Thursday 7 December 2023

On the future of funding for poetry in England...

The recent removal of funding from Planet and New Welsh Review should shake English poetry publishers and magazines to the core. Bearing in mind that this axe has been wielded by a Labour-run administration in Wales, it’s a stark reminder of a bleak future for business plans that are reduced to making applications to ACE, no matter who might win the forthcoming general election, no matter what prior relationships might have been built. How long will such funding bodies continue to sustain ventures where the sales figures often total less than a third of the staff costs, and that’s before we discuss non-existent profit margins?

In this context, instead of simply waiting for eventual, inevitable rejection, then panicking and scrambling to beg individuals for help in a last-gasp survival bid, wouldn’t it be more sensible for publishers and magazines to act in advance and reconsider their attitudes towards the relative importance of sales when balancing their books (sic)? Several excellent, self-sustaining models are already out there, after all, but such outfits have had to commit fully to driving sales, and have taken time to build a strong identity. It’s impossible to generate a core base of loyal customers overnight.

Rather than viewing funding as a necessary, permanent prop, why not see it as a temporary boost that enables magazines and publishers to target long-term editorial and commercial independence…?

Wednesday 6 December 2023

Victoria Moul's poetry blog

Victoria Moul has a terrific poetry blog, titled Horace & friends, over at Substack (see here). 

Her blog's terrific for two main reasons, the first being a deft combination of rigour and accessibility when dealing with complex issues of literary theory and practice. It's refreshing to encounter an academic who's willing and able to engage with readers from beyond the realms of university life.

And then the second reason is its additional linguistic and sociocultural perspectives, thanks to her classical background and the  time she's spent in France. This means that she's often able to cast fresh light on U.K. poetry.

All in all, Horace & friends is thoroughly recommended. It's already among my favourite poetry blogs...!

Friday 1 December 2023

Dislodging preconceptions, Paul Stephenson's Hard Drive

Long-awaited debut is a cheesy cliché in the poetry world, but it’s actually true of Hard Drive (Carcanet, 2023), Paul Stephenson’s first full collection, following three stellar pamphlets that had left readers wondering how he might deal with a broader canvas. Throughout those pamphlets, if anything had defined Stephenson as a poet, it was the feeling that his writing was indefinable. Impossible to pin down, refusing to be pigeonholed, his principal aim seemed to be a constantly evolving exploration of the genre’s possibilities.

The above backdrop is key to an understanding of Hard Drive, which revolves around a series of elegies for a partner. It’s often stated that elegies are ideal for poets to stretch themselves and push their boundaries, due to the inherent attempts to capture something that lies beyond the capacity for expression of human language. As a consequence, they lend themselves perfectly to Paul Stephenson’s approach to poetry. In these poems, his inquisitive method revolves around a continuous and continual reinvention of itself, desperately thrusting into the indescribable agonies of loss.

One such example is Putting It Out There. Here’s the first stanza…

So here I am worrying myself to death
about commodifying your death,
arranging and sequencing your death,
curating the left and right pages of your death,
deciding which parts of your death to leave out…

From the start, this poem finds Stephenson playing with language but with utterly serious intent, toying with the absurdity of its idioms such as worrying myself to death, which is juxtaposed to death itself in the original meaning of the word.

And then it implicitly challenges the blurred roles of subject, speaker and poet, inviting us to question this collection’s supposedly confessional nature, suggesting a difference between factual truth and poetic truth, casting doubt on the poet’s own motives, underlining that these poems move far beyond anecdote, claiming them as art.

In other words, Hard Drive might be a series of hugely affecting elegies, but it’s far more than that. The collection rummages through the received wisdom of how the poet and the reader are meant to interact, dislodging many preconceptions with great emotional courage. I recommend you get hold of a copy - its echoes will linger in your head and heart for years to come.

Thursday 23 November 2023

Bob Mee reviews Whatever You Do, Just Don't

Bob Mee, the former editor of Iota magazine and Ragged Raven Press, has kindly reviewed Whatever You Do, Just Don't on his blog. Here's a short extract... "The poems drew me into them slowly. It took me a little time to absorb their depth, given they are short, observant, precise, deceptively relaxed, often gentle in tone, and range between a sense of sadness and the need for amusement and fun..." And you can read his piece in full by following this link.

Monday 20 November 2023

Mat Riches' Collecting the Data

Bearing in mind that I’ve seen all the poems in Mat Riches first pamphlet, Collecting the Data (Red Squirrel Press, 2023) at multiple stages in their development, and have given feedback on every single one, from first draft to reassembly after Nell’s ritual dismembering of words, lines and stanzas, there’s no way I can rightly write a review of this book.

It wouldn’t be objective or independent of me to do so, as most people know we’re good friends. And then, such a supposed review might well also end up sounding like an extended blurb, as I deeply admire the huge strides he’s made in his poetry over the last six years. Mind you, talking of blurbs, here’s the one I wrote from the heart for his back cover:

Mat Riches is a specialist in the humorous use of the serious and the serious use of the humorous, channelled through a playful but yoked relish for language.

And on that note, I feel it’s only right and correct that I should suggest you immediately visit the Red Squirrel webshop (see here) and get hold of a copy for yourself…!

Sunday 19 November 2023

"These poems are a joy to read"

 The Yorkshire Times (with thanks to their Literary Editor, Steve Whitaker) reviews Whatever You Do, Just Don't here.

Thursday 16 November 2023

The Alternative Stories podcast

For your listening pleasure, be it on a lazy evening at home or as a distraction during your commute, here's the Alternative Stories podcast with me (via this link), featuring several poems from Whatever You Do, Just Don't, plus debate about poetry, Brexit, football and Spain...