Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Buzzwords Open Poetry Competition

There's still time to enter this year's Buzzwords Open Poetry Competition, which closes on August 17th. The judge this year is Carcanet poet David Morley, and as with last year, he will read all the entries.

There's a £600 prize for the winner, £300 for the runner-up, and £50 each for five Commended entries, while as always there's an additional prize of £200 for Gloucestershire residents only (this year it includes South Gloucestershire.

All the proceeds of the competition will help fund Buzzwords' regular poetry gatherings in Cheltenham.

More information on how to enter, plus previous year's winners, can be found at here. 

Saturday, 27 July 2013

The Elephant Tests at Peony Moon

My new collection, The Elephant Tests, is currently featured over at Michelle McGrane's wonderful blog, Peony Moon. There are six poems to read - Ganesha, Svalbard, Patsy Parisi's Blues, Red Centre Blues, Always, and Seeing The Elephant.

It's an honour to be on such a consistently fine site again - I've discovered the work of more new poets (to me, at least) through it than anywhere else. At the moment, I'm greatly enjoying Alvin Pang's When The Barbarians Arrive, recently featured there, and well worth investigating further.

Friday, 26 July 2013

The Triffids - Wide Open Road

Thanks to our recent heatwave, and the promptings of poet Martin Malone, a man even more enamoured of 1980s Australian pop-rock than I am, I've spent large parts of the last week listening to The Triffids and The Go-Betweens. Here are the former, from 1986's masterpiece Born Sandy Devotional. They should have been huge.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

David Hart on RS Thomas

I enjoyed reading this double review, at Stride, of RS Thomas's Uncollected Poems and Poems To Elsi - David Hart has an interesting take on the whole question of how a famous poet's work is approached (and Thomas was of course not just famous but also, by contemporary poetry standards, a big-seller).

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

A brief cricketing interlude

No, don't worry, I'm not going to start on about the Ashes or what Australia need to do to reverse their decline (build a time machine?). I just thought I'd point you in the direction of this little interview with Derek Randall, a player who was one of my two great heroes when I was a kid (David Gower was the other). In part it was because his 174 in the Centenary Test was just about at the time I was becoming aware of cricket, and in part it was down to his fielding, incredible then and even now, in an era of much higher standards, among the best ever seen. But mainly, I suspect, it was because 'Arkle' came across exactly as he does here - a down-to-earth Nottinghamshire lad who got lucky and remained grateful throughout a long and successful career (he's far too modest about the role he played in making Notts a major power in the 1980s).

Monday, 22 July 2013

Blackbox Manifold 10

The latest issue of Blackbox Manifold has gone live - it includes work by Billy Cancel, Rick Crilly, Josh Ekroy, Michael Farrell, Joanna Grigg, Bernard Henrie, Joan Harvey, David Herd, Beau Hopkins, Drew Milne & John Kinsella (together), Peter Larkin, Robert Mueller, Sandeep Parmar, Peter Riley, Jennifer Scappettone, Kerrin P Sharpe, Nathan Thompson, Corey Wakeling, Duncan White and Rachel Zolf, plus an essay by Sam Ladkin on Frank O'Hara, and a review of John Matthias (a poet I've been reading a lot of lately) by Adam Piette.

As ever, it's well worth trawling through the archive of previous issues for all sorts of new discoveries and hidden gems.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Rise, by Gill McEvoy

Gill McEvoy's first collection, The Plucking Shed, built on the many strengths of her Happenstance debut, Uncertain Days. Rise continues that steady and sure-footed progress, but ventures into new territory, too, and the result is her strongest work to date.
Themed collections seem to be the standard nowadays - that's nearly always a good thing, in my opinion, although that's not to say that there's not still room for a collection that's essentially just a gathering together of the best poems a poet has written since the last one. Rise, and especially the first half of the book, has the strong connecting thread of McEvoy's survival of ovarian cancer, and even more so the celebration of life it has inspired. But it's worth saying that even where that particular theme fades into the background slightly, the sequencing of the poems is extremely well achieved - each poem feels like the only possible one that could succeed the one that's gone before.
McEvoy could never be accused of overwriting - the subtlety and understatement of her poetry is a snug fit with that aforementioned theme, the fragility of life (all life, too, as she's a very astute observer of the natural world, of which more in a minute). McEvoy never tells the reader what to think. Instead, there's always enough space around the edges to allow you to follow the poem in more than one direction - the wrens in Roost, for example, "between the snaggled stems / as if a wind had fluted all the leaves / and blown them there" are symbols of both fragility in the face of nature, and defiance of those seemingly overwhelming forces.
I am, of course, predisposed to take a keen interest in poetry that features birds prominently, but one of the greatest pleasures of this collection is that McEvoy doesn't impose any sort of hierarchy on the natural world - a single leaf, or a gull, lifting from a slurried field, is accorded as much attention and prominence as, say, a rarer bird like a chough or waxwing, and consequently all feel real, rather than mere agents of the poet. There are neat reversals of expectation, too - in Birding/not Birding, a sky is kingfisher blue rather vice versa, another example of how diligently McEvoy focuses first on the small detail and the close at hand, opening gradually out to a wider perspective.
Metaphors are delicately deployed, and indeed at times McEvoy is willing to undermine or deny them. In Oncology Waiting Room, for example, a leaf powders to "threads of veins / a span of bones" while a few pages later, in Visitors "a leaf on a tree is a leaf on a tree". The effect is to recreate the compulsive looking for signs, omens and parallels that being brought face to face with mortality can engender, and the corresponding reaction, to attempt to confine yourself to a world of bare facts.
In the second half of the book, two sequences (the Nuala poems and the Almond Street poems), take McEvoy's work in a different direction, most notably by moving away from the first person. It's skilfully done, especially as the threads followed earlier continue through this less obviously personal work, and sequences suit McEvoy's patient unfolding of effect perfectly. The best, on this evidence, is still to come.
You can buy Rise here.
I'll be interviewing Gill McEvoy, and featuring several poems from Rise, in the coming weeks - keep reading...

Friday, 12 July 2013

Weddings, parties, anything...

Now for a double dose of self-promotion. Here's the cover of The Elephant Tests, my new collection from Nine Arches Press - you can read more about it and buy it here, or alternatively, here.

With the release of a new book, thoughts inevitably turn to the open road, to readings and workshops and other chances to show off this shiny new volume. So, if you're running any of those, and have need of a fully house-trained poet with a mild ornithological obsession, then don't hesitate to drop me a line using the link on the righthand side of this blog, or through my Twitter address, @polyolbion.

With advance warning, I can travel to most UK locations easily enough, and my demands are very few. They don't even involve cake anymore.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Hinterland on Shindig

There's a really nice review of last Monday's Shindig by Rebecca Bird at Hinterland Journal - you can read it here. It's hard to disagree with any of her assessments of the other readers, and I'm very grateful for her comments on my own reading.

While you're at it, have a look at Hinterland more generally. Edited by Rebecca and Ian Parks, it's already featured some high-quality work from the likes of Roy Marshall and Maria Taylor, and it's on the lookout for more.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Launching The Elephant Tests

Maybe it was the fact of reading with the doors wide open behind us, thanks to the balmy weather, but there definitely seemed to be an outdoor vibe to last night's Nine Arches Press/Crystal Clear Creators Leicester Shindig. As ever, the poetry in the open mic slots and the featured readings ranged far and wide.

It was also the launch of my new Nine Arches collection, The Elephant Tests, and it was great to be able to give the poems their first airing (well, sort of - many of them have been read at the Shindig open mic over the last three years) in the company of so many fine poets, not least the other featured readers, David Morley (pictured below), Zeandrick Oliver and Kate Fox.

I've talked before about David's forthcoming Carcanet collection, The Gypsy and the Poet, and the poems from it are outstanding (especially The Invisible Gift). But the final poem he read, just finished earlier in the day, was as good as anything else we heard in a superb reading.

Zeandrick's chapbook Secretions, from New Fire Tree Press, is a thing of beauty, a work of art before you even get started on the writing, and he read from it confidently and well. I'm looking forward to reading it this weekend - he managed to pull off the difficult trick of a Frank O'Hara homage that sounded both natural and original.

Kate Fox is a familiar voice from radio, and had just spent time as poet in residence at the Glastonbury Festival, but after assuring us that she's had a shower since, she delivered a great set that had the audience demanding she return for encores. There's a great deal of humour in her work, but there's a great deal more too - her poem about her father was touchingly honest, while her piece on call centres added anger to the mix. I think that's because it, and many of her other poems, use northern vernacular and speech patterns not simply to sound somehow 'authentic', but to question how they're heard and seen by the rest of society. I bought her book, the splendidly titled Fox Populi, to read more.

It always feels unfair picking out particular open mic readers. Jayne Stanton never fails to leave an impression, and Roy Marshall and Rebecca Fox were two more personal favourites in what was a uniformly strong showing. Steve Carroll's closing poem was great, especially if you remember some of Leicester's now-vanished watering holes, while Gary Carr's poem was a little masterpiece of allusion and the use of sound, being constructed wholly of initials. Shindig goes from strength to strength - it was a privilege to be part of it.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Shindig in Leicester

This Monday (July 8th), I'm reading at the latest Nine Arches Press and Crystal Clear Creators Leicester Shindig, at the usual venue of The Western, 70 Western Road, Leicester.

Special guests are Kate Fox, David Morley, Zeandrick Oliver and me. David needs absolutely no introduction, to readers of this blog or poetry fans more generally, but the poems I've heard from his forthcoming Carcanet collection are absolutely outstanding, and he's always a riveting reader of his own work. Zeandrick is a student at De Montfort University in Leicester, and I have to admit I don't know his work at all - I look forward to hearing it.

Finally, I'm pretty sure Kate Fox was there at one of my first-ever readings (well, mini-readings), an anthology launch at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle. She was, and still is, a top-notch performer of her own  work (she's a comedian, too), and has most recently been Poet In Residence at Glastonbury. 

It's free and it all starts at 7.30pm, and as usual there are open mic slots available - just sign up on the door if you're interested.