Monday, 14 September 2015

August/September '15: London, Ladybirds and Lots of Coffee

Mr. Commonplace and I were sitting round the breakfast table debating the pros and cons of social networking. I had a moment of insight, I said 'If it didn't happen on Facebook, then it didn't happen at all.' So the following blog post is what didn't happen, except it happened to me.

Over the late summer months I've been reviewing again. I realised it had been a while. It's a long process for me. I read the books, then read them again with a pencil and add lots of scribbles and dainty star things that are meant to remind me of something. Then I start drafting a review, and draft again. Then I usually draft again. I show it to Mr. Commonplace as a trial reader and ask if it makes sense. I don't set out to lavishly praise or destroy, I just want to give a reader an idea of what's going on and make sense of the poems for myself. I make a point of including lots of quotations so I can back up what I'm saying. The more poetry I read the more critical I become of my own. Overall I think that might be a good thing, but it doesn't quite feel like that right now.

Because it was summer, with everyone at home, I got up early on some days in order to have some review writing time. I'm less of a night owl now. So by the time it was officially breakfast I was already on the third or fourth super-caffeinated drink and making strange conversation about why lots of poets use those extra spaces between words and I still don't know what they're called. Then a little 'My Little Pony' on TV.

Photo of Real Life

In terms of attending readings, it's often quiet during summer, but I did manage to catch Maitreyabandhu in Leicester, reading new poems and earlier ones, notably from The Crumb Road which I reviewed a couple of years ago. I love his 'Stephen' poems. Stephen died in a road accident when he was a teenager. There was a connection between the two, but as Maitreyabandhu said they were too young for it to be called love as such. Only the made-up future remains, 'Now you're twenty five / and have learnt the art of smiling.'

The new issue of Under The Radar came out in August. I'm Reviews Editor for UTR, which involves lots of reading and admin. It's a always a relief to see the reviews in print and I am indebted to the reviewers. In this issue they included: Peter Carpenter, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, John Foggin and Michael Thomas. There was also a special feature by Richard Skinner on his series of Vanguard Readings and the anthology which came out of this event. For the next issue there will be more female reviewers than male ones. I already have a review by Kim Moore. The one thing that bugs me about the editing is that so many books arrive and we can't review them all. It's a shame, but I'm so grateful to all those enthusiastic reviewers out there who write out of love and/or because they feel they need to and receive little if no pay. I thank you!

There was another reading was in early September in London and this time I was reading there myself. I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. Joanna, (cousin Commonplace) came along again, and although she's not a poetry type she probably will be before long if she keeps attending things. I brought a snazzy raincoat and Joanna said I looked smart and it gave the impression I had a proper job.

I read at the Betsey Trotwood with three other poets in my half of the evening, these were: Miriam Nash, Richard Osmond, Rena Minegnishi. They were great. I felt like an older thirty-something as they were all in their 20s. After the break there were readings from Stephen Kendall,  Kirsten Irving, Chris Dodd and Jasmine Cooray. But I missed those as I had to dash back to St. Pancras before I turned into a pumpkin. It was a lovely night though, organised by Miriam Nash and Roddy Lumsden. I also met a poet called Kathy Pimlott who had Notts connections and had written about the Carillon tower in Loughborough. It's a small world. When I got back to the Midlands it was very late and there were about 4 people around. It was quite a contrast to London with its huge crowds and diversions and pubs where people stand outside swigging £5 pints. It had a sense of unreality. Perhaps I dreamt it.

This is where the Ladybirds come in. This year is the 100th year of Ladybird books, which were initially published in Loughborough until 1999 before being sold off to Disney. Sad isn't it. I could just see myself  at Ladybird books cycling off to work everyday. Anyway, there is a lovely display in Charnwood museum in the park where the Carillon Tower is - spooky. 

Some images from the Exhibition.

So now I have a week or two before Uni kicks in (like a mule!) and autumn scatters all its leaves.  It's early days, but there are plans for a new poetry thingy next year. A pamphlet. Won't say more yet. 

See you later. Happy leaf kicking!

Friday, 21 August 2015

Now We Are Five

August is Commonplace's birthday month. Looking back, Commonplace was born on August 5th 2010, but I've only just got round to updating things, so no jelly and cake until today. When I started writing the blog it was a way of recording events and what I was up to. Keeping a poetry blog is never going to be be quite as popular as say paintballing, but I'm very surprised at how many people I seem to know have one too. Since 2010, I've read a great many blogs and new ones keep appearing all the time. I was never one for Sunday papers, but there have been many Sundays where I find myself catching up with different poetry blogs. It feels very odd that this has been an on/off habit for 5 years now. Like any birth there was a gestation period. I'd been 'poeting' a bit for a year or so before the blog. In spring 2010 I had my first poems published in 'Under The Radar.' It felt like quite a natural thing to want to discuss and make a record of some of the things that had been happening, like an on-line scrapbook or diary. It was also a way of talking about readings and the kind of poetry I was encountering.

I'm not sure what the future holds in store for Commonplace. I guess I'll keep going like I do now, but at some point things will be different. Some new form of technology may come in and make Blogger redundant, or I'll pack in poetry and join the circus perhaps. It did actually surprise me that I'd been keeping a blog for so long. Which leads me to the conclusion that I've actually been pursuing this poetry lark for a while now.  I like looking at the stats and finding out where readers come from. Thank you to contributors and readers wherever you are.

Me aged 5 with the way, the ashtray isn't mine

Monday, 13 July 2015

Some Recent Publications

A short blog entry on a couple of recent publications. At the beginning of the month, I had poems featured on both The Compass and the Proletarian Poetry sites.
The Compass Magazine

It's been very exciting to have two poems in The Compass because it's a brand new magazine with some wonderful poems and reviews. The editors have a slightly different approach to most on-line magazines, in that rather than publishing the whole thing in one go they're spacing out poems and reviews over the course of a week. For me this has meant reading nearly everything on the site, simply because there's more time and space to do so. At the time of writing there's still another day's worth of poems to go live. I'm very chuffed to have two poems in The Compass. One of my poems is from the point of view of Virginia Woolf's half-sister Laura Stephen. You may not have heard of her. By our modern standards she probably had a form of autism, but by the standards of her day she was considered to be a suitable patient for an asylum. I wanted to explore the family tension and possibly (artistic license) the sense of a resolution, albeit an unsettled one.

There are also poems from Ian Duhig, Philip Gross, Pippa Little, Martha Sprackland, Hannah Lowe, Jonathan Edwards, Charlotte Gann, Katie Hale and others. Please click here to have a look at the contents for issue 1 and then have a look at the other things the magazine has to offer. The editors are Andrew Forster, Lindsey Holland, with Kim Moore as Reviews Editor. 
I also have a new poem on the Proletarian Poetry site. It;s not really a new poem, but one I wrote a few years ago. PP (as it's known for short), is a fabulous site edited by Peter Raynard, This site's focus is on poems which focus on the working class and working class lives.  How's this for dedication - every week Peter publishes a poem which is accompanied with his own written commentary.  Recent poets featured have included Richard Skinner, Catherine Ayres, Daniel Sluman and Jonathan Edwards. My poem is all about the bookies and you can find it here. Peter has written a lovely, thoughtful piece to accompany the poem. I've really enjoyed reading the poems and the commentaries.
To me, both sites are excellent examples of where we might be going in terms of the future of on-line publishing and how flexible the medium can be. Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Lifesaving Poems During a Power Cut

Lifesaving Poems
Lifesaving Poems, Anthony Wilson, Bloodaxe Books, 2015

At the time of writing I am sitting in my front room with all the car alarms going off outside and a poorly 7 year old. It appears the whole street has had a power cut.  There seem to be a lot of minor ailments in the Taylor household, days off from school are fairly common. Miranda’s ok for now. She has her little ponies. The internet’s off for a while, so while I have a full battery it seems like a good idea for another blog post. What follows isn't a review, but a commentary. I have a bit of a headache myself, bear with.

Over the last few weeks I've been reading and re-reading Anthony Wilson’s remarkable anthology Lifesaving Poems, which is published by Bloodaxe. I've never read a book quite like this. For those not in the know, Anthony Wilson is a poet and a blogger. The book began life as a notebook where Anthony chose a single poem from a poet, that moved him, and then he copied it out in the book as a way of engaging with the piece.  I imagine that the physical act of writing out a poem must have really helped to get under the skin of the pieces and been a pleasure. In time Anthony went on to post these poems on his blog with a brief prose summary as to why he had enjoyed them so much. This is around the stage I bumped into the poems. These are not poems chosen with any bold claims about being written by the ‘great and the good’ but are quite simply poems that Anthony liked. So there’s a lot of love in the pages of this anthology. The reasons for the poems being there are often very personal and it’s very brave of Anthony to discuss such things. Brave is often an overused word, but I can’t imagine many people willing to write in such a way. In those prose passages we not only find out more about the poets and their poems, but also about Anthony’s life and we’re given an insight into his illness with cancer. Not only is this an anthology of poems but also an autobiography of sorts; another reason for really liking the book.

Reading Lifesaving Poems has also made me think about how I read poetry. I read quite a bit of prose but I hardly ever re-read a novel cover to cover unless I have to, say for reasons of teaching or studying. Even if I do there may be many years between readings. Poetry is different. You can never (ever) read a good poem once. It’s impossible. Like a piece of music, you’d never listen to a favourite song once. Have you ever heard of a music lover who adored an album but only listened to it once or twice. When I like a song I play it on repeat. With poetry I may read a collection cover to cover but feel afterwards like I've not really read it properly, there’s always more to dig out and experience. So when I read that Anthony copied out these poems by hand I was rather touched. It appeared to me that here was a reader who wanted to completely engage with the poems. This is poem-love.

The poems themselves cannot be linked together or grouped by any particular patterns, other than an exploration of what it is to be human. Some of the names and poems were familiar to me, but some were just names. The kind of poems by poets you suspect will be good but have never fallen into your lap. That’s where Anthony steps in. He’s an intermediary, introducing you to the poems like interesting strangers at a party. He’s a kind host too. I never felt lectured, not once. In fact I liked his honesty and gentle tone. Has anyone ever told you (or almost shouted at you) ‘oh you must have read X poet. What do you mean you haven’t read X! I read X in the playground in Juniors!!!’ I have never tasted all the puddings in the world either, despite being a fan of dessert. The point, I guess, is how willing you are to read different things and Anthony is a great guide in that respect.   I also liked the fact that many of the poems are not by ‘poets of note.’ Why should they be? It made me wonder what would go into my own ‘Lifesaving Poems.’

In this book you’ll find individual poems (among others) by Sylvia Plath, Thom Gunn, Carol Ann Duffy, Catherine Smith, Dorothy Nimmo, Ted Hughes, Ann Sansom, Sharon Olds, Galway Kinnell, Jean Sprackland, Elizabeth Bishop, Jo Shapcott, Cliff Yates, Moniza Alvi, Charles Simic, Hilary Menos, Janet Fisher, Adrienne Rich, Peter Sansom, Rose Cook, Peter Carpenter, Mary Oliver, Iain Crichton Smith, John Ash, Esther Morgan, W. N. Herbert, Kathleen Jamie, Mandy Sutter, Jackie Kay, Martin Stannard, Carol Rumens, Seamus Heaney, James Schulyer, Ian McMillan, Deryn Rees-Jones, Derek  Mahon and Geoff Hattersley (glad to read him here, hurrah!) I could go on there are so many poets here. Hopefully I'm giving you an idea of scope. I imagine Anthony is an excellent teacher in his day to day work, I certainly feel like I've learned a lot. In particular there’s a very generous supply of American poets too. The book is a great introduction or a very important affirmation of all these poems.

Lastly, there are many passages were Anthony talks about ‘poetry exhaustion’ or what I call being ‘over-poetried.’ Sometimes this is very funny. I can’t find the quote now (typical), but something about throwing it all in and ‘becoming, say, a banker.’ Luckily he comes back to poetry.

Oh yes, the power came back on at some point, but I didn't notice.


Anthony Wilson has published two collections of poetry, Love for Now and Riddance as well as Lifesaving Poems. To find out more about the blog and Anthony’s poetry and work click here.


P.S. I copy and pasted my blog entry from a word doc and waited for the web to heal, in case you were wondering how this got on-line! Apart from power cuts I've had lots of internet problems recently, perhaps this is trying to tell me something regarding time spent on the web...

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Covering Letters

I just read something about an editor criticising the way poets write covering letters when submitting poems. It was mainly about how email allows for less scrupulous poets to fire off copy and pasted subs with no individual attention paid to the editor to whom they're sending. I remember getting one when I briefly edited, addressed to a completely different magazine. But, like Joni Mitchell, I've been on both sides now. We make mistakes. This got me thinking about the pitfalls of sending in a series of questions...

1. Am I being too familiar?
2. Am I being too distant?
3. Should I be more familiar?
4. Should I be more distant?
5. Does it matter that I have children?
6. Does the year in which I was born matter for a biography?
7. Should I be business-like?
8. Would it be nicer if it were handwritten?
9. My printer is playing up. If I hand-wrote the letter would they think I was deranged? (Especially with my handwriting).
10. If I list off the magazines I've been published in would they think I was going on too much?
11. Would it be radical if I just didn't include a biography?
12. FONT!! What font should I use?
13. Is Times New Roman too dull? I am a Garamond sort of poet? Don't get me started on font size...
14. I read one of the editor's poems and I genuinely liked it but would I sound like a sucker-upper if I mentioned it even though I may never meet this person and they might like to know that their hours spent writing poems met with some approval?
15. They've been nominated for some prize or other so they probably do know?
16. Or they don't?
17. Should I just let the letter and the whole sub 'rest' for a few more days before sending, even though I said that last week?
18. Would one of those 'funny biographies' where the author drinks tea, has a liking for chocolate digestives and 'can be found writing poems in Ashby-de-la-Zouch bus station' stick in their mind?
19. Are chocolate digestives too middle of the road? Should I go for Maple Pecan Danish pastries?
20. Would it drive them up the wall?
21. I don't even know if Ashby de la Zouch has a bus station or not? I'm guessing perhaps-maybe not. Next time I'll look.
22. ...should I just sound more business like?

And finally...

I have posted the bloody thing and having stressed over the above forgot to say 'thank you.' Always say thank you....

Monday, 1 June 2015

Absence Notes, Editing and a Little Dancing...

Commonplace has been washing its hair for the last two months, but here I am again. It's time to catch up. It's easier to make a list on what's been going on and then deal with the finer details:

1. Getting published: I've had poems in Magma, Stand, Ambit, and The Emma Press Anthology of Dance.
2. Editing and Publishing: I've just edited Crystal Voices: Ten Years of Crystal Clear Creators.
3. (Related to no. 1 &2) going to launches. (Poets have got a thing for launches, haven't they?) These were for Ambit, the Dance Anthology, and Crystal Voices).
4. Working, mothering, birthdays. organising parties that included Frozen Karaoke, bugs, viruses, hacking things in gardens, being alive etc.
5. Editing reviews.
6. Reading.
7. Writing poetry, I have the coffee rings and the waste basket to prove this.
8. Spending hours applying for something and then being 'declined.' 'Declined' is more elegant don't you think?
9. Staring.

The publications...

I've not had as much faffing-around-with-computer time, so I've missed a few things and am trying to catch up with other people's blogs as there are so many good ones out there.

It was fun to get to the launches. I don't often have a chance to get down to London, but somehow I managed to make it down twice. The Ambit launch was terrific and I had a little dinner by myself in Soho and read some of the excellent Scarsdale by Dan O'Brien. Among the readers for Ambit was Emily Hasler and it was great to catch up with her. It was in a gorgeous venue and I met some people who ordinarily only exist on my laptop. I was really struck by Briony Bax's incredible dedication to the magazine. My next London trip was for the Emma Press Anthology of Dance - I brought my cousin Joanna along and although she isn't a poetry person she enjoyed the readings so much I gave her my contributor's copy. It was a real treat to meet Catherine Smith, one of my favourite poets. It's also a small world as Leicester local Pam Thompson was also there reading. The event was organised brilliantly by the Emma Press with treats and drinks. It rained a lot the second time I went down, so I hid in Liberty and marvelled at the £375 designer vintage hats which apparently some people can afford. Both events ended in a furious dash back to St. Pancras, but they were worth the physical effort.

One of the reasons for not blogging has been the fact I've been editing like a mad person. I started in January and since then I've been copying and pasting, reading, emailing, tweaking, head scratching and reading drafts on trains, waiting rooms and in bed. AND there is still the odd typo. It's done! The anthology is a real thing and copies are now available. I chose writers who had been actively involved with CCC from the very beginnings to around the Hearing Voices period and when the pamphlets were published. Some of the contributors had worked with us in terms of teaching and behind the scenes work as well. It's not easy deciding on such a list and there were some more people I wanted to ask, but we were already jam-packed. I also wanted a very varied range of different styles and voices. Also, I have to say I preferred editing a book to a magazine. During the Hearing Voices period I wasn't keen on sending 'declined' (that word again) emails and Jonathan did a lot of that instead. For the book I didn't have to 'decline' anyone and it was super to ask people for work. The line-up of writers is superb and the book features:

Alan Baker, Kathleen Bell, Rebecca Bird, Julie Boden, Alison Brackenbury, Will Buckingham, Jane Commane, Caroline Cook, Nichola Deane, Kate Delamere, Mellissa Flowerdew-Clarke, Mark Goodwin, Sarah James, Charles Lauder Jr, Emma Lee, Carol Leeming, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Angela France, Siobhan Logan, John Lucas, David McCormack, Sue Mackrell, Martin Malone, Roy Marshall, Jess Mayhew, Matt Merritt, Andrew ‘Mulletproof’ Graves, Simon Perril, Alexandros Plasatis,  D.A. Prince, Robert Richardson, Victoria Smith, Jayne Stanton, Hannah Stevens, Matthew Stewart, Aly Stoneman, Jonathan Taylor, Pam Thompson, Lydia Towsey, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, Claire Walker, Lindsey Waller-Wilkinson, Rory Waterman.

I am so grateful to all these people for contributing. We had a terrific launch at the Leicester Shindig with Nine Arches Press that also featured fantastic readings from Jo Bell and Jonathan Davidson.

I'd also like to mention (cough) that this book is only £5. That's as cheap as most pamphlets! Purchasing details are here.

Also there were some terrific write-ups of the evening from Roy Marshall and Matt Merritt , and also a lovely post by Matthew Stewart.

Talking of blogs, one of the ones I've been meaning to catch up with is John Foggin's. He writes keenly and with so much detail and passion. He's not been blogging all that long, but he's certainly making up for lost time. I will try and be more prolific myself.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

...And 'And Other Poems'

Image result for cherry blossom

Hello again. It's been a while and spring is almost here, so thought I should write something. Aiming to write a longer post and to share work by different poets very soon. In the meantime, I'm very grateful to Josephine Corcoran for posting three of my poems on her blog 'And Other Poems.' I've spent more time on other people's work than my own of late, so it came as a bit of a (nice) surprise to find my own work on-line. If you'd like to read these poems click here.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

A Poem by Josephine Corcoran


Christmas is now behind us, and just before the holidays I received a copy of Josephine Corcoran’s new pamphlet TheMisplaced House, published by tall-lighthouse. Having been an avid reader of her fantastic blog And Other Poems, an on-line magazine crammed with poets and poems, I was eager to read a new collection of her poetry.

The Misplaced House is full of poems themselves like the rooms of a house. Some poems deal with personal history; Josephine had a Catholic upbringing, was born in Southport, Lancashire and spent her childhood there as well as in South London. Some of the poems deal with more political issues such as representations of terrorism in ‘You Say Drone’ and sometimes both aspects are brought together in poems such as ‘I Remember the Fear of Forgetting’. That poem is set in the exam room where ‘Archduke Franz Ferdinand / and Sophie, his pregnant wife, are hiding / in my pencil case’. Throughout the pamphlet there were plenty of stand-out arresting lines and images which immediately appealed. For instance in ‘How to Keep Spare Keys’ a deep sense of loss inhabits everyday items and I found this image stark and emotive:

            Find the names of unborn children
            on the backs of lost receipts.

In this entry I’m sharing the first poem in the pamphlet, ‘Stephen Lawrence isn’t on the National Curriculum’, which Josephine has very kindly given me permission to feature here. The first time I read it felt as if my body physically reacted to it. It made me sit up and take notice. Not least for those crushing, sad details, such as Stephen’s age, his future aspirations and the mention of the ‘130 yards’ he staggered after being stabbed.  Stephen was a young man with a future, but his name became remembered in one of the most shocking and indeed most frustrating of racist murder trials.

This poem achieves something which is very hard to do, it is serious, clear-sighted and emotional without ever once being vague or sentimental. All the detail is real.  The poem is knitted together with lots of subtle internal rhymes which bring out its emotive power. Next time I need to show students an effective and controlled example of a political poem I’ll use this one. Parenthood is also key to the poem. I felt there was a connection between the mother in the poem and Stephen’s parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence. The poem begins with a child being tucked up after bedtime stories, after the mention of the ‘long ago and far away.’ The mood soon turns from sweetness to painful honesty. It’s time for a terrible lesson in recent history to be taught (as the education system won’t teach it).

At the time of Stephen’s murder, I was a teenager in West London.  Local communities didn’t trust the police’s handling of the black teenager’s murder. The McPherson Report, the public enquiry into the killing, suggested, among other recommendations, that to guard against such incidents from happening again, there had to be: “consideration of a revised national curriculum to prevent racism and value cultural diversity.” Although some cultural diversity is taught in schools, it’s arguably limited.  Josephine says “My own children, for instance, who’ve been at Secondary School since 2010, have never been taught about Stephen Lawrence, for example. “

            It’s been famously said ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ but in this instance I think Josephine’s poem expresses something very important about loss; the waste of a young man’s life and also addresses the need for a wider cultural education. Before I share the poem with you I’ll leave the final words to Josephine who puts it very succinctly: “I thought that there was nothing NOTHING I could ever do for Doreen and Neville Lawrence and I would never be able to say anything to them to tell them about how sorry I am for their loss.  But I thought at least I could remember Stephen and tell my children about him.  So that's how I came to write the poem.”

Stephen Lawrence isn’t on the National Curriculum

I tuck you in
with long ago and far away,
pull the blanket of it wasn’t us, it wasn’t here
around your heart, although I know
that five inches is 13 centimetres,
that 130 yards would cost a lot
of blood. There’ll be Rosa Parks
and Martin Luther King for homework,
and someone saying it’s good
we teach them that,
but no-one has a map of South-East London,
and today your teacher didn’t say his name.
I teach you this: He spelled it with a ‘PH’
not a ‘V’. In 1993
he was eighteen.
He wanted to be an architect.
He was waiting for a bus.

This poem first appeared in The Morning Star in 2013 and can be found here as well.

January 2015

Hi, happy new year to you! It's very lucky I can still just about manage to post on my blog as there was a very nasty accident last night involving a cup of tea, a keyboard and a very repentant accidental offender. I'll try and type as long as I can, but the keys aren't so happy.

Aside from that, do have a look at Robin Houghton's blog. Robin has had a brill idea and conducting a regional poetry focus on different parts of the UK. She's beginning with Leicestershire and I'm featured and interviewed there along with other local luminaries. I cheated a bit and mentioned Notts a little too, but to be fair it's only 20 mins up the road from me. There's also a very nice picture of Larkin holding a bunny, so don't delay click here to enrich your cultural knowledge! Many thanks to Robin as it's an ambitious project and she's working hard on this.

There's also a poem by me, featured on Ink Sweat and Tears' 'Twelve Days of Christmas' feature. Thanks to Helen Ivory. I have to say there have been some very kind tweets and comments on line about it. Do have a look, there are some lovely poems here by a range of writers.

Thanks to those who read this blog. I sometimes look at the stats and am amazed at the range of readers from so many different countries. Have a great 2015.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Places and Commonplaces...

Looking back at the year's blog post it seems that most entries are about events and the inevitable travel to different places and locations across the country. One entry I regret not writing was about my experience and reading at the Wenlock poetry festival, life intervened! I had a great time, but the occasional travelling throughout the year did get me thinking about those poets who travel all the time. I'd say it's fairly inevitable that the more you're prepared to travel the more you can reach an audience, meet other poets and benefit form hearing their work, Not always easy. On the other hand I've seen people for whom travelling is a necessity. Read Matthew Stewart's blog here on this subject. It goes without saying, perhaps, that the web alters some of this.

I was thinking about the poet's 'place' in the world and remembered this quotation by E.M. Forster about the poet Cavafy "standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe." Fairly relevant to most poets. Back in the summer I wrote a hasty poem about a childhood home which also wasn't about it either. It was just a place in a poem I suppose, even if it started off true. I revised it a bit (it started life as one of Jo Bell's 52 poetry prompts) and sent it off in an envelope to the Nottingham Open Poetry Comp and it received a merit. There was a prize giving ceremony in October. There was even a competition buffet on the day, yummy. I digress. In her judge's report, Helen Mort wrote about the importance of place in her favourite poems:

'I’m obsessed with trying to write about different places and locations in my own work and I really loved the different worlds (whole worlds in some cases) these poems all introduced me to. Like all the best place poems, they captured not what you could read in a visitor’s guide, but what it feels like to be there...'

What you see on exiting Nottingham Station... 

Many of the poems she chose were about the idea of place. The second prize winner, Liz Venn, wrote a poem called 'The Spin' as in a spinning globe which contained these lines:

As you get older and more birdlike,
keep a grip on the quick land,
stay close to the outreached hand

It seems to be about the speaker's need to root themselves somewhere. The first prize poem was called 'Day Trip' by Julie Lumsden and ended with this verse: 

or forget the serious sea
out in the bay where the tide comes in
faster than a man can run.

This place feels real and concrete but also has an emotive force. To me it's about feeling overwhelmed. Universal. In Mark Done's poem 'Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, 9 hole, par 60 (3624 yards)' the night-shift workers are playing golf at work, leaving odd traces behind, such as 'an upturned saucer of the 9th green' and 'future archaeologists will speculate about its use.' My dad worked at Ratcliffe Power Station once, I should ask about the golf. In John Foggin's poem 'The Fox on the Window Sill' that place is the location for the fox's skeleton. The remains are always in a state of decay, but still visible. The bones have something to say about her life and where she lived. The skeleton: 'grows articulate, what’s left – / skull and grinning jaw', Death is a (sort of) place too

If you'd like to spend some time going through the winning poems, and my poem 'Resident' is there too, click here to read. 

John's poem reminds me that the other day I read the most lovely poem by Peter Sansom, called 'Mini Van' which was commended in the Troubadour Poetry Prize, A boy in the mini van is stuck 'In the back / with no seats or windows / just more grey metal' en route to 'a houseful of the dead / still living none of them more than ten minutes / from where they were born.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Rogue Strands: The Best Poetry Blogs of 2014

It's December and in this month 'best of' lists begin to appear. Very pleased to see Commonplace on Matthew Stewart's blog Rogue Strands today, as he's listed his favourite poetry blogs of 2014. His list features some great blogs, so if you're in need of online reading material start here. I think poetry blogs often have a good-natured and informed dialogue with each other. To read Matthew's list click here and do have a look at his other blog posts, there's much to enjoy.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Aldeburgh Poetry Festival 2014: My First Time

 The Aldeburgh Scallop

It feels like a while ago now, but I had a great time at the 26th Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, (or APF26 for short). It may have been the 26th year of the festival, but for me it was my very first visit. It was a big deal planning 3 days away from home as I’d never been away from my children for that long, but it also felt like a very important thing to do in terms the experience. For years I’d heard other poets talking about Aldeburgh with a glint in their eyes. I was curious to know why.

Nearly 4 hours on the road and I arrived. There were seagull squawks echoing through the air. Couldn't resist, the first thing I did was run down to the beach and take in the sea. I stayed in a lovely house with 4 other poets: Holly Hopkins, Emily Blewitt, David Borrott and the generous Kim Moore who arranged everything and booked the place. That night we dined at home (thank you Aldeburgh Co-op), drank wine and chatted.

The next day I had more beach time, toy shopping for the twins (kaleidoscope, it went down very well) and a swish lunch by the sea and then it was festival time. The first thing I’ll say, and I said so at the time, is that the festival feels like a gigantic all-you-can-eat poetry buffet. There are so many events you can attend: there are readings, craft talks, Q and A sessions and a variety of other things, such as poets talking about their favourite works. There are also some of the largest poetry audiences I’ve ever seen.  My first event was a fabulously attended launch of Michael Laskey’s latest book Weighing the Present at the Pears Gallery in Aldeburgh itself. Most of the events are held at Snape Maltings, a huge arts complex with a gigantic auditorium. 

The venue is popular with music lovers. Benjamin Britten’s home, ‘The Red House’, is just down the road and the whole area has a genuine musical legacy. The auditorium is perfect for the Main Readings and they are massive in every sense. You’d think that an hour and half for a reading would be too much…they never were. The first main reading on the Friday featured Dan O’Brien, Selima Hill and Tom Pickard. Hill was magnificent: sinister, comic, wise and unique. Earlier on Thomas Lux’s craft talk was superb, full of enthusiasm and verve. Antony Wilson’s Poets Preview was a joy to attend. I am an avid reader of Antony’s poetry blog and his preview event was full of love and enthusiasm for his chosen poems. One of my personal highlights was the Poetry pub Quiz held at the Plough and Sail - and guess what - our team of housemates won!!!

The next day was the full-on poetry day. Events from 10am right up to 11pm. Jumped on the bus from Aldeburgh in the morning and attended close readings of favourite poems by Jonathan Edwards, Paula Bohince and Suzannah Evans. Paula had chosen ‘The Sandpiper’ by Elizabeth Bishop as a favourite choice, and delivered a warm and deeply informed reading of the poem. Here are the final two verses from the poem:

The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn't tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst. 

I’m very grateful to Paula for discussing the poem that morning.  I think it was one of my personal highlights, as was being called ‘our kid’ by Brian Patten, who I kept bumping into throughout the festival. Saturday was jam-packed. I did have a breather though, but missed Hannah Silva’s Schlock, which was a controversial performance that clearly had an impact. Another highlight was Kathleen Jamie’s wonderful reading in the evening and Brian Patten finished off the day’s events with warmth and humour. Another treat was Helena Nelson’s energetic reading. She’d covered for Jen Hadfield who was sadly unable to make it from the Shetlands. Throughout the day I chatted with lots of people, but the weird thing was spotting so many poets I recognised from photos and social media. 

The whole festival has a buoyant, friendly atmosphere and it was a pleasure to share a coffee and a chat with new friends and older ones.  There were quite a few Midlands folk about, so at times it felt like home.

I didn’t stay for the Sunday and therefore missed lots of equally exciting events. I might have popped if I’d stayed another day though. Off I went, down the A14, full of poetry and inspiration. That giddy feeling probably accounted for the fact that I took a few wrong turnings and ended up in Cambridge. I made it home in the end and couldn't stop talking about the festival for roughly a week.

Shortlisted Books for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize
Helen Mort's Division Street won.

So two weeks later…what did I gain? Firstly a very long reading list. I didn’t buy much at the time preferring to let the readings settle and then decide. My first purchase was Jonathan Edwards’ acclaimed Seren debut My Family and Other Superheroes and it’s wonderful. It’s been shortlisted left, right and centre for all sorts of awards. Selima Hill’s The Sparkling Jewel of Naturism felt like a very necessary purchase. It’s full of short, diamond hard, witty poems that delight and disturb in equal measure. Other books on the reading list include Thomas Lux’s Selected and I recently brought Antony Wilson’s Riddance.  I have already enjoyed a few poems from Anthony’s book. Karen McCarthy Woolf’s work is on my radar as well now. Waiting for pay day then more book shopping. I was sorry to miss the New Voices reading on the Sunday. I really rate Suzannah Evans’ brilliant Confusion Species pamphlet, as well as Chrissy Williams’ work. Do read my review of Chrissy’s Happenstance pamphlet here if you’re interested. I also spent my quiz prize (a book token of course) on Bedouin on the London Evening, the collected poems of Rosemary Tonks, published by Bloodaxe. This book was my companion on a very delayed train journey home last week. 

I’m also more switched on to discovering new poetry from other countries now. There was a range of international poets and the festival itself features a great many American poets.  It was also festival organiser’s Naomi Jaffa’s last year at the helm and I was struck by her commitment. Ellen McAteer is now taking over and no doubt she'll be equally passionate.

Perhaps the best thing I brought home with me was a renewed enthusiasm for poetry. It was a special experience. My students probably benefited from this the following week as I poured some of that enthusiasm into teaching poetry. Nearly three weeks later and there’s still a buzz. I could fill another blog post with all that went on.Would love to go back. Fingers crossed.

Final Note: I did take some pictures, but they weren't very good, so the photos here are lovingly borrowed! You can also see photos of the festival at the gallery here

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Warwick Review

Just a quick note today.  My poem, 'Ferry' is in the latest issue of 'The Warwick Review.' Many thanks to the editor, Michael Hulse for accepting my work. Click here for more details.

I will be back with more blog lengthy posts, promise.

Sept 2014 web cover

Monday, 18 August 2014

August Happenings

I said I'd post more frequently and here I am again dammit! These are a few notes on recent happenings. At the beginning of the month I heard George Szirtes read in Leicester at Word! and it was quite a experience. I felt really quite lucky to be able to hear such an accomplished poet reading.

Having been away for most of July I missed my own reading for the Magma launch. It's not every day a) I get a poem in Magma and b) the launch is actually held in Leicester, but I heard it was a good evening by all accounts.

Equally sad about missing the July Shindig, but have been busy organising another one in September. So a few things going on in autumn.

Firstly Issue 13 of 'Under the Radar' is out. This is an important issue for me as it's my first as reviews editor! It's also Matt Merritt's first issue as co-poetry editor and I've enjoyed reading the poems. It has been a pleasure working with some excellent reviewers. Peter Carpenter, Kim Moore, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, Charles Whalley, Michael Thomas and Simon Turner all have reviews in the current issue. Starting to get underway for the next issue now.

Also have a couple of poems, 'Gangsters' and 'Mr Alessi Cuts the Grass' in the new issue of 'The North' as well. It arrived on the doormat the other day and it's a really jam-packed issue. I can't seem to find an image of it on-line, so here's me shoving it in front of the laptop camera:

This issue was guest edited by Jonathan Davidson and Jackie Wills and it's out now as they say.

I've been reading a bit too and have a small horde of books to enjoy, including some recent publications by Nine Arches Press, quite excited to have new collections from Richie McCaffery, Mark Burnhope, Josh Ekroy and Tony Williams. There's also a swish new pamphlet by John Foggin entitled Backtracks and a 1969 hardback edition of Terry Street by Douglas Dunn, as well as some pamphlets for review.  So I've got enough to be getting on with. There have been poetic disappointments too, I was rejected for a course I really wanted, but hey ho on we go. In between the summer holiday cracks of making loom band necklaces with the twins and meeting Billy the Bear (a highlight) I managed to scrawl a couple of poems. I'm not, however, expecting miracles on the writing front. Come autumn, however, I'll need to focus a bit more, but for now it's mainly days out and loom bands. I make a mean fishtail bracelet.