Wednesday 28 April 2010

Jilted City

I wrote the mini-review below for the latest Magma email newsletter. You can sign up for it here, to keep abreast of what's going on at one of the UK's very best poetry magazines, and to see the Subscriber's Poem Workshop.

Jilted City, Patrick McGuinness, Carcanet, £9.95

Throughout this, Patrick McGuinness's second full collection, there's an opposition between rootedness and displacement, and a further tension between careful reflection and obsessive over-analysis of situations and relationships.

The former no doubt owes something to the poet's highly cosmopolitan background - Tunisian-born, of Belgian and Newcastle-Irish parentage, he now lives in Wales. The multi-lingualism that goes with it is fully explored in poems such as French, where his mother-tongue (and "mother's tongue") is "freighted / with a kind of loss", and the enjoyable sequence Blue Guide takes stations on the Brussels-Luxembourg railway line as the starting points for journeys into the past.

There's a deeply personal strand to all this, too, with several poems touching on the death of his mother, lightly yet movingly.

A poem called The Empty Frame, meanwhile, serves pretty much as a summary of that second dichotomy, concerning itself with: "the squared-off angle, the spirit-levelled, bevelled edge that marks the end of / seeing, calls time on the eye, that marks the border between the over- and the / unexamined life."

Just once or twice, you might wonder whether McGuinness, fine and sharp observer of (especially urban) landscapes that he is, dwells on loss and decay a little excessively, but that, I think, is to miss his real object. By the end of the collection, his elegies for lost times and places move way beyond what we think of as nostalgia, and much closer to defining the original meaning of the word, as an actual 'maladie du pays' (or country sickness).

But, it's all done with a dry, ironic wit (Poem In White Ink, in this context, works as a far better joke than Don Paterson's similar blank page), so it's by no means a gruelling journey. In fact, you'll probably find yourself repeating it in pretty short order.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Film 2010: Tim Cumming

For the next few days, I'm going to be posting a series of film poems by Tim Cumming, who features in the new Bloodaxe anthology, Identity Parade.

This first one, Foreign News, and tomorrow's, Danebury Ring, are both included in that book, while the three-part Radio Carbon, to follow early next week, is a 30-minute film poem based on 24 unrhyming sonnets and the metaphor of radiocarbon as a broadcast medium, including parallel explorations of prehistoric, personal and present time.

I've just noticed this is my 600th post - nice way to break with tradition.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Magazines online

I just got an email informing me that Magma 36 is now online at the Poetry Library's digital magazine archive. It's a good issue, featuring the likes of Seamus Heaney, Billy Collins, Philip Gross, Bernard O'Donoghue, Claire Crowther, Peter Carpenter, Carrie Etter and many more - my own poem Hutt River Province is there too, down near the bottom.

My main reason for drawing attention to it, though, is just to flag up the archive more generally. If you've not seen it before, it's a great resource, with new mags and new issues being added all the time. Set aside plenty of time to browse it, though - there's an awful lot there.

Oh, and here's the advertising bit - that poem of mine appears in Troy Town, available direct from Arrowhead Press, or by emailing me at the link on the right (currently £7 inc p&p).

EDIT: Just noticed that April 21st is the 40th anniversary of the inauguration of the Principality of Hutt River (as it now is), inspiration for my poem. How appropriate!

Thursday 15 April 2010

Dr Fulminare's Questionable Arts

Website recommendation of the day/week/month/whatever - the wonderful Dr Fulminare's Questionable Arts, brainchild of Fuselit editors Jon Stone and Kirsten Irving.

Still not had time to read nearly enough of it, but the reviews are particularly good. My favourite so far? The bit in the review of Matt Nunn's wonderful Sounds In The Grass where Jon Stone says: "it's clear that Nunn is building his work not around themes or a voice or structural skeletons, but a thread of sound that he hungrily follows, rather like a desert mole hunting its prey by vibrations in the sand".

Why can't all reviews be like this?

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Monday night live

Monday's Shindig at The Looking Glass in Leicester was another good night - attendance might have been slightly down on the first one, but the universities are still on holiday, I think, so that didn't help.

Simon Turner overcame a head-cold that threatened to turn his set into a Tunes advert ("a first-class return to Dottingham" - anyone remember that?) to give a taste of his second collection, Difficult Second Album, which should be out next week. It sounds as if it will venture into more political territory than his debut, although it retains the wonderful rhythms and great feel for urban pastoral that made that book such a pleasure.

Myra Connell's reading was terrific, too. Her John the Baptist poem (I haven't got From The Boat to hand just now, so can't check the actual title) really came to life, and made me re-read it several times when I got home. I've already talked at length about her chapbook, and hearing her read from it just reinforced the big impression it's already made.

Finally, Lydia Towsey needs no introduction in Leicester (and not just because of her wonderfully pink hair), and she was as good as always. I especially like her African poem - it swoops from funny to serious and back again more than once. It was particularly nice that she was able to read a poem actually written in The Looking Glass, too.

In between times, there were some excellent open mic readers, too. Good to catch up with Malc Dewhirst, the man behind the Polesworth Poets Trail, who read well.

Plans are already in hand for the next Shindig, on June 14th - it's looking like a great line-up of George Ttoouli, Jacqui Rowe and Deborah Tyler-Bennett.

Sunday 11 April 2010

From The Boat

Myra Connell, Nine Arches Press, 2010, £5
Some poets have the knack of saying more and more the less they write, and Myra Connell seems to be one of those. Throughout this chapbook (at 40 pages, it's actually not that much shorter than many full collections), she hones poems right down to the quick - the more pared-down they got, the more I enjoyed them.

In part that's because Connell trusts the reader to do part of the work. You're constantly left with the feeling that you've come in halfway through a story or conversation, and the pleasure is in filling in some of the gaps yourself.

So, in opening poem And yes, the house, you're left wondering just who the stranger is, what the significance of the reported comment "the hope is stupid" might be. Moments like that crop up again and again, and they have the effect of giving a dream-like quality to the work, as if both you and the poet are slipping in and out of sleep.

I wouldn't want it to sound, though, as if the poet is taking the easy option of leading the reader out into the trackless wastes and then abandoning them. There are threads to follow, of mourning and of quiet persistence in the face of difficult and often baffling circumstances, and while Connell isn't afraid to be angry (really angry, too, not a mood I encounter that often in contemporary poetry), there's a tenderness there too.

And, importantly, there's a real gift for writing poetry that enacts our day-to-day thought processes in rhythms that genuinely delight. The whole of From The Valley, for example, with its closing:

Carp moved goldly,

muscled. Go today. See carp.
Go anywhere with walls, deep pools,
and gold (but don't say gold)
leaves floating


Old Map was another favourite, returning again to that theme of carrying on even when the way ahead is far from clear:

You (who do not give up)
must find a way across the stream:

steep up and climb the fence and there
- is still no path.

This is a fine collection that I'd like to think will find a wide readership - writing about uncertainty and dislocation with such assurance is a hard trick to pull off, but Myra Connell does it wonderfully well here.

Friday 9 April 2010


One more reminder that the Nine Arches Press Shindig is on Monday (April 12th), with readings from 7.30pm, at the Looking Glass, 68-70 Braunstone Gate, Leicester LE3 5LG.

The featured readers are Myra Connell, Lydia Towsey and Simon Turner.

Lydia Towsey is a poet and performer. Commissions include: Freedom Showcase in 2007 and Beyond Words in 2009. Residencies include two weeks with Theatre Royal Stratford East and years inside Leicester’s coffee shops... Lydia has performed with John Hegley, Jean Binta Breeze and Keorapetse Kgositsile, the South African Poet Laureate. Her latest publication is within The Great Grandchildren of Albion (a forthcoming project of Michael Horovitz). She comperes and coordinates WORD! the longest-running East Mids poetry night ( and in 2009 was the Artistic Director of The Lyric Lounge ( She’s doing an MA in Writing and putting together her first collection. She drinks a lot of tea.

Simon Turner was born in Birmingham in 1980. Heaventree Press published his first collection, You Are Here, in 2007. His poems and reviews have appeared in a number of publications, including Tears in the Fence, The Wolf, Horizon Review and The London Magazine. With George Ttoouli, he co-edits Gists and Piths, an experiment in blogging dedicated to the publication and discussion of contemporary poetry, which has been up and running since 2007. He lives and works in Warwickshire.

Myra Connell’s first collection of poems, A Still Dark Kind of Work, was published by Heaventree Press in 2008. Her poems have appeared in various magazines, and her short stories in two collections from Tindal Street Press, Her Majesty and Are You She? Her new collection, From The Boat, is just out from Nine Arches. She lives in Birmingham and has two grown-up sons.

Entry is absolutely free, and you can sign up on the door for the open mic.

PS. Simon's new collection is called Difficult Second Album. I've been trying to come up with a list of 20 great difficult and/or great second albums, along with little write-ups to justify the claim - any suggestions? There might even be a free book or pamphlet or two in it for the best I receive...

Thursday 8 April 2010

Party fears one

I once read a piece by Hugo Williams saying that, when putting together a poetry collection, he liked to print off each individual poem on a separate sheet, then lay them out on the floor. Then, he added, just like at a party, certain poems would start to gravitate towards others.

It's good advice, although actually pretty hard to achieve in my cluttered house (even a chapbook would be a struggle, if I'm honest - floorspace gets swallowed up at an astonishing rate). But it's worked for me in the past, so I'm doing it again.

Certain poems have started to resolve themselves into little knots, but others are remaining resolutely around the edges. My next task is to decide which of those wallflowers to show the door, and which to entice into the fun and games going on elsewhere. Maybe breaking out the cheese footballs and cava (on special offer down the Co-op just now) will help them shake of their inhibitions...

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Martin Figura - Whistle

Over at the excellent Peony Moon, Michelle McGrane has blogged about Martin Figura's debut collection, Whistle, out now from Arrowhead. I'm looking forward to seeing a copy - all being well I'll be able to make it to the launch in Norwich next month (Martin's wife Helen Ivory has her new Bloodaxe collection The Breakfast Machine launched at the same event).

You can read more about the book, about Martin, and even sample a few poems, over at Peony Moon now.

Electric Polyolbion

Thanks to Matthew Stewart for pointing me to this feature from Saturday's Guardian - get down to near the bottom and Paul Farley talks about his new project, The Electric Polyolbion. It's always nice to see poor old Michael Drayton getting a bit of limelight (albeit about 400 years too late), so I'll be following this with interest.

I first came across Drayton years ago when reading about hill figures (of the Uffington White Horse type). I think, from what I remember, that in the Warwickshire section of Poly-olbion, he waxed lyrical about the now-vanished Red Horse of Tysoe, identifying himself with it, and Shakespeare with the better-known Uffington figure. I should really read it all sometime soon.