Saturday, 28 June 2008

Today's Poem

As I mentioned last week, my Ringing Redstarts is today's poem over at Poetry Daily. It's from Troy Town, which is available now direct from Arrowhead Press, or by e-mailing me using the link on the right. If you would like to buy a copy from me, I'll also include a free copy of my HappenStance chapbook, Making The Most Of The Light.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Dylan & Dylan

There was no getting away from Dylan Thomas this weekend, with all the papers carrying reviews of The Edge Of Love, the new film about his complicated love life. I wouldn't have high hopes for it anyway, because as Simon Armitage says in All Points North, films about poets are generally pretty wretched, but this one has the additional handicap of Keira Knightley's acting.

But I have a bit of a problem with the whole concept, anyway. To me, it encourages people to treat the poetry itself as autobiography. It's the same sort of uncomfortable feeling I had with Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters, or Carol Ann Duffy's Rapture. Not that they weren't both fine books, but I did feel that too much of the interest in both was down to prurient interest in the poets' lives, and indeed the other poets in their lives.

But enough complaining. Saturday's Guardian also contained the first in their latest series of giveaway booklets (chapbooks, in fact). They're all about great lyricists, and perhaps not surprisingly they started off with Bob Dylan. A small selection of lyrics (including Desolation Row, Visions of Joanna and Tangled Up In Blue) presented as poetry, plus an intro by Greil Marcus and two 1965 articles about the great man. We've talked before on here about whether lyrics are ever true poetry - this little book made a good case for, I think.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Coming soon

One of the poems from Troy Town - Ringing Redstarts - will be the Poem of the Day at Poetry Daily a week on Saturday (June 28th). In the meantime, have a good trawl through the site - it's a good place to catch up on poetry-related articles.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Salt snap up Andrew Philip

Great to hear that Andrew Philip - whose wonderful pamphlet Tonguefire was a standard-bearer for HappenStance - has had his manuscript The Ambulance Box accepted by Salt, for publication next year.

As Andrew says, Salt have a very strong list (I was in Borders this afternoon and was struck by what an eclectic but high-quality range they boast), and are also at the forefront of marketing poetry through the web, the potential of which they've probably only just started to explore

Anyway, it's the first must-buy of 2009 on my list - if you want to know exactly why, have a look on the HappenStance site and get hold of Tonguefire, or the Andrew Philip Sampler, just out. Proof that quality wins out.

PoetCasting pushes on

No sooner had I mentioned PoetCasting than Alex Pryce received the excellent news that she has secured Arts Council funding to continue the project until mid-2010. While the site will continue to showcase both emerging and established poets, it will also move into collaborations with poetry magazines and live poetry performance events, and will develop its own events. Sounds like it'll be going from strength to strength, and quite right too.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Hear, hear

A little while ago, I recorded four poems - At Home; Show, Don't Tell; Spurn; and The Memory Of Water - for Alex Pryce's excellent PoetCasting site, and they're now available to listen to here.

They'll be on the front page of the site for the next week or so, but I'll also put a link to them on my sidebar. And while you're at PoetCasting, take the time to trawl through the archives for a wide range of very fine poets reading their work. It's always illuminating to hear poems as they were intended. Enjoy!

Friday, 13 June 2008

Cynical opportunism

It’s not often I touch upon politics on this blog, but having spent most of the last 24 hours listening to endless analysis on radio and TV, I feel compelled to comment on David Davis’s resignation as an MP to “defend British liberties”. And yes, this is the same David Davis who served as an MP under Thatcher and Major. In fact, he was a Government whip; his distaste for parliamentary deals and so on evidently didn’t weigh so heavily with him then.

It’s hard to know where to start. What about the claim, by various of his friends and colleagues, and some in the media, that this is a brave and courageous decision? What definition of those words are they using? Because as far as I can see, Davis is risking next to nothing. At the very worst, he might lose his job (I have no idea whether or not he, like many MPs, already has a second job – it’d be nice to see a few of them get upset about that, too), in which case he’ll have to kick his heels, maybe while accepting a few well-paid directorships, for a couple of years until he gets selected for a safe Tory seat at the next General Election.

Except that he made sure to get the agreement of the Liberal Democrats NOT to stand against him in the forthcoming by-election. Given that they are the only realistic threat to him in the constituency, where’s the risk? He also knows full well that whatever he might say, people in Haltemprice and Howden will not vote purely on their views on the 42-day detention debate. They’ll vote, as they always do, on a whole range of issues, not least of them Davis’s own record as a constituency MP, which by all accounts is very good.

What about Davis’s so-called principles on this particular issue. He’s been keen to mention Magna Carta at every opportunity, but as far as I know, it didn’t make provision for holding prisoners for 28 days without charge. Davis has made no objection to that shorter (but still very long) period, just the 42 days. He’s no more an upholder of the principles of Magna Carta than Gordon Brown is. The inescapable conclusion is that what he’s doing has nothing to do with political conviction, and everything to do with opportunism and an ego running out of control. He realises, I suspect, that by losing the Tory leadership election a couple of years back he lost his only real chance of ever becoming PM, and now he’s making a last-ditch bid to grab the political spotlight – this is the act of a desperate man.

Finally, where was he in the 1980s, when the party for which he was and is an MP was trampling over all sorts of civil liberties in the UK, including press freedom and, more than anything, workers’ and union rights? Engineering strikes in order to use the police as the paramilitary wing of the Tory Party and crush the unions (the court actions that followed the 1984 Battle of Orgreave are very instructive) isn’t what you’d expect from a party concerned to uphold the rights of the individual. Strangely, the Tories, including Davis, don’t plan to repeal a single one of the anti-union laws should they come to power (and it’s to Labour’s shame that they’ve done little in that regard, too). We faced a very real terror threat then, too, but Davis and the Tories showed none of this new concern for civil liberties in Northern Ireland.

Personally, I see no reason to have 42 days detention, any more than I do 28. There are far easier and more transparent changes that could be made, if the security situation demands it. But even if I did share the same view as Davis, his position would stink to high heaven of hypocrisy of the worst kind.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

New release

I received my copy of LouAnn Shephard Muhm's Breaking The Glass (Loonfeather Press) at the weekend, and a very fine debut collection it is, too. It comes highly recommended by no less a poet than Jane Hirshfield, who says of it:

"Breaking the Glass is a book of fierce heart and strong hands, glinting recognitions, and hard-won perception. Its many brief, bright shard-poems, especially, cut through surface consciousness, bringing the reader to unexpected and moving comprehension. Vulnerable with longing, fully alive, LouAnn Muhm’s words ring resonantly true."

Having read the manuscript to do a blurb for it myself, I can vouch for that. It's a very strong book, with not a word out of place. It's also a very nice looking book (regular visitors here will know that's a nice little bonus that I'm always looking for) - I like that cover photo.

I'll be posting a full review of it in a little while, but for now suffice to say it's a book I'm enjoying re-reading.

So, what are you waiting for? You can get hold of a copy yourself by clicking here.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Fisher featured

This week's Poem Of The Week over at The Guardian is Roy Fisher's The Running Changes. Not necessarily too representative of his work (but then what is, because he covers such a wide range of poetries?) - still, I like it a lot.

For a change, there's lots of good stuff in the comments section, too. I particularly liked the suggestion that the compound words in the second half of the poem are an echo of Anglo-Saxon poetry and its kennings, and Old Norse, for that matter - Eric Bloodaxe was the king of the Viking kingdom of York. He was also, as I mentioned a week or so ago, the rival of saga hero Egil Skallagrimmson.

Everything I read lately keeps leading me back to the so-called dark ages.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Worth the wait

I was interested to read this review in yesterday's Observer (there was another in Saturday's Guardian). Firstly, because it sounds like a book worth reading. Secondly, though, because of what it says about Mick Imlah not having released a full collection for 20 years.

Of course, that doesn't mean that he's not been busy, what with chapbooks, editing for magazines and anthologies, and so on. But it is a hell of a long time, making Imlah something of a poetry equivalent of The Blue Nile or My Bloody Valentine (not that it did them any harm). Does anyone know of a longer hiatus between full collections?

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Anglo-Saxon attitude

Time for a look what's new over at Stride. Lots of new poetry, for a start, of which I liked these pieces by Matt Fallaize the best.

There's also these reviews, especially those of the Old English Poems and Riddles, and the Poems from Egil's Saga. I like the sound of the extracts from the former, and it's always good to see Anglo-Saxon poetry getting plenty of new interpretations (Jane Holland has an Old English translation appearing in her forthcoming third collection from Salt, for example). The alliterative stress metre that it uses can take some getting used to, but once you've tuned into it, it is, I think, capable of carrying more than just the elegaic tone for which it is usually noted. It certainly demands to be read aloud, so as the review suggests, an accompanying CD might have been a nice idea.

Regulars here will know that I'm a big fan of medieval Icelandic literature, especially the so-called 'family' sagas. Egil's is one of the big three, along with Njal's and Laxdaela, and although I wouldn't say it's my favourite (I'd always go for Njal's Saga), the title character is truly memorable, a psychopath quite capable of writing poetry on the spur of moment to save his life, so this book looks well worth checking out.

Monday, 2 June 2008

So Here We Are 13

Here's the latest in the So Here We Are series, from Tears In The Fence editor David Caddy. If you'd prefer, the full text is here. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but it's always thought-provoking.