Thursday, 22 September 2016

'Two ravens flew with them all the way'

Driving to work this morning, just a few miles from home, I saw two Ravens flying over the road at Napton-on-the-Hill.

Their identity was obvious from the wedge-shaped tails, the long, narrow wings, and the size, close to that of a Buzzard. As I got closer, the heavy bills were there, too, and just a hint of the shaggy throat feathers.

A few years ago, to see a Raven in the Midlands was still a pretty big deal. Then pairs started to move into many of the granite quarries around Charnwood Forest (I was living in Leicestershire at the time), where they co-habited with another species that has been making a comeback, the Peregrine. The two species often live in close proximity, and the Ravens seem to delight in annoying the raptors with close approaches and dive-bombing. I've never seen a Peregrine actually have a go at a Raven, though, perhaps because there is usually much easier prey to hand.

Now Ravens are getting reported from all over the place. They breed on the edge of Peterborough, in countryside that you'd never have associated with them just a short time ago, but which they must have inhabited in the past. John Clare, whose home village of Helpston is just a couple of miles from the nest site, mentions them more than once. Near my own home, they're regularly seen around Edgehill, but they've probably spread even further than that.

The pair this morning were flying purposefully and straight, with none of the aerobatics you often see from the species. Once, in Extremadura, I watched four Ravens flying high over the plain that stretched for 20 miles in every direction. As if to relieve the monotony of the journey, all four suddenly flipped onto their backs, then back again, before carrying on their way.

But anyway, Ravens are right up there in my birds top 10, and seeing them always reminds me of this passage from Njal's Saga, greatest of the Icelandic family sagas. The whole historical and mythological aspect of Ravens is, I think, one of the reasons I like them so much.

I didn't intend this post to deteriorate into a bout of shameless self-promotion, but I should also mention that there's a chapter on Ravens in my book A Sky Full Of Birds, which you can read about and order here.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Have blogs had their day?

Or has this blog had its day, more to the point? Visitor numbers have been showing a slow but steady decline over the last year or so. I've not been great at updating it in recent months, and when I have I haven't always been able to write the occasional longer pieces that I'd like to, so I suspect that it's not really doing anything that Facebook and even Twitter couldn't do just as well.

I'd be interested, then, to know if there's anything that people would like to see more of on here. Not that I can guarantee that I can do anything about it, of course! But still, I'll try.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Winter tour selections

Back in my schooldays, the pre-internet information wasteland of the 1980s (Ceefax seemed impossibly hi-tech), I used to look forward to the announcement of the England cricket touring team with great eagerness. It was a landmark – after two or three weeks back at school, on some warm, hazy September day, you'd hear the news on the radio, and you'd always be surprised by one or two of the names.

That wasn't always a good thing. There was a time when a single eye-catching performance in the Gillette Cup (later NatWest Trophy) Final at the start of September could propel you into the winter tour party. Roland Butcher did it in 1980, but there were others, and the players involved rarely went on to have long international careers.

These days, there are far fewer surprises. Consistency of selection has generally been a good thing and has played its part in England's generally better performances since the turn of the century (some good captains and coaches, central contracts, and more competitive county cricket have also helped). But I can't help missing the old days a bit, when a couple of names would always send you scurrying to the bookshelves to dig out the Playfair Cricket Annual and swot up on the players chosen.

This year, there's room for a few left-field selections. Alex Hales has opted not to tour Bangladesh, which leaves a spot for a new opener (he's quite possibly have been dropped anyway), and the struggles of England's middle order means there are other batting places up for grabs too. A third spinner will be needed.

So, I turned my mind to selecting my own touring party for Bangladesh, ahead of tomorrow's announcement. I'd keep pretty much the same squad for the India tour too. The first XI would be my starting line-up for the first test.

Alistair Cook
Haseeb Hameed
Ben Duckett
Joe Root
Jonny Bairstow
Ben Stokes
Jos Buttler
Moeen Ali
Adil Rashid
Stuart Broad
Jimmy Anderson
Chris Woakes
Steve Finn
Jack Leach
Stuart Robson

Leach has come through strongly this season, although I think it's unlikely that we'll play three spinners in any one match. Robson looks a better player now than when he was first selected for England, and Duckett will certainly play for England sooner or later.

I wonder how many I'll have got right?

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Want to write poetry reviews?

Well, if you do, the Poetry School wants to hear from you ASAP. You'll even get paid £60 a time. The full details are available here, and it'll be interesting to see what comes of it – as they say, there's a real need for thoughtful, honest reviews of poetry out there, especially of some of the writers that otherwise slip below the radar.

It reminds me – I've got a couple of reviews to post myself, when I get a minute, so watch this space. I'll be paying myself the standard fee of a Strawberry Cornetto.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Autumn reviewed by Mark Avery

Autumn: an anthology for the changing seasons, edited by Melissa Harrison and sold in aid of the Wildlife Trusts, is reviewed here by Mark Avery, former conservation director at the RSPB and now tireless campaigner on wildlife issues, most notably the persecution of Hen Harriers by the driven grouse-shooting industry.

It's a lovely book (as are the first two in the series), and in a very good cause too, so another one for the Christmas lists for lovers of wildlife and literature alike.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Birdbook IV


This rather splendid volume, the fourth and last in Sidekick's series covering all the birds of Britain, is out today. You can find out how to buy it here.

There are poems inspired by all the species of saltwater and shore (so a lot of my favourites are in there), with superb illustrations to accompany them too. It's every bit as good as the other three books in the series, and perfect for anyone with an interest in birds, or poetry, or both.

Of course, I would say that, because I wrote the foreword, but if you don't believe me, have a look at the Sidekick website.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Martin Stannard at Stride

Martin Stannard's poems for the young at heart (Leafe Press) is reviewed by Steve Spence for Stride here – you can also find out more about it and Leafe's other excellent publications here.

Incidentally, over at Gists & Piths, Simon Turner has his response to Appendix 2: A Test For Poets, from Martin Stannard's book. You might actually need the book to get the full sense of it, but then you were going to buy that anyway, weren't you?

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The Poet's Republic

The submissions window at The Poet's Republic is open until the end of September, with issue 4 due out in November. Nell Nelson of HappenStance Press is guest editor this issue, which pretty much sounds like a guarantee of high quality, and if you read the submissions guidelines you'll see that this Scottish mag is casting its net pretty far and wide stylistically and in terms of subject matter.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Mark Goodwin - Along A Line

This is a rather wonderful blog post by poet Mark Goodwin – make sure you watch the video at the end, too. Mark's books include a 2014 collection from Longbarrow Press, Steps, that explores walking, climbing and balancing, among other themes.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

An evening of poetry at Kenilworth Arts Festival

A week on Friday (September 16th), this rather splendid event is taking place as part of the Kenilworth Arts Festival. David Morley will be joined by Sarah Howe, Luke Kennard, Jo Bell, Claire Trevien and Jonathan Edwards at the Talisman Theatre for an evening of poetry. Follow the link for details of how to book tickets.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Peter Hughes at Litter

There are four poems by Peter Hughes, after Giacomo Leopardi, in the latest edition of Litter. Take a look – some other very interesting stuff there too, as always.

Friday, 26 August 2016

The Forward Book of Poetry 2017

The 25th annual Forward Prize anthology is out on September 15th – it contains all the poems shortlisted for this year's prizes, plus a selection of those highly commended by the judges. Those featured include Vahni Capildeo, John Clegg, Maura Dooley, Ian Duhig, Leontia Flynn, Kathleen Jamie, Luke Kennard, William Letford, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Hannah Lowe, Roy McFarlane, Helen Mort, Alice Oswald, Denise Riley, Carol Rumens, Ian Seed, Julia Webb and Luke Wright.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Magma 65

Issue 65 of the always excellent Magma is out now - you can find further details here.

Reviews include Kathryn Gray on Ian Duhig, Andy Willoughby and Claire Askew; Ian McEwen on Martin Stannard, Matthew Caley and Barbara Cumbers; Rob A Mackenzie on Judy Brown, Lisa Matthews and Adam Crothers; and Pippa Little on Anne-Marie Fyfe, Martin Figura and Andrew Shields.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Summer sale at Nine Arches Press

There's a summer sale on at Nine Arches Press, with 50% off lots of their poetry books, others available for just £3, and free postage – the offer ends on September 1st, though, so hurry. There are collections from the likes of Daniel Sluman, Tony Williams, Mario Petrucci, Jo Bell, Bobby Parker, Angela France, Richie McCaffrey and many more in there, plus several anthologies.

My own The Elephant Tests is there for £4, while my previous collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, is still available at £8.99.

After a long sojourn in the land of prose these last couple of years, I'm finally getting back to writing some poetry at the moment. Not entirely sure where it's going, but then that's half the fun, isn't it?

Monday, 22 August 2016

A Sky Full Of Birds in Bournemouth

I'll be reading from A Sky Full Of Birds (and who knows, maybe a poem or two), at Bournemouth Natural Science Society and Museum this Saturday (August 27th), at 2.30pm.

The talk takes place in the Lecture Hall of the building at 39 Christchurch Road, and there's a suggested donation of £3. There'll also be the chance to buy copies of the book, and of my poetry collections, at discount prices.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

A Sky Full Of Birds reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement



Very pleased to have been reviewed in the latest Times Literary Supplement, alongside Mike Dilger's Nightingales In November, and very grateful to Richard Smyth for his thoughtful and generous reading of A Sky Full Of Birds.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Birdfair reading

I'll be reading from A Sky Full Of Birds at the British Birdwatching Fair, at the Egelton Reserve, Rutland Water, this Saturday at 9.30am. It takes place in the Author's Forum (next to the main Events Marquee), and I'll be signing books afterwards.

I'll be at Birdfair all three days, as usual – the Bird Watching Magazine stand is in its usual place in Marquee 6, so if you're there, pop by and say hello.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

A Sky Full of Birds at Wigtown Book Festival

I'm going to be reading from A Sky Full Of Birds at the Wigtown Book Festival, Dumfries and Galloway, on Thursday September 29th. The event takes place at the Main hall of the County Buildings at 1.30pm, and you can find more details, including how to book, here.

Wigtown Bay is a pretty great birdwatching spot itself, especially at that time of year, so it will be great to combine the reading with some time in the field. Might just be too early for the geese to be back on the Solway, but there should be plenty of waders going through.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Autumn anthology


It's not often I get the chance to say that a poem of mine is appearing in an anthology alongside poems and nature writing by the likes of Gilbert White, Richard Jefferies, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Patrick Kavanagh, Shelley, Tennyson, Yeats, Edward Thomas, Dylan Thomas, Thomas Hardy, Coleridge, John Clare, Ted Hughes, Helen Macdonald and Alison Brackenbury, so you'll have to excuse me being quite excited today.

My poem, about Long-eared Owls, appears in Autumn, the latest "anthology for the changing seasons", edited by Melissa Harrison, published by Elliott & Thompson, and in aid of The Wildlife Trusts, who don't always get the same high profile as some conservation organisations, but who do an incredible amount of vital work at the local level.

It's out on August 25th, so order your copy now - it's a wonderful celebration of the season.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Provenance, by David Belbin


I've been reading David Belbin's superb Provenance: New and Collected Short Stories, which pulls together 18 stories dating back as far as the 1980s.

There's a wide variety of subject matter (one which deals with child abuse is particularly effective), but the style is uniformly realistic, economical and exact – David Belbin's particularly good at dialogue. It all means that the stories' impact rather creeps up on you – there's no heavy-handed signposting of significance, or meaning, and you're left, as the reader, with a little work to do yourself (as you should be). Take the time, though, and you'll certainly come away from the book the better for having read it, so precisely does it capture the uncertainties of contemporary life (generally with an East Midlands flavour, too, refreshingly).

It's from the always-excellent Shoestring Press - you can order a copy here.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Falcon, by Helen Macdonald


You probably know Helen Macdonald as the author of the best-selling H Is For Hawk, which was Costa Book of the Year 2014 and also won the Samuel Johnson Prize that year. It combined a moving memoir of the writer's loss of her father with a diary of the training of a Goshawk, the most difficult to handle of all falconers' birds.

This new release, Falcon, was originally published in 2006, but has been reissued with a new preface by Macdonald that brings it up to date. As well as looking at the use of the birds of the title in falconry, the book explores the natural history of falcons, and their role in history and myth. The end result is an absorbing, entertaining and enlightening read (well illustrated, too).

Macdonald is also, of course, a poet of note, and her collection Shaler's Fish is well worth seeking out (although it's not easy to come by). I'm glad to have snapped up a copy a good few years ago – it's a book that repays repeated readings.

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.