Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Annual update to the poetry blog list

Following my extremely subjective summary of the best U.K. poetry blogs of 2016, I've now dodged the festivities for long enough to spruce up the poetry blog list on Rogue Strands (to the right of this text). My intention is to provide constantly updating links to the most recent posts from these excellent bloggers, all to facilitate your poetry blog reading and enjoyment in 2017.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

The scaffolding of a poem

I've blogged previously about my admiration for Maggie O'Farrell's verse back in the 1990s, long before she became famous as a novelist. As a consequence, I was drawn to her piece in The Guardian today, titled My Writing Day.

I find that ideas and sparks for poems actually come from being kept from the act of writing by other obligations, so it's very interesting to see that her experiences chime in with mine in that respect. Moreover, she also explains that her current prose writing is still influenced by poetry classes taught by Michael Donaghy some twenty years ago. One key point stands out

" will need scaffolding to build your writing inside but must remember to take it down at the end."

That quote has stuck in my mind. I'll be recalling it from now on whenever I rework a draft.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Two contrasting views of Alice Oswald's poetry

I'm grateful to Stephen Payne on Facebook for pointing me towards an excellent discussion of the relative merits of Alice Oswald's poetry on the Poetry Foundation website (see here). Stephen's initial link was then accompanied by top-notch debate, but that's now unfortunately being lost in the mists of social media timelines.

There's no doubting Alice Oswald's standing in contemporary U.K. poetry, but it's also clear that her work elicits contrasting responses. As a result, I was especially drawn to the Poetry Foundation's "Curious Specimens" format, which juxtaposes two differing perspectives on her verse as explained in the introduction to the discussion:

"Editors’ note: “Curious Specimens” is the second of a series of exchanges in which we are bringing poets together to discuss new books. The format is as follows: each poet chooses a book he or she can wholeheartedly support and writes an eight-hundred-word review of it; the exchanges follow the completed reviews."

Moreover, the two critics in question - Cate Marvin and Joshua Mehigan - tackle Oswald's verse from an American viewpoint, which is extremely interesting, as they thus approach her poetry with very different baggage from that of U.K.-based reviewers.

My personal opinion tends to coincide with Joshua Mehigan's take on Alice Oswald's poetry. That might well in part be due to the fact that I have long admired his verse and aesthetic. Nevertheless, Marvin's stance is also thought-provoking. Perhaps the best consequence is that their discussion has taken me back to Oswalds work once more...

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2016

There's no point beating about the bush or glossing things over: 2016 hasn’t been a vintage year for U.K. poetry blogs. A number of significant bloggers have either given up completely or posted far less than in previous years. Moreover, several potentially interesting newcomers have petered out within a few months of having started.

Why is this the case? Well, it’s not down to the irrelevance of blogging. As mentioned previously on Rogue Strands, users of social media link to blogs on a regular basis and take them as a point of departure for discussion, while stats for this blog (and others) are growing.

I’d venture to suggest that the issue is bloggers themselves: rather than taking/wasting the extra time to draft and longer blog posts, they’re interacting directly and with more immediacy on social media. This might provide them with a quicker buzz and direct feedback, but so much interesting stuff is consequently lost. For instance, some of the most popular posts this month on Rogue Strands are pieces that I wrote back in 2009. If I’d only posted them on social media, no search engine could direct new readers to them now.

In other words, I’m a firm believer in the longevity and continued relevance of poetry blogs. Despite this year’s casualties, they still provide more stimulating material than my working week allows me to view! Here’s the rundown for this year, Rogue Strands’ subjective selection of The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2016:

- Richie McCaffery’s The Cat Flap is an exciting newcomer. It combines honesty, insight, a hint of self-deprecation and scalpel-like prose.

- Helen Mort’s new blog, Freefall, oozes class. Her posts are surprising, thought-provoking, personal yet objective, and always delicious to read. It’s another of this year’s best newcomers.

- Tim Love’s litrefs continues to be just that: a point of reference for U.K. poetry blogging. There are three sections: the main blog, litrefs articles and litrefsreviews. Tim speaks his mind with clarity and without fear. I respect his views hugely.

- Martyn Crucefix’s blog goes from strength to strength. Just a couple of weeks ago, I featured his recent series of posts on metrics, while his annual take on the Forward shortlists is always required reading.

- Ben Wilkinson, whose long-awaited first full collection is to be published by Seren in 2018, is increasingly using his blog to repost articles and poems that were first published elsewhere, often in print journals. In other words, he provides his readers with a second (online) chance to read his terrific verse and scrupulous criticism. For example, his review of Sarah Howe’s collection, available on the blog, is a real triumph:  brave and balanced, he pulls off the best review around of the book in question.

- Kim Moore’s Sunday Poem feature is a bit like Marks and Spencer’s Dine in for Two deal: imitated by countless competitors but never matched. What’s more, its timing is perfect: a lovely read at the dog-end of the weekend.

- There might be numerous poetry-publisher blogs out there, but none can match Helena Nelson’s weekly effort for HappenStance Press. Every post is an enjoyable education. Of course, I’m not biased at all, am I?

- Again, no bias whatsoever when listing Todd Swift’s Eyewear blog! Todd’s project is pretty much unique in U.K. poetry, as his blog, which is packed with news, opinions and reviews, predated his publishing house of the same name.

- Whether discussing politics, publishing or verse itself, Charles Boyle is always enjoyable to read over at Sonofabook. Apart from possessing by far the best title in this list.

- Abegail Morley’s Poetry Shed might be a veteran of the poetry blogging scene, but she shows no signs of flagging. In fact, 2016 has been a top-notch vintage for her: poetry news, reviews, original work and interviews have all come together on an excellent site.

- Josephine Corcoran runs And Other Poems, which is one of the best e-zines on the U.K. poetry scene, but she’s also a prolific blogger, chronicling her personal journey through verse.

- John Foggin’s not only a rising star in U.K. poetry in his retirement from teaching, he’s also an excellent and regular blogger over at his cobweb. His enthusiasm is a mid-winter pick-me-up for any doubting poet.

- Talking of pick-me-ups for doubting poets, Robin Houghton’s blog is wonderful medicine. She’s not afraid to tell her story of poetry failures alongside her many successes (such as her forthcoming inclusion in Eyewear’s Best New Poets anthology), thus providing a healthy antidote to the relentless, terrifying positivity of a poet’s Facebook newsfeed.

- Clarissa Aykroyd’s The Stone and the Star is fast becoming a stalwart of the U.K. poetry blogging scene. She blends a personal poetic journal with reflections on the current scene and features on out-of-copyright poems. This enables her to post the pieces in question alongside her views.

- While “wearing one’s erudition lightly” might be a cliché, it’s fundamentally true of Fiona Moore’s blog, Displacement. Her accessible posts regularly challenge her readers’ preconceptions.

- On the other head, Dave Coates at Dave Poems has erudition running through his writing in the explicit and implicit invocation of current critical theory as applied to contemporary verse. Academic articles in a blog format, all with their pulse on the latest developments.

- Moving on to Katy Evans Bush with Baroque in Hackney, I’ve mentioned her down-to-earth erudition in the past, and it continues to be extremely relevant. Her views on the ever-evolving U.K. poetry scene are a key barometer and I’m always on the look-out for them.

- Anthony Wilson continues to educate and entertain over at his blog. My favourite posts are perhaps his staged dialogues between the poem and the poet. They delight and reflect my own experiences at many turns.

- Roy Marshall’s blog, meanwhile, continues its journey and broadens its horizons, year on year. It started out as something of a personal journal, but he’s now packing it with interviews, features and how-to articles.

- And talking of how-to articles, perhaps the specialist is Emma Lee over at her long-running blog. There are also regular reviews, often of lesser-known poets. It’s well worth a visit.

- Sheenagh Pugh’s blogging is disciplined, regular and always stimulating. There are reviews, interviews and views, all stamped with her keen intelligence.

- Projects, trips, stories, all intertwined with verse. That’s George Szirtes’ blog, the unique product of a unique mind in U.K. poetry.

- Clare Best’s Self-Portrait Without Breasts is the ongoing story of a fierce, relentless creativity that the reader can only admire. Thoroughly recommended.

- David Clarke’s A Thing for Poetry has evolved still further this year. It’s gradually moving beyond the role of a personal journal and his posts are acquiring an ever-growing relevance for the wider poetry scene, all backed by sharp insight.

- Peter Raynard’s Proletarian Poetry has a clear political and social standpoint that resonates throughout the site. This blog offers poetry and criticism with oompf.

- Matt Merritt’s Polyolbion is another veteran of the scene. He confessed his doubts over its continuity a couple of months ago, but he’s carried on. U.K. poetry is a better place for the likes of Matt Merritt and his blog is an integral part of his presence.

- As for personal journeys, Caroline Gill’s blog is an excellent read. She has the ability to make her readers identify with her experience of poetry itself and all it accoutrements.

- In this respect, Jayne Stanton’s blog is also more than worth a read. Moreover, it charts her poetic development as she moves ever forward, enabling her readers to share in her success: this year, Eyewear’s Best New Poets anthology beckons for her too!

- Oh John, how we miss you. John who? John Field, of course, over at his Poor Rude Lines blog. It’s been dormant for a fair few months now, and I long to savour a new post…

- And ditto for Gareth Prior, an excellent blogger, whose site has a terrific archive. What’s to come…?

- And then there’s Maria Taylor over at Commonplace. Her posts are great reading. Fingers crossed they don’t peter out…

- And finally, a mention for a couple of bloggers who started off so brightly not so long ago. ChrissyWilliams and David Foster-Morgan, your posts were terrific. Any chance of a comeback…?!

And that’s all for another year, folks! Apologies to anyone I’ve missed out. Like always, a reminder that I do know that horrible feeling of reading through a list, reaching the end and finding you’re not there.

Here’s hoping 2017 brings fresh vigour to poetry blogging and the chance for me to champion new bloggers who complement social media, lending depth to the U.K. poetry scene and a point of reference for debate. And thank you, once more, for reading Rogue Strands!