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…!