Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Making it big in poetry

Countless poets imagine on a daily or nightly basis (or both!) just what it would be like to make it big in poetry. They're convinced that they only need one major win or acceptance for their path to be cleared to stardom, for their arrival at some hidden inner sanctum to be declared.

In this context, let's imagine winning the Bridport, followed by the National Poetry Competition. How would it feel? How would life change? Would things be utterly transformed forever?

These aren't just questions to be thrown into a vacuum. They're issues that were faced head-on by Christopher James in an excellent post on his blog a couple of years ago (thanks to Mat Riches via Neil Elder for pointing me in its direction). You can read it here.

James has gone through the process of winning and has come out the other side. He tells his story beautifully, with self-awareness in spades and zero narcissism. Making it big in poetry is a fantasy that blurs our focus on the most important things: the reading and writing process itself, followed by a search for readers. Even if we just find one, we've discovered real success.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Turning tactile, Ramona Herdman's A warm and snouting thing


For my money, Ramona Herdman is one of the best poets on the U.K. scene at reading her own work. I was lucky enough to see her read from her most recent pamphlet, A Warm and Snouting Thing (Emma Press, 2019) in London recently, and I was most struck by how she paced each line, each word to perfection, accelerating and then slowing down, as in the ending to No Better Than She Should Be Red…

…the garden tapestried
with shock-sweet little nippled sherbet candies
slug-beloved

vigorous  sprawling  decadent  shameless.

When seeing these lines on the page, I can physically feel Herdman lingering over those last four words, relishing the physical shape of their consonants and vowels, turning her poetry tactile.

Moreover, the above-mentioned poem is representative of much of the pamphlet in thematic terms. A Warm and Snouting Thing confronts and subverts traditional roles, especially when dealing with gender and sex, sometimes explicitly, as in Comeuppance…

…And I remember the sudden novelty
of making adult men feel something.

Of stealing some of their power. Making a ripple
in the world…

Moreover, this extract provides an excellent example of Herdman’s harnessing of sentence structure so as to play further with pace, with surprise and expectation. In this example, she allows a sentence to flow according to convention before slamming the brakes on, challenging both linguistic and social conventions.

At other times, meanwhile, Herdman’s technique is more implicit. She is adept at layering descriptions. In the following extract from Nudes, she juxtaposes them, allowing them to play off each other, inviting comparison and contrast:

…Summer-comfortable just in skin,
butter baby, unselfconscious, playing
in the stained glass shadows on the parquet…

Taken in the context of her previous (also excellent) pamphlet, Bottle (HappenStance Press, 2018) it’s clear that Ramona Herdman is building an outstanding body of work. Her challenge now would seem to be the development and publication of a new full collection that would enable her to reach a wider readership and surely gain the extra recognition that her poetry so richly deserves.

However, for the moment, let’s relish her most recent offering: A Warm and Snouting Thing invites you in, challenges your pre-conceptions and takes you on a sensorial journey in the space of thirty pages. What more do you want…?!

Friday, 3 January 2020

Don't live to write, write to live

Every now and then, when overdosing on momentary angst about a poem that I'm gestating, I find it's worth reminding myself of my own version of an old Spanish saying that we often repeat while at the office: no vivas para trabajar, trabaja para vivir...don't live to work, work to live.

From my perspective, a similar attitude to the blank page is extremely useful. Writing poetry makes me feel more alive and awake to experiences and feelings. In other words, as the title of this post indicates, my attitude is clear: don't live to write, write to live.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Should editors be poets?

One of the most important and prestigious magazines around, Poetry London, are looking for a new editor. Out of curiosity, I had a quick look at their job description and noticed the following requirement...

"An established reputation as a poet, with at least a first collection already published or under contract".

Is it essential for editors to be poets themselves? What do you think?

Saturday, 14 December 2019

The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2019

When drawing up a list of candidates for Rogue Strands’ annual list of the best U.K. poetry blogs, it soon became clear that there was no dodging the fact that 2019 was far from being a vintage year. Too many veterans, who might have faltered in the past but then returned to the fold, have finally succumbed and fallen by the wayside, while few newcomers have stepped up to the plate.

It's worth pausing to indulge in a spot of speculation as to the reasons why. Drawing on personal experience, I have to admit that writing a blog can become a grind. That can lead you to pause, then the pause becomes a long hiatus, then a silence, and then it’s extremely tough to get back in the saddle.

And as for that feeling of the blog becoming a grind, one major issue is the feeling that you’re writing into a vacuum, especially if few comments are posted to the blog. And therein, of course, lies another growing issue. Let’s take Rogue Strands, for example. There’s no doubt that the number of comments has dropped.

However, in my case at least, the number of visits continues to grow. I’d argue that this is because of a developing relationship between social media and blogs, as I’ve come to understand that blog posts can form a useful point of departure or anchor for rapid-fire discussions on the likes of Facebook and Twitter rather than using the comments sections on blogs.

Of course, the counterpoint to my argument is that many users of social media simply post their thoughts elsewhere without the need for a blog at all, though that very speed can also be a drawback, as conversations and debates get cut off by the incredible velocity at which such platforms shift their readers’ attention.

I love poetry blogging because it provides the writer and reader with a unique combination of immediacy and longevity that lies far beyond the reach of social media. For instance, if I were to take a top ten of popular posts from Rogue Strands last month, two or three would be over five years old. That’s down to the power of search engines, which continue to attract new readers to old posts, often making surprising, new connections.

In other words, I very much continue to see a strong future for poetry blogs, though they have to adapt and evolve to the changing world around them. I still waste several hours a week browsing them, and I recommend you do so too! Despite this year’s relative decline, they still offer a special blend of news, views and thought-provoking perspectives on contemporary verse. Enjoy…



-       Matthew Paul’s blog






-       Tim Love’s litrefs





-       John Foggin’s cobweb





-       Roy Marshall’s blog

-       Emma Lee’s blog


-       Clare Best’s blog



And that’s the end of the 2019 list!

One caveat; as mentioned in previous years, I do know that grim feeling of reading through a list, coming to the end and realising you’re not there, so I can only apologise if I’ve missed you out. As one individual reader, I can’t keep up with everyone, and I’d be very grateful for any additional blogs that readers might like to add in the comments that follow this post…

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Poetry Birmingham

I'm pleased to report that I have a poem, titled Ordnance Survey, in Issue Two of Poetry Birmingham. This relatively new print-based journal is already building an impressive track record, with the likes of Alison Brackenbury, Gregory Leadbetter. Geraldine Clarkson, Abegail Morley and Oliver Comins, etc, etc, also featuring.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

A whirlwind

Last week was a whirlwind, albeit a brilliant one, and I'm only just starting to recover!

The readings in Birmingham and Oxford went very well, thanks to the efforts of their organisers (Matt Nunn and Elaine Christie in Birmingham and Peter King in Oxford), while the Rogue Strands event in London was simply surreal from a selfish point of view.

Why surreal? Well, it provided me with an chance to sit down and listen to amazing poetry from some of the poets I most admire, one after the other, almost like a personal mix tape. What's more, it was gratifying to see a healthy audience who also seemed to enjoy themselves. Oh, and to top it all off, my co-organiser, Mat Riches, tells me we've raised almost 400 pounds for the Trussell Trust. The challenge now for all of us is to ensure that their incredible efforts won't be quite so necessary after 12th December...!