Friday, 23 March 2018

Our Old Lady Of The Rain, by Jane Commane

I've only just noticed that The Guardian's Poem of the Week is Our Old Lady Of The Rain, by Jane Commane, from her debut collection Assembly Lines.

Jane, of course, runs Nine Arches Press and has worked absolutely tirelessly for its poets (including me) and many others over the years. It's a really fine debut, and I'll write about it at greater length in the near future, but you can get a taste of it in that Guardian feature.

As always at Poem of the Week, some of the comments are rather baffling, but at least it's people talking about poetry.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Free money!

Well, not quite, but if you're a UK author, you really need to sign up at the ALCS site – once you're registered, and have added all the works that you've written or part-written, then you'll be eligible to receive payments for library borrowings, photocopying for schools, etc. Lifetime membership costs just £36, which is taken from your first payment (so no upfront cost), but you might be eligible for free membership anyway if you're a member of certain unions or other organisations.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

A plea

This month, I'm taking part in Cancer Research UK's Walk All Over Cancer campaign, and trying to raise £250 for the charity by doing at least 10,000 steps a day. That isn't hard at the weekend, or on days when I'm working in the field, but on an office-bound day, it can take a bit of doing at times.

My dad recently underwent major surgery to remove cancer from his bowel – I'm pleased to say it seems to have been entirely successful and he's recovering well at home now. Throughout his long stays at Leicester General Hospital and Coalville Community Hospital, he received wonderful care from the NHS doctors, nurses and other staff, but I'm very aware that the advances that have been made in fighting cancer are at least in part due to the work of charities such as Cancer Research UK.

When my sister, Rebecca, died of cancer in 2004, survival rates for all types of the disease were lower than they are now, so if we want things to keep improving, both the NHS and these charities need help.

Anyway, I'm now only £35 short of my target, with 10 days left, so if there's any way you can donate even a couple of quid to help me reach it, it would be massively appreciated. By me, certainly, not that that matters, but more so by the many people who are currently facing the disease.

Thank you.

Tweet of the Day: Wheatear

I didn't expect my second Tweet of the Day to appear quite so quickly, but the last few days have seen a trickle of Wheatears starting to appear in the UK, so it's good timing.

My only slight disappointment is that they describe it on the website as the 'English Ortolan', which is perfectly correct, but isn't the fact that everybody likes to quote concerning the name of the Wheatear.

That, of course, is that 'wheatear' is a corruption of the original Anglo-Saxon 'hvit oers', or 'white arse'. As I may have mentioned in A Sky Full Of Birds, the Anglo-Saxon's weren't much given to thinking too long or hard about the names of birds, what with so much of their time being taken up with fighting, feasting, feuding, engaging in long and convoluted religious arguments, and writing epic poetry to annoy undergraduates in the centuries to come.

Instead, they just fixed on one very obvious feature of the bird in question, and named it after that. In this case, a white rump. If you're not lucky enough to live in an upland area where they breed, now's the time to look for them as they go through on passage. They favour areas of sheep or rabbit-cropped grass, and have a habit of perching on molehills or cowpats to survey the surrounding area for tasty morsels.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Tweet of the Day: Curlew

Apparently my Tweet of the Day about the Curlew was on Radio 4 yesterday morning at 6.40am. I recorded it and two more (on the Redstart and the Wheatear) last spring, but I wasn't sure exactly when they were going to use them. I think (or hope) that the Redstart one will be on April 20th, for reasons that will become clear when you hear it.

But anyway, if you missed yesterday's episode, and if you have a hankering to hear my dulcet Midland tones rambling about the glorious song of what's pretty much my favourite bird species, you can hear it here:

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Our Place, by Mark Cocker

I've written on here before about my admiration for the writing of Mark Cocker. Crow Country and Claxton: Field Notes From A Small Planet are both superb books, full of pin-sharp observation of the natural world, conveyed through precise but luminous prose.

Birds and People, his book with photographer David Tipling, and Bird Britannica, its predecessor, are perhaps even bigger favourites of mine, the sort of volumes that I return to again and again, for education and inspiration.

But this latest book might be his most important yet, asking the question of whether we can save Britain's wildlife before it's too late, and suggesting some radical solutions. It arrived at the end of last week, and I'm looking forward to reading it over the next few days.

I should also declare an interest here. I once did a reading with Mark (and Katrina Porteous) in Norwich, and I was also lucky enough to go on a birdwatching trip to Papua New Guinea with him. Lines from one of my poems ('At Gedney Hill', from Troy Town), are used as the epigraph to one of the chapters here.

But that's by the by. If you have any interest in the wildlife of these islands, and its conservation, then this is a must.

Friday, 16 February 2018

A Sky Full Of Birds reviewed at Booktopia

Thank you to Australian author Kate Forsyth for this very kind review of A Sky Full Of Birds – the whole Booktopia site is worth a good browse, full as it is of reviews.

A Sky Full Of Birds is available by following this link, or if you'd like a signed copy, drop me a line using the email link on the left.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018


This rather splendid book is out a week tomorrow, February 8th (the web page hasn't been updated yet), and as you'll see, it comes with a whole-hearted recommendation from me. As well as commissioned poems from the likes of Carrie Etter, James Sheard and Andrew McMillan, there's a lot of really fine work by other familiar and not-so-familiar names. The artwork is excellent, too, and there's a foreword by Brett Westwood. Enjoy!

Monday, 29 January 2018

Adrian Slatcher on The Fall

I don't know enough of The Fall's work to write anything remotely coherent about them – I've dipped in and out over the years and found stuff I've loved and stuff I've hated. But Adrian Slatcher has written an excellent blog about them here. I enjoyed reading it then started to explore some of the tracks and albums mentioned.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Under The Radar 20

The winter issue of Under The Radar is available from the Nine Arches Press online shop here – you can also buy four-issue subscriptions.

You can see the list of featured poets here, and of course there's also short fiction and reviews of poetry collections. I won't start picking out names here, but suffice to say that I'm delighted we managed to get such a strong selection of poets and poems for this issue.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Forward Prize judges announced

Interesting judging panel for this year's Forward Prizes for Poetry – Bidisha, Mimi Khalvati, Chris McCabe, Niall Campbell and Jen Campbell. There's a link there for entries, but essentially editors have until March 9 (through Submittable), or March 23 (for physical copies).

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Ocean Vuong wins TS Eliot Prize

This year's TS Eliot Prize winner is Ocean Vuong, for his debut collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds. I haven't read it yet, but I'll look forward to it. As always, there's been some debate on Facebook and other online forums about whether or not judges Bill Herbert, James Lasdun and Helen Mort chosen the right winner, but that's pretty much par for the course with such awards and competitions – the fact that they at least get people talking about contemporary poetry is partly the point of them, surely?

Friday, 12 January 2018

The UK's favourite nature book

I came across this earlier today – Land Lines are looking to find the UK's favourite nature book. They're all excellent, as you'd expect, but there's three in there that I'd find very very hard to separate – The Peregrine, John Clare's Selected Poems, and of course The Natural History of Selborne. But I'd have to go for JA Baker's masterpiece, in the end.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Steve Spence on Peter Dent

Another excellent review at Litter, with Steve Spence discussing Peter Dent's new collection about the Rendlesham Forest Incident. I've liked what I've read of Dent's work in the past, and I've also got a bit of a soft spot for UFO-related mysteries.

Martin Stannard on Trevor Joyce

I really enjoyed reading this review of Trevor Joyce's Selected Poems by Martin Stannard, over at the always readable Litter. It says all sorts of interesting things about mainstream poetry, non-mainstream poetry, and what Stannard wants to find in poetry. As always, plenty to agree and disagree with, but isn't that what a review should do?

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Out on the Washes

I had some binocular and scope testing to do yesterday, so I took myself off into the Fens to do it. Perfect, really – wide horizons, plenty of fencelines and ditches to help judge distance, and a misty murk in which you get to see the difference that top-end Austrian and German optical technology can make.

I had some hopes of seeing the Rough-legged Buzzard that has been around Parson Drove, or the Bramblings that have hung around nearby, but I missed out on both, so to finish the testing I headed over to Eldernell at dusk.

I'm glad I did. The flooded Nene Washes were a mass of wildfowl, with the air full of the whistling of Wigeon and the hollering of Whooper Swans. A Marsh Harrier glided past, and just as I was packing up to leave, a Short-eared Owl quartered the nearest meadow then perched on a gatepost, its yellow eyes standing out from the many shades of brown and grey around it.

It's hard to believe, standing atop the grass bank there, looking out over this enormous wetland teeming with birdlife, that you're only a few miles outside a major city. It's a strange landscape, being very much shaped by man, despite the fact that here, at least, the river is allowed to overflow annually. But it has something that many British wildlife sites (and sights) don't – scale. You can stand there and be convinced that there's nothing in the world other than you and thousands upon thousands of birds.

The Snettisham 'spectacular' is one natural event that does rival this for size, and now's just about the best time to see it at the RSPB reserve in Norfolk. If you want to know more about it, you could always read about it in my book, A Sky Full Of Birds.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Blackbox Manifold 19

The 19th issue of Blackbox Manifold is out now, and features poetry from Tim Allen, John Balaban, Felix Bazalgette, Daragh Breen, Ian Cartland, Jonathan Catherall, Claire Crowther, Charlotte Eichler, Adam Flint, Angela Gardner, Daniel Y Harris, Sarah Hayden, Allen C Jones, Eric Langley, Ann Lauterbach, Drew Milne, Duncan Montgomery, Michael O'Neill, Nisha Ramayya, Mark Russell, Ian Seed, Helen Tookey, and Howard Wright, plus a review by Adam Piette of collections by Rachel Blau DePlessis, Drew Milne and Iain Britton.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Starting as I mean to go on

I thought I'd make a few New Year resolutions for a change, one of which is to finally try to write a novel that's been rattling round my head for years. I'm setting myself to write 3000 words a week until it's done, which sounds manageable until you actually sit down and attempt to write it.

Another is to knock something resembling another poetry collection into shape – I've got most of it reasonably finished, but there are maybe half a dozen key poems that need serious work.

But, and you'll have to excuse me for bringing my day job into things here, I'm also trying to complete the My200BirdYear challenge, as featured in Bird Watching, and the Walk 1000 Miles challenge, as featured in our sister magazine, Country Walking.

I've made a slow start to both, with a lunchtime walk today logging a couple of miles, and 24 species, mainly from my own garden and from the daily commute. Things will really start in earnest at the weekend.

I downloaded the OS app to log all my walks on, and also came across this, rather appropriately given that it's JRR Tolkien's birthday today. It's a much bigger challenge, especially if you have to walk across the Dead Marshes with the Eye of Sauron on you, but still, it's worth a try.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Poetry School Books of the Year 2017

As well as being a great way to spark a debate, the Poetry School's Books of the Year 2017 also has mini-reviews of a host of great volumes, and a longlist of many more, so you've got no excuse for saying that you don't know what new poetry to read (and even less for saying that it's been a thin year for poetry – as if anybody would).

Thursday, 21 December 2017


Something brought me wide awake at four. Groans
from the old house. The black dog running through the forest
of his dreams. Revving of a mind that won’t run idle.

So dressed and walked into December woods,
with the last leaves hanging on
and the fat moon making light of the rain.

Past the kissing gate, the gingerbread cottage,
a tractor taken root among the ferns,
and on over the stream. To the ropeswing,

where he swayed between
the man we thought he was and a darkness
that seeped back into every memory.

Eaten from the inside, the tree creaks
and sighs. Barely a bough, now,
strong enough to bear the weight,

but the longest night
for five hundred years, shrinks back
to a few pools, dark beneath the trees. Above,

rooks discuss their headlong commute. A kestrel
punctuates a phone wire, strung for movement.
And home again, tired and wet and cold,

carrying neither the hunter’s stillness
nor the flock’s sure purpose. Unconvinced and unconsoled,
yet the year’s morning yawning, and still unbroken.

Monday, 18 December 2017

More poetry website recommendations

Clarissa Aykroyd has posted her own recommendations for poetry and poetry in translation websites here – lots of good stuff to enjoy.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Poetry for Christmas

I've been holding off buying any poetry for a while, mainly because I'm still working my way through a backlog of books. At some stage in the next couple of weeks I'll post something about the books I have read this year, but what about those I ought to be reading?

I'd be interested to hear any recommendations of poetry volumes to look out for – I've already got a couple in mind, but fire away...

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Dream City Blues

I have a poem – Six Ways To Navigate The City – in this excellent volume, Dream City Blues, edited by Mark Howard Jones, out now. It's a book that looks at urban utopias gone wrong, and cities that have become nightmares.

The poem originally appeared in my collection The Elephant Tests, which is still available from Nine Arches Press. While you're at it, have a look at all the other goodies that Nine Arches have available - lots of good present ideas there.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Writing new poetry

It's been quite a while since my last poetry collection, The Elephant Tests, was published. 2013, in fact, although it's still available from Nine Arches Press, along with a plethora of new collections from new poets (very unsubtle hint for anyone stuck for Christmas present ideas for their literary friends, there).

In the meantime, I haven't written a huge amount of poetry. It hasn't been down to writer's block, exactly, although at times I have found myself wanting to write, but struggling to find ways to do so without retreading old ground.

A bigger reason is that I've been in self-imposed exile in the land of prose, first writing A Sky Full Of Birds (oops, there's another shameless plug), and then working on a couple of other prose projects that may or may not see the light of day eventually. And I've enjoyed that a lot, but it's a very different place to poetry world in all sorts of ways.

Just in the last few weeks, though, I've been drifting back into poetry, writing new poems and revisiting half-finished ones with fresh ideas and fresh impetus. I've got one or two new processes and exercises that I'd like to try. And I've been reading more poetry, too, at lunchtimes especially, and rediscovering the thrill of being inspired, and the danger of imitating an admired poet's style too closely.

So, in the next few weeks, I'll start posting a few reviews, previews, and discussions of poetry, and we'll see what happens.

Friday, 1 December 2017

2017's best UK poetry blogs

It's very kind of Matthew Stewart to include Polyolbion in his annual round-up of his favourite UK poetry blogs, not least because I've been pretty tardy in posting on here this year. But he has spurred me into action, and I'll be posting regularly from the start of 2018.

I'd add that Matthew's own Rogue Strands is always worth keeping an eye on, for poetry news, recommendations, and discussion, and there are a host of other very fine blogs mentioned in that post – give them a try.