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?