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.