Friday, 23 December 2016

False memories

I came across this rather intriguing article earlier today, and it started me thinking about the whole way that memory works. This phenomenon of large numbers of people vividly (and honestly) 'remembering' something that didn't happen seems remarkably common.

When I was a reporter on my local newspaper, back in the early 90s, I covered a story in which a metal detectorist from a nearby village was searching for the remains of a USAAF B-17 Flying Fortress, which he remembered crashing into a hillside late in the Second World War. Other than a couple of younger blokes, though, born long after the war, he had no support in the village. Everyone else (and at that time, of course, there'd still have been plenty of people who remembered 1944-45) insisted that the plane had flown over the village, in flames, then crashed much nearer Leicester.

The man turned out to be right. The plane was exactly where he'd said it would be, and it was excavated and taken away (the wreck had been bulldozed into the hillside at the time of the crash, once the bodies were removed).

But those people who'd argued with him sincerely believed what they said. Perhaps they did actually remember another plane altogether going over in flames, although there were no records of crashes near where they said there'd be. Who knows? But it does show that you really can't trust your own mind to tell you the truth.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The best of 2016

I was asked to pick a few books of the year for Big Issue North, and here they are – needless to say, it was a pretty hard decision picking my favourites, but I tried to include a bit of variety.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Last-minute Christmas shopping

I have a vested interest, it's true, but if you're still looking to buy poetry presents for your loved ones and friends, then have a good look at the Nine Arches Press website.

There are single poetry collections, anthologies, the Primers series, and the 52: Write A Poem A Week book for those in need of inspiration. Oh, and the latest issue (no18) of Under The Radar, as well as subscriptions to the magazine.

That phrase, "loved ones", incidentally, always makes me think of a particular place. Loveden Hill, near Grantham in Lincolnshire, gets its name from it – it means "the hill of the loved ones". There was a huge, early Anglo-Saxon cemetery there, and the spot retained its importance throughout the Dark Ages, being the centre of one of the wapentakes of Kesteven (itself one of the ancient divisions of Lincolnshire).

Thursday, 15 December 2016

The best Christmas songs ever

Come on then, what are they? I saw half an hour of a programme last night in which they were doing a rundown of the 100 best Christmas songs ever, and it set me thinking.

In no particular order, here's a few of my favourites...

2000 Miles – The Pretenders
It's not actually that Christmassy, but it's great, despite the rather bizarre video (which featured on the programme)

Fairytale Of New York – The Pogues and Kirsty McColl
Hardly original, I know, but I still love it, even if these days I have to make sure that I don't hear it too often.

Christmas Must Be Tonight – The Band
Never gets played (but then The Band rarely get played in the UK), but it's a typically richly textured track with lyrics from the viewpoint of a shepherd at Jesus's birth.

Sweet Bells – Kate Rusby
Wonderful. That voice. Nothing else to say.

Long Way Around The Sea – Low
Credible lo-fi indie Christmas song? Yep. This is it, from a rather lovely mini-album of festive tunes.

In Dulci Jubilo – Mike Oldfield
I've always had a soft spot for this, even if the rest of the time I'd avoid Oldfield like the plague. Oh, except Hergest Ridge. That's endearingly strange.

I Believe In Father Christmas – Greg Lake
Sadly, Lake died just a few days ago. A song complaining about the commercialisation of Christmas (slightly odd way to do so), it's become a festive staple.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Candlestick Press pamphlets

Shauna Robertson of Town Hall Poets writes here about Candlestick Press's pamphlets, which make absolutely ideal Christmas presents for the poetically-inclined person in your life (they suggest sending one instead of a card). They include Ten Poems About Cricket, which features my poem Two Orthodox Left-Armers, but there are an awful lot of others available if Wilfrid Rhodes and Hedley Verity really don't tickle your fancy.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Mark Avery's Books of the Year

Mark Avery, writer, conservationist and one of the most influential environmental bloggers in the country, posted his round-up of books of the year, and I'm delighted that A Sky Full Of Birds was one of them. You can also read his original review of it here.

Of the other books featured, favourites for me were Chris Packham's Fingers in the Sparkle Jar, David Lack's The Life of the Robin, and Stephen Moss's Wild Kingdom, although there are also a few on there that I'm looking forward to getting round to reading.

Britain's Birds is a pretty extraordinary book, too – it might not replace the trusty Collins Bird Guide as every birder's must-have, but it's a pretty essential companion to it, given the sheer range of ID photos it packs into its pages.

Finally, the Melissa Harrison-edited seasonal anthologies (with proceeds going to the very worthy cause of the Wildlife Trusts) are great to, although I will admit to a vested interest, as I have a poem in the Autumn anthology.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Poetry books of 2016

It's the time of end of year round-ups, and here, from The Guardian, is Kate Kellaway's choice of poetry books of 2016. I've only read a couple of them - the Denise Riley book and Alison Brackenbury's collection, and can recommend them both without reservation. Very different poets, but both equally deserving of a place in any end-of-year summary.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

2016's best poetry blogs

Over at Rogue Strands, Matthew Stewart has supplied a rundown on his favourite poetry blogs of the year, and has very kindly included Polyolbion in it. I'm very grateful, although can't help feeling that I need to work a bit harder to earn that accolade.

I'm not going to disagree with any of his recommendations – there are lots of superb blogs there to browse through, so go for it. In the meantime, I'm finally getting round to reading some new poetry (rather than back catalogue stuff), so I might actually be able to come up with some end of year recommendations myself.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Ouse Muse, 23.11.16

Busy, busy, busy, at the moment, mainly with the day job, so I haven't had a chance until now to blog about last week's reading at Ouse Muse, in Bedford.

Compered by Caroline Davies, and run by Ian McEwen, it's a long-running open mic/reading series, and the venue downstairs at the Auction Room bar, is a good one – cosy and compact, with hardly any noise drifting down from the main room upstairs.

The open mic readers were excellent, too – thoughtful poems in a variety of styles, and (and this is something I love to see at such events), more than one person read poems by well-known poets. I'm really not sure why 'cover versions' of this sort are still so rare on the poetry scene, but it's a great way of setting your own and others' work in context, or just of reminding people of some great work.

My own reading was from hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica and The Elephant Tests, plus one new poem, and I liked the format – after a 25-minute main set, I got to read a couple more poems to close the night, after the last of the open mic slots. The audience were lovely – knowledgeable and appreciative, and

Incidentally, I only have a few copies of each of those books left (and I think Nine Arches Press have the same), so contact me if you'd like a copy – they're £5 each. Now that the print runs are exhausted, they'll probably go to print-on-demand.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Gavia stellata, by Alexander Hutchison

This is the weekly poem at the Oxford Brookes University Poetry Centre website , and it also appears in Sidekick Books' 2012 anthology Birdbook II: Freshwater Habitats.

The website's an excellent resource, and the four Birdbooks are packed full of brilliant poetry and illustrations, whether or not you have an interest in birds.

As for Red-throated Divers, well, this is a good time of year to see them offshore all around the UK, and diverse divers (Black-throated and Great Northern too) turn up inland, too (there are two or three Great Northerns at Draycote Water, near home, at the moment). But the best time to see any of them is in spring and summer, when they're in their glorious breeding plumage. In the UK, you'd need to be in Scotland to find any.

The pictures above were taken in Iceland. Apologies for the generally poor quality, but both were taken close to midnight at the end of the longest day of birdwatching I've ever experienced. The one below, of Great Northern Divers, was probably on the same day.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Reading at Ouse Muse

Two weeks today, on Wednesday, November 23rd, I'm the featured reader at Ouse Muse, in Bedford. It'll be my first purely poetry reading for quite a long while, so I'm looking forward to it a great deal (not that I haven't enjoyed reading prose).

It all takes place downstairs at the Auction Room Bar, 1 Duke Street, Bedford MK40 3HD, starting at 7.45pm, although you'll need to get there from 7.30pm if you want to sign up for one of the open mic slots.

Admission is £5, or £4 for concessions or open mic readers. I'll have copies of both my Nine Arches Press collections, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica and The Elephant Tests, available for sale on the night, as well as a few copies of A Sky Full Of Birds.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Cafe Writers Poetry Competition

You have until the end of this month to enter the Cafe Writers Poetry Competition, which this year is judged by the excellent Andrew McMillan.

Entries cost £4, or £10 for 3 and £2 for each poem thereafter. As you'll see, there are plenty of good prizes and more than one category, so see if you have something suitable.

All proceeds go towards helping Cafe Writers pay their visiting readers a fee.

Friday, 4 November 2016

First snow of winter

This morning, I dashed over to Kineton, where a friend had reported seeing a Snow Bunting in the last few days. She took me to fields near her house, and we quickly bumped into two dog-walkers who said they'd seen an unusual bird on the path a little way ahead. What they7 described was clearly the Snow Bunting.

Nicci left at that point, and I walked on slowly, scanning the field margins for any small birds. No luck, except for a single Pied Wagtail. Turns out I was looking in the wrong place. I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye, a whirr of wings, and the Snow Bunting lifted from where it was, a few yards behind me, and flew past to a point 10 yards down the path.

I watched for 20 minutes or so, during which it kept its back to me almost all the time, and moved in a rather crouched posture. I was down on hands and knees trying to get photos, and I was able to approach to within a few yards at times.

There's two reasons why it might have been so confiding. I've seen Snow Buntings before on top of Ben Nevis and other Scottish mountains, where they happily feed on walkers' sandwich crumbs, so it's possible that it's very used to humans. More likely, I think, is that this is a bird that has seen very few humans previously – it may well have come from Arctic Norway, and if it's a first-winter bird (I think it is, but don't really know SBs well enough), the dog-walkers and birders of the English Midlands might just not register with it as a potential threat.

By this time, it was starting to rain, and I was beginning to think about breakfast, so I left the bunting to its own devices, as little flocks of Rooks and Fieldfares streamed overhead, and Buzzards and Ravens started to soar over nearby Edgehill. Great bird to see on an inland patch – thanks to Nicci for making it happen.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The house at the edge of the woods: slight return - Simon Turner

It's always a good time to discover something new to read from Simon Turner – this is over at Gists & Piths, and it's rather wonderful.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Mark Halliday on The Hatred of Poetry

Very interesting piece here by Mark Halliday, responding to Ben Lerner's book (as he says, it's a pretty slim book), The Hatred of Poetry.

I think I'd tend to come down more on Halliday's side, but then I haven't been able to read Lerner's essay in full yet, so that's probably unfair. What I don't understand, from what I have read, is exactly why Lerner feels that poetry creates in us hopes of perfect works of art, hopes which are then inevitably disappointed, any more than any other artform does. Surely readers go to poetry for any number of different reasons, at different times? Surely we approach other artforms in the same way?

Still, I should read the whole thing before commenting further.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Almost perfect

I've been reading Jack Gilbert's Collected Poems on and off over the last few months, and have enjoyed it a great deal. One of the poems that had drawn my attention to the book was this. There's a lot that I like about it, but having re-read it a couple of times, something struck me.

It's that "It's strange that she has returned / as somebody's dalmation". For me, that flags up exactly where the poem is going far too early, and undermines the impact of the final sentence. I'd prefer him to have introduced the man and dog more matter-of-factly.

So, I've been trying to think of any other poems that, for me, are close to being absolute gems, but where a single line or even word ruins things ever so slightly. I haven't come up with any yet, but I will. Can you?

Friday, 28 October 2016

The Horseman's Word, by Roger Garfitt

I found this in a secondhand bookshop for a couple of quid, and was intrigued enough to buy it. I'd come across Roger Garfitt's poetry once or twice previously – I remember enjoying a relatively recent sequence called (I think) Border Songs – but I really didn't know too much about him, so pretty much everything in this memoir was new to me.

The sections recounting his childhood, first in Heacham, Norfolk (an are I know well), and later in Surrey, where his father had opened a stables and riding school, are beautifully written, full of arresting but unshowy turns of phrase. He's particularly good at drawing characters in detail, especially his own grandparents, and he also takes careful note of the subtle and often deeply damaging stratification of rural society.

When he gets to Oxford, the book got a little less engaging, for me, as Garfitt's story seemed to be a fairly unremarkable one (for the 60s) of relatively mild drug experimentation and a succession of romantic complications. But in fact that just sets you up, as a reader, for the most startling part of the book, as he suffers several breakdowns. The passages in which he descends into madness, while roaming London, are both terrifying and enervating. Even though you know it's coming (because of the blurbs, among other things), it's a surprise, as you realise that what initially seemed like merely eccentric youthful behaviour tips over into something more frightening.

One criticism is that the book does fizzle out a little towards the end, and it might have been interesting to know more about what caused Garfitt's mental health problems, and how they were resolved, or contained. But perhaps that's the point – the way the book is written, you get more of a sense of how mental illness can strike without any obvious warning.

Curlews calling

Curlews might be just about my favourite birds, so I'll use any excuse to watch them, photograph them, write about them, read about them, talk about them, or all five. This one was picking crabs from one of the saltwater channels near a hide at Rye Harbour a few weeks ago, when I was down around Dungeness for a couple of days.

They also always make me think of Ted Hughes, because they crop up in his poems fairly regularly. Here's an early poem of his, The Horses, in which they feature.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Some birds from Mallorca

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be in northern Mallorca for work. It's a great place to go birding, because you've got a huge variety of habitat just a few minutes away from the towns of Port de Pollenca and Alcudia. The former even has a great little urban reserve, La Gola, just back from the seafront – the Common Sandpiper above was there when we arrived, on a drizzly morning.

The Black-winged Stilts above and below were at the famous Albufera reserve – we also saw Kentish Plover, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Booted Eagle, Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Red-knobbed Coot (don't laugh) and Shag (oh, come on!) there, among others. At s'Abufereta, another wetland reserve nearby, we'd already ticked Great White Egret, Cattle Egret, Sardinian Warbler, Marsh Harrier and Whinchat, plus many of the same waders, and a rather odd-looking shorebird that I finally concluded was just a less than typical Dunlin.

Back in Port de Pollenca, Black Redstarts like the one below were plentiful – in fact, there were a lot around pretty much everywhere we went. Also interesting was the number of Robins, more than I've ever seen in one place before. Presumably at least some of them are northern European, and possibly British, birds, that have migrated to warmer climes for the winter.

Finally, northern Mallorca is just about the easiest place in Europe to see Eleonora's Falcon (below), a raptor that delays its breeding until autumn so that it can take advantage of the glut of small songbirds passing through on migration. They nest on sea cliffs and pick the tired migrants off as they come in, sometimes virtually off the surface of the sea. I'm no photographer, so it was hard to get any decent pics of them, but I found it interesting how relatively easy it was to ID them – they immediately look longer-winged than Peregrines, with a much flappier flight style, but they're larger than Hobbies. We were lucky in that on a couple of the occasions we saw them, we had a Peregrine in the air nearby at the time, for instant comparison.

Friday, 21 October 2016

TS Eliot shortlist announced

The shortlist for the TS Eliot Prize has been announced, and there are full details here. Good to see Denise Riley, Ian Duhig and Bernard O'Donoghue on there (I've read and enjoyed all three books), and I look forward to reading a few of the others, too. JO Morgan is an interesting, and refreshing, inclusion too.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Birds on the move

It's that time of year when birds are well and truly on the move. In fact, it's always that time of year, because migration is going pretty much 24/7, 365 days a year, but mid-October is just about the peak of the autumn migration season.

If you're lucky enough to live in Scotland, or along the Solway Firth, or on the coast of East Anglia, that can mean huge flocks of wild geese winging in from their Arctic breeding grounds. Waders, too, from the same direction. At some of Britain's migration (and twitching) hotspots, the last couple of weeks have seen a flurry of rarities, including Britain's first-ever Siberian Accentor. And then the second. And the third. And the fourth. And the fifth.

Inland, an invasion of Yellow-browed Warblers has been taking place. These tiny sprites are regular winter visitors, but scarce, and can be easily overlooked unless you learn their high-pitched call, as they can easily tag along with flocks of Goldcrests and other small birds.

But if you're a casual birdwatcher (and that's what I've been for the last couple of weeks), there's one sure sign that autumn is really with us. Redwings. That's one above. And before an eagle-eyed viewer points it out, that's actually one from the Icelandic subspecies. They're a little darker, and bigger, and can pop up over here, although most that we see in the UK come from Norway and Sweden.

Earlier in the week, I woke in the early hours. Our bedroom is in the loft, and the skylight was slightly open. I could hear a thin, hissing sound, 'tseeep, tseeep', and then I was asleep again.

But the next morning, on the way to work, little flocks of 30-40 birds were skimming over the fields everywhere. They're Starling-sized, but the wings are more swept back, the outline just that bit more streamlined, and they're much more tied to farmland, although you might get a few in the garden if you've got a lot of berry-bearing shrubs and trees, or if you leave some windfall apples around.

As yet, I've seen no Fieldfares, so often the close companions of the Redwings, but they'll be here, no doubt, in the next few days. And the leaves will keep falling, and the birds will keep returning and departing, and it'll be spring again before you know it.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

In conversation with Simon Barnes

Tomorrow (Thursday, October 6th), I'm going to be chatting with Simon Barnes at Daunt Books, Marylebone, as part of their Book Festival.

He, of course, is both a renowned sports writer and the author of a number of terrific natural history books, perhaps most notably How To Be A Bad Birdwatcher, which I recommend to anyone. It's beautifully written and truly inspirational, as is his new book, The Meaning of Birds, which manages to pack a wealth of scientific information into its pages yet still find the time and space to veer off into the poetic and metaphysical.

Simon Barnes is, above all, the standard-bearer for the sort of birdwatching that I love, the kind that recognises that taking a straightforward delight in the birds in front of you is sometimes just as important as other considerations, such as conservation or acquiring knowledge.

The event starts at 10.30am, and tickets are £8.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

A Sky Full Of Birds reviewed by Shropshire Birder

Bird photographer Jim Almond has reviewed A Sky Full Of Birds on his blog here - I'm very grateful to him for such a generous and full appraisal of the book. 

While you're at it, follow the link on the blog to Jim's main website, for some stunning bird images, I particularly enjoyed the selection of waders.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

'Two ravens flew with them all the way'

Driving to work this morning, just a few miles from home, I saw two Ravens flying over the road at Napton-on-the-Hill.

Their identity was obvious from the wedge-shaped tails, the long, narrow wings, and the size, close to that of a Buzzard. As I got closer, the heavy bills were there, too, and just a hint of the shaggy throat feathers.

A few years ago, to see a Raven in the Midlands was still a pretty big deal. Then pairs started to move into many of the granite quarries around Charnwood Forest (I was living in Leicestershire at the time), where they co-habited with another species that has been making a comeback, the Peregrine. The two species often live in close proximity, and the Ravens seem to delight in annoying the raptors with close approaches and dive-bombing. I've never seen a Peregrine actually have a go at a Raven, though, perhaps because there is usually much easier prey to hand.

Now Ravens are getting reported from all over the place. They breed on the edge of Peterborough, in countryside that you'd never have associated with them just a short time ago, but which they must have inhabited in the past. John Clare, whose home village of Helpston is just a couple of miles from the nest site, mentions them more than once. Near my own home, they're regularly seen around Edgehill, but they've probably spread even further than that.

The pair this morning were flying purposefully and straight, with none of the aerobatics you often see from the species. Once, in Extremadura, I watched four Ravens flying high over the plain that stretched for 20 miles in every direction. As if to relieve the monotony of the journey, all four suddenly flipped onto their backs, then back again, before carrying on their way.

But anyway, Ravens are right up there in my birds top 10, and seeing them always reminds me of this passage from Njal's Saga, greatest of the Icelandic family sagas. The whole historical and mythological aspect of Ravens is, I think, one of the reasons I like them so much.

I didn't intend this post to deteriorate into a bout of shameless self-promotion, but I should also mention that there's a chapter on Ravens in my book A Sky Full Of Birds, which you can read about and order here.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Have blogs had their day?

Or has this blog had its day, more to the point? Visitor numbers have been showing a slow but steady decline over the last year or so. I've not been great at updating it in recent months, and when I have I haven't always been able to write the occasional longer pieces that I'd like to, so I suspect that it's not really doing anything that Facebook and even Twitter couldn't do just as well.

I'd be interested, then, to know if there's anything that people would like to see more of on here. Not that I can guarantee that I can do anything about it, of course! But still, I'll try.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Winter tour selections

Back in my schooldays, the pre-internet information wasteland of the 1980s (Ceefax seemed impossibly hi-tech), I used to look forward to the announcement of the England cricket touring team with great eagerness. It was a landmark – after two or three weeks back at school, on some warm, hazy September day, you'd hear the news on the radio, and you'd always be surprised by one or two of the names.

That wasn't always a good thing. There was a time when a single eye-catching performance in the Gillette Cup (later NatWest Trophy) Final at the start of September could propel you into the winter tour party. Roland Butcher did it in 1980, but there were others, and the players involved rarely went on to have long international careers.

These days, there are far fewer surprises. Consistency of selection has generally been a good thing and has played its part in England's generally better performances since the turn of the century (some good captains and coaches, central contracts, and more competitive county cricket have also helped). But I can't help missing the old days a bit, when a couple of names would always send you scurrying to the bookshelves to dig out the Playfair Cricket Annual and swot up on the players chosen.

This year, there's room for a few left-field selections. Alex Hales has opted not to tour Bangladesh, which leaves a spot for a new opener (he's quite possibly have been dropped anyway), and the struggles of England's middle order means there are other batting places up for grabs too. A third spinner will be needed.

So, I turned my mind to selecting my own touring party for Bangladesh, ahead of tomorrow's announcement. I'd keep pretty much the same squad for the India tour too. The first XI would be my starting line-up for the first test.

Alistair Cook
Haseeb Hameed
Ben Duckett
Joe Root
Jonny Bairstow
Ben Stokes
Jos Buttler
Moeen Ali
Adil Rashid
Stuart Broad
Jimmy Anderson
Chris Woakes
Steve Finn
Jack Leach
Stuart Robson

Leach has come through strongly this season, although I think it's unlikely that we'll play three spinners in any one match. Robson looks a better player now than when he was first selected for England, and Duckett will certainly play for England sooner or later.

I wonder how many I'll have got right?

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Want to write poetry reviews?

Well, if you do, the Poetry School wants to hear from you ASAP. You'll even get paid £60 a time. The full details are available here, and it'll be interesting to see what comes of it – as they say, there's a real need for thoughtful, honest reviews of poetry out there, especially of some of the writers that otherwise slip below the radar.

It reminds me – I've got a couple of reviews to post myself, when I get a minute, so watch this space. I'll be paying myself the standard fee of a Strawberry Cornetto.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Autumn reviewed by Mark Avery

Autumn: an anthology for the changing seasons, edited by Melissa Harrison and sold in aid of the Wildlife Trusts, is reviewed here by Mark Avery, former conservation director at the RSPB and now tireless campaigner on wildlife issues, most notably the persecution of Hen Harriers by the driven grouse-shooting industry.

It's a lovely book (as are the first two in the series), and in a very good cause too, so another one for the Christmas lists for lovers of wildlife and literature alike.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Birdbook IV

This rather splendid volume, the fourth and last in Sidekick's series covering all the birds of Britain, is out today. You can find out how to buy it here.

There are poems inspired by all the species of saltwater and shore (so a lot of my favourites are in there), with superb illustrations to accompany them too. It's every bit as good as the other three books in the series, and perfect for anyone with an interest in birds, or poetry, or both.

Of course, I would say that, because I wrote the foreword, but if you don't believe me, have a look at the Sidekick website.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Martin Stannard at Stride

Martin Stannard's poems for the young at heart (Leafe Press) is reviewed by Steve Spence for Stride here – you can also find out more about it and Leafe's other excellent publications here.

Incidentally, over at Gists & Piths, Simon Turner has his response to Appendix 2: A Test For Poets, from Martin Stannard's book. You might actually need the book to get the full sense of it, but then you were going to buy that anyway, weren't you?

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The Poet's Republic

The submissions window at The Poet's Republic is open until the end of September, with issue 4 due out in November. Nell Nelson of HappenStance Press is guest editor this issue, which pretty much sounds like a guarantee of high quality, and if you read the submissions guidelines you'll see that this Scottish mag is casting its net pretty far and wide stylistically and in terms of subject matter.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Mark Goodwin - Along A Line

This is a rather wonderful blog post by poet Mark Goodwin – make sure you watch the video at the end, too. Mark's books include a 2014 collection from Longbarrow Press, Steps, that explores walking, climbing and balancing, among other themes.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

An evening of poetry at Kenilworth Arts Festival

A week on Friday (September 16th), this rather splendid event is taking place as part of the Kenilworth Arts Festival. David Morley will be joined by Sarah Howe, Luke Kennard, Jo Bell, Claire Trevien and Jonathan Edwards at the Talisman Theatre for an evening of poetry. Follow the link for details of how to book tickets.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Peter Hughes at Litter

There are four poems by Peter Hughes, after Giacomo Leopardi, in the latest edition of Litter. Take a look – some other very interesting stuff there too, as always.

Friday, 26 August 2016

The Forward Book of Poetry 2017

The 25th annual Forward Prize anthology is out on September 15th – it contains all the poems shortlisted for this year's prizes, plus a selection of those highly commended by the judges. Those featured include Vahni Capildeo, John Clegg, Maura Dooley, Ian Duhig, Leontia Flynn, Kathleen Jamie, Luke Kennard, William Letford, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Hannah Lowe, Roy McFarlane, Helen Mort, Alice Oswald, Denise Riley, Carol Rumens, Ian Seed, Julia Webb and Luke Wright.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Magma 65

Issue 65 of the always excellent Magma is out now - you can find further details here.

Reviews include Kathryn Gray on Ian Duhig, Andy Willoughby and Claire Askew; Ian McEwen on Martin Stannard, Matthew Caley and Barbara Cumbers; Rob A Mackenzie on Judy Brown, Lisa Matthews and Adam Crothers; and Pippa Little on Anne-Marie Fyfe, Martin Figura and Andrew Shields.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Summer sale at Nine Arches Press

There's a summer sale on at Nine Arches Press, with 50% off lots of their poetry books, others available for just £3, and free postage – the offer ends on September 1st, though, so hurry. There are collections from the likes of Daniel Sluman, Tony Williams, Mario Petrucci, Jo Bell, Bobby Parker, Angela France, Richie McCaffrey and many more in there, plus several anthologies.

My own The Elephant Tests is there for £4, while my previous collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, is still available at £8.99.

After a long sojourn in the land of prose these last couple of years, I'm finally getting back to writing some poetry at the moment. Not entirely sure where it's going, but then that's half the fun, isn't it?

Monday, 22 August 2016

A Sky Full Of Birds in Bournemouth

I'll be reading from A Sky Full Of Birds (and who knows, maybe a poem or two), at Bournemouth Natural Science Society and Museum this Saturday (August 27th), at 2.30pm.

The talk takes place in the Lecture Hall of the building at 39 Christchurch Road, and there's a suggested donation of £3. There'll also be the chance to buy copies of the book, and of my poetry collections, at discount prices.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

A Sky Full Of Birds reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement

Very pleased to have been reviewed in the latest Times Literary Supplement, alongside Mike Dilger's Nightingales In November, and very grateful to Richard Smyth for his thoughtful and generous reading of A Sky Full Of Birds.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Birdfair reading

I'll be reading from A Sky Full Of Birds at the British Birdwatching Fair, at the Egelton Reserve, Rutland Water, this Saturday at 9.30am. It takes place in the Author's Forum (next to the main Events Marquee), and I'll be signing books afterwards.

I'll be at Birdfair all three days, as usual – the Bird Watching Magazine stand is in its usual place in Marquee 6, so if you're there, pop by and say hello.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

A Sky Full of Birds at Wigtown Book Festival

I'm going to be reading from A Sky Full Of Birds at the Wigtown Book Festival, Dumfries and Galloway, on Thursday September 29th. The event takes place at the Main hall of the County Buildings at 1.30pm, and you can find more details, including how to book, here.

Wigtown Bay is a pretty great birdwatching spot itself, especially at that time of year, so it will be great to combine the reading with some time in the field. Might just be too early for the geese to be back on the Solway, but there should be plenty of waders going through.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Autumn anthology

It's not often I get the chance to say that a poem of mine is appearing in an anthology alongside poems and nature writing by the likes of Gilbert White, Richard Jefferies, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Patrick Kavanagh, Shelley, Tennyson, Yeats, Edward Thomas, Dylan Thomas, Thomas Hardy, Coleridge, John Clare, Ted Hughes, Helen Macdonald and Alison Brackenbury, so you'll have to excuse me being quite excited today.

My poem, about Long-eared Owls, appears in Autumn, the latest "anthology for the changing seasons", edited by Melissa Harrison, published by Elliott & Thompson, and in aid of The Wildlife Trusts, who don't always get the same high profile as some conservation organisations, but who do an incredible amount of vital work at the local level.

It's out on August 25th, so order your copy now - it's a wonderful celebration of the season.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Provenance, by David Belbin

I've been reading David Belbin's superb Provenance: New and Collected Short Stories, which pulls together 18 stories dating back as far as the 1980s.

There's a wide variety of subject matter (one which deals with child abuse is particularly effective), but the style is uniformly realistic, economical and exact – David Belbin's particularly good at dialogue. It all means that the stories' impact rather creeps up on you – there's no heavy-handed signposting of significance, or meaning, and you're left, as the reader, with a little work to do yourself (as you should be). Take the time, though, and you'll certainly come away from the book the better for having read it, so precisely does it capture the uncertainties of contemporary life (generally with an East Midlands flavour, too, refreshingly).

It's from the always-excellent Shoestring Press - you can order a copy here.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Falcon, by Helen Macdonald

You probably know Helen Macdonald as the author of the best-selling H Is For Hawk, which was Costa Book of the Year 2014 and also won the Samuel Johnson Prize that year. It combined a moving memoir of the writer's loss of her father with a diary of the training of a Goshawk, the most difficult to handle of all falconers' birds.

This new release, Falcon, was originally published in 2006, but has been reissued with a new preface by Macdonald that brings it up to date. As well as looking at the use of the birds of the title in falconry, the book explores the natural history of falcons, and their role in history and myth. The end result is an absorbing, entertaining and enlightening read (well illustrated, too).

Macdonald is also, of course, a poet of note, and her collection Shaler's Fish is well worth seeking out (although it's not easy to come by). I'm glad to have snapped up a copy a good few years ago – it's a book that repays repeated readings.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Holiday reading

I'm off to lie around in the sun for 10 days, and I'm looking forward to catching up on some reading. In terms of poetry, that will be the new Bernard O'Donoghue collection, The Seasons of Cullen Church, Adam Zagajewski's Selected Poems, and Jack Gilbert's Collected Poems.

I'll also be reading Jonathan Bate's biography of Ted Hughes, and Raymond Chandler's The Little Sister – I've been working my way through Chandler's entire catalogue, and it never gets dull.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

George Mackay Brown

It's 20 years today since George Mackay Brown died – there's some interesting stuff on him here. He's one of those poets I go back to a lot, perhaps because he's really not a lot like anyone else at all.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Blackbox Manifold 16 out now!

Issue 16 of Blackbox Manifold is out now, with work by Matthew Carbery, Imogen Cassels, Adam Hampton, Lewis Haubus, Tom Jenks, Kent MacCarter, Amy McCauley, James Midgley, Peter Mishler, Simon Perchik, Stuart Pickford, Sam Riviere, Iain Rowley, Ian Seed, Afshan Shafi, Rachel Sills, Dale Smith, David Spittle, Catherine Vidler, Corey Wakeling and John Welch.

There are a new series of essays on the sequence and seriality by Dorothy Alexander, James Capozzi, Alan Golding, Astrid Lorange, Simon Smith and Anne Stillman, and there are also pieces by Ed Luker on JH Prynne, Joe Luna on Douglas Oliver, and Adam Piette on RF Langley.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Thank you

I just wanted to say a big thank-you to everyone who has bought a copy of A Sky Full Of Birds. On the release of any book, you're struck by a sudden fear that absolutely nobody, other than your closest family and friends, could possibly want to buy and read it. So, to find out that it has sold over 1,000 copies in its first three months is absolutely thrilling – thanks too to everybody who has reviewed it, helped publicise it, and generally spread the word.

If you're interested in finding out more, click here.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

A Sky Full Of Birds reviewed in Countryfile magazine

I'm very grateful to Ben Hoare, and Countryfile Magazine, for this very generous review of A Sky Full Of Birds. It's very pleasing, too, that the review is sandwiched between books from Stephen Moss and Edward Thomas.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Geoffrey Hill, 1932-2016, RIP

Very sad to hear of the passing away of Geoffrey Hill yesterday. As I've noted on here a few times before, I can't pretend to know the bulk of his work very well, but Mercian Hymns was some of the first poetry to really grab my attention, and I still love it, while an early Selected Poems is one of my most re-read poetry volumes.

Here's his An Apology For The Revival Of Christian Architecture In England, a wonderful sonnet sequence that appeared in that Selected.

Monday, 27 June 2016

The Seasons of Cullen Church, by Bernard O'Donoghue

I've long been a fan of Bernard O'Donoghue's poetry - his The Nuthatch is one of my favourite bird poems ever - so I'm looking forward to getting stuck into this, his latest collection from Faber and Faber.

It's concerned with family histories and mythologies, as well as touching on some of O'Donoghue's other familiar concerns and subjects - emigration and emigrants, and (pleasingly for me), Anglo-Saxon literature. More to follow once I've digested it further...

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Vision Helmet, by David Briggs

I've enjoyed David Briggs' poetry a great deal in the past (his two Salt collections, The Method Men and Rain Rider, are well worth seeking out) so it was great to receive a copy of his new Maquette pamphlet, Vision Helmet, this week. I've only flicked through so far, but the title poem is terrific, and I'll post a full review in the next few weeks.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

A Sky Full Of Birds at Lowdham Book Festival

I'll be reading from my book, A Sky Full Of Birds, at the Lowdham Book Festival this Saturday (June 25th), at 11am. It takes place at the Methodist Chapel on Main Street, and as well as the reading there'll be time for questions and book signings afterwards.

The full festival programme is here – there's plenty of great events on throughout the week.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The Migrant Waders

This rather lovely book arrived at the Bird watching office this week - it's a collection of poetry, prose and reportage from Dunlin Press, following the migration routes of waders and shorebirds from the tropics to the High Arctic, taking in the landscapes they encounter, and the people who encounter them, along the way.

Contributors include Caroline Gill, Martin Harper, Samantha Franks, Gary Budden, Colin Williams and Rebecca Moore, and there are illustrations by Ella Johnston.

It costs £12.99, and is available from the Dunlin Press website above. Watch this space, and a future issue of Bird Watching, for a full review.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Coquet Island's Roseate Terns

When I was at university in Newcastle, we frequently had history field trips, or history society drinking trips, to various castles and other sites along the Northumberland coast. Warkworth Castle, near Amble, was a favourite.

I was in Amble this week, ahead of a trip out to Coquet Island, home to the UK's biggest breeding colony of Roseate Terns. The weather wasn't great, the sea was pretty choppy, but it was a memorable experience, nonetheless. The Roseates were present in numbers, along with Common and Sandwich Terns, Eiders, Puffins and Kittiwakes.

And history came into it, too. St Cuthbert, who lived as a hermit on the Farne Islands a little further north, came to Coquet to meet with Aelfleda, the daughter of the Northumbrian king Oswiu. Aelfleda was the Abbess of Whitby by then, I think. Cuthbert, I suppose, would have kept a close eye on the birdlife – he was particularly fond of Eiders, which are still sometimes known locally as 'Cuddy ducks', and ensured they had some sort of legal protection.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Signed copies of A Sky Full Of Birds

I've got a number of copies of A Sky Full Of Birds at home, for anyone who'd like to buy one direct from me – they're £13 including P&P, and I can sign them or add dedications as required.

With the first three orders, I'll also include a unique, previously unpublished bird poem inspired by the research for the book. 

If you'd like a copy, email me at the link on the right.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Tomas Transtromer on Wallander

It's always good to read or hear Tomas Transtromer's poetry, and last Sunday's concluding episode of Wallander featured a recitation of his The Half-finished Heaven.

It sent me back to his Collected Poems, which I'm picking through this week. If you haven't read anything by the Nobel Prize winner yet, then start now - there are plenty of good translations available.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Bruce Springsteen - Ricoh Arena, Coventry, 3.6.16

It's been 28 years since I last saw Springsteen live. I'm a fan, although I've not been that keen on some of his more recent albums, and far too often I've seen that he's touring and thought "there'll be plenty of time to catch up with him". This year, I decided time might be running out.

Coventry's appalling traffic meant that, although the start of the show had been delayed 20 minutes, we missed the first song, For You, performed solo. Eccentric choice, really, an album track from his debut way back in 1973, but then that's what you get with Bruce - shows tend to wander whichever way the fancy takes him, with the help of a few requests from the audience. He doesn't avoid crowd-pleasers for the sake of it, it's just that, for a superstar, he's had few actual hits, so there’s less commercial indication of what those crowd-pleasers might be. When I saw him in Sheffield all those years ago, I don’t remember being too disappointed that he left out Thunder Road and Rosalita, and slowed Born To Run down to an acoustic ramble, because there was always something else you didn’t expect just around the corner.

This jaunt had been billed, in the States, as The River Tour, with the entirety of that 1980 double album being performed. I can't say it's a favourite of mine, but here things were scaled back. It, along with Darkness On The Edge Of Town and Born In The USA, were well represented, but he left enough room to pull plenty of surprises.

One of the things I love is that he's so good at investing new meaning and spirit into songs that, on record, you're really not that bothered about. So, Sherry Darling became the perfect party singalong on a balmy night, and Crush On You, the slightest song on the original album, was a thoroughly raucous, garage-band stomp. No Surrender, all shiny 80s production on record, rose above its sometimes corny lyrics (the last verse is great, though) to become genuinely moving, and Drive All Night sounded better than it ever has before. Hungry Heart and Two Hearts were in there too, of course, with Steve Van Zandt joining Bruce on vocals for the latter, as ever – hard not to picture him with Silvio Dante’s alarming bouffant hair, if you’re a Sopranos fan like me, but he remains a great sideman, as does Nils Lofrgen.

It wasn’t all good-time rock n’ roll, either – Murder Incorporated, Death To My Hometown and Youngstown (from the underrated Ghost of Tom Joad album), crackled with as much anger as energy, and The River itself, perhaps his best song of broken and misplaced dreams, was delivered with a heartbreaking intensity.

That carried over into the second half of the evening. The Promised Land, Badlands and Born In The USA (not played that often these days) were positively spat out, and there was a searing version of Because The Night, with Lofgren’s guitar work outstanding. The lengthy between-song chats seem to be a thing of the past, although there was as much bonhomie and good-natured showmanship as ever, and there were fewer cover versions, too, just the Isley Brothers’ Shout, mid-50s rockabilly number Seven Nights To Rock, and Creedence’s Travelin’ Band (a fixture on the original River tour, I seem to remember from my old Teardrops On The City bootleg).

He saved his anthem, Born To Run, and his best pop song, Dancing In The Dark, for the encores, plus Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, as a tribute to the late Clarence Clemons. Jake Clemons, given the near-impossible task of replacing the Big Man on saxophone, managed to do just that throughout the evening.

That, all three hours and more of it, would have been enough on its own, for all that some personal favourites were missing – I can’t think of anyone else who I’d put up with the vagaries of stadium acoustics and visuals for. But then he was back, centre stage, on his own, with guitar and harmonica and the song that, for me, remains his finest moment. Thunder Road was delivered with the same fragility and uncertainty that marks the version on the live box set, and I don't mind admitting choking back a few tears. Next time he's over here, I'll be there.