Monday, 29 March 2021

Harry Guest, 1932-2021

Sad news at the end of last week the death of Welsh-born poet Harry Guest, a major figure in the British Poetry Revival of the late 60s and 70s. I have his 2002 Collected Poems, A Puzzling Harvest, and it's excellent, showing a poet who, despite his connection to the avant-garde, remained opened to a very wide range of influences throughout his career. 

While I was searching for material on him, I came across this excellent post on Rob A Mackenzie's Surroundings blog, from way back in 2006, in which he makes the same point (and others), far more eloquently than I could. The whole series of posts that it's part of are very rewarding to read, too.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Magma 79

I received my copy of Magma 79 yesterday, and as always there's a really good mixture of poetry (including poems from the latest Magma Open Pamphlet Competition), articles and reviews. I haven't had chance to read much of it yet, and have to admit I went straight to two poets I always enjoy – Tony Williams and David Morley – but I look forward to having a longer read tonight.

It also includes my own reviews of collections by Robert Selby, Katrina Naomi and Robert Alan Jamieson. I won't tell you here what I thought about them, other than that they all had something to recommend them - you'll need to read Magma to find out more. 

Thursday, 25 March 2021

The Las

I stumbled across this article on the BBC website last week sometime, and it set me thinking. I can remember, back in 1988, all the fuss in the music press about The Las, when the original single version of There She Goes came out. It was hugely tuneful and jangly (but then, so were a lot of things back then), and seemed to promise a great deal. 

I can remember the eager wait for their debut album, the constant delays, and then finally hearing it on a friend's record player. And I can remember being disappointed.

I know. I know you're supposed to buy into the whole lost genius story, but I can't.

I remember at the time thinking that it all sounded just too desperate to nod in the direction of classic British 1960s guitar pop. The review on AllMusic says that it avoids that, and compares it favourably with work by Oasis and Blur in that respect, but I can't agree. I wasn't a big fan of either of those bands, but I'd say that both at least steered clear of straightforward pastiche. The Las, to me, didn't, or at least not always.

I saw them live, on my 21st birthday, in fact, and got the same impression from the gig. It was good. They were good. But they didn't blow me away. It all felt a bit contrived.

And that's it, really. There are plenty of you who will disagree with me, and I'd be delighted to be persuaded of the report of my ways. But for now, at least, the legend feels a lot more interesting than the music. 

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Changing The Face Of Poetry

Lockdown has been something of a mixed blessing for writing poetry. On the one hand, there's been a lot more time to do so. On the other, there's been less inspiration, for me at least, because the days have been so same.

So here's something a bit different. And there's the same here. Singer and songwriter Tally Koren is looking at ways of turning poetry into songs, as has been done here.

Take a look, and think about submitting something.

Sunday, 21 March 2021

Fighting fire with fire

Up front, a warning. This post is about cricket, and pretty much nothing else. And it's long. 

There's obviously a long way to go, given that we have no idea whether this summer will pan out anything like normal, but the cricket press and forums are starting to turn their attention to England's Ashes tour next winter, and to who might make up the team. In particular, large parts of the cricket press and public seem to have decided that the only way England are going to win is with out and out fast bowlers.

That always sets the alarm bells ringing for me. In my lifetime, England have won four Ashes series in Australia. They suggest that there are far more important things for England to concentrate on than "fighting fire with fire" by picking quicks. 

In 2010-11, Andrew Strauss's team won 3-1, with a four-man bowling attack. None of them were what I'd call fast – Chris Tremlett came closest, but his height and extra bounce were more important weapons. Jimmy Anderson and Tim Bresnan were good old-fashioned English seamers, and Graeme Swann played a big part with his off-spin. What was even more important was a batting line-up that, other than the first innings at Brisbane and most of the Perth match, coped superbly with the Aussies' pace and bounce.

In 1986-87, Graham Dilley was the closest England had to a genuine quick, but he was still more like fast-medium, as were Botham, Small and DeFreitas. Spin twins John Emburey and Phil Edmonds helped give Mike Gatting control in the field, but again the vital thing was a batting line-up that, Allan Lamb apart, dealt well with the Australian attack.

In 1978-79, the Aussies were weakened by the loss of their Packer players, and England beat them 5-1 (we'd lost a few too, but they were pretty much all players on the downhill slope). Now, Bob Willis played a significant role, and Big Bob was genuinely sharp. A young Ian Botham was quicker than he sometimes appeared, too, and he was among the wickets. But Mike Hendrick, a classic English seamer if ever there was one, was just as important, and off-spinners Geoff Miller and John Emburey were both highly successful.

Only in 1970-71, which I don't remember, did an English fast bowler genuinely dominate the series. John Snow was the quickest, the nastiest and the best on both sides, and the Aussies had no answer.

Looking back beyond that, it's fair to say that the two previous England wins in Australia could be put down to out and out fast bowling – 1954-55 ('Typhoon' Tyson blowing the Aussies away in two tests) and 1932-33 (Larwood, Voce and Bodyline).

What has always been important in Ashes wins in Australia has been the batting. Batting as long as possible, and wearing down the Aussie pace attack, which is rarely anything but impressive (OK, 1986-87 was an exception there). Boycott, Edrich, Luckhurst etc., in 70-71. Randall, Gower and an all-round performance in 78-79. Chris Broad, with help from Gower and Gatting in 86-87. And Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen and Bell in 10-11. When we've lost over there, it's generally been because we haven;t coped with their quick bowling. In the 90s, there was Shane Warne to cope with too. 

I have a horrible feeling the squad will be packed with Archer, Wood, Stone and maybe others only because they are fast. I'd rather it be packed with the best bowlers, regardless, and even more importantly the best batsmen, the ones who will fight it out and bat for days if necessary. 

Friday, 19 March 2021

Might have beens

This is a really good article about Aussie off-spinner Jason Krejza, and his brief but memorable test career. He comes across as a thoughtful chap, wistful rather than embittered, and it's hard not to think he was unlucky in the way he was treated by the selectors. I remember watching that debut against India, and thinking that he was a name who'd be on the scene for years. 

Thursday, 18 March 2021

Forgotten Good Poems

This is a really interesting Twitter feed. It's a reminder of how ephemeral much poetry is – it's so easy for it to slip past us in magazines or online, or in slim volumes which sit in the bookcase for years after their first reading.

Every now and then, I come across a poem that I decide I don't want to forget about in a hurry, so I copy it out by hand into a little personal anthology. Anybody else do that?

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

ADHD and mental health

This is a really excellent post about ADHD, and mental health generally, from Kirsten Irving. If nothing else, it ought to encourage all of us to think hard about it, and about how we treat ourselves, which of course inevitably affects how we are with other people.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Poetry readings

Interesting blog post here from Sue Ibrahim. Of course, it's getting difficult to remember exactly what a poetry reading is like, and I've only seen a couple on Zoom during the past year. But it is one of the things that I'm now missing, and looking forward to returning to when things get back to, well, not normal, but what will pass for the new normal.

It set me thinking about different reading styles, and exactly what I want to hear at a reading, and I'll post about that in the near future. But, in the meantime, I'd be interested to hear any best/worst experiences.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Backlisted, again

I know I've mentioned it on here before, but I'm just going to give another plug to the Backlisted podcast. Over what now runs to more than 120 episodes, they've discussed a huge variety of books (mainly novels, although they've also touched on poetry and biography). Generally they try to shine a light on lesser-known if not downright obscure books, but they've also covered more mainstream works, too. Although, one of the pleasures of the podcast is that you usually end up realising the the book being discussed is not exactly what you thought it was, anyway. 

Friday, 5 March 2021

A day to remember/forget

I stumbled across this article the other day, and although I knew all about Brian Langford's record-breaking spell of bowling, I'd never come across the bit about Doug Insole before. Called out of retirement (after six years) to play in an injury crisis, a baby throws up all over his cricket bag on the train, and then he's run out for 0. 

That's the sort of story that makes cricket my favourite sport.

Thursday, 4 March 2021

What made me want to read

It's World Book Day today, and there's an awful lot on Twitter relating to it. My favourite so far has been from Kirsten Irving (@KofTheTriffids), who has posted about some of the books that sparked her love of reading as a child. I'm about to shamelessly steal the idea here.

I can't honestly remember much of what I read when I first learned, except for Angela Banner's Ant and Bee books, but as I got older I became a voracious reader. Non-fiction, for a start. I used to virtually memorise Playfair Cricket and Football Annuals each year, and of course there were bird books. My grandmother bought me an RSPB guide, which had great artwork and short, pithy species accounts, some of which I remember to this day. A while ago, I dug it out, and found that it was written by David Saunders, who is a monthly contributor to Bird Watching, the magazine I now edit. 

When it came to fiction, I read The Hobbit on the recommendation of a friend, and loved it, and went on to The Lord of the Rings, and loved that too. But one book that really stands out in the memory was a slimmish volume that I got out of Coalville Library.

It was called The Goalkeeper's Revenge, a collection of short stories for kids by Bill Naughton (probably better known for his play Alfie, which was turned into the Michael Caine film). Set mainly in 1930s Lancashire (although at least one story was set in Ireland), it was both extremely readable, and yet full of period and local detail that could have been daunting but that just made you want to know more.

One of the things that still sticks in the memory from it was the food. There's one story where some boys go to a fair, and ponder what to spend their few pennies on. Half of them come down on the side of food (a reminder that in a 30s mill town, having enough to eat wasn't a given), and buy roast potatoes, and hot black peas.

In another story, about a deaf friend of the narrator, there are meat pies that still spring to mind even now, every time I see, let alone eat, a pie.

I have no idea if it's still in print, but I'd imagine there are plenty of secondhand copies around, as it was a favourite in libraries and school libraries. It stands up well even reading it as an adult, and I suspect kids now would love it just as much as I did then, because what rings most true about it is the way that kids talk and behave.

Monday, 1 March 2021

The Lucksmiths

Wikipedia, and the Internet generally, are dangerous things. Yesterday, I heard the end of Tess of the D'Urbervilles on Radio 4, and looked it up online, never having read it. 

Wikipedia told me that its ending was inspired by Thomas Hardy having witnessed the execution of a woman called Elizabeth Martha Brown, for the murder of her abusive husband, in 1856, and that an Australian band, called The Lucksmiths, had recorded a song about it on their 1995 album The Green Bicycle Case.

Now, that immediately rang a bell, because years ago I read a book about the Green Bicycle Murder, which took place just outside Leicester in 1919. But the album also contains a song called The Tichborne Claimant, which sent me off reading about that particularly long and convoluted affair. Among the interesting things I picked up was that it involved the same Tichborne family as that of the poet Chidiock Tichborne, executed for his part in The Babington Plot against Elizabeth I, although not before he had written the famous elegy you can see on that page.

All of which is a very long way of getting to the point. If you've followed this blog over the years, you'll know that I have a very big soft spot for Australian bands. Two in particular, The Triffids and The Go-Betweens, but there are others. And I think The Lucksmiths will be joining them as favourites. The album mentioned above is excellent, both musically and lyrically, and is more than a little reminiscent of The Go-Betweens, and I'm looking forward to listening to the rest of their work. The follow-up album, I notice, is called What Bird Is That, which has to be a good omen.

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus

A bit late, I know, but the sun's starting to break through, and there are daffodils out, so Happy St David's Day!