems – Searching For The North West Passage and Watching The Wheatears – accepted for it.

Slab’s the right word, too. It’s a hefty paperback, jam-packed full of poetry and reviews, and as well as my two offerings, there are poems by the likes of Ian McMillan, Geoff Hattersley, Peter Sansom and David HW Grubb, as well as a lot of well-known small press names. It’s fair to say that there’s a strong flavour of northern anecdotalism, but then I like that, once in a while, when it’s done well.

On my cursory flick-through so far, I liked McMillan’s poems, and the work by Geoff Stevens and Naomi Foyle.

Monday, 14 April 2008


The usual trawl through the Sunday papers turned up this story. Not sure whether to laugh or cry, really, but there's much more on it over at Poets On Fire.

In the Sunday Times, Stewart Lee (in between comedy commitments, he's long been their champion of all things alternative) gave this review to another re-release from the back catalogue of The Triffids, criminally neglected 80s Aussie country gothic types. I can't vouch for this one, but their 1986 album Born Sandy Devotional is a classic, and there's also a pretty decent compilation called Australian Melodrama.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Moot point

I just came across this on the Guardian website. I'm not sure what position I'd take at the moment - interesting stuff, though.

Early start

I was keen/brave/foolish enough to be up on Beacon Hill at 6am this morning, in search of Ring Ouzels. I bumped into another birder who told me about the three seen there yesterday, along with a male Redstart, but I was out of luck. Still, it was a good way to wake myself up, standing up there taking in the view while low cloud scudded past and I bitterly regretted forgetting to bring any gloves. And there were a handful of good sightings - two Wheatears in the field full of Highland cattle, a single Tree Pipit in more or less exactly the same spot where I found one last year, and, just as I left, two Curlews flying over the lower pastures doing their trembly, liquid spring song, complete with aerial display.

I had a quick look at the Birds Brittanica entry on Curlews when I got in to work. It says that, unlike some other wader calls, the Curlew's trill almost always lifts the spirits (I'd agree), and quotes Ted Hughes:

"Curlews in April/Hang their harps over the misty valleys...A wet-footed god of he horizons".

That's from Remains Of Elmet, one of my favourite Hughes collections. BB also mentions that the Curlew's song features in one of the earliest bird references in English literature, in the Anglo-Saxon poem The Seafarer. In RK Gordon's translation, the lines run:

"I took my gladness in the cry of the gannet
and the sound of the curlew instead of the laughter of men,
in the screaming gull instead of the drink of mead."

In fact the Anglo-Saxon word used, huilpe (from which the modern name whaup, used for the Curlew in Scotland, derives), could be translated as Curlew or Whimbrel, but I don't suppose there was too much discussion of the finer points of wader ID in the mead-hall.

Last night, I finally caught up with the female Scaup at Watermead CP. It's amazingly confiding, hanging around with the Tufted Ducks and joining them in the scrum for bread. Nice bird, though.

PS. If you follow that Birds Britannica link, you'll see that the review mentions JA Baker's The Peregrine. I've just read it, on the recommendation of Tom Bailey, and it really is a fantastic piece of work. I'll post a full review of it in a few weeks.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Coming soon...

Here's the excellent cover to the forthcoming first collection from Minnesota-based poet LouAnn Shepard Muhm. Regular readers of Polyolbion will know that I liked LouAnn's chapbook, Dear Immovable, a great deal, having received it in the 2007 Poetry Superhighway Great Poetry Exchange.

Well I've already read this collection, having been asked to do one of the blurbs for it (which was a big thrill - Jane Hirshfield was one of the other blurbsters), and it builds on the strengths of that chapbook and then some. I've been through it several times and there's absolutely no excess baggage - every word has a job to do, and does it very well.

To find out more about LouAnn, the book, and ordering, click here or email me directly, and I'll send you a pre-order form.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

First review

The first review of Troy Town appeared in the Leicester Mercury the other night. Now, I should probably admit up front that I worked at the paper for five years, and in fact have known the reviewer since we were both 12 (as well as working with him at another paper). Other than that, we have no connection whatsoever.

Oh, except that he lives about three minutes' walk from my house.

But anyway, all those things aside, I'm very grateful to Lee Marlow and the Mercury for reviewing the book so positively. You can read the review here, at my Troy Town satellite blog. Hopefully there'll be more to join it before too long.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008


Well, who'd have thought it? No sooner had I moaned yesterday about the ever-increasing Books To Buy list, than Amazon sent me a gift certificate (they've owed it to me for over a year, but I'd given it up as lost). I've chosen to see it as a sign from a higher power commanding me to buy more poetry - Hartill and that Poetry Wars book, I think.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Tears In The Fence 47

It's always nice to get home and find a magazine has dropped through the letterbox, but the downside is that you usually spend the next few days adding certain volumes to that long list of books to buy.

Tears In The Fence 47 is no exception. It's already reminded me that I must get hold of David Caddy's Man In Black, and the review of Graham Hartill's A Winged Head makes me want to order that too. There's a good piece on Lee Harwood too, a fine review of Joanna Boulter's excellent Twenty-Four Preludes and Fugues on Dmitri Shostakovitch, and much more. Have a look...

Thursday, 3 April 2008

More news

Eras seem to be ending all over the place. I noticed the other day that Robert Minhinnick is stepping down as editor of Poetry Wales. It's a magazine I buy now and then (probably every other issue, when I see it on sale in Borders), and usually enjoy. No word yet on who'll be trying to fill his shoes.

Elsewhere, I was surprised to find that Stride Books is quietly passing away (don't worry, though, the magazine continues to be very much alive). It's a shame, because the handful of Stride volumes I've got are, quite apart from their eclectic content, beautifully produced, with a definite house style. I know some will feel that content should be everything, but I'm an unashamed book fetishist. I like them to look good on the shelves (or more likely the floor in my house at the moment), feel good in the hands.

Finally, there's this lovely little plug for Troy Town on the HappenStance site, thanks to Helena Nelson. I'm thinking of taking that "Merritt is the man to take on holiday with you" line entirely out of context, and seeing what sort of offers I get.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

In brief...

It's that time of year again already - yes, NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) 2008 is upon us. The idea is a simple one - you sign up, and then write a poem every day throughout April, posting them as you go along, and getting feedback from the other participants. Of course, you also get to read their poems and provide constructive criticism.

I'm not going to be taking part this year, because I'm still rather tied up with trying to finish a sequence I'm writing about the Midlands Revolt of 1607 (more interesting than it sounds, honest!). But I can recommend having a go. Last year was a struggle, but an enjoyable one which resulted in a fair number of decent poems. You can, of course, revise them once it's all over, and that's where the crits came in handy.

Elsewhere, I liked these poems by Peter Dent, over at Stride. Oh, and things have gone birdsong-crazy over at The Herald.