Monday, 4 December 2017

Anthony Wilson chooses The Knives of Villalejo as one of his favourite collections of 2017

Having long been an admirer and reader of Anthony Wilson's poetry blog, I was interested to read his post last week in the light of a certain famous poet's remark that 2017 had been a "thin" year for poetry. Suffice to say, I was surprised and delighted to find he had chosen my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, as one of his favourite books this year, alongside the likes of Michael Longley, Michael Symmons Roberts, Tania Hershman, Rishi Dastidar, Jacqueline Saphra and Zayneb Allak, all as part of his convincing argument that 2017 certainly hasn't been a thin year for poetry.

Friday, 1 December 2017

The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2017

2017 has been a strong year for poetry blogging in the U.K.. The emergence and consolidation of several newcomers demonstrates that the format remains attractive, relevant and complementary to other social media, while also finding new niches.

One such example is the positive background to the fact that comments on blog posts are definitely diminishing. This isn't down to any lack of engagement on the part of readers. The opposite is true, as Rogue Strands’ reach has continued to grow throughout 2017. In fact, the reason for the drop in comments left on blogs is simply down to new ways of interacting with Facebook and Twitter, etc, that are developing, 

Bloggers have been using the comparatively longer format and greater lifespan of their posts as a point of departure for immediate discussion and interaction elsewhere: I’ve lost track to the number of excellent threads and debates that I’ve witnessed on Facebook in reaction to a stimulating blog post over the course of this year. On a couple of occasions I’ve even discovered blogs via Facebook shares, as synergy grows instead of some false sense of competition.

Right, so what specific discoveries have come my way this year? Here’s Rogue Strands’ subjective, partial and inevitably incomplete round-up of The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2017, starting with the newcomers to this list:

- Giles Turnbull’s blog is unique, just like Giles himself. A blind poet living in Wales, his blog does tackle significant issues related to his blindness, such as the challenge he faces when giving a reading in public, but it also offers his readers a wide range of features on poetry in general.

- Will Harris’ prose style is scrupulous and limpid, and his blog combines an ease of reading with a layered depth. What’s more, he’s capable of denouncing racism in one post and drawing out the riches of Larkin’s poetry in another. To my mind, that’s impressive and coherent.

- Liz Lefroy’s blog is unusually titled I buy a new washer, for reasons she explains in the blog itself. This touch highlights her candid and self-deprecating style, and her posts are packed with insights into life and poetry. One of the most moving and downright honest poetry blogs around.

- The Poetry School’s blog. The Poetry School have upped their blogging game hugely this year. Their content is excellent, with regular reviews and features that are free and open to all. Another blog that’s organically joined my regular reading list and is there to stay.

- The Rialto’s blog. As Michael Mackmin incorporates more and more new talent into his editorial team at The Rialto, so its operations grow. Alongside superb pamphlets and competitions, the magazine’s blog has grown into something far more than just a publicity tool. It’s now a complement to the printed journal and provides an terrific insights into the workings of what is still one of the best poetry magazines around.

- Paul Stephenson’s blog. Paul has recently turned his acute intelligence and inquisitive nature to developing his blog. The result is spectacular. I was lucky enough to be interviewed by him on it not long ago, but his earlier feature on Elizabeth Sennitt Clough is also excellent. A top-notch newcomer!

- As for Maria Taylor over at Commonplace, her posts might be irregular but they’re terrific, especially the invented dialogue between her blog and herself that she posted back in August.

- Martyn Crucefix’s blog posts go far beyond the norm. They gets their hands dirty with the details of poems, educating and enlightening in equal measure.

- Kim Moore’s blog maintains its Sunday Poem feature, but has also developed interesting discussions that use her Phd as a point of departure. Congratulations are especially due to her today on the back of yesterday' announcement that she's won the Geoffrey Faber Award.

- Sunday mornings are graced by Helena Nelson’s weekly blog for HappenStancePress. Every word is loaded with sense, clarity and a love for poetry.

- Todd Swift’s name is inherently linked with Eyewear. Of course, it was a blog long before the publishing house came into existence, and as such continues to play a lively role in the U.K. poetry blog scene.

- CB Editions might have reduced its activities somewhat, but that hasn’t stopped Charles Boyle providing terrific reads over at Sonofabook.

- Abegail Morley’s Poetry Shed continues indefatigably to go from strength to strength, packed with regular posts of news, reviews and original work.

- Josephine Corcoran, the creator of And Other Poems, also writes an excellent personal blog. Moreover, this coming year promises riches, as her well-deserved full collection has been announced with Nine Arches Press. Congratulations!

- John Foggin’s cobweb  chronicles his personal journey through poetry and his clarity of thought on poetry. Always a terrific read.

- Robin Houghton’s blog has been packed with honesty from the start. However, it’s lovely to witness her honesty being accompanied by more and more publishing success. A triumph in both respects.

- Clarissa Aykroyd’s The Stone and the Star is more international in scope and range than many other blogs on this list. Moreover, Clarissa is active on the London poetry scene and keeps us exiles abreast of events and readings there with her personal reports.

- Fiona Moore’s blog, Displacement, once a point of reference, was due to be placed on an implicit dormant list for this feature. However, it re-emerged this week with just the sort of insightful post that made it so popular. Here’s hoping it’s back to stay!.

- Over at Dave Poems this year has seen Dave Coates delve ever more deeply into the issues of gender and racial identity this year, with several reviews homing in on these issues.

- Katy Evans Bush’s posts at Baroque in Hackney might have been more infrequent this year, but they’re always beautifully written and ring through with her personal touch and style.

- The same goes for Anthony Wilson. He himself admitted that he couldn’t keep up this rate of posting this year, but he still published regular excellent posts.

- Roy Marshall’s blog, meanwhile, is always one of my favourite reads. In 2017 he’s told us how he juggles life’s commitments with poetry, introduced us to new poets and talked through the process of bringing out his new collection, all with his customary freshness and vigour.

- As for hard-working, prolific bloggers, Emma Lee takes the biscuit. An awful lot of graft goes into her site, which provides an excellent resource for both upcoming and established poets.

- Sheenagh Pugh is a veteran of the U.K. poetry blogging scene and posts regular reviews that are scrupulously written, just like her own poetry.

- Expect the unexpected from George Szirtes. His blog might lay dormant for a while, but it will suddenly burst into creative activity just when you’ve stopped keeping an eye on it!

- Clare Best has now incorporated her blog into her new website and I’ll be updating my blog roll accordingly. As always, her blend of life writing and poetry is unique.

- David Clarke’s A Thing for Poetry is a chronicle of his efforts to ensure poetry reaches more and more people, be it via pop songs or book groups. All this alongside snippets of his top-notch poetry.

- Making its stance clear from the off (i.e. via its name), Peter Raynard’s Proletarian Poetry continues to publish and highlight poetry with a message

- Matt Merritt’s Polyolbion offers us his perceptive thoughts on everything from poetry prizes to England’s chances in the Ashes. The inspiration for this blog when I started back in 2009, Polyolbion is still well worth a regular read.

- Richie McCaffery’s The Cat Flap draws on his experiences as a poet from the U.K. living in Belgium. It’s shot through with Richie’s love of all things related to books and especially poetry..

- Helen Mort’s Freefall is personal, subjective yet scrupulously written. Her fiercely and finely defended views are always sure to move her readers and fire up debate.

- Tim Love’s litrefs represent the blend of a scientist’s background with a poet’s artistic drive. Tim’s analytical views always offer his readers a new perspective and that’s an invaluable quality.

- Caroline Gill’s blog probably makes better use of photos than any other in this feature. They make her reports on events and readings come alive..

- Jayne Stanton’s blog tells the story of her journey through life and poetry. She involves her reader to such an extent that I’m always willing her on to another acceptance and, this year, to a successful move!

- John Field’ Poor Rude Lines might have been dormant for far too long, but it’s recently returned with a bang. Long may that continue!

 - Ben Wilkinson’s blog does seem increasingly dormant, but I’m hopeful that 2018 will mark his return as he brings out his long-awaited full collection.

- Gareth Prior, meanwhile, might have been an infrequent blogger even before becoming the father of twins this year, but his detailed posts are always worthwhile when they do come along.

And that’s it for 2017. As always, apologies to anyone I’ve missed out. As mentioned in previous years, I do know that horrible feeling of reading through a list, coming to the end and realising you’re not there.

Fingers crossed that poetry blogging will carry on evolving in 2018, developing new. complementary roles alongside social media. Thanks are due to the growing readership of Rogue Strands as I head into my tenth year of blogging. A decade…???!!! Gulp…! 

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Toads revisited

Back in 2009, not long after having started Rogue Strands, I published a post titled "The Toad Work", in which I reflected on how my day job as an export manager and wine blender then fed into my poetry, on how writing was an escape valve that I kept separate from my work.

Much of that is still true, and events often remind me that working as a "professional poet" (teaching, leading workshops, etc) wouldn't suit me. Of course, I'm no less professional in my approach to my writing and in the readings I give than others who make their direct or indirect living from the genre. One emerging issue, meanwhile, is how poets who are scientists, workshop leaders, marketing managers, Creative Writing tutors, export managers, etc, etc, view each other.

In this context, I'm grateful to Mat Riches for pointing me in the direction of an article from The Guardian back in 2007. Written by singer Steven Adams, the piece reflects on his band's choice not to give up their day jobs, and you can read it here. How much of this could we extrapolate to the current poetry scene?

Monday, 20 November 2017

Martyn Crucefix on The Knives of Villalejo

I'm grateful to Martyn Crucefix for featuring the title poem from The Knives of Villalejo on Instagram the other day. He also highlighted the collection as a whole in the "Recent Reading" section of his website, stating...

"...Few recent books are as economical and delicately allusive as Matthew Stewart’s debut, The Knives of Villalejo, from Eyewear Publishing..."

You can read more here.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Paul Stephenson interviews me

Until this week, I hadn't realised just how much skill is involved in interviewing someone. Paul Stephenson, who has just published an interview with me on his blog, has led me through the process with engagement, sensitivity and awareness of my work to such a degree that he's enabled me to discover stuff about myself! And then there's his structuring of the piece and ordering of questions as he builds a story for his readers. All in all, he's taught me a lot!

Here's a brief snippet:

"...Paul: Where does the poem begin?

Matthew: My poems begin with the truth. They then reach out for an authenticity that lies far beyond the truth, aiming to generate a jolt of recognition in their readers."

To read the interview in full, just follow this link to Paul's site.

Monday, 13 November 2017

A Demand and a Promise

Being a HappenStance subscriber makes you feel part of a community: newletters turn up, full of chat, info and opinion, while a regular flow of pamphlets invites you to discover new names. And then there are the occasional surprises. Like the recent unexpected arrival of A Demand and a Promise, an essay by Helena Nelson, HappenStance editor. Subtitled A poetry manifesto, it's a six page text that homes in on a key issue in contemporary poetry: the lack of readers.

There are lots of thriving creative writing groups, M.A.s and Phds, lots of people wanting to be poets and seeking publication, lots of working poets who need students to keep their courses running and mortgages paid, lots of funding applications, but we're short on readers, and readers are our life-blood. Here are a couple of quotes from the concluding lines to Helena Nelson's essay:

"...If you want to write poetry, you can do exactly what you like. - just throw your text into the ring. But you will need readers, if the poems are to have a chance of being read and remembered. And a good and loyal reader is harder to find than a poet...."

"...Readers of poetry have lost confidence, and therefore poetry has lost readers. Many people don't know what to make of the current cacophony of alleged "poems" all competing for attention. Some wonderful pieces of writing get lost in the hubbub, and there are many bluffers. But if we could change the focus by looking at each poem as no more and no less than a demand for close attention, coupled with a promise of something durable and valuable, perhaps everyone would feel empowered..."

I'm at the front of the queue to sign up to Nell's manifesto. What about you?

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Emma Lee reviews The Knives of Villalejo for London Grip

Emma Lee has written a generous and keenly attuned review of The Knives of Villalejo for London Grip, picking up on cultural and linguistic tensions that run through the collection, coming to the following conclusion:

"At face value, these are gentle poems that wear their craft lightly; but a second look reveals their identifiable truths. Like a good wine, Matthew Stewart’s poems have a long finish."

You can read the review in full here.