Friday 29 December 2017

Reading in Shrewsbury

I'll be kicking off 2018 with a return to Shrewsbury (must have done something right last time if they're inviting me back!), this time to read from my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo.

Emma Purhouse and I will be the guest poets at Shrewsbury Poetry on 4th January at The Old Market Hall. Events will begin around 8 p.m. with the chance for a chat and drinks before the readings themselves start at 8.30 p.m.. I'm very grateful to Liz Lefroy for organising and I'm looking forward to seeing a few familiar faces as well as some new ones.

This is an especially significant reading for me, as it's the first time I'll be able to take David, my son, along with me. He's usually left behind at school back in Spain when I give my readings in the U.K, but Christmas holidays don't come to an end in Spain till after Epiphany, so he'll have the chance to see his Dad in action at last. Gulp...

Wednesday 27 December 2017

Clear Poetry Anthology 2017

First the bad news: Ben Banyard at Clear Poetry is shutting up shop to concentrate on his own writing, which is understandable, bearing in mind that his first full collection is coming out in 2018.

The good news, however, is that he's going out with a bang. The Clear Poetry Anthology 2017 is now available for download here, and it's packed with a veritable treasure trove of excellent work from well-known poets and new names alike. There's even a piece by myself in there, taken from The Knives of Villalejo.

Friday 22 December 2017

The Poetry School Books of the Year

The Poetry School have just published their Books of the Year on their blog (see here), and I'm delighted to spot The Knives of Villalejo on the longlist, especially so once I consider all the excellent collections that didn't make it.

Monday 18 December 2017

Poet in transit, Rory Waterman's Sarajevo Roses

The blurb on the back cover of Rory Waterman’s second full collection, Sarajevo Roses (Carcanet Press, 2017), talks of a poet “on the move”. Rather than on the move, however, he seems “in transit”.

First off, there are the obvious physical moments of travel, of the contrast and comparison of places. Nevertheless, these moments are restless instead of fulfilling. The poems in Sarajevo Roses wrestle with the search for truths in elsewheres, yet they often reflect the unease of filling time with travel. With each trip, each new place, an implicit tension develops within the underlying emotional dynamic of the travellers, as in the following examples:

“ joked and moved, I thought, closer to me
as another couple stepped out, their business done…”
(from “The Brides of Castell de Belver”)

“…My hand
knocks yours, takes it…”
(from “Getaway”)

The use of “I thought” in the first extract is pivotal. It qualifies and undercuts the relationship between the travellers, ramping up the above-mentioned tension.

And then there are other forms of transit, as in “Sots Hole”. A place is revisited and the protagonist has changed:

“…Twenty-five years later, and he goes back
with her to that bank, leads her down that metalled cycle track
and takes her on a bench-rail, hid in a hide.
The latch would open to a world still simplified,
where willows comb water and unseen mallards meander.
And she pulls him close – all he once thought he wanted.”

This passage not only highlights Waterman’s metrical strengths and control of sentence structure and length, but it shows him yoking them to a lack of certainty, to the loss of physical and emotional anchors, to a world no longer simplified, to the layered portrayal of a poet in transit.

Some would argue that perhaps the most powerful reflection of the fragility and transitory nature of human relationships is not the line from life to death but the cyclical shift of generations. Waterman is only too aware of this (yet another form of transit), and several of Sarajevo Roses’ most powerful moments revolve around it. One such instance occurs in “Family”, where doubts over potential parenthood send the speaker back to their own parents:

“…and I set to, scrawling postcards to my parents:
an only child must remember more.
Each while, my mother hopes for news.
Each while, my father, elsewhere, hopes for news.
Will none of us say the things we’ve thought
until there isn’t time? I’ll harden my thought.
We are too many. We haven’t seen enough.”

There’s a hint of Larkin’s “The Mower” here, but with the personal Waterman imprint of an impatient, foreshortening thrust towards the poem’s core via the statement “I’ll harden my thought”.

“Family” reflects uncertainty and the fragile, shifting sands of a couple’s relationship, but its significance grows further in the light of the poem that follows it, “34, Above Cwmystyth”, which ends as follows:

“…But only us up there,
alone and quiet,
together and separate

until I snagged her gaze.
“Do you ever want children?”
And was it being in this

over-fertile ridiculous cwm
made me ask it?
And neither quite said no –

watched suddenly
by the person
we won’t make happen.”

There are two fundamental tensions running through this extract: semantic in terms of “together and separate” and grammatical in terms of the implicit jolt and jar between juxtaposed uses of the past and future tenses in the final stanza.

Sarajevo Roses is a collection by a poet who’s in transit. That doesn’t mean it should be seen as a stepping stone or an insignificant volume in itself. In fact, quite the reverse is true, thanks to Waterman’s honesty and self-awareness. His collection provides the reader with fascinating insights into how we move through life, all harnessed to the formal control that’s exercised one of the outstanding versifiers of this generation. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in 2017.

Saturday 16 December 2017

Tim Love reviews The Knives of Villalejo

I've long admired Tim Love's work as a poet, blogger and reviewer. His reviewing style is idiosyncratic: analytical and detailed, often with a statistical twist, and always forthright. As a consequence, I'm very pleased to report that he's posted a highly engaged and engaging review of The Knives of Villalejo on his Litrefs Reviews site. You can read it here.

Thursday 14 December 2017

This year's update to the poetry blog list

Following my annual feature on the best U.K. poetry blogs of 2017, I've now updated Rogue Strands' poetry blog list accordingly (to the right of this post). My aim is to provide real-time links to every single new post that these top-notch bloggers publish in 2018. Don't blame me if keeping up with so much excellent reading material leaves you little time for anything else!

Monday 11 December 2017

Mary Evans Picture Library: Poems and Pictures Part II

Back in January this year, the Mary Evans Picture Library featured one of my pieces, Milko, on their Poems and Pictures blog, accompanied by a complementary picture from their archive. Since then, I've been a keen follower of their posts, and recent featured poets have included the likes of Ian Duhig, Abegail Morley and Stephanie Conn.

I was consequently delighted when the organiser of this excellent blog, Gill Stoker, approached me with a view to using another of my poems. This time, it's "Roast Chicken", taken from my full collection, The Knives of Villalejo. You can read it, alongside its chosen photo, by following this link.

Monday 4 December 2017

Anthony Wilson chooses The Knives of Villalejo as one of his favourite collections of 2017

Having long been an admirer and reader of Anthony Wilson's poetry blog, I was interested to read his post last week in the light of a certain famous poet's remark that 2017 had been a "thin" year for poetry. Suffice to say, I was surprised and delighted to find he had chosen my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, as one of his favourite books this year, alongside the likes of Michael Longley, Michael Symmons Roberts, Tania Hershman, Rishi Dastidar, Jacqueline Saphra and Zayneb Allak, all as part of his convincing argument that 2017 certainly hasn't been a thin year for poetry.

Friday 1 December 2017

The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2017

2017 has been a strong year for poetry blogging in the U.K.. The emergence and consolidation of several newcomers demonstrates that the format remains attractive, relevant and complementary to other social media, while also finding new niches.

One such example is the positive background to the fact that comments on blog posts are definitely diminishing. This isn't down to any lack of engagement on the part of readers. The opposite is true, as Rogue Strands’ reach has continued to grow throughout 2017. In fact, the reason for the drop in comments left on blogs is simply down to new ways of interacting with Facebook and Twitter, etc, that are developing, 

Bloggers have been using the comparatively longer format and greater lifespan of their posts as a point of departure for immediate discussion and interaction elsewhere: I’ve lost track to the number of excellent threads and debates that I’ve witnessed on Facebook in reaction to a stimulating blog post over the course of this year. On a couple of occasions I’ve even discovered blogs via Facebook shares, as synergy grows instead of some false sense of competition.

Right, so what specific discoveries have come my way this year? Here’s Rogue Strands’ subjective, partial and inevitably incomplete round-up of The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2017, starting with the newcomers to this list:

- Giles Turnbull’s blog is unique, just like Giles himself. A blind poet living in Wales, his blog does tackle significant issues related to his blindness, such as the challenge he faces when giving a reading in public, but it also offers his readers a wide range of features on poetry in general.

- Will Harris’ prose style is scrupulous and limpid, and his blog combines an ease of reading with a layered depth. What’s more, he’s capable of denouncing racism in one post and drawing out the riches of Larkin’s poetry in another. To my mind, that’s impressive and coherent.

- Liz Lefroy’s blog is unusually titled I buy a new washer, for reasons she explains in the blog itself. This touch highlights her candid and self-deprecating style, and her posts are packed with insights into life and poetry. One of the most moving and downright honest poetry blogs around.

- The Poetry School’s blog. The Poetry School have upped their blogging game hugely this year. Their content is excellent, with regular reviews and features that are free and open to all. Another blog that’s organically joined my regular reading list and is there to stay.

- The Rialto’s blog. As Michael Mackmin incorporates more and more new talent into his editorial team at The Rialto, so its operations grow. Alongside superb pamphlets and competitions, the magazine’s blog has grown into something far more than just a publicity tool. It’s now a complement to the printed journal and provides an terrific insights into the workings of what is still one of the best poetry magazines around.

- Paul Stephenson’s blog. Paul has recently turned his acute intelligence and inquisitive nature to developing his blog. The result is spectacular. I was lucky enough to be interviewed by him on it not long ago, but his earlier feature on Elizabeth Sennitt Clough is also excellent. A top-notch newcomer!

- As for Maria Taylor over at Commonplace, her posts might be irregular but they’re terrific, especially the invented dialogue between her blog and herself that she posted back in August.

- Martyn Crucefix’s blog posts go far beyond the norm. They gets their hands dirty with the details of poems, educating and enlightening in equal measure.

- Kim Moore’s blog maintains its Sunday Poem feature, but has also developed interesting discussions that use her Phd as a point of departure. Congratulations are especially due to her today on the back of yesterday' announcement that she's won the Geoffrey Faber Award.

- Sunday mornings are graced by Helena Nelson’s weekly blog for HappenStancePress. Every word is loaded with sense, clarity and a love for poetry.

- Todd Swift’s name is inherently linked with Eyewear. Of course, it was a blog long before the publishing house came into existence, and as such continues to play a lively role in the U.K. poetry blog scene.

- CB Editions might have reduced its activities somewhat, but that hasn’t stopped Charles Boyle providing terrific reads over at Sonofabook.

- Abegail Morley’s Poetry Shed continues indefatigably to go from strength to strength, packed with regular posts of news, reviews and original work.

- Josephine Corcoran, the creator of And Other Poems, also writes an excellent personal blog. Moreover, this coming year promises riches, as her well-deserved full collection has been announced with Nine Arches Press. Congratulations!

- John Foggin’s cobweb  chronicles his personal journey through poetry and his clarity of thought on poetry. Always a terrific read.

- Robin Houghton’s blog has been packed with honesty from the start. However, it’s lovely to witness her honesty being accompanied by more and more publishing success. A triumph in both respects.

- Clarissa Aykroyd’s The Stone and the Star is more international in scope and range than many other blogs on this list. Moreover, Clarissa is active on the London poetry scene and keeps us exiles abreast of events and readings there with her personal reports.

- Fiona Moore’s blog, Displacement, once a point of reference, was due to be placed on an implicit dormant list for this feature. However, it re-emerged this week with just the sort of insightful post that made it so popular. Here’s hoping it’s back to stay!.

- Over at Dave Poems this year has seen Dave Coates delve ever more deeply into the issues of gender and racial identity this year, with several reviews homing in on these issues.

- Katy Evans Bush’s posts at Baroque in Hackney might have been more infrequent this year, but they’re always beautifully written and ring through with her personal touch and style.

- The same goes for Anthony Wilson. He himself admitted that he couldn’t keep up this rate of posting this year, but he still published regular excellent posts.

- Roy Marshall’s blog, meanwhile, is always one of my favourite reads. In 2017 he’s told us how he juggles life’s commitments with poetry, introduced us to new poets and talked through the process of bringing out his new collection, all with his customary freshness and vigour.

- As for hard-working, prolific bloggers, Emma Lee takes the biscuit. An awful lot of graft goes into her site, which provides an excellent resource for both upcoming and established poets.

- Sheenagh Pugh is a veteran of the U.K. poetry blogging scene and posts regular reviews that are scrupulously written, just like her own poetry.

- Expect the unexpected from George Szirtes. His blog might lay dormant for a while, but it will suddenly burst into creative activity just when you’ve stopped keeping an eye on it!

- Clare Best has now incorporated her blog into her new website and I’ll be updating my blog roll accordingly. As always, her blend of life writing and poetry is unique.

- David Clarke’s A Thing for Poetry is a chronicle of his efforts to ensure poetry reaches more and more people, be it via pop songs or book groups. All this alongside snippets of his top-notch poetry.

- Making its stance clear from the off (i.e. via its name), Peter Raynard’s Proletarian Poetry continues to publish and highlight poetry with a message

- Matt Merritt’s Polyolbion offers us his perceptive thoughts on everything from poetry prizes to England’s chances in the Ashes. The inspiration for this blog when I started back in 2009, Polyolbion is still well worth a regular read.

- Richie McCaffery’s The Cat Flap draws on his experiences as a poet from the U.K. living in Belgium. It’s shot through with Richie’s love of all things related to books and especially poetry..

- Helen Mort’s Freefall is personal, subjective yet scrupulously written. Her fiercely and finely defended views are always sure to move her readers and fire up debate.

- Tim Love’s litrefs represent the blend of a scientist’s background with a poet’s artistic drive. Tim’s analytical views always offer his readers a new perspective and that’s an invaluable quality.

- Caroline Gill’s blog probably makes better use of photos than any other in this feature. They make her reports on events and readings come alive..

- Jayne Stanton’s blog tells the story of her journey through life and poetry. She involves her reader to such an extent that I’m always willing her on to another acceptance and, this year, to a successful move!

- John Field’ Poor Rude Lines might have been dormant for far too long, but it’s recently returned with a bang. Long may that continue!

 - Ben Wilkinson’s blog does seem increasingly dormant, but I’m hopeful that 2018 will mark his return as he brings out his long-awaited full collection.

- Gareth Prior, meanwhile, might have been an infrequent blogger even before becoming the father of twins this year, but his detailed posts are always worthwhile when they do come along.

And that’s it for 2017. As always, apologies to anyone I’ve missed out. As mentioned in previous years, I do know that horrible feeling of reading through a list, coming to the end and realising you’re not there.

Fingers crossed that poetry blogging will carry on evolving in 2018, developing new. complementary roles alongside social media. Thanks are due to the growing readership of Rogue Strands as I head into my tenth year of blogging. A decade…???!!! Gulp…! 

Saturday 25 November 2017

Toads revisited

Back in 2009, not long after having started Rogue Strands, I published a post titled "The Toad Work", in which I reflected on how my day job as an export manager and wine blender then fed into my poetry, on how writing was an escape valve that I kept separate from my work.

Much of that is still true, and events often remind me that working as a "professional poet" (teaching, leading workshops, etc) wouldn't suit me. Of course, I'm no less professional in my approach to my writing and in the readings I give than others who make their direct or indirect living from the genre. One emerging issue, meanwhile, is how poets who are scientists, workshop leaders, marketing managers, Creative Writing tutors, export managers, etc, etc, view each other.

In this context, I'm grateful to Mat Riches for pointing me in the direction of an article from The Guardian back in 2007. Written by singer Steven Adams, the piece reflects on his band's choice not to give up their day jobs, and you can read it here. How much of this could we extrapolate to the current poetry scene?

Monday 20 November 2017

Martyn Crucefix on The Knives of Villalejo

I'm grateful to Martyn Crucefix for featuring the title poem from The Knives of Villalejo on Instagram the other day. He also highlighted the collection as a whole in the "Recent Reading" section of his website, stating...

"...Few recent books are as economical and delicately allusive as Matthew Stewart’s debut, The Knives of Villalejo, from Eyewear Publishing..."

You can read more here.

Saturday 18 November 2017

Paul Stephenson interviews me

Until this week, I hadn't realised just how much skill is involved in interviewing someone. Paul Stephenson, who has just published an interview with me on his blog, has led me through the process with engagement, sensitivity and awareness of my work to such a degree that he's enabled me to discover stuff about myself! And then there's his structuring of the piece and ordering of questions as he builds a story for his readers. All in all, he's taught me a lot!

Here's a brief snippet:

"...Paul: Where does the poem begin?

Matthew: My poems begin with the truth. They then reach out for an authenticity that lies far beyond the truth, aiming to generate a jolt of recognition in their readers."

To read the interview in full, just follow this link to Paul's site.

Monday 13 November 2017

A Demand and a Promise

Being a HappenStance subscriber makes you feel part of a community: newletters turn up, full of chat, info and opinion, while a regular flow of pamphlets invites you to discover new names. And then there are the occasional surprises. Like the recent unexpected arrival of A Demand and a Promise, an essay by Helena Nelson, HappenStance editor. Subtitled A poetry manifesto, it's a six page text that homes in on a key issue in contemporary poetry: the lack of readers.

There are lots of thriving creative writing groups, M.A.s and Phds, lots of people wanting to be poets and seeking publication, lots of working poets who need students to keep their courses running and mortgages paid, lots of funding applications, but we're short on readers, and readers are our life-blood. Here are a couple of quotes from the concluding lines to Helena Nelson's essay:

"...If you want to write poetry, you can do exactly what you like. - just throw your text into the ring. But you will need readers, if the poems are to have a chance of being read and remembered. And a good and loyal reader is harder to find than a poet...."

"...Readers of poetry have lost confidence, and therefore poetry has lost readers. Many people don't know what to make of the current cacophony of alleged "poems" all competing for attention. Some wonderful pieces of writing get lost in the hubbub, and there are many bluffers. But if we could change the focus by looking at each poem as no more and no less than a demand for close attention, coupled with a promise of something durable and valuable, perhaps everyone would feel empowered..."

I'm at the front of the queue to sign up to Nell's manifesto. What about you?

Thursday 9 November 2017

Emma Lee reviews The Knives of Villalejo for London Grip

Emma Lee has written a generous and keenly attuned review of The Knives of Villalejo for London Grip, picking up on cultural and linguistic tensions that run through the collection, coming to the following conclusion:

"At face value, these are gentle poems that wear their craft lightly; but a second look reveals their identifiable truths. Like a good wine, Matthew Stewart’s poems have a long finish."

You can read the review in full here.

Monday 6 November 2017

The Poets' Republic

The Poets' Republic is a relatively new print-based poetry journal from Scotland. Amid the mass of verse out there, it's always great to see a magazine that's clear on its aesthetic, poetic, political and social stance from the outset, as The Poets' Republic makes clear in its name and striking front covers, such as this one:

This cover is from Issue Five. I only picked up my contributor's copy a couple of weeks ago (my first publication of new material since The Knives of Villalejo came out) and I was pleased to see my work alongside the likes of Helena Nelson, Colin Dardis, Sally Festing and Marcia Mentor, etc.

The only current fly in the ointment is that I've just seen a post from The Poets' Republic on Facebook to the effect that Issue Five has already sold out! Still, it's definitely a magazine to bear in mind either for a subscription from Issue Six onwards or for a submission to that same issue when the window opens in mid-April 2018. You can read more on their website here.

Saturday 4 November 2017

Abegail Morley reviews The Knives of Villalejo

I've long admired Abegail Morley's verse and her site, The Poetry Shed, so I'm especially pleased and grateful to see her outstanding review of The Knives of Villalejo posted there today. While over at the Poetry Shed, I thoroughly recommend you have a lengthy browse through the treasure trove of original poems, features and reviews in its archive.

Wednesday 1 November 2017

The delicate capturing of moments, Paul Stephenson's Selfie with Waterlilies

In a juster world, Paul Stephenson would already be recognised as one of the best contemporary poets around. 

If his previous two pamphlets demonstrated his multifaceted control of tone, structure and theme (Those People) as well as a knack for unsettling the reader to great empathetic effect (The Days that Followed Paris), his third pamphlet, Selfie with Waterlilies (Paper Swans Press, 2017), shows an emotional honesty that goes far beyond the mere truth.

In Selfie with Waterlilies, Stephenson’s approach tends to be slightly more direct than in his previous pamphlet, yet even within this context Stephenson employs a variety of techniques and registers, veering from the stream of “My Father’s Food”…

“…You never cooked not true I saw the waving of what a frying
pan in your hand a black racket your mum-out dinner racket…”

…to the pared-back tone and short lines of “The Rub”:

“…My muscular father,
my thin layer father,
my recommended father.

My wool fat father,
my liquid father,
my expiry father.”

Stephenson has proven, again and again, that he’s capable of experiments, fireworks and games, all yoked to his poems' aims, but the pieces where he chooses simplicity somehow seem lent consequent, additional strength. A personal favourite from this pamphlet is “Autoroutes”:

“…He thinks I’m asleep but I’m not. I am watching him
in our widescreen windscreen cinema, watching him
cruising past volcanic regions, legions of vineyards.
I am here, watching him going, keeping us going,
his foot down, silent, on the motorways of France.”

Stephenson’s linguistic touch is hugely deft here. First of all, there’s the clear internal music of “widescreen windscreen” and “regions, legions”, all alongside the repetition of "watching" and "going". This repetition and music work together to replicate, reflect and accentuate the rolling noise of the wheels and engine. And there's his shift from a contracted verb (“I’m”) to the sudden reportage (“I am”) of the full form, which is pivotal to the speaker’s role as a witness. This role lasts until the core of the poem arrives in its penultimate line: “I” is followed by “him” and then reaches “us”. Syntactic and grammatical awareness are enacted to poetic effect in the delicate capturing of a moment of intimacy.

I could list umpteen further examples of excellent poems from this top-notch pamphlet, but blog reviews are inevitably limited in length. In summary, if anyone deserves a full collection with a major publisher, it’s Paul Stephenson. I hope and expect Selfie with Waterlilies will help him on his way.

Monday 30 October 2017

Kim Moore's Sunday Poem

Kim Moore's Sunday Poem is something of an institution on the U.K. poetry blogging scene. Every Sunday, she reports back on her week, ruminates on poetic issues of the day and then posts a piece by an invited poet alongside her comments on the poem in question. Via this feature, I've discovered a number of exciting new poets and/or been alerted to the publication of new publications that I just had to purchase. In other words, Kim's posts are great but can be dangerous for your wallet.

In the light of the above, I'm especially pleased to report that I'm this week's guest for Kim Moore's Sunday Poem with "Twenty Years Apart" from The Knives of Villalejo. You can read the poem, together with Kim's remarks on it, by following this link.

Monday 23 October 2017

John Field reviews The Knives of Villalejo

Two flights, four hotels and going on for 2,000 miles of driving later, I'm finally back in Extremadura from my readings in Nottingham, Cheltenham and Manchester last week. Suffice to say, they were a terrific experience, most of all down to the new and old friends that I met along the way.

What's more, I found a wonderful present awaiting me on my arrival in Spain. The pleasure was two-fold: not only has my favourite poetry blog made a hugely welcome return, but it's done so to feature my book. In other words, John Field has published an exceptional and exquisite review of The Knives of Villalejo on Poor Rude Lines. 

John's reviews are creative works in themselves and must require a lot of work. I'm thus especially grateful to him for taking the time and trouble to engage with my collection in such a way. As is the case with all top-notch reviewers, his generous words even provide me with new insights into my own poetry. I'm not going to do his writing a disservice by quoting it out of context. Instead, I suggest you read the whole piece for yourself by following this link.

Friday 13 October 2017

Nottingham, Cheltenham and Manchester

The Knives of Villalejo will be hitting the road again in the coming days, visiting Nottingham, Cheltenham and Manchester for three featured poet slots. Once again, I'm looking forward to meeting old friends and making new ones.

On Tuesday 17th October I'll be reading at Wired Café in Nottingham as part of the Totally Wired reading series. The event starts at 6 p.m., finishing at 8 p.m.. There's also an open mic and entry is free.

On Wednesday 18th October, meanwhile, I'll be the guest poet at Poetry Café Refreshed in Cheltenham, which is held at Smokey Joe's. On this occasion, the event will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., admission is five pounds and there's an open mic scheduled too.

And my third date is in Manchester on Friday 20th October, when I'll be reading for Manky Poets at Chorlton Library from 7.45 p.m. to 9.30 p.m.. This time, admission will be two pounds and there'll be an open mic as well.

Here are the posters for Cheltenham and Manchester:

Monday 9 October 2017

Roy Marshall features The Knives of Villalejo

I'm delighted to report that Roy Marshall, whose own poetry I've long admired, is featuring The Knives of Villalejo on his blog as part of a longer article with all his recent news. Roy has posted one of the poems from my collection, titled "La Visita" and has some kind words to say about the piece in question, highlighting its "brevity, apparent simplicity and understated depth". You can read his post (plus the poem) in full by following this link.

Saturday 7 October 2017

Three readings in October

Following Leicester and Cambridge last month, The Knives of Villalejo will be travelling to Nottingham, Cheltenham and Manchester this October. I've got three guest poet slots lined up as follows: Totally Wired in Nottingham (on 17th October), Poetry Café Refreshed in Cheltenham (on 18th October) and Manky Poets in Manchester (on 20th October). More details in due course...

Wednesday 4 October 2017

Terrific review in The Frogmore Papers

Excellent news today: there's a terrific review of The Knives of Villalejo in the new issue (nº90) of The Frogmore Papers. Written by Clare Best, it begins as follows:

"Matthew Stewart’s first full collection has been twenty years in the making, and is the better for it. Things are distilled to their essence. Every word counts..."

In order to read the review in full, alongside new poems by the likes of Abegail Morley and Jonathan Edwards, you can get hold of a copy via the Frogmore website here.

Sunday 1 October 2017

A poet's dream

This afternoon, I know full well I should post about my terrific evening in Leicester on Monday, meeting lots of new and old friends such as Maria and Jonathan Taylor, Jane Commane, Roy Marshall, Rebecca Bird, Romalyn Ante and Jayne Stanton (apologies to anyone I've missed out!), all in the context of the chance to read as a guest poet at Shindig and allow the poems from The Knives of Villalejo to stretch their legs.

And I also know I should be thanking Trish Harewood for her generous hospitality, commitment to everything poetic and excellent introduction to my reading at CB Poetry in Cambridge on Tuesday: a lovely venue with more lovely people involved.

However, instead of all the above, I simply cannot resist the selfish temptation to flaunt the fulfilment of one of my dreams. Last Wednesday, while visiting Cambridge the day after my reading, I popped in to Heffers Bookshop, where I inevitably headed for the poetry section. A vain streak, almost certainly in vain, led me to run my eyes down to S for Stewart...and I couldn't believe it! Two copies of The Knives of Villalejo were there on the shelves!

I must have been making such a berk of myself that a member of staff soon approached me. On hearing my explanation that I'd never seen my collection in a bookshop before, he promptly asked me to sign both copies and he immediately placed them in a display at the entrance to the poetry section. Don't believe me? Well, I don't believe myself either, so here are the photos as everlasting proof:

Friday 22 September 2017

Leicester and Cambridge

I'll be giving two readings from The Knives of Villalejo in the next few days as the guest poet at a couple of excellent events.

First up is the Nine Arches/Crystal Clear Creators Shindig in Leicester on Monday 25th September, where I'll be reading alongside Romalyn Ante and Rebecca Bird (plus open mic). This event will be held at The Western Pub, 70 Western Road, Leicester LE3 0GA. Entry is free and the evening will get going at 7.30p.m.. I still remember my last reading at Shindig back in 2011, when I launched my first pamphlet, Inventing Truth. The beer was great and the atmosphere better, so I'm looking forward to going back there, meeting up with lots of old friends and making a few new ones.

My second event, meanwhile, is on virgin territory for me, at CB1 Poetry in Cambridge on Tuesday 26th September, where I'll be reading alongside Menka Shivdasani. The starting time on this occasion will be 8p.m. at CB2 Bistro on Norfolk Street, Cambridge, entry 5/4 pounds on the door with open-mic slots also available. I've heard lovely things about the vibe at this regular event, so I'm keen to find out for myself.

You can find more information about CB1 Poetry at their website, while here's the poster for the Shindig:

Monday 18 September 2017

Poetic fame

You win The Bridport Prize and the inaugural Bloodaxe Books National Poetry Competition. Bloodaxe then publish your first full collection and it's made a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. All this happens in the space of twelve months. Little do you know that thirty years later only a few aficionados will know your name in the poetry world.

This chronicle forms the bare bones of Deborah Randall's story, but very little more appears on Google. I encountered her first collection, The Sin Eater (Bloodaxe Books, 1988) among the remnants of Peggy Chapman-Andrews' personal library, and my curiosity was aroused. Randall's work is idiosyncratic, often drawing on the myth kitty yet also raw, earthed in harsh personal and natural landscapes. Her edgy, uneven male-persona poems are especially interesting, gnawing indirectly yet painfully at gender models.

Following the publication of that first book in 1988, Randall brought out a second collection, titled White Eyes, Dark Ages (Bloodaxe Books, 1993). Since then, I can find nothing in her name. A few pieces from her two books have been anthologised, especially by Bloodaxe, but her name has faded from the scene.

Poetic fame is ephemeral, as certain present-day, C.V.-driven careerists would do well to note. Moreover, the current maelstrom of social media means that taste moves on even more quickly than in the past. Poetry lovers can only savour, treasure and keep alive delicious discoveries like Deborah Randall's work.

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Liz Lefroy reviews The Knives of Villalejo

The first review of The Knives of Villalejo is now out! Liz Lefroy has posted a beautifully written, appreciative piece on her blog, which you can read by following this link.

Friday 8 September 2017

Peggy Chapman-Andrews

I regularly browse the shelves of the poetry section at my local secondhand bookshop in Chichester whenever I’m back in the city, so any new intake always attracts my attention. On having a look this August, however, I realized that I was especially in luck, as a number of terrific books had arrived, all from the same private collection. What’s more, they were all signed and dedicated to their previous owner, and there was even correspondence tucked inside them between the poet in question and the collector.

The books were by winners of the Bridport Prize and they were all dedicated to “Peggy”. The letters were addressed to “The Competition Secretary” and discussed prize-giving ceremonies and winners’ reactions to their awards. After getting home with my haul, I started googling and quickly discovered that these books had come from the personal library of Peggy Chapman-Andrews.

These days, most writers associate Peggy Chapman-Andrews with the first novel award in her name, which is still run by the Bridport Prize. In fact, she almost single-handedly set up the Bridport Arts Centre in 1973 and later, as a fundraising venture, the internationally acclaimed Bridport Prize. Peggy continued to help out as a volunteer even into her nineties until her death in 2013.

I feel an intense sadness that her carefully curated collection of poetry books has been broken up. The correspondence was folded and tucked inside each book with such precision. I suppose it’s inevitable that most such private libraries should end up being dispersed, but this is another example of the ephemeral and passing nature of poetic fame and reputation, as I’ll  explore further in forthcoming posts about specific volumes from Peggy Chapman-Andrews’ collection.

At least these books have found a loving home. I treasure their texts and the story behind their journey into my hands. Thank you, Peggy.

Friday 1 September 2017

Featured on Atrium Poetry today

Atrium Poetry have today published a poem from The Knives of Villalejo, titled "That Number". You can read it by following this link, and why not browse Atrium's excellent archive while you're there...?

Monday 21 August 2017

Two readings in September

I'm pleased to report that I've got a number of dates lined up over the coming months to give readings from The Knives of Villalejo. The first two of these will be in late September: I'll be a guest poet at Shindig in Leicester on the 25th, followed by a similar slot at CB Writers in Cambridge on the following day, the 26th. Needless to say, I'm very much looking forward to hitting the road with my first full collection!

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Two poetry bloggers on their fathers

Two of my favourite poetry bloggers have written exquisitely about their fathers in the last couple of months. Both tell us something of their respective family histories, complemented by one of their own poems. The stories and contexts might be very different, but each blogger offers their readers a moving poetic achievement. You can read Martyn Crucefix's post here and Liz Lefroy's piece here.

Thursday 10 August 2017

The price of poetry

- Two pints of bitter and two packets of crisps down The Bell
- a solitary trip to the cinema on Saturday
- off-peak ten-pin bowling for two
- a round of mini-golf for two down the park
- half a ticket to watch Aldershot Town vs Torquay United
- half a bad seat for a show at Chichester Festival Theatre

All these cost me as much (or as little) as a full collection...

Wednesday 2 August 2017

A sense of otherness, Gram Joel Davies' Bolt Down This Earth

A well produced and written first collection from an emerging publisher always represents an enticing prospect, and Gram Joel Davies’ Bolt Down This Earth (V. Press, 2017) is no exception.

Davies’ poetry relishes a sense of otherness which unsettles at first. At certain moments, conjunctions, prepositions or articles are suppressed, contractions avoided, nouns turned into verbs, everything often wrapped in the aural effect of repeated vowels. This means that the reader initially has to feel a way through these poems as if sight were blurred. However, as we get to grips with Davies’ idiosyncratic use of language, the consequence is that a perspective is eventually revealed afresh, brighter and more vivid than we could have expected.

One such example occurs in the closing lines of “The Plan”:

“…while you and I, at four a.m.,
thunder with the bedstead on the wall,

a bolt will plunge the flower bed,
the headland bitten like a scone,

and we’ll crescendo to the ocean floor –
ride the rocksled through a whooping storm.”

This extract provides two instances of nouns being converted into verbs – “thunder” and “crescendo”, while the reader would also conventionally expect a preposition after the verb “plunge”. Moreover, there’s an edgy, constant, almost enervating repetition of one vowel sound, “…bedstead…bed…headland…crescendo…”, all topped off by the inventive “rocksled” and complemented by a risky simile “like a scone” that pulls off its effect by evoking the crumbling texture and chalky appearance of the headland in question.

It does take a while for the reader to come to terms with Gram Joel Davies’ poetry, as if having to get used to a new dialect of an already-learnt language. Nevertheless, Bolt Down This Earth shows that the effort is worthwhile. Davies’ sonorous, surprising and jolting narratives are coherent, cohesive and highly unusual. They’ll challenge your expectations.

Monday 24 July 2017

Under the Radar Issue 19

I'm very pleased to report that I have a poem in Issue 19 of Under the Radar, Nine Arches Press' flagship magazine. It's the third time I've featured in this journal (I was even in Issue One!), which continues to go from strength to strength. You can get hold of a copy for yourself here.

Friday 21 July 2017

New Walk, the evolution from magazine to pamphlets

The disappearance of an excellent print-based journal (such as The Next Review a few months ago) is almost always to be lamented. However, New Walk's recent announcement presents us with a very different scenario, as their closure of the magazine is not an ending but an evolution toward pamphlet publishing. Moreover, this shift maintains their subscription model. In other words, instead of getting a copy of each issue of the mag, subscribers will now receive two pamphlets every six months.

New Walk's first batch of chapbooks are by John Mole and Zayneb Allak. If the production and editorial values of the journal are anything to go by, these pamphlets will be terrific to read. You can get hold of them by following this link

Wednesday 12 July 2017

A love for words, Will Harris' All This Is Implied

Will Harris writes beautifully. Every line of his prose (as can be on his excellent blog) and poetry portrays the intense nature of his relationship with language. At times he plays with words, at others he argues with them. Sometimes he savours their touch, sometimes he pokes fun. Deep down, he just loves them.

Many critics will rightly pick up on his mixed-race heritage and knack for a limpid narrative, combined with his ambiguous sense of home and belonging. However, his love for words, running throughout his first pamphlet, All This Is Implied (HappenStance Press, 2017), is what marks Harris out as a poet on the rise who understands profoundly a fundamental aspect of his art.

It’s all very well to make such statements, but evidence is required to back them up. Here’s an example, taken from “Mother’s Country”, one of the pamphlet’s pivotal poems in thematic terms but also a significant display of poetic dexterity, as is shown by the closing lines:

“…After years of her urging
me to go, me holding back,
I have no more excuses.”

Harris’ placement of “me holding back” is exquisite. It means that the sentence’s main verb and clause are also held back, grammar mirroring semantics, while its delicate repetition of the pronoun heightens tension before delivering the poem’s final, explosive line.

Another important quality of this extract is that it it achieves its aims without any obvious fireworks or flashiness. No allusions, no startling images are required. It shows us a poet with a delicate feel for the flow of language.

Of course, there are inevitable missed steps at certain moments in the pamphlet. For instance, when straining for effect, Harris tends towards a linguistic tic of forming clumps of three consecutive stressed syllables, as in:

“…But what
forgotten harms grow spores

In this case, “harms grow spores” makes things unnecessarily awkward for the reader.

Nevertheless, or maybe even as a consequence of these tiny imperfections among such delicious mouthfuls, All This Is Implied remains a joy. Above all, it’s a terrific introduction to a poet who’s sure to build a strong reputation in U.K. poetry over the coming years.  

Friday 7 July 2017

Snippets and Snapshots V

"With a synchronised swivelling of necks
and a coughed silence, they welcome me in,
wincing as I order. Once I've sat down,
a soft hubbub resumes..."

from "Twenty Years Apart", The Knives of Villalejo (Eyewear Publishing, 2017)

Thursday 6 July 2017

Snippets and Snapshots IV

"I dozed in his cellar. He pulled me out
at a dinner once, and waited for her
while his taut fingers smudged my dusty neck.
He couldn't bear to keep me after that..."

from "Gran Reserva", The Knives of Villalejo (Eyewear Publishing, 2017)

Wednesday 5 July 2017

Snippets and Snapshots III

"The vat of oil must haze the air,
the batter sticky but slick.
He pipes it gently through the nozzle.
Spatulas dance as it ripples
in ring after fizzing golden ring..."

from "Chocolate con churros", The Knives of Villalejo (Eyewear Publishing, 2017)

Tuesday 4 July 2017

Snippets and Snapshots II

"Aprils come with garlic,/Junes with peas"

from "From Farnham to Villalejo", The Knives of Villalejo (Eyewear Publishing, 2017)

Monday 3 July 2017

Snippets and Snapshots I

"...where hillsides lean on hillsides
and lilac clouds hint at cool dusk..."

from "El Castillo de Villalejo", The Knives of Villalejo (Eyewear Publishing, 2017)

Sunday 2 July 2017

Snippets and Snapshots

Throughout the coming week - from Monday to Friday - Rogue Strands will be running a five-part feature, Snippets and Snapshots. Every day there'll be a snippet of a poem from The Knives of Villalejo alongside a snapshot that's connected with it, the imaginary made real and the real made imaginary.

Friday 30 June 2017

Roll up! Roll up! The Knives of Villalejo is now available...

Today brings the excellent news that The Knives of Villalejo is now available for purchase. There are two ways for you to get your hands on a copy. The first is by following this link to Eyewear Publishing's website, where you can buy it directly from them. A second option is via those internet giants (nuff said!) at Amazon. You can find their page for the book here.

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Photos from the launch

Now that I'm finally back in Extremadura, I can report on last week's launch of The Knives of Villalejo at the LRB Bookshop. It was hot, far too hot, but a good crowd turned up in any case. Lots of familiar faces, plus the chance to meet several friends from social media in person for the first time. There were a number of readings from interesting books that were also being launched on the night, such as Shelley Jacques-Roche's monologue from her Risk The Pier, while I managed to give certain pieces from my collection their first public outing. Then there were sales, signings and maybe a few glasses of wine. Here's a brief selection of photos from the night, with thanks to Mat Riches for the last one:

Monday 19 June 2017

It's the launch on Wednesday...!

Just a quick reminder: twenty years after writing its first poem, I'll be launching The Knives of Villalejo at the London Review Bookshop (14 Bury Place, WC1A 2JL) this coming Wednesday at 7 p.m.. If you're in the vicinity, I'd be delighted to see you there!

Tuesday 13 June 2017

The epigraph

As my launch date moves ever closer, I'd like to share the epigraph to The Knives of Villalejo. It's taken from Julio Cortázar, who has long been best known as a prose writer but whose poetry is outstanding:

No aceptar otro orden que el de las afinidades, otra cronología que la del corazón, otro horario que el de los encuentros a deshora, los verdaderos.

One possible translation might read as follows:

No accepting of any order other than affinities, any chronology other than the heart, any schedule other than encounters at an inappropriate time, the true ones.

Monday 5 June 2017

An exciting new poetry pamphlet publisher

The emergence of a new poetry pamphlet publisher is always good news. In the case of Against the Grain Poetry Press, that excitement is compounded by the names that are behind it - Abegail Morley, Jessica Mookherjee and Karen Dennison - and a terrific initial statement of intent (see here). What's more, their submissions window is now open...

Friday 2 June 2017

Forthcoming readings

Apart from the London launch of The Knives of Villalejo on 21st June, I've got a number of other readings lined up this autumn and into 2018, while there's already one event scheduled for 2019. More details to come over the next few months.

I gave readings in Portsmouth, Lewes, Nottingham, Shrewsbury, Leicester, Coventry, London (three times), St Andrews, Edinburgh, Cheltenham and Oxford from my HappenStance pamphlets, and I'll be delighted to get back on the road with my first full collection. I'm available for extra dates, so if you organise an event yourself (or know of anyone who does), please do get in touch and we'll work something out.

Tuesday 30 May 2017

What makes for a good cover?

When sifting through the ever-varying pile of poetry books on my desk, I wince at some of the covers, while others just seem to demand that I should dive in and start reading, so what makes for a good one?

Like so much in packaging and presentation, it's subjective. As I know from designing wine labels, everyone's taste is different, and one important point is to know your target audience. And then there's the question of balance: eye-catching but not garishly so, an attractive font but not over the top.

However, for me, perhaps the most pivotal point is how the cover images and design relate to the book's title. If they are disparate, that won't draw anybody in, while a simple physical reflection or depiction of the title doesn't bring much to the party either. My favourite covers are those that clearly fit within a publisher's house style and build on the idea of stablemates, complementing the title, hinting at the book's contents, enticing the reader along.

All of the above is on my mind when I consider the cover that Edwin Smet at Eyewear has designed for The Knives of Villalejo. Of course, I'm totally biased! What do you think...?

Sunday 21 May 2017

Recasting old territory, Simon Armitage's New Cemetery

At first sight, this review might seem a contradiction in terms. If Rogue Strands tends to concentrate on poetry from beyond the big publishers, why feature Simon Armitage, who’s among the most renowned contemporary poets in the U.K.?

Well, the reason is easily clarified. Today’s focus is not on his recent publication from Faber, but on New Cemetery, his collection from propolis books. They are an imprint that’s been created under the auspices of The Book Hive, one of the best independent bookshops in the country and well worth a visit if you’re ever in the Norwich area.

New Cemetery is unusual in several ways. First off, there’s the physical aspect. At a distance, from the other side of a room, it might resemble a desktop diary, but closer inspection shows it’s a gorgeous artefact with extremely high production values. Some people might be sniffy about paying almost thirteen pounds for nineteen pages of actual verse, but you’re getting far more than that for your money. The quality of the paper is palpable and the typesetting impeccable, while the artwork is limpid and complements the verse with a stark, naïf quality.

All of the above leads us on to the verse itself, which is also unusual. It might initially seem a break with Armitage’s trajectory: a book-length sequence that’s written in three-line stanzas without a clear narrative drive. Collage effects are achieved by juxtaposing physical descriptions with ruminations on life and writing, all interwoven with illustrations. Nevertheless, a detailed reading of New Cemetery yields unexpected connections with Armitage’s previous work, all alongside indications of a new way forward for him.

Whether you like it or not, Armitage’s first full collection, Zoom!, was a landmark in late 20th-century U.K. poetry. What’s also clear is that his following books struggled to match its incredible energy, intimate and social connections with its surroundings, and intoxicating immediacy. Instead, book by book, Armitage’s verse gradually seemed to step back somewhat from everyday life so as to understand it better, taking a route that led away from Zoom! New Cemetery, meanwhile, finds the poet reconnecting with the physical and aesthetic territory of his first collection, but approaching it from a different direction.

New Cemetery homes in on the West Yorkshire countryside via a shed where the writer works. Nearby, the local council have begun peeling back turf to turn a former cow-field into the new cemetery of the title. This book is littered with local and personal landmarks, as the poet blends physical observations with layered meditations.

And what about the fizzing syntax of Zoom!? Or the conscious stretching and straining for effect of Armitage’s later collections? In New Cemetery, both are replaced by short. sparse, pared-back lines that reflect the poet’s re-found ease with his own use of language, as in the following extract:

“but no amount
            of deranged swinging
                        can begin to unlock

the dead from the living.
            The winds of the world
                        blast and rattle

that private wood,
            and the wishbone rides
                        in the tuning fork.

New Cemetery might first appear an insignificant volume in the context of Simon Armitage’s work. Nevertheless, its importance shouldn’t be underestimated. By recasting old territory in the light of maturity, the poet has successfully pushed back his own boundaries and found a direction to be explored in future volumes. As such, this little book isn’t just a curiosity; it’s pivotal to our understanding of Armitage’s development.

Sunday 14 May 2017

The launch of The knives of Villalejo

A spot of advance warning: The knives of Villalejo will be launching at the London Review Bookshop (14 Bury Place, WC1A 2JL) on Wednesday 21st June at 7 p.m.. I'll be giving a reading alongside other Eyewear poets. If you're in the area, I'd be delighted to see you there!

Sunday 7 May 2017

Atrium Poetry

Atrium is a new U.K.-based poetry webzine, run by Holly Magill and Claire Walker. They aim to publish a new poem twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, and you can already read their first selections here. Moreover, they're also on the lookout for top-notch new poems, so why not send them a submission if you're a poet yourself?

Of course, I have to declare a vested interest, as they'll be featuring a poem from my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, at some point in the coming months. More details on that in due course...

Tuesday 2 May 2017

Kathryn Gray's route to a second full collection

Ever since the publication of her first full collection, The Never-Never (Seren Books), back in 2004, I've been a firm fan of Kathryn Gray's poetry. In fact, I'd go as far as to state that The Never-Never bolstered my poetic beliefs at a crucial moment of self-doubt. Here, finally, was excellent contemporary work that hit my sweet spot. Moreover, it was recognised by a many critics and shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. For me, it represented the first hint of a pivotal sea change in British poetry that showed me my own approach might finally be welcomed in certain quarters.

And since then, I've always kept a keen eye out for more poems from Kathryn Gray. How would her work develop? The problem was that none seemed to emerge. By reading her blog, I discovered that she'd hit a "hiatus" or "block", as she fought to find a way to move her poetry forward. This admission of (and wrestling with) such matters is in itself an act of bravery! Furthermore, it's also a reminder for struggling poets that public anointing of initial success doesn't automatically bring with it an easy path to the process of writing. What does, however, mark Gray out, is her ability to recognise the problem and refuse to churn out a quick second collection that would have been a pale reflection/reworking of what had come before.

Instead, she waited. And waited. And that was even braver! As a consequence, I was absolutely delighted to see the publication of her new Rack Press pamphlet, Flowers, earlier this year, and then her latest blog post, titled Love Again. It's a terrific reflection on her struggle back into writing poetry, on her own complicated relationship with the genre. What's more, a second full collection does now seem in the offing. That's a book I'd queue up to buy.

Thursday 27 April 2017

Surroundings Two

When I started Rogue Strands back in 2009, my main points of reference were poetry blogs from two HappenStance pamphleteers who've since gone on to publish multiple full collections: Matt Merritt at Polyolbion and Rob Mackenzie at Surroundings. The latter petered out in 2014, but I'm delighted to report that Rob's now started a new blog, aptly titled Surroundings Two. It's kicked off with a couple of excellent posts that you can read here.