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.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Ten Poems About Cricket

My poem, Two Orthodox Left-Armers, is included in this splendid chapbook anthology from Candlestick Press. Edited by John Lucas, whose own poem Still Going Strong is one of the highlights of the book for me, it includes work from Adrian Buckner, Joan Downar, Philip Hodgins, Brian Jones, Hubert Moore, Norman Nicholson, Kit Wright and John Arlott. Yes, that John Arlott. I couldn't be more delighted to be in such company.

The two-part poem concerns Yorkshire spin bowlers Wilfrid Rhodes, whose Test career incredibly spanned the years 1899-1930, and Hedley Verity, whose own international career was ended by World War Two.

Oh, and lovely to see that Adrian Buckner's contribution is Cricket At Thrumpton, not only because it's a fine poem, but because it's a ground I've played on a few times myself. It's a typical English village ground, with the added advantage (for me), of being just across the Trent from Attenborough Nature Reserve, so you could always scan the sky for passing raptors, terns and waders while you were standing at deep midwicket, waiting for something to happen.

Liek all Candlestick's chapbooks, it comes with an envelope and bookmark, and is designed to be sent instead of a greetings card. Buy it for the cricket-lover in your life.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Seeing double

This rather intriguing book (the above are the front and back covers, not two different volumes), arrived yesterday from Faber and Faber. It's a dual-authored poetry collection by American twin brothers, and the work deals with the loss of an elder sibling, through suicide.

I've only had a flick through it so far, but what comes across even in the first few poems from each is that they're very different poets, at times almost diametrically opposite in style, in fact. That should offer all sorts of contrasts and oppositions, even though they're dealing with the same subject matter.

I'll be posting a full review in due course - for now I'm just enjoying getting to know the work of two poets who I hadn't previously come across.

Monday, 23 May 2016

A Sky Full Of Birds reviewed in NFU Countryside

Here's the latest review of A Sky Full Of Birds, in the NFU's Countryside magazine. You can find out more about it, and how to buy it, if you're interested, here.

Friday, 20 May 2016

And back to Alderney

Taking a break from birds for a moment, these furry critters were everywhere along the clifftops in Alderney a couple of weeks back. They're the caterpillars of the Glanville Fritillary, a very rare butterfly in the UK (found only on the Isle of Wight), but which is doing well in Alderney. Those startlingly red eyes stay with you, don't they?

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Sanderlings sur la plage

Another brief bulletin from Normandy – when we were there a couple of weeks back, there were good numbers of Sanderlings, Turnstones and Whimbrels passing through on the way to their northern breeding grounds. This little group were very approachable, taking a break from their frantic, clockwork wave-chasing.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

A piece of England in Normandy

Well, not exactly. The above bird is a Kentish Plover, which despite its name is nowhere to be found in the garden of England. On the beaches of the Cotentin Peninsula, though, they're present in good numbers, scurrying among the shingle and making their nests there too (although one pair we were shown had sensibly tucked theirs under a grassy bank at the top of the beach, not only keeping it well out of sight but also protecting it from the elements).

As always when I see ground-nesting birds, I marvelled at how they could ever successfully raise a brood, out there in the open, but they seem to do OK, helped by the fact that the beaches are nothing like as busy as they would be in the UK.

Kentish Plovers are one of three species which have names relating to that particular county. Spotter's badge to the first person to correctly name the other two.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Readings from A Sky Full Of Birds

I’ve got a few readings from A Sky Full Of Birds coming up over the next few months. You’ll probably get heartily sick of me plugging them as time goes on, but here’s the programme as it stands:

May 21st-22nd: Norfolk Bird Fair, Mannington Hall – readings/signings on both days.
June 2nd: Kenilworth Bookshop – I’m leading a nature walk, followed by a reading/signing.
June 25th: Lowdham Book Festival, Nottingham – reading and signing.
July 13th: Jazz and Prose, Nottingham – signing.
August 19th-21st: British Birdwatching Fair – reading and signing session in the main authors’ marquee.
August 27th: Bournemouth Natural Science Society and Museum – reading and talk.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Amazon review of A Sky Full Of Birds

A customer has posted this lovely review of A Sky Full Of Birds on Amazon – you can of course by the book there in print or electronic editions.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

An island of Wheatears

Wheatears are among my favourite British birds, but until my visit to Alderney, I'd seen relatively few this spring. I'm not sure if that's because passage has been slow because of the cool weather, or just that I haven't been in the right places at the right time. But anyway, Alderney more than made up for it. Longis Common regularly had 10 or more, including Greenland-race birds, while we kept coming across them elsewhere on the island.

Birders are always delighted to hear that the name has nothing to do with wheat, and actually comes from the Anglo-Saxon 'hvit oers', literally 'white arse'. They were nothing if not observant, those Anglo-Saxons, and they didn't like to mince their words.

There's more on Wheatears (and one individual Wheatear in particular) in my book, A Sky Full Of Birds, available now.