Friday, 27 December 2013

Holiday viewing

I launched the film version of Tasting Notes back in October. If you didn't have the time (it only lasts for four minutes!) to view it back then, why not have a look over the festive period? What's more, it's a reminder of sunnier times and climes in the context of the storms that are battering the U.K. at the moment!

  Tasting Notes - a poetry film by Matthew Stewart from Matthew Stewart on Vimeo.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Poetry blogs of the year

Back at the end of 2012, I posted about my refusal to name my books of the year. This time round, I thought I'd make an exception, but concentrating on blogs instead of books. That is because 2013 has seen a real surge in poetry blogging and has been an excellent year for the medium, now settled into the perfect fit of its niche beyond Facebook and Twitter.

It's simultaneously difficult and easy to classify poetry blogs. For the sake of this feature, I'm going to place them in groups somewhat, but they don't limit their activity and often break out of any pigeonholing. What's more, I must underline the personal nature of what I'm writng - this doesn't aim to be a full list of U.K. poetry blogs. Instead, it's a snapshot of my personal preferences.

First off, I'll start with an absolute favourite: John Field's Poor Rude Lines. Throughout 2013, Field has concentrated on writing excellent reviews and general criticism of the U.K. poetry scene, with a specific slant on poetry in education. In other words, this is a type of blog that solely looks at other people's work. Moreover, Field was also appointed Guest Blogger at the Aldeburgh Festival, a key sign of just how far the medium has come and how significant his role has been.

Along similar lines, this year has seen the emergence of Gareth Prior's blog. It's packed with excellent articles and reviews, and 2014 should see its consolidation as a point of reference in the world of poetry blogging. Prior's writing is limpid and precise, and he discovers new poetry and new perspectives for his readers. What better recommendation can I give?!

A second grouping of outstanding blogs in 2013 might well include poets who blend their own news with reviews of others' work, original verse and comment on the poetry scene. Let's begin with the veterans: Matt Merritt's Polyolbion, Ben Wilkinson's Deconstructive Wasteland and Rob MacKenzie's Surroundings. They were among the blogs that inspired me to set off on the journey of Rogue Strands, and their content in 2013 has continued to be thought-provoking and full of insight. Among more recent newcomers in this kind of blog, meanwhile, I'd highlight Fiona Moore's Displacement and Maria Taylor's Commonplace.

Another set of blogs, which often blurs and blends with the previous one, is that of the poets who write something of a personal journal. There are many around, but my own favourite reads are Kim Moore, Roy Marshall and Robin Houghton, whose UK Poetry Gal is an extremely honest chronicle of publishing successes and failures - a chance to follow the rollercoaster that's ridden by emerging poets.

And then there are the blogs that focus on providing a space for poets to showcase their work. These play a very generous role. Chief among them are Michelle McGrane's Peony Moon, Josephine Corcoran's And Other Poems and Abegail Morley's The Poetry Shed.

On to a final batch - publishers' blogs. While some are merely marketing machines, others offer the reader a real understanding of life on the other side of the fence. Of course, I'm a fan of Helena Nelson's efforts at my publisher, Happenstance, but I'm also a regular reader of Charles Boyle's thoughts over at Sonofabook, while Todd Swift's views over at Eyewear are always worth a look.

All of the above blogs have lit up my poetic 2013 in very different ways. They enable me to feel part of a community. Far from being a comprehensive list, this is just a sampling of my own choices. I hope this post includss one or two that you might not yet know yourself. Drop into them and enjoy - poetry blogging has never been stronger thatn in 2013!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Anthony Wilson's lifesaving poems

Anthony Wilson is an excellent poet with direct experience of life-threatening illness. In that context, one of his online projects, titled Lifesaving poems, is especially relevant. He explains it as follows:

"I was struck by a remark of Seamus Heaney in an interview he gave some years ago now. He was musing on how many poems can affect the life of an individual across that person’s lifetime. Was it ten, he said, twenty, fifty, a hundred, or more? This is the question that has underpinned this pet project of mine since I began it in July 2009...

...My criteria were extremely basic.  Was the poem one I could recall having had an immediate experience with from the first moment I read it? In short, did I feel the poem was one I could do without?"

This is also the key to my own love of poetry - I often feel a collection is a success even if it just contains one single poem that engraves itself on me.

In his series of Lifesaving poems (which begins here), Wilson blogs on how each piece has struck home with him. It's personal, subjective and all the better for that.

Moreover, Wilson's range is extremely wide. He's introduced me to many wonderful poems that I'd never read, often by little-known poets. This is the catalogue of a life's reading. For example, one of my favourite posts is about Suzannah Amoore's An Upstairs Kitchen. It's a terrific chunk of verse by a poet who's disappeared from view, and I'm grateful to Wilson for having shown me the way to it.

Why don't you have a browse for yourself? There really are poems that can save your life.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Simplicity's tightrope

Many critics (and thus poets) equate verbal fireworks with poetic risk-taking and depth. That might sometimes be right, but the opposite can also be true.

Syntactic simplicity is just as capable of ambition and is even more dangerous as its opposite number. Moreover, there's no gorgeous language to hide behind if the verse falls flat on its face. As a consequence, I hugely admire poets who write in such a way.

Hamish Whyte is a case in point, and his new HappenStance pamphlet, Hannah, are you listening? is an excellent example of such a kind of verse. Yes, there are poetic failures in the book, as in any collection. Yes, they are stripped naked for inspection. However, that also means that the successes are crystalline and memorable. One such instance is the ending to the title poem:

"...It's only a tiny chime
but I hope you hear it through ineluctable time."

The musical effect of the assonance is heightened by Whyte's semantic clarity. What's more, his poetic method means that strands of observation stand out, as in the opening lines from One of those lives:

"One of those lives
that's more a tone of voice
than a biography..."

I'll carry that turn of phrase with me for a long time. Poetry doesn't have to be flash to be memorable.

Hamish Whyte dares to walk simplicity's tightrope in this pamphlet. I love watching him do so, especially when he reaches the other side and I can't resist a huge, silent cheer. I very much recommend Hannah, are you listening? to any reader who cares to join me.

Thursday, 21 November 2013


In the light of a turbulent week for U.K. poetry, with far too many strops, spats and sulks going on via social media, it was incredibly refreshing to read Kim Moore's blog about having been shortlisted for the Michael Marks Awards and missing out on the prize itself. Her post was shot through with honesty and grace. You can read the piece in full here.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

On the menu in St Andrews...

Just what will be on the menu in St Andrews on Friday 15th November?

Well, there will be a fair few tapas of this on toast...

Plus lots of carving and scoffing of this...

Washed down with glasses of this...

With readings from this alongside...

All of the above for less than a tenner. You can get hold of a ticket here!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Patricia Beer on middle age

My recent trip to the U.K. wasn't for a pleasant reason (a family funeral), but it did give me the chance to browse in my favourite secondhand bookshops. I love the thrill of leafing through poetry collections and often making discoveries.

One such case on this occasion was Patricia Beer's Collected Poems (Carcanet, 1988). Later research on the internet indicated that there was more verse from her after that date, but this book still gives a very decent introduction to her work.

Beer's poetry must have been very unfashionable in the eighties and nineties, and it probably still is in many respects. However, she's capable of lovely turns of phrase, coherent fusing of narrative and ideas, and some stunning endings. I was particularly taken with one piece, titled Middle Age, especially in the context of the motive for my visit. Here are two extracts from the beginning and the ending of the poem:

"Middle age at last declares itself
As the time when could-have-been
Is not wishful thinking any more...

...Everywhere I look it is the same,
The churchyard or the other side of the bed,
The one who is not lying there
Could have been."

The circularity is both satisfying and eye-opening. The reader is left to contemplate "who" "could have been" in their own lives. It's a terrific poem.

Thank you once again, secondhand bookshop.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Tasting Notes and StAnza at the St Andrews Food and Drink Festival

I'm really looking forward to my next reading in St Andrews on 15th November. Here's the background to the event, taken from the St Andrews Food and Drink Festival website:

"Working with StAnza, Matthew Stewart, exporter and blender for the Spanish cooperative Viñaoliva, leads a guided tasting and talks about the blender’s art. Matthew is also a poet – his entertaining Tasting Notes were published by Fife’s HappenStance Press in 2012. There will be time for interaction and questions, as he introduces the wine of poetry, and the poetry of wine.  Guests will have the chance to taste four Zaleo wines (Pardina 2012, Rosado 2012, Tempranillo 2012 and Premium 2010) and food pairings of ham, bread and Spanish cheese."

£7.50 or £5.00 conc.
[To include tasting, copy of Tasting Notes, and tapas.]

Booking link -

If you're in the area, what could be better than four glasses of wine, a poetry pamphlet and gorgeous tapas alongside, all for less than a tenner? I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Half a comma

I've always been intrigued by the way poets deal with line breaks when giving a reading. Many skip them entirely, often arguing that they are purely a effect to be seen on a page. However, such a view undermines the necessary marrying of content and form, of the aural and the visual. It implicitly lends weight to the school of "chopped-up prose".

Nevertheless, opposing techniques don't convince me either. One such example was a reading by the renowned Spanish poet Jorge Riechmann in Badajoz a few years ago. He placed such an emphasis on his line breaks, marking them with such deliberation, that all flow was lost. Artifice took over.

So, all of the above begs the question: how do I deal with line breaks myself? Well, I refuse to ignore them. What's more, if I want my reader to notice a slight hiatus on the page, I'd also like my audience to feel that same slight pause. My best stab at an explanation would be that I treat a line break as half a comma. That's not a rule. It's not a norm. It's simply the way I imagine my poem being read aloud while I write it, and it's a fundamental part of the music I try to convey when standing up in front of a microphone.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The online premiere

After several months of graft, I'm pleased to be able to announce that the online premiere of Tasting Notes, a poetry film, will be on Wednesday 2nd October. The absence of a red carpet won't stop me being pretty excited!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

New Walk 7

New Walk 7 will be heading out to subscribers in the next few weeks. I'm delighted to report that it will be featuring a recent poem by myself (titled Sooner or Later) alongside work by John Ashbery, Sujata Bhatt, Mark Ford, Carrie Etter and other high-quality poets. Why not visit the New Walk website here to get your hands on a copy of what is fast becoming one of the most significant poetry journals around?

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

What is a poetry film?

Ahead of the online première of Tasting Notes, a poetry film, here's something of a declaration of intent!

So, just what is a "poetry film"? Well, I believe it's capable of bringing about connections and creating metaphors that neither the verbal nor the visual form would produce alone.

In other words, a poetry film is able to give a concrete image to a set of words that were previously limitless in visual terms, enriching poems by driving the verse in question towards a tangible experience. However, this need not be a hindrance, as those very words strengthen and specify the inital generic power of the images employed, enabling the viewer to set off on a new journey.

This, at least, is my aim with Tasting Notes. The poems are already highly visual, but very few of my readers have had the opportunity to see Extremadura, its wineries and vineyards for themselves. The film intends to give them that vicarious chance.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The deft peeling of euphenism, Hilary Menos' Red Devon

In her second full collection, titled Red Devon (Seren, 2013),Hilary Menos builds on the achievements of Wheelbarrow Farm, her 2010 pamphlet fromTemplar poetry, adding further texture and counterpoints to what was already a highly individual and thought-provoking poetic view of modern agricultural life.

Red Devon is far from being some evangelical vegetarian crusade. Instead, it brings us face to face with what we are and what we’ve always been. Let’s take this example from “Stock Take”:

“…And I feel I’m not being euphemistic enough

when I explain the absence of four or five lambs
by saying we ate them…”

Of course, she’s being the opposite of euphemistic throughout this collection. In fact, Menos peels away the layers of euphemism like the plastic wrapping on a supermarket pack of chops.

Red Devon continually challenges us. We’re never told what to think. Instead, the reader is allowed to roam and explore possible reactions. For instance, “Long Pig”, about cannibals, seems a long way removed from the West Country poems at first sight. However, the contrary is true, as the following extract shows:

“We eat the flesh only in wartime, when enraged,
and in a few legal instances. Theft. Treason.”

The reader is implicitly being invited to compare attitudes towards eating humans with attitudes towards eating animals.

This theme of comparisons between humans and animals is crucial to the book. It runs through all the poems, sometimes underneath them, sometimes as a clear driving force. One such piece is “Shambles”, in which the slaughter of animals is compared to the execution of people:

“This is the goat that, incompletely stunned,
Offered his throat to the knife
And said, like Walter Raleigh mentally thumbing the axe,
“So the heart be right, it is no matter which way the heart lieth.””

Any review of Red Devon wouldn’t be complete without mentioning “The Ballad of Grunt Garvey and Jo Tucker, the sequence of poems that lies at the book’s core. Like so much of Menos’ work, it highlights contradictions with a deft touch, never hectoring, always encouraging reflection. For example, its title is traditional, yet much of the versification subverts any pigeonholed expectations. What’s more, any romantic connotations are quickly dispelled.

In other words, tradition is juxtaposed to modernity, thus enabling contrasts to arise. The final (and title) poem of the sequence manages just such a feat,
beginning with…

“Oh for a story as simple as boy meets girl…”

This fairytale content is combined with a sing-song rhythm, setting us up for a shift in the second stanza to…

“At eight Jo parks, unfolds and folds the map,
listens to the metal tick as the big truck cools…”

The inanimate, modern sound of the metal is layered by the size of the vehicle. Modernity is clashing with tradition and the consequences are tragic.

Red Devon is an example of how a pamphlet, already excellent in its own right, can provide a springboard towards the larger canvas of a full collection that’s even better. Hilary Menos writes poetry that is specific in place. However, the key to her achievement lies in her ability to coax interpretation instead of forcing it. As a consequence, I’ll carry Red Devon in my mind for a long time. 

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Gareth Prior reviews Tasting Notes

I'm delighted to report that Gareth Prior has posted a very generous review of Tasting Notes on his blog. You can read it here and also take the opportunity to have a look at the many other thought-provoking articles he's written. The role of poetry in education features strongly, while there's also an excellent piece on Fiona Moore's recent pamphlet.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Tasting Notes, a poetry film

To a certain extent, the title of this post is self-explanatory. I'm lucky enough to have some very generous friends down here in Extremadura who've been working with me over the last few months to create a professionally produced film version of Tasting Notes.

I'll be providing some background info over the next few days as to how we've gone about things and with what poetic intentions. All this will be followed by an online première in mid-September. Busy (and very exciting) times!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Tasting Notes - exciting news

This September promises exciting news: a fresh development in the Tasting Notes project. More details over the coming days...

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The ebbing of absolutes, Matt Merritt's The Elephant Tests

Matt Merritt's poetry has always stood out for the texturing of its nuances. However, in The Elephant Tests (Nine Arches Press, 2013), his third full collection, Merritt has taken that process a step further.

Throughout the book, he is undermining any sense of absolutes or permanence, his endings playing a key role. They tend to qualify and cast doubt on what comes before, as in the following example from "Always". The first stanza seems affirmative as it sets off, clear in its statements:

"Memory abhors a vacuum. It seeds a coarse grass
between every bloom..."

The above beginning contrasts with the poem's closing lines:

"...Maybe this happened again and again,

maybe just that once. We can live by such uncertainty."

The repetition of "maybe" is topped off by "uncertainty". Nothing is as it appears.

In the same way, flux and movement pervade "The Elephant Tests", forever unsettling and challenging the reader, yet not via crude shocks. Instead, scenes and narratives shift in their portrayal, as in "The Capercaillie". At first, it...

"hasn't moved for the fifteen minutes
we've been watching..."

Nevertheless, a few lines later...

"And already, she's a shadow of herself, a last held breath
away from slipping out of sight. It's easily done."

The poem provides us with two implicit comparisons here: between stasis and transience, between the natural and the human world.

Matt Merritt builds layer upon layer of such subtleties. He is a specialist in trusting his reader. However, he's also capable of gorgeous unveilings of freshly cast images. Never flashy, never needing to show off, he yokes them to the purpose of his verse and they are richer for that. He's always been terrific at endings (as illustrated above), but this one, from "Long Story Short", ranks among his best:

"...the bubblewrap sound
of a car receding over cobbles."

What's more, Merritt is acutely aware that restraint and control are often insufficient. An overreaching is crucial to an understanding of what defies expression. One such example comes at the start of "Chirimoya":

"Custard apple. Sweetsop. Guanabana.
Mostly, it's the human heart..."

In this case, the poet starts by seeking a definition via a list. The pauses are deliberate. And then, all of a sudden, there's a delicious tingle of impatience as he accelerates and brings the reader to the core thrust of his inspiration.

The Elephant Tests shows a fully mature poet who continues to explore the relationship between verse and his life. Merritt accompanies us on a poetic journey that forces us to reflect on ever-growing uncertainties. In that vein, I'd like to end this review with the lines that bring this exceptional collection to a close:

"You still don't know what the elephant looks like,
but today looks a lot like the elephant."

Monday, 19 August 2013

John Hollander

I was saddened to read this morning of John Hollander's death (here's a link to an obituary in the New York Times).

As I've mentioned previously on Rogue Strands, Hollander's Rhyme's Reason played a key role in my poetic development as a teenager, all thanks to a recommendation from Mr Hoyes, my English teacher at the time! His own verse might be highly esoteric at times, but this is a very manageable and accessible little manual of versification. It's ideal for new poets who want to get to grips with metrics and I still recommend it to this day.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Self-consciously self-conscious

In our recent reviews of Luke Samuel Yates' pamphlet, The pair of scissors that could cut anything, over at Sphinx (see here), both Richie McCaffery and myself coincided in the "self-conscious" nature of Yates' poetry. What's more, I even argued that his verse seems "self-consciously self-conscious".

In other words, Yates is adopting a very specific poetic posture. I'm sure his work is going to play a significant role in the U.K. poetry scene over the coming years, and I'll be intrigued to follow its development.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Degna Stone's Record and Play

My review of Degna Stone's Record and Play is now up over at Sphinx. You can read it here, alongside complementing and contrasting views from Helena Nelson and Ross Kightly. Like always in such cases, reading their pieces makes me reassess my own opinions!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

John Field at Aldeburgh

I read yesterday that John Field will be appearing at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival (see here). This is excellent news, as he's been selected as the festival's Guest Blogger on the back of his terrific work over at Poor Rude Lines during the past year. Field's emergence underlines that poetry blogging can have a serious backbone and play a key role in the U.K. poetry world.

Field will be discussing the work of a number of pamphleteers who'll be reading at the festival, and I was delighted to notice that Richie McCaffery, whose chapbook I so enjoyed last year, is among them. All in all, Aldeburgh can boast a superb line-up once more!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Different heats

Having fled 42-degree heat in Extremadura, I've encountered sweltering Sussex. Different heats, different ways of dealing with them (few two-hour siestas are to be had in Blighty!) and different ways of expressing them.

For example, Larkin's "Long lion days" could only be about a British heat wave: summer days don't start with a "white haze" over in Spain. The light in both countries varies dramatically in tone, although you could argue the "hammer of heat" has a similar effect!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Matt Merritt's new collection

Matt Merritt's new collection, The Elephant Tests, is now out from Nine Arches Press. I'm really looking to getting hold of a copy and will report back on Rogue Strands in due course. In the meantime, here's a link to one of the poems from the book on Ink, Sweat and Tears. It certainly whets my appetite!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Sold out!

Inventing Truth, my first HappenStance pamphlet, has now officially sold out. While I'm delighted at this success, I also feel the melancholy of a parent when their child flies the nest!

In any case, I do have a few copies left in my possession, and I'ĺl be selling them at future readings to be announced in due course. What's more, Tasting Notes is still available via the HappenStance website or with bottles of wine included from Bat and Bottle. Just follow the links to the right of this post

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Rooted memories, Angela France's Hide

Angela France's poetry is in tune, not just in musical terms but with its physical setting. Her verse is anchored in specifics throughout Hide (Nine Arches Press, 2013), her third collection.

Gloucestershire is brought to life via the personification of elements (for example, the "wind sobs") and contextualised strands of memories that are rooted in their surroundings, previous generations often still present, as in Homecoming and this extract from Family Visits:

"Quiet now.It's their turn to visit;
the old aunts and uncles,the great
and grand parents. They visit as we did...

...They don't speak,
don't change position, only nod
or gesture at a picture, a fireplace,
or a vase of flowers, seeding."

Families have an origin and a sense of belonging  - there's no mushy generalisation in this collection, nor any meek acceptance of globalisation - and that feeling is reinforced in The Visit...

..."They lean together to whisper

lineage, connections; which daughter, whose son, what cousin
is parent to the child who holds her grandmother's hand..."

Via the act of writing, France is commemorating her Gloucestershire upbringing, transforming it into poetry. Her Döppelganger, for instance, "hoards memory", while Hoard finds her collecting apples, berries and mushrooms in the autumn so as to withstand the winter. Metaphors are implicit, bonds between humans and nature are explicit.

The ghosts of previous generations, meanwhile, are mirrored by the ghosts of memories as expressed through objects in Forgotten Trails:

"They trail behind me, ghostly
outlines in a fading contrail,
skittering on sharp turns,
stretching thin when I travel fast..."

Reading back through this review, I've noticed how it picks up on several different strands that run through Hide, all of which interweave in gorgeous patternings. The poems start conversations among themselves, enriching each other. Apparent simplicity and clarity are rendered half-hidden by such comparisons, reflecting the complex nature of the relationship between memory and place.

As a consequence, Angela France's collection not only brings immediate rewards - its depth satisfies more and more on rereading. I enjoyed it immensely.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Different media, different reading techniques

While at university, I acted in a lot of student drama, learning how to project to an audience without overacting, and there's no doubt in my mind that the experience has held me in good stead when giving poetry readings.

What's more, drama was great fun, so I was delighted when a friend recently asked me to do a bit of acting over here in Spain for a short promotional film about local wines (I play a British wine critic!). Once we started work, the director immediately picked up on my stage experience and corrected it. He explained that the techniques we use on stage then seem histrionic on film. The latter medium requires more natural intimacy, addressing an individual rather than an audience.

These last few days, meanwhile, have seen me making recordings of some of my poems for an exciting new project (more on that in future posts!). While doing so and listened back to what I'd read, I realised that the above-mentioned difference between theatre and film also exists between reading to an audience or into a microphone. In the latter case, you have to imagine that you're in a one-on-one situation instead of in front of rows of people. Different media demand different reading techniques.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

How to end a poem?

Conventional wisdom would have it that practitioners of contemporary verse should end their poems in such a way that their writing opens out beyond the piece itself. In other words, the poem should finish by inviting its reader to take an onward journey.

In this context, we often forget that circular endings, ones that tie up loose ends and bring strands together, ones that satisfy in their neat perfection, are equally valid and can also surprise. They aren't necessarily in any way less ambitious for holding the reader within the poem. However, they are out of fashion.

I was consequently delighted to find that Frank Wood is adept at such endings. My review of his pamphlet, Racing the Stable Clock, is now up here at Sphinx, alongside pieces on the same collection by Gina Wilson and Rob A. Mackenzie. The latter's opinions very much coincide with mine, and we even chose similar quotes to illustrate our points!

Saturday, 15 June 2013


The wines that win awards aren't necessarily the ones that people enjoy drinking. The collections that win awards aren't necessarily the ones that people enjoy reading.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

From remembering to remembrance, Fiona Moore's The Only Reason for Time

At first reading, many of the poems in Fiona Moore's HappenStance pamphlet, The Only Reason for Time, might seem to be about her partner's death several years ago when in his late forties.

However, this collection doesn't explore death or even grief. Instead, it's a life-affirming record of the emergence from grief. By that, I don't mean the shedding of the past or any so-called rebirth. Instead, it's the portrayal of a process whereby the poet moves from remembering to remembrance. It's a treasuring of what has been experienced, enjoyed and suffered, a treasuring that enables us to carry on.

Let's take the example of one poem from the early part of Moore's pamphlet, titled The Shirt. It's full of images that impact on the reader:

"They must have had to work so hard to
save you there was no time to unbutton it.
An office shirt, because that's where
it happened. The thin stripes slashed through -
terrifying, unprecedented - a reminder
of everything I wanted to forget..."

Okay, so the first lines really strike home and are wonderfully written, but the core of this poem follows them - the shirt as reminder and memory. It ends with...

                            "...and from then on,
nothing happened that we would forget."

These days, funerals often seem to be termed "celebrations", as if there were some miraculous short cut through grief. Moore is only too aware that this isn't the case. The Only Reason for Time traces her route out of it, as in the poem On Dunwich Beach. It's ceremonial, like a rite. The protagonist reaches the shore, gets ready and swims. The end of each stanza is a staging post:

"...undressing for you...swimming for you...searching for you...dying for you...breathing for for you."

This poem encapsulates the process that I mentioned earlier on in my post - the emergence from grief. Verse has the capacity to transform, for example, remembering into remembrance, but it can only manage this in the hands of the ablest poets. In The Only Reason for Time, Fiona Moore demonstrates that she is among them. Her collection is a huge achievement. 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Rory Waterman's forthcoming first book

I was delighted to spot last week that Rory Waterman's first book, titled Tonight the Summer's Over, is finally available for pre-order from Carcanet Press here.

I really enjoyed the selection of Waterman's work that was included in the New Poetries V anthology, while his reading at Days of Roses event in London back in 2011 also etched several of his poems on my mind. This is one collection that will definitely be heading for my bedside table!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The sales of books at poetry readings

In a recent article about Salt's decision to drop single-author poetry collections, The Guardian gave the following statistics:

"Official figures from Nielsen BookScan show a sharp decline in the overall poetry market in the last year. There was growth of around 13% in 2009, when the market was worth £8.4m, followed by small declines in 2010 and 2011, and then a major drop of 18.5% volume and 15.9% value in 2012, when the overall value of the market fell to £6.7m."

I don't doubt these figures for a moment. However, they miss out the core of U.K. poetry - its readings. These are mainly run by commited volunteers, often poets themselves, and play a key role in introducing new poets to readers. As a consequence, they are the driving force behind many sales and are not included in Nielsen's statistics.

Let's take myself as an example: Buzzwords in Cheltenham last weekend was the latest in a number of readings that I given all around the country in the last two years. It went excellently - there was an attentive audience who encouraged me throughout and bought lots of my books (a dozen, in fact!). I was also delighted to meet Angela France, Alison Brackenbury and Stephen Payne at last.

The above event followed on from other lovely readings where I've been warmly welcomed:

Poetry at the... in Edinburgh (run by Rob MacKenzie)
Nightblue Fruit in Coventry (run by Antony Owen)
Shindig in Leicester (run by Nine Arches Press and Crystal Clear Creators)
Tongues & Grooves in Portsmouth (run by Maggie Sawkins)
Days of Roses in London (run by Declan Ryan)
Plus one-off readings in Nottingham (thanks to Robin Vaughan-Williams) and London (at the Poetry Book Fair)

I'm incredibly grateful to all these people for providing me with a platform to present my books. What's more, if Inventing Truth (my first HappenStance pamphlet) is almost sold out, that's in no small part down to these opportunities. I've sold books at every single event, thanks to member of each audience who love poetry.

In other words, there's a thriving live poetry scene out there beyond slams. Week after week, people turn out in numbers to hear poems being read, to encounter new poets and buy their books. This scene is growing, it's healthy, it's the heartbeat of U.K. poetry. 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

A quick reminder

Just a quick reminder that I'll be the guest poet at Buzzwords in Cheltenham this coming Sunday evening. More details can be found on the Buzzwords blog here.

I'll be reading from both Inventing Truth and Tasting Notes (with copies of both pamphlets available for sale on the night), and I'd be delighted to meet any readers of Rogue Strands who might be able to make it along!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Helen Mort's first full collection

I was delighted to see the other day that Helen Mort's first full collection, titled Division Street (Chatto & Windus), will be coming out this September. What's more, it will be a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.

I've been following Mort's poetry for a number of years (she brought out two pamphlets with tall lighthouse and her work has appeared widely in magazines), and I'm  looking forward to getting hold of this book. It should be one of the most interesting first full collections to be published in the U.K. this year.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Buzzwords in Cheltenham

Buzzwords Poetry organise monthly events in Cheltenham that involve readings, open mics and workshops, all run by Angela France. Numerous excellent poets have read there over the last few years, including Alison Brackenbury and George Szirtes.

I'm delighted to report that I'll be reading as the guest poet at Buzzwords on Sunday 2nd June. The venue is the Exmouth Arms in Leckhampton, Cheltenham. I'll be doing a workshop at 7pm or you can simply come along to my reading and the open mic at 8pm.

I'll be giving readings from Inventing Truth and Tasting Notes, sandwiched between the open mic sessions, and there will be copies of both pamphlets for sale on the night. I've heard excellent reports about Buzzwords and I'm really looking forward to it!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

The demise of Salt's poetry list

There was a major shift in the U.K. poetry publishing scene yesterday with the news that Salt are giving up their verse arm apart from their annual anthology (see their blog post here). Bearing in mind that they've published more than 400 collections over the past thirteen years, this is serious stuff.

I'll always be grateful to Salt for having introduced me to the work of many great poets such as Sîan Hughes, whose The Missing is one of the most outstanding poetry books to have been published in the U.K. since the turn of the century. Salt was responsible for bringing out numerous first full collections, offering numerous opportunities for excellent poets to find an outlet. However, many of those same poets now find themselves in a unsettling position and on rocky ground: no publisher for that awkward second book, no long-term commitment.

The demise of Salt's poetry list might well be down to a wide range of causes. The fact is that they found it very difficult to place their verse collections in major bookshops. Furthermore, I do feel they might have overextended themselves in terms of the number of collections they published, especially 2/3 years ago. It's clear that poets must put major work in to market their own books, but they also need strong support behind them in the form of their publisher. With extremely limited human resources, Salt sometimes had to let poets (and their books) very much sink or swim. It was a huge achievement just to publish such terrific poetry in gorgeous packaging in those circumstances!

It's also ironic that after having gone through a number of turbulent periods of cashflow problems, etc, (e.g. the Just One Book campaign), Salt now seemed to be on an even keel on the back of Alison Moore's novel, The Lighthouse, having managed to make the Booker shortlist. In fact, I'd speculate that this major success may well have sharpened Salt's focus on prose as their growth area and the basis on which they can build a sustainable, non-funded business model.

I can only hope that Salt might find a way back to publishing more poetry in the future. For the moment, I feel very sorry for the numerous poets from Salt's list who must be waking up today, looking at their manuscripts and wondering just how they are going to find a home for their next book.

Friday, 10 May 2013

The last few copies of Inventing Truth

HappenStance Press tell me that only a final few copies of Inventing Truth remain in stock. This is consequently your last chance to take them up on their special offer of both my pamphlets (i.e. Inventing Truth and Tasting Notes) together at £6 for the two - a £2.00 reduction on their price if bought singly. The product page on the HappenStance website can be found here.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Poets' second jobs

I encountered an excellent article the other day (on the NPR website) on poets' second jobs. Its focus is the U.S., but many of its remarks are also salient in the case of the U.K.. You can read the whole thing here, but I'd like to highlight a number of key points.

The feature mentions the huge growth in the last few years in poets who make a living from teaching poetry, stating that almost all the 75 contributors to the 2012 edition of "The Best American Poetry" "have taught poetry in universities or earned an advanced degree in poetry, or (more frequently) both."

As mentioned previously on Rogue Strands, I'm very much in favour of the positive effect a non-poetic job can have on the writing of verse. As this article explains, there's a long tradition of scientists, bankers, lawyers, etc, etc, being published poets: "One of the most obvious benefits of a day job is that it offers another lens through which the outlines of poems can emerge."

Once more, this argument leads us on to the role of poetry in wider society, to the value that we apply to the genre:  "the ways in which we value poetry can be very different from the ways in which we value poets themselves."

The article might go over old ground, but it does so in fresh ways. It certainly got me thinking again about how my job interacts with my verse, not just in overt content such as Tasting Notes, but implicitly in all the rest of my poems. Apart from the roles I play in my personal life (father, son, partner, etc), I'm also an export manager, and have a very specific and consequent type of interaction with people on a daily basis. Those experiences contribute to everything I write.

Sunday, 28 April 2013


As an export manager in the wine trade, I often seek new outlets for my products. This entails making offers, sending out samples and awaiting a reply. More often than not, a rejection arrives back, as supply far exceeds demand. However, there's a real rush when a customer takes a new wine. Who cares about all those rejections in the face of a beaming acceptance...?!

As an poet, I often seek new outlets for my work. This entails making offers, sending out samples and awaiting a reply. More often than not, a rejection arrives back, as supply far exceeds demand. However, there's a real rush when an editor takes a new poem. Who cares about all those rejections in the face of a beaming acceptance...?!

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Review: Nasty Little Intro #5, by Tristram Fane Saunders

I really enjoyed Lizzy Dening's Nasty Little Intro last year, and so I was delighted to get my hands on another mini-pamphlet from the series - this time #5 - by Tristram Fane Saunders.

Fane Saunders renders the reviewer susceptible to all sorts of cliché and hyperbole: any pamphlet by a nineteen-year-old Cambridge undergraduate tempts the use of terms such as "precocious", "exciting new talent", "one to watch", etc, etc. What's more, in this case the poetry itself very much does warrant close attention.

These are poems that simultaneously connect with the everyday yet also demand knowledge of popular and literary allusion. PG Tips appear alongside John Betjeman, The Meaning of Liff and John Cooper Clarke. As indicated by the invocation of that last name, it's also verse that lends itself to performance, especially in the case of pieces such as Silent Disco:

"come dance with me
among the moshing
tatters of mankind
the broken folk
the malcontents
the speechless and the blind..."

This might come over as slightly facile on the page, but the aural impact is clear.

Nevertheless, it would be unfair to classify Fane Saunders so readily. As the chapbook's title states, it's an "intro", and thus shows the poet exploring varying facets of his work. In other poems he shows he can turn a phrase well, judge its use within the context of a poem, and grab a reader's attention. One such example occurs in the opening lines of Farnham (which just happens to be my home town!) :

"The days are melting in together,
taking you with them. Not like broken
ice in a wineglass, with late summer
sweating its edges; more like sodden
tissues in mounds..." 

I'll be following Tristram Fane Saunders' poetic development with great interest. Will he definitively go down the performance route? Will his written poetry gain more and more texture? How will he wear the growing erudition that he's revelling in just now? The exciting thing is that he can't even know that himself!

Friday, 19 April 2013

A special offer

Over at their updated online shop, HappenStance Press are currently offering a special deal on my two pamphlets:

"In Tasting Notes, Matthew Stewart has four Zaleo products speak for themselves—a marriage of wine and poetry.

The poems in Inventing Truth are characterized by brevity and restraint. At first reading, they seem simple. They pack a punch, however, that exceeds rational expectation.

Now you can buy both pamphlets together at £6 for the two - a £2.00 reduction on the price if bought singly."

You can take HappenStance up on their excellent offer by clicking here.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Abstract nouns in American poetry

"In spite of the risks involved in broad generalisation, let me start with a premise: while much of UK poetry seems to run scared of big abstract nouns, fearful of being sucked into their black hole of mish-mashed connotations and interpretations, American poetry seems to have long overcome such hang-ups and self-limitation."

The above is the first paragraph of my review of Brad Johnson's The Dichotomy Paradox for Sphinx. You can read the whole piece here, alongside alternative views from Matt Merritt and Helen Evans.

In spite of many possible exceptions, am I right? If so, why?

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Terrific reviews for Tasting Notes!

I'm very pleased to report that Sphinx has published a terrific set of reviews for Tasting Notes. Moreover, I'm extremely grateful to Marcia Menter, Ross Kightly and Trevor McCandless for the generosity of their remarks on my pamphlet, as in the following examples:

"...the delights of this small but succulent pamphlet..."

"...All I can say is that the mouth feel of these poems is as exquisite as the wines claim to be..."

"...It is impossible for me not to love this pamphlet..."

"...I can’t resist the voice of grape waiting to be picked..."

"...I can’t begin to tell you how delighted I was..."

"...This book is lovely. Mouth-wateringly so..."

You can read the three reviews in full here. And don't forget you can still get hold of a copy yourself (and maybe even an accompanying bottle of wine) by clicking on the links to the right of this post.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Frogmore Papers Issue 81

I was very pleased to find a copy of The Frogmore Papers Issue 81 waiting for me on my doorstep when I arrived home yesterday. Not only does it feature a lot of excellent verse from the likes of Abegail Morley and Mike Barlow alongside two of my poems (The Play and The Leftovers), but it also includes a number of brief reviews.

One in particular took my eye: Rachel Playforth on Richie McCaffery's Spinning Plates, in which she writes...

"These poems cry out to be spoken aloud, with their sensual, playful relish in unusual words and phrases.But they are more than just tasty verbal morsels, making elegant leaps from a single image to a greater truth, and expressing deep feeling as well as sensation..."

I can only endorse her words, having savoured McCaffery's pamphlet myself last year. You can still get hold of a copy here.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Maurice Rutherford's Flip Side to Philip Larkin

Following Prowein, which was terrific both in terms of wine and poetry (Tasting Notes turned out to be a real success not just with my importers but with the other wineries who had stands nearby!), I got back to find Sphinx Review had posted my piece on Maurice Rutherford's Shoestring Press pamphlet, which is titled Flip Side to Philip Larkin.

It's an intriguing collection, as can be seen by comparing my views with those of the other two reviewers (Peter Daniels and D.A. Prince), and I purchased a copy of Rutherford's New and Selected Poems, And Saturday is Christmas, as a direct consequence of having been sent his chapbook for review. This is one of the joys of writing for Sphinx - I discover excellent poets who might otherwise have slipped under my radar.

Thursday, 21 March 2013


Sunday sees the start of Prowein in Düsseldorf. It's perhaps the biggest and most important annual wine trade fairs in the world, and we always exhibit Zaleo there. This year, however, I won't just be showing my new vintages - Tasting Notes will also be accompanying me.

The wine trade might entail buying and selling stuff just like milk, houses or furniture, but in this case most of the people involved also actually enjoy and even love the liquid that enables them to make a living. What's more, many of my importers and distributors are very well read in their respective languages. Having already had fun with Tasting Notes in the U.K. wine world, I'm now really looking forward to seeing how it goes down with readers who speak (excellent) English as a second language. The feedback from the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Denmark, Germany, etc, etc, will be intriguing.

Once the fair closes, we'll definitely aim to have a few glasses of Düsseldorf's famous Old Ale. Following all that serious wine, a beer goes down wonderfully and cleanses the palate, just like a trashy novel after intense poetry!

Monday, 18 March 2013

The Telegraph on Ian Hamilton

Thanks are due to Richie McCaffery for posting a link on Facebook to the Telegraph's so-called review of Ian Hamilton's Collected Poems, which has just been issued in paperback. It's an exceptional book, as the reviewer thankfully manages to mention in passing among the countless references to Hamilton's undoubted sexual exploits, boozing and mischief-making. The feature is a potted biography, not a critical analysis of poetry.

Hamilton's verse is outstanding. What's more, it's more than capable of engaging with readers who are unaccustomed to picking up a book of poems. This Telegraph article, however, has very little chance of encouraging anyone to do so. Instead, the piece yet again decides to focus on salacious details just like in the case of Plath, Hughes and even Larkin. Caricatures abound.

Forget the Telegraph's sensationalism. Get hold of a copy of Ian Hamilton's Collected Poems. Read it. Allow yourself to be moved.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Ink, Sweat and Tears features Tasting Notes

Over at Ink, Sweat and Tears, Helen Ivory is kindly featuring Tasting Notes today. You can read my poem Food Match, which is taken from the pamphlet, by following the link here.

Monday, 11 March 2013

What's in a name?

Spanish is an extremely vivid language in its use of names for places and families. For example, one of my recent opponents in the local tennis league here in Almendralejo is called Antonio Matamoros (Antonio the moorkiller). Somehow, I don't think he''ll feel too comfortable if he ever has to book in to an hotel in Marrakesh.

As for places, the drive from here down to Seville first crosses a river/steam called El Arroyo Matasanos (the healthy-person killer). Its water must once have been poisonous. Meanwhile, a few miles further on is La Cuesta de la Media Fanega, a huge hill that I featured in a poem (first published in The Frogmore Papers) a few years ago as follows:

After the Airport

Driving home, this winter morning
tracks my route with a searchlight sun.
Past holm oaks I reach La Cuesta
de la Media Fanega
- otherwise Half-A-Bushel Hill -
change down, memorise number plates,
breathe in lorry fumes. Locals chose
the name because of what a mule
devoured while getting over it.
I make the top at last, still lost
for what might get me over you.

These days, it's just a decent drop of scenery from the new motorway, but my battered, ancient Peugeot 309 really struggled up that old road!

Monday, 4 March 2013

Too much of a good thing?

In his recent provocative article for Poetry magazine (see here), Joshua Mehigan remarks on the different visions that insiders and outsiders might have of the poetry world. He ends his feature as follows:

"In the end, poetry looks radical only to the outside world, which ignores it, while from inside it looks static. Poets got out of these situations before by doing something new, but novelty is superfluous now. There is no way to get into the game without upping the ante, and there is no way out without bluffing or folding or everyone agreeing on a new game. If you’ve been a poet for a while you might not see how bizarre it all seems, and how monotonous, but if you shake your head and look again as a human being, you might."

There are two fundamental issues at stake here. One involves the old battle lines drawn up between different poetic schools, a tired set of false divides and postures that lead nowhere near the core of poetry. However, Mehigan is also raising a second key point that does very much interest me... that so many poets seem to view teaching creative writing as an ideal job, often after having taken a doctorate in the same subject, just how easy is it to lose perspective? When most of your waking hours are taken up by lecturing, workshopping or marking poetry, what undiscovered, unexpected spark is left for personal poetic renewal? When most of your daily conversations revolve around the poetic world and its codes, how difficult is it to keep remembering how verse might seem to someone from outside that reduced world? How does poetry change when it's inspired mainly by other poetry?

In this sense, I can only speak for myself. My verse builds over a lengthy period. This often involves unconscious processes. In other words, I often don't realise my mind has been worrying away at a poem until it pops out. If I were thinking about poetry during my working day, those processes would be destroyed. I need totally unrelated activity most of the time in order to allow my writing to flow.

I imagine many poets would disagree with me wholeheartedly, but that's the nature of the job, if a job is what it is...

Thursday, 28 February 2013

What makes a good audience at a poetry reading?

So...what does make a good audience at a poetry reading?

Well, I remember my days at university when I did a lot of amateur dramatics (my partner would probably claim I've never given up!). My friends and I would always agree that we knew as soon as we walked on stage whether there was a good chemistry that night. If so, the performance grew accordingly.

Bearing in mind that you can see the audience's faces (the whites of their imaginations!) when giving a poetry reading, plus their inevitable sighs of boredom, emotion, frustration or satisfaction, frowns or grins, I find that feeling is multiplied these days. As soon as I get up on stage (or sometimes even beforehand when sitting in the audience myself), I just somehow immediately know what atmosphere awaits. As a consequence, my reading improves or slips.

Last Sunday at Tongues & Grooves in Portsmouth was a perfect example.They're an extremely welcoming group, not pretentious but very keen, attentive but never sycophantic. I enjoyed myself and so was able to give more enjoyment to them. What's more, Maggie Sawkins, the organiser, provided a Q & A session for the audience as soon as the reading itself had finished, thus enabling people to engage me in conversation and break down any possible remaining barriers.

I've read to packed houses elsewhere where a connection just couldn't be established, but I far prefer a small but perfectly formed bunch that really get involved. There were about thirty people at the venue on Sunday and I sold a dozen books, leaving with the sense that I'd managed to share my poems. I do hope they enjoyed them afterwardswith the added reference of how I read them aloud.

Now that really was a good audience for a poetry reading!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Reading in Portsmouth on Sunday

Just a reminder that I'll be reading in Portsmouth this coming Sunday thanks to Tongues & Grooves. The details are as follows:

Sunday 24th February from 8 p.m.
The Gun Room, RMA Tavern, Cromwell Road, Eastney.
Poetry from Matthew Stewart.
Music from Sue Apicella and Paul Horton of The Jelly Rollers.
Entry fee: £4.00 (includes free entry to raffle).
Open Mic - arrive early to book.

I'll be reading from both Inventing Truth and Tasting Notes and will bring a few copies along to sell on the night. I'm really looking forward to this one, especially as it will be the first chance for my mother to see me at one of my readings!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Kim Moore's If We Could Speak Like Wolves

Kim Moore's Smith/Doorstep pamphlet, If We Could Speak Like Wolves, was one of the most striking first books to appear in 2012 on the U.K. poetry scene. She writes with a very distinctive music, which is extremely unusual for a poet of such a young age, all within the framework of implicit narrative being driven through acute observation.

Michelle McGrane is featuring her verse today over at Peony Moon. There's an excellent selection up, giving an enticing flavour of the delights to be found inside If We Could Speak Like Wolves. It will be worthwhile following Kim Moore's poetic progress closely over the next few years. I'm intrigued as to just what avenues she might explore.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Spain in a mess

This blog rarely enters the dodgy realm of politics, but I just can't ignore the current situation in Spain. The national picture is perhaps best summed up by a recent BBC article on how corruption is rife at all levels of society. It's very much worth a read and you can find it here.

The story in Extremadura, however, is even bleaker. Down here in Spain's poorest region, all the national problems do exist, but they are also compounded. On a nationwide basis, the housing boom has come to an abrupt halt, waiting for an economic revival. Nevertheless, in Extremadura, that revival is inconceivable to us on the ground. The boom was fuelled by E.U. subsidies that have inevitably run out and are being diverted to other member states. We're now left with the ruins of a house of cards and few resources to rebuild the local economy on a stable basis.

There's a whole lost generation in the area, men in their thirties and forties without education who worked on building sites and made a lot of money a few years ago. Those few years seem a long way off! People have been surviving on their savings and their parents' pensions, but the endgame is now stepping up a gear. Row after row of boarded-up shops line the town centre of Almendralejo and units are for sale throughout the industrial estate, yet this is just the start. The problem's now gone beyond bickering politics, as the very fabric of Extremaduran society is starting to come asunder. I shudder to think what the next few months may bring.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Lydia Fulleylove

Lydia Fulleylove first came to my attention when her poem Night Drive was shortlisted for the 2010 Forward Prize. It was the Saturday poem in The Guardian on 25th September that same year and you can read it here. Night Drive is an exceptional piece, one of those rare poems that manage to carve themselves into your memory forever. Fulleylove's use of language is all the more intense for its restraint.

However, she's far more than a one-hit wonder. Fulleylove published a pamphlet, titled Notes on Land and Sea, with HappenStance Press in 2011, and her collection shows just how important the sea around the Isle of Wight (where she lives) is to her poetry. What's more, her experience in working as a tutor on creative writing projects in prisons, schools,etc, also shows through, as in her poem Visit, which you can read on her website here. It evokes an inmate's longing for the sea, and it really struck home with this reader.

In the context of the respect I have for her work, I was delighted when Lydia Fulleylove approached me last year with the suggestion that we do a reading together. I'll be travelling over to the U.K. later on this month to read alongside her at Tongues & Grooves in Portsmouth (see here for more details). Suffice to say, I'm very much looking forward to seeing and hearing her make those terrific poems come to life!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Josephine Corcoran's And Other Poems blog

Josephine Corcoran's And Other Poems blog has been a very welcome addition to the U.K. poetry scene over the last few months. As she herself puts it:

"And Other Poems is simply a quiet, uncluttered place to read poems...the blog’s aim is to give readership to poems which would not otherwise be available, for instance poems no longer elsewhere online, out of print poems, poems published in print but not online, and new, unpublished poems."

Moreover, And Other Poems is not just a haphazardly posted bunch of poems. Corcoran's editorial eye has meant that verse is chosen with care, often just one piece per poet. I very much recommend you turn off your mobile, settle back and explore her list of poets, which includes Alison Brackenbury, Richie McCaffery, Carrie Etter, Esther Morgan, George Szirtes, Hannah Lowe, Ian Duhig, Philip Gross and many, many more.

I'm especially pleased today because Josephine Corcoran has added my name to the afore-mentioned list. Formica, a poem that first saw the light of day in The Rialto and then appeared in Inventing Truth, is the feature piece today on And Other Poems. You can read it here.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Over at Tongues & Grooves...

I'm currently the "Featured Poet" over at the Tongues & Grooves website, all in aid of promoting the reading I'll be giving in Portsmouth alongside Lydia Fulleylove on Sunday 24th February. Just click on my name once you get there and you'll be transported to a sample poem from Inventing Truth.

Monday, 28 January 2013

The Frogmore Papers (again!)

Monday morning brought excellent news in the form of a letter from The Frogmore Papers to let me know they would like to accept some of my work for Issue 81 (March) of the magazine. This journal has previously published my poetry on three occasions, and I never fail to be impressed by its consistently high quality. This, however, will be the first issue in which two of my poems - titled The Play and The Leftovers - will be published at once. I very much look forward to getting hold of a copy!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Tongues & Grooves

Tongues & Grooves Poetry and Music club is based in the Portsmouth area. It organises regular events, as you can see on its website here, and has played host to many local and national poets over the years.

I'm delighted to report that Tongues & Grooves' February slot will be something of a HappenStance Press special, featuring Lydia Fulleylove and myself as the two guest poets. The details are as follows:

Sunday 24th February from 8 p.m.
The Gun Room, RMA Tavern, Cromwell Road, Eastney.

HappenStance Poets Lydia Fulleylove and Matthew Stewart.
Music from Sue Apicella and Paul Horton of The Jelly Rollers.
Entry fee: £4.00 (includes free entry to raffle).
Open Mic - arrive early to book.

It should be a great night!

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Miranda Warning, bilingual pop from Elche

I've posted on a couple of occasions in the past about the relative merits of pop in English and Spanish. Well, Miranda Warning, a group from Elche in Spain, provide an ideal point of comparison.

They recorded a number of their tracks both in English and Spanish with the added benefit of having an English graduate who'd lived in the U.S. (Lucía Martínez) as their lead singer. This means that they didn't just throw together dodgy translations. Instead, two versions were created of songs. Perhaps the best example (and my personal favourite) is Despierta/Wake Up. Here it is firstly in English and then in Spanish. The remarks below the videos are unusually worthwhile, as listeners express their linguistic preferences. There's a fair old difference of opinion!

Friday, 11 January 2013

Real Chips

The last few years have seen a rise in fast food all over Spain. Burger franchises have appeared in most towns and cities, and many restaurants have started serving frozen chips. This process reminds me very much of my youth in the U.K., when the search for proper chips became key, when approval of a meal out hinged on whether potatoes had been peeled on the premises. What's the point of a terrific steak if it's served alongside something that resembles damp cardboard?

These days in Extremadura, our conversations about the relative merits of different tapas bars often end up in a similar vein. The following poem, taken from Inventing Truth (my first HappenStance pamphlet), explores just why those chips are so crucial:

Real Chips

Creamy dripping's polished
by constant, lilac gas
and spuds are chunked skew-wiff.

They reach a flour-stuffed crunch,
ready to tell my tongue
how childhood once tasted.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Inventing Truth reviewed in The North

I'm delighted to report that Inventing Truth, my first HappenStance pamphlet, has been reviewed by Paul Stephenson in Issue 49 of The North. He remarks that the poetry is "beautifully observed" and "vivid and original", while he also highlights "a delicious fascination with the food of Spain".

It's a real pleasure to encounter this review in such a prestigious magazine, and I'm very grateful to Stephenson for his generous words. Don't forget Inventing Truth is still available to purchase from the HappenStance website - you can get hold of a copy here.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Poetry Cake


- The binding power/flour of constant nods towards possible rhymes.
- Just under 40 almonds roughly chopped into lines. Don't worry if some are bigger than others. That adds to the texture.
- A pinch of fragmented storyline.
- One spoonful of an underplayed yet quirkily original simile. Just one, so as not to make the mixture too rich.
- The yolks of at least two well-beaten voices.
- A decent glug of vivid, rum-fuelled description.

Mix them well and bake for a few weeks. Try them out on your neighbour, Mum, lover or mentor before serving them in an anthology alongside similar morsels.