Friday, 31 December 2010

Best poetry of 2010

Trawling back through the blog archives for the year, and picking my way through my bookshelves (well, and several piles of books as yet unshelved), I've come to the conclusion that I read an awful lot of good poetry in 2010. Not all of it was necessarily published this year - I think several of the volumes I'll mention probably came out at the tail-end of 2009.

Having said that, I don't seem to have read that many of the collections that gained most column inches. I did enjoy Philip Gross's TS Eliot Prize-winning The Water Table, although I'm not sure it was necessarily superior to several previous books by a consistently fine (but low-profile) mainstream poet.

Towards the end of the year, David Morley's Enchantment justifiably gained all sorts of plaudits - I've still not had time to digest it fully, and I'll be posting a full review once I do, but its packed with both superb storytelling and sparkling use of language. And a little earlier in the year, John Ash's In The Wake Of The Day was well up to the high standards of his previous work. I thought there was a more direct political edge than has often been the case in the past, too - a welcome development.

I suspect that might be something we see a lot more of over the next few years. Certainly it was a feature of George Ttoouli's excellent Static Exile, while Mark Goodwin's Shod was a welcome example of poetry trying to engage with social issues, albeit in an enjoyably inventive way.

Simon Turner's Difficult Second Album was an absolute pleasure, full of quiet innovation and wit, while Tony Williams' debut The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street deserved all the praise it got, adding some subtle European influences to a mainstream template, something that could also be said of Helen Ivory's The Breakfast Machine, which conjured a nightmarish atmsophere seemingly from nowhere. Damian Walford Davies' Suit Of Lights should have got far more attention, and I look forward to seeing what he does next.

Other collections worthy of note were Kona Macphee's eclectic Perfect Blue, Simon Perril's Nitrate (as good a themed collection as I can think of), and David Briggs' The Method Men. At the moment, I'm enjoying thoroughly digesting Gill McEvoy's The Plucking Shed, and Helena Nelson's long-awaited Plot and Counter-plot. Oh, and CJ Allen's e-chapbook Lemonade was a treat from another small press stalwart who really ought to be far more widely read.

I continued to work my way through Michael Haslam's past work with surprise and delight, and I've also liked Robert Hass's The Apple Trees At Olema: New and Selected Poems. Some of it doesn't hit the mark, but there's a lot there to appreciate.

Last, but certainly not least, there was Martin Figura's Whistle. The subject matter is harrowing and heart-breaking in equal measure, yet the end result is a collection that's genuinely uplifting and (this actually makes you feel guilty, at first) hugely enjoyable. It's a genuine poetry page-turner, but for all the right reasons, with Figura's precise, restrained telling of a story of family tragedy deserving great praise.

I may well have missed one or two other favourites, and as I said, it seemed a strong year all round. Here's hoping that 2011's even better.

New Year birding resolutions

A few months ago, I decided I wasn't going to keep a county or patch list in 2011, and instead would try to stick very close to home. I also thought it might be a good idea to try to record and map a handful of individual species along the way, and while travelling to and from work. So, my three birding resolutions for 2011 are as follows:

1. To list only those species that I see within walking distance of home. Realistically, that's going to mean Charnwood Lodge LRWT, Bardon Hill, Blackbrook Reservoir, Snibston Discovery Park, and the various bits of National Forest land along the Coalville bypass, plus non-reserve land like Cademan Woods. I might walk as far as Kelham Bridge, at a pinch. It'll save petrol, and shift some of this weight, if nothing else!

2. To religiously record sightings of the following species whenever I'm out and about in the county - Buzzard and Kestrel (I'd like to get an idea of whether the former really is becoming more common), and Yellowhammer and Linnet (two of my favourite farmland birds). This will include looking for sites where breeding can be proved.

3. To look for some genuine rarities in NW Leicestershire and Charnwood Forest. Back in November, John Hague suggested that the Forest, including Charnwood Lodge, would be a good place to find Great Grey Shrike, so that might be one of the more likely possibilities.

Of course, all this doesn't mean I won't be doing some birdwatching elsewhere too. Quite apart from anything else, I have to do quite a bit of driving for work, so I'll still drop in at places like Cossington Meadows, Swithland Reservoir, Eyebrook Reservoir and Rutland Water as and when I'm passing.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Birds on the move

The Big Freeze (or winter, as we used to call it) goes on, and as always the cold weather has brought some interesting bird movements.

We haven't done too badly in the East Mislands this past week. It's been very cold (-14C when I came out of the house yesterday morning), but we've only had a thin covering of snow, so perhaps we're getting refugees from the parts of the UK that have been badly affected.

On Sunday, there were Waxwings in the car-parks of both Lidl and Aldi in Coalville (they show a refreshing willingness to shop around), and there are still plenty of berries left in that area, and along the bypass, so they'll probably stay for a while yet.

The previous day, I popped round to my parents' house, and they had both Fieldfares and Redwings in the garden (a first), along with a Treecreeper. I think the latter - which was also a first - was probably tagging along with a mixed tit flock, and there were also good numbers of finches. These included quite a lot of Greenfinches, which have been conspicuous by their absence for the last couple of years.

Finally, on the way into work the last couple of days, I've seen really large numbers of Blackbirds feeding in a hedge alongside the A47 between Uppingham and Glaston (you have to slow right down because they keep doing their kamikaze dash just in front of the car). There's been a few Redwings and Fieldfares among them, too, but I'd guess this is an influx of Blackbirds from elsewhere in the UK, or the Continent.

Lark and Merlin

Loved this Tom Pickard poem recently posted over at the Poetry Foundation website - there's a link at the bottom to a Q&A with Pickard, too.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Litter - new issue

The latest issue of online poetry magazine Litter has gone live, and features a review of Kelvin Corcoran's new Shearsman book, Hotel Shadow, alongside poetry from Kathleen Bell, Adrian Buckner, Peter Dent, Rupert Loydell, Simon Perril, John Welch and myself (my featured poems are Kilter and Leland's New Year Gift To The King, 1546, both from hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica).

Litter editor Alan Baker also has some kind words to say about last Monday's Shindig at his always excellent Litterbug blog here.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Reader

Issue 40 of The Reader arrived the other day, containing an interview with film-maker Terence Davies, an essay on Kipling by Michael Schmidt, and poetry by the likes of Blake Morrison and Peter Robinson. I've got a couple of poems in there too.

The Readers Connect section focuses on Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson, while in the Your Recommendations feature, Sarah Coley talks about our old friend Michael Drayton's Since There's No Help. As you can imagine, it's a particular pleasure to find myself in the same publication as Polesworth's most famous son.

Thursday, 16 December 2010


hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica is one of the nominations for the East Midlands Book Award 2010, alongside poets such as Mark Goodwin (nominated for both his Nine Arches Press and Shearsman volumes), Deborah Tyler-Bennett, John Gallas and Maxine Linnell. It's also a pleasure and an honour to be on any list with Jon McGregor.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Fracas at the WACA

OK, I admit it, I've always wanted to use that headline, ever since it appeared in one of the Australian papers back in the early 80s after Dennis Lillee's arse-kicking/bat-swinging contest with Javed Miandad (as a Glamorgan supporter, my sympathies were with the little Pakistani, who in those days pretty much carried the county single-handed).

Anyway, the early hours of tomorrow morning see England and Australia resume battle at the WACA in Perth, and the first day could well decide the destination of the Ashes. The momentum of the series is so heavily in England's favour at the moment that a good start here might be enough to cause a fragile Aussie side to fly apart at the seams. On the other hand, should England bat first and collapse, as they have many times in the past at this ground, Australia have the potential to get right back into this series.

That's because these sides are nowhere near as far apart as they've looked at times. I'm not taking anything away from England, who have been excellent, or ignoring the dreadful form many of the Aussies have shown (the bowling at Adelaide was embarrassingly bad at times). I just think that a decent injection of confidence into the home side would soon have most of their strugglers looking what they really are - Test cricketers. There are exceptions. I can't see the selection of Beer as anything other than a panic measure (Nathan Hauritz would have been doing a good job as a stock bowler), and even if Mitchell Johnson gets it right here, he's just as likely to lose form again by next time out, because the basic flaws in his action haven't been addressed.

I think both captains wouldn't mind losing the toss too much. Perth's no longer the fast bowlers' paradise it used to be, when the pitch behaved like crazy paving on top of industrial strength trampolines, but it's likely to offer a bit to the seamers early on. England might fancy testing a nervous and rather thin looking Aussie batting line-up on it, while Ricky Ponting might feel his best chance is to go with four seamers and get into England early on. Neither captain, though, is the type to gamble*, so I think both would settle for ending up bowling as the result of the other's decision.

England do have a poor record at Perth, but then they have a poor record at most Aussie grounds in recent years, on account of having played against some great Aussie sides, so I'm not sure that's of much relevance. I back them to win fairly narrowly here, thanks to in-form batsmen and the trump card that is Graeme Swann, but it's going to be a sleepless few days.

* Let's face it, Ponting probably still wakes up in a cold sweat at the memory of putting England in at Edgbaston in 2005 and watching them rack up 400 on the first day.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Launched (again)

I've been pretty tardy in posting lately, and time's very short once again, so just a few words about last night's Nine Arches Press Shindig at The Looking Glass.

There was an excellent, varied line-up of readers, with great stuff from Marilyn Ricci, Alan Baker and Malcolm Dewhirst, as well as some really good open mic spots (enjoyed Jonathan Taylor's short story a lot - I hope we hear more short stories at open mics in the future). I thought I might struggle a bit with my voice, because I've been coughing non-stop for days, but it held out OK, and all went well.

It wasn't as well attended as most of the Shindigs have been, but I'd guess that might have had something to do with the time of year. There also sounded like there was a Wild West saloon brawl going on upstairs throughout large parts of the evening, but we emerged back into the main bar to find it as clam as ever!

Anyway, I'll be trying to post more regularly over the next few days - expect something on the recent Birds, Nature and Creativity symposium, new poetry mags, and some end of year round-ups.

PS. Setlist (from memory) was:
Prelude for Glass Harmonica
Worst Case Scenario
from 'Tesserae'
Warning Against Using These Poems As A Map
Fantasia for Glass Harmonica
West Leicester Lullaby
In St Martin's Square

Monday, 13 December 2010

Leicester launch

If you're anywhere near Braunstone Gate in Leicester tonight, you might want to drop in at The Looking Glass for the local launch of my new book, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica.

It's part of the last Nine Arches Press Shindig of 2010. Readings start at 7.30pm, and entry is free, and as usual there'll be plenty of open mic slots available - sign up on the door if you're interested.

There’ll also be readings from Alan Baker (who as well as being a fine poet with a new book forthcoming from Skysill Press is the founder and co-editor of Leafe Press, and editor of Litter), Marilyn Ricci (whose excellent HappenStance pamphlet Rebuilding A Number 39 was published in 2008), and Malcolm Dewhirst (Tamworth-based poet, writer and filmmaker, who project manages Polesworth’s Poets Trail).

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Surprise sighting

Because our office is right on the edge of the city, between the A1 and Ferry Meadows, I rarely go into Peterborough itself. Today, though I had to, so drove round and parked in the street behind the bowling alley, close to the Passport Office.

As I got out of the car, a Woodcock flashed past about half a dozen yards away, disappearing between buildings towards a nearby park. I just had time to see the rusty tail and the long bill before it went out of sight.

Peterborough's a city in which it's pretty hard to get very far from green open spaces, so after the permafrost conditions of the last week, it probably shouldn't be too much of a surprise to find one taking advantage of the higher temperatures (and softer ground) in a city centre park. What was baffling was trying to work out where it had come from immediately before - it seemed to materialise out of a brick wall!

My Birds Britannica tells me that Michael Drayton, guiding spirit of this blog, referred to the bird as "witlesse", but if this one really was beating the freeze by joining the Black-headed Gulls on the local park, he seems to have been way off the mark.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Leicester Shindig and book launch

Just a quick reminder that next Monday (13th December), is the Leicester launch of my new book, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, at the last Nine Arches Press Shindig of 2010 at the Looking Glass, 68-70 Braunstone Gate. Readings start at 7.30pm, and entry is free.

There’ll also be readings from Alan Baker (who as well as being a fine poet with a new book forthcoming from Skysill Press is the founder and co-editor of Leafe Press, and editor of Litter), Marilyn Ricci (whose excellent HappenStance pamphlet Rebuilding A Number 39 was published in 2008), and Malcolm Dewhirst (Tamworth-based poet, writer and filmmaker, who project manages Polesworth’s Poets Trail).

As always, there’ll be plenty of open mic slots available, so sign up on the door if you’d like to take part.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

How to buy hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica

Following Sunday's launch in Nottingham, you can now buy hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica for £9 through the Nine Arches Press website here, in conjunction with Throckmorton's Bookshop, Atherstone.

Just click on its cover (or that of any of the other excellent Nine Arches titles), and follow the instructions. If you're an international customer, you'll need to contact Throckmorton's here to get an accurate postage price.

Alternatively, you can pay by cheque, payable to Nine Arches Press, sent to this address.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to be creating a little 'satellite' blog for Polyolbion devoted to all things related to hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica - some brief introductions to the poems, reviews, idle chit-chat and a little bit of glass harmonica trivia. It's very much a work in progress for now, but you can find it here.

Monday, 22 November 2010

I declare this collection well and truly launched

Being late to your own launch isn't a good start, but I badly misjudged the A42 and A453's ability to produce delays at any time of the day or night. Add to that a problem finding parking close to the Jam Cafe (I gave up and went over to the Playhouse), and I walked in halfway through Jane Holland's open mic slot. A shame, too, because the sci-fi-themed poem she was reading fairly fizzed with energy.

There were loads of good open mic-ers, in fact, leading into Robin Vaughan-Williams' reading, which included plenty from his HappenStance chapbook, The Manager, as well as some new material. Having lived in Iceland, he's now based in Nottingham, so I look forward to hearing more from him soon.

The same goes for Sarah Jackson, who gave a really poised reading that highlighted the taut, tense atmospheres of her poems. I bought her chapbook, Milk, and it's terrific. Really nicely produced, too (by Pighog), in a large format that gives the poems space to breathe.

After the musical interlude, and more open mic, David Morley read from his forthcoming Carcanet collection, Enchantment. It's the final part of a trilogy of books (the others were Scientific Papers and The Invisible Kings) that explore both Romany culture and the role of story-telling in all our lives. It's another handsome volume in physical terms, too, with two great drawings by Peter Blegvad (yes, that Peter Blegvad), and I can't wait to get stuck into it.

I read a set entirely drawn from the new book, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's strange how, even though you've spent months seeing first drafts and proofs and so on, to the extent that you don't think anything about it can surprise you, the actual book in your hand looks entirely new, fresh and exhilirating. For that, thanks are due to Jane Commane and Matt Nunn at Nine Arches Press, who are utterly unflagging in their effort.

A word, too, for LeftLion Magazine, who co-hosted the reading. It does a great job for Nottingham and the East Midlands in general, and long may that continue. Great venue, too, with an attentive and appreciative audience (which included an Amazon Parrot*). Oh, and they sang Happy Birthday for me at the end - how nice is that?!

More information on how to buy hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica is here, or you can email me for more details.

My set-list was:

Prelude for Glass Harmonica
The American version
Worst Case Scenario
Fantasia for Glass Harmonica
Variations on a Theme by J. A. Baker
Drinking With Godberd
Warning Against Using These Poems As A Map
West Leicester Lullaby
Nocturne for Glass Harmonica

* The parrot was an excellent listener. But on Saturday, I'd been doing a quick run-through my reading while watching a small flock of Lapwings and a Curlew about 100 yards away. The Lapwings hunkered down and stuck it out, but the Curlew gave up and flew away, calling loudly, about halfway through.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica at Peony Moon

There are four poems from my new collection featured over at Michelle McGrane's splendid Peony Moon today, along with details of Sunday's launch event at the Jam Cafe in Nottingham, with David Morley, Robin Vaughan-Williams and Sarah Jackson.

Much more on the book (it's at this point I realise I need to think of a shortened version of the title) later in the week...

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Plucking Shed - Gill McEvoy

Back in 2006, Gill McEvoy's Uncertain Days was one of HappenStance's earliest, and most successful, chapbooks, selling out in no time at all, and gathering all sorts of critical praise along the way.

She followed that up with an equally popular HappenStance sampler, and earlier this year her first full-length collection, The Plucking Shed, was published by Cinnamon Press.

Quite how she finds time to write such consistently fine poetry I'm not sure, given that she also runs a poetry reading group, a workshop, and the Zest! poetry night in Chester, but write it she does.

If you've already encountered Gill's scrupulously honed, yet always heartfelt poetry, you're probably not going to need any more recommendation, but if you do, I really don't think I can do better than quote Helena Nelson's words about the collection:

"These poems are like jewels. Incalculable pressures underpin their creation. Luminous and compelling (but by no means reassuring) they offer themselves to the light."

It's another collection I'm looking forward to settling down to read (and I'll be reviewing it before long), and it's another reason to look more closely at Cinnamon, one of the most interesting small presses around.

Magma 48

The new issue of Magma arrived the other day, and very good it is too. The poetry itself is excellent, with particular favourites so far being DA Prince's three pieces (especially Bog oaks), and poems by Jonathan Edwards, Helen Mort and Michael McKimm. There's loads more too - they seem to be packing an awful lot in these days.

The articles are the highlight of this issue for me, though. I enjoyed the ten poets writing on 'beauty', and Eavan Boland's piece on Robert Herrick. Best of all is Karen Solie (one of my favourite poets) on first coming across Frank O'Hara's poetry. There are a couple of poems by Solie, too, which are almost worth the admission price alone.

I reviewed books by David Briggs, Rebecca Goss and John Ash for this issue (all very different, but all with a lot to offer too), but the review I really want to highlight here is David Morley's take on Martin Figura's Whistle, a book I've mentioned on here before, and which I'll return to soon. It's a brilliant piece of work, and the review does it perfect justice.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The plot thickens...

You may know her only as the founder, owner and life-force of the chapbook phenomenon that is HappenStance, but Helena Nelson is also a very, very fine poet.

As she's not doing nearly enough trumpet-blowing of her own (well, none in fact), it's time to point out that her new collection, Plot and Counter-Plot, is out now from Shoestring Press. It's been a long time since the superb Starlight On Water (Rialto, 2003), but I'm guessing it'll have been worth the wait. More on this soon...

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Long live the King (of Saxony)

My God! Just look at the video here at Bill of the Birds. Of all the birds we saw in Papua New Guinea, the King of Saxony Bird of Paradise had to be the best, and the most bizarre. It looks like an alien lifeform with those weird, weird face plumes.

Friday, 12 November 2010

It was a dark and stormy night...

...but that didn't seem to deter many from making the trip to last night's New Walk launch reading at the University of Leicester, part of Literary Leicester.

There was a really good turnout, which meant that I was a bit on the nervous side when I got up to kick off the readings. Lovely lecture theatre to read in, though, with really good acoustics. It's always nice reading first, too, because it means you can sit back and enjoy the rest of the event.

I must admit I didn't know all that much of Grevel Lindop's poetry before last night, although he's a very familiar name as a perceptive reviewer. But anyway, I enjoyed his reading, and bought his Selected Poems later to bring myself up to speed.

Alice Oswald, on the other hand, is someone I've read avidly in the past, but even so I was surprised by just how surefooted her set was (I was probably expecting more of a stereotypical floaty, vague 'nature' poet). And what a great reading voice!

I was surprised, too, that the highlight was the new material - from her forthcoming 'selective' translation of The Iliad - rather than the stuff I know well.

Of course, readings are also a great place to put faces to names, so it was lovely to meet the team behind the magazine, including co-editor Rory Waterman. They've done a really superb job, and it sounds like Issue Two will build on and surpass the debut.

Among others I chatted with were DA Prince and Roy Marshall, who has two finely honed poems in Issue One. Oh, and a friend that I've barely seen since university showed up, too - turns out he lives and works in Leicester. A good night all round.

And finally, my setlist:
Prelude for Glass Harmonica
The Meeting Place
Summer Breeze
The Limits
West Leicester Lullaby

Thursday, 11 November 2010

New Walk launch tonight

Leicester-based literary magazine New Walk (you can read a really good review of the first issue at Rogue Strands) will be officially launched tonight (Thursday, November 11th), with a reading at the Library Lecture Theatre, University of Leicester, starting at 6pm. Alice Oswald will be reading, along with Grevel Lindop and myself.

If you plan to attend, you need tickets, although they're free. Call 0116 252 2320, or email with your name and address.

Oh, and the picture is of New Walk itself, by the way. One of my favourite bits of Leicester.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Current reading

The latest issue of Tears In The Fence arrived the other day - so far I've only had time to browse it, but I've enjoyed good poems from the likes of Ian Seed, Jane Commane and Sheila Hamilton.

As always, too, a lot of the pleasure is in the reviews - they're given the space they deserve, which isn't always the case in magazines.

Over at Peony Moon, meanwhile, there are some excellent poems by Ruth Larbey, whose Nine Arches Press chapbook Funglish is out now. Enjoy...

EDIT: Oh, and there's four fine poems from Helen Ivory's The Breakfast Machine over at Dan Wyke's Other Lives, too. I may get round to some work, later.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Damn fine viewing

Just noticed that the Horror Channel is showing Twin Peaks from the beginning, starting at 9pm tonight. I'm one of those sad people who, even if they've got a series on DVD, feels obliged to watch it when it turns up on the TV (finally). In fact, it seems to be on at 9pm every night this week, so it's time to buy in a supply of coffee and doughnuts (never a big fan of cherry pie), and veg out in front of what I reckon might be one of the most influential TV series of all time.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Lazy Sunday afternoon

Shorter days do at least mean more time for catching up with reading, and that's pretty much all I've managed to do today.

Before I got onto the Sunday papers, I still had yesterday's Guardian Review to read. Now the Guardian's far from perfect, but it's still the only one of the broadsheets that takes poetry remotely seriously (to the extent of actually running at least one review each week, I mean - most of the others manage a once-a-month round-up).

Yesterday's main review was of Hodge, the fifth collection by Welsh poet Oliver Reynolds. As reviewer David Wheatley points out, it's not exactly hot on the heels of his fourth book, which came out in 1999, and Reynolds seems to be living proof that winning an Eric Gregory Award and being published by Faber isn't always a charm against obscurity.

But anyway, I've always had a soft spot for Reynolds. I bought his first three collections in a secondhand bookshop in Leicester quite a few years ago, when I really didn't know anything about him (or the contemporary British poetry scene). I then ordered his fourth book, Almost (his best, in my opinion), and I've enjoyed all four a couple of times each. If he re-emerges into the limelight a little, I won't be complaining.

There was also a piece by Nicholas Lezard about the anthology A Poet's Guide To Britain, edited by Owen Sheers. I haven't read the book, and in all honesty I doubt I'll buy it, however much I enjoyed Sheers' TV series on the same theme last year. One of its strengths was that he didn't always go for the most obvious choices, but Lezard makes the point that the anthology leaves out Geoffrey Hill and Basil Bunting, which suggests it might be steering clear of what's seen as 'difficult' territory. Still, one to flick through next time I'm in a bookshop.

Saturday, 6 November 2010


I've got a couple of launch readings for my new Nine Arches Press collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, lined up.The first is with David Morley, Robin Vaughan-Williams and Sarah Jackson at the next Nottingham Shindig, at the Jam Cafe on November 21st. David Morley is always a fine reader, and it's nice to have another HappenStance poet (Robin) on the bill.

That's also the case at the next Leicester Shindig, at The Looking Glass, Braunstone Gate, on December 13th, where Marilyn Ricci will also be reading, along with Nottingham-based poet Alan Baker and Malcolm Dewhirst, the man behind the Polesworth Poets Trail.

As always, there'll be open mic slots available at both events.

The book itself will be priced £9 - keep an eye on this blog for more details of it over the next fortnight or so.

Friday, 5 November 2010

A bit of browsing...

Short of poetry reading over the weekend? Here's a few things that have caught my eye...

Alan Baker takes a look at the Roy Fisher/Matthew Welton reading at the Flying Goose last week over at Litterbug. There are links to a couple of good Fisher reviews, too.

Over at the Salt blog, meanwhile, there's a fine interview of Tony Williams by Mark Burnhope. Very thought-provoking (not least where 19th century novels are concerned).

Finally, at Michelle McGrane's Peony Moon, Nine Arches poet Milorad Krystanovich's Improvising Memory is featured, with an excellent selection of pieces.

Whale Sound

My poem The Quickening is featured today over at Nic Sebastian's rather wonderful Whale Sound. It's a great idea for a website, with Nic selecting a wide range of poetry to read aloud. I think any only really alive when read aloud, whether that be in the privacy of your own living-room, at a reading, or wherever, but hearing someone else read your poem adds another dimension altogether.

I've been trawling through the past posts, too, and there's an absolute plethora of great stuff on there, so have a look, and enjoy!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

New Walk launch

Just a quick reminder that Leicester-based literary magazine New Walk will be officially launched next Thursday, November 11th, with a reading at the Library Lecture Theatre, University of Leicester, starting at 6pm.

Alice Oswald will be reading, along with Grevel Lindop and myself.

If you plan to attend, you need tickets, although they're free. Call 0116 252 2320, or email with your name and address.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

If you're anywhere near Polesworth tonight...

Just a quick reminder that tonight, Polesworth Abbey Church is the venue for Fizz 4, which features four poets from Cork - Paul Casey, Joseph Horgan, Billy Ramsell and Sue Cosgrave – plus an open mic. The evening starts at 7.30pm and entrance is free. Refreshments are available.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Umbrella Issue 14

I have a poem - Coolidge - in the Fall/Winter 2010-11 issue of Umbrella. As always, it's a pleasure and an honour to be included in what's one of my favourite online poetry mags - editor Kate Bernadette Benedict does a consistently fine job, as you'll see if you trawl through a few back issues.

Incidentally, the poem appears in my new collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, which will be published by Nine Arches Press in a couple of weeks.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Electric Polyolbion

Thanks to Alison Brackenbury for pointing out that BBC Radio 4 is broadcasting this - The Electric Polyolbion - at 4.30pm tomorrow. I'd heard that Paul Farley was working on a modern version of our hero Drayton's enormous poem, so it'll be interesting to hear what he comes up with.

EDIT: I did listen to it, and very interesting it was, too. I should also be thanking Paul Farley as, no doubt as a result of the programme, visitors to this blog have increased massively over the last few days.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Fisher and Welton

It was standing room only at the Flying Goose last night - I got there at about 7.15 and was one of the last to be allowed in, I think.

I'm glad I made it, though. Matthew Welton and Roy Fisher read two shortish sets each, and both were excellent.

Welton's published two collections with Carcanet - The Book of Matthew and We needed coffee but... (it's the longest title collection ever - Google it), both of them highly praised. On this evidence, I can see why. He's interested in patterns and repetition, in the mathematics of poetry, but not in some dry, dusty way. In fact, virtually all of what he read - in a quiet, Nottingham accent, and from memory - struck me as extremely musical. I need to read more of his work, I think.

Roy Fisher was everything you'd hope for, really. He's an elder statesman of the British poetry scene now, and to some extent he's become the non-mainstream poet that virtually all mainstream poets read and praise, but hearing him, I was struck by the same thing that hit me when I first read his excellent collected works, The Long And The Short Of It. Which is to say, it's strange that he should have previously been marginalised for so long - he strikes me simply as a very fine poet who's willing to use whatever subject matter, and whatever tools, come to hand.

Anyway, it was a great way to close the Beeston Poetry Festival, and for those of us who haven't been to the Flying Goose before, a good advert for a really nice venue. I don't think I'll make it to the regular reading there next month, but I'll definitely get to the Alexander Hutchison reading on December 14th.

Oops, nearly forgot. There are pictures and videos of all the Festival readings here.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Don't miss this!

Just a quick reminder that Roy Fisher and Matthew Welton are reading as part of the Beeston Poetry Festival tomorrow night (Thursday the 28th) at the Flying Goose Cafe. It starts at 7.30pm and entrance is £3.

Fisher's one of those poets who manages the difficult act of straddling the so-called mainstream/avant-garde divide, although I'd have to say that the main reason I started reading him was that he's such a distinctively Midlands poet (rarer than you might think). Whatever - he's a real giant of the UK poetry scene, and I'm looking forward to hearing him a lot.

I have to admit that I've encountered very little of Matthew Welton's poetry, but I've heard nothing but good things about it from people whose opinion I trust. And it's always good to hear someone new. Anyway, get along to the Flying Goose if you can - you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

More PNG

If you want a more in-depth look at Papua New Guinea, with much better pictures, take a look at Bill Thompson III's excellent Bill of the Birds over the next few weeks.

The first instalment has reminded me just what a horrendously long journey Bill faced from his home in Ohio. By comparison, our route (Birmingham-Amsterdam-Singapore-Port Moresby) was a breeze.

Incidentally, just after the photo of us in the airport lounge at PM was taken, I fulfilled my obligations as a British birder by eating a chicken pie from the cafe there. It wasn't bad at all - plenty of meat, nice gravy, and good shortcrust pastry. Mr Ginster please take note.

EDIT: I see Bill has just added a second instalment, in the first picture of which, taken at Tabubil, way up in the highlands, we're also tucking into pies (lamb this time with chips). We did do something other than eat pies during the trip, honestly.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Unusual Kestrel behaviour?

I spent most of my birding time over the weekend at various Charnwood Forest sites, looking for Waxwings, Bramblings and Snow Buntings, but without any luck.

As I was returning home yesterday afternoon, though, along the road between Oaks-in-Charnwood and Whitwick, I caught sight of a raptor flying low over a field at High Sharpley. Partly in the hope that it might be a Merlin, I stopped the car and got the bins on it just in time to see it land on a low rocky outcrop, and could see that it was in fact a female Kestrel.

Over the next 10 minutes or so, it repeatedly glided from this perch, landed on the bare earth of the field, then flew back to its vantage point again carrying a large worm or an insect of some sort. At times, while grounded, it walked around a considerable amount. It was all very reminiscent of the Red-footed Falcon at Ingleby a couple of years ago.

Thinking about it, I've seen an awful lot of Kestrels these past couple of weeks, but that may be partly down to the fact that my journeys to and from work currently coincide with the hour after and before dark.

Friday, 22 October 2010

A taste of Papua New Guinea

I'm gradually wading through the pics from my recent trip to Papua New Guinea (the view from Ambua Lodge, in the Western Highlands, is pictured above). They need a bit of work on them, because I'm really not much of a photographer. There are a few decent bird record shots though, all digiscoped or, in the case of the three I'll post here today, digibinned. I used my ancient Fuji f-31, a Swarovski scope, and Swarovski 8.5 x 42 ELs.

First up is a Brown Sicklebill Bird of Paradise, snapped on the 'table' (actually a huge platform) at Kumul Lodge in the Western Highlands. This place was a photographer's heaven - all sorts of great birds come in to feed. As an added bonus, we had what amounted to an en suite BoP - a Crested Bird of Paradise appeared in the tree just outside our cabin window.

Next we have two Belford's Melidectes, one of the more striking honeyeaters we saw. Again it's at Kumul.

The third bird is a Superb Fruit Dove, taken near Walindi on New Britain. I love the band across its breast, imitative of shadow and adding a bit of camouflage to a bird that otherwise looks as if it was painted by a small child.

Lastly, here's a few of us enjoying an early morning start near Ambua - you'll notice that wellies were the essential fashion item of the tour!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Coming soon...very soon

My second full collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, will be published by Nine Arches Press next month - there's a taste of what it looks like and what it's all about here.

Still a few tweaks to make, but it should be out by mid-November.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Polesworth poetry

Here at Polyolbion it's always good to be able to report that poetry is alive and well in Polesworth, original stamping-ground of Michael Drayton, the man who gave us the poem whose name I pinched.

On Wednesday, November 3rd, Polesworth Abbey Church is the venue for Fizz 4, which features four poets from Cork - Paul Casey, Joseph Horgan, Billy Ramsell and Sue Cosgrave – plus an open mic. The evening starts at 7.30pm.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Poetry for charity

I'm not always mad on the idea of actors reading poetry, but on the other hand, Peter Capaldi can rarely do any wrong, so this might be interesting...

Friday, 15 October 2010

Poems at Peony Moon

I'm delighted to have three poems - Gabble Ratchet; Wader Flock, Thornham Harbour; and The sea at Ashby de la Zouch - published over at Peony Moon, Michelle McGrane's fine webzine.

I've also got three - Summer Breeze; Dotterel; and Windjammers - in the first issue of New Walk, a new Leicester-based literary magazine. There's also work from Tom Leonard, Andrew Motion, CJ Allen, Rob Mackenzie, Hilary Menos, Jonathan Taylor, Leontia Flynn and Mark Ford, among others, some good (and satisfyingly lengthy) reviews, and a letter from Alison Brackenbury to Wilfred Owen.

The magazine launch takes place at the Library Lecture Theatre, University of Leicester, on November 11th. Alice Oswald will be reading, along with Grevel Lindop and myself.

Beeston International Poetry Festival

Beeston, a small town now swallowed up by the urban sprawl of Nottingham, might not seem like the obvious place for a poetry festival, but that's just what's happening there over the next couple of weeks.

Full details are here, with many of the events taking place at the excellent Flying Goose Cafe. At the very least, I'll make it along to the Roy Fisher reading on the 28th, but there are several other events there that look appealing.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Pocket Spellbook

The latest mini-anthology from Sidekick Books is out now - Pocket Spellbook contains work from a dazzling array of poets, including Mark Waldron, Rab Green, Rowyda Amin, Tony Williams, Jack Underwood, Ian McLachlan, Cliff Hammett, Sophie Mayer, Declan Ryan, Helena Nelson, Edward Mackay, John Clegg, Amy Key, Luke Kennard, Jack Underwood, i-lib, Alexandra Lazar, Oliver Townsend and Saroj Patel. At just £5 plus postage, it's an absolute bargain.

Incidentally, I notice that Tony Williams' splendid The Corner Of Arundel Lane and Charles Street is on the shortlist for the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. It's richly deserved recognition for a superb book, and it'd be nice to see it win.

East Midlands Book of the Year

I'm trying to catch up on some local poetry and writing news, so I'll be posting a few snippets here today...

Writing East Midlands has announced the first annual East Midlands Book Award. £1,000 will be given to a writer of fiction, creative non-fiction, or poetry. The aim of the award is to promote writers who live in the East Midlands, to raise the profile of the thriving literary scene in the region, and to reward exceptional work.

Nominations are invited from local and national publishers. A panel of judges will be chosen each year to shortlist submissions and make the final award.

A shortlist of up to eight books will be announced in April of each year and promoted through bookshops, libraries and reading groups. An award ceremony will be held each June – in the first year at the Lowdham Book Festival.

Actor Robert Lindsay joins BBC Nottingham’s John Holmes and Derbyshire County Council’s Jaci Brumwell, to judge the inaugural East Midlands Book Award.

Visit for competition rules, and contact Aimee Wilkinson for further information at or 0115 959 7929.

Back in circulation

I've not been posting much recently, mainly because I've spent the last three weeks in Papua New Guinea, on a trip for work. Although, work isn't really the right word. It was physically pretty demanding at times (4.30am starts every day, extreme heat and humidity, some very steep trails, and the inevitable mosquitoes), but the rewards were some astonishing views of 18 bird of paradise species, plus all sorts of other goodies, with the kingfishers, parrots and pigeons being the highlights. It's a fascinating country, too, with an amazing number of different languages and cultures.

I'll be posting much more about it over the next few weeks, along with a few digiscoped and digibinned photos - I'll also direct you to some much better images by some of my companions on the trip.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Leicester Shindig!

The latest Nine Arches Press Shindig takes place at The Looking Glass, Braunstone Gate, Leicester, next Monday (the 11th) at 7.30pm.

Featured poets are Roz Goddard and Michael W Thomas, and there'll be music from Jen Elvy too. As always, open mic slots will be available - you can sign up on the door.

Roz Goddard's The Sopranos Sonnets & Other Poems is a streetwise, bittersweet pamphlet collection from Nine Arches, based around 10 sonnet-portraits of characters from The Sopranos, the TV series about a dysfunctional mafia boss and his family. I've been enjoying it since hearing Roz read from it earlier in the year, so I recommend it highly.

Port Winston Mulberry, Michael W Thomas's new collection, takes its name from the artificial harbours used for the D-Day landings in June, 1944. The title poem highlights one of the poet's abiding interests – giving voice to anonymous witnesses when history throws a fit. It's a varied collection, though, with many other strands to explore.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

A refreshing change

I've recently completed a review for Staple of C J Allen's new e-chapbook, Lemonade, which is available now from The Red Ceilings (it's in the column down the right-hand side).

I was going to post a cut-down version of it here, but I'm far too idle to do that, so you'll have to wait for the next issue of Staple to see exactly what I thought of it. Suffice it to say, though, that it's a great read - simultaneously very accessible yet satisfyingly complex, and very much the sort of coherent piece of work that pamphlets and chapbooks are particularly suited to.

I'd have to say, too, that the e-format didn't really make much difference to my appreciation of it. I printed it off, but ended up doing most of my reading onscreen. I always tend to have a few books on the go at once anyway - one each for the lounge, bedroom and, err, bathroom, and one for work - so this just added another poetry-reading opportunity to that. And it's got to be better than going on Twitter or Facebook every time I fancy a break from work, hasn't it?

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Salt Companion to John James

Not having studied English Literature beyond A Level, I'm not necessarily the best person to be assessing a book of critical essays on a poet who, despite frequently being as accessible as any mainstreamer, remains firmly in the 'unjustly neglected' stable.

Except, maybe I am. Having read two of these volumes (I bought the one on Lee Harwood last year too), it strikes me that they fill a gap in the market not only as far as giving an in-depth analysis of certain poets is concerned, but also in allowing late starters in poetry to get to grips with the whole business of critical appreciation. There's nothing especially difficult about James, and although the essays here lack nothing in academic rigour, there's nothing difficult about them, either.

Edited by Simon Perril, this book provides pretty much every perspective you might need on the Cardiff-born, Cambridge-based James, placing him in several intriguing contexts.

Perril's own pieces, a pithy introduction and an essay on the 'politics of indolence' that locates James simultaneously within the Welsh praise tradition, English Romanticism, and the playfulness of the New York School, are among the most enjoyable reads here. Garry Kelly does a fine job in relating James' work to the worlds of late 70s reggae and punk, too, while John Wilkinson's essays are all excellent.

On the down side, I did struggle a bit with Romana Huk's piece, finding it rather repetitive, although given that one of its subjects was repetition in James' poetry, perhaps that was part of the point that I was missing.

But, that doesn't really matter. It isn't a book you're going to read through in one sitting - you'll want to dip in and out as and when the fancy takes you, probably as you visit or revisit the poetry itself. And in that respect, it does its job admirably. If you already, as I did, loved the poetry of John James, you'll find that it sends you back to the work with renewed enthusiasm. If you're a relative newcomer to it, you'll probably want to get hold of everything the bloke's ever written.

As it happens, Salt have just the thing for that, too. Buy the Collected Poems too, and you've got as good a two-volume summary of a poetry career packed with invention, exuberance and intellectual curiosity as you could ever wish for.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Leicester Poetry Workshop

This Sunday (September 19th) at 7pm will see the first of what are intended to be monthly poetry workshops at Phoenix Square, Midland Street, Leicester.

The title of the first workshop is What Is Poetry, and the aim is to provide somewhere for new poets, or those with some experience but who are looking to move their work on to the next level, to talk about their poems and poetry in general in a friendly, informal, constructively critical environment.

It may well take a few months to gather pace, but if you think you could benefit from taking part, or help other poets benefit, come along on the night. It's free, and refreshments will be available in the cafe bar.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Robert Hass

Over at his blog Other Lives, Dan Wyke has posted this fine poem by former US Poet Laureate Robert Hass. I've read a fair bit of Hass's work in anthologies before, but I look forward to catching up with a lot more when this book comes out in the UK (actually, it's tempting to jump the gun and just order the US version).

EDIT: Just noticed that Hass is one of the headline poets at StAnza 2011.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Discussion points

There's been a couple of interesting recent dicsussions on the Magma blog - firstly about whether or not having a 'day job' is good for a poet, and secondly on poets and self-promotion.

On the first subject, I think Katy Evans-Bush's comments are the sound of a nail being struck squarely on the head - I couldn't agree more with pretty much everything she says. On the second, I think there's a lot of truth in what's being said to the effect that what's needed is for poets to promote poetry more generally.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Warwick Words Shindig

There's the latest Nine Arches Press Shindig at Wilde's Wine Bar, The Parade, Leamington Spa, this Sunday (12th September), at 7.30pm. Entry is free.

To celebrate October's Warwick Words festival, it will feature a reading from Warwick Laureates past and present, plus a prize draw for tickets to two Warwick Words events and some Nine Arches goodies. Warwick Laureates past and present confirmed to be reading so far are: Helen Yendall, Jane Holland, Cathy Whittaker and Marg Roberts.

Mark Goodwin will also be reading from his latest Nine Arches collection, Shod, and there'll be live music, too. You can sign up for open mic slots on the door.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Paper vs e-book

I'm not the most techno-savvy person around, but I'm no Luddite either. I'd have to say, though, that I really can't see why I'd ever buy a Kindle or similar device.

It's not just because I like books as physical objects. In fact, it's not got a lot to do with that at all. It's more that I can't really see what advantage an electronic reader offers over a book.

OK, so it means you can take a small library away with you on holiday without filling suitcases full of books. Why you'd want to is another matter, and this particular plus point is vastly outweighed, as far as I can see, by a bunch of negatives.

These include the expense (OK, this will probably be reduced at least a little as time goes on), and the fact that it's just one more piece of kit to lose, break or have stolen, any of which will mean considerable further expense for you to replace it. It's also another bit of kit you have to remember to pack a charger for. A book, on the other hand, is cheap and easy to replace, should you happen to drop it in the bath, leave it on the beach, or stand on it while making a bleary-eyed pre-dawn departure to the airport.

And that's how this situation, as far as I can see, differs from what happened with music when MP3 players first appeared. The predecessors to MP3s, of course, were all also bits of electrical kit that cost a fair bit, were prone to getting damaged, and were attractive to thieves. The book, on the other hand, is a simple but pretty solid bit of technology in itself, with few obvious disadvantages. Convince me that it's obsolete, and I might change my mind, but for now I can't see any good reason to change.

NB This isn't to say, of course, that I don't see the point of e-books. For some people, in some situations, they probably do offer far more real advantages, so I suppose ideally I'd want to see books offered in multiple formats.

Eyebrook interlude

We were out on a photoshoot for work this morning, at Eyebrook Reservoir near Uppingham. While I was waiting for the others to turn up, I got good views of a Kingfisher fishing from the posts and dead trees at the inflow end, and eventually picked out a couple of Curlew Sandpipers on the muddy shore on the far side.

Once we started walking around, we found a Yellow-legged Gull, a handful of Snipe, and the long-staying Pectoral Sandpiper among a mass of Lapwings (there were huge numbers of Coots and Great Crested Grebes, too).

By the time it had really warmed up, there were loads of Buzzards on the thermals - at one point, a good dozen were up at once. Just to confuse things, two or three Red Kites were also around, plus another 'buzzard' that left us all a bit baffled. I have far too little experience of Honey Buzzard to be confident about making a definite call, and it was a frustratingly distant bird, but our photographer Tom Bailey has seen them more often and thought it was a good bet for a HB. Having checked every reference book to hand, so do I now, but I'd really want to see it again to be sure.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Birdfair 2010

It's a very busy time at the moment, hence the relative silence of Polyolbion recently (a welcome bit of peace, you might think).

Anyway, the last three days were spent at the British Birdwatching Fair, at Rutland Water. Now, although strictly speaking it's work, and despite the fact that this morning my feet and back ache like you would not believe as a result of standing on the Bird Watching Magazine stand for hours on end, it's also a huge pleasure. It's good to meet readers and contributors face to face, and to talk about what's right and wrong with the magazine. OK, we can't always guarantee that we'll please everyone, but at least we can try to get things right, with the help of this feedback.

But it's also a good time to catch up with old friends, from right around the world, not just the UK. Not for the first time, three days wasn't quite enough to get around everyone, but I had a damn good try!

Not long before the end yesterday, I popped into the Events Marquee and saw part of Stephen Moss's talk and presentation on his forthcoming BBC4 series, Birds Britannia. It looks excellent, and the bit I saw was notable for featuring two poets, Andrew Motion and Helen Macdonald. It's probably fair to say they're at opposite ends of the poetic spectrum, stylistically, so well done to the producers for casting their net widely.

Friday, 13 August 2010

That old chestnut

Two different views of the old 'lyrics as poetry' debate here and here - it also touches on the 'it's not like it was in my day' argument. For what it's worth, I don't think there's been any great change in the quality of lyrics, or rather in the proportion that might be considered as of poetic value on their own. On the other hand, I often don't want lyrics to work as poetry - that's why they're set to music in the first place.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Sweet sole music

Monday night saw a book launch with a difference, as Mark Goodwin's new Nine Arches Press collection Shod was unveiled at The Looking Glass in Leicester.

Rather than the traditional format - poet reads selection of pieces from new book - Shodfest saw a number of Midlands poets (Steve Carroll, Pam Thompson, Lydia Towsey, George Ttoouli, Simon Perrill, Stevie Blue, Katie Daniels and myself) picking four pieces each from the book (which tells the story of shoe messiah Sidney Realer), then reading them in turn. If the poet before you read the piece you'd been planning to read, you moved on to your next piece, and so on. It'd be hard to pick out highlights, although Simon's breathless recital was great, while Lydia injected real tension and drama into the proceedings.

It worked really well, I thought. It was fascinating to hear different people's takes on the book, and I only hope we did Mark some sort of justice. The collection, incidentally, is terrific - you can read more about it here.

The open mic was excellent, too, with some familiar faces and some new, the latter including conceptual poet Ira Lightman, who was passing through Leicester and popped in. All things considered, a triumph, not at all dampened by an absolutely torrential downpour as I drove home.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Food for thought

Not been getting much chance to blog recently, but here's something to stimulate a bit of debate. I think Jon Stone has encapsulated a lot of what I feel about the subject. I'll return to it later in the week...

Monday, 2 August 2010

Monday browsing

The new issue of Blackbox Manifold has gone live - you can find new poems from the likes of George Szirtes and Sharon Olds here, and there are some good reviews too.

I've also been enjoying this, over at Ink, Sweat & Tears. Now it's probably fair to say that I'd look kindly on any poem that took a Carry On film as a starting point, but it's also fair to say that Helen Mort has taken it way, way beyond any novelty or curiosity value.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Birds and music

I was reading this fascinating post over at Bill of the Birds, the always entertaining blog of Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher's Digest.

Over here, British Sea Power are probably the best-known birdwatching musicians, but I was interested to see that Steven Tyler of Aerosmith is thought to be a birder too. Respect!

Bill's a pretty useful guitar player himself, incidentally - he gave us an impromptu performance at the airport in Cebu City last year.

You can hear more about all this on Bill's This Birding Life podcast - have a look through the archives, too.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Troy Town at Peony Moon

My collection, Troy Town, is currently featured over at Michelle McGrane's wonderful blog Peony Moon. There are four poems from the book, plus some info on how to get hold of it. I'm very grateful to Michelle for giving the book some attention - have a browse through her blog's archives to find all manner of fine poets featured in the past.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Last night's Shindiggery

I popped over to Leamington Spa last night for the latest Nine Arches Press Shindig, and a splendid event it was too.

Featured readers were Roz Goddard, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, Maria Taylor and Julie Boden, and they worked very well together. Roz read from her just-launched Nine Arches chapbook The Sopranos Sonnets & Other Poems, and Deborah from her recent Smokestack book, Pavilion. I'm looking forward to reading both, because The Sopranos is a long-time obsession with me, while Deborah's book is themed around British dandies and eccentrics, and you can never have enough of those.

In addition, there were loads of good open mic readers - I'm terrible at remembering names, but I think it was a chap called Nigel Hutchinson who read a really good poem titled Lammergeier. There were some excellent poems from Simon Turner too (I've only just got round to buying his new book, Difficult Second Album), and I read a couple, Cahoots and Drinking With Godberd.

I came away with plenty of new reading material (Roz's, Simon's and Deborah's books), and I'm looking forward to the next Shindig, at The Looking Glass, Braunstone Gate, Leicester, on August 9th. It's billed as Shodfest, and will see the launch of Mark Goodwin's new Nine Arches collection Shod. More details soon...

Friday, 16 July 2010

Latest Litter

Lots of good stuff over at the latest issue of online magazine Litter, with poetry from the likes of Jane Commane, Nathan Thompson, Kelvin Corcoran, Carrie Etter, Ian Seed and C J Allen.

I particularly liked Jane's poem At Lyveden - the site it refers to figures heavily in the Midlands Revolt of 1607 and the whole tragic story of Captain Pouch.

Also good to see C J Allen's Lemonade there - it's the title piece of a new e-book that I've just downloaded to review.

Thursday, 15 July 2010


As you may have seen elsewhere, poetry publisher Salt is experiencing one or two difficulties at the moment, but nothing that can't be solved with a bit of good old-fashioned retail therapy. You go out and buy a Salt book, you read it, you feel entertained/educated/better etc, and Salt is able to go on doing what it does so well.

It's not just poetry, either, now I come to think of it. There's fiction, including short stories, and the likes of The Salt Companion To John James, which I'm currently about halfway through. I'll be posting a full review in due course, but in the meantime I'll just say that it's a great way of getting more from the poetry of one of the UK's most underrated writers.

You might also want to pick up James' Collected Poems, while other volumes in the Companion series look at the likes of Lee Harwood. Serious about poetry, but seriously readable too.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Cover versions

I've wondered for a long time why poets so rarely read other people's poems alongside their own at readings. After all, go to see a band, and you can usually rely on hearing at least one cover version during the course of the set.

I have seen it done, though, and it works well, especially if the poems chosen in some way inform the rest of the set, or have some sort of connection to it. Of course, the fact that most poetry sets only last about 20 minutes probably means that poets are reluctant to 'bump' one of their own poems to make way for something else, but I wonder if there's also a fear of making their influences too obvious?

Well, whatever, I think I'll give it a try next time I do a full reading. Whenever I come across a poem I really like in a magazine (or maybe in a public place), I make a point of copying it out, not just so I've got it to hand, but because recording it helps to fix it in my mind. It means I've now got a wide assortment of poems that I probably know better than my own - I think I'll start with a couple of those.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

More pics from Oz

Time for a few more pics from my recent trip to Australia's Top End, that part of Northern Territory stretching south and east of Darwin.

The first picture shows a Darter, on the wetlands close to the Gagadju Lodge, Cooinda. We took in the Yellow Water Dawn Cruise, seeing huge numbers of Plumed Whistling Ducks, various egrets and herons, a lot of Rainbow Bee-eaters and Forest Kingfishers, and a scattering of White-bellied Sea Eagles and Jabirus.

Next picture is me having a bit of a refresher at Gunlom, after we'd climbed the escarpment in search of the White-throated Grasswren. Sadly it eluded us, one of the few target species to do so, but having a midday dip was some compensation. The view's incredible, back across the Kakadu National Park, and the water's cold. And crocodiles can't climb, either.

The third pic is of one of our camp sites on the three-day canoe safari down the Katherine River, with Paula of Gecko Canoe Safaris, and my guide, Chris Parker. We had Blue-winged Kookaburras in the trees around us, while other birds included Black Bittern, Great-billed Heron and a lot of raptors. You'll notice that, as well as the battered field guides and binoculars, we hadn't neglected to pack a few bottles of the best Aussie reds, to help pass the evenings. Later, sleeping out in the open, we could hear dingos howling on the far side of the river, plus one or two strange animal noises we preferred not to try to identify!

Finally, a really bad picture of some female Hooded Parrots, taken at Pine Creek as we headed back to Darwin on the last evening. I was having to rest my compact camera in the fork of a small tree, and the light was entirely wrong, so this was the best I managed before they flew off and met up with some calling males. But it's one of the signature birds of the Top End, and we were thrilled to finally track some down.

I should just mention that, should you be interested in finding out more about the area, a full trip report will be in a future issue of Bird Watching. But you should also have a look at the website of Fisher King, Chris's company. I can't recommend him as a guide highly enough.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Taking your time

In the poetry world, there are plenty of late starters, people who relatively late in life start to take their writing seriously, in performing it, or trying to get it published. I'd include myself in that category, to an extent - I only really started to make a big effort about eight or nine years ago, although I'd dabbled in a rather directionless fashion for years before that.

There are also, though, plenty of poets who write and are published right from their teens, who maybe do English and/or Creative Writing at university, but who don't publish a full collection until well in their 30s, maybe their 40s. I've come across quite a few lately, in fact I'm reviewing a couple at the moment, and I have to say I admire their patience and dedication in resisting the urge to put out a debut collection until they're ready. I can think of a couple of problems that the long wait can create, but for the most part they seem to sidestep these rather admirably.

I'd guess that the rise (or rather the resurgence) of the chapbook has something to do with it, too. It means that poets are able both to get their name out there and to plan and create complete, self-contained pieces of work. Some put out several pamphlets before ever even considering submitting a collection. From what I've seen (someone like Helen Mort might be a good example), it's a thoroughly good thing, allowing younger poets to experiment with voice and form.

I'm rambling, I know. But I'll try to put these thoughts in a more coherent form soon...

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Shindig, Sopranos and more...

The latest Leamington Shindig takes place on Sunday, 18th July, at Wilde's Wine Bar, The Parade, Leamington Spa, with special guest poet Roz Goddard. Doors open at 6.30pm, with readings and open mic from 7.30pm. Entry is free.

Roz Goddard's The Sopranos Sonnets & Other Poems, from Nine Arches Press, will be available on the night, both as a standard Nine Arches Press chapbook, and as a signed limited-edition pamphlet in a print run of 100 copies only.

It features acutely observed, streetwise and bittersweet sonnet-portraits inspired by the TV series The Sopranos (the greatest ever? I could make a good case for it), about a mafia boss and his family. I'm a huge fan, so I look forward to seeing the book. It'll be interesting to see if either of my favourite characters - Tony Blundetto and Silvio Dante - are featured.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

More reading

I got home last night to find that not only had Anon 7 arrived, but so had issue 6 of Under The Radar, Nine Arches Press's in-house magazine.

I didn't have time for more than a quick flick-through, but I enjoyed poems by Angela France and Michael McKimm, and will have time to have a proper look at the rest of an eclectic crop over the weekend. There are also four poems by me in there - Cahoots; Drinking With Godberd; Dreams From The Anchor Church; and Breedon-on-the-Hill, an interview with Claire Crowther, and reviews from the likes of Alison Brackenbury.

It looks like an excellent read, as ever - I look forward to reading both mags properly.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The Go-Betweens: "Bye Bye Pride"

In July and August 1990, I was working at the DHSS in Loughborough just before my last year of university. It was a very hot, dry summer, with day after day of blue skies, and all things considered, the job (as a clerical assistant) wasn't a bad one. The work was generally interesting, and I spent large parts of each day walking from one office to another, so I was out in the open air. It was also reasonably good money.

The downside, where the latter was concerned, was that the office was directly opposite The Left-Legged Pineapple, Loughborough's legendary independent record store. Inevitably I spent most of my lunchtimes, and far too much of my wages, on various albums I dug out there.

In retrospect, by far my best find was a newly-released compilation, The Go-Betweens 1978-1990. Beforehand, I'd heard of the Aussie band, and heard and enjoyed a few tracks by them, but didn't know nearly enough. They were critical darlings (NME was fond of calling Grant McLennan and Robert Forster the Australian Lennon and McCartney), but that was pretty much all I knew.

So I bought a tape copy of the album (because it had a few more tracks than the CD), and played it to death all that summer. Perhaps it helped that the very un-British weather made their songs all the more evocative of the steamy, Queensland coast*, but mainly it was down to the fact that here were compact, often ridiculously catchy pop songs with literate lyrics. About a year later, the tape snapped, so I replaced it (by then I'd also started to buy my way through their back catalogue in secondhand record shops), and when that copy also wore out, a few years later, I bought the CD.

On the way to Australia the other week, the iPod's shuffle function threw up the track above - Bye Bye Pride, probably my favourite of theirs. Apart from not being able to believe that it's 20 years since that summer (my other main memory of it is watching a teenaged Sachin Tendulkar make a brilliant 100 against England - he's not aged badly), it reminded me that McLennan's no longer with us, sadly. He and Forster did belatedly get a little of the recognition they deserved, but never enough. Anyway, enjoy possibly the only rock song ever built round an oboe riff, and listen to McLennan's superb lyrics.

* A similar thing happened with my other Aussie favourites, The Triffids. I first heard them blasting out at a record shop on a blisteringly hot morning that perfectly fitted the setting for all their best songs. I sometimes wonder if I'd have been as instantly grabbed by them on a foggy morning in November.

Nightingale mystery solved

Thanks to David Morley for flagging this up - fascinating research on arguably our most iconic (although not necessarily best, or best-known*) songbird, combined with a bit of Cavalier poetry. We rarely get Nightingales in my part of the world, even passing through, so seeing or, more likely, hearing one, is always a red letter day.

I've probably mentioned before that I like the fact that in Spain, where they're still much easier to find, their name is Ruisenor - literally, "the noisy man". They really can be astonishingly loud, especially in the middle of the night.

* I'd rank Blackbird, Blackcap and Garden Warbler above them, for starters, although there's no beating the Nightingale for sheer resonance.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Anon 7

Interesting to see the spy story breaking on the other side of the Atlantic earlier - I have a poem in Anon 7, just out, entitled Request Hour At The Numbers Station, which comes from a long-standing fascination with some of the strange communications methods used by Cold War spies.

As you'll see, there's loads in there - an interview with John Glenday, articles by Claire Askew and others, and poems from the likes of Rob Mackenzie and Juliet Wilson. It's a great little magazine (always loved the pocket format), so buy a copy or subscribe now.

If you want to know more about numbers stations, by the way, there are recordings of a few here.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Robin Hood

I finally got round to seeing the new Robin Hood film last night, being a sucker for anything connected to Nottingham's favourite hoodie.

And the verdict? Well, it's certainly an enjoyable enough couple of hours, I suppose, although it suffers from two of Hollywood's current major vices - using a film for little more than setting up what it hopes will be a series of lucrative sequels, and applying more and more layers of sound and fury in place of a decent plot or dialogue.

Still, the performances are generally good. Russell Crowe is as watchable as usual, Cate Blanchett is a safe pair of hands as Marian, and there are some decent turns from the supporting cast, notably Max von Sydow and William Hurt.

But, and it's a big but, I came away rather unsatisfied. For a start, director Ridley Scott makes a big point of making sure we see a blood-and-horseshit version of the Middle Ages, with gritty realism the order of the day. Trouble is, where the plot's concerned, he doesn't bother paying too much attention to the actual history of the times, the original content of the ballads, or the legend as it has developed. Instead there's the usual thing of trying to rewrite the story to suit Hollywood, except that it's done without any real agenda or purpose. Why is Nottingham shown as little more than a hamlet? Why do the invading French storm ashore from what appear to be landing craft (and why do they land at the bottom of steep cliffs, for that matter?)? Things like these are annoying rather than being in any way definitive, but they're also pointless. Why not just try to get things right, if you're trumpeting the film's 'authenticity' elsewhere?

Crowe's been quoted as saying that he thinks the film gets as close to the 'truth' of the matter as ever, but in fact he and Scott seem to have cast aside almost all traces of the legend, or possible historical models and archetypes. They may emerge in the sequels, but I won't hold my breath.

The characters of Robin's fellow outlaws are left largely undeveloped (although Mark Addy makes a decent fist of injecting some of the legend's spirit into Tuck, despite looking disconcertingly like Terry Scott), as is that of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Presumably they'll come into their own in any sequels, too, although in the latter role there's zero chance of Matthew Macfadyen coming anywhere near Nickolas Grace's great turn in the 1980s TV series. Here he's so wooden it's a wonder he doesn't get lobbed onto the outlaws' campfire.

Finally, there's the accents. I didn't find them particularly distracting (and it wouldn't honestly have bothered me if Crowe had played RH in his own accent), but they are wildly uneven. Both Blanchett and Crowe often sound more Irish than anything else, while the rest of the time Crowe commutes between Middlesbrough and Merseyside, only occasionally stopping anywhere near Mansfield.

So, probably about 6 out of 10. Not bad, but could do better, and could do better without too much effort.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Poets on iTunes

A couple of weeks back, poet David Morley made mention on his blog of the success of Warwick University's iTunes channel.

I'd come across it quite by accident a while back, and downloaded several readings and interviews with the likes of Lee Harwood, Anne Stevenson and David Morley himself. Anyway, I listened to most of it while hanging around various airports in the last week, and very good it is too. Just need to go back to some of the texts now that I'm home.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Birding in Australia's Top End

Just back from a work trip to Australia's Northern Territory, starting and ending in Darwin and taking in the Kakadu National Park, parts of the Arnhem Escarpment, and a three-day canoe safari down the Katherine River.

The birding was utterly astonishing, with all sorts of 'Top End' specials, such as Hooded Parrot, Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeon, Banded Fruit Dove and the absurdly colourful Gouldian Finch (tracking these beauties down, thanks mainly to the patience and skill of our guide, Chris Parker, was one of the highlights), as well as a host of other species, nearly all new to me (never having been Down Under before). They included White-bellied Sea Eagle, pictured, which I took at Yellow Water, Cooinda - this bird was totally unfazed by our presence in a boat nearby, and fortunately held still for a few (non-digibinned) shots.

There were also wallabies, wallaroos, and both freshwater and saltwater crocodiles. The 4.5-metre specimen pictured above showed up on the first day, just as we were having a sandwich and a cuppa at Fogg River Dam, close to Darwin. I managed to digi-bin the pic above (we were up in a viewing tower, so my hand wasn't shaking!).

Added to all that, there was loads of breathtaking scenery and a lot of Aboriginal rock art to enjoy, usually with the two combined. It's a wonderful part of the world, and I'll definitely be going back. I'll post more pics and reflections later, but having done the whole trip, including flights, within nine days, I think I need to get my head down first!

PS. It's always nice to learn new skills, so I should probably add that I was also introduced to the Tim Tam Slam, an Australian practice that takes dunking a chocolate biscuit in tea/coffee/hot chocolate to a whole new level. Utter genius.