Monday, 31 December 2012

Maria Taylor on Tasting Notes

Over at her Commonplace blog, Maria Taylor has written very generously about Tasting Notes. You can read her post here.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Best of 2012 lists?

Merry Christmas to all the readers of Rogue Strands! I won't be doing any "Best of 2012" lists, as I've got an ever-growing aversion to absolute rankings and points-scoring for stuff that involves personal interpretation, such as poetry and wine. What's more, some extremely flawed or limited poems or bottles can also provide great pleasure if they fit the moment, while other huge achievements can turn out to be somewhat dull on the physical and emotional palate.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Eskimo words for snow?

Just as the Eskimos are reputed to have umpteen words for snow, so I notice just how many terms the Spanish have for different types of peppers and squid. They, meanwhile, can't believe just how many words we Brits have for root vegetables (e.g. swedes, turnips, celeriac, etc, etc...) that are just types of "nabos" for them.

Our linguistic usage is governed by our surroundings. However, one semantic fault is universal: no language anywhere has enough words for love.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Yesterday's launch

Yesterday's launch event at the Scottish Poetry Library was apparently a great success, with an excellent crowd to sample the poetry and wine. A full report is now up on the HappenStance blog here. Many thanks are due to Helena Nelson and Ross Kightly for reading the poems from Tasting Notes. I just wish I'd been there myself too!

Friday, 14 December 2012

Tasting Notes and Zaleo at the Scottish Poetry Library

This coming Saturday (i.e. tomorrow!) 15th December sees the launch of two new HappenStance pamphlets by Jim C Wilson and Jim Carruth at the Scottish Poetry Library, starting at 1 p.m..

As part of these two launches, there will also be a tasting of Zaleo wines and a short reading from my own pamphlet, Tasting Notes, all to be done in my absence, as I just can't get away from work at the moment.

This is a terrific chance to get hold of some new poetry from HappenStance, while also trying some Zaleo alongside the poems that invoke and evoke it. There are more details here on the Scottish Poetry Library blog, together with a lovely photo of the poetry and wine that await you!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Much more than a wine blog

A few years ago, Un vino más seemed to start off as just another wine blog where tasting notes were posted by the author. These days, it's much so more than that. I stongly recommend that the Spanish speakers among you take a few minutes to trawl through its treasure trove of posts, a series of ruminations on the way wine, food and love intermingle and play against each other in the writer's life. Generosity of spirit shines through. It's terrific stuff!

Monday, 3 December 2012

An ideal Christmas gift

Poetry and and poetry...they make a terrific combination and an unusual, original Christmas gift.

Fifteen quid gets a bottle of Zaleo Tempranillo 2011 and a copy of Tasting Notes (the poems about the wine) delivered straight to the door of your choosing by courier service, p&p included, see here.

47.50, meanwhile, includes a whole mixed case of six bottles (Zaleo Premium, Rosado, Pardina and three bottles of the Tempranillo) along with the book, see here.

Sipping the wine while reading the poem about it - now that provides a great talking point around the dinner table!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Joshua Mehigan's The Festival

This week finds me in the throes of reading Joshua Mehigan's 2004 collection, The Optimist. There's a lot of excellent stuff throughout the book, but I'm particularly drawn to a poem titled The Festival. It very much reminds me of Larkin's Show Saturday. Both are specific to their place and time, and both strike an authentic note. Larkin homes in on...

"...mugfaced, middleaged wives
Glaring at jellies, husbands on leave from the garden
Watchful as weasels..."

Mehigan, meanwhile, captures a very similar yet very different dynamic as follows:

"From beer, they swayed like corn in rows.
They unfixed stares to wink at wives
whose dead eyes double-crossed their smiles."

An implicit dialogue between the two poets and two societies is certainly enriching my reading. I'm now looking forward to Mehigan's new collection in 2013.

Monday, 19 November 2012

A first reading in Spain

In spite of having spent seventeen years in Spain, I'd never given a poetry reading in Iberia. That was until last week, when my local high school invited me to give an English-language reading from Inventing Truth to their sixth-form students as part of their annual Book Fair.

The pupils had worked on several of my poems beforehand, and I was intrigued to see which pieces had been chosen (they were especially drawn with the ones that focus on identity and the sense of being a foreigner). Following a brief reading, I moved on to explain a bit about the metrics of English poetry and thus lyrics. We finished off by stomping out the iambs and trochées that can be found in The Beatles' Yesterday.

You can read more (in Spanish, of course) at the I.E.S. Santiago Apostol's blog here, with lots of photos of me in action with the students!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Peony Moon features Tasting Notes

Over at Peony Moon, Michelle McGrane is kindly featuring Tasting Notes today. There's some background info, a photo of the wine and a sample poem.You can find the post in question here.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Review: The Dreaded Boy, by Antony Owen

At a time when poets tend to tiptoe warily round politics, Antony Owen's The Dreaded Boy (Pighog Press, 2011) makes forthright, passionate statements of commitment, as in the following example from The Scent of a Son:

"...In London ministers argue expenses
In York a father fills carrier bags
walking the scent of his son to Oxfam."

Throughout this pamphlet, Owen explores the horror of war, as much through the experiences of civilians at home as through snapshots of the battle itself. There's a collage effect at work here, built up by layers of anecdote that range from Stalingrad to Basra, from Gaza to Kabul. Owen's perspective is that of the war correspondent: this is reportage, packed with pent-up horror, emotion heightened by the paring back of anything other than observation. His ending to Medusa is a fine example of the technique at work:

"...His little bother asked to see his medals,
he took him to a friend's grave.

He was hailed a hero in the paper
and stoked the furnace with it.

His wife wants to try for a baby,
he packed his bags for war."

The Dreaded Boy is not meant to be an advert for subtle nuance. The themes are huge and they're tackled head-on. It's often said that elegies allow and even encourage the poet to push boundaries in a search for the expression of something that's impossible to express. Well, war is explored in a similar way here.

Antony Owen's focus is primarily on those left behind, on the aftermath of war, on the way it pervades people's lives beyond the battlefield. He's drawing our attention to the forgotten and the neglected. Owen successfully marries this thematic drive to the aesthetics of his verse, demonstrating that there's very much a role in contemporary society for poetry that nails its political colours to the mast. The Dreaded Boy is an unusual and at times uncomfortable read, and for that I'm grateful. This reader always enjoys being taken out of his comfort zone!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Tim Love on Tasting Notes

As mentioned previously on Rogue Strands, Tim Love's blogs are an excellent source of information on the U.K. poetry scene. They're definitely worth following as a point of departure for discussion and thought. A few days ago he posted a very positive review of Tasting Notes, plus a photo (from the launch event in London) of me carving that gorgeous ham. You can find both here.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Dr Fulminare on Tasting Notes

As part of its ever-expanding review section, Dr Fulminare has published a very positive and thought-provoking piece on Tasting Notes. You can read it in its entirety here, but I'd like to highlight the following extract:

"For this reason I feel safe in closing this review with a shopping advice. Buy a bottle of Zaleo (or all four of them)...and have the pamphlet as a crowning touch to the wine – it will make for a gift of inimitable class."

On that note, I'll just point you in the direction of the links to the right of this piece - Christmas is creeping up on us!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Review: Clueless Dogs, by Rhian Edwards

A couple of years ago I reviewed Rhian Edwards' tall-lighthouse pamphlet, Parade the Fib, on Rogue Strands. In fact, you can still read it here. 2012, meanwhile, has seen the publication of her first full collection with Seren Books, titled Clueless Dogs.

Clueless Dogs is an extremely good read. The best poems from the pamphlet run through its spine: Gravy and Sheer are excellent pieces, while Marital Visit is an outstanding poem (the book's worth buying for this one slab of brilliance alone!): a female, lyrically-charged concave mirror of the type of material that Hugo Williams invoked in Billy's Rain. Edwards is terrific at portraying doomed human relationships.

The blurb for Clueless Dogs states that she won the John Tripp Award for Spoken Poetry 2011-12. Now, I'm not going to get bogged down in the pointless argument of page vs performance. Nevertheless, I do recall sharing a stage with Edwards in London a few years ago. She was compelling, performing her poems such as Marital Visit without recourse to the page. She'd learnt them by heart and was able to engage with the audience by laying open her vulnerability.

I do wonder, however, just whether she is quite so successful with other themes, for reasons I'll try to explain. The very qualities that made the "personal" poems so captivating when performed "live" are also those that pervade her work on other subjects, yet in these cases without the same degree of emotional connection with the audience/reader. Let's take an example: where the circular ending to Marital Visit is devastating in its finality, in other cases the chopping-off of loose ends seems forced, closing instead of opening up beyond the text itself. For instance, here are the final lines from Bridgend:

"...The Samaritans have been lobbying the Vale
for years for a phone box
with a direct dial to a volunteer.
Eventually, the council surrendered and built
the box at the foot of the cliff.

Edwards is offering us an ending that's satisfying at first yet slightly facile on rereading. She's reaching for (and obtaining) an effect on her audience rather than her reader.

Clueless Dogs is not perfect, yet its flaws are intriguing. It shows Edwards reaching out into new themes and exploring how her technique can evolve to deal with them. Let's not forget, however, that it is top-notch when evoking moments, scenes and perspectives on couples that are destined to part. Rhian Edwards has already achieved more than many poets: a new, enlightening view of an old subject. The signs are that there's a lot more to come.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Tom Duddy in Smiths Knoll

Smiths Knoll, a long-running U.K.-based poetry magazine, has bitten the dust, and Issue 50 will be the final one. As a sample of its contents, the editor have posted a poem by Tom Duddy on their website. The Reception is one of Duddy's last poems before his death earlier this year - it's an excellent piece, packed with exquisite observations, and you can read it here. His forthcoming posthumous collection from HappenStance Press promises much!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Cashing in...poetry prizes in Spain

I've previously mentioned that a vast amount of poetry funding in Spain gets pushed into prizes that are run by local councils, building societies, regional governments, charities, etc. Instead of backing local groups, events and magazines, organisations tend to crave the publicity of handing out a prize that's worth a lot of cash.

The following is just a small sample of the poetry prizes that are on offer in Spain, together with their first prizes. Bear in mind that these are generally for full collections rather than single poems. I've compiled this list over the last hour via the internet, only including first prizes of 5,000€ or more, but I could have gone on all night and not reached the end! What's more, it's based on the most recent available info - austerity is even biting in these circles to a limited extent and thus affecting funding.

This list just goes to show how deeply the culture of prize-winning is engrained in Spanish poetic culture - if you don't win a prize, your manuscript is liable not to see the light of day. With a deep breath, here goes:

Premio Miguel Hernández-Comunidad Valenciana12,000€

Premio Rubén Darío de Poesía en Castellano, 18,000€
Premio Emilio Alarcos de Poesía, 7,000€
Premio Internacional de Poesía Claudio Rodríguez, 6,000€
Premio Ciudad de Cáceres, 6,000 €
Premio Nacional de Poesía Joven “Félix Grande” 6,000€
Premio de Poesía Federico García Lorca, 30,000€
Premio "Antonio Machado en Baeza", 6,000€
Premio Unicaja de Poesía, 7,000€
Premio 'José Hierro' de Poesía, 15,000€
Premio de Poesía Manuel Alcántara 6,000€
Premio de Poesía Ciudad de Pamplona 5,000€
Premio de Poesía Ciudad de Irún, 15,000€
Premio Internacional de Poesía Odón Betanzos, 6,000€
Premio Iberoamericano de Poesía "Hermanos Machado", 8,000€
Premio de Poesía Blas de Otero, 8,000€
Premio de Poesía Rafael Morales, 12,000€
Certamen de Poesía Villa de Aoiz, 6,000€
Premio Unicaja de Poesía, 10,000€
Premio de poesía Ricardo Molina, 12,000€
Premio Internacional de Poesía Generación del 27, 20,000€
Premio internacional de poesía Jaime Gil de Biedma,10,000€
Premio de Poesía Juan Ramón Jiménez,12,000€
Premio de Poesía de la Fundación Ecoem 6,000€
Premio de Poesía Mérida, 9,000€
Premio Nacional Poesía Joven “Miguel Hernández” 20,000€
Premio Loewe de Poesía, 20,000€
Premio Ciudad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 6,000€
Premio Emilio Alarcos de poesía,18,000€
Premio Internacional de Poesía “Hermanos Argensola”, 6,000€
Premio de Poesía Antonio Gala, 9,000€
Certamen Internacional de Poesía Ciudad de Torrevieja, 18,000€
Premio 'Ciudad de Salamanca' de Poesía,9,000€
Premio de Poesía Ciudad de Córdoba "Ricardo Molina",12,000€
Premio de Poesía en Castellano “Vicente Gaos”, 6,000€

As mentioned above, this is just a partial snapshot - there are far more out there. Now that's a lot of money that could have been used in so many other ways!

Monday, 22 October 2012

A first review for Tasting Notes

I'm delighted to report that John Field has posted the first review of Tasting Notes on his Poor Rude Lines blog. It's extremely generous, as in the following extract:

"These poems, deceptively restrained in ambition, pack a punch nevertheless. In performance they read well but are doubly rewarding on the page."

You can read the review in full here.

Moreover, Field also highlights the ongoing offer that combines the book with the wine it evokes. You can find links to Bat and Bottle's webshop just to the right of this post. Why not give someone a book of poetry and a bottle/case of wine that illuminate each other? The package makes an ideal present!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Autumn in the vineyards

As soon as the grapes are picked, each vine sends a message out that kills off its leaves, turning them russet in a matter of a few days. The clay soil of Tierra de Barros is covered by row after endless rolling row of these vines right now, all combined with dusks that turn a more purple hue with every night that passes. On such evenings I love heading out to the mountains and looking down on the vineyards, on the shades of gorgeous autumn. New England, eat your heart out!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Review: La Cuadratura del Plato, by Mónica Doña

I do feel I have to start the review of this excellent collection, titled La Cuadratura del Plato (El Páramo, 2011), with a spot of background information that should serve as a practical illustration of the points I made in my post a couple of weeks ago about poetry funding in Spain, all this without wanting to knock the book in question in any way.

Mónica Doña's manuscript won Córdoba County Council's annual poetry prize, for which she was awarded 6000€ of public money. This is far from being one of the largest prize funds in Iberia. Her book was then (eventually) published by the officially backed regional publishing house with beautiful production values and not a price to be seen on it. In other words, there's no real target commercial audience at all or any promotional marketing.

There are definitely better ways of using public funding to support poetry and help it reach more people. However, in this case I'm delighted that at least the cash has given Mónica Doña's poetry a chance to find a readership. I was drawn to Doña's work because it refuses to be pigeonholed into typical Spanish "schools". What's more, she approaches life so as to understand it, rather than being drawn into esoteric codes. The first section in the book, titled Objetos, draws on everyday items, concentrating on their implicit emotional content, as in Navaja:

"Corta el hombre su pan a rebanadas
y luego las reparte.
Rebanadas de pan, todas iguales.
El hombre y su navaja
saben medir el hambre."

"The man cuts his bread into slices
and then hands them out.
Slices of bread, all the same.
The man and his knife
can measure hunger."

The second section of the book, meanwhile, titled La Cuadratura del Plato, is charged with the bottled-up emotion of a repressed childhood in Francoist Spain, homing in on the humdrum once more in order to accentuate its impact. Doña evokes a double life: the social containts of the family are contrasted with the world of her imagination, ending up in a reconciliation of the two selves in adulthood:

"Se cuadra ante la luna del armario
y le dice a su doble:
No te duermas, hermana,
que otra vez empezamos desde cero."

She squares up to the mirror on the wardrobe
and says to her double:
"Don't fall asleep, sister,
we're starting again from scratch.""

The collection's third and final section, Cine en Casa, moves on to the difficulties of adult life and offers us cinematographic vignettes of troubled contemporary family relationships (more troubles!). Despite the delicate nature of her material, Dona actually manages to bring a wry smile to this reader's lips on a regular basis, as in Dígaselo con Flores (Say it with Flowers):

"...encargaste en la tienda de flores
dos decenas de rosas.
Como si fueran huevos
para nutrir desprisa a una familia
desganada y perpleja..."

" ordered at the florist's
two dozen roses.
As if they were eggs
to nourish a family
that's off its food and perplexed..."

The aesthetics of this verse might not seem so unexpected to a British reader. Nevertheless, they are unusual in the context of contemporary Spanish poetry. Mónica Doña's La Cuadratura del Plato is fierecly ambitious without feeling the need for obstrusive posturing. It's been a pleasant surprise for me and I applaud it.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Joshua Mehigan in Poetry magazine

I was intrigued to read Joshua Mehigan's work in the latest issue of Poetry magazine (you can read three pieces here), the outstanding American journal. His new poems startle me in they way they take on board the influence of Philip Larkin, that most English of poets, and successfully incorporate it into an American aesthetic.

I'm very much looking forward to his new collection, titled Accepting the Disaster, which will be coming out in 2013.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Poetry funding in Spain

Living in a foreign country has provided me with an extra perspective, the chance to compare and contrast. Some aspects of U.K. life now seem tattier, others seem better. Take poetry funding, for instance.

In the U.K. we tend to complain about the distribution of funding among publishers, mags, events and festivals,and those complaints are often justified. However, the grass is sometimes actually weedier elsewhere, as in Iberia.

There are many excellent poetic ventures in Spain, but a vast amount of funding gets pushed into prizes that are run by local councils. Instead of backing local groups, events and magazines, mayors tend to crave the publicity of handing out a prize that's worth a lot of cash. Doing so also involves far less work than getting their hands dirty with bits and pieces that might make a difference.

The best prizes offer publication, often with an offically-run regional publishing board who don't exactly push sales. Others are worse. A few years ago I was a member of the judging panel for one such local poetry prize over here. At the final meeting I was asked to cast my vote, at which point I tried and failed to explain to the incredulous mayor that I couldn't bring myself to do so: the winner would get 1000€ and no publication. As a prize-winner, his manuscript would be ineligible for any other prize or magazine publication. In other words, by choosing a winning piece I would be condemning the text to oblivion. Cash in exchange for destroying art. The saddest aspect is that umpteen poets submitted their work in the full knowledge of how the system functioned.

In summary, maybe we aren't quite so badly off after all back in the U.K....?!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Review: Spring Journal, by Dan Wyke

At first sight, Dan Wyke's pamphlet, Spring Journal (Rack Press, 2012), seems a seismic shift away from his previous writing, as in Waiting for the Sky to Fall, his first full collection from Waterloo Press. Instead of individual, bite-sized poems, we encounter a coherent long piece that knits the whole chapbook together. However, a closer look demonstrates that Wyke is not breaking from his previous work in Spring Journal. Instead, he is using its epigrammic qualities to bring together a series of shorter snippets, snapshots and extracts to create a cumulative collage effect that is sustained successfully throughout the pamphlet.

Wyke's use of titbit followed by titbit is married to the form of the "journal" of the title. It also enables him to draw implicit comparisons and contrasts via juxtaposition. In other words, misery is found alongside pleasure. "Today, I will get nothing done" is followed by "This, too, I love." Wyke thus achieves a mirroring of changes of mood from day to day and even within days.

He has always been highly skilled at picking out details to convey the significance of the everyday. Spring Journal is no different, as in the following example:

"End of May Day, back door and windows wide open...
I can smell the blossom on the lilac bush,
mint in a terracotta pot, barbecue smoke:
the moment and memory collide in the taste of cold beer
and the scent of after-sun on my hot face."

The humdrum is lifted beyond the mere detail of its listing. Senses lead to thought.

The coherent and cohesive nature of Spring Journal allows Wyke to explore in depth themes that have popped up elsewhere in his poetry. For example, there's the attempt at a Buddist reconciliation with self, as in...

" I am trying to sit closer to myself."

All this is tied in with moments in which he's "trying" but doesn't quite make it (a key facet of human experience, captured wonderfully by Wyke), falling to his own frustrations:

"What I am unable to say
                                       I mean most of all."

Key themes in this book are key themes in life: joy and misery, and the inevitably impossible attempt to express them, as in the final stanza of Spring Journal, where Wyke captures that tension so well:

"Monday morning: viral, unresponsive; my life is passing.
The sky is blue, unfathomably beautiful. A toddler in a pushchair
titlts back his head and lets out long,loud vowel sounds.
His mother does not understand and tries to stop him.

This is excellent stuff, especially in the context of what comes before. Spring Journal is a satisfying read in any season.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Andrew Graves' Citizen Kaned

My review of Andrew Graves' pamphlet, Citizen Kaned (Crystal Clear Creators, 2012), is now up at Sphinx. You can read it here in the now-established format of three juxtaposed pieces about the same chapbook. Page vs performance is an implicit issue throughout. Fresh perspectives are found on an old debate as the reviewers discuss to what extent Graves achieves a balance between the two.

Thank you

I'd like to thank all the people who made it along to my readings last week in Coventry and Uppingham. You all contributed to making the evenings so enjoyable. Special thanks are particularly due to Antony Owen for organising Nightblue Fruit and to Matt Merritt for helping me out with all the two-voiced poems in Uppingham. As the latter mentions in his kind review on Polyolbion, it was a pretty unusual poetry reading!

The Coventry event was held at a lovely venue (Taylor John's house) at the city's Canal Basin. It showed off much of what's so special about the U.K.'s thriving live poetry scene: everyone engaged throughout the open mic slots, before giving me a great welcome for my reading. I even sold a good number of books!

As for Uppingham, it was lovely to combine poetry with wine in such an unpretentious way. Ben and Emma from Bat and Bottle Wine Merchants provided the ideal platform and audience. All of them were so open to the poems in spite of not being regular readers of verse! I was delighted to discover "in situ" that Tasting Notes does hit the mark in this respect. Its aim is to be accessible without being facile, to engage with people and surprise them. Suffice to say, the after-event wine tasting also went on well into the night!

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Two readings this week

Just a gentle reminder that I'm over in the U.K. once more this week to give two readings: Coventry on Tuesday and Uppingham on Wednesday. Details can be found in earlier posts. A heady mix of gorgeous autumnal colours, decent bitter, dodgy League Two  football, energising conversation and lots of poetry are all swirling away in my senses. Time to stock up on memories!

Thursday, 27 September 2012

It's alive!

First off, the semantics of the stuff: rosé wine is made to "bleed" as it's being vinified, while red wine needs to "breathe" once it's opened. White wine seems to "fall off a cliff" when it reaches the end of its life.

What's more, let's say I take a six-bottle case of Zaleo Tempranillo that was bottled on the same day and placed in its case at the same time. On opening the bottles, I'll find that every single one has developed in a slightly different way, as if they've got a sole set of genes but different upbringings.

Wine is alive! That's why I wrote Tasting Notes, to let it speak for itself, all in implicit contrast with the juxtaposed blurb that usually accompanies the "product". 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The tie-in

As Tim Love remarked recently in a comment on one of my posts, poetry benefits from a tie-in with the physical world. Such tie-ins not only cast a new light on verse for lovers of the genre, but they also gain new readers for it, people who thought poems could bring little to their lives beyond weddings and funerals.

To that end, I'm delighted that my partners (Ben and Emma Robson from Bat and Bottle Wine Merchants), are offering a mail order package of my poetry with wine (or wine with poetry!) at a specially reduced price. In other words, Tasting Notes can be delivered to a doorstep of your choice together with the wines that speak for themselves in the book. It's now possible to read and taste at the same time! There are two packages available, as follows:

1 x Tasting Notes, plus a bottle of Zaleo Tempranillo 2011, including p & p, down from an official price of 18.75 to 15 quid.You can order it here.

1 x Tasting Notes, plus a 6-bottle case including all the wines from Tasting Notes (i.e. 1 x Zaleo Premium 2010, 1 x Zaleo Rosado 2011,1 x Zaleo Pardina 2011 and 3 x Zaleo Tempranillo 2011), including p & p, down from 55.25 to 47.50. You can order it here.

If you know someone who like a glass of wine but thinks poetry is irrelevant, this is an ideal gift to surprise them. It also goes without saying that the package should go down well with poetry lovers who enjoy wine. Here's to a successful tie-in. Cheers!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Nightblue Fruit

Tuesday 2nd October will find me sent to Coventry, where I'll be reading at Nightblue Fruit (now that's a superb name!). Many thanks are due to Antony Owen for organising it all.

The event will be taking place at Taylor John's House, Coal Vaults, Canal Basin, Coventry, CV1 4LY. Doors will open at 8 pm and admission is free. What's more, Antony will have 5-minute open-mic slots available for you on the night. I won't be taking the wines along this time, but that's only because there's a bar at the venue for refreshments throughout.

This is the sort of reading I love giving, where people really focus on the poetry and everyone has the chance to get involved. I'll be reading from both Inventing Truth and Tasting Notes, with a few copies of both for sale on the night. I do hope any readers of Rogue Strands in the Coventry area will try to make it along. Here's the poster for the event:

Monday, 17 September 2012

The price of poetry?

Part One of the launch of Tasting Notes was a great success. About 50 people attended the reading at Free Verse on 8th September, followed by a constant flow of interest on the Happenstance stand throughout the day. I carved ham, poured wine and talked poetry non-stop for six hours!

In fact, we sold a lot of books. This was no doubt partly down to our special offer of providing a free glass of wine and plate of ham with every purchase from the stand, not just of my book. A number of people remarked on how it made them think again about the way we value and price stuff. What does four pounds buy you? A lovely poetry pamphlet or a drink in London? Customers at Free Verse weren't forced into that choice, as we sent a fair number home with a warm vinous feeling inside them and a book to read afterwards.

It was a wonderful day, the chance to showcase poetry I believe in, to promote an excellent, commited publisher. And now I'm looking forward to the second stage of the launch! More on that over the coming days.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Double launch for Tasting Notes

I'll be launching Tasting Notes in two very different sets of surroundings in the very near future.

First off, I'll be giving a reading from it at Free Verse: The Poetry Book Fair this coming Saturday (8th September) at 11 a.m.. I'll be appearing alongside Marion Tracy, who'll also be launching her new HappenStance pamphlet, and you can see the whole programme of readings here. It looks like being a terrific day out for poetry lovers, especially once you see the extensive list of exhibiting publishers.

What makes this launch different is that there will be free Zaleo wine and Ibérico ham for anyone who comes along. I'll be carving the Ibérico ham myself, so it's sure to get rather messy! If you can't make it to the reading itself, we'll also be on the Happenstance stand all day afterwards with that ham and wine, plus a very special offer that should encourage you to buy lots of books from the best poetry pamphlet publisher in the whole wide world!

If the London launch is in a poetry-world setting with wine and ham alongside, the second launch of Tasting Notes is taking place in a wine-trade context with lots of poetry on top, all thanks to Emma and Ben, my partners and friends at Bat and Bottle wine merchants.The invite reads as follows:

"Ben and Emma Robson, partners of Bat and Bottle, cordially invite you to

Tasting Notes

An evening of wine, poetry and jamón ibérico de bellota, presented by the
poet and blender Matthew Stewart.

Uppingham Theatre, Stockerston Road, Uppingham LE15 9UD
Wednesday 3rd October 7:30pm

Tickets are £5 each and available online at search ‘Tasting
Notes’ or call 01572759735"

I do hope you can make it along to one of these launches. As you can see, they promise to be somewhat unusual!

Monday, 3 September 2012

The wines

Tasting Notes draws on wines as a point of reference, but not just any old plonk:  I've been working in the wine trade down here in deepest Extremadura (Spain) for longer than I care to remember, and these days I earn my living as the blender and export manager of Viñaoliva, a local co-operative, selling our Zaleo wines globally.

I write the back labels, brochures, website copy and, of course, the tasting notes. If you'd like to find out a bit more background about the wines, why not visit the website here? On the site there are also some lovely shots of the beautiful scenery (all those rolling vineyards!) in this part of the world.

What's more, you'll soon be able to taste the wines alongside the poems, both at two imminent launches and in your own home! More exact details in the next couple of days about those launches.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Ham from Extremadura

Tasting Notes, my forthcoming HappenStance pamphlet, allows the wines that I blend to speak for themselves. More about them in the next few days. However, it also deals with how wine matches with food. In that respect, one of my personal favourites is a glass of decent red from Extremadura with some of the local ham.

Ham from Extremadura is the best in the world. Forget about that Italian stuff (cry your eyes out, Parma!) or even Guijuelo or Jabugo in Spain. An acorn-fed, free range, on-the-bone Ibérico ham from Extremadura is unbeatable. Ibérico is the local breed of pigs, offering up delicious, marbled fat. Cut wafer-thin, it just melts on the tongue!

Fair enough, you might say, but why isn't it world-renowned, sold in the best restaurants and talked up by glossy magazines? Well, it certainly is making a major name for itself among foodies, but marketing has long been one of Extremadura's failings.This is maybe because of the old farmers' mentality in what is one of the poorest and most remote regions in Spain - Extremaduran people were just glad to get a good price for the animals at slaughter, letting companies from other parts of the country cure their hams, create brands and thus an image.

Nevertheless, things are now changing. Ham from Extremadura is now served at some of the top London restaurants. Moreover, it's coming to a poetry reading near you very soon for the price of a chapbook, together with a fair whack of that red wine I mentioned above. This is going to be a launch with a difference!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

John Field's Poor Rude Lines

The emergence of any new poetry blog is to be welcomed, especially one that concentrates on reviews, but John Field's Poor Rude Lines displays a quality of writing and insight that already make it remarkable. His pieces are clearly underpinned by the experience of academic essay-writing, yet they also manage to be accessible to general readers, succeeding in striking an extremely difficult balance.

In the context of the above, I'm very grateful to him for having featured Inventing Truth, and for having been so generous in his praise. You can read the article here. I've included Poor Rude Lines in the blog list that runs down the right-hand side of Rogue Strands, and I'll be following its development with a keen interest.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

London Grip New Poetry Autumn 2012

London Grip have just published their Autumn 2012 issue of new poetry. It's packed with interesting verse from the likes of Pippa Little, Angela Kirby, Mike Barlow and many more. You can read it here, where you'll also find a poem by me. Titled The Club Player, it's a playful contemporary counterpoint and contrast to Betjeman's lines on a certain lady...

"Miss J. Hunter Dunn, Miss J. Hunter Dunn,
Furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot sun..."

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Tasting Notes - the cover

This is a shot of the cover for my new HappenStance pamphlet, Tasting Notes:

More news to come in the next few days about how and when you'll be able to get your hands on a copy, plus details of a slightly unusual launch that we've been planning...

Friday, 10 August 2012

Cooking and writing

Cooking and writing are two of my favourite activities. Both are creative processes and both end with the release of the finished product, allowing others to interpret it. These endings do, however, display one key difference: reading a book is an individual activity, often months or years after its creation, whereas a dish is usually shared immediately.

Maybe that's why I love Antonio Gamoneda's poem, Sabor a legumbres, so much. A terrific portrayal of a family meal, it finishes as follows:

...Yo siento
en el silencio machacado
algo maravilloso:
cinco seres humanos
comprender la vida a través del mismo sabor.

...I feel
in the crushed silence
something wonderful:
five human beings
understanding life through the same taste.

I can't imagine life without the enjoyment of food, its preparation and the sharing of it. So many specific moments and people are intrinsically linked in my memory with a certain dish. My poetry often reflects this love of everything culinary, bringing cooking and writing together in a celebration of each other.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Free Verse 2012: The Poetry Book Fair

Here's a date for your diary: this year's Poetry Book Fair will be held on Saturday 8th September at the Candid Arts Trust Galleries in London. You can already view the extensive list of exhibiting publishers on their website, with the full programme of readings to come in the next few days.

I'll be attending and participating with HappenStance, bringing a couple of surprises with me! More details in due course...

Monday, 6 August 2012

Review: Melanchrini, by Maria Taylor

Maria Taylor is a poet with a keen sense of identity. By that, I don't mean that she's fond of attaching labels to herself. In fact, the opposite is true - she's only too aware of the shifting, ambiguous nature of identity, and her verse does an excellent job of exploring its vagaries.

Her first full collection is titled Melanchrini (Nine Arches Press, 2012), in itself a word - meaning "dark-featured young woman" - that hints at one of the book's main concerns. This is British poetry with a Greek Cypriot background. Copellas and levandes are juxtaposed with a park off the Uxbridge road, Pebble Mill and a dance at the Palais Hall.

Taylor explores the co-existence in her upbringing of two languages, two cultures and two set of social attitudes. At times, her husband is "English", at others "englezo", his acceptance into her family under scrutiny, as she portrays the blending and clashing of British and Cypriot ways of life. This double perspective undoubtedly enriches Taylor's writing, enabling her to write about both countries with a critical eye. She acts simultaneously as an insider and outsider.

The extra counterpoint is crucial to the development of Taylor's skill at exploring the ambiguous qualities of identity as mentioned above. In that respect, Kin is a key piece:

"...You won't need a passport or papers,
there will be a glint in your eyes
which is recognised or understood...

there was no second or third country,
just a place where people came from,
where once before maybe you did too."

This poem begins in an authorative tone, identity being clearly above mere documents. By the end, Taylor is purposely undermining all that came previously. The "maybe" of the final line is reminiscient of the "almost" of Larkin's An Arundel Tomb.

Melanchrini stands out among first collections for its coherence. Maria Taylor's achievement lies in having generated a deeply personal thematic and poetic drive that runs throughout the book. I very much recommend it.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Julia Copus in The Guardian

I've been catching up on my reading after a couple of weeks away, and especially enjoyed Julia Copus' feature in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago on "the joy of siblings". That might be a slightly naff editorial turn of phrase, yet the article is anything but, telling the story of her relationship with her brother and sister amid the collapse of their parents' marriage.

The piece is located in a section titled Life and Style, although it closes with Copus' poem, The Back Seat of my Mother's Car. I already knew and admired this poem, but its impact is greater here. What's more, casual readers (not just those who browse Guardian books) will have encountered excellent verse, all in the context of the preceding prose. This is just what's needed if poetry is going to attract new readers. A definite thumbs-up!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The importance of poetry blogs

There's no doubt that the role of poetry blogs is changing. In the current era of Twitter and Facebook, there are more immediate ways to reach and impact on people than via blogs. However, that very speed of "feeds" doesn't make blogs redundant. Instead, it alters and concentrates their focus.

What do I mean by this? For example, I have almost 100 Facebook "friends", nearly all of them from the poetry world. That figure might be lower than for the average user. Even so, just a few hours away from Facebook means I have to wade through dozens of posts to keep up. In other words, the drive of news feeds, while being a key advantage, also turns into a handicap, as significant contributions get lost in the onslaught of information.

Blogs, meanwhile, allow users and readers to catch up at their leisure every few days or weeks. I fully understand that status updates and tweets have their place (some poets also use them in intriguingly creative ways), and have very much replaced blogs in terms of communicating immediacy, but that has cleared the way for poetry blogs to focus on what they are good at: 200 to 400-word posts - be they reviews, news or articles - that need space to develop arguments.

I find the format of a blog is ideal in terms of the content that I can offer - with a bit of luck, Rogue Strands will be around for some time to come!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Tasting Notes

Not long after last year's publication of Inventing Truth, I met up for lunch with my editor at HappenStance, Helena Nelson. We talked about my day job as the blender and export manager for a winery down in Extremadura, Spain, and she encouraged me to write about it. I recall discussing the minefields and pitfalls inherent in a subject and genre with such potential for kitsch when brought together. However, I drove back home that day in a blur of thought as to just how I could meet the challenge.

As part of my job, I write the back labels, advertising copy, website and tasting notes for all my co-operative's products. The wine world has a linguistic shorthand that's packed with hyperbole and clichés, and so in my poetry I decided to play about with them from an insider's perspective.

The first consequence was a set of four poems that I sent to Helena Nelson for some feedback. After all, she had been the initial catalyst for my creative process. Her reply was a shock - they were the basis for a chapbook that she'd like to publish!

In the months that followed, I fleshed out my ideas, building a manuscript that suddenly, with a tweak here and there, took off. The result is Tasting Notes, my second HappenStance pamphlet, due in September. I'll be giving a number of readings (and tastings!) to launch it. Dates and venues in due course... 

Monday, 9 July 2012

My second Happenstance pamphlet

Following on from last year's Inventing Truth, HappenStance Press will be publishing my second pamphlet this September. I'm now putting the finishing touches to a manuscript that has taken me completely by surprise in the way it arose and then reached fruition. Suffice to say, I'm pretty excited as I read through and see how it's come to life. More details to follow over the coming days and weeks...

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Review: The Dark Film, by Paul Farley

Ever since the publication of his first collection, The Boy from the Chemist is Here to See You (Picador, 1998), I've been a firm admirer of Paul Farley's poetry. Later books did seem to indicate he might be following the well-trodden path of an ever-increasing enjoyment of erudition. However, his new collection, titled The Dark Film, marks not only a return to form but a raising of the bar, at least to this reviewer's tastes.

So why is The Dark Film such an achievement? Well, first off, it's a reconnection with what made Farley's poetry so outstanding in the first place: a keen awareness of the individual within a wider social history and landscape, a distinctive set of voices, colloquial verbal gymnastics and a playful connection with the reader. Nevertheless, this time Farley manages to go further. This is in no small part thanks to his growing consciousness of his positioning in the canon, of how his work fits with that of his predecessors.

Three examples from The Dark Film will show what I mean. Adults is a good starting point. Its opening lines read as follows:

"I'd look up to them looming on street corners
or down on them at night though my bedroom blinds,
crashing home from the Labour Club, mad drunk..."

Here is a poet who's read Douglas Dunn's Terry Street and is aware of possible comparisons and contrasts. Unlike Dunn's outsider's eye and academic's perspective, Farley is situating himself as one of these people in his childhood. Nevertheless, he's also clear on the dangers of playing up to that role now he's left those surroundings. Big Fish is a superb piece and underlines the point:

"...your birth street greets you with an ambush of smells:
teatimes in doorways where no-one remebers your name."

Farley is also pushing onwards and forging his own vision of Britain, all in the context of other poets from previous generations. One such example is Gas. The first stanza reads as follows:

"Seeing the country from a train
I've grown convinced its gasholders
in fact are used to house the spite
and gloom of post-industrial towns..."

There's an obvious nod towards Larkin's The Whitsun Weddings in the opening line, a knowledge that the remainder of Gas must necesarily evolve in the light of the earlier poem. Farley is recognising the inevitability of those afore-mentioned comparisons and contrasts, and embracing them. This is a different, updated, "post-industrial" view of Britain. In simplistic terms, if Larkin was projecting "love, hate, love" for the country, then Farley's line is more "hate, love, hate".

The Dark Film demonstrates that Paul Farley is coming to terms with his own idiosyncratic capacity for projecting a personal vision of contemporary Britain. It's a terrific book in its own right, but the most exciting part is that the best should be yet to come from him.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Minor poems, major effects

Many of my favourite poets are associated with certain renowned poems, pieces that bear their hallmarks and are thus invariably chosen for anthologies. However, I find that often one or two of their so-called minor works stick most in my mind.

One such example is Keith Douglas and a little-mentioned poem, Canoe. For all its defects, Canoe entrances me from the start ...

""Well, I am thinking this may be my last
summer, but cannot lose even a part
of pleasure in the old-fashioned art of

...through to its ending, precariously balanced, somehow pulling off a success, as if Douglas were indulging in poetic excess in the context of war,as if he were writing an elegy for himself...

"...when this boat

travels with you alone towards Iffley:
as you lie looking up for thunder again,
this cool touch does not betoken rain;
it is my spirit that kisses your mouth lightly."

Canoe captivated me when I first read it at the age of eighteen, and I've carried it with me ever since. It might be a minor poem in the context of the body of Douglas'work, but it's had a major effect on me.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Maria Taylor's first collection

Maria Taylor's first collection, titled Melanchrini, is now available on the Nine Arches Press website. You can read an extract and purchase a copy here.

I first met Maria last year when we read together at a Nine Arches Shindig in Leicester, and I very much enjoyed listening to her work. Bearing in mind my own interest in identity and belonging as channelled throughout nationality and upbringing, I was especially drawn to the way she wove together her Greek-Cypriot background and U.K. based life. Melanchini will definitely be on my summer reading list!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Tom Duddy

I was deeply saddened yesterday to hear of Tom Duddy's death. He was an exceptional poet and his humanity shone through every line of his verse.

In a fairer world, Tom Duddy's collections would sell in their thousands. Even so, his popularity is guaranteed among those of us who are still convinced that poetry can be an accessible and entertaining art without losing its depth. His capacity to capture and transform moments, especially in terms of love, accompanies us now and in the future, as in this example from The Small Hours:

"...As thought gives way to love, the rhythm falters,
her breathing lurches and comes fitfully,

a name, hardly a name, is drily mouthed,
and I enclose her hand all-roundedly
and hold it, hold it, while the dream rages."

HappenStance published Duddy's first chapbook, which took its title from the afore-mentioned poem, while Arlen House brought out his first full collection, The Hiding Place, in 2011. I gave the latter book a richly-deserved glowing review on this blog back in December, and Tom Duddy found the time to write and thank me even in the immediate aftermath of the diagnosis of his illness. I'm just pleased he witnessed the slow-burning growth of his reputation.

I gather there was a new collection in the pipeline and I very much hope that it sees the light of day. Tom Duddy was acquiring an ever-larger band of poetic followers, and the best memorial would be to encourage more readers to discover his work. For the moment, I'd like to finish this post by pointing you in the direction of the recordings of four poems that he uploaded to SoundCloud, the last of them just a few days ago. Duddy was a terrific reader of his own verse. Listen, enjoy, remember him and spead the word!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Learning poetry by heart

Learning poetry by heart seems to have become a political issue over the last few days. All this was started off by Michael Gove's proposals, followed by responses such as Simon Armitage's piece in The Guardian.

Leaving aside the wider educational and political ramifications and homing in on the poetry itself, I'm convinced that learning verse by heart is extremely positive. This learning is generally done aloud, as the pupil works at making the lines stick, at which point the cadences and rhythms of the poem take over. Poetry concentrates and heightens the music of everyday language, a fact that only becomes apparent once the link between the spoken and written word is established. Learning verse by heart facilitates the process.

I recall the moment when I realised I wanted to write poetry. The repeated reading aloud of verse at school had intoxicated me with the musical effects that it obtained, and I was determined to find out just how to achieve the magic myself. Once poetry gets hold of you, it accompanies you for life!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Sheenagh Pugh on writers and displacement

Sheenagh Pugh has posted a thought-provoking article about writers and displacement on her blog. I very much recommend you read the full version here, but I was especially drawn to the following remark:

"...the writers who fascinate me do not have a sense of place so much as a sense of displacement..."

And on certain former students:

"...they observed the place where they now lived differently; they noticed and highlighted things that for a native-born poet might not have stood out, and over and over, their sense of the place where they were was informed by their equally keen sense of that other place where they had once been, but now were not..."

This ties in with my own feelings. The experience of living in a foreign country, immersed in the local language, culture and society, forms the core of my work. Not only does my background as a Brit inform my view of Spain, but my perspective of Britain is also conditioned by Iberia's counterpoint. I've learned how foreigners see my own place of birth, what surprises them, what they value and disdain both of the U.K. and their own homeland. I consciously and unconsciously sift through these angles, contrasting and comparing them, and I'm convinced they enrich my writing.

What's more, if we're talking about an enriching process, the learning of a second language to bilingual standard very much enlightens the use of a native language. My understanding of English has deepened thanks to having been surrounded by Spanish for the last sixteen years. My greater knowledge of the effect of words has played a key role in the development of my poetry.

Many thanks to Sheenagh for posting her article - it certainly got me thinking!

Friday, 1 June 2012

Richie McCaffery's Spinning Plates

Richie McCaffery's Spinning Plates (HappenStance Press, 2012) is a book that I've been carrying around for the last few weeks while I grappled with it.

This is poetry that lures the reader in with inital accessibility and firm ground, before undermining its own point of departure, thus leading to puzzles, intrigues and challenges. A lazy critic might dismiss these as insubstantial games, but that would be to miss the point completely, as I'll now explain.

Let's start with the excellent example of the pamphlet's first poem, The professional. McCaffery offers us a first line that seems clearcut, before immediately casting doubt on it in the second line:

"You ask what I do for a living
and I don't think I can say..."

Meanwhile, his use of adjectives also shifts as the poem progresses. Stanza one sees "tell-tale", stanza two moves on to "pointless" and stanza three features "faint", "subtle" and "half-bearable". These tell their own story.

McCaffery is highly skilled in his use of language, high and low registers bouncing off each other as everyday contexts are illuminated. For instance, Brother finds a "sports-day race" alongside "obsidian wools" and "laurelled gloaming", while Mother juxtaposes a "Geoff Hurst kick" and "pink obelisks". Such a technique often seems flash, but it actually works very well in this case.

That is because McCaffery is harnessing his enjoyment of words. He's portraying an uncertain world of shifting perspectives (and thus registers), in which situations are as tenuous as the "spinning plates" of the collection's title. In Still, for example, the reader sees that only death is, like the corpse of a mouse, "sure as stone".

Demanding but eventually offering up rich rewards, Spinning Plates is a terrific first chapbook. Its merit lies in the way McCaffery manages to align his view of life with his poetics. Such coherence is a huge achievement for a poet of his age. I'll be following his progress with great interest.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Poetry as biography, biography as poetry

Ian Hamilton's biography In Search of J.D. Salinger is as much a reflection on the nature of the genre itself as a story of the the man's life. This might have initially been down to legal reasons (Hamilton's original effort had to be pulped), but the end result is excellent.

While reading it recently, I was again reminded of parallels between poetry and biography, above all in the treatment of subject matter. Even though they may often deny doing so (even to themselves), the practitioners of both genres take fact and transform it into fiction. They take fiction and transform it into fact. They play at blurring the two.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Small publishers and Amazon

Over at her Happenstance blog, Helena Nelson has published a post which highlights the pìtfalls of dealing with Amazon from the perspective of a small publisher. It's well worth the read (find it here), showing just how commercial giants in all realms of business squeeze their suppliers' margins.

Of course, I too buy poetry through Amazon, as their Marketplace enables me to access secondhand books that I'd struggle to find elsewhere. However, I do try to purchase new titles directly from poetry presses. Otherwise, Amazon's cut can easily turn a profit into a considerable loss.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Review: Gopagilla, by Roy Marshall

The last few years have seen the gradual emergence of a number of exciting poets in the U.K. who dare to embrace a tradition that runs through from Larkin to Farley, that of taking the everyday by the scruff of its neck and reinventing it. In his high-quality first pamphlet, titled Gopagilla (Crystal Clear Creators Publishing, 2012), Roy Marshall shows that he deserves to be added to that growing list.

What's more, his chapbook also heralds the arrival on the U.K. scene of a new pamphlet publisher, Crystal Clear Creators, who have taken the plunge with the simultaneous publication of six collections. They've certainly made an excellent start and I'll be keeping a close eye on how their project develops.

In technical terms, Marshall combines his powers of observation with a keen ear for the music that's formed from the playing-off of assonance, alliteration and stresses, all to the end of illuminating narratives and scenes, as in this example from Arrival:

"...The circuitry of crickets on the air,
his red wine and cigarette breath,
a sickle and scythe laid aside,
and rosemary scent, rising..."

As for thematic concerns, Marshall is especially strong when exploring the tricks of identity. In Rose, for instance, his son's "Latin genes" lead to unexpectedly "mousy hair on a milky brow". This subject is intertwined with the juxtaposed shifting perspectives of the past, present and future, which are implicitly compared and contrasted so as to cast fresh light on each other. In this respect, family is present, as in the first lines of Inheritance:

"I'll take it now, that look you gave me,
the one I saw yesterday..."

The effect of time on relationships, meanwhile, also appears,and is equally well handled in the final lines of Telepathy

"...One night, as we spoke on the corridor payphone
where even Queens had to queue, your voice let slip
that you had left me, but I already knew."

As these two poems show, Marshall is especially adept at beginnings and endings. Gopagilla is a satisfying and poetically coherent first pamphlet. It delivers a lot and promises even more. I very much look forward to reading more of Roy Marshall's poetry in the future.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

New Walk magazine reviews Inventing Truth

Issue 4 of New Walk magazine has just come out, packed with lots of excellent poetry by the likes of Ian Parks, Carol Rumens and Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch. Why not visit their website and get hold of a copy or take out a subscription to what's fast becoming one of the best and most thought-provoking print-based literary magazines in the U.K?

I was also delighted to find that the same issue features a terrific review of Inventing Truth by Simon Robinson. Here are a couple of extracts from his piece:

"This assured first pamphlet by Matthew Stewart explores poetry’s capacity to express and potentially resolve the conflicts engendered by experience. Its simplicity is its strength; as Stewart understands, if the goal is directness and honesty, why obfuscate those ends with artificiality and mannerism...?

"...Stewart writes beautifully on the level of the line and the stanza, but the greatest pleasure of this collection lies in its overall coherence..."

I'm very pleased to have struck such a chord with Robinson, especially as he has captured exactly what I attempt to achieve in my poetry. All this euphoria leads me on to a shameless plug for Inventing Truth....

...if you now feel drawn to buying my pamphlet and reading it for yourself, you can do so at the Happenstance website here.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Lizzy Dening's Nasty Little Intro #2

A whole host of freshly baked reviews have just gone live over at Sphinx as part of Issue 20. It includes pieces on chapbooks by poets such as Hannah Lowe, Ira Lightman and Ian McMillan, while also featuring my take on Lizzy Dening's excellent mini-pamphlet, Nasty Little Intro #2, which you can read here.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Larkin on Betjeman

As part of their extensive web archive, The Guardian provide an online version of Philip Larkin's 1959 review of John Betjeman's Collected Poems. It's well worth a look and you can read it here.

I often feel that such articles reveal as much about the reviewer as his subject, and this is no exception. Larkin implicitly defends many of his own poetic values when highlighting Betjeman's virtues. I was especially drawn to his explanation of the way he feels many critics misuse the term "nostalgia" when dealing with Betjeman (and Larkin):

"the quality in his poetry loosely called nostalgia is really that never-sleeping alertness to note the patina of time on things past which is the hall-mark of the mature writer"

This is superbly put. Of course, it inevitably dodges the constant interplay in both Larkin's and Betjeman's work between their yearning for "things past" and their critical view of "things present". All in all, Larkin's review is a terrific piece of unashamedly partial and passionate writing. I invariably end up comparing his view of British poetry and society in 1959 with how he might judge where we are in 2012, but that's a different blog post altogether...

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Six things

Today sees me tackling Kona Macphee's questions as part of her regular "Six Things" feature on that elusive clarity. You can see my responses here. Why not have a look at how other poets replied while you're on her site? W.N. Herbert's dual identity and Polly Clark's brief yet illuminating answers are among my personal favourites.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Excellent review of Inventing Truth in Under the Radar

Issue Nine of Under the Radar, Nine Arches Press' flagship magazine, came out recently. It's packed with lots of high-quality poetry by the likes of Richie McCaffery and Sheila Hamiton, while also giving space to well-crafted short stories.

The magazine finishes off with an extensive reviews section. It features a piece on Inventing Truth by Michael W. Thomas, who writes about my pamphlet as follows:

"Matthew Stewart has words down to a tee. He shows that, if you put enough effort into persuading it, prosaic language will reveal its poetry.As Inventing Truth shows, precision and compassion are not mutually exclusive, and care with the choice and placing of words brings rich rewards."

I'm delighted to have found such an appreciative reader.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Ink, Sweat and Tears have a new website

Ink, Sweat and Tears, one of the leading U.K. poetry e-zines, have a brand new website that you can find here. What's more, they seem to have managed to take their excellent archive with them. It's a treasure trove of great poetry in a wide range of styles, so why not browse through it while paying them a visit?

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Review: The Probabilities of Balance, by Stephen Payne

I first came across Stephen Payne's work in Issue One of New Walk. I remember encountering a lot of excellent poetry in the magazine, much of it by well-known names, but Payne's poem, titled Journey Home, stood out for me. It enabled the reader to grasp a new truth that seemed obvious once it had been revealed, and that is a quality that I very much admire in poetry.

I was consequently keen to read Payne's Smiths Knoll pamphlet, The Probabilities of Balance, and it didn't disappoint. His background in science (with a job as Professor of Human-Centric Systems at the University of Bath) plays an interesting role in the book, informing his work, but more of a counterpoint to experience than as an invasive presence. By this, I mean that Payne seems at his best when juxtaposing dispassionate observation with the vulnerability of feeling, as in Dyslexia:

A hard thing to explain to an eight-year-old.
How to lift from everything we know
a clutch of truths by which he'll be consoled.
I keep to what it doesn't mean, name
the famous cases. Hard to answer no
when he asks quietly, Are you the same?

Throughout the poem there's an intriguing interplay between an analytical, scientific perspective and implicit doubts over just how "truths" and "explanations" can be defined when applied to the often inexplicable and unscientific nature of human experience and interaction. All this effect is especially heightened by the presence of a child's viewpoint.

Payne's verse may be rooted in the everyday, but it's constantly looking beyond, playing off what can be calculated and what can't, as in Infant Weight:

...I paused, let the feel of your infant weight
fill my mind, so as to take the measure,
knowing the moment held in that one thought
I'd carry with me everywhere thereafter.

The poet is again inviting comparisons between what can be exactly measured in terms of pounds and ounces (the infant's physical weight) and what cannot (the significance of the moment).

Stephen Payne's The Probabilities of Balance is a throught-provoking read. As explained above, I feel he has an idiosyncratic, subtle and eye-opening way of exploring the role of science in our lives. Never hectoring, his technique develops poems gradually.They reveal themselves to the reader bit by bit, rewarding repeated readings more than the grabbing of individual quotes. I very much look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Full collections for Rhian Edwards and Hannah Lowe

Two of the most outstanding poetry pamphlets to be published in the U.K. over the last few years were Rhian Edwards' Parade the Fib (Tall Lighthouse) and Hannah Lowe's The Hitcher (The Rialto). In fact, I wrote extremely positive reviews for them on Rogue Strands.

The latest good news is that these poets have deservedly found excellent publishers for their first full collections. Rhian Edwards is bringing out Clueless Dogs with Seren this May, while Bloodaxe are publishing Hannah Lowe's Chick in 2013. I very much look forward to getting hold of a copy of both books and reviewing them here in due course.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Passive to active

While Raymond Carver's verse might at first glance seem like chopped-up prose or snippets from short stories, it's actually packed with poetic craft. His gift for condensed narrative is extremely well suited to the genre. In all Carver's work, constraint enables him to raise his game, and his poetic background infuses his short stories. In fact, he stated that he saw himself primarily as a poet. Just as with his short stories, he wears his technique lightly in his poems, never overplaying his hand, as in this ending to The Toes:

"...The sound of hooks being
unfastened, stays coming
undone, garments letting go
onto a cool, hardwood floor."

The accumulation of detail and implicit narrative via the piling up of gerunds is clear, but Carver's real thrust is achieved through the shift from the passive to the active voice. The effect creeps up on the reader and then opens out beyond. This is a gorgeous example of how Carver controlled language in his poetry. I'm convinced it will gradually find more and more recognition alongside his prose.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Abegail Morley's blog

I'm delighted to be the current Featured Poet over at Abegail Morley's excellent blog. She's generously showcasing two poems from Inventing Truth, 01252 722698 and Epilogue, and you can read them here.

Abegail's well known as both a top-notch poet and editor, while her blog archive provides an ideal introduction to the work of many terrific poets. I very much recommend a leisurely look through it and have added her blog to the roll on Rogue Strands so as to keep up with new posts.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012


Over at her HappenStance blog, Helena Nelson is very kindly featuring my poem, La Despedida (from Inventing Truth), as part of a post on "The Ironing Poem Genre".

Now that title might seem somewhat tongue in cheek, but there is actually a fair degree of substance to it. In fact, it reminded me of a poem, Ironing, from Peter Sansom's excellent collection, The Last Place on Earth, which begins as follows:

"I like it best when there's time to see myself
through the drizzle of a weekday morning
with Woman's Hour or a talking-book detective,
and forsythia defining the universe..."

As with my own poem, Sansom is playing with the gender expectations involved with the task of ironing, although he goes about it in a very different way. His focus is on the mechanical and repetitive nature of the chore, beginning with a quote from Stanley Cook that evokes "the perfect release of a limited aim". In this sense, hia poem recalls an Ian McMillan poem, Three Boring Miles on the Exercise Bike, which starts with...

"Three boring miles. The television flickering
in the corner of my eye. A man talking..."

Both poems gradually build up detail so as to explore the significance of a regular event. McMillan and Sansom concentrate on the repetitive nature of the task, while I portray an everyday task that suddenly becomes everything but everyday - in La Despedida a routine is transformed into a pivotal moment and is even more highly charged as a result. These are very different and equally valid examples of how ordinary occurences can turn into ambitious poetry.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Dr. Seuss

I picked up a copy of Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat for my son at a car boot sale a few months ago. On reading it with him, I recalled having done so with my own father, always demanding it, treasuring it as my favourite book.

Putting aside doubts over its literary merits, sometimes clunky versification and the advances since then in children's poetry, I was struck once more by its vibrant language, by how it relishes playing with words, by how it transmits that infectious enjoyment to young readers. In other words, I'm now piecing back together part of the process that led to my falling in love with poetry. Our children so often help us to view afresh our own upbringing.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Object lessons

Poems about objects have quite rightly found themselves a bad name over recent years, due in no small part to the vast number that are churned out by and for creative writing workshops. In other words, objects are an easy tool for tutors who are driving a session from a common point of departure.

As for myself, I'm fully aware that objects have always played a key role in my poetry, but perhaps even more so than usual over the past few months. However, I don't sit down to write a poem about objects, nor do I use them as a creative resource to mine as subject matter for verse. Instead, they form a crucial part of my exploration of axis moments and their landscape. When portraying a scene, an significant element is often the importance that characters invest in certain objects, lifting them beyond their everyday meaning. This transcendence is highly charged. It may be ridiculous, grotesque, melancholy or delicious, but it invariably provides the reader with a fresh emotional perspective, all played out via the role of objects.

I don't set out to use them, but they populate my poetry and my imagination just like the characters around them. As I grow older, I grow ever more aware of how our exaggerated attitude to certain objects reveals a lot about us. They teach us lessons about ourselves every day.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Enrique Sierra

Enrique Sierra, the guitarist for Radio Futura, died last Friday from complications following a second kidney transplant.

Radio Futura are one of the best groups in the history of Spanish popular music (they are certainly my favourites). Led by the brothers Santiago and Luis Auserón, they took elements of punk and latin sounds to create a fusion that became something new and specific to Iberia, all combined with brilliant lyrics that far surpass most contemporary Spanish verse! Enrique Sierra was very much in the background, but his contribution to their blending of influences shouldn't be underestimated.

This performance of 37 grados, from the terrific La Canción de Juan Perro album, shows Sierra alongside the brothers and in his element...

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Crystal Clear Creators

I met Jonathan and Maria Taylor, the driving forces behind Crystal Clear Creators, when they jointly organised (along with Nine Arches Press) the reading at which I launched Inventing Truth in Leicester last April. Their enthusiasm was clear from the start, as was the quality of their magazine, Hearing Voices. In fact, I was delighted when my first poems since my pamphlet appeared in Issue 4 a few months ago.

However, Crystal Clear Creators are now taking a further major step with their  "Crystal Pamphlets," a new series of individually-authored chapbooks, published 1 March 2012, by Roy Marshall, Charles G Lauder Jr, Aly Stoneman, Jessica Mayhew, Hannah Stevens and Andrew "Mulletproof" Graves. They look great, and you can see the covers on the Crystal Clear Creators website here. Of the six poets, I'm most familiar with Roy's work in magazines, and very much look forward to seeing how his verse shapes up in the format of a pamphlet.

The collections will be launched  on Friday 2nd March, 6-7.30pm, at De Montfort University, Leicester. I won't be able to make it there from Spain, but I wish all involved every success. This is another example of the emergence of a dynamic new paper-based poetry publisher in the U.K. - terrific news!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Paul Bentley's Largo

My review of Paul Bentley's Smith-Doorstep pamphlet, Largo, has just gone live over at Sphinx Review. You can find it here.

It was an especially difficult piece for me to write, as you'll notice when reading it. Reviewing presents numerous challenges that in turn can make me reflect on my own views and prejudices. I've always maintained that a review tells the reader as much about the reviewer as about the book in question, and I'm fully aware that I'm no exception! 

The accompanying reviews of the same book by Gill Andrews and Helena Nelson provide an excellent counterpoint to my own piece, backing me up and dismantling my arguments in equal measure.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Tom Duddy's recording of Left Bank

When reviewing Tom Duddy's excellent collection, The Hiding Place, a few weeks ago on this blog, I was struck by the subtle, unobtrusive musicality of his verse. That feeling was only reinforced for me when I followed a link that Nell from Happenstance Press posted on her Twitter feed to a wonderful recording of Duddy's reading of Left Bank, a stand-out poem from his book. You can hear it here.

Some poets swallow their lines, others over-egg effects. Duddy, meanwhile, just gets on with the task of bringing his verse alive, of reaching the audience. I cannot recommend this recording enough.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Larkin's influence

In the light of the recent publication of Philip Larkin's Complete Poems, it's interesting to note a changing attitude to his work among contemporary British poets.

Back in the 1990s, emerging figures rushed to reject his verse. For example, Bloodaxe's The New Poetry seemed very much a representative reaction against it. It appeared forever tainted by misogyny, lack of ambition, racism and an insular view of the world, representative of a Britain that was seen as being backward both in poetic and social terms.

In the last few years, however, a certain balance has started to be restored. Few would deny that Larkin's views on certain subjects were distasteful to say the least, but there does seem to be a growing awareness of how he played to the gallery and cultivated a persona, such as in his stage managed pretence that foreign poetry hadn't influenced him. As a consequence, his poems are shaking off the hubris. Their depth of ambition is being acknowledged beyond their simple facade.

This change is noticeable in the number of poets who mention him in interviews. Even if they do so with qualified disparagement, there's an implicit recognition of his importance. What's more, he's also quoted frequently without the poet in question fearing a pigeonholing of his/her poetics. For example, Allison McVety uses an extract from his work at the start of a section of Miming Happiness. In fact, she also quotes from Wallace Stevens elsewhere in the book, showing that both poets can be read alongside each other. 

Well, I myself first fell in love with poetry thanks to Larkin's work. Even back then, I was aware of not sharing much of his world view, but I was captivated by the way he achieved new and precise clarity via a mastery of his particular poetics. His influence is still there in my work, albeit under layers of further reading and experience, just as I now spot him more and more often peeking out from under the stanzas of certain other contemporary British poets.

I'm not hinting at the take-off of some new "Movement", but I do have absolutely no doubt that a fresh perspective on Larkin is at work in parts of new, emerging U.K. poetry, not rejecting or kicking back against other influences in some insular way, but blending and enriching. These are exciting times!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Fito y los Fitipaldis

Contemporary Spanish pop might be as frothy as Anglo-Saxon stuff for the most part, but there still seems to be a niche for certain groups and singers who manage to retain a degree of ambition within the boundaries of the genre. Fito y los Fitipaldis are one such group. Without being ground-breaking, they are extremely successful while also reaching beyond the most obvious stereotypes. This live version of Soldadito Marinero shows just how a great tune can also be combined with lyrics that tell a story.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Gerry Cambridge's Notes for Lighting a Fire

Bearing in mind that Gerry Cambridge's Notes for Lighting a Fire has come out with HappenStance, who also publish my pamphlet, Inventing Truth, I suppose I must be biased when saying it's excellent. For that reason, I don't feel I can credibly write a full-blown review of it as such.

However, I will say I'm thoroughly enjoying it. Only HappenStance's second full collection, Notes for Lighting a Fire is first-off a gorgeous object to hold. There are top-notch production values involved in this hardback book, plus an elegant design. As would be expected, typsetting and proofreading are first rate.

The poetry itself really hits the mark for this reader: accessible yet with demanding resonances, Cambridge's craft is not obtrusive. His effects creep up, moving you imperceptibly at first, gathering strength and then hitting home. In that sense, the poems in this book very much lend themselves to the slow-burning, cumulative force of a full collection.

Nature is a key focus for Cambridge, yet it doesn't exist as some stand-alone concept to be revered. Instead, it plays a role in everyday lives, contextualised by other situations as in "Gorse in Middle Age", in which the smells and memories of a hillside of gorse are brought back to life for the narrator by the scent of the coconut butter that his partner puts on before bed.

In linguistic terms, meanwhile, Cambridge is playful in his use of register yet also coherent - every choice of word is deliberate, as in the following example from "Christmas Oranges":

"... the shades of pips
in the cool translucence -
the thrawn wee buggers, the embryos

lavish with thought of perpetual groves".

There's a juxtaposition of Scots, colloquial language, delicate physical description and abtract nouns here, all working in unison to create a terrific effect.

I could quote umpteen wonderful poems, but that would end up like a spoiler for a film. What's more, I started the post with a disclaimer that this wouldn't be an actual review,so why not get hold of a copy of Gerry Cambridge's Notes for Lighting a Fire and let the story unfold for yourself? You won't regret it.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Matt Merritt on Ink, Sweat and Tears

Helen Ivory continues to publish all sorts of interesting stuff over at Ink, Sweat and Tears. Most recently, I've especially enjoyed Matt Merritt's terrific poem, Chirimoya. You can read it here. Merritt's piece chimes with my interest in food-related poetry, plus there's the inevitable Hispanic angle.

I still remember the first time I tried a seemed almost alien, but was actually grown on the Granada coast, along with a wide range of tropical fruits that thrive in the microclimate down there. These days you can find it in shops all over Spain, as the fashion for tropical fruit reaches Iberia too.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Bilingual Borges

I'm grateful to Kathy Bell for posting a link on Facebook to a fascinating resource that can be found here. It's the audio recording of Jorge Luis Borges' Norton lectures in 1967-68.

I very much recommend a listen, but with a decent pinch of salt: Borges is always provocative, especially in articles, lectures and interviews. He loves playing games, juxtaposing contradictory statements or leading us down blind alleys. They are his ways of challenging us, reflecting his view of the everyday as a labyrinth that he then extends into art. Critics and students of his work often snatch at some quote that seems to sum him up, quite forgetting how easy it is to find him apparently stating the opposite elsewhere. In other words, he's more of a stirrer than a teacher.

In this specific case, these audio files are also particularly interesting as a record of Borges' command of English. His bilingualism is a powerful element in his work - both Hispanic and Anglo-Saxon influences converge in Borges.

When he writes in Spanish, I'm very aware of English-language lexical structures and devices running through his syntax. When listening to his Norton lectures, I can feel Spanish-led thought feeding into how he expresses himself. This duality lends an extra texture and freshness to Borges' use of language, playing a significant role in making him so unique. Instead of diluting his command of language, Borges' bilingualism adds immeasurably to his writing.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Pen and paper

When asked about their creative process, a growing number of poets seem to mention that they write verse directly onto a screen. We're not just talking teenagers here - many of them are from my generation or older.

I can't envisage myself ever doing so, not only due to the ritual of picking up a pen, looking at a blank page and feeling its crisp, smooth touch. Instead, my preference for paper is mainly practical: my work might take ages to come to physical fruition, more often than not preceded by lengthy conscious and unconscious thought processes, but the initial actual act of writing is a dash. I rush to get down ideas and turns of phrase before they escape, first taking one route, then another, doubling back or careering onwards, all of this in a burst of concentration that might only last a few minutes but forms the basis for the poem.

If I were writing directly onto a screen, the delete button would be far too accessible during that intense tumble. In fact, the final poem comes later (if at all!). Days or weeks afterwards, there's a slow-motion reenactment of the rush, something that would be impossible without pen and paper having been used in the first place. No matter how often you save a draft from a screen, no way can a string of saved files provide a complete "paper" trail.

Pen and paper give me a complete record of the drive that set me off, letting me back in to my poem's core. Via the afore-mentioned reenactment, I retrieve and discard an element, recall how and why I took a certain path, and above all find a new perspective that helps the piece come together as a whole. I can't imagine writing without these two tools, but so many other poets appear to be doing so. Another question might be how their poetry is changing as a consequence...