Sunday, 31 May 2020

i.m. Paul Shrubb

Over the past few months, I've been working on a sequence of poems titled Starting Eleven. It revolves around Aldershot F.C. footballers of the 1980s and around what it meant to be a fan of a Division Four team at that time.

One of the players to feature is Paul Shrubb, who passed away this last week from Motor Neurone Disease. As a consequence, I'm breaking the habit of a lifetime today to post an unpublished poem here in his memory...

2 Paul Shrubb

Neat, precise and unassuming
in his haircut, passes and gait,
he times his tackles perfectly,

patrolling our flank as he's done
for years. If the fans cherish him,
it's because we can picture him

in a warehouse, office or shop
on a Monday soon, one of us.

Friday, 29 May 2020

Absence that disorientates, Abegail Morley's The Unmapped Woman

Some poets evolve by venturing into new subjects, new narratives, new locations. Others, meanwhile, burrow further and further into their core concerns, casting different perspectives on similar themes, grappling with them in fresh ways, layering them, building their nuances and ramifications.

Abegail Morley’s recent development, from her previous collection, The Skin Diary (Nine Arches Press, 2016) to her new book, The Unmapped Woman (Nine Arches Press, 2020), shows that she clearly belongs to the latter group. Her focus on loss, already a pivotal element, has now expanded its reach, its depth and its power to move the reader.

One clear example occurs in the opening pages to The Unmapped Woman, in the first lines of a poem titled Gravid. They can, of course, be read as the portrayal of a moment, of an incident. However, they can also be read as a declaration of poetic intent for the collection as a whole. They announce an exploration of the relationship between language and loss:

Not until after the front door slams shut
and absence sucks air from its cheeks,
do the words in her head, packed tight
as if on postcards, unhook their ink…

Moreover, when comparing The Skin Diary to The Unmapped Woman, one clear evolution is the scope of Morley’s ambition, her juxtaposition of varying losses, her demonstration that they’re united by key aspects such as dislocation via the disappearance of a sense of belonging. People anchor us. Their absence disorientates us and leaves us wondering who we are. This is clearly represented by the title to the new collection, as expressed in the closing lines of Where you used to be:

…When I go, I’ll unmap myself from this world,
tug pins like stitches, watch them stretch and snap.

The Unmapped Woman unfurls via a growing tension between the past and the present. This tension demands to be faced prior to any potential reconciliation between the two, and the consequent struggle is beautifully evoked in On having enough messages from the dead:

Your name is paperweighted to my tongue.
Each time I try to lift it, it bangs to the floor
of my mouth, bulky as a sandbag,
or an iron girder from that old advert…

The above extract also provides the reader with an excellent example of Morley’s technical virtues: her natural rhythms, delicate control of line endings and supercharging of specific, unusual verbs.

As The Unmapped Woman draws to a close, it gradually turns into an implicit revindication of the role of language in dealing with loss and absence, poetry becoming a means of overcoming emotional dislocation. Abegail Morley’s work reminds us that we can deal with the present and the future thanks to the verbal and artistic expression of the past. These are poems that not only embrace life but encourage us to do so too.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Workshops with a Whizz

In normal circumstances, not only would you have to travel to a festival such as Poetry in Aldeburgh or StAnza if you wished to attend a workshop run by the whizz that's Helena Nelson, but you'd also have to get in quickly once booking went live, as her sessions are invariably among the first to sell out.

However, lockdown, or partial lockdown, or the dismembering of lockdown by a caring father, does bring certain advantages, and one of them consists of Helena Nelson's forthcoming double-header of online workshops. The first (with the help of Annie Fisher) is titled Writing about Fear, and will surely develop fresh slants and approaches to our latent feelings about the current situation and beyond, while the second (with Charlotte Gann's assistance) uniquely concentrates on the art of writing reviews.

It's my firm belief that writing reviews is one of the best ways for a poet to improve. By doing so, we're forced to get to grips with our thoughts about other people's writing, implicitly reassessing our own work at the same time. Moreover, the juggling of prose to formulate opinion and argument can only help our use of language, prose feeding back into poetry. Of course, writing reviews is an intimidating task, which is why this workshop is such an excellent opportunity to throw off any nerves and take the plunge under the guidance of one of the best editors around.

Here are the details of these exciting workshops, including all the information you need to sign up for them while there are still places available...

Unlocked: Writing about Fear
Helena Nelson & Annie Fisher
Monday, 1 June: 10.30 am – 12.30 pm
Thursday, 4 June: 10.30 am – 12.30 pm
Duration: approximately two hours, with some optional follow up.
Cost: £25.00 (one place available free to those on low incomes)
Number of participants: 9 (this excludes the two presenters)

If you'd like to reserve a place, please email, with your preferred date. She will send you more information and explain how to pay.


OPOI REVIEWS: for new or low-confidence reviewers
Helena Nelson & Charlotte Gann
Wednesday, 10 June: 10.30 am – 12.30 pm
Duration: approximately 2 hours.
Cost: Free
Number of participants: 6 (this excludes presenters)
This is a fully participative workshop, in which we will

  • read and talk about poetry pamphlets and how an OPOI review is developed 
  • clarify the house style and principles of the OPOI reviews
  • share some experience of the editing process
  • encourage participants to write their own OPOI
Email for more information and/or to reserve your place.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Ama Bolton's poetry blog

Today brings another lovely discovery that I've made during lockdown: Ama Bolton's long-running and unique poetry blog, titled barleybooks, pages from an unbound book. It might be new to me in spite of having been started way back in 2012, but that simply means there's now even more enjoyment to be mined from its archive!

Ama's blog gives particular pleasure thanks to its exploration of the creative process (both as an individual and as part of a group), often linking visual elements to poems and vice versa. Somehow, as a reader in partial lockdown, I feel comforted and reassured by these displays of imagination at work. All in all, thoroughly recommended!

Monday, 11 May 2020

Another excellent offer

Back in 2015, when reviewing D.A. Prince's award-winning collection from HappenStance Press, Common Ground (click here to read the post in full), I stated that...

D.A. Prince is a specialist in the almost-unnoticed accumulation of emotional impact. Her work builds imperceptibly, detail on detail, gathering momentum line after line.

In other words, her poetry provides the reader with the chance to draw breath and have a proper think. As such, Common Ground is an ideal purchase for these strange times, especially now it's been discounted from 12 to 9 quid at the HappenStance webshop. What's more, while you're there, you could also browse exciting new pamphlets from the likes of Nancy Campbell and Annie Fisher.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Julie Mellor's poetry blog

It's always a joy to discover an excellent poetry blog, and all the more so during lockdown. That's why I was delighted to encounter Julie Mellor's site the other day.

I found it via her lovely review (see here) of Matthew Paul's top-notch collection, The Evening Entertainment, at which point I realised just how much other content there was to savour as well. I'd long known that Julie Mellor was a fine poet, but her blog had somehow slipped under my radar. It's time to put that right...!

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Our first walk

Over here in Spain, we've been in lockdown, or confinamiento, as we term it, since 15th March. The rules have been that nobody is allowed to leave their house unless it's to work, shop for essentials or go to the doctor. In other words, no exercise has been permitted outside the home.

These rules have been widely accepted, especially as cases have dropped significantly since their implementation. The good news is that as a consequence today we were able to go out to exercise for the first time. Of course, the rules are still far stricter than in the U.K., as we're not allowed, for instance, to drive anywhere to have a walk. Moreover, we're also limited to a certain time slot by age group (ours was 6-10 a.m. or 8-11 p.m.).

We decided to have our first walk in the vineyards that begin about two hundred yards beyond our house. It was exciting to see how much the vines have grown over the past six weeks. As you can see in the first photo below, bunches of grapes are now starting to form, new life and fresh hopes taking shape in spite of everything. As for the views over the rolling hills, deep blue skies set against clay soil, they're as gorgeous as ever. The proof is in the second photo...