Nagra and Shuttle

Just some brief news: my critical perspectives on excellent contemporary poets Daljit Nagra and Penelope Shuttle are both now up on the British Council Contemporary Writers website.



It’s partly just me being selfish, but I’m slightly gutted that I arrived on the poetry scene (have I arrived? or am I about to? I’m not really sure…) and, unless I’d been precociously intelligent, by extension on planet earth, too late to enjoy a subscription to Tim Kendall’s wonderful magazine, Thumbscrew.

The mag ran from 1994 until (from what I can gather) 2002, and in that time carved itself a niche in publishing often excellent and sometimes refreshingly unusual and off-kilter poetry, but most of all, in mocking the hype, soundbytes and absurdities that often surround poetry, poets and their reputations / egos. I’ve been reading the issues uploaded on the wonderful resource that is poetrymagazines.org.uk recently, and absolutely love what must have once been the near-legendary ‘Odds and Ends’ section. Here’s a smattering of pieces drawn from it:

Beware the Blurb

“Vendler is arguing for a depoliticisation of [North] that robs it of much of its power to provoke as well as merely to reassure; and it is a measure of Heaney’s stature that he thrives on being read in just such a provoked or provocative way” (David Wheatley, TES, 20 November 1998).

“It is a measure of Heaney’s stature that he thrives on being read in such a provocative way” (blurb, paperback edition of Helen Vendler’s Seamus Heaney).

Don’t Forget your Gaviscon

Always keen to prove its intellectual credentials, the Poetry Society has devised a new gimmick. For just £17.50, you can book a meal in their cafĂ©, cooked by a “seriously good poet”. Michael Donaghy cooks Mexican, Sarah Maguire cooks French, Mimi Khalvati cooks Iranian. There is an additional charge for stopping the chefs reading their poems.

Say No to Strangers

The Poetry Society Website offers good advice for inviting poets to your school. (The best advice, you’d have thought, would be not to invite them at all.) Poets, it proclaims, “are not to be left alone with groups of children”. “Ask if your poet is insured”. “Our advice to poets would be to refuse to take any unsupervised session, as we would not be able to support them adequately if a case were brought against them for anything that took place in that situation”. The risks are obvious: if left unsupervised, the poets might start reading their “poems” to impressionable youngsters.

The letters section, as you might imagine given the above, was equally lively and entertaining.

So my question is this: what has rushed in to fill Thumbscrew’s gap since it folded nearly six years ago? What magazine is cutting poetic ‘gods’, ridiculous book blurbs and the flexing of egos down to size these days? Only a small press magazine could get away with such hilarious, semi-serious banter and discussion (that is, as much as I enjoy the publication, I don’t think Poetry Review’s letters pages or wide and varied readership would quite suit it!) The blogs and forums do a good job of poking fun where and when it’s needed, I suppose, but it’d be nice to see a mag capable of balancing good poetry (Thumbscrew published plenty of that, including Muldoon, Greenlaw, Harsent and Redgrove) with intelligent humour and deft severity in its reviews, features (read this one on Armitage's poetic career) and other prose.

Well, I live in hope. In the meantime, why not wander along and read the archived Thumbscrew issues on poetrymagazines.org? Link’s here.


Pomegranate Issue 3

Just some brief news in the recent publication of the latest issue of Pomegranate, the online magazine that publishes exciting new poems, reviews and features by young writers.

As well as a strong and varied selection of new poems by Claire Askew, George Ttoouli, Ben Davison and many others, there are articles on putting together a first collection by recent T.S. Eliot Prize-shortlisted poet Frances Leviston, on the politics behind poetry by Richard O'Brien, and on poetic voice by co-editor Emily Tesh. There's also a new poem by myself.

An illuminating and interesting interview with Canadian poet and UK Oxfam Writer In Residence Todd Swift also rounds the issue off, covering poetry and its crossover with the possibilities of the digital age, publishing work and getting noticed, and the emerging UK poets to look out for in the not-too-distant future. Well worth a read. In fact, along with the latest issue of Magma and Roddy Lumsden's article on working with young writers in the current issue of The London Magazine, things are looking increasingly exciting in the poetry world as a new generation of writers gradually emerges. Bravo to Pomegranate for being a part of it, then, and for developing a platform for young writers to showcase their work.

At this end, I'm re-reading poetry collections by two Irish poets for a review that will appear on Eyewear later this month, and having completed a new critical perspective of the poet Don Paterson for the Contemporary Writers site, I'm also working through researching and re-reading collections and novels by the prolific Simon Armitage, which has taken a bit longer than anticipated. In-between times, a few ideas and images for poems have cropped up, but they're mainly sitting in the notebook. Hopefully I'll get round to writing something soon, and also to reading Matt Merritt's first collection, Troy Town, which given the prize-winning 'Familiar' and the poems in his Happenstance pamphlet, will no doubt make for good reading.


By Way Of An Update

A few things have appeared online and dropped through the letterbox of late.

The first is the new issue of Magma, No.40, which is edited by Roddy Lumsden and one of the strongest and most exciting to date. Its focus, quite accidentally down to the 'fine poems starting to appear from so many young writers' received in submission for the issue, is on young poets, featuring an interview with the likes of Foyles Young Poet of the Year winner Richard O'Brien and tall-lighthouse poet Jay Bernard, as well as poems from a wide range of impressive young writers, and more established talents such as Ros Barber, Claire Crowther and Sarah Wardle.

It's well worth a read, with particular highlights including Mark Waldron's 'I called the plumber...' (that rare beast: the successful funny poem) and Tony Williams's richly descriptive 'Argument About the Definition of Red'. And Eloise Stonborough, a young Oxford poet and blogger, has an excellent piece, 'Jet Lag', in deft rhyming couplets. There's also Nick Laird's poem-homage to Louis MacNeice, and book reviews by Rob Mackenzie and Katy Evans Bush.

In fact, I've a spare copy of the issue for a lucky reader, but there's a catch. I need a good, new poem to feature next month on the Facebook Poetry Group: the growing, global gathering for poets ranging from high school students to professional prize-winning writers, founded by Canadian London-based poet Todd Swift.

Group is here: http://shef.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2416793140

So if you're a poet with, say, a few magazine appearances or any prizes / other successes under your belt, send me a poem and bio info to my email address (on my profile page) and I'll post the issue out to you as payment for featuring the poem, if selected.

In other news, my critical perspective of Maurice Riordan's work, Faber poet and editor of Poetry London, is now up on the British Council's Contemporary Writers site.