Forward Prizes 2007

As interesting remarks and consequent discussions on Rob Mackenzie’s Surroundings and Katy Evans Bush’s Baroque in Hackney testify to, the shortlists for the Forward Prizes for 2007 are now upon us: Britain’s richest poetry prizes at a total of £16,000 for the three categories.

What’s of real interest, though, is this year’s line-up of judges. Chair is the award-winning Michael Symmons-Roberts, joined by fellow poets Glyn Maxwell and Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze. As has been customary for some years now, Colin Greenwood also joins the panel: an accomplished musician in one of the greatest and most influential bands of recent times, Radiohead, but also a crucially committed and avid reader of poetry. The shocker (or at least for me) was to find out that editor of Guardian Unlimited Book, Sarah Crown, completes the Forward panel.

Interesting, as I’d always assumed she was a fiction buff, with little time for poetry. But it turns out that no, she reads at least ‘four or five new collections a month’, and ‘eschewed everything except poetry while preparing to judge the prize’. Fair enough. For those who aren’t fans and regular readers of contemporary poetry for one reason or another, Crown also has some interesting things to say about the experience of judging. The full article’s here, but I found the following paragraph most illuminating:

“I found that, by immersing myself in poetry, I read with far greater incisiveness and clarity. I no longer needed to make the gear shift that is generally required when you pick up a volume of poetry after reading prose; my ear was attuned to poetry's rhythms, and my eye - accustomed to the sight of poetry on the page - became far quicker at detecting themes, echoes and linguistic flourishes (reading the collections back to back also, of course, allowed me to arrive at qualitative judgments with far greater speed and conviction). As the days passed and the pile of "read" volumes grew taller, I also became increasingly aware of what a rare privilege it was to read a year's worth of poetry - I felt as if I was being given an insight into the country's collective conscious. Words resurfaced from collection to collection - caul, clarity, fetch - and themes emerged, of which the most prevalent was water: poets from every part of the British Isles - and beyond - turned again and again to rain, rivers, seas and floods. The subject found its ultimate expression in Sean O'Brien's The Drowned Book, which is a hymn to the wet stuff - a sort of municipal reimagining of Alice Oswald's book-length river poem, Dart.”

It might seem obvious once you think about it, then, but Crown hits on something here that a lot of readers who don’t read poetry could benefit from considering: that if you immerse yourself in poetry, and read it with the regularity you’ve read novels all your life, you become as accustomed to reading and enjoying verse as you do prose. Which can’t be a bad thing: after all, variety’s the spice of life, and contemporary poetry has a lot to offer once you stop dipping your toes in and take the plunge. I learnt that after moving from reading the odd Armitage, Duffy and Paterson poem to reading collections by lesser-known poets, as well as the hot houses and frontiers of poetry publishing, literary magazines.

Anyhow, to the Forward Prize 2007 shortlist. I’m betting Beasts of Nalulnga by Jack Mapanje to win Best Collection, Look We Have Coming to Dover! by Daljit Nagra for Best First Collection, and 'Dunt' by Alice Oswald (Poetry London) for Best Single Poem. Who do I want to win? With so much good poetry, I’m still not sure…

The Forward Prize for Best Collection (£10,000)

Domestic Violence by Eavan Boland (Carcanet)

Gift Songs by John Burnside (Jonathan Cape)

The Harbour Beyond the Movie by Luke Kennard (Salt Publishing)

Beasts of Nalulnga by Jack Mapanje (Bloodaxe)

Birds with a Broken Wing by Adam Thorpe (Jonathan Cape)

The Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5000)

Twenty Four Preludes and Fugues on Dimitri Shostakovich by Joanna Boulter (Arc Publications)

Galatea by Melanie Challenger (Salt Publishing)

Look We Have Coming to Dover! by Daljit Nagra (Faber and Faber)

Andraste's Hair by Eleanor Rees (Salt Publishing)

The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (£1000)

'The Hut in Question' by David Harsent (Poetry Review)

'Thursday' by Lorraine Mariner (The Rialto)

'Dunt' by Alice Oswald (Poetry London)

'The Day I Knew I Wouldn't Live Forever' by Carole Satyamurti (The Interpreter's House)

'Goulash' by Myra Schneider (The North)

'The Birkdale Nightingale' by Jean Sprackland (Poetry Review)

Deconstructive Wasteland is one!

I didn't notice until recently, but it turns out that I've been posting on Deconstructive Wasteland for a year now; a total of about fifty-something posts, I think, which obviously averages out to one a week. Not as shabby as I'd anticipated, anyway.

So thanks to all of you who regularly read the posts, and especially to those who post comments and spark off interesting discussions, as well as introducing me to writers and musicians I would perhaps otherwise never come across. Your comments and the hits that sitemeter logs spur me on in continuing to fill this corner of the internet with my thoughts on various things literary and musical. And if nothing else, exploring and being a small part of the blogosphere dispelled all concerns and negative media-fed preconceptions I had about the place - as with most things online, if you fish around enough, you find the good stuff sooner or later.

Here's to another year's blogging, then: who knows, I might even get my act together and post with increased regularity!


Rodrigo Y Gabriela

Easily the musical highlight of my weekend at Latitude was seeing Rodrigo Y Gabriela for the first time. It's hard to describe what exactly they do as it's not only breathtaking and a wonder to behold live, but something you have to experience to fully understand and appreciate. Having said that, their eponymous album is an incredible piece of work (especially considering it was largely recorded live), and well worth the buy. As you'd expect, the pair's website gives the best description of their sound:

"Rodrigo (Sanchez) and Gabriela (Quintero) are two fast-fingered, Dublin-based, Mexicans with a unique sound created on acoustic guitars. Their music is difficult to define, straddling both world and rock, and often imbued with timeless Hispano – classical influences. The fire in it comes from their life-long passion for metal music. This spring, "Rodrigo y Gabriela," beat both the Arctic Monkeys AND Johnny Cash to number one in the Irish charts.

Rodrigo is a deft finger-picker who can move from raging speed to sensual soul in the space of a fret, while Gabriela employs fast, rhythmic techniques. Her percussionist's thrashing of strings and drumming of the instrument's body inevitably raises comparisons with flamenco – which they acknowledge as an influence but swerve as a pigeonhole. The duo's repertoire flies beyond familiar Latin folk guitarists' styles because of the metal connection: their reworkings of Led Zep's "Stairway to Heaven" and Metallica's "Orion" are musts, and the presence, on "Ixtapa", of the fiery Hungarian gypsy violinist, Roby Lakatos, is inspirational."

I urge you to give it a listen, or if you get the chance, go and see them live. You won't regret it. Incredible stuff.

Nick Laird's On Purpose

Poet and novelist Nick Laird's second collection, On Purpose, is released this coming month, and having read an advance proof copy (I'm reviewing it for the winter issue of Ireland's excellent literary magazine, The Stinging Fly), I can confirm it's well worth the nine quid that Faber will most probably pirce it up at. You'll have to read my review to get the full lowdown (or at least my version of it), but there are some very impressive poems in there, substantially building on the styles and themes explored in 2005's To a Fault. Oh, and as a taster, US and Boston University literary magazine AGNI have early versions of a couple of poems from the collection, 'Statue of an Alderman in Devon', and the atmospheric and richly descriptive 'Hunting is a Holy Occupation'.


Fun Fun Fun in the Sun Sun Sun

Back from a fucking excellent weekend at Suffolk's Latitude Festival. Seriously, there's no other way to describe it. Brilliant bands and performers, some of the best comedians around, author readings, electric poetry sets, cabaret, film showings, mutli-coloured sheep... this festival offers everything; everything that goddamn pre-book-8-months-in-advance Glastonbury lacks. There's too many highlights to comment on, really, so check out the website if you're interested in what to expect if you head off this time next year: www.latitudefestival.co.uk. Below is a selection of the reviews I contributed whilst there:

Poetry Arena ~ Thursday

Poetry Arena ~ Friday

Interview: Who is Richard Milward?

Literary Arena ~ Saturday

Poetry Arena ~ Saturday

Bat for Lashes, CSS, Rodrigo Y Gabriela ~ Saturday

Literary and Poetry Arena ~ Sunday

Clare Pollard ~ Interview (new)


Latitude Festival

As the weather looks ever more hopeful before inevitably and crushingly turning on us in the truest of British traditions, I'm off to Sussex today before heading on to Latitude Festival this Thursday. Fingers crossed for a dry weekend then. As a result, I won't be scribbling much on this page, but then I suppose that's almost always been the case. I will, however, be posting a fair bit on the Latitude Festival website: www.latitudefestival.co.uk - reviewing and commenting on the Poetry and Literary stages, plus general stuff about the festival and how much you'll be missing if you're not there, as it happens. Still, it's not too late, as I think a few weekend camping tickets are available... Don't save I didn't warn you...


Dream Catcher

The new issue of Dream Catcher (no. 19) arrived in the post today, and as ever, features a wide selection of poetry and short stories, interspersed with artwork. At first glance, I've noticed an interesting short story by acclaimed poet Susan Wicks, as well as poems by Ian Seed, David Gill, Gill McEvoy, Matt Merritt, and interestingly, a poem by Derek Collins, who's Emeritus Professor of Applied Mathematics at the university I recently completed my BA at, Sheffield. But Dream Catcher is always a suitably robust and exciting volume, containing over 150 pages of new writing, so I'll no doubt be dipping into it whenever I get the chance to. So should you. After all, at £6.50 and with a new poem by yours truly, how can you afford not to?


Future Proof

My old desk of two of my three years at university (looking remarkably clear of clutter). I'm a sad bastard for taking and keeping this photo, but there's something strange about leaving behind a battered old piece of wood from a rented student house, no less one that served me well through writing all sorts of stuff, some of it good, some of it grossly bad.

Though the weather continues to catch me off guard without an umbrella, there’s plenty of interesting stuff coming up over the next few weeks to keep me occupied and suitably distracted. Firstly, I’m part of a reviews team for the Latitude Festival this coming week, held at Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk from 12th - 15th July, featuring a wide variety of artists including Arcade Fire, CSS, and Jarvis Cocker. Whilst I’m there I’ll be covering the Poetry and Literary stages, amongst a few other things, the former of which includes performances by writers including Simon Armitage, Clare Pollard, Roger McGough, Tim Wells, as well as Luke Wright and his hugely successful stand-up poetry collective, Aisle 16, among many others. More details on the festival are available here. Also, I received a package in the post from Faber today, which contained a proof copy of Nick Laird’s new collection, On Purpose, officially due out in August. I’ll be reading it over the next couple of weeks, then, and after Latitude’s over, writing a review for the winter issue of luminous Dublin-based magazine, The Stinging Fly. I’m really never happier than when I’m reading and/or writing, hence the inclusion of the picture above. And at the moment I have plenty to be mulling over and scribbling. Time to get back to researching, then, and most importantly and enjoyably, reading.