Friday, 11 May 2018

When a poetry reading really works

I've written in a previous blog that I can struggle with poetry readings - partly because I like the words in my hands.

Chrys Salt read some of her poetry from 'The Punkawallah's Rope' at the Indigo Dreams Showcase, part of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival. Chrys is an experienced and well-established poet, and that rare thing - a poet who can read her written poetry exceptionally well - in fact the best I've heard.

I didn't just understand what was being said - I could feel it. It came alive. Ironically, I had the words in my hands because I had just bought her book, but obviously I wasn't looking at them. But I could take the words away with me and not just read them now, but really hear them too.

The poetry itself - and I have got to know a lot more of it since the Showcase - is so well-observed, lightly drawn, with humour and humanity. It is touching and beautiful. It has that deceptive simplicity which is so hard to achieve. It tells stories and brings people and places to life. It '...puts its hand out and is understood.' ((for RM), from 'Grass')

You can find out more at  

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Iterations & Amy Kinsman

Everyone is on a spectrum - or more than one spectrum, not at a fixed point - but at different points at different times. We have different iterations of ourselves.

I saw Amy Kinsman perform at the Indigo Dreams Showcase at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival. Amy performed (among others) the poem 'iterations of self' from the pamphlet '&'. To quote the blurb on the back of the pamphlet: 'these are poems... where everything hangs in the balance and we must decide who we are and what that means.' 

This isn't easy in light of the way we constantly change, and are not just one thing, but many. Is there a 'core'? Something which is fundamentally 'me'? Amy is genderfluid. Does this make it harder to answer? As it says in 'iterations...' : pray tell, which of us is you? But then, doesn't the same question apply to us all in our different iterations?

Amy's performance was both reassuringly nervous and very strong - thus showing the ability to be at more than one point on a spectrum at the same time. I'm very glad I heard it, and got a copy of '&'. And I went away thinking.

And overthinking - about iterations of my self. And in which iteration(s) I'm happy. And is self as poet one of them? 


Monday, 16 April 2018

Mind the gap

Among the many things I've been thinking about through reading 'How to be a Poet' (Nine Arches Press) (see also earlier post 22/1/18) - is the potential gap between writer and reader - a gap of understanding or preference - or a failing of writer or reader. I'm aware that it has made me insecure at times, both as writer and reader. I started to play with the idea:

I wrote a poem about love.
You hated it.
I wrote a poem about strength.
You said it was weak.
I wrote a poem about sickness.
You hoped I got better.
I wrote a poem about you.
You said I should keep the 'I' out of my poems.
I wrote about my uncertainty.
You said I was getting cocky.
I stopped writing. 

I flipped it to see what happened: 

You wrote a poem about love.
I hated it.
You wrote a poem about strength.
I said it was weak.
You wrote a poem about sickness.
I hoped you got better.
You wrote a poem about me.
I said you should keep the 'I' out of your poems   
You wrote about your uncertainty.
I said you were getting cocky.

You stopped writing?   I stopped reading?

I took the 'I' out:

He wrote a poem about love.
She hated it.
He wrote a poem about strength.
She said it was weak.
He wrote a poem about sickness.
She hoped he'd get better.
He wrote a poem about her.
She thought he was taking the mick.
He wrote a poem about his uncertainty.
She said he was a loser.

He stopped writing?   She dumped him?

Amazing how big the gap can be between people. Amazing how things can change when you play with words. And for real advice, see How to be a Poet.

Postscript. It occurred to me that this blog could be taken too seriously. I also like the idea of adding 'He dumped her' to the last set of options. I should add that nothing written here represents the views of the authors of How to be a Poet. Or is in any way sensible advice on reviewing one's own or other people's poetry.


Thursday, 12 April 2018

The Gifts of Reading

I recently read The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane (author of, among other books, the mind-blowing Landmarks - 'the language of landscape and the landscape of language'). The Gifts of Reading is a wonderful little book and a gift in itself - which keeps on giving. If you read it you'll see what I mean - it just leads you on to more.

I won't give away the secrets of the book and I can't give you the gift of an actual book - because, unlike Facebook, I don't have access to your data, or their vast amounts of money - but I thought I'd at least share the names of some of the books I've enjoyed reading between bouts of poetry:

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty

Tin Man by Sarah Winman 

They're easy to get hold of and the reviews will tell you far more than I could here, and much better. 

Despite there being no end of fiction out there, I sometimes struggle to find the right book at the right time. I would be happy to accept the gift of any recommendations. (I am not currently accepting submissions of poetry or nature books as I already have a huge backlog of those!)

Saturday, 31 March 2018

The Countryman

The Countryman magazine has been around for longer than I've been alive - and I've only just discovered it! (Apologies to all who already know it.) What caught my eye among the million other available magazines was the stunning photo of a yellow wagtail on the cover of the April issue.

The photography throughout is wonderful, from glorious landscapes to birds in close-up.

Its articles include 'Listening out for the dawn chorus', Stephen Moss on the return of migrant birds, 'Engaging with the natural world' (and its importance in mental health care) and 'The UK's waterworlds'.

The last of these is by James Lowen. It is beautifully written and illustrated. Here's just a tiny flavour of it:

'Throughout it all, the collective of reeds - whether winter's brittle gold or summer's flexible blue-green - whispers enticingly of the secret waterworld in their midst.' 

It also has poems, both old and new. Next to a mesmerising photo of a Little Owl by Ian Watson, is the poem 'Owls' by Alison Brackenbury. I really like the way the poem spans time and country/town.

'What can night bring me now? I sleep in town.
Through the last trees, winter's last dusk bears down
fresh wind.'

It's a moving poem - even without thinking of Sheffield's last trees.

This magazine brings together so many of the things I love. It's amazing what you can discover by accident. For me this was a real joy.


Wednesday, 21 March 2018

For World Poetry Day

daybreak's dew-dropped web
laced interlocking stocking
ladders purled with pearls 

Sunday, 11 March 2018

And in the news this week...

I've been sorting through some old notes and found this:

he's never hit me
and he's OK with the kids -
setting the bar low 

It was based on a conversation overheard years ago. Things are so much better now.