Wednesday, 29 December 2021

The Knives of Villalejo is a Poetry News Book of the Year selection!

The Knives of Villalejo, my first full collection, is a Poetry News Book of the Year selection! I'm very grateful to Christopher James, who states...

"The Knives of Villalejo by Matthew Stewart is a book full of polarities: between work and home, past and present, life and death. These opposing currents provide the book with its emotional tension.

Stewart creates unpredictable landscapes in which seemingly innocuous, domestic scenes can lurch into something much darker. He has a gift, too, for original simile and metaphor, helping us reimagine familiar worlds."

You can read the list in full here.

Monday, 13 December 2021

The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2021

I simply don’t believe that poetry blogs are anachronistic in 2021. What’s more, when compiling my annual (subjective and incomplete) list of the Best U.K. Poetry Blogs, I was reassured and reminded by all these amazing bloggers’ efforts that the medium is very much alive and kicking, offering a more substantial and less ephemeral format than social media

This year’s list even includes several top-notch newcomers, some of whom have been blogging for years but have only appeared on my limited radar this time around. Let’s start with them…

- Jeremy Wikeley’s The Left Margin is a top-notch addition to the U.K. poetry blog scene. Packed with critical insight, it’s dangerously addictive!

- Fokkina McDonnell’s Acacia Publications blog features a wide range of guest poets, while also charting her own journey through poetry.

- Bob Mee’s blog is full of the insight into the genre that he’s acquired as both a poet and a publisher.

- Wendy Pratt’s blog is bubbling with her zest for life and poetry. She’s an inspiration!

- Marion McCready’s Poetry in Progress is a chatty, honest and engaging account of a poet’s life.

And now on to the veterans of my list…

- Mat Riches’ Wear The Fox Hat shows the breadth of his poetry reading, all with self-deprecating humour that fails to hide the fact he actually knows what he’s talking about.

- Julie Mellor’s blog is packed with original short forms and gorgeous accompanying images.

- Ama Bolton’s barleybooks is always an inspiration, bubbling away with poetic ideas.

- Charlotte Gann’s blog has developed this year along with her Understory Conversation.

- Elizabeth Rimmer’s Burned Thumb blog makes constant connections between poetry and the world around us.

- Matthew Paul’s blog bears witness to the constant growth and curiosity of this excellent poet

- Richie McCaffery’s The Lyrical Aye is the chronicle of his poetic life back in Northumberland.

- Chris Edgoose’ Wood Bee Poet, brings us original poetry along with technically engaged reviews.

- Sue Ibrahim’s My Natural World is a gorgeous chronicle of the courage that’s needed to lead a creative life.

- Liz Lefroy’s I buy a new washer continues to build on the foundations of the book that was based on it.

- Tim Love’s litrefs, idiosyncratic and always thought-provoking.

- Martyn Crucefix’s blog is open to poetry from all over the world.

- Charles Boyle’s Sonofabook reflects a different approach to publishing.

- Abegail Morley’s Poetry Shed continues with its trusted formula of original work from guest poets, reviews and news. And why shouldn't it? The content’s terrific.

- Josephine Corcoran’s blog tracks her journey through life and poetry.

- John Foggin’s cobweb. John’s love of life and poetry shines through at every turn.

- Robin Houghton’s blog is great, as is her Poetry Magazines Submissions Spreadsheet (plug, plug…!).

- Clarissa Aykroyd’s The Stone and the Star is far more international in scope than many poetry blogs, as befits the person behind it.

- Anthony Wilson’s blog is quite simply a Lifesaver.

- Emma Lee’s blog is an amazing effort from one of poetry’s hardest grafters.

- Sheenagh Pugh’s Good God! There’s writing on both sides of that paper! continues to review and provide opinions with an acute eye.

- Matt Merritt’s Polyolbion: poetry, cricket and birds – a terrific combo!

- Caroline Gill’s blog has charted the publication of her first full collection this year.

- Angela Topping’s blog. Not many people would have kept up an excellent poetry blog with the health problems that Angela’s suffered this year, but she certainly did! Fingers crossed she’s now on the mend.

- Roy Marshall’s blog. I always keep an eye out for Roy’s poems, just like his insightful blog posts.

And that’s the end of the 2021 list. Oh, and one annual reminder; as mentioned in previous years, I do know that grim feeling of reading through a list, coming to the end and realising you’re not there, so I can only apologise if I’ve missed you out. As one individual reader, I can’t keep up with everyone, and I’d be very grateful for any additional blogs that readers might like to add in the comments that follow this post… 

Monday, 6 December 2021

Beyond the Bubble on The Friday Poem

I'm pleased to report I have an article on The Friday Poem this week, titled "Beyond the Bubble - how can poetry reach out to a wider readership?". I do hope it encourages positive debate. The first paragraph reads as follows:

Over the twenty-five years that I’ve been following the U.K. poetry scene, I’ve witnessed countless hands being wrung at the side-lining of poetry by society. However, this act has then been followed by most stakeholders (poets, publishers, arts organisations, etc) sitting on those same hands and complaining, as if outsiders’ lack of interest in the genre were their own fault. One analogy might be the disbelief that some feel at so many other people voting for Brexit. In politics as in poetry, nothing will change unless we all take the bull by the horns and engage with society on a regular and permanent basis...

If this extract has piqued your curiosity, you can read the article in full by following this link.

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Reflections on the myth kitty

Following a recent Twitter thread about the myth kitty, I thought I’d use the longer format of a blog post to explain my approach to its use in contemporary poetry.

First off, I take Larkin’s notorious eschewal of the aforementioned myth kitty not as a destination but as a point of departure. In other words, I do favour poems that don’t explicitly draw on and invoke classical mythology. However, it would be absurd not to recognise that all our reading and writing is shot through with our knowledge of myths.

As a consequence, when I write poems about Aldershot F.C. footballers of the 1980s, about their triumphs and disasters, tragedies and comedies, qualities and flaws, many of their stories implicitly remind us of those same myths. This is inevitable and necessary. A renewed, highly personal myth kitty such as this doesn’t ignore what has gone before. Instead, it recognises our cultural baggage, enabling us to empathise and reflect on how classical stories are played out in contemporary settings.

Specific present-day scenarios are capable of refreshing the myth kitty via new perspectives. In my view, the implicit invocation of classical myth is therefore more powerful than explicit allusion, though it forces the poet to take a far greater risk instead of reaching for shortcuts that everybody immediately understands. What do you think…?

Monday, 15 November 2021

Past, new and future losses, Jeremy Page's The Naming

Never flashy, never trendy, Jeremy Page’s poetry simply goes about the business of moving its readers via emotional immersion in a moment or experience. What’s more, if his first full collection, Closing Time (Pindrop Press, 2014) was something of a Best so far, his second collection, The Naming (The Frogmore Press, 2021) displays a coherent, cohesive vision that lifts it an extra notch.

Throughout The Naming, Page once more puts to bed the misconception that a poetry anchored in a specific period and a specific generation can never be universal in appeal. In fact, the reverse is true, as borne out by poems such as Still Life, Folkestone, which begins as follows:

Her window is all 60s GDR:
two empty cartons flank
a twin pack of kitchen roll
centre stage; a tin of carrots,
label faded by the sun, confronts
a can of processed peas
on doilies drained to twenty
shades of grey, and yes,
she is open for business…

The implicit consequences of the passing of time form a pivotal element in the above extract, but also reverberate throughout this collection, gaining further resonance in poems of past, new and future losses. The first of these three is addressed in Foreign Country via an exquisite ending…

…The past is a foreign country —
we were fluent in the language once.

The second, meanwhile, is expressed through poems that explore the immediate aftermath of grief, as in Last Times

I’ll never know
when she swam
for the last time….

…but I’ll always know
where I was
when she breathed her last —
upstairs from where she lay,
half asleep, willing
the suffering to end,
willing it not to.

This layered portrayal of intense emotion via everyday language is a typical quality of Jeremy Page’s poetry, and yet again it comes to the fore in the third type of losses he encounters throughout The Naming: future losses, be they places or people. One such example is The Teacher:

Who knows
if we’ll meet again…?
…But if that’s what
we’re both thinking
then we’re as careful
as each other not to say it
while we revisit the past
and fill in the gaps,
in this anonymous London café.

Lovely to see you, we both agree
and go our separate ways.

This fine rendering of social interaction unpeels the turmoil that lies just beneath the veneer of inconsequential conversations. Again, Page takes supposedly banal language and demonstrates its latent emotional charge.

Many of the poems in The Naming might seem slight on a first, superficial reading, but their impact is gradual and accumulative. It slowly builds to a significant achievement that signposts Jeremy Page’s importance as a poet. Read this book, give it time, re-read it, let its lines sear their place in your memory. That’s the power of these unassuming poems. Underestimate them at your peril!

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Another new poem in The Spectator

Absolutely chuffed to report that I have another new poem in The Spectator this week. This is the fifth poem they've published by me, but the excitement is still huge! Oh, and I'm also pleased to be in the same issue as my friend Rob Selby! You can read my poem on The Spectator's website by following this link.

Monday, 1 November 2021

Rory Waterman on the Poetry London website

Rory Waterman has an excellent piece up today on the Poetry London website. Its premise is as follows:

"Rory Waterman offers a stirring op-ed on the negative effects of superficial do-goodery and inadvertent self-flattery on contemporary poetry and how such tendencies often simplify moral and intellectual complexities to the detriment of the art being produced."

His views will ruffle a few precious feathers, but that's not a bad thing when it's for the greater good of the genre. You can read his article in full here.