Thursday, 8 December 2016

Two contrasting views of Alice Oswald's poetry

I'm grateful to Stephen Payne on Facebook for pointing me towards an excellent discussion of the relative merits of Alice Oswald's poetry on the Poetry Foundation website (see here). Stephen's initial link was then accompanied by top-notch debate, but that's now unfortunately being lost in the mists of social media timelines.

There's no doubting Alice Oswald's standing in contemporary U.K. poetry, but it's also clear that her work elicits contrasting responses. As a result, I was especially drawn to the Poetry Foundation's "Curious Specimens" format, which juxtaposes two differing perspectives on her verse as explained in the introduction to the discussion:

"Editors’ note: “Curious Specimens” is the second of a series of exchanges in which we are bringing poets together to discuss new books. The format is as follows: each poet chooses a book he or she can wholeheartedly support and writes an eight-hundred-word review of it; the exchanges follow the completed reviews."

Moreover, the two critics in question - Cate Marvin and Joshua Mehigan - tackle Oswald's verse from an American viewpoint, which is extremely interesting, as they thus approach her poetry with very different baggage from that of U.K.-based reviewers.

My personal opinion tends to coincide with Joshua Mehigan's take on Alice Oswald's poetry. That might well in part be due to the fact that I have long admired his verse and aesthetic. Nevertheless, Marvin's stance is also thought-provoking. Perhaps the best consequence is that their discussion has taken me back to Oswalds work once more...

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2016

There's no point beating about the bush or glossing things over: 2016 hasn’t been a vintage year for U.K. poetry blogs. A number of significant bloggers have either given up completely or posted far less than in previous years. Moreover, several potentially interesting newcomers have petered out within a few months of having started.

Why is this the case? Well, it’s not down to the irrelevance of blogging. As mentioned previously on Rogue Strands, users of social media link to blogs on a regular basis and take them as a point of departure for discussion, while stats for this blog (and others) are growing.

I’d venture to suggest that the issue is bloggers themselves: rather than taking/wasting the extra time to draft and longer blog posts, they’re interacting directly and with more immediacy on social media. This might provide them with a quicker buzz and direct feedback, but so much interesting stuff is consequently lost. For instance, some of the most popular posts this month on Rogue Strands are pieces that I wrote back in 2009. If I’d only posted them on social media, no search engine could direct new readers to them now.

In other words, I’m a firm believer in the longevity and continued relevance of poetry blogs. Despite this year’s casualties, they still provide more stimulating material than my working week allows me to view! Here’s the rundown for this year, Rogue Strands’ subjective selection of The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2016:

- Richie McCaffery’s The Cat Flap is an exciting newcomer. It combines honesty, insight, a hint of self-deprecation and scalpel-like prose.

- Helen Mort’s new blog, Freefall, oozes class. Her posts are surprising, thought-provoking, personal yet objective, and always delicious to read. It’s another of this year’s best newcomers.

- Tim Love’s litrefs continues to be just that: a point of reference for U.K. poetry blogging. There are three sections: the main blog, litrefs articles and litrefsreviews. Tim speaks his mind with clarity and without fear. I respect his views hugely.

- Martyn Crucefix’s blog goes from strength to strength. Just a couple of weeks ago, I featured his recent series of posts on metrics, while his annual take on the Forward shortlists is always required reading.

- Ben Wilkinson, whose long-awaited first full collection is to be published by Seren in 2018, is increasingly using his blog to repost articles and poems that were first published elsewhere, often in print journals. In other words, he provides his readers with a second (online) chance to read his terrific verse and scrupulous criticism. For example, his review of Sarah Howe’s collection, available on the blog, is a real triumph:  brave and balanced, he pulls off the best review around of the book in question.

- Kim Moore’s Sunday Poem feature is a bit like Marks and Spencer’s Dine in for Two deal: imitated by countless competitors but never matched. What’s more, its timing is perfect: a lovely read at the dog-end of the weekend.

- There might be numerous poetry-publisher blogs out there, but none can match Helena Nelson’s weekly effort for HappenStance Press. Every post is an enjoyable education. Of course, I’m not biased at all, am I?

- Again, no bias whatsoever when listing Todd Swift’s Eyewear blog! Todd’s project is pretty much unique in U.K. poetry, as his blog, which is packed with news, opinions and reviews, predated his publishing house of the same name.

- Whether discussing politics, publishing or verse itself, Charles Boyle is always enjoyable to read over at Sonofabook. Apart from possessing by far the best title in this list.

- Abegail Morley’s Poetry Shed might be a veteran of the poetry blogging scene, but she shows no signs of flagging. In fact, 2016 has been a top-notch vintage for her: poetry news, reviews, original work and interviews have all come together on an excellent site.

- Josephine Corcoran runs And Other Poems, which is one of the best e-zines on the U.K. poetry scene, but she’s also a prolific blogger, chronicling her personal journey through verse.

- John Foggin’s not only a rising star in U.K. poetry in his retirement from teaching, he’s also an excellent and regular blogger over at his cobweb. His enthusiasm is a mid-winter pick-me-up for any doubting poet.

- Talking of pick-me-ups for doubting poets, Robin Houghton’s blog is wonderful medicine. She’s not afraid to tell her story of poetry failures alongside her many successes (such as her forthcoming inclusion in Eyewear’s Best New Poets anthology), thus providing a healthy antidote to the relentless, terrifying positivity of a poet’s Facebook newsfeed.

- Clarissa Aykroyd’s The Stone and the Star is fast becoming a stalwart of the U.K. poetry blogging scene. She blends a personal poetic journal with reflections on the current scene and features on out-of-copyright poems. This enables her to post the pieces in question alongside her views.

- While “wearing one’s erudition lightly” might be a cliché, it’s fundamentally true of Fiona Moore’s blog, Displacement. Her accessible posts regularly challenge her readers’ preconceptions.

- On the other head, Dave Coates at Dave Poems has erudition running through his writing in the explicit and implicit invocation of current critical theory as applied to contemporary verse. Academic articles in a blog format, all with their pulse on the latest developments.

- Moving on to Katy Evans Bush with Baroque in Hackney, I’ve mentioned her down-to-earth erudition in the past, and it continues to be extremely relevant. Her views on the ever-evolving U.K. poetry scene are a key barometer and I’m always on the look-out for them.

- Anthony Wilson continues to educate and entertain over at his blog. My favourite posts are perhaps his staged dialogues between the poem and the poet. They delight and reflect my own experiences at many turns.

- Roy Marshall’s blog, meanwhile, continues its journey and broadens its horizons, year on year. It started out as something of a personal journal, but he’s now packing it with interviews, features and how-to articles.

- And talking of how-to articles, perhaps the specialist is Emma Lee over at her long-running blog. There are also regular reviews, often of lesser-known poets. It’s well worth a visit.

- Sheenagh Pugh’s blogging is disciplined, regular and always stimulating. There are reviews, interviews and views, all stamped with her keen intelligence.

- Projects, trips, stories, all intertwined with verse. That’s George Szirtes’ blog, the unique product of a unique mind in U.K. poetry.

- Clare Best’s Self-Portrait Without Breasts is the ongoing story of a fierce, relentless creativity that the reader can only admire. Thoroughly recommended.

- David Clarke’s A Thing for Poetry has evolved still further this year. It’s gradually moving beyond the role of a personal journal and his posts are acquiring an ever-growing relevance for the wider poetry scene, all backed by sharp insight.

- Peter Raynard’s Proletarian Poetry has a clear political and social standpoint that resonates throughout the site. This blog offers poetry and criticism with oompf.

- Matt Merritt’s Polyolbion is another veteran of the scene. He confessed his doubts over its continuity a couple of months ago, but he’s carried on. U.K. poetry is a better place for the likes of Matt Merritt and his blog is an integral part of his presence.

- As for personal journeys, Caroline Gill’s blog is an excellent read. She has the ability to make her readers identify with her experience of poetry itself and all it accoutrements.

- In this respect, Jayne Stanton’s blog is also more than worth a read. Moreover, it charts her poetic development as she moves ever forward, enabling her readers to share in her success: this year, Eyewear’s Best New Poets anthology beckons for her too!

- Oh John, how we miss you. John who? John Field, of course, over at his Poor Rude Lines blog. It’s been dormant for a fair few months now, and I long to savour a new post…

- And ditto for Gareth Prior, an excellent blogger, whose site has a terrific archive. What’s to come…?

- And then there’s Maria Taylor over at Commonplace. Her posts are great reading. Fingers crossed they don’t peter out…

- And finally, a mention for a couple of bloggers who started off so brightly not so long ago. ChrissyWilliams and David Foster-Morgan, your posts were terrific. Any chance of a comeback…?!

And that’s all for another year, folks! Apologies to anyone I’ve missed out. Like always, a reminder that I do know that horrible feeling of reading through a list, reaching the end and finding you’re not there.

Here’s hoping 2017 brings fresh vigour to poetry blogging and the chance for me to champion new bloggers who complement social media, lending depth to the U.K. poetry scene and a point of reference for debate. And thank you, once more, for reading Rogue Strands!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Out-of-body experiences, Maria Taylor's Instructions for making me

If I liked Maria Taylor’s first full collection, Melanchrini (Nine Arches Press, 2012), I love her new pamphlet, Instructions for making me (HappenStance Press, 2016). She has somehow made the almost impossible leap from being a very good poet to being an outstanding one. The question is how.

At first sight, Maria Taylor’s verse can seem disconcertingly heterogeneous. In fact, even the blurb on the back cover to this pamphlet states “There’s no telling what she’ll do from one poem to the next, which is one of the things that makes reading her such a pleasure”. Of course, the potential drawback is we might also consequently struggle to come to identify Taylor’s work. Even in the space of the seventeen poems that make up the chapbook, she employs numerous different forms and deals with all sorts of thematic concerns. And yet, somehow, it all hangs together. These days, I immediately recognise a Maria Taylor poem when I encounter one in a journal, long before spotting her name at the bottom.

So what is the specific aspect that Taylor has most developed since Melanchrini? What element makes her poetry different? Well, it was already present and discernible in certain poems from her full collection, but it’s becoming her defining quality and shines throughout this pamphlet: I’m referring to her knack for out-of-body experiences. It’s now more surefooted and powerful than in the past, as in the following example from “Hypothetical”:

“A friend of mine asks if I’d sleep with Daniel Craig.
Before I have time to answer, I’m in bed with Daniel Craig…”

... and from “The Invisible Man”…

“My daughter pushes
The invisible man on a swing
under the apple tree.

I’ve know him for years.
I recognise him by the dust motes.
I ask him out. He stood me up…”

and from “My Stranger”…

…He’s the only stranger I can afford,
a middle-aged man in a plaid shirt
smiling for an artist. Nothing to me,
but I still hang him in the hallway
and call him “Dad”…”

Taylor’s primary underlying technique and concern is the nature of self, the blending of identities, the interweaving of voices, the merging of fact and fiction through ever-shifting perspectives, never allowing the reader to rest on solid ground. The result is verse that’s laden with highly specific intensity and insight, all this in language that flows naturally and never seems forced. Sentences, expressions and line-ending are inevitable yet surprising.

Pamphlets between collections are often under-reviewed and under-read. Maria Taylor’s Instructions for making me deserves an opposite fate. It’s a pivotal landmark in her development, our chance to encounter a set of poems that have her unique stamp running through them. They show us a poet who’s hitting her stride and reaching maturity. Her second full collection will be a mouth-watering prospect, but in the meantime we have these delicious morsels to relish. 

Friday, 11 November 2016

Martyn Crucefix on metrics

So many emerging poets (and even a few workshop leaders) seem to think that metrics are an irrelevance when creating verse, as if we can break every single rule before learning any of them, as if almost all top-notch abstract artists weren't first excellent draughtsmen. As a consequence, it's been a real pleasure to read Martyn Crucefix's blog over the past week or so.

Crucefix has been doing some teaching for the Poetry School, concentrating on metrics, and has then written two terrific posts on the back of his sessions. You can read them here. Apart from being entertaining and accessible, they are backed up by a formal rigour and knowledge that can only help any poet to understand the nuts and bolts of how verse is constructed. Wholeheartedly recommended!

Friday, 4 November 2016

The missing poets

On encountering a list of Eric Gregory Award winners the other day (see here), my wonky thought processes didn't view it as a roll call of those who were summoned to poetic fame. Instead, I homed in on the missing poets, the names who vanished overnight or gradually disappeared. Have they given up on verse or has it given up on them? Or do they still write and hoard their poems only for themselves?

Their names are a reminder that poetry hasn't been enough for certain people, as if verse has in some way failed them. The missing poets scare me: I can't imagine life without writing poetry.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Twitter and Facebook for poetry blogs

Now that Rogue Strands has reached the figure of 2,000 followers on Twitter (click here to join the happy throng!), it's a good time to reflect on how Twitter and Facebook interact with poetry blogs in general and specifically with this one.

First things first: I don't see social media in isolation. Instead, I make use of them as a means by which my posts on Rogue Strands might reach the greatest number of potential interested parties and readers. In other words, Twitter and Facebook help to spread the word.

Of course, transience is inevitable these days. Twitter is certainly faster-moving than Facebook, which lends it extra dynamism but also means that more stuff slips under the radar and disappears into the flow of information. Facebook, meanwhile, seems to have greater scope for discussion. On the other hand, one growing problem is that any debate of a blog post now often takes place via a comments thread on Facebook. The afore-mentioned thread then rapidly loses any connection with the post in question if and when readers go back to it a few months later.

Nevertheless, Rogue Strands' constant growth is in no doubt partly down to interaction with social media, viewing them as a beneficial tool rather than a threat or even an alternative. A quick glance at my blog stats shows that clicks through from Twitter and Facebook have trebled over the past couple of years. The latter is inevitably more slow-burning after a post is published, while the former is more immediate. All this is proof that poetry blogs are far from obsolete. They simply need to adapt to the ever-shifting virtual world around them.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

I'm in the Poetry Spotlight!

I'm delighted to report that Poetry Spotlight is featuring an interview with me today, along with one of the poems from my forthcoming full collection. You can read it by following this link.

While you're there, why not trawl the treasure trove that's gradually accumulating on the site? Paul Clyne is curating excellent pieces on a wide range of poets such as Fiona Sampson, Alison Brackenbury, Richie McCaffery, Fiona Moore and Sheenagh Pugh, to name but a few.