Sunday 27 February 2011

Poetry at SoundCloud

Mark Goodwin pointed me in the direction of the rather splendid SoundCloud, and in particular the Air To Hear group. Mark and a number of other poets have been posting recordings to the group for a while now - have a listen to some of them. They're far from being straight readings of poems.

Mark's own Frost And Stars was the first that I listened to, but there's loads of other good stuff. Some work better than others, but it's a really goods way of getting poetry out there.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

The Springsteen connection

Reading this blog post about Ryan Van Winkle last week, I was interested to see that he's clearly a Bruce Springsteen fan (if you follow the links, you'll see he's also a huge fan of the late, great Warren Zevon).

Just a day or two earlier, I'd noticed that Birmingham poet Joel Lane also has a mild Springsteen fixation. In his (excellent) latest collection, The Autumn Myth, there's a poem that references him, and his previous book of poetry was even called Trouble In The Heartland, which all those Bruce fans out there will recognise as a line from his song Badlands.

Two things intrigue me. One is that, not so long ago, admitting to liking New Jersey's favourite son was very definitely a totally uncool thing to do. Maybe it still is, but in that case it's nice to see these two poets caring not a fig for cultural fashion.

Secondly, both seem to centre their references on Springsteen's 1978 album Darkness On The Edge Of Town (of course, that's based on a very limited reading of both). It was a stripped-down, raw-edged record, in which the romance of the early albums was largely abandoned in favour of gritty realism. Perhaps it's the economic climate we're living in that makes it a touchstone again - perhaps it's just coincidence.

Anyway, I'm happy to admit to being a long-time Springsteen fan, although I do think his output has been extremely uneven over the years. Darkness... would probably be my second-favourite of his albums - my number one would be his (largely uncharacteristic) second album, The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, which above all sounds like a band having a lot of fun.

Monday 21 February 2011

The Word Exchange

It's a well-known fact that the size of a 'Books I'd Like to Buy' list expands as fast as the available fund for said books shrinks.

It's also the case that, if you trawl the internet aimlessly for long enough, it will eventually push you in the direction of something you actually need or want to read. Such will be your relief that you'll forget the hours of rudderless link-clicking, and become convinced that your stumbling upon the page is either a near-miraculous coincidence, or the result of divine intervention.

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking for an anthology of translations of Anglo-Saxon poems, preferably a pretty exhaustive one, with the Old English version on the facing page. And today, I see this. There's a review of it here. I can only conclude that the internet is telling me something.

Friday 18 February 2011

Dave Poems

I've really been enjoying reading this blog the last few weeks. Loads of opinions - I don't necessarily agree with all, or even most, of them, but they're all well argued and backed up with close reference to the texts.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

On the edge

Flicking through the Sunday papers, I came across this review of Edgelands, a new book by poets Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley which looks at those scrappy, scratchy, scrubby places that divide town and country yet are neither one thing nor the other.

Minutes later, trawling the web (what an energetic life I lead), I discovered this new volume from Shearsman - The Ground Aslant: An Anthology of Radical Landscape Poetry. From the accompanying blurb, I'd expect it to touch on at least some of the same territory.

Now coincidentally, the whole concept of 'edgelands' and marginal landscapes has been very much on my mind lately. I've just got back from a fairly brief trip to Extremadura, in Spain, for the launch of Swarovski's new EL50 binoculars, and as always on the Iberian peninsula, I was struck by two things.

One is the fact that many of those previously common bird species which are declining here are doing just fine over there. A good example is the Corn Bunting, now vanished from large swathes of the UK, but whose distinctive jangle was the soundtrack to almost every waking minute spent outside of the centre of Trujillo, where we stayed.

Number two was the 'messiness' of the landscape there, compared to the UK. It's beautiful, and there are plenty of areas that are unspoiled, as well as others such as the dehesa that are, although shaped by man, managed with the intention of maintaining some sort of natural balance.

But there are also plenty of patches that, were they in the UK, would immediately be tidied up or tamed, but which in Spain are simply left to grow wild. Weeds, wild flowers and scrub flourish, with the knock-on effect of providing seed and insect food for birds, as well as cover for nesting.

Back over here, on the other hand, roadside verges are being mown for no apparent reason, and hedges are being stripped so bare that there's no prospect of them being used by nesting birds this year. You'd think that, in these straitened times, councils and landowners would welcome the chance to cut back their maintenance budget and restrict work to those areas where it's absolutely necessary (at junctions, for traffic safety, for example). Apparently not. If it's not farmland, a park or a nature reserve, it has to be neatly manicured.

That has to be one of the major reasons for the decline of so many of our small birds (as well as larger species such as Lapwing). It's nothing to do with predators (the third thing you notice in Spain is the much greater density of raptors), but instead because by eliminating these marginal landscapes, these 'edgelands', we eliminate major sources of food and shelter for all sorts of birds. Instead of pursuing the absurd cull of corvids (and, potentially, raptors) being piloted by Songbird Survival, a body dominated by hunting interests, we should be looking at the root of the problem.

So, if either or both of these two books can do anything to change attitudes, that has to be a very good thing. The Shearsman anthology contains several names - Colin Simms, Elisabeth Bletsoe, Helen Macdonald, Mark Goodwin, Peter Riley and editor Harriet Tarlo - whose inclusion would make it a must for me anyway, but they both look worth a read. Might have to wait a while, though.

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Catching up

Regular readers will know that a monotonous feature of this blog is an endless stream of promises to get round to finishing reading or reviewing certain books, and a parallel outpouring of apologies for failing to do so.

I actually got round to some serious reading over the last week or so, though, thanks to some travelling, so I'm going to start to clear the backlog (yeah, yeah, you're thinking, I've heard that before).

So, first up was Simon Armitage's Seeing Stars. Now, although there seems to have been something of a backlash against him in recent years, I've remained something of a fan of Armitage, although I think his work has been a lot patchier since somewhere around The Dead Sea Poems. Almost everyone I've talked to about this collection, though, has either loved or hated it, no doubt in large part because it consists mainly of prose poems/flash fictions/whatever you want to call them.

Well, I have no problem with the format, but I just don't think the execution is up to scratch. It's fun in parts, and always readable, but too often the strangeness seems a bit forced, and the end result is rather inconsequential, or predictable. I think Ben Wilkinson hits the nail pretty much on the head in this review that originally appeared in the Times Literary Supplement.

I enjoyed Cliff Yates' Frank Freeman's Dancing School a lot more. There's a much less obvious, and thus unsettling, strangeness to his poetry. At first sight it can appear to transplant something of Geoff Hattersley's style from South Yorkshire to the Midlands, but it soon becomes clear that it's heading somewhere rather different. Yates gives seemingly plain language the smallest of tweaks to suddenly switch perspectives again and again. It's a book I'll be coming back to, and writing more about.

A bit of blog trawling produced this excellent piece on Alan Baker's Litterbug, about Don Paterson's book on Shakespeare's sonnets. Hard to find anything to disagree with there, or in the Alastair Fowler review linked to there, from the TLS.

Finally, I've just received Century of the Death of the Rose, by the Ecuadorean poet Jorge Carrera Andrade. There are parallel texts, of the Spanish originals, and the translations by Steven Ford Brown. On a recent trip to Ecuador, my guide, Juan Manuel Carrion, gave me a bird guide he'd written, in which he extensively quotes Carrera Andrade, and I liked what I read, so I ordered this book. Looking forward to getting stuck into it later.

Friday 11 February 2011

While I remember...

I meant to post this when it appeared on Gists & Piths last week, but late's better than never. Some excellent points about Luke Kennard's Planet-shaped Horse, and scroll down to the bottom where George Ttoouli helpfully breaks my book book title down into its constituent parts.

Monday 7 February 2011


Any reading series that's been going for over five years has to be doing something seriously right, and at last night's Buzzwords event in Cheltenham, it was easy to see what.

For a start, there's clearly a really strong hardcore of attendees, who were enthusiastic participants in the workshop and open mic parts of the evening, but as attentive an audience as I've ever seen during the main readings.

It was an all-Nine Arches Press affair, of course, with me and Luke Kennard reading, and Simon Turner among the open mic-ers. And the whole open mic was excellent, with plenty of variety, imagination, and energy on offer from all concerned.

Luke's reading, entirely from his new pamphlet Planet-shaped Horse, was absolutely superb, I thought. His poetry quite rightly gets huge praise for its wit, inventiveness and energy, but I think occasionally reviewers skip over the more serious side. Perhaps it's because all the different elements seem to co-exist happily (rather than him being a poet who writes in distinct modes at different times) that it's easy to miss some of them. But I'm rambling. It's late...

I enjoyed reading, always a sign that it's gone fairly well, I think. I'm very grateful to organiser Angela France for inviting us to read, and I came away with all sorts of ideas skittering around my head (also a good sign, until you try to sleep).

Oh, set-list - here it is:
Prelude For Glass Harmonica
Request Hour At The Numbers Station
The American version
The Meeting Place
Variations On A Theme By J A Baker
The sea at Ashby de la Zouch
West Leicester Lullaby
Warning Against Using These Poems As A Map
Worst Case Scenario
Nocturne For Glass Harmonica

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Nottingham poets in Leicester

Leicester Poetry Society is playing host to Nottingham poets Alan Baker and Jeremy Duffield next Friday, February 11th.

The reading's at the usual venue - the Friends' Meeting House on Queen's Road - and starts at 7.30pm. I haven't got admission details to hand, but it's usually free to members and a small fee for those who want to be temporary members for the night.

I'll be away that weekend, unfortunately, as they're two poets well worth hearing, but go along if you get the chance.

Buzzwords reading

This Sunday, February 6th, I'll be reading at the Buzzwords Poetry Night, in Cheltenham, with the prodigiously talented Luke Kennard.

Luke's got a new pamphlet, Planet-shaped Horse, out now from Nine Arches Press, so it promises to be an entertaining evening.

It all takes place at The Brown Jug, 242 Bath Road, Cheltenham, GL53 7NB. The readings start at 8pm, but come along at 7pm and Luke and I will be running a workshop. All are welcome.

* Luke's pamphlet is launched tomorrow night (Thursday the 3rd) at The Priory Rooms, 40 Bull Street, Birmingham B4 6AF. Entry is free, and other readers include David Hart, Milorad Krystanovich and Simon Turner.