Tuesday 27 January 2009

Mark Goodwin: Else

There's a good review of Mark Goodwin's Else, recently published by Shearsman, over at Stride. Mark is a Leicester-based poet, much published in magazines and online, and he read (very well) at the Shindig! event just before Christmas. Anyway, it's a book I must get hold of - there is, as the review says, a very outdoorsy quality to his poetry that sometimes reminds me of an old favourite of mine, Gary Snyder.

As usual, there's plenty of other good stuff to browse at Stride, too.

Monday 26 January 2009

Big Garden Birdwatch

I took part in the RSPB's annual Big Garden Birdwatch yesterday. The idea is that you watch a garden (or part of your local park, perhaps) for an hour, recording all the species seen, plus the maximum numbers of each at any one time. Because you can't actually see any of my small garden from the house, I did it at my parents' house.

Nothing out of the ordinary, but numbers were up on last year, and it's nice to see a House Sparrow back. I recorded:

Dunnock (2)
Carrion Crow
Blue Tit (3)
Coal Tit
Magpie (2)
House Sparrow
Great Tit

Unfortunately you can't count species that merely fly over, or I could have added Buzzard, Woodpigeon and Herring Gull.

UPDATE: Three more BGBW accounts at Katie Fuller's RSPB blog, my colleague Mike Weedon's blog, and at Caroline at Coastcard. Katie's post reminded me of a couple of things; firstly, that Greenfinches seem to be increasingly scarce in my part of the world, and secondly, that you can guarantee that as soon as the hour is up, all manner of birds will appear. In my case, a Robin, several more Starlings and more Blackbirds, plus a Woodpigeon or two. And I'm envious of Caroline - I looked for Lesser Redpolls on Saturday, with no luck, although I did find a few Siskin.

Friday 23 January 2009

Saving The Charlotte

There’s been a lot of talk in the Leicester Mercury lately about fears that legendary gig venue The Charlotte is to close. Local heroes Kasabian have offered their help to save it, the letters pages have been full of it, and so it goes on.

Now don’t get me wrong – I love The Charlotte (I can remember when it was still The Princess Charlotte). Or at least, I used to, back when it was a pub with two smallish drinking areas and a tiny gig space out back. That eventually got enlarged a bit, but the character remained the same, and I spent many a happy evening there, both through choice and when reviewing bands for the Mercury. The pleasure, of course, was in being able to get really close to the bands, who would emerge from a tiny dressing room/broom closet at the back. But the sound was OK, too, the beer good, and in the old days, they used to keep a pot of vegetable chilli bubbling in the front bar. I’ve been trying to remember all the acts I’ve seen there, and some of the most memorable were Prolapse (Leicester band with two singers who should have been huge), Julian Cope, Sugar (Bob Mould’s post Husker Du outfit, while they were still fresh and interesting), The Wedding Present (ear-gratingly loud, around the time of the underrated Seamonsters), and my old favourites Yo La Tengo. When they played, I’d seen them the previous night in London, but they did an almost totally different set, and I was stood a couple of feet from Ira Kaplan as he wrestled with his guitar like a man struggling with a fire hose just after the tap’s been turned on. Oh, and how can I forget my old friends Supereight (later The Freed Unit), one of Leicester’s best-kept secrets.

Unfortunately, to increase the capacity and revenue, they knocked everything through a few years ago, so that now it resembles a long shed, with poor acoustics and a restricted view from a lot of areas. They struggle, too, to attract the names that they used to, and a lot of the time the bill seems to be made up of emo bands, usually local. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it doesn’t pack ‘em in like it used to.

I can’t help thinking, though, that the response to the rumours of closure is a bit hypocritical. If all the people writing in went to a gig there now and then (and I’m as guilty as them), there wouldn’t be a problem, I suspect. It's similar to what happens when a poetry mag is facing closure, or a publisher gets rid of their poetry list. It's all very well thinking that it's a nice thing to have around, but in the end it needs people to put their hands in their pockets and actually support it. Still, maybe this is the scare we need to get us off our backsides.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Will Hay

I can remember, as a kid getting on for 30 years ago, watching a season of Will Hay films screened on BBC2 early in the evening. My parents were both big fans, so that's probably why I started watching, but it didn't take long to get hooked. They're really very, very silly, which is bound to appeal to a child, but I still enjoy them as much now as I did then, and now I appreciate there's a bit more to them.

Saturday's Daily Telegraph contained this article about a comedian who never seems to get the kudos he deserves. It calls him a missing link between the music hall and the Ealing comedies of the 1950s, but I'd go further. His on-screen partnership with Moore Marriott and Graham Moffat certainly foreshadows the likes of Dad's Army and Father Ted, while his comic anti-hero persona must have influenced characters such as Alan Partridge and David Brent. As the article says, what's great about his films is that there's little sentimentality, no attempt to ingratiate himself with the audience.

Last year, I saw Oh Mr Porter! at the Arts Centre in Stamford, and enjoyed it hugely, but my favourite is still Ask A Policeman (plot-wise, very similar), mainly because it includes a very silly poem. Hay and his two confederates need Marriott's father (he's playing both roles) to remember it to help solve the mystery. I can't recall it all without checking the film, but it starts "When the tide is high in the smugglers cove, and the headless horseman rides a-bove", and then ends with an absurdly long last line.

But anyway, I must get hold of the biography of Hay that's mentioned (as if I needed more books to read).

Tuesday 20 January 2009

Poetry Nottingham

The new Poetry Nottingham arrived yesterday, and I spent a fair part of the day browsing it. This issue contains the winners of the PN Open Competition, so there's less space for reviews than normal, but there's an excellent appraisal of DA Prince's HappenStance collection, Nearly The Happy Hour.

The poems include work by the reliably excellent CJ Allen, and there's a definite HappenStance flavour to things too, with Patricia Ace, Gill McEvoy and myself also appearing in there.* My poem, His Old Tricks, was one of the winners of the mini-competition in the last issue - the other winner was Knock-Off Country, by Jon Stone (highly recommended).

*Because the poets in PN appear in alphabetical order, my poem appears opposite Gill's - the second or maybe even third time this has happened, I think. Always nice to be among friends!

Thursday 15 January 2009

The Secret History

My approach to reading is a pretty scattergun one, in that I often have a fair few books on the go at once. Some poetry, a novel, some history or natural history, and maybe a biography. It's one of the reasons why, having bought a book, it often takes me ages to get round to reading it.

Another is that I tend to re-read stuff without always really meaning to. Yesterday, to check a half-remembered incident, I picked up my old copy of The Secret History, or Anecdota, by sixth century historian Procopius. I had to read it at university, and I've dipped in once or twice since, but having started last night, I couldn't put it down.

Procopius spent his professional life as a civil servant at the Byzantine court, including writing fawning, obsequious histories of the Emperor Justinian and his general, Belisarius. In the Anecdota, though, he tells you what he really thinks, lashing out at those two and their wives, accusing them of just about every kind of moral degeneracy imaginable.

It's marvellously entertaining, being probably the most sustained character assassination in history, and of course there's a lot of fun to be had in deciding just what is fact and what is exaggeration. And, when I thought about it later, I realised that a lot of the poems I've been writing lately have had a common thread of secret and alternate histories. So, browsing rather aimlessly does have its up-side, at times - it's helped me start planning some direction for what I'm writing.

PS. Of course, there's also The Secret History, Donna Tartt's splendid 1990s novel, which I remember reading practically in one sitting. I must re-read that, too.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Mick Imlah (1956-2009)

Others have already said it much better than I could, but it's desperately sad to hear of the death of Mick Imlah at the age of 52. He'd been suffering from Motor Neurone disease for some time.

Last year's collection The Lost Leader had attracted all sorts of critical plaudits, but he had spent much of the 20 years between it and his debut collection as a literary journalist and editor, most notably editing Poetry Review and, later, the Times Literary Supplement. Never high profile, but working quietly and selflessly to promote the work of other poets.

He was one of the nominees for the TS Eliot Prize, the winner of which was announced last night. What's happened really puts prizes in perspective, of course, but I suspect he'd have been pleased that the judges plumped for a younger poet, Jen Hadfield, whose Nigh-No-Place is really superb.

Monday 12 January 2009

Catch them while you can

Plenty of great birds about at the moment – on Saturday, I walked around Cossington Mill / Wanlip North Lakes and had a look for the wildfowl that have been attracting plenty of attention.

There’s one good spot on the path overlooking the whole area, so I set up my scope next to an old chap who arrived just ahead of me, and we started scanning the flocks of geese. We quickly found the White-fronts (counting 16 in the end), and as we checked again after a quick conflab, I could see the juvenile dark-breasted Brent Goose on one of the small floods. It’s a common enough species UK-wide, of course, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one on my very inland patch before.

A lot more scanning produced a Pink-footed Goose, and on the walk back to the car, I crossed the bridge at the weir just as the juvenile Whooper Swan was passing by with a small group of Mute Swans. As I stepped off the bridge, a Stoat ran past only a couple of yards away, and then hid in the vegetation at the base of a tree. Simply standing still often encourages them to come out for a look, and sure enough, its curiosity soon got the better of it, emerging to watch and scent for a few moments before streaking off into the scrub.

Of course, being 80-odd miles from the sea, we don’t get a huge variety or number of wildfowl, but geese on a really cold day in winter are always thrilling, regardless.

As if that wasn’t enough, there was a decent-sized flock (I counted 48) of Waxwings around Meadow Lane in Loughborough yesterday lunchtime. I was only passing, on the way to cricket coaching, but had enough time to watch them being warned off a berry-laden tree by an extremely irate Mistle Thrush. Not that it worked for long, as they soon returned to feed frantically.

Saturday 10 January 2009

Geoffrey Holloway

Just got my hands on this lovely volume, from Arrowhead, the Collected Poems of Geoffrey Holloway. It's been recommended by quite a few people whose judgement I trust, so I'm looking forward to reading it. I read his poem Rhine Jump, years ago, and liked it, but until this book came out he had slipped off the radar a bit.

Holloway was a very active and prolific poet, but it was perhaps because he didn't fit comfortably into any of the usual pigeonholes (mainstream, avant-garde, etc) that he didn't get the recognition he really deserved.

This should put things right to a large extent, and there's an introduction by editor David Morley that puts Holloway's work in context. I have, as I said, been told about this book by quite a few poets, so it's good that there's a bit of a murmur going round about Holloway after all this time.

Friday 9 January 2009

Selling out

I’ve been working hard to sell copies of my HappenStance pamphlet, Making The Most Of The Light, at readings and open mics lately, and it’s now officially sold out.

Except it isn’t, as such. You won’t be able to buy it from the HappenStance website any more (but have a browse, because there are all sorts of goodies there), but I still have a few issues at home available for purchase or swaps.

If you’d like to buy one, you can order by emailing me using the link in the sidebar, and of course, Troy Town is very much available here or by emailing me on that link again.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

Browsing the blogs

Thanks to Jane Holland for flagging up this – Polesworth’s most famous son is finally getting the recognition he deserves, and there’s the chance for you to follow in his footsteps (quite literally, once the poetry trail is finished). Just follow the links provided, and your poetry could be part of it all.

And Carrie Etter has highlighted this – sign up, and you get a poem a week sent to your inbox. Presses involved are Anvil Press, Arc Publications, Cinnamon Press, Enitharmon, Heaventree Press, Landfill, O’Brien Press, Oversteps Books, Peterloo Poets, Salt Publishing, Seren Books, and tall-lighthouse. Hopefully it'll be a chance for some less well-known poets to get a bit of exposure - good on Oxford Brookes.

Tuesday 6 January 2009

Rogue Strands

Always good to see a new poetry blog on the scene, and this is Matthew Stewart's. It will have a distinct Anglo-Spanish flavour, I think, because he's based in Extremadura (a veritable birding paradise, of course), so it's worth keeping an eye on.

Monday 5 January 2009

New year, new list

Back at work today, and despite the backlog of emails and letters to wade through, there's one really good thing about it - it's warm. Really warm.

I spent a large part of the time between New Year and last night out birding, the majority of it at Kelham Bridge, near Coalville, looking for a highly elusive ringtail Hen Harrier. My timing must have been spectacularly bad, because although there have been fairly regular sightings, I've got nothing to show for hours of trudging round there, except what felt like hypothermia last night. I'm not convinced it's actually roosting there - if it is still around, I suspect it's roosting in one of the many National Forest planting schemes dotted around the surrounding area, and commuting to KB to hunt once or twice a day.

I say nothing to show, but that's a lie, of course. Having closed last year's patch list on 150 exactly, I've made a steady start with 64, including a lovely male Smew at Staunton Harold Reservoir yesterday. There have been Willow Tits and even Bullfinches on the feeders at KB, too, and despite my complaints, it's actually been quite nice to get a reminder of proper, old-fashioned winter weather (although the 2 inches of snow this morning was a bit unwelcome). Yesterday, I walked around Sence Valley Forest Park, thinking the harrier might have slipped across there. No luck, but walking along beside the stream, with the ground frozen hard and snow starting to fall, it was something like an English winter landscape is supposed to be. Umpteen Snipe, and one Jack Snipe, flushed from almost beneath my feet, and the occasional little flock of Redwings and Fieldfares.

Still, I wouldn't want it to last too long. Double figure temperatures by the weekend, please.