Friday, 28 May 2010

A night in Norwich

On Monday, I was in Norwich for the launch of Helen Ivory and Martin Figura's new collections, The Breakfast Machine and Whistle, respectively.

The launch reading was really excellent - varied and well-paced and with a couple of musical interludes, and Norwich Arts Centre is a fine venue. I've been enjoying both books since, and although they're very different in their subject matter, I think they share something in that they manage to wring the maximum effect out of seemingly plain, everyday language. I'll be posting full reviews once I've digested them properly, but in the meantime both are well worth checking out.

It was lovely to catch up with Helen and Martin again, and also to meet and chat with a number of other fine poets, like Penelope Shuttle and George Szirtes.

George has a fine piece about the event over at his blog. He makes some excellent points, I think, about the literary world generally. He also touches on something Martin and he mentioned on the night - what a great place Norwich is for writers of all kinds. Various different scenes seem to overlap and mix, and there's an atmosphere of mutual support. It might have something to do with Norwich's geographical position, I suppose, but whatever, it's refreshing, and sort of inspiring.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Shadowtrain 33

As usual, the latest issue of Shadowtrain has plenty worth a few minutes of your browsing time - I've particularly been enjoying CJ Allen's poems.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Songs From Spider Street - out now

Just a quick heads-up regarding the launch of my old friend Mark Howard Jones' new book, Songs From Spider Street.

It's available now, for £8.99 plus postage, by clicking here - you can also read a sample story from the book or listen to an MP3 of Mark reading it.

Highly recommended for all fans of the macabre, and as I pointed out in my piece about his reading, he comes with the endorsement of no less a figure than Ray Bradbury. I mean, RAY BRADBURY!

I've ordered my copy...

Friday, 21 May 2010

Birding at work

Now, obviously, working for Bird Watching magazine means that birding IS work a lot of the time, an extremely fortunate position to be in.

But we also try to keep an eye out for birds while we're in the office. OK, so the building is largely made up of windows that don't open, and lacks any working air-con, which means that it's a giant greenhouse for most of the year, but at least its position on the edge of Peterborough means that we get some decent birds.

Out the front, we're looking towards the East of England Showground and some industrial estates, so the main highlights tend to be distant gulls and raptors, although wagtails often turn up on the roof, and the front car-park has a Whitethroat, a Song Thrush, and a fair-sized finch flock in winter.

Out the back, we're looking at trees, but beyond them, out of sight, is the River Nene. Out this way, we've had the likes of Spotted Flycatcher and flypast Red Kites, plus displaying Sparrowhawks, Bullfinches and more.

We've also got a little pool next to the canteen. There are resident Coots and Moorhens, occasional ducks, Kingfishers, gulls and even Common Terns, and our regular Grey Heron, fondly known to us as Frank. He visits most days, to breakfast on the carp. Not sure that our colleagues at Practical Fishkeeping are overjoyed, but he's a pretty fearless sort.

But anyway, the picture of him above was taken by my colleague, Mike Weedon, and is just one of many you can find at his excellent blog, Weedon's World Of Nature. Enjoy...

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Municipal art

Just came across this post at Litterbug. I enjoyed the poem, but it also made me resolve to make the effort to go and see Derby Municipal Art Gallery. Distant memories of nightmarish journeys round Derby's one-way system have kept me away in the past - it might be time to brave it again.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Michael Haslam in Troytown

I've been reading Michael Haslam's Mid Life, Shearsman's fine collection of all the poet's works between 1980 and 2000. It's one of those books that, while undoubtedly coming from the non-mainstream end of the poetry spectrum, is far from being difficult or inaccessible. Much of Haslam's work has a song-like quality, which combined the persona he uses (a variation on the 'holy fool') makes it, above all, a lot of fun. The non-mainstream angle, more than anything, comes from the fact that every poem works off every other poem - it's not necessarily a book to dip into.

Anyway, no time to write anything like a proper appraisal, but getting close to the end today (and thinking I''ll have to order the collections he's published since 2000), I came across a not entirely typical passage in Singleton's 10p Recital mentioning Troytown. I thought I'd share it...

The crashing in of banks to flood.
The what we did.
The river bed of weeds and mud.
The hollow cove of grass.
The green and grey.
The silver dale.
Another mudbank crashes.

Flock bleeps out on mussel bed.
The what we said.
A ton of feathers on my head.
A ton of lead.

A single seagull and a simple tune.
The fall of Troytown
on the Banks of Lune
whence all the indigenes are flown.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

It's Shindig time again!

The latest Leamington Shindig, run by Nine Arches Press, takes place this Sunday, May 16th, at Wilde's Wine Bar, The Parade, Leamington Spa.

Reading will be Bob Mee and Lydia Towsey, there's music from punk-folk accordionist Matt Campbell, and of course there are open mic slots to sign up for on the night. The doors open at 6.30pm, with readings from 7.30pm.

Lydia Towsey is a poet and performer. Commissions include: Freedom Showcase in 2007 and Beyond Words in 2009. 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 Midlands 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.

Bob Mee is Co-editor of Ragged Raven Press and as well as writting several collections of poetry, his latest being The Maker of Glass Eyes (2009), he has written several boxing books, including Bare Fists. This history of bare-knuckle prize-fighting in the 18th and 19th centuries was Sunday Times book of the week, and recommended by the New York Times and Playboy... which might make him the only poet around these parts to have been in Playboy. Or maybe not.

Entry is absolutely free - come along and enjoy the evening.

Bird update

Right, let's forget the election and football for a while. Outside, spring's supposed to be well and truly here, but the weather's doing its best to pretend otherwise. North-easterly winds and chilly nights mean it feels more like early March most of the time.

Where birds are concerned, that's made for an odd couple of months. Some spring passage migrants have been surprisingly easy to see (four Ring Ouzels in one field, an obligingly showy Redstart, grounded Whimbrels, etc), while some breeding summer visitors are still notable by their absence. Even now, I've only had a handful of House Martins and Swifts on my patch.

Hopefully that'll change when the winds turn around, maybe later this week. In the meantime, I caught up with three Greenshanks and a Wood Sandpiper at Wanlip Meadows last night - it'd be hard to find more elegant waders. In stark contrast, a dumpy little Dunlin was getting harassed by the breeding Little Ringed Plovers.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Friday, 7 May 2010

Come on you Mariners!

I've steered clear of talking about football on here. Even two years ago, when my beloved Leicester City slipped into the third tier of English football for the first time ever, I resisted the temptation to blog about it. Football gets talked about quite enough elsewhere.

Grim as it was at the time, Leicester's slide down the divisions was never likely to be terminal. The chance to regroup and start afresh seemed to do them good, with a Division One title and now a place in the Championship play-offs the result. If, later this month, they come up with the big-money prize of a place in the Premier League, then 2008 will be well and truly forgotten.

But tomorrow, the first professional club I ever went to watch face a relegation that could have catastrophic effects. My dad's a lifelong Grimsby Town fan (he can remember them as a top-tier team, just after World War Two), being born and bred in nearby Louth, so the first football match I was ever taken to was Grimsby vs Peterborough, in 1976. The Mariners lost 3-1, but ever since they've held a place in my affections only a little lower than the Foxes.

In 1998, me and the old man twice made the trip down to Wembley (Grimsby's first-ever appearances there) to see them win the Football League Trophy and the Division Two play-off final. At other times, occasional spells in the second tier have been interspersed with desperate battles in the lower divisions. But through it all, they've never slipped out of the Football League.

This is a club that, in 1939, played an FA Cup semi-final against Wolves at Old Trafford that still holds the record for the biggest attendance at that ground. A club that helped make Bill Shankly's name as a manager, long before his eventual deification in Liverpool*. A club that has consistently produced quality football and footballers, out of all proportion to its size and the size of the town (and whatever Scunthorpe or Lincoln fans tell you, they've been the footballing standard-bearers for the huge county of Lincolnshire). Oh, and whatever the limitations of Blundell Park, it's a stone's throw from the best fish and chip shops in Britain, meaning a trip there's always a pleasure.

Tomorrow, that could change. They must win at Burton Albion, and hope Barnet lose to already-promoted Rochdale, if that proud 118-year record isn't to end. If it does, the financial consequences could sink the club forever.

So, no offence to Barnet, but I'm praying that they slip up against Rochdale, and the mighty Mariners rise to the occasion just along the road from here in Burton. If Grimsby do save themselves, at least they'll be in the right place to celebrate.

Come on you Mariners!!!!!!!!!!

* Shankly, in his autobiography, claimed that his 1951-52 Grimsby team was: "...pound for pound, and class for class, the best football team I have seen in England since the war. In the league they were in they played football nobody else could play. Everything was measured, planned and perfected and you could not wish to see more entertaining football."

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Songs From Spider Street

Just a quick post to alert you to the launch of Songs From Spider Street, a collection of short stories by my old friend Mark Howard Jones.

It takes place at the Oriel Canfas Gallery in Canton, Cardiff, next Wednesday, May 12th, starting at 7.30pm. The Gallery, by the way, is at 44A Glamorgan Street, Canton, Cardiff CF5 1QS - you can get there from the car-park of The Insole pub, just off Cowbridge Road East, or Glamorgan Street runs parallel to Market Street.

Most importantly, Mark's work comes recommended by no less than one of my favourite writers ever, American sci-fi, fantasy and general literary legend Ray Bradbury, whose comment on the book is simply "Bravo!"

No higher accolade - not in my world, anyway.