Monday, 28 January 2013


Thanks very much to Roy Marshall for choosing Midstream, one of the poems from my 2005 HappenStance chapbook Making The Most Of The Light, as the favourite poem of the week on his excellent (and frequently updated) blog.

The pamphlet is officially out of print, although I think I have two copies left should anyone want one - email me at the link on the right.

Polesworth revisited

At the end of last week, the always interesting Kumquat Poetry published this excellent piece by Coventry poet Barry Patterson, who was one of the attendees at the workshop I ran at Polesworth Abbey last summer. There's always something very Anglo-Saxon about Barry's work - he uses little kenning-like devices such as "brains-nest" - that appeals to me a lot.

You can read more of Barry's work in his chapbook Nature Mystic, which was published by Heaventree Press in 2008. I've had a review of it almost finished for about 18 months now - I promise to get it posted here before long.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Hit the north!

Next Wednesday, January 30th, I'll be heading up the M1 to Leeds for the latest in the Poetry By Heart reading series – I'll be joining River Wolton, Gareth Durasow, Maria Taylor, Deborah Tyler-Bennett and Roy Marshall on the bill.

For a whole number of reasons - friends from university, Wedding Present gigs, Tetleys Bitter, some great fish and chips, and of course, THAT test match in 1981 - I have a great fondness for Leeds, so it's lovely to have the chance to read there.

It all starts at 7.30pm, at the HEART Centre, Bennett Road, Headingley LS6 3HN, and entry is free, so come along if you get the chance. I'll have a few books available to buy, for those who want them.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

From Clare to here

I've mentioned this John Clare poem - Emmonsails Heath In Winter - on this blog before, because it's probably my favourite piece of his. But, what with the wintry weather and the fact that it's just a brisk walk away from the office, it bears repeating.

Emmonsails Heath is now Ailsworth Heath and Castor Hanglands, and it struck me this morning that the birds mentioned in the poem would probably be there today - certainly there are large numbers of Fieldfares on the move everywhere this week, and Woodcocks are becoming more visible, as they always do after snow, as they move around in search of food. Long-tailed Tits, too, the "bumbarrels" of the poem, are plentiful in most areas now.

That all sounds quite positive, but it would be interesting to know how the number of species and individual birds there compares to Clare's day - not very well, I suspect. In fact, it's a little task I'm going to set myself, to investigate that further.

NB "Bumbarrel", the Northamptonshire dialect name for the Long-tailed Tit, apparently comes from the barrel-shaped nests they build.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Nottingham Festival Of Words

I'll be returning to this in more detail in the coming weeks, but for now I'll just draw your attention to the fact that the Nottingham Festival of Words is taking place between February 9th and 24th.

Writers taking part include Alice Oswald, A L Kennedy, Michael Rosen and David Almond, but there's a huge programme of events for you to choose from if you're anywhere near. If you're not, well, Nottingham's a lovely city, just off the motorway, so what are you waiting for.

As part of it, I'll be running an open air poetry workshop at Attenborough Nature Reserve (well worth a visit in its own right) on February 10th, and the following Sunday, February 17th, I'll be reading at the Left Lion Presents... event.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Looking ahead

I was browsing through the Inpress catalogue after Nine Arches posted it on their Facebook page, and a couple of volumes caught my eye immediately.

The first is Gill McEvoy's second full collection, Rise, from Cinnamon Press, which is out in May. It deals with her battle against, and survival of, ovarian cancer, and is the follow-up to her excellent first collection (also from Cinnamon), The Plucking Shed. She's also published two pamphlets with HappenStance, Uncertain Days and A Sampler.

The second book was Poems To Elsi, by RS Thomas, from Seren, which charts the course of an unusual and complex creative relationship. It's edited by Damian Walford Davies, and contains four previously unpublished poems - as something of a Thomas completist I'd buy it for those alone, even if it does feel a bit like when I used to search HMV for Japanese import albums which differed from the UK version by one track.

Oh, HMV! See what happened there? Topicality at last.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Leicester Shindig, 14.1.13

It was unfortunate that the first real snow of this winter fell on the day of the first Nine Arches Press/Crystal Clear Creators Shindig of the year, but there was plenty to warm the cockles at The Western, as usual.

The open mic was as good as ever - I particularly enjoyed pieces by Maxine Linnell, Maria Taylor and Roy Marshall (his blackbird poem), but the quality was uniformly high. Good to see Anthony Owen there to read, too.

First featured reader was Dave Reeves, something of a legend in the Midlands, especially on the western side of the A5. His set used Black Country dialect, a squeeze-box (a highlight for me - far too few poets use squeeze-boxes), and some props for poems such as the one about how many Wild West heroes would have had British regional accents. Think about it - they would.

Julie Boden is another well-known face on the Midlands poetry scene, and her set of love poems was what I've come to expect from here - accessible, and very musical (she actually sang one poem), without sacrificing any subtlety. She uses repetition well - something that's far harder than you'd think it is to pull off.

After the interval, David Clarke (who'd braved the journey up from Cheltenham) read from his Flarestack pamphlet Gaud, as well as newer work, and read very well too. I'm looking forward to reading the pamphlet after what I heard, and he made a good point (very gently) about the assumptions we make about authorial voice in poems.

Jayne Stanton is a familiar face at Leicester poetry events, perhaps THE most familiar face, but I've heard her read a whole set too rarely before now. She has a quiet voice, both literally and poetically, and her work is all the better for it, I think - I enjoyed her poems based on a trip to Cork in particular, but she's someone with a wealth of strong material.

And that was it - back out into the ice and snow after another excellent night. Oh, and I read one newish poem at the open mic - The Dark Ages - inspired by finding an old university textbook of mine (John Morris's The Age Of Arthur) in a charity shop.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Willow Tit and Marsh Tit

Time for a birding interlude. With the arrival of some clear, crisp, wintry weather at last, I went out yesterday to tramp round a few of my usual haunts. First, though, I had a couple of bits of shopping to do, and on the way back I stopped the car in a little layby to take a phone call. As I finished, I saw a little group of tits come into the back of the hedge next to the car, so I got my bins on them (having first wound down the window).

After at least five minutes of watching them intently, I'd pretty much decided they were Marsh Tits. The black caps didn't look particularly glossy, but then they were in a spot where they weren't getting much light. The black bibs looked on the small side, on the whole, and there were no obvious pale wing panels. They also didn't have the bull-headed look you expect from Willow Tits. Some showed the pale spot at the base of the bill that's recently been flagged up as a particularly distinctive ID mark, and while others seemed not to, that again might have been a trick of the light. I was pretty pleased, because Marsh Tits aren't always easy to get round my way (or at least, I don't have a definite regular site for them as I do with Willow Tits).

My one regret was that I didn't have my camera handy - it was still in the boot and I knew that if I got out to fetch it, they'd fly away. But, just to confirm my ID, a couple of the birds gave that unmistakeable 'pitchoo' call.

I went on to that regular Willow Tit site I mentioned, Kelham Bridge, near Coalville. At the first hide, there were plenty of small birds round the main set of feeders, and I could hear Willow Tits calling close at hand (a sort of 'si, si, tchaay, tchaay' sound) as I arrived. They quickly started coming in, one by one, to the smaller feeder, and I managed to get a few shots, most of them useless, because I'm not much of a photographer. But one or two, like the one above, were OK.

These, on the whole, were much more bull-headed birds, immediately suggesting Willow Tit. The size of the bibs, though, was very variable, as was the prominence of the pale wing panel. Willow Tits are also supposed to have all-white cheeks, while Marsh Tits' cheeks are browner where they meet the nape, but the five or six birds that came close seemed to show both extremes and everything in-between. Finally, one bird also seemed to have a pale spot at the base of its bill - only after keeping a close eye on it as it flitted to and from the feeders could I see that it was not a permanent marking, but a fleck of frost or something similar (it eventually disappeared). Had there not been so much calling going on (exclusively Willow Tit) I might have been really baffled.

What it goes to show, I think, is that there's probably no such thing as a typical member of any species. However good a field guide is, it's just that, a guide, showing what might be termed the average individual, and you can expect all sorts of variation around that supposed constant. Admittedly, it might not be as obvious in other species, but that's probably just because you tend to look at Willow/Marsh Tits closer than most, because of the risk of misidentification.

Willow Tits, incidentally, are in serious decline, so it's nice to be able to see them on a pretty regular basis. Marsh Tits are much commoner, on a national level, but locally they've tended to be the harder to find.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Poetry and plagiarism update

The whole Christian Ward furore has been rumbling on for the last few days - he has now made an apology, of sorts, but it's far from being full or uniequivocal, and his use of the phrase "ended up submitting a draft that wasn't entirely my own work" is understatement on a massive scale. I think he's probably only made things worse for himself, because his statement reads like the sort of thing you'd expect to hear from a politician, or the press office of a corporation caught pumping toxic waste onto a crowded tourist beach.

Tom Chivers has some very interesting things to say about it here, and I find myself agreeing with much of his post. But I still keep coming back to two things - surely if you're going to work with someone else's text (and I've read plenty of poetry that does that successfully), it's common courtesy to (i) credit the original source, and (ii) inform the original author of what you're doing. Even if you take Christian Ward's statement at face value, he failed to do that.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Poetry and pop

There's a good post here, on Rob Mackenzie's Surroundings blog, about whether there's any correlation between tastes in poetry and tastes in popular music, and indeed whether we should expect there to be.

I have to admit that I've no real idea what answer I'd give. I started out by thinking that there probably was a fairly close relationship in my particular case, but the more I thought about it, the more I struggled to relate different musical genres to the many tribes of contemporary poetry. I mean, what about country? What would that equate to?

I think it's certainly true, though, that poets of my generation and younger (and probably quite a bit older, too) can't get away from thinking about poetry's relationship to popular music. You hear talk of Second Album Syndrome in the poetry world (Simon Turner even refers to it in the title of his excellent second collection), and I think it's probably quite common to think of collections as albums, which presumably makes a poem in a magazine or anthology a single, and a pamphlet an EP.

Is that a bad thing? I don't think so, but I wonder if poetry could benefit from cross-pollination with other artforms in other ways, too. Reviewing is an area that springs immediately to mind, but I'd be interested to know more.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

POEM magazine

Poetry magazines come and go, and increasingly, some of the most interesting developments are happening online. Still, the launch of a major new journal for world poetry doesn't happen every day.

POEM, the first issue of which is on sale from January 24th, will be published by the Universities of Durham and Santiago de Compostela and Poetry Ireland, and has initial funding from a Canadian sponsor. That international flavour is there in the advisory board, too, which includes C K Williams, Don Paterson, Marjorie Perloff, Tomaz Salamun, Sean O'Brien, John Burnside, Stanley Moss, Linda Gregerson, Fady Joudah, Antonella Annedda and Yang Lian, and the magazine is edited by Fiona Sampson, former editor of Poetry Review.

The 128-page quarterly journal will cost £8.95 per issue or £30 for a four-issue subscription, and one nice little feature is that it's designed to slip into a pocket.

Established and emerging poets are invited to submit - the postal address is Wythgreen House, Coleshill, Swindon SN6 7PS, and the email address

There's also more information at the POEM Magazine page on Facebook, and on Twitter @POEMmagazine

Monday, 7 January 2013

Poetry and plagiarism

By the time I make this post, you may well already have read about this through Facebook, Twitter, or wherever. It's rather startling, really, and there doesn't seem to be much question that this is a case of actual plagiarism, rather than the sort of attributed borrowing and reshaping of another's text that goes on in poetry.

I don't know Christian Ward, other than by seeing his poems in magazines, and as I write he is yet to make any sort of public response to what's happened. I'd sound a note or two of caution, though. Given that he's a widely published poet, it seems a very odd thing to do, firstly because he doesn't really need to, and secondly because he must have known that ripping off a relatively well-known poet like Helen Mort would be discovered very quickly. It must be a possibility, then, that this is someone using his name to cause trouble for him. Although that's probably even more depressing than the simple fact of what's happened.

I do know Helen Mort, who wrote the original poem, a little, and she's a very fine writer who doesn't deserve to have to deal with this sort of nonsense. I don't suppose it's much consolation to be considered a poet worth ripping off, or that she might get a little bit of extra publicity.

It did set me thinking, though. I've seen comments that Christian Ward (or 'Christian Ward', as we'll call him for now) might have attended a workshop with Helen, say, absorbed or copied down part or all of her poem there, then later quite innocently have thought it was his own. That doesn't sound very likely to me - in my experience, you do recognise your own writing, no matter how long it is since you've seen it, or how complicated its origins.

Except. I've posted before that I occasionally come across notes that I've made that seem to be based on a particular source, but which I can't place. Perhaps I have written them. I am certain in all cases that they haven't come from another poet, but I can never shake the nagging feeling that they're from some prose work I've read and largely forgotten.

What to do? Slow, patient revision and research seem to be the only answer - the multiplicity of sources available online these days makes it a problem that's only likely to grow.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Next Big Thing

I was tagged by Kirsten Irving, part of the team behind Sidekick Books, and the poet behind the very, very wonderful Never, Never, Never Come Back, to part in an expanding blog project called The Next Big Thing. Basically, each participant answers the same questions about their latest book, posts the results to their blog, then tags four more writers to do the same a week later.

Where did the idea for the book come from?
I’d been putting together poems for a possible second collection, and found them falling into three different strands – personal, historical, and those rooted in the natural world, although I hope there’s a fair amount of overlap between the three. I also wanted it to be a bit sprawling, something like an old-fashioned, self-indulgent double album. Hopefully, if you’re not enjoying a particular section, you can skip on and quickly find something you like.

What genre does your book fall in?
Poetry. As I’ve mentioned, there’s a certain amount of history in there too, but it certainly shouldn’t be relied on as such.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
That is difficult! I do sometimes find myself visualising certain characters in poems that I’m writing as actors – I definitely saw Roger Godberd, the embittered proto-Robin Hood figure in one of the pieces, as Bernard Hill, for instance (although more in his Boys From The Blackstuff guise than his Lord of the Rings role), and for some reason I saw Stanislav Petrov as Pete Postlethwaite with a Russian accent. As well as the poem directly inspired by the singer/songwriter David McComb (‘Unquiet’),there are a few others, generally the lovelorn ones, in which I kept seeing him as the main character – he’d have made a good actor, I always thought.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A tune playing somewhere in the house as you wake, just loud enough to find its way into your head instantly, just quietly enough to make singing it back a difficult proposition.

How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?
A couple of years, I suppose, although there are poems in there that date back, in one form or another, to 2002-2003, well before the publication of my first chapbook. Before I’d had any poems published in magazines, in fact.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
One of the main motivations was exploring the tensions and strains between the thirst for knowledge and the appeals of blissful ignorance – the glass harmonica poems in there touch on that I think, because the music that the instrument created was thought to be psychically harmful, despite its beauty.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
There are an awful lot of birds winging their way through it, and I hope there’s also fun to be had picking out the invented histories from the facts.

Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?
Neither –it’s published by Nine Arches Press, of Rugby. It’s been a pleasure working with a Midlands-based press which has already developed a national profile, because it’s opened up opportunities for readings, workshops and other events around it.

My writers to tag are:
Roy Marshall, Leicestershire poet.
Emma Lee, Leicestershire poet and writer of fiction.
Mark Burnhope, Salt poet and blogger on literature, faith and disability.
Maria Taylor, another Leicester poet, and a fellow Nine Arches writer.