Wednesday 8 December 2010


I've always felt something of an outsider, even when growing up in suburban Surrey, acutely aware that I would never fit the mould of a commuter once I reached adulthood. Maybe that's why I revel so in the the role of the only Brit in a small Spanish town.

Anyway, YouTube provides me with a chance to relive that time as a teenager when musical taste - so much the better if it displayed cheese and kitsch - was a way of expressing a rejection of my social surroundings. Here's one such example of my love for obscure 80s disco. Kon Kan were terrific of their ilk, and this is one of their best tracks...

Sunday 5 December 2010

Review: Miming Happiness, by Allison McVety

I thoroughly enjoyed Allison McVety's first full collection, The Night Trotsky Came to Stay, when it was published in 2007, so I was delighted to find she's just brought out a second book, Miming Happiness (Smith/Doorstep Books, 2010).

What's more, it didn't disappoint once I got hold of a copy. There's the same skilled management of a plethora of detail when dealing with histories, while family and relationships are also delicately portrayed. However, in Miming Happiness, McVety develops and deepens these interests, showing ever-greater technical and thematic assurance.

Starting with her treatment of histories through the observation of objects, scenes and anecdotes, it's clear that McVety has an excellent eye and ability to carry that through to the page, as in Backyards...

"The houses lean in on each other, thin
as undertakers, shouldering their slates...
...No one complains. In hallways debt rises
up the skirting boards and down the ginnel
the bogus queue to take their turn
at peeling Mrs Taylor from her pension."

The rendering of imagery is excellent, although I do feel this piece also highlights some inherent difficulties that I encounter at times as a reader of McVety: the poem is often generalised, as can be seen by the repeated plurals, while characters such as Mrs Taylor appear and disappear in something of a list. I don't feel involved. I admire Backyards, but it doesn't strike at my heart.

Unlike some of the more intimate poems in Miming Happiness. They're simply outstanding, as in Making a Show, which begins as follows...

"My mother wore a nightdress under her shroud
in the way I had once worn a vest
to school under a chrisom of blouse..."

This ability to draw out the proximity and distance between generations of a family is characteristic of Allison McVety at her best, and is reminiscent in this sense of the superb The Two Times I saw Your Penis from The Night Trotsky Came To Stay.

I'd like to finish this review with a quote from my favourite poem in Miming Happiness, titled In The Year of Splitting Up...

...Our storm
honed its leading edge, our bones stung
with the effort of not touching...

This piece uses beautiful language to move the reader. It's an example of why I very much recommend Allison McVety's new book. You'll find a heady mix of imagery and emotion to warm you through this bitter winter.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Launch of hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica

I've admired Matt Merritt's writing for several years, ever since I encountered his excellent Happenstance pamphlet, Making The Most Of The Light, followed by his first full collection, Troy Town.

This Sunday evening sees the launch of his second collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, published by Nine Arches Press, at Jam Cafe, 12 Heathcote Street, Nottingham. I'd love to get along, but finding myself in deepest Extremadura might be something of a handicap.

In any case, I'll certainly be getting hold of a copy as soon as possible. Michelle McGrane featured a number of poems from the book a couple of days ago and it looks terrific!

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Other Lives

Dan Wyke has three of my poems up over at his Other Lives blog today - Extranjero, Dad On The M25 After Midnight and San Fairy Ann. With recent posts including pieces from the likes of Todd Swift, Helen Ivory and Michelle McGrane, there's plenty of intriguing poetry to be found there.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Review: Birdhouse, by Anna Woodford

Whenever the new issue of a magazine reaches my hands, I first flick through it, poem by poem, seeking “something” that might arrest me. On several occasions, poetry by Anna Woodford has done so. What’s more, her work has invariably followed through from that initial stab of pleasure.

For this reason I was delighted when Woodford won the Crawshaw Prize last year, which guaranteed the publication of her first full collection, Birdhouse, by Salt. It’s a heady read – all those poems that were individually exciting now become enthralling when lined up page after page. Woodford might be in love with language, but her poetry shows it’s a relationship of equals right from the collection’s dazzling opening lines…

“You fiddle with the catch
between my legs until my mouth
springs open…”

In other words, Birdhouse is a book that savours originality of language as a means of transmutation, rather than as an end in itself. There’s no sense of narcissistic revelling in a mastery of linguistic effects. Instead, Woodford harnesses them so as to free the reader, as in the following example from Scan…

…I think
of my heart, that has been
seconded – its old iamb
beating in the dark of my chest.

Anna Woodford doesn’t attempt rupture from previous poetries. In fact, she takes them and casts them in a new light. Just as the reader starts ticking boxes, she springs another surprise. For example, the typical poem that uses a photo as its launch pad – in this case, it’s Clipping, with a purposely drab beginning , as if in a knowing nod to the sub-genre…

September 30 1987. You are a picture
in the North Wales Echo…

Just as we’re sighing at Woodford’s supposed slip, she abruptly changes gear and we’re off…

…How carelessly you carry your son in your face.
I cannot bear to leave you to your ex-girlfriends
until I think of your mother: folding and unfolding
the clipping you sent home between lectures
before tucking it away with your childhood
cards in her heart’s solid dresser.

Terrific stuff! What’s more, Birdhouse is packed with poems of this quality. Anna Woodford has achieved something special with her first collection – a fusion of linguistic playfulness and thematic seriousness. Not hectoring, not lecturing, her poetic generosity launches the reader on countless flights. This is a book I’ll be reading for many years to come.

Saturday 6 November 2010

Review: New Walk Magazine Issue One

In the current climate of e-zines and blogs, the launch of an ambitious, beautifully presented print-based poetry journal is a significant event in the U.K. poetry world.

As such, Issue One of New Walk magazine is arresting even at first glance. The artwork is excellent, implicitly exploring its own relationship with poetry, as in Claire Blyth's gorgeous back cover, while the layout of the poems invites the reader in, giving verse room to breathe on the page.

Edited by Rory Waterman, Nick Everett and Libby Peake at the University of Leicester, New Walk sets out its aims in the opening editorial:

"We want to reflect in our magazine as wide a range as possible of the ways in which contemporary poets respond to the challenges of freedom. This is why we are interested in modernist and experimental poetry but no less in so-called formalist poetry, which is not necessarily any more conservative nor any less daring in the freedoms it discovers".

The magazine's contents then set out to prove the editors' points, especially in terms of the precise order of poems. Contrasting poetic stances and methods are juxtaposed: Rob Mackenzie is alongside Andrew Motion, while Alison Brackenbury is followed by Peter Larkin. This editorial tightrope is successfully walked and provides a useful snapshot of a wide range of writing.

As would be expected from a magazine that boasts such a well-known line-up for Issue One (Hilary Menos, Matt Merritt, Grevel Lindop, Leontia Flynn, etc, etc...), the standard of writing is consistently high, but my personal favourite is Journey Home by Stephen Payne. This poem's achievement lies in enabling the reader to grasp a new truth that seems obvious once it's been revealed. That might sound cryptic, but you'll have to read the poem to see what I mean, as quotes would sell it short.

New Walk's reviews, meanwhile, further underline the magaine's editorial position: a whole gamut of poets are tackled, from Robin Robertson to Louis Simpson. Criticism isn't shirked, which leads to some uncomfortable reading, as in Nicholas Friedman's review of Mark Halliday's "No panic here". Rob Mackenzie has already discussed this review on his Surroundings blog, and I agree with much of what he states, as Friedman seems to knock Halliday for doing exactly what he intended! If this review were published in a stand-along context, I'd thus be very unsure of its value. However, in New Walk magazine, I do think it performs a useful function, implicitly encouraging the reader to consider and reconsider differing poetic stances.

The editors have done a terrific job with Issue One of New Walk. The magazine looks to have a very promising future on the U.K. poetry scene, especially if its delicate editorial balance is maintained, drawing together different poetic strands, comparing and contrasting them, showing how they can and should develop alongside each other.

Sunday 31 October 2010

La Orquesta Mondragón

I should be blogging about all the excellent poetry I've read this weekend, but there's been such a glut that I'm still digesting it. Time for a trashy novel and some dodgy music, such as this 80s track from La Orquesta Mondragón, led by Javier Gurruchaga...

Saturday 23 October 2010

Ink Sweat & Tears

I'm delighted to have a poem, Paco, Mum and Me, up at the excellent Ink Sweat & Tears today. While you're there, I thoroughly recommend you browse their archive - it's a treasure trove of top-notch poetry and prose.

Sunday 10 October 2010

Poetry in the media

This week has encapsulated the media's treatment of poetry in several ways.

To start with, there was The Guardian's coverage of the Forward Prize. Sam Willets is a fine poet, but why was he singled out for a major feature prior to the awards ceremony? The answer could clearly be found in his former heroin addiction, which provided much-needed "human interest" for the journalist and newspaper readers. I feel this tabloid-driven slant devalues his excellent work. Meanwhile, Hilary Menos' actual winning of the First Collection Prize gained far fewer column inches.

And then there was Ted Hughes. Again. And Sylvia. Again. The Guardian titled one of their articles as follows: "Ted Hughes's final lines to Sylvia Plath bring closure to a tragic tale". That reference to a "tragic tale" is key to our understanding of the sub-editor's angle on this feature: the focus and draw originated in the tragedy of the couple's background story.

These are not just two examples of how poetry is used to provide colour for newspaper articles. In fact, they resonate further and perpetuate misconceptions among the general public. These features reinforce the stereotype of poets as a rare breed who lead atypical and often tragic lives. Many people are turned off both reading and writing the genre, feeling that poetry is consequently not for them.

I often find people taking a surreptitious fresh look at me after finding out I write verse, assessing me anew. A few have expressed surprise and mentioned that I don't look like a poet! Such articles don't help us to get rid of these caricatures.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Review: Hace Triste, by Jordi Virallonga

A quick look at the labels that run down the right-hand side of this blog should provide any passing readers with the chance to catch up on Jordi Virallonga'a poetic background. This post will focus instead on Hace Triste (DVD Ediciones, 2010), his latest collection.

Hace Triste finds Virallonga covering familiar territory such as the intricacy of relationships, while also opening up to new subjects, such as the ageing process. The book's first poem, Azúcar Quemado, states his aim:

"no caer antes del duodécimo asalto"
"not to hit the canvas before the 12th round"

In other words, defiance, expressed via engagement with life. This engagement has long been a crucial feature of Virallonga's work, and is something that sets him apart from many contemporary Spanish poets. Reading Hace Triste, I'm reminded once more of what first drew me to his work: poetics that gain much of their power thanks to the interlinking of ideas and events, as in this example from Del Orden:

"Ordenas la rabia en el armario,
las risas en el album, el odio en los estantes,
las caricias con los tranquilizantes,
la venganza metida entre las faldas, el llanto
entre cortinas, en la puerta la basura
con recuerdos, con latas,
tu obsesión por reciclar"

"You tidy up anger in the wardrobe,
laughter in the album, hatred on shelves,
caresses with tranquilisers,
revenge slipped between skirts, teardrops
between curtains, rubbish at the door
with memories, with cans,
your obsession with recycling."

The use of this technique might seem commonplace to U.K. readers, but it's unusual in the context of contemporary Spanish poetry, as is Virallonga's use of register, which shows clear development and greater surefootedness in Hace Triste. He veers between formal language and colloquialisms, yet always postions himself firmly within a Spanish that exists beyond the page.

Again, U.K.-based readers might take this for granted. However, much poetry written in Spain seems to bear little correlation with the language that people use, esoteric verse being written with esoteric syntax.

Hace Triste perhaps lacks the seismic thematic drive that made Crónicas de Usura such a stand-out collection, but it's still an excellent book, an alternative vision of how verse in Spain could progress if the current generation of poets were to throw off the shackles of their idolised predecessors. Jordi Virallonga deserves to be read.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

New Walk Magazine

New Walk has just arrived on the U.K. poetry magazine scene. Based in Leicester and run by Rory Waterman and Nick Everett, its stated aim is to "publish some of the best poetry in English, by experimentalist poets, formalists, and everything between from all corners of the English-speaking world."

The editors certainly haven't made a bad start, with Issue One featuring Leontia Flynn, Tom Leonard, Andrew Motion, Alison Brackenbury, Mark Ford, David Mason, Christine McNeill, Timothy Murphy, Matt Merritt, Grevel Lindop and Hilary Menos, among others. I'll be reviewing it in the next few weeks on this blog.

I'm delighted to see a ambitious new print-based mag emerging on the U.K. poetry scene, and it'll be worth keeping a close eye on how New Walk develops. I've even got some poems coming up in Issue Two myself!

Saturday 18 September 2010


If translators are traitors and poets are translators, then poets are traitors too. Would I be alone in thinking this is a good thing? In fact, I'm convinced that treason makes a poem authentic. It's the necessary process whereby verse is created.

Friday 17 September 2010

Siân Hughes' The Missing wins the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize

Great news yesterday that Siân Hughes' The Missing has won the Seamus Heaney Prize. I've never understood why this book didn't sweep the board at all the major awards last year, but it's clearly still gaining readers, a slow-burning hit.

Saturday 11 September 2010

Poetic prose

"Poetic" is a term that's often applied to prose, but what does it mean?

Blurb-writers and critics use it as shorthand for the lyrical use of device, for musicality as expressed through sounds and rhythms. However, I feel this interpetation is slack journalese, perpetuating the public's misconceptions of poetry.

In fact, real poetic prose is the pared-down use of language, where each word works overtime for its keep. It's prose where there's a heightened awareness of the slightest nuance belonging to every lexical choice.

The compact, compressed nature of short stories lends itself more to this quality than a novel. Cortázar, Borges and Carver are all examples of writers who began with poetry and then excelled as short-story writers. As for myself, I love telling short stories in my poetry.

Monday 6 September 2010

Poetry for this sutumn

Lots of tasty morsels are coming up this autumn on the poetry reading front. My bank account might complain, but I'm determined to grab as many as possible.

I'm definitely going to be getting hold of a copy of Birdhouse, Anna Woodford's first full collection from Salt, which looks like being a real contender for major awards. Over at Nine Arches Press, meanwhile, November will see the publication of Matt Merritt's second collection, Hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica. It should consolidate his growing reputation. Finally, I'll try to stretch my budget to Allison McVety's Miming Happiness. I'm intrigued to see where she's taken her poetry since her excellent first book, The Night Trotsky Came to Stay. Other collections are sure to come to my attention over the next few weeks, but these have already made the list.

All in all, an autumn of terrific reading awaits!

Saturday 4 September 2010

Jordi Virallonga, Crónicas de Usura

Regular readers of Rogue Strands might recall my post on Jordi Virallonga lsst year. He's the author of several excellent collections, but one stands out for me - Crónicas de Usura, one of the few books of contemporary Spanish poetry that could find a substantial readership in the U.K. if the translation were sensitively handled.

I've been seacrhing for clips of Virallonga reading his work for some time now, especially because his delivery demonstrates just how different he is from many other Iberian poets and their histrionics. Well, I've finally found a superb few minutes on YouTube. What's more, the poems are from the Crónicas de Usura collection, a real treat:

This August has seen the publication of Virallonga's new book, Hace Triste. The sample poems I've read are terrific. I've got a copy on order and will review it here in due course.

Thursday 26 August 2010

One language or two?

Just back from my latest trip to West Sussex, I've been catching up on reading and have encountered a thought-provoking piece by Michael Hofmann in the Guardian in which he discusses the value for a poet of speaking a second language. The following quote is central to his argument:

"We think and are and have our being in, and in and out of languages – and where's the joy and the richness, if you don't even have two to rub together? If you don't have another language, you are condemned to occupy the same positions, the same phrases, all your life. It's harder to outwit yourself, harder to doubt yourself, in just one language. It's harder to play."

Reading this article, I immediately recalled Larkin's Paris Review interview and his statement "A writer can have only one language, if language is going to mean anything to him."

In my early years in deepest Spain I was the only foreigner in town. Before internet access and cheap telephone calls, I would often go for two or three months without talking to a native speaker of English.

That period of my life was key to my development as a poet. It firstly forced me to get writing if I wanted to find an English-language outlet, but it also then provided a counterpoint for my previous experiences back in Blighty. My views of U.K. society and the English language were challenged and enriched by my immersion in Spain and Spanish. Thanks, Michael Hofmann, for reflecting that idea so well!

Sunday 1 August 2010

Review: The Rain Diaries, by Rosie Garner

The Rain Diaries (Salt, 2010) might be Rosie Garner’s first collection, but it’s a book that’s steeped in life and poetic graft.

The work of many years is on show here, as is demonstrated by blasts from the past such as Iron magazine on the acknowledgements page. The poetry itself, meanwhile, backs that impression up. Never showy or flash, it earns our attention with honesty. By this I don’t mean anecdote, nor am I using critical shorthand for confessional verse. I’m referring to the way The Rain Diaries deals with emotions and events unflinchingly and thus involves the reader.

In one section of the book, for example, Garner invites us to accompany her on a journey that starts with an idiosyncratic depiction of a child’s conception on a campsite in “How To Begin a Person”:

“Take a night where the canvas rips,
where something stumbles outside in the dark
and plastic chairs somersault in sheeting rain…”

She leads us through children’s growing pains and on to scenes where those initial characters seem to reappear in very different circumstances, as in “Cleave”:

"…And so, at the end of the marriage,
clinging to the axe that found the line of weakness,
the fool of a woman,
this idiot man."

The strength of this journey is that its contradictions, inherent melancholy and even celebrations are juxtaposed and sequenced in such a way that we travel with Garner throughout. Her poetic generosity enables us to share and therefore be enriched by these pieces.

However, The Rain Diaries doesn’t just focus on the personal. Its honesty also extends to its sketches of other characters. These depictions aren’t built on flimsy imagery. Instead, they build up via scrupulous observation and understanding of social workings. A excellent example of this is “Football on Vernon Park”, in which a coach observes his Under Eights. The poem ends as follows:

"…You can see, in their cool appraisal of their game,
their shrugging acceptance of missed goals,
like shadows standing behind them,
the men they’ll grow into.
He watches from the centre,
almost smiles, sees them now."

Garner doesn’t stand aloof from her subjects: this astute poetry works by sharing their perspectives and consequently helping us to do so too.

In summary, The Rain Diaries is a very good book that shows the benefits of working away at a first collection over a lengthy period. Experience, both of life and verse, runs through every page. Rosie Garner’s achievement lies in gifting it to her readers.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

The warp of memory

Looking over old notebooks last week (and cannibalising lots of stuff!), I was struck by how often I fail as a poet when events or places are too recent. I'm more and more convinced that the warp of memory plays a key role in creating poetry, in turning anecdotes and feelings into verse.

In fact, the creative process is unconsciously ongoing in my mind. I know that most of my best latest work has come about by returning months or years later to a failed poem. When rereading it, I suddenly glimpse the right route and wonder how I missed something so obvious when struggling with the same material in the past. That moment of realisation isn't "inspiration" as much as the point at which the unconscious becomes conscious and crystalises in poetry.

Sunday 18 July 2010

Solar farms

I might love complaining about the heat in Extremadura, but I have to admit there are certain major plus points. As this article from the Guardian indicates, we're now home to the world's largest solar power station. In fact, numerous solar farms form an integral part of our regional landscape along with vines and olives groves.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

The Rialto

This morning's post brought the news that The Rialto have accepted one of my poems, Formica, for publication in Issue 70. I'm delighted to be appearing in Michael Mackmin's excellent magazine for the second time!

Saturday 10 July 2010

Review: Waiting for the Sky to Fall, by Dan Wyke

You might recall my review last year of Dan Wyke’s excellent pamphlet, Scattering Ashes (2004). Well, Wyke finally has a full collection out from Waterloo Press, titled Waiting for the Sky to Fall, and it doesn’t disappoint.

All of his assets from the chapbook remain, while many of the most outstanding poems (see that afore-mentioned pamphlet review) are also carried over. However, these qualities are now even further concentrated, distilled and expanded.

Wyke has fully harnessed his gorgeous lyrical gifts - there are no fireworks for their own sake in Waiting for the Sky to Fall – as the poet approaches life so as to understand it rather than filtering it through some esoteric code. Whether dealing with Gazza, a dirty weekend or potatoes, accessibility is married to an ambitiously humanistic vision.

What’s more, Wyke’s risk-taking individuality enables him to stand out in the present-day morass of Creative Writing courses and renowned mentors. One key example of this is his treatment of abstract nouns. While most of his contemporaries run scared of their ramifications, Wyke grabs them, relishes their latent potential and wreaks according havoc with our expectations, as in this example from the collection’s title poem:

When the phone rings with the news, it is raining
or not; the heart stops,

the heart goes on; the same language
is no longer enough, though words come,

performing acrobatics on the tongue…

“Heart” is a pivotal word here, its repetition highlighting an inherent duality of meaning: physical and abstract. Interplay and tension are thus developed between the two, enabling us to reassess our own interpretations.

Furthermore, the above point is reinforced by the remark on the nature of language that follows. Rooted in the specifics of this situation, Wyke’s statement that “the same language/is no longer enough” broadens his perspective while also implicitly homing back in on that word again, “heart”.

In fact, I’d actually go as far as to highlight this extract as something approaching a statement of poetic progression. Specific experiences have led to Wyke’s recognition that he has to reach beyond lyricism. Those “acrobatics” are no longer enough: events have their consequences in verse, where they also earn transforming qualities.

There’s an enormous variety of tone, subject matter and versification in this book, yet it’s held together by a glue that many first collections lack - no matter which poem we choose to read, it could only have been written by Dan Wyke. In the current context of U.K. poetry, that’s a huge achievement.

In a just world, Waiting for the Sky to Fall would make all this year’s shortlists and carry off a gong or two from under major publishers’ noses. For the moment, I hope my review contributes in some small way to its finding the wide readership it deserves. This is the rare class of collection that can create an addiction to contemporary verse.

Sunday 4 July 2010

Acetre, music from Extremadura

Forget about 40ºC, that's for lightweights - I've just measured 43ºC on my balcony!

At these temperatures my brain turns to mush and begs for trashy novels, dodgy computer games and viciously chilled lager, none of which come high up on my list of priorities in normal circumstances!

An Extremaduran summer offers few highlights, but open-air concerts in cool night air do prove an exception. Here's a clip from just such an evening. The band is called Acetre, one of the best groups in this region:

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Review: The Sparks, by Ben Wilkinson

The Sparks might be Ben Wilkinson’s first pamphlet, published as part of Tall Lighthouse’s Pilot Series, but this is a young poet showing his mastery of varied techniques rather than trying them on for size.

Wilkinson’s work is meticulously structured and layered, displaying great turns of phrase such as “the sudden void of shadows” or “the prayer-still street”, yet his language isn’t flashy. Every word is doing a job. There are hints at wide reading and multiple influences - Wilkinson has a growing reputation as a reviewer - but he manages to limit their intrusion by deftly subverting them into his poetics.

One of the main strengths of The Sparks is its terrific evocation of the tension between individuals and the social and physical hubris that surrounds them, as in this example from The Quiet:

I was drinking my way through a fifth pint of lager
and sparked up a fag as the tidemarks grew larger,
walked to the bar as the music grew louder

and noticed in minutes I’d clocked up two hours
when stumbling away from the urinal’s cowl
I turned to the exit to make for your house…

Our journey through the urban labyrinth certainly preoccupies Wilkinson, even impinging on settings beyond the city. Booze, fags (and more!) are images that reflect this jostling and come to the forefront once more in the pamphlet’s closing poem, Reflections…

…as we sat on the shingle drinking lukewarm
cans of lager. Not even my Zippo flame could
captivate the water’s oil-black darkness…

…Well, after I sparked that joint up, just then,
from where we were sitting I swear the ocean
was held like that for one hell of a second…

In The Sparks Ben Wilkinson stakes out a poetic territory, both in stylistic and thematic terms, yet there’s clearly even more to come over the next few years. Conor O’Callaghan, a fine poet himself, provides a key insight on the back cover, stating that Wilkinson is beginning “the difficult task of unlearning”. This excellent pamphlet demonstrates he’s already a fair way along that route. I look forward eagerly to his first full collection.

Sunday 20 June 2010

Lyrics in contemporary poetry

Bearing in mind the ever-growing aural presence of lyrics in our daily lives, it's worth noting that more and more poems make use of them.

My current favourites include Matt Merritt's terrific I'm Your Man (from his Happenstance pamphlet, Making The Most Of The Light) with its references to Leonard Cohen, plus Maura Dooley's The Spoils (from Kissing A Bone), in which she invokes the singers and songs on the records that are being divided up by a separating couple.

As for myself, I've even alluded to a cheesy Paul Young song in a poem that might well find its way into my pamphlet. Dangerous territory indeed!

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Congratulations to Happenstance

This year's winner of The Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets is Happenstance. Here's a quote from the corresponding press release:

Ali Smith, Chair of the Judges, commented: "HappenStance proved outstanding in the elegance, thoughtfulness and clarity of their design, and the infectious interaction, open-mindedness and energy of their publishing ethos."

Terrific news and deserved recognition for Helena Nelson's work!

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Review: In and Out of the Dark Wood, by Jeremy Page

Jeremy Page is both an editor and a poet. This combination has served him well in his excellent new pamphlet, In and Out of the Dark Wood, recently published by Happenstance Press.

He pulls off a delicate trick: there are few fireworks in the pamphlet, an absence of obvious devices, wordplay or heavy musical patterning, yet this collection is far from being chopped-up prose. In fact, it's packed with terrific poetry.

Page builds an unobtrusive music that's intrinsically married to his semantics. Language grafts here, enabling us first to identify with scenarios and then to transform them into a new creative process in the context of our own lives. All this sounds slightly pompous and theoretical, but few poets achieve time and time again as he does in this book...

Being here

Here, on the garden bench in high summer
we can agree it's over while the kids indoors,
oblivious, carry on and bicker and half watch TV;
we can agree that, no, we never expected
things would turn out like this, and pour ourselves
another glass of wine; agree that this is
somewhere that we never meant to be,
that in high summer it's a cold and godless place.

This poem displays an extraordinary understandings of how effects are obtained. The melody of everyday language is heightened by subtle repetition, while the killer word is "somewhere" at the start of the penultimate line. It doesn't need to shout its status as a metaphor from the poetic rafters. Instead, Page allows its ramifications to creep up on us, us just as they did on the participants in the scene.

In and Out of the Dark Wood might seem an intensely sad collection in much of its subject matter: the slip of generations, the loss of memory and the aftermath of divorce. Nevertheless, it's also a celebration of Page's generosity of sentiment. Experiences and observations are shared with such an acute and playful eye, the editor-poet revelling in life even when pain abounds.

I thoroughly recommend In and Out of the Dark Wood, one of the most understated yet outstanding pamphlets to have been published so far this year. Jeremy Page writes poetry that's been carved from experience.

Monday 14 June 2010

Escuela de Calor

Once we get to mid-June, the sun becomes relentless in Extremadura. Daytime temperatures regularly reach well over 40ºC and you have to be brave/mad/an Englishman to venture out of the house between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m..

In that context, it's time to invoke Escuela de Calor, a gorgeous subversion of a summer song, Radio Futura and Santiago Auserón (aka Juan Perro) at their best...

Thursday 3 June 2010

Review: Parade The Fib, by Rhian Edwards

I first encountered Rhian Edwards when we both read at a London Magazine launch a couple of years ago. She read her poems from memory with great intensity of feeling and rhythm yet managing to dodge theatricality. I later spotted some of her work in Stand and then got hold of a copy of Parade The Fib, her Tall Lighthouse pamphlet.

Parade The Fib might only contain fourteen pages, but it's packed with verve. Critical shorthand might put these down as "relationship" poems. However, that term doesn't do them justice...

"She wears her head
on the bone of her shoulder,
wraps his cold hand
in the skin of her own."

These pieces evoke scenes superbly, none better than in Marital Visit, the pamphlet's final piece. A slow-burning poem that defies quotation, it underlines the talent on show here.

Despite the publisher's references in the blurb to an "un-English sound" and "Celtic bass-line", Edwards' poetry relishes the music of British English with a delicate ear for its rhythms of speech, lyrically compacted. What's more, her treatment of the subject matter gives an implict nod towards Hugo Williams and Billy's Rain.

Once or twice, Edwards' linguistic drive and lack of inhibition lead to slips, like a rich sauce smothering a delicious steak...

"Tongues, once swaggered
with muscles of mirth, now flap
at the table, starved of all rapture".

Nevertheless, the overall impression is excellent: this is poetry in a contemporary idiom, dealing with relationships in a way that discovers them afresh. Poetic ambition and accessibility coexist in Parade The Fib.

I'll be intrigued to see how Rhian Edwards' work develops over the coming years. Will she sustain this intensity of tone and themes through a full collection or will she extend and deepen her range? Either way, she's a poet who's sure to find acclaim.

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Poetry at the Hay Festival

When reading the Guardian's feature on the Hay Festival yesterday, I was struck by the absence of poetry. Hay seems to verge on a denial of the genre's existence, as if active involvement with verse could marginalise the festival!

I was thus delighted to see in today's edition of the same paper that Simon Armitage used his appearance at Hay to make that very point:

"...he felt rather a lonely figure at this year's festival. "I wish there were more poetry events," he said. "There are more bodyguards here than there are poets."

Hay is terrifically popular with readers of novels, while access to such people in the context of a festival is just what poetry needs in its search for a larger audience. I very much look forward to seeing next year's programme in the light of Armitage's remarks.

Sunday 23 May 2010


Apologies for the length of time that's passed since my last post - ten days in Shanghai took me out of circulation.

Travelling is a key part of my job and often becomes humdrum, especially when I'm visiting somewhere for the umpteenth time. However, this trip was different. Shanghai's an intoxicating city, a challenge to the senses, the emotions and preconceptions. Best of all, I was accompanied throughout by Chinese friends - a wonderful way to get under a city's skin. They welcomed me into their lives and helped me cast new light on my own.

I'm not one for writing travel poetry as such, but such experiences feed my poetry indirectly. I've returned with a refeshed view of my day-to-day life, with new counterpoints. It's time to pick up a pen once more.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

The Michael Marks Publishers' Award

Excellent news today that Happenstance Press, the publishers of my forthcoming pamphlet, have been nominated for The Michael Marks Publishers' Award for the second year running.

This award provides recognition for outstanding U.K. publishers of poetry in pamphlet form, based on their previous year's publishing programme. I'm delighted for Helena Nelson, Happenstance's editor. Here's wishing her luck for the awards ceremony on 16th June!

Tuesday 11 May 2010

Marrying adjectives to nouns

This match-making process is one of the toughest parts of writing poetry.

It often fails by being too forced in its attempted coupling or by following a path that's already too well-trodden. As a poet, I'm constantly wrestling with the task of marrying adjectives to nouns in a way that casts new light yet immediately sounds natural.

Sunday 2 May 2010

Nicola Barker on Englishness

While reading an interview with Nicola Barker in today's Observer, I came across an interesting reflection on Englishness:

"Nobody loves England more than the people who don't actually have to live there. I love our inclusiveness. It's become very fashionable of late for people to witter on about what Englishness is, as if Englishness is in danger of disappearing. The English have always been a mongrel race and proud of it. We are everything and nothing."

Barker makes these remarks in the context of her childhood in South Africa. I find them especially relevant to my own writing, as exile is a double-edged sword: it provides an extra perspective and counterpoint, yet can easily lead to nostalgia for something that never existed.

Sunday 25 April 2010

Creative routes

I noticed a great post by Jane Holland the other day over on Raw Light, reflecting on "The Creative Writing Generation".

Jane quotes an interesting review of Identity Parade that invokes this term, and I agree entirely with her comments. Let's take the example of myself: I'm sure I'd be far more widely published if I'd had a well-connected mentor or if I'd done the right Creative Writing M.A., while they might also have ironed out many of my clunky faults, saving me from many of my most time-consuming mistakes.

Nevertheless, I've always felt that such help might have indirectly endangered two things I treaure: the little idiosyncracy I've managed to develop and the particular path I've chosen to explore as my own. In other words, creative writing M.A.s and mentoring might have encouraged many excellent poets to emerge over the last few years, but there are still certain other advantages to working outside that environment.

I'm convinced such diversity is key to the future health of British poetry.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Becoming a Poet

I noticed Faber & Faber's latest initiative the other day: a six-month course of thirty sessions to be run by their Academy with the aim of helping "students" as they work towards "becoming a poet".

My reaction started off as surprise at Faber's involvement in this idea, together with bemusement at their above-mentioned use of terminology in the promotional material. However, amazement soon followed when I saw the price - 3,500 quid! And I'd been led to believe there's no money in poetry...

Saturday 17 April 2010

Music for a rainy Saturday in Extremadura

I often used to browse a second-hand record shop in West Street, Farnham. One afternoon I found the "Smells Like Truth" album on the discounted shelf and was captivated by its cover. As this track shows, the music didn't disappoint once I'd handed over my quid and got it home. "Arms of a Dream" is still a haunting track.

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Mappings of the Plane by Gwen Harwood

Gwen Harwood (1920-1995) was a key figure in 20th century Australian poetry. Carcanet/Fyfield brought out a U.K. edition of her selected poems, titled Mappings of the Plane, in 2009, and I managed to get my hands on a copy last month.

A first reading hinted at a series of poets rolled into one - lots of different voices and techniques all fused by one mind. This impression was confirmed by background information: Gwen Harwood was renowned for adopting multiple personas and pseudonyms, using them to try out new masks, perspectives and techniques.

Although Mappings of the Plane brings these different threads together under her name, there's still a sense of these varying tangents working their way through her poems. Add this to the inevitable development undertaken by any poet throughout their life and you can see why this Selected displays such a wide range of qualities.

This above-mentioned range means that no reader's going to be taken with the whole book. Instead, there are gems which glitter every few pages. I particularly enjoyed "In The Park", for example, and feel it's worth reading alongside Larkin's "Afternoons". The latter poem exquisitely observes young mothers, while the former moves under one's skin:

"...It's so sweet
to hear their chatter, watch them grow and thrive,"
she says to his departing smile. Then, nursing
the youngest child, sits staring at her feet.
To the wind she says "They have eaten me alive."

Placing this down-to-earth poem in the context of several explicitly metaphysical pieces, Harwood's variety becomes clear. In many poems she's unafraid of abstract nouns and imagery (many critics see her as a Romantic), often leaping from day-to-day contexts to concepts and then back again.

Something of her music reminds me of Keith Douglas, although her work is more slow-building than his. She doesn't manage the sudden acceleration and the rush of clarity that so characterise Douglas. Harwood's poems unwind more gradually, thus not lending themselves to outstanding quotes. Here, however, are the closing lines of "Nightfall", as it reaches high:

" turn
home with the child once quick
to mischief, grown to learn
what sorrows, in the end,
no words, no tears can mend."

Mappings of the Plane is the record of an exceptional poetic mind at work. Gwen Harwood deserves a wider U.K. readership for her poems, as all of us can find something to savour in them.

Saturday 10 April 2010

Capturing an experience

I read a fascinating post over at Andrew Shield's blog the other day, in which he discusses Robin Robertson's poem, My Girls, from his collection titled The Wrecking Light.

Shields recognises the poem's dexterity at capturing a feeling and experience, yet feels it doesn't become an experience in itself, not seeing this as a defect but as a feature that identifies and distinguishes the piece from many others. I agree with him. In fact, this quality makes it unusual in Robertson's body of work.

What's more, I'm aware that I enjoyed My Girls far more than most of Robertson's poetry. I feel this is because in this poem he achieves something that is also my aim when I write: the depiction of an immediately recognisable experience in a specific and innovative way, thus enabling the reader to find a new insight into their own feelings.

Shields also makes a final, extremely interesting point in the light of my previous remarks: he feels that this kind of poetry is not liked by many contemporary poets or readers of poetry. I'm sure he's right, and would argue that it's fashionable to view such writing as unambitious.

I'm actually convinced that the opposite is true: capturing and transforming an event in this way demands incredible skill. Innovation becomes far more demanding yet also rewarding within the bounds of simplicity. I struggle to manage this every time I sit down to write poetry.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Sphinx 12

Reviews tell us as much about their author as about the books they're assessing, something that's made even clearer than normal by Sphinx and its idiosyncratic format of providing three different reviews for each chapbook.

Snippets from Issue 12 are now up at the Happenstance site (including three reviews by myself), and they're well worth a look. Not only do we get varied perspectives on the books in question, but we also find an implicit dialogue and debate developing between the different reviews and reviewers. There are opinions which coincide, others which clash, others which cast fresh light on each other. Each review has been written in isolation, before all three are brought together for the first time in Sphinx.

This process must involve a huge amount of work for Helena Nelson, but a great deal of pleasure is generated for the reader.

Sunday 4 April 2010

Mark Haddon and Paul Farley

Mark Haddon interviews Paul Farley in an excellent feature over at The Guardian website at the moment.

I've long been interested in the relationship between these two writers. Haddon is obviously renowned for his best-selling novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which I thoroughly enjoyed. His follow-up to that book, meanwhile, was a collection of poetry, titled The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, which convinced to a far lesser degree.

In features after its publication, Haddon mentioned Farley on several occasions, and the latter's stylistic and thematic influence on his verse is clear. What's more, Haddon's poetry seems laden with nods towards others, his linguistic virtuosity and great ear getting bogged down in some attempt to prove he can cut it as a poet.

As for Farley, I've already mentioned my admiration for him in previous posts on Rogue Strands. Nevertheless, seldom have I seen him provide such an insight into the mechanics of his creative process as in this article. Maybe he's been drawn out by the interviewer's clear admiration for his work. All in all, it's a fascinating piece.

Sunday 28 March 2010

New reading

The last few weeks have seen me caught up in a succession of trade fairs. It's been hectic but endlessly fascinating. For example, I love listening to my Spanish colleagues dealing with other nationalities in English. Or rather in a new language that's derived from English, casting new light on it.

This context makes returning to poetry even more of a cleansing process than usual. Gwen Harwood's Mappings of the Plane's on my desk at the moment and I'll blog about her poems in due course, while a couple of extremely promising Happenstance pamphlets are also pending my attention.

Monday 8 March 2010

The Plough Prize Awards

The Plough Prize awards will be taking place this coming Saturday in Great Torrington. There'll be a slam, a free workshop and readings from the winners. I'll be reading my poem "Instructions For Coming Home", plus a short selection from my forthcoming Happenstance pamphlet if there's time.

From Torrington I'll be heading back to Sussex before a vicious schedule of two trade fairs in different countries in a week. First off will be the Prowein fair in Düsseldorf, followed directly by Alimentaria in Barcelona. Here's hoping the new vintages go down well!

Tuesday 2 March 2010

A second language

I'm grateful to Katy Evans-Bush over at the Poets On Fire forum for pointing me towards Don Share's recent post about bilingual poets in which he quotes Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill on this issue. She invokes inner war, displacement, anxiety, psychic pain, etc, etc...

My own experience is very different. I's important to start by clarifying terms: I'm not bilingual and never will be, in spite of spending fifteen years in a small Spanish town where I've been the only native English speaker for much of that time. I can't be, even though my Spanish is perfect, simply because I wasn't brought up as such. However, my immersion in a second language has led to a heightened awareness of nuances in English. Spanish has cast new light on the way English works, its nuts and bolts, its socio-cultual connotations, its means of expression. All this has made a huge contribution to my poetry.

My son, meanwhile, is completely bilingual. Again, clarification is useful at this stage. He's not just the son of an English bloke - he's as at home in English as he is in Spanish. The two languages complement each other and have never caused conflicts for him. He's simply more aware of his identity than most kids of his age. Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill's plight seems to have more to do with her specific situation than with bilingualism in general.

Immersion in two languages, through bilingualism or second language acquisition, has the power to strengthen rather than dilute. The more counterpoints we have in life and poetry, the richer our perspectives become.

Friday 19 February 2010

Translations as collaborations

A few months ago I mentioned how Jorge Luis Borges collaborated on many of the translations of his work into English. In fact, my reading of his work has always been informed by comparisons between the originals and the English-language versions that he wrote with Norman Thomas di Giovanni.

However, I was unaware of the legal dispute that ensued following Borges' death and which has led to those collaborative translations, new works in their own right and incredible perspectives on Borges' creative processes, being taken out of print. This article from The Guardian provides some more background to the story.

Translations normally have a pretty short shelf life, but di Giovanni's work with Borges falls into a completely different category. I view it as fundamental for all readers of the Argentinian's prose and poetry, even in the original Spanish, bearing in mind the extra angle and often provocative light that these specific translations provide. There seems to be a constant dialogue between the English and the Spanish if you read them in tandem.

At least they're still available on the second-hand market, which is where I got hold of my copies. I thoroughly recommend them above the current (albeit very competent) Penguin Borges, simply because they're superb examples of translations as collaborations.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Alistair Maclean

Dick Francis' death a few days ago has led to a number of reference in the press and blogs to Larkin's love of his work. However, my attention was drawn more to an article by John Crace in The Guardian, titled "How Dick Francis helped me through adolescence".

In my case the author in question was Alistair Maclean. I had sprinted through Blyton, etc, and started scavenging my parents' bookshelves for something even slightly more salacious yet not censored by them! I was already feeling the slow-building oppression of suburban Surrey and found an escape route in Maclean's thrillers.

I was pretty much immediately aware of the author's wonky attitude to women, paper-thin characterisation and clunky dialogue, but his overwhelming attribute for this teenage reader was pace. His books didn't let me switch off and drift, thus ensuring I didn't suspend my disbelief.

Even now, at times of stress, hangover or tiredness, I find myself turning to a Maclean novel, ready to read it through for the umpteenth time in the sure knowledge that it will lift me out of my immediate context. My writer's mindset finds it ever more difficult to read fiction, yet Maclean is still a refuge, a chance for me to rewind twenty years and shake off my acquired prejudices for a couple of hours.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Update to my Blog List

I've updated my blog list today to reflect recent developments. Here's some background to a couple of blogs that have caught my eye and thus been included.

It's always good to welcome a new poetry blog to the U.K. scene, especially when it's written by a poet whose work I admire. Dan Wyke's Other Lives is still in its infancy, but it's definitely worth keeping an eye on. Dan's first full collection is being brought out by Waterloo in the coming months and I've a firm feeling it's going to be one of this year's most intriguing debuts.

Michelle McGrane's Peony Moon, meanwhile, has become an excellent resource for readers of British poetry, including reviews, interviews and snippets from forthcoming collections. A number of poets have come onto my radar thanks to her work. All this and she's not even based on these shores!

Sunday 7 February 2010

Valle-Inclán and his esperpento

Ramón María del Valle-Inclán (1866-1936) was an exceptional playwright. In my opinion he surpassed Lorca in his theatrical craft and innovation.

So why isn't he renowned as such in the U.K.? A major reason is the difficulty involved in staging his plays: incredibly visual scenes are combined with stage directions that include everything from social comment to emotional and metaphysical reflections on characters! In other words, Valle-Inclán was bridging genres, creating works that lose something when read and something else when staged.

To the wider Spanish public, however, Valle-Inclán is synonymous with one word - el esperpento. What's more, he single-handedly changed its meaning. Originally an insult indicating a person or event's ridiculous nature, Valle-Inclán used the term to define a type of theatre and moreover a society, stating:

"El sentido trágico de la vida española sólo puede ofrecerse con una estética sistemáticamente deformada"

"The tragic sense of Spanish life can only be depicted with a systematically deformed aesthetic"

He developed el esperpento via plays such as Luces de Bohemia to such an extent that audiences and readers began to understand it as an interpretation (encompassed in a single word) of Spain's grotesque social structures and consequent tragic events. Its ramifications grew further following Valle-Inclán's death - the Civil War and Franco's dictatorship a tragic embodiment of el esperpento.

Even these days, my Spanish friends and colleagues bemoan el esperpento that's still played out on a regular basis in offices and homes all over the country. We all know what we mean when referring to the term. This is an incredible achievement on the part of Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, a playwright who deserves far greater recognition in the English-speaking world.

Thursday 4 February 2010


Sad news earlier this week that Rob Mackenzie is suspending activities on his Surroundings blog.

Surroundings has been one of the most interesting blogs on the U.K. poetry scene these past few years and is packed with reviews of collections and mags, comments on poetry news and links to lots of dodgy music videos such as the recent Neil Diamond season (I'm a closet fan too!). I thoroughly recommend a browse through its archive.

Monday 1 February 2010

The Plough Prize

My latest news is that one of my poems, Instructions For Coming Home, has won 2nd prize in The Plough Prize Short Category. I'm extremely chuffed!

This year's prize was judged by Alison Brackenbury, a poet I've long admired, so it's especially pleasing to have been selected by her. What's more, her remarks home in on exactly what I'm trying to achieve when I write. My poem and her comments can be found on the Plough Prize website here.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Jaime Gil de Biedma

"I dress and drink like an Englishman".

This quote is from Jaime Gil de Biedma, a key figure in 20th Century Spanish poetry. It hints at many of the paradoxes and layers to be found in his character. An upper-class Marxist who had to hide his bisexuality in Francoist Spain, his writing is often labelled "Poesía de la Experiencia". In fact, Gil de Biedma's poems play with the notion of experience and identity, drawing on the hypocrisy that necessarily formed part of his life.

Gil de Biedma's wealthy family enabled him to travel widely. He spoke excellent English and spent time in the U.K., where he read avidly and came under the influence of Auden's poetry. It's important to bear in mind that Gil de Biedma has been a crucial point of reference for many contemporary Spanish poets, so he has also been one of the few conduits between the two countries' poetic aesthetics. Just as many Latin words come to English through French, so I would argue that certain momentary nods towards Auden in Garcia Montero often reach us through Gil de Biedma.

His life and work are currently in the media spotlight over here in Spain, as a controversial biopic has just come out, titled "El Cónsul de Sodoma". Beyond the arguments about its veracity or focus on sexual escapades, I just hope it generates more readers for Jaime Gil de Biedma. Here's a terrific example of his own self-awareness from his poem "Después de la muerte de Jaime Gil de Biedma", "After Jaime Gil de Biedma's Death", in which he addresses his other self and ends with these lines...

"Aunque acaso fui yo quien te enseñó.
Quien te enseñó a vengarte de mis sueños,
por cobardía, corrompiéndolos."

"Although it might have been me who taught you.
Who taught you to take revenge on my dreams,
out of cowardice, corrupting them."

Saturday 16 January 2010

Gwen Harwood

One of the major benefits of reading anthologies such as Emergency Kit is that they draw your attention to poets who have previously passed under your radar.

I had heard of Gwen Harwood and was aware of her standing in 20th Century Australian poetry, but I'd barely read any of her work. However, three poems by her in Emergency Kit were outstanding and got me googling. I was even more attracted by what I found - articles, anecdotes and further poems - so one of my forthcoming purchases will be her new selected poems from Carcanet, titled Mappings of the Plane.

Sunday 10 January 2010

Emergency Kit

I buy poetry books as and when I can - my budget doesn't allow for anything else - and I tend to avoid anthologies in favour of getting to grips with individual poets. However, Emergency Kit for a quid at a local charity shop was too tempting this Christmas.

I've got many quibbles with it, starting with the premise that the 20th Century was an especially strange time. Well, the 17th/18th/19th Centuries weren't exactly straightforward or exempt from huge changes, revolutions, genocide, etc, either. The editors' claim that Borges was a magical realist, meanwhile, is a leap too far for my understanding of the term. As for the poetry itself, it seems selected to fit into a specific identikit vision of the genre.

Nevertheless, I do feel that the most intriguing part of the anthology is its introduction, where the editors (Matthew Sweeney and Jo Shapcott) justify their work. Above all, my interest in the comparative qualities of English-language and Spanish poetry means that I was immediately drawn to the following statement:

"...however far and freely (the poems) travel, they always come back to the world we wake up to, illuminating, from whatever angle, our day-to-day concerns. Other poems in the bookmay be more ostensibly realist in manner...but even here there is always the glint of...the surrealism of everyday life".

In other words, the poetic aesthetic of Emergency Kit is rooted in daily life - any steps back from this world are taken so as then to come back to it with fresh eyes. This is a pretty big anthology - almost 300 pages of poems - so my question is the following: could such an extensive anthology have been compiled of contemporary Spanish poetry with this same aesthetic?

I don't believe so. What's more, the editors' stance doesn't seem particularly controversial in terms of a vast chunk of current English-language poetry, whereas my experience tells me of the row that would brew if I backed such a statement when surrounded by most Spanish poets! All in all, an excellent example of the divide between the two languages' poetries.

Thursday 7 January 2010

The Frogmore Papers

2010 sees me back in Spain again after a few weeks in the U.K., where I stocked up on calories and poetry books.

Meanwhile, the new year has also brought its first acceptance, from The Frogmore Papers. This is the third time I've had work in Jeremy Page's excellent magazine and I look forward to seeing my poem in the September 2010 issue. Here's hoping the coming months continue in a similar vein!