Friday, 22 April 2016

Second review of A Sky Full Of Birds

A Sky Full Of Birds was reviewed in the Daily Mail today – shame that the sub-editor made the old birdwatcher=twitcher assumption, but a really nice review all the same.

Phil Brown on Hugo Williams

Over at Rogue Strands, Matthew Stewart has posted about Phil Brown's excellent Huffington Post feature on Hugo Williams, a poet whose work I've always enjoyed.

It rang quite a few bells with me. Years ago, 2004 I think, I went to hear him read in the theatre at Uppingham School. It was a weekday evening in late autumn, and I think I was the only person there who wasn't actually a pupil at the school. I'm not sure if the kids there had been dragooned into attending by their teachers, but they were an enthusiastic, appreciative and large audience.

After he'd read, I had a few words with him in the bar, and he very kindly offered to take a look at some of my work (I didn't ask him to, honestly). A few weeks later, I received a charming handwritten letter, in which rather as Phil describes, he pointed out why the poems really weren't very good. He was right and the advice he offered with a view to improving them was taken on board. But he also, by way of illustrating some of his points, enclosed a handwritten copy of his own poem Memory Dogs. At the time, I assumed it was a poem that he'd discarded previously, but it subsequently appeared in his collection Dear Room. I'm glad to hear that his health has improved, and that he's writing again.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

First review of A Sky Full Of Birds

This review of A Sky Full Of Birds appeared on the Fatbirder website earlier today – many thanks to Bo Beolens for his kind words about it, and for reviewing it so soon after release, too.

Incidentally, Fatbirder remains a terrific resource for birdwatchers of all ages and abilities – as well as containing a wealth of reviews and factual material, it's always a good read, especially Bo's own columns.

You can buy the book through the link provided by Bo, in all good bookshops, or at various other online outlets.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Spring migration

April is when the arrival of summer migrants to these islands really gets into full swing, making it (and May) probably the two best birding months of the year. You know what's coming, pretty much (although there are always unexpected vagrants and rarities to spice things up further), you just don't know exactly when, or in what numbers. Every time you pick up you binoculars and step outside the front door, you're in for a surprise or two.

Although March certainly wasn't exceptionally cold, migration seemed to get off to a slow start. Sand Martins and Wheatears trickled in locally, and I've not seen a Little Ringed Plover yet.

But what I enjoy most about this time of year, and it's something that I talked about in that recent Daily Telegraph interview, and that crops up in my book A Sky Full Of Birds, is the way that certain species arrive en masse.

Yesterday, for example, the birding news services were pumping out constant updates about sightings of Little Gulls. These elegant, neat little seabirds, a world away from the popular image of the sandwich-stealing seagull, were crossing the country on their way back north, and it seemed that every reservoir or gravel pit had a few dropping in to refuel.

Chiffchaffs, similarly, suddenly seemed to appear a couple of weeks back. One minute there was no sign of them, even though small numbers now winter here, and the next they were in every tree, with their insistent, two-note calls.

And tomorrow? Well, it's getting near Redstart time, and also around the date I usually hear my first Cuckoo. I'll be in West Wales later in the week, at the wonderful Cors Dyfi and Ynys Hir reserves, so they ought to provide plenty of opportunities to look and listen for both.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Cars and Girls

I've got a confession to make. I don't like Prefab Sprout. An awful lot of poets do, it seems, but I was never a fan. The only song of theirs that I do always enjoy hearing is Cars and Girls, which is a little odd in that it takes a bit of a pop at the (perceived) worldview of Bruce Springsteen, of whom I am a big fan. But still, I like it. Good tune, and good lyrics, which actually end by conceding that there's room for Springsteen's seemingly hopelessly romantic view of things too.

But this article, which I came across last week, makes some excellent points about Bruce's 'cars and girls' songs. Perhaps, in his first three albums, they were at times simplistic, but certainly from Darkness At The Edge Of Town onwards, they're anything but. Far from conferring freedom on the protagonist of the song, they often end up trapping them ever more hopelessly in their circumstances.

Anyway, it's got me listening to Springsteen's albums from the beginning again, and that's never a bad thing.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

A Sky Full Of Birds - published today

So, the big day is here. A Sky Full Of Birds is out today, from Rider Books, in hardback and as an e-book. You can find out much more about it here.

Writing it and then working with the editors and team at Rider has been a long process, but always an enjoyable one, and I'm looking forward to getting out and about with it, too. I'll be reading from it at Jazz and Poetry in Nottingham in July (full details nearer the time), and we're just in the process of setting up some more events and appearances.

Above all, I hope that anyone who reads it will enjoy it for its own sake, but also think a little more about the UK's birds. Celebrating the amazing avian spectacles that we have can, I think, play a huge part in creating interest in the very real threats that face some of our wildlife. 

Monday, 4 April 2016

Making The Most Of The (New) Light

Over at his blog Rogue Strands, Matthew Stewart has very kindly linked to my recent interview in the Daily Telegraph, before talking about how it throws new light on some of the poems in my HappenStance chapbook, Making The Most Of The Light, which came out in 2005.

When I was packing up ready to move house last autumn, I found two final copies of the chapbook, which is otherwise out of print. If anyone's interested in getting their hands on a copy, just drop me a line.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Alison Brackenbury on Front Row

Poet Alison Brackenbury talks about her new collection, Skies, about 20 minutes into the programme, and reads from the book - great to hear poetry being given this sort of exposure, and lovely to hear Alison read.

Friday, 1 April 2016

David Morley wins Ted Hughes Award

Great to hear that David Morley has won the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry for his selected poems, The Invisible Gift. I like the fact that the judges talked about something "theatrical" happening when you open the book, as well as highlighting the rich Romani tradition that David draws on in his work. If you get a chance to see him read, then don't miss it. His work is enchanting in the literal sense of the word.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Interviewed in the Daily Telegraph

I'm interviewed in the Daily Telegraph today about my book, A Sky Full Of Birds, which is out a week today, and about how birdwatching helped me cope with depression following the death of my older sister, Rebecca, in 2004. Many thanks to Joe Shute of the Telegraph for his sensitive handling of the interview, and I'm really proud of how both it and the book have turned out. Most of all, of course, I'm proud of my sister – I miss her every day.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Prac Crit

Edition six of Prac Crit is online now, with Karen Solie Stephan Burt and Luke Kennard the featured poets. Solie's a poet who's work I absolutely love, and Kennard isn't far behind, either. Lots of great insights to be found - give it a read.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Skies, by Alison Brackenbury

This rather splendid book arrived in the post yesterday – Alison Brackenbury's latest collection, Skies, from Carcanet. You can read a lot more about it here, but suffice it to say that the poems I've already read from it are terrific.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The High Window

The inaugural issue of The High Window, a new quarterly literary journal, has been published, and you can find it here.

Poets with work in the first issue include Ian Duhig, AF Harrold, Roy Marshall, Abegail Morley, Richard Skinner and Andrew Shields, and there's also a feature on two collage poems by Helen Ivory, an essay by Ian Duhig, translations, and reviews, including one of Martin Malone's new collection, Cur. All things considered, an auspicious start – I'll be keeping an eye on how it develops.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Happy St David's Day

To mark St David's Day, Wales has got a new national poet – Ifor ap Glyn. You can read more about it here.

And (you knew this was coming, didn't you?), I'm going to mark the day by reading some of the work of my favourite Welsh poet, RS Thomas.

It's not difficult to find his poems all over the internet (although better still, buy the Collected Poems and Later Collected Poems), but to get you started, here's Lore.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Britain's great bird spectacles

Britain might not have anything like the longest bird list in the world – in the last couple of weeks, in fact, we've finally had the 600th species added to it, Yelkouan Shearwater, seen off Devon a few years back – but that's not to say it doesn't have its own unique attractions.

So, if it doesn't compare with the likes of Peru or Ecuador, with 1,500-plus species each, it makes up for it in a number of ways.

Accessibility, for one. Even our rarer species can be seen without having to trek into the back of beyond for days on end, and many of our greatest avian spectacles take place right under our noses (or just beyond the tips of our noses, I suppose).

Seabird 'cities' are just one of those spectacles. Some do require boat trips, but others – South Stack, Anglesey; Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland; or Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire – can be viewed without having to leave dry land, and we do have internationally significant populations of a number of seabirds, not least the magnificent Gannet (pictured above). Seeing a Gannet dive for fish is always a thrill, but to be right in the midst of one of their noisy, smelly breeding colonies is just as exhilarating, an all-round sensory overload that will keep you coming back for more.

Which is all a convoluted way of telling you that I have this book, A Sky Full Of Birds, in which seabird cities feature prominently, out on April 7th. You'll be seeing a lot more of it in the next few weeks, so I apologise in advance to those of you put off by such barefaced commercialism. But hey, look on the bright side. There'll be bird photos, and bird facts, and if any one of these posts encourage you to get out and see some birds, then so much the better.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Forward Prizes for Poetry

Details here on how to make nominations for this year's Forward Prizes for Poetry. Significantly, this is the first time that there's been an opportunity to nominate work from online journals for the Best Single Poem category. You need to move fast, though - see the link for full details.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Pattern beyond chance, by Stephen Payne

Excellent review of an excellent collection – Stephen Payne's Pattern beyond chance (HappenStance) – by Matthew Stewart at his blog, Rogue Strands. As he says, it's pretty rare, I think, to find a poet who manages to harness poetry and science, rather than just adding a rather superficial scientific gloss to their work.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

More RF Langley

And following on from yesterday's post, an excellent piece here on RF Langley. Hard to argue with any of it, really - I've been enjoying the Complete Poems hugely, and dip in and out of the Journals a lot, too.

Numero Cinq has a lot of interesting reading generally, while you're there. Have a browse.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Recent reading

Very different, but both well worth seeking out. 

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Off target

I generally avoid knocking the BBC too much, but this really is a piss-poor excuse for journalism. The heavy-handed attempts at humour are bad enough, but the whole premise is even worse – be careful what you wish for, Leicester fans, because a title win wouldn't mean lasting success.

Big deal. It'd still be more than we've ever had to cheer about before. To be honest, anything above 7th place will be better than anything I can remember in nearly 40 years of following them. Win the title and I really won't care too much if the entire playing staff are abducted by aliens from Zeta Reticuli 24 hours later.

There'll be other clubs after our best players no matter where we finish. Winning something first would (a) make them more likely to stay, and (b) assuage the pain of losing them if they did decide to go. Go and ask supporters of that club near Trent Bridge (not Notts County – I mean the new boys) if they regret their 1978 title win. Or ask Leeds fans if they'd really rather not have won the league in 1992.

It's all pretty typical of how the national media are reporting this season. Leicester and Tottenham's chances are routinely dismissed in a few words (not enough depth, blah blah blah), while there's endless talk about Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea. The first two are understandable enough, but any journo worth his salt would have realised two months ago that United are playing for 4th place (and I wouldn't put any money on them finishing there), and Chelsea for sixth at best.

The fact is, we're currently top because week in, week out, we've been the best team in the division so far. Our best is not as good as Man City or Arsenal's, I'll admit, but we've been at our best far more consistently than they have. It might not, ultimately, be enough to win us the league, but we will be somewhere close. The longer it takes Man City and Arsenal to realise that, the better.

Rant over. Normal service will be resumed soon.

Daniel Sluman book launch

Just a handful of tickets left for this, I think – a chance to hear Dan read from his new collection the terrible, plus Angela France and David Clarke. I can recommend the book very highly, and you'll see more on it here in the months to come.

Friday, 22 January 2016

A Sky Full of Birds

This is what I've spent a large part of my writing time on for the last two years – a 'birding memoir', in which I talk about trying to see Britain's greatest avian spectacles, and how they're almost without exception within easy reach of everyone with even the most casual interest in wildlife. There's also a lot of rambling about history, poetry, and football.

It will be published by Rider Books at the beginning of April, and I apologise in advance for the fact that you're going to hear a lot about it on here over the next couple of years. If birds aren't your thing, move along quietly and there'll be some poetry to follow.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Payment for writers

Very interesting blog piece from Charles Boyle here, on the current debate about literary festivals paying (and not paying) writers. It is, of course, a very complicated subject. I'd guess many writers find it difficult to say no to unpaid readings and appearances even if they do feel strongly that they should be paid, but equally I'm not sure if any of the festivals are making a great deal of money out of the whole thing. One to discuss at length.

There's another interesting take on the issue here.

Friday, 15 January 2016

First Shindig of 2016

I've been very poor at updating things around here just lately, but for now it's worth highlighting this event, on Monday night - as always, it's worth making the effort to get along to. Open mic slots will be available, and Mark Goodwin always reads well. It all starts at 7.30pm, and entry is free.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Free For All

Birmingham-based Haunted House Theatre will be touring the Midlands with a new verse play about free schools.
Free for All, written in iambic pentameter, is a play by University of Birmingham PhD student Richard O'Brien, a prize-winning poet who is researching if poetry can still work in the theatre for modern audiences.
Following a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe, the show tours to Nottingham Contemporary (Jan 27th), Hansom Hall, Leicester (Jan 28th) and mac Birmingham (Jan 29th). Actors have been cast from the finest of the region's professionally-trained talent.
Richard said: “I'm especially excited to come to Leicester, the birthplace of Joe Orton and resting place of Richard III, with a show mixing Shakespearean and modern theatrical traditions. With King Charles III playing at the Curve, Leicester is getting two modern verse plays in one week!”
“For a long time, it would be unusual to go to the theatre and not hear poetry. Even today, Shakespeare is the world's most performed playwright, but I think poetry in the theatre is something we've become very suspicious of. Free for All is an attempt to show that verse on stage can still speak to people now.”
Director Rebecca Martin expects the play to ruffle a few feathers: “Free schools are one of the most controversial topics of the day. Since the General Election, all parties and voters have been asking tough questions about privilege. How can education give every child an equal chance? Free for All doesn't offer one answer, but Richard's characters have very strong opinions on both sides.”
Martin was a co-founder of pantsguys productions, an Australian company which won multiple Sydney Theatre Awards. She said her first UK company was created with one thing in mind: “We set up Haunted House Theatre to revive a kind of theatre where the power of language can make anything happen.”
Richard O’Brien was a winner of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award in 2006 and 2007, and the 2015 London Book Fair Poetry Prize. Andrew McMillan describes him as ‘one of the strongest poets of his generation’. He is working on a practice-led PhD on Shakespeare and the development of verse drama, funded by the Midlands3Cities Doctoral Training Partnership, and lives in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter.
 The show is coming to Nottingham Contemporary on Jan 27th (free – book here), Leicester's Hansom Hall on Jan 28th (tickets here), and Birmingham mac on Jan 29th (tickets here). Alongside the production, Haunted House will offer talkback sessions and workshops on this little-known field for actors, writers and directors. Further discussion of the ideas behind the production can be found here.
For more information see, go to, and follow @hauntedhousetc / @notrockyhorror