Thursday, 27 November 2008

Brackenbury on Clare

Alison Brackenbury tells me that she has a short talk on John Clare being broadcast on Radio 3 next Tuesday (December 2), at 11pm. A bit late, but I like a bit of radio last thing at night. Far better that than in the day, too, when it's difficult to listen.

The talk contains extracts from a poem called The Cuckoo, and the great storm scene from The Shepherd’s Calendar.

The programme will also be available (during the rest of the week) on Listen Again, at:
(Look under E for The Essay).

The other Essays during the week also sound excellent. They are:
Monday, 1st December: Michael Symmons Roberts on David Jones.
Wednesday, 3rd December: W N Herbert on Edwin Morgan (including a recording of Morgan performing his Loch Ness Monster poem).
Thursday, 4th December: Menna Elfyn on T Gwynn Jones.
Friday, 5th December: Fred D’Aguiar on Wilson Harris.


The next laureate

As I was driving home last night, there was an item on the Radio 5 news about Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, specifically the fact that he would like to see the public have a say in who succeeds him in the post next year.

They had Ian McMillan on to talk about what the successful candidate would need, and he not unreasonably identified a combination of a popular touch and the ability to write poetry that also works on a number of other levels. He also said he'd like to see the term reduced to five years, and I'd agree - that seems a good compromise between the current 10 and the much shorter terms they have in the USA.

They didn't (and I was surprised at this), name any names in terms of speculating who the leading candidates would be. Me? I wouldn't be unhappy to see McMillan himself get the post, although I think there are plenty of good candidates, and as he pointed out, it would be good to see the job go to a woman for a complete change of perspective (amazing, really, that it hasn't happened before, especially given that the PLs have been writing for female monarchs for large parts of the last 200 years).

Wednesday, 26 November 2008


I've just received Issue 1 of The LBJ. The initials, as all you birders out there will know, stands for Little Brown Job (not Lyndon B Johnson), and is sometimes rather dismissively applied to all those less colourful small birds such as sparrows, many finches and buntings and, in Europe at least, most warblers.

Here, though, it also stands for Literary Bird Journal, and is subtitled Avian Life, Literary Arts. It's a handy notebook size, but the full colour picture of the Ovenbird on the cover serves notice that it isn't going to do things by halves. Alongside poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction and literary journalism, all of an ornothological bent, it also contains a number of full-colour plates.

I'll post a full review when I've had chance to read it properly, but it's a fine publication, from the Department of English at the University of Nevada, Reno, and a nice addition to the magazine world for those of us (and there are many) who like to mix our birding and literature.

It costs $9 per issue, and you can find out more about subscribing by logging on here.


Also while in Wales, I bought a couple of books of poetry. One was Chase Twichell's Perdido, which I haven't started yet, and the other was Lynette Roberts' Collected Poems, which I've barely put down since.

Roberts is a very interesting figure. She was undoubtedly a modernist, but a highly idiosyncratic one (not surprisingly given her background, born in Argentina to Australian parents of Welsh descent), and much of her work wasn't widely available until quite recently.

She touches on one of my recurring poetic obsessions - englyns. These are a Welsh form of verse, involving very strict rules, but although I can think of quite a few poets who have had a go at them (Gillian Clarke, Richard Caddel, Robert Graves, for starters), I think they often tend to be rather anglicised versions, without adhering strictly to the cynghanned pattern. I might be doing those poets a disservice, though, and must go back to their books to check.

Anyway, I even included a (again very anglicised) version of one in my own book, and I often mess about with them, even if it's just to get me writing. They're satisfyingly compact and punchy, I think.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008


I was in South Wales at the weekend, and bought a copy of Saturday's Western Mail. There was a (mostly positive) review of Patrick Jones' book darkness is where the stars are, just out from Cinnamon, the launch of which in Cardiff, you'll remember, provoked all sorts of controversy.

Now while I haven't changed my view that Waterstones acted pretty badly in the whole affair, I can't say I'm grabbed by what I've read of the poetry. But the reviewer pointed out that in a recent online search for the top 100 Welsh heroes, Jones made it to No.32, and was top poet behind RS Thomas, Dylan Thomas and Dafydd ap Gwilym, which suggests that his poetry does engage with a wider public than usual.

So, is it a bit churlish of us as poets to complain that too few of our kind tackle real issues and attempt to get the general public interested in poetry, and then complain again when a poet does exactly that, just because the poetry isn't to our taste? No, it's perfectly reasonable, I think, but I can't help thinking Patrick Jones could teach most of us something about marketing.

On the opposite page, there's a column called The Insider by Peter Finch, chief executive of Academi, the literature promotion agency for Wales. His occupation of that role might be seen as giving the lie to the claim that the avant-garde are excluded from all positions of power in the literati, given that he has been, at times, as 'out there' as any British poet. But maybe he's just an exception - whatever, it's a fine column, looking at a number of writers who are turning out fine work in their later years. Among them are Meic Stephens and Herbert Williams. The latter's Come Out Wherever You Are, about a mass German POW breakout from Island Farm, Bridgend, has been reissued. I remember reading it as a kid at my grandparents' house, almost within sight of the abandoned camp, and my mother telling me about seeing General Von Runstedt being marched from Bridgend station to the camp when she was a child. I must get hold of the book again.

Lady Godiva & Me

Next Wednesday, December 3rd, Liam Guilar's new Nine Arches pamphlet Lady Godiva & Me is being launched with a reading at The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Jordan Well, Coventry, at 7pm.

You might already have seen some of the poems through the e-mail tasters Nine Arches have sent out - if not, you've missed out, because they've been excellent, going way beyond simply retelling the story of Coventry's most famous daughter. Instead, a whole cast of voices from the city are brought to life by Liam, who's Coventry-born, but now lives in Australia.

The support will come from yours truly - I'll be reading from Troy Town and some newer poems.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Two new links

Scottish poet Eleanor Livingstone has a new website here (and about time too!). There's poetry, links, and even YouTube footage of Eleanor reading, so take the time to have a browse. Eleanor's excellent HappenStance pamphlet, The Last King Of Fife, was launched the same night as mine, and I also read with her last year, and she's always good to hear. Her poems are a lot steelier than they sometimes appear at first glance, too - they always repay a bit of close attention.

I also came across this superb blog, Fades In Slowly, while browsing earlier. It contains all manner of things related to John Peel, so it's essential for anyone who, at this time of year, sets about compiling their own Festive 50.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Shindig! in Leicester

There's live poetry and an open mic at the launch of Issue 2 of Under The Radar magazine, at
Friends Meeting House, Queen’s Road, Leicester, at 7.30pm on Thursday, December 11th.

Readers include:
Jane Holland – editor of Horizon Review, reading from her latest collection Camper Van Blues; Matt Nunn – Birmingham’s finest poetic export, reading from his forthcoming collection, Sounds in the Grass; Warwickshire-based poet Jane Commane reading a selection of her recent work; and yours truly, reading from Troy Town and some newer poems.

It's free, and open mic slots are available - turn up early to register for a place.

More information at

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Quiet here, isn't it?

I haven't posted much recently, having been tied up with work and writing, and that's not about to change for a few days. Not many out of the ordinary birds about (a few White-fronted Geese, and a Marsh Harrier over at Willington Gravel Pits), although I've been happy enough watching some good-sized flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares, and a few local Stonechats.

Last night, I watched Channel 4's much touted new drama series The Devil's Whore, being a bit of a sucker for all things 1640s. I have to say, I rather liked it - they resisted the temptation to go sex it up along the lines of The Tudors, and they seemed to get the tone of the dialogue about right. Not that they went for wholly authentic 17th century language, but at least they avoided any jarringly modern-sounding passages. Promising - I'll be interested to see how it develops.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Free speech?

This from the Western Mail - had it been a little independent bookshop in a small town somewhere, I could understand how they might be bullied into submission, but Waterstones' main Cardiff branch? I think they're creating a pretty bad precedent here.

Monday, 10 November 2008


I was in London at the weekend, and among other things went along to the Southbank Centre to record a reading of one of my poems, Treaty House, that appeared in Brittle Star No19. As well as the texts of magazines appearing at the Poetry Library’s Poetry Magazines site, some are to feature sound files too.

Elsewhere I bought a few books, including John Preston’s The Dig, having just popped into the British Museum and been reminded of it by the Sutton Hoo collection and the Franks Casket. It’s a novel about the excavation of Sutton Hoo, in 1939 – I’m looking forward to it.

In the little branch of Foyles nearby, I was browsing in the poetry section and couldn’t help but overhear a young woman explaining to her partner exactly who Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes were. She reached the tragic end of the story, saying “and she killed herself by putting her head in the oven”.

There was a long pause, and then the young man asked, in perfect seriousness: “Was it a gas oven?” Every head within earshot turned their way, with faces wearing expressions that were a mixture of horror and disbelief.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Magma's new look

Magma has a new website and blog, both of them worthy counterparts to what is one of my favourite UK poetry mags (it's one that I tend to buy every issue of, whereas with some I pick and choose a bit more).

You can sample some of the poetry from the new issue, and there's also a couple of interesting pieces, one of them a review of Inventory, Linda Black's Shearsman collection of prose poems, and another Hannah Salt's look at exactly what a prose poem is. Don't ask me for any answers - I'm prepared to accept that a prose poem is a prose poem because the poet says it is.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


I was away for this year's Templar Poetry Festival, at Cromford, near Matlock, but last night the 2008 Pamphlet Competition anthology, Buzz, had arrived in the post. As ever from Templar, it's very nicely produced, with a good selection of poets and poems. You can also find more details on the 2009 pamphlet competition at the Templar site.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Collected or Selected?

I've just come across a piece advertising a reading by Lee Harwood, in Hove, to mark the launch of his Selected Poems, from Shearsman. Apart from cursing the fact that Hove is halfway across the country (admittedly, living slap bang in the middle of England, that's true of an awful lot of places), it set me thinking.

Two or three years ago I bought Harwood's Collected Poems, also from Shearsman, and enjoyed it hugely. I've gone back to it again and again (in fact, it's my current bedside reading). But several poets and readers have mentioned, in the past, that they much prefer the idea of a Selected to a Collected, the latter symbolically writing an emphatic full stop to the poet's career. Of course, they're often brought out after the poet is dead, but that brings its own problems, not least the fact that they can be packed with juvenilia or poems that the writer would rather had remained consigned to obscurity.

Selecteds, on the other hand, allow the poet to weed out work that he or she would rather they weren't associated with anymore, for whatever reason, and might be thought to provide a truer picture of the poet. They're a good way to spark interest in the poet's individual volumes. The slight problem is that, inevitably, there'll be occasions when they don't include work that the reader only discovers, much later, tucked away in those individual collections. I've had that happen a few times, often with Faber and Faber Selecteds, and as I say, it's probably inevitable.

On the whole, though, my preference would usually be for Selecteds, for the reasons suggested. I wouldn't, as I say, be without that Harwood Collected, nor would I swap my gargantuan Ted Hughes Collected for a slimmer volume. So I guess it comes down to the individual poet. Some need to be read in their entirety because their poetry depends on that much wider context, others simply because you like them so much.

But anyway, I'd be interested to know what anyone else thinks...

* As regards that reading, if you're in or around Hove, this Friday, November 7th, at 6.30pm, it's £6, and is at the Old Market, Upper Market Street, Hove. Ticket price includes free glass of wine and a reduction on books purchased, and is available from City Books, 23 Western Road, Hove, tel: 01273 725 306.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Zbigniew Herbert

Following on from Rob Mackenzie's recent posts on him over at Surroundings, there was this piece on Zbigniew Herbert in Friday's Guardian. As I mentioned to Rob, I don't know nearly enough about his poetry, but I remember years ago enjoying one called The Monster Of Mr Cogito so much that I copied it out. The current resurgence of interest in him, and the literary controversy that has gone with it, has given me the nudge I needed to go and seek out more of his work.