Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 - The Year I Read Even More Books and Even Wrote One

As an end of year sign off I thought I should probably write a few things about my reading and writing activities. I'll keep it brief. Firstly, on a personal note I should say this has been a mixed year. A lot of my family have suffered with various illnesses and I lost an aunt in February. However, my twins have kept me rather busy and entertained on the positive side.

In terms of books I've read here are some that have been key this year. I discovered Hilary Mantel this year; I devoured 'Beyond Black' and 'Giving Up the Ghost.' Next year I plan to read more. This year I also read new poetry by Kim Moore and loved her pamphlet 'If We Could Speak Like Wolves.' Another poetry collection that I enjoyed was Daniel Sluman's 'Absence Has A Weight of It's Own.' Daniel's book was launched by Nine Arches Press at the same time as mine. It's received some good reviews and I hope it continues to do well.  Will Buckingham's novel 'The Descent of the Lyre' was beautiful; a wonderfully conceived piece of work. Geoff Hattersley's 'Inside the Blue Hebium' was a quirky joy and Jacob Sam-La Rose's 'Breaking Silence' was a pleasure too. Through the serendipity of reviewing I was also impressed by Meredith Andrea's 'Organnon' and Chris McCabe's 'The Restructure.' In terms of not 2012 poetry Allison McVety's 'Miming Happiness' and the 'Making for Planet Alice' women's poetry anthology were good too. I'm scratching the surface with a teaspoon here, there was a lot of stuff I enjoyed. It was nice to get reacquainted with Danny Abse's 'Funland' which I read in ninety-ninety-something and forgot about. Carrie Etter's 'The Tethers' was also another fairly recent book which I read for the first time this year. Her reading at 'The Flying Goose' in Summer was terrific and being able to 'hear' the poetry on the page enhanced my enjoyment. Ian Duhig was another good reader at the Leicester Poetry Society in May, as was Ian McMillan around the same time. I wish I could cover everything on this blog, there's more I could mention. Of course I still have a long reading list so I will be reading more of 2012's books and previous years far on into the 2010s!

I said I'd keep this short. I can't. Obviously I was really pleased about my debut collection 'Melanchrini' out in July. It was long listed by one of the judges for the TS Eliot prize, I'd read about it by accident in The Guardian Review section. I nearly died. It's doing alright, some good, thoughtful reviews here and there. It was fabulous to launch it at the Ledbury festival in July. I've been lucky enough to do some buzzy readings this year and sell a few books! I loved doing the Wordsmiths & Co. reading with host Jo Bell in December. Also PROSE. Yes I realised I also write PROSE too (now and then). That's PROSE, not poetry. My short story 'A Daughter's Wedding' was a featured in the 'Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud' edited by Jonathan Taylor and published by Salt. Alongside some really strong writing by Hanf Kureshi, Vannessa Gebbie, actually look it up here if you like!

Crystal Clear turned into a poetry publisher of six excellent pamphlets (look here friends!) and we continue to run the mighty Shindigs in Leicester along with Nine Arches Press. Apart from the public readings I've been quiet, not submitting much, trying very hard to work on what I've got. I'll try and get back on the horse next year, but after the book I'm trying to get my next 'projects' (whatever they are) into some perspective. A year is not a long time in poetry, so I'm taking my time despite my natural impatience. I am following the words of Hilary Mantel: 'You may have to creep towards it...'

Let's finish with a song. As a teenager I was a huge Blur fan and only a week ago I'd actually found out they'd released another song this year. I'm slow! In the words of Damon Albarn 'But I am going to sing Hallelujah, Sing it out loud and sing it to you...' Sayonara 2012.

Friday, 28 December 2012

'Tasting Notes' by Matthew Stewart

I did entertain the notion of compiling a 'best-of-2012' book list, but the feeling quickly passed. Instead I'm writing about a pamphlet which had some pretty interesting launches this year. Here's a 'read-about-what-you're-drinking-while-you're-drinking-it' poetry book. Matthew Stewart's Happenstance pamphlet 'Tasting Notes' is exactly that. Matthew is a blender and exporter of Spanish wine, as well as a poet. What I liked about this pamphlet is the fact that some of the poems are written from rather different perspectives, including from the wine itself, such as the rosé or rosado, as it's known in Spanish, which 'hasn't got the guts for red.' While there are many poets who quaff bucketfulls of wine, there are few poets giving their drinks a voice. Spare a thought next time you drink a decent glass of wine for the voices in your glass, 'leaving arch after arch behind / a silhouetted cathedral / where you're worshipping yet again.' Read here for more details.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A Poem by Dennis O'Driscoll

A poem by Dennis O'Driscoll, who died yesterday, Christmas Day. As a nominal Greek Orthodox it speaks to me.

Missing God

His grace is no longer called for
before meals: farmed fish multiply
without His intercession.
Bread production rises through
disease-resistant grains devised
scientifically to mitigate His faults.

Yet, though we rebelled against Him
like adolescents, uplifted to see
an oppressive father banished -
a bearded hermit - to the desert,
we confess to missing Him at times.

Miss Him during the civil wedding
when, at the blossomy altar
of the registrar’s desk, we wait in vain
to be fed a line containing words
like ‘everlasting’ and ‘divine’.

Miss Him when the TV scientist
explains the cosmos through equations,
leaving our planet to revolve on its axis
aimlessly, a wheel skidding in snow.

Miss Him when the radio catches a snatch
of plainchant from some echoey priory;
when the gospel choir raises its collective voice
to ask Shall We Gather at the River?
or the forces of the oratorio converge
on I Know That My Redeemer Liveth
and our contracted hearts lose a beat.

Miss Him when a choked voice at
the crematorium recites the poem
about fearing no more the heat of the sun.

Miss Him when we stand in judgement
on a lank Crucifixion in an art museum,
its stripe-like ribs testifying to rank.

Miss Him when the gamma-rays
recorded on the satellite graph
seem arranged into a celestial score,
the music of the spheres,
the Ave Verum Corpus of the observatory lab.

Miss Him when we stumble on the breast lump
for the first time and an involuntary prayer
escapes our lips; when a shadow crosses
our bodies on an x-ray screen; when we receive
a transfusion of foaming blood
sacrificed anonymously to save life.

Miss Him when we exclaim His name
spontaneously in awe or anger
as a woman in a birth ward
calls to her long-dead mother.

Miss Him when the linen-covered
dining table holds warm bread rolls,
shiny glasses of red wine.

Miss Him when a dove swoops
from the orange grove in a tourist village
just as the monastery bell begins to take its toll.

Miss Him when our journey leads us
under leaves of Gothic tracery, an arch
of overlapping branches that meet
like hands in Michelangelo’s Creation.

Miss Him when, trudging past a church,
we catch a residual blast of incense,
a perfume on par with the fresh-baked loaf
which Milosz compared to happiness.

Miss Him when our newly-fitted kitchen
comes in Shaker-style and we order
a matching set of Mother Ann Lee chairs.

Miss Him when we listen to the prophecy
of astronomers that the visible galaxies
will recede as the universe expands.

Miss Him when the sunset makes
its presence felt in the stained glass
window of the fake antique lounge bar.

Miss Him the way an uncoupled glider
riding the evening thermals misses its tug.

Miss Him, as the lovers shrugging
shoulders outside the cheap hotel
ponder what their next move should be.

Even feel nostalgic, odd days,
for His Second Coming,
like standing in the brick
dome of a dovecote
after the birds have flown.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Wordsmiths & Co. at Warwick Arts Centre

Last night I did a reading with a difference. I read along with Lemn Sissay, Jacob Sam-La Rose and Laura Dedicoat. This was one of a series of collaborative events between Apples and Snakes and Nine Arches Press, with support from Bloodaxe Books and Warwick Arts Centre. So why was this one different you might wonder? We’ll all used to the standard format of a poetry reading, aren’t we? A) Poet gets up B) Poet reads poems C) Poet ends, applause, sit down. What made the Wordsmiths & Co. reading different was that all four poets were interviewed on aspects of their work by a host, in this case the host was the wonderful Jo Bell. Jo asked some very thoughtful questions after reading and getting acquainted with our work. It’s a format I’ve seen here and there, but this reading didn’t just feature the questions as an afterthought but as an integral part of the performance. I was really impressed with Jo’s ability to ask questions which were suited to the poetry and the poet and do so in a very sharp and structured fashion. She must have really done her homework on us!

The readings were great. In many ways all four of us were quite different writers, but I felt along with most of the audience it seemed, that there were common threads uniting the work. Mainly there were links in terms of identity, self-perception and personal history. Laura Dedicoat is a young performance poet, one of the Nottingham based ‘Mouthy Poets,’ even though she lives in Birmingham. Her commitment to poetry was startling, her approach was warm and approachable and I’m eager to see more. Jacob Sam La-Rose read from his brilliant first collection ‘Breaking Silence.’ His work seemed to have a biographical focus and was full of imagery and inventive used of language. The poems about mothers, families, traditions and city life immediately appealed to me. I brought a copy and it’s a welcome addition to my reading. Here’s one of Jacob’s poem on the Poetry Archive site that we all enjoyed last night on the curious subject matter for dreams. Click here for a treat. Lemn Sissay is obviously very well known and his performance was theatrical and super-charged with energy. He made for a fascinating interviewee and I found his comments on poetry and using the Internet really thought-provoking. At one point he said that he kept a blog for the love of writing and didn’t care if no one read it; a blog is a personal record. I was asked about not only my poetry but about my other writing; prose, reviews and blogging. I often think of blog posts as open diary entries which are written out of enthusiasm rather than simply for the sake of saying something.

I am so proud to have been part of this event and look forward to forthcoming events from Wordsmiths& Co. After 4 weeks of the Taylor household being pursued by virus after virus it was a welcome source of inspiration!

Monday, 12 November 2012

A Workshop with Michael Laskey - October '12

A couple of weeks ago I went to The Poetry Business in Sheffield for a workshop with Michael Laskey. You’ll probably know that Michael is the editor for Smiths Knoll and you might also know that the magazine is calling it a day after 50 issues. I was never lucky enough to be published in Smiths Knoll but I also enjoyed reading the poetry within the covers. Michael was a generous editor who always commented on positive aspects of poetry submissions. This was much more encouraging (and useful) than an anonymous photocopied slip. Michael Laskey is also a fabulous poet and one definitely worth looking up. You could start here. For the workshop we had to bring a poem along, rather than write one from scratch. So the whole focus of the workshop was to look at a poem in detail.

I knew the workshop would be an interesting one and that I’d probably learn a thing or too. I did, and I’d like to share some of my experience with you. Here’s a good starting point: as an experienced editor, Michael was very definite on accuracy. If you’re going to write a poem on a particular subject then make sure you get your facts straight. Don’t take a chance. Research your topic area, but maybe do so after you’ve written a draft or two, so you keep the poem spontaneous and not rely on dry facts.

Michael was keen on clean poems that didn’t waffle or use superfluous imagery or language. By ‘clean’ I mean poems which have a tidy structure and the form works with the content and meaning rather than being imposed on the poem. I’m reminded of Basil Bunting here, ‘trust your reader, they’re as clever as you.’ A shorter more focused poem is better than one which feels it has to mention everything.
Michael also liked simple, direct language and not overblown diction. If you've ever read Michael's poetry or taken a look at 'Smiths Knoll' you'll see that on the whole the poems have a conversational style. Simple words, used appropriately, can work harder than ones randomly found in a thesaurus. This is something I’ve learnt to appreciate over the last couple of years. I still use a thesaurus and dictionary, though nowadays I’m looking for a more accurate word rather than one which sounds flash. I'm being a little more scientific. That doesn’t mean you compromise the beauty, it means you’re more definite and that words ring true and ‘beauty is truth, truth beauty’ and ‘that is all ye need to know,’ to bring Keats into this. There I go again. I can’t help making connections on this subject with other authors.

Imagery was also key; it’s best not to cram your poem with images that fly around from one thing to another and keep it original. Too many sights, sounds, images can be disorientating and confusing. You might think you’re treating your reader to a banquet, but without control and clarity it’s too much.

The last thing to mention was Michael’s enthusiasm; he obviously cares about poetry and is a meticulous reader and editor. He’s one of those people who’s doing remarkable things with poetry. I enjoyed meeting him and enjoyed the workshop.

The Great Lost Blog Entry

It's November. Haven't updated the blog since September and we've gone from summer to autumn without so much as a squeak. Right now I'm really busy so I thought this was a perfect time to ignore my tasks and displace my energies into the blog. Back in September I wrote the following post and for whatever reason forgot to post it. Well here it is:

Does A Poem Have to Know Where It’s Going?

One of the phrases I hear a lot at readings is ‘I don’t know what this poem is about’ or ‘I’m not sure why I wrote it.’ There is probably no point ever writing a poem maybe, but perhaps what the speaker intends to say is that the poem came out of nowhere. Whenever I wonder where poems come from, I imagine a big black forest somewhere, with poems climbing trees and digging holes like animals. I would argue that many contemporary poems try and imitate the dream, whereas older, traditional ones, many of which were and still are studied at school are the ones which are more immediate on the whole. They explain themselves, there’s more rhetoric, they make statements. I suppose in terms of new poems we’re talking Imagiste onwards, which can be dated around 1912, (Bob Richardson taught me everything about the Imagistes at the last Leicester Shindig, there were even visual aids involved). Virginia Woolf would say the First World War changed everything, poems stopped making sense because for many people the world did. It became gradually harder for poets to use such emotive, abstract sentiments after the Somme and Paschendale. Woolf famously uses this example in 'A Room of One’s Own' to illustrate the kind of poetry which she says would never be written after 1918:

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;

However, I would say that for most people who don’t write poetry this would be their idea of a poem: lyric, beauty, sentiment. It’s these new-fangled poets who don’t write like this. ‘All those similies; all that juicy fruit and halcyon sea, eeesh’ says contemporary poet. This poem knows where it’s going, people on the whole (let’s argue this one if you like) don’t write like this anymore.

‘Ok’, says the poet, ‘poems have to make sense in terms of dream logic, off to my notebook I go.’ My own view is that all poetry from different time periods and cultures must be enjoyed. For this experiment, however, the poet wants to be contemporary. To test this I have opened a copy of the latest Rialto – the closest thing next to me at the desk – randomly. Below are the opening lines to a poem, ‘The Last’ by Robin Houghton:

They’ve been coming since posters were invented:
sometimes in dreams, to the tipping of cowboy hats

Ok, so who are they, they sound a bit ominous, not friendly, there are cowboy hats involved, what if they have guns? Later on the poet describes: ‘And still they would come, insistent. / They left my body as they found it…’ To me that’s chilling, but I’m still none the wiser as to who they are but they are interesting. On closer reading maybe they’re not so bad, I’m thinking about them as heroic figures perhaps. The poem mentions ‘they’ are dressed in Liverpool shirts and the person in the poem wrote about them in ‘diaries’. Maybe they’re people he/she wanted to be or dreamt of being when young? If he/she had known when the ‘last’ of them had arrived they would have ‘thrown a party.’ Sounds sad, or a tribute to something lost.

Having thought about the poem I’m reading it again and enjoying it and unpeeling it with interest. I plucked that poem from the air of course. One poem isn’t enough perhaps, but this is a blog post not the Royal Institute Christmas Lectures. You never know where you are going, you just go with the poet. You have to trust.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

'I Don't Call Myself a Poet'

This fascinating site was brought to my attention by Wayne Burrows the other day. A project run by Sophie Mayer. It's a simple idea, students are assigned a contemporary poet, they have to familiarise themselves with that person's work and then interview them. The interviews are fascinating and many of the poets interviewed are refreshingly frank and honest about the way they view themselves as a writer of poetry. This includes an impressive list of 68 writers with more to come. It's the honesty which really appealed to me, especially on the subject of publication, rejection and how writers keep writing. Jane Holland made me laugh out loud when she put it down to 'stupidity and egotism,' however, what becomes clear is that poets become poets because they can't actually stop themselves, not simply because of the kudos of awards and publication. They lap up other poets' work, they see value in a variety of different voices; poets writing at different times, in different languages, different styles and concerns. It becomes a labour of love, I once read Rilke's 'Advice to a Young Poet,' which I think would be relevant to an older poet, a middle-aged poet, someone starting out and someone carrying on. You might be getting my hint. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet I am at liberty to copy and paste this:

You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have already asked others. You send them to journals. You compare them with other poems, and are upset when certain editorial offices reject your efforts. Now (since you’ve permitted me to give you advice) I ask you to abandon all this. You look outside yourself, and that above all else is something you should not do just now. Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody. There’s only one way to proceed. Go inside yourself. Explore the reason that compels you to write; test whether it stretches its roots into the deepest part of your heart, admit to yourself whether you would have to die if the opportunity to write were withheld from you. Above all else, ask yourself at your most silent hour of night: must I write? Dig inside yourself for a deep answer. And if the answer is yes, if it is possible for you to respond to this serious question with a strong and simple I must, then build your life on the basis of this necessity; your life, even at its most indifferent and attenuated, must become a sign and a witness for this compulsion.

On being asked 'What made you become a poet?' Carrie Etter replies in her interview:  'I never felt as though there were a decision or a choice.' Which sums up what Rilke says above. You do it because you have to. I regret having my 'nearly decade off' writing poetry in my 20s, because I decided to let other people get on with, I was going to get on with other things. It didn't work forever, I went back to it because I couldn't stop myself.

Many of the poets discuss the issue of 'truth' in poetry and I liked Maitreyabandhu's response. Incidentally, Maitreyabandhu is the writer of one of my favourite poetry essays, 'The Provenance of Pleasure,' which appeared in the Spring 2011 edition of Poetry Review. We forget that writing itself is a pleasure when we are bogged down with rejections, there is a higher pleasure, perhaps even a spiritual pleasure in the act of writing, but that's another blog post. Anyway, here's the quote:

The way to avoid sentimentality in poetry is to work hard at telling the truth. At the same time, we shouldn’t be so afraid of sentimentality that it stops us expressing any emotion in poetry at all!

My friend Roy Marshall, whom as you know is an exceptional poet, is very good at this. I sometimes wonder that there is an danger in being too clinical with a poem, as well as over-sentimental. Is good poetry more like a paper-cut? In terms of getting 'jolted' into understanding, even if you will never, ever go through the same experience as the person who wrote the poem you are reading.

I could go on, I really could. But I will stop here for the morning as my twins are doing half-days at school and I have not hung out any washing yet. At least I will have something to think about when I am pegging things on the line.

The site of course is here.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Peony Moon

Here's some good news! There is a feature on Melanchrini on Michelle McGrane's excellent blog 'Peony Moon.' As I don't post my own work very often on this blog click here if you'd like to read a selection of my poetry from the blog. Whilst I'm here I'll also include reviews by Matthew Stewart and Roy Marshall. When I started the blog I intended to use it as a 'scrapbook' of sorts, so I'll try and put some links to the book up as a way of keeping things in one place!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Ledbury, July 2012

My Photo of Ledbury at Night

Last weekend we went to the Ledbury festival. I performed on the Sunday in the Shell House Gallery, but I’m very glad I stayed the for two nights as I managed to have a very full weekend of poetry. Despite weather forecasts, we managed to have a lot of sunshine. We arrived on Saturday afternoon and our place was very close to where all the events where taking place, everywhere was within walking distance.

After a picnic on the hotel room floor, went to the first event which was a reading in the Burgage Hall by the winners of the National Poetry Competition. Zaffar Kunial read first. He managed to achieve third place by sending in his entry with the attitude of ‘you never know’ – well, that was lucky. Zaffar is rather modest – he dosen’t send out and therefore he’s not appeared in any magazines – but I have no doubt we’ll be hearing more of him, or certainly seeing more of his work in written form. His poems were beautifully formed and often rather personal and touching. Second was Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch, whose reading was dramatic and exceptionally well paced. It was quite a treat to hear someone read who was clearly very skilled in the art of performance. Well you hear work of this calibre it quickly becomes apparent that good poetry ‘breathes,’ it finds a life of its own which is immediate and powerful. Lastly was Allison McVety, whose poem ‘To the Lighthouse’ managed to win first place. It was at some point during this reading I felt a little emotional, I found myself wrapped up in the poems she was reading. I was also just a little stunned. When someone is that good, I can feel myself ‘detune’ I can’t even focus on anything, the words take over. You are absorbed by the imagery and cadences and this is exactly what happened.

Thinking I was off back to the hotel room at this point. I was pleasantly surprised to be invited along to the Poetry Parnassus event in the evening. Poets from across the world were represented: Tishani Doshi (India), Kim Hyesoon (South Korea), Jang Jin Seong (North Korea), Doina Ioanid (Romania), Reza Mohammadi (Afghanistan), Raul Henao (Columbia), Paul Dakeyo (Cameroon), Ribka Sibhatu (Eritrea) and laureate Bill Manhire from New Zealand. Kim Moore also read from translations of the poets’ work. I loved hearing the pieces in their original languages.

Then bed. Now some people might find a bell chiming the hours away romantic but all I felt was stressed. The chimes chimed and when you hear three in a row you can be sure of your status as an insomniac. I had my reading on my mind perhaps.

Next day we did a bit of exploring. Ledbury is truly picturesque and we looked around a nearby church. Unfortunately one of my children fell over so went back and some lovely ladies tended my daughter Miranda, using the festival First Aid box in the hospitality room. After a drink and some scone she felt better. Spun my head round and there was Simon Armitage. Wanted to say hello, but did I? Did I diddly. A little while later went to his ‘Walking Home’ reading which included what he descrbed as a ‘boring’ slide show which wasn’t boring at all. He read from his new book, which also included some new poems. He also talked about the fact he found it very hard to compose poetry whilst walking, but that was mostly due to having to focus on the walk and the elements. Most of the work was written in retrospect. There was an amusing moment which wasn’t really amusing (one of those ‘we can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible' moments) about being lost in the mist. No visibility meant he wasn't sure if he was walking uphill or downhill. That’s lost.

I looked around the room and felt I was in a whole school assembly rather than a poetry reading. There were so many people packed into the community hall. It was a good reading and no doubt a shed load of books were sold.

Of course the Crystal pamphleteers were also reading, but having to look after the twins I could only hear of how good they were. Jonathan Taylor, my husband, introduced the readers. I’m especially looking forward to hearing some new work by Jess Mayhew.

Then it was my turn in the Shell House Gallery at four. For the first time this summer the sun was out. The reading went well and I sold a few books. Some people were friends, but I was interested in the people I didn’t know –what were they thinking? I read 10 poems in twenty minutes, kept the intros short and just got on with it really. Had some good feedback, hurrah. Should say a thank you to Jane Commane from my publishers Nine Arches Press for intro and organisng things.

After that it was straight to the hospitality room of course, drinks and the like. One of my favourite parts of the weekend was listening to Kim Moore’s anecdotes. It was the end of the festival; people were off home. Had a nice chat with Aly Stoneman and Andrew Graves about Ledbury and writing.

There was a little party right at the end and it was lovely to talk to the organisers and have members of The Poetry Society fill your glass. There was a remarkable quiet on the way back to the room, it felt as if the world had gone to bed by 10:30. Then it was me and the bell.

The Bell!

Additional Note: Here are some blog posts about the same weekend by Kim Moore and Roy Marshall, so don't just take my word!


As if Ledbury wasn’t enough, I read at an event in Lichfield at the spark café on Tuesday. The event was superbly organised by Gary Longden and Janet Jenkins of the Lichfield poets. Same structure as the Leicester Shindig readings: four main readers and an open mic. There were so many talented readers that evening that I ended up speaking to lots of people at the end and exchanging details. I heard some interesting things from readers I'd not heard before including Justina Hart, Penny Harper and Bert Flitcroft. I kept the running order sheet to remember names.Sold a few books as well, hurrah!

I’ve also been thinking about how a poet manages to go about the business of selling their own books. Yes it’s important to have the support and admiration of those you perceive as your peers, but there’s nothing like people who ordinarily don’t read poetry who tell you they like your work. One of the mummies from my twin daughters’ playgroup brought a copy of 'Melanchrini' and said she loved it and that means a lot.

Here'a very thorough review of the event from Mal Dewhurst.

Thursday, 5 July 2012


I'm reading at the Ledbury Festival on Sunday 8th July at the Shell House Gallery at 4pm. This event is the official launch of Melanchrini. I have of course been practising: standing in my bedroom with a stopwatch, reading to the metal frame of the bed, remembering to make eye contact with the lamp and the alarm clock. Of course I'm nervous. My fellow debut Nine Arches Press poet Daniel Sluman launched his collection Absence Has a Weight of its Own the previous Saturday. I'm also proud that the Crystal pamphleteers will be reading; Andrew Graves and Aly Stoneman at 12:15 and Jess Mayhew, Charles G Lauder and Roy Marshall at 2pm.It should be a great weekend. I've booked a couple of tickets for the Simon Armitage reading at 12:45 and the National Poetry Competition, the day before at 6pm. The tickets for this event are free by the way. I'm really looking forward to hearing Allison McVety reading her winning poem 'To the Lighthouse' and also Zaffar Kunial reading his third place poem 'Hill Speak.' I'm embedding these poems below because I think they're wonderful:

Wednesday, 20 June 2012


When I was about 6 or 7 I had a curious urge to write a book. At that point it was a children's book, I wrote my first on A4 paper with lots of illustrations called 'Pinnochio - the true story' but now I'm happy to report my debut collection of poetry, Melanchrini, is out with Nine Arches Press at the beginning of July! There will be a launch at the Ledbury Festival on Sunday July 8th and at the Leicester Shindig at The Western on the 16th as well as other events too. You can read more about the details at the Nine Arches Press website by clicking here.

And here's the front cover...

Friday, 8 June 2012

Ian McMillan: Talking Myself Home, May 24th Leicester.

Nice shirt.

On a very balmy evening at the end of May – yes, balmy, there was actually sunshine – I went to Leicester’s central library to see and hear Ian McMillan. Ian is one of those rare poets in my book, one of the few that I grew up with because occasionally you saw them on the television and they were often on the radio. The whole show was energetic, funny and charged with a poetic eccentricity that made for an engaging evening. Ian begun by talking about the odd things picked up in conversation or strange notices he’d taken off walls because there was something that little bit queer about them. For example, an A4 notice on a library desk somewhere with the words, ‘we do not supply squeezy bottles of washing-up liquid here.’ There’s a poet-as-magpie approach to language, ‘you couldn’t make this up’ was a phrase Ian used a lot that evening, which is true, but maybe it’s more about how poets use this information – the art of random. Poets are always being random I think, even when they don’t intend to be funny, and eventually you create a fresh meaning from ‘the drunkenness of things being various’ as Louis Macneice once said in a poem called ‘Snow.’ This in itself is a random thought.

Ian talked about his family and spent quite a while on recollections of his old, English teacher - debonair and corduroyed – who would later become some sort of media success story due to a surprise career doing voice overs on TV adverts. The reason why this particular teacher was so influential was simply because he asked the class to write poems as opposed to killing them with over analysis. He also talked about some of the things he’s done in his poetic career – yes I’ve just put the words ‘poetic’ and ‘career’ next to each other, astounding. Anyone with half a brain knows that humour isn’t just an indulgence, it comes from a serious and interesting place. Humour can be subversive, surprising and perhaps even more dangerous than outright protest. Funnily enough that documentary recently on John Cooper Clarke supported this thought and he’s another poet I grew up with. To finish, Ian read from his recent Smith/Doorstop pamphlet, This Lake Used to be Frozen: Lamps, which features poems with titles like ‘A Walk Where Almost Nothing Happens’ and ‘Did You Ask for a Decaff off that Other Lady?’. They are funny and serious, (read ‘A Series of Novels). Here’s a quotation from ‘As an Old Man Ian Remembers his Walks’:

‘I remember remembering, and the remembering’


Thursday, 7 June 2012

Not (not) the Jubilee

Always one to get the timings wrong on this blog post, I was thinking about the Jubilee. No, not the Jubilee that’s just passed, the one held in 1887. The reason why I was thinking about the one 125 years ago was because George Gissing wrote about it in his novel In The Year of the Jubilee (1894). Gissing was born in Wakefield, in 1857 and died in 1903. As a young man he was a brilliant student and won several academic prizes, but he was caught stealing from his fellow students at the University of Manchester, in an attempt to keep his prostitute girlfriend Nell (Marianne Helen Harrison), off the streets. He would later marry her, but the couple separated and Nell died of alcoholism. Gissing married a second time, this time to a lower class woman who also separated from him and was sent to an asylum. ‘Oh dear’, I can hear you saying, ‘this is grim’, but he wrote some exceptional novels which seem coloured by experience. Many of his novels are preoccupied with scenes of working class life in cities and Gissing is regarded as a fine realist. On his deathbed H.G. Wells and his (unofficial – he was still married) third wife Gabrielle Fleury argued over how he should be nursed and fed. Gabrielle in the French corner – starvation to combat the fever - and H.G. Wells in the British corner – beef and brandy.
Anyhow, this illuminating piece of context is drifting away from the Jubilee theme, so let’s return. What’s clear about the way Gissing depicts the Jubilee celebrations in London is the absolute lack of nationalism. It’s all about drinking and partying for the working classes if we are to believe him, as opposed to the 2012 Jubilee, which is more concerned with dainty bunting:

“Beyond sat a working-man, overtaken with liquor, who railed vehemently at the Jubilee, and in no measured terms gave his opinion of our Sovereign Lady; the whole thing was a 'lay,' an occasion for filling the Royal pocket, and it had succeeded to the tune of something like half a million of money, wheedled, most of it, from the imbecile poor. 'Shut up!' roared a loyalist, whose patience could endure no longer. 'We're not going to let a boozing blackguard like you talk in that way about 'er Majesty!' Thereupon, retort of insult, challenge to combat, clamour from many throats, deep and shrill. Nancy laughed, and would rather have enjoyed it if the men had fought.”

It’s also about women getting out of the house. The main character Nancy Lord, rebels against her father, in an effort to taste a bit of freedom:

"I should like to walk about all lots of people will. The public-houses are to be kept open till two o'clock. . . . It's horrible to be tied up as we are; we're not children. Why can't we go about as men do?"

Strident words from Miss Lord. I wonder if our present-day street parties where supermarket magazines advised women on the art of making bunting and decorating cakes with Union Jack colours are actually a step towards a return to conservatism. Or maybe not a return, but a class issue. Middle-class women don’t drink at street parties, they make the sandwiches. Nancy Lord is a lower middle-class woman who wants to have a night off respectability. Gissing is just one voice here, but I imagine he saw a fair deal to support his writing. Also there’s the argument of whether or not women of the time needed a man to do their talking for them, which is one to take into consideration. Still, it’s interesting from a 2012 perspective.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Poems from Roy Marshall and Jess Mayhew

Alice contemplates the flowers...

In the few months which have elapsed between their publication and now, there’s been some very lively interest in the Crystal pamphlets. People from across the UK and worldwide have been purchasing pamphlets; writing reviews and expressing good wishes. Last Friday, another launch was held in Nottingham, and readings have been going on up and down the country, including a reading at Ledbury in July. I’d like to share two poems by Roy Marshall and Jess Mayhew which have received lots of positive attention. It’s interesting to see which poems audiences seem to enjoy:


For no good reason
we expected his Latin genes to colour him,

for a slick of black to crown him
as he emerged from between her legs;

for olive skin that would darken
at the touch of sun.

Tonight, feverish, oink cheeked,
mousy hair plastered on a milky brow,

he sleeps with her,
a small doppelganger

arms flung above his head,
a mirror of his mother.

Their murmurs and breath
float from open lips

his a perfect miniature
of her own sleep-slackened rose.

As Tim Love said in one of his reviews, this is the ‘kind of poetry which is easy to read but hard to write,’ it’s certainly never laboured.

Here’s Jess’ poem:

Pub Lunch

At the end of your tether
I hunch over Queen’s Head scampi,
bench wood warm under my palms.

On the river, a swam lumbers to air,
black webs tucked and curses
at a man chugging his boat around,

pale under his mildewed lifejacket.
A bee trickles on the lip
of your glass. You swat and miss,
Sending it into shivering flight,
unseaming chubby joined legs, coarse
yellow hairs. Unhook the sting,

until all that is left are the quarks
which tumble and fizz like pollen grains.
You’re not listening, you say.

Mayhew’s sharp observation; the lumbering ‘swan’; the ‘shivering flight’ of the bee, creates a sense of unease, which finally reveals itself in the last line. I like poems which have an almost physical effect on my reading, I can sense the discomfort. It’s this eye for detail that makes her poems memorable.

'Someone Else's Photograph' by Jess and 'Gopagilla' by Roy, are available here at Crystal Clear Creators.

At some point -sooner, rather than later fingers crossed - I hope to write up a blog post about the process of putting together my own poetry collection. To quote Tom Elliot, 'There will be time...'

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Interview on 'Necessary Fiction'

Fiction is Stranger Than Truth (Sometimes).

The other week Will Buckingham interviewed me for American webzine 'Necessary Fiction' about my poetry and my reasons for wanting to write poetry. He also asked questions on my first collection, Melanchrini. I've never been interviewed before, so if you would like to read my (first ever) interview, please click here.

Monday, 2 April 2012

The Hail Clanjamfrie

A poet spotted on t'internet
Surely a whole month hasn't whizzed by without a blog entry? Crikey me. It was a busy month with all sorts of happenings. At the beginning of March, CCC had its pamphlet launch at De Montfort Univeristy. A great success with a positive reception from poetry lovers and reviewers and lots of pamphlets sold. Then of course it was the book selling event of the year in the East Midlands, States of Independence on March 17th. Several publishers were represented including HappenStance, Five Leaves, Miel, Longbarrow, Shearsman, Templar, Candlestick, Nine Arches Press, CCC, Shoestring and many others. It was a buzzing, busy day. I came away with various books, mainly pamphlets. There were several reading and events. I attended the CCC event, the Nine Arches Press one, where I read with Deborah Tyler-Bennett and the HappenStance reading, which included Sally Festing, Peter Daniels and Robin Vaughn-Williams. I wish I could have attended more, but mine clashed with Chris Jones and Mark Goodwin reading for Longbarrow Press, a publisher based in Sheffield.  The 21st of March saw another Shindig, was not a well bunny so missed this event. Annoyed because I was looking forward to hearing Jonathan Davidson, whose recent collection 'Early Train' was published by Smith/Doorstop. Another time, dammit. The event itself has been well documented by bloggers such as Jayne Stanton and Gary Longden click and read!

So, by mid-March I was hitting the antibiotics hard, Sinusitis had floored me. However, I managed to read at the 'Word of Mouth' event, organised by Nottingham Writer's Studio, at Antenna in Nottingham, so I drugged myself up and went for it. I was very glad I did. The theme was film and there were some excellent films and readings from Richard Goodson, Andrew Graves, Michael Eaton and a brilliant short film called 'Disturbances' written and presented by Wayne Burrows. A chilling, unnerving film featuring image, sound (by Jon Brooks) and words by Wayne Burrows. Here's the prologue:

I inherited the trunk from my grandmother in 1987, and realised, when I began to unpack its contents, that my grandfather had developed an almost neurotic obsession with images.

He had first witnessed the atmospheric phenomenon he called ‘the disturbances’ in 1944, while stationed in Malaya, and had failed to document what he saw. This was, he told her, not going to happen again.

When the disturbances returned, he would be ready.

For full details and a taste of the film itself, see here.

Title Image from Wayne Burrow's Disturbances

Right, we're still not done! Not one to held back by the bugs, although I should have stayed in bed, I also attended a wonderful Writing Day held at Smith/Doorstop's head office in Sheffield. If you are able to go, go. If you enjoy poetry workshops, you will not be disappointed. The formula is simple but effective: A) you are handed a very good poem, b) you write a poem from scratch - having not painfully over analysed everything to (literally) death, C)  you share. You repeat 5-6 times. After lunch you bring in either a morning poem or one you've prepared earlier, where its receives a through critique. Read about Writing Days here. While we're on the subject of Smith/Doorstop, Alison McVety has only just gone and won The National Poetry Competition and I'd like to mention that Kim Moore was one of the winners in their annual pamphlet competition. Kim will also be appearing at our July Shindig with CCC and Nine Arches Press in Leicester.

This is the longest blog entry I've ever written, I may well expire. The title, for those of you who are wondering, is taken from a poem called 'The Bonnie Broukit Bairn' by Hugh McDiarmid. It was on a poster in a classroom at my high school, back in the day. Poetry had a habit of creeping in, even with a school obsessed with rizlas and New Jack Swing. What the hell, as this is such a long entry, let's finish with the poem:

The Bonnie Broukit Bairn

Mars is braw in crammasy,

Venus in a green silk goun,
The auld mune shak’s her gowden feathers,
Their starry talk’s a wheen o’ blethers,
Nane for thee a thochtie sparin’,
Earth, thou bonnie broukit bairn!
– But greet, an’ in your tears ye’ll droun
The hail clanjamfrie!

The last line refering to the 'whole mob.'

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Gwyneth Lewis - Bardd Ac Awdur

Gwyneth Lewis
Last week was Cultural Exchanges at DMU. Before it becomes a dim and distant memory I shall try and write up a few blog posts about events, including the CCC pamphlet launch last Friday. Wednesday was Gwyneth Lewis, a poet I didn’t know very much about other than she was the first ever Laureate of Wales. I'd read some of her poems here and there and looked forward to finding out more. She read an impressive range of work and I really enjoyed listening. Isn’t listening just as, if not more important than reading? Her poetry and prose was approachable and struck a nerve. Poetry read from A Hospital Odyssey was very moving and also chimed with my theory that hospitals are rather like the underworld, ‘and airports’ as Lewis noted. There were also poems from Sparrow Tree; full of blue tits, blackbirds, egrets, juncos, starlings, herons and hummingbirds and of course sparrows.

Gwyneth opened the evening with this poem, one which I’d come across in many publications and texts. It appeals to me for its range of imagery. There are images here which you can actually feel:

'One day, feeling hungry'

One day, feeling hungry, I swallowed the moon.

It stuck, like a wafer, to the top of my mouth,

dry as an aspirin. It slowly went down,

showing the gills of my vocal cords,

the folded wings in my abdomen,

the horrible twitch of my insect blood.

Lit from inside, I stood alone

(dark to myself) but could see from afar

the brightness of others who had swallowed stars.

Gwyneth Lewis