Monday, 17 December 2012

Commercial break

Got any poetry-loving friends or relatives who you still haven't bought a Christmas present for? Short on ideas, or time to go shopping, or both?

Well, I'm here to ruthlessly take advantage of your desperation. For just £6, you can have a shiny new copy of hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica. I'll even sign it for you, if you want. Just drop me a line in the comments box below this post, or email me using the link on the right.

You can also buy the book direct from Nine Arches Press, and my first collection, Troy Town, is also available again from Arrowhead Press.

Finally, there are two or three copies of Making The Most Of The Light knocking around - I'll chuck one in free with the first orders.

Right, I promise that's the last bit of crass commercialism you'll get from me, at least until the January sales.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Poetry by heart

I'm probably not going to make myself too many friends by saying this, but Michael Gove's poetry recitation competition for schools doesn't seem, on the face of it, to be too bad an idea.

I can quite understand that many people may have been put off poetry by learning it by heart in school, but equally I suspect lots will have carried at least a few poems around with them for the rest of their lives as a result of this sort of thing (my mum, for example). I'm not entirely clear whether or not taking part will be voluntary, so I do have reservations on that count.

What does seem a bit disappointing is the fact that those taking part will have to choose poems from an approved list. I've got no problem with putting the poems mentioned in that article in front of the teenagers, as suggestions, but surely you'd go much further towards encouraging a love of poetry by letting them pick poems themselves?

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Giles Goodland at Peony Moon

Michelle McGrane features so many excellent poets and collections on her wonderful blog Peony Moon that it would be a major achievement to buy and/or read a tenth of them, but this one, Giles Goodland's The Dumb Messengers, is going to be must.

As a couple of the reviewers quoted there suggest, Goodland's a poet who often makes the tired old mainstream/innovative debate look rather redundant, as well as one who's, above all, entertaining. I look forward to reading it.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

In praise of editing

I'm in the process of putting together the manuscript for my third collection. Pretty much everything's written, although plenty of the poems will get further revision over the next few weeks, but it's at the stage where the individual pieces are starting to coalesce and form little clusters.

It's got me thinking about the process of editing. I have spoken to one or two poets in the past who aren't keen on the whole thing, which I can understand up to a point. It is difficult surrendering control of what you've written, even if you'll probably have done the same in submitting work to magazines, webzines, anthologies, etc, and even though you're unlikely to have to surrender ALL control.

The important thing, I suppose, is to remember that the editor must like many aspects of your work, or they wouldn't be offering to publish it. When they're suggesting changes, they're more often than not honing your strengths a little bit, making them leaner and, yes, stronger.

There's also the way in which being edited makes you consider your own work afresh, and argue for the merits of individual pieces of work. There's a tendency, especially when you first start getting published in magazines, to assume that anything that has been accepted is worth putting in a book, without much regard to how it fits with other work. A good editor will make you make the argument for each poem, sometimes for each line.

Which is all a long way of saying that I enjoy the process - I'm not sure whether that's partly because I don't routinely get feedback on poems as I'm writing them, although I do sometimes send them to friends. I like having to think that bit harder about poems that have often been sitting around for years at a time. More often than not, the collection turns into something rather different from what you first envisaged, rather in the same way poems themselves do.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Books of 2012

I started trying to put together a list of my favourite poetry collections of this year, but it struck me that most of what I've read and enjoyed this year has been back-catalogue stuff (with a few notable exceptions, which I'll write about over the holiday period), or anthologies. There are also two or three new collections that I've bought but not yet read.

So, with a month left, I want some recommendations. In the unlikely event that I've got a few quid spare in the next four weeks, what do I need to read?

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Armchair birding

There are times when you're grateful for a hangover. Sunday was one of them - belated birthday celebrations had left me a touch, er, fragile, shall we say, and while the rain had ceased for a few hours, I was in no mood to take advantage by going out to do any actual birdwatching.

So I did the next best thing. I'd just received a copy of the splendid Birdbook II - Freshwater Habitats from Sidekick Books, so I got comfortable on the sofa and got stuck in.

Now, admittedly I am biased, as I appeared in Birdbook I, but this really is a fantastic little volume. Not only is it jam-packed with excellent poetry from the likes of Derek Adams, Jo Bell, Mark Burnhope, Gerry Cambridge, WN Herbert, Kirsten Irving, Ira Lightman, John McCullough, James Midgley, Jon Stone, Chrissy Williams and many, many more, but there's also fantastic artwork. I mean, BBI was a handsome volume, but this is really at a different level again. Maybe I'm allowing my liking for waders to sway my opinion too far, but I'm not going to apologise for that.

Rather than reviewing it, I'll try to take an in-depth look at a few of the poems soon, but in the meantime, you can buy it here.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Holy Place - Caroline Gill

I've just received a copy of The Holy Place, the first chapbook from Caroline Gill (who you may know better as Caroline At Coastcard).

In fact, it's a chapbook co-authored with an American poet, John Dotson, and is the fifth publication in the Poet To Poet series from The Seventh Quarry and Cross-Cultural Communications, New York. It sounds like a great idea, pairing a British poet with a writer from elsewhere in the world, and I'm intrigued to see other books in the series.

Anyway, you can read more about it, and a little interview with Caroline, here, and I'll be reviewing it at a later date, so watch this space.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

A fond farewell

I received an email late last week carrying the sad news that the last issue of Umbrella has just been published.

Over the past six years it has been a consistently high-quality presence on the literary scene, and it's some compensation that the archive of its past issues will remain online for the foreseeable future.

Of course, running a literary magazine of any sort, let alone one as well presented and skilfully edited as Umbrella, is a time-consuming and often thankless task, so I'd like to say a heartfelt thank-you to editor Kate Benedict for many hours of enjoyable reading, as well as the honour of having appeared within its pages on a couple of occasions. Umbrella will be greatly missed.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

New Networks for Nature

I spent Friday and half of Saturday in Stamford, at the fourth annual New Networks for Nature symposium. The organisation has the long-term aim of establishing a festival celebrating the cultural significance of nature in Britain - on the evidence of this year, it's well on its way to doing just that.

It's really a bit unfair of me to pick out highlights, given that there were so many, and I'd be hard-pushed to find a poart of the programme that I didn't enjoy.

It all opened with Hanna Tuulikki singing entirely unaccompanied, but then she has such an extraordinary voice that no accompaniment could do it any justice. She somehow manages to make links between folk song and birdsong that really need to be heard to be believed - at the time I tweeted that she sounded like a cross between Bjork, Sandy Denny and a curlew, which I suppose at least ought to give some idea of what a unique voice she is. I have the feeling that I'm going to be looking for and downloading a lot of her work.

Conor Jameson's talk on Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, and the debt we owe to it, was really excellent. I've read his own Silent Spring Revisited (highly recommended), but there was plenty more to take away from this, not least the conviction that change can be achieved relatively quickly. The following talk, by Jim Perrin, was equally inspiring, arguing for the value of 'rapture' in our relationship with the natural world.

The panel debate, preceded by Ruth Padel reading three poems (one of her own, plus others from Clare and Larkin), considered the question "Do the British care about nature?" You wouldn't expect to come up with hard and fast answers, but there were some intriguing leads.

In the afternoon session, the hard science provided my early highlights, with Chris Hewson's look at the satellite-tracking of Cuckoos, and Nick Davies' analysis of exactly how Cuckoos trick host birds into raising their young in the first place. Bruce Pearson's talk on albatrosses was excellent too, with his artwork adding an extra dimension.

On Saturday morning, David Tipling's all too brief opening slot was superb. Most birders are familiar with David's photos (we certainly use them whenever possible at Bird Watching), but everyone in the theatre gave a little gasp at a couple of his recent photos of Hares. Katrina van Grouw is someone else I know through her work for the magazine, and her current book, The Unfeathered Bird, is terrific, but her talk about its making was something else again - the phrase "labour of love" doesn't really cover it.

I read three birdsong-related poems myself, before Charles Bennett read from his poem/song sequence The Angry Planet, as well as talking about its composition. He touched on a theme that kept re-emerging throughout the two days - how to avoid giving in to hopeless pessimism about the state of the natural world, without offering easy answers.

Finally, Hanna Tuulikki retuened, along with Nerea Bello and Lucy Duncombe, to sing Air falbh leis na h-eoin (Away With The Birds), a large-scale vocal composition inspired by the Western Isles. Suddenly my rather glib tweet of the previous day looked a bit closer to the truth - this was music that both imitated and completely transformed wader calls and songs.

There was, as I said, much more that's worthy of mention, and as always it was good to catch up with friends and colleagues (and frustrating to miss one or two others). But there was always a feeling of momentum really starting to build, and next year's event has the opportunity to develop that in a big way.

Monday, 12 November 2012

A gleaning

Over at Kumquat Poetry the other day, this rather splendid piece, Kings, appeared from Mark Goodwin. It's gleaned from my own poem Once and future kings, which appeared at Kumquat a few weeks ago.

Many thanks to Mark for taking the time to engage with my own work, and to Kumquat for showing such interest too.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Sein und Werden

The autumn edition of Sein und Werden is out now. Titled Pulp Punks, it's hosted by Cardiff novelist and fiction writer Mark Howard Jones. I have a contribution in there, a poem inspired by Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe.

The first 10 people who buy a copy (and all current subscribers) will receive a FREE chapbook - The Garden of Doubt on the Island of Shadows, by Mark Howard Jones. One issue costs just £4.50 / $8.50. One year's subscription is a measly £16 / $32.

Friday, 9 November 2012

November's Leicester Shindig!

The latest Nine Arches Press and Crystal Clear Creators Leicester Shindig! takes place at The Western, 70 Western Road, Leicester LE3 0GA a week on Monday, 19th November, at 7.30pm.

The night's guests are Jo Bell, Dragan Todorovic, Ian Parks and David Cooke, and as always there'll be open mic slots available on the night.

David Cooke won a Gregory Award in 1977 and published Brueghel’s Dancers in 1984. He then stopped writing for 20 years. A retrospective collection, In the Distance, was published in 2011 by Night Publishing. A new collection, Work Horses, has just been published by Ward Wood Publishing.

Jo Bell is a former Glastonbury Poet in Residence, director of National Poetry Day — and now the UK's Canal Laureate. A boatdweller and former archaeologist, her poems are about everything from Roman forts to sex on the towpath (between ducks). Current projects include a collaboration on a sequence with Martin Malone, charting the progress of a passionate relationship.

Dragan Todorovic is a multimedia artist and author of eight books of nonfiction, poetry and fiction. He’s worked extensively in print and electronic media, in Serbia (where he was born) and in Canada (where he lived between 1995 - 2005). Little Red Transistor Radio from Trieste is his first collection of short stories.

Ian Parks is the only poet to have poems published in The TLS and The Morning Star on the same day. His latest collection is The Exile’s House (Waterloo Press) and he is currently Writing Fellow at De Montfort University, Leicester.

Entry is free.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Hidden Nature workshop

I'm running a poetry workshop at Attenborough Nature Reserve, just outside Nottingham, on Sunday, February 10th, 2013 - there are full details of it here on the Nottingham Writers' Studio website.

You just need to bring a notebook and pen, some binoculars (although I'll have some available to lend out), warm, dry clothing and footwear, and a lot of enthusiasm - it's for all levels of writers, and for everything from the casual TV wildlife-watcher to the hardcore rarity-chaser.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

TS Eliot Prize 2012 shortlist

The shortlist for this year's TS Eliot Prize has been announced - I suspect all the usual arguments will start, and I don't intend to get involved in them until I've read more of what's on the list. Good to see Deryn Rees-Jones on there, though (I have read her book, and very good it is too), and I've been meaning to get hold of that Julia Copus collection, so this will spur me into action.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Jon Stone on cynicism

Excellent piece by Jon Stone here over at the Magma blog - I find myself agreeing with much of what he's written, although I suspect the comments thread might be a busy one.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Marshall plan

Lovely to see that Leicester poet Roy Marshall will have a debut collection coming out with Shoestring Press next year - his Crystal Clear Creators chapbook Gopagilla is excellent (I'll be blogging about it and some of the other CCC pamphlets soon). Roy has some interesting things to say about the book and the pamphlet here.

Shoestring, run by John Lucas, is a fine little press, too, with excellent production values and, over the years, a varied line-up of poets. I've just enjoyed Gregory Woods' pamphlet Very Soon I Shall Know, from them, for example.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

New Walk 5

The new issue of New Walk magazine (No.5) dropped through the door yesterday, and as usual it's an intriguing mixture of poetry, reviews, fiction, interviews and articles, featuring the likes of Alison Brackenbury, Sinead Morrisey, Alan Jenkins and Sheenagh Pugh.

I've got three poems - Magnetite, Petrichor and Greenshanks At Montijo - in there. It's lovely to be in such good company, and to be in a Leicester-based magazine.

Friday, 12 October 2012


I noticed on Twitter earlier today that this weekend's Independent On Sunday is running a rare full interview with Tony Harrison, marking 25 years since its sister paper The Independent published his poem V. in full.

I can remember the furore that surrounded the poem at the time, with Tory MPs queuing up to condemn it and the plans to screen a film version of it on Channel 4. The reason was the 'obscene language' used, with the protestors predictably missing the point of the poem (if they'd read it in the first place, that is). One MP, Gerald Howarth, said Harrison was "probably another bolshie poet wishing to impose his frustrations on the rest of us", to which Harrison's retort was that Howarth was "probably another idiot MP wishing to impose his intellectual limitations on the rest of us". 

Anyway, I'm not a huge Harrison fan, but the stir that this poem caused helped kindle my interest in poetry at the time, so I'll look forward to reading the interview.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

New at Kumquat

I have a new poem, Once and future kings, published today over at the splendid Kumquat Poetry. As I've mentioned before, there's new work being posted there every day, so keep an eye on it, and have a good trawl back through the archives, too.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Robert Minhinnick

I like the look of this - Robert Minhinnick's a poet (and prose writer, for that matter) who's never less than interesting, and frequently much, much more. Add to that the fact that he has written a lot about a part of South Wales I know well, and it'll be a must for me.

Monday, 8 October 2012

The other Hughes

I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Mid Wales, for work, although of course birdwatching in bright sunshine and gorgeous scenery isn't exactly back-breaking toil.

In between dashing around Radnorshire, I managed to pop into Hay on Wye for a browse around the many secondhand bookshops (although a couple of the better ones have disappeared since I was last there).

At the Poetry Bookshop, I picked up a copy of John Riley's Selected Poems - I've seen a couple of pieces from it blogged about recently, and really liked the sound of them, so it was a nice book to get hold of for a tenner.

Elsewhere, I bought W S Graham's Collected Poems at a knockdown price, battered old copies of the Child Ballads and Stephen Romer's Idols, and an even more battered copy of Glyn Hughes' late 60s / early 70s collection Neighbours.

Hughes is an interesting poet - several of the pieces that I've read so far seem a bit out of step with the poetry of that era, although he does call to mind Ted Hughes at times (and no, not just because of the name and the West Yorkshire settings of the poems). I'll have to get hold of some more of his work soon.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

A taste of Extremadura

Poetry readings, on their own, can be strange things. It depends entirely on who’s reading, of course, but there’s always the risk that the audience will sink into a bit of a stupor after the first couple of poems.

There are ways round it. Having more than one reader can provide interesting contrasts, as can including open mic slots. As I’ve said before, that often has the interesting effect of producing themes that link disparate readers.

Another way, though, is to marry the poetry to something else entirely. Last night, at Uppingham Theatre, HappenStance poet Matthew Stewart did just that, reading from his new chapbook Tasting Notes, while allowing us to sample the wines that the poetry is concerned with (Matthew's day job is as blender and export manager for the Spanish wine co-operative ViƱaoliva).

The event, run in conjunction with Bat and Bottle Wine Merchants of Oakham, drew a quite different crowd to your normal poetry reading, but you got the impression that most people went away having learned something about wine, and something about their own view of poetry. Non-poetry readers often tell you that they think of it as dry, dusty, academic and seemingly resigned to make the reader look stupid, but here it was concise, witty, and simultaneously gently mocked and quietly celebrated commercial language. Of course, one reason that works is that there's often the same feeling about wine talk - that pretentious and high-flown nonsense is being used to confuse the average buyer.

But anyway, if you'd like to sample both the wine and the poetry, have a look at these offers. They could make great Christmas presents.

Oh, and along with the wine, we got to try a couple of cheeses from Extremadura, some of the region's peerless jamon iberico de bellota, and chocolate figs. Very tasty indeed.

Ledbury Festival Competition

I'm delighted to have had a poem - Magnetite - highly commended by judge Ian Duhig in this year's Ledbury Festival Poetry Competition, especially after seeing the three outstanding winning pieces. Have a read of them and see what I mean.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Reckless country soul

As we came out of the Greystones pub in Sheffield on Monday night, my friend remarked on how close the car behind mine was parked. He was right. It was parked in my boot.

When the owner came out, she apologised and said: "I must have forgotten to put the handbrake on". That's not a good idea anywhere, really, but in Sheffield, a city where practically every road is at a 45-degree angle, it's a disaster. Her car had actually been parked on the other side of the road before rolling into mine, so I suppose she could count herself lucky that it had hit mine full-on, rather than careering down to the bottom of the hill and taking out a dozen or so vehicles, plus anyone in its path. She kept saying "It's on a hill", as if this fact had just struck her.

I tell you this not in a bid for sympathy, or as a general moan about the state of modern Britain, but as a bit of context. Because when I finally got home at around 2am, with the prospect of a day of ringing insurance companies ahead, I still couldn't keep the silly smile off my face on account of what we'd seen and heard in the pub a few hours earlier.

I can't remember exactly when I cottoned on to the distilled essence of rock 'n' roll that is Jason and the Scorchers - late 80s, I think, and certainly not when they first came to prominence earlier in that decade. And much as I've loved their records, I'd never managed to see them live, although I've caught up with frontman Jason Ringenberg's solo shows many times.

So, this 30th anniversary tour was always going to be a blast for me. I just didn't dare hope that Ringenberg and guitarist Warner Hodges, fiftysomethings both, would still manage to play with the enthusiasm and energy of a band born yesterday.

Americana, as it gets called these days, has to an extent become its own ghetto. Lots of perfectly good  but ultimately very similar records get made, and there are only two ways to escape this. One is to throw anything and everything into the creative gumbo without worrying too much about spurious notions of authenticity. The other, and this is the route JatS have taken, is to do everything with an utterly un-self-conscious conviction that blows away any doubts.

So, the musical recipe was much the same as ever. Hi-octane, hammer-down country-rock, made up of equal parts Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis, Rolling Stones and punk. Ringenberg is the X-factor - dressed in the same stetson and jacket as graced the White Lies video in 1985, he's capable of injecting a knowing, even sneering tone into the lyrics, but in between songs is as affable and charming as you could wish for. He was in particularly good humour this time, because he was "back in the city named after my own hometown".

It was a mark of their confidence in their most recent album, Halcyon Days, that they were able to deliver three of their biggest punches mid-show with little fanfare or build-up. Their incendiary cover of Dylan's Absolutely Sweet Marie is still pretty peerless, I Can't Help Myself is as joyously celebratory as they come, and Broken Whisky Glass is as hilarious as ever ("here lies Jason, straaaangled by love").

Newer romps such as Mona Lee elicited an equally rapturous response, and they closed a 100-minute set with an extended version of White Lies that encapsulated everything that makers them great. Reckless country souls, indeed.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Moving and memorable

On Saturday, I went down to Warwick to see Martin Figura's one-man-show, Whistle. I've written before about the Arrowhead collection on which it's based, and I'd heard a lot of good things about it, so I was intrigued as to how, exactly, it would be performed.

Essentially, Figura keeps things simple - he's facing the audience throughout, reciting the poems and a small amount of linking material against a backdrop of photographs. These montages worked extremely well, for me - they add to the words, rather than simply illustrating exactly what's being said, and you can dip in and out of them, if you prefer (although they held the attention well). And of course, they're vital to the story, because Figura is a fine photographer himself, and his father was rarely without a camera without which to document his family's life.

The whole thing is very understated - if you're expecting anything remotely melodramatic, you're not going to get it here. The focus is as much on the social history and the small details of a post-war childhood as on the stark central fact of the piece - Figura's father's murder of the poet's mother.

But for me, that made that central fact all the more horrifying. The impact of the show was all the more jarring for the fact that everybody involved was utterly ordinary and recognisable. It also helps you understand the forgiveness that colours the closing third of the show, and ultimately makes it an uplifting experience.

Figura has a knack (unsurprising given that photographic background, of course) of suddenly bringing a particular detail or scene into very sharp focus, momentarily, before slipping back into an almost conversational tone, and that helps bring that central fact into focus too. There's humour, and a reluctance to aim for a sense of easy closure, with questions of redemption left hanging, all adding up to a moving, memorable experience.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

The future at Polyolbion

Following on from what I was saying yesterday, it's nice to be able to report that there seems to have been a sudden leap in visitor numbers to this blog over the last three weeks or so. I'm not exactly sure shy, but I would like to hear from any and every regular visitor if they've got strong opinions on what they'd like to see more or less of.

Interviews have always been popular in the past, and fun to do, so I plan to get some more organised in the near future, but any other ideas are welcome.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

The future at Poets on Fire

Someone recently pointed out to me that I don't plug the listings site Poets On Fire nearly enough on here, and they were quite right, so here we go - go to Poets On Fire to see what poetry events are going on in your area. NOW!

If you want your event listed there, send me details at - my usual practice is to list every event two weeks before it happens, and then again the day before. I might make that a month before, thinking about it. Jpegs of posters, etc., are always welcome, but it's always best to send text unformatted and in the body of the email, if possible. If not, in a Word document will do.

I generally manage to update the site every day, but that's not always possible, so I'm also looking for a couple of co-editors to join up and share the load a little.

That's partly because I'd like, perhaps starting in the New Year, to turn it into more than just a listings site. I'd like to see regular articles and reviews (generally of live poetry, though not exclusively so), and perhaps interviews with a featured poet every week or so. It's all up for discussion, and it might involve migrating the site away from Blogger.

So, if that appeals to you, make yourself known in the comments box below, and we can start thinking about how to move forward.

Friday, 28 September 2012

30 years and still going strong

I blogged last year about the glory days of Jason and the Scorchers, but still managed to completely miss the fact that they're playing a 30th anniversary tour this autumn. I was pretty sure they'd call in at The Musician in Leicester, and sure enough they do, next Friday, but I can't make it.

But, deep joy! They're playing in Sheffield on Monday. I can hardly wait.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Whistle, in Warwick

If you're not already going to this, I can only suggest that you put that right straight away - there are still tickets left. It's a truly unique poetry experience, based around Martin's Arrowhead collection Whistle, and is taking place as part of the Warwick Words festival.

The location's an added attraction - Warwick's a lovely medieval town, with a superb castle. They used to make kings there.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Bloggers are killing criticism?

I suspect this interview with TLS editor and Man Booker Prize judge Peter Stothard will stir up a fair old storm online. I think he's got a fair point with regards to the decline of literary criticism in newspapers and journals, but I'm not really sure what the blogosphere has to do with that. I suspect word of mouth has always been as big a driver of sales as reviews, and surely the internet is just that on a large scale?

His claim that "People will be encouraged to buy and read books that are no good, the good will be overwhelmed, and we'll be worse off," is rather strange. Even if you accept that the professional critics generally get things right (and they clearly don't, as they often disagree violently with each other), the book-buying public don't necessarily pay that much attention to them, and never have. I don't remember critics encouraging people to buy Jeffrey Archer's novels, for example, but his sales never seemed to suffer.     

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Hearing Voices again

Issue 5 of the excellent Hearing Voices is out now, costing just £3. I could tell you more, but I'd only be repeating what Roy Marshall says here, so why don't you read what he has to say about it, and then go and buy a copy?

Monday, 24 September 2012

New at Sphinx

There's a fresh batch of pamphlet reviews up at Sphinx - as always, each chapbook is reviewed separately by three people, which makes for some interestingly varied takes on the same subject. My own reviews were of Ian Seed's Threadbare Fables, and Gregory Woods' Very Soon I Shall Know, both of which I enjoyed a lot.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Some current reading

Back in March, I bought this book at the States of Independence book fair in Leicester. I started it with great enthusiasm, got sidetracked with other reading for reviews, and then picked it up again last week. I'm glad I did.

Matthias isn't a poet I knew anything about before (that says nothing about anything other than the self-guided nature of my wanderings through Poetryworld), and one thing that immediately struck me was that if these are his shorter poems, I'd like to see the longer stuff. There are some very short pieces here, but most clocks in at about the length that seems to be the standard in the UK. That's not to say it's over-written - it's sometimes sprawling in the very best sense, but that's all.

It just made me wonder about the length of poems. I'm as guilty as anyone of thinking that a piece is turning into an epic if it gets onto a second page, or past the 40-line mark (usually the limit in competitions), but maybe that's a peculiarly British thing?

Anyway, regardless of all that, it's a fine book (both the poetry within it, and as an object, which is always a plus for me).

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Martin Figura's Whistle

There are, as ever, many fine things going on at Warwick Words this year, but if you've not already got tickets for this, then may I humbly suggest that you do. The book's terrific, and I've been waiting to see the show for a while now.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The uninvited guest

You know an open mic night is beginning to make a name for itself when Ezra Pound makes an unscheduled appearance, and refuses to sit down.

The father of modernist poetry/great man/mad old fascist, as he was variously described by readers (and the three are, of course, not mutually exclusive), first cropped up in Robert Richardson’s open mic slot at last night’s Shindig in Leicester (he read three short poems by Pound). And, as seems to be the way with these nights, and with all good open mic nights for that matter, other readers responded by reading his work too, or by reading work informed by or influenced by Pound.

Such themes and tropes have a habit of turning up, as Jane Commane of Nine Arches Press pointed out, but uninvited or not, they’re ultimately welcome, giving the evening something to coalesce around, or work against, on occasion.

Some of my highlights among last night’s open mic-ers included Charles Lauder Jr’s poem The Rocking Chair Thief (think that’s the right title), Kerry Featherstone’s two pieces, Gary Carr (incidentally, here’s the terrific poem he read at the last Shindig) and Graham Norman’s short, taut poems themed around the canonical hours, but in truth there was barely a dud note all night.

The same was true of the featured readers. I’ve blogged previously about Angela France and Daniel Sluman, who made up the Nine Arches half of the bill – both are fine poets who also read well. Angela’s newer work (due to appear in a book from Nine Arches early next year) is intriguingly different from her earlier pamphlet and collection – much more personal and direct. I particularly liked the piece she read about family superstitions.

Daniel read, as ever, with great poise. There’s a contrast between the often difficult subject matter of his poems (the loss of a leg to cancer, troubled relationships, and last night, abuse) and the relaxed and witty introductions that works well, but he’s not a poet to settle for the easy laugh. I could say a lot more, but I want to keep my powder dry for the review of his book that I’ll post soon, especially as two of the poems he read last night are two that I focus on.

In the second half, Sarah Jackson read well from her Bloodaxe collection Pelt. I heard her read in Nottingham a couple of years back, but the newer work was the highlight for me.

Rory Waterman closed the night, with poems from his debut collection from Carcanet (due around this time next year). I knew some of them already, having seen his work in Carcanet’s New Poetries V, but there was an awful lot to enjoy right across the board – the creeping sense of menace in his American-set poem was great. I think it was probably a more rounded selection of his work than appears in New Poetries V, good as that is, and it augured well for that collection next year. 

Monday, 17 September 2012


On Saturday, I travelled up to Leeds with Leicester poet Roy Marshall for the Stand60 events being held at the university.

First among these was a masterclass with poet Ian Duhig. We’d all supplied a poem in advance, and Ian then gave feedback on what he felt did and didn’t work about it. Given the number of us there, it equated to about 10 minutes per poem (that’s actually quite a lot, when you’re considering one of your own poems intensely), but he packed an incredible amount in. By the end of three hours I had pages of notes, and not just about poetic technique and the like. If you know Ian’s books you’ll know that one of the great pleasures of them is his ability to move seamlessly from ‘high’ to ‘low’ culture, and to make connections between seemingly disparate pieces of information.

I’d sent a recently-written piece that I’d put aside to go back to later, and I ended up reworking it yesterday along the lines Ian suggested. Essentially, it just feels leaner, harder-working now, and far more like the poem I originally had in mind.

In the afternoon, we went to a couple of the readings. I particularly enjoyed Elizabeth Baines’s short story and David Gaffney’s flash fiction, while in the poetry section, Vahni Capildeo and Alison Brackenbury were the highlights. It’s always good to catch up with Alison, and I owe her a great debt of gratitude for all her help in the past, but this was actually the first time I’d heard her read. It didn’t disappoint – she achieved what, I think, are the two hardest feats to manage at any reading, namely to make each individual poem and the reading itself feel perfectly paced. 

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Digging poetry

On Saturday, I was over at Polesworth again for the Heritage Open Day at the Abbey, the culmination of this summer's archaeological dig there. As it was also carnival day in Polesworth (postponed from earlier in the summer) and gloriously sunny and hot, a good time was had by all.

As well as those of us who had led workshops as part of the project - David Calcutt, Jo Bell, Jacqui Rowe, Jenny Hope and Maeve Clarke - many of the participants read the work that they'd produced as a result of them, too. In fact, a couple of the archaeologists got in on the act to good effect, and there were songs, too.

There were displays of the poetry, the archaeological finds, and by medieval re-enactors, and it's also just a lovely old church, full of history.

The man who made it all happen can be seen above. Mal Dewhirst's tireless work has already put Polesworth firmly on the poetry map (or back on it, rather, given its connections to Drayton, Shakespeare and Donne), but this was something else. What's really impressive is the feeling of sheer enthusiasm you get from the townspeople - there's a real sense that the project (and those that have gone before, such as the Poetry Trails) has made a lasting impression. Walk around for five minutes and you're confronted with poetry everywhere, as a living, vital force that engages with both contemporary life and history.

It was great, then, that Mal had just been appointed Staffordshire's new Poet Laureate (Polesworth is just across the border in Warwickshire, but it's possible to drive through four counties in 400 yards in these parts). I know he'll bring the same drive and innovation to it that he has to his other projects, so watch this space for more news.

A couple more pictures to finish - Gary Longden and Jacqui Rowe reading in front of the dig.

Monday, 10 September 2012

September Shindig

Next Monday (September 17th) it's the latest Nine Arches Press/Crystal Clear Creators Shindig! at The Western, Western Road, Leicester.

Featured poets are Angela France, Daniel Sluman, Sarah Jackson and Rory Waterman, and as always, you can sign up on the door for the open mic slots. Entry is free.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

More from Kumquat

Just a note to draw your attention to the fact that Kumquat Poetry are planning an annual anthology - an excellent idea, and another good reason to read the daily updates and maybe submit some work.

Friday, 7 September 2012

How much is too much?

Poet Marion McCready's blog post here raises a very interesting point - when does a recurring image or theme become a tic, or threaten to tip over into self-parody? It's certainly a good idea to be reminded to be on the guard against recycling and repeating your own work, and it's something that I'm uncomfortably aware of a lot of the time. I might spend Sunday going through my own work, with some trepidation.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Kumquat Poetry

It's lovely to have a poem posted over at Kumquat Poetry, which publishes new work every day and which, as you'll see if you have a bit of a browse, has refreshingly eclectic tastes.

The poem, Pagham Harbour, is one of a mini-sequence I wrote last year, unashamedly inspired by Lee Harwood, and by a first visit to Pagham Harbour and Bosham in many years. I won't leave it as long next time.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Polesworth Abbey Heritage Open Day

On Saturday I'll be back at Polesworth Abbey for one of a series of Heritage Open Days (they also take place tomorrow, Friday and Sunday).

You'll be able to enjoy a guided tour of the archaeological dig that has been going on there this summer, and to hear about the intriguing finds by the dig team, and you can also hear me and a number of other poets (including Jo Bell and Jacqui Rowe) reading work inspired by the abbey, the dig, and Polesworth's whole poetry-rich history (it was the home of Michael Drayton, Shakespeare may have been schooled there, and John Donne was a regular visitor).

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Free Verse: The Poetry Book Fair

This Saturday, September 8th, sees the second Free Verse Poetry Book Fair, at the Candid Arts Trust galleries, Torrens Street, London (close to King's Cross).

I was at last year's inaugural event, and it was excellent - lots of good readings, the opportunity to browse the wares of a wide variety of small presses, and of course the opportunity to catch up with old friends and to put faces to names you've previously only known from the pages of magazines, or from computer screens.

I can't make it this year - it clashes with the Heritage Open Day at Polesworth Abbey, but I can recommend it very highly. Take a look at the programme of readings and workshops - there's something there to suit most tastes.

Monday, 3 September 2012

I Don't Call Myself A Poet

I've been enjoying reading many of the interviews posted at I Don't Call Myself A Poet - there are new ones appearing all the time, so keep an eye on it.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Antiphon Issue 4

I'm delighted to have a poem, Metamorphoses, published in issue 4 of the online journal Antiphon. There's loads of good stuff in there - as always, it's good to be in the company of C J Allen and D A Prince among others.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Jamon iberico de bellota

I've blogged in the past about HappenStance poet Matthew Stewart and his fine chapbook, Inventing Truth, which came out last year.

He's got a second pamphlet forthcoming, and a copy arrived from HappenStance last night. Called Tasting Notes, it is inspired by his work as a wine-blender in Extremadura, Spain.

He'll be launching it with a reading in Oakham at the start of October, of which more details as they arrive, but in the meantime Matthew has posted about Extremaduran ham - anyone who's been to the region (and I'd guess that that will include the majority of the birding readers of this blog) will know that he's right when he says it's the best ham in the world. Anyone who's not been to the region - go as soon as you get the chance. It's absolutely glorious.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Rock 'n' Roll Friends

I've not quite reached the High Court judge stage yet ("The Beatles? Are they a popular beat combo?"),  but it's fair to say that my finger is very far from the pulse of what's hot and what's not on the music scene these days.

When I do buy music, it tends to be back-catalogue stuff on iTunes, individual tracks more often than not, so it's pretty rare that I get excited by the release of any album. But I must admit that I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Quiet Heart: The Best of the Go-Betweens, because they remain one of my favourite bands even 23 years after their original break-up. It doesn't seem to have been released in the UK yet, but it should be out any week now.

It's not the first compilation by any means, and this album is as good a summary of that original incarnation as you could hope for, packed not only with the hits-that-weren't but also various obscurities and B-sides, such as the magnificent Rock 'n' Roll Friend. I bought it twice on tape, and wore both out, after it came out in 1990 - the CD version unfortunately has four less tracks.

Quiet Heart is shorter, and also includes tracks from the band's second coming, when Robert Forster and Grant McLennan reunited in the late 1990s, so there's bound to be plenty of "why isn't xxx on here" pub conversations arising from it (you can start now after a quick look at the track listing below). But while I might like to see Love Is A Sign on there, for example, it's good that the wonderful Part Company and Dive For Your Memory made it this time. Most Go-Betweens fans will already have it all, of course (and will buy this anyway), but if it encourages anyone new to listen to the best thing ever to come out of Cairns, Queensland, then it will have done its job.

1. Spring Rain 
2. Love Goes On 
3. Bye Bye Pride 
4. Part Company 
5. Darlinghurst Nights 
6. Bachelor Kisses 
7. Surfing Magazines 
8. Karen 
9. The Clock 
10. Head Full Of Steam 
11. Streets Of Your Town 
12. People Say 
13. Finding You 
14. Dive For Your Memory 
15. Cattle And Cane 
16. Right Here 
17. Here Comes A City 
18. Quiet Heart 

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

So Here We Are

A combination of busy times at work (Birdfair and all that), lack of inspiration, and sheer bone idleness have resulted in updates here being a little sparse of late.

So, in the interests of doing a bit better at keeping abreast of what's going on in poetryworld, I'll try to blog daily for the next couple of weeks.

To start with, allow me to point you in the direction
So Here We Are, from Shearsman, a collection of David Caddy's essays on poetry. Among the subjects covered are here Raleigh, Barnes, Sonia Orwell, Blake, Ethnopoetics, Salisbury, Griffiths, Bunting and Fitzrovia, Walking, Celebrity, Fisher's Place, Raworth's Comedy, the anti-pastoral, Prynne, Crozier, John Riley, David Gascoyne and Forests.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Frampton comes alive

Earlier in the week I went over to the RSPB reserve at Frampton Marsh, just outside Boston. It sits on the edge of fenland, with a saltmarsh on the far side of the sea wall, looking across The Wash to Norfolk.

The presence of good numbers and variety of waders was a reminder that autumn is already well advanced as far as birds are concerned - many of them were species that breed as far north as the Arctic, and are now making their way south to their wintering grounds via the enormous service station that is Britain.

There were at least three Wood Sandpipers around, three or four Spotted Redshanks, Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stints, Ruff, and around 3,000 Black-tailed Godwits.

I was searching through the latter for anything unusual when they suddenly rose into the air as one, usually the telltale sign that a Peregrine is around. Sure enough, one harried and hustled them as they flew, making short, tumbling dives to try to pick off stragglers, then climbing again slowly with an almost clumsy, 'treading water' motion of the wings. As soon as it had gained height, it allowed itself to stall, then flipped over to plunge back towards the godwits.

It wasn't successful, and I suspect it was doing it more in hope than in expectation - godwits are a decent size so you'd think a Peregrine would need a stoop of reasonable length in order to achieve the impact needed to kill one. This looked more like a bit of opportunism, hoping to separate a young or weak bird from the flock.

It's a great reserve, all things considered, and I'll look forward to going back in the near future. Another two or three weeks and who knows what will be passing through.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Poor Rude Lines

A couple of weeks ago John Field very kindly featured my poetry on his blog, Poor Rude Lines. That's more than a little flattering, given the many fine poets he writes about on there. I've been browsing through past posts this week, and particularly enjoyed what he had to say about Katy Evans-Bush's Me And The Dead. Have a look for yourself - this is thoughtful and thought-provoking writing by a sensitive, perceptive reader.

Monday, 13 August 2012

I knew it was too good to last

I've been following the whole Kevin Pietersen/ECB saga over recent weeks with mounting dismay, but having followed England avidly since David Steele's memorable 1975 debut, I should have known that we'd shoot ourselves in the foot at the first opportunity following our ascent to No.1 in the Test rankings. Yesterday's dropping of KP, on the grounds that he might have sent texts critical of Andy Strauss and Andy Flower to a South African player, looks bizarre at best.

Of course, without actually knowing the personalities involved, it's hard to know exactly who's in the right. I'd imagine that KP isn't the easiest player to play with, and yes, I can see the point that maintaining team unity is vital.

But has he ever, for example, pulled out of a game or tour with a dubious injury, or just refused to tour a particular country? No, not to my knowledge. England players have in the past (admittedly before the central contracts era), and it was never held against them. Graham Gooch broke international sanctions to tour South Africa, was welcomed back into the England fold the moment he'd served his ban, then decided 18 months later that he didn't fancy an Ashes tour. When, in 1989, he was struggling during the home Ashes series, he decided he wasn't available for the remaining games. He was rewarded with the England captaincy a few months later.

What about other bad behaviour? Has he conducted himself badly on the field, such as, for example, attempting to tamper with the ball and then lying about it afterwards? No. Mike Atherton did exactly that, but it was never held against him.

It's also a bit of a nonsense that successful teams all have to be best mates, anyway. By all accounts, Geoff Boycott didn't make a huge amount of friends in England dressing-rooms, but there weren't many of his contemporaries asking for him to be dropped. They knew he was the best England batsman of that era, and that the team needed him. In the great Aussie side of recent memory, Shane Warne was far from universally popular, not least with coach John Buchanan. Did they ever drop him? Of course not - he was a genius and match-winner.

And there are more double-standards at work. Someone within the ECB must have leaked talk of KP's contract recently, but no-one has been disciplined there. Someone close to the team, it appears, has been running the fake KP Twitter account, or at least feeding info to it, but again no action has been taken. What makes the texts any different?

I hope I'm wrong, but the whole thing smacks of the approach taken by Gooch when he was captain, when the likes of Gower, Lamb and Botham (plus younger 'flair' players) were excluded on the grounds that they didn't share the captain's rigid, unbending and frankly tedious approach.

Then, as now, the real test was whether such a method worked. Gooch's sides had some notable but isolated successes, but most of his reign was a story of grinding mediocrity. We're much stronger in terms of depth these days, but I suspect that they'll still pay a heavy price for excluding their best batsman at Lord's this week.

Laureate moans (again)

I'm no great fan of the whole idea of a Poet Laureate, at least in its current form, and I'd have to say that I prefer Carol Ann Duffy's earlier books than her more recent work. This particular moan, though, from the Rev Peter Mullen, really put my back up.

Of course, it is in the Telegraph, so a right-wing agenda can be pretty much assumed from the off. And yes, about halfway down, he starts rambling on about 'Lefties', before hammering the point home in the final paragraph. In between he runs through all the usual sneers regarding contemporary poetry.

To be fair, his arrogant disdain isn't confined to the contemporary. He also helpfully points out that Auden, Keats, Hughes and Wordsworth were merely 'competent', and 'fine' - any of you who have hitherto been labouring under the misapprehension that they were great should consider yourselves well and truly corrected.

I should say that I tend to think that there are great poems, for the most part, rather than great poets. Even minor poets sometimes write great poems. But some poets write more of them than others, and for the sake of argument might then get called great. Rev Mullen makes no mention of what, in his opinion, constitutes greatness, but from the tone of the rest of the piece I'm guessing that it's basically poetry that he likes.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Dig this!

I'm running a poetry workshop at Polesworth Abbey on Friday from 10am to 2pm - there are further details here if you'd like to sign up. There are also a number of workshops at later dates, run by the likes of Jackie Rowe.

I've been along to the dig a couple of times in the last few weeks, and there are some really intriguing discoveries being made. Come along to the workshop, and you can find out more about them, and hopefully turn them into poetry.

No previous experience is necessary - all you need is a pen and some paper...

Friday, 3 August 2012

Stop me and try one

The new issue of Tears In The Fence - no.55 to be exact - arrived in the post yesterday. In fact, two copies arrived, because I subscribe, and I also have a poem, Saltings, in this issue.

As you'll hopefully be able to see from the terrible photo (phone-cam, sorry) above, it's had an external makeover, with glossy, colour covers. Inside, though, the format is much the same. Lots of poetry, fiction, and a really hefty section of essays and reviews. The quality is excellent  as always (on my first skim through, I read fine poems by Kerry Featherstone, Mark Goodwin, Andy Brown and Rupert Loydell - I tend to turn to the names I know first), but there's also an awful lot to read. It's as much a book as a mag.

Anyway, instead of listening to me talk about it, you should try it yourself. There's a free copy going to the first person to claim it - just send me your details in the comment box of this post, and I'll mail it out to you. You will then, of course, become a subscriber and spread the word about one of the UK"s best literary mags, wont't you?

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Billy Letford's Bevel, out now

I heard William Letford read at StAnza a year last March, and I've been looking forward to his first collection from Carcanet since then. Well, the wait is over – Bevel is out now.

Most of the articles I've seen about him since then, whether in literary journals or the more general press, have made much of his day-job as a roofer. That's fair enough - I'd be willing to bet it's been a good long while since there's been another poet/roofer, it's something that clearly informs his poetry much of the time, and if it helps draw a bit more attention to his work, then that's great.

I hope, though, that it doesn't become the only way he's defined, because he's just a very talented writer and performer, full stop. Buy the book and you'll see what I mean.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Curiouser and curiouser

At first sight, I thought this story about an author attacking taxpayer-funding for Welsh writers was a possible case of very sour grapes. His claims are so ludicrously overblown ("not a single Welsh writer of national or international note since the 50s") that it's hard to take it seriously. You can come up with your own list of writers of note to refute that, I'm sure, and several bloggers and commentators have already done so* - as you've probably come to expect, I'll just say one name. Repeatedly.**


It's even harder to take Mr Ruck at face value when you realise that the festival at which he was supposed to have given his speech was cancelled. Presumably he'd already sent the press release out, and the journalist ran with it. Oh dear.

* Dannie Abse featured on several, I was glad to see.
** I know Thomas had already published plenty of work (and plenty of his best work) before the end of the Fifties. But he also published a lot of well-received work after that date, and certainly his acclaim by the wider literary world came much later.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Recent reading

There's an excellent review, over at Roy Marshall's blog, of Maria Taylor's Melanchrini, her debut collection from Nine Arches Press.

In the past week or so, I've read it, Daniel Sluman's Absence has a weight of its own, and C J Allen's At The Oblivion Tea-rooms. Now, I know I'm far from being an impartial observer, given that I'm published by Nine Arches, but I reckon that's a very strong, and varied, trio of collections, the sort of rich vein of form that any press would be very proud of.

I'm putting together a few more thoughts on all three books (I do have Alistair Noon's Earth Records to read, though, and it's a perfect day for reading), but for now, I'll just say that Roy hits the nail squarely on the head about Maria's book.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Mallard mayhem

Want to see a heartwarming wildlife rescue story to round off the week? Here's what happened in the car-park at our office yesterday.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Competition time

It's getting very close to deadline time on a couple of excellent poetry competitions. The Essex Poetry Festival 12th Open Competition has a first prize of £1,000, and is judged by Pascale Petit - you've only got a few days left, as the deadline is July 30th.

Meanwhile, the Buzzwords Open Poetry Competition (all money raised goes to the excellent Buzzwords reading/open mic series in Cheltenham) has a prize of £600, and is judged by Ann Drysdale. The deadline has just been extended until August 14th, so there's still time to polish up that submission.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Raven mad

I need help. Birdwatching readers of this blog, don't be deterred by the poetry talk that follows - you have a role to play. And poetry-loving readers, don't let the birds put you off. You might hold the key to a minor mystery too.

I'm usually pretty good at making notes for poems. I sometimes scribble them on the backs of receipts or bus tickets, or use the notebook on my phone, but I've generally got at least one real notebook on me, and I have a sort of 'master' journal into which I transfer everything at the first opportunity.

I'm usually good, too (and this is the journo in me) at attributing all the material appropriately. Which is to say, if there's no indication otherwise, I assume that the note is my own original work. If it's something I've heard or overheard or read, and noted down for later use (either as inspiration or as background material), then I also make a note of exactly where it came from.

Earlier this week, I was reading through some notes for a barely-started poem involving ravens. I must have been writing them in a rush, because none of the notes are attributed to anyone else, despite the fact that I straight away recognised one bit of background material, discussing the fact that ravens are known to engage in purely recreational 'play', as being from Mark Cocker's Birds Britannica (a book I'll never get tired of recommending to anyone who'll listen).

The next note, also unattributed, reads: "Quite why this [the propensity for play] should have made them thought suitable as messengers of the divine, or even deities themselves, is not clear. No one needs a god who's taking the piss the moment your back is turned."

That's not from Mark's book, but I certainly didn't write it either. So who did? Does anyone recognise it at all? I'd love to know just to be able to read it in context again. Your suggestions please, because I've been trying to work it out for two days now and it's beginning to drive me round the bend.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Best yet?

Monday night's Nine Arches Press/Crystal Clear Creators Shindig was as good as any reading/open mic I've been to - I'd wondered whether the ongoing deluge and the Leicester holiday fortnight might make keep people away this time, but in fact the Western was packed out.

A great bill helped, obviously. I'm not going to attempt to review the night properly, but Alan Baker, Maria Taylor and Robin Vaughan-Williams are all poets whose work I've known and enjoyed for some time now, and all three gave fine readings, as ever. You can read much more about them here and here.

Kim Moore was a new name to me, though, and closed the night with a really fine set (she was down from Barrow-in-Furness, but has family in Leicester, I think). I bought her Smith/Doorstop pamphlet - If We Could Speak Like Wolves - on the strength of it, and it more than does her justice. I loved her opening poem, The Wolf, in particular, not least because of her declaration that she reads it because she doesn't know what it means. That enquiring sense is there throughout the book.

The open mic slots seem to get better with each reading, and it was nice to see more and more West Midlands poets coming to give it a try. Gary Carr's second poem, a letter to his daughter, was a real highlight for me, Gary Longden, Deborah Tyler-Bennett and Jayne Stanton were as good as always, and Graham Norman and Maria Rooner performed the same poem in English, then German, to good effect. Considering I managed to fail O Level German three times (don't ask), I surprised myself by how much I actually followed when Maria was reading.

Talking to Alan and Robin afterwards, we were trying to work out what makes the Shindigs work so well (aside from the poets, obviously). The size and shape of the room certainly helps, as does the fact that there's always been a nice, relaxed feel at the Western - people wander in from the street or the other bar and dip in and out of the poetry, which you don't get at many places. And last but certainly not least, the laid-back, resolutely uncompetitive atmosphere cultivated by Jane and Matt of Nine Arches and Jonathan Taylor of CCC, makes all the difference.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Cannon Poets 14.7.12

Saturday night meant a short trip down the M42 to read at the Cannon Poets event at the Moseley Festival. Moseley Exchange was a nice venue, for starters, right in the middle of the village suburb, and there was a good-sized audience.

Cannon Poets is a group with a long and distinguished history, and in the first half of the evening we heard recent work from some of its members. There was a lot to like - a particular highlight for me was the poem on dust (I'll check the names when I get home and edit it in here). Rich McMahon's Irish-tinged folk was splendid, too, although he was a hard act to follow.

I read straight after the interval, and surprised myself by almost getting through a set without a bird poem (one zipped in there just before the end). It wasn't intentional, and I don't suppose it'll happen too often again.

Fellow Nine Arches poets Daniel Sluman and Angela France completed the line-up. Daniel read from his debut collection, Absence has a weight of its own. There's a raw passion, ferocity even, to his poems, whether they're dealing with physical or emotional injury and trauma, but it's handled with great assurance throughout. The book's every bit as good as the reading led me to expect, which is saying something (I'll post more on it at a later date).

Angela France has a collection forthcoming from Nine Arches next year, and I found the poems from it that she read at the end of her set were an intriguing departure from her past work - more directly personal, for a start, less rooted in stories. They worked well, though, and it'll be a collection worth waiting for.

The audience was appreciative, talkative after the readings, and plenty of books seemed to be changing hands. Hard to ask for more than that.

Friday, 13 July 2012


Just a quick reminder that I'll be reading, with fellow Nine Arches poets Angela France and Daniel Sluman, at the Cannon Poets event at Moseley Exchange, Alcester Road, Birmingham, tomorrow from 7.30pm. It's part of the Moseley Festival.

On Monday, Nine Arches and Crystal Clear Creators team up for the bi-monthly Shindig at The Western, Western Road, Leicester, from 7.30pm. Featured readers are Robin Vaughan-Williams, Maria Taylor, Kim Moore and Alan Baker, and as usual open mic slots will be available on the night.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

John Clare Day

It was nice to see George Monbiot, in The Guardian, talking about the greatness of John Clare, his role as chronicler of the enclosure of great swathes of the English countryside in the early 19th century, and as elegist for what was lost.

I'd have to seriously take issue with his opening sentence, though, in which he claims that Helpston is now situated in one of the most dismal and regularised tracts of countryside in Europe. Now, the mania in this country for 'tidying up' every bit of countryside people can find is a personal bugbear, and it's undoubtedly true that in most parts of England (and parts of the rest of Britain, too), there's a depressing lack of the patchwork of habitats that would have been common back in Clare's day (although it's also worth noting that many of them would have been manmade, too).

But Helpston is no worse than most places, and a lot better than many others. It's just at the edge of the Fens, so although there are prairie-style fields in the vicinity, it's far from being unbroken expanses of intensive farmland. Just to the south, Castor Hanglands is a National Nature Reserve, and along with neighbouring Ailsworth Heath (the Emmonsails Heath of Clare's poems), retains some of its former glory. There are several woodlands, Maxey Gravel Pits (a working quarry, but a breeding site for a lot of birds), and a little further north, the lakes around Lolham* and Tallington. Regularised? No, far from it. Dismal? Not really - I think George is trying far too hard to bring Helpston itself into his argument about Clare. He really doesn't need to.

* Clare's name can be found carved into one of the arches of the bridges near Lolham that carry the East Coast mainline across one of the streams. The bridges, Lolham Brigs in his poems, have been around in one form or another since Roman times - nice that Clare left his mark on them.

Friday, 6 July 2012

David Swann: The Privilege of Rain - Time Among The Sherwood Outlaws

As I've moaned more than once recently, I haven't been getting time to write the reviews that I'd like to for this blog. One of the books I've enjoyed a lot this year is David Swann's The Privilege of Rain - Time Among The Sherwood Outlaws (from the excellent Waterloo Press), so in the absence of any coherent thoughts from me about just why I like it, read Steve Spence's very positive review of it in Stride. I like the point he makes in the last paragraph about it being a book that keeps asking unanswerable questions - that's a mark not just of Swann's sympathetic approach, but also of his unassuming, modest style as a writer. It works superbly.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Dates for the diary

I'm lucky to have a job I genuinely love, but it has rather got in the way of poetry these last few months., so I'm trying to get back into the swing of things. I have been reading plenty of the stuff, as ever, but I'm being a bit more disciplined about setting aside time to write, and in making sure I can get to readings and open mics.

So, over the next few weeks, I'll be up and down the A42, A38 and A511 (you can tell I read maps for fun, can't you?), starting with Poetry Alight, at the Spark Cafe Bar, Tamworth Street, Lichfield, at 7pm next Tuesday (July 10th).

The following Monday (July 16th), is the bi-monthly Nine Arches Press/Crystal Clear Creators Shindig at The Western, on Western Road, Leicester. As well as the usual open mic, there'll be the launch of Maria Taylor's new Nine Arches collection Melanchrini, plus readings from Alan Baker, Robin Vaughan-Williams, and Kim Moore. Great line-up, great place to read, great evening in store.

Finally, on Tuesday, July 24th, there's The Fizz, at the wonderful venue of Polesworth Abbey Refectory. Featured poet is Terri Jolland, entry is free, open mic slots are available, and it all starts at 7.30pm.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Being Human

Not the TV show, though. Let's get that straight right from the outset. Anyone who's landed here expecting discussion of that, you'd best bail out here and now.

No, I'm talking about the theatrical production based on the Bloodaxe anthology. I haven't seen it yet, but over at Gists & Piths, George Ttoouli has posted this excellent review of the show, which makes me want to make sure that I do, and soon.

I know the anthologies - Staying Alive, Being Alive and now Being Human - have divided opinion in poetryworld at times, but then so does pretty much every anthology that comes along. I'm not mad about the packaging, I suppose, and I can take or leave the division of them into chapters, with little essays introducing each one. When all's said and done, though, all three have contained plenty of poetry that I'm glad to have encountered, and which I might well not have done otherwise. George has a point about some of the more non-mainstream voices generally being represented by their least left-field work, but even so, it puts them in front of a potential new audience.

There's more about the show, including dates and venues, here. I think I'll probably catch it at Uppingham School in October (who thought it would be a good idea to call a festival Up The Arts, though?)

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Reading at Moseley

I'm going to be reading along with fellow Nine Arches poets Angela France and Daniel Sluman at the Moseley Exchange, Birmingham, at 7pm on July 14th. The event, presented by Cannon Poets, is part of the Moseley Festival, and admission is £2.