Saturday, 31 December 2011

Sphinx, a new issue and a new website

Sphinx has long been one of the few publications to focus on reviews of poetry pamphlets. Initially printed, it's been web-based for the last few issues under the auspices of the Happenstance Press website.

Issue 19 has just come out, but for the first time it's been launched as part of a new stand-alone website for Sphinx. You can find it here, and it's well worth a browse. There are reviews for many recent pamphlets, all within the established framework of three reviewers for each book, their pieces then juxtaposed and in implicit dialogue with each other. In this issue I tackle Charlotte Gann's intriguing chapbook from Pighog, The Long Woman. Once again, it's a thought-provoking process for me to compare and contrast my views with those of others. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The lives of second hand books

I love the idea of the different lives that are led by books. Just we gain fresh perspectives from them, so our treatment of them casts fresh light on us. In fact, one of my poems from Inventing Truth, titled Last Chance, is a first-person monologue from the point of view of a second hand book at a jumble sale as it awaits a new owner or the fate of being recycled.

In a similar vein, some months ago I highlighted Wayne Gooderham's excellent Guardian feature about bespoke dedications that can be found in second hand books. Well, since then he's started a blog here for his collection of them. It's well worth a look...I can feel another poem coming on!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Alun Lewis on History

I'm currently tackling and relishing Alun Lewis' Collected Poems, getting to grips with his heady mix of erudition and grit. I'll go into more detail about this excellent book at a later date, but for now a quote that struck me from his poem The Peasants...

"...Across scorched hills and trampled crops
The soldiers straggle by.
History staggers in their wake.
The peasants watch them die."

This reminds me so much of images from umpteen television news bulletins over the past few years, Lewis' lines echoing backwards and forwards through time.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Review: The Hiding Place, by Tom Duddy

First things first, this book is terrific!

Let's start with some background info. The Hiding Place is Tom Duddy’s debut full collection. Published by Arlen House in Ireland, it was recently shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry. This Prize is awarded annually to the writer of the best first collection published in the UK or Ireland in the preceding year.

Tom Duddy teaches Philosphy at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and his academic background is of immense interest in the context of The Hiding Place. Poets are often said to wear their erudition lightly, but Duddy goes far beyond that, exploiting it in idiosyncratic and immensely subtle ways, approaching life so as to understand it, metaphysics constantly filtered through the concrete, as in the following example from The Small Hours:

“A siren far out on the public road
breaks the circle of acid thought, and I turn
to find her pressed close, warm, palpable…”

The juxtaposition of “thought” and “palpable”, together with the play between them, is key to an understanding of Duddy’s poetics, as is the sense of public and private. Throughout this poem, as indeed throughout the whole collection, the poet is inviting us along with him.

The Hiding Place is shot through with a rare generosity towards the reader, capturing, transmitting and transmuting kernels that lie in Duddy’s mind. He casts new light on old scenes, thus enlightening us about our own lives. This is what I most treasure about poetry. It’s what lifts certain poets and poetry into a very special place.

The collection is also characterised by a delicate weighing of the effect of words. Their music is at first unassuming and then all the more powerful for this as their resonances build. I found myself rereading the poems over and over again. They were immediately accessible, but gave more and more with time in a cumulative effect. This extract from the title poem is an example of just what I mean:

“…Someone whose mind has been elsewhere
will have turned around and seen us
and stopped smiling and decided
that the time has come to wake us
to our fair share of the real...”

As can be seen above, Tom Duddy writes a poetry of the “mind” that’s rooted in the “real”. In no way limiting, this approach is in fact highly ambitious. What’s more, his achievements in this collection prove that the esoteric is not the only route to poetic depth. I can’t recommend The Hiding Place enough. Here’s hoping it finds an ever-increasing readership as the story of its exceptional qualities gradually comes out.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Last week

Last week saw a 2-0 win for Aldershot Town over Maidenhead United, plus two terrific readings in London and Nottingham. In other words, I had a great trip!

I'm very grateful to Declan Ryan for organising the Days of Roses event in London last Thursday, where my personal highlight was Rory Waterman's reading of some excellent new work - I'm really looking forward to his first collection from Carcanet next year. In the meantime, however, I've made do with a copy of the New Poetries V anthology, which features a good selection of his poems.

As for Nottingham, meanwhile, thanks are due to Robin Vaughan-Williams for bringing it together. It was a great opportunity to meet up with a number of other Happenstance poets and see Helena Nelson read for the first time. "Enthralling" would be an understatement! Maria Taylor, who has a full collection forthcoming next year from Nine Arches Press, has posted a review of the evening on her blog here. I'm especially pleased with her remarks about my own slot:

It was great to hear Matthew again, as I so enjoyed his pamphlet ‘Inventing Truth.’ He has a deeply engaging style. He read his poem ‘Instructions for Coming Home’ at the beginning and end of his reading. The perspective altered when he mentioned at the end that the poem was written from the point of view of a widower, the preparation of a simple meal is given a certain gravity by the final line ‘Now confront the day, bite by bite.’

These readings have certainly given me the taste for more - I love the feeling of bringing Inventing Truth to life for an audience - and I hope to take part in further U.K. events in 2012.

Monday, 14 November 2011


With a slightly seedy town centre that's populated by fewer and fewer squaddies, more and more boarded-up shops and numerous tattoo parlours, Aldershot might be synonymous with decay for many people. For me, however, it's very special, not because of the place itself, but because of the football club.

One of the league's perennial strugglers, almost always anchored in the old Division Four, Aldershot F.C. was my local team as a kid. From the day in 1984 that I persuaded my Dad to take me along to a friendly with Aberdeen (for whom a certain Alex Ferguson was the manager), I was hooked. The following year we got season tickets. It provided an outlet for suburban boredom and appealed to my sense of being an outsider - I revelled in being mocked by my Liverpool-supported classmates.

I then moved away to university. At that point, the club got into huge financial trouble and was taken over by a supposed teenage millionaire who turned out to be penniless. I followed the stories every day in the papers until the definitive news - in 1992 Aldershot F.C. went bust.

A few months later and the club had been reformed by its supporters as Aldershot Town F.C., starting in the lowest tier of non-league football. Soon afterwards, I moved to Spain. Ever since, I've followed the team's progress through the divisions until they finally made it back into the league. As a kid, I'd got to every single match, but I've had to get used to missing out on countless terrific occasions, forced to listen to radio commentary over the internet for the Play-Off final in Stoke, promotion in Torquay and then, worst of all, the cup tie with Manchester United last month. My teenage self would never have forgiven me!

My sense of being an ex-pat is intensified on such occasions. I've grown resigned to not seeing every match these days (I often only get to three or four a season), but one of the most important parts of my forthcoming trip to the U.K. is a visit to Aldershot for the 1st round F.A. Cup replay with Maidenhead United, all to take in the misted breath, the perfume of chips and tea, the supporters' frustration, rage and joy.

The following poem, taken from Inventing Truth, invokes a pivotal day when it really hit home to me that I was to become a visitor in this special atmosphere rather than a regular:

Last Season

It’s 3 p.m., a Saturday
in December 1990,
and Dad and I have reached our seats,
C8 and 9, the third row back,
in line with the penalty spot.

I’ve come here straight from the station
after two days at interview.
Now we win one-nil and we're through!
For the first time something other
than GOAL fills my mind as we score.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A Night of Happenstance in Nottingham

Two days after Days of Roses in London, it's on to Nottingham, where I'll be participating in "A NIght of Happenstance" on Saturday 26th November. Organised by Robin Vaughan-Williams, this is a chance to take in readings by six poets from the Happenstance stable (Helena Nelson, D.A.Prince, Robin Vaughan-Williams, Marilyn Ricci, Ross Kightly and myself). The venue is Lee Rosy’s tea room, where we'll be starting at 7.30pm. Entrance £4/£3 (concs).

More details, plus background info about all the poets, can be found here on Robin's blog.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Days of Roses - Phoenix Night

As promised, here are the details for my London reading (info on Nottingham to follow in the coming days). It's taking place at the Phoenix Artists Club, 104-110 Charing Cross Road, on Thursday 24th November, 6.30 p.m. for a 7 p.m. start.

I'll be appearing alongside Rory Waterman (also one of the editors of the excellent New Walk magazine), Dai George, Ira Lightman, James Goodman, Oli Hazzard, Preti Taneja, Rishi Dastidar, Robert Selby and Sophie Mayer. What's more, I gather we might be joined by a one or two terrific extra readers - news as and when I get it!

My reading will focus on a showcase of poems from Inventing Truth, and I'll be bringing a few copies with me just in case you fancy acquiring one on the night.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Two readings in November

This November will see me heading back to the U.K. for a few days to give two readings alongside a whole host of excellent poets.

The first of these events (under the auspices of Days of Roses) will be taking place in London on Thursday 24th November, followed by a Happenstance reading in Nottingham a couple of days later. I'll be posting more details about venues and times, etc, in due course. I'm really looking forward to this trip, a great chance to meet up with old friends, put a face to more recent ones and pick up the piles of new poetry books and magazines that are waiting for me in Chichester!

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Jack Little's introduction to Rocío Cerón and contemporary Mexican poetry

Today sees a guest blogger, Jack Little, come to Rogue Strands. Jack lives in Mexico City, where he edits The Ofi Press magazine and manages the national cricket team of Mexico. This is his introduction to Rocío Cerón and contemporary Mexican poetry:

Since I moved to Mexico last year, I’ve met some wonderful, exciting and strange people. One of the wonderful ones was Mexican poeta Chilanga, Rocío Cerón whose work uses a multi disciplinary approach bringing poetry into dialogue with music, performance and visual images, taking participants on a multi sensory journey.

Rocío´s collaborations on works such as La mañana comienza muy tarde, Amérique/Urbana, Tiento and Imperio have melded the photography of Valentina Siniego and musical pieces of Enrico Chapela to bring echoes of common rhythms and rich images of life to her work. Seeing her perform is truly a wonderful adventure for the senses.

Perhaps my favourite of her works is the bilingual collection Empire, which explores the wars of ideas between nations, evidencing destruction and debris through the short and biting syllables. The struggle of agony and of lost names is explored in Nombre, her last poem of the book:

(…) Estoy sentado frente una ausencia (cuerpo / saliva / osamenta) que lleva promesa de estaciones. Su mirada son todas las palabras / pabellón del grito / que escriben, día a día, la historia de un Nombre.

Her work takes us takes us to death as our own starting point, it looks at the bleak and vast space of Mexico City with her millions upon millions of inhabitants: Rocío, Valerie Mejer, Luis Cortés Bagalló among many others burn bright the rich and deep wealth of poetry available in Mexico from the smells of the streets to the crashing colours of Mexico City’s night polluted sunset-dirt skies.

Rocío Cerón is an inspirational woman from a city where dark meets colour, light and music. You can read more about her latest work and projects here:

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Hearing Voices Issue 4

Hearing Voices, run by Jonathan and Maria Taylor at Crystal Clear Creators, is a relatively new magazine for poetry and prose.

Issue 4 is being launched at The Western Pub in Leicester at 7.30 p.m. on Monday 24th October. I won't be able to make the event, but I'm delighted to have two poems in the magazine, my first publication since Inventing Truth came out in April this year. What's more, I'm excited to find myself in excellent company, alongside poets such as Alison Brackenbury, Helen Ivory, Todd Swift, Tony Williams, etc, etc, etc...

There really is a terrific array of work in Hearing Voices and I'll be reviewing it in due course. In the meantime, I suggest you get hold of a copy yourself - it provides a great insight into the most thriving facets of the U.K. poetry scene.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Terminology - mainstream or experimental?

The mainstream is not the mainstream and the experimental is not the experimental.

The winners of this year's Forward Prize have just been announced, leading to an inevitable burst of praise and criticism, of labelling, grouping and tribalism. In the current climate of mentors and creative writing courses, this annual phenomenon makes it even more difficult yet even more important for poets to plough their own furrow.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

I is a lie

In her comment on my review of Paul Henry’s The Brittle Sea, Sheenagh Pugh linked to her excellent interview with him.

One very interesting point was their discussion of many readers’ failure to recognize that “I is a lie”. In fact, Henry mentioned that he had left certain strong poems out of the book due to this pitfall.

My own use of personae leads me to similar problems. I write from the point of departure of my surroundings, but the whole creative point of a poem is the way it takes off into fiction through the voice(s) of its character(s). While working in a vacuum where I was distanced from readers and editors, I felt sure that people implicitly understood the concept as soon as they approached a poem. In fact, the publication of my pamphlet led to several reviews which assumed autobiography at every turn. I was amazed!

The mere fact that I write poetry rooted in the everyday doesn’t mean that it’s factual or experience-based. This separation of the author and personae was drummed into me in my schooldays, so I find it frustrating that such misinterpretation is still rife, especially in poems that are set in recognisable contexts, as if accessible verse were a confessional diary.

Writing in the first person is important to me as a means of creating intimacy with my character(s). It forms a key component in my exploration of identity and belonging. I realise that this approach runs risks, but I’m more determined than ever to develop its potential. A strong cast lends extra texture to a book, something I’ll be keeping in mind as I work towards my first full collection.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Review: The Brittle Sea, by Paul Henry

The best book I’ve read this month? This year? Just what do I mean by best? I don’t know. All I can say is that Paul Henry’s The Brittle Sea, New and Selected Poems (Seren 2010) has enthralled me.

On getting hold of a collection, I immediately glance at the back cover, ready to grimace at the blurb. In this case, however, it grabbed me with a quote and wouldn’t let go:

“Shall we stay or leave then, love?
It’s only the years moving inside us
and everything hurts in autumn.
Where shall we put them,
the years, in our new house?
the years we are moving out of?

I flicked straight to the poem, titled Sold. It’s tremendous. I was trying to write a poem on a similar theme at the time. I don’t think I’ll bother.

As I greedily continued reading, I noticed how Henry seems to combine Brian Patten’s exuberance with Hugo Williams' restraint in a delicate balancing act that’s all his own. The everyday is stirred into the lyrical with a transforming imaginative touch. What’s more, Henry’s thematic reach is wide, fatherhood featuring prominently. He’s particularly strong on the changes that take place in a paternal role as a child grows. Daylight Robbery, in which a father accompanies his seven-year-old son to a barber shop and sees an older boy emerge, ends as follows:

“Turning a corner
his hand slips from mine
like a final, forgotten strand
snipped from its lock.”

The above quote also shows three other qualities in Henry’s work: firstly, he’s excellent at gorgeous endings that close and then open out beyond. Secondly, there’s delicious aural patterning, intoxicating yet never cloying. Thirdly, compression leads to expansion, as every word is made to work like stink for its keep.

Paul Henry writes the type of poetry that made me fall in love with the genre and keeps me captivated. These poems make an immediate impact that resonates in the mind long afterwards. I could carry on quoting from them all day, as they’re littered with spectacular turns of phrase which never seem showy. However, that would keep you from the book itself. Why not get hold of a copy as soon as you can? You won’t be disappointed - I’ll be going back to The Brittle Sea for years to come.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The language of rock and pop?

Many Spanish friends regularly remark that most rock and pop music sounds far better in English than in Spanish. Are they right? If so, why? Leaving aside certain cultural inferiority complexes, there are important metrical keys to understanding the reasons.

A decent place to start might be translated versions of famous songs, such as hits by The Beatles. Their work does tend to be dreadful when sung in Spanish, even when the lyrics aren't clunkily reworked. Let's take the example of Yesterday and look at how it works...

" it looks as though they're here to stay..." That's written in trochees!

"...oh I believe in yesterday..." That's written in iambs!

In other words, just as stressed poetry doesn't work well in Spanish, so imposing Spanish lyrics on a song that originally used iambs and trochees is never going to sound natural. In the same way, translated nursery rhymes are also extremely dodgy (e.g. Old MacDonald had a farm is a series of trochees in itself!). Here's a link to a typically grim Spanish-language performance of Yesterday:

Nevertheless, I do believe it's easy to get too simplistic about this. Many Spanish groups have successfully fused elements of flamenco or rumba, etc, to their pop or rock, creating gorgeous lyrics that face no problems at all. Trouble mainly flares up when songs written for English lyrics are shoved into Spanish.

This is another example of translator..traitor and shows once more that it's impossible to reflect accurately the poetry or lyrics of English in Spanish and vice versa.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Days of Roses

After a fortnight away in England, I'm now back in Extremadura just as our white grape must has started fermenting, a daily progression that I love to follow. Bit by bit, the wine peeks through and then reveals itself.

Getting home, meanwhile, has also enabled me to turn my attention to Rogue Strands and update it somewhat. Top of my list was the inclusion of Days of Roses on my blogroll. Declan Ryan's beady editorial eye is providing a steady stream of intriguing poetry over there and it's fast become one of the blogs I keep a closest eye on. Every few days he seems to showcase a new poet, and there's not a dud among them! Why not pop over there now and see what I mean?!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Interview on Polyolbion

Over at his excellent Polyolbion blog, Matt Merritt has kindly published an extensive interview with me. Our discussion takes in bilingualism, syllabics, Happenstance Press, poets' fetishes and many things in between! To top it off, three poems from Inventing Truth are also posted at the end of the interview.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Review: Un invierno propio, by Luis García Montero

Out of all contemporary Spanish poets, I've long thought that Luis García Montero has the greatest chance of finding a U.K. readership. This is largly thanks to his idiosyncratic blend of influences, ranging from Larra and Lorca to Auden (via Gil de Biedma), all topped off with his personal and literary experience of having reached adulthood just as the dictatorship was imploding and liberty exploding.

His latest book, Un invierno propio, very much confirms that impression. García Montero has always been associated with the so-called "poesía de la experiencia", yet his previous work was still littered with overt allusions to the Spanish literary canon, as if he felt obliged to prove his erudition in the face of accusations by his contemporaries of being overly "facile". In Un invierno propio, however, García Montero seems to be ever more comfortable with his personal, intimate yet direct voice. Many Spanish poets seem to disappear into their own esoteric ambitions with age, but García Montero is taking a far more exciting, opposite route: ignoring many critics' sniffiness, his poetic project is now unique in Spain in the depth that he achieves without a shred of pretentiousness.

One example of this new-found extra confidence can be found in the opening lines of Hay aviones que despegan desde ningún lugar y que aterrizan en ninguna parte:

"Nadie puede bañarse en lágrimas dos veces
en el mismo aeropuerto..."

"Nobody can bathe in tears twice
at the same airport..."

Both this begininng and the poem that follows stand alone as excellent verse. García Montero finds no need for overt allusion or quotation. Nevertheless, there are implicit nods to Ängel González and his Glosas a Heráclito, which contains my favourite lines in 20th Century Spanish poetry:

Nada es los mismo, nada
la Historia y la morcilla de mi tierra:

se hacen las dos con sangre, se repiten.

Nothing is the same, nothing
the History and black pudding of my homeland:

both are made with blood, they repeat.

In other words, García Montero provides the reader with two equally valid routes. The allusion's there but it isn't rubbed in our faces: unlike with much contemporary Spanish poetry, we aren't being made to feel we have to pass a test of our erudtion before the poet grants us access to his work.

Another example of García Montero's growing surefootedness, meanwhile, is in my favourite piece from the collection, titled La tristeza del mar cabe en un vaso de agua, in which his eschewing of fireworks brings with it a gorgeous, direct lyricism that I won't quote, because its simplicity would render it ridiculous in a limited quote. I recommend getting hold of the book, downing the poem in one and then going back to savour it, sip by sip.

In conclusion, if you've got a working knowledge of Spanish and feel like "taking on" contemporary Spanish poetry, Luis García Montero's Un invierno propio is a terrific point of departure. For me, it's his best book so far.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Paul Farley article

There's an article by Paul Farley up on the Guardian website today as part of their "Once upon a life" series. The story of his first few months as an art student in London, it's interesting enough in itself, but takes on far more significance when read alongside his first collection, "The Boy from the Chemist is Here to See You".

There are always arguments about the relationship between biographical detaila and literary texts, but in this case I certainly feel that my appreciation of Farley's book has been enriched by his article. I'd always loved the ferocious vivacity of his first collection and noticed a slow seep-away of this quality in subsequent volumes. I now understand the seismic shifts in his life that contributed to making "The Boy from the Chemist..." such a tremendous and unrepeatable jolt to the reader.

Monday, 1 August 2011

John Hollander's Rhyme's Reason

As a student in the Lower Sixth, I finally plucked up the courage to show Richard Hoyes, my English teacher at Farnham College, my first fevered and feeble attempts at writing verse. His advice set me on my way, handing me a scrap of paper with "Rhyme's Reason by John Hollander" on it and telling me to get hold of a copy. It's been with me ever since.

Instead of encouraging me to attend local creative writing classes or giving me overblown praise for the rubbish I was churning out, Richard immediately realised that I needed to sit down and work out that writing poetry was a solitary and hugely self-taught occupation, to understand for myself how poetic form gives figurative sense to speech sound. "Rhyme's Reason" set me on my way. Even now, I vividly recall the light-bulb moment when I first read Hollander's examples, written in verse themselves...

"Trochées simply tumble on..."
"Iambic meter runs along like this..."
"Dactyl means finger in Greek..."

The book goes on to explain the mechanics of a poet's musical tools in great detail. Metre and form are both dealt with via practic examples. However, the key point is its target audience. Not aimed at students or critics, "Rhyme's Reason" is written by a poet for poets. I still thoroughly recommend it.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Inventing Truth on Days of Roses

Three poems from Inventing Truth, my Happenstance pamphlet, are today being featured on Days of Roses, an excellent and relatively new blog that was born out of the London-based poetry, prose and music series of the same name.

Declan Ryan is behind the poetic side of things and has already showcased top-notch work from people such as Andrew Motion, Mark Waldron and Julian Stannard, plus a whole host of emerging voices. Days of Roses has already enabled me to discover several exciting poets I'll be looking out for over the next few years, and I thoroughly recommend it. Poems aren't just posted haphazardly - there's a very keen editorial eye at work.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Overdrive Moment

When writing poetry, I carry certain snippets with me, sparks that I aspire to creating. Many have been with me for years. Chief among them is one from Ted Hughes in his excellent introduction to to my battered OUP edition of Keith Douglas' Complete Poems (still one of my favourite books fifteen years later).

Hughes compares Keith Douglas to Elizabeth Bishop, highlighting several shared qualities such as the "subjective accompaniment to an...objective outlook", before homing in on a key difference:

"Comparing the two, it is surprising to find that...she knew nothing of that overdrive moment in Douglas, that effect of sudden foreshortening, the abrupt impatient short-cut where his seriousness opens and he arrives at the core of his inspiration..."

I still remember my first reading of that statement, a clear and consise explanation of what I relished most about Douglas' poetry and wanted to capture for myself. Even now, it's always at the forefront of my mind as I open my notebook.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Inventing Truth on Other Lives

I'm grateful to Dan Wyke for featuring Inventing Truth on his Other Lives blog today. He's chosen Extranjero as a sample poem and you can read it here.

"Extranjero", of course, means "foreigner", and the piece deals with my linguistic development since reaching Extremadura. I initially aimed to shake off my English accent when speaking Spanish, but a few years later that achievement brought its own pitfalls!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Syllabics - an explanation

I was intrigued by remarks made by Tim Love in his review of Inventing Truth, plus his exchange with Sheenagh Pugh in the comments section of the same article, about the use of syllabics in poetry. Love stated "it had to be pointed out to me that the poems are syllabics", while Pugh replied with "I have never, ever noticed that a poem was in syllabics before it was pointed out".

These statements run contrary to my own poetic methods and are thus terrific points of departure for an explanation of my use of syllabics:

I'm 100% convinced there's a subtle syllabic music that runs through English-language poetry and lyrics, lying just below the stresses, often drowned out by the heavier resonance of the latter. When writing poems I never need to count syllables - I instinctively notice and feel them. In other words, an iambic pentameter is a decasyllabic line at the same time. If you are counting stresses you are inevitably and implicitly counting syllables too, as stress patterns are made up of clustered syllables.

What's undeniable is that stresses are a key element to the rhythms of English, far more than in languages such as Spanish, in which metrics are always pure syllabics. By this I mean that any English-language poet writing in syllabics simply must also be aware of stresses. I find that syllabics enables me to play with anapests, iambs, dactyls and trochées within a musical framework, a game that inversely provides me with greater freedom to do so than in free verse, all because the whispering music of syllabics underpins them. Rather than ignoring stresses, I'm doing quite the opposite, using them to create and disrupt aural expectations, seeking to bring together musical effects and semantics.

Editors', readers' and other poets' reactions to my use of syllabics have always been split, in that roughly half have fallen into the Pugh-Love camp, unaware of my metrics until they were pointed out. A large number, however, have instinctively and immediately picked up on my technique.

I'd like to end this post by underlining that it's not meant to be some kind of defence of my poetic methods. Quite the reverse: I hope it provokes thought and I welcome comments below.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Ink Sweat & Tears Part 2

Ink Sweat and Tears, now with Helen Ivory as sole editor, are currently featuring my poetry for the second time. On this occasion it's "Family Visit", a piece from Inventing Truth. While over there, why not delve into their treasure trove of contemporary verse?

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Evangeline Paterson - the power of the media

My first post on Rogue Strands was about the late Evangeline Paterson (see here), an excellent poet and editor. Her work has long been overlooked, but I still go back to it on a regular basis.

All of a sudden, there's been a huge spike in visitors to this blog over the last couple of days, and a quick glance at the stats showed that most were searching for Evangeline Paterson. Checking on Google, I soon found out out that Rob McGibbon has published an interview with Sarah Brown in The Daily Mail of all places, in which she recalls that her husband quoted from one of Paterson's poems, "A Wish for my Children", at Damilola Taylor's memorial service. It's just a mention in a lengthy piece, but hundreds of readers have obviously picked up on it.

I'm delighted that Evangeline Paterson is now receiving some overdue attention, and what's most encouraging is that even Daily Mail readers seem to keen to seek out poetry! But then a sense of ambivalence strikes me. Why is verse sidelined from most people's lives other than at momentous points? Just how much interest in poetry could the popular media generate if such latent curiosity is out there in their readership? Why don't they do so?

Saturday, 4 June 2011

San Fairy Ann

Do you know what it means?

The answer to that question, if you're U.K.-based, is probably generational. "San Fairy Ann" is an expression that was born out of a gap in the English language, so what are its origins and potential meanings?

British soldiers in World War One soon found out their French counterparts had a phrase that resembled "it doesn't matter" but that sounded much more satisfying, dismissing a problem out of hand. The expression was "Ça ne fait rien" and was anglicised into "San Fairy Ann". Google searches for the term often focus on this origin, labelling it "soldier slang". However, its use became far more widespread than that.

After the war, solders' return to civvy street meant that "San Fairy Ann" entered the general vernacular. For me it brings to mind my Nan's visits when I was a young child, as she shrugged off her own frailties. My parents, meanwhile, still come out with it on occasion. As for myself, I understand it but rarely use it. In other words, my family is an example of how an expression entered the language, took hold in a generation and then gradually slipped away, how English is constantly evolving and sifting words in an ongoing process of selection. We can treasure "San Fairy Ann" for all it represents in terms of personal and social histories, but also relish the continuing shared creativity which leads us towards new expressions on a daily basis.

"Inventing Truth", my Happenstance pamphlet, features the following poem:

San Fairy Ann

Wit amid blood and Belgian mud,
Nan invoked you daily. Your time
on our tongues and in dictionaries
might be running out, but I've passed
your syllables on to my son
in return for his slang from school.

Thursday, 2 June 2011


Tim Love has posted a positive and thought-provoking review of Inventing truth on his Lit Refs Reviews blog, expressing doubts about my constant brevity and use of syllabics, yet also very much enjoying certain poems. He states that "they have the Larkinesque lift that gives the reader the escape velocity to be launched beyond the text."

I always relish reading his pieces, as they pull no punches and state clear views, enabling me to react and reassess my views of the poetry in question. In this case, of course, my feelings are intensified because he's dealing with my own book!

I was especially intrigued by his conviction that "nostalgia...comes through in many pieces." This led me to my dictionary in search of a definition:

"Sentimental yearning for a period of the past; wistful memory of an earlier time".

For me, the key words here are "sentimental" and "wistful" - one of my main aims is to avoid both in my treatment of the past and the U.K.. I'm all too aware that these feelings are typical in many ex-pats and I'm thus determined to dodge such a trap. What's more, I believe the added perspective of Spain casts an extra ambiguity and ambivalence over my memories, rather than lending them a rose-tinted hue. "Nostalgia" is the last word I'd use to describe my work!

This leaves me with a key doubt: why does Love invoke the term? In other words, I've discovered an intrinsic value to such a generously forthright review. I'll now reread Inventing truth in the light of his remarks. Whether I agree or disagree with his views of the book, they'll provide a wonderful basis for further thought. I'm extremely thankful to him!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

New Walk Issue Two

Despite far too many work commitments, I'm snatching time every now and then to read and write as much poetry as possible. At the top of the pending pile was Issue Two of New Walk magazine, where I was delighted to appear myself with three poems from Inventing Truth.

This second issue confirms that New Walk marks the first emergence for a long time of a major new player in printed poetry magazines in the U.K.. The editors continue their policy of juxtaposing contrasting yet equally valid approaches - for example, I encountered my poems alongside intriguing pieces by Carrie Etter - and seem set on reclaiming key ground for a successful outlet of this ilk.

In other words, New Walk is introducing little-known voices to a wider audience, while also providing a platform for more established poets to showcase new work. Dan Wyke, for instance, can be found exploring extremely interesting ground beyond his first collection with a poem titled School Fête. Alice Oswald, meanwhile, features with part of Memorial, her forthcoming book.

As for the reviews, they continue to draw attention to excellent new books, such as Matt Merritt's fine collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica.

All in all, what with its top-notch production values and terrific artwork, New Walk is now one of the poetry magazines I most enjoy. I certainly recommend you get hold of a copy!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

First reviews for Inventing Truth

The first reviews of a poet's first pamphlet are inevitably significant, so I was intrigued to read three of them all in one go over at the latest issue of Sphinx. Suffice to say, I'm grateful for such generous assessments of the book and am especially delighted to find that my poems have hit the spot with readers, as can be seen in the following extract from Richie McCaffery's piece:

"Inventing truth is a remarkable collection of pithy poems that open up to panoramas of love, family, regret and longing, and linger, flourishing in the mind long after reading."

I can't let a plug like that go begging, so here's a link to the Happenstance shop, where you can purchase a copy of Inventing Truth for yourself.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Review: The Hitcher, by Hannah Lowe

I first encountered Hannah Lowe’s poems in The Rialto and was impressed by their combination of strong narrative drive, vivid language and endings that didn’t so much tie poems up as open out beyond them. When I later discovered that the same magazine’s publishing arm was bringing out a pamphlet of her work, titled "The Hitcher", I got hold of a copy.

The blurb on the back cover is impressive but daunting. In other words “immensely talented”, “wonderfully evocative”, “one of the most exciting new voices in British poetry” and “in brilliant command” all contrive to put the poet under some degree of pressure before her reader sets off.

Does Lowe deliver? Well, this chapbook finds her showcasing many of the qualities that first caught my eye, while also highlighting areas that need work. She’s capable of setting scenes deftly with language that draws precise sketches without straining for effect, as in the opening lines of “The Picnic”…

“We walk to the shadows of St James’s Park,
past blue deck chairs, paired like old friends,
under the flight of a frisbee, the wide oaks,
a fractious sky of tumbled light.”

However, her fondness for long lines sometimes leads to wordiness and overegging a good idea, as in “Dracula’s Bride”…

“Often she remembers the party at Hallowe’en,
the old gang in fancy dress, fake blood, fangs,
one guy painted totally green”.

In this case freedom is contaminated by flabbiness, of too many words not earning their keep and not becoming new, whereas at other times Lowe achieves terrific tensile rhythms. I have the impression that she’s feeling her way towards an exciting music that doesn’t always click as yet.

Her Anglo-American background, meanwhile, seems set to offer fertile poetic territory: Lowe views both the U.K. and the U.S. with the added edge of being something of an outsider in both countries, while her verse also feeds off both traditions. For example, her observations of life in London are exceptional, detached but involved.

And yet there’s a fair bit to pick holes in. To start with, I find it surprising that the proofreading of the pamphlet failed to pick up on two instances of mix-ups between “its” and “it’s”. This might seem nitpicking, but the poems in question were consequently ruined – their jarring errors yanked my attention away from the verse.

A more important question, however, is the repetitive nature of Lowe’s linguistic resources and voices: a confessional, autobiographical “I” runs through almost all this poetry. Delicious in a single poem, its cumulative effect over the course of the collection becomes over-rich and lacking in variety. As for images, well, in 23 poems I encountered…”fists hard as stones”, “You punched a window”, “the hole I punched in the door” and “when my brother put his fist through a window”. In other words, their initial element of surprise was quickly lost.

“The Hitcher” is a real mixed bag, flawed yet exciting. These poems look as if they’ve been written over a short, intense period in a tremendous initial burst of creativity. As Hannah Lowe moves beyond them towards a first full collection, it will be intriguing to see how her work develops. If she broadens her canvas while also tightening up her musical control, she could well live up to that blurb and maybe even surpass it.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Back in Extremadura

So I'm back in Extremadura, having filled my tank to the brim with great poetry, people, conversation and beer (not necessarily in that order!). It might not be fair to pick out any highlights, but that won't stop me doing so.

Up in Edinburgh, meeting Helena Nelson for the first time was special. The evening summed up just why she's an excellent editor, as she listened to my reading before encouraging and challenging me in equal measure.

Thanks in no small measure to her advice, the Leicester Shindig went off extremely well. I felt very comfortable while reading and the audience were terrific. Best of all though, I was finally able to share a couple of pints with Matt Merritt and put a speaking voice to his poems. Gary Longden has posted a very positive review of the event here.

Launching Inventing Truth was a wonderful experience and has given me the taste for more. I intend to come over for a further set of readings in the U.K. this autumn and would be delighted to hear from any event organisers who might be able to fit me in!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Edinburgh launch and Leicester reading

I'm heading down to Seville tomorrow morning to catch a flight over to the U.K., ready to enjoy a couple of days with my parents and then two extremely promising nights packed with poetry.

This coming Sunday (17th April) I'll be launching Inventing Truth in Edinburgh at "Poetry at the...", reading alongside Steven Waling and Ryan Van Winkle. The three of us should represent a pretty broad spectrum and range of poetic approaches, so I'm really looking forward to the evening and am grateful to Rob Mac for offering me the chance to take part. The venue is The Store (formerly the GRV), 35 Guthrie St, Edinburgh (just off Chambers St) from 7.45-9.45pm. Entry £4.00, concessions £3. What's more, I gather I'll even get the chance to meet Helena Nelson, my editor at Happenstance, for the first time!

Meanwhile, the following evening (Monday 18th April) should see me in Leicester. Nine Arches Press have kindly asked me to appear at their Shindig! with Matt Merritt, Maria Taylor and Kathleen Bell. I've long looked forward to hearing Matt read, so it's a real pleasure to participate in an event with him. The venue in this case is The Western on Western Road. Entry's free and proceedings are scheduled to begin at 7.30 p.m..

It would be great to meet any readers of this blog who could get to either event!

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The cover

This is the cover for Inventing truth. The wishbone image is drawn from a poem in the collection and reflects the tenuous, forking routes that hopes take through lives.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Inventing Truth

Inventing Truth, my first pamphlet collection, is now available to buy for the princely sum of four pounds sterling from the Happenstance Press website here, where you can also read a sample poem.

Naturally, I'm absolutely delighted, while also very grateful to Helena Nelson, the editor at Happenstance, for all her help in bringing this book to publication. I'll be giving a couple of readings to launch Inventing Truth in the coming few weeks. More news to follow...

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Hannah Lowe

As mentioned in a previous post, Hannah Lowe's poems in Issue 70 of The Rialto really caught my eye, so I was interested to note that the same magazine's publishing arm have just brought out a pamphlet of her work, titled The Hitcher. That's another book to add to my lengthy shopping list! I'll be reporting back on it in due course, once I get the Prowein trade fair in Düsseldorf and other work commitments out of the way.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

A title

Not for a poem in this case, but for my forthcoming pamphlet collection with Happenstance Press.

I could have taken one of the poems and applied that title to the book itself, while I also had the option of selecting a catchy snippet or turn of phrase from the innards of a stanza. Instead, I went back to the poetics of my work and to the experiences that laid its foundations. In doing so, I was very much reminded of a quote by Julio Cortázar that struck me immensely on first reading it some fifteen years ago and that has stayed with me ever since:

"Supe que nunca llegaría a la verdad me convencía de que país nuevo era vida nueva y que el amor se cambia como una camisa."

One possible translation might be as follows:

"I knew I'd never reach the invented truth...if I convinced myself that a new country was a new life and love is changed like a shirt."

Cortázar was referring to his move from Buenos Aires to Paris, to the fact that over the course of his journey between countries he remained the same person, just with the benefit of multiple perspectives, both on his origins and on his destination. I feel very much the same way when I write in both a U.K. and Spanish context.

But what is invented truth? Well, for me it's the grabbing of life, following by a transformation into poems. When writing the pamphlet, I've attempted to take so-called "experience" or "anecdote" and and turn it into verse, not fact, not fiction, not even faction, but poetry.

What's more, a key tool in the writing process is the manipulation of voice. Who is the "I" that runs through much of my book? In fact, a more pertinent question would be "who are the "I"s that run through it?" This playing with identities enables me to bounce poems between concave mirrors, distorting their points of departure so as to reach somewhere revealingly new.

In other words, my aim when writing poetry is to find myself "Inventing truth", my pamphlet's title.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Sphinx 16

Sphinx 16 is now live at the Happenstance Press website. Specialising in reviews of pamphlet poetry, Sphinx provides us with a real feel for the current state of play for this format in the U.K. publishing world.

The current issue continues with the intriguing idea of giving us three different reviews for each chapbook, and includes pieces by myself on Matt Bryden's Night Porter and Hilary Menos' Wheelbarrow Farm. I'm always keen to have the chance to compare and contrast critical opinions on a book, so Sphinx offers an ideal opportuntiy. I very much recommend a look at the current issue and a trawl through its extensive online archive.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Tim Love's Lit Refs Blogs

Tim Love has been publishing poetry on the U.K. magazine scene for a long time now. He currently has a pamphlet, titled Moving Parts, out with Happenstance, and I'm very much looking forward to getting hold of a copy.

For many years he's maintained his Lit Refs website, which he's now moving into a blog format. I thoroughly recommend a trawl through - there's an abundance of fascinating material both for novices and experienced readers and poets.

The new structure is set up in three strands: the main, most "bloggish" section, archived articles and archived reviews. Lit Refs has helped me on many occasions in the past, and this new format enables us to keep up with Love's constant updates. He's always subjective and forthright, which lends the blogs a real sense of an authentic perspective on U.K. poetry over the past few years and the present day. They are an excellent resource.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

The editing process

With the publication of my Happenstance pamphlet provisionally scheduled for April, I'm now immersed in revising drafts of the manuscript with Helena Nelson.

I've been looking forward to this process for a long time, but it's surpassing expectations, reinforcing my belief that a good editor improves a poet hugely. By this, I don't mean that poems are reinvented and cast into someone else's image. Instead, I'm referring to the way that I'm being helped to reassess my poems, stanzas, lines, words and syllables.

Editorial challenges force the poet to raise the bar. I find them an incredible stimulus, not only improving my existing poetry but laying the foundations for future work. From now on, all my new poems will have the points of reference and departure of Helena Nelson's contribution to this current manuscript. In this sense, I'm convinced that top-notch editing is an act of creative generosity. I now just hope my pamphlet returns that favour as best it can!

Thursday, 3 February 2011


Amaral are one of Spain's most unashamedly popular and populist groups, but that doesn't stop them being several cuts above most of their Anglo-Saxon equivalents. This live performance of Perdóname from 2008 is an example of how they are capable of veering from excellence to kitsch and back again in a single song...

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Review: hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, by Matt Merritt

Nine Arches Press have recently brought out Matt Merritt’s second collection, titled hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, and I’ve been very much enjoying it these past few weeks.

While his previous books (Making The Most Of The Light and Troy Town) were extremely satisfying reads, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica reaches much further and should ensure that Merritt’s poetry gets the recognition it deserves. With this collection he’s fully establishing himself in a territory where few British poets move with assurance and imagination: history. As a university graduate in the subject, Merritt’s touch with his material is deft, but we’re not just talking about his dealing with public figures and events here. Natural and personal histories are evoked and their parallels with that afore-mentioned public aspect of history are underlined through subtle juxtaposition and recurring motifs, lifting poems way above mere academic interest.

For example, on a personal level “A Fixer-Upper” deals with an intimate setting. Written in the first person plural, it talks of “alternative versions of past/and future”, just as “Lyonesse” finds the narrator waiting in a café, “deep in conversation with myself,/finally getting on with my past…”. and "Halcyon" ends with “the past submerged, the future flown.”

In public terms, meanwhile, we encounter “Dreams From The Anchor Church”. A dramatic monologue in the voice of an Anglo-Saxon solitary, this poem talks of how the narrator “struck out with my face to the future/to find myself walking through the past.”

Merritt thus implicitly draws comparisons between different types of histories, showing us how the study of the subject opens up avenues of more personal understandings. These threads flourish as the collection moves on and are drawn together in several pieces such as from “Tesserae”, in which the contemporary narrator contemplates the history of a city and how it’s interwoven with the history of his life. The poem begins with…

“Having rewritten the past
a dozen times this morning,
I find myself at the museum
next to the Wall.
I haven’t been
since I was 10, but it’s still the
case that everything
happened a very long time ago…”

“Ambition” might be an overused word when discussing poetry, often mistakenly used as a synonym for “experimental”. However, in the case of hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica I do believe it’s applicable, specifically in the breadth and coherence of Merritt’s treatment of history, in the way he harnesses poetry’s transforming qualities to cast new light on age-old themes, enabling the reader to view the past from a different perspective so as to apply it to the present and future. All in all, this is an outstanding collection in the context of present-day U.K. poetry, and I thoroughly recommend it to the readers of Rogue Strands.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Secondhand books

There's an excellent article by Wayne Gooderman up at the Guardian Books Blog at the moment, titled "The secret stories of book inscriptions".

I've always preferred secondhand books to new ones. The pages have a lived-in feel, while hints of previous existences often appear in them, such as train tickets or postcards, once used as bookmarks, enabling the imagination to speculate.

However, as Gooderman's article points out, the most intriguing aspect of secondhand books is often the bespoke dedications that we encounter in them, leading us towards stories beyond those told by the texts that follow. I personally find the dedications from grandparents to grandchildren the most poignant ones when I'm searching in charity shops for books for my son. These discards of adolescence are charged with the concentrated expression of love by elderly people. I invariably buy them because books, like people, deserve a second shot at love.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The Rialto Issue 70

I managed to pick up my contributor's copy of Issue 70 of The Rialto during my recent trip to the U.K., and have been paying it close attention.

Apart from the wide-ranging batch of young poets in Nathan Hamilton's feature, I was particularly taken with three poems by Hannah Lowe that combine strong narrative, vivid language and endings that don't just satisfy but open out beyond, qualities which make quoting from them an irrelevance. I'd never heard of Lowe before, but I'll certainly be looking out for her work from now on.

This is an excellent example of how the best literary magazines, such as The Rialto, can help us seek out new voices to feed our hunger for great poetry!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Writing in Spanish

Blogging's had to take a back seat to life these past few weeks, as work and family drove me through December and the festivities.

However, I'm now back home and refreshed enough to play with new challenges. A number of Spanish friends have been urging me for years to write in Spanish, discussions of my poetry being limited by their poor knowledge of English. This has led me to write a few Spanish versions (never translations) of my poems over the last few days. Just for fun. But with the wonderful consequence of viewing the originals afresh through the filter of a new sociolinguistic perspective.

I don't think I'll be publishing my work in Spanish anywhere soon. Apart from anything else, its poetics would be sniffed at by most on the Iberian peninsula. Nevertheless, I've encountered a game that I'm going to keep playing, letting reflections bounce back and forth, seeing how I can then enrich the originals.