Friday, 17 March 2017

A glossary of wine terms

Wine and poetry have much in common. For instance, the difficulty of promotional language is a shared thorn. Back covers and back labels both display a dodgy code that the potential purchaser has to decipher.

As a consequence and as a nod towards the Prowein fair in Düsseldorf, where I'll be exhibiting this weekend for the seventeenth year in succession, here's my incomplete and tongue-in-cheek glossary of wine terms on the back of having written dozens of back labels, tasting notes and brochures in my day job. I do hope it helps next time you're browsing the shelves at your local merchant!

Chewy........Rough

Intense........Overwhelming

Fun.............Rubbish

Thin............Mean

Ripe............Jammy

Tasty...........Tannic

Broad..........Flabby

Sappy..........Green

Vibrant............Too alcoholic

Warming.........Far too alcoholic

Smooth...........Good dollop of residual sugar

Soft.................Even better dollop of residual sugar

Citrus..............Barely any fruit

Fresh..............Verging on acidic

Moreish..........Acidic

Brisk...............More acidic

Tangy..............Even more acidic

Lip-smacking...Far too acidic

Juicy................Fruit bomb with no acidity

Easy-drinking...Lightweight and dull

Ethereal...........Terrific after four glasses

Powerful..........One-dimensional

Rich.................Gloopy and soupy

Lingering..........For far too long

Sunday, 12 March 2017

A glossary of poetry terms

What do blurbs and reviews really mean when they invoke certain terms? What critical shorthand are they using? Do these terms needs translating to enable readers to reach their "true" meaning?

There is clearly a need a guide to be produced as a public service for readers of contemporary verse, so Rogue Strands hereby presents its glossary of poetry terms, all carried out with my tongue firmly wedged in my cheek. Before anyone takes umbrage at the mention of a word that was used on their back cover or in one of their critical pieces, please note that several of these jewels have been attached to my poetry in the past, while others have cropped up in my reviews on this blog.

Feel free to add your own to the comments section at the end of this post...!

Unsettling...........Unsettled

Accessible..........Facile

Challenging.........Gobbledygook

Wide-ranging......No clear voice

Risk-taking..........Uneven

Elegant................Sniffy

Evocative............Over-the-top images

Surreal.................Incoherent

Disturbing............Creepy

Spare...................Loads of white space for your money

Powerful..............Desperate to move you

Long-awaited.......Forgotten in the midst of countless Facebook feeds

Fraught................Confessional

Fierce..................Scary

Compassionate....Tear-jerking

Sensuous.............Overload on soft consonants

Bold....................Candidate for therapy

Brave..................Substitute for therapy

Restrained...........Repressed

Triumphant..........Cocky

Redemptive.........Yet another True Life Story

Melancholy.........Miserable

Skilled................Workmanlike

Glittering.............Flashy

Breathtaking........Dead flashy

Thrilling...............Even flashier

Understated........Dull

Haunting.............Nightmarish

Adept.................Forced

Ambitious...........Failed

Strange...............Bonkers

Dangerous..........Dead bonkers

Dizzying..............Even more bonkers

Acclaimed..........Marketed

Accomplished.....Neat and tidy

Vital...................Narcissistic

Inspired..............Exaggerated

Necessary..........Confessional

Vivid..................Overloaded

Assured..............Arrogant

Virtuoso..............Dead arrogant

Compelling..........Car crash

Witty...................Desperate to raise a smile

Distinct................Desperate to be different

Fresh...................Desperate to be new and innovative

Memorable..........Unforgettably dire

Lyrical..................Sing-song

Musical.................Dead sing-song

Wry......................Resigned

Tender..................Mawkish

Affecting................Dead mawkish

Moving..................Even more mawkish

Immediate..............Unedited

Acute....................Obsessed

Developed.............Verging on repetitive

Mature...................Repetitive

Authentic................Diary extracts

Everyday................Mundane

Serendipitous..........Contrived

Expressionistic.........Packed with clichés

Limpid.....................Prosaic

Monday, 6 March 2017

What's in a title?

Once I've got a poem to its "first final" draft, i.e. the point at which it moves from my handwritten notebook to a typed-up piece of paper, I often ask a couple of trusted friends for their opinion as a point of departure for the next stage in its development. Last month, I got a terrific comment back. My friend told me "I like the poem, Matthew, but the title's dead".

What did she mean by that? Well, my interpretation is that it wasn't contributing anything, not drawing the reader in, not adding an extra layer. It was there because it had to be, as if labelled "for internal use only". I immediately went back to the poem in question and renegotiated that title, always bearing the reader in mind..

Of course, what goes for an individual piece also goes for the title of a book. Which brings me to the issue in hand: the title of my forthcoming first full collection. What were the criteria? Not dead, as per the previously mentioned poem, memorable but not too wacky, relevant but not just explanatory, intriguing but not plain mysterious. However, most of all, I asked myself a key question: "would you buy a book with that title?"

So what was the result? Well, that's for a separate post...

Sunday, 26 February 2017

StAnza is coming!

With a myriad of poetry events to suit every taste, fabulous venues and a terrific social scene, all in the lovely setting of St Andrews, StAnza has become one of the foremost poetry festivals around. This year, it's running from 1st to 5th March, and you can browse the extensive programme here. I wish I could make it up there myself. Maybe next year, Matthew, maybe next year...

Friday, 17 February 2017

Understated and underrated, Stuart Pickford's Swimming with Jellyfish

Rather than throwing all sorts of fireworks and overt technical virtuosity at his poems, Stuart Pickford specialises in the tightrope-walking art of simplicity. 

Throughout Swimming with Jellyfish (Smith-Doorstep, 2016), his second full collection, Pickford demonstrates over and over again that straightforward language can actually heighten the dramatic tension of a poem when in the hands of a special talent. It’s often forgotten that such simplicity can be more laden with danger than supposedly riskier poetic techniques, as failure tends to be starker when undecorated.  

Pickford’s main thematic concern is the cycles of life. In this respect, he’s especially strong on fathers and sons. Individual poems provide delicious portrayals of such relationships, as in “Cocker”:

“My dad called me Cocker
when I was young, not son.
I didn’t want my friends
to hear him say it.
Then, for years, nothing.
But recently, kneeling
to pick up his legs
to swing them into the footwell,
the word’s come back”

Within this piece, there’s a gorgeous, painful evocation of the son’s shifting perspective and changing role as time goes by. Layers of dramatic riches and tension are imperceptibly peeled back.

Moreover, thematic complexity is heightened further once individual poems are compared and contrasted within the context of the collection as a whole. For example, the above-mentioned “Cocker” connects beautifully with “The End of George’s Last Football Season”, in which the speaker is now a father instead of a son, before one specific father is united with umpteen others:

“…as I drive out of town, every rec
Is haunted by a dad watching his son…”

Pickford reaches beyond the incident in question, using it as a point of departure for an imaginative journey. However, his generalising statement would be far less powerful without its preceding anecdote. Both add to each other.

Swimming with Jellyfish doesn’t yet seem to have attracted the critical acclaim that it merits. Understated and underrated, Stuart Pickford’s poetry deserves a wide readership. Here’s hoping this collection becomes a slow-burning success. 

Friday, 10 February 2017

Letting go

And so the time has come to let the poems go. Some of them have been with me for well over a decade, while others only pitched up a few months ago. They've all been pretty decent company through thick and thin, these landmarks in my life. I just hope they find some new friends when the book comes out in June...

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Will Harris' poetry blog

Thanks are due to Helena Nelson for pointing me (via Twitter and Facebook) in the direction of Will Harris' poetry blog. I was already an admirer of the examples of Harris' verse that I'd spotted in magazines - it demonstrates an excellent eye for a turn of phrase and a striking cadence - but I hadn't picked up on his blog.

It turns out that Harris writes great prose too, an ease of reading combined 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. From my perspective, that's impressive and coherent. This is a blog to follow!