Wednesday 28 October 2020

My team

Our centre half floundered and our goalkeeper's palms turned to Telfon, Torquay United's fourth goal went in and I rocked in frustration yet again. As on umpteen previous occasions, my wife then went through the motions of turning round and asking me why I couldn't support a winning team instead of Aldershot Town. She knows full well that I could never stop supporting the Shots, that they're part of my identity.

And the same is true of poetry. If being a Real Madrid or Liverpool fan is far too easy for contrary people like me, so savouring isolated poetic achievements is made much sweeter by the countless defeats that necessarily surround them.

Sunday 25 October 2020


I have to admit that I've never been a fan of directly Ekphrastic poems. They often seem to use the art in question as a prompt, and I'm afraid that prompts are complete anathema to me, even though I do understand and appreciate their important role for other poets..

That said, however, art feeds back into my poetry in many indirect ways. One fine example is Eric Ravilious' work. I deeply admire his juxtapositions of the natural world and man-made objects, timeless yet contemporary, close yet distant, and I try to replicate such feats in some of my poems. Of course, right now I'm missing his favoured landscapes of the South Downs, which means his emotional impact on me is greater than ever...!

Tuesday 20 October 2020

To sink or swim...?

While the pandemic continues to rage with no sign of any light at the end of the tunnel (in supposedly libertarian societies at least, where a political obsession with the theory of individual freedom is ironically leading to its practical curtailment), as people and poets we mistakenly feel left with a stark, binary choice: to sink or swim.

In the early stages of this phenomenon, social media was buzzing with examples of surges in creativity, of creativity being put on hold, of extreme reactions to an extreme situation. However, everything seemed temporary and sudden, something we would soon be able to place in temporal brackets. As the weeks and months go by, so we're forced to come to terms with a long-term scenario, and our mindsets consequently change.

There's one analogy that I find useful on a personal level. When I first came to Spain as a student and language assistant, I loved it. There was always a clearly defined time period for my stays and I relished the counterpoint to my life in Britain. Nevertheless, once I made the decision to move out permanently, that buffer was removed and time yawned ahead of me, vast and disorientating. I took me several months to get to grips with the waves of homesickness that hit me.

And that's what we're dealing with now: a form of homesickness and longing for our previous lives, of not knowing when they might return. This process requires us to be patient, to reset our day-to-day routines and then by extension our reading and writing. It's not a question of sinking or swimming. It's a reconciliation with ourselves.

Thursday 15 October 2020

A poem in The New European

I'm absolutely delighted to have A Poem for Europe in this week's issue of The New European...

Friday 9 October 2020

Universality (on Louise Glück and the Nobel Prize)

I was pleased to hear that Louise Glück has won the Nobel Prize, as the championing of her work can only encourage non-readers of contemporary poetry to realise that the genre offers multiple interpretations beyond their preconceived expectations. However, I was struck by a quote from Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel committee, which read as follows:

Even if her autobiographical background is significant in her works, she is not to be regarded as a confessional poet. She seeks universality...

The above statement is unfortunate, to say the least. It perpetuates numerous fallacies. For a start, no poem can ever be fully defined as autobiographical or confessional, even if the poet in question were to claim such a status or label. This is because role playing always becomes a factor once the creative process is set in motion.

And then there's the absurd implication (beyond reference to Glück herself) that a poet is somehow barred from universal appeal if their poetry is also partly autobiographical or confessional in its point of departure. How many of the greats would that rule out? Such a claim would definitely cast aspersions over certain previous winners of the same award!

All in all, Glúck's win is excellent news, but its annoucement was couched in terms that could at the very least be interpreted as critical shortcuts. Her poetry and the genre in general both deserve a more nuanced understanding of the role of autobiography in any and every poem.

Wednesday 7 October 2020

On the Creative Writing at Leicester blog

I'm the featured poet today on the Creative Writing at Leicester blog (see here). There's a sample poem (taken from The Knives of Villalejo) together with an introduction that gives an idea of its genesis and of my method in general. Thanks to Jonathan Taylor for the invitation!

Tuesday 6 October 2020

Larkin and women from a contemporary perspective

As a female herself, Nicola Healey is ideally placed to cast a critical eye over Sinéad Morrissey's reinterpretation of Philip Larkin's view of women, and she does so to excellent effect in her recent essay on Wild Court, which begins as follows:

In Sinéad Morrissey’s collection On Balance (2017), Morrissey selectively quotes from Larkin’s ‘Born Yesterday’ (1954) as the epigraph to her titular poem, ‘On Balance’. She decontextualises his lines, however, to bolster her poem’s feminist drive, distorting Larkin’s poem and misleading the reader from the outset...

Healey then goes on to address wider contemporary concerns about Larkin's stance, making pertinent points not only about recent bandwagons but also homing in on current unease, not just in Larkin's case, when considering pieces of art alongside the biography of the person who created them. She comes to the conclusion that...

...Larkin the man is not beyond reproach, but for the hard-won gifts he bequeathed to us, Larkin the poet deserves more than this.

However, rather than just  tasting these morsels, why don't you read the essay in full over at Wild Court (see here) and savour its nuanced flavours?