Friday, 31 July 2009

Anon relaunched

I got an email last week saying that Anon magazine is being relaunched, which is welcome news. I like its pocketbook format, its range of poetry and articles, and its use of a different selection process to the usual. I’m not against the traditional model at all, but I don’t think it does any harm to have something different too.

Anyway, rather than me rambling on, here’s the (slightly edited) text of the email from new Editor, Colin Fraser. The previous editor, Mike Stocks, did a fine job, so will be a hard act to follow, but I like the sound of the plans they've set in motion.

Hi there

I’m the new editor of Anon – the anonymous submissions magazine for new poetry. I’d like to tell you a little bit about what’s been happening since we relaunched the magazine earlier this month, almost two years since the publication of the previous issue, Anon Five. Myself and my deputy editor, Peggy Hughes, took over the reins in December 2008 and since then we’ve been working hard to try to resurrect what we think is an excellent magazine.

After many months of preparation, Anon Six was launched on Thursday, 9th July at the Scottish Poetry Library (the same day we nail-bitingly took delivery of the Anons), and it has received some kind write-ups. It was a very different kind of launch, with over 100 in attendance, that combined jazz/folk fusion music with an innovative “find the poem” trail involving recordings of poems from Anon Six hidden around the SPL. Many people have told me it was one of the more memorable launches of a poetry magazine they have attended.

The newly relaunched Anon has been experimenting with new media, and we are active on various social networking sites, particularly the constrained environment of Twitter, which attracts poets of many different kinds. We’ve also been investing time in the development of audio, and produced daily podcasts for the StAnza poetry festival in March, as well as podcasts of our own –

We’re keen to get new audiences to appreciate poetry and also to allow people to have the opportunity to listen to poets reading their work. A selection of poems from Anon Six (including a few set to music) can be heard at

Submissions are now all via email, which are then processed by our editorial assistants Alastair White and Penny Faulkner. If you are interested in submitting, come along to

If you were interested in re-subscribing, or having a look at Anon 6, check our subs and sales page – – or our dedicated Anon Six page, where you can download a preview version. We hope to print the magazine twice a year and in order to do this we’d like to spread the word as far and wide as possible.

We’ve tried to keep what we liked about the magazine – its put in your pocket size, its commitment to the fair assessment of poetry – and add in a flash of something new. Anon Six has two interviews, with Roddy Lumsden and Peter McCarey, and we hope to include at least two interviews with poets in every issue, as well as more general articles on issues of interest. The current issue has a feature on Jen Hadfield and Jen Tynes, a reflection piece by Jim Carruth on the 100 Poets event at StAnza a few years back, and an insider’s account of the BBC Poetry Season.

Thanks for your support in the past and for taking the time to read this far.

Colin Fraser
Editor, Anon Poetry Magazine

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

London Poetry Festival

I’ll be reading at the 5th Annual London Poetry Festival, on Sunday, August 9th, at Waterloo St John’s Church, SE1 (it’s opposite Waterloo Underground station). There are all sorts of poets appearing, and you can read more about it all here.

The evening starts at 7.30pm, with admission £5 / £3. There are also three more nights of poetry, spoken word, monologue and music, with the festival running from the 7th to the 10th, so you can buy a Weekend Ticket (Friday and Saturday, £8) or a Festival Ticket (all four nights, £15).

Monday, 27 July 2009

Polyverse - roll on 2010!

Just gathering my thoughts after spending most of the weekend at the first Polyverse Poetry Festival, at Loughborough University, but suffice it to say that a great time was had by all, with the highlight being the showcase reading by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy on Saturday night.

That things went so well was a tribute to the efforts of organiser Radcliff Gregory, whose brainchild it was, Kerry Featherstone, who seemed to be on hand anywhere and everywhere at all hours, and a number of other volunteers. Of course (and this is true of pretty much every poetry festival I’ve ever been to), there were times when it would have been nice to see more visitors, and especially more non-poet visitors, but from what I’ve seen elsewhere, events like this need a year or two to build momentum, so I expect it to go from strength to strength.

I pretty much kicked things off, on Friday evening, reading with Nottingham poet Mike Wilson in the main theatre. There was a reasonable turn-out and I thought we complemented each other pretty well with our differing styles.

I stayed to hear Bob Mee, formerly editor of Iota and a fine poet in his own right. I thought he read particularly well, and it was nice to discover when chatting to him that he’s a Leicester City fan (there had to be another). Reading with him was Nick Carbo, from the Philippines, who was making his UK debut and didn’t disappoint, with some wryly funny poems that hinted at US influences but also bore a distinctly Filipino stamp.

Saturday afternoon was a veritable feast of readings. Angela France and Ben Stainton got things off to a really strong start, and Gillian Spraggs and Chris Kinsey were excellent too. Gillian’s a poet who shares my love of all things Anglo-Saxon, while Chris’s work features a lot of very finely-observed nature, so they were always onto a winner with me.

Mark Goodwin’s always a great reader, too, and I really enjoyed his set – he’s at his best when writing about that crossover point between urban and rural. Later, I enjoyed excellent performances by Jon Stone and Sam Smith. And they were performances, too – I can be very wary of poets overdoing it when reading their work, but Jon injected plenty of energy into his witty and always entertaining poems, while Sam introduced a random element into his reading, asking audience members to pick which poems he read.

CAD’s reading was preceded by four young Leicestershire writers – Myfanwyn Ryan, Jenn Clarke, Ella Pocock and Stevie Watson, and they were hugely impressive. Ryan in particular is a name I’d expect to hear a lot more from in the future.

So to the Poet Laureate. Never having seen her read before, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but she really did bring the house down. I think what was most outstanding was the pacing of everything – not just the structure of the set, but the voicing of the individual poems. It set me thinking about whether poetry on the page can ever be a sort of musical notation for poetry read aloud, or whether you just have to accept that they are two very different things, but I’ll write about that at more length soon. And it sent me home wanting to re-read any number of her poems that I’ve probably skipped past previously.

Sunday was a bit less hectic, but I heard Jane Commane (particularly liked her OS map poem), Andy Fletcher, David Bircumshaw (another genuine performance, and really compelling), Amanda Lambourne Jones, Matt Nunn (reliably entertaining and thought-provoking), and Tony Williams, who read from his forthcoming Salt collection, The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street. If the title poem in particular is anything to go by, it’ll be a cracker.

Steve Rooney and the man himself, Radcliff Gregory, set the seal on things before I had to dash off, with an excellent reading back in the main theatre. Both, I think, touched on the fact that poets of all stripes had read with and listened to each other, which after all is pretty much the point of most festivals, so it was a fitting way to end.

As always, it was good to meet people like Tony Williams, Angela France, Bob Mee and Jon Stone, who previously have only been names on an online forum, or on the end of an email, to see readers who were completely new to me, and to catch up with the likes of Jane Commane, Matt Nunn, Mark Goodwin and Chris Kinsey.

In between times, I bought Sandra Tappenden’s Bags Of Mostly Water, having liked her more recent Salt collection, Rupert Loydell’s recent chapbook Lost In The Slipstream (I’ve recently refound and reread his excellent The Museum Of Light), Sam Smith’s Rooms and Dialogues, and also swapped books with Mark Goodwin (his collection Else is from Shearsman) and Mike Wilson (the spendidly titled Desperanto, from Smokestack).

Oh, and my set list, for those interested, was:

The Meeting Place
The American version
Things Left In Hotel Rooms
The Mad Mile
Troy Town
Scorpio Over La Selva
The Memory Of Water
Worst Case Scenario

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Forward Prize shortlist

The shortlists for this year's Forward Prizes have been announced, and I'd have to say I'm a bit underwhelmed.

I'm really pleased to see Sian Hughes on the Best First Collection list, and Lorraine Marriner, but on the whole the judges seem to have played it all very safe. I'm a fan of a lot of Glyn Maxwell's work, but I don't think this collection is anywhere near his best, and I've heard much the same about the Hugo Williams book (I'll still buy it, though!).

The judges do their usual thing of noting the "rude health" of the UK poetry scene, but I don't think their lists really back that up at all. I'm not asking for them to be packed full of wildly experimental work (hardly my thing either), but it would be nice to see more than a token nod in the direction of smaller presses, more women on the main list, and fewer of the usual suspects.

Anyway, all sorts of discussion is already going on here. Join in.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Polyverse Poetry Festival

Just another reminder that the Polyverse Poetry Festival takes place at Loughborough University this Friday, Saturday and Sunday (July 24th-26th).

I'll be reading at 5pm on Friday, and will be running a workshop on poetry and place at 4pm on Sunday, but I hope to be around for most of the weekend and catch up on a lot of the other poets, the most notable of whom, of course, is Carol Ann Duffy.

Have a browse of that timetable, though, and I'm sure there'll be something there to appeal to all tastes.

Monday, 13 July 2009

The Clockwork Gift, by Claire Crowther

Claire Crowther's poems and reviews have been published in a wide variety of UK and North American journals and anthologies, and her pamphlet Glass Harmonica appeared from Flarestack in 2003. Her first full collection, Stretch of Closures, appeared from Shearsman Press in 2007, and was shortlisted for the Jerwood/Aldeburgh Best First Collection prize in 2007. Her second collection, The Clockwork Gift, appeared in February of this year.

She was awarded a bursary by Kingston University to complete the book, and was also poet in residence during 2008 at Dorich House, Kingston on Thames, a museum dedicated to the life and work of sculptor Dora Gordine.

I interviewed her via e-mail about the The Clockwork Gift, and the results are below, along with a couple of poems from the book. I hope you enjoy them...

I write a lot on Polyolbion about pamphlet poetry, and I notice that you had a pamphlet, Glass Harmonica, published before your first collection. Is this a publication route you'd recommend to new poets?

The useful thing about publishing a shorter collection, for your first one, is that you can practice selecting and ordering a smaller number of poems. These are challenging tasks, I find. Get them wrong and some poems can be weakened. But nowadays pamphlet publishers often work through competitions – this must be good for a small press and I can see that it drives the standard up in some cases – but it could make it more difficult for a new voice to find a home. A prizewinning collection has to be strong from the off and I regret that there may be fewer of those personal relationships where a pamphlet publisher discovered a new voice and supported, even mentored, the poet to improve the collection. Charles Johnston at Flarestack performed just that role for me. I am deeply grateful.

There are a lot of ghosts in your new collection, The Clockwork Gift. Are they a necessary personification of memory?

Yes, that’s right, these are personified memory – rather than, say, relating particular memories. I am less interested in memory as anecdote than in memory as a social, political or emotional tool – ghosts are always interesting and they may summon up fear, which is the emotion I am most interested in. I am working on a new collection which has the working title of Afraid. The ghost of a grandmother in The Herebefore is a composite character meant to represent the lost women poets of previous generations rather than a picture of my own grandmother. But my grandmothers gave me lots of source material for poetry. I had an English and an Irish grandmother. When I was very young, my English granny gave me a book of Keats’ poetry which she had bound herself. I still treasure that. She also kept a stack of News of the World papers under the cushions on her settee and I was full of envy for this reading mountain – I had to climb it to sit down. Then I could look at the lurid photographs inside. I still remember one photo of a crowded farmhouse kitchen table – in the middle of which was a small round plate with a human heart on it. What shocked me most was a hand-drawn arrow pointing to the heart – not drawn by my granny but by the murderer whose case the paper was relating.

There’s also a lot of tension and internal debate in the collection about the role and value of books and literature. Do you see that creation of “unnaturally pressed sense” as ever more important in our internet-dominated culture?

Partly I am playing out my role as a writer of poems in such poems – always a source of tension (because what exactly is that role). And I do see the paradox of being addicted to compressing sense, as poets are, when expanding it is so fashionable. I’ve been given an electronic reader and it’s odd to hold 150 perfectly readable books somehow melded together inside a palmtop-sized device. Internet-led forms of writing such as email or updates have their own fascinating habits of compression. I have tried several times to write poems using those forms – but the poems don’t work very well yet! There’s no doubt they have given me other voices to use.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was the willingness (this was something I also liked about Andy Philip’s recent book) to create your own myths. Poets seem to have been scared of this for some years now - is it something you see making a comeback?

That’s an interesting question – I wonder if this is happening. Myth is so often invoked in poetry that I am surprised more poets haven’t had a go at doing their own. Of course, myth must be the repository of a society’s experience and it is a rather grand claim that I’m the voice for that in a myth I have made up. Yet can I be anything else? In the end, I decided the stories about ‘otherness’ and social damage that I wanted to tell were strengthened by creating a mythic figure (the thike).

One of the book’s main themes is the role of grandmothers. Can you tell us a bit more about how you approached this? And was the poem Names as enjoyable to write as it is to read aloud?!

I loved writing Names! Of course I had about ten dozen other names than the ones I used and the fun was choosing which would work together as lines and stanzas. I read aloud all the possible combinations, as I do with all poems as they grow. I did a lot of research – three years’ worth – about aspects of grandmotherhood, medical, economic, historic, mythic, including having several new grandchildren of my own during this time. I collected many many grandmother poems by other poets and wrote a couple of academic papers on those poems. While all this was going on, I wrote a grandmother journal and the poems just cropped up as I went along.

Without making it explicit, there seemed to me to be a very strong environmental concern running through many of the poems, with lots of images of decay and transformation between the human and the rest of the natural world. Is this a strand you see yourself pursuing further?

Yes, without doubt. My partner is a solar energy scientist and his life is dedicated to experimenting with new forms of solar energy to help overcome some of the problems we face as an oil and nuclear using society. We talk continually about the issues that arise from his work and, though I rarely set out to write about those issues directly, they influence the political thinking that is behind every poem I write – as it has to be behind every poem written. The new collection is bringing in some aspects of this more directly than usual – though I need to be sure these new poems are working well before I publish them.

Finally, could you tell us a bit about your experience of Shearsman as a publisher? How do you go about putting together a collection?

Tony Frazer at Shearsman has been an excellent publisher and editor – efficient, visionary and full of energy. I was impressed with his list and so approached him about my first collection. I already knew the feel of the press from Shearsman’s journal which I had published work in. After his acceptance, I made many changes to the set of poems, amending poems, adding poems, subtracting poems – and he encouraged this without ever dominating the process. I feel I managed this process better with the second collection than the first – to me, it’s almost like constructing a long poem or poem series. There are aesthetic and semantic choices (and mistakes) to be made. I understand other publishers can be slower to respond to poets than Tony is and I’m very grateful that he did not keep me waiting for months or years for an initial acceptance. He is also very good at cover design and sourcing cover images. Both my covers are all his work. The only thing we have ever disagreed on is the title of the first collection – he didn’t like mine and I disliked the one he suggested. In the end, I came up with a long list of other titles – he decided his three favourites, I decided mine and the one overlapping title was it!

Key Stage
for Bessie, who suffered from dementia

In a shop
where keys are copied,
my daughter asks for her own.

The boy takes mine.
His overalls are oily from the machine.
We wait.

She reminds me: ‘You must carry it
always, it locks you out
as well as lets you in. If it sticks

to begin with, don’t panic.’
It wears smooth in time.
She has gone

out for years without me.
Now she will come home alone with my key,
enter my emptiness as an adult,

bar out the night
whose shine
is from dead stars,

and accept what she sees of me
through doors
she has opened.


The woman let off Death Row walked through a gorge
of chaotic limestone left by meltwater
and saw men everywhere.

They were climbing the steep and overhung sides.
Their feet flexed in thin shoes, toeing
crevice after crevice.

Their hands pried the split crag for brokenness.
They hung
and carefully worked out each nodule of rock

rejecting the frailty of this or that stone,
clicking in the knot
that would hold them from falling back to the passage.

She ignored arrows, made her own path
through tall-stalked, small-headed ferns and young ash,
past a feral goat, newish horns knuckling up,

across cinquefoil-buttered grass, near-invisible swellings
of bluebell seed, a memory of leaving home –
or maybe a promise.

The climbers weren’t enjoying the view.
They climbed for the sake of the stone. One stopped
in a patch of sun, refusing to carry on

trusting the handshake of rock and rope
though below each man another looked up
holding a thin string.

She was looking for innocence
like an older woman standing over her young husband
allowing an undoing of long hair.

First published in Poetry Wales

Finally, for an excellent review of The Clockwork Gift, go to Rob Mackenzie's blog Surroundings, or to hear Claire reading some of her poems, go along to Poetcasting.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Some more reading

Truly excellent reviews by Phil Brown (presumably not the Hull City manager) of Luke Kennard and Tom Chivers, over at Stride.

I've got the Chivers collection, but not started it yet, and have already blogged about his Nine Arches pamphlet. I'll catch up with the Kennard book soon, too - his last was wonderful. But anyway, the reviews are, in themselves, a pleasure to read.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Cebu Flowerpecker

You may or may not know that the critically endangered Cebu Flowerpecker is the poster bird for this year's British Birdwatching Fair (at Rutland Water, August 21st-23rd).

While I was in the Philippines earlier this year, we attempted to see the elusive little fellas. Only two of our party managed it (yours truly wasn't among them), but it was a fantastic experience all the same, and American birder Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher's Digest, interviewed local conservationist Lisa Marie Paguntalan about her work in trying to save the bird from extinction.

You can hear a podcast of the interview here, and read more about the bird and the interview here. There's also my article about the Cebu Flowerpecker in the August issue of Bird Watching, due out July 20th, and a five-page feature on birding in the Philippines, plus a chance to win a great birding holiday there, in our special Summer Issue, due out August 10th. Shameless advertising, I know, but ultimately it's in a worthy cause.

Promises, promises

I keep mentioning various items that I'm going to post up here, and never quite getting round to finishing them. It's busy, busy, busy over the next couple of weeks, too, so they might have to wait just a little while longer. But they will happen, eventually. Honest.

In the meantime, though, something to really get your teeth into. On Monday, I'll be publishing an interview with Claire Crowther, whose Shearsman collection The Clockwork Gift I've been enjoying hugely these last few weeks.

Her first collection, Stretch Of Closures, was shortlisted for the Aldeburgh Best First Collection Prize, and the new book has already garnered plenty of critical praise, with Matthew Francis writing: "Very few poets create their own unique world. Claire Crowther does, and it's all the more rich and strange for being made of language. She's one of the most original and imaginative poets now writing."

I couldn't put it better myself, so look out on Monday for that interview, plus some sample poems.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The next train calls at...

Nathan Thompson, Peter Hughes, Martin Stannard, Rupert Loydell and all stations in between. Which is to say, I've been browsing the latest issue of Shadowtrain, and jolly good it is too, with plenty to really get your teeth into.

Martin Stannard's a poet whose work I can love one moment, hate the next, but that means reading him's always an enjoyable and energising experience, and the best of the poems in this batch are great - I was laughing out loud at a couple of them as I read them at work. I liked Rupert Loydell's prose poems, too, and Ian McMillan's review of Gavin Selerie's New and Selected Poems is well worth a look.

Everything's gone green

In between a couple of massive thunderstorms, I had a quick walk round Cossington Meadows last night. Not far from the entrance, a Green Woodpecker flew up out of the grass and disappeared towards the village, yaffling, but it was the waders I'd come for. As I mentioned last week, autumn migration has already begun, meaning that some of the birds that didn't manage to find a breeding partner this year, or in the case of some species who bred early, are moving through on their way south.

So, there were five Green Sandpipers picking their way around the margins of the Upper Marsh, and a single Greenshank standing rather aloof from them, preening. After watching for 15 minutes or so, I had to leave to go to a cricket league meeting (oh the excitement), at which point it suddenly sparked into life and started behaving in typical Greenshank fashion, dashing through the shallow water and feeding enthusiastically.

Despite not being very strongly marked, they're beautiful, elegant birds, with the subtly upswept bill particularly distinctive (along with the green legs, of course).

There were good numbers of Common Terns around, too, which suggests they must have done well this year. I even saw one, fishing Kingfisher-style from a post, at Kelham Bridge last week, the first I can remember there for a long time.

Monday, 6 July 2009

They know me so well

Tidying up around the house at the weekend, I resolved to start clearing the backlog of books to be read (it's not as if it's a chore, it's just that there's so little time at the moment) before actually buying anything new.

That was before I saw Amazon were suggesting I might like this. It's like they're monitoring my brainwaves or something.

PS. Just found this review of it. The CD is a real bonus.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Ouroboros Review

Issue Three is out now - follow this link to have a good browse. I reckon that's as well presented an online journal as there is, and the content is good too. So far I've not started on the poetry itself, but Michelle McGrane's interview with John Siddique is a really good read.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Cord power

The decline of the UK's corduroy industry is a major concern in these difficult economic times, but as you'll see from the photograph above, poets are fully alive to the threat and are already taking action. Rob Mackenzie (left), Andrew Philip (right) and myself were all sporting corduroy jackets at our recent reading at Word Power in Edinburgh - I can only imagine James Wood's was in the wash, forcing him to cut a more elegant figure instead.

Remember, by going out and buying just one piece of corduroy clothing now, you can help save an ancient and honorable British industry, and at the same time ensure that no poets will go naked this winter. And you really don't want to see that.

Thanks to Eddie Gibbons for the photo.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Some reading

I'm going to blog about One in much more detail very soon, but in the meantime, I'm much indebted to James W Wood for the very kind comments in his blog piece here. I think he raises a lot of interesting points about the current poetry scene, but there's also an awful lot of good stuff to read elsewhere

I'm with him all the way about Tom Duddy's pamphlet, too. The Small Hours is a really superb piece of work, and deserves far more attention than it's so far had. Go and buy a copy now, and I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Another site worth looking at is Echo From The Canyon. Poets writing about poetry books - what could be simpler?