Sunday, 21 December 2014

The most scathing reviews ever

The Guardian had this piece the other day about particularly vicious book reviews. They're good, but I think my favourite is the one mentioned in the comments, When Saturday Comes' review of Tim Lovejoy's book.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Not The TS Eliots

Jo Bell flagged this up on Facebook - an interesting and varied list that makes me want to get hold of at least a few of the books featured. I must confess, though, to being initially rather disappointed that the Burning Eye-published Boldface isn't in fact by the former captain of England's cricket team - as I may have mentioned before, I have a high regard for the brittle-fingered batsman, and I was briefly delighted to think he'd turned his talents to poetry. Still, it looks like a book worth reading either way.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Norfolk Festival of Nature

This looks very interesting - excellent line-up so far, including Mark Cocker, and all at a location that, for any British birdwatcher, is close to heaven. If you need an excuse to be in North Norfolk in February (and you really shouldn't), here it is.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Great Revolt

I'm a sucker for historical 'what ifs', and this excellent article examines what might have been one of the great turning points in British history. Certainly, as Paul Kingsnorth says, it seems every bit as pivotal as the dates mentioned at the end of the piece.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The best poetry of 2014

Let's assume that, some time between Christmas Day and New Year's Day, I find myself in a bookshop with a few pounds to spare in my pocket. Let's further assume that it's a bookshop with a well-stocked and varied poetry section (if you're thinking this sounds suspiciously like Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham, you'd be right). Let's say I've got enough for one new collection, and one Selected or Collected. What should I buy?

I've bought and read mainly 'back catalogue' stuff this year, so pretty much anything you suggest is likely to be new.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Folk names of British birds

Think you know the names by which different species of birds were known around Britain in the past? Test your knowledge here, with Dr Fulminare's splendid quiz. I'm afraid I only got 8 out of 12.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014


This arrived today from the wonderful Sidekick Books - seven poems on skir-devils, jackie squealers, whips and longwings from Anne Stevenson, Edward Thomas, Alistair Noon, Jon Stone, Ann Drysdale, Lynne Wycherly and myself. It's part of their new Bird Superminis range - each volume contains a handful of poems about a particular bird species. They are, dare I say it, perfect Christmas presents for the birdwatcher and/or poetry-lover in your life.

Five Leaves Bookshop reading, 7.12.14

It's all been a bit frantic at work this last week, so I've not had much chance to reflect upon Sunday's Nine Arches Press reading at the Five Leaves Bookshop, Nottingham.

It was the first time I'd heard Bobby Parker and Dorothy Lehane read, and both confirmed all the good impressions made by their debut collections from Nine Arches. Dorothy's poems are dense, swirling, exuberant galaxies of words, and all the better for being heard out loud, while Bobby manages to create a crackling tension by virtue of an unshowy, matter-of-fact delivery of startlingly honest material. Tony Williams was, as always, a pleasure to hear - his collection The Midlands would be one of my poetry books of the year.

It was good, too, to catch up with some familiar faces such as Alan Baker, Wayne Burrows, Richard Skinner and Kerry Featherstone (hope the Jason and the Scorchers album is up to expectations), and great to have a chance to browse the bookshop itself. I bought John Harvey's Out Of Silence: New and Selected Poems. He's a hugely overlooked poet (maybe because of his fame as a crime writer), and it's good to see the best of his work in one place.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Five Leaves Bookshop reading

This Sunday, December 7th, I'll be reading with fellow Nine Arches poets Bobby Parker, Dorothy Lehane and Tony Williams at the Five Leaves Bookshop, Long Row, Nottingham, NG1 2DH (it's only a minute's walk from the Market Square).

It starts at the very civilised time of 4.30pm, entry is £3, and refreshments will be available, and you can read much more about it here.

It's also worth pointing out that you'd be well advised to arrive earlier, to give you a chance to browse this superb independent bookshop.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Top 10 books of rural Wales

The Guardian had this interesting list yesterday. It includes three personal favourites - The Owl Service, Bruce Chatwin's On The Black Hill (and the writer here neatly encapsulates what makes it such a fine book), and of course RS Thomas's Collected Poems.

As with any list, though, there are bound to be controversial omissions and inclusions. Nothing by Raymond Williams, for example. Anyone got any other suggestions for what might have been included?

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Catching up

Last Thursday's Vanguard Readings event, at The Bear, Camberwell, was a lot of fun. Six readers, of which I was one, a lively and very responsive audience, and a great venue.

It was great to hear Josephine Corcoran read. She's been such a tireless promoter of other's work that her own poetry has sometimes been overshadowed, and very unfairly so. I enjoyed her honeymoon poem in particular, but her whole set promised good things from her forthcoming Tall Lighthouse pamphlet.

I'd never heard Josephine Dickinson before, but I have read plenty of her very fine work, and it was given a whole new dimension by her reading here. She's one of those poets who manages to create an enviable stillness and silence around her words - there's a tension there that always feels as though it's on the point of breaking.

Michael Symmons Roberts read beautifully, mainly from his most recent collection, Drysalter, and it's hard to add anything useful to the praise that it, and he, have already received. His poems are always spiritually charged, yet intimate and approachable too.

Cristina Newton read just two long poems, and held everybody spellbound with the sustained music of her work - I look forward to reading and hearing more from her.

Finally, Richard Skinner, whose hard work makes Vanguard happen in the first place, read the work of three absent poets who appear in the Vanguard anthology - it's not on general sale but you will be able to buy it at future readings, and I recommend it very highly.

My own reading went well, and it was good to read a couple of poems, including Butterflies from the afore-mentioned anthology, that haven't had an airing for a while.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Vanguard Readings, 20.11.14

Just a quick reminder that tomorrow, Thursday, November 20th, I'll be reading as part of Vanguard Readings' all-poetry night, at The Bear, 296a Camberwell New Road, London SE5 0RP, along with Josephine Corcoran, Josephine Dickinson, Cristina Newton, Richard Skinner and Michael Symmons Roberts.

If you're anywhere in the area, come along - as well as the poetry, there's good beer and food available, and entry is free.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The best yet?

I'm not entirely sure how long the Leicester Shindigs have been going. I could check, probably, by trawling back through this blog, but suffice it to say that it's been a good few years, from the early days at The Looking Glass to its current incarnation at The Western.

Whatever the case, last night's might just have been the best yet. Certainly top three, anyway. Four excellent readers, packed open mic slots, and an extremely appreciative audience. Kudos to Nine Arches Press and Crystal Clear Creators for all their work in building the event over the years, and to Jane Commane and Jonathan Taylor for their unflagging enthusiasm as hosts.

Let's start with the open mic. So many were signed up that the readers were restricted to a single poem (or in one case, piece of fiction) each, and that kept things flowing nicely. Regulars such as Roy Marshall, Jayne Stanton, Martin Malone and Charles Lauder Jr were reliably high quality, but there was a heartening number of first-timers, too.

The first guest, Michael W Thomas, was making his return after reading here a couple of years back. As then (when he read a superb poem about the secret language of tramps), he was quietly assured and utterly riveting. I'm always pleased to come across one of Michael's poems in a magazine (and fortunately, he's in plenty), and I rather hope that he's one of those small press poets who's actually widely read as a consequence of his prolific nature, his willingness to offer his work in a wide variety of outlets, and of course his skill as a writer.

Ben Wilkinson's pamphlet For Real, winner of the Poetry Business competition, was a real advance on the anyway highly accomplished The Sparks, and his reading from it confirmed all those good first impressions. It's poetry that thinks very hard about what poetry can do, but it's never less than accessible and engaged with the real world.

After the break, DA Prince read from her recently-released second collection, Common Ground. She's another poet who manages to be understated and precise without diminishing the emotional punch, and she read the same way, giving every word the chance to pull its weight.

Andrew Taylor brought the evening to a close with poems from his debut, Radio Mast Horizon, as well as two forthcoming chapbooks - his poems also work quietly, and perhaps with more of a cumulative effect than the other readers, but again without sacrificing anything in the way of readability (or listenability, perhaps that should be). I look forward to reading more.

So, the only problem now is that Shindig had set itself a very high standard to maintain in 2015 - get along in January to see what's next.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Vanguard reading series

Next Thursday, November 20th, I'll be reading as part of Vanguard Readings' all-poetry night, at The Bear, 296a Camberwell New Road, London SE5 0RP, along with Josephine Corcoran, Josephine Dickinson, Cristina Newton, Richard Skinner and Michael Symmons Roberts.

It's a terrific venue, and a great line-up - I'm flattered to be part of it. The poetry starts at 7.30pm, and entry is free.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Monday, 10 November 2014

Poetry family trees

I enjoyed reading George Szirtes' piece on Clive James's Poetry Notebook, so flagging it up for your enjoyment is reason enough to be posting here.

Now I'll admit that I've never been the biggest fan of James's poetry or criticism, although that may have more to do with struggling to forgive him for inflicting Margarita Pracatan, a joke of approximately 30 seconds duration, on a helpless nation for what seemed like years. I should put those prejudices aside and give him another go, and George's article makes a very good case for that.

Anyway, to the main point of my post. He describes James's poetry thus: "...full of an energy that is partly Augustan but racier, as if Dr Johnson had sealed a pact with the 19th-century poet Winthrop Mackworth Praed".

The worthy Mr Praed is an ancestor of mine, on my mother's side of the family - I have cousins with Praed as a middle name, and the Praeds can still be found down in Cornwall around St Michael's Mount. I haven't, to my shame, read much of old Winthrop's work, but that's something else I'll put right soon.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The words of Poly-Olbion

I came across this page yesterday, and was surprised to find that Michael Drayton is credited with the first use of the name 'Goosander' (although he says "Gossander'), for the sawbill duck Mergus merganser.

It's not the only bird name that he coined, or at least first recorded, either. Bidcock (possibly meaning Water Rail) and Tydie (possibly referring to a Blue Tit) are also listed here, but Drayton's masterwork also contains a lot more references to archaic or folk bird names.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Chatting about chats

My latest post is now up at Out There With The Birds - it features a rather wonderful poem by Frances Corkey Thompson, from her HappenStance pamphlet The Long Acre, as well as some very nice Stonechat photos by my good friend Peter Jones.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Tree of the Year

The Woodland Trust is asking the public to vote for England's first Tree of the Year - here's the top 10 to make your selection from.

I will, of course, be opting for the Major Oak, given its supposed Robin Hood connection.

While looking at the background of this, I noticed that what's thought to be England's oldest oak tree is just down the road from the office, here, near Bourne.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

TS Eliot time again

It happens every year. The shortlist for the TS Eliot Prize appears, and I've read far too few of them to be able to offer even a vaguely informed opinion. There are a couple of names on there who would, I suspect, be shortlisted were they to enter their shopping list, but that's not to say they're not fine poets. Anyway, on the whole, this shortlist makes me curious to read more, so that's no bad thing.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Green Man Poetry, 14.10.14

Occasionally you come across a poetry event that's a bit out of the ordinary. Last night, I'm proud to say, I was part of one.

Green Man Poetry, at Kendalls of Earlsdon, Coventry, was the perfect venue for an evening of poetry, song and performance, with the Green Man himself, Barry Patterson, leading the way. He bookended the evening with impassioned performances of songs, drumming, flute and bagpipe music, and a mixture of his own poetry and William Blake's. What's invigorating and inspiring about his performance is that his vision of what could be - man learning to live in greater harmony with the natural world - comes through at least as strongly as his indictment of what's wrong. If you get a chance to see Barry perform as the Green Man, don't miss it.

Antony R Owen (above) was the first of the guest readers. Another writer whose work is deeply rooted in his immediate environment, he manages to be both understated and powerful - no mean feat - and he has the knack, like most of the best readers, of creating a crackle of tension in the room (packed out, by the way, and a very fine venue it was too).

Tom Wyre's poem on the horrors of the fur trade was a highlight of his excellent set - poetry that made you uncomfortable, and asked questions without posing easy answers or reaching for consolation.

Leanne Bridgewater isn't a poet I'd heard before, but I hope I'll hear and see her again. Her performance (and it was a performance, complete with items of fruit handed out to audience members), was never less than intriguing, and hugely entertaining.

I read five poems, from The Elephant Tests and hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, and felt privileged to have been part of such an inspiring evening. The icing on the cake was that Barry donated £50 of the takings to Ovarian Cancer Research, for which I'm doing a 21-mile walk on Sunday. I'm very grateful for his support, and if you want to add your own donation, you can do so here.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

A Great Valley Under The Stars

I bought this book, published by Isobar Press, at the Free Verse fair at the beginning of September, and have been enjoying it ever since. I have a slight obsession with New Mexico, with which large parts of the book are concerned, but Tyler delicately treads a path between being intimate, and encompassing the great wide open spaces of the American West in his work. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Postcards from Portugal

This is Mertola, a historic town in the Alentejo region of Portugal. I stayed there for a couple of nights last week, and as well as exploring the superb birdlife of the surrounding area, there was the chance to dig into the history of a settlement that has Roman, Moorish and medieval Christian remains.

I'll be posting a few photos from the town's museums over the next couple of weeks - to start with, here's a bowl from the Moorish period - the bird looks rather like a bustard, and both Great and Little Bustards can still be found in the area close to the town.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Team spirit

The fall-out from Kevin Pietersen's new book is all a bit depressing, if predictable, and while I doubt very much that he's telling the whole story, I think it's also probably safe to assume that there's at least some truth in what he alleges about the culture within the England dressing-room.

If so, it raises questions about the management of the England set-up - not so much the coach, but those above him. If there really was a culture of bullying, then they're the ones who should have identified it and stamped it out.

If it was a cliquey culture of certain senior players lording it over the rest, well, that's a bit different. It's probably not ideal, but it's also probably no different to every other sports team, professional and amateur, around the world. Team spirit is, if not exactly overrated, certainly very different to how it is usually painted. In any team, you're going to have players who don't get along, who openly dislike each other, even. It doesn't matter. All that matters is that they're able to put that behind them while they're on the field, and play for the team. Look at Shane Warne, in the great Australian team he played in. He never bought into the visible team-bonding exercises, openly mocked the coach at times, and fell out with more than one captain. It didn't stop him playing at his best, and helping the team to play at their best. I once played in a local league team in which, the season we won the league, our two key players loathed each other off the field. On it, they put that aside and won game after game for us (one was a bowler, the other a wicket-keeper).

This is where KP's story falls down a bit, too. His villain of the piece, Matt Prior, might very well be all or some of the things he alleges off the field, but on it he was always a notably unselfish player. Maybe KP should simply have got on with it.

Equally, though, English cricket has a bad record of accommodating anyone out of the ordinary. While KP has predecessors in the 'too selfish' camp (Boycott, I hear you cry), we've also tended to mistrust the  eccentric (Derek Randall), the slightly rotund (Mark Ealham, Samit Patel), the hard-headed professional (Brian Close), and the apparently (but not really) too laid-back (David Gower, Tom Graveney). Maybe English cricket, too, needs to learn to just get on with it.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

New Walk 9 launch & retrospective

This one-off event takes place at Five Leaves Bookshop, Long Row, Nottingham, from 7pm on Wednesday, October 15th, and includes readings from all back issues, as well as from Issue 9. I'll be among the poets reading, but even if that's not really your thing, it's a chance to look around and buy from a great little bookshop.