Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Next Review

I'm now back in deepest Extremadura, having met some terrific people in Shrewbury and Oxford. Over thirty of my pamphlets flew into the hands of new readers, but their weight in my rucksack was replaced by numerous books and mags to be devoured over the coming weeks.

Chief among my new possessions is my contributor's copy of The Next Review Vol.2/No.1:





The Next Review (see website here) is a relatively new print-based magazine. This issue features a wide range of poetry and reviews, but I'd especially highlight Richie McCaffery's verse and an interview with Don Paterson.

There certainly seems to be something of a nod towards Ian Hamilton's The New Review in that title and in much of the contents. I'll be following its development with great interest.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Poetry reading in Oxford

The second and final stop on my Autumn reading tour will be in Oxford. I'm delighted to report that I'll be appearing at the Jericho Tavern on Walton Street on Sunday 5th October (doors open 6.30 for a 7p.m. start, £5/4 concessions) alongside Gareth Prior, Sasha Dugdale, Claire Trevien, Andrea Brady and Sarah Howe. That's an excellent line-up in anyone's money.

This event is especially important to me for several reasons, not least of which is the fact I lived on Walton Street many moons ago and used to cycle past the Jericho Tavern on a regular basis, most often in a sweat at being late and undercooked for a tutorial. I might even squeeze in some supper at Pepper's Burgers for nostalgia's sake!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Poetry reading in Shrewsbury

The first stop on my two-leg Autumn reading tour will be in Shrewsbury on Thursday 2nd October. That means I'll finally be involved with National Poetry Day after years of observing events from Spain!

I'll be reading as part of Shrewsbury Poetry @ Eat Up alongside Michael Thomas, Pauline Attenborough, Paul Francis and Ian Lakin, while there will also be music from Martin Thomas of Grey Wolf.

The event is due to start at 7.30p.m. and the venue is Shearmans Hall, Milk Street SY1 1SZ. I do hope to see any readers of Rogue Strands who might be able to make it along!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Precise leaps of imagination, Joshua Mehigan's Accepting the Disaster

Having enjoyed Joshua Mehigan's first collection, The Optimist, which was published in 2004, I was looking forward to getting my hands on his second book, Accepting the Disaster (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014). It didn't disappoint.

Mehigan is a brave poet in several ways. There's great pressure from peers, editors, academia and social media to keep yourself in the spotlight once a first book has been well received, so it takes courage to hold back on bringing out a follow-up. In this case, Mehigan's patience in waiting a whole decade has brought handsome rewards, as Accepting the Disaster is packed with honed verse.

Secondly, Mehigan is unafraid of dragging traditional form into a present-day context and cadence. When doing so, his craft succeeds in making the afore-mentioned form pass unnoticed. Metre and rhyme come into play, yet they are never intrusive. One such example is "Down in the Valley", a murder story in nine lines that's reminiscent of a Carver narrative due to its deadpan, laconic delivery. It dodges explicit gore so as to ramp up horrific imagination:

"...Nature is just. There's nothing left to fear.
The worst thing that can happen happened here."

Just as in The Optimist, there are again glances towards Philip Larkin through a contemporary American lens. "The Professor", for instance, reminds this reader of "A Study of Reading Habits" when it states:

"...These days I never read, but no one does,
and, anyhow, I proved how smart I was.
Everything I know is from a book."

I wouldn't want these references to other writers to give the mistaken impression that Mehigan's work is in some way derivative. In fact, the reverse is true. What's more, this second book demonstrates that he has found his idiom. The everyday, as expressed via taut turns of phrase, is woven with delicately controlled, precise leaps of imagination, as in the opening two stanzas of "The Smokestack":

"The town had a smokestack.
It had a church spire.
The church was prettier,
but the smokestack was higher.

It was a lone ruined column,
a single snuffed taper,
a field gun fired at heaven,
a tube making vapor..."

Regarding his subject matter, meanwhile, Mehigan deals with mental illness head-on in sections of Accepting the Disaster, rather than implicitly invoking it, as was more often the case in The Optimist. Nevertheless, confession is never the aim. Instead, powerful stories are compressed and distilled into verse.

Accepting the Disaster is a fine collection in its own right. However, when viewed alongside The Optimist, it marks the definitive emergence of Joshua Mehigan as a major voice not just in American verse but in English-language poetry as a whole. I thoroughly recommend it.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Anthony Wilson's Lifesaving Poems are to become a book

I've previously mentioned my admiration for Anthony Wilson's Lifesaving Poems - a series of blog posts in which he selects and discusses poems that have deeply affected him during his struggle with life-threatening illness - and so I was delighted to read the news that Bloodaxe are to publish them in book form.

Far too many thematic anthologies lack a personal thread running through them, a narrative that drives them forward. Lifesaving Poems will provide these qualities in spades. What's more, Wilson's deft touch in his commentaries won't just illuminate verse for non-poetry-reading people who have bought the book on a wave of emotion. It will also capture long-term readers for the genre.  I look forward to getting hold of a copy myself.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Free chocolate!

That's simultaneously a terrific offer and a call for the stuff to be liberated from its maker!

In other words, HappenStance Press are launching their new anthology, titled Blame Montezuma, in a cocoa-fuelled splurge that entails giving away chocolate fish with the first 25 orders to be received for the book via their website (see link here). You'll even be able to try the chocolate in situ if you manage to make it along to the launch at Free Verse 2014: The Poetry Book Fair in London (at the Conway Hall) on 6th September.

I very much recommend this second option, as there are also numerous other events going on as part of the fair, while the HappenStance slot will include an additional launch alongside the chocolate: D.A. Prince will be reading from Common Ground, her second full collection, which is packed with excellent poems that creep up and then never leave you.

As for Blame Montezuma itself, it's a lovely book, and not just in terms of the cover:



There's a wide variety of poetic takes on chocolate inside. I'm delighted to have a piece included among offerings from the likes of Hilary Menos, Alison Brackenbury, Stephen Payne, Clare Best, Roy Marshall, etc, etc.

I think a few Christmas-gift quandaries might just have been resolved...

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The concave mirrors of dreams, Ben Wilkinson's For Real

For Real (Smith/Doorstep, 2014) is Ben Wilkinson's second pamphlet. As such, it's useful to view it in the light of his first one, The Sparks, which was published by tall lighthouse in 2008. The Sparks was an excellent chapbook. I reviewed it very positively on Rogue Strands at the time, but Wlkinson's made further strides since then. Six years ago, the blurb on the back cover mentioned "neat and clever poems", which they were. However, they were also slightly guarded, dancing round an inner core that never quite dared to reveal itself. The verse in For Real, meanwhile, is braver and hugely authentic.

One such example is "Hound", a poem that surges with the passion that's required to fight cyclical depression:

"its come-and-go presence,
air of self-satisfied deception,
just as the future bursts in on
the present, its big I am, and that
sulking hound goes to ground again."

This is poetry that bares its heart, not for the sake of confession or self-gratification, but for transforming qualities that are capable of moving its reader.

And what about that title? Well, it works in criss-crossing ways. Of course, Wilkinson uses concrete settings and events as a point of departure, but the everyday is then bounced off the concave mirrors of dreams and nightmares. They are invoked in four poems, implicitly wondering just what is For Real and inviting us to ask that very same question.

What's more, dreams enable Wilkinson to make leaps. He jumps back and forth between realities until the poems reach their final effect, as in "The River Don". Physical and emotional floodwaters lap around the poem's words in both sleep and waking hours until...

"...the house
sat safe and sound - floors dry, photo frames still
something else edging closer, the way water will."

Reading back through this review, I realise I might have given the mistaken impression that For Real is tough going. Well, it's far from that. In fact, sorrow and struggle are laced with passion and optimism, as is perfectly illustrated by its gorgeous closing lines. I'll end with them too...

"Let's say it was. Let's say all we felt
stood there, all we've held off. Let's walk
through that door, love, and never look back."

Oh, and just to add that you can purchase a copy of For Real by following the link here.