Tuesday, 14 April 2015

England's way ahead

Another cricketing interlude, I'm afraid.

The great pleasure of a West Indies tour is that you can spend all evening with the cricket on in the corner of the room. The great drag, in recent years, has been that pitches there tend to be slow, low, and of a sort to encourage high-scoring draws. The one being used for the First Test at Antigua looks no different, although there was a hint of turn.

After England's early troubles, Ian Bell's hundred was as classy as you'd expect from him, while Joe Root's innings was equally full of admirable qualities, of which more in a minute. Ben Stokes, too, showed his time out of the side has been well spent, and confirmed the impression I've had of him for a while. When he's out of nick, or even for a few minutes at the start of most innings, he looks like a man who's never held a bat before. Once he's found form, though, he can look impossible to bowl to - at times yesterday he was hitting boundaries at will, without ever really seeming to let himself go. A fully functioning Stokes and Moeen Ali, plus Jos Buttler, would give England a lot of balance and the opportunity to play pretty much any combination of bowlers they wish, which has to be good.

I was disappointed, though, that Trott and Tredwell played ahead of Lyth and Rashid. Of course, they'll both probably make a nonsense of that in the rest of the series, but it smacks of a depressing conservatism and cautiousness. Tredwell's a fine player, but he's hardly the sort to rip through test line-ups, and he's not young. Rashid has done everything asked of him in recent years, and played a large part in Yorkshire's Championship win last year. And leg-spinners, as England surely remember, win test matches.

I've no problem with Trott coming back as such, but as things stand we have a top three that straight away surrenders all the initiative to the opposition bowlers. I'm not saying we need a Chris Gayle at the top of the order, but there needs to be someone there who can put a bit of pressure back on the bowling attack. Trott's sedate pace just puts pressure on Cook to play a game that doesn't come naturally to him, while Balance doesn't, despite his fine summer in 2014, look like a No.3 to me. He moves his feet too slowly and too little, and I suspect is going to be found out badly by Southee, Boult, Starc and Johnson.   I'd rather see other options explored now, otherwise we could have a miserable season in store.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Map: The launch reading

On Thursday night, I was in London for the launch of Worple Press's anthology Map, which celebrates the 200th anniversary of William Smith's geological map of Britain.

It was an honour and a great pleasure to have been asked to contribute to the anthology, but even more so to hear the many poets involved read their work in the august surroundings of the Geological Society - Smith's map was hanging just outside, in the foyer.

It was good to catch up with Michael McKimm, who edited the book, and to meet Peter Carpenter, the man behind Worple (his own poem was one of my highlights of the night).

Lovely, too, to chat with Alison Brackenbury, Jane Commane, George Ttoouli, Isobel Dixon, Ailsa Holland and Julia Bird, and to meet Alan Buckley - his Red Rocks was another highlight.

There was great variety in the poetry being read, and it was a particular pleasure reading to an audience that, at least partly, came to the subject from another direction entirely. By which I mean they were geologists - I hope we didn't mangle the history and language of their science and one of its great pioneers.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Richie Benaud, RIP

I don't often do this. OK, there are plenty of famous writers, sports stars and other celebrities whose death would sadden me a great deal, but I'm wary of saying too much, because how much do any of us really know these people? I tend to think that the mourning, the real mourning, should be left to the families

But the death of Richie Benaud earlier today is different, for me. Having been cricket-mad since the David Steele summer of 1975, I can honestly think of absolutely no one I've had a more lasting and total admiration of. 

I've written about him on here before, at some length, and I can't really add much to what I said back then. Thanks for everything, Richie. We'll never see your like again.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Spring arrivals

Not the best pictures, but they'll have to do. The birds above and below are a pair of Curlew that arrived in Charnwood Forest on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. They're in a couple of fields, separated by a road, in which Curlew certainly bred last year, and probably for a few years before, and this might well be the very pair. I'll be keeping a watch on them (a couple of times a day where possible) for the rest of the breeding season.

Hearteningly, a couple more nearby fields had displaying Lapwings, with at least one pair apparently present in each. They were a bit more skittish, though, so I had to resort to subterfuge to get anywhere near them.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Egrets, I've had a few...

Odd to think that 30 years ago - less, even - the bird above, a Little Egret at Rutland Water, would have sparked a twitch of major proportions. Now, they're all over England and Wales, and fast spreading north into Scotland. Global warming? Perhaps it's helping, but in this case it's probably even more to do with the very adaptable nature of egrets.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Tomas Transtromer

I was away from this blog when the death of Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer was announced recently - there's a good obituary of the Nobel Prize winner here.

I bought the volume above about 11 or 12 years ago, having come across a few of his poems in anthologies, and I'd say that it's since been one of my most-read poetry books, one that I go back to again and again. I'm back at it again now, in fact, having been reminded once again of just what a fine writer he was.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Out now - Sunspots, by Simon Barraclough

Simon Barraclough's new collection, Sunspots, is out now from Penned in the Margins. Keep watching this space for an interview with Simon, plus a full review of the book and a selection of poems from it. And this isn't a spoiler, but it's really very good.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Cheltenham Poetry Festival

Nice piece here about this year's Cheltenham Poetry Festival, including Nine Arches'  Jo Bell, the Poetry Society's Canals Laureate. Full details on the festival, which runs April 20-May 3, can be found here.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

New from Nine Arches

April will see the publication of two new collections from Nine Arches Press - Robert Peake's The Knowledge (out April 21st), and Jo Bell's Kith (out April 14th). Jo's second collection seems to have been a long time in coming, and I look forward to reading it very much. Robert's too - he's a fine poet and critic with a very distinctive slant on things, perhaps because of his transatlantic perspective.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Jazz and Poetry: Wayne Burrows and Helen Tookey

Wayne Burrows will be launching his new Shoestring book - Black Glass: New and Selected Poems - alongside Carcanet poet Helen Tookey, at next week's Jazz and Poetry.

It all takes place at the Guitar Bar, Clumber Avenue, Nottingham NG5, from around 7.30, and as always there's jazz throughout the night from Four In The Bar, and emerging poets at 8.30. Entrance is free, but donations are encouraged.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

A cricketing interlude

Gale force winds, torrential rain, temperatures struggling to get anywhere near double figures - yes, it's the cricket season again!

I can't say I'm full of confidence about England's hopes of winning back the Ashes - under Peter Moores, I think they missed several opportunities last summer to rebuild the team for the long term. I have a nasty feeling that Gary Ballance's lack of foot movement will be found out by the Aussie quicks,  our own pace attack looks patchy, and much as I like Moeen Ali, I think we'll need a full-time spinner at some stage.

That said, though, I wouldn't write us off - the Aussies show every sign of being over-confident, but they've got plenty of ageing, injury-prone players, plus others who still have a lot to prove. It'll be interesting to see if Johnson and Starc look half as threatening on stodgy English wickets, and when things do go wrong for Johnson, he can implode spectacularly. So, my prediction is a high-scoring series, with three or even four draws, but the Aussies hanging on to the urn.

Very interesting piece here about the Aussie public's attitude to Michael Clarke - I'm amazed he still gets so much criticism.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Map: Poems After William Smith's Geological Map of 1815

This arrived the other day - it's an anthology from Worple Press, edited by Michael McKimm, that marks and celebrates the 200th anniversary of the first geological map of the UK (of any country, in fact), and the foundation of a science.

The poets contributing work are Stephen Boyce, Alison Brackenbury, James Brookes, Andy Brown, Alan Buckley, Peter Carpenter, John Wedgewood Clarke, Jane Commane, Elizabeth Cook, Barbara Cumbers, Jonathan Davidson, Isobel Dixon, Maura Dooley, Sally Flint, John Freeman, Isabel Galleymore, John Greening, Philip Gross, Alyson Hallett, Ailsa Holland, John McAuliffe, Helen Mort, Andrew Motion, David M Orchard, Mario Petrucci, Kate Potts, Peter Robinson, Penelope Shuttle, George Ttoouli, Anthony Wilson, and myself.

To buy it (it's £10), go here.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Sean O'Brien reviews Tony Williams

If you haven't already seen it, there's a good review of Tony Williams' excellent Nine Arches collection The Midlands at The Guardian - Sean O'Brien is the reviewer. It's a terrific book - read the review, then read the book.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Reading at Jazz & Poetry

This is me reading Magnetite, from The Elephant Tests, at Jazz & Poetry, at the Guitar Bar, Nottingham, in October 2013.

Jazz & Poetry runs from 8 until late on the second Wednesday of each month, October to July, and admission is free.

Thanks are due to David Belbin for putting this up on YouTube - there are also lots of videos of other recent guests up there. Enjoy!

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Carrie Etter nominated

More heartening news - Carrie Etter's excellent Imagined Sons, one of my favourite books of last year, is on the shortlist for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. The winner will be announced in a few weeks - in the meantime, I can recommend it to anyone who hasn't yet read it.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Penguin poetry

Nothing to do with birds this time. Instead, it's the news that Penguin is reviving its poetry list, headed up by a full-time poetry editor, Donald Futers.

Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric is his first acquisition, and from all I've read of it, it suggests that Futers is going to be taking a refreshingly adventurous and open-minded approach to the list.

I'm also encouraged by the fact that the editor is someone who's clearly very committed to poetry and knowledgeable about it, without simply being a prominent UK poet, which is the case with many of the other bigger lists out there. Looks like Penguin could be worth watching over the next few years.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Famous in France?

Well, a little bit of it - the area around Chalons-en-Champagne, to be exact. And not exactly famous. Or even notorious. We did make it into the local paper, though.

I was there for three days earlier in the week, and I'll post a few pics from the trip over the next few days. The birds were great, the hospitality and welcome very warm, and there was even time to take in a bit of culture, history and champagne.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Maria Taylor at Totally Wired

The second Totally Wired poetry night, at the Wired Cafe Bar, Nottingham, takes place next Wednesday, March 4th, from 6.30-8pm. The guest reader is Leicester (well, Loughborough) poet and Nine Arches stablemate Maria Taylor.

As last time, there'll be open mic slots available in the first half - just sign up on the night. Entry is free, and of course there's fine coffee and other refreshments available throughout. There's more information on the event, and the cafe, here.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

States of Independence 2015

The sixth States of Independence book fair takes place on Saturday, March 14th, in the Clephan Building, De Montfort University, Leicester. Dozens of publishers from the East Midlands and beyond will be displaying and selling their wares, from 10.30am-4.30pm.

As always, it's free, and there'll be readings, seminars, workshops, panels and book launches, as well as the announcement of the East Midlands Book Award shortlist.

Friday, 6 February 2015

New from Muldoon

I go through phases, where Paul Muldoon is concerned. When I'm enjoying his work, I really enjoy it. At other times, I get that feeling that you get whenever you've eaten or drunk too much of a good thing (and maybe that's all that's the problem - when he's good, you can't help reading another poem, and another, and another).

But anyway, he's got me hooked straight away this time, if this Guardian review is anything to go by. All those Anglo-Saxon references, you see. I'll add it to the list.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Fire and Dust meets Nine Arches open mic

Tomorrow night (Wednesday, February 4th), I'll be reading with Jayne Stanton at the Big Comfy Bookshop, Coventry CV1 5EA, as part of the Fire and Dust/Nine Arches open mic.

The open mic slots, which feature both poetry and flash fiction, start from 7.30pm, with the readings from around 9pm. Come along and sign up, and join in the fun.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Wanderer

A Kindle edition of Jane Holland's version of The Wanderer is out now, priced £1.99. I enjoyed it very much when it originally came out in print, being partial to all things Anglo-Saxon anyway, but the great thing about it is that it really requires no prior knowledge of Anglo-Saxon poetry at all - it's simply an atmospheric and moving re-imagining of a great poem.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Meanwhile, over at Out There With The Birds...

...my latest post has appeared - I'm rambling about Starlings and House Sparrows, their worrying decline, and our attitude to them. While you're there, have a good look at the site. There's all sorts of good stuff to be found - I particularly enjoyed Bill Wilson's recent post.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

And more RF Langley

No sooner had I mentioned RF Langley, than I came across this article – Helen Macdonald makes a great case for his Journals, available from Shearsman. They, along with the forthcoming Collected Poems from Carcanet, look like essential buys.

Helen's superb H Is For Hawk won the Costa Book of the Year award the other night, and deservedly so, too. I've been re-reading it this week, and finding new things to enjoy.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

RF Langley

On Twitter yesterday, Jeremy Noel-Tod linked to his obituary, from The Times, for poet RF Langley, who died four years ago.

It's an excellent piece, and reminded me that Langley is a poet I need to read more of. What I have read I've liked a lot. Anyone else out there a fan?