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Celebrating ‘A Bluebottle in Late October’

I’m very happy that my new full collection A Bluebottle in Late October is now out with V.Press Because of the lockdown, I can’t have a face-to-face launch but here are 5 videos of me reading sample poems. Take a look.
Video Day 1. I’m reading ‘A Minor Crisis’, the first poem in the collection.
video Day 2. I’m reading ‘Fruit’. “the faintest of moons.”
video Day 3. I’m reading ‘Female Nude’. This introduces the narrator’s mother.
video Day 4. I’m reading ‘Easterly’ with chilly atmosphere.
video Day 5. I’m reading ‘In Essaouira’. A drastic change in the weather.

Thank you very much to my publisher, Sarah Leavesley for believing in my book, and to Tim Liardet and Neil Rollinson for their generous affirmations on the book’s cover and for their years of support. Thank you also to everyone else who read and commented on the book.

You can buy a signed copy of A Bluebottle in Late October from me for worldwide delivery via paypal or any card here or directly from the publisher.

In the Shape of a Hammock: Lyric, Flash, and Poetic Design

Elderflower Wave

  • Poetry occurs in both prose and verse. As does story, though nowadays the dominant fashion is for stories in prose, lyrics (expressing personal or private feelings) in verse. Flash fiction, though, is often both lyric and narrative.
      Here, for example, is a flash micro attributed (dubiously) to Hemingway:

      For Sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

      There’s no doubt this is a story. But its brevity makes it immediate for me. It cuts straight to the heart, which is a lyric effect.

      A hypothesis: brevity makes flash fiction live in the tension between story and lyric. I’d suggest that the longer the flash (or any other piece of literature), the more it inclines towards story. The shorter it is, the stronger the lyric element.

Why not test this against your own examples? Continue reading

Review of ‘The Air Year’ by Caroline Bird

My Review of ‘The Air Year’ the new poetry collection (Carcanet) by Caroline Bird reproduced here, was also published in ‘The High Window’ in May 2020.

In her exhilarating how-to essay, ‘The Discipline of Getting Lost: On the Impossibility of Poems’ (in ‘Craft’, ed. R,Dastidar, Nine Arches Press, 2019), Caroline Bird advises poets to ‘Fling open the door of your first line’. ‘Write a first line,’ she instructs, ‘that thrusts you out, unprepared, into a world of your own making’. Her latest collection of poems, ‘The Air Year’ offers textbook examples of such first lines:

‘Nancy found an entire torpedo in the forest’ (Nancy and the Torpedo)
‘I think ‘so, this is death’ and wonder why’ (Checkout)
‘It’s like being a windmill in a vacuum’ (The Deadness)
‘The hotel was called Napthalene Heights’(Napthalene Heights)
‘I do kind gestures. Remove my appendix.’ (Sanity)
‘No-one dies here or chews their food properly’ (Loveborough)

What is an ‘Air Year’? Is it airy, airy-fairy, airless, full of hot air, airborne? Is it a breath of fresh air, up in the air, a pocket, a bubble of air? A time of coming up for air? The collection is all of these and more. As a reader, I was impelled to obsessive free association, to frequent raids on my dictionary, the poet’s baroque cascades of gorgeous, inventive, often preposterous imagery inviting me to join in the fun.
Continue reading

‘Re-visioning Exile’, Review of ‘Afterwardness’ by Mimi Khalvati

My review of ‘Afterwardness’ by Mimi Khalvati reproduced here, was published in The High Window in January, 2020.

Mimi Khalvati’s new book is a sustained series of meditations on the theme of exile. For its eloquent deployment of form and the depth of its emotional excavation, I consider it poetry of the highest order.

Though autobiographical, the book never gives us personal history for its own sake, but always in the service of its theme: life in the perennial ‘afterwardness’ of exile.

The fifty-six sonnets – the Italian form invokes Petrarch’s ‘Rime Sparse’, his great document of unappeasable longing – begin with ‘Questions’. A child, in flight on a plane, discovers itself to be ‘smaller than you were…Something has made you shrink/or else something has made the seatback grow’, travelling ‘away from all you know’ as the sky darkens. The child, with its unknown companion are ‘the only ones not gone or disappearing’, and it struggles ‘to push the feelings down, the questions/the stillborn questions never to be answered’. This literal flight from home is disorienting, hallucinatory – to be up in the air with no familiar ground, nothing to rely on but a ‘seat-belt’ of trust. Continue reading

In the Poem, Music Makes Meaning


The Herbertian Way

9781447231042Cousin Coat_4

How is meaning of a poem heightened by its music? In Bill Herbert’s manual, Writing Poetry, there’s an interview with Sean O’Brien about the composition of O’Brien’s poem, ‘Cousin Coat‘.  We learn from this that early drafts were written not in the rhymed iambic pentameters readers know, but in free verse. Why the change? Continue reading

How to Write a Glosa

Ever imagine that a medieval Spanish poetic form could help you get to grips with poems you admire? I’m exploring the use of the glosa, a courtly form that steals a quatrain from another poet’s work to structure a poem of your own, in the course of which you create a glosa – or gloss on that poet’s work. Tangling with with your chosen poet may allow her or his subtle influence to inform your tone and expand your expressive range. Continue reading