Thursday, 15 March 2018

Sheenagh Pugh reviews The Knives of Villalejo

I've long admired Sheenagh Pugh's work as a poet and critic, so I'm very pleased to report that she's posted an excellent, insightful review of The Knives of Villalejo on her blog, where she gets to grips with the nuts and bolts of several poems, and enables me to see my own writing in a new light. You can read Sheenagh's post in full by following this link, but in the meantime here's a brief extract to give you a flavour of her views:

" "Making Paella with David", we have a child growing up and a parent attempting to let him, without interfering out of pardonable anxiety:

...Bell peppers
are staining the blade of his knife.
It's time to let ingredients 
become a dish. He taps my arm.
Together we spark the gas.

That middle sentence, "It's time to let ingredients/become a dish" is so succinct, and so perfect..."

Wednesday, 7 March 2018


The emergence of a high-quality, print-based journal is a cause for celebration in these internet-dominated times, so I was delighted to encounter Strix last year, a magazine from Leeds that specialises in poetry and short fiction. Edited by Ian Harker and Andrew Lambeth, it's now reached Issue Three, which also happens to include one of my poems. Again, that's definitely a cause for celebration down here in deepest Extremadura!

You can read more about Strix on their website, and copies of Issue Three will soon be available. I'd love to attend the launch at Hyde Park Book Club in Leeds on 19th March, but work commitments mean I'll be at the Prowein trade fair in Düsseldorf on that day.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

StAnza Festival 2018

If there's ever a chance to revive your belief in poetry, to remind you that spoken word and poems on the page can not only co-exist but feed off each other, to bring you back to old favourites and introduce you to exciting new names, it's StAnza.

The 2018 festival runs from 7th to 11th March, filling St Andrews with all things poetical. It's scheduled events, for example, that focus on the subject of "Borderlines", while "Going Dutch" concentrates on poets from the Netherlands and Flanders, all this alongside numerous other readings by poets from all over the world.

However, year after year, the overriding theme of StAnza is its inclusiveness, exploring and celebrating the whole range and spectrum of poetry today. You can find the catalogue of events, screenings and exhibitions at the festival website here.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Reconciled with contradictions, Tania Hershman's Terms and Conditions

The poetry in Tania Hershman’s first full collection, Terms and Conditions (Nine Arches Press, 2017), is riddled with strong storylines. This is perhaps to be expected, bearing in mind her background as an acclaimed short story writer. So what makes her verse different from her prose?

Well, first off, there’s her control and manipulation of line length and ending, as in the following extract from “Getting away with it”:

“…I want you
to hold my hand
for slightly longer
than is necessary…"

The statement “I want you” seems clear and strong when given a line of its own, as in this case. Of course, it’s immediately undercut and weakened by the next line. This is one of many indications that Hershman understands the nuts and bolts of poetry.

Moreover, the above extract leads us into a pivotal thematic, semantic and syntactic element of Terms and Conditions: tension. Those line endings ramp up tension, the qualifying of apparent absolutes ramps up tensions, while the development of opposites – in this case weak and strong – also ramps up tension.

To what end all this tension? This next quote is enlightening on that front. It’s from “The uncertainty principle”, in which the speaker waits for wanted/unwanted post to come through the door. The poem’s title is significant. This piece homes in on human emotions yet it references a scientific principle, striking up yet another tension between the two. Hershamn raises doubts as to science’s ability to provide insight while simultaneously seeking refuge in its resources:  

“…I could seal

the hole
with tape,

brown paper,
string. But I prefer

to make friends
with uncertainty,

keep breathing,
let it all in.”

Once more, line endings are key to an understanding of this poem. “To make friends” seems straightforward until it’s nuanced by the following line: “with uncertainty”, as the speaker becomes reconciled with apparent contradictions

In conclusion, Tania Hershman’s first full collection is characterised by the deft way she works through her relationship with life, always implicating and involving the reader in that process. By acknowledging that life is packed with tensions and opposites, by accepting and embracing their juxtaposition and coexistence, she’s able to renegotiate her own terms and conditions.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Guest poet on John Foggin's blog

I'm very grateful to John Foggin for featuring me as the guest poet today on his blog (otherwise known as The Great Fogginzo's Cobweb).

Foggin's prose style is easygoing but precise. He chats to the reader, but his words pack a punch. On this occasion, not only does he feature four poems from The Knives of Villalejo and say nice things about my poetry, but he also makes relevant and thought-provoking remarks about short poems in general. You can read his post for yourself here.

Monday, 12 February 2018

South Downs Poetry Festival 2018

On the back of two terrific events in Newcastle and Huddersfield last week, both packed with poetry lovers, book buyers and old and new friends, I'm delighted to report that my next scheduled reading from The Knives of Villalejo will take place at the South Downs Poetry Festival in Chichester on 30th May, when I'll be the guest poet at the New Park Centre.

Part of the 2018 programme is already up on the festival website (see here, even though it still mentions 2017 at the top). Suffice to say, I'm absolutely chuffed to have the chance to read in the city where I'm based when in the U.K..

Friday, 2 February 2018

Readings in Newcastle and Huddersfield

I've got two readings coming up next week: Newcastle on Wednesday 7th February and Huddersfield the following evening. Here are the details!

Red Squirrel Press organise an annual fundraiser in aid of the Lit & Phil in Newcastle. This year, it'll be taking place on Wednesday 7th February at the Literary and Philiosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne, entry 3 pounds, starting at 7 p.m. I'm very grateful to Sheila Wakefield for the invitation to read as the guest poet at this event alongside Red Squirrel poets/authors Tom Kelly, Ellen Phethean and Colin Will.

On Thursday 8th February, meanwhile, I'll be reading at Albert Poets in Huddersfield with Stephanie Bowgett, who kindly invited me, Anthony Costello  and Mandy Sutter. This reading will take place at The Albert in Victoria Lane from 8 p.m. onwards. On this occasion, entry is free.

I'm looking forward to exploring interesting places, as well as seeing lovely people I've only ever met over the internet. What's more, I'm relishing the chance to read at two iconic venues that are packed with poetry history in very different ways...!