Friday, 10 March 2017

Bluethroat at Willow Tree Fen LWT


For a month now, this beauty, a first-winter male Bluethroat, has been delighting birdwatchers and photographers at Willow Tree Fen, a Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust reserve between Bourne and Spalding. Initial reports of it were greeted with some incredulity, because a Bluethroat in February is a rare occurrence indeed, but it's such a confiding individual that many excellent photos of it were soon available to confirm the identity.


It's a species that breeds mainly in northern and eastern Europe, although there are now populations along the Channel coast in Holland, Belgium and France, and although some always turn up in these islands during migration periods, a February arrival is unusual. Anyway, this particular bird appears on the main path between the car-park and the visitor centre every half-hour or so, emerging from the reeds to feed for a few minutes, and he lets observers get to within a few feet.




Thursday, 2 March 2017

New poetry from Marilyn Ricci and Maxine Linnell


Marilyn Ricci and Maxine Linnell, two Leicester-based poets, have new collections coming out from Soundswrite Press, and they'll be launching them in Leicester on April 1st.

Marilyn's debut chapbook was the excellent Rebuilding A Number 39, from HappenStance, back in 2008 (was it really that long ago?), and she's also been very widely published in magazines, while Maxine is known for her fiction as well as poetry. Sounds like a good afternoon's poetry, and there'll be drinks and nibbles too.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A Sky Full Of Birds at Stourbridge Library

Tomorrow night (Wednesday, March 1st), at 6.30pm, I'll be reading from A Sky Full Of Birds at Stourbridge Library.

As always I'll have copies of the book available for a reduced price of £10 – if by any chance they sell out on the night you can order a copy from me for the same price, and I'll send it out as soon as I get new stock in.

Admission is £3, which includes a drink, and full details are here.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Hooded Grebe courtship display

Birds of Britain, you really need to up your game in the courtship stakes. If you think the Great Crested Grebe's admittedly elegant 'weed dance' (showing now at a reservoir near you) is something to savour, then get a load of this display by its relative the Hooded Grebe, in Argentina. Absolutely breathtaking!

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Stairs & Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back

Nine Arches Press has launched a crowdfunding campaign for a forthcoming anthology, Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back.

Edited and led by Sandra Alland, Khairani Barokka and Daniel Sluman, the groundbreaking project has been underway for two years. As well as an anthology (in print and eBook form), the project will involve a wealth of films, British Sign Language poetry and podcasts of poems online too. It is, as far as Nine Arches know, the first major D/deaf and Disabled poetry anthology of its kind in the UK.

The anthology will include work from a great line-up of poets, plus a range of essays. as well as poetry  - you can read more about what's inside the book here.

So far, the project has been part-funded by Arts Council England, supported in kind by Nine Arches Press as publisher, and by Writing West Midlands and Birmingham City University.

To get the book into print, Nine Arches is asking for a little extra help from friends and supporters – could you pledge £15 in return for a copy of this important and exciting new anthology? 

There are also lots of other excellent rewards for your generosity, including eBooks, discount vouchers, free Nine Arches goodies, Poetry Book Club membership, signed and personalised copies and much more – visit the Crowdfunding page here for full details.

Every pledge will help us make this book a reality, and every supporter will be named and thanked in the book itself.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Reading tonight - Our Woods

Tonight, I'm reading from A Sky Full Of Birds at the Coronation Park Pavilion, Cottingham Road, Corby NN17 1SZ, as part of the Our Woods project. The event starts at 7pm, and admission costs £5.50 (£3.50 concessions). You get tea, coffee and homemade cake, too.

I'll be selling copies of the book on the night, for £10, but it's also available here, if you want to buy direct, or from all good bookshops. Or, if you'd prefer, you can buy a signed copy from me – email me using the link on the right.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Richard Jefferies Society & White Horse Bookshop Literary Prize

I was delighted to get an email yesterday to say that A Sky Full Of Birds has been shortlisted for the Richard Jefferies Society and White Horse Bookshop Literary Prize, awarded for outstanding nature writing.

The winner is announced on June 3rd, and other names on the shortlist include Stephen Moss, Kevin Parr, Amy Liptrot, Katharine Towers, John Lewis-Stempel, Mike Dilger and Tristan Gooley. I'm thrilled to even be mentioned in such company.

Here's an interview I did a couple of years ago, when I wrote some Jefferies'-inspired poems for inclusion in a new edition of his After London.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Jacob Polley wins the TS Eliot Prize

This year's TS Eliot Prize has been won by Cumbrian poet Jacob Polley, for his collection Jackself (Picador). He beat a strong shortlist, including Alice Oswald, Denise Riley, Vahni Capildeo, Ian Duhig and Bernard O'Donoghue.

It's not a book I've read yet. When Polley's first collection came out, to much fanfare, I was a member of the Poetry Book Society and was sent it as one of their quarterly choices, and I'd have to say I was pretty underwhelmed. Not that it was at all bad, just that it didn't seem nearly as exciting as some of the critical notices were promising it would be.

Because of that, I haven't got round to reading any of his subsequent collections. My loss, I suspect, if the poems I've seen from this latest book are anything to go by. Chair of judges Ruth Padel compared it to Geoffrey Hill's Mercian Hymns, and that particular masterpiece did spring to mind for me, too. Which can only be a good thing, I should add. I look forward to reading it.

You can read a couple of poems from the book here, and also hear him read them.

There's a really excellent account of the prize readings here, by poet Peter Daniels.

'New' RS Thomas collection

I'm not sure how I'd missed this, but a batch of previously undiscovered RS Thomas poems have been published by Bloodaxe as Too Brave To Dream – encounters with modern art.

I'm always a bit wary of such things, like when record companies package together a load of ropey demos and studio outtakes by your favourite band, then sell them as part of an extortionately priced box set, but reading that review, this book actually looks well worth seeking out.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Deep Roots Tall Trees

A week on Thursday (January 26th), I'll be reading from A Sky Full Of Birds at the Coronation Park Pavilion, Cottingham Road, Corby NN17 1SZ, as part of the Our Woods project. The event starts at 7pm, and admission costs £5.50 (£3.50 concessions). You get tea, coffee and homemade cake as part of that, which can't be bad.

I'll be selling copies of the book on the night, for £10, but it's also available here, if you want to buy direct, or from all good bookshops. Or, if you'd prefer, you can buy a signed copy from me – email me using the link on the right.

Friday, 13 January 2017

St Knut's Day and the Mari Lwyd

Today is celebrated as St Knut's Day in Sweden and Finland – you can find out more about it here.

When I was reading about it earlier today, it struck me that the bits of the celebrations involving the Finnish character Nuuttipukki are very similar to the Mari Lwyd folk custom found in South Wales. When I worked in Cardiff in the second half of the 90s, this was still performed in Llangynwyd, and maybe a few more villages in the Maesteg area, but I don't know whether that's still the case.

Does that suggest that both have their roots in a pre-Christian ritual, perhaps connected to the middle of winter? I'm not sure, really, but at first glance that seems the most likely explanation.

Daniel Sluman at the Morning Star

The Morning Star is notable for having a regular column that publishes new poetry – Well Versed, edited by Jody Porter.

Yesterday's, wonder/ful, by Daniel Sluman, is, well, wonderful.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

New at Sphinx

Sphinx, HappenStance Press's website that reviews pamphlets and chapbooks, as well as gathering together information about poetry pamphlet publishing, has some new reviews, including this one of Sally Evans' The Bees of Dunblane & The Song of the Walnut Tree.

There's a really substantial archive of older reviews, too – enjoy browsing through them (and of course, if it inspires you to buy a pamphlet or two, so much the better).

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Interpreter's House Poetry Competition

You've got until the end of this month to enter Open House 2017, The Interpreter's House's Poetry Competition. It's judged by Bloodaxe poet Niall Campbell, and entry is £4 for a single poem or £10 for three.

I know some people hate the very idea of poetry competitions, but all proceeds of this one go to fund future issues of TIH, one of the very best poetry magazines out there.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Blackbox Manifold 17

The winter issue (No.17) of Blackbox Manifold is out now, with work by Linda Anderson, Tom Betteridge, Adam Burbage, Stephen Burt, James Byrne, Sophie Collins, Joey Connolly, Adam Flint, Jane Goldman, Thomas Kelly, Chris Kerr, Eric Langley, Dorothy Lehane, Tan Lin, Jaki McCarrick, Gail McConnell, Joseph Minden, Ian Patterson, Robert Sheppard, Ronnie Sirmans, Oliver Southall, Matthew Sweeney, Charles Tarlton, Ken Taylor, Jonty Tiplady and Samuel Tongue.

John Tamplin interviews Keston Sutherland, Peter Larkin reviews Peter Riley, Adam Piette reviews Eliot, Denise Riley and Charlotte Newman, and there are essays on JH Prynne.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Dean Young

On Facebook the other day, Rob Mackenzie posted a link to this poem, which I like a lot. I bought Dean Young's New and Selected Poems on my iPad a couple of years back, and dip in and out of it a lot – I recommend it very highly.

Friday, 6 January 2017

The Blue Aeroplanes take off again

Just came across this article by Stewart Lee in which he mentions that the Blue Aeroplanes have a new album coming out. I'm not sure about his description of them as being like "Philip Larkin fronting Television" – Gerard Langley's lyrics were much closer to the beat poets, I'd have thought – but otherwise he's spot-on.

They were great, a real beacon of invention and individuality in the late 80s. I've got very fond memories of seeing them supporting REM on their 1989 Green tour, and they even managed a minor hit with a remix of And Stones, when Madchester was at its height.

Favourite song of theirs? Maybe Colour Me, which was a bit later, I think (maybe 1992), but those early albums are all worth seeking out.

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.