Wednesday 30 October 2013

Resurgence & Ecologist

The November/December issue of Resurgence & Ecologist is out now, and features my review of Ruth Padel's The Mara Crossing, which you can also read here.

There's a lot else in the issue that you can't access online, with the likes of Jonathon Porritt, Heathcote Williams and Andrew Motion featured, plus Peter Abbs on Maitreyabandhu. If you've an interest in the natural world, or the arts, or the area where the two meet, it's a very rewarding read.

Monday 28 October 2013

Friday night at the Friends Meeting House

The weekend just gone was (unusually for me) a frantically busy one, so I'm only now finally getting round to gathering my thoughts about Friday night's Nine Arches Press Poet Tea at the Friends Meeting House, Leicester.

I was recently trying to get my bookcases into some sort of order, and it struck me how many of Mario Petrucci's pamphlets and books I've accumulated over the years. I'd never, until Friday, heard him read, but it was well worth the wait. His reading, from his Nine Arches collection anima, was astonishingly intense, with a lot of that stillness that I've talked about before, with readers such as David Morley. It was an electrifying start to the evening, and it sent me back to the collection over the weekend.

Claire Trevien's The Shipwrecked House, published by Penned In The Margins earlier this year, has been longlisted for the Guardian's Best First Book Award. It was easy to hear why. The poems are subtly off-kilter, giving an unsettling edge to what can at first feel like familiar scenes and situations, and Claire's delivery of them was assured and quietly animated. I look forward to reading the collection.

Alistair Noon read largely new work, before closing with a number of poems from his Nine Arches collection Earth Records, and what both have in common is a willingness to range freely across geographical and stylistic divides that's refreshing and frequently exhilarating. He lives in Berlin, so visits to the UK are relatively rare, but if you get a chance to hear him read, don't miss it - it's hard to think of anyone else writing in quite this way at the moment.

I read from The Elephant Tests, and tried the book's longest poem, Ravens, Newborough Warren, for the first time. I was helped out hugely by Charles Lauder, who provided one of the two voices for the piece - I'd been wondering how to differentiate the two away from the page, but this seemed to work well.

Hopefully there'll be more Poet Teas to come - it was a pleasure and privilege to be part of the first one.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Normal for Norfolk

Time for a birding interlude. I was over in north Norfolk on Monday and Tuesday, and as any birder knows, time spent there is never wasted.

For a landlubber like me, it offers the opportunity to see all sorts of species of wader and wildfowl that rarely, if ever, pass through my Midland patch. But it struck me, this time, that what really makes it special is the sheer number of birds, close at hand. That makes for some truly staggering spectacles, such as the Snettisham wader roost, but it also means that you see a much wider variety of behaviour than you might normally.

A couple of examples. The Curlew above was at Brancaster Staithe, and was the only one I could find around the harbour in the rain. It seemed to have found a rich source of fairly good-sized crabs, but each time it pulled one from the mud, it attracted the attention of two Herring Gulls nearby. It made a point of hurrying away with its catch, either down one of the little half-concealed channels, of between two boats, to eat it, before returning. I'm not sure how keen the gulls would be to take on a Curlew anyway, but it was clearly taking no chances.

Second was a small group of Oystercatchers swimming on a little lagoon. I've never seen even one swim before (although I think most waders are willing to do so to cross little channels, etc), but in this case they did so for some time. Both my memory cards were full at that stage, so you'll have to make do with this Turnstone, taken earlier, which was behaving in typical fashion, feeding very close to my feet.

Finally, here's two bad pics of a ringtail Hen Harrier which came in off the sea not long before dark on Monday - the distinctive white rump is visible on the first pic.

Thursday 17 October 2013

By The Way

Work from seven artists and photographers from across the East and West Midlands features in By The Way, an exhibition running at the Bohunk Institute, Nottingham, for the next two weeks.

Photographers David Severn, Sian Stammers, Julian Hughes, Phil Harris, Helen Saunders and artists Shaun Morris and Wayne Burrows have produced works that meander through landscape peripheral to the city - the fringes, edgelands and wasteland of contemporary Britain. Work from Midlands writers and poets also features, with text writ large on the gallery walls, and I'm among them - I've been working with Phil Harris on a project relating to John Clare's travels, and some of our work in progress is included.

The Bohunk Institute, at 2 Fishergate Point, Nottingham, is open 1pm-7pm Thursday and Friday, and 11am-5pm Saturday and Sunday.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

A great way to start a weekend

Next Friday (25th October), Nine Arches Press is staging a special Poet-Tea at the Quaker Meeting House on Queen's Road, Leicester, from 7pm to 9pm. 

Tickets are £5 and cab be booked here - they include tea and cake as well as a wealth of live poetry, making it a thoroughly civilised way to start your weekend. It's all compered by Nine Arches Press editor, Jane Commane, and the poets who'll be reading are Claire Trevien, Alistair Noon, Mario Petrucci and myself.

Here's some more info on three very fine readers - all you need to know about me is that you really don't want to get stuck behind me in the cake queue.

Claire TrĂ©vien is an Anglo-Breton poet. Her first collection, The Shipwrecked House (Penned in the Margins, 2013), was longlisted in the Guardian First Book Award. Her poetry appears in numerous magazines and anthologies including Best British Poetry 2012 and The Forward Book of Poetry 2013. She edits Sabotage Reviews, Verse Kraken, and Penning Perfumes.

Alistair Noon was born in 1970 and grew up in Aylesbury. Besides time spent in Russia and China, he has lived in Berlin since the early nineties, where he works as a translator. His poetry and translations from German and Russian have appeared in nine chapbooks from small presses. Earth Records (Nine Arches Press) is his first full-length collection.

Mario Petrucci's work is “vivid, generous and life-affirming” (Envoi). His most recent poems, inspired by Black Mountain and hailed as "modernist marvels" (Poetry Book Society), embrace contemporary issues of searing social and personal relevance via a distinctive combination of innovation and humanity. Whether exploring the tragedies of Chernobyl (Heavy Water, 2004) or immersing himself in heart-rending invention (i tulips, 2010), Petrucci aspires to "Poetry on a geological scale” (Verse). His latest collection is anima (Nine Arches Press, 2013).

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Poetry is like music to the brain

Very interesting article here, about the way the brain responds to poetry - the video that goes with it is pretty excruciating, mind you, but you can't have everything. The poet Helen Mort has blogged about it here, too - also very much worth a read.

Iceland's love affair with literature

Interesting article on the BBC News website about Iceland's current book boom. Apparently, 1 in 10 Icelanders will publish a book, and more importantly, sales of books are on the increase too.

Of course, it is a country with a very strong literary tradition. During the few days I spent there earlier this year, our guide twice urged me to read various 20th century Icelandic books, while the medieval sagas were a constant presence wherever we went. Quite whether that has any implications for Britain I've no idea, but there did seem to be less of a tendency to separate literature into different genres, or to talk in terms of high and low culture.

Monday 14 October 2013

Jazz and Poetry revisited

Over at the Jazz and Poetry Facebook page, David Belbin has posted videos of Pippa Hennessy, Sarah Jackson and myself reading at last week's event. There's footage of two of my poems - Magnetite and Watching Woodcocks.

While you're there, take the time to have a trawl through the wealth of previous recordings on the page, and give it a Like.

Thursday 10 October 2013

Jazz and Poetry

Last night I was lucky enough to be one of the invited readers at the first session of the new season of Jazz and Poetry, at The Guitar Bar, Nottingham.

It's a well established night, which combines poetry with superb music from Four In A Bar, a trad jazz quartet that includes poet and publisher John Lucas. It's run by novelist David Belbin (who has also, for many years, been reviewing theatre, comedy and particularly music here with unfailing open-mindedness) and poet Pippa Hennessy, of Nottingham Writers' Studio.

Pippa read in the first section, along with open mic-ers Russell and Tony (whose full names sadly escaped me), and all were excellent. Russell was brave enough to read with backing from the band's guitarist, and it worked well, but all three had me wanting to hear more.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading. It's a really good space, with excellent acoustics and a lot of character, and the audience were more than kind. It was only the second full-length reading I've done from The Elephant Tests, so I'm still sorting out what works and what doesn't, but it's got me looking forward to the other readings I've got coming up in the next two months.

Sarah Jackson's debut collection Pelt, from Bloodaxewon the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry, and very deservedly so too. I've read it with great enjoyment, and I suppose I thought I knew it quite well, so it was a surprise to find myself noticing new pleasures as she read. But that, I think, is what a good reading should do, and it will certainly send me back to the book again. Incidentally, her pamphlet Milk, from Pighog, was also excellent, and a really beautifully produced publication too.

There was time to make new acquaintances and catch up with old faces like Alan Baker and Kerry Featherstone, although I unfortunately managed to miss Rory Waterman. But no matter, as Rory's launching his own debut Carcanet collection at the bar on November 27th, when Roy Marshall will also be launching his Shoestring Press debut The Sun Bathers, and before that on November 13th the next Jazz and Poetry will feature Gregory Woods and another guest TBC.

As if all that's not enough, there's a good selection of real ale on tap, plus bottled beers including a particular old favourite of mine, Sierra Nevada (I only noticed it too late, but I'll put that right next time). There you go - even more reasons to be at the next event.

Monday 7 October 2013

Tasting Notes - a poetry film by Matthew Stewart

Matthew Stewart's wine-themed poetry chapbook, Tasting Notes, published by Happenstance, has been turned into a film - you can watch it here. It's a great way of presenting the poems, I think - perhaps it wouldn't work so well with a longer collection, but it suits a pamphlet down to the ground.

Actors reading poetry - the results

So, 25 of you voted, and 13 of you said that poets should be given the choice about whether or not their poems are read out by actors at awards ceremonies. Another 10 were dead against the use of actors at all, while two of you called for the thespians to be the first choice.

Thanks to all who voted.