Thursday, 19 December 2019

Should editors be poets?

One of the most important and prestigious magazines around, Poetry London, are looking for a new editor. Out of curiosity, I had a quick look at their job description and noticed the following requirement...

"An established reputation as a poet, with at least a first collection already published or under contract".

Is it essential for editors to be poets themselves? What do you think?

Saturday, 14 December 2019

The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2019

When drawing up a list of candidates for Rogue Strands’ annual list of the best U.K. poetry blogs, it soon became clear that there was no dodging the fact that 2019 was far from being a vintage year. Too many veterans, who might have faltered in the past but then returned to the fold, have finally succumbed and fallen by the wayside, while few newcomers have stepped up to the plate.

It's worth pausing to indulge in a spot of speculation as to the reasons why. Drawing on personal experience, I have to admit that writing a blog can become a grind. That can lead you to pause, then the pause becomes a long hiatus, then a silence, and then it’s extremely tough to get back in the saddle.

And as for that feeling of the blog becoming a grind, one major issue is the feeling that you’re writing into a vacuum, especially if few comments are posted to the blog. And therein, of course, lies another growing issue. Let’s take Rogue Strands, for example. There’s no doubt that the number of comments has dropped.

However, in my case at least, the number of visits continues to grow. I’d argue that this is because of a developing relationship between social media and blogs, as I’ve come to understand that blog posts can form a useful point of departure or anchor for rapid-fire discussions on the likes of Facebook and Twitter rather than using the comments sections on blogs.

Of course, the counterpoint to my argument is that many users of social media simply post their thoughts elsewhere without the need for a blog at all, though that very speed can also be a drawback, as conversations and debates get cut off by the incredible velocity at which such platforms shift their readers’ attention.

I love poetry blogging because it provides the writer and reader with a unique combination of immediacy and longevity that lies far beyond the reach of social media. For instance, if I were to take a top ten of popular posts from Rogue Strands last month, two or three would be over five years old. That’s down to the power of search engines, which continue to attract new readers to old posts, often making surprising, new connections.

In other words, I very much continue to see a strong future for poetry blogs, though they have to adapt and evolve to the changing world around them. I still waste several hours a week browsing them, and I recommend you do so too! Despite this year’s relative decline, they still offer a special blend of news, views and thought-provoking perspectives on contemporary verse. Enjoy…

-       Matthew Paul’s blog

-       Tim Love’s litrefs

-       John Foggin’s cobweb

-       Roy Marshall’s blog

-       Emma Lee’s blog

-       Clare Best’s blog

And that’s the end of the 2019 list!

One caveat; as mentioned in previous years, I do know that grim feeling of reading through a list, coming to the end and realising you’re not there, so I can only apologise if I’ve missed you out. As one individual reader, I can’t keep up with everyone, and I’d be very grateful for any additional blogs that readers might like to add in the comments that follow this post…

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Poetry Birmingham

I'm pleased to report that I have a poem, titled Ordnance Survey, in Issue Two of Poetry Birmingham. This relatively new print-based journal is already building an impressive track record, with the likes of Alison Brackenbury, Gregory Leadbetter. Geraldine Clarkson, Abegail Morley and Oliver Comins, etc, etc, also featuring.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

A whirlwind

Last week was a whirlwind, albeit a brilliant one, and I'm only just starting to recover!

The readings in Birmingham and Oxford went very well, thanks to the efforts of their organisers (Matt Nunn and Elaine Christie in Birmingham and Peter King in Oxford), while the Rogue Strands event in London was simply surreal from a selfish point of view.

Why surreal? Well, it provided me with an chance to sit down and listen to amazing poetry from some of the poets I most admire, one after the other, almost like a personal mix tape. What's more, it was gratifying to see a healthy audience who also seemed to enjoy themselves. Oh, and to top it all off, my co-organiser, Mat Riches, tells me we've raised almost 400 pounds for the Trussell Trust. The challenge now for all of us is to ensure that their incredible efforts won't be quite so necessary after 12th December...!

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Readings in Birmingham, Oxford and London

This coming week promises to be pretty busy: I'll be reading at Poetry Bites in Birmingham on Tuesday 26th November, where I'm the featured poet, followed by a headline slot at Poetry at Pembroke in Oxford the next evening (Wednesday 27th November) and topped off by our second Rogue Strands poetry reading in London on Thursday 28th November. I'd love to see you if you could make it along to one of these terrific events!

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

A poem by Neil Elder

Over the past three weeks, I've been posting a poem by each of the poets who'll be reading at the Rogue Strands event on 28th November (see Facebook page here like always), and this is now the final instalment. I do hope that these varied poems not only provide something of a snapshot of the U.K. scene, but also that they whet your appetite for what promises to be a terrific evening of poetry.

Neil Elder's our man today. His work is characterised by its clarity, understatement, keen observation and subtle juxtapositions that encourage his readers to reach their own conclusions, and this piece is no exception. Details are gradually layered, building up to a terrific ending that reverberates back to the beginning. That's always a sign of a top-notch poem...!


It was obvious he’d gone.
Twenty minutes later he emerged;
a year older (and an inch shorter),
for every minute he’d been before the boss.
Never seen a man so reduced.

For an hour he stood and stared at the car park.
Something had left him;
none of us knew what words to offer his shell.
Then Shivali asked if he’d still sort the Lottery
and Dave wondered if an office would be free.

The following week
hushed conversations stopped
whenever he came into the tea-room.
Might as well have rung a bell.
He ate alone, untouchable.

Then his desk was empty,
though his screensaver still showed
a picture from the Christmas do;
dressed as an elf with Leanne on his knee,
he always liked a laugh.

Emails arrived with the words rationalise,
downturn and downsize.
It was like a damp we couldn’t stop from spreading
and it seeped from his department into ours.
Just now HR Jenny smiled at me;
my appointment's Thursday, half-past three.

(First published in Acumen)

Monday, 18 November 2019

A poem by Clarissa Aykroyd

The poets I most admire tend to be the ones that don't follow trends, that are in this for the long haul, that don't have any choice but to be in this, that plough their own furrow. Suffice to say, Clarissa Aykroyd is one of those poets, which is why I'm so happy she'll be reading with us on 28th November (see Facebook page, blah, blah...).

Her poem today is sinuous. It's written in clear-cut language yet it hints at contradiction, ambiguity and ambivalence, dropping clues into the mix, layering them like the plot of a thriller...


This is the room. I am the client
who has waited for an hour.
The skull, the bullet holes, the files
are fading but the sound of footfalls
on the seventeen steps is clear.
This is the dream. I know
he can’t solve this, but I’m still here. 

(First published in Lighthouse)

Friday, 15 November 2019

A poem by Robin Houghton

I've long been a fan of Robin Houghton's poetry, which is why I'm very pleased she'll be reading with us at Rogue Strands on 28th November (see Facebook page here, etc, etc...). Moreover, today's poem provides us with an excellent example of what makes her work different.

This piece invokes thematic tensions - inner and outer, open and closed, animate and inanimate, city and country - and ramps them up via a subtle control of line endings and stanza breaks. All these qualities contribute to a deceptively profound, implicit meditation on life in one of the biggest capitals in the world...

30 St Mary Axe

Sun boots up from the ArcelorMittal
Orbit, swings a low arc to Wembley –
no place to hide when you're
this high.

The temperature inside is set fair. Inner
and outer airs kept apart. No-one
feels a draught or needs to breathe
in the city.

On rainy days you look from below
and it’s gone in a trick of the eye, enough
to tremble hearts, turn heads to check
for St Paul’s.

Its stories are etched from diamonds,
a thousand or more – its panes unable
to open, unlikely to break: strong
as a threat

so no-one inside may throw stones,
or listen for the honking of Barnacle geese
flying east in a V, or mistake the sky
for sea.

(An earlier version of this poem was first published in Brittle Star).

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

A poem by Rishi Dastidar

When we read any poem, it's informed by the poet's job (even if that job involves teaching poetry!), but sometimes their working environment is especially relevant. I would argue that this is definitely Rishi Dastidar's case.

One of our featured poets at the Rogue Strands reading on 28th November (see Facebook page here), Dastidar works as a copywriter, which means he firstly has an eye for register and sentence structure, along with a keen awareness of their effect on the reader (both of these qualities are present in his verse). However, I would also argue that his obligatorily corseted use of language in his working life leads him to shake off those shackles when writing poetry, playing with register, rules and norms so as to reinvent the everyday and mundane, so as to challenge our received expectations, as in the poem I'm featuring today...

New planet who dis?

of course poems that start ‘oh this was a dream’ are dull but honestly this was a better than average one in that i dreamt it 38 years ago and i still not only remember it but carry it with me like a good luck charm though once i tell you about it you’ll more likely think of it as an amulet of doom         anyway           i must have just watched 2001 and you know how fucked up that – and so our future – is i digress but i’m pretty sure the film triggered the dream though at this distance who knows or cares right?       anyway           there i am floating about not space walking space drifting space mooching space loitering oh hold on i’ve remembered what might be a contributory factor / input strand to this dream reading a book of disasters – hang on what was a book of disasters doing in a school library i mean was it a conscious attempt at priming us that violence mayhem fate and the unpredictable alliance between all 3 and the resulting random outputs are the only constant in life so get used to it kids –    anyway           in this book was an account of how on their return from space some cosmonauts were incinerated because the hatch on their capsule didn’t shut properly and of course i should go to wiki to tell you more but this isn’t that kinda poem and right now i’m kinda out of love with footnotes i mean how much baggage am i actually meant to carry on this whole living trip anyway           i’m space loitering space hanging about when i start falling falling not dramatically with a flourish arms waving that kinda thing no more like the proverbial i say proverbial he did actually drop one didn’t he? stone pebble that Galileo dropped next to the feather like that straight down spirit level down plumb line down lift shaft down oh maybe Towering Inferno is somewhere in this mix too remember all the flames up the lift shaft making Faye Dunaway’s eyebrows shoot up      anyway           the point is down i’m going down and i’m going and going still inside the space suit no rotating or piking or somersaulting just arrow ramrod cannonball whatever sonic boom through all the wispy hair bits of the atmosphere not slowing down even though i know the physics says i am and not burning up either just a white heat Michelin Man with a body hoover and grudge and on and on even though it makes it sound endlessly slow which it wasn’t because then there is a desert no canyon type thing arid not sandy and definitely a cactus and land without leaving a mark on the ground not a trace a thud on impact a sound not a dust mote an atom disturbed and i pop the visor on my suit and find i have become a coyote hyena a wolf                  what you want a moral too? fuck off

(First published in Visual Verse)

Monday, 11 November 2019

A poem by Mat Riches

Apart from being the co-organiser of our upcoming Rogue Strands poetry reading on 28th November (see Facebook page, etc), Mat Riches is also an excellent poet. His work has made huge strides over the past two years, as has his consequent publishing record in high-quality magazines and journals. Riches is an example of a poet who's taken his time, found his own route and is now building a readership that seeks out his work.

Today's poem shows us why. It strikes an inimitable, idiosyncratic tone, flowing with a deceptive ease that's underpinned by a keen ear...


You find you’re carrying
a cairn in your pocket.

You’ve been to some hard places
before and found yourself

looking down on the rocks
you stole as talismans.

A bespoke quarrying,
they were transported home

in a pocket and turned
over and over, flipped

through fingers like gymnasts
looping round balance beams.

Before you pick your point
short of the horizon,

consider more than just
saving trouser linings.

Take careful aim, winding
up and back, then release

to watch each brief puncture
and skip away lightly.

(First published at the Poetry Shed)

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

A poem by Katy Evans-Bush

We tried to get Katy Evans-Bush on board for the inaugural Rogue Strands poetry reading, but a clash of dates meant that she was unable to make it. I was therefore delighted when we managed to sign her up for the second one on 28th November (see Facebook event here!).

Katy is charismatic. She's charismatic in person, in conversation and in how she reads her poems in public (I very much enjoyed hearing her when we both read at an Ambit launch a few years ago), but she's also charismatic on the page, and very few poets are capable of such a leap. Her lines brim with life, brio and elan, all in all a class act, as demonstrated by today's poem:

To the Sea Party

Go that far down and you’re moving through night:
you part the world’s lead-liquid atmosphere
thick with death and shit and flakings from above –
last particles of oxygen gasp and implode –
and see nothing. You’re blacked out past your red,
your bluey-grey, your scales or skin or frond.
Passing squid provide your only outerwear,
from who can say where.

Further down, the smaller crustaceans wear their day.
Phosphorescence flashes while they dance
like Gatsby in colour and never stop. The noctiluca
form in tiny shining swarms and are both canapé
and Chinese lantern. It’s their party. Down here
you eat the prey that shines, while you shine on your prey.

First published in Broken Cities (Smith-Doorstep, 2017).

Sunday, 3 November 2019

A poem by Rory Waterman

I first met Rory Waterman in 2011 when we both read at a Days of Roses event in London (organised by Declan Ryan). If his reading that evening is anything to go by, then we're in for a treat at the Rogue Strands event on 28th November (see Facebook for more details), where he'll be one of our featured poets. Suffice to say, I was delighted when he accepted our invite!

Waterman stands out among the poets of his generation in the U.K. not only for his awareness of form and his technical control but for how lightly he wears them. His use of language is so natural that the reader is carried along by the cadences of his lines without any need for extraneous resource or recourse. 

His poem today, first published in the Times Literary Supplement, provides us with a terrific example of Rory Waterman's art:

Where to Build

I never thought I’d have a home
but then I’d built one up from the bay,
a shrub-scrubbed cleft half-hiding it,
a plunging stream behind the grate

and locals pointed up, or down,
to where I lived beside myself
for years, with all I’d wanted most,
building a greenhouse, annexe, shelves,

and made it all I knew to want
and drowned the voice that said I don’t
with all I’d always done for this
and grew tomatoes, seed to light

and ate them, happily, every night,
and fixed the leak that drew the rain
and fixed it when it sprung again.
Well, I knew of rock across the bay –

a skerry? – green-topped, curving round
to out of sight behind near rock.
But rain set in, the endless rain,
and through the sheet of endless cloud

a jet of sudden light cracked down
across that further hunk of land,
which glimmered ginger. And it stayed
for seconds, minutes, hours, days,

the whole life of my house away.

Friday, 1 November 2019

A poem by Ramona Herdman

I've been a fan of Ramona Herdman's excellent poetry for several years, but I wasn't aware of just how good she is at reading it until I attended the HappenStance event at StAnza last March, where she was exceptional. As a consequence, she went straight on our hit list when Mat Riches and myself started discussing the line-up for the forthcoming Rogue Strands reading in London on 28th November (see Facebook page here, plug, plug, plug...!), and we were delighted when she agreed to feature.

Moreover, the poem she's sent as a taster of her work is also top-notch. It represents so much of what makes her work special. Her control of line-endings and stanzas is delicate, working in perfect tandem with the build-up of semantic tension. And then there's her treatment of the contents themselves: this is highly personal poetry but never confessional in tone, and its emotional impact is consequently greater...

‘Wake up: time to die’
(Blade Runner)

It’s supposed to be digitally remastered
but it’s pixellated to shit still, luscious
city smog, rain, light blare like morning mist.

The year my father knew he was dying,
every film turned out to be about death.

Blade Runner the worst: built-in
obsolescence and a four year life-span
in the near-distant future of 2019.

I must have watched it yearly since
and every time Harrison Ford gets younger.

I don’t remember whether dad liked it
but every time Rutger Hauer dies for our sins,
too perfect to imagine, I think of watching it
with him: the oxygen tank, the tipping

chair the NHS lent him and how that year
he was too ill for his lifetime trip to India
so watched TV all day. I don’t care

if Deckard is a replicant or not.
I just hope he makes it to the mountains.

This evening, I am grateful to watch
yet another Director’s Cut, to wonder
at Pris (your standard pleasure model),

Daryl Hannah‘s tender immortal quarter-
century inner thighs – self-sustaining miracles.

I am grateful that you are here
again to snicker with me when Deckard fails again
to persuade anyone that he’s still quit,
to toast life as it is and still being part of it.

(First published in Under the Radar)

Wednesday, 30 October 2019


If social and traditional media promise to bombard and eventually dull your senses over the next few tumultuous weeks, Rogue Strands can offer perfect antidotes. During the first half of November, I'll be posting a top-notch, forget-all-the-crap-and-immerse-yourself, original poem by each and every featured poet (except myself!) from our forthcoming Rogue Strands reading in London on 28th November (see the event details on its Facebook page here). Of course, these tasters will also inevitably entice you to come along to what is destined to be a terrific evening of poetry, even if I say so myself...

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Audiences at poetry readings

At one of my recent readings in the U.K., a Spanish woman approached me at the interval to say hello. She explained that she’d seen my event advertised in the local paper and had come along, just as she might attend a concert, exhibition or lecture. She was amazed to find that she was the only non-poet in the building apart from the barman and two long-suffering spouses.

This is because in Spain (in my own personal experience) on average maybe only two or three people at any given poetry reading are poets. The rest have an interest in the arts. They’re often teachers, academics, visual artists, etc, who enjoy poetry just as they enjoy other genres. This cross-fertilisation means that poetry reaches far more readers than in the U.K., while also overcoming the simple fact that a large chunk of people at most poetry event in the U.K. would actually love to be giving the reading themselves.

So, having identified a problem and an uncomfortable comparison, I’m pondering the causes and potential solutions. Firstly, I’d argue that we could all do more to reach out to the millions who think poetry’s not for them except when attending weddings or funerals. Secondly, I do feel a concerted, coordinated, long-term effort is required to ensure that poetry acquires new readers who don’t necessarily aspire to being poets themselves.

Here’s one example of how things are done in parts of Spain: instead of getting a poet into a specific school to do a workshop, certain councils bring in a poet every month of the academic year to give a reading in the morning at the main theatre in the city for kids from all the schools (the poet’s work is previously read in class, of course), followed by a reading at the same venue in the evening for the general public. Everyone who attends either event is given a tiny booklet of the poet’s work for free to take home with them. Hundreds of people progressively learn how to listen to and read poetry without seeing it as something that’s written by poets for other poets. 

Would this work in the U.K.?

Sunday, 13 October 2019

A clarity of vision, M.R. Peacocke's Honeycomb

Back in January, when M.R. Peacocke generously granted me permission to post one of my favourite poems (see here) from Honeycomb, her recent HappenStance pamphlet, I promised a review of the chapbook in question, and here it is.

Honeycomb is an unusual pamphlet in many ways, not least because it represents something of a New & Very, Very Selected Poems, combining more recent uncollected pieces with complementary poems from M.R. Peacocke’s previously published full collections. As such, it represents an ideal introduction to her work.

Moving on to this collection itself, if I had to choose one single term to encapsulate M.R. Peacocke’s poetry it would be “clear-eyed”. There’s a clarity of vision to her poems that stretches from the construction of her sentences and the cadences of her lines to the layering of her narratives and the thrust of her thematic core.

This afore-mentioned thematic core pivots on a teasing-out of the tension between life and death, youth and ageing, nature and humanity, all illustrated by minor details that take on huge magnitude when brought together as one. An excellent example can be found in the final stanza of Taking Leave:

…And it’s like that, people leave,
sooner than they thought,
sooner than they knew, and things
don’t wait, and a lifetime
isn’t enough to recover the words,
uncover, discover the words.

A lesser poet would have thought a stronger effect could be gained in the closing lines by bunching the three …cover verbs together artificially one after another. Instead, Peacocke repeats ’the words at the end of both the last two lines, splitting up the verbs in such a natural way that these lines manage to take the reader aback, cast fresh meaning on existing language but also seem inevitable, all at the same time. She suddenly reminds us of the subtle differences in meaning between recover, uncover and discover, juxtaposing the urgency of the search for meaning with the impossibility of achieving such a feat.

Quiet voices tend to be lost amid our contemporary tumult, and M.R. Peacocke’s runs just such a risk. However, as remarked earlier, her clarity of vision is crucial to her poetry’s longevity. It provides her work with a edge that can cut through digital cocoons and remind us how to feel. As a consequence, I strongly recommend you get hold of Honeycomb, but with one warning from my own experience: you could then be tempted into acquiring the rest of M.R. Peacocke’s excellent books as well.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Poetry Bites in Birmingham

Prior to the Rogue Strands event in London on 28th November and Poetry at Pembroke in Oxford on 27th November, I'm really looking forward to appearing as the guest poet at Poetry Bites in Birmingham on 26th November. That's three reading on consecutive days, so I'll have to get in training!

On this occasion, the details are as follows: Poetry Bites will take place at the Kitchen Garden Café, 17 York Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7SA. Entry is five pounds, while food will be available from 6.30 p.m. onwards and the event itself will begin at 7.30 p.m..

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Poetry at Pembroke

The last week in November promises to be a busy time for me. Not only will I be reading at our second Rogue Strands event in London on 28th November, but I also have two additional readings in other cities on the 27th and the 26th!

Here are the details for Oxford, where I'm delighted to report that I'll be the guest poet for Poetry at Pembroke. The event will take place in the Mary Hyde Eccles Room at Pembroke College, Univeristy of Oxford, at 6 p.m. on 27th November, with free entry and an open mic (see link here). It would be lovely to see any of you who might be in the vicinity...

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Oliver Comins' poems at Wild Court

Understated yet packing a subtle punch, Oliver Comins' work always lingers long in the memory, and his three new poems up at Wild Court today are no exception. You can read them here, along with a treasure trove of the best in contemporary poetry.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Verbs, verbs, verbs, Declan Ryan's Fighters, Losers

At first sight, Declan Ryan’s second pamphlet, Fighters, Losers (New Walk Editions, 2019) displays many of the technical qualities that made his first Faber New Poets chapbook stand out. Both collections share the capacity for serving up delicately structured narratives, keen humanity and linguistic playfulness. However, Fighters, Losers brings a stronger sense of confidence in his poetic effects to the table, and thus a lighter touch.

In these nine poems about boxing, Ryan employs reportage, avoiding subjective adjectives and implicit judgement, as in the following extract from the pamphlet’s opening poem, The Resurrection of Diego Chico Corrales:

…He’s just been knocked down for a second time,
in this tenth round, by José Luis Castillo,
but now he’s standing up, and the fight resuming.
He’s starting to open up
and land heavy shots: a right cross moves Castillo,
who smiles, which means he’s hurt…

Accumulated observation here is mainly achieved through the use of verbs, as in the non-defining relative clause (who smiles), while the narrative is driven forward via a shift from the present perfect to the present continuous tense, which also lends additional immediacy.

As the poem moves on, it also displays certain other deft features that are common to several pieces in the collection, as in the opening lines to the fourth stanza:

…Two years from tonight, Corrales will lie dead
on the Fort Apache Road in Las Vegas,
his Suzuki motorcycle in component parts,
his license expired, his blood three times the legal limit…

Not only do these lines crank up their subtle power through the layering of reported details alongside those afore-mentioned supercharged verbs, but this stanza immediately announces a change in narrative gear in its first line via the sudden use of the future tense.

Ryan employs this technique of shifting from the present to the future tense to excellent effect throughout his pamphlet, using it as an axis within the poem, a pivotal point at which everything changes. The previous lines are immediately thrown into startling, fresh relief, while the following lines are projected forward.

Fighters, Losers demonstrates that Declan Ryan has learned to trust his readers and his own skill in generating huge empathy via restraint, juxtaposition of details and a masterclass in the manipulation of verbs, verbs, verbs. His writing in these poems therefore becomes emotionally resonant far beyond any mere portrayal of individual boxers or specific moments in sport. I very much recommend this chapbook to all readers, especially to those who might think a bunch of poems about boxing cannot move them.

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Excellent news from the National Poetry Library

On the back of a large petition and numerous complaints from major figures in the poetry world, I'm delighted to report that the National Poetry Library have today announced that they have decided to suspend the planned launch of the new membership scheme for next week (see here).

Instead, they intend to consult the poetry community as to how they might raise the funds that they require to keep growing. This is, of course, excellent news, and I personally would suggest that they have scope to build a far stronger annual programme of readings, events, courses and workshops than at present without stepping on anyone's toes, simply by making the most of their terrific location. Sponsorship, meanwhile, is an additional option that might be worth considering if it helps keep the library free to join.

Fingers crossed that this unfortunate episode might in the end lead to the strengthening of such a valuable resource for U.K. poetry...

Monday, 23 September 2019

National Poetry Library

Back in the 1990s, the National Poetry Library was a lifeline to me. I'd take the train up to London for the day on every trip over from Spain and cram in as many hours as possible in the South Bank Centre, poring over the latest issues of poetry magazines. I never spoke to anybody, but the mere fact that others were sitting there doing the same thing, with similar tastes and attitudes, seemed miraculous and made me feel far less alone.

And I know of many others who can tell similar stories. All capital cities are tough places for young people to live in, especially for newcomers who are often strapped for cash, and the National Poetry Library has long provided a safety net for countless poets who are just setting out, reassuring them that poetry is a welcoming, inclusive genre. I still feel I belong there as soon as I step through its doors.

For these reasons, I'm especially upset to learn today via social media and the National Poetry Library website that they plan to launch a new paid-for membership package that means new members will have to pay for the privilege of borrowing books from 2nd October onwards. Of course, there's an inevitable reminder that the mags and collections, etc, will still be free to browse. However, I can only say that such a membership model might well have put me off going in for the first time all those years ago, and I'm convinced it will have the same miserable effect on others if it is implemented in the future.

I can only express dismay that the National Poetry Library should be feeling "excited about this new option" as they claim on their Twitter feed. Here's hoping they backtrack in the face of growing criticism over the coming days from luminaries who are capable of exerting far more pressure than me...

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Rogue Strands Poetry Reading

With featured readings from Rory Waterman, Katy Evans-Bush, Ramona Herdman, Rishi Dastidar, Mat Riches and myself, plus support from Robin Houghton, Neil Elder and Clarissa Aykroyd, the second Rogue Strands Poetry Reading is up and running!

It would be a huge understatement to mention I'm chuffed that my co-organiser (Mat Riches) and I should have managed to bring the above-mentioned line-up together. In fact, I'd go as far as claiming we'll provide an excellent snapshot of some of the best poetry around on the U.K. scene when they read at the King and Queen pub in Foley Street, London W1W 6DL on 28th November, where events will kick off at 7.30 p.m..

There's a Facebook page for the reading (see here) where you can keep up with our news, while I'll also be posting a top-notch poem from each of our poets on Rogue Strands as we get nearer the time.

Oh, and Mat Riches has produced this excellent poster. Please feel more than free to share it on social media and help us generate the audience on 28th November that our poets so richly deserve...

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Poetry in Aldeburgh 2019

Poetry in Aldeburgh have just published their programme for the 2019 festival (8th-10th November), and it's exceptional (see here). Not only is it richly diverse and littered with famous names, but it also features some excellent poets who sometimes don't receive the recognition that they deserve, such as Charlotte Gann and Oliver Comins, both of whom have featured on Rogue Strands over the past few months.

I wish I could attend myself, but I'm already committed to three events later on that month in Birmingham, Oxford and London (more news in due course) and I can't manage two trips over in such quick succession. However, following last year's amazing experience in Aldeburgh, I can only recommend a visit to the festival if you're closer than I am...!

Thursday, 22 August 2019

The Oscars

I was absolutely delighted this morning to find out an animated film that was produced in Extremadura, Buñuel in the Labryinth of the Turtles, is on Spain's International Feature Film shortlist for the Oscars alongside work from Almodóvar and Amenábar (see the news here in Hollywood Reporter).

I'm especially pleased for its producer and my friend, José María Fernández de Vega, who runs The Glow, the production company behind this exciting project that's taken a hell of a lot of graft to come to fruition. When he made my poetry film, Tasting Notes, back in 2013, I already knew how talented he was and how fortunate I was to work alongside him, but this tremendous accolade is a fresh reminder.

As a consequence, I'm afraid I can't resist the temptation to share Tasting Notes with you once more. Here it is again, just in time for the start of our grape harvest in southern Spain...

Tasting Notes - a poetry film by Matthew Stewart from Matthew Stewart on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Turning nouns into verbs

Further to my post about the changing use of tenses in English, I've recently noticed another trend of turning nouns into verbs, often with a tweaked meaning.

One well known example is "to ghost somebody", which now seems widespread, and I only had to notice a headline on the BBC website the other day to realise I was about to learn another. The afore-mentioned headline read as follows, "How to tell if you're being breadcrumbed at work", and a quick spot of googling (a proper noun that's become a verb in itself!) soon explained the origin of the term.

The obvious question, of course, is just what exactly "to poetry somebody" might end up meaning....

Monday, 12 August 2019

Failing our readers

Over at the HappenStance Press blog, Helena Nelson has just published her twice-yearly summary of current trends in poetic tics. In my view, the last one on her list is perhaps the most important...

The single most common problem: unintended obscurity. The poem is behaving as though it's obvious what's going on but the reader is mystified. This is quite different from deliberate obscurity, which can be compelling.

It's the most important because it means the poet in question has failed their readers at a specific point, thus losing them for the rest of the poem. Moreover, we're all prone to it. There are inevitable occasions in everyday life when we're convinced we've been clear and unambiguous, only for everyone to tell us they haven't got a clue what we're on about or to misinterpret our words with grim or hilarious consequences.

Exactly the same is true of our poems. Except that nobody's around when we write them and fall in love with them. Nobody's present to disentangle our unintentional semantic and syntactic knots. And that's where friends kick in, the best kind of friends, the friends we take into our confidence with dodgy first drafts, the friends who let us know us when we're making one of the biggest poetic mistakes around, that of failing our readers.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

An unflinching celebration, Sheenagh Pugh's Afternoons Go Nowhere

I suppose cliché might suggest the invocation of terms such as “veteran” or “prolific” when approaching Sheenagh Pugh’s new book, Afternoons Go Nowhere (Seren Books, 2019) in the light of her nine previous collections and two Selecteds,  but that would do her poetry a grave disservice. In fact, her recent work displays a freshness and curiosity that reach far beyond the scope of many far younger poets.

First off, Pugh’s use of language is well worth highlighting. Her sentence construction possesses a lucid fluidity that’s outstanding, as in the first three stanzas of The View:

For as long as he could remember, the view
from his window had led across a street
to some house the mirror of his own,

and what he could hear through the double-glazing
mainly traffic, heels clacking  on asphalt,
late at night, a little drunken happiness.

Now he looks out on a bay, cuts his hedge
hard back, ruthless with the white roses
that would come between him and the ocean…

The layering of these lines is seemingly effortless, as is the natural flow. Of course, the poet’s ear, craft and skill all underpin their gorgeous clarity.

Moreover, the above-mentioned poem reflects one of Pugh’s main thematic concerns: the relationship between people and the natural world. At pivotal moments in her work, humans and nature rub against each other, sometimes chafing, sometimes caressing, sometimes managing to do both simultaneously.

Meanwhile, this same deft touch is also apparent in the poems that deal with history. Pugh’s achievement lies in the way she turns historical figures into individuals by homing in on specific personal and emotional moments within a wider context, thus creating empathy for them as people. The Glass King of France provides one such example in its opening lines:

When he looks in the glass, he sees
himself: every organ, every vein.
His most inward thoughts shine
through his crystal skin; the secrets
of his heart parade the streets…

Whether portraying a king or a neighbour, Sheenagh Pugh is acutely aware of the transience of life. Afternoons Go Nowhere is an unflinching celebration of the human condition, written in lucid language that reveals aching complexities. I very much recommend it.