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.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Free Verse Anthology

In a previous post, I mentioned the little guide booklet that everyone attending this year's Free Verse poetry bookfair received, and how it formed an excellent little anthology, by selecting a poem from each of the publishers represented.

You can now see it for yourself here - it's well worth a read.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Green Man Poetry

An early heads-up that this splendid event will be taking place at Kendall's of Earlsdon Delicatessen, Earlsdon Street, Earlsdon, Coventry, CV5 6EJ, on Tuesday, October 14th, at 8pm.

Barry Patterson's Wild Man Of The Woods will perform his work The Giant Albion's Nightmare, with music and other poetry, including the work of William Blake, and readings from Antony R Owen, Leanne Bridgewater, Tom Wyre, Adam Steiner and myself.

Entry is £4.50, on the door.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Hawk boosting

My latest post is now up at Out There With The Birds - a few ruminations on Sparrowhawks, Kestrels, their hunting methods, and writing. Ted Hughes and Gerard Manley Hopkins get a mention too, of course, hence the appalling pun above. As ever, there's plenty else of interest to be found there, so stop and have a good rummage.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Found in a secondhand bookshop

I have more than enough books in my house. I have piles of books currently unshelved. I have piles of books waiting to be read. I have piles of books that I've earmarked for charity shops but have yet to get round to taking down there.

Unfortunately, this doesn't stop me from buying more. In particular, I can't resist a secondhand bookshop. It's the feeling, of course, that you might unearth an absolute treasure, or something that you've been looking for for years.

At the weekend, I was in Suffolk. There was a secondhand bookshop (no name on the front, other than 'secondhand bookshop') in the market square, so of course I had to browse. For under £15 all in, I bought two old Raymond Chandler paperbacks, the poet Tim Dooley's first collection, The Interrupted Dream, from the mid-80s, and the Reader's Digest Field Guide to the Butterflies and Other Insects of Britain, from their Nature Lover's Library series – I've already got the birds, trees and wild flowers volumes, and love them, and this was in the original hardback, in perfect condition.

The latter probably isn't going to get too much use until next year, but the Chandler and the poetry will be welcome companions on some forthcoming travels.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Antiphon 12

Issue 12 of the online poetry magazine Antiphon is out now - among the contents to have caught my eye so far are poems by Jayne Stanton, Rebecca Bird and Anthony Wilson, and reviews of books by James Caruth and Ben Wilkinson. Recommended, as always.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Camden Migration


Camden Migration, taking place from September 25th to October 5th, is an exploration into the migration of birds and people through the arts, celebrating cultural expansion but also considering its environmental impact, particularly on bird extinction.

On the 10th anniversary of the Morecambe Bay disaster, and the 100th anniversary of the loss of the last Passenger Pigeon, it will use art to explore the perils of migration to both humans and birds.

The Forge building, in which the Festival takes place, uses sustainable materials, powered in part by solar panels, with natural ventilation systems and featuring a 6.5m high living wall. 

The Ghost of Gone Birds Exhibition, a pop-up art studio, will breathe life back into the birds we've lost, creatively resurrecting extinct birds, so we don't lose any more. Eleven artists will be working at break-neck speed over the Festival to create a gallery of gone birds.

Conservationist and internationally-acclaimed poet Ruth Padel will give a talk about her book The Mara Crossing, a meditation on migration, of birds, animals and human beings, throughout history and in today's world of asylum-seekers and detention centres.

David Lindo, The Urban Birder, will give a talk about urban bird migration, and the effect which environmental changes, such as climate change, have on it.

The film drama 'Ghosts' directed by Nick Broomfield, about the Morecambe Bay disaster which saw 21 people lose their lives will be screened, following a short talk by Dr Diana Yeh to commemorate the lives lost during epic journeys of migration and to examine ways forward for the future.

All events can be found at The Forge website.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

At Frampton Marsh


There's a poem in my current collection, The Elephant Tests, called At Frampton Marsh, written some time after a visit to the RSPB reserve just outside Boston, Lincolnshire, a few years back.

I was there again on Friday, being shown around by warden Toby Collett, and was amazed at just how much it has developed even in the last couple of years. A bird list of 70-odd species included Glossy Ibis, two Pectoral Sandpipers, around 10 Little Stints, 50-plus Curlew Sandpipers, 10 Spotted Redshanks, hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits, Merlin and Marsh Harrier. The particularly high numbers of waders (I've never seen that many Little Stints or Curlew Sands together) were in part due to a very high tide which came right up to the sea wall.

Here's a little group of five Curlew Sandpipers, and a larger gathering of (mainly) godwits, although there were Dunlin and Knot among them.






Monday, 15 September 2014

Tears In The Fence Festival

The independent literary magazine, Tears In The Fence, is holding a festival to celebrate its 30th birthday, on 24-26 October.

It all takes place at the White Horse, Stourpaine, and among the speakers already confirmed are Peter Hughes, Carrie Etter, Dorothy Lehane, Chris McCabe and Steve Spence. You can find out more here.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Poetry: The Next Generation

The Poetry Book Society has announced its 20 'Next Generation' poets, the once a decade list that aims to, as chair of judges Ian McMillan puts it, "lead our national cultural conversation for many years to come".

As always, there's going to be a lot of argument about who was included and who wasn't, as well as the criteria used to make the choices and the entry requirements that do seem to make things harder for small presses.

I'm not going to rehash those arguments here, but I do find Daljit Nagra's inclusion slightly strange. Not that he's not a fine poet, just that I would have thought he's already very firmly established as one of poetry's big names - I would have thought the place could better have gone to a less well-known poet. On the other hand, maybe outside poetryworld he's not that well-known, and this is, after all, an attempt to get people who wouldn't otherwise read poetry to pick up a book.

Anyway, congratulations to all concerned, and I'm particularly pleased to see Rebecca Goss, Luke Kennard and Helen Mort among the 20 - all poets whose work I enjoy a lot. Of the others, there are several who I'm still to read, so if nothing else it will give me some ideas for the future.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Winchester Poetry Festival

Winchester Poetry Festival takes place this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with writers including Jackie Kay, Michael Longley, David Constantine, Patience Agbabi, Ros Barber, Julia Copus and Brian Patten among those taking part.

You can find full details, including the programme and how to book, here.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

And the books I brought back...

I didn't say yesterday that I returned home on Saturday with several more books than I set out with (of course). They were:

Sarah James' Be[yond], as I mentioned in my last post. It's an adventurous and hugely enjoyable collection - I recommend it highly.

Three splendid Worple Press volumes - Andy Brown's Exurbia, John Greening's Knot, and Anthony Wilson's Riddance. I haven't started on any of these yet, but all three are by poets I've enjoyed a lot in the past. There are loads of other goodies in the Worple stable, too - Michael McKimm's Fossil Sunshine is excellent, and Stephen Boyce's The Sisyphus Dog looked intriguing.

Royall Tyler's A Great Valley Under The Stars, from Isobar Press. This is one of the reasons Free Verse is such fun - I doubt I'd have come across this book otherwise, but I started reading it yesterday and it's great. I have a bit of a fixation with New Mexico, which is what made me pick it up initially - I'm glad that I did.

Finally, it occurred to me when I got home that the programme given away free to everyone attending is actually a pretty good little anthology in its own right - there are profiles of each attending press, plus a poem from one of their poets. I have a spare copy, so, if you'd like it, leave a comment here, and I'll send it out.