Sunday, 26 March 2023

A celebration of poetry editors

Close editing is an act of colossal creative generosity, one of the best gifts a poet can receive. It's no wonder that such scrupulous, time-consuming attention is becoming less and less commonplace, but a top-notch poetry editor is worth their weight in gold and very seldom valued.

Stanza by stanza, line by line, word by word, comma by comma, a good editor enables a poet to understand their own method, makes them question and/or justify their choices, helps them spot their own weaknesses, encourages them to raise their game a notch. Such close editing places a draining demand on the person who does it, requiring a high level of engagement. It takes so much out of the editor that they often struggle to sustain their own writing at the same time. And this sacrifice is another reason why editing is generous.

Helena Nelson at HappenStance Press is the editor I know best, and her example is the point of departure for this post. Few publishers work as closely with their poets. What's more, her graft on others' behalf is definitely detrimental to her own terrific poetry. I’d suggest that U.K. Poetry could do with a few more Nells, though she's a one-off. In fact, you could do far worse than get hold of her latest top-notch collection, Pearls, which hasn’t received the attention that it so richly deserves. It’s available to purchase here.

Monday, 27 February 2023

Delicious tensions, Clare Best's End of Season/Fine di stagione

Clare Best’s new project, End of Season/Fine di stagione (Frogmore Press, 2022), is a delicious portrayal of the tensions that run through life, yoking them to poetry so as to burrow down to the core of feelings.

To start with, as indicated by the title itself, there are linguistic tensions, each poem in English placed on the opposite page to its corresponding piece in Italian (written by Franca Mancinelli and John Taylor). Rather than translations, these feel like two independent texts that establish dialogues: views of Italy in English, then also in Italian but filtered through an English perspective. Languages, cultures and societies rub up against each other and generate further insight into how we view the world around us.

And then another inherent semantic tension exists in that title. The end of a season hints at the end of a cycle, wondering and worrying about what might lie beyond, the past providing a counterpoint to the present as in the following extract from

If I forget these short days
and cool nights, the lack
of screaming swifts,
I can pretend today is summer
and we are here together…

End of Season/Fine di stagione, Clare Best provides an acute reminder that the acts of writing and reading reconcile us with ourselves, Throughout these poems, she explores this process, leading up to On the Mulattiera, which delicately brings the past and the present back together…

…There was a time I couldn’t have left you.
I’m there, I’m here. The road’s collapsed.

Where have I been? My path – October
wood-smoke, pine cones fallen on rubble.

You let me go and then I let you go.
I never loved you well enough till now.

Fractured sky opens into rain.
What can it mean to be here, alone…?

And one final implicit tension in
End of Season/Fine di stagione is between the written page and song, as six of these poems have been set to music by Amy Crankshaw (you can watch the first performance for yourself on YouTube here). It’s well worth comparing the versions, as they cast a fresh perspective on each other.

End of Season/Fine di stagione
shows us (yet again!) Clare Best’s unquenchable thirst for collaborations with other genres, all tied to her drive to explore experience via hard-won artistic creativity, taking us along for the ride, allowing us to reflect too on the tensions within our own lives. This is the sort of writing that earns new readers for poetry, bringing it into settings and contexts where it is too often absent. Clare Best never lives in a bubble. She’s forever reaching out to people and that’s a terrific virtue.

Thursday, 23 February 2023

Edmund Prestwich's poetry blog

Certain regular readers of Rogue Strands have complimented me on the number of poetry blogs I manage to follow (or insinuated that I've got far too much time on my hands!), but I continue to make new discoveries of excellent, long-running poetry blogs that have previously slipped under my radar.

This is at once annoying and terrific. Annoying because it makes me feel useless. Terrific because each discovery provides me with the chance to devour a whole back catalogue of interesting posts.

One such case is Edmund Prestwich's poetry blog (follow this link to read it), which is packed with in-depth reviews that get down to the nitty-gritty of books such as Hannah Lowe's The Kids, Maurice Riordan's Shoulder Tap and Gerard Woodward's The Vulture, alongside nuanced analysis of poetry from the past, especially from the 20th Century. All in all, it's a treasure trove of points of departure for poetic discussion and debate. Thoroughly recommended and it's going straight on my Poetry Blogs List. I can only apologise for not having found it earlier...!

Monday, 13 February 2023

U.K. Poetry Podcasts - a list of resources

Back in December, I was delighted to be the guest poet on the Planet Poetry Podcast, hosted by Robin Houghton and Peter Kenny. Round about the same time, I began to notice more and more podcasts appearing in my newsfeed on social media, many of which had been running for some time but had slipped under my radar. And then there were comments from my mate Mat Riches about this and that interview or feature that he’d heard on this or that podcast.

And so I started to explore the scene, asking for recommendations on Twitter, realising that while I don’t have the joy of a commute, I do have hours batch-cooking in my kitchen without access to live radio in English – a perfect opportunity to work my way through a fair few poetry podcasts. I quickly found that not only is there a thriving scene, but it’s growing all the time.

As a consequence, I thought it might be a good idea to collate those podcasts in one blog post, just as I bring together U.K. Poetry Blogs annually in December, so here’s my first list of U.K. Poetry Podcasts, together with a link to each. Of course, most are available across multiple platforms. I've just selected one here for each podcast, but it should be pretty easy for you to locate them via a quick search on your brand/channel of choice…

Planet Poetry Podcast. As mentioned above, I’m hardly objective, but Robin Houghton and Peter Kenny run an excellent and invigorating ship.

The Seren Poetry Podcast. Lots to savour here from the Welsh Poetry Publisher par excellence, but I especially enjoyed the episode with Ben Wilkinson.

Versify is a terrific poetry podcast, accessible, educational, contemporary but also looking back at major figures of the 20th Century.

The Poetry Bath is presented by Sian Thomas and each episode of this radio programme-cum-podcast features an in-depth interview with a different poet.

A Mouthful of Air is run by Mark McGuinness.

The Poetry Society also have their own podcast.

Frank Skinner's poetry podcast. Nuff said.

The Poetry Exchange talks to people about a poem that has been a friend to them.
In exchange, this unique podcast creates a gift for them, a bespoke reading of their chosen poem inspired by the conversation.

Poetry to your Ears has a focus on sharing the diversity of contemporary poets.

Poetry Pause is run by Philippa Davies.

The Poet Laurensen has gone to his Shed is a personal podcast that’s hosted by Neil Laurensen himself, and the name is a nod to...

The Poet Laureate has gone to his Shed, Simon Armitage for the BBC.

Words that Burn is run by Ben Collopy, and invites you along If you want to learn just a little bit more about poetry, in a gentle calm way that won't overanalyse.

The Penteract Podcast is hosted by Anthony Etherin.

Eat the Storms might be Irish in origin, but it features many U.K. poets.

Faber Poetry Podcast is, as the name itself indicates, run by F&F themselves.

The Ted Hughes Society Podcast pretty much does what it says on the tin!

Tiny in all that Air is the Philip Larkin Society podcast.

Arji's Poetry Pickle Jar

The Scottish Poetry Library's podcast

The Alternative Stories podcast

And just like in my annual Poetry Blog List, I’m aware this post is subjective and partial. In fact, I’d be delighted if you could make suggestions of more U.K. Poetry Podcasts that I could add to it. If you know of any, please do let me know! 

Tuesday, 31 January 2023

The intertwining of life and death, Rebecca Farmer's A Separate Appointment

Nine years ago, I reviewed Rebecca Farmer’s first pamphlet, Not Really (Smith-Doorstep, 2014) on this blog, admiring its subtle treatment of love, suffering and death, noting…

the role of ghosts. They crop up in several poems. They are characters. They take on human traits. As such, their haunting qualities are exacerbated.

And today, as I sit down to write about her second pamphlet,
A Separate Appointment (New Walk Editions, 2022), I’m struck by how much of my previous review holds true for these new poems, which seem to present two different strands - roughly speaking, hospitals and those afore-mentioned ghosts - that intertwine. In these poems, Farmer reminds us that death cannot exist without life, and that the living have to contend with others’ deaths.

In this context, the final stanza of
The Ghosts regret joining a self-help group provides an excellent illustration of the latent tension between life and death, Farmer’s work inhabiting a no-man’s land between the two. canvas It might seem cheesy and trite to state that her poetry occupies a liminal space, but in her case it’s actually true…

…Punched by the absurdity of death
the ghosts wonder why they never recognised
how they could have lived the life they had.
They used to go to classes to be taken out of themselves
but now they’d give anything to be put back in.

The everyday, natural rhythms of these lines belie the tension that they gradually build, never overstraining for effect.

And in the poems about hospitals and doctors, death is always hovering in the background, waiting to intrude, knowing the narrator will eventually join those ghosts, as in the following extract from the opening lines of

The surgeon shows the x-ray
of my left hand. I expect
to see its history in
black and white but
the image is as grey
as the sky before rain.
In it I catch a glimpse
of the start of my ghost…

The coherence and cohesion of Rebecca Farmer’s two pamphlets leave me wanting to see her poems on a broader
canvas. The format of a full collection would enable the reader to get to grips with her uncomfortable yet vital world. The question now is which publisher might step up to the plate and grant us that pleasure…

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Ian Harrow, poet (1945-2022)

There's a terrifc poem up at The Spectator today (see here) by Ian Harrow, a poet who's new to me. However, the shocking detail was the appearance of brackets after his name. A quick google led me to another excellent article from the same journal, written by him in February 2022, titled The Delicate Business of Writing Poetry (see here), which states..

Living, as Clive James put it, under a life sentence, and having refused chemotherapy, I find I respond to the time issue in contradictory ways.

And then a further google brought me to his website, with some examples of his poems (see here). Moreover, it also explains that he published several collections and pamphlets in his lifetime, while...

Since the mid-70s his work has appeared in a wide range of periodicals and magazines including the Times Literary Supplement, The Spectator, Oxford Magazine, Stand, Poetry Wales, Other Poetry, Literary Review, London Magazine, Archipelago, Poetry Ireland Review, Shop Magazine and New Walk.

All this has made me reflect once more on the fleeting nature of poetic fame. I'm annoyed that Harrow's work should have flown under my own radar until today, but I'm also taken aback that nobody seems to have mentioned his passing on Poetry Twitter, for instance, bearing in mind his substantial track record in the genre. At this point, of course, I'm now keen to get hold of his books, explore them, share their poems and try to keep them alive for readers...

Tuesday, 17 January 2023

Jonathan Davidson's Poetry Blog

I’ve long admired Jonathan Davidson’s poetry and have featured his collections on Rogue Strands, while his most recent book, Commonplace, is a uniquely generous engagement with other poets’ work.

And this same generosity runs through his poetry blog. I uselessly forgot to include it in my annual round-up back in December, though it deserves a post to itself in any case.

Jonathan Davidson’s blog might be irregular, but it’s packed with posts that force us to pause, think and re-evaluate our assumptions of poetry’s place in the contemporary world, analysing the seismic shifts that are taking place in traditional roles of poets, publishers and readers. Moreover, all this is grounded in sensible discussion without unnecessary linguistic fireworks. Instead, we encounter solid arguments and debates that speak to us directly. I cannot recommend it enough, and you can see what I mean by reading it via this link!

Tuesday, 3 January 2023

The Poetry Publishing Machine

Over the past year or so, I've noticed that the Poetry Publishing Machine seems not only to have taken up where it left off at the beginning of the pandemic but to have accelerated further. What do I mean by this statement? Well, I'm referring to the speed with which collections (and sometimes even the poets behind them) are rushed out, promoted and then discarded in the genre's onward flight.

This phenomenon seems tied in with several issues. For a start, there's the urge, the adrenaline rush that many poets seek from publication. Once their book's out, they're no longer interested in it and immediately move on to the next project. 

And then there are publishing schedules to meet. Several significant U.K. poetry publishers appear to be constantly bringing out new books, month on month, and their skeleton marketing teams can barely keep pace with the revolving door. Is it any surprise that in this context the sales of many full collections from prestigious outfits struggle to reach three figures?

And what about the effect of social media and newsfeeds? We all scroll so quickly, a new book becoming an old one in the space of weeks, pressure everywhere to be constantly publishing or be left behind.

A number of poetry people whose opinion I value have long held that poets should allow at least four years between collections, firstly to enable the previous book to garner and gather a readership that gradually builds and accumulates, and secondly to allow a poet's customers to have a rest from shelling out on their wares, not to feel there's something nearing an annual fee to keep up with their output. I myself am still encountering new readers for The Knives of Villalejo, my first full collection, which was published back in 2017. I'm not sure that would be the case if I'd brought me second collection out a couple of years later.

What do you think? Am I imagining a problem that doesn't exist? Am I old-fashioned? Can collections still be slow-burning successes in the age of social media...?