Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Overlooked UK poets

Over on Twitter, Ian Duhig and a number of other poets drew my attention to this article in Partisan magazine, highlighting the 11 best UK poets you never heard of.

Glad to see RF Langley and John Riley among them. Riley's Selected Poems is a book I go back to again and again – I can't remember exactly where I found it in a secondhand bookshop. Second Fragment (you can read it by following the link that Ian provides) is absolutely exquisite.

I'd be interested to hear further suggestions for poets who might have made the list. Who wants to start?

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Considering Curlews

On the way home last night, I stopped off to check on the progress of the Curlews that breed near home. As I got out of the car one of them, the female, was in the air calling, and there were answering calls from what I suspect were the young birds - they sounded weaker and subtly different. The grass in the four fields I see them in is now long enough that it hides even the adult birds completely as soon as they land, so the youngsters can stay hidden very easily.

At that point, five Lesser Black-backed Gulls drifted over. I'm not sure if they were actively looking for food, or just heading towards Cropston and Swithland Reservoirs, where they roost. But anyway, they started to take a keen interest in the field them Curlew was circling, causing her to fly at them and make more noise than ever.

This brought the male Curlew in from a couple of fields away, flying very fast and purposefully, and he joined his mate in aggressively mobbing the gulls. A Curlew is not a bad size, of course, but the gulls are considerably bigger, so if it actually came to blows you'd fear for the waders, but there was no contact, and the larger birds were happy to evade the attacks.

Eventually, the two Curlews split up, each leading two or three gulls away from where I think the nest actually is. Both landed at times, causing the gulls to circle low over them, until three of the gulls gave up and flew east. Two of them were more persistent, so the female Curlew kept leading them to the far corners of the field, then landing, until finally they lost interest too.

Throughout this all, I was watching with heart in mouth. Of course, the gulls are only doing what gulls do - they have to eat, too - but it's hard not to root for the Curlews when they're in decline generally, and rare breeders in my part of the world.

At no time did I see any of the gulls take anything from the ground, though, so hopefully the young waders are safe. I called in again first thing this morning, and there was no sign of any birds at all, but that doesn't really mean anything. I'll check again tonight.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Primers - Nine Arches Press

If you're a poet working towards your first collection, then you need to read this - my own publisher, Nine Arches Press, has joined forces with The Poetry School to launch Primers, an annual scheme that will include feedback, mentoring and promotion, plus the opportunity to appear in a volume showcasing short debut collections of work.

You can find full details by following the link above, but this really does look like a chance not to be missed. You've got absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Robin romps it

So the results are in. The National Bird Vote was easily won by the Robin, very much as expected, although several of the other placings in the Top 10 were surprising, I thought. Barn Owl in second place, for a start, and Puffin as low as 10th. I also raised an eyebrow at Wren making it into fourth - it's pleasing that so many people voted for what is, much of the time, our commonest bird, given that it goes unnoticed much of the time.

Of course there's plenty of discussion going on as to whether it was the right choice. Blackbird (3rd) was predictably popular, no doubt on account of its familiarity and its glorious song, and I wouldn't have minded it winning. There was a strong lobby for Hen Harrier (which came in ninth), in a bid to highlight the illegal persecution of this raptor by shooting interests. I'm glad that the poll has helped raise the profile of what's going on, and the failure of successive governments to take action to address it, but I'm not sure it would have been a suitable national bird.

My own feeling is that it should go to a species that is in some way either particularly British, or culturally significant within these islands. Gannet was one of my choices from the original longlist, because we have such a high proportion of the world's population, and because it has so long been important both as an icon and as a source of food, etc., but all things considered, I'm not going to complain about Robin winning.

One thing you always notice, when you see them on the Continent, is that they're quite different birds there - less bold, less confiding, and very much a typically shy, elusive woodland species, rather than the urban adventurer and gardener's friend we see here. Presumably that's because they have tended to be hunted elsewhere, while here an association with Christmas helped protect them (we have a longer and fuller history of eating some other small bird species than you might expect). So, well done to the Robin, and even more so to David Lindo, whose idea got everyone talking about birds in the first place.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Martin Figura and Helen Ivory at Jazz & Poetry

June's Jazz & Poetry, at the Guitar Bar, Nottingham, features Martin Figura and Helen Ivory, all the way from Norwich. They probably don't need any introduction, to readers of these pages, at least, but you can read more about both here and here - I can recommend hearing them both read very highly.

There are also readings from three up-and-coming poets – Viv Apple, Peter Newman, and Raegan Sealy – plus the usual jazz from 4 In The Bar. The evening starts at 8, but get there early - I'd expect this to be crowded.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Forward Prize nominations

The shortlists for this year's Forward Prizes have been released - particularly nice to see Peter Riley and Kim Moore in there, but they're interesting lists all round. I'll have to try to get hold of a few of the others to read over the summer, but in the meantime, I'd be interested to hear opinions on any of the nominated books and poems.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Birdsong dialects

I don't think I've got anything useful to say about THAT Craig Raine poem that hasn't already been said, so instead, let's talk about bird dialects.

The other night, at a site close to home, I was surprised and delighted to hear what sounded like a Corn Bunting singing. This once-common species has disappeared from large parts of the UK, and in Leicestershire, the only records these days are of a handful of birds around the Warwickshire border, near Twycross.

So, I was determined to actually see the singer, and perhaps my suspicions should have been aroused by the fact that it wasn't immediately visible, even though that distinctive 'jangling keys' song was clearly close at hand. When you see Corn Buntings singing on the continent, for example, they tend to be on very prominent perches - telephone wires, fenceposts, etc.

After checking such spots, and maybe five minutes of stalking around, peering into bushes, I realised that the song was actually coming from a Yellowhammer. This close relative of the Corn Bunting has also declined in recent years, but it's still present in reasonable numbers in my corner of Charnwood Forest. In fact, as I listened to it doing its Corn Bunting impersonation, I could hear another Yellowhammer further down the lane doing the more familiar 'little bit of bread and no cheese' song.

Now, I know that many if not all songbirds have dialects - the local Yellowhammers sound considerably deeper and a little slower than the recording of their song on my Collins Guide  app - but this seemed like something else altogether. Has anyone else come across anything similar?