Thursday, 14 March 2019

Two poems at Wild Court

While in the midst of enjoying StAnza, I discovered the additional good news that two of my most recent poems had been published by Wild Court (you can read them here). This news was especially good because I've been following Wild Court since it launched and have long regarded it as one of the best web-based poetry journals in the U.K..

Rob Selby, the editor at Wild Court, has done an excellent job. He's curated a terrific collection of original work, essays and features, and I'd especially recommend a read of Liz Berry's recent poem, Highbury Park, which was published there a few days before my work appeared.

Monday, 11 March 2019

A postscript to StAnza

I could and should praise StAnza for its superb array of poets, its beautiful venues and its excellent organisation, but what I'll treasure most from the past few days is its ability to remind us that we're not alone in our love of the genre. StAnza brings the poetry community together before sending us home with an incredible glow that lingers long, demanding that we read and write poetry, poetry, poetry...

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

StAnza: my reading with Diana Hendry

StAnza is coming and so am I! I'm setting off on Thursday morning, driving 300 miles up to Madrid and taking a flight to Edinburgh before making my way to St Andrews.

I'll be reading at a Border Crossings event alongside Diana Hendry on Saturday 9th March, starting at 11.30 a.m. (here's a link to my reading on the festival website), while I'm also looking forward to meeting old and new friends, attending other readings and buying as many books as I can fit in my hand luggage...

Friday, 1 March 2019

Martyn Crucefix - Works and Days of Division

Over at his excellent blog, Martyn Crucefix has just embarked on an ambitious project. Titled Works and Days of Division, it's made up of 29 original poems by Crucefix himself that will be published on a daily basis from today (see here) to 29th March.

Of course, we're all only too aware that 29/3 is Brexit day, and these poems will portray and address the current divided state of the U.K., both directly and indirectly. Bearing in mind that I've long admired Martyn's work, the chance to follow the publication of 29 new pieces - all inviting the reader to engage with painful current affairs - seems to me a top-notch example of politically aware poetry at its best. Here's hoping that over the coming weeks this exciting project receives the recognition it so richly deserves...

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Mat Riches' poetry blog

Mat Riches' poetry blog, Wear The Fox Hat, is a relative newcomer to the scene but is already one of my favourites.

His professional background in television marketing and advertising provides us with an excellent and timely reminder of how work can illuminate poetry, as in his excellent recent feature on the subject (see here), while his honesty and self-deprecating humour also lend a journal-like quality to his weekly posts. He generously shares his journey through attempts, successes and failures in writing and publishing poems, reminding and reassuring other poets that they're not alone.

Wear The Fox Hat is an excellent addition to the world of poetry blogging, and I've added it to the blog roll that runs down the right-hand side of this page.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Writing simply

Helena Nelson's blog posts after her reading windows are always fascinating, and the latest one is no exception (see here). Of particular interest is her remark that she wrote the following on many poems this time: Writing simply is the hardest thing.

I'm personally drawn to this statement, as it very much mirrors my own poetic approach and method. Helena Nelson suggests that one reason why poets are afraid to write plainly is because they're worried the result wouldn't be a poem at all. I'd agree with her, but argue that writing simply also carries huge risks. There are no accoutrements, no verbal fireworks, no make-up to hide any flaws, and the consequence is that any mistakes become glaring.

Countless poets, editors and critics appear to equate simple with easy or facile. However, the reverse is true, as many readers recognise. This last point seems to me a good thing. We all want readers, don't we...?

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Subverted pronouns, Oliver Comins' Oak Fish Island

It’s relatively easy to identify certain very English qualities in Oliver Comins’ first full collection, Oak Fish Island (Templar Poetry, 2018), but there’s also a slippery something that makes his poetry stand out from the crowd and resist any attempts to pigeonhole him.

Twenty-five years in the writing, Oak Fish Island features restrained lyricism, quiet observation and subtle layering of detail, yet a list of these characteristics undoubtedly sells Comins’ work short. Here are snippets from four poems, all of which hint at the poet’s idiosyncratic traits:

…My heart – or was it yours? –
flying solo on the Jubilee line,
already gone for what was
beginning to seem like forever.
(from Day Trip to Brighton)

It wasn’t me, as such, kissing the organist
when you slipped through the church
looking for your poem…
(from All Saints)

…Someone is walking down a street
past this row of terraced cottages,
their gardens silent and still…
(from Old Cold)

When I send this to you
it is a boy writing to a girl
and I am sorry it has to be
like that – knowing the tide
of your want can change…
(from What Sort of a Man am I?)

These seemingly disparate poems are united by the doubt they cast on the reader’s assumptions, by the way roles are undermined, by the way pronouns stand on shaky ground.

One of Comins’ main achievements in Oak Fish Farm is the subversion of the English lyric tradition. At first sight, he seem to fit snugly into its check list, as mentioned at the beginning of this review, but that’s only until those pronouns start to unsettle us, bit by bit. We begin to wonder about the particulars of the poet’s or the speaker’s relationships, and our frustration grows as we find them difficult to discern, as if Comins were holding back on us, afraid to show his life or flesh out narratives and contexts.

Of course, as the collection progresses, it becomes clear that the exact opposite is true. Comins’ technique plays with our aesthetic and thematic expectations, enabling us to cast off facile suppositions. This approach is not an affectation, nor is it a mere device. Instead, it’s a poetic method.

Moreover, one potential problem with the reading of Oliver Comin’s work is that an individual poem, taken out of context, might appear unsatisfactory. Only in the context of his full collection can the magnitude and coherence of his vision be recognised and understood.

Oak Fish Island is not only a tremendously enjoyable book but also a terrific achievement. It reaches out beyond the specific to the universal, homing in on the key issues of life and poetry. As such, it’s one of the most significant collections I’ve encountered in recent years. I’ll be savouring Oliver Comins’ poems for a long time to come.